Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Pearls Before Swain ( Chapter 73 )

[ 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

"Darling," said a certain green-haired alien girl to her reluctant boyfriend as they sat together on the beach, "Would you spread suntan lotion over my back, please? The local sun here is said to do adverse things to a girl's complexion, and you wouldn't want me to get old and wrinkly, now would you?"

Moroboshi Ataru affected a weak smile in response to this request, thinking privately to himself that he was in Hell and well damned for all eternity. Here he was, the greatest lecher of Tomobiki High School, surrounded by a beach full of drop-dead gorgeous young ladies, and he was powerless to do a thing about it on account of the one and only girl on the planet who wanted him to put his hands all over her body.

Of course there was Mendou, who sat nearby with Shinobu, his childhood sweetheart, from whom he had of recent been estranged due to his unfortunate engagement to the beautiful Oni Princess. The fact that it was all a colossal misunderstanding hardly mattered at all to her these days…Shinobu just seemed to get perpetually angered and ticked off with him for the slightest of reasons, and were it not for Lum's protective presence, Ataru had little doubt that he would become the recipient of his former girlfriend's jealous rages.

Ataru sighed and for the nine millionth time asked a silent, "Why me?" of the cosmos. It was not that he found Lum's company objectionable per-se…after all, she was an exotic beauty with a body to die for, whose natural charms had won over the hearts of more than half the boys in his class, some of whom had even formed a fanatical fan club known far and wide as "Lum's Stormtroopers." Any man with eyes (and who wasn't blind to begin with) would lust for her and count himself lucky to be the object of her affections…

It was just that Lum was incredibly possessive about Ataru, and she had one teensy, tiny little flaw that distinguished her from any other single-minded girl of his acquaintance, which was her propensity to shock him with around ten thousand or so volts of electrical power. This was intended to curb Ataru's wandering eye, and as electroshock therapy went it was pretty damned effective…not that it truly deterred him from lusting after other women in his heart. To date Ataru had been shocked so many times during their relationship that he was reasonably certain that a standard lighthouse bulb would flicker to life if he held it in hand. He did seem to be building up some sort of immunity over time, but it still hurt a whole lore more than he liked to think about with even his high pain threshold.

Shinobu, for her part, was struggling to keep her temper under wraps as she once more observed with disgust the way that green-haired hussy flirted with HER boyfriend. It was not so much that Ataru was any great prize among men, (and at times even Shinobu had difficulty recognizing what it was about the boy that appealed to her on ANY level) but she had set her sights upon him first before the Oni girl had wormed her way between them. Shinobu did not like being cut out of the action without so much as a "by your leave," and this tended to make her more than slightly resentful.

But at least she had Mendou to lean upon…a handsome and intelligent boy who had many of the qualities in which Ataru was so sadly lacking. He was incredibly rich and from noble stock with a strong sense of integrity and honor, even granted he was a bit of an obsessive-compulsive militant nut case. He also had that one glaring flaw in his otherwise prideful nature in that he absolutely hated the darkness and tended to freak out whenever he was cut off from a light source. That and the katana that was ever near to his hand tended to put him in a special category of "exceptional loon," (which for Tomobiki was saying quite a lot) but Shinobu liked his company and at least the both of them could enjoy being miserable together…and resentful of the "Not-So-Happy" couple beside them.

Mendou himself was glaring hard enough at his hate rival to bore holes in a good-sized diamond, (had he counted x-ray heat vision among his natural endowments). To think of how a royal Princess from a vast star-faring culture should debase herself on that worthless worm, it was enough to send him ranting off into fits about the injustices of the heavens, but for dignity's sake he kept to his forbearance. To think how the cad had spurred the beautiful Shinobu to play the wretched role of a Lathario to the stars, it made Mendou want to draw steel and hack the fool into a thousand paper-thin slices (Of course if he tried that he would risk the wrath of said princess, which any man with sense fervently avoided like a thunderclap that had his name writ upon it).

Still and all, the offer the Princess Lum had asked of her intended betrothed reminded Mendou that he was remiss in his own manners. His ancestors would surely chide him for ignoring that someone equally deserving and fair was in need of a liberal dose of suntan lotion.

Only slightly less terrifying than the rage of a jealously protective Oni girl was the thought of Shinobu burned as red as a lobster and ready to vent her frustration in anyone's direction, and being the closest potential object in hand naturally prompted Mendou to turn to her and say, "Please allow me, Shinobu-san. I thought to bring an excellent sun blocker that will protect your delicate skin from the sun's intense rays. It would be my humblest honor if you will allow me to apply some to your body."

In spite of her miserable state, Shinobu had to smile at that. At least someone here had enough manners to know how to approach a lady with such an offer!

Ataru glared at Mendou, wanting to rub the rich snob's face in the dirt for using such an obvious come-on as an excuse to get more intimate with Shinobu. As if Ataru couldn't see through such smooth ploy as that, being something that he would have tried if he dared to risk getting more than his fingers singed in the process.

Shinobu was in the process of laying down as Mendou reached for the nearby bottle of lotion when suddenly a pair of running feet kicked up sand in all direction. As the astonished quartet reacted they heard a frantic male voice calling out, "But Hinako-chan-!"

"Come back here, you sexy delinquent!" purred an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous woman chasing after the blond-haired man, her long brown hair waving in the breeze as interesting parts of her body were similarly in motion.

Ataru gaped in mute disbelief, oblivious to the fact that his green-haired companion was sputtering from the mouthful of sand that she had accidentally swallowed. Lum was privately wondering why she had not heeded her natural instincts and taken her boyfriend to safety in the air…when something lodged in the back of her throat and refused to be dislodged from there. This gave her considerable difficulty breathing, and after a moment of near choking even Ataru started to notice.

"Lum!" he cried in a belated impulse towards chivalry, realizing this was the perfect time to apply the Heimlick maneuver (and for once not for the obvious reasons!). He moved to place himself behind her and cupped his hands under her breastbone (Trying valiantly not to think what a simple motion of his hands might yield for him, knowing full well it would mean a one-way trip down the aisle as a bridegroom!) and gave a firm heave that caused Lum to cough out the blockage.

Unfortunately only sand came out…the object that had caused her choking went down the other way, and Lum gasped in surprise, looking up to find Shinobu leaning over her with a worried expression.

"Are you all right, Lum-san?" Shinobu asked in sincere concern for her nominal rival.

Lum's face brightened up as she gazed fully upon the earth girl for what seemed like the first time in her life and suddenly she wondered why she had never really noticed how beautiful Shinobu's eyes could sparkle. She felt the warming urge to reach out and embrace the other girl, but before she could respond to this she became aware of a pair of hands that were gripping her from behind by a MOST unwelcome pervert.

Well, Lum knew what to do about groping perverts!

Ataru gave a yelp of surprise and jumped back as the tingling warning build-up of static charge gave him faint warning of an impending Lum Lightning blast. He was about to ask what he had done this time to earn such a reprimand when he opened his eyes again and saw Lum with her arms wrapped around a much-vexed Shinobu.

"What the hell?" he reacted, feeling an unexpected wash of emotions welling up from within him

Mendou had a similar reaction, only he was more stunned than outraged, witnessing the uncharacteristic behavior of the delightful Oni Princess turn suddenly quite brazen in groping a hapless Shinobu in broad view of the public. It was undignified, unseemly, and surely the Princess was not acting rationally even by the standards to which they were all accustomed.

Shinobu's mind was an absolute blank, pure shock and amazement drowning out any other emotions, or else she would have put up more resistance when Lum drew their mouths together for a passionate kiss that involved more than the meeting of two mouths and even provided a little tongue action.

Something did not click right here in Ataru's mind, and since he was a boy who lived by his wits (one of the reasons he was constantly in so much trouble), he deduced that it had something to do with all of that sand that Lum had swallowed. Possibly something in the sand was affecting her behavior? If so, then it was his duty as a man (and NOT, he would insist, as either her boyfriend or fiancé) to do something to help her, and since the only way he knew how to help was to dislodge the offending substance (assuming it was a potion or pill, as he'd had far too much acquaintance with in the past) he took a heroic risk, stepped forward, and did something that he ordinarily would have totally loathed doing to his Princess.

He brought his hand back and swung it forward again, slapping Lum firmly on her backside, right between the shoulder blades and slightly below the eleventh vertebrae.

The technique worked better than he could have expected, causing Lum to cough up the pearl that she had swallowed in one massive lungfull of air that cleared the way of all obstructions as the pearl went from her mouth and into Shinobu's.

The reversal this caused in their respective behavior was almost immediate as Shinobu's stunned vacancy was suddenly filled with clear intent and purpose like a burgeoning supernova. All at once it was her hands that wrapped themselves around the Oni, while it was Lum's turn to act stunned and disoriented as the impulse that had come over her thoughts left her as suddenly as it had taken her mind over.

Mendou's already open mouth nearly made contact with the sand as he saw the helpless Shinobu suddenly turn into a raging sex-kitten, stripping Lum of the top half of her ever-present bikini to afford her groping hands a freer access. Now it was Lum who was struggling to escape from her embraces, and had it been anyone else but Shinobu her natural strength might well have prevailed. Shinobu being substantially stronger than an ordinary earth girl, her futile efforts left her looking all the more desperate.

And this was not an isolated instance where normal relations between men and women (or women and women, or even guys and other guys) were turned topsy-turvy, as other couples and groups of people had unexpected and seemingly-random encounters with the enchanted pearls spread over a wide area of beach front. Dozens of other persons suddenly found themselves inexplicably attracted to the nearest potential object of affection that they encountered, and in only a few instances did this happily turn out to be with the appropriate sex partner.

In one such instance a girl named Usagi chanced to notice a pearl laying in the sand, and not having yet been coached as to the danger of such an item, naturally picked it up for a closer examination.

"What do you have there, Usagi?" asked Minako, who also had a fondness for shiny objects.

"I don't know," Usagi smiled, "Could be a piece of candy, looks a little like a sweet-tart."

"For Heaven Sakes, don't fool around with it!" said a small black furry presence traveling close to her ankles, "You never know where it might be from! You just can't pick up every item you find at random…"

"I quite agree," said Ami, who also leaned close to observe the object Usagi was holding, "I think it looks more like a piece of jewelry somebody lost. That almost looks like a pearl…"

"Oh yeah, right," sniffed Rei, "Like you're just going to find a pearl lying around in a crowded place like this. I'm sure anybody else would have found something valuable before you would, Usagi."

"You're mean, Rei," Usagi complained, "I sure hope it's candy…I'm starving!"

"You're always starving, Usagi," Minako playfully teased, "And we just ate ice cream a little while ago before we started out this business of hunting down the old man."

"Say," Ami paused with a look of realization, "Didn't Makoto tell us that the fellow we're chasing was supposed to have a magic bracelet that contained pearls like this one?"

"Hey, that's right," declared the other cat present for this search, "That could be one of the pearls that Mako-chan said we ought to be on the alert about."

"One way to find out," Usagi announced and popped the pearl into her mouth before anyone could even think to stop her, "Hmm…it's not sweet, but it does seem kinda tingly…"

"You idiot!" Rei instantly fumed, "Don't you remember what Mako-chan said…huh?"

Usagi went briefly blank-eyed, and then she turned at the sound of the Shinto Priestess's voice. All at once her eyes got an unusual focus about them and the smile that crossed her features was so broad and welcome that for a moment Rei wondered if she had some speck of ice scream staining her mouth, or anything else that would get a drooling leer like that from Usagi!

"Uh oh," cried Luna, "The pearl must be having an effect on her! Quickly, make her spit it out!"

"Right," Minako readily agreed, and following an unfortunate pattern that was becoming a trend for the day she gave a hard THWACK to Usagi's backside, which of course propelled the Pearl out from her mouth and into the mouth of the person standing directly in front of her.

Unfortunately this time the pearl went down too fast to lodge in an easily accessible place. It went all the way down Rei's windpipe before she had time enough to gag, but instead of coughing and hacking about it, her face went unusually white and she started to go into a virtual trance, the magic in the pearl having a stronger affect on her than it would on a less psychically sensitive person.

"Uh oh," remarked a cat named Artemis, "This doesn't look good…" and of course he was being unusually prescient…

"Is no good," Perfume announced to her companions as she studied the footprints in the sand the way another person might closely examine an article in a major newspaper, "Pervert sex-fiend double back on trail, use other route to throw off tracker. Perfume think he maybe want find us before we find him, but him use trail that take him to find party with Great Grandmother…"

"Of course," said Lotion the younger at her side, "Given mutual history, should have suspected that he try this. Happosai after Elder Cologne, maybe his idea of getting even."

"He's after Aunt Cologne?" Tenchi reacted with alarm, "We've gotta stop him!"

"Quite right," agreed Ayeka, "It would simply not do for a man of his low character and standard to force his will upon a member of the Juraian royal family…particularly with such an odious concoction that can blind a person's senses to all reality and make friend into foe…and vice versa."

"You're telling me about it?" Ryoko asked from where she stood nearby, refusing to make eye-contact with the violet-haired princess beside her, who likewise had been pretending equally hard to ignore her immediate company as if by mutual unspoken agreement, "I'm gonna have nightmares about it for the rest of the day. The rest of you guys had better watch out or you could wind up having the same think happen to you."

"Don't worry," Kiyone assured her, "I don't have any intentions of swallowing anything without a thorough examination of its contents. These things would be considered a controlled substance in at least thirty-eight star systems, and the very least we can do is impound them for public safety."

"I would not be too boastful about refusing their power," Lotion the Younger cautioned, "Amazon magics are very powerful, and this bracelet was said to have been created by one of the more gifted Mages ever produced by out tribe some seven hundred years ago. It's even said the bracelet briefly adorned the wrist of the great Tourist, Marco Polo himself."

"We no have intentions of swallowing pearls," remarked Ling-Ling, to which her twin sister added, "No do have Amazon warrior fall in love unless strong fighter.

"Say what you will," replied the diminutive Washu, "But I wouldn't mind having one of those pearls for a closer analysis of their content. It's hard enough fathoming the makeup of the libido tendencies in the average sentient being, and magic pills that can make even you two turn lovey-dovey…"

"Don't even think about it, MOM," Ryoko growled the latter word between clenched teeth.

"Oh yes," Ayeka concurred, "We had quite enough of that when Sasami meddled in one of our arguments and nearly got the two of us hitched together."

"I said I was sorry," sighed a young blue-haired girl in weary exasperation, the small creature resting upon her shoulders concurring with a slight "Mew" that all they had intended to do was make the Princess and Space Pirate behave nicer around one another.

"I thought we weren't going to bring that up again ever," Ryoko glanced meaningfully to her longtime rival.

"Consider it forgotten," Ayeka glanced away, her memory still much too fresh of the strange thrill of delight that she had experienced while holding Ryoko, and without knowing it she thought ironically that the accursed devil-girl would just naturally have to be such a talented kisser, mirroring exactly Ryoko's thoughts in her direction.

Tenchi sighed, oblivious to the hidden subtext in these exchanges. Life was never simple for him, but at least it would be nice if his two girlfriends weren't always fighting over him and destroying property. He wasn't eager to be engaged to anyone per-se, much as he enjoyed the company of the colorful girls who always seemed to be at his side right when he needed them the most. Why couldn't people just try and get along the way he was always attempting? There were very few situations, in his experience, that could not be better resolved if all the concerned parties would agree to sit down and discuss things like rational people.

Ironically it was the one girl in his entourage who did not seem to have an interest in Tenchi who turned back over her shoulder with an exasperated frown of her own, spying her lagging partner as she growled out, "Hurry it up, Mihoshi! You think we've got all day?"

"But Kiyone," her fellow Galaxy Patrolwoman replied, pointing back the way they had just come, "I think something's happening over there…and isn't that the guy we're supposed to be chasing after?"

The entire party turned to follow the line of her gaze, only to see a blond-haired streak rush past, being hotly pursued by a gorgeous brown haired woman, and a few seconds after them another girl with long purple-black hair came tearing by, only she had her face covered with both arms and was crying in a horrified voice, "Noooooooo!"

A few seconds later a topless green-haired girl came zooming past, actually streaking right by them in a horizontal position, her feet never once touching the sands, and followed closely in heal by yet another brown-haired girl who was crying loudly, "LUM-SAMA, WAIT UP! WAIT FOR YOUR BELOVED SHINOBU!!!"

No sooner had those two flown by then a couple of boys showed up, slightly out of breath and each one looking desperate with concern and worry as one turned to the other and declared, "This is all your fault, Moroboshi! What have you done this time to upset the Princess Lum and Shinobu?"

"I didn't do anything!" Ataru stoutly defended, "You think I want them to be ignoring me while they go playing with each other?"

"I wouldn't put anything past your lecherous excuse for an imagination!" the boy clutching the katana in one hand declared, then the two picked up the pace again and rushed off in hot pursuit of their errant ladies.

There was a moment where everyone remained standing stock still with only the sound of a collective eye-blink to break the ensuing silence, and then four more girls came rushing up, the lead one saying, "Rei, where are you going? Did anybody see which way she went? Oh, hi cousin Tenchi!"

Tenchi stirred at that friendly greeting, "Usagi? What are you doing here?"

"No time to talk, Cuz," the Odango-blonde haired girl flashed a friendly smile at him, "We're looking for a friend who we think went this way…and what's this about you being with all these girls? Don't tell me shy little Tenchi is turning into a major stud! You have got to give me all the juicy details sometime…"

"Not right now," the other blonde in the party pleaded, "We're looking for a girl, not too tall but nicely built and leggy. She has long dark hair and we think she may be having some kind of trouble. Can you tell us if you've seen her?"

"Uh…sure," Ryoko pointed, "Someone like that went that way not thirty seconds ago."

"Thanks!" all four of the girls chorused together, and then they were in motion once again in hot pursuit of the others.

"Japanese very strange people," Ling-Ling commented after their passage, to which her sister mutely nodded in agreement.

"You know, you meet the strangest people on this planet," remarked Ayeka matter-of-factly.

"You're telling me?" asked Washu with a grim, "Why do you think I like it here? So much room for experimentation!"

"I wonder," Lotion frowned, then shifted to her native Chinese and asked, < "Perfume, did you notice anything unusual about all this?">

<"Define unusual,"> Perfume replied with a straight face.

<"I mean behavior wise,"> Lotion sought to narrow down her question, <"Autonomic responses, unusual pulse rates, high phenomenal activities signifying a heightened state of sexual arousal…">

"Ah…" Perfume glanced from one side to the other, then in Japanese responded, "Is maybe no different from what Perfume see over there, there and that a way?" she nodded to various couples who currently and most definitely were displaying heightened states of arousal.

The rest of the party began to take notice of the phenomenon that the Amazon Enforcer's heightened perceptions had been first to make plain, that more than a few people surrounding them on that beach were indeed giving indications of increasingly peculiar behavior.

"But Hiyukawa-san!" one boy was complaining to his two lady companions, "What have I done wrong now…and…what are you and Hikaru-chan doing?"

"Like it's any of your business!" the raven haired Madoka shot back as she kept her arms around the astonished girl with the light-brown hair beside her, "And for that matter, Kyosuke, I think the way you treat Hikaru sometimes is nothing less than shameful!"

"Madoka-chan?" Hikaru wondered if she were missing something significant here to explain her best friend's odd behavior.

Not too far removed from them, a girl (whose name, curiously enough, was Akane, and cousin to Kyosuke) glared over the rim of her sunglasses at the object of her longtime obsession and wondered why Hikaru should be so lucky.

And not too far removed from these youths, a slightly older boy was having similar difficulties trying to fathom out the odd behavior of a pair of female jet pilots named Mataki and Miyuki…

"Uh…does it seem to you as if folks are acting a little weird all of a sudden?" Tenchi asked, being far from the most astute observer in the world but wholly unable to miss the significance of the energetic way in which some people were behaving.

"Now that you mention it," Washu noted, "Even by the standards of this planet some of this is looking a little weird…"

Lotion gave a gasp and asked, "You think power of bracelet maybe do this to people?"

"But there only two pearls left on bracelet," Perfume scanned around, "Is many, many peoples acting like pearl is having this effect."

"Pearl?" Mihoshi bent down and picked something up out of the sand, "You mean like this one?"

"Huh?" everyone crowded around to see the object in her hand, and Kiyone was first to say, "It does look like a pearl…but why are there so many?"

"You got me on that one," Washu scratched the back of her head with a thoughtful expression as she glanced around, spotting another pearl, and another one beyond that., ""Looks like a bunch of those things are littering the beach, and it's a good bet that more than a few are being swallowed. Maybe somebody's mass-producing them by the bucket?"

"That looks exactly like the one that got us," Ryoko said with more than a hint of alarm in her voice.

"Whatever you do, do not take that thing into your mouth, Mihoshi," Ayeka stressed with great conviction.

"It no make sense," Lotion was puzzled, "Only three Pearl in legend, where other pearls come from?"

"And why would anyone in their right mind swallow one of these things," Kiyone asked, "Even if they didn't know they were magic?"

"Is magic all right," Perfume held one of the pearls up in the palm of her own hand, "Perfume can feel tingle and see aura surround it. Is like something Grandmother make for fun, only much, much more powerful than ordinary love charm."

"Your grandmother?" Tenchi asked.

"Elder known as Siren," Lotion replied to the question, "She very big troublemaker."

Perfume heaved a sigh, "Is true, Grandmother very…how you say much fun?"

"Enthusiastic," Lotion supplied for her.

"Thank you," Perfume smiled at her beloved friend, only to give a start as her battle instincts warned her just barely in time of an impending collision. She braced herself to absorb the impact against her shoulder blades but winced as her hyper-sensitive pain receptors exaggerated the impact, and for a momentary second lost possession of the pearl that she had been holding.

"Sorry about that," the boy who collided with her belatedly apologized before turning to face the other boy who had struck him, "I'm warning you, Mizuhara, stay away from my sister, and especially keep well away from Shayla-sama!"

"And I'm telling you to back off, Jinai, or you're gonna get hurt!" the other boy declared, "Shayla's mine and you're not taking her from me!"

The unfortunate person standing directly in front of Perfume only had time to for a hesitant gasp before the pearl shot into his mouth as though aimed there with intention, and then Tenchi reflexively coughed, having had no time to deflect or avoid the enchanted object. He had the presence of mind to shut his eyes tightly, realizing that to open them at this particular moment was to court disaster on a colossal level. It didn't matter WHO he looked at next, one or more of his companions was likely to protest the act with explosive consequences, and with him trapped, as usual, in the middle!

"Uh oh!" Ryoko murmured, having more than a little idea what the Juraian prince would experience if he looked someone in the eyes…like her for example!

"Lord Tenchi," a nearly identical thought crossed the mind of Ayeka and triggered a war of conflicting desires and conscience wholly absent in the thought processes of her rival.

"Boy swallow pearl," Ling-Ling said as if realizing that someone had to announce the obvious.

"Make cough up pearl before he…huh?" Lung-Lung broke off her suggestion as the blue haired space pirate materialized in front of Tenchi.

"Hey Tenchi," Ryoko cooed, "Maybe you'd better let me have a look at that to see if I can help you."

"YOU WHAT???" Ayeka hastily shoved the space pirate aside and seized Tenchi by the arms and said, "Lord Tenchi, let me be the one to examine you. After all, it is my duty as a princess…"

Tenchi made a hesitant decision. He knew with a sinking feeling in his guts that he was going to get sucked into this mess no matter what he did, so he might as well surrender to the inevitable this one time and opened his eyes, resigned to suffering the effects of the pill, which he hoped would only be temporary.

"Why you!" Ryoko straightened up and balled her fists, intending to do mischief, but Kiyone stepped into the battle-zone, separating Ayeka from Tenchi with her voice raised in a note of sternness.

"KNOCK IT OFF, YOU TWO!" the Galaxy Patrolwoman declared, "This is no time for one of your fights! We have to get Tenchi back to normal, so don't even think about taking advantage of him like…huh?"

"Kiyone?" Tenchi looked on her, his hand gently placed upon her nearest extended arm, his face suffused with the purest of adoration, "How beautiful you are…I never realized your eyes were so blue! How come I've never really noticed you until now? You're incredibly special…"

"HAH?" Kiyone reacted in dismay, and suddenly she felt a pair of battle auras flaring up, with some tell-tale logs forming in the air, and for once found herself in a situation that she absolutely knew could not be blamed on Mihoshi…

Shampoo's diary resumes:

AIYAA! This is one day that I will not soon forget, that is an absolute certainty! How to describe the unusual things that this one has participated in and witnessed? It does not make for very easy telling!

While Nabiki was away receiving special training from Elder Lotion, it fell upon me to keep a watchful eye out for our much-beloved husband, especially in light of great grandmother's warning as to the Evil Perverted Master's wicked intentions. How could we have known that Lore Master Silk would accidentally cause so much mischief? It was all that this one could do to keep her beloved husband from falling a victim to the curse of those pearls stealing his love away from her and directing him to a far less worthy person.

Or an unworthy person setting their sights upon my Ranma!

I am not certain that I would have defined Kuonji Ukyo as "unworthy," but I had been deriving considerable amusement at her expense earlier in that day, taking notice of the way in which she was attempting to balance the conflicting claims against her hand by rival interested parties. That pig-boy Ryoga considered her a threat to his relationship with Akane was only to be expected, but that Akane herself would completely lose all sense of proportion about her infatuation with the girl-turned-boy chef was as much a surprise to me as I'm sure that it was for Kuonji.

To be fair the pearls were to blame, of course, but the way in which it happened would likely have inspired much more amusement in me had I not been at least partially caught within the crossfire, especially when the tall girl named Mako waded into the ensuing mischief…

"Back off, Ryoga!" Ukyo declared, having finally come to the end of his patience.

"And let you have your way with Akane?" Ryoga murmured back in a low growl, "Not likely."

"Ryoga, stop it," Akane reprimanded, "Stop picking fights with Ukyo-kun. This is no way to behave, not when we've got important business chasing down Grandfather Happosai."

"Grandfather?" Makoto asked, "You actually mean that guy and you are related?"

"It's nothing we're proud about," Akane grumbled, "And despite what he sometimes looks like, he's actually a very old pervert who taught my father the martial arts…he even founded the Tendo and Saotome systems."

"You're right," Ambergris remarked, "It's nothing to be proud about, but you seem to cope well enough for all that."

"Like we've got a choice?" Ranma asked rhetorically, "He ain't my master, though, and one of these days I'm gonna pound him so flat that he won't crawl out from under the rock that spawned him."

"And Shampoo make sure," the Amazon added in helpfully sweet tones, "Find lots of really big rocks and pile on top him."

"But first we have to catch him, Sugar," Ukyo remarked, "And on a beach this size it ain't gonna be easy."

"Then perhaps we should apply a bit more intelligence to the search," Ambergris mused aloud, "I've been thinking on what goals Happosai might have once he discovers the full potential of the pearls on that bracelet, and it comes into my mind that the logical target may not be some random piece of fluff but rather a specific target, someone who has repeatedly and successfully evaded his best efforts…"

"You mean Great Grandmother?" Shampoo deduced, surprised that she had not thought of it herself.

"The old leach wants her?" Ranma asked, "Talk about living dangerously! Does he really think she'd just curl up and turn into his faithful love slave or something?"

"As a matter of fact that's probably what he's counting on," Ambergris replied, "And you're right, his plan would probably backfire on him and he'd wind up with a lot more than even he could handle."

"You mean she wouldn't turn weak and submissive to his will?" Ukyo asked.

"You got it," Ambergris smiled before adding, "Sugar."

Ukyo blinked while Akane glared at that, but the pink-haired Amazon continued as if oblivious to this reaction, "From what I understand about love spells, they don't actually erase the personality of the victim, they only strengthen the attractive force between two (and sometimes more) people, feelings that they may already possess in some small measure, whether it's mere liking or casual friendship. By the same token logic, if one uses a spell to change hate into love, a lot of the anger and hostility that went into the hate would remain and taint their relationship. After all, hate is not the opposite of love, as Elder Lotion is wont to say…fear is."

"Fear?" Akane asked.

"Fear is avoidance, just as love is attraction," Ambergris supplied, "Hate is an alloy of the two, a corruption of conflicting emotions, the two strongest in existence, which is why it can be such a powerful weapon but one that cuts both ways. Add fear to love within a relationship and you're bound to have a stormy affair that can harm as well as heal, and when the two most powerful Elders of their generation get together…well…let's just say I wouldn't want to be the one who gets caught in the crossfire."

"That would be awful," Ryoga agreed, "So, what you're saying is that if the old man gets what he wants then he'll receive her anger as well as her affection."

"You got it, Sugar," Ambergris replied with a soft chuckle, "You're not as slow as most people seem to think you are. You grasp the basics a lot better than most people."

"Huh?" Ryoga was not certain if he should feel complimented or not by that statement, but then there was very little that he understood about the enigmatic Amazon and her oddly superior nature.

"Ordinarily I wouldn't interfere," Ambergris continued, "I'd wish the happy couple well and say they pretty much deserve one another, but as we are talking about the Matriarch of the Joketsuzoku, and considering the level of major property damage those two could manifest if they really went at it, I think it would be prudent for all of us to take that bracelet away from the old boy and stick it someplace where it can't harm anybody. A power like that shouldn't be abused this way…in fact I'm not even sure if I could trust me with that sort of ability. After all, who wouldn't be tempted by the power of playing Cupid?"

"Playing Cupid?" Akane repeated with an unusually subdued and thoughtful tone of voice.

"Sure, I understand that," Ukyo replied, "If some guy had some girl he wanted to seduce then he'd feel inclined to using a pearl to win her over, though I have to admit that sounds like a pretty low brow way of getting a girlfriend."

"But," Makoto said aloud, "If the person already liked the other person…that could be a real temptation…not that I'd want to do that, of course."

"Of course," Ryoga replied, "It wouldn't be a very honorable way of winning their affections…"

"And besides," Akane concluded for them, "If someone did that to me then I'd probably resent it."

"Probably?" Shampoo lifted an eyebrow.

"Jeez, listen to you guys," Ranma growled, "Didn't you just hear her say it's dangerous to fool around with that kind of magic? You never know what you might wind up with!"

"That's easy for you to say," Ryoga replied, "You've already got two girlfriends, and you didn't even have to work at it either, Ranma."

"A lot you know," Ranma growled resentfully, "You think it's easy keeping up in a relationship? If it wasn't for Nabiki and Shampoo…" she paused, then glanced away, "Aw, you guys wouldn't understand. I just know it takes two people to make it work…or three if you count me into that."

Shampoo smiled at her husband/wife, though she did not fail to catch the thoughtful expressions of many of the others and wondered in the context of their discussion if any of them were seriously contemplating using the pearls for their own sakes. She shot a suspicious look at Ambergris and wondered if her old friend had deliberately implanted the idea in their minds as one of her clever little pranks, no doubt motivated by watching the back-and-forth exchanges of a tentative love triangle.

Complicating her estimate of the truth behind Ambergris's former statements, she turned to the currently-female Ranma and said, "You know, Saotome, the Matriarch is right…you would make one very formidable Amazon. You often manage to sound wiser than even my most liberal estimation."

Ranma did not appear to know how he should take that, nor did Shampoo, who frowned at the implied condescension.

What Shampoo could not know directly was just how conflicted Akane was feeling at that moment, thinking about the pearls and the opportunity that they might present, but weighing that against a fundamental certainty that it would be morally wrong and personally unethical to try and influence someone's choices that way. It went against many deeply held beliefs and feelings about how one should conduct themselves in a relationship.

And yet still…

She turned to study Ukyo's far-away expression and once again experienced the odd thrill that she felt whenever the handsome bishonen youth was in her presence. She knew Ukyo was really a girl cursed to become a boy, much the same in reverse as with Ranma, but still unlike that jerk, Ukyo was a sweet and sensitive person who never deliberately upset Akane, yet who somehow managed to confuse her on almost every level that truly mattered. Ukyo seemed to like her and never objected to having Akane around, so it was at least possible that he might feel something like what Akane had come to feel towards him…or her as the case might be.

Would a magic potion that strengthened feelings of attraction be so wrong if it merely intensified what was already there to begin with? Would it be morally wrong to discover if Ukyo even had such feelings in the first place, or if there was even a chance of something happening between them?

And what of Ryoga? Was she really ready to sever her relationship with him in Ukyo's favor? Akane did not mean to purposefully lead the lost boy on by the nose, and she had long since forgiven him his deception over the matter of his P-chan deception, but were the feelings that she had begun to have for the son of a half-Oni truly well and gone, or had they simply been smothered by her feelings for Ukyo…or Ucchan as Ranma almost habitually called him. If Akane chose Ukyo then Ryoga's feelings would be hurt, which was something she would have preferred to avoid if there were some way of keeping Ryoga's friendship, because he was a valiant friend, and a welcome shadow who always seemed close at hand when she needed his attention.

Ryoga, for his part, was faced with similar conflicted feelings, fully aware that Akane had turned from him to the okonomiyaki chef, and resenting this fact enormously as it had prevented any chance he might have had for repairing the rift that had grown up between them. If not for Ukyo's arrival in Nerima, Ryoga might have even become Akane's OFFICIAL boyfriend, and for that he owed the cross-dressing Lothario a good and proper pounding!

Ukyo was more than slightly distracted, trying hard not to glance in Ranma's way, and feeling deep shame at having even momentarily entertained the fantasy of feeding a pearl to Ranma…just to see if it could inspire a favorable reaction.

Makoto was feeling a similar brand of torment, her experiences as a senshi having conditioned her to be wary of any artificial or magical means of affecting a person's behavior. Still…it was hard to classify something as essentially benign as a love charm with the harsher and far more life-threatening enchantments that she had encountered fighting against the Dark Kingdom…and it was her Senpai that she was at least considering as a likely prospect. Besides this, she was growing mighty tired of being one of the only two senshi who didn't have a boyfriend or a life partner…

All four had their fantasies disrupted when two sets of running feet charged past their position, one belonging to a very short young girl with pale lavender head who was running at top speed with a very attractive redhead following behind her, a wildly lustful expression on one face counterbalanced by a strong sense of panic that crossed the others.'

"But Big-Sister Shayla…!" she was crying as she ran past.

"Whadya doin' running away, little girl?" asked the redhead, "You've always wanted to play with me, we'll here's your big chance!"

"But I'm trying to remain faithful to Nanami!" the smaller girl whined as she managed to maintain a slight advantage in distance.

"Hang on, Aliel!" a brown haired girl called out as she rushed to keep up with the first two.

"Wh-what the heck?" Ranma-chan managed to gasp as she watched the odd trio disappear down the boardwalk.

"Maybe they're having a fire sale," Ambergris suggested.

"Yeah," Ukyo agreed, "Only they're selling real fires."

"Ranma, my boy!" the young-seeming Happosai reminded them all of the purpose behind their searching. He tried to glomp onto the chest of the redhead martial artist, but Ranma had no time working in the counter.

"Back off!" Ranma told the glomping pervert as she slammed him face-first down into the dirt.

"Ahah," Ambergris, "Speak of the rat who's responsible for so much trouble…huh?"

"Rmpha, phah mphd jrr helph!" Happosai declared with his face pressed against the sands under Ranma's foot.

"You need my help?" Ranma interpreted correctly, "What the heck for? You got some other guy after you for bothering his girlfriend?"

"It's nothing like that," the blond haired man protested as he managed to work his way out from under his alleged student, "It's Hinako-chan, she's under an unfortunate spell that's making her act-YIKES!"

With great nimbleness and haste the handsome youth ducked around behind the party and hunched down low, just as the voluptuously adult form of their homeroom teacher came trotting up with many parts in motion more eye-catching than any exotic sights one might normally associate with the ocean. Even Ukyo found himself suffering a momentary flash of arousal, as could be noted had anyone bothered to glance at his ultra-tight swimming trunks.

"Saotome," the sultry teacher cooed, "Where is that gorgeous hunk of manhood gotten off to? I simply must give him a proper Teacher-Student evaluation."

"Ah…" Ranma began to say when Ambergris spoke up for him, "He's around, honored teacher. Do you wish for us to convey the message that you wish to see him?"

"Thank you but no," Hinako grinned in a naughty way, "I want to personally deliver my message to the dear, sweet boy just as soon as I can find him."

Hinako began to jiggle-ah-jog off in pursuit of her intended quarry, which prompted Ranma to scowl, then reach down and haul the blond haired Happosai to his feet by the armpits and say, "Okay talk! What did you do to the teach?"

"Isn't it obvious enough?" Ambergris remarked, "He must have fed her one of the Pearls, which either means his aim is off or he numbers pedophilia among his numerous vices."

"That's an insult!" Happosai scowled at them both, "I would never raise a hand to harm dear, sweet, innocent Hinako-chan…but I wasn't aiming for her in the first place. It's all the old woman's fault for deflecting…ah…"

"I get it," Ukyo scowled, "You aimed for Cologne but you got Hinako by mistake."

"Bad man," Shampoo reprimanded.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" Akane joined in with the chorus.

"I couldn't agree more," added Ryoga, turning a glance towards Ambergris, "What I don't understand is why you didn't tell her where to find him."

"There are some cruelties even I wouldn't visit on an enemy," the pink-haired Amazon replied, "And besides which, in case you failed to notice, we happened to be standing in the way between her and her current object of obsession. As I understand it, she's a bit too casual in using that Happo Five Yen Satsu attack of hers, and I've no particular desire to feel my energy be drained at the moment."

"Then what do we do now that we have him?" Makoto asked.

"What else?" Ranma-chan growled, "We haul him back to the old ghoul and let her decide his fate, after he gives her back that bracelet!"

"And don't even think about trying anything," Akane added, "You're not as tough in your cursed form, and we've got you surrounded."

"Oh, do you now?" Happosai smiled, then his hand suddenly shot forward, "Here, catch!"

Though he had been running for his life for the past several minutes, Happosai was far from oblivious to the fact that there were pearls scattered all over the beach thanks to Silk's spell going awry, and he had managed to gather a few up on the run on the off-chance that they might prove useful. Now was just such a time that he had in mind, and while normally he would welcome the opportunity to bend this arrogant puppy to his leash, he had more practical issues of escape in mind this time and would simply have to hope that he could collect on the potential award much later.

Ranma saw the attack coming but could not get her mouth closed in time, but she reflexively raised her tongue to block it and the pearl failed to go deep into her mouth. Nonetheless the attack made her momentarily lose her grip on the blond pervert, which was exactly what Happosai had intended.

Unfortunately his means of escape was blocked off by the others, who had fanned out to curtail all likely exit routes, but Happosai saw one way of getting around that and scooped up several more of the pearls while diving at an angle.

"Heads up!" he declared as he sent four pellets at carefully selected targets.

Normally his aim would have been flawless, but Akane and Ryoga had both been on their guard this time around and the two managed to pluck their individual pearls out of mid-air, though Akane's went off-course as her fingers failed to close on them and instead the pill went wide and straight for an unprepared Makoto.

Ukyo had been a bit slow to turn due to the still-unfamiliar added mass of his cursed form, so he had far less time than the others in which to either avoid or deflect his pearl, which found its way into his mouth as though it were a guided missile.

As for Ambergris, she deftly caught the pearl aimed for her between two outstretched fingers.

"Hah," she scorned triumphantly, "Too slow my half, Old Miscrea-OOFF!" Ambergris staggered as she was suddenly tackled by an amorous Makoto.

"Ukyo?" Akane said in alarm as she saw the cursed boy cough and sputter and naturally went to his side to see what was the matter.

"Akane-don't!" Ryoga cried in belated warning.

Ambergris gasped as something landed in her mouth, and just as suddenly she realized what had happened, but was prevented from taking the necessary and appropriate actions due to the bear hug that the taller girl had formed around her body. Unfortunately for Makoto her eyes were not focused her way but were instead directed towards the one standing closest to her, Ryoga.

Ukyo stared into the concerned eyes of Akane and suddenly everything was clear in her mind, and for the first time since giving up on her vengeance quest her life suddenly had purpose. Why hadn't he been able to see it before? It was so obvious just exactly whom he was meant to be with!

"Airen?" Shampoo asked anxiously as she very deliberately placed herself between the redhead and the rest of their party.

Ranma spat his pearl into the palm of one hand and said, "I'm okay, Shampoo…in fact I don't feel any different."

As the Amazon heaved a sigh of relief, the both of them were amazed to hear Ukyo declare, "Akane…I never realized it before, but I love you!"

"SAY WHAT???" chorused several voices at once as all eyes turned to see Ukyo holding Akane closely to him, his eyes locked on hers as Akane gazed back at the handsome youth with a look of absolute wonder.

"It's true," Ukyo declared as if to Akane alone, the others having briefly ceased to exist or have meaning, "It's you I love, Tendo Akane, and no other."

Akane's mind was blank with amazement and wonder, and not a little guilt that tempered her emotions. On the one hand Ukyo's declaration caused something within her to light up like a fireworks display with halogen lights and a neon display underlying the words, "I love you!" On the other hand she knew perfectly well that this was the effect of a spell causing Ukyo to behave in a way normally contrary to her nature, and that deflated her exuberance by a considerable margin.

Ryoga's response was more typical to his nature. With absolute rage he declared, "KUONJI-HOW DARE YOU-URK!?!" came the tail end of his declaration as he suddenly found Ambergris pressing herself up against his body.

"Hey, you manly stud you," she cooed, "Why go for the stick when you can have a real woman?"

"Amber-chan!" Makoto wailed plaintively, "Don't tease and ignore me!"

"Uh…" Ranma hesitantly ventured, "Why do I get the feeling that this is bad…real bad?"

"Is all big mess caused by Happosai," Shampoo glanced around and displayed more vexation as she added, "He get away, make big distraction!"

"That figures," Ranma glanced at the pearl still in his hand, "These things are like dynamite. Good thing I caught mine before it could make me act this crazy."

"Ukyo…" Akane started to say, wanting to apologize for ever even entertaining the thought of imposing this sort of thing on the cursed boy.

"Shh," Ukyo bent down low and took Akane into a clench, gazing into her eyes in such a way that the feeble protests of the youngest Tendo sister were drowned in the deep brown pools of Ukyo's vision. Their lips met in a kiss, and suddenly Akane forgot all about what she had been about to say a moment beforehand.

The sight, however, re-ignited Ryoga's anger and turned it up to Blast Furnace levels so that he shrugged off the pink haired Amazon and exclaimed, "KUONJI UKYO, PREPARE TO DIE!!!"

"In a pig's eye, you blow hard!" Ukyo broke off her kiss and set Akane behind her, taking a protective stance between her and Ryoga, "You don't deserve a woman like her, and Akane deserves a real man who can take care of her, so get lost…it's something you're good at!"

Even Ranma was taken aback at the flaring battle-aura that surrounded her half-brother. Ryoga's eyes seemed to grow twice their normal size and take on an almost demonic cast, and Ambergris instinctively backed away lest she be burned on the periphery. Without a word Ryoga charged forward, aiming a fist in Kuonji's direction.

Ukyo did not meet the attack directly but rather ducked down low under the attach and caught the arm between both hands, twisted his body underneath and threw Ryoga in a classic Jujitsu maneuver that sent the other boy crashing into the sand and would have stunned an ordinary man, which of course meant little here as Ryoga was far from ordinary.

"That's it, you DIE!" Ryoga leaped to his feet again and came at Ukyo a second time, but the Ninja-trained chef was ready for him and moved with a speed that belied the size of her cursed male body. As Ryoga was not concentrating on his defenses, she got inside his guard easily and delivered a series of crippling blows, which same only partially staggered Ryoga.

"Ryoga-kun!" Ambergris cried plaintively.

"Ryoga, stop!" Akane called out to no avail.

"Amber-sama," Makoto pleaded, "I want you to be my new girlfriend…"

"Ucchan," Ranma murmured in concern, realizing that strength and skill were both in Ryoga's favor.

"Aiyaa," Shampoo declared, "Cursed girl no deserve this. How we break up fight, Airen?"

"How about with a crowbar and lots of rope?" Ranma suggested before sighing half to herself, "Yup, this definitely is turning out to be one of those days…"


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