Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Principle of the Thing ( Chapter 50 )

[ 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

Ranma had just come fresh from the furo to restore his manhood and was on his way to Nabiki's room, intending to talk with her about the state of their relationship. His mind was still on the kiss that he and Nabiki had shared, and the mild groping that they'd both indulged in, which had felt good in a way that had utterly surprised him. It might have gone further if he had not called a halt to things about the phase when Nabiki had attempted to undress him.

It wasn't that he minded it, per se, it was just that everything had happened so fast from the moment that she had kissed him. That kiss had been the sweetest thing that Ranma had ever known until now, and he wanted to savor it a bit, maybe get in more practice with her on other occasions, before trying his luck with anything that should have more properly been saved for after they were married.

Married. The thought alone stunned him into a daze, wondering just how he had gone from enjoying the single life to actually contemplating having a wife who was a year older than himself, yet who had become very much the center of his whole existence. From the moment they had first met he had been unable to stop thinking about her, that quirky smile of hers, the elfin features that gave her such a look of mischief, and the way she could continually off-balance him with a word or gesture. She could intimidate him so easily with her subtle humor and cool sophistication that the thought of actually approaching her in a sexual way was actually more terrifying than any fight he had ever been in, and yet oh-so-appealing!

Oh sure, there was also Shampoo to consider, and that was an entirely different kettle of potential problems as the Amazon was sexually more aggressive than both Ranma and Nabiki combined, but Shampoo seemed accommodating enough and was actually pretty easy to talk to, if you overlooked her lack of fluency in the Japanese language (and Ranma had to privately admit that there was something almost appealing in Shampoo's kawaii manner of speaking). The problem for Ranma was figuring out exactly how he was supposed to balance himself between the two women, and this was even taking into consideration that many guys would kill to be faced with such choices.

Yeah, right! Ranma sniffed to himself, thinking of his friends at school, Hiroshi and Daisuke, who had trouble even lining up dates and voice the frequent complaint that Ranma did not know how good he had it. Like either one of them would be any better at handling this problem than he was, but at least Ranma could console himself with the fact that he only had two girls that he was committed too. That engagement to Ukyo had been...weird, to say the least, but she seemed willing enough to call the whole thing off, so at least he was spared having a third such girlfriend to complicate his existence.

That, of course, still left that unresolved matter of Kuno Kodachi, but she had been strangely less of a concern for him of late, leaving Ranma to dare the hope that the Black Rose was looking elsewhere for a suitor. At least she had seemed reasonable enough on that date they had shared a month ago, not half so wild and demented as when he had sparred against her in that gymnastics competition. In fact, she had looked very attractive during their date itself, which almost made it a pity...

Stop that, he severely chided himself. You don't need that kinda trouble, man! Just stick to the two girls you have and try to forget all about Kuno...


Ranma stopped in his tracks, blinked his eyes twice and thought for a minute that he must be hallucinating. The business with the kiss and the discovery that he and Ryoga were brothers must have unsettled him worse than he thought, because he almost would have sworn that voice sounded just like...


Very slowly Ranma turned around and glanced at the door that bore Kasumi's name in carved letters on a wood placard. He listened faintly and could just barely hear the soft noises emanating from within that bedroom, giving him the distinct impression of two people doing something that sounded rather intense and physical, though his mind utterly balked at formulating a mental picture to go with the gasps, grunts and groaning.

He shook his head, not wanting to pry and even less to know about what was going on in there. He would have said it was none of his business, but he did wonder if Nabiki had any idea that Kodachi was in there with her sister. He resolved to talk with her about it, not wanting to be guilty of withholding any information from her as she had withheld the truth about Ukyo from him, and they both had hid the truth about Ryoga from Akane. Too much withholding was only causing needless trouble, and there was one thing they did not need around the Tendo house it was more trouble!

Nabiki's room was right next to Kasumi's, so it wasn't a hard task to approach her, and since his mind was on the very vigorous sounds coming from Kasumi's room, he might be forgiven for not immediately hearing the equally strange sounds coming from Nabiki's room until he lightly tapped on the door and had a sense that something was wrong...or at the very least very strange going on in there as well. The sounds halted abruptly, then a few seconds later the door swung open and there was Shampoo standing before him with a very curious expression.

"Airen?" she beamed brightly, grinning like a cat and as naked as the proverbial blue jay.

"What the heck?" he reacted with a start, looking past the Amazon to see an equally naked Nabiki laying face up on her bed. He was so shocked by this that he did not even react in time as Shampoo's hand reached out to grip him by his shirt, and then before he knew it she was hauling him into the room while Ranma flailed his arms and sought to maintain his balance.

"Airen, you come join Shampoo and Nabiki?" the Amazon cried in delight as she hugged Ranma to her breasts, his face buried in between the soft cushion of her natural pillows, all but smothering him as he filled his nostrils with the powerful aroma of the Amazon's sex-slicked body.

Ranma would have denied later on that he had fainted dead away at the point, but Shampoo had noticed when he went limp in her arms, which prompted her to lift his face up to hers as she asked, "Airen?"

"I think he passed out," Nabiki suggested from where she still lay bound to her bedposts, "No offense, Sham-chan, but I think you could suffocate the guy doing that."

"Aiyaa...too much happiness for Airen," Shampoo concluded, then her kittenish smile return and she gave Nabiki a wicked glance, adding in a sultry purr, "We help Ranma get over shyness like Shampoo help Nabiki?"

"What have you got in mind?" Nabiki asked, suspecting already that she was about to be made a participant in something very naughty, which is probably why her own smile deepened...

The called it "Sie Yu airlines," which-as Ambergris wittily explained, when you get on the plane, the people on the ground would wave at you and say, "See You!"

Somehow that joke sounded funnier when contemplating it on the ground and not while the (for lack of a better synonym) plane was up off the ground and coasting along at treetop level, avoiding Chinese air defenses while aiming in a general sense towards the coastline, where their party intended to board a more respectable airline. The name of the plane itself roughly translated as "The Crimson Pig," which in no way encouraged her to want to use the service for frequent flyer mileage.

Which would not be hard, by Ukyo's estimation, seeing as it would be a minor miracle if they got to the coast in relatively intact condition. As it was she sympathized with Perfume's wan expression. The Amazon Enforcer seemed to be concentrating intensely on just remaining still where she sat by herself on one of the two benches that served as interior seating. Ukyo had wondered if the pale-faced girl was going to be sick all over herself at any minute but refrained from asking, respecting Perfume's dignity for more than just fear of what the girl would do to her when no longer airsick.

Ambergris, by contrast, was calm and collected throughout the whole trip, accepting the hardships of the journey as if it were all just an expected part of life. Lotion beside her was unusually quiet and demure, but she kept fetching glances at Perfume, which the other girl was returning so often that Ambergris finally insisted she go over and keep the enforcer company for the remainder of the trip. Ukyo could not help noticing that Perfume did seem to settle down and focus on the blue haired girl from the moment she sat down beside her.

That left Ukyo uncomfortably close and alone with the pink haired Amazon, wondering just what it was about this other girl that was disturbing her so much. Ambergris was polite and cordial throughout the whole trip, yet she seemed unusually interested in Ukyo for some reason, which no doubt was why she struck up a somewhat awkward conversation mid-flight.

Awkward, that is, as the planes engines made it difficult to hear what the person next to you was saying, yet somehow Ambergris seemed to annunciate herself clearly and pick up enough of what Ukyo was saying that they did not have to raise their voices too loud in order to hear the other person.

"So," the pink haired girl was saying, "What did you think of your visit to our quaint little village?"

Ukyo glanced at the other occupants of the plane sitting across from them and wondered how best to answer. Cologne was being even more inscrutable than usual, but Ukyo doubted the old woman would be shocked or offended by an honest appraisal. The man sitting next to her, however, was something of an enigma because he was very quiet and dignified in his bearing, and much of his attention seemed to be directed towards holding the last two occupants of the plane in check, a pair of rambunctious teenaged girls with the curious names of Ling Ling and Lung Lung.

The man in question was none other than the father of Shampoo, the often alluded to Ha-Brus, whom Ukyo found easy to refer to as Hairbrush. He was around forty-or so and somewhat heavyset, but very physical in appearance with an easy-going manner that all but screamed the words "laid-back!"

He and the twins (both girls having unusual hair color, one green, the other almost cherry-pink) had approached Ukyo's group sometime before their departure by bus for the open field that had served as a landing strip for the plane itself. He had spoken softly with Cologne, endured some harsh comments and one obvious reprimand but quietly insisted that he and his daughters come along for the ride, and somehow he had prevailed in the end to have his way with the Matriarch. Ukyo had wondered about that, but there did seem to be something irresistibly firm about the man, as if his easygoing mannerisms were but a silken cover for a character of great strength and resolution.

"Well…" Ukyo began cautiously, "It is a nice place, pretty rustic and all that, but I'm surprised the Chinese government lets you people run things by yourselves. They're not too well known for respecting indigenous cultures."

"Indeed, and they have tried to impose their ways on us from time to time," Ambergris explained, "But we are too remote and far out in the hinterlands for the government to pay us all that much attention. Besides which the Matriarch and the High Council have cleverly managed to keep us on a low profile with the Beijing government, only occasionally flexing our muscles when we need to remind them of how dangerous we can be when aroused. We may not have their sophisticated, ultra-modern inventions on our side, but the wisdom and fighting skills of our people make us formidable even by the standards of a more conventional army. The one time they tried to impose on us as they did to Tibet they got their heads collectively handed back to them on a platter, after which the Great Helmsman was more than willing to cut a deal as a face-saving gesture on his part."

"So why haven't they tried bombing you guys back to the Stone Age?" Ukyo wondered aloud.

"Oh, they tried that…once," Ambergris leveled her single visible eye with a cunning smile and repeated the word, "Once," as if hinting at something ominous, "On the whole it was a most unpleasant chapter of recent Chinese history that the people in Beijing had been trying to live down ever since. Needless to say they have never been foolish enough to attempt pointing their missiles at us with a repeat of their former intentions."

"Oh," Ukyo decided she was better off not knowing the details, so she switched to what she hoped would be a safer topic, "Your Japanese is pretty good…a lot better than my Chinese, anyway…"

"Did you think we all speak with the accent of the country?" Ambergris asked her, "I've some traveling in my day, and I pick up languages fairly easily…a knack of sorts, but then I do have a pretty good memory and an eye for detail. They say travel broadens the mind and sharpens the perspective, and I've been to a lot of places during the past two years that have helped me to overcome some of the more provincial notions that are common for our people."

"Such as?" Ukyo found herself growing more and more curious.

"Well, take our basic attitude regarding Outlanders, for example," Ambergris smiled that smile that once again was making Ukyo feel nervous, "That was begun as a consequence to our Scythian ancestors having to fight their way into the Bayankala mountain range before finding our hidden valley at the base of our sacred White Rock mountain. Back then we were not even properly Chinese and had not yet begin to intermarry with the men of the local villages, which started when our ancestors forged alliances with the elders of those villages. This was about three thousand years ago, of course, but even back then we had a policy about marrying any man who could defeat one of us in battle. We like to think of ourselves as a strong race of warriors who breed the best qualities of other people into our own hereditary bloodlines, but I personally think the practice got started when the Elders of long ago realized the dangers inherent in excessive inbreeding. New blood from outside is often needed to prevent genetic defects from occurring, such as the rare condition that afflicts Perfume."

"Condition?" Ukyo arched an eyebrow and shot a glance towards the brown haired Enforcer.

Ambergris sighed, "I really shouldn't have mentioned that, and Perfume will kill me if I told you, but I will say that she has worked very hard to overcome her limitations, and I think she has proven herself admirably competent in that way. It is not for me to tell you specifically what is wrong with her, that is her decision to make, but as her friend I thought that I should warn you, just in case you find out the hard way."

"Her…friend?" Ukyo wondered about that, "I only just met her today. I mean…she seems a nice enough girl…"

"Oh, she is," Ambergris nodded, "Perfume is as loyal and devoted a friend as you could ever ask for, and I while we were not so close to one another as children as we each were to Shampoo, I can personally vouch for her character as she is one of the most honest people with whom I have ever had the privilege of associating. Indeed, I think a large part of the reason that she was always so suspicious of me was her loyalty to Shampoo, whom I think she was trying to protect against my perceived attempt at betrayal."

Ukyo noted that Perfume was almost smiling at the blue-haired girl at her side, shyly lowering her eyes when the other girl took her by the hand in what seemed like an impulsive gesture. There was obvious closeness being built there, and she wondered if she were not, in fact, seeing the early stages of two people in a budding girl-girl romance.

The idea made her feel somewhat uncomfortable, so she looked down at her hands, which were folded on her lap, then almost by reflex at the backpack that contained the precious cargo they were transporting back to Nerima. She could not help but reflect on how her recently acquired condition gave her a peculiar status in this group as the nominally "Heterosexual-Transsexual" in residence, quite a step removed from her usual label as a cross-dresser.

"Okay," she said, "So she and Shampoo grew up together…and so did you and Lotion over there?"

"Perfume and Shampoo were sparring partners who trained together under the Matriarch," Ambergris replied, "Lotion was their friend, and later on became an object of brief rivalry when she and Shampoo became bed-mates. I, on the other hand, was the odd one out in our little group. As with Perfume I had…difficulties with my mother, and I was not at first rated as a very good prospect for a warrior since I was more of an intellectual than a fighter. The main distinction between us, other than Perfume's handicap, was that she was adopted into the Elder's house and given special training, whereas I am self-trained and disciplined, having learned most of my techniques from watching and copying others. What I lack in natural talent I try to make up for with devotion to my training."

Ukyo had to privately wonder about that "lack of natural talent" remark, because in her own estimation the pink-haired girl was very good indeed, as judged by their practice sparring match, which they had held while waiting to board the plane at the airstrip.

At first Ukyo had not wanted to accept the offer from the other girl to test their respective fighting skills, but Cologne had reassured her that the "Outsider Rule" did not apply to free-sparring and practice, only formal challenge matches. It turned out that Ambergris's preferred weapon was a Japanese Naginata, a weapon she claimed she had adapted to her longer reach, and the tall girl employed it fluidly enough that Ukyo was certain her grandfather would have approved of her technique. The match had been indecisive, neither one gaining the clear advantage, but Ukyo suspected that the other girl had been holding back a lot during their encounter, whereas she had been fighting all-out with her baker's peel and mini-spatulas, so she wondered how they would truly fare if the two of them ever fought in earnest.

"Lotion," the pink haired girl continued as if oblivious to Ukyo's wary appraisal, "On the other hand, has no real talent as a fighter. She was very clumsy and awkward growing up, and her mother had little patience for training her. Indeed, Lotion had to be removed the custody of her mother at one point when it was found that Balm had become abusive in her training. It was Perfume who found this out and alerted the Elders in time to spare her the worst of it, and she came to live with her aunt, the Lore Master Silk, where it was found that she had a natural talent for healing."

As if to emphasize her point, Ambergris brushed back the hair covering the scarred side of her face and showed once more to Ukyo's scrutiny the white line that marred an almost perfect profile, adding as she did so, "Right after I saved her from the falls, she rewarded me by easing the suffering of my face, though her skills were not great enough to affect a total healing. I might well have caught an infection if she had not thoughtfully done that, but that is one of her great charms, that Lotion thinks first about others before her own welfare."

Ukyo turned a glance towards the blue haired girl, whom even she thought of as an appealing sort with a very friendly, outgoing nature that seemed to be having an amazing effect in charming Perfume out of her airsickness.

"You obviously care a lot about her," Ukyo wondered, "Aren't you jealous?"

"Of Perfume?" Ambergris seemed to consider the point as she let her hair fall back down over her face, "I suppose I should be, but I do think I owe them both a chance for happiness together. I never really looked upon myself as the type who could go for other women, before that first time when she seduced me. But then I suppose I've always been a little odd when it comes to gender issues, and I've memories of how happy Shampoo used to be during that year when she and Lotion were actual lovers. These days I see myself as more…flexible on the subject of relationships, though my greatest turn-on remains a curious attraction I have for cross-dressers."

"W-W-What?" Ukyo almost jumped out of her seat as she spun a look back towards her companion.

Ambergris softly laughed and said, "Don't worry, I wasn't making a play for you…yet, although I do have to wonder about a girl who dresses like a man and carries a large cooking implement around on her back. I was thinking more along the lines of how cute guys look when they dress up and pretend to be us, something I found out when I briefly lived in the Lugu Lake region with our ancestral cousins to the Amazons, the Mosuo of Yunnan province, and later had confirmed when I saw a Zeigfield-style performance of 'La Cage Au Follies' in Thailand."

"Oh," Ukyo said, wondering if it might be a good idea to hook the pink haired girl up with a certain boy she knew by the name of Tsubasa.

"Anyway," Ambergris resumed, "The reason why our attitude regarding Outlanders has grown so intense over the years has more to do with a sense of our own isolation, which breeds a perception of cultural superiority over the people of other societies. That 'must-kill' rule for outlander women who defeat us, for example, grew up no doubt because we hate to admit that anyone else could be as good as we are as fighters. Amazon Warriors have a lot of pride, and War Masters are by far the proudest of all our elites. I understand that Shampoo got into trouble on account of that old law, which is how she wound up chasing some redheaded girl named Ranma all the way to your country."

"Ah…yeah, Ranchan told me about that," Ukyo admitted, only to be surprised at the look her companion gave her.

"You are friends with this Saotome Ranma?" Ambergris noted.

"Oh, ah…yeah," Ukyo replied somewhat awkwardly, "We met when we were kids, when…ah…Ranchan tried to steal some okonomiyaki from my dad's cart. Well…more like succeeded in taking it, and left me feeling like a jackass."

"Ah, so even then she must have been a great fighter," Ambergris nodded, then inclined her head and said, "You seem to have a lot of mixed emotions when you say her name. Just how close are the both of you anyway?"

"Ah...huh?" Ukyo had a brief sense of what a deer must feel in the headlights, "Oh, Ranchan and I…we're sort-of like best buddies. We played and fought together a lot ten years ago, and now that we're sort-of grown up it's like no time has passed for us…well, a lot of time has passed, and we've both changed so much, but our friendship is as strong as ever."

"But would you prefer it to be more than friendship?" Ambergris persisted, then smiled when she saw Ukyo's guilty reaction, "Never mind, forgive me for prying, but I was curious to know about your feelings. You seem uncomfortable with the whole subject of woman-sex, and I was wondering if you were one of those sexually repressed girls who have deep-rooted urges that conflict with your cultural upbringing. I don't mean to insult you by that, but I think you'd be a lot happier if you didn't fight so hard to deny that you have feelings."

"Who's denying anything?" Ukyo asked somewhat defensively, though she was unnerved at just how accurate the other girl was being in her perceptions.

"I'm sorry again for asking this," Ambergris said in a lower voice that almost did not carry above the hum of the engines, "I just wondered if this might have some bearing on your traveling to China. The Matriarch was unusually mysterious, even for her, in avoiding answering the Council on what you were doing, but from the way Perfume has been acting towards you I've started to wonder if it might have something to do with a certain mineral spring that is notorious in our region."

Ukyo almost gasped at that, but managed to regain control over her reactions as she tried to minimize the significance of what the other girl was saying, "What makes you say a thing like that, and what about the way Perfume's been acting?"

"Haven't you noticed?" Ambergris smiled, "I think she's taken a liking towards you, which is certainly nothing I can hold against her as you are a very attractive Japanese outlander. You're almost good enough a fighter to defeat one of us in battle, and as you probably no doubt have heard there is an alternative for us that negates the 'Must Kill' rule for victorious outlander women. But I've noticed that Perfume also shies away from you whenever you're carrying your backpack, almost as if you were transporting Nitroglycerine in those bottles it contains. Since there is only one place I know about that Perfume fears worse than death itself, the water you are carrying must originate with Jusenkyo."

"Really?" Ukyo swallowed, remembering the way Perfume had hung back at the edge of the springs, unwilling to accompany Ukyo beyond the point where her loyalty to Cologne had mandated her presence, "And why is she so scared of the place?"

"It has to do with a traumatic dream she had when we were children," Ambergris explained, "One night, around about the age of eight, Perfume woke up screaming in terror and needed to be consoled by Shampoo and the Matriarch. It seems that she experienced a dream about falling into the spring known as Maoniichuan and emerging with the curse of the drowned cat…a very tragic story," the pink haired girl arched the latter part to sound like a good mimicking of the Jusenkyo Guide's voice, "Ever since then she's been haunted by the fear of turning into a cat, even though Cologne has reassured her many times that it was probably nothing more than anxiety brought about by the trauma of leaving the house of her mother."

"Oh," Ukyo replied, wondering at how Perfume seemed to have anticipated Shampoo's encounter with her Neko-curse.

"So," Ambergris continued, "Why would you want to collect bottles of Jusenkyo water to transport back to your homeland, and why is the Matriarch helping you, without the direct knowledge of the rest of the Council?"

"And if she answers you," Cologne suddenly spoke up, "Do you intend to inform them, like your backer, Be Dea?"

"That would all depend, Matriarch," Ambergris replied, "On whether it is business of the Council, or just a personal matter, as you keep insisting."

"Then, since you seem clever enough to have worked everything out in your own head," Cologne said sourly, "You might as well know the rest. The water is for Shampoo and several others who have recently acquired Jusenkyo curses. It is our hope that this water will negate the effects of those curses and restored the cursed parties to normalcy. Young Kuonji volunteered to come because she did not possess a curse prior to visiting China, and since there is a theory we on the Council have formulated regarding the place that the spirit of Jusenkyo somehow prevents cursed victims from finding they way back to cure themselves…"

"You thought an outsider would fare better," Ambergris nodded, "Very clever. Do I take it, then, that Kuonji-san now has a Jusenkyo curse?"

Ukyo looked uncomfortable over that, but before she could answer a figure came out from the area of the cockpit to join them in the back of the plane, shouting over her shoulder, "{You're the Navigator, you should know where the (BLEEP) we are!}" in English.

"{Is there some problem?}" Cologne asked as she turned to regard the planes Pilot, who was an old woman who looked older than the planes own linear ancestors and went by the curious name of "Cody."

"<No problem, Elder,>" the old woman in the battered leather flight gear replied, giving them a toothy grin in passing, "<Just a few problems checking out the map. My co-pilot's a bit rusty with her geography, and from the way she's navigates you'd almost think her last name was Hibiki. Anyway, the PA system is out, so I thought I'd come back myself to tell you to strap in since we should be near enough to the Thai airport to make your next connected flight back to Tokyo. There might, ah…be a little turbulence on the way…we're just now cresting the Himalayas…>"

"The Himalayas?" Ukyo latched onto the one word that she understood in the sentence, "But…aren't those further to the west near to India?"

"What can I say?' the old woman shrugged as she shifted to Japanese, "Like I said, she's a trainee."

"Nine will get you ten her last name is Hibiki," Ambergris murmured in fatalistic resignation.

"What was that?" Cody asked, "I didn't catch that….the engine's was too loud…oh wait! It stopped, now you can repeat that."

There was a very brief pause before Cody turned back and shouted over her shoulder, "Ryomi-chan…the number two choked out again! Hit the throttle and restart it, will you?"

"What do you want me to do next?" called a young girl's voice called back, "Get outside and push it?"

"Hey, if it works," Cody shrugged, then smiled as the engine restarted, "Now, you were saying?"

"Never mind," Ambergris said faintly, "I retract my statement."

"Hey, you can trust me to get you where you need to go, people," Cody grinned at them again, "I've been flying most of my life, learned it from my dad, who used to be called the Air Wolf. Elder Cologne will vouch for me, she's flown with me before and survived it."

"Indeed," Cologne remarked, "But I won't hold that against you."

"You do know how to find your way to Thailand?" asked the man named Hairbrush in surprisingly good Japanese.

"Of course," the old woman paused, then added, "It's kind of liver-shaped, right? Never mind, just kidding! Anyway, we should be there in about ten minutes, give-or-take, and once I convince those idiots in the control tower that we're not flying in drugs or North Korean agents. We ought to arrive in one piece with just enough fuel to spare, so strap yourselves in because this 'ol girl is going for the glory…"

As she turned to head back towards the cockpit, the man sitting next to the two girls spoke up for the first time in an hour and said, "Are you certain this was such a good idea, Grandmother?"

"Never you mind, Son-in-law," Cologne softly chided, "We need to avoid having to go through regular customs on this trip, else it might be awkward to explain our transporting Jusenkyo water out of the country. Besides which, I knew both of her parents and rate her as trustworthy since she never asks too many questions of paying customers."

"Why not just bribe the local officials?" the man whom Ukyo found easier to think of as Hairbrush reasonably pointed out, "That's the way you usually avoid these sorts of problems?"

"There are limits to how far you can buy the silence of certain people," Cologne noted, "You, of all people, should know this."

The man nodded and seemed to accept this as sufficient answer, but the two girls next to him just gave quizzical stares at both him and their great-grandmother.

Ambergris leaned closer to Ukyo and murmured in her ear, "Which reminds me…why exactly are you doing this for Shampoo anyway? Risking your life and a Jusenkyo curse…"

"I'm not sure I can say exactly," Ukyo admitted, "But the simple answer is…I think I owe her."

Ambergris's single visible purple eyebrow arched a bit as she replied, "That's some favor! What did she do, push you out of the path of a speeding locomotive?"

"More like she pushed me out of the way of a guy named Mousse," Ukyo replied, then took notice of the way the other girl's face went from surprise to anger.

"Him again???" she said with clear disdain, "That fool never could learn to mind his place! And to think I once thought he was rather cute…in a blind, totally obsessive kind of way…"

"Well," shrugged uncomfortably, "He mistook me for another guy who's engaged to Shampoo, but that's just one reason why I'm doing this. The other reason…is complicated."

"Really?" Ambergris eyed her with renewed interest, "Then perhaps you might like to share the details with me? I happen to think that I am a reasonably good listener."

"Well…" Ukyo hesitated, thinking it over. On the one hand the Amazon was a good conversationalist, and very quick on the uptake, but just how far could she be trusted with the secret fears and longings of Ukyo's lifetime? She was trying to gauge how much to share with the other girl when the plane began to tilt forward, and the pitch of the engines noticeably increased in volume, which prompted her to hang on for dear life as she called out, "I'll tell you later, if we survive this!"

"I'm holding you to that!" Ambergris agreed as they both braced themselves for a bumpy ride, hoping against hope that they were not about to have a first-hand encounter with their ancestors…

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

In retrospect I suppose it was foolish for us to have the best sex of our lives (indeed, in both my case and Ranma's, our first and only encounter that involved another person) on the night before a school day, but things were pretty much unplanned and spontaneous for us, so I guess we can both be forgiven for sleeping in a bit late and waking up feeling like the cat had dragged us both into her bed. I just remember how good it felt to find myself sandwiched by the two people I most loved, and how much I wanted to sleep in that way for just a few more hours. I don't even remember what time we fell asleep, only that it could not have been more than a few hours before sunrise!

By mutual consent we decided to skip our normal practice sessions, and for once the grownups let us get away with it. I would have dearly loved to share a bath with my two amorous companions, but since we each had to get ready for classes we took turns using the furo and joined the rest of the family at the table for breakfast. I personally felt drained, like death warmed over, while Ranma hardly looked any better with bags under his eyes, but it was a good kind of exhaustion, the kind that made us both exchange smiles that were less awkward than usual. I felt enormous closeness to my iinazuke, and I was glad that I could finally call him mine, even though I technically did share him the night before with an Amazonian freight train who tired the both of us out in very short order.

Of course our mutual fatigue did not seem to affect our tormentor in the slightest as she appeared at our sides bright and chipper as always. She helped Silk and Kasumi out in the kitchen and made certain to heap portions of rice out for the both of us, even insisted on alternately feeding Ranma and me bits of cooked fish with her chop sticks. I was flabbergasted at how much energy she seemed to have left over, and I remember exchanging looks with Ranma one time when she left the room as the both of us seemed to form the single idea that our Amazon lover was something other than human!

Given all that, I had no trouble forgiving Shampoo for literally roping the both of us into our three-way orgy, and now that we had finally consummated our affections for one another I felt very good about the world at large. I was in such a good mood that it took a while for me to realize just how many people were sharing breakfast with us that morning. I'd casually taken notice of Atsuko sitting next to Uncle Genma and Ryoga, with Comb hovering close near by looking ready to start a food fight, and of course Akane sat close by to play tacit mediator between these two (never mind the irony of Akane being the one to play "peacekeeper") while Daddy looked on as if trying to figure out how we were going to afford to feed so many people.

It was only when a familiar voice was asking Kasumi for more rice that I took notice of Kuno Kodachi sitting at my side opposite to Shampoo. I had a delayed effect in registering her presence, but then I sat up with a start and said, "Kodachi?"

"Hmmm?" she asked, pausing with chopsticks raised to her mouth as she gave me a politely inquiring expression.

"What are you doing here?" Ranma started to life, no less alarmed than I was, and for what I thought was even better reason!

"Oh, I asked Kodachi to stay and have breakfast with us," my oneechan replied as she came into the room bearing yet more food on a platter, "She's been having some problems at home and wanted to avoid having to share breakfast with her father."

"Indeed?" Daddy spoke up in surprise, "Is Godai back in Nerima? I hadn't heard about that."

"Godai?" I repeated, taking a moment to register that name with the family name of Kuno, and then my chopsticks fell from my limp fingers, "Koucho Kuno is back in Nerima?"

"Why yes," Kodachi said pleasantly, "My father used to be the Principal of your high school, but he's been away for a few years. He arrived back just last night and…well…it's complicated. Let's just say I'd rather not…associate with him at the present. He's gotten…quite eccentric during his absence…"

"I said that she could stay with us for a few days," Kasumi looked at Daddy and added, "That is all right with you, is it not, Father?"

"Stay with us?" Daddy seemed torn between dismay at the idea of another border with surprise that somebody had actually bothered to ask him this time. Of course he never could say no to Kasumi, so he reluctantly said, "I…suppose it might be all right, if it's just for a few days. But…where will you sleep? We're running out of bedrooms…"

"Oh, there's no problem, Father," Kasumi smiled, "She can sleep in my room. I would very much enjoy that."

"Huh?" Ranma looked from one girl to the other with a peculiar expression, one I barely took notice of as my own reaction to this news was anything but sanguine.

"Excuse me," I said mildly, "But is that such a good idea? I mean…we can barely afford to feed everybody…"

"Oh, that's not a problem," Kodachi said brightly, "I would be more than happy to compensate you for the trouble of having me around. I will do anything that I can to help out and contribute my fair share, just as I helped buy the food you're all enjoying for breakfast, prepared with loving skill and devotion by darling Kasumi-sama."

I saw the exchange of fond looks pass between the Black Rose and my older sister and suddenly I had a sense that something was going on here that I didn't know about and certainly did not approve in advance. I'd known the two of them had been getting awfully close and affectionate lately…but this? Hey, I'm a reasonable person, but there are limits!

"Aiyaa," Shampoo remarked, "Black Rose girl seem very happy this morning."

"Because I am happy," Kodachi smiled back at Shampoo with none of her usual glowering resentment, "As are you, I see…from which I take it you had an eventful evening?"

Shampoo just gave a grin that definitely reminded me of that saying about the neko and the canary. I think I blushed a bit at the reference.

"Ah…" Ranma said, "So…your dad's back in town, huh?"

"Oh yes," Kodachi nodded without seeming to regard him in any significant manner, "As large as life and twice as unnerving."

"Don't tell me Godai still has that stupid obsession about haircuts?" Comb said with clear disdain.

"Yikes!" Atsuko winced, "I like my hair just the way it is! Better stay clear of him, kids, if you don't want to have yours as short as Ak-chan here."

"Ak-chan?" Akane gave the senior Hibiki a puzzled look.

"Sure," our resident half-Oni smiled back, "You're Ryo-chan's main squeeze, so I thought I'd call you that and…"

"Mom…!" Ryoga winced, flushing a deep shade of crimson.

"Now, don't be shy like that, Ryo-chan," Atsuko pinched her son's cheek and grinned in a winning manner, "You can tell her how you feel about her, I'm sure Akane wouldn't mind it a bit, right Ak-chan?"

"Ah…" now it was my sister's turn to blush like a ripened tomato, glancing down at the table with hands folded upon her lap.

Ranma suddenly gave me a peculiar look and said, "What's up? The way you said the name of Kodachi's father just now, sounds almost like you know him."

"Uh, I don't," I admitted, swallowing past a peculiar thickness in my suddenly dry mouth, "He's from before my time at Furinkan…but they tell stories about Koucho Kuno and what he used to be like in the old days…"

"Oh, he's much worse these days," Kodachi assured me, which in no way did I find reassuring, "If anything, I think my father is more insane than even I remember."

I'm sure I must have blanched, and not just at prospect of imagining what sort of behavior would make Kodachi call him "crazy." I fervently hoped that her father was not going to resume his place as principal at our high school. If he had gotten worse than what I had heard about in stories, then a short haircut would be the least of all our troubles!

"Aiyaa," Shampoo said with surprising sympathy in her voice, "So sorry to hear you father no so nice man. Shampoo father very nice man, wish sometime could talk with more often."

"I'm sure your father thinks highly of you as well, Shampoo," Comb said softly, then her smile deepened, "Well then, you three had better get going if you want to make it to school on time. Akane, do be careful with Ryoga. You wouldn't want him to get lost on the way to school, like his mother always used to."

"School?" Ryoga blinked, "But…I'm not enrolled in Furinkan…"

"We talked it over last time, your father, Atsuko and me," Comb eyed the other girl with no small measure of suppressed hostility in their exchange of glances, "And we agreed that you should resume your education, even if you have been out of class for the past two years. Knowledge is very important to the making of a good husband, and you wouldn't want Akane to be associated with a drop out?"

"Hah?" both Akane and Ryoga exchanged astonished looks on that remark.

"Stupid pig boy should be happy," Shampoo said with a particularly catty expression, "Spend more time now with Akane."

"You're being enrolled too, daughter," Comb announced as she directed her gaze towards her daughter.

"Aiyaa?" Shampoo blinked her eyes while Ranma and me looked at her, then back at her mother, seeing by the serious look on Comb's face that she was not joking.

"I know grandmother insists that formal education isn't relevant to a good fighter," Comb stated flatly, "But I learned the hard way that this is not necessarily the case, which is why no daughter of mine will grow up as ignorant as I was when I was your age. I've already purchased school materials for you and made arrangements with the vice principal at Furinkan to see that you get to share homeroom with your airen. I understand that the Japanese educational system is very good and detail oriented, so I expect you to do well as you have at least another two years before graduation."

"Hah, nailed you!" Akane naturally could not resist turning the knife on our stunned Sham-chan.

"Oboy," Ranma winced, "Life's gonna be a lot more interesting with Shampoo and Ryoga in my class."

"To say nothing about what the other boys are gonna think when they get a look at her," I pointed out to him casually, watching as he slowly put two and two together.

"Huh?" he blinked, and then his expression darkened and he sounded definitely a lot more possessive than usual, "They'd better not say it where I can hear 'em…"

"Enough chatter everyone," Silk said pleasantly enough, "You've barely got enough time as it is to make it to class, so you'd better put a move on it."

"Father," Kasumi said, "If it's all right with you, I'd like to walk Kodachi to her school, if you wouldn't mind too much."

"Why should your father mind?" Silk asked as Daddy slowly started to process the request with a confused expression, "I'm sure he'd be very happy that you want to spend time with your little friend, right Soun-chan?"

I think I was about to say something very rude and nasty about Silk presuming to make a decision like that for my father, especially the familiar way that she said "Soun-chan," almost purring his name, which was getting a little too familiar for my tastes, only Daddy himself surprised me by saying, "Well…I don't see why not, but it's a long way to Saint Hebereke…"

"Oh, not long at all, Tendo-sama," Kodachi informed us with a strange emphasis on referring to Daddy, also in the familiar, "In fact I've already called for the limousine to take us there, and it will bring Kasumi-sama back the same way, so she won't be gone too long from home today.""Well then," Daddy said after a moment of reluctance, "I don't see that it will be any problem…""Then it's settled," Silk concluded for him, "You all have a nice time at school, and don't worry about the dishes, Comb and I will clean everything up by the time you get back here.""Comb clean house?" Atsuko eyed her nominal rival in disbelief, "I thought you usually wrecked homes, not made them!"Comb glared at the Oni-woman, almost reaching for a weapon, "I may just decide to start by removing the trash first…"Sensing that a major blow-up was in the works, we each decided to leave about that point, so in short order the five of us (meaning me, Ranma-kun, Shampoo, Akane and Ryoga) were on our way out from the combat zone while I saw Kasumi get into a stretch limo with Kodachi. I resolved that I was going to have to have a serious (and long delayed) talk with my older sister on the matter of Miss Kuno, but that would be for later, and presently I had my own relationship to set in order, not that I felt that anything was wrong about the state we were in as we started off together.

It was strange to think that I was starting out that morning no longer the virgin that I have been every morning since the day I first attended classes. Strange because something had fundamentally changed between me, Ranma and Shampoo, and yet also very much the same as always as we had the drill of classes to go through, and our peers to interact with, which would seem especially odd as I was filled with the knowledge of something wonderful that few of them could have experienced. I'm almost certain that I had a glow about me that would inform anyone who noticed that I had taken a big step beyond adolescence into adulthood. Even those girls whom I knew were no longer virgins themselves would probably have been shocked to see me-the resident Ice Queen-the night before, locked into a passionate threesome with both Shampoo and Ranma.

In a way I was almost disappointed that Kasumi had refrained from giving me one of her standard lectures about the impropriety of having sex before marriage…but then again, if what I suspect is true between her and Kodachi, she'd be in no position to go pointing any fingers.

As it was, however, the memory of Kodachi at our breakfast table smiling as she received food from Kasumi was just one of the dark clouds that loomed on my horizon. I was in too good a mood to spoilt it by dwelling on the infamous Black Rose of Saint Hebereke possibly despoiling my sister, but the news that her father was back in town worried me almost as much. I was not kidding around about there being horror stories over the guy, so I was on my guard when we reached the school grounds, seeing the other students hurrying onto class with nervous expressions rather than milling around and socializing as was the standard custom.

"What's with everybody?" Akane asked as she also took notice of the strange behavior of our fellow students.

"They seem to be in a hurry to get to class," Ryoga observed.

"I don't like this," Ranma's tone matched my own hesitation.

"Aiyaa," Shampoo murmured softly, glancing around with a narrowing of her reddish eyes, "Shampoo think Japanese students look worried, like maybe Elder no in good mood today."

"Hey, Sayuri!" Akane hailed one of her friends, who did not stop as she glanced back at Akane and replied, "Haven't you heard? We got to get to class on time! If we're late he's going to shave us bald!"

"He?" Ranma glanced at me as if expecting me to know the answer.

"Akane friend very rude," Shampoo said softly, "Maybe Elder is in bad mood. Shampoo no like way they acting."

I was about to voice my observations on the subject when some warning sense of danger caused all five of us to move away from a certain spot that we intuitively sensed was about to be ground zero. Sure enough, a heavy figure suddenly burst from the bushes and attacked us with a comb and a pair of scissors. I bent backwards and did a flip out of the way of the buzz while Shampoo and Ranma darted to one side, leaving only Ryoga a bit too slow to react to an attack by what looked like a walking snow man. He just barely got his guard up in time before a "WIZZ" sound blurred right by him. A second later some of his hair started to fall away, leaving him with a virtual buzz cut worthy of an Army recruiter.

While our assailant was in the process of trimming that tangled mop of hair that Ryoga is always sporting, Ranma chose to attack with a flying kick aimed at the snowman's head. Shampoo kicked sideways at the chest region while Akane darted in low to plant a solid punch in the gut of our attacker. The combined effort of this almost-coordinated counter-attack caused the Snowman costume to fall away in pieces, leaving in its place a heavy set, paunchy, barrel-chested man with buzz-cut dark brown hair and a pair of heavy sunglasses. He was wearing a Hawaiian style shirt with Bermuda shorts and thong sandals on his feet, his hairy legs in serious need of a good trimming!

Of course the most disturbing thing of all to see was something looked like a miniature palm tree growing up from the top of his head. In most other respects, however, he resembled the figure out of darkest Furinkan legend come to haunt us again like Grampa Happosai's worst nightmare!

"Hey der!" I heard him say in badly mangled Japanese, laced liberally with smatterings of English, "Is dat anyway ta greet your principal, students? Da big Kahuna's here to whip you all in line, so ya better learn some respect fo yo betters!"

I, of course, already knew who he was, but the others joined in a chorus to repeat the title, "PRINCIPAL?"

"Oh boy," winced, knowing for a certainty that there was going to be trouble…!


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