Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Dramatic Rival-ations ( Chapter 53 )

[ 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

"Well now," Silk smiled pleasantly at the couple sitting across from her at the table, "I must say you do look to be a most appropriate couple. Your father and I are very proud of you, Kachu dear, you've made a good catch, and he's a doctor no less."

"Mother," Kachu colored appropriately and stared down at the table, unable to keep from smiling while she felt Tofu squeeze her hand in a reassuring manner.

"Soun-chan," Silk turned to the man sitting at her side, "Would you care to say something to the nice daughter, now that our little girl is getting married?"

"Well," Soun began, surprised that his opinion was actually being solicited for once, "I've known you for many years, Tofu-sensei. I would be proud to call you son-in-law. I know that you will do your best to make my little girl happy."

"Thank you, sir," Tofu replied, drawing a deep breath before exhaling, "I must confess that I'm as surprised about all of this as anyone, but I've taken some time to get to know Kachu-chan…your daughter, and I think it could work between us. I know I want to make it happen, so-Amazon laws or no-I intend to go through with this, and I certainly will try to make Kachu happy."

"You already have, Airen," Kachu smiled, squeezing his hand back with more gentleness than she might have done prior to their night of passion-for which Tofu was enormously grateful!

Silk exchanged a knowing look with Soun, who looked mildly uncomfortable but found himself smiling in return, only to have him look up in another moment with surprise as he said, "Kasumi, are you back already? I didn't hear you enter…"

"Ka-Ka-Kasumi?" Tofu gasped, squeezing Kachu's hand as he fought for self-control, praying fervently to the Kami that he would not disgrace himself or embarrass his wife at that moment.

"Oh, hello Father," Kasumi said from the doorway, "I'm sorry, I had my mind on other things. Tadaima," she concluded in the traditional manner, though it sounded more spoken for ceremony than for need.

"Come join us, Kasumi," Soun urged, "We were discussing your sister's marriage to Doctor Tofu. I thought you might like to help us plan for the event since we intend to perform the ceremony in the dojo."

"Oh?' Kasumi glanced at Tofu, who was not looking in her direction but straight ahead with a most peculiar expression. She saw a look of annoyance pass over Kachu's features before turning her gaze towards Kasumi with a most unreadable expression, and it prompted Kasumi to say, "Ah…well…" in a most hesitant manner.

"She means to say that she would love to be a part of this in any way she can, Soun-chan," Silk smoothly spoke up, "But Kasumi promised to help me out in the kitchen when she was done seeing her friend off. You understand, don't you?"

"I suppose I do," Soun said with a slight wistfulness in his expression, "It's odd to think of Hitome's child living under this roof, but at least she's a paying houseguest, unlike some others I could mention…"

As if on cue two angry voices were raised in mutual shouts of annoyance, coming from the backyard area, "Watch where you're going, clumsy!"

"Watch out for yourself, Egg-sucker!" came the automatic retort.

"Oh my," Kasumi remarked, "Are those two fighting again?"

"Just like old times," Silk sighed.

"It has been unusually quiet between those two," Soun remarked, "For a while there I'd almost hope-I mean-I feared they might have done permanent harm to one another…"

"Actually, I convinced those two to put their energies into something constructive for a change," Silk remarked, "A little project I came up with to pay you back for all the trouble we've caused by imposing on you, Soun-chan…"

"A project?" he looked at his Amazon companion with a puzzled expression, "What sort of project?"

"You'll see when they've finished," Silk winked, "After all, now that Atsuko is here we can put her powers to good use, which is why I gave Genma the task of playing overseer while they worked. Since he's usually the cause of most of their squabbles I thought fighting fire with fire might for once work to our advantage."

Soun did not seem particularly reassured by this statement, but he seemed willing to let it go for the moment as the Amazon rose up from his side and said, "Now, Kasumi-chan, if you would be so kind as to follow me…"

"Ah…of course," Kasumi dubiously responded, but nonetheless obeyed the request as she followed the Lore Master into the next room, where everything appeared to be neat and orderly to her standards, which oddly did not make her feel all that much better.

"Kasumi-chan," Silk began gently, causing her to look up into the knowing eyes that reflected infinite depths of wisdom and understanding, "I know you think I've intruded upon you and your territory, but please understand that I am not trying to make you feel obsolete and unwanted."

"What are you talking about, Auntie?" Kasumi asked her, though she had a strong sense that she already knew the answer to her own question.

"It's only natural that you should resent me," Silk continued, "After all, I'm not your mother, I just resemble her somewhat. I know and accept this as the truth, so please don't think that I am trying to usurp the place of your mother."

"Then what are you doing with father?" Kasumi asked, more pointedly than intended.

"That is a good question," Silk lowered her eyes and her expression seemed sad for a moment, "He's changed so little since I first met him…a bit older, possibly more foolish, but with such an air of deep sorrow and remorse. I never thought he and Kimiko would become so close, especially not in the old days when she could almost terrify him with her quick bursts of temper and mercurial nature…"

Kasumi blinked, "My mother was like that?"

"She was when I knew her," Silk's smile became wistful, "Such a firebrand she could be on occasion, yet so calm and gentle most times, with such a polite disposition when there was nothing bad to arouse her. She was very popular in the old days, you know, with lots of suitors of her own. She resented the arranged marriage that her father insisted upon, but in the end she agreed to go through with it and marry Soun. She put him on notice early that she would not put up with any nonsense such as they'd gone through during their courtship, but she was very supportive of your father, and I think she made him a good wife to judge by the way he misses her and seems to see her in my reflection."

"I had no idea," Kasumi replied, "I thought my mother never lost her temper and was always the perfect lady."

"Actually that would be more true of Nodoka than Kimiko," Silk remarked casually, "I have very rarely seen Nodoka lose her calm and serene poise, while your mother could give lessons to a volcano. Of course Nodoka was a very calming influence for her, no doubt why they both became such close friends before their marriages were formalized. She taught your mother how to cook, clean and do other things that you Japanese seem to think is appropriate for a proper housewife…"

"She taught my mother?" Kasumi's surprise intensified, though her expression was only slightly puzzled.

"Oh yes," Silk nodded, "Your mother came from a military background, the child of an officer in the Home Defense Army, and she was a very accomplished fighter in her day. If she hadn't married your father I don't doubt she would have followed her private ambitions and become a pilot, like her cousin, Sakura."

"Ah…excuse me," Kasumi hesitated, "But exactly what sort of person was my mother?"

"Outside of being my primary rival for your father's affections?" Silk smiled and composed herself with a thoughtful expression, "She was very brave, very strong and extremely loyal to her friends and those she cared about. She was very kind-hearted to anyone who needed a protector, someone you could trust enough to turn your back upon her in a fight, and generally very honest. She at least tried to be polite to others, like Nodoka, but she never quite managed the same serene temperament, but I suppose that just goes to show that nobody is perfect."

"She was a good person then?" Kasumi asked.

"Oh yes," Silk admitted, "In some ways an even better person than me, though she could be very rash at time and leap to all sorts of faulty conclusions. I like to think that I was her opposite in a lot of ways, but in many important senses we were exactly alike, as if we had been born as sisters of one mind and body. I think the resemblance between you and Kachu would be a more extreme example of opposites and complimentary aspects, but we got along well enough, in spite of being bitter rivals."

"But father chose her instead of you?" Kasumi asked in mild wonder.

"In a way he did," Silk replied, "But if you want the completely honest truth on the matter, the fact is that I gave her to him when I could have had him for myself very easily. Your father did not cheat on your mother when he lay with me to beget Kachu, he was honestly expressing the deep emotional bonds that we had formed together. In a way I think it almost scared me how close we became that night, because I broke up with him shortly after this, thereby guaranteeing that he would marry Kimiko."

"But why?" Kasumi asked, "If you loved father…"

"Love is not a simple emotion, Kasumi-chan," Silk heaved a great sigh, "I've had time to reflect on what I did then and what I regret now, but in a way I suppose it was all for the better. I didn't want to be tied down with a husband, and shortly after returning to China I renounced my warrior oaths and became the apprentice to my grandmother, a fate I should have chosen from the beginning, but the young are often given to making rash decisions. Among my people the gifts that make a Lore Master are rare and much honored, but it is more glamorous to be a War Master, not to mention less stressful, so I choose the simple path when I was a child and only later discovered my error. It was your mother who convinced me to take up my family obligations, just as Comb renounced her place as the Matriarch's heir and elected to become a Healer. We had both been changed so much by our adventures in the outside world that life no longer seemed as simple a place, and the world needs Lore Masters and Healers far more than it needs warriors and destroyers."

"I see," Kasumi replied, "Then you still love my father."

"As you love your friend, the child of Hitome?" Silk inclined her head with a knowing expression.

Kasumi's eyes got very wide and she gasped, "You know…?"

"That is what a Lore Master is good at doing, child," Silk replied, "Knowing that which is hidden from others. Besides, you two were being rather obvious about the way you felt for each other during breakfast, and you both had about you the sort of glow that can only exist between two people who have shared the most intimate part of themselves. Others may not see it as clearly, but I can tell that Kodachi is someone who makes you feel in a way that is altogether new and different…'

"Please don't tell father," Kasumi pleaded, "I…I don't think he would understand…"

"Heavens, child, do I look like the local village gossip?" Silk smiled, "What you do is your own business, I only mentioned it because I thought you would understand me better by relating to your own experiences this strange phenomenon that we call love, a force before which logic and reason have no power, and the gods themselves do tremble."

"But…" it was Kasumi's turn to look away as she allowed all of her uncertainty and confusion to rise to the surface, "Was I…wrong to do what we did? It wasn't…proper behavior…"

"What was so improper about it?" Silk asked, "You've approved of your sister being engaged to Shampoo, you're even partially responsible for bringing them both together."

"I know, but…I never really…saw it as…well…" Kasumi blushed a deep crimson.

"You truly are a good person, child," Silk said with approval, "You always try to see the best in others. There should be more people like you in this world, so don't fret over nothing. You did what your heart told you was right, and that is all the confirmation you will ever need on the merits of your actions."

"I…I suppose so," Kasumi reluctantly, "I don't know why I did that with Kodachi…even though she seemed to want it as much as I did. It was…very nice…I've never felt so alive before, as if doing something that I've always thought was improper somehow…made me feel more like a whole person."

"I fully understand your confusion, child," Silk replied, "But I'm the last one who would ever accuse you of acting impulsively, even granted that I see some difficulty for you in your relationship for the near future. Kuno Kodachi shares many of the best and worst traits of her mother, and for that reason I would ask you to be careful. Your friend will need your strength and support as she goes through some very trying times of her own, so don't be too alarmed if she becomes more…dependent on your affections. Just be mindful that there is a time and place for everything, and it is up to you to decide when to slow things down or intensify the moment. Kodachi knows that you are the stronger one of the two of you, but if you come through this with patience and fortitude, then the rewards will exceed your wildest fantasies. I only ask that you consider coming to me if you should ever need a friend. We Lore Masters make good listeners, and sometimes we even give advice that can be very helpful."

"Thank you, Auntie," Kasumi sighed, "I do feel better about knowing that someone else is…aware of my feelings. I just wonder how you can be so understanding…"

"Lady of the Stars, child," Silk rolled her eyes, "You don't think I've had other affairs over the years since parting with your father? Did you think Comb and I have done nothing but fight and name-call one another in all our long friendship? We've all had our times to experiment and indulge our passions, and while we are best friends and nothing more at the present, we do care for each other far more than we let show around others."

"You…and Shampoo's mother?" Kasumi was surprised.

"Indeed," Silk returned the look with a knowing smile, "Opposites attract and all that, though it's more a matter now of my knowing what is in her heart and Comb knowing the truth of my affections. She has a husband she cares deeply for these days, and beautiful daughters to look after, so we tend to err on the side of discretion.

"THAT'S IT!" a loud voice proclaimed from the back yard, "I've been warning you, but now you've gone and done it…!"

"Take your best shot, Purple-hair!" Atsuko snarled back, "I'll even go easy on you and use one hand to break that stupid face in!"

"Ah," Silk shook her head with a sigh, "Those two are such good friends…"

"Girls, please!" Genma sounded on the verge of desperation, "There's no reason for you two to be fighting!"

"Oh my," Kasumi glanced towards the back yard, "I hope they don't do too much damage. Mister Bogart has been working so hard to fix the walls after the last time…"

"I wouldn't worry too much, Child," Silk assured her, "Comb's bark is worse than her bite, while Atsuko…well…in spite of being part Oni, she is basically a very nice person. Besides, I know exactly how to keep them in line should things get too frantic."

"Oh?" Kasumi turned a quizzical look her way, "And how do you do that?"

"I remind them what a poor example they set for their children by behaving like teenagers," Silk answered, "And then I threaten to tell the Matriarch. Even Atsuko doesn't want to risk Cologne's wrath since the Elder was a key player in helping her achieve nominal independence from her Sorceress mother."

"Oh," Kasumi replied dubiously, thinking that one over.

"Back off, Panda-boy!" Comb suddenly cried, followed promptly by the sound of a body splashing in the koi pond.

"Of course," Silk noted as if on cue, "I can sometimes be mistaken…"

Kasumi decided to have a look for herself at what was going on out in the back, and sure enough she saw a panda half-submerged within the pond while Atsuko stood to one side, having avoided being splashed herself in the process.

"Genma-kun?" she asked, looking in confusion at the panda.

"Still want him now?" Comb snorted, "That's the same fool who bumped into you and knocked you into that cursed spring! You wanted to know what happened to that giant panda? Now you know!"

"Gen-chan?" Atsuko asked of the panda, "Is it true? Did you knock me into the Fox spring?"

The panda slowly held up a sign that read, "It was an accident, I swear! I never even saw you, At-chan! Honest!"

Absolute silence reigned for the next several seconds, but then Atsuko started to grin hugely, then reached out and snagged Genma by the fur and lifted him out of the pond with as much ease as someone might have picking up a rag doll. She deposited Genma on dry ground then threw her arms around him in a hug that caused the panda's eyes to go bug-eye.

"Genma-honey!" she cried happily, "You're like a big stuffed teddy bear! I can squeeze you and hug you and play with you like this all night…!"

Comb's expression went from dumbfounded to outraged in a very short interval, then all at once she drew her sword and snarled, "Get your hands off him you…pervert!!!"

"Make me!" Atsuko sniffed, ignoring the threat of the sword as she continued to hug Genma.

The panda appeared to be contemplating the wisdom of passing out right there and then when a voice intruded onto the scene and asked, "Have we come at a good time? I do hope there's still some front row seats available, because I want to watch this!"

"Grandmother?" Comb glanced up to see several figures perched upon the wall.

"Matriarch?" Silk all but whispered, "But…who is that beside young Kuonji-san? She seems somehow familiar…could it be?"

"Well, well," Cologne remarked as she vaulted off the wall and landed upon her staff, smiling owlishly at the hapless panda being gripped by the half-Oni, "Hibiki Atsuko, as I live and breathe. It has been some time now, hasn't it, child?"

"Elder Cologne?" Atsuko let go of the panda, allowing Genma to collapse in a heap as he started to pant furiously to get his breath back.

"Who's this?" asked one of the figures who followed the Matriarch in vaulting into the garden, "She looks a little like…Ryoga…"

"I was going to say that she reminded me of Akiko," Ambergris remarked, "Or perhaps that co-pilot, Ryomi…"

"What did you say?" Atsuko turned to the newcomer, "Did you say Ryomi?"

"Allow me to make proper introductions," Cologne noted suavely, "Hibiki Atsuko, mother to young War Master Ryoga, this is…a friend of your son, Kuonji Ukyo, and these two are Ambergris and Perfume, the latter a tribal Enforcer."

"So, she's the new Enforcer, huh?" Atsuko gave the brown haired girl a lookover, then nodded approvingly, "Hope you're as good as the last one I faced. She was something special…Mace her name was, I think…"

"And these," Cologne turned to note the approach of another group of individuals wearing Chinese clothing, three of them young girls with varying hues of exotic hair color, "Are the rest of the group that has followed me from China. I don't suppose I need to make introductions for you, Granddaughter, as three of them are very familiar to you…"

"Momma!" cried two of the girls, the ones with green and cherry-pink hair, rushing forward while the man who had stood behind them watched in silence.

Comb dropped her sword and whispered, "Husband?" only to stagger under the combined impact of her teenaged twin daughters.

The panda revived enough to lift up a sign that read, "Husband?"

"Comb," the man said simply, nodding his head in tacit recognition.

"Oh my," Kasumi turned to regard the blue haired girl left standing beside the man, "And who are you?"

"Lotion," the girl replied with an almost shy smile.

"Lotion?" Silk's head all but whiplashed back from the girl to the Matriarch as she asked the word, "Elder?"

Cologne sighed, "It is a long story, child, suffice to say that the truth will come out in the end."

"Aunt Silk," the blue haired girl smiled, then more respectfully towards Comb she added, "Teacher."

"Apprentice?" Comb managed to gasp in spite of having her ribs compressed by her daughters.

"Oh my," said Soun, "This is starting to sound complicated."

"Really, father?" Kachu asked, "Seems to me more like a normal day at our village."

"Oh?" Tofu asked, sounding more than a bit worried.

"Pardon me," Ukyo spoke up, "I don't mean to sound rude, but I was hoping I could find Ranchan, Akane or Shampoo. Do you know where I can find them?"

"They're at school, Kuonji-san," Kasumi said politely, "They'll be home in a few hours if you'd care to wait."

"Oh yes," Silk smiled, "Kasumi and I were just about to make lunch for everybody. I take it you don't have any more people you plan to have drop by?"

"Hello?" a pleasant voice asked, causing the panda to blanch so hard that even his black areas looked paler than normal, "Excuse me for letting myself in, but I was hoping…oh my! So many people, are you having a party, and is that…Atsuko?"

"Nodoka?" Atsuko responded, seeing the kimono-dressed beauty with the cloth-wrapped bundle across her shoulders.

Soun crept closer to the panda and said, "Do you want a head start, old friend? I could run interference while you escape…"

The panda held up his sign again, which read, "Not a bad suggestion…"

"Nodoka," Comb said softly as she pried herself loose from the arms of her daughters, "Have you met my husband, Hairbrush?"

"Your husband?" Nodoka smiled at the man, who returned her smile, "Oh my, such a handsome young man, and are all of these your daughters?"

"Just the ones who look like bookends," the man replied back politely, "So you're Saotome Nodoka? My wife has spoken often of you…"

"Some of it even printable," Comb murmured in a deathly low voice that barely carried as a whisper.

The panda turned the sign around, which now read, "Okay, now we panic…"

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

A giant mechanical crab monster? Someone had to be pulling our legs, collectively speaking. It wasn't until later that I found out where Principal Kuno had managed to lay his grubby mitts on such elaborate hardware, Kuno Industries having major investment in the larger conglomerate known as Michima Heavy Industries. At the time all I had in mind was getting the hell away from those things as they started to swarm over us, but while I was rooted to the spot and petrified with terror, like any normal, sensible person, I was fortunate in that Shampoo was standing right beside me, and while my Amazon iinazuke is many things, nobody ever accused her of being normal.

So it was that I felt myself being grabbed up right before those crab-like mechanical terriers could indeed do some heavy pulling on my legs, (not to mention other body parts I won't mention), and suddenly I felt myself being rocket-propelled into the nearest of the coconut trees as Shampoo carried us both to safety, while Ranma stayed behind and provided us with cover. By the time I'd recovered my wits I looked down and saw a dozen of the things being smashed to pieces with Amaguriken-speed by well-placed blows at the hands of Ranma.

Kuno proved less than idle himself, drawing another bokken from somewhere to join Ranma in fending off the attack of the smaller crab monsters. Meanwhile the large deluxe model being piloted by Kuno's maniacal dad was steadily advancing onto the beach while our fellow students scattered in terror. I caught a glimpse of Akane and Ryoga fighting side-by-side, but other than those two the rest of the student body seemed hopelessly at the mercy of their attackers.

"Heyaa!" that lunatic in the crab-mobile called out, "Youse Keiki gonna play rough, da Big Kahuna gonna play dat much rougher. Yo git demerits fo not upholdin' da school code, Bruddas an' Wahine! It's Bowl cuts'n buzz cuts fo' th' lotta youse!"

Indeed I could see that the miniature crab-monsters were not just attacking the students but immobilizing them while their claws went to work cutting the hair of any student too slow to avoid them. We realized that if something was done soon to stop them our entire student body would have the uniform cuts of raw military recruits, and who knew where it would go from that point onward?

Of course because Akane and Ryoga had already suffered the worst of the shades they felt less hindered about smashing every one of the things that got within arms reach. They had to stay clear of those crab monsters that were partially submerged in the water, though, so they couldn't reach every student in time and many of our peers started to fall to the relentless tide of the crabbies.

"Ranma!" I called down from where Shampoo and I were perched above the fray, "Those things have got to be directed by the principal! If you take him out…!"

"Right," our iinazuke replied, already launching his assault on the large mechanical monstrosity while Kuno ran interference by slashing away at the lesser crabs with his bokken.

Of course the principal not only saw Ranma coming but had time enough to get his defenses into play, so with extra-large claws and turret-like hands he tried to smash away at Ranma, only he was much too quick for the thing to nail and managed to reach the outer shell of cabin within a matter of seconds. Ranma reared back as if intending to punch his way through the canopy when all of a sudden he spasmed and jerked, for the Principal had just electrified the hull where he was standing. Ranma was forced to withdraw a few meters to recover from that when I saw a panel on the crab's hide open up to reveal a gattling-gun like projection.

"Ranma!" I called down to him, "Watch out!"

Again Ranma was a step ahead of me, dodging the place where the weapons array opened up and would have cut a normal man in half had it found its target. The principal was playing a lot rougher now than I thought even he would stoop to, but as Ranma kept dodging the volley attacks it left an opening to Tatewaki, who smashed the thing with a single swipe of his bokken.

"IDIOT!" Kuno-chan snarled, "Have you completely lost what few wits you have? How dare you degrade our noble house by such foul tactics?"

"Don' talk back to yo ol' man, Tachi-chan," the principal rebuffed, and with a swipe of one of his crab's arms he knocked Kuno sprawling and momentarily took him out of the fight.

This time it was Ranma who pounced on the principal as the lunatic left him an opening, and with powerful blows of his hands he started to crack open the canopy before receiving another jolt that caused him to break off the attack.

"Ranma!" I shouted, "Try and lure him into the water so he can't keep using that tactic!"

"That enuff outta yo, Wahine!" the principal retorted, extending one of his claws to the base of our tree as a buzz-saw projected out and sliced through it in one clean swipe.

All of a sudden Shampoo and I lost our precious perch and started to tumble in the direction of the beach. Shampoo scrambled and with incredible reflexes got me onto her back as she literally ran around to the top part of our pole while it was still falling. She was attempting to race down the length of the trunk when gravity beat us out by mere seconds, and only a few meters from where the log connected with the shore at that. The resultant splash knocked us both into the water, and within a second Shampoo reverted to her neko form while I was left holding onto her sopping wet Chinese clothing.

"Nabiki-Shampoo!" I heard Ranma shout out to us as I fought to get back clear onto the shore, dragging my helpless bundle with me as Shampoo fought her way clear of the silk that had suddenly become her prison. I don't even want to think about what would have happened if we had landed at the deeper end, because Shampoo is almost helpless in the water and might have drowned from the weight of her own clothing, but instead she pulled her way clear and shook her wet fur and feathers dry while I fell to my knees, more from shock and relief than from surprise at our close encounter.

I took a moment to glance around, grateful that none of the crab-beasts was near enough to be a threat, but as I looked up and saw Ranma fighting with the crab-beast I forgot all about my wet condition and thought only of him and his impending danger. Ranma seemed to be holding his own but he couldn't get near enough to do the thing any serious damage.

"Mew!" I heard Shampoo cry as she flapped her wings and began to charge forward.

"Sham-chan, no!" I cried, suddenly terrified that the pussycat would be at an even greater disadvantage than Ranma.

I should learn to stop underestimating her, though, because Shampoo took off into the air at a dead run, spreading her wings to enable her to glide as she gained rapid altitude, then banked about and came down at the crab-beast from what might have been a "Sun-blind" position, judging by the shadow that fell over the principal's head. I wondered what in the world she was up to when it suddenly occurred to me that she was aiming herself like a guided missile, and-sure enough-she struck the canopy with just enough force and at just the right angle to finish the job Ranma had started, mewing a cry that must have been the feline equivalent of "Bakusai Tenketsu!"

The Canopy exploded outward as Shampoo glided to safety, creating the opening that Ranma needed. In a flash our iinazuke was in the cockpit hauling the principal out of his seat, and with the flick of one hand he tossed the big man clear of the crab-beast, leaping free as the thing suddenly halted in mid-motion.

"Now, you bastard!" Ranma started to step forward when Kuno-chan thrust his bokken into his path and said, "No, Saotome…despite his many crimes, he is still my father."

"But Kuno…!" Ranma started to protest.

"Let me finish," Tatewaki said, turning to the pineapple-headed man with his face clouding up in dark anger, "He is my father…SO I WILL BE THE ONE TO KILL HIM!!"

He charged with his bokken, but the principal managed to get to his feet in time to fend off the attack with yet another pair of barber sheers. Meanwhile I noticed that the Crab-monster was no longer standing idle, moving on its own volition despite the absense of a driver.

"Nabiki!" I heard Akane call out, turning to see her and Ryoga approach with several other students, only a few of whom seemed to have suffered bad hair cuts.

"What's going on?" Ryoga asked, "Are we winning or not?"

"We got most of the crab-beasts," Akane said, "But the big one looks like it's not out of commission!"

Sure enough the thing aimed a claw at Ranma's backside, and before any of us could warn him it shot out a cable that wrapped itself around my iinazuke. Ranma started to struggle as Ryoga surged forward to help him, only to fall prey to another cable that shot out of its other clawed hand, paralyzing the both of them as the crab-beast continued to orient on the rest of us with red-eyed stalks facing in our direction.

"Ryoga!" Akane cried, "Nabiki, we've got to do something to help him!"

I knew that as well, and more to the point I also knew what had to be done to turn things around back in our favor. It was not something that I wanted to do, but the moment was desperate and we had only one card left to play if we were to beat that lunatic principal.

So I reached into the pocket I keep concealed on my dress with my hidden money-pouch and pulled out my compact mirror. I opened it up and held it out towards Akane and said, "See this, Sis?"

Akane's eyes latched onto her own reflection, a hand moving up to feel along the bare area at the base of her neck, and the realization suddenly came over her just what she now looked like on account of Principal Kuno. It was far worse than the haircut she had received accidentally from Ryoga, and the sheer horror of it struck Akane like a five-kilo rise on a bathroom scale. Her eyes went from horrified shock to outrage and straight down the pipeline to the kind of berserker mad-on that I have only twice witnessed before, and hope never again to see within this incarnation!

In other words she charged headlong at the crab-beast, the nearest available target for venting her anger. I won't go into the details of what followed, suffice to say the monster was soon reduced to a pile of smoldering pieces, which only just barely put a dent in Akane's righteous wrath. With more control to her fury she stomped a path towards the sole remaining fighters on the beach, shoved her way past Tatewaki and grabbed the Principal by his collar, proceeding to vent upon him an editorialized version of her opinion of what it felt like to be so humiliated.

Nobody tried to stop her as she pounded the man senseless, but at last Kuno-chan put a halt to things by insisting that he would take full responsibility for his father.

Ranma and Ryoga were both standing to one side looking at Akane as she fought to rein in her anger. They had taken the time to free themselves of the cables while Shampoo had sought out my shoulder for a purchase and watched the whole thing with a very round-eyed, cat-like expression. I think we were all pretty well impressed by my little sister's performance, but it was only when Ryoga got up the courage to approach her that she finally did calm down and let the principal live, no doubts remaining about who was the clear victor.

Needless to say we fetched the coconut from the hut and forced the principal to rescind his orders. Tatewaki showed us the way to the exit while some of us students cornered the teachers who had taken part in the whole affair and demanded an accounting. Those students who had suffered bad hair cuts were the most incensed, and therefore provided the loudest argument for cooperation as Godai sensei confessed that they had all been coerced into going along with the Principal's schemes, something that had been set up long before he had started teaching at the school. It seems the teachers had all been threatened with bad performance reviews and potential cuts in salary, which was why they half-heartedly had participated in the whole mess. We got back to the surface and sorted everything out while I fetched Shampoo some hot water, excusing the presence of my winged pussy to inquiring minds with a few glib comments about an experimental genetics lab animal that had escaped into my custody with Ranma and my assistance.

Of course I knew that explanation would not hold water with everybody, but there were only a few whom I trusted enough to tell the full story, Ryonami being one of them since she helped me out while I carried Shampoo and her clothes into one of the bathrooms. Ryonami's eyes were as wide as some manga drawing when she saw Shampoo change back to human form, so naturally she wanted to hear all of the details, for which I only had time enough to give her the edited version.

"So you mean to say she's your wife?" Ryonami found that part the hardest to understand, though she seemed to take it in stride that Shampoo and me were recent bedmates, "And you both want to marry Ranma?"

"Is married to Ranma already," Shampoo insisted, smiling as she added, "Several times over all night long, and very happy so."

I colored at the lascivious look she gave me, then noticed that Ryonami was eyeing me with a mildly dubious expression. I started to open my mouth when she replied, "Never mind…I guess it's your business, Senpai. I'm just wondering how you plan on pulling off this scam since it's not exactly legal until at least one of you ties the knot with Ranma."

"That would be me," I said, glancing at Shampoo for confirmation, "Shampoo doesn't need the formal vows to declare us married in her culture, though we're probably gonna have to do some fancy Amazon ceremony sooner or later. All the authorities here need to know is that I marry Ranma and we live together with another woman, end of story."

"Is good plan," Shampoo nodded, "Even Great Grandmother approve."

"Well, I guess that makes sense," Ryonami turned to look at me quizzically, "But what are we going to tell the rest of our class, Senpai? It's not exactly like we can tell them the truth this time, right?"

"Good question," I admitted, stroking my chin as I contemplated Shampoo, "Everybody thinks you're having sex with Ranma, but they don't know about me being in the same picture. Maybe we should go with that for now, like pretend I don't know what you two are doing, or maybe I've got a private arrangement to look the other way, or something."

"It might not be a good idea to let people think they can buy your iinazuke's favor, Senpai," Ryo-chan cautioned, "I've already received about a dozen petitions from girls in our class who want to know if they can pay to spend time with your Ranma. That is…unless you want to, because they're offering a lot of money…"

Dear Ryonami, so sweet and considerate, and always looking for the best scam angles. I wonder why I've never thought about making a play for her as my first conquest since I suspect she wouldn't raise too many objections if I had, but I guess I'll just chalk that up to lost opportunities since if I tried that now Shampoo would probably kill her.

"Point taken," I said, "Better let them know now that Ranma's not for sale, not unless they can meet Shampoo's price of admission, right Sham-chan?"

My Amazon girlfriend smiled in a way that did not promise anything healthy for any girl who tried to petition her for Ranma. I think Ryo-chan got the hint and made some suggestions about the sorts of rumors we could circulate while selling off partial bits of information to potential buyers. We concluded business within a few minutes while Shampoo got dressed again, then we left the bathroom and sought out Ranma.

School was pretty much called off for the remainder of the day, so we went home early, Ranma and Shampoo electing to walk along the fence beside me as I preferred the comfort of the sidewalk. Akane and Ryoga were walking in a very subdued manner, my little sister having come down off the high of her berserker state with some gentle coaching by Ryoga.

"Hmph," I heard Ranma snort after a few moments of mutual silence, "This sure has been a day for the records. I wonder if they're gonna lock that jerk up in the nuthouse like he deserves?"

"Hard to say, Ranma-kun," I admitted, "Principal Kuno has a lot of money and influence, and the school board's never had the nerve to stand up to him in the past."

"I can't believe that he could get away with this," Ryoga stroked the nearly bare nape of his head and sighed, "I don't mind what he did to me as much as I do what he did to Akane."

My sister sulked over that point, but to our surprise we heard Shampoo call out, "Akane?"

"Yeah?" Akane glared at the Amazon walking along on the fence above her.

"You fight very good today," Shampoo said almost respectfully, "Shampoo very impressed. You get angry like that, even Shampoo no want to fight you."

"Oh…" Akane almost seemed to blush at the compliment, and it was with some difficulty that she managed to reply, "Thanks…"

"No mention if Akane no want to," Shampoo winked at my sister, which seemed to cheer Akane up even more than the compliment since it hinted that their rivalry was back in place, though more respectful than ever.

"Y'know," Ranma began again, "It's funny…I almost feel sorry for Kuno, having to put up with a guy like that for a father. Even my old man never put me through the kind of hell he must have lived with when he was younger."

"Everything is relative, Ranma-kun," I replied, "Your father also doesn't have a tree growing out of his head, which just means he has even less excuse for his behavior."

"I still can't believe that he's also my father," Ryoga shook his head slowly, "Mom can't be serious about that! It means Ranma and me are…" he and Ranma exchanged worried looks, then neither one of them looked willing to follow up that statement.

"Surely you're not calling your own mother a liar," I pointed out, "Unless you think she's got ulterior motives."

"I'm not saying that at all!" Ryoga protested, "I'm just saying…"

"Saotome Ranma," a voice intruded into our private conversation.

We all halted in our tracks, seeing a man in a three piece suit standing directly in our way holding a briefcase…a young-seeming man who looked very handsome and distinguished. We sized him up immediately and like a well-oiled machine realized that he represented a kind of immanent danger.

Ranma and Shampoo vaulted off the wall to take defensive positions between the rest of us as the strange man, Ranma raising his fists as he growled, "Yeah, whadya want?"

"You are Saotome Ranma I take it?" the man inclined his head in Ranma's direction.

"Hey, I know you!" Akane spoke up, "You came to our house yesterday asking for Uncle Saotome!"

"You're after Pop?" Ranma asked, if anything even more defensive in his posture.

"You have me mistaken for my brother, Miss Tendo," the man replied, "Su Yu. I am Su Mei, another member of the same firm, here to represent Kuonji Industries in a petition of grievances against the Saotomes for breach of contract and theft of property. This is the summons my firm is issuing to both you and your father."

He handed a scroll over to Ranma, who took and unrolled it, scanning it briefly with a glance as I approached closer to read past his shoulder.

"A challenge letter?" Ranma looked up at the man in astonishment, while I noted the formal language and asked that Ranma pass the scroll over to me for a closer examination.

"Be at the place and time specified tomorrow," the man said before crisply turning around and walking away, "Don't be late or it will go badly against both you and the Tendos."

We watched the man until he turned a corner a half a block away, then Ryoga asked, "What was that all about?"

"Ukyo," Ranma breathed, and I could almost feel the chill down his spine when he said that.

"Ukyo?" Akane shouldered her way up to our front ranks, "What about Ukyo? What's this got to do with you and him? And why'd he issue that challenge not to both you and your father?"

"Pop got one of these things?" Ranma snapped out of his daze with a startled expression.

"He didn't tell you already?" Akane asked in surprise, then frowned as she added, "It figures! Only what's so bad between you guys that Ukyo would send a lawyer out to get you?"

Shampoo and I glanced at Ranma, who curled a lip before replying, "Ukyo…ah…it's about Pop stealing that yatai from her old man. Y'see…it was supposed to be a dowry, and I just found out about it the other day…"

"Dowry?" Akane stared at us blankly as if her mind was refusing to make the connection.

I sighed, realizing that the moment of truth was literally upon us as I answered, "I should have told you immediately, Sis, but…you see…Ukyo isn't a guy…"

"He's not?" Ryoga blurted.

"Is no man," Shampoo confirmed for us, "Spatula-girl is very much womans…"


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