Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Razor ( Chapter 86 )

[ 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

(Life Sucks!), thought Akiko furiously to herself as she finally made her way to the bridge of TWPOS, leading her Grandfather, (NOW I find out, right after almost making a fool of myself and coming that close to incest!) as she found the arrows that told her that she was near to her destination. She was in a pretty foul mood when she heard the voices resonating from just ahead of her that she recognized as once as coming from the Captain and her fellow Bridge Crew.

"You're serious?" Captain D'Amour was exclaiming, "We've actually reached Tokyo Harbor ahead of time and on our first effort?"

"Can't explain it myself, Captain," replied Frog in the same incredulous voice, "Eight hundred statute miles covered in only a day and a half…it's not nature, Sir, it stinks to high blazes of Magic."

"Must be beneficial magic," noted Brunt, "We've never yet made a delivery this far ahead of time…even on time would be a first for us."

"This is most fortuitous," D'Amour purred in a voice that Aki could almost SEE as smirking, "Our passenger should be rather pleased to get where he wanted to go in such an efficient manner. Do you suppose our good fortune might be due to the absence of a certain Navigator, who will go unmentioned?"

"Can't say for sure, sir," Brunt noted, "I'm sure the steering alone can't account for us getting here in such good order."

"Not that it could hurt much," snickered a fourth crewmember, whom Akiko recognized as hailing from Phillips Wrench, the current Ship's Engineer in residence, "If she were here steering a course we'd be in these waters until the next millennium. That walking Flying Dutchman is a worse jinx than stepping on a flock of albatrosses…"

"SHHHH!!!" his fellow crewmates hastily shushed.

"What?" Engineer Wrench asked, "You think she can hear us? She's probably still in the cargo hold making out with our client."

"That's not the issue," D'Amour said, "Somehow even whispering aloud on this subject has a way of getting back to her. It's almost as if the ship itself is part informer."

"That's true, Cap'n," Frog agreed, "These walls don't just have ears, sometimes I think they've even got eyes, and when you're not looking I've even heard 'em snicker behind our backs on occasion…"

"I think you're all being daft," Wrench offered his opinion aloud, "Not only is that Akiko character the worst Navigator that I've ever had to serve with, but she's slow-witted and bad tempered and…"

Akiko had heard enough and surged forward, rounding the corner just in time to witness the collective "DEER CAUGHT IN THE HEADLIGHTS" expressions of her fellow crewmates as she snarled, "Slow witted am I…?"

Razor Hibiki was surprised to see the nice girl who had been escorting him (she looked a little familiar to him for some reason, but then again, after a while so did most people) suddenly turn into a vengeful harpy wrecking her terrible vengeance upon the unfortunate miscreant who had voiced such inopportune opinions against her. Himself no stranger to rough play, he had to give the girl high marks for the creative approach that she employed in systematically correcting the man's opinion about her, along with a good portion of his skeletal structure.

"Is it over?" D'Amour asked at length, his hands covering his eyes as though he believed that by tuning things out he could avoid inclusion of the awful retribution.

"Safe to look now, Cap'n," Frog hesitantly replied, "But Engineer Phillips, sir…well…she screwed him…and not in a good way either."

"Oh?" D'Amour chanced to look, saw what remained of the groaning mess buried halfway through the deck and said, "Oh."

"Better get a crew to clean that up, Sir," Brunt noted and coolly nodded to another bridgemate, who relayed the appropriate orders.

"So," Akiko mused, her mood much improved by the mild exertion, "We're almost at port, eh? Well good, because I'm taking my grandfather ashore to look up some of our old relations. I got the word that my cousin is staying at some place in Nerima, and I haven't seen him since the last time our paths crossed."

"Your…grandfather?" D'Amour looked from side to side, "Where is he?"

"There," Akiko pointed at Razor.

"HIM?" the entire (remaining) Bridge crew erupted in disbelief as they stared at the tall, broad-shouldered brown-haired man in the worn, rough hewn Chinese-styled outfit who did not look a day older than his late twenties or early thirties.

"Me?" Razor asked in typical confusion.

"I recognized him as my grandfather when I saw the tattoos on his chest," Akiko sighed, coloring slightly and hoping no one asked just how the man's chest had been bared in the first place.

"I have tattoos?" Razor wondered.

"HE is your Grandfather?" D'Amour asked in particular disbelief, "I know people are having their kids a bit young these days…"

"Look, Akiko growled, "He doesn't look his age and he doesn't remember things for more than a few minutes at most, but he's definitely my grandfather. I'd know him anywhere, even if the last time I saw him I was…too young to really remember…"

"There's one way of knowing for sure," Frog turned to Brunt and said, "Give him the test."

"All right," the burly dark skinned second mate replied, reaching down and ripping up a huge steel girder from the wreckage of the floor, then straightening out and using it like a baseball bat to swing down on the head of the unmoving Razor.

At the last second Razor's arm shot forward and intercepted the girder, bending it in the middle, then almost too fast to be seen the big man himself moved forward and slammed Brunt through the nearest wall, which fortunately did not contain any particularly vital equipment.

"Oops," Razor asked as he stood stock-still looking at the hole he created, "Sorry about that…reflexes…"

From the gap that had just been put through the steel bulkhead came a faint groaning sound as Brunt reported, "He's a Hibiki, Sir…" and then promptly passed out.

"Well," D'Amour was faintly impressed, "My compliments to your plastic surgeon, or whatever means it is you use to keep your youthful appearance. Ah…those pectorals are for real, aren't they…?"

"You think they use that much silicone on anything that doesn't have an hourglass figure?" Frog responded as though commenting on the state of the weather.

"Ah well," D'Amour straightened out, "Pleasure meeting you and that, old Chap, and enjoy yourselves when you hit the red light district. Aki's a bit overdue for some shore leave, and by all means take as much of it as you like. I'm sure we'll manage to somehow get along without you."

"You're going to be here when I get back, right?" Akiko asked suspiciously, "You're not gonna take off and leave me stranded?"

"Heavens no," D'Amour replied with an expression that was the very soul of integrity, which made most crewmembers instinctively reach for their wallets, "You know that we would never even dream of going anywhere without you at the Helm, Ensign Hibiki. You can count on us to be right here when you get back, smiling and eager to be on to our next destination."

Akiko did not smile with quite the same charming innocence, knowing that more than one crewmember of the good ship TWPOS thought her too slow witted to pick up the sarcasm in the captain's voice. Fortunately she knew a way of ensuring his compliance, and that thought alone gave her smile a most ominous connotation…

Ainu Minako stood anxiously at the front porch of Makoto's home, rocking back and forth upon the balls of her feet as if containing far too much energy for standing still on a bright and sunny afternoon, when she could be out shopping. The senshi meeting being held at Rei's Temple later in the evening was only one of several issues that were on her mind when the front door opened and she saw Makoto standing there in casual dress, as if kicking back for the day instead of laid up in bed, as Minako had half expected.

"Mina-chan?" Makoto asked, "What are you doing here?"

"I came over as soon as I got out from classes," Minako replied, "When you called in sick we were worried, and I thought maybe you had another flu attack like that last time…"

Both young girls knew well the incident to which the blonde senshi was referring, one of the very rare occasions when the doughty Makoto had been laid low by an infectious illness that had affected all of the senshi except Minako. Minako had tried to help out by coming over to cook and clean for her best friend, but the results…had been less than either of them hoped for, and Makoto had wound up chasing Minako off in order to get better.

"Oh," Makoto relaxed a little, "Well, I'm just fine as you can see. I didn't call in sick because of that. I…ah…had a guest over."

"A guest?" Minako's curiosity was instantly piqued and the blonde studied Makoto's green eyes for telltale signs of the almost unthinkable, then she tried to peer past the imposing frame of her fellow senshi, "Is he still here? Did you do it? Who is he?"

"Ah…this really isn't a very good time, Mina-chan," Makoto began to explain when she heard the Ukyo call out to her from the bedroom.

"Hey, Mako-chan, I thought you said you dried my things?"

"They're on the sofa out in the living room, Senpai!" Makoto called back over her shoulder before she had time to think better of the gesture.

"Senpai?" Minako blinked her lovely blue eyes several times before pushing in past Makoto before the latter could think to stop her, "You had your boyfriend over for the night? You mean you actually…?"

Minako came to a halt as she stared at the unexpected sight coming out from the bedroom. Ukyo was wearing a borrowed bathrobe and had a towel wrapped around her hair, but the distinctive bulge around the chest area did not appear to be created by a masculine set of pectorals.

"Oh…" Ukyo was in the process of reaching for her cleaned clothing when she saw the blonde girl staring at her with orbs as large as a character from an Anime, "…Ah…Minako, right? Heheh…fancy meeting you here…"

Minako just kept on staring as Makoto closed the door and turned to face the inevitable music, drawing deep breath as she began, "Mina-chan…"

"She's a girl," Minako forgot her manners and pointed.

"I noticed that," Makoto replied in dry humor.

"She's a GIRL!!!" Minako stated again, "You had a GIRL over to stay the night?"

"Well, it's not like it's the first time…" Makoto began to say.

"IT'S NOT???" Minako's tone was incredulous.

"I don't mean it that way," Makoto tried to reassure her, "Ucchan…I mean, Senpai just stayed the night after she came to visit me so that we could talk about some personal stuff…"

"I'll bet!" Minako rudely snorted, "I can't believe you had a GIRL over last night who wasn't one of us! How long has this been going on anyway…and just when were you planning to tell us that your 'Senpai' is another woman???"

"Er…eventually?" Makoto answered rather lamely.

"I know this must look strange," Ukyo tried to explain herself, "But I only stayed in Mako-chan's bed because…"

"You had her in your BED???" Minako cried, turning to look at the taller girl with stark disbelief in her expression.

"Er…do you think you could keep your tone down, Mina-chan?" Makoto winced, "I don't think all of the neighbors quite heard you…"

"I thought he was a BOY!!!" Minako's tone was incredulous, "I thought you were in love with a GUY, not another woman!"

"Er, well…" Makoto colored, "She's…ah…well…"

"Are you in love with her?" Minako asked, her tone almost accusatory, turning to stare in disbelief at the wilting Ukyo, "I can't believe you kept something like this from ME of all people!"

Ukyo sighed, "If you must know, there is something very unusual about me. Just wait here, please, and I'll show you."

As the bath-robed chef made her way towards the kitchen, Minako turned a murderous glare towards Makoto, to which the taller girl recoiled as if slapped.

"What?" Makoto reacted at the unexpected behavior of her friend.

"How long were you going to keep this to yourself that you wanted this type of a relationship with your girlfriends?" Minako accused, "You've never even hinted that you were hiding these kinds of feelings."

"Hey, it's not what it looks like," Makoto waved her hands in denial, "We only just talked last night, and we were up so late we lost track of the time and had to sleep in…"

"In the same BED?" Minako cried out in anxiety, "You've had me over plenty of times and you never did that with ME!!! Am I somehow any different than HER?? You've never even once asked me if I wanted to sleep with you…?"

"Ahhh-huh, say WHAT???" it was Makoto's turn to raise her voice above two octaves.

"I understand your confusion about that," Ukyo said as she came back into the room, "But it's not quite what it looks like, and I'm not exactly a normal girl. See?"

Ukyo held up the glass of water that she had in her hand and poured it over herself, triggering her change as she grew out by six inches and became broader about the shoulders, "You see?"

There was a long pause before Minako was able to get over her shock, but then she displayed surprising resiliency and said, "You mean…He's like the Sailor Starlights???"

"Not quite," Makoto replied, "As far as I know, Ucchan's got no connection to any senshi business."

"It's a curse I'm under," Ukyo-kun explained, "I turn into this whenever I get splashed with cold water, I turn back into a girl whenever I use hot water, like in the showers."

"A curse?" Minako's eyes roved up and down the extraordinarily handsome and bishonen looking fellow, whose frame stood out all the more in the borrowed bathrobe, "You call THAT body a CURSE???"

"That was what I was going to say," Makoto smirked, only to catch heat as Minako turned another accusatory look in her direction.

"Ah…well…" Ukyo-kun reluctantly conceded, "That also depends on how you look at it…I guess…"

"So you really are a guy," Minako said in awed wonder.

"Well, actually no," Ukyo explained, "I didn't start out this way. I…look, it's complicated. Why don't you sort it between yourselves, I have to get dressed and changed back, so I'll talk to you both later."

Ukyo grabbed his things off the couch and headed back into the bedroom, making sure to secure the door before going about the business of restoring himself to relative normalcy. Left alone to themselves an awkward silence hung between the two Senshi until Minako murmured aloud, "You really like him…don't you?"

"I do," Makoto replied, "I won't lie to you about that, Mina-chan. You're my best friend, but Ucchan's always been my Senpai."

"There better be a good explanation for this," Minako growled in a surly manner.

"Excuse me?" Makoto asked with arched eyebrows.

"And all this time you've been hiding the truth from us," Minako whispered, "From your friends…that your Senpai is really a woman."

"Ah…" Makoto looked down, "Sorta. I never lied to you about that either. I found out before I met any of you, and it broke my heart…a lot worse than when you found out about Haruka."

"Or when you found out about Andrew?" Minako responded, "I just can't believe you kept something like this from me…"

"Well…I was gonna tell you," Makoto replied, "But I just wasn't sure…I mean, until last night I didn't know if I stood a chance with Ucchan. She's…been going through a lot of stuff lately, and I didn't want to put any more pressure on her shoulders…"

"Swell," Minako's shoulders sagged, "So you just decided that you like girls, or is it only her guy form you're after?"

"It doesn't really matter much any more," Makoto replied, "I care about Ucchan…guy, girl, whatever."

"That's swell," Minako drew a deep breath then cried, "It's not FAIR!!! Every time I see a good looking hunk cross my path it turns out that he's either a girl in disguise or he's already got a girlfriend! You know exactly what I'm talking about…you were in the same boat until you just up and decided you like girls after all…or is it just HER you care about? You just decided last night that it doesn't matter and that you want HER no matter whether she's a guy or a girl underneath?"

"Well…pretty much…" Makoto replied, only to blink in surprise, "Mina-chan…are you…crying?"

"What do you think, you big doofus!" Minako burst out without thinking, "I was starting to think that maybe we had something more than just friendship…but did you ever even consider my feelings? You…you…OHHH!"

With that the blonde senshi turned and headed for the door while Makoto stood where she was in stunned disbelief, unable to come to terms with what she had just witnessed.

A moment later the door to the bedroom opened up and Ukyo walked out, now dressed and returned to her proper gender.

"I think I heard just about everything," Ukyo murmured, "She must really care a lot about you to come right out and admit it like that."

"W-What did I say?" Makoto asked, "She's my best friend…but…but I never…"

"Never knew she felt about you like that?" Ukyo mused, "Funny thing is, I know exactly how she's feeling right now, only I'm more the one who's done than been done to lately. I guess maybe I came between the both of you and never really knew it."

"But that's not…I never wanted…" Makoto began to stammer.

"I know, Mako-chan," Ukyo replied as she laid a hand on her shoulder, "And it doesn't change the way I feel about you one little bit. But I think you need to go after her and sort things out between you. She's obviously hurting a whole lot, and I can't stand to see anybody like that. I went for ten years hating the world because the guy I was interested in never even knew I was a girl. Don't make the same mistake as me and Ranchan."

"It'll be all right with you?" Makoto asked, "I was going to walk with you to the bus station…"

"I'll manage on my own, thanks," Ukyo smiled, "Besides which, my next stop is the Tendo dojo. There's a certain member of the household I need to see, and I don't think it would be a good idea to have you with me…at least this time around. Maybe later, Sugar."

"Yeah…I guess," Makoto said reluctantly, "If I had to deal with that Akane character right now we'd probably just get into another fight. I guess I can trust you to handle her by yourself…just like I gotta go make things right between me and Mina."

"If it's any consolation," Ukyo replied, "I wouldn't mind a bit if you did sleep with her…just so none of us would have to feel so lousy about any of this."

"Really?" Makoto asked, "You wouldn't mind that? You wouldn't be jealous?"

"Weeelll…" Ukyo drawled and a sly smile crossed her lips, "Maybe a little jealous, Sugar, but I wouldn't really want to be the cause of any future problems between you and a fellow team mate. I can see how hurt personal feelings could really be a bad thing if the both of you wind up in another crisis."

"You're right about that," Makoto nodded, "We have to trust each other with our very lives, if we don't then the whole team could fall apart, and then it'd be all over for everybody. Mina and I…we're pretty close…or we were before all this. I don't want her hating me because I…never guessed that she felt that way…"

"I think you care a lot more for her than you realize," Ukyo said, "Let me know how you work things out, I've got to go have a heart-to-heart with Akane."

"Sure thing, Senpai," Makoto nodded, "But I want to hear the details of that meeting when I stop by your place later, okay?"

"You've got a deal," Ukyo grinned, "Sugar."

And that she was out the door while Makoto sighed, "And I thought things were crazy when we were just fighting the Dark Kingdom…"

"Thank you ever so much for looking after my servants back to me safe and sound, Officers," Ganglot said to the policemen in the station house, "I know they must have been quite a handful, but you have my word that they won't be causing you any further trouble."

"Well…see that you take care of their immigration status," Officer Tomoko replied with a stare that was only slightly unfocused, "After all we can't have foreigners running around picking fights with just anybody. We get enough problems just dealing with the brawls incurred by the local martial arts population."

"And yet you do so well under such difficult circumstances," Ganglot replied with a pleasant smile, turning away as she added, "Come along, Children, we've taken enough time from the local law enforcement people."

Ju-Lan and Ro-Mano exchanged looks then reluctantly followed after the Demoness as she took her leave of the precinct station house. That they had been forcibly detailed by the local Police was a concept that in itself was difficult for the two youths to grasp, that they had done anything wrong to warrant such detention was an even more difficult concept.

Still the two held their peace until they were back on the street again and falling in stride behind the woman who had come to bail them out, but at last Ju-Lan spoke up, "Lady Ganglot…?"

"Yes, Julian?" the Demoness responded.

"Ju-Li-An?" the Amazon boy blinked his eyes, "That's not my name…"

"It is now," Ganglot replied, "So you had better get used to it because I've registered you both under new names, the better to prevent your Elders from tracking you down to this fair city."

"You changed our names?" Ro-Mano asked.

"Indeed I have," Ganglot replied, "Yours is Romeo, in case you are curious. I will explain later why these names suit you both so well. Get used to the odd pronunciation…in time they will seem more natural to you, at which point you should be sufficiently acclimated to this culture to be able to cope without creating such spectacles as what I have just rescued you both from."

"We didn't ask for your help," Ro-Mano groused.

"But we are grateful just the same," Ju-Lan hastily reassured the Demoness, reasoning that staying on the good side of anyone so powerful was a better policy than deliberate antagonism, "It is just…why were we ordered to submit to those city warriors? We did nothing wrong…"

"Nothing wrong?" Ganglot was amused, "Your girlfriend here roughed up three men and several women in a confrontation that was provoked over your unattached status. As justified as self-defense may be, you went a bit overboard in administering punishment to those youths…"

"They deserved it!" Ro-Mano growled, "Those non-warrior cows dared to flirt with Ju-Lan! And if those boys had minded their own business…"

"Most would have," Ganglot replied, "If you had given them the chance. But those boys were coming to the aid of their own sweethearts, so you have to understand that your behavior was excessive. Granted street gangs are not notoriously well known for their good manners…"

"What were those people who pulled weapons on us?" Ju-Lan asked, "They acted as if they had the authority of village elders behind them."

"They were weak and poorly trained," Ro-Mano growled, "I could have taken them all, but they threatened Ju-Lan…"

"No one is questioning your status as a warrior," Ganglot replied, "But you just can't go around picking fights with everyone who gives you offense. Those people in uniform were the local Enforcement branch of the village elders who preside here. In Japanese society women bear no special status above that of men and there are a different set of laws that must be abided by if you are to live among them in peace without interference from those in higher rank above you…"

"Laws?" Ro-Mano stiffened, "What kind of barbaric country have you taken us to???"

"What kind of laws must we be aware of?" Ju-Lan asked.

"Number one, and the thing to keep in mind," Ganglot replied, "Is that the both of you are the foreigners here and cannot expect special status on the basis of what you were in your own country. In order to remain here as resident aliens it is necessary that you find gainful employment and learn to support yourselves through legitimate enterprises. You must also have room and board arrangements with a semi-permanent address that can be used to find you should the authorities here have cause to question you for any reason. Fighting back against them is not an option, or rather only an option of the most extreme last resort, regardless of whether or not you believe you can get away with it."

"Why should I submit to their authority when they don't respect Amazon traditions?" Ro-Mano sulked.

"Because if you defeat one of them, ten more will come after you," Ganglot replied, "And if you defeat those ten, then a hundred will then be seeking to arrest you. You can protect yourself for a time, but not against the resources of an entire nation, and almost certainly your companion here will be hurt in the crossfire. You can only go so far in protecting him before your own means are tested, for there are a few warriors in this country that seriously outrank you."

"Are you saying I can't protect my own man?" Ro-Mano asked defensively, but she glanced at Ju-Lan and her expression was deeply troubled.

"Ask yourself that question," Ganglot replied with a sobering look that caused the young Amazon to lose a little of her pretensions, "Can you be everywhere at all times of the day and night, even while you sleep without knowing if your back is well guarded…or his for that matter? Despite what you may think about their ability to fight, the local authorities are very good at investigation and it is a good deal more difficult to keep out of their sight…even in a nation as heavily overpopulated as this one."

"And the condition about dueling?" Ju-Lan asked.

"Only as a last resort," Ganglot answered, "And if your pride as a warrior is directly challenged. The authorities cut a lot of slack for duelists, but roughing up the local hoods tends to land you on their bad side as it means that you are directly competing in territory that they consider their own turf."

"And when do I know when it is right to defend myself?" Ro-Mano demanded in an angry tone of voice.

"Try warning them off next time," Ganglot smiled, "And if they refuse to take the hint, then use as much force as seems appropriate to establish your claims to your boyfriend."

"Ah…lady?" Ju-Lan asked just as they came within sight of the Studio that was now home to the Demoness, "When you said that we need…was it 'gainful employment' that you called it?"

"Jobs," Ganglot replied, "A means for earning money, which is the local unit of exchange by which goods may be purchased and services may be obtained. They don't use barter very much around here, and money is counted in the form of paper and coins that bear the national stamp of authority, meaning that it is backed up by the Elders who rule this country."

"Money?" Ro-Mano asked, "Why would we need money?"

"Because hunting is outlawed in many parts of Japan, and stealing is severely frowned upon," Ganglot replied, "If you want to avoid trouble with the law, and keep the low profile that you need in order to avoid attracting unwanted attention, you have to find someone who will value your skills and offer you money for the work you do on their behalf, and this person will be the elder whose trade you must respect and value."

"Would that happen to be you?" Ju-Lan asked before hastily adding, "If you don't mind me asking, that is…"

"Why, what a novel suggestion," Ganglot remarked as if the idea had never occurred to her before this, "I do seem to be uniquely positioned to help you out since, as a Demon First Rank, I can arrange the paperwork to make your residency here as permanent as you like, and offer you what protection I can from harassment by the locals. Of course working for me may not appeal to the pride of a warrior, and as a scholar you would naturally have reservations about working for someone who does not walk in step with the will of the gods, even if I assure you that I am not the sort of Oni who would abuse a trust or deliberately mislead you."

"No," Ro-Mano replied, " But you did arrange things so that we have no other choice but to work for you. It's either that or take our chances with the bizarre customs of this barbaric country."

"That's not exactly how I would prefer to frame matters," Ganglot noted, "But you do seem to be shy of a great many alternatives. I could, of course, help you to find gainful employment somewhere else, but that would require you to trust in my recommendations. Trusting me seems like a very large step for you both, even if I am-and may I say this with complete frankness-at present the only friend that either of you have either here or back in China."

That caused both youths to fall silent as they mulled it over, at which point Ganglot unlocked the front door to her property and waved the both of them in before entering herself and closing the door behind them.

"Bottom line, Children," Ganglot said, "You are outcasts from your clans now residing in a foreign country, and if either of you wants to back out now you need only tell me and it is within my power to send you back home where you can face the music and make explanations to your elders. Otherwise you live under my roof and by my rules. It is that simple, and whether you believe me or not, I will do exactly what it takes to protect you both, and you can do whatever you like on your own time. I won't supervise your activities and you are free to come and go as you will, just as long as you obey my house rules and try to keep out of trouble. If you violate my rules…there will be consequences. I am a very lenient sort, so you can expect that I will be tolerant and forgiving of behavior…up to a point, of course, but until such time as you do leave my employ you are to respect me as you would your own Elders and not challenge or oppose me in any way. Is that understood? Is this agreeable with the both of you?"

The two teenagers exchanged glances, but neither one of them offered an opposing thought, so by their silence they assented and gave the Demoness their full attention.

"Good," Ganglot smiled, "Then we have the makings of a bargain. Now, why don't you two crazy kids go pick out a room of your own and set up house? We'll worry about the furnishings afterwards. Meanwhile...I have a little scrying to do, and you've taken enough of my time away from my own business"

Ju-Lan and Ro-Mano left the demoness alone and went off to wander about the studio, getting a sense of their new accommodations. There was so much that they did not understand about what they saw and had seen so far in their single hour of residence in Japan, and not the least of which were the mysteries of the building they now found themselves within. Ju-Lan wanted to study the architecture while Ro-Mano wanted to find out where they located the outhouse.

Ganglot permitted herself to grin once her two charges were about their business, behaving like little children in a candy store, and she looked forward to educating them both to the wonders of indoor plumbing. In the meantime she had serious issues that needed resolving, especially since she had been aware of an alarm sounding in the back of her head that told her that a renegade program was in the works and causing complications for certain of her personal objectives.

Cybelle had been a busy little witch, she mused, and it would take a great deal of hard work for Ganglot to set about undoing at least some of the harm being conspired by her wicked daughter-in-law. As Ganglot sat down upon her stone and assumed a lotus posture she opened up her special access link to Yggdrasil, closing her eyes as the marks upon her face briefly glowed to life and she linked into the Net to determine which of several problems would most chiefly require her special attention.

Not surprisingly she found herself dialing up the link to a certain Tendo sister who had caught her eye much of late and was proving to be a most promising subject. She was currently being threatened by one of Cybelle's special pawns, and the manner of his attack was typically sneaky and underhanded, a ploy worthy of Cybelle herself, though the twisted mind of the youth showed the extent of his manipulation and faintly disgusted the demoness. She really hated it when mortals were driven to madness in such a way…it made them sad and pathetic creatures, not at all fun to play with and more than a little scary even to a full blooded Oni…

Shampoo's Diary Resumes:

Words fail me even now, hours after the event, to express the depths of my despair as I stood by helplessly and watched as Mousse attacked Nabiki with Jusenkyo-cursed water. Few moments in my life have rivaled the sheer terror that gripped my heart as my love seemed to freeze up in horrified realization of what was about to happen, and only one who bears a Jusenkyo curse themselves can understand what horrors are to be found in these waters that twist and reshape you body and soul. The fact that Mousse could also understand such terror made his actions even more inexcusable and worthy of my loathing.

Had he succeeded I would have hunted him down to the ends of the earth and vented my rage, even if it meant surrendering my dislike of killing as I could inflict pain in a thousand different ways far more terrible than death itself. Mousse seemed to believe that I would be his by din of defeating my loved ones, as if that alone would be all that was needed to win my heart! Maybe at one time I would have felt bound by the laws of our people, but I had grown beyond such thinking and have discovered what true love is, and what could he offer me that would rival that? It was a pathetic hope that he was indulging, and it proved to me beyond words that he truly was a weak and unmanly creature.

All of my life I have nursed a secret pity for Mousse, for there was a time when I did truly like him, however much I have sought to deny this fact in the years that followed. Mousse was picked upon and ill treated by other children because of his poor vision, and I once stood up for him because I was moved to think that he could be better than this. When he hugged me and said he loved me I felt my child's heart soar with unexpected joy, but then he spoiled the moment later by embracing a pig and mistaking it for me, all because I happened to flatter him and say that he had nice eyes without his glasses. Ever since that time he has tried to gain my attention by often putting his glasses aside in the thought that I would like him better without them.

Looking back I can see that I reacted rather badly to the unintended insult that he gave me, and beating him up was excessive punishment, more an act defending my hurt pride than a proper response for a young warrior of my station. Every afterwards when Mousse approached me and tried to renew his statement of affection I would rebuff him with violence, hoping that this would discourage his interest. Much to my dismay, my actions only seemed to encourage him to try again and again to impress me of his devotion, and over time he simply stopped listening to anything but his own addled desire to have me for his wife. I tried many times to discourage him, to convince him that I was not the one who could make his life complete, but as we grew in years he simply grew more stubborn and convinced that he would one day force me to return his love, and that all my protests to the contrary were simply my way of encouraging him to try harder.

In a way I think he was as much interested in my status as he was in having me as a woman. His pride had been crushed as a youth, yet rather than live within its shadow he had rallied himself to become a more capable and dangerous fighter, and when he undertook training in the difficult art of Hidden Weapons he began to excel in ability beyond all other boys his age, becoming the best male fighter among the Amazons even as I rose in stature among the warrior class. Defeating me would have confirmed for him the status as the dominant male of our society…granted of lesser importance than a woman's rank, but still giving him the right to be heard in council and respected among his peers. It would have been the ultimate confirmation of his worth as a man to have me as his "Trophy Wife" (a term Nabiki has used when I explained to her Mousse's nature, and she in turn helped me to understand his thinking).

I do not honestly know why Mousse would otherwise be so committed to winning over a woman who treated him as badly as I would do whenever he approached me. Among Amazons it is customary to embrace the one you love in public, and if he had even once been allowed to glomp onto me it would have confirmed in his mind that I wanted him for a husband. I'm reminded of the way my husband used to tense up whenever I glommed onto him, which confused me greatly as I thought it odd that he would be so reserved. If he truly did not want me to embrace him he could have easily fended me off, just as I fended off Mousse's attempts…so it was sending me mixed signals, telling me that he both desired and rejected me, whereas I was unambivalent in expressing my own views towards Mousse's behavior.

All right, I was very proud of myself when I first came to Japan, and convinced that I was the type of girl that any man of Ranma's status would naturally want for a wife. I have since learned through study of others that the Japanese expect a more reserved and dignified person than I was in the beginning, and that such public displays of affection were regarded as unseemly. I have done my best to adapt to my new homeland's customs, but in my heart I am still a warrior, and for me a rebuff is as firm as any statement. I had rebuffed Mousse a thousand times growing up and still he persisted in trying to force himself upon me.

When I turned to Lotion instead of him that hurt his pride very deeply, and he vowed to make himself an even better warrior by imposing voluntary exile, traveling abroad to study the martial arts in the hopes that he would return and conquer me. By the time he came back to my village I had already left in pursuit of Ranma. When he fought against Ranma to earn the right to challenge me I was not yet confirmed as Ranma's wife, having yet to consummate our marriage with either Ranma or Nabiki. When he lost to their combined talents it should have discouraged him at last, and when I finally did take them to bed and become their wife in body and soul it was the final seal that should have warned Mousse that I could never again be taken.

Of course the only type of separation that our law recognizes for a wife and a husband is death, so killing off Ranma and Nabiki would naturally clear them from competition, but if he thought that would make me more willing to embrace him as anything but my mortal enemy he was horribly mistaken! No matter what evil thing he planned for me afterward, I would rather kill myself and follow my loved ones into the void rather than submit to his caresses. Only the life of my child would hold me to this world, which would mean that he would have to be quitted since there would be little chance that Mousse would welcome the child of Ranma as his own. I would have had no choice but to kill him…the only choice that would have been afforded me was whether to make his death quick and painless or slow and everlasting.

Fortunately for all concerned, Mousse badly underestimated both of my airen. The waters he threw in maliciousness at Nabiki would never claim her…for my wife proved worthy of her training and confirmed her status as a Lore Master…

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

I can't really explain what happened in the next second as I saw that water headed towards me, knowing in my guts what it was and what it would do to me if even a drop made contact. Being cursed like Shampoo or my sister is no small deal and is certainly not something that I would wish on an enemy, but knowing that it was Mousse who had selected this water left me with a sinking feeling that it could not be anything good…especially in light of the fact that he was inducing the Nekoken in Ranma.

With my luck I might have turned into a fat, juicy rat or maybe a soft and fluffy bunny, whatever a cat might choose to catch and eat, or merely play with. Since Ranma is pure animal when the Neko is on him I doubt he would have recognized me in time as his mate and plaything, and my chances of survival in such an encounter would have been pretty much near zero. This was undoubtedly the whole point for why Mousse had gone to such trouble to arrange this, hoping to force Ranma to have my blood on his paws, which I kind of like to hope he wouldn't be too happy about, but seeing as I would be dead it was all academic. Maybe he thought Ranma would be suicidal or leave an opening for Mousse to finish him off when he came back to his senses. Whatever the deal it was pretty nasty, and a lot more contemptible even than when the baka cursed my sister!

I could feel something as the water surged towards me, almost intelligent…not quite malevolent but definitely not friendly! Those waters were a threat to twist and distort me into something not natural, some hybrid creature that I had not been born to be but would be trapped in with every occasion that I encountered cold water. For an instant I understood completely why Ranma had always resented his curse, even though he has long since come to accept it the way you accept a bad haircut, and it was looking as if any second now I would be joining Shampoo in the ranks of severely handicapped curse victims.

What I do recall in that moment was feeling my fear give way to a sudden surge of anger, and then something clicked in my mind and I reached down into that curious place that I've come to fall back upon more and more in my training. Like a white light opening up within me, I felt the power surge up into my arms and then I raised my hands to deflect the water…only instinct took over and instead of pushing against it I pulled something else into my body.

It was a familiar sensation, one I had experienced before and recognized only belatedly from one of my training sessions with Lotion. Whatever the case I had my hands up in a position of defense, but nothing happened beyond that curious wave of power that flowed through me. I looked up after a moment, wondering why I had not yet been splashed and saw-much to my own astonishment I will admit-that the water was just hanging there in mid-air, frozen like a glassy sculpture or example of modern art gone mad, droplets just hovering their in empty space without anything to support them, as if the very force of gravity itself could have no effect on these droplets.

"WHAT???" I heard Mousse exclaim, even more shocked and amazed than I was, "But how…?"

I was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I hastily moved to the side to place myself out of the line of fire, even though the water sculpture gave no evidence of breaking its equilibrium. Why it just hung there I had no idea since you would think it if was truly motionless that the very rotation of the Earth would have hurled the particles out into space! All I know is that Lotion's lecture on removing motion from the equation of forces operating upon these droplets of water came immediately to mind, and that somehow I had just duplicated her feat by accident, or perhaps more by intuition, having seen her do it once and copying it thus the way Ranma could absorb a new maneuver by direct observation.

This gave me the idea to try and put on an act for my opponent, hoping to buy time in the hopes that Ranma might somehow come to my rescue. Shampoo was a statue, no doubt the effects of one of Kodachi's potions that Mousse had somehow acquired, and I had to get Mousse away from her, which meant taking on the most unwelcome role of walking target for a crazed Amazon street fighter.

"That's right!" I said, pretending to a confidence that I did not actually feel, "You've messed with the wrong girl if you thought I was going to play helpless damsel for you, Mousse! I've improved since the last time when you kidnapped me, so if you think you can get away with this, then you're messing with the wrong Tendo!"

"Perhaps I have underestimated you," Mousse scowled, "But you don't have the Old Woman around to defend you either!"

His arm shot forward and I knew he was about to launch one of his weapon attacks my way, so instinctively I began to dodge him when I felt that power flow through me once again, and suddenly it was as if he were moving in slow motion. Time slowed down all around me and I began to move out of the way as I saw a chain snake out from seeming nowhere and like a snake coil out to strike at the place where I had been standing. By that point I was already several meters to one side and still in motion, which gave me the idea that my only real chance against him was to get in close and overcome his advantage of reach at a distance.

I've been training steadily and improving my martial arts skills where I'm actually pretty decent in a fight…nothing at all to compare with Ranma and Shampoo, or even Akane, but still good enough to count as self-defense from an ordinary streetwise perspective. My skills, limited as they are, were now backed by considerably more speed than I could ordinarily manifest, so I crossed the distance in the time it took Mousse to complete a single eye-blink and lashed out with my fist, aiming for his exposed rib-cage and half expecting him to block my fist at the last minute.

To my considerable surprise there came an electric spark the moment I made contact, and suddenly everything was in full motion again, only Mousse was recoiling back from me as if I'd just struck him with a wrecking ball. He flew back about ten meters before rolling on the ground and looking stunned, as if my hand had the power of Ryoga behind it.

If I thought I had knocked the wind out of his sails, however, I was sadly disappointed. Mousse was tougher than he looked and recovered from a force that would have crippled an ordinary fighter, and suddenly I saw a set of wicked looking knives heading right towards me, but once again they slowed to a crawl while I moved to avoid them.

I was getting a handle on the feeling of the power that I was tapping into, becoming more confident in its use the more I fell back upon my instincts. I was half-guessing what I was doing, but at the same time I had this sense that I knew what I was about, and as Mousse lay there on the ground with his arms extended in their throw I had a sudden flash of about a dozen places where I could strike him to put him out of commission. As before it was just a matter of crossing the distance and making certain that my hands were aimed precisely where I wanted them to go, and with a few quick moves that would have impressed Tofu-sensei I struck all these hidden pressure-points and doubled Mousse over in the space of one second.

Of course the moment time flowed back at its normal rate I became aware that the sounds from the pit had changed in pitch and volume…and all at once a figure vaulted up out of the pit, eyes blazing with feral madness as he cast around in search of quarry. I turned from the fallen Mousse and felt a different kind of fear grip hold of me as Ranma turned a look on me that was pure animal, and not a little scary…!

Shampoo's Diary Continues:

I stared in amazement as my wife dodged Mousse's attack and somehow appeared right beside him as though she had teleported with the uncanny speed often demonstrated by the Elders. Mousse was knocked backwards by a tremendous force as Nabiki appeared in the space next to where he had been, but then the coward hurled knives in her direction and I was again possessed with the lurching fear for her welfare.

I had been horrified at my own inability to protect her from danger, yet now she was reversing the tide of the battle and going on the offensive. My pride in my wife surged even as I felt the rage build within me at my own weakness. So close had Mousse come to cursing my wife with Jusenkyo waters, and as any curse victim will tell you, once doused in its embrace (Ryoga notwithstanding) Jusenkyo will control your life forever.

Being trapped and helpless within my own flesh is no light matter, I assure you. In fact for a warrior of my stature it is the most shameful and humiliating experience that could ever be imagined, for my duty to my loved ones was being compromised by my inability to defend them. I could not move one finger to serve in my own defense. I was powerless to help Nabiki, but fortunately she did not need immediate saving as she dealt several more blows to Mousse that rendered him at least temporarily helpless.

But then Ranma came lunging out of the pit, fully in the grip of the Nekoken and looking as though he was a tiger in the wild, looking for his dinner. He spotted Nabiki at once and bound over to her, knocking her down as though he had temporarily forgotten who she was and what she meant to him.

Or at least that was my initial impression until I saw Ranma pin Nabiki under his body with a kind of contented purring that reminded me very much of my cursed form. Ranma began to lick Nabiki's face as she struggled briefly against him, only to surrender when it became apparent that Ranma actually intended no harm and was simply expressing his affection in the manner most natural to his current mental state. Nabiki tried to dissuade him more gently but Ranma interpreted this as a form of courtship and persisted in becoming more intimate with her, even going so far as to rub his face and hands against her body. I was unable to determine if Nabiki welcomed this or no, for it was looking more like Ranma would be conducting himself the way an actual male cat does in the presence of a female, which most likely would have resulted in something VERY intimate and special that is normally performed in privacy and away from the eyes of others.

I had started to relax by a fraction when it occurred to me that Mousse was not yet actually out of the picture. Though unconscious he could well have recovered at any moment, and with both of my airen so open and vulnerable to attack that it would have been little trouble for Mousse to finish them both off before either was the wiser. I knew right then and there that I had to get loose from my paralysis before this could happen, and so I dredged up everything that I knew about poisons, considered the effects that I was experiencing and made a few deductions concerning its nature.

Being the daughter of a village healer can come in handy on such occasions, such as having access to medical books and pamphlets that I used to enjoy reading to pass the time between my lessons. I knew that Kodachi's poisons were an Alkaloid extract of the unusual dark flowers that are her namesake and that they tended to cause an involuntary contraction of at least some of the muscle groups that most notably control body movement. I mentally checked a list of symptoms and came to some conclusions, then recalled that Mousse had indicated a time limit and deduced that I should be returning to normal once the poisons had worked their way through my system. I realized that I had to somehow speed up the rate of my recovery, and for that I would need to summon up my energy as there was no other way to recover my strength in time to be of use to my airen.

Thus I concentrated on my Chi, remembering every lesson Great Grandmother had taught me on this subject and even recalling things from times when I had not been paying full attention. It is a complex matter to explain, but essentially I opened up my psychic centers and imagined a line of force rising up from the ground through my feet to my head and forming a ball of light above me that extended towards the sky, and then the light touched the stars and descended once again to form a circular force that rose through me and flowed out back again. I pooled this force in my loins, my navel, my chest, my throat my head, revitalizing each of these psychic centers as the energy continued to coarse through me and revitalize my body. I further imagined the light flowing down my limbs through my hips and my shoulders to touch my feet once again before flowing back into the ground and repeating the process all over.

Gradually I concentrated the energy in each of my internal organs and forced them to do the work that nature had intended, only much swifter than was normally the case, my Chi fortifying them as my pulse quickened and blood began to filter through my liver and kidneys. I could feel the strength return to me as I flushed the poisons from my system and raised my arms until my hands were pointed skyward, and then I called the energy into myself and let it fill my every pore until my body glowed from within with radiance, strength and power.

For the first time ever I called upon the zodialogical signs of the Dragon and the Tiger, those polar forces of the Taoist system that I had once heard a lecture upon, then visualized each of the seven elements and called on the name of my secret Totem spirit, the Cat, and sealed the power with a word of blessing to the goddess. Thus enervated with renewed life essence, I opened my eyes and turned in time to see Mousse struggling to sit upright, for the fool had something in his hand that I knew was a weapon, and given the cowardly way that he had been behaving all this time, I knew that he intended to use it upon my unsuspecting airen.

"N-Never going to let you win…!" I heard him say as I identified the object in question as a pistol.

"MOUSSE!!!" I cried out as Mou-Tsu had been ignoring me all the time that I had been fighting to overcome his poisons. I saw him turn a startled look my way, as if not prepared to accept that I could be freed this early, and though he claims to love me he instinctively turned and pointed the gun my way as it he could ward off my anger through the use of a bullet.

There were at least nine paces separating us, far too much time for me to cross before he could pull the trigger and end my life-or worse-harm my baby, yet strangely I was too calm to be afraid, and too angry to let him overcome me, and so I felt the force within me rise up and take over, and like the cracking of a whip it flowed through my arms to strike the blind fool in the face and bedazzle him. The weapon went flying from his hand unused while Mousse himself was picked up and hurled a distance, to collide with the first object that his backside could encounter. He fell senseless face-first into a child's sandy play area and was still. Once I would have been concerned to ask about his status, but at the moment I was too worked up to feel any remorse or pity.

Instead I turned to find Nabiki had managed to get Ranma calmed down and onto her lap by applying her free hands to his sensitive areas, stroking and petting him until he managed to regain some control over his senses. I went over to join them and Ranma looked up, smiled a cat-smile and purred contentedly while Nabiki continued to stroke him and murmur affectionate names. I knelt down beside her and saw Nabiki eye me with a curious expression, for which I cannot blame her as I was much impressed with her own performance.

"What the heck was that?" she wondered.

"This one does not have a name for it…yet," I replied, smiling at myself as I had just mastered my first Chi technique, and performed it purely on instinct, "Is Nabiki okay, and Ranma?"

"I think we'll both live," Nabiki smiled down at our contented husband, who looked so cute curled up upon her lap, "Which is more than I'm sure Mousse intended. What did you do to him anyway, and do you think he'll recover?"

"Don't know," I replied, "Don't care either. This one is tired of thinking about Mousse and his problems. He does not understand the way this one feels, and he never has. For once I hope this one has knocked some sense into the poor fool, though if he goes to join his ancestors it will be his own stupid fault. If he attacks you and Ranma again, this time…this one will kill him."

As I said the words I for once knew that I meant them. Mousse had crossed a line beyond which there could be no return and no forgiveness. He had dared to jeopardize my loves, and I do not doubt that he would eventually have harmed my child in the mistaken pursuit of his obsession. Maybe once I would have taken pity and spared him, but not at the risk of any future happiness that I might ever have, and I would not live with the threat of his possible return hanging over my head a single day further. My reluctance to kill was at an end when it came to Mou-Tsu, and he had best stay out of my path if he was to learn the true depths of my renewed loathing.

But as it turns out I need not have fretted, for a voice spoke to us just then, coming out from empty air and sounding very much like the Arch-Mage, Siren.

"No need to trouble yourself over him, I have a much better justice in mind that should solve all of your problems."

I looked up in time to see Siren and Elder Lotion appear together, the latter leaning on her staff while the former set hands to hips and regarded us with a look of amusement. It was rare enough to see the two working together, and their arrival was so fortuitous that I could almost think that it had been timed to the second.

"Well now," the blonde haired Arch-Mage began as she turned from us to studying Mousse and back again, "It seems that you were right to summon me after all. Has this poor fool been bothering you again, Xian-Pu? Such a pity."

"Where the heck have you been?" Nabiki asked of her mentor.

"We came as soon as we thought prudent, Child," Elder Lotion replied, "I am gratified to find you all in good health. I sensed the danger surrounding you and paused to summon the one whom I thought could best remedy this problem that has been troubling you lately."

"Yes," Siren agreed, then turned and surprised me by bowing to us in the Japanese manner, "Please accept my apologies. As an Elder of the Joketsuzoku I am obligated to watch over all members of my clan, and my nephew has been most shockingly derelict in his duties to our people."

"Your…nephew?" Nabiki repeated.

"Well…not exactly that close a blood relation," Siren replied as she shrugged her slender shoulders, "More like my sister's nephew's cousin's grandson on his wife's mother side, twice removed," she gave us all an odd smile before continuing, "I just call him nephew because most of the women on his side of the clan gave up on him a long time ago. Even his clan Elder is embarrassed to acknowledge the relationship. Actually, when you come down to it, just about everyone in our tribe is related to everyone else in one way or another…"

"Can the genealogies for now, please," Elder Lotion urged, "I sense that Mou-Tsu is badly hurt yet-appearances aside-is fine, and if allowed to recover as he is he will simply return another time to trouble my apprentice."

"Quite so," Siren nodded, "You did right to summon me. A pretty sight he is…not! I will have to take a more direct hand in dealing with this fool. Do I take it my actions have the backing of the council?"

"You have my endorsement," Lotion replied, "And Cologne would give hers if she were present, so between the three of us we have a Troika."

"Works for me," Siren smiled, giving a wink in our direction, "Be looking you kids up again soon, and I must say that I'm very impressed with what I'm seeing, which is more than I can say for my nephew."

The Mage did not appear to move but suddenly she was standing over Mousse, looking down at him with a sad shake of her head that caused her ponytail to bob, then she reached down and hauled him up by one hand until she could hold him out at arm's length.

"Stand straight and show some backbone, fool," I heard her say from a distance, "I know your spine still works, even if you're not accustomed to using it in an intelligent manner. I think it's time you came home and I re-introduce you to someone you wronged long ago. The punishment should fit the crime, after all."

And with a flash of light both she and Mou-Tsu promptly vanished.

"Where's she going with him?" I heard Nabiki ask.

"Somewhere that will change the course of his misguided direction and give him a slight chance at personal redemption," Elder Lotion replied before studying us and saying, "I believe your husband is out of danger. Give him another moment and he will fully recover his senses."

"Ah, right," Nabiki smiled as she continued petting our Airen, "Too bad, though…he looks cute this way."

"This one agrees," I smiled, moving to sit closer to Ranma as I gave into temptation and started to pet him likewise.

"I am very impressed with you all, not least of whom I mean you, Apprentice," Elder Lotion complimented, "It is gratifying to see that my lectures were not wasted."

"You've been teaching me to do that stuff all along," Nabiki noted as though this were a revelation, "You showed me what I could do, and I learned to do it on pure instinct."

"Now the task becomes learning to invoke the power when you are not operating on adrenaline and instinct," Lotion replied, "And you, Xian-Pu…I am very much pleased, as would the Matriarch herself be if she were here to say so. It is rare that a young War Master such as you can teach herself a Chi attack on the spur of the moment, let alone put it to such effective use defending yourself and your loved ones."

"How long were you waiting in the wings watching us take our lumps?" Nabiki asked slyly, as if only now coming to the conclusion that I had formed from the beginning.

"Long enough to realize that our services would only be required at the fight's conclusion," Lotion replied, "We were prepared to step in should it have proved necessary, but if you became accustomed to that then you would never learn to rely on your own abilities instead of a proverbial Deus Ex Machina."

"Guess I can live with that," Nabiki replied, only before she could continue Ranma stirred in her lap and began looking around at the both of us, his eyes regaining their focus.

"W-Wha…hey? Nabiki? Shampoo? W-Wha…?"

"It's okay, Ranma," Nabiki said soothingly, "How are you feeling?"

"Like I just got scratched to death by a…" he sat bolt upright and the fear returned to his eyes as he stammered, "C-C-C-Ca-!"

I put my hand over his mouth and said, "It is all right, Husband, we know what you experienced, but you are all right now. Mousse is defeated and the three of us are once again triumphant."

"You mean I drove him off?" Ranma looked around as I withdrew my hand, and then his confidence returned, "Guess I showed him who's boss. Imagine him trying to beat me like that, the baka!"

Nabiki and I exchanged amused glances, and silently we resolved not to correct his erroneous assumption as it was better to see him this way than to possibly hurt his feelings by telling him that he had done little to contribute to our victory, other than serve as motivation for our own efforts.

"You should be proud of your two wives, young War Master," Lotion said with a hint of her own amusement, "As they are to have you for a husband. However…I think my apprentice has to learn a bit more self control in the use of her powers."

She nodded with her staff and we all three turned to see that the Jusenkyo water was still hovering in the air where Nabiki had left it. I admit that I had been most impressed by her accomplishment, but it seemed a little pointless to leave it dangling there where it might yet curse some unfortunate victim.

"Ooops," I heard Nabiki say with a faint chuckle, "Guess I still need to learn some control, huh?"

"You could say that," Lotion replied, then with a wave of her staff she caused the frozen sculpture to vanish.

"Where did that stuff go?" Ranma asked.

"I thought it a waste to merely pour it on the ground," Lotion replied, "So I have invoked the powers to take charge and send the waters where they can do the most good. Don't trouble yourselves about it any further…in fact, I believe you were about to give something to the young ladies before Mousse so rudely interrupted your moment?"

"Oh…yeah," Ranma began to pat himself, "Not exactly the way I wanted to do this, but I guess it's as good a time as…huh?"

Ranma suddenly appeared quite worried over something, and as he continued to run his hands over his hips I began to understand why as his clothes had been ripped so badly that numerous rents were showing, so whatever it was that he wanted to share with us must have fallen out of his pockets.

"Oh no," Ranma whispered, turning to glance back towards the pit that he had fallen into, "Don't tell me…why me?"

"Why you what, Saotome?" Nabiki asked in confusion.

"Ah…never mind," Ranma got up, "I gotta do something…gotta go find them…oh Kami-!"

Then to our complete astonishment Ranma walked up to the pit and jumped in without giving himself a moment of hesitation. The sounds of cats screeling and a fight breaking out filled the air a mere second later, as did Ranma's plaintive cries of, "C-C-C-CATTTTSSS!!!"

Needless to say he made a most hasty exit from the pit than his entrance, and we spent the rest of the day chasing him down and coaxing him out of a tall tree. We never did find out what he was looking for, but I must say that it was touching to think that he would go to such great lengths to obtain it for us. There are not many husbands, after all, willing to face their worst nightmares for the sake of their beloveds.

And besides which, Ranma was so cute when we took him back to the Nekohanten and gave him a ball of string to play with while Father repaired the rents to his clothing and we offered our apologies for playing and missing out on the rest of the school day. It had been an educational experience overall, and I mused to myself that if the rest of our lives had this much activity yet remaining that it would indeed be a wonderful marriage, one worthy of epic song when we tell it to our grandchildren, and for this reason alone I could almost forgive Mousse and feel pity.

Almost. Instead I hope wherever he is he will get what he deserves, which-considering Siren's reputation-s almost beyond question, and for that reason alone I do feel pity…almost…


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