Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Speak Now Or Hold Your Piece... ( Chapter 97 )

[ 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

Kachu's eyes fluttered open and she glanced at her immediate surroundings. She seemed to be indoors staring up at a ceiling with a moistened cloth over her head. She was lying on a sofa propped up on pillows as if to make her as comfortable as could reasonably managed. The strong smell of turpentine and other materials associated with an artist's studio was not familiar to her awareness, but she deduced that she must still be in the place where she detected the Demon presence. That also meant that she was close to the place where she had been treacherously overcome by said Demon, which meant that she would have to be on her guard against further such treachery.

But at least this Demon had made the mistake of leaving her alive, a fact that the young Demon Hunter intended to exploit to her best advantage…

"Hey, are you feeling better now, lady?"

"Eh?" Kachu blinked, partially sitting up as she turned to see the youth who had addressed her in such a familiar manner. What she saw was an underaged girl-a warrior by her aspect-with dark hair done up in a pig-tailed braid and wearing some manner of headband. She was dressed casually, seeming like a typical Japanese youth, a bit rough-hewn around the edges but otherwise not so very different from the girls who lived in Kachu's own village.

"Here, have something to drink," the girl handed a cup full of hot tea to Kachu, "Grandma says you should drink up on account of your condition and all that."

"What?" Kachu responded, "My…condition?"

"Yeah, something about you having to take it easy so you don't strain yourself too much," Ryomi shrugged, "You can ask Grandma about it herself, she's in the next room doing art stuff."

"Your Grandmother?" Kachu frowned, "But I…"

"She says her name's Garimel," Ryomi winced slightly, "Shinjuku Garimel. My name's Ryomi and I'm staying with her on account that I'm looking for my mother…"

"Shinjuku?" Kachu frowned, "That's the name of a district of the inner Tokyo area…"

"Yeah?" Ryomi asked, "What of it?"

"Ah…never mind," Kachu finished sitting upright, only to glance at a set of bags that were stacked in one corner of the room and say, "My belongings…"

"You were taking them to your home, right?" Ryomi asked, "Grandma wanted you to know that everything's there, except the cold stuff, which she had me put in the fridge so it didn't get melted."

"Thank you," Kachu said, "That was most…considerate of you. I believe I will go talk with your grandmother."

She got to her feet and followed the child's indication of direction, and entering out into the main studio area she came across a sigh that caused her to stop dead in her tracks and blink twice, just to make certain that she was not suffering from some weird hallucination.

There was a naked man and an equally naked woman standing on a block-like platform, their bodies oddly positioned in such a way as to suggest dynamic energy in motion. The girl, a statuesque blonde whose long hair hung down to below her waist, had a well-defined physique with a sculpted musculature that gave a sense of pantherish grace and power. The man had brown hair trimmed to below shoulder length and also had a fine, lean hardiness about him, manly in a way that reminded Kachu overmuch of her own beloved husband. They were of indeterminate race, clearly Asians but of mixed ancestry, and there was something faintly familiar about the woman, but seeing as they were unclothed without distinguishing adornments this impression was hard to verify.

Almost as surprising as the sight of the naked pair standing as motionless as statues was the tall woman with pale white hair and a nicely tanned body furiously working with a large block of clay, her hands molding the grayish stuff with loving caresses, making the act seem oddly sensual in some vaguely undefined manner. Kachu stared at this woman and felt an odd sense of otherworldliness that left her feeling strangely disoriented.

"I'm glad you're feeling better," this woman said without turning around, "When you slipped and hit your head I was half afraid you might have suffered a mild concussion."

"Who are you?" Kachu wondered, "And…what are you doing?"

"Call me Garimel," the woman replied, "I'm the owner of this studio, and as to your second question, I am sculpting my latest masterpiece, with the help of my two assistants."

Kachu turned to look at the naked man and woman, seeing them each blink while beads of perspiration adorned both of their handsome forms, no doubt an effect caused by the powerful lighting that shone down on them from above, highlighting every nuance and detail of their bodies to interesting effect.

"Your assistants?" Kachu asked with a frown, "They seem…oddly familiar…"

"You're from China, are you not?" the woman asked.


"Then it seems most unlikely that you would know anyone in Japan unless you've already met them," the woman reasoned simply, "But what you really want to ask me is where the demon is whom you earlier detected."

"Ah…yes," Kachu remembered her original business and frowned, "I sensed that there was a demon within this place. Have you seen it?"

"Well, that all depends," the woman turned away from her handiwork with a smile, "Can you describe her?"

Kachu gasped as she saw the woman's face, and at once she fell to her knees and bowed her head, saying, "F-Forgive me, Radiant One! This humble servant did not recognize you…"

"No," the woman smiled, "I rather imagine that you wouldn't. Get up, child, you don't need to bow in my presence. One who already follows the Light need not humble herself before one of the Host. The question is how I may help you, noble Devil Hunter."

Kachu kept her face averted and replied, "I dare not, Great One, for I am unworthy to bask in the blinding radiance of a Celestial. I ask only that you forgive my earlier rude entry, for I had no thought upon whose domain I trespassed."

"You were pursuing your calling," the woman replied, "I find no fault in that. Rise, child, and tell me how life has been treating you of late. Is your noble husband fulfilling his role to adequate standards?"

"Yes, Noble One," Kachu's voice held a warmth that caused some listening in attendance to hook an eyebrow, "My husband treats me very well, and I am…most satisfied with his performance."

"So I can see," the woman purred, "And I also see that your union has been most fruitful."

There was a slight pause before Kachu's voice hesitantly ventured, "It has?"

"You did not suspect?" the woman's voice was gentle, musical and teasing, "You have certainly been working hard enough to insure that your marriage is productive in every sense, for which you are to be congratulated."

"My Lady…" Kachu's voice trembled, "I thank you for this revelation, and I know my husband will be very pleased to learn that he has been as blessed as I am."

"It is good that you will be fine parents for a child of the future," the woman revealed, "But there is another matter of which I must discuss…far less pleasant than this, I fear."

"Oh?" Kachu raised her eyes with a questioning expression.

"Indeed," the woman announced with great gravity and sadness, "You were correct in believing that there is a presence of evil loose within this province. There is a treacherous being who wears the shape of a woman yet who has bonded herself to the tools of this modern age of marvels. She uses others as her pawns to further her ambitions and she seeks nothing less than the domination of the human will. You have encountered her already and know her by a name both foul and corrupting…"

"Cybelle," Kachu's expression darkened, "You are most wise, Celestial One. She is an enemy sworn who has threatened my family and my husband once before. I have taken an oath to fight her evil wherever I may find it…but can you tell me where she is to be found?"

"In good time, Noble Warrior," the woman assured her, "You must gather your strength for now and prepare for the coming struggle. I have ventured far from the plane that is my home to witness the struggle between light and darkness of which you shall be a part. None can say when the hour will come that your services will be called upon, but you must fortify and refine your Chi for the coming struggle. The enemy will use deception and illusion to achieve her goals, and she works through hidden agencies so that you will only know by her handiwork and the effect it has upon the lives of others."

"I understand, my Lady," Kachu brought a fist to her shoulder by way of salute, "I will train to be ready."

"Not too much, though," the woman cautioned, "You must not strain your body or it could affect the child you carry. Trust in your husband and his love for you, and do not refuse allies to help you in this struggle."

"Allies?" Kachu blinked, "But I…"

"Believe yourself to be self-sufficient, I know," the woman assured her, "But strength can be found in numbers, and you must learn to appreciate the strengths you find in those around you. Choose your allies well by what they have within their hearts and not merely the conditions of their birth, and try to be more patient. It isn't easy, I well know, but you will in time come to understand that you have more friends in this world than you have ever imagined…and people who sincerely love you for yourself."

"Thank you, my Lady," Kachu bowed again, "I will remember."

"Good," the woman smiled, "Then you had better get back home before your husband notices that you have been overlong at the market and begins to get worried. He is a man, after all, and the poor dears need to be reassured that their women love them. He deserves to know that he shall soon be a father. We will talk again when the time is right."

"Thank you, my Lady," Kachu bowed for a third time before taking her leave of the studio after retrieving her packages from Ryomi.

Ganglot waited for the shop door to close, then made a hand gesture that caused the overhead lamp giving her a halo effect to wink out while the Neo-New Age background music playing on the CD player fell silent. With a mischievous look she chuckled to herself, "There's one born every minute…"

Not seen by her directly, the two naked teenagers bigsweated.

"What was that all about?" Ryomi asked when she came back into the room.

"Just giving my new ally a push in the right direction," Ganglot reached up and removed an almost invisible patch that had been covering a portion of her forehead, "After all, the best illusions are always to give people what they most want to see and hear."

"You mean that stuff about her having a baby isn't true?" Ryomi asked.

"Oh, it's quite true," Ganglot smiled, "I could smell the change in her hormonal balance that unmistakably tells me that she is with child. I let her know before a medical test could reveal this so that she would be far too distracted to pierce through my main illusion."

"And what illusion was that?" Ryomi scratched her head, "The way she was acting around you, you'd think she mistook you for a…"

"A Goddess?" Ganglot replied with a wry grin, holding out her patch, "This is an Alignment Scrambler. It's been adjusted to alter my aura from Chaotic Good to Lawful. Instead of perceiving that I am an Oni of the Ancient Blood she believed that I am one of the Celestial Host, which made her considerably more receptive to my message."

"Neat," Ryomi smiled, "Guess that sure beats having her attack you."

"It certainly saves on my insurance premiums to say the least," Ganglot noted, then gave a wry glance at her two assistants and said, "You can move now…I think a thirty minute break is in order."

Romeo and Julian at once heaved deep sighs then flexed their arms and shook their heads to un-kink them. The Chinese man said aloud, "I thought for sure she was going to recognize us…"

"So did I," agreed his blonde girlfriend, "And Kachu is no fool to be lightly dismissed. Had she known that we are refugees from our home village…"

"She is not likely to have done anything herself," Ganglot concluded for them, "But if she knew you were here, then word would eventually filter back to your homeland. This way she is a little too much in awe of me to risk coming here again without stronger motivation."

"But what if she does come back and finds out that you're really an Oni, Grandma?" Ryomi asked.

"We'll cross that Rubicon when we have to, Dear," Ganglot replied, "I'm more concerned with what a certain Goddess is going to say when she finds out I was impersonating her. Ah well…she always was one who could appreciate a joke as good as the next half-Oni."

Romeo was about to retrieve her clothes when she took notice of the sculpture that their Mistress had been working upon, and staring at this she murmured softly, "Is that…us?"

"Sure is, kids," Ganglot grinned, "And a pretty accurate likeness if I do say so myself."

"But…it looks exactly like us," Julian marveled.

"That was the basic idea."

"No," Julian said, "I mean this really does look like us. Your other work doesn't resemble things in real life this closely…"

"I'm a master of many different styles," Ganglot replied, "Both Modern and Ancient, in this case I preferred to use classical Renaissance to capture what I believe to be the essence of your male and female beauty. Consider it a present, as well as my way of making you Immortal."

"Immortal?" Romeo reacted.

"In a manner of speaking," Ganglot gave them her most enigmatic smile then said, "You two take five and then we'll pick up where we left off in a half an hour."

The two Amazons exchanged looks but shrugged their shoulders and accepted this, as they had come to do with so much else about the Oni. Ryomi, on the other hand, was more inquisitive and asked, "Grandma…are you planning to do something like that with me?"

"In good time, Ryo-chan," Ganglot replied, studying her great-granddaughter's profile with a critical eye before saying, "Hmm…I think your left is your better side…more photogenic. Of course for you it would have to be something special, but I'm sure I can come up with something suitably creative. After all, you have your mother's good looks for me to work with."

"Ah…thanks," Ryomi blushed at the compliment.

"Don't mention it," Ganglot replied, "Besides, if anyone here resembles an Angel it's you, kid. Now…what to have for lunch, I wonder? I'm suddenly feeling in the mood for a little okonomiyaki…"

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

If anyone had told me a year ago that I would be standing at the altar with an honest-to-kami Prince Charming who was filthy rich and wanted me to share his fortune with him I would have had them committed. Of course back then my typical response would also be to say yes and write home to Daddy sending out the wedding invitations.

Shows how much of a difference a year can make, huh?

To be fair, growing up in relative poverty as I have, I value a yen a lot more than most people, and I've devoted a lot of my personal time in the effort to acquire as much of the stuff as I can manage. I all but attached myself to the orbit of Kuno Tatewaki for a time because he was such a lucrative source of ready cash just waiting to be exploited, so the idea of somebody offering to support me in luxury for the rest of my days was the fulfillment of a childhood dream, which is proof once and for all that not all such dreams are what they're cracked up to be in life.

So I'm standing there in my fancy wedding gown thinking what a huge mistake the whole thing was and wondering what the hell was keeping Ranma from my rescue. I know it's traditional for the hero to make a fateful last-minute entrance and all that, but I came a lot closer to the edge that time than I ever even want to think about. I can't imagine what Shampoo was thinking standing at my side as I dragged us both near to the edge of marital oblivion, and all because-for the first time in my life-I'd given my word and intended to keep it.

It's not that I hold great stock in my honor and all that, but there was an element here that I somehow knew I had to observe, if only for Shampoo's welfare. But for my promise her life might very well have been forfeit, and I'm pretty sure Ranma would have fallen to Kirin back on that sky ship. The same principle by which I'd never deliberately cheat a client held sway here, and call it pride if you will, but I had to stay true to the letter of my agreement to not resist Kirin, and so I found myself there on the brink of being married!

"When these two scrolls are joined we two shall become one," he told me rather importantly as I stood facing him in about thirty pounds of excess wardrobe, and then he handed me the half of the scroll that had gotten me into this mess in the first place, then held out his end for me to join my half two, which I proceeded to do, only to hesitate completing the act at the last second.

"What is wrong?" he asked me, seeing my continued reluctance, "You agreed to cooperate, and while Kirin would rather you not be compelled against your will, he would have you be his wife for all eternity. Please accept Kirin's love for he will strive in every way to be a good husband."

"Kirin," I said, the scrolls just millimeters away from being united, "I…"

And then the door to the chamber got blown off of the hinges and in stepped Ranma and the rest of our merry band of misfit martial artists. My true iinazuke took one look at me and I saw him hesitate, torn between outrage and some other kind of emotion, as if he had never really seen me before, and I wondered if it was because of the costume they were making me wear. I saw the breath catch in his throat for a second, and then the anger returned and he called out, "Kirin…you and me got some unfinished business!"

I looked around the room at my friends, my FAMILY, all standing there looking ready to join in for a round of Kirin bashing. Akane, Ukyo, Ryoga, Makoto, even Happosai had come to my rescue. They all looked like they had just been through a meat grinder, but none seemed ready to quit the fight and I was pretty damned sure at that point that they would each prefer to have died than to back down in the face of Kirin. My eyes watered up at the thought of them caring this much about me, though it could have just been some dust that was getting to me at that particular moment.

"So," Kirin replied, turning to face Ranma as if he, too, had expected this, "You do live after all…and now you have dared defile a sacred ceremony. I might tolerate your persistence, but sacrilege such as this can never be forgiven."

"Talk ain't gonna settle this," Ranma flashed his fists as the rest of our gang filed out to form a semi-circle, "Give it up or you gonna lose it big time!"

"FOOL!" the Prince snarled, and all at once my skin started to prickle as my nape hairs stood to attention, and all at once Kirin all but exploded with power in a massive wave Ki-burst that briefly filled the chamber.

I blinked my eyes while Shampoo moved closer to my side, and when we looked again everybody was laid out on the floor, felled at the same time by the unexpected display of Ki power, all except for Ranma, whose arms were braced in front of him as if to absorb the impact.

I saw Ranma wince in pain as he lowered his arms, but the determination in his eyes seemed twice as fierce as before as he grit he teeth and growled, "That ain't gonna stop me! I'm wise to your tricks now and I won't be caught napping!"

"Kirin sees that he will need to use more effort in dispatching you," Kirin replied, "Never has one proven to be so stubborn in pursuit of a hopeless cause. Were it not that Kirin disdains the needless shedding of blood he would offer you his pity, yet you force him to do this, and for that you deserve no pity."

"Ranma!" I said, "Kirin, please stop! I said I'd go through with this…"

"Nabiki," Ranma addressed me in a manner I'd never heard him use before, "A girl shouldn't try to interfere in a battle between men. This has gone beyond just deciding which of us is better for you, this is where I prove to this pompous twit that he's got no business even looking in your direction!"

"But I'm worried about you, Stupid!" I snapped, "If you keep this up you'll get hurt, or maybe worse…"

"You idiot!" Ranma shot back at me, causing me to recoil in surprise, as he had NEVER called me that in all our time together, "How do you expect me to get you back if I don't do this? You think he's gonna let you go if I just ask him nicely?"

"He is right for once," Kirin replied, advancing towards Ranma, "This has become a matter of honor, and Kirin will not back down should Hell itself beckon to the loser. What of it, Saotome Ranma? Shall Kirin send you to the Nether world for your troubles or will you be sensible and go home to never trouble Kirin again?"

"Why doesn't Kirin stick it where the sun don't shine?" Ranma mocked back, "I've finally figured out how to break through your iron defenses, Kirin! You're the one who's gonna lose here, not me!"

"Is that so?" Kirin sniffed imperiously, "That is something Kirin very much would like to see!"

"Have it your way," Ranma cried, "KACHU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN HA!!!"

Ranma charged at Kirin with his fists flying like before, which Kirin casually met with his usual calm indifference, but as he set about deflecting Ranma's blows something very strange began to happen and Kirin actually backed away, forced to give ground by first one step, and then another.

"What?" Kirin cried in dismay, suddenly finding himself on the defensive.

"Your fault, Jerk!" Ranma snarled as he forced Kirin to give ground, their hands moving about so fast that even I had to slow it down before I could make heads or tails of what they were doing, "You bragged to me about my attacks lacking a pattern…well, I figured out what your pattern is, and I've also figured out the counter!"

My eyes must have been pretty wide about that point because my accelerated vision now enabled me to see that Ranma was himself holding a pair of chopsticks and was using them to catch and deflect Kirin's every movement and thrust, his hand darting about as if he were anticipating each of Kirin's strikes before they were concluded. It was like fencing with chopsticks, only at an incredible speed that made it seem as if Kirin was being driven back by an invisible barrier. The Prince faltered for but a fraction of a second and Ranma was in for the kill, catching Kirin's chopsticks with a twisting motion that broke them off at the ends, leaving Kirin to hold the stumps.

"HAH!" Ranma flashed his chopsticks as if pointing a dagger at Kirin's face, "You lose at your own game! Now do you give up on Nabiki?"

"Incredible," Kirin exclaimed in clear amazement, "No one has ever mastered Kirin's special attack before, let alone bested him with his own weapons! You are a more exceptional fighter than I had thought from our previous encounter."

"It ain't hard figuring out something when you dangle the clues in guy's face all the time," Ranma said haughtily, "I figured you don't carry that rice bowl around just for looks…it's gotta be a part of your training, and once I figured that out I realized that you can only move chopsticks in so many ways when plucking rice out of the air, especially without dropping the pickle," and to further emphasize his point Ranma flashed his chopsticks again, which now had speared the pickle off of Kirin's rice bowl.

"You dare to mock Kirin?" the Prince suddenly cried, "You-HEATHEN!!!"

Again that explosive blast rang out, only it shot forward from Kirin to strike Ranma and sent him flying backwards.

"RANMA!" Shampoo cried as she started to move forward, only drop as Kirin moved to the side and rendered her insensate.

"Do not interfere!" Kirin ordered as Shampoo hit the floor with a dull thump, "I tolerate much, woman, but no one will come to Saotome's aid until this matter is decided."

I saw Shampoo laying still, saw Ranma on his rump with his back against the wall, and something flared up in me that was raw, red and angry. I grabbed my headpiece and slammed it on the ground, attracting Kirin's attention.

"That's it!" I declared, "Deals over, Prince! This wedding's been officially cancelled!"

"What?" Kirin looked shocked by my declaration, "But why? You gave your word…"

"I gave my word if you didn't hurt Ranma or Shampoo!" I declared, feeling something welling up inside me that made me feel the power rising up at my command, "But I'm not gonna stand here while you beat up my friends and family! You hurt Shampoo and Ranma, you got me for an enemy, and if you kill them you're gonna have to kill me as well…if you can!"

I don't know how to describe the feeling that came over me right there and then as the air actually began to swirl with the energy that I sensed was all around me. I think Kirin sensed it too because his eyes got very wide and he actually took a step back from me as though I'd just grown horns and a tail. I think it was only then he started to get some idea that there was anything unusual about me that might make me every bit as dangerous to him as Ranma and the others.

Before I had a chance to see just how good I'd fare against a fighter of his caliber, though, Ranma forced himself back on his feet and said, "Back off, Nabiki…you gotta have faith in me. I ain't gonna lose to this guy, and I got one trick left that's worth playing."

I stared at Ranma as if wondering where he could possibly find enough confidence to make such a boast, but as I saw the determination written in his expression I knew that he did indeed have a plan, and that it would be better for me to let him handle Kirin in his own way, so I let go of the energy I had just summoned to me and said, "I trust you, Ranma-kun…go get him!"

"Heh, no problem," and my iinazuke smiled in such a way that I actually started to feel sorry for Prince Kirin.

"Tendo Nabiki," Kirin actually sounded lost and bewildered, "How has Kirin failed you that you turn against him?"

"Did you ever think about my needs being more important to me than your traditions?" I countered, then I went to Shampoo, who was groaning where she had fallen.

"Kirin," Ranma growled, "I'm gonna make you pay for every stupid thing that you and your goons have put me and my friends through…especially Shampoo and Nabiki."

"And how will you do that?" Kirin asked as he turned back to confront my boyfriend, "You can barely even stand on your own two legs…"

"A lot you know," Ranma huffed, "I'm Saotome Ranma, heir to the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts, and I ain't never been defeated, not by you, not by anybody! You can knock me down as many times as you like and I'll just get back up again, only twice as strong as before, and whatever you use to put me down I'll just learn to turn it back on you, like with your chopsticks. You don't know who you're dealing with here, you just think of yourself as if the whole world revolves around you, but I'm gonna show you what being a warrior really means, and frankly you ain't got what it takes to stand against me!"

"You are an arrogant pup who dares to bark at his betters," Kirin readied his stance, producing a new set of chopsticks, "Prepare for the fate you so richly deserve, Saotome Ranma!"

"Stuff it!" Ranma barked, "You ain't foolin' anybody, Prince, you've lost and you should have the dignity to admit it. You think I've trained every day of my life to let a prick like you steal away my girlfriends? You're not fit to walk on, let alone to lay a hand on Shampoo and Nabiki! I'm more than ready for you this time, I'm more than ready to fight a dozen punks like you! I ain't never been this ready for a fight in my whole life, and I'm just sorry that you have to be such a twerp because it'd be a lot more meaningful when I kick your butt from here to Thailand!"

"YOU-DARE???" Kirin actually started glowing.

"Dare what?" Ranma scoffed at the impending danger, "At least I don't have to kidnap anybody to get myself a wife! With a face like that I'm not surprised you get rejected at lot. Lychee's elephant's got better looks than you!"

"DIEEE!!!!" Kirin started to surge forward, only his attack was met by Ranma, who brought his hands together as a wave of force formed into a ball of golden light that looked like nothing so much as a miniature sun extending out from his fingers.

"MAKO TAKABISHI!!!!" Ranma roared the word, and I swear to you that it was no mere trick of the light because I could almost believe that I saw what looked like the form of a dragon surrounding Ranma and shooting out a blast of fire that met Kirin's attack and tore it to pieces.

"Nabiki is MY fiancée!" I heard Ranma declare over the roar of the forces he had unleashed, "SHE BELONGS TO NOBODY BUT ME!!!"

By this point Shampoo and the others had all regained consciousness and were able to watch the fight as Kirin was thrown through the far wall of palace chamber. Unfortunately the chamber itself proved unable to take the strain of our battle and the floor began to crumble beneath our feet, the whole build following example a few seconds later.

Now is the time when I have to pause to tell you what I think happened next, because it happened so fast that the best I can describe it is pure reflex. That same power I'd been gathering into myself when I'd contemplated bashing Kirin's head in now came to the fore as I froze time all around us, causing blocks of stone to hang in mid-air while the rest of us just hung there looking about in understandable confusion. I eased up a bit and allowed my friends and myself some freedom of movement so that we could drift down to the ground as light as a bunch of feathers, the stones all around us serving as excellent platforms that we could use to propel ourselves and help control our direction. Once on the ground I maintained the field above our heads long for everybody to get to safety, and only after we were in the clear I relaxed the field and watched the tower crumble inward, falling off to one side near the end while I winced as the feedback of my spell gave me one mother of a headache!

"Well done, child," Lotion called out to me as I turned about in amazement, "You have proven once again that the power chose well in you. Lord Kirin is fortunate to escape meeting your wrath directly."

"Ah, fine," I winced slightly, "Anybody got some aspirin?"

"I think I packed away a bottle," Kasumi replied, reaching into her handbag.

"Kasumi?" I looked around, "Hinako-sensei? Kodachi?"

"Welcome back, Nabiki-chan," the Black Rose smiled at me as if expecting me to thank her.

"Think that Kirin guy got the message this time?" Makoto asked.

"Could be," Ukyo noted, "I got a feeling that aspirin isn't going to cut it for him."

"Good riddance," Akane snorted, "What a nuisance!"

"You said it," Ryoga replied, and then I noted an awkward exchange of looks between him and my sister before the latter looked down and he looked away, sighing.

"Ranma, you is twice the man Shampoo think she marry!" Shampoo cried as she threw her arms around our triumphant iinazuke.

"I guess," he chuckled, then he turned and flashed a grin at me before saying, "Now are you glad you had faith in me?"

"Oh yeah," I smiled back, feeling as if fifty kilograms had just fallen off of my chest.

"Hey," Happosai glanced around, "Where did Lychee get off to? Did anyone see her?"

"I think I did," Ukyo blinked, "She was rushing into the tower while we were making an escape."

"Oh no!" Ranma exclaimed, "She must have been trying to rescue that scroll of hers, the little idiot! We gotta go back there, she might be buried or worse!"

"Don't bother," Ryoga pointed, "Look over there!"

We followed my future brother-in-law's gesture and-sure enough-we saw new figures moving among the rubble. At first I could make out the lumbering shapes of Garuda and Bishimontan, but then I saw Mon Mon appear, hugging her chest for some strange reason, followed by the twins, Epite…

And Prince Kirin!

Kirin was holding someone in his arms that I recognized as the girl named Lychee, and following along beside the prince with anxious noises that made him seem like an overgrown puppy was the elephant, Jasmine. Lychee seemed barely conscious but I could see that she was holding on to one half of the scroll, having obviously risked her life to obtain it.

At once everybody tensed and went on their guard, but to our surprise the Prince called out, "There is no need for further hostilities. Kirin admits his defeat and would see no further violence committed between our peoples."

"Eh?" Ranma exclaimed in obvious confusion, "You're giving up? Does that mean you ain't after Nabiki?"

"Absolutely," Kirin replied with surprising respect in his tone, voice and manner, "You have defeated Kirin utterly…he has never known a one such as you before! You threw everything that was within you in order to best Kirin. Your dedication to her was absolute and unshaken. Such a pure love cannot be ignored, even for the sake of our traditions."

"But my Lord…" Epite started to protest.

"Enough," Kirin said simply, setting the girl, Lychee, down at his feet, "This simple girl has taught Kirin much by her example. While Kirin fought to recover himself against the force of Ranma's Chi, and with all else falling around her, this one chose to risk her life in order to save one half of the sacred scroll. Kirin knows now that she was the one for whom he was destined. It was never Nabiki to begin with, though Kirin was too blind with pride and desire to see this."

"Damned straight it wasn't Nabiki," Ranma pointed to Lychee, "That girl there's gone through hell in order to find you. She told me all about what she's gone through on account of that scroll being left to her by her own ancestors. I agreed to help her find you so she could get the story straight, but I'll leave it to her to fill you in on all the details."

"Then Kirin is forever in your debt, Saotome Ranma," Kirin smiled, "You have saved him from committing a grave error, to say nothing of the sin of lust that would have bound him to a woman who does not love him. Much though I wish it were otherwise, Nabiki has clearly given her heart to you, as has the woman who fought nobly by her side. Kirin cannot compete with such a love, nor would he stand between her and one who would move heaven and earth itself to find her."

"Ah…well…" Ranma scratched the back of his head and looked sheepish, glancing at me before his face turned an interesting shade of crimson.

"Kirin will remember the words you both have spoken to him," the Prince continued, "And he will try to profit from their wisdom. It seems that he has much yet to be learned about the world and the people who live in it. Perhaps we may start over again as friends and put the past behind us. He would rather call you brother than an enemy, Saotome Ranma."

To our complete surprise the prince extended one arm and held his hand open, and after only a moment of hesitation Ranma took that hand and shook it, at which point both sides heaved a mutual sigh of relief and relaxed our postures. It was about that moment when we knew that the fight between us was truly ended.

"She never lost faith in you," Kirin said as they broke their handclasp, "Kirin hopes that you both live long and productive lives together. It has been a true honor meeting such a one in combat, but us never again meet as enemies bur rather as friends."

"Sure," Ranma said, "No problem."

"Ranma-kun," I smiled, "Thank you…for coming to my rescue."

"Ah…well…" it was about this point that Mister Ego started to turn shy again, but Lotion cleared her throat as if to remind him of something, and Ranma managed to get his nerve back, reached into his shirt and pulled out a pair of boxes.

"Here," he handed one of these to me, "I was gonna give this to you the other day, but…well…I guess now's as good a time as any. I had this speech worked out, but it was kinda dumb, so maybe I should come out and say it…" he swallowed as it trying once again to summon up his courage.

I opened up the ring box, pretending that I didn't already know what was in it, though I didn't have to pretend my delight as I stared at the beautiful diamond set in a band of white gold, automatically appraising it to be the genuine article and worth about a hundred thousand yen if it was worth a five piece.

"Would you marry me?" he finally asked the words I'd been longing to hear, even if we were already many months into our engagement.

"Ranma…" I got no further than that before I threw my arms around him and kissed him for all that I was worth, letting the tears flow down my cheeks without the least thought to my image as a notorious Ice Princess.

"Well, it's about time," Akane sniffed.

"Guess that makes it official," Ryoga agreed.

"Way to go, Ranchan," Ukyo applauded.

"Perhaps the boy does have hope after all," mused Kodachi.

"Oh my," said my big sister, "If only Father could see this."

"I think it's very sweet," added Makoto.

"Only question is what they're gonna do for the Honeymoon," that from Happosai.

"It would be almost anti-climatic," Sasuke agreed.

"Just as long as they don't forget all about their school work," that from Hinako.

"Airen," Shampoo said very softly, "Shampoo very happy."

"Shampoo," Ranma broke off from out kiss, though he didn't manage to get loose from my arms as I had no intention of letting go of him at this point, "I got something for you as well," and he held out the other ring box.

Shampoo looked at it, then accepted it with an awed expression, opening it up with a small gasp before she held it up to the light, a golden band with a double diamond setting that was easily worth as much as the ring I had been given.

I let Ranma loose so he could do the honors of putting the ring on Shampoo's finger, and then our Amazon bride began freely crying as she stared at the ring, then did a happy little dance before throwing herself onto us for a rib-cracking bear hug.

"Aiyaa!" she declared with even more enthusiasm than was usual for her, "Shampoo much, much happy now! You make Shampoo happiest girl in all of China!"

As much as I was taken up in the delight of our three-way embrace, a memory tickled at the back of my mind and I made a sudden connection. Looking at the ring on Shampoo's finger I said, "Isn't that the engagement ring that used to belong to my mother?"

"Hah?" Ranma blinked, "oh no! Your Dad gave that to me to give to you! Pop wanted me to give his old engagement ring to Shampoo…I must've got them mixed up by mistake…"

"Oh, that's no problem," I chuckled, freeing myself from the hug to turn to Shampoo and extend my hand, taking her ring hand in my own as I removed my mother's ring and placed Nodoka's wedding ring on Shampoo's finger. She caught on immediately and did the same thing for me, so in a way we wound up exchanging engagement rings too, which I think couldn't have been more perfect.

And then a voice called out, "ALL RIGHT, NOBODY MOVE!!! IN THE NAME OF THE MOON-Huh? Ah…what's going on here?"

"Sailor Moon?" Makoto turned away from our little moment of mutual triumph to stare at her four Fuku clad friends, who stood atop the pile of rubble in typically heroic poses, "What are you guys doing here?"

"Ah…" the girl whom I knew to be Tsukino Usagi (always hard to tell when she's in her secret identity due to the weird Glamour effect that protects their identities from the public) eyed us with a sheepish expression and replied, "…Coming to your rescue? Ah…I don't mean to seem rude and all, but…are we late for this party?"

"Afraid so," Makoto smiled, "Not that I don't appreciate the sentiments. I mean, it's awfully nice of you guys to come storming to my rescue and all…"

"Oh, you can blame it on Sailor Venus," said Sailor Mars (by which I mean, of course, Hino Rei), "She bugged us and wouldn't let us have a moment's peace until we agreed to do a senshi teleport, once Mercury fixed your position."

"Are you all right?" the blonde senshi in question hopped down to Makoto's side with an anxious expression, "You didn't hurt yourself fighting these goons? And what about that last call you made? You didn't do anything with your senpai, did you?"

"Ah…well…" the taller girl said with a sheepish expression.

"I KNEW IT!" the blonde all but stabbed an angry finger at the other girl, "You told me you were going to wait until we talked some more on this! How could you, Jupiter? I thought we had an arrangement!"

"But, well, ah…" Makoto winced slightly, looking at a loss of words, for which I could hardly blame her.

"Heh," Akane smirked at the tall girl's discomfort, "Sounds to me like you two should work this out between yourselves, but don't worry, I'll take good care of Ucchan."

"Hah?" Ukyo blinked as Akane latched onto her arm in a very possessive manner.

"Hey!" Makoto protested, only to back a half step at the glare she received from her blonde companion.

"Oh," Shampoo suddenly spoke up into this ensuing melodrama, "Almost forget," and she reached into that netherspace where she hides things like her bonbori and pulled out Ukyo's trademark favorite weapon.

"My baker's peel!" Ukyo cried in delight, "But how…?"

"Shampoo borrow it back from Prince," my Amazon honeypot revealed, "After all, can no be Spatula girl-or Spatula boy-without spatula, yes?"

Ukyo started to reach for it when Minako snatched it out of Shampoo's hand and began to chase after Makoto, who had sense enough to get a good head start of all of three paces. The rest of their merry band just stood where they were sweat dropping.

"Guess they got a few bugs to work out in their relationship, huh?" Usagi remarked, and the other three Senshi just silently nodded.

"Oh, guess what, Usagi-chan," Kasumi announced with typical disregard for discretion, "Your cousin, Ranma, just proposed to Shampoo and Nabiki."

"Hah?" the pony-tailed odango-wearing blonde in question turned a surprised look towards Ranma, "But I thought you guys were already engaged?"

"We are," Ranma swallowed, "I just thought I'd make it official, just so's nobody thinks we're doing this on account of it being an arranged marriage."

"All right then!" Usagi declared with enthusiasm and hopped right up to me to examine my ring and Sham-chan's, "Wow! They're beautiful! Who'd you have to rob to afford these, Ranma?"

"Pop and Mister Tendo," Ranma replied with a slightly more boyish expression.

"Really?" Usagi arched her eyebrows, "I'll bet that was slightly easier than busting into the national treasury. Oh well, way to go anyway! Now how soon did you say was the wedding?"

"Wow," Rei also leaned forward to examine my ring, then gave Usagi a sly look and said, "Wonder how big a ring I can expect you to give me, eh princess?"

"Hah?" Usagi blinked her large blue eyes and winced, "Er…can we talk about that later?"

"My, my," chuckled the short haired Ami (and yeah, I still think she must be Akane's long lost twin sister because the resemblance between those two is like comparing Kasumi to Kachu), "This is certainly a more pleasant reunion than the one we were expecting…"

"Indeed," the prince remarked, "Truly Kirin has seen many wonders this day," but then he glanced to one side as Lychee tugged on his sleeve to get his attention, and as he turned a questioning look on the girl she shyly handed him the half of the scroll that had been responsible for all that we had just gone through.

"Is important scroll, yes?" the blonde girl inquired, "You have, is for you."

"Thank you," Kirin took the scroll in his hand and drew the other one from some place within his outfit, then brought the two halves together as they sealed perfectly, becoming one scroll as though by a kind of magic.

"So that's it, huh?" Ranma said, "End of story."

"I guess," Ryoga agreed, "Only what's on that scroll? I mean…what the heck was all this about any way?"

"Is there some arcane secret preserved down through the ages?" Kodachi mused, "A hidden combat system or technique that would make you supreme against your enemies?"

"See for yourself," Kirin unrolled the scroll and Shampoo moved forward to read the text, a curious look crossing over her lovely features.

"How to make too-too delicious Fukujin Pickles?" she exclaimed, "First happy bride and groom wash pickles in salty water, then happy couple make vinegar solution from…"

"You've got to be putting us on!" Ukyo growled.

"You mean all this time we've been on a quest concerning a scroll that tells you how to make pickles?" even Sasuke seemed disquieted by that notion.

"Is very important recipe, good way to start in happy marriage," Lychee noted, and all of the Lucky Gods people nodded their heads in total agreement.

"Oh Shampoo…" Happosai mused in obvious delight, "The sound of your voice reading from the menu makes the whole thing sound like such a delightfully erotic experience…URK!"

"Say, Gramps," Ryoga growled dangerously as he picked the little man up with one hand, balling a fist with the other while adopting a most unpleasant smile on his otherwise angry expression, "What was all that business you were telling us before about this being a secret plot at world domination?"

"Er…well…" the old goat reasoned, "I guess maybe I did embellish my story a little, but everything turned out all right, so you can all look at this quest as a form of training…"

"Training?" Ranma crackled his knuckles, "You call this…TRAINING!???"

With that just about all of us joined forces to give the ancient Lecher a one-way launch on his way back to Japan. Even Hinako did not seem too ill disposed at our actions, though I imagine she was looking forward to extracting her own form of punishment against her boyfriend when she next saw him.

Anyway, things seemed to go pretty smoothly from there. The prince had his people working to rebuild his ruined pagodas even while he made his blimp available to us for the return trip back to Japan. Me, Shampoo and Ranma all commandeered one of the cabins for ourselves, but no sooner did our newly re-engaged fiancée hit the pillow then he was out like a light and snoring like a saw mill. Shampoo and I decided to leave him like that, figuring he'd more than earned his rest, and found…ah…better ways of keeping ourselves occupied. As for the rest of our merry crew…well, I didn't make too many inquiries, but I'm happy to report that I only heard a couple of explosions somewhere off in the distance.

One fun little side-note that I probably should share with you is that Lotion approached the prince and explained my role as her apprentice. Kirin respected the Amazon claims she made and promised that due compensation would be paid to our family dojo. But then the old woman surprised me by suggesting that I should be made a representative of Kirin's interests in Japan, which he seemed all to happy to agree with, saying that he was much impressed with my negotiating skills and thought I would know enough about the markets in Japan to give Nekonron a favorable trade concession.

Of course I through in my own conditions for this tidy little arrangement, something that Shampoo and I agreed was fitting compensation for our troubles. Since Kirin had complained about feeling isolated from the dynamics of the world, I suggested that he should send a trusted representative with us who could make a thorough study of our world and report back to him about the cultural and technological innovations that our modern society had to offer.

By now it should come as no surprise to you that we both suggested Mon Mon for this all-important role of bridging Nekonron to the future.

Why did we suggest this? Well, in case you haven't figured it out, we reasoned that all of our troubles stemmed from the traditional male-dominant concepts that had been expressed to us by the Courtesan Priestess. Her lack of familiarity with modern ideas about womanhood had caused her to take liberties that she ought to have known were improper. I figured exposing her to the outside world would set a chain of discoveries in motion, and when she went back to her homeland she would bring that knowledge with her, and being about the highest ranking woman in their society…well…I rather think this could cause some useful changes in their cultural mindset.

Besides which Shampoo and me still owe that lady some pay back. I just hope Ranma never finds out how far she went with either one of us or it could mean troubles on a different front. For now we're letting him think or real reason for inviting her along is purely about cultural exchange. He seems willing to accept that fact, but even if he knew the truth, I'm not really sure if he'd regard himself as cuckolded.

I will say this in closing on the whole Nekonron affair…it brought the three of us even closer together than we had been in the beginning, something I never even thought was possible, given the sense of mutual interdependence that's grown between us of late. Ranma and Shampoo are like my left and right arms (don't ask me which is which, even I'm not sure sometimes) and the thought of how close I had come to living without one or both of them makes me faint. Now that I know beyond doubt how he cares about me I won't ever lose faith in him again, and Shampoo? She never lost faith in him, not once the whole time, even when I'd despaired and had been about to abandon faith she kept true to her love and never even once doubted Ranma.

It seems to me at times like this that my first appraisal of my iinazuke had been woefully misguided by a basic lack of vision. I had thought Ranma a penniless wanderer, rough hewn and ill mannered without two-yen to his name, in effect an empty wallet. My wallet, by contrast, was my presiding obsession, and filling it all but ruled my life, so what did I need with a guy who seemed like a bottomless money pit? I had spurned boys in the past far richer and almost as handsome.

But I was wrong and I can now freely admit it. Ranma's wallet is full of courage, love and conviction, and as such it can never be empty. My wallet has been filled because of him and will never be empty again, and now I know that there are some things worth more to me than all the tea in China or the yen in the Tokyo markets. Two wallets have become as one, and the bounty that we have joined there is our wealth of the future.

Now if only the adults hadn't screwed things up so much while we were away, maybe we wouldn't currently be facing the immanent loss of our main asset, the family dojo…


Comments/Criticisms/Dances with Oni: Shadowmane@msn.com