Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Knot One, Pearl Two ( Chapter 74 )

[ 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

"Kodachi-chan," Kasumi noted pleasantly, "It's very warm today, would you like to share some ice cream?"

"Would I?" Kodachi noted slyly, "I would most indubitably seek your indulgence to share the sweet serenity of an iced confection, though in all honesty there is something else upon which I would much rather spread chocolate sauce with a sprinkle of nuts and honey."

It was Kasumi's turn to blush at the innuendo of her dear friend's lascivious statement, and the two of them shared a smile of fond anticipation. Walking side-by-side, the two young ladies were enjoying a moment of intimacy in which the crowded beach surrounding them had only two people, and in that world that only they two owned there was much conversing with coy looks and subtle exchanges that would have meant little to anyone else but meant great volumes for two young lovers. It was a relationship that few understood and even fewer gave approval, but for Kasumi and Kodachi it was as natural to them now as breathing, and every little brush of the hand or hip had the sweetness of a caress of a far more significant nature.

Given that they were currently joining in a search to find Happosai, whom they had been informed was in possession of a magic bracelet, the like of which a man of his low character should not be privileged to possess. They had begun the search in the presence of Kasumi's half-sister, Kachu, and Kachu's husband, Tofu-sensei, but the pair had begged to be excused for a bit as Tofu had a plan that he thought would help, and so he and Kachu had left with the promise of a return in a prompt and timely manner. Kodachi and Kasumi did not mind being left alone, of course, and they felt more than adequate to handle any challenge that might come in their direction.

Trailing behind them a respectful distance was the ever-faithful Sasuke, keeping an alert and watchful eye out for anything that might adversely affect the happiness of his two Mistresses. In the time since he had come to regard Kasumi as a second Mistress he had grown to love and respect the gentle Tendo girl, and to value her smile far in excess to any personal happiness that he might otherwise imagine. It was his duty as family retainer to the Kuno estate that he be her faithful ninja, ever bit as much as he was to Kodachi. That the two seemed to be ignoring him at the moment was of no consequence at all…he knew his company was valued, and if he faded into the background and took their minds off of worldly matters, then he was faithfully discharging his duties, a fact in which he took great satisfaction.

Of course he also took notice that several people whom they passed upon the beach were behaving in a very odd manner, and he witnessed several fistfights breaking out with much shouting and even some running about going on between utter strangers. For a denizen of Nerima this was not an exceptional matter, but after passing so many in a few minutes, Sasuke was beginning to wonder if there was something going around, and quite possibly contagious.

"It's such a beautiful day," Kasumi mused in a voice that well conveyed the happiness that she was currently feeling.

"Yes it is," Kodachi agreed, "The more so for having you with me."

Kasumi smiled and was about to say that the feeling was mutual when something loomed up in her path and a pair of strong male hands gripped her by the arms to steady her and prevent an impending collision.

Both Kodachi and Sasuke came to an equally abrupt halt, staring at the man who had appeared within their path with such unexpected suddenness that Sasuke wondered in private if his Master had become part ninja.

"Oh!" Kasumi gasped, and raised her eyes to look full on the face of Kuno Tatewaki, who glanced down at her with a cold and remote expression devoid of either warmth or resentment.

"Tendo Kasumi," he acknowledged, "It is ill advised to take no notice of your surroundings, you might well have injured yourself against some party that intended you no mischief."

"Tatewaki," Kodachi greeted her brother with even less warm than he displayed when he turned his gaze in her direction, "What are you doing here, Brother? I thought you were preoccupied taking over affairs abandoned in your lap by our father."

"The running of a major corporation takes far more of my time than I am sure that you understand, dear sister," the older Kuno replied, "Nor do I suspect you have much of an interest, having affairs of your own to pursue, which of course are of no concern of mine. You are free to do as you like, however much it pains me that you neglect the obligations of your station."

"And what obligations are those, Tatewaki?" Kodachi growled, "To what do I owe my family that you come here to remind me of it?"

Tatewaki very gently but firmly moved Kasumi to one side, then fully confronted his younger sister, his eyes full of complex emotions, few of them of a brotherly nature.

"Like it not, and you may be assured that I do not," he began, "There is a stipulation in our father's will that vests in you a portion of the inheritance that we may each come into in the untimely event that he is unable to discharge his paternal duties. I now control the company, but you own a share of the major outlets. It would be pointless for our two parts to be at odds with one another, so I must ask your consent that I may make several deals that bind the Pharmaceutical branch with our Munitions outlets."

"You want to combine drugs with arms manufacturing?" Kodachi's eyes widened in alarm, "To what end would you wish such a thing?

"I am not at liberty to spare the details in a public forum," he replied, "But it concerns an arrangement our father made with the government, an obligation that I must needs honor or be remiss to the tune of several billion yen already invested. You need not fear, I intend no evil thing with this program. I will make all the pertinent details available to you, but I must needs ask that you come with me now. I already have a limousine waiting…"

"No," Kodachi said firmly and distinctly, so much so that Sasuke stifled a gasp at the sense of an impending clash between his Lord and Lady.

"No?" Tatewaki quirked an eyebrow.

"I will go nowhere with you at this time, Brother dear," Kodachi said precisely and evenly, "The affairs of business shall not intrude on my day of contentment, nor will I be rushed into a decision until I have had time to thoroughly review the details of this proposal. We both know the folly of haste in conducting our affairs, Tatewaki, and we have each suffered grievously because of ill-made decisions entered into without proper thought to the consequences."

"How well you state the matter plainly," Tatewaki replied, "Very well, then I will be blunt in my speech as well. As much as I have forgiven you, dear sister, for the years in which you tainted my food and my mind with your subtle poisons, I still hold your conduct in the prismatic light of your past behavior, and while it seems that you have made a sincere reform of your ways, I often wonder to what depth you have acquainted the fair Kasumi with the full extent of your past transgressions."

Kodachi grit her teeth but shot a guilty look in Kasumi's direction. She had bared her soul to the eldest Tendo sister and made a full confession of as many of her personal sins as seemed relevant to the present, and received the forgiveness of her lover for these sins…but not every sin ever committed. There were some few past wrongs of such a nature that she had feared to share their existence with any other, and It seemed in her mind that Tatewaki was now threatening to make those evils more common knowledge, and that was something she could not tolerate. Of all the pains and ills that Kodachi might bear in this world, Kodachi feared seeing Kasumi's love turn to bitterness and disappointment.

She silently cursed her brother, wondering at this strange transformation of the formerly clueless and dull-witted Kuno from romantic dreamer to capable and much subtler performer. At first Kodachi had blamed the drugs that she had been feeding Tatewaki in his food for having suppressed his natural intellect, but the boost in his competency level was unfathomable, and she began to suspect that there was a more sinister cause behind his sudden burst of genius.

"There are no secrets between me and Kasumi-chan," Kodachi voiced aloud with as much control in her tone as she could manage, "And it is to her that I turn as my conscience."

"I have no doubt she is quite capable in that regard," Tatewaki glanced sidelong at Kasumi, "And I do not doubt that this is far from the limit of her talents."

Kasumi gasped in surprise, having at least some inkling of what the tall boy was implying with his veiled comment, and it shocked her that he would use such crudity in regards to her, as if she were guilty of something that was not right and proper.

Kodachi, on the other hand, felt her temper flaring to raw heat at the insult directed towards her favorite Tendo sister. With far less control of her temper than before she snapped, "Is this how you seek my cooperation, Tatewaki? To embarrass and insult my friends?"

"Friends?" Tatewaki asked, "Is that what she means to you? An interesting use of terminology…"

Even Sasuke felt a shudder go down his spine at the crudeness that remark, delivered with such sharp venom that it seemed utterly unlike the Master whom he had served devotedly since childhood. Whatever strange alteration had of recent times come over the elder Kuno sibling, Sasuke most definitely did not like it…and apparently neither did his Mistress!

Kodachi was on the verge of doing something rude and unforgivable in front of Kasumi and to her older brother when a pair of running feet interrupted their conversation, and all three heads turned in time to take notice of the blond haired Happosai making tracks in the sand with a gorgeous brunette in hot pursuit, scattering sand and debris in all directions.

"What in the name of…?" Tatewaki began to say when something fell into his mouth, causing him to momentarily gag in reflex.

"How very odd," Kasumi said aloud, "That looked like Grandfather Happosai in his cursed form, but who was the woman chasing after him?"

"I don't know," Kodachi replied, "But I'm certain that I have seen her around somewhere."

"Oh," Kasumi clapped her hands together, "But isn't it nice that Grandfather has finally found a woman who is interested in meeting him? Maybe now he won't be so lonely."

"More like she's another of his admiring fans who want to express their appreciation for his acquiring their undergarments," Kodachi gave a nasty smile that showed her opinion on the subject of the family pervert.

"Excuse me, but I was wondering if you ladies might have seen someone," a voice asked from slightly above their heads and off to one side, "He's a young man with brown hair who answers to the name of Makoto…do you know where he might be?"

Kasumi and Kodachi turned to see a beautiful woman with long white hair floating in the air several feet above the sands, her gray eyes politely inquiring and granting to her an almost angelic demeanor.

"Oh no," Kasumi answered forthrightly, "I do know a Makoto, but she's most definitely not a young man. If I see anyone who answers to that name I'll be certain to tell you."

"Thank you," the woman replied and floated off in search of her missing boyfriend.

"Such a nice young girl," Kasumi remarked, "I do hope she finds the one she's looking for."

Kodachi was just considering the point about the woman floating without apparent means of support when she began to take recognition of the fact that there was more than a little unusual behavior going on around them.

"Eh?" Tatewaki finally opened his eyes and glanced in Kasumi's direction, only to react in stunned amazement as he turned to the unsuspecting Tendo girl and once more seized hold of her by the arms, only this time there was no aloofness in his expression, "What beauty is this before me? What unparalleled grace of womanly virtue? Canst my eyes have beheld a more wondrous vision…?"

"Excuse me?" Kasumi replied with some perfunctory eye-blinking.

"Surely the gods smile upon this humble mortal that he may bask in the presence of such glory," Tatewaki continued, "Pray be mine, gentle maiden, and I shall spread the glories of the earth beneath thy dainty feet and cover thy bed with rose petals and blossoms. I shall prize you over all the women of this Earth and make a mockery of my former diversions…"

"Tatewaki, are you insane?" Kodachi demanded, heedless of the irony in that statement, and quite amazed at the sudden transformation within her brother.

"Aye, mad with desire for she who claims my affections," Tatewaki resumed, "Come with me now and I shall take thee to unexplored depths of desire that thou mayest acquaint thyself with the generous bounty that is thy rightful lot. Oh happy day when mine eyes beheld such a vision…"

Sasuke blinked in open surprise on hearing what sounded like his Old Master making a spontaneous return to the fold, only now the object of his current interest put him definitely at odds with the wants and desires of his Mistress, and what was a poor ninja to do in such an appalling situation?

Kasumi wondered if Tatewaki were feeling quite all right, and was also struck by how quickly he had warmed up to her without any stimulus on her part. His words were strong with the sincerity of his ardor, but he was simply a younger boy to her who happened to have a nice background, and though he was unquestionably quite handsome, he simply was not her Kodachi.

Kodachi, however, did seem to be in rather a state herself at the moment, her eyes burning with the fires of outrage, and if Kasumi did not know better she would have believed that her beloved friend was presently manifesting an Akane-sized battle aura, with her brother being the primary target of much impending violence. Given all of this, Kasumi could only react in the manner which, for her, was second nature, and neatly summarized both her and Sasuke's conflicting emotions on this subject.

"Oh my…"

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

My first warning that something was amiss with the others came when Lotion paused in the middle of her lecture, glancing off with one of those faintly distracted expressions that often come over her without warning, and then the subtle shift in her tone as she remarked aloud, "What has that child done now? Honestly…you would think she would have more sense than to attempt something of that nature…"

I was about to ask what she meant when the old woman raised her staff and gestured, and suddenly we were back on the other beach surrounded by people, a few of whom were actually familiar.

I saw Cologne at once, of course, standing with Hairbrush and a giant panda whom I took to be Uncle Genma, only he had a medical smock covering his muzzle. I was about to ask where he had gotten it when I belatedly recalled that he used to work part time for Tofu-sensei. I wasn't about to ask how he had obtained it for this occasion…such things are better off left unasked around my prospective father-in-law, but I was wondering why he was wearing it on this particular occasion.

"Good of you to come," Cologne said in greeting before I had the chance to voice my question aloud, "It seems we have a situation…"

"I already know all about it," Lotion replied, glancing around, "Where is Silk? I should like to have a few words with my errant granddaughter."

"Silk is presently concerned with personal matters," Cologne replied, "She'll be along soon enough, after she has retrieved Tendo Soun from the present affections of Hibiki Atsuko."

I blinked at that and said, "Daddy?"

"It seems they both swallowed love pearls that have enchanted them into a temporary dalliance, Daughter-in-law," Hairbrush noted with a shrug of his broad shoulders, "There's a lot of that going around, I've noticed."

"Say what?" I asked in understandable confusion.

"I myself barely escaped the amorous attentions of a bewitched Nodoka," the man continued with an apologetic nod in my direction, "Fortunately for me my wife provided some needed distraction."

I saw Genma-panda glare crossly at the other man, but for once his ever-present sign was not in hand, or else he might likely have employed it in a less-than-constructive manner.

"Indeed, this is most serious," Lotion noted with a look of intense concern in her expression, "I knew that allowing Happosai to keep possession of many of the Amazon treasures would prove to be a grave mistake, but until now I've lacked a clear plan on how he and they might be well separated. I take it this was the charmed bracelet that once was in your possession?"

"The same one that has caused untold mischief in the past," Cologne replied, "And I think you can well appreciate the harm that he has wrought through injudicious employment of the love pearls."

"Wait a second!" I cried, forming a "T" with both hands, "Time Out! Love pearls? You've gotta be kidding!"

All at once an unshaven man with an unkempt manner that defined him as one of extremely poor grooming habits came rushing by us shouting out, "Ifurita! Where are you my love-goddess of Destruction?"

Not far behind him was a very slender woman with pale lavender hair who cried, "MASUMICHI! Please wait up! Don't run from me like that, my husband!"

And right behind her a pretty girl with long brown hair partially held up by a headband came floating by on a breeze crying, "Where are you going, Big-Sister Mise? I want to play with you some more! Come back!"

I could not help but notice that there were a lot of other people all around us who were showing more than a little of the same behavior…in fact it looked as if dozens of people were carrying on like a pack of love-crazed morons.

"Oh," I said at length, "Guess you're not kidding after all…"

"There you are!" said the familiar voice of Doctor Tofu, and we turned to see both him and Kachu come running up to join us, both wearing surgical masks, the same as Genma.

"Great-Grandmother," my elder half-sister called out, "Thank our ancestors that you are here! We are in dire need of the services of your office!"

"So I see," Lotion replied, "I take it you and your husband thought to retrieve some masks from a local medical clinic. That was very insightful of you, Son-in-law, I'm much impressed by your foresight."

"It seems like the best way to prevent accidentally swallowing one of those pearls," Tofu replied through his mask, "They act almost like Mexican Jumping beans, or corn kernels on a hot sheet."

"So many people have swallowed these pearls that one is tempted to believe that they are enchanted to do so," Kachu added, handing me one of the surgical masks, "Here you are, sister…this will offer you some protection, and I shall give you two more to share with your wife and husband."

I didn't feel like correcting the Devil Hunter on the mere technical fact that we aren't yet officially married, but I was grateful that she had thought of Shampoo, Ranma and me. It's at times such as these that I can actually see the resemblance between her and Kasumi, and I'm not even a little ashamed at acknowledging her as my sister.

"There is not much time in which we may act," Lotion said in thoughtful tones as she accepted another one of the masks and donned it, giving her the appearance of someone suffering from a bout of influenza, "Silk cast a spell without properly calibrating the intensity of her defenses. Sometimes that girl forgets her own strength…" she shook her head in weary exasperation, "But anon, she will have to deal with affairs that she instigated in her own peculiar way. I must study the matter at somewhat greater length than we seem to be permitted…ahah!" she spied something on the ground, which she knelt to pick up, and at once my eyes went round as I took in the sight of a perfectly round pearl whose net worth I estimated to be a good five thousand yen, at least!

"You'll find those almost everywhere you turn," Cologne informed us, "There are hundreds of them littering the beach, and every one of them has the potential to cause someone to fall in love with the first thing whom they set eyes upon…"

"Luna!" I turned in surprise as I heard the voice of Tsukino Usagi calling out from a short distance away, "What the heck are you doing with that Seagull?"

I blinked my eyes and saw the black cat with the moon-crest scar who always seemed to hang about with Ranma's ditzy cousin pinning the aforementioned example of wildlife to the sand…and if you think I'm going to describe the rest of this, you've got another think coming!

"Uh…okay," I said, "That's bad…"

"Airen!" I heard the joyous cry of my Amazon bride-to-be one second before she literally pounced on me and nearly knocked me over, hugging me closely that my ribs started to protest, "You is all right! Shampoo so worried you get pearl and start to act funny!"

"You okay, Nabs?" I heard Ranma ask as my redheaded iinazuke joined us at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

"Nabs?" I wanted to have words with him regarding this new nick-name he had just coined, but first I had a pressing matter of my own survival to attend to as I gently but firmly pried myself loose from Shampoo's bear-hug, "Easy, Honey, do it gently! I'm not made of rock…"

"Oops," Shampoo said cutely as she partially let me go but kept on smiling as our eyes made contact, "Is good you no affected by pearls, Nabiki…but why is you wearing funny mask?"

"I get it," Ranma said with a grin, "Pretty cagey! This your idea, Tofu-sensei?"

The doctor nodded as I handed Ranma and Shampoo their smocks, then hastily explained to them both the urgent need to prevent ourselves from swallowing some pearls, only to have them both vigorously shake their heads in agreement as Ranma said, "We already know about that! In fact that's why we need help! Ryoga and Ukyo are going at it, and they mean serious business."

"Going at it?" I blinked my eyes, trying to picture the cross-gender chef and the perpetually lost half-Oni doing something very naughty together. The sound of a nearby explosion distracted me from this unlikely mental image.

"Aiyaa," Shampoo breathed through her mask, "They really going at it!"

"It ain't good," Ranma shook her head, "Ucchan's good, but she ain't no where near as good as Ryoga, and unless we can figure out a way to break these stupid love-spells…"

"Fortunately there is little reason to fear," the old woman announced as she seemed to conclude her researches into the object that she was holding, "The pearls have been diluted from their full might by the very spell that multiplied them from a single source. One hour should be sufficient duration until their effects wear off, after which the affected parties will no doubt experience some after effects that will cause them to rethink their behavior."

"A whole hour?" Ranma gasped, "Ucchan's gonna get creamed long before that! Ryoga's gone totally berserk, and he ain't pulling his punches in spite of her only being a guy because of magic!"

I heard what sounded like several more explosions, only they were taking place at other points on the beach, and not all concentrated in one area either!

"What is this?" I asked, "A beach or a war-zone?"

"When it comes to romance I'm at times hard pressed to find a difference," Cologne answered.

"Did someone mention my niece?" we heard Kuonji Yumi ask as she appeared at the side of a much-alarmed Genma.

"Remarkable," Cologne noted, "I would have thought that the sleep-spot I tapped would have you resting your eyes a bit longer."

"You can't expect to use tricks like that on a trained ninja," Yumi pointed out as she wrapped her muscular arms around the fur of Ranma's father, who made a serious effort to free himself, only was less than totally effective.

"Hah?" I heard Ranma and Shampoo echo my own gasp.

"Come here, you big strong panda-bear you," Yumi hugged the cursed form of my father-in-law to be while rubbing her face in his fur with great affection, "Let's snuggle up together and make some sand-bunnies!"

It took maybe three seconds for Ranma to close her mouth, and then in two quick strides she crossed the distance between her and her father and yanked hard down on his chin-hairs until their faces were about eye-level.

"What this about, Old Man?" Ranma growled, "Are you cheating on Mom again? Why I oughta…"

"For once the fool is not to blame, Son-in-law," Cologne remarked, "Kuonji Yumi is under the influence of the pearl that she swallowed."

"I am?" Yumi asked in mild surprise, "If so, then it feels WONNNDERFUL! The things could put pale to Viagra!"

I wasn't going to touch that one with a ten-meter pole-arm, and for the first time in quite a while I actually felt a note of sympathy for the hapless Genma.

"Heh," Ranma grinned as she let go of Genma, surrendering him up to the burly okonomiyaki chef, "Sounds to me like you've got what's coming to you, old man…only…" she glanced around, "Where's Mom and the others?"

"Aiyaa," Shampoo agreed, "Where Shampoo mother, and why she no with you, Father?"

"Ah…" the Chinese gentleman in question replied, "That might take some explaining, dear…"

"Where's Daddy?" I asked, returning to a subject that had almost been forgotten, "You said he and Ryoga's mom are suddenly sweet on each other?"

"What?" Kachu reacted, "Father…and that Oni???"

"Silk is attending to that even as we speak, child," Cologne replied, "You may trust her to get to the bottom of matters before things proceed too near to the bottom."

I glanced around in search of Daddy and the others and made a peculiar discovery…a section of beachfront upon which my eyes absolutely refused to focus. I tried staring at that place but it was like my gaze just slid off the spot, and I couldn't even form a mental picture of what I had seen barely on the periphery of my vision. Try as I might I could not bring that area into sharper focus.

"No time for that now," Lotion reminded me as she scanned the sands for a moment then stabbed a spot with her staff and flipped an object into her hand, "Ah…here is the offending item. Uncle Happosai must have dropped it in his haste to escape from his own folly. All of the pearls may have been shed, but I believe that it is still the key to winding up this libidinous mischief."

I spied what looked like a solid gold bracelet worked ornately into the pattern of a dragon biting its own tail and goggled, unable to help estimating its value (assuming that the gold was solid and not plated). I also noticed that there were three settings that could accommodate jewels, which same were presently missing. From that I deduced that this was the artifact that had been mentioned, the one that produced pearls that were presently causing so much trouble, such as the lightning flashes and thunderstorms which I was hearing all around us.

"Come, Apprentice," the old woman announced, "We must consult with someone who may be able to help us round up these pearls before they cause any more trouble."

I saw Cologne blanch slightly as she heard this and she shot a look towards Lotion that was nothing less than appalled, "You don't mean you're going to summon HER, are you? Are we truly this desperate?"

"She is the only one who can answer my summons in a timely manner, Matriarch," Lotion replied, "And unless you have a better suggestion, she may be the only one who can undo what has been done. After all, the bracelet once belonged to one of her ancestors."

"Where are you going?" Ranma asked in a somewhat disappointed voice, glancing at me as if afraid to let me out of her sight.

"To contact the one person who may be able to help us," Lotion replied, "Siren the Archmage, Perfume's grandmother."

"Archmage?" I blinked, "You mean she's a witch?"

"More like an Enchanter," Cologne grumbled, "And usually she's more trouble than she's worth."

"Now, now," Lotion chided, "Try and keep your personal feelings in check on this, Matriarch. You now how she looks upon you with the fondest of affections."

"Like I can forget a thing like that?" Cologne rolled her greenish eyes towards the heavens.

"Who is this Siren?" I asked, mindful of the concern which I saw cross the faces of Shampoo and her father, "Is she dangerous?"

"Only if she likes you," Lotion noted as she started forward, compelling me to follow.

"And if she doesn't like you?" I persisted.

"Well then," the old man mused, "Danger is such an inadequate word to describe a person of her character and abilities. She is an Amazon Archmage, you see, and they're quite a bit beyond the mere definition of the word danger."

Somehow I was less than reassured by this, but like a dutiful apprentice I followed and was soon lost to another remote area of beachfront within a half a dozen footsteps…

Ukyo was having a bad run of it and knew it. Despite the increased strength and resilience of his masculine body, Ryoga was a lot tougher by a fair measure, and after initially allowing himself to be thrown around a few times straightened up and got serious, displaying more of his skill as a fighter.

The half-Oni lost boy packed one hell of a punch, and when Ukyo had slowed by a fraction she had been on the receiving end of it, which knocked her flying and nearly rendered her unconscious. Only the superlative training of a ninja saved her from losing the fight at that moment and she managed to roll with the impact in the soft sand, coming to a rest between the legs of a towing blonde woman, who glanced down at her with a faintly aloof expression.

"Humph," she remarked as Ukyo stared up through the peaks and valleys of her cleavage, which same were revealed in spite (if not because of) the flimsy bits of cloth that allegedly comprised her bikini, "Like what you see, handsome?"

"Ah…" Ukyo hastily got back to his feet and said, "Sorry about that, I-hold that thought for a moment," he added as he turned just in time to avoid another Hibiki-patented roundhouse.

"Ukyo!" Akane called out from the sidelines, "Ryoga, stop fighting!

"Ryoga-sama!" Ambergris called out, "You don't need to fight him over her! I'm more than enough woman to satisfy you, big boy!"

"You're more woman than he deserves you mean," Makoto clung to the pink-haired Amazon's arm, "And what do you need a guy like him for when you could have me?"

"This very strange," said Perfume from where she stood besides Lotion the Younger, "Boys act like they ones who decide who make challenge to Akane."

"Is way some outsider men behave," Lotion noted, "Hear word used by Amber describe this, call it Pecking Order, like wolves in pack."

"Aiyaa," said Ling-Ling, "Is very strange behavior."

"No Amazon way, that for sure," agreed Lung-Lung.

"Probably not," added Makoto, "But try telling those two blockheads."

It was taking all the skill he had to hold his own against Ryoga, but Ukyo was not about to give up the fight and surrender in the face of the other boy's berserker status. The fact that Akane, the woman that he now loved with total devotion, was watching him fight spurred him to use every trick in his arsenal to stave off the other boy's thrusts, punches and kicks, all the while wishing that he had brought his battle spatula to the fight so that it could at least be a more even tussle.

"No way," he growled under his breath as he caught Ryoga by the forearm and twisted into his defenses, delivering a stunning elbow thrust that staggered Ryoga back a few paces, "No way am I letting a blockhead like you have Akane!"

"Go to Hell, Kuonji!" Ryoga reared up and charged again with a straight punch that Ukyo barely evaded.

"Heh," the blonde who had spoken before remarked, "Looks like a serious case of testosterone poisoning to me. This is no way for guys to behave on a public beach. I think somebody ought to do something about it."

"Uh oh!" said Akane.

"Uh oh?" repeated Perfume.

"It's Kenou Ai," Akane replied, "The Captain of the Furinkan High Combat Cheerleader's squad, and she brought the rest of her girl gang with her!"

"Combat Cheerleaders?" Ambergris asked, "Are you serious?"

"Is true," Ling-Ling replied.

"We see strange girl in school yard other day," Lung-Lung added.

The two combatants paid no heed to their audience, the total focus of their attention being directed at one another. Although at a clear disadvantage in terms of raw physical power, Ukyo had been training to fight all of his life, and despite the unfamiliarity of fighting in a totally male body, he was a quick study about such matters and was rapidly adapting his combat techniques to account for his greater mass and different center of gravity. As the fight progressed and he was forced to tap more and more into his reserves of combat prowess he began to fight with greater efficiency and effectiveness, taking advantage of any and all openings his enemy obligingly provided as Ryoga was striking far too heedless to devote much energy to his defenses. As such he provided plenty of opportunities for Ukyo to turn his extensive knowledge of anatomy to providing him with an advantage.

Ryoga began to tire of having his arms sting as if stuck into an active bee-hive and tried to finish Ukyo off with an all-out offensive, hurling punches with the force of his Amagurikan speed, but to his surprise he found Ukyo was able to dodge and deflect every one of his attacks, giving the chef time enough to vault backwards and out of arms reach.

"Hah," Ukyo scorned, "You're much slower than Ranchan, and he used this on me during our last fight. I've been training ever since, and I'm used to serving okonomiyaki at twice the speed you're moving, lame-brain!"

"What did you call me?" Ryoga growled in outrage, "I can't believe you said that! Come back here and fight like a man, you coward!"

"Girls," Captain Ai smiled in sly anticipation, "Let's move out and separate these Bo-hunks."

"Right!" cried five voices as other shapely girls in skimpy swimsuits fanned out and took positions reminiscent of a magical girl combat show, with flashy body postures and appropriate hand gestures. At a wave of Ai's hand the girls fanned out and took more aggressive stances.

"What they going do?" Lotion asked.

"You're about to find out," Akane answered with a hint of real dread in her voice as looked with concern towards Kuonji.

Ukyo was readying to meet Ryoga's next attack when the cartwheeling bodies of several young girls suddenly sped past the two combatants, momentarily distracting them from their altercation. Then all at once a girl landed with both feet planted on Ryoga's shoulders, while a second young lady straddled a much-surprised Ukyo by scissoring his neck between her legs.

"I've got my date picked out," said the one girl perched on Ryoga's shoulders.

"And I've got mine," the other girl upon Ukyo replied, and then the two of them fell forward together, clasping hands before either Ukyo or Ryoga could do anything about it.

Then another girl leaped high over the bridge formed by the arms of the two while another girl dove underneath, and the two of them linked arms and legs, gripping the ankles of both boys with their ankles, thus tripping up the two combatants.

"Hey!" both Ukyo and Ryoga cried together as the four girls combined to turn them into a human wheel, which same began rolling as Ai and the remaining girl began pushing them along towards the ocean.

"We're going to cool you two hot-heads off before you can do anything to mess up those handsome profiles," Ai called out to the cries of the boys and the delighted cheers of the girls in question.

"Tell Perfume she no see this," the Amazon Enforcer said in a droll tone of voice.

"That would make Lotion liar," her companion replied in the same disbelieving manner.

"I have to give them credit," Ambergris remarked sardonically, "That attack certainly had originality behind it."

"It's definitely a new one in my experience," Makoto agreed sincerely.

"Oh," Akane belatedly broke off from her own surprise, "Ukyo…Ryoga!" and she took off running to catch up with them, compelling the others to follow in her wake.

"Think maybe Akane have liking for both boys?" Ling-Ling asked of her sister.

"Maybe she want two husbands," Lung-Lung agreed, "Been known to happen…"

The human wheel went crashing into the surf and for a moment both Ukyo and Ryoga shared a brief moment of panic, until both remembered the reasons why they did not have to fear for their curses. Neither one changed due to Ukyo already being in male form while Ryoga experienced the brief wonder at not changing before belatedly remembering that he had been cured of his curse and so need never again have fear of cold water. As they were each making this discovery, the girls holding onto them let go with perfect synchronization and dove into the surf to scatter apart briefly. When the whole group resurfaced, Ai and her sister, Mariko, stood proudly at the ankle-deep edge of the water and waited for the pair to stop sputtering out briny mouthfuls of salt water.

"So sorry to come between the pair of you while you were having a manly fight," she emphasized the word "manly" to give it a particularly double-edged meaning, "But there's a critical shortage of masculine beauty on our campus and it would be simply criminal for the pair of you to mar your good looks before any of us have had the opportunity to date you."

"Date us?" Ukyo fought to stand up and found himself restrained by the arms of two of the lovely Cheerleaders.

"Of course," answered Mariko, "You think we're going to let a couple of studs like you get away without at least trying you out? And while some of us are pretty flexible in our standards," she gave her blonde sister a meaningful look that was returned with good-natured venom, "…the rest of us are set and determined to at least have boyfriends before the end of the semester."

Ai stuck her tongue out at her sister while Ryoga reacted to finding a pair of comely arms take one of his in their embrace as a cheerful voice said, "Hey, I like this one, can I keep him?"

"Hey, that's no fair!" the girl who latched onto Ryoga's other side protested, "You had him last time, Kyoko! I want a turn this time around!"

The pretty brunette named Kyoko blinked her eyes and said, "I did?"

There was a slight pause before the other girl said sheepishly, "Oh yeah, I forgot…wrong series."

"HEY!" an angry voice declared from the beach, "What the heck are you doing with him? Get away from there, he's MINE!"

Ambergris was about to set foot into the water when a pair of arms latched around her waist and she heard Makoto coo into her ear, "Forget about him, Amber-chan, you don't need him, you've got me!"

Ambergris fought to get free but was surprised at discovering how much tenacious strength there was in the taller girl, who seemed to know at least enough about the art to avoid being shrugged off by a few simple maneuvers. It was as Ambergris was about to summon up enough Chi power to break loose from the grapple that Akane rushed up to their side and cried, "Stop it! You don't really want him! It's only the effect of those stupid love pearls!"

"Love Pearls?" Ai cocked an eyebrow, "You're kidding, right?"

Akane rounded on the pink-haired Amazon and said, "Think about this! Remember what you were telling us just a minute ago about these pearls being a cursed item? You're not thinking straight because you got a pearl that's making you act crazy!"

"Like you're any expert on romance!" Ambergris shot back as she struggled to work loose from Makoto, "The only reason Lover-Boy over there is interested is because he looked at you first…" she paused and said, "Because of a pearl. Wait a minute…what am I doing?"

"That's it, think about it!" Akane said, "You think you're so much smarter than we are, but you're acting like a complete baka, and you know that isn't like you."

"No…it's not," Ambergris ceased struggling against Makoto, who took advantage of the lapse in activity to move her hands into more interesting places, "Hey!"

"You see how she's acting?" Akane pointed out, "Tell me that's the way you want to behave around Ryoga."

"Ryoga…" for a moment the fire rekindled in Ambergris's golden eyes, and once more she began to resist Makoto's efforts, "You can't have him…you don't deserve him, Tendo! The guy goes through hell over you and you treat him like he's some love-sick puppy that you can ignore!"

Akane winced, both from the accuracy of those words and the heat with which they were delivered, "I guess maybe I haven't been fair to him lately…but I was so angry at him for deceiving me about P-chan. I guess that wasn't really his fault either…but I've never deliberately meant to hurt him…"

"Akane-chan," Ryoga whispered, the women at his sides all but totally forgotten.

"But…I don't really know how I feel about him anymore," Akane continued, "I still like him, but…then there's Ukyo…"

"That's right," Ukyo shook off the hands that gripped his arms and stood proudly, "I love you, and I'm not afraid to admit it anymore. You don't need this thick-witted clod hanging around you anymore, Akane. I'll be the boyfriend you deserve, not like those fawning, drooling perverts who used to chase you!"

"That's not fair," one of the Cheerleaders protested, "Akane gets all the cute boys to chase after her and ignore us!"

"Yeah," another of the girls replied, "There ought to be a law against it."

"Ukyo," Akane turned towards the surf and said, "I…" and then a wave lapped against her toes and Akane involuntarily reacted, her fear of drowning unconsciously affecting her judgement. With a sudden yelp she tripped face-forward into the surf and was momentarily lost to view as the rest of the wave briefly covered her over.

"That's Akane for you," Mariko sighed, "Only she's klutzy enough to trip over her own shadow."

"Next to her Kyoko is the pinnacle of grace," Ai agreed, expecting to hear a loud protest from her fellow team member in question, only one second later all thoughts of the good-natured barb were totally forgotten.

Two white limbs rose out of the water, at first resembling a pair of surf boards until they unfolded to reveal a set of wings whose span was much longer than Akane. Akane herself followed their emergence, sputtering and coughing out the salt water that she had swallowed, then noticing that her balance was slightly off when she tried to sit upright. She glanced over one shoulder and said aloud a fervent, "Uh-oh!"

"Omigod!!" Kyoko cried out, "Akane's drowned and turned into an angel!"

She was spared getting THE LOOK that almost always resulted when she made such a curious observation as the rest of her team was too busy being stunned to spare the effort. Akane glanced around at them all and very sheepishly said, "Ah…I can explain this…sort of…"

"Akane-chan," Ukyo surged forward and was at her side a few seconds before Ryoga could do likewise, and then the two boys glared at each other, each one taking a hand and helping Akane to stand upright, where more feathers were revealed projecting from the sides of Akane's muscular legs, adding to the impression that she was part waterfowl, part angel.

"Guys," Akane put a hand to each of their chests and rested them there, "Before you start anything up again, at least hear me out, okay?"

"Well now," Ai mused, "This is a new one even for me…and you know something, Akane's never looked this sexy."

Mariko glanced sideling at her and said, "Sometimes I worry about you, Sis…"

"Akane-chan," but Ukyo and Ryoga said together, only to turn and shoot sparks with their eyes at one another, though they refrained from renewing their struggle.

Ryoga-kun…" Ambergris made a wrenching motion with her head as if to tear the sight of him from her eyes, and then she straightened out again with a look of grim determination, "NO! I won't…submit to this…I won't let this thing control me!"

"Something you'd like to share with those of us who just walked in on the act?" Ai asked the pink-haired Amazon.

"Not at the moment," Ambergris said evenly, then turned her head to take notice of Makoto leaning hers against her shoulder. There was a long pause before a thoughtful expression replaced the Amazon's look of inner torment, and then she took one of Makoto's hands in her own and said, "You…come with me."

"Come with you?" Makoto asked innocently, her eyes suddenly quite hopeful.

"I need to lick this thing," Ambergris replied, "And I guess you're elected to help me out. Don't worry, I'll get both of us past this crisis…somehow."

"Oh," Makoto's face lit up with delight, "Amber-chan…do you mean…?"

"Yeah," Ambergris replied gruffly, "But not here. Come with me, I'll take you somewhere and we can work this off together."

"Goodie!" Makoto at once relented as the Amazon took her by the hand and led her off in the direction of a more remote section of beachfront.

"What is she doing?" Akane asked as she and her two male paramours returned to drier land.

"You ask this?" Perfume replied with an arched eyebrow.

"Is not to worry," Lotion assured them, "Amber know what doing. I trust her."

"Trust her?" Mariko snorted, "If she's anything like my Sis, then I think I could throw her a lot farther."

"I'm warning you, Oneechan…" the blonde haired Ai growled, then cocked her head and said, "On the other hand, you have a good point. Maybe somebody should follow and play chaperone…just in case?"

"And of course you're volunteering?" Mariko asked.

"Well, unless you want the job yourself," Ai noted with a sly leer, delighting in seeing her sister demure at the invitation.

"Well hey," one of the other cheerleaders spoke up, "Could somebody maybe please let the rest of us in on what's going on around here? What's with all the fighting on the beach, and why is everybody acting like they've got a case of Kyoko-style infatuation?"

"Hey!" Kyoko cried out, "Stop picking on me!"

"I'm so sorry," Akane said, "I don't even know where to begin. It's all the fault of those stupid love pearls affecting everybody's behavior, making them act crazy!"

"You mentioned something about that," Ai turned to face her sidelong, "Are you saying that there are actual love pearls that can make a person fall in love with somebody?"

Mariko noticed something in the sand and bent down to pick it up, "Would they look something like this?"

Akane's eyes widened and she cried, "Whatever you do, don't put that thing in your mouth!"

"Now why on earth would anybody be dumb enough to do that?" Mariko asked in a rhetorical manner.

A sly look crossed Ai's expression and she said, "Why don't we find out, Sis?" and with a well-aimed kick drove her foot against the back of her sister's hand and caused the pellet to fly out of Mariko's palm and into her mouth as she gasped involuntarily. Ai chuckled at the trick she had just played on her older sister and said, "Works every time, whether you're holding gum drops or tic-tacs…"

"Uh oh," Perfume murmured.

"Quick, turn around!" Lotion called out to the others and promptly followed her own advice.

"You shouldn't have done that," Ryoga warned, "Now you're going to be sorry."

"Oh, pardon me if I don't quake and tremble at the threat of a little magic," Ai smugly replied, "And Mariko was asking for it, so it's not like…HAH?"

No one seemed more surprised than Ai to find her older sister's arms draped around her body as Mariko gazed up adoringly into Ai's astonished features.

"Imoutochan," Mariko breathed, "I'm so sorry, I never realized what this was like for you! Now I finally understand why you go both ways…and you really are kinda sexy!"

"Huh?" Ai did not seem in any way mentally prepared for this sudden change in her normally aloof sibling.

"Well, you asked for it," Akane said dryly, "And it's not like we didn't try to warn you."

"Strange girl in for it now," Ling-Ling agreed.

"Is fate," sighed her twin sister.

"Ah…Mariko," Ai began to struggle against her sister's amorous efforts, "It's not that the feelings aren't mutual, and I wouldn't mind discussing this at another time, but…"

"You always were too shy," Mariko's throat was sultry and predatory, as her hands were also as brazen as the leer that she was wearing, "But Big Sis knows how to make you feel all warm, cozy and protected…"

"Are you seeing this?" one cheerleader said to another.

"Seeing and hearing it," another cheerleader replied a bit drolly, "Believing it…that's another subject."

"It's almost like a reversal of the natural order," a third agreed, "Never saw the Captain refuse anyone before, and Mariko? That's unheard of!"

"Oh wow," Kyoko blinked as Ai broke loose from her sister and made a sudden dash for freedom, "I guess maybe those pearls really work, huh?"

"You think?" Akane replied, only to turn her head as she felt Ukyo's cheek brush against the top of her head, which naturally prompted Ryoga to glare hotly. Akane sighed, flexed her wings then folded them as neatly as she could against her backside. It was going to be one of those days, and if they all managed to live through it, it would be a miracle worthy of the kami…


Comments/Criticism/Candid Reflections in the Moonlight: Shadowmane@msn.com