Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Black Rose Consoled ( Chapter 48 )

[ 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

Silk had been only a few seconds behind Kasumi when the older Tendo daughter went into the house, but to her surprise she found the girl's presence elusive and so she had wasted a full minute searching the downstairs area before deciding to check upstairs to see if Kasumi had gone back to her own room. The Tendo house was so much larger than an Amazon building, and while the Japanese tended to construct things with an economical eye to maximizing the use of space, the general layout was mildly confusing to Silk, who preferred simplicity in her own choice of structures.

Nonetheless, as she approached Kasumi's room she could feel the girl's life-essence calling towards her, strangely disturbed and not as comforting or pleasant as was normally the case. She was a far cry from being at Kachu's level of disturbance, but it was plain enough that the young girl's emotions were in turmoil, and something very serious was upsetting her. Silk resolved to do whatever she could to help out, but as she approached the door she sensed the presence of…another!

Silk halted in her tracks only inches from the door, hearing sounds from the other side that were too faint for normal human hearing, but which carried with them an emotional charge that made them easy to perceive for the senses of a Lore Master…

When Kodachi dropped upon her without warning Kasumi had been too surprised to even think of moving out of her way, and so she was pinned to her bedding as Kodachi pressed her advantages to immobilize the older girl, using a judo hold to keep her pinned down. Kasumi did briefly attempt to free herself, but for all her limited knowledge of moves that could earn her release it became obvious that Kodachi knew all of the counters.

So she stopped resisting and instead looked up into Kodachi's face, and at the black rose clutched between the younger girl's teeth as Kodachi gazed down at her with her lavender eyes, her face only a foot above Kasumi's as she sought to make eye contact.

Once Kodachi was certain that she had Kasumi's attention she opened her mouth and allowed the rose to fall lightly upon her, bouncing off Kasumi's lips before falling to one side and causing a slight powdery substances to cover her face, which same Kasumi breathed in, smelling the perfume-like scent that clung about it.

"Don't worry," Kodachi sought to reassure her, "It won't harm you, I wouldn't think of using one of my stronger powders to affect you. It's just a mild sedative derived from the essence of the Black Rose, one of many discoveries that my father pioneered back in the days when he was still stable…"

"Get off me," Kasumi said, not forcefully or in anger but with a clear and precise intensity that was not unduly affected by the strange sense of languor that began to sweep through her body. Much to her surprise Kodachi did just that, sitting up alongside Kasumi while looking down at her with great intensity of emotion.

"I'm sorry to have ambushed you this way," Kodachi said contritely, "But I needed to talk with you, and I need for you to listen to me."

"And what does this accomplish?" Kasumi asked, wondering why it was that her thoughts were suddenly growing more sharply focused, "Drugging me this way…"

"A necessary evil," Kodachi replied, "I've experimented with rose extractions for years, building on my father's earlier research while seeking to avoid falling into the trap that afflicted him when his mind was lost to the pure extract of the black powder. I know just how much to use to have the desired effect…I've…conducted experiments to assure myself of its efficaciousness and safety…"

"You mean you've experimented on yourself?" Kasumi asked, "Kodachi, that's dangerous! Do you know what kind of side effects such a substance might have…?"

"I know very well indeed," Kodachi's eyes became hooded, and she took a moment before she continued, "When…my mother died…" she swallowed, "It drove father mad, and the only way he could cope was to drug himself into oblivion…only he used too much of the powder and for a time he became addicted to it. I think he's cured of that addiction now, but the long-term damage to his mind…"

She got up off the bed and began pacing, while Kasumi found herself oddly content to remain where she was, following the Black Rose with her eyes as the rest of her remained immobile.

"I know what you must think of us…think of him from the way he was behaving a little while ago, and you'd be right to say that we are not normal people, not even for nobility descended from our Samurai ancestors. The truth is…you do not even know the half of it, for which I envy you as you did not have the kind of experiences with your mother that I had with mine growing up as her victim…"

"Victim?" Kasumi replied with an arching of eyebrows.

Kodachi hesitated, then looked away, "My mother…was a perfectionist, of sorts, and fate was cruel to her when she was denied her life's dream of becoming a great gymnast. She wanted to participate in the Olympics, to win the honor and glory that was her due, but for a cruel accident that caused her an injury that ended her dreams forever."

"I'm…very sorry to hear that, but…" Kasumi began, but Kodachi continued on before she could complete the question.

"I think she wanted to live her dreams through me, which is why she drove me so hard to be as good as she ever was, even better," Kodachi said with an odd, mirthless humor, "But normal gymnastics were not good enough for her…oh no! She enrolled me into the combat version of the art that combined martial arts with full body agility and the use of weapons to avoid body-contact with an opponent. I never did learn why she was so driven to make me learn how to fight when gymnastics should be a dance of precision and beauty…but then there were a lot of things I never fully understood about my mother."

"Kodachi…" Kasumi said carefully, "Why can't I move?"

"Oh, it's only a temporary condition," Kodachi reassured, "Your muscles are relaxed while your mind is now free to concentrate on what I am saying. It will only be for a few minutes, then you will begin to feel mobility return, after which I will have finished with what I have to say to you and you can tell me to leave…and I will not hold it against you."

"You wanted me to sit here and listen?" Kasumi replied, "You could have tried asking…"

"I know," Kodachi said with a wretched twining of her fingers, "But I couldn't take the chance that you might…be angry with me for some reason. I know I went too fast before, but I could not help myself…and you looked like you needed kissing…"

"I did?" Kasumi asked in wonder, forgetting in which tense she was speaking, past or present.

"Or perhaps I needed to kiss you," Kodachi continued with a heartfelt expression, "You see…until I met you I believed that there was only ugliness in the world, only selfishness and cruelty, and anyone who did not feel the same was either a fool or avoiding the truth that I thought was my existence. It is only since meeting you…that I've come to understand that the sickness was…with my mother…" she swallowed tensely, "Your mother was nothing like her, I think, for you grew to become a person who is without fault or dark shading. There is no selfishness in you, no cruelty, only infinite kindness. You have made me feel…warm inside, the way no one else ever has, and…I cannot bear that you might think ill of me for what I have done in imposing my desires upon you…"

"What are you saying, Kodachi?" Kasumi asked her friend, "Did I somehow make you…?"

"You have done nothing but offer me the kindness of your presence," Kodachi bent down over the bed and touched Kasumi's hair, brushing it back from her face, "You have been a friend to me when I never knew real friendship. It seems strange now that there was ever a time when I did not have one such as you in my life…but all I've had is my brother, who in some ways was even more affected by the family tragedy than I was…"

"What happened?" Kasumi asked, "What…tragedy do you mean?"

Kodachi glanced down, and then she spoke at barely the level of a whisper, "Mother…killed herself…because she saw her life as a failure…"

"No…" Kasumi whispered, horrified at the thought of this, and seeing in Kodachi a wealth of tears never shed, which further confused her.

"She was a Samurai to the end," Kodachi murmured faintly, "Or so I think she believed, though the medical term would be something more like clinical depression. She…did things to us that made life hard on everybody. Our father was a businessman and seldom home to spend time with us as a family. Mother tried to occupy herself as best she could…but she started to believe that father was carrying on an affair, and she took it out on me and Tachi."

Kodachi stared down for a long moment while Kasumi read the pain and guilt that tormented the lovely features of the aristocratic girl, and without thought she began to shed tears of her own, feeling her heart reach out in spite of her…displeasure at Kodachi's actions.

"What did she do to you?" Kasumi whispered.

"Oh…nothing much," Kodachi swallowed, "It's just…that mother had a way of expressing her displeasure…with the both of us. Tachi she wanted to be a man, and in some ways she drove him into his fantasy world where he is a noble Samurai from a previous generation. With me…she would use whatever it took to motivate me to try harder, to master the more intricate techniques of Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics. Sometimes it was by use of her cane…and other times…she would lock me into the cupboard and not let me out until she was certain I had learned my lesson…."

"That's…horrible…" Kasumi whispered, now forgetting all about her displeasure at being ambushed.

"I learned my lesson," Kodachi said with an attempt at bravery that was betrayed by the trembling of her lower lip, "I studied harder and became as good as she wanted…and then one day I completed a particularly difficult and complex maneuver and I was so overcome with joy that I went in search of mother to tell her of my success. I…found her…on the floor of one of the studies. She…used a tanto, a traditional weapon for ritual seppuku…I remember looking into her eyes…how pale she was, yet how peaceful…"

Kasumi did not want to hear any more, could not bring herself to imagine such a tragedy, could not bear the thought that Kodachi had been the one to discover her mother's suicide. It was so alien to her conscious way of thinking, and yet in a way she understood as only one born Japanese could the depth of commitment that would drive a true Samurai to such an extreme act of atonement.

"I can still remember the death poem she wrote before taking her own life," Kodachi closed her eyes and said in a voice that trembled with emotion, "The sky yearns, the flowers weep, no more the feeling…" she turned an expression that was wrought with unshed tears towards Kasumi and said, "I think it was her way of making an apology to us. She could not stop herself in life, so in death she spared us the further madness of her unhappy existence."

Kasumi felt one hand twitch as feeling began to return along her nerve endings, yet she continued to lay still as she looked towards Kodachi, the pain all but radiating from the other girl as Kodachi took a moment to regain mastery over her emotions.

"It wasn't your fault," Kasumi said softly, "She had no right to do this to you…"

"But don't you see?" Kodachi tried to smile and failed miserably, "She had the right, she was my mother."

Kasumi did not answer that, so Kodachi got up off the bed and resumed her pacing.

"Tachi also found her that way…and it drove him over the edge, I think, so that he needed to be sedated. I…don't remember much that happened, save that father came home early when the servants informed him of what had occurred, and there were…policemen I think…asking so many questions, and then that nice doctor who said that we needed to talk to someone…as if talking was going to make everything better…"

"Kodachi," Kasumi murmured gently.

"I kept up my studies in Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics," Kodachi resumed at a more level tone of voice, "Why? Because I had nothing else to connect me with my mother after that dark day. Father went all to pieces…he started turning the operations of his business over to trustees, who have made the important decisions ever since. Father went and took on a teaching position at Furinkan High School, even contrived to become the Principal, where he took to administering a harsh form of discipline that revolved around his obsession with haircuts. Tachi…I tried to help him out, but I think I only made things worse for him. Father went insane, and then he vanished for a time, and now he's back in our lives seeking to drive us as insane as he is. I…had to get away from there…the thought of living in the same house as him, under the same roof, with all he did to drive our mother to what she did…"

"Kodachi," Kasumi said with more firmness than before.

"Understand…I love my father very much," Kodachi resumed, "There was a time when I doted upon him, when he was like the sun and the moon to me, and yet now…now that I see him for what he is…for what he has become…"

"Kodachi," Kasumi murmured as she sat up in the bed.

"…I cannot help but see a part of myself reflected in his madness," Kodachi looked at the floor, at her bare feet, curing her toes in the carpet as she stood pensively where she was, adding softly, "…And I cannot blame you if you do not want to be associated with me on account of that madness…"

A hand gently laid upon her shoulder startled Kodachi, causing her to turn around to see Kasumi standing behind her, looking none-too-steady but smiling in spite of everything. The smile caused the Black Rose to raise her eyes and look up into the gentle brown eyes of the taller girl, who was looking back at her with the same warm embrace that Kodachi had come to fervently savor…only now there was something more added…something more than her normal sympathy and compassion

Without a word Kasumi drew Kodachi into her arms and hugged the other girl to her bosom, and for a moment Kodachi was so stunned by this gesture that she did not know how to react. The she closed her eyes and found the simple act of resting her head on the older girl's bosom gave her a sense of warmth and peace that banished the shadows to obscurity. Somehow she knew Kasumi had forgiven her, that she had her friend back, that everything was right with the world once again, and that there was no place she would rather be but in the arms of her much-beloved girlfriend…

Silk withdrew her mind from the intense wave of emotions she felt radiating out from the bedchamber, coming back to herself with a start as she had quite lost track of the time while experiencing the exchanges of the two young women.

How very…odd…and yet her senses reassured her that everything Kodachi had spoken had been the truth without embellishment or denial. It did indeed sound a lot like the Gosunkugi Hitome that Silk had once known, and yet the thought that Kuno Godai could have driven his wife to such distraction by neglecting her in favor of his business…

Silk felt tormented by the desire to go in there and offer her own sage council to the two young women, and yet knowing her presence would be an unwarranted intrusion. This was something the two of them would have to work out between them with only minimal interference. If she were to intrude now she might spoil what obviously was something intensely personal that was blossoming between the two young women.

Deciding that she could have her little talk with Kasumi at a later time, she resolved to turn around and head back to the kitchen to make some tea, which always seemed like a good idea in these types of situations…

Shampoo's Diary Resumes:

"So, Atsuko-chan," Elder Lotion began once everyone was restored to their proper shapes and gathered about inside the dojo, "What brings you back to Nerima after all of these years?"

"I was looking for Ryo-chan," replied the strange madwoman for whose claim to being the lost pig-boy's mother was without challenge, "I've spent the last two years trying to catch up with my little boy once he wandered off and got lost…uh…which sorta is what happened with me, I guess…"

"You followed me, Mother?" the lost pig-boy in question asked the obvious, compounding same by adding, "Even to Jusenkyo?"

"Uh…in a word, yes," the brown-haired Oni-woman replied sheepishly, "Got knocked into one of those springs when some crazy half-naked boy started chasing after a panda saying something about it trying to eat him…it was the panda who almost ran me down, I think, but the boy looked a little like you, Ryo-chan."

"Ah…?" Ryoga looked at his mother blankly, slow to pick up on the hints, like always.

"Never mind all that," my husband growled, "What's all this stuff about Pop being Ryoga's Dad? You telling me you went and had an affair behind Mom's back, old man?"

"Now wait one minute boy," the stupid panda-man…I mean, my honored father-in-law-waved his hands in front of himself as if trying to cast a spell that would ward off another beating, "I don't know what she's talking about! I never was that intimate with Atsuko when we were together, and besides, I'd never cheat on your mother…"

"Probably because you wouldn't have the guts," my wife countered tartly.

"Exactly!" our father-in-law agreed, then blinked his eyes as the full import of what he was agreeing to was slowly revealed to him, "Uh…I wouldn't put it exactly like that…"

"Saotome," my other esteemed father-in-law glared crossly at his old friend and fellow student of the Perverted Demon, Happosai, "You know I want to believe you, but given everything that I remember occurring in those years before the birth of your son…"

"Oh, pipe down, Soun my boy," the perverted Demon Master in question turned to the Oni-woman and said, "There's a perfectly good explanation, I'm sure of it. You used magic to fool Genma into thinking you were Nodoka, right?"

"Ah-hah," the woman calling herself Hibiki Atsuko replied, "It was a simple illusion, like this…" and to our amazement she changed before our eyes, going from a long-haired womanly version of Ryoga to a perfect likeness of my husband's crazy mother, only much younger looking and appearing to be very like a brown haired version of my husband's cursed form.

Even Ryoga gasped with disbelief as he asked the question, "Mother?"

"This is how I looked when I came to your father," the demoness replied, then at once she reverted back to her true (or one would assume so) form, which had fangs much more pronounced than are his, and I noticed now that her hair had a somewhat greenish tint, and her skin was of a more tan color, "And this is what I actually look like when I'm not casting any illusions. As you can see, I somewhat resemble my mother, who looks a lot more like this."

And now I had to stifle the impulse to reach for a weapon, because the appearance of the woman who sat before us now was even less like a normal human woman than before, having dark green hair and skin that was almost reddish-pink in color. Her fangs were now more like tusks and there were a large pair of reddish bat-like wings covering her backside.

"You see?" she asked as she looked around at the astonished faces in the dojo, (which included mine with no doubt to be intended) "It's just an illusion, though, which is why I prefer to look like this, the way your father first knew me," and with that she reverted to the woman we had seen before, very pretty in a wild, unmanageable sort of way but nonetheless more alarming to us now than when she was simply trying to kill my mother.

"What…but…?" Ryoga blinked his eyes, clearly not mentally prepared for the revelation that he was not entirely human.

"Of course you tend to look a lot more like your grandfather," Atsuko resumed with a happy smile, "My father was a strong, handsome fighter named Hibiki Razor, who was son of my great grandmother, the demoness Ganglot, who married a man of the Amazon village that stupid Purple-haired Comb hails from…"

"Hey!" protested my mother just a few instants before I could.

"His name wouldn't happen to be Rogaine, would it?" my wife asked as if it were not really a question.

"Why yes," Atsuko brightened, "You know the story of Atsuko's life?"

"Not…exactly," my wife conceded, "But I got the gist of it."

"Makes sense in a way," our husband conceded, "I always thought there was something inhuman about you, Ryoga, with that monstrous strength of yours and your total lack of directions…"

Ryoga was just about to make his customary declaration against our husband when my apprentice spoke up in his defense, crying, "Hey, you leave Ryoga alone! It's not like any of this is his fault, especially who his parents are…"

"A-Akane?" Ryoga actually sounded surprised that my wife's younger sister would defend him, while I just rolled my eyes and wondered which of them was the more clueless.

"It's all right, Ryoga-kun," she said as she patted him on the knee, then turned a puzzled look towards the brown haired demoness, "But I still don't understand…how can Ranma's father be your father? How did all of this start out anyway?"

"A good question, child," replied Elder Lotion, "We have rather started this story in the middle, haven't we? Perhaps we should go back a bit…say about twenty or so years, when Atsuko first met Genma at the insistence of her mother?"

"Ah…" Atsuko glanced down and said, "My mother…well, it's kind of…complicated, but I guess the simple way of putting it is to say that I was really sent to Nerima to find and bed Genma-chan so I could have his firstborn son. You see…Mom told me the boy was going to be special, a new Nexus, or something like that, which she wanted for our side. Of course she lied to me about a lot of that, but that's sort-of expected with some demons…"

"A Nexus?" Ranma asked.

"A conjuncture of probability lines, my boy," the Demon Happosai explained, "Either a person or an object who, by the nature of his very existence, becomes the focal point for all realities, past, present and future. It happens from time to time that some one individual gets born who is fated to shape the destiny of worlds, and for your generation that just happens to be you."

"ME?" my husband gasped, "No way!"

"It is the destiny you were born to," Elder Lotion revealed, "I sensed it from the moment I was first in your presence, but this is once more taking us away from the main subject. You were explaining how you were given the task of seducing Genma by your mother…what actually did happen?"

"Ah…I…uh…well, that is…" Atsuko began to run a hand to the back of her head and laugh nervously, a gesture all so typical of Ryoga that it had to be genetic.

"You fell in love with the big jerk," my mother snorted, earning a glare from her formal rival.

"Shut up, Comb!" she snapped, "I don't have to take that coming from you!"

"Ah, such a sad, sweet story," the Demon Happosai pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed his eyes, "The half-human cutie with the blood of an Oni meets the handsome warrior-prince and falls in love with him, thus spoiling the dastardly plans of her full demon mother." He blew his nose for further emphasis.

"You got any idea what he's talking about, Pop?" Ranma asked of his father, to which my father-in-law just shook his head in a negative manner.

"What I remember from those days was that Atsuko was one of the chief contenders for your hand, Saotome," my other father-in-law revealed, "For a while there you were very close, so close, in fact, that it almost interfered with your engagement to Nodoka."

"Except Comb here kept getting in my way!" Atsuko glared once more at my mother, "And you never even had the guts to come out and tell him how you felt about him either!"

"Ah…?" I saw my mother's face grow slightly paler, and from the way she swallowed I had the sinking sense that the accusation contained more truth than falsehood.

"Mother?" I gasped, unable to believe that she had once been pursuing Ranma's father, as I now pursued Ranma.

"I-I don't know what you're talking about," my mother said, glancing away for a moment before suddenly turning on my father-in-law and declaring, "Who'd want to be married to YOU? You're stupid, fat, lazy, opinionated, selfish…"

"Who are you trying to convince of this, Healer?" Elder Lotion asked, "Yourself or the rest of us?"

"Yeah, like you really didn't care about him!" the demoness snarled, "You were always there trying to block me off or keep me away from Genma-chan, and you always got mad whenever me or Hitome tried to show him our affections!"

"Who's Hitome?" my wife asked in surprise.

"Gosunkugi Hitome?" the Demon Happosai smiled, "You've met her little girl, that cute gymnast who likes to hang around with your sister."

"KODACHI???" my wife and husband said together, joining in with me, my apprentice and Ryoga.

"Is that her name?" Atsuko blinked her eyes, "Too bad about Hitome…I kinda liked her."

"Pop, you didn't!" my husband blanched as he whirled about on his father.

"Calm down, boy," my father-in-law tried to reassure him, "I never did anything with Hitome…she was just this girl who liked to hang around on us and…ah…well…she was kind of affectionate, but she married Kuno Godai and that was pretty much the end of the matter."

"You're telling me…" I saw my husband's eyebrow twitch, "That you used to be chased by the mother of Kodachi and Tatewaki Kuno?"

"All part of the curse, Ranma my boy," the Demon Happosai said, "Like I told you earlier, the Saotome males have a way of attracting violent, passionate women, lucky devils."

"Oh yeah?" my husband snarled back, "Well, what about Nabiki? She's nothing like that!"

I saw our wife blink her eyes as if it was beginning to register on her the significance of our husband's statement.

"Ah…well…" the Demon Happosai scratched behind his head and looked unusually thoughtful, "There's always the exception to every rule, I guess…"

"Can we get this back to the subject of Uncle Genma being Ryoga's father?" my wife nervously asked, and I took notice of how unusually crimson her cheeks were as she said this, "Now, let me see if I get this right…you were sent to seduce Uncle Genma but instead you fell in love with him…"

"Ahuh," the demoness shook her head, "I wanted to marry him, only he chose Nodoka instead of me for some strange reason."

"It…was an arranged marriage," my father-in-law said as he felt along his collar with one finger, and I wondered if he were feeling unusually hot for some reason, "I tried to break it to you as gently as I could…"

"Oh yeah?" Atsuko asked, and then she cupped one hand in her lap and somehow caused an image to appear before her, of my father-in-law when he must have been much younger (and thinner looking), sitting on a bench in the middle of a park with Atsuko sitting next to him wearing a dress and seeming more lady-like in a distinctly Japanese manner.

The image of the young man was saying, "Atsuko-chan…I have something important I should tell you."

"Yes?" asked the woman-image eagerly.

"We…can't be seeing each other any more," the man said sadly.

"What?" the woman-form appeared stunned by this declaration, "But…why?"

"I've decided that I'm going to marry someone else," the man glanced up at a passing cloud instead of at his distraught companion, "Nodoka."

"HER?" anger briefly touched the woman's beautiful face, but then the sadness won out once again and she almost pleaded, "But why? Why her and not me?"

"It wasn't an easy decision," the man said, "But when I added everything up it all made sense that I should accept the arrangement my father made with her father. For one thing…she's prettier than you."

"WHAT?" the woman said in shock and amazement.

"And a much better dresser," he continued.

"Wha…?" the woman glanced down at herself as if wondering why she would not be found suitable in the dress that she was wearing.

"For another thing, her family is rich," the man continued on heartlessly, "And she comes from a good background with deep Samurai traditions, plus she has the approval of her grandfather, Katsuhito, who oversees that shrine in the mountains."

"But…the one that entombs the demoness, Ryoko?" the woman murmured faintly.

"Plus there is the fact that a marriage with you would mean…involvement with your mother," the man glanced down, then to the side as he added, "And you know how I feel about her. It's nothing against you personally, but I just don't think I'm ready to have those sorts of in-laws."

It was the woman's turn to look down, only her expression was slowly shifting from shock to anger.

"Anyway, I've made up my mind that the one I marry should be Nodoka," the man started to turn around, "I won't have any trouble out of you over this, will I Atsuko-chan? I don't want you taking it out on her…"

To his surprise the woman was on her feet holding what looked like a giant mallet and screaming out the word, "DIIIEEEE!!!" one second before she hit him and knocked the man soaring.

The image was banished as easily as it was called, leaving us back in the present as the current version of Atsuko (who hardly appeared a day older than the woman in the image), was smiling without humor at my father-in-law before saying, "Of course you knew it wouldn't be over as easy as that. I still had my mother on my back about the mission she originally gave me, and the only way I was ever going to get any peace and quiet would be to have your son, one way or another!"

"So," the Demon Happosai said, "You snuck into his bedroom shortly after he married Nodoka, put a spell on her to make her sleep more deeply, then assumed her form and woke Genma up so you could have your way with him?"

"Well hey," Atsuko shrugged, "If it could work for Merlin, I figured my son deserved an equal chance. Of course I didn't realize that he'd had Nodoka first, which meant that my son was the second one to be conceived that night, but the spell mother cast on me worked, and a few months later I had my little Ryoga."

"But…but…but…!" Ryoga sputtered, "What about Dad? My real dad? I mean…the man who raised me, who I always looked up to when I was growing up…"

"Oh, that was me," Atsuko replied, "I played both your mother and your father growing up, Ryo-chan. The man you thought was your father was just an illusion I cast so you'd grow up feeling more like other boys your own age."

"That can't be!" Ryoga all but whispered, "My house…our family…"

"Glamour and illusion," the demoness replied sadly, "The house itself was real, but everything else was just spells I cast to make you feel like you were living a normal life. I did what I could to raise you to be a normal little boy, Ryo-chan. It was the least I could do…after I found out exactly why my mother was so insistent that I give birth to a Nexus."

"She kind of left out something important, huh?" my wife asked in that same way she had used before that suggested that she already knew the answer to her own question.

"You could say that again," Atsuko made a disparaging noise, "All that time I was chasing Genma trying to win him for myself and it never dawned on me to ask why a demoness like Mom would want a Nexus in the first place. Of course my skill is mainly with illusions while she's a full fledged demon Sorceress, the kind who makes pacts with other demons that often get sealed by blood and…well…" she winced, "She wanted my son for a reason. If he had been born a Nexus she could have used him to control the flow of time and fate, or something like that, but when she found out he wasn't the Nexus…"

"And Ranma is?" my wife asked.

Atsuko beamed at my wife and said, "You are a smart one, just like Kimiko-chan…and yeah, she wasn't too happy with me for having the second born, but she figured she could salvage the situation by…ah…blood sacrifice…that would have helped her get control over his half-brother."

"WHAT?" came the matching chorus of both Ryoga and my husband.

"So you decided to take a little powder, huh?" the Demon Happosai asked, "Snatched your boy back from your mother's clutches and took to the open road to raise him for yourself."

"That's right, Happy," Atsuko smiled in a way that looked both happy and sad, "Better to starve on the open road than to lose my son to my mother's ambitions. I found a house, made it into a home, cast spells to hide us from Mother, did what I could to inhibit our mutual curse and tried to raise him as much like a normal boy as I knew how. I even taught him the martial arts that I learned when I was hanging around with his father, which is why I created an illusion to make Ryo-chan think he had his father with him. It was the least I could do to give him a normal life…and I even had Shirokuro, my familiar, watch over him to see to it he never got lost or got discovered by my mother."

"I…" Ryoga sat like a stone, his expression even more blank than usual.

"Ryoga-kun?" my apprentice asked with obvious concern in her expression.

"Shirokuro?" my husband asked, turning to Ryoga, "You mean that dog you always had around with you, showing you around places? Whatever happened to her anyway?"

"A good question," Elder Lotion remarked, "Only she wasn't truly a normal dog at all, but an Oni spirit-familiar who was merely cast into the likeness of a harmless animal. In reality she was the boy's protector, his guardian companion, charged with keeping him safe from harm, only the boy made one near-fatal mistake on the day he sought out his revenge against you…a revenge engendered in him by your misguided attempt at vengeance," she glanced back in the demoness's direction.

"Ah…" Atsuko looked down, while Genma looked at her with an unreadable expression.

"Time to 'fess up, cutie," the Demon Happosai insisted, "You found out your son was attending the same school as the son of Nodoka, and it got on your nerves to realize that the boy was the real Nexus."

Atsuko's chin almost touched her chest as she looked down, "Yeah…it kinda got to me, especially when I heard Ryo-chan tell me about how Nodoka's brat was always stealing food from him in the cafeteria. I didn't like hearing about how he kept beating Ryoga up in fights, so I decided to train my son to get revenge for both of us…"

"On his half-brother, no less," Comb snorted, "That's low, even for you, Oni!"

Atsuko took in a sharp breath and reached for her umbrella, snarling, "You wanna see how low I can get? I'll pound you back all the way to China…!"

"Ah-uh!" my wife pointed out as her own hand lifted the pail of water that she had placed at her side as a precaution. I recalled her earlier threat to sell Ryoga' mother to a zoo if she did not agree to abide by a truce, and obviously so did Atsuko, who sat back down with a huff and folded her arms over her chest. As one who also shared a Jusenkyo curse I could sympathize with her feelings, but I was gratified at the ingenuity of my wife in curbing the demoness's temper.

"Okay," she said as she looked away, "So maybe I got carried away encouraging Ryoga to pound some revenge into his brother…"

"You encouraged their rivalry," Elder Lotion said, "Even after you learned that Nodoka's son had attempted to make friends with your son, even walking him home a time or two so that he did not become lost when Shirokuro was not around. And then came the day when Ryoga felt himself sufficiently trained to the point where he could match Genma's other son in battle, and the boy impetuously stormed off to the back lot where the challenge was to be held…and he forgot to obtain the services of Shirokuro."

"So that's what happened," Ranma said in dull amazement, "I waited three days for you, jerk, but it took four days for you go get there, right behind your own house!"

"Shut up, Ranma!" the lost boy snarled in a way that was sounding a little too familiar, but again my wife lifted up her bucket and obtained his immediate compliance.

"Okay," Nabiki said as I watched her with deep appreciation, "So this whole mess between Ryoga and Ranma-kun was just a carry over of a beef you had with his mother for winning out with Uncle Genma?"

"But…if Ryoga and Ranma are brothers…?" Akane asked as she looked from one boy to the other, seeing-as I did just then-how much the two of them resembled one another.

"That means that Ryoga is also a Saotome," my other father-in-law glanced at his friend for confirmation.

Ranma's father heaved a sigh, then glanced at the demoness and said, "Why didn't you ever tell me this before, At-chan?"

"What was I to tell you?" Atsuko asked in a distraught manner, "That I tricked you into having a kid with me? You were stuck on marrying Nodoka, and I didn't think I had any chance prying the to of you away, and besides…I've been on the run from my mother ever since. The only reason I've been able to find Ryo-chan at all is because of this amulet Mom gave me when I was still in her good graces," she held up what looked like a pendulum of some sort that dangled on a golden chain.

"Let me see that, child," Elder Lotion said as the demoness handed the object to her, and after a moment of scrutiny the Lore Master handed it back and said, "Clearly of Oni manufacture, and attuned to the life-essence of your son, which means you've had the power to locate him for the last two years. Why did it take you so long to arrive here?"

"Are you kidding, Lo-chan?" the demoness asked, "After that bath I took in China I've had to keep looking for hot water every time it rains or I get splashed, and then I have to hunt down my belongings, which takes a lot more time than you'd think with my problem with directions! Every time I'd think I'd get close there's be another rainstorm, or some idiot splashes me, or some old lady…"

"I think we get the picture," my wife said, "Is that why you and Ryoga use umbrellas as weapons?"

"Actually, I was taught to use mine by my father, who had a curse of his own from when he lived in China," the demoness responded, "So naturally I taught Ryoga the same thing, and a good thing too! I mean…you know how often it rains around here? Good thing as a fox I can smell things pretty good and find my way back to my belongings…after everything dries up a bit. Of course by then the scent gets lost so I have to use some tell-tale markers…"

"Right," my wife nodded, "So now you've finally managed to wind up in the same place as Ryoga, by some amazing coincidence. So…what do you want to do now?"

I saw the demoness open her mouth to speak, but then she closed it again as her eyes blinked and she said, "That's a…very good question. I was following Ryo-chan because I thought he was old enough to know the reason why I've hid him all these years, and that he needs to stay as far away as he can from my mom, only…there was something else I was going to tell him. Now what was it again?"

"You don't remember?" my mother asked with an incredulous expression.

"Ah…no," the demoness said sheepishly, running a hand through her hair again as she made that funny laugh of hers, then added, "I'm sure it'll come back to me…sooner or later…"

"Well," my other father-in-law said, "I suppose now that you're here you'll want to be taking your son back with you to your house," and I wondered if I was correct in noticing a certain hopefulness in his expression.

"Wouldn't be too much point to that," Atsuko said, "Mom now knows where I used to live, so it isn't safe to be there any more…and besides…the government kinda repossessed it on account of the fact that I haven't made any payments for a while now…"

"How have you managed to live so long without a house?" Akane asked in a way that caused me to look oddly at my apprentice.

"Oh, it's not so bad, except that it's sometimes hard to get along without any money," the demoness shrugged, "I can always merge with a tree and live there for a while. I grew up inside a tree, you know, where my mother raised me while Dad wandered about the countryside. It's not like I can't rough it when I have to."

"You can live inside a tree?" Ranma shook his head, then glanced at Ryoga, "Did you know that?"

"No," Ryoga shook his head, then blinked his eyes and said, "But wait…don't I also have a sister and a cousin? You don't mean they're also…?"

"Part Oni?" Atsuko looked at him and smiled a bit sadly, "Well…Ryomi's the other reason I've been traveling so much…only we lost her when you both were very little…"

"Ryomi?" my apprentice asked, voicing the thoughts of the rest of us.

"Oh, didn't I mention her before?" the demoness said with a sheepish expression, "She's Ryo-chan's twin sister…"

"His…sister?" my father-in-law gulped.

"I've also got a sister?" Ranma looked at her blankly.

"As for little Aki-chan, she's my niece," Atsuko continued, "I've got a half-sister somewhere that I introduced you to when you were both very little. She takes a lot after Dad, even stronger because her Oni-parts come straight from my grandmother."

"Okay," my wife said, "So there's a whole clan of Hibikis wandering around lost somewhere…"

"Oh, we're never lost," the demoness replied, "We always know perfectly well where we are. It's the rest of the world that just keeps rearranging itself to frustrate us."

"Right," I saw my wife roll her eyes and sigh before turning towards her father and saying, "Like it or not, Daddy, it looks like we've got one more unwanted house guest."

"So it would seem," my other father-in-law replied, and like a man he started weeping.

I just exchanged looks with my husband and wife, then turned another look towards my mother, who looked back at me in a less-than-pleased matter that as much as promised that there would be trouble for us in the very near future. I saw Ryoga exchanging worried looks with Akane, while the Elder and the Demon held their own peace, and all the while I wondered what to make of all of this as I finally sought out my other father-in-law, who was looking even more stunned than Ryoga.

In a way this only helped to clarify suspicions that I have held for a very long while now, but it also disturbs me to think that the stupid lost pig-boy could share in any part the same traits as my virtuous warrior husband. The knowledge that they are, in fact, brothers by different mothers only makes things even more complicated than before (though I suspect that it will help Ryoga in his suit to win Akane).

Where to go from here, I wonder? Well, I see no difficulty for me in my own suit to win the affections of my wife and husband, but it is becoming increasingly clear to me that drastic measures will need to be taken. My mother has warned me against the use of magic, and I suppose that I must respect her counsel as wise since I want to know that my loved ones do indeed return my affections.

Fortunately there is another way that I can press my suit to achieve the satisfaction that I have so far been lacking. My wife does owe me a favor, by her own admission, and she claims that she always repays her debts. If I could persuade her to allowing me to take the initiative, I feel confident that I can finally consummate my marriage to her, which should lead to success in consummating with our husband.

I must choose my timing well, strike when the moment is ripe, and then I will know the happiness that had eluded me for so long. Again my thoughts turn to my beloved Lo-Xion, and wherever she is now, I turn thoughts of gratitude her way, thanking her for teaching me so much about the arts of pleasure that I now know what to do to find marital satisfaction…

"You sure this is the way, Sugar?" Ukyo asked as she followed the two Amazons out beyond the fringes of their village.

"Positive," Ambergris replied, leading the way with unerring determination, "When we were younger and I was still on friendly terms with both Shampoo and Perfume we had a secret place that we liked to sometimes visit whenever we wanted to get away from the pressures of training. It was out special practice area where we would sometimes spar and do other things out of the eyes of the Elders in our village."

"It's not like there are a lot of places where you can do that," added the blue haired Lotion, "The Elders are an omnipresent part of our lives in our village, but sometimes a girl has to be alone with her thoughts, or with someone else whom she cares about," and as she said this her hand sought out the palm of her tall companion, who smiled sideways at her as if warm thoughts and memories were flowing between them.

"There is a very old saying among us," Ambergris noted as she kissed the back of Lotion's hand, then the two continued on side-by-side with hands clasped together, "Three things in life are inevitable…Death, tribute and Elders."

"Uh…okay," Ukyo said, not entirely comfortable with his open display of affection, "But am I right in assuming that Perfume…also has feelings towards you?"

"Yes," Lotion lowered her gaze and walked in silence for a moment while Ambergris turned an unreadable look over one shoulder in Ukyo's direction, "Perfume…was my friend for as long as I knew both her and Shampoo. She was the one who discovered how much I was suffering at the hands of my mother, and she made the Matriarch take notice, which was why I came to live with my Aunt Silk and train with Shampoo's mother. I never knew how deeply Perfume cared about me until I heard that she had gotten into a fight with Shampoo that was prompted by jealousy…" she paused again before finishing, "Which was why the Matriarch decided that I was better off training in another village…"

Ambergris made a rude noise then said, "More like it gave her the excuse she needed to break up your relationship with Shampoo. Kho-Lon thought it was inappropriate that her prized warrior should associate with such a 'weak' girl…as if what existed between you and Shampoo could be so easily dismissed," the latter part was said with a great deal of choked off anger.

"You don't like her very much, do you?" Ukyo guessed, "Cologne, that is."

"Should I have good feelings to one who has caused me so much grief?" Ambergris turned a flashing gaze from her single visible eye before turning forward again, "Understand, I am willing to forgive and forget a lot of what has been, but the Elder has always been a bit too high handed in her dealings, such as when she sought to turn Shampoo against me. Admittedly I did give her the opening she needed by challenging Shampoo to officially determine our warrior status."

"Shampoo seemed to think you were betraying your friendship," Ukyo pointed out, adding with a rueful expression, "I can't say that I'd feel all that much differently in her place if I thought somebody was befriending me just to get something for himself…"

"I never betrayed her in my own mind," Ambergris said, "But I suppose you are right and that Shampoo had every reason to believe that our friendship was based on nothing more than getting close enough to learn her combat secrets. I had done it before with other warriors, after all, and it was the way in which I was seeking to advance myself within the tribe…one of several reasons why I am widely regarded as 'Whale Puke.'"

"Sounds like you've got a lot to answer for," Ukyo noted with more sympathy than she would have expected to find within herself.

"Time will tell," Ambergris said sadly, "I have a lot to answer for from the old days, and a lot of fences that will need to be mended. I only hope that I have changed enough from the person I was to the person that I must become if I am to fulfill my destiny."

Ukyo was about to question the pink haired warrior on that subject when a loud explosive sound rocked the ground beneath their feet, and a bright flash appeared from beyond the nearest ridge. The trio caught their collective balance before Ukyo straightened out and said, "What the heck was that? Is somebody bombing the place?"

"No," Ambergris said, "Unless I miss my guess, that is Perfume's way of venting her anger."

"Aiyaa," exclaimed Lotion, "She must be very upset with me. If only I'd written her more frequently to tell her of my progress…"

"You did write her almost every week," Ambergris said, "But unless I miss my guess, none of your correspondences reached her, thanks in no small part to the Matriarch's interference."

The trio hurried up to the next ridge and came to a halt as they saw the area of near total devastation. Ukyo gasped as she saw the fallen trees and exploded ground that made it look indeed as if someone had carpet-bombed in a very enclosed place. At the center of it all, however, stood Perfume, poised and unsullied, her axes extended with her back turned towards them. At the sound of their approach, however, she straightened up and turned around in their direction.

"[Feeling any better?]" Ambergris asked as she shifted from Japanese to the Cantonese language.

"[You…!]" the Enforcer's voice shook, but with masterful self-control she managed to get a grip on her temper, especially when her eyes fell upon Lotion. With a flexing of her arms she caused her axes to disappear with a slight mechanical sound as if they were being sheathed in some invisible holders.

Ambergris came to a halt some distance away as she exchanged looks with the other girl, then in a very soft voice said, "[You're welcome.]"

Perfume blinked her eyes then said, "[For what?]"

"[You were about to thank me,]" Ambergris nodded to her companion, "[For saving her life, but I didn't want you to hurt yourself in the effort.]"

Perfume turned away for a moment, then as if compelled against her will her eyes sought out Lotion, who glanced back at her almost shyly.

"<Perfume,>" the blue haired girl said in Mandarin, "<I really didn't know that you didn't know about my survival. I did write to you, but I guess you never received my letters…>"

"<Of course,>" Perfume said with unusual stiffness in her voice, "<Great grandmother saw to that…she couldn't have thought of you interfering in my training.>"

"<Perfume…>" Lotion made an almost helpless gesture, "<I don't know how I could ever make it up to you, but I've never stopped thinking about you and what your friendship meant to me. I…didn't know how much you cared…if only you had said something to me when we were younger…>"

"<And what would that have achieved?" Perfume looked away, then sighed, "<You and Shampoo had each other, and I…I was the weak one who needed extra training. You had something special with my cousin…I couldn't interfere in that…>"

"<But you wanted to…and I came between you and Shampoo,>" Lotion made another helpless gesture then gave up on it and said, "<You were never the weak one…I was weak, and very foolish. I should have chosen you first instead of Shampoo. You were both very special to me, and I valued your companionship more than anything else in the world. Please forgive me for neglecting you, I never meant to cause you any unhappiness. Can we be friends again, like before?>"

"<Friends?>" Perfume turned to the other girl, studying her face as it committing it to memory before her own expression softened, "<Yes…I would like that very much…>"

"What are they saying?" Ukyo asked Ambergris as Lotion moved close to Perfume, leaving the two of them on the sidelines.

"They're each apologizing and calling themselves the weaker girl," Ambergris replied in a low murmur.

"Weak?" Ukyo glanced around at the scene of total devastation with a disbelieving expression.

Ambergris sniffed in amusement and said, "Hard to believe, isn't it? But there was a time when Perfume was regarded the weakest of all Amazons, before Lotion bowed out of warrior training. What you see is the result of very intensive training supervised by the Matriarch herself, fueled in part by a rage that is understandable. It's not for nothing that Perfume is the tribal Enforcer, and well respected in the village."

"More like feared," Ukyo murmured back, "So…what was her problem originally anyway?"

"It's…not my place to say," Ambergris looked almost apologetically at Ukyo, "Especially with an outlander female…no offense intended."

"None taken," Ukyo replied, adding in grim humor, "I sure never would have mistaken her for a weakling."

"[Thank you for saying this, Outlander,]" Perfume spoke and addressed herself in their direction, "[But Whale Puke is right, I am too weak to be a true Warrior of the Joketsuzoku.]"

"[At least you admit it,]" Ambergris replied, then added, "[For what little it is worth, I am sorry that I never came back to tell you what had happened, but I didn't think I'd receive a very warm reception, given the way Shampoo and I parted company.]"

"[Are you truly past your anger towards her?]" Perfume asked, "[Or do you harbor thoughts if revenge that you are masking, as you hid your true intentions in the past?]"

"[I spoke truly,]" Ambergris replied, "[I am done with thoughts of revenge, or even anger. I will face Shampoo one day and defeat her in combat to prove myself the better warrior, but I will not seek her life, nor will I seek to return injury for injury. I must look beyond any petty thoughts of the past if I am to become the warrior that I know that I must be if I am to live up to the words of Lotion the Elder.]"

"[And what words are these?]" Perfume asked with a raising of eyebrows.

"[I was cautioned by her not to tell anyone unless I was certain of their motives,]" Ambergris replied, "[But I will tell you, because I owe you this, that I am fated to one day be the Matriarch of the Joketsuzoku. I should hope, if that day should ever arise, that I could count on the support of the tribal Enforcer, unless you think I am unsuited to fill the ranks of an elder.]"

"[The Matriarch?]" Perfume said in surprise, "[You?]"

"[Have stranger things not been known to happen?]" Perfume inclined her head and eyed the other girl sidelong with her good profile.

Perfume seemed to contemplate this for a moment, then nodded, "[You would have to work hard at it to become as crafty, underhanded and manipulative as Great Grandmother, but if you can achieve this, then I will back you.]"

"[Good,]" Ambergris nodded, then sighed, "[I know you distrusted me in the past, and we were never as good friends as I was with Shampoo, but I want you to know that I have always respected you, Perfume, and do not count you as one of my enemies. I hope that by delivering Lotion to your care that I have proven that I am not your enemy, certainly not in the sense that the Matriarch has encouraged you to believe.]"

Ukyo glanced at Lotion, then at Ambergris and said, "<One question I want answered…have you two been handfasted, or is it only pleasures that you have exchanged together?>"

The blue haired girl colored a bright shade of pink and glanced down modestly, while Ambergris hesitated by a fraction before replying, "<There is…no formal agreement between us. We are friends now, nothing more or less.>"

"<Good,>" Perfume faintly smiled, then added grimly, "<Because Shampoo will need to be told of this, and it would be better for all of us if she had less reason to attack you before hearing the full story.>"

"<Agreed,>" Ambergris said, then turned to look at Ukyo and shifted back to Cantonese, "[You know where Shampoo is presently, don't you, Warrior?]"

"[I sure do, Sugar,]" Ukyo replied, "[Why?]"

"Because we are going to Japan," the pink haired girl said as she shifted back to Japanese, "And we could use a guide and an intermediary to help avert hostilities that might break out at our appearance."

Ukyo nodded and said, "When do we leave?"

"As soon as we obtain permission from the Council," Ambergris replied, glancing back at Perfume before adding, "[I know you are resourceful enough that you could make your way there on your own, but it would be best if we traveled in a group…provided you can abide being with the Matriarch for this journey.]"

Perfume's expression darkened for a moment, but then she shrugged and said, "[Why not? I've seen Great Grandmother do distasteful things before, why should this mission be any different?]"

"[Good,]" Ambergris nodded before turning back to Ukyo again and adding with a smile, "Besides, I rather like the company we'll be having on the way. Tell me, is it the custom for people in Japan to dress the way you are, because I must say that outfit makes you look…what is that word in your language? Bishonen? Yes, very Bishonen indeed."

"Ah…thanks…I think," Ukyo swallowed, wondering belatedly if this was such a good idea after all. At the very least it was promising to be anything but a dull flight back to Japan with these three in tow. She only hoped that she wasn't bringing in more trouble for Shampoo than the purple haired girl could handle…


Comments/Criticisms/Air Joketsuzoku reservations: Shadowmane@msn.com