Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Oni Business ( Chapter 47 )

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

A Tale of Two Wallets

(An Altered Destiny)

Written by Jim Robert Bader

Proofread by Shiva Barnwell

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

On top of all the surprising revelations I'd had concerning the misspent past of my dad and Uncle (or is that Cousin?) Genma, the discovery that Ryoga's mother was here in Nerima and picking a fight with Shampoo's mother should not have ranked anywhere near the top ten, but I have to confess that meeting her for the first time was an event I'm not likely to forget about. The lady makes that kind of lasting impression.

Okay, so she's like a larger, older, more experienced female version of Ryoga, minus the headband that's almost his trademark, and granted she's the martial artist who taught Ryoga most of what he knows about fighting, but it was a little surprising to recognize Saotome School in at least some of her techniques. It turned out that there was a very good reason for this, but let's not get ahead of the fight itself, all right? I mean, Comb is pretty good, almost up to Ranma's level as a fighter, but this Hibiki Atsuko character was, if anything, much better!

That was made plain enough three minutes into their fight when Comb began to noticeably tire while the lady she was fighting (if lady is the right term to use here) was just getting her second wind and going at it like there was no tomorrow. If anything it was almost a replay of Ranma's first fight with my sister's boyfriend, only Comb was getting the worst of it because that Atsuko was a strong, tough fighter! By the end of five minutes she was all but chasing Comb around the yard while the Amazon fought defensively, barely holding her at bay as that umbrella-wielding maniac just kept on coming!

Long before it got to that point, however, Silk came out onto the patio to join us, took one look at the combatants and said, "Oh dear…I guess it's too late to warn Comb about her. This is not a good thing, Grandmother."

"Indeed so," Lotion replied, "Comb has not been keeping up with her more aggressive styles since she renounced the Warrior's path and took up the mantle of a healer, while Hibiki has clearly been refining her technique while on the road. It's just a matter of time now before the Oni overwhelms her defenses."

"Oni?" I gasped, remembering our talk of before, as well as the encounter with the creature who had briefly tried to possess me and my sisters.

"Isn't there anything we can do, Grandmother?" Silk asked with concern plainly written in her features.

"Not at this point," Lotion replied, giving Silk a dry, sardonic look worthy of me as she added, "Would you want to get into the middle of their reunion?"

"Certainly not," Silk agreed, "I'm not that suicidal."

"What's up?" I asked, "What's the lady's beef with Comb anyway?"

"It's a long story," Silk explained, "Let's just say they never hit it off too well on their first meeting and leave it at that. All I suppose I really would need to tell you is that it revolves around Genma."

"Oh," I said, understanding implicitly what that could mean. Uncle Genma has a way of stirring up trouble just by his very presence, one of the more lamentable traits that he's passed down to Ranma.

"Aiyaa," Shampoo announced herself as she came up to join us, dismay and worry for her mother plain enough that I read her emotions at a glance, "Who that attack Shampoo mother, and why she look so much like stupid pig-boy, Ryoga?"

"Her name is Hibiki Atsuko," Lotion explained with a tired sigh, "The mother to young Ryoga as I explained to you before, Shampoo. She's attacking your mother because of an old grudge that goes way back before any of you young cubs were a gleam in your parents' eyes, unfinished business, really, that seems to have carried over itself into the next generation."

Shampoo gasped as she saw her mother stagger back from a powerful blow that had gotten past her guard, then Comb hastily backed away just in time as Atsuko's fist rocketed towards her, missed, and collapsed a section of the wall in our garden. From the look of determination in the face of Ryoga's mother I could tell was attacking just shy of full berserker rage, and that Comb was badly overmatched in this fray so long as the other woman gave her no openings worth exploiting.

"She's gonna kill her!" I gasped, realizing that I was stating the bloody obvious as I said this.

"Perhaps," Lotion mused softly.

"That certainly would seem to be her intent," Silk added with noticeably more distress in her tones as she watched the fight with more pensiveness than I'd ever seen in her expression.

"Aiyaa!" Shampoo declared, "Shampoo go help mother deal with crazy woman…" but before she could take one step forward she found the Elder's staff intersecting her path.

"Not so hasty, little one…I sense that matters are about to take a dramatic change in another moment."

"But she's gonna kill her!" I argued, sharing my Amazon girlfriend's concerns in this matter.

"Sure of that are you?" Lotion asked, sounding a whole lot more like that Yoda guy than I felt comfortable in recognizing, "Never be too certain about anything…it's a sign of weakness."

"Hey, what gives?" I heard Ranma call out as he joined us in the courtyard, "Who the heck is that…"

"Hibiki Atsuko," I informed him, "Ryoga's mother."

"Ryoga's…?" I saw Ranma blink his eyes, and then he turned and said, "Sonuva gun, I didn't even think he had a mother. Looks like him, fights like him, too, only your mom doesn't look like she's doing so good, Shampoo. You want I should go in there and stop this?"

"It would be a very bad idea if you, of all persons, were to interfere at this point, young War Master," Lotion replied before Shampoo could give her approval, "Atsuko had three rivals whom she loathed equally, though with Comb that rivalry was of a more…physical nature. Your mother and she did not exactly get along too well either, and then there was Gosunkugi Hitome…well, that's not important or germane to the subject in hand, but suffice it to say she would not welcome you, the son of Nodoka, with any great favor."

"Maybe," Ranma replied, "But…"

"So I was right," another voice intervened, "Them again…I should have expected this when I knew that Comb and Silk were back in town. This reminds me so much of the old days…"

I spared Happosai a look and said, "How's that, Gramps?"

"Never you mind," the old fart smiled as he continued to watch the battle royal, though I suspect with him it was something more like a glorified cat fight.

"Aiyaa!!!" Shampoo cried in evident frustration, "Shampoo mother get hurt if no act now! Shampoo no care if mother of stupid pig-boy good fighter or no, fight end now!"

She started to tense and was obviously about to leap into the fray when the Elder patiently said, "No need for that, Shampoo…someone else is about to beat you to the punch."

"Mother!" Ryoga's startled cry could be heard all the way across the yard as he suddenly appeared in between the two combatants, halting the forward thrust of Atsuko's umbrella with the flat of his hand while he tried to meet her on a level footing, "Mother stop! You don't have to do this! There's no reason for you to fight…mother! Snap out of it please, it's me…Ryoga!"

For a moment the taller woman's face was transfixed with a terrible snarl of bestial rage, but as Ryoga continued to hold his ground that expression gradually softened, became less focused and intense, more human for all that she was baring a pair of pronounced canine's that were even more bestial than Ryoga's most dainty tusks. It took almost half a minute for her to come down off her homicidal rage, time in which Comb fell back into a defensive crouch and drew deep breaths over the desperately needed respite, and then slowly the brown haired lady's gaze fell upon Ryoga and we all saw a flash or recognition.

"Ryo-chan?" she asked, slowly coming out of it as she stood more relaxed and lowered her umbrella.

"It's me, Mother," Ryoga assured her in a calmer tone of voice, "Nice to see you again…it's been like ages."

"Ryo-chan," Atsuko cooed in motherly affection, then all at once she drew the perpetually lost boy into her embrace and hugged him tightly, "Oh, my dear, sweet little boy! Mommy's been so worried about you! You've grown so much, what have you been eating?"

"Urk!" I heard Ryoga gasp weakly, "Mother…not so tight!"

"Oops, sorry about that, Ryo-chan," Atsuko let him go then beamed with a bright, guileless expression, "Travel's done you good, you've put on a lot of muscle, but you're still so thin! Haven't you been eating regular meals lately? And you're teeth…I've told you to brush between your fangs at least three times a day, or after every meal…"

"Mother," Ryoga blushed, running a hand through the hair on the back of his head before taking notice of someone's approach, "Akane…ah…I'd like to introduce you to my mother…"

"Akane?" Atsuko suddenly took a very maternal interest in my younger sister, eyeing Akane like she was something found under a stone, a clear example of motherly concern in action.

"Hello there," Akane bowed in her most polite manner, "I'm Tendo Akane, you must be Hibiki Atsuko. Ryoga's told me a lot about you."

"Tendo?" Atsuko repeated, "You're Tendo Soun's little girl?" she quirked a pair of bushy eyebrows.

"Ah…yes," Akane gave the older woman a curious regard before she added, "You know my father?"

"We've met," Atsuko said, "On more than one occasion. So…you're the little girl who went and made a pet out of my Ryo-chan, eh?"

"Mother…" Ryoga winced, then added in an afterthought, "How did you know about…?"

"I have my ways," Atsuko waved a hand dismissingly, then turned her focus back on my little sister.

"Ah…well…" Akane blushed, "I didn't know at the time that he had a Jusenkyo curse…"

"Oh well," Atsuko said, "No harm done, and it's obvious enough that Ryo-chan likes you, so…" all at once Akane found herself being lifted up into a hug by the larger woman, "Oh, you are adorable! You must be Kimiko's little baby! You're so cute and cuddly I could make you into a doll and dress you up for Ryo-chan to play with…"

"Mother!" this time Ryoga sounded shocked, while Akane was more than a little embarrassed at being handled in such a manner, though Atsuko put her down after ruffling her hair and dress like she was, indeed, a mere plaything.

"Yes?" Ryoga's mother smiled at her son with a face that was so pleasantly sweet that you could almost forget the way she had been snarling like a demoness only a few minutes before this.

Comb had, by this point, recovered her breath, but rather than press the attack she just held her ground and looked on in concern while her erstwhile opponent reminisced with her son and the youngest of the Tendo daughters. It was almost as if she had been completely forgotten, and I could see by her expression that she was not sure whether to be annoyed by this or grateful.

Lotion relented in her efforts at restraining us, so Ranma, Shampoo and me all walked up to flank the Amazon healer and lend her our support should the mercurial Atsuko suddenly change her mood again into an attitude more hostile. Silk joined her long time friend and murmured, "I take it you feel warmed up now?"

Comb made a rude noise and glanced down at her outfit, which was torn and dirty in place, making her look like she had just come through a major battle.

Atsuko came back to the realization that she and Ryoga were not alone, so she turned a questioning look out way, only to hear Ryoga say, "Uh…Mother…these are my…ah…friends…" he said the word with obvious distaste, "Ranma, Shampoo, and there's Akane's older sister, Nabiki…"

"Silk," Atsuko snorted through her nostrils, her attitude towards the younger Lore Master neither hostile nor friendly, but then she turned to Lotion and actually smiled as she said the word, "Elder."

"Now that you have gotten that out of your system," Lotion began without preamble, "I trust that you will be willing to account for your whereabouts these last few years, Atsuko. Your son has been missing you for a long while, and I think it is long since time that you share with him the secret you have been harboring for all these many years."

"Secret?" Ryoga asked, "What's she talking about, Mother?"

"Ah…" Atsuko actually seemed to hesitate and look sheepish about then, casting her gaze around the yard as she sought out one other who was missing.

"If you're wondering about Genma, I'll go fetch him if you like, cutie," volunteered Master Happosai, surprising all of us as the old fart had never probably volunteered for anything in his life, though I suspect he was motivated by something more than altruism at that moment.

"Would you please, Happy-chan?" Atsuko asked with a pleasant expression that was startling as I could not imagine any woman to so much as look at the old fossil, let alone smile at him with such a beatific expression (ignoring the fangs she was sporting, of course).

"It'll be my pleasure," Happosai declared as he bounded away, calling back over his shoulder, "Anything for the ladies!"

"What a sweet guy," Atsuko beamed, then turned to look at the rest of us, beginning with Ranma, "So…you're Nodoka's kid, huh?" her tone and manner anything but beatific.

"Yeah, what about it?" Ranma sniffed in challenge.

"Shut up, Ranma!" Ryoga snarled, "Don't talk like that to my mother!"

"It's okay, Ryo-chan," Atsuko said as she tapped her son on the shoulder, "He gets that from his mother." She next turned to Shampoo and said, "No question whose brat you are. Just stay out of my way and you won't get hurt, Bimbo."

Shampoo bridled and balled her fists as she snarled, "You pick fight with Shampoo-mother and we see who is bimbo!" She paused for a moment, looked at me and Ranma, then asked, "What mean Bimbo?"

"Huh," I found those disconcerting red eyes turned my way as I became the next object of her scrutiny as the brown haired woman sized me up then said, "So you're Akane's older Sis, huh? Well, you look enough like Kimi-chan that I'll let it go at that. That just leaves…Genma-kun!" she cried in sudden delight, turning to see both Ranma's father and my daddy fall prostrate on the ground with Happosai standing over them glaring disgustedly in their direction.

"Say hello to the girls, boys," the ancient pervert declared, not bothering to hide his disappointment, "The very idea of trying to sneak off after the lady's come so far to see you again. Genma my boy, you break an old man's heart. What have you got to say for yourself?"

"Mercy," Genma whimpered, when all of a sudden Atsuko knelt down to him and pulled him up into a sitting position before throwing her arms around and hugging him more tightly than she had to either Akane or Ryoga.

"Genma-kun! It's been so long! You look good enough to eat, you silly boy you! Why have you been avoiding me all of these years? Didn't I tell you that you'd be better off married to me than that nasty old she-tramp? It's so nice to have you back again, and I'm not letting go this time no matter if you beg me!"

"H-Help!" Genma wheezed, his face turning an interesting shade of purple.

"Huh?" Ryoga blinked, even as the rest of us looked on in dismay, especially Ranma, "Mother…what are you doing?"

"Saying hello to the man I wanted to marry when I was so much younger, Ryo-chan," Atsuko cried happily as Genma's efforts to free himself grew more feeble.

"WHAT?" Ryoga reacted as if someone had punched him in the stomach, "But…what about Dad? How can you do this to him…?"

"Ah…well," Atsuko glanced sheepishly over her shoulder as she straightened up, dragging Genma to his feet with her, "It's a…kinda like…ah…um…"

"Saotome," Daddy looked at his old friend with growing confusion, "I thought you said that you ended your relationship with this creature when you decided to marry Nodoka. Don't tell me you've been seeing her on the sly? I could never imagine you cheating upon your wife like that…"

Genma tried to utter a protest, but all that came out from his lips was a weak, "It's…not…like…that…!"

"Mother?" Ryoga asked, causing Atsuko to release her death-grip on Uncle Genma as she turned around and put one hand behind her head, making a funny laugh that sounded so much like his that even Ryoga could not miss the significance.

"Ah…well…you see…" she began, "It's not exactly like I was cheating on your father, Ryo-chan…you see…he IS your father. Sorry about this."

"My…" Ryoga's tone fell several octaves as he murmured out the word, "Nani?"

All at once we got splashed with a wave of cold water, striking all of us at once like a bolt from the blue, which caused me to sputter as I turned to see Kasumi standing there holding the hose on us, which same she shut off a few seconds later.

The results were predictable in that Ranma turned female, Shampoo became a winged cat, Akane turned into a duck and Genma reverted to the shape of a giant panda. Ryoga's pig-squeal of dismay echoed my own consternation at seeing the disapproving glare come over the face of my normally mild-mannered older sibling, but shocking as that was came the discovery that Atsuko also had a curse, which prevented me from saying anything at the moment, for she had turned into a cute red-furred fox and was looking around at the others as if wondering if she had just been attending a Jusenkyo-cursed animals support group.

"Oneechan?" I gasped, even as Akane quacked what sounded like an echo of my own thoughts in the matter.

"Kasumi" Daddy asked in dismay.

Kasumi threw down the hose and looked crossly towards him, then without a word my normally kind-hearted older sister turned and stormed into the house. I stood there dripping wet and blinking my eyes as I heard Silk voice the words in my head, "What's gotten into her all of a sudden?"

"Too much too soon," Lotion said tiredly, "Even the best of us is not infallible. I believe the convergence has already begun and she is taking on some of the aspects of her twin."

"You mean she's turning into another Kachu?" Ranma-chan asked, looking as horrified as me at that prospect.

"Shampoo?" Comb suddenly interrupted us, seeing her daughter shake her wings to rid them of moisture, "What…what has become of my little girl?"

"In a word," Ranma said, "Mousse. He tried to splash Ukyo last night with duck water, only he got Akane and Shampoo be mistake…"

"He…WHAT???" my prospective mother-in-law asked, suddenly quite livid, "I'LL KILL HIM!!! I'LL STRANGLE THAT HALF-BLIND BASTARD WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS FOR THIS, I'LL…"

Shampoo made a kittenish noise, which caused Ranma's hackles to rise up but I think was meant to be reassuring to her mother. In any event I could not exactly blame Comb for reacting in this way because I'd felt pretty much the same myself the other night, so I stood there and sympathized as Shampoo's mother went on in graphic and lurid detail outlining what she intended to do the next time she saw old Duck Boy.

Daddy was continuing to stare at where Kasumi had been standing when he started to take a step forward, saying, "Id better see what's wrong with my little girl…"

"I'll do it for you, Soun-chan," Silk spoke up, motioning him to stay where he was as she headed towards the house, "I think she'll respond better to a woman's voice just now as I sense that something very personal is disturbing her, and I don't think she'd want to admit to her real feelings, especially to her father."

"Ah…?" Daddy's face looked blank, but Silk had just gone up a notch in my estimation. I silently wished her well in determining what was bothering Kasumi so much that she would turn on us like that, preferring instead to lift Shampoo up into my arms as I rubbed her fur and feathers down and murmured soothing words in her ears, promising another trip to the furo if she promised to behave herself this time.

Of course the cat gave a reassuring rumble that I suppose was meant in lieu of a promise, and of course I wasn't about to let my guard down like the last time, knowing just how far my Amazon girlfriend could be trusted, but this time Ranma elected to play chaperone, for once not voicing any complaint as she picked up Shampoo's clothing and dutifully came along with me…I'd like to think with the intent of seeing that nothing happened that did not involve her directly…

Of course this was the start of something else that was long in coming, but how was I to know what was about to happen, not that I would have prevented it if I had known in advance what Sham-chan was plotting in that crafty cat-brain of hers, bless her furry hide and feathers…

"<Well, Kho-Lon?>" Be Dea asked, "<No words to explain yourself? The Council is eager to hear your reasons for keeping the continued existence of Lo-Xion the Younger a secret for the past two years. I do hope it was something substantial.>"

Cologne glared at her longtime rival and one time friend, hating the unfavorable light into which she had just been cast, yet unable to avoid taking the heat from her fellow Elders as they eyed their leader intently, some with expressions worthy of a pack of hungry predators, their ambition showing past the aloof regard that distinguished them as Elders of the Joketsuzoku.

"<What is there to tell?>" Cologne asked with pretended indifference, "<I sent young Lo-Xion away to one of our villages on the far end of the province so that she might be trained as a healer. Along the way she was attacked by a group of warriors who sought to inconvenience her, as a consequence of which she fell from a bridge overlooking a waterfall and was presumed killed by the fall…>"

"<Only she wasn't killed, was she?" Be-Dea persisted with calculated insistence, "<She survived the falls and made it to the next village, where she was given proper medical attention and eventually did become an apprenticed healer.>"

"<Indeed,>" Cologne said serenely, "<Reports of her premature demise were somewhat exaggerated, and I am pleased to see that the Amazons have not been deprived of a promising healer.>"

"<And yet this is not so great a surprise for you, is it, Matriarch?>" Be-Dea said in tones calculated to gauge their effect upon the ancient leader of their people, "<You knew beforehand that Lo-Xion had survived…indeed it was her great grandmother, the Lore Master, who informed you of same, but you ordered her to silence, preferring to keep the knowledge of her continued existence a closely guarded secret, even from the child's own mother.>"

Ukyo heard the sharp intake of breath from her companion and glanced at Perfume, who seemed utterly rigid with shock and amazement. She glanced at the pink haired Ambergris, who was watching everything with a look of grim satisfaction plain in her one visible eye, the other half of her face obscured by her long hair, giving her a rough-yet-mysterious appearance. Then there was the gentle-voiced Lo-Xion, who seemed almost too delicate to be an Amazon and who was watching everything with deep concern plain in her features. Clearly the apprenticed healer was not comfortable with being in the spotlight, let alone the obvious center of a debate that was raging on the floor with Cologne clearly taking the heat from the many hostile glares her peers were turning in her direction.

She could not, of course, understand what they were saying, but she could pick up a word or two in Mandarin that she knew and from that obtain the gist of the general meaning of the debate that was raging. What she did not understand, and was reluctant to inquire about, was why Perfume seemed to be taking it all so badly, going from one emotional extreme to the next and obviously having a difficult time maintaining her place at the back rows of the council chamber. As Amazon Enforcer she were honor-bound to respect the will of the Elders and carry out their instructions like a one-woman cop with broad axes as her shield of authority. Yet there was obviously something very personal to her in all of this, and Ukyo was dying to know what that might be.

She returned to her study of the Council members themselves, nearly forty of them in all and raging in ages from the merely mature to those of extremely advanced years, a few appearing even more wizened than Cologne herself. The youngest of those present could not have been a day less than forty by her reckoning, but with the Amazon ability to resist the pull of years it was difficult to be sure who was old or young by their standards. All that seemed to be in common for this group was that they carried themselves in a manner that implied great confidence of their own authority, a confidence no doubt backed by knowledge and skill in some of the more advanced of the Amazon systems.

Something else belatedly occurred to Ukyo as she studied their faces in greater detail…quite a few of them were regarding Cologne with varying shades of hostility or disapproval. There did not seem to be that many who seemed disposed to be friendly towards their nominal leader, and Ukyo suspected a power struggle was in the works with the fate of Amazon society certain to be affected by whichever side prevailed in the long run.

Cologne was careful in her reply, measuring her words as she addressed herself at her rival Elder, "<There were extenuating reasons for keeping the truth regarding young Lo-Xion's survival to a select few, not least of which was the considerable disdain that some in this tribe-those three warriors in particular- held towards her, which was indicative of the degree to resentment the child was facing. I sought to protect her from future such reprisals…>"

"<You…KNEW???>" Perfume was suddenly on her feet, her emotions finally winning out over her lifelong discipline and subservience to the authority of an Elder, "<You KNEW she was alive…and you let me think she was dead?? Great-Grandmother…how could you!>"

Ukyo was surprised to hear the heat in the girl's voice, and to see Cologne flinch at the accusation in the tone of her adopted great grandchild's voice. Without needing a translation she began to suspect that she had just walked into the middle of a very tense situation without a program guide to inform her of the principle players.

Nor was the reaction to Perfume's outburst confined merely to the elders, for the blue haired Lotion looked equally surprised as she spoke towards the Enforcer, "<Perfume? You didn't know? Amber saved me from the falls, she pulled me from the water and got me to the Sleeping Woman's village. She's been my friend these last two years, but I thought you knew that I was in training…?>"

"<What?>" Perfume turned shocked blue eyes towards the girl named Ambergris, who regarded her levelly with her one visible eye, her expression cryptic, as if challenging the Enforcer to dispute the claims of the young apprenticed Healer.

"<How did you learn of this, Be-Dea?>" Cologne asked in weary tones as she turned back towards the accusing stares of her fellow Elders, "<Lo-Xion the Elder would not confide in you, and I swore her to secrecy for the sake of the child's protection…>"

"<Was it her protection or that of your two charges that you were thinking about?>" Be-Dea retorted, "<I'm given to understand that they involved themselves in a brawl over this young one and that you judged this sufficient justification to send the child outside our village to be apprenticed as a healer. In any event it does not matter how I learned the truth, or how these events became known to the full Council, what matters is that your action in this matter leave open the question regarding your leadership and judgement. You originally had the child removed from the custody of her mother when Balm proved temperamentally unsuited to the task of raising her only daughter. You permitted her to live with her aunt for a time while she trained with your granddaughter, our tribal healer, but when you became aware that the child had started up a relationship with your great granddaughter you disapproved and took steps to see that she was removed from Xian-Pu's presence…>"

"<I acted as I deemed was in the best interest of all concerned parties,>" Cologne said flatly, "<It is not for you to question my actions as they are personal matters not fit for mention before the Council…>"

"<Ah, but now that the issue has been brought to our attention, you cannot simply sweep it under the rug so casually, Matriarch," Be-Dea persisted, "<You do not deny that you have acted in a typically high-handed manner to toy with the lives and loves of your charges, which indeed is a metaphor for the sort of leadership you have been providing for all of us of late. After all, you have been away from us for more than a month attending to what you claim are personal concerns regarding your great granddaughter and an outside male who defeated her in battle.>"

"<That is, as you say, the personal business of my family,>" Cologne replied, addressing herself to the full council, "<Xian-Pu was honorable defeated by a superior fighter, whom I personally have vouched is worthy of being her husband. I needed to be present to insure that the male complied with his obligations towards my great granddaughter, but having obtained his honorable commitment to be her husband, I am now satisfied that matters are nearing the point of resolution.>"

"<Yet we do not see Xian-Pu present with you at this time,>" Be Dea noted sagely, "<Instead you return with this…outsider in your company who seems possessed of aspects of both male and female…I don't mean to be rude, but what is his…her name?>"

"<Kuonji Ukyo of the Koga tribes of Japan, late of Kyoto and a woman whom I deem of honorable character and good intentions,>" Cologne answered, which brought a murmuring rumble from several of the elders.

"<You brought a Ninja into our village?>" one old woman named Spa-Ng said in disgust.

"<And what of it?>?" Cologne asked, "<The hostilities between us and the Japanese were put to rest a half a century ago. The clans who fought us then are mostly no more. I judge young Kuonji by the character she has demonstrated in coming here on behalf of my great granddaughter. Her reasons are as personal as the business between us, so unless the Council means to compel all of my family secrets into the light of day, I ask that you respect that privacy and not intrude in business that I would prefer not be of a public nature.>"

"<And yet she is here with us,>" Be Dea said, "<And I for one would like to hear her speak for herself before the Council.>" She shifted her gaze towards Ukyo, and then spoke in fluent Japanese for the first time, "So, Outlander, Kho-Lon tells us that you are here out of courtesy to our Tribal Champion. What is Xian-Pu to you that you come now to the Nyanchiczu."

Ukyo was surprised at finding herself being included in these discussions, but she rallied her nerves to say, "I owe Shampoo…a favor. It's private business, really, but I'm not here to cause trouble for anyone. I intend to return home in peace once that business is concluded."

"Private business, you say?" Be Dea inclined her head, "This wouldn't, by any chance, have something to do with a certain restaurant that the Elder has opened up in a district that I think is called Nerima?"

"Huh?" Ukyo blinked, "You know about that?"

"Know about it?" Be-Dea sniffed, "I've seen the sales receipts and understand that the restaurant was purchased using personal funds from the Matriarch's own assets. Nothing inappropriate in that, of course, but I was wondering if you were in some manner of business arrangement with the Elder…"

"Uh…no," Ukyo said, "Fact is I'm planning to open my own restaurant pretty soon, not too many blocks away from the Nekohanten as a matter of fact…"

"You mean the two of you are competitors?" another of the Elders asked, her incredulous tones being shared with the matching looks of several more members of the council.

"Ah…?" Ukyo blinked, "Um…I wouldn't say we were competitors, in fact my shop will specialized in okonomiyaki…"

"Okonomiyaki?" yet another of the Elders asked before another Elder whispered into her earn, causing her to nod in understanding.

"Uh…yeah, it's kind of a Japanese delicacy," Ukyo replied, "Like pizza, only my brand has been passed down in the Kuonji family for generations…"

"Interesting," Ambergris suddenly spoke up, "And how good are you at making this…Japanese Pizza?"

"I'm the best in all Japan," Ukyo said with matter-of-fact candor, "Learned most of the trade from my father, and some of it from my Aunt in Kyoto…"

"Then I might like to try a sample," Ambergris said with a smile that seemed more than casually forward, and for some strange reason that smile made Ukyo feel distinctly uneasy.

"This is all very interesting," yet another Elder said with mild irritation, "But can we get back to the issue at hand, the unexpected survival of Balm's daughter, who has come back to us an accomplished apprentice?"

"Just so," Be-Dea nodded sagely, "But for the sake of our guests let us continue to speak in her language. After all, it would be rude to leave her out of matters that may or may not have a bearing on her mission among us."

"Hey, don't go to any trouble on my account…" Ukyo started to protest…

"It's only proper," Be-Dea insisted, "I could see you were puzzled regarding these exchanges. Let me bring you up to date so that you can understand why our Matriarch had yet to fully explain her actions in concealing the truth about Lo-Xion the younger from the rest of her fellow Elders, not to mention both of her great granddaughters."

"I know that Shampoo thinks she's dead," Ukyo said as she turned her regard to the pretty blue haired charmer, frowning slightly when she was a faint look pass between Lotion and Ambergris that seemed more than overly friendly, "How come nobody told her you were alive? I mean…I saw how broken up she was at the memory of hearing you were dead…"

Lo-Xion gave a puzzled look at Ukyo before Ambergris leaned forward and murmured something in her ear that caused the young girl to look startled. Before anything more could be said on that end of the council chamber, Perfume suddenly got up and spoke in angry tones that belied her halting Japanese, "Elders…may Perfume address Council?"

There were surprised looks given towards her and Be-Dea arched an eyebrow before saying, "It is…unusual for the Tribal Enforcer to speak her mind, but not without precedence. Go ahead, Pur-Fum, what do you wish to add here?"

"Perfume have reason," Perfume stated, her sapphire eyes briefly turned into a glare in Cologne's direction before regaining their composure as she regarded Be-Dea and said, "Perfume find trail of fight from falls and hunt down those who try hurt Lotion. Perfume bring to Council for judgement, but no find trail of Lotion. You save Lotion from falls, you now companion, but why you no come back and tell Perfume and Shampoo that you find her?"

"My apologies, Perfume," Ambergris said in fluent Japanese, "I've been traveling and studying on the road for the past two years since Elder Cologne effectively banished me from our village. I have spent that time training myself so that I might one day challenge Shampoo and become the Tribal Champion in my own right. It never occurred to me that you might be in the dark about Lotion's survival, but then I underestimated the duplicity of your great grandmother, the Matriarch, who poisoned Shampoo's mind against me," she added the last part with a flare in Cologne's direction.

"You were a false betrayer," Cologne said, "You befriended my great granddaughter with nothing more than the intent of learning all that you could about her style before meeting her on the challenge log and proving yourself her better."

"All true, Matriarch," Ambergris replied, "At first I did befriend Shampoo with that end in mind…but over time our friendship became genuine as I learned the kind of person that she was and how very much alike we are in certain ways. I never intended to harm her or betray her trust, but the fact is that I behaved in less than an admirable way, and for that Shampoo punished me with this," she said as she swept her hair away, revealing the right half of her face, which bore a distinctive white line that extended from above one eyelid to the side of her cheek, almost six inches long and visible even from the other side of the chamber.

Ukyo gasped at the sight of this scar, though it was clearly long since healed and did not appear to have been too deep when it was made. She understood at once why Shampoo regretted having given her this mark, for clearly it was excessive punishment for the sense of betrayal that she had been feeling at the time of their battle.

Of course who was she to speak of a sense of betrayal and excessive reaction? The grim irony of that thought touched her briefly as she wondered what sort of revenge this Ambergris must have been contemplating in course of the last two years? The memory would be sharp and the sense of outrage must surely have no limit, yet when she looked into the level gaze of the pink-haired warrior she saw not bitterness or anger but something deeper and more incomprehensible.

"But that is all in the past," Ambergris said as she turned her attention back towards Cologne and the other members of the Council, "I have officially set aside all thoughts of revenge against Shampoo for what she did to me, or what I did to her in issuing my challenge. I have learned a great deal in the past two years that has convinced me that I was as much at fault in this matter, but that life is hardly done with me yet, and so I elected to end my self-imposed exile and return to our people. I, of course, first paid my respects to my friend and was asked by her to serve as her escort back to this village, whereupon we were confronted by the unexpected revelation that Lo-Xion was believed to be dead and long since mourned by her family. I of course made inquiries with Elder Be-Dea and pieced together what must have happened, and why Elder Cologne chose to withhold this critical information."

"You?" Cologne shot her gaze at Ambergris like a laser sighting, both amazed and disconcerted that she could have been put in such an uncomfortable light by a mere child whose intelligence and cunning she had clearly underestimated.

"But be that as it may," Ambergris said dismissingly, "I can understand, even sympathize with the Matriarch's reasoning, and her actions have indeed given Lotion some much needed protection against those who might think ill of her and intend her further mischief. Now that she is well on her way to becoming a promising healer she is ready to resume her place within the tribe and can rely upon the protection of her Elder when she returns from own business in foreign lands. What I do nut fully understand or approve of, however, is that she kept the truth from Lo-Xion's two closest friends, her great granddaughters, who have no doubt been greatly distressed at the belief that their childhood companion was no more. It is, of course, not my place to criticize her for this, but…"

Perfume made a disgusted noise and turned to leave, not even bothering to look back when Cologne hailed her. Ukyo glanced from the ancient Matriarch to the doorway, then to Ambergris and Lotion, then she got to her feet and said, "I'll go talk to her, if it pleases you, Elders," and left without bothering to wait for their tacit permission.

Had she a moment to consider that her actions might have been lacking in diplomatic grace, Ukyo would have been chagrined to think about her lack of proper manners as a guest of their village, but she had always been one to act on her gut level instincts, and something within her told her that Perfume needed a friend very badly at the moment. She saw the brown haired Enforcer standing just a few paces from the doorway, literally trembling with suppressed rage, and knew instinctively that she had been correct in her instinctive appraisal.

"[Sugar?]" Ukyo asked softly, hoping her words would not be taken for an intrusion, "[You gonna be all right?]"

"[No!]" Perfume stated flatly, turning around to expose the anger and hurt in her expression, which bordered on shedding actual tears, "[How could she do this to me? I trusted her…I would have defended her with my life…and yet she lied to me…she LIED to me!]"

"[Hey, I'm not defending her,]" Ukyo made a dismissing gesture with her hands, "[In fact I'm wondering just the same thing. Why wouldn't she tell you about it? I don't understand any of this. I'm just the outsider here, but I was…ah…hoping maybe I could help you out…]"

"[How do you mean to do that?]" Perfume asked her, dabbing her fingers at her eyes when Ukyo waved her hands in a helpless manner.

"[I…don't know,]" she admitted, "[I thought maybe you could tell me…]"

"[You are not Amazon,]" Perfume turned away, "[You could not possibly understand…]"

Suddenly the girl whirled around and her face was filled with rage that stabbed not at Ukyo but to her side, causing Ukyo to take notice of the Matriarch's presence.

"[The council is in recess,]" Cologne said evenly, "[Partially brought about by your outburst. Perfume…]"

"[How could you do this to me, Great Grandmother?]" Perfume spat, "[HOW!?!]"

"[It was necessary,]" Cologne sighed, betraying her weariness as she added, "[Your obsession with the girl had begun to interfere with your training, forcing me to take drastic steps to remove her as an object of contention between you and your cousin…]"

"[You lied to Shampoo!]" Perfume hissed the words, '[You knew how much Lotion meant to her, to us both, and yet you let us believe that she was dead! Worse than that, you let us believe that Ambergris was the one who KILLED her! Only now we discover that she is not only alive but that 'Whale Puke' has actually been her PROTECTOR???]"

"[Control yourself, and do not speak to me in those tones again,]" Cologne said sternly, "[I admit that I concealed the truth from you, but I never lied to you, Perfume. I told Lotion the Elder to withhold the truth and cautioned Silk not to inquire into the matter, but as for actually telling you that her great granddaughter was dead, that I most certainly did not do. I knew that there would come a time when I would have to reveal the truth to you both, but…]"

"[But when, Great Grandmother?]" Perfume asked, "[When were you going to share this with us? What does Shampoo know now that she is off in foreign lands pursing a relationship with a man you say defeated her and is now her husband? Do you intend to tell her the truth about Lotion?]"

Cologne did not visibly budge, but there was something in her attitude that showed sincere regret as she lowered her gaze and seemed unusually subdued for a long moment, then softly she murmured, "[I don't know…I suppose there is no longer any reason to keep the truth from her, but…it would complicate matters for her just as she is settling in with her new wife and husband.]"

Perfume faltered a moment and said, "[Wife…and a husband? She now has both?]"

"[It's a long story, Sugar,]" Ukyo sighed, "[Maybe I should tell you the rest of it. Maybe it won't seem so bad coming from me.]"

Perfume's gaze as hooded and brooding for a moment, then she looked towards Ukyo and said, "[I would like to hear your full story, but at another time. May I be dismissed, Elder?]"

"[You may go, child,]" Cologne replied in obvious resignation, then watched as the Amazon Enforcer squared her shoulders and began storming off. Ukyo could not help noticing how the other Amazons shied away from her presence, clearly reading in the girl's expression a very good reason to leave her alone in her brooding.

Ukyo turned towards Cologne and was trying to make up her own mind about what she had just learned in the past several minutes, but the Matriarch beat her to the punch by saying, "I suppose you're going to yell at me also for my behavior. Don't bother. Anything you say to me now could not possibly make me feel worse than I do at the moment."

"Maybe," Ukyo said neutrally, "But if I was in her shoes I'd be pretty pissed off myself. Excuse me for being the late arrival to the show here, but…what's her beef here anyway? She and that other girl must have been really good friends…"

"More than that," Cologne said softly, "Perfume…had strong feelings for Lotion, apparently she still does, and she has been in mourning since her loss, though she hides it well behind the mask of an Enforcer."

Ukyo's eyebrows climbed visibly as she hooked a thumb at where the brown haired girl had vanished, "You mean she…?"

"She is not a Lesbian, per se," Cologne replied, "But she is…how shall I put this? Not gender specific in her preferences, and she has strong reason to avoid the company of men. She has a rare condition that makes pregnancy…unduly risky, and as you have seen Lotion the Younger is a very attractive young girl whose appeal to both of my great granddaughters was equally felt when they were all just beginning to discover the nature of womanly affection."

"Oh," Ukyo blinked her eyes, remembering something else Shampoo had said, "The two of them fought over her a lot?"

"Only once," Cologne replied, "But it was enough to convince me that separating Lotion from them was in everyone's best interests. I had thought that if they had known that she had survived the falls they would seek her out and become inseparable, and at the time I judged that would impose an undue interference upon their training." Her voice became a mere whisper as she added, "It would seem her great grandmother was correct after all…my judgement in this matter was truly in error."

"No fooling," Ukyo frowned, "So now what do you intend to do about it?"

Cologne lifted her eyes and stared off towards the horizon, which Ukyo took to be the direction east where Japan was located, "I will conclude my business here with the Council then return with you to Japan and…do as my adoptive great granddaughter suggested. Shampoo deserves to know the truth about her former lover…I only hope that it will not interfere in the happiness that she has begun to know in her new life. I cannot imagine what she will think of me to know that I withheld this knowledge from her. At the very least it will make her very angry and confused at a time when her heart should not be so burdened."

"Then you'd better hurry and catch up with her," a voice said from behind them, as Ukyo turned to see Ambergris standing in the door way with arms folded over her chest, her single eye once again visible as she regarded them both with a neutral expression, "Because I think Perfume is already on her way to Japan to tell Shampoo for herself. It's what I'd do if I were in her position."

"You…" Cologne's gaze became as hard as flint as she stared up at the pink haired warrior, "I suppose this is your idea of revenge on Shampoo, ruining her happiness with this burden?"

"How little you know me, Matriarch," Ambergris's tone had the lace of steel underneath it as she met the challenging gaze of the Elder without flinching, "I spoke the truth back in the Council chamber, I have no thought of revenge against Shampoo. I will face her again in battle one day to prove which of us is the better fighter, but until such time I wish her no ill will, not even on you, whom I have better reason to dislike since you poisoned her mind and turned her against our friendship."

"Only because Shampoo was too trusting and naïve to see you for what you are," Cologne said flatly, "You used your knowledge of her combat style to seek unfair advantage, just as you had done with other girls who had formerly been superior fighters…"

"And I paid for my arrogance," Ambergris replied, "But I should have to be a lot more arrogant before I can match your performance over the last three centuries, Matriarch. I am not particularly happy to realize what you did to Shampoo and Perfume that they should hate me with such passion, but I will not let petty concerns such as these interfere in what must be an orderly session of the Council. There is too much at stake, more even than you know, and a time for change is rapidly approaching us, so my advise to you would be to heed the Council's wishes and accept their rendering on this matter. To do anything less would not work to your advantage and only add further strain to your already tarnished reputation."

"And who are you to be giving advice to an Elder?" Cologne replied stiffly.

"Ask Elder Lotion," Ambergris replied simply, "According to her, I am the future of the Nyanchiczu."

With that she turned and re-entered the Council chamber, leaving the Matriarch to absorb that revelation before Cologne's eyes narrowed by a fraction and she said in a dark undertone, "Are you now? We will see about that…young upstart…"

Kasumi could not have explained to herself why she had grabbed the hose and turned it upon both family and friends the way she had, but the desire to put an end to their constant bickering and overridden her normal acceptance of their quarrelsome, contentious ways. Perhaps the final straw for her was the realization that her Uncle Genma had betrayed his marriage vows to Aunt Nodoka by taking up with another woman, very much-in fact-as her own father must have done with Silk before marrying her mother. Even by her lights that was carrying things a bit too far.

She had come home to find the house and kitchen were both neatly arranged and as clean as she had ever managed to make things, and there was food being prepared, leaving her very little to do in her normal tasks as a housekeeper. Obviously this Silk had replaced her mother in other ways besides the matter of domestic bliss, and she was not at all certain what her feelings were in that regard either, though she suspected that the Amazon intended her stay to be a longer one than previously imagined.

Then came the discovery of a pool of urine near the base of the stairs. That had been…most unpleasant, and it had taken her a moment to clean that up as soon at things had quieted down a bit, though she had wondered which of their various house guests had been so careless in controlling their bladder. It was simply…not a nice thing to have done, and not just for the literal bad stink this left in Kasumi's already strained emotions.

The final culmination of that fight in her yard that had made such a mess of things, destroying more than the usual amount of property, which meant that she would have to put in another call to that nice man who did most of their repairwork, Mister Terry Boggart. It also meant a further strain on their already stressed out budget (although to be fair, the company Terry worked for was charging them special reduced rates for frequent service, thanks to that arrangement Nabiki had worked out in their favor). Kasumi would not mind this so much if it was not forcing them to make sacrifices in other areas where the money might be better spent, and with so many areas being neglected around their house…

She sighed and decided that she was better off retreating to the sanctity of her room, feeling that the day's events had exhausted her in ways that she would never have previously imagined. That business with Tofu, the kiss from Kodachi, the overwhelming sense that she was being displaced by both Silk and Kachu from her normal routine of existence, all of it was threatening to give her the first migraine of her entire life, and all she wanted was to collapse onto her bed and get a few hours of sleep that she hoped would restore her to her normally cheerful outlook.

She closed the door behind herself, moved with mechanical effort and fell upon her bed, laying face-down as her emotional weariness at last caught up with her, leaving her feeling drained in mind and body. She was too numb to be as confused as before, but still her thoughts kept coming back to Kodachi and the way her friend had surprised her, coming onto Kasumi in a manner that was wholly unexpected.

Had she done something to cause this, she asked herself in a tired voice. Could she be the reason that Kodachi had behaved with such uncharacteristic intensity, behaving in a manner that was so…unusual for the aristocratic gymnast? If so, then Kasumi could not think of what it might be that would give the other girl such improper ideas, that she should act in such a less-than-proper manner. Kasumi could not honestly say that she was free from any guilt in the matter since she had obviously done something to set Kodachi off that way, and while the act of being kissed had not in itself been invited by Kasumi, she could not truthfully say that it was entirely unpleasant…

Her lovely face tensed slightly as her eyelids fluttered open. Where had that thought come from, she wondered with dull interest. Could it be that she had somehow encouraged the other girl to give her that kiss? Was it possible that in some way her going to Kodachi to confess her distress on seeing Tofu with Kachu had been partially motivated by a desire to find companionship with someone whom she believed honestly cared about Kasumi's feelings? For the first time Kasumi wondered at her basic attraction to the younger girl, whom she had bonded with upon their first meeting. Kodachi was easy to talk to, pleasant to be with, and seemed to actually care what Kasumi felt…or so she had believed until today. It began to dawn on Kasumi that no one had ever tried to get to know the real her before, the person she was inside, who was trying so earnestly to fill the place in their family that had once been her mother's. Kasumi's life had assumed an almost ritual-like routine before Kodachi had arrived and made comments that seemed to imply that she believed that there was more to the oldest Tendo daughter than a mere domestic.

That was it! Kodachi had given Kasumi the sense that she actually cared about her like a person and not an object that everyone else took mostly for granted. Tofu behaved like a clown when he was around her, her father had treated her like a beloved servant, while Akane and Nabiki tended to regard her as if she were a substitute mother, while Ranma and his father just seemed to appreciate her for her cooking and cleaning skills. Shampoo had become her friend and shared some of the duties in the kitchen, yet there was an awful lot that separated the two of them such as the Amazon's devotion to her martial arts and obsession with both Ranma and her sister.

Actually, Shampoo was a very nice sort, and Kasumi wished her every happiness with Nabiki, but they were friends, nothing more or less. Kasumi had a liking for the Amazon named Comb, who in some respects seemed like a blend of Shampoo and Akane…whereas she did not know so much of how she felt about that Silk woman, who so obviously had designs upon her father…

And then there was Kachu, who-upon their first meeting-had physically attacked her.

Kasumi made a soft noise and turned to lie on her back, turning her face to look towards the ceiling. So many confusing thoughts were circulating in her mind that it took a moment for her to take notice that there was somebody poised directly over her, braced between the rafters above her bed and clutching a black rose between her teeth. Kasumi's eyes got very wide as she looked up at Kuno Kodachi, then one moment later the Black Rose dropped down upon her like leotard-clad spider…


Comments/Criticisms/Surprises galore: Shadowmane@msn.com