Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Urusei Yatsura Fan Fiction / Sister Princess Fan Fiction ❯ Lonely Souls ❯ The Fourth Part, D Side - Freedom From Honour ( Chapter 10 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

"Hey, you okay?"
Ataru blinked before his vision focused on a smiling face framed with flaming red hair worn loose past her shoulders. Seeing the concern in those deep sapphire eyes, he smiled, his eyes misting. "Okaeri nasai."
"Oh, man! Don't tell me you stayed up all night waiting for me?!" Ranma chuckled as she helped him to his feet. She then looked past him as the dining room doors opened. "Tadaima!" she called out on seeing the sisters come out.
"Okaeri nasai, Onee-chan!" Karen replied as they massed around Ataru, Ranma and Negako. "How was your time in Sanctuary?"
"Productive." Ranma reached behind her to draw out a certain stuffed rabbit. "I believe this belongs to Hinako-chan!"
"Waaai! Usagi-san!" Hinako grasped it, and then she squeezed Mister Bunny close to her. "Did Usagi-san make Onee-tama happy?!"
Negako lightly smiled as she exchanged a knowing look with Ranma. "You might say, Hinako, he made many young people happy."
Hinako then paled. "Eh?! Hina's dream came true?!"
Ataru's eyebrow arched. "What dream?!"
"Hina dreamt that Onee-tama helped Usagi-san have babies!"
Confusion crossed Ataru's face. His eyes then widened as he turned to Ranma. "Don't tell me you used the null-time bubbles to . . .?"
"Make five hundred-and-one copies of Usagi-san for five hundred kawaii girls on Noukiios." Ranma then gave him a knowing look. "Including two young girls you happen to know very well. Ne, Ataru-kun?" Her eyebrow arched.
He jolted, sweat drops pouring down his hair. Sakuya gazed curiously at him. "What's she talking about, Onii-sama?"
Ataru shuddered before deflating. "It's a long story."
"But not a bad one," Ranma amended before she drew up a large carrying rack bearing the ukiyo-e woodblocks she had made in Sanctuary. "Anyone got a place where these can be stored? I don't want them to get ruined."
Haruka gasped, "Oh, Anegimi-sama, you learned how to make ukiyo-e prints?!" She gently drew out one of the blocks to stare intently at it. "What's this of?" she then asked as she gazed on Ranma.
"Sanctuary," Ranma replied. "I made some prints already if you want to see them, but . . . " A yawn stole her voice. "Man, I'm tired!"
"I believe you need to have breakfast, and then get some sleep," Negako ordained before she gazed knowingly on Ataru. "Not to mention you. Shirayuki, can you bring breakfast out for everyone? We can delay our return to Nerima until after the noon hour so everyone can rest."
Shirayuki nodded. "Hai desu no. Hime's got breakfast all set!"
Ranma chuckled as she headed into the dining room. She stopped by the table, and then she looked right to see Chikage relaxing by the door. They gazed on each other. Ranma walked up to the sorceress. Before Chikage could ask what was wrong, the martial artist leaned up to tenderly kiss the sorceress' forehead. Chikage's eyes widened as she looked confusedly on Ranma.
"You were right," the latter whispered.
Chikage nodded. "Part of you wishes that were not so, even now."
"I . . . " Ranma shook her head. "No, not really. But I know that when news of this gets finally out, there'll be at least four girls in Nerima who're going to be heartbroken. I don't look forward to that even if I didn't want to marry them when I was still a boy . . . "
Ranma watched Shirayuki place a tray on the table. Seeing what was there, Ranma asked, "Did Negako teach you how to make that?"
A curious look crossed Shirayuki's face. "Hai desu no. Why?"
"Just wondering," Ranma replied as she headed over to eat.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Ranma peeked into Ataru's room to see him on his bed, staring at the ceiling. "Can I come in?"
"Sure!" He glanced her way, grinning. "So how are they?"
She stepped in, closing the door behind her. "Pretty good." She sat on the bed. "They miss you a lot. By the way, you didn't get one of those Urusians who had a hand in what happened to your grandmother. Negako and I helped finally catch him on Machibusu."
His eyebrow arched. "Who did I miss?"
"Seq Yethis."
"Oh, him! I thought he got atomized in Onishuto. So they've got a good chance of finding out where Heaven's Gate Bridge is?"
"Hai. Yethis' sister and niece made it out. They're staying with the Lost Stars." A pause. "You going to tell them?"
"About Reiko-chan and Kaneko-chan?" He nodded, a smile crossing his face. "Hai, soon. Chikage figured it out. She told me it should be alright to tell the others, even with them still fighting with the other Lost Stars."
"Let's hope she's right." Ranma nodded understandingly before lowering her voice. "I saw Nokoko-oneechan in Sanctuary too, Ataru."
He nodded. "That has to stay under wraps."
"I know."
Silence fell as they considered what to say next. Their eyes turned to gaze into each other's. He offered a hand. She took it, and then she allowed herself to be drawn towards him. They cuddled, gazing still into each other's eyes. She leaned up. A kiss later, she kicked off her shoes as he shifted a blanket over them. Soon, their eyes closed as they allowed fatigue to overcome them. Unnoticed by either, Yotsuba was gazing through a barely opened door on them. Once she confirmed they were asleep, the amateur detective closed the door. She made a new entry in her notepad as she headed up to her bedroom. "'Ani-chama and Ane-chama are asleep in Ani-chama's bed. It is clearly obvious that they ARE falling in love with each other. The signs all look promising.'"
She headed off.
**** **** ****
Lonely Souls
By Fred Herriot
pyeknu@hotmail.com OR fherriot@yahoo.com
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This part's title suggested by Silussa. Ranma's and Ataru's dream sequence, in part, written by David Chamberlain.
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Walking In The Air, written by Howard Blake. Ryan and Rachel O'Donnell performed the version that forms the base of the lyrics printed here for The Celtic Chillout Album, produced by Universal International Music.
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Based on Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2, created by Takahashi Rumiko; and Sister Princess, created by Tenhiro Naoto and Kimino Sakurako.
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Set in the universe of the fan-fiction series Urusei Yatsura - The Senior Year, created by Mike Smith and Fred Herriot
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NOTE: The writer's notes are in a separate text file.
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"Oh, I'm so glad that I'm not alone now . . . "
"Me neither!" Kashima Namie purred, she allowing her tongue to lap the side of Kodama Hiro's neck. They were in a cul-de-sac some metres from where Tampopo's restaurant once stood in Tomobiki. Both were dressed conservatively, though given their pawing and wet kisses, they obviously preferred to have no clothes on at all. "When was the last time we were together?"
"Probably when we first emerged from gestation." Hiro forced Namie's face into her cleavage. "Let's make up for some lost time."
Namie wiggled her head. "Hai . . . "
"Excuse me, but would you prefer to do that in private?"
Both spun to see a wheelchair-bound first-year high-school student gazing amusedly on them from the cul-de-sac's entrance. The newcomer's raven hair was tied in a pair of stubby ponytails, her chestnut eyes twinkling with delight on seeing the sex show before her. Even bound to a wheelchair, she was nicely shaped for a woman her age. Hiro and Namie gazed intently at her before they exchanged a confused look. No, this woman wasn't an Avalonian, yet she seemed to know both of them. How was that possible? Who was this woman?
Sensing their confusion, the newcomer wheeled her mount into the alley. "Narumi Miruko." She held out her hand. "Yukimi sent me."
"You know Yukimi?" Hiro demanded as she and Namie pulled apart, both of them automatically moving to straighten their clothing.
"Hai. Her programming accidentally kicked in a year ago, sometime before we started to live together." Miruko waved them with her. "C'mon. Kanami-chan and Tamako-chan are already here. I'll take you there."
Immediately, Namie came up to push Miruko's wheelchair. Hiro fell in beside her fellow infiltrator as they exited the alley, and then they headed up the street. "Doesn't any of this bother you, Miruko-san?" Namie asked.
Miruko blinked. "Does it bother me?" She hummed as she took a moment to think about it. "Let's see. Does it bother me that after my parents abandoned me, I became housemates and lovers with a beautiful alien bioroid? A bioroid, by the way, who was built to serve Lum on behalf of an honest-to-goodness CHURCH which worships her as a living goddess?" She shrugged. "Trivial. What matters is that Yukimi and I are a couple, that I love her and she loves me."
"But we exist to serve Lum-sama, Miruko-san," Hiro warned.
The crippled girl nodded. "I know. It doesn't bother me. Most girls my age in Tomobiki don't really care for Lum, but if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have met Yukimi. Why should I complain?" She fell silent as several Butsumetsu Girl's students passed by. Once they were out of earshot, she cupped her hand around her mouth as she whispered, "Besides, if Lum survived what the news said happened to her, she'll need all the help she can get."
They gazed on Miruko, both quick to sense her sincerity. Namie squeezed her shoulder. "Yukimi is lucky to know you, Miruko-san."
Miruko grinned. "Hey, I'M the lucky one!"
"Why did you parents abandon you?" Hiro wondered.
"Two reasons. One is my gender preference and my wanting a relationship with Yukimi. The second is that I suffer from paralytic poliomyelitis." She waved to her lap. "Mom and Dad decided they didn't want to deal with me, so they got rid of me as soon as they could. Lucky for me that Yukimi took me in or else . . . " Her voice trailed off, a shudder running through her.
"Stupid fools," Namie muttered as Miruko indicated a right turn.
They headed up the street to the third building on their right. The building was a split-level bungalow type, designed to possess four half-floors. A special access ramp led to the second-level apartment. Awaiting them were three smiling women in casual clothing. Namie and Hiro were quick to sense what the others were. "Welcome to your new home, sisters," Kitahara Yukimi, the oldest-looking of the three, stepped up to grasp Namie's and Hiro's hands, and then she took over pushing Miruko inside. "Was it a safe trip?"
Hiro nodded as she and Namie slipped off their shoes. "Quiet."
As they headed inside, Yukimi lifted Miruko into an indoor wheelchair so she could move around inside. Kurosu Kanami folded the outdoor wheelchair as Momose Tamako guided the crippled girl to the dining room table. The other Avalonians joined them. Yukimi and Miruko held hands.
"What news of Lum-sama?" Kanami asked.
Yukimi shook her head. "I'm not sure. She and Ran-sama returned to Earth yesterday morning. I was able to sense Lum-sama is alive, though there's something wrong with her. What, I don't know, not yet. Fortunately, given that Ran-sama's plot is seldom noticed by the locals, few know of her return outside other members of the Holy Company: Shuutarou-sama, Shinobu-sama, Ryuunosuke-sama, Sakura-sama and Hayao-sama. They visited them that morning. The big surprise was that Ataru-sama showed up as well, as did another woman whose identity I've yet to confirm. I take it you all know of Ataru-sama's feelings now for the people of Tomobiki?" An eyebrow arched knowingly.
"I learned it later," Tamako confessed. "When it happened, my brain nearly got fried when my programming clicked in after Urayamu-sama . . . " Her voice trailed off as her eyes misted with tears. "Well, after he . . . "
The others nodded. Nothing needed to be said. "What else?" Hiro asked.
"Ran-sama returned to her ship that afternoon. I didn't see Lum-sama, but I could sense her presence near Ran-sama," Yukimi reported. "I came back to prepare apartments for you. That took the rest of the day. I haven't taken any time to do a detailed scan of either Lum-sama or Ran-sama this morning."
Namie patted her sister Avalonian's hand. "That's alright. Perhaps we should just proceed to Ran-sama's ship and meet them directly. Let them know that they have more friends here than they first believed."
"Our creators wouldn't be so blunt, Namie," Kanami warned.
"We know how foolish our so-called 'creators' really are, Kanami," Yukimi said with a sneer. "Besides, we exist to serve and support Lum-sama. The Church, in my eyes, is totally irrelevant to the point. Besides, given how bad this war situation between the Onis and the Noukiites has become, Lum-sama and Ran-sama ARE truly alone. Do we really want them to remain that way, sisters?"
Her eyebrow arched. The other Avalonians shook their heads.
* * *
"Hello, Shinobu! I see you brought your friend!"
"Good morning, Father Cristobal. Hai, this is her." Shinobu bowed respectfully, gently grasping the hand of her family's pastor.
She then indicated Ryuunosuke as she performed introductions. "A pleasure to meet you, Ryuunosuke," Juan Miguel Cristobal Rodriguez y Gennara, a slender Latino with a hint of Amerindian ancestry, draped in the black robes of a Jesuit missionary, greeted her as he gently gripped her hand. "I am truly sorry for your loss, my dear. Please, do come in."
"Thanks." Ryuunosuke nodded before she followed Shinobu into the Cathedral of Saint Urban, located in downtown Shinjuku. Already there was a small crowd. She knew -- thanks to Shinobu -- most Japanese Christians lived in Kyushu; the Miyakes hailed from Kagoshima. However, with an ever-increasing migration into Tokyo and its suburbs, the Church of Rome soon realized it was necessary to establish a church here. Saint Urban, named in honour of one of the earliest pontiffs, was modern as churches come, lacking the rustic masonry one might find in a medieval European cathedral. "Nice place," she whispered to Shinobu as they, Toshoba and Kimiki slipped into one of the pews.
Shinobu nodded. "Yes, it is."
People took their places. Father Cristobal assumed his post by the altar. Prayers were given, and then the priest asked everyone to be seated. Once everyone relaxed, he took a deep breath before he motioned to one side of the room. Someone rose to stand beside Father Cristobal. To the surprise of many, the newcomer was dressed in the flowing robes of an Islamic imam.
"My friends, this is my very good friend . . . " He paused, smiling. "And my brother-in-faith, Imam Daniyal Larik. He is from Karachi, Pakistan. Like I for you, he ministers to those of his faith here in Tokyo. I asked him to come today to help us understand the events that struck Tomobiki last Monday. We also have with us today . . . " He indicated Ryuunosuke. "One who lost her father and her boyfriend that day. For my friend . . . " He indicated Imam Daniyal. "His loss is as bad, for the man who was responsible for that horrible act . . . " A pause. "Was one of his own flock."
Ryuunosuke blinked. Glancing at the others here today, she noticed everyone gazing on the Islamic cleric with sympathy. Guilt then surged up her spine. Ever since the official announcement concerning who perpetrated the bombing at Tomobiki High was made on Thursday, she had felt nothing but hatred and betrayal every time Ibrahim Alhamzi's face appeared in her mind. Gazing at Daniyal Larik, her sense of guilt increased. The pain etched on the imam's face was far worse than what her father once showed when he thought of her late mother, Masako. No doubt, even with what Ibrahim did, Imam Daniyal thought of him as not just a friend and fellow Muslim, but a close relative.
Like a son, perhaps?
The Jesuit stepped aside, allowing the imam to assume the podium. "The blessings of the most Merciful God unto you, who follow the teachings of the Prophet Jesus (Peace Be Unto Him). Thank you, my dear friend and brother-in-faith, for allowing me to speak to your flock today." He nodded thanks to Father Cristobal. "Yes, my friend does speak the truth about what happened on Monday and how much it affected me personally. I did not come here to either condone or forgive the actions of Ibrahim Alhamzi. I cannot, for the only one who could do such a thing is God. I can only but pray that God will help those who died, including Ibrahim, find their peace in Heaven.
"No doubt, there are those among you who wonder why this happened. Why is it there are those in this world who, supposedly acting in the name of God, would murder? What made a person like Ibrahim become a living weapon . . . " -- the imam was grateful that he spoken to Father Cristobal about this beforehand -- " . . . like the kamikaze pilots who died defending Japan in the last years of the Greater East Asian War? What made a man who had treated all his fellow men with kindness, respect and mercy . . . " His eyes began to tear as he bowed his head. "Come to hate and to kill?"
He wiped his eyes. "I have asked myself and I have asked God that very question since Monday. I wish I could explain why is it so many who say they follow the Word of God are ready to toss away His Wisdom when it comes to those they hate or fear. God told Moses on Mount Sinai, 'Thou shall not murder.' That is the Sixth of the Ten Commandments, the bedrock of Jewish and Christian law. And if there is to be peace between Muslim and Christian and Muslim and Jew, we MUST learn not just to understand but to RESPECT each other's wisdom. We followers of Islam, after all . . . " He pointed to himself. "Look upon you as 'people of the Book.' You worship the same God as we."
Shinobu put her hand up. Then, when the imam indicated her, she asked, "If that is what the Prophet Mohammed wrote in the Qur'an, why is it, sir, that extremists want to make war on the people of Israel or Americans?"
"My dear, I wish I could give you a simple answer for that question." He then indicated Father Cristobal. "My friend here told me that in previous sermons with you, he explained how people who considered themselves 'faithful' Christians have perverted the teachings of the Prophet Jesus (Peace Be Unto Him) to their own selfish ends. Everything from the acts of the Holy Inquisition to the Crusades and ultimately to atrocities like the Holocaust can be attributed to that sad fact. And yes, it is the same in Judaism. And yes, it is the same in Islam. Speaking of Israel and Palestine, young lady, one of the areas of profound dispute is Jerusalem. You see, Jerusalem is not JUST the holiest city in both Judaism and Christianity. Jerusalem also ranks as the third holiest city of Islam, after Mecca and Medina."
Kimiki put up her hand. "So that conflict is really all about control over the holy places in Jerusalem, like the Wailing Wall?"
"In part, yes. The Dome of the Rock and the Noble Sanctuary, where, in our tradition, the Prophet is said to have ascended to Heaven, sits on the site of the Temple of Solomon, of which the Wailing Wall is the last intact remnant. As you will all know, the Temple was razed by the Romans when the Israelites rebelled against the Caesars in 70 CE."
Ryuunosuke: "It all comes down to who really owns the site, you mean?"
Imam Daniyal glanced at her. "Exactly."
"What is 'jihad?'" another person asked. "I heard once that it means much more than 'holy war,' but I don't know the exact term."
He perked. "Ah, yes! What 'jihad' properly means is 'struggle.' Let me tell you a story about the Prophet and perhaps you may see where such a mistake is made." A pause. "The Qur'an was written at a time of terrible conflict in what today we call Saudi Arabia. That conflict was similar in many ways to the Warring States period here in Japan. The Prophet, as God, through the Angel Gabriel, revealed the Qur'an to him, was trying to bring peace to Arabia. One day, returning after a battle, the Prophet told his friends, 'We are returning from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.' 'Jihad' refers to the effort a Muslim must make to allow God's Will and God's Desire to influence ALL parts of his life. His personal life. His social life. His relations with his friends. His place as part of a community. The struggle the Prophet spoke of, my friends, is to eliminate evil not just from your community . . . " He pointed to his heart. "But also from your very soul."
"That's not something one would regularly hear from a Muslim, sir," Toshoba noted. "With what appears on television . . . "
The imam considered his comment before he sadly nodded. "Yes, sir, you are right. Indeed, I myself once believed like many of my faith do these days. That no good could come out of accepting the secular ways of the West. That the creation of Israel bode nothing but evil and misery for Palestinians and other Muslims in the Middle East . . . " He fell silent for a moment. "I think I'm fortunate in that I spent much time learning to teach the Prophet's words in Toronto, living with Muslims who resided there. There, they lived alongside those of other faiths. Their children went to school with those of other faiths, where they happily interacted with each other, learned to respect each other. In seeing that, I experienced a personal revelation. I realized that God WANTED it to be this way. After all, the Prophet said that God created people to be different, with different languages, so that we could all come together, learn each others' ways and live with each other."
Silence fells, and then Father Cristobal walked over to squeeze his friend's shoulder. "If we could all believe in that."
Imam Daniyal nodded. "Yes, my friend, if we only could."
"Those who say they're fighting for Islam, like Alhamzi-san, believe they're actually warring against evil," Shinobu concluded.
Ryuunosuke sighed. "Wish they'd listen to their own prophet's words."
"Indeed." The imam gazed at Ryuunosuke. "Believe it or not, miss, I do know of you. I know of the terrible loss of your mother when you were but a baby. I know how that affected not just your father, but also you and your friend Nagisa. Ibrahim . . . " He sighed. "Many times did Ibrahim tell me of things in Tomobiki. What he knew of the alien girl Lum and how her presence there had come to affect so many. He wept when he told me of how often you were hurt because your father could not see you as God made you. He wept even more when he told me of Nagisa and what had happened to him. He . . . " His eyes shifted to Shinobu. "He even told me of learning how much your friend Moroboshi Ataru had been abused, in all effect rendered friendless, by not just Lum and those who supported her. But by his parents as well."
The knowing look Imam Daniyal gave her sent chills down Shinobu's back. She then blinked as another man's voice echoed in her mind . . .
** ** **
She turned back to stare at Yumoa Reigi. "Hai?"
"Do you understand what the concept of child abuse is?"
** ** **
Oh, Jesu Cristo! What have I done . . .?
Shinobu shuddered before she wiped her eyes, sensing tears flowing down her cheeks. Ryuunosuke's hand was immediately at her shoulder. "Forgive me." Imam Daniyal's voice turned their attention to the altar. The cleric's head was bowed; no doubt, he realized his words had come to hurt her. "I didn't mean to accuse you of anything, Miyake-san."
"I . . . " Shinobu sniffed before she smiled, nodding. "It's alright."
The imam smiled, turning to Father Cristobal. "My friend, you are truly blessed, you know that? To have such good people to care for." He patted the Jesuit's shoulder before turning to Ryuunosuke. "I've prepared something for you, Fujinami-san." He drew out a book from a shelf under the altar. Descending from there, he held it out to her. "It is from Ibrahim's mother. She insisted I give you something like this. I contacted her to inform her of what happened to her son. She . . . " He patted the book, and then he smiled. "She insisted that you have this. To understand that what happened on Monday is not condoned by our faith. It is not our way, Fujinami-san."
Ryuunosuke opened the book, noting that everything was not just in Arabic, but also in kanji and kana. "The Qur'an?"
"Yes. This is not an 'official' Qur'an. In our belief, for one to be deemed one of the Faithful, one must learn the Prophet's words in the original Arabic he received the words of the Qur'an from the Angel Gabriel in. This way, any mistakes that could be made in translation are eliminated. This is a special guide I helped prepare to allow people to understand Islam, allow them to ask the right questions. I don't seek to convert you. The decision, should you actually seek it, MUST be yours. The Prophet was very specific on that: 'There must be NO coercion in matters of faith.' But I want to help you heal. So does my friend here . . . " He indicated Father Cristobal and the Miyakes. "As does your friend and her family. For that, I thank you."
Kimiki nodded. "It will always be our pleasure, sir."
Everyone beamed.
** ** **
Ranma opened her eyes to see a young boy running towards a girl with shaggy, light brown hair. The girl waved at the boy. Her lips moved, yet the martial artist could not detect any sound she made. In the twilight sky -- was it morning or was it night? No way to tell if the sun was now setting or if it had just begun its climb across the sky -- an eerie light shone around the waist of the girl as slowly, she began to rise into the sky. The boy ran ever harder to catch her. As he reached the spot where the girl had just been standing, he leapt into the air. In mid-jump, a trick of the light made the tears streaming from his eyes sparkle as they arced in the air.
Ranma watched as the girl disappeared. The boy, his hands reaching out and upwards, collapsed into an awkward heap on the ground nearly. The thud! he made on impact echoed impossibly loud, like the sound of rushing water over Niagara Falls at close range. He remained still for a moment, and then his arms and legs quaked in concert with sobs he would not vent.
Then, without warning, pained words escaped him:
"I'm alone again."
He laid there on the ground for what seemed an eternity to Ranma. Finally, he rose, turning to walk away. Ranma remained in place as he faded into the night. Then, without any warning, the boy returned. Morbidly, the martial artist watched the boy play out a similar scene to the one she witnessed before. The only difference was the girl involved in this: This time, it was a pretty, pale-skinned girl with glittering green eyes and shaggy red hair held down by a headband embossed with a silver rose.
Again, the girl departed, sadness etched on her face as she disappeared.
A spaceship flew overhead.
He leapt. He fell. He sobbed.
"I'm alone again."
Another time with another girl.
And again.
And again.
Ranma looked away, tears streaming down her cheeks as that heart-wrenching play repeated again and again . . .
What was this?
Looking down at her hand, Ranma blinked on seeing a flower in her palm.
A rose.
Who . . .?
The boy.
He looked at her, smiling. She tried to smile back, yet her face didn't seem to respond as she wished.
As if the muscles had never been pulled in this direction before.
Very uncomfortable.
He giggled at the strange face she made. The sound drew her to him.
Yet the rose . . .
Why a rose?
Why only one?
Words came to her. She spoke them without understanding their meaning.
"Do . . .
"Vanan'cha . . .
Tears sprang in her eyes. She was crying, yet . . .
Why was she crying?
Why did she feel this pain . . .?
This pain that also brought her such joy . . .?
We're walking in the air.
We're floating in the moonlit sky.
The people far below are sleeping as we fly . . .
Arms wrapped around her, making her eyes fly open as she found herself gazing into the face of the Ataru of today. Sensing the hope burning within his eyes, Ranma cried as she drew herself as close as she could to him.
I'm holding very tight.
I'm riding in the midnight blue.
I'm finding I can fly so high above with you . . .
"Do . . .
"Vanan'cha . . .
Children gaze open-mouthed, taken by surprise.
Nobody down below believes their eyes . . .
Their mouths parted in a tearful, relieved kiss. A cleansing, cool wind surged past them. Unnoticed, darkness transformed into a blue sky dotted with billowing clouds. No ground lay beneath their feet.
That too did not draw their attention.
We're surfing in the air.
We're spinning in a frozen sky.
We're drifting over ice, see mountains floating by . . .
They pulled apart, their eyes not averting from the other's.
Suddenly, swooping low ov'r an ocean dream,
Rousing up a mighty monster from his sleep . . .
Who asked that?
We're walking in the air.
We're dancing in the moonlit sky.
And everyone who sees us greets us as we fly . . .
Who answered that?
We're walking in the air . . .
Their lips drifted together as a beeping sound echoed in their ears.
** ** **
Ataru and Ranma nearly gagged as their eyes flew open, the insistent beeping of Rinrin's Prototype Robot Number Two echoing from the nightstand. Reflexively, they pulled apart, the shock of the moment stealing their voices as the memories of that strange dream faded quickly from their conscious minds. Silence reigned over them for a moment before Ataru turned to gaze on his sister's invention, noting the time. "Eight o'clock," he whispered, and then he turned to Ranma as he leaned his head on the pillow. "Oh, man . . . "
She stared warily at him. "You okay?"
He blinked before a light smile twitched his lips. "Matter of fact, I am." A shrug tilted one of his shoulders.
Ranma took that in before her own lips turned up. "Strange. So am I."
* * *
"So when the hell did you get that back, Akane?"
Akane looked up from the shattered blocks on the doojou floor to see Nabiki standing at the doorway. She then gazed down on the Densetsu no Doogi. "Last night." She walked over to sweep up the debris her latest workout produced. "If I'm going to convince Ranma to come back home, I'll have to go all out on him in a formal challenge. This'll help."
Nabiki tried not to groan as Akane cleaned up the mess. Oh, shit, what the HELL did those two fools tell her last night?! she mentally roiled as she took a long draw on her milkshake. "Akane, this isn't a good idea."
Akane spun on her. "You honestly think I don't know that?!"
Nabiki ducked the angry/afraid look in her sister's eyes. Akane took a deep breath to calm herself as she started to sweep. "I KNOW he's angry at his father! I KNOW he's angry at Dad! I don't blame him for that! But . . . " She paused, squeezing her eyes shut. "This is his HOME, Nabiki! I HAVE to bring him back here, Nabiki! I HAVE to!"
"What if he doesn't want to come back?" Nabiki asked. "He's paid off the debt he's acquired since he came. His father's words mean nothing . . . "
"If Ranma refuses, his father'll disown him and forbid him from . . .!"
Nabiki shook her head. "Akane! Akane! Akane! Do you really think Ranma-kun'll fall for that stupid ploy?"
Akane glared at her. "He has no choice!"
"On the contrary, sister dear. He's got loads of choices. And if he exercises them, Uncle'll be up shit creek without a paddle!"
"Nabiki-chan, such language!"
Nabiki ducked as Kasumi stepped up behind her. "Ohayou, Onee-chan." Akane turned back to cleaning up the mess. "Be done soon."
"I can see that." Kasumi then sighed. "Akane-chan?"
"What is it?"
"Kimiko-chan will be here later to see you," Kasumi announced. "I want you to treat her nice while she's here. Understood?"
Akane stopped. "There's something I have to ask her."
Akane spun on her older sister. "What?"
"No." Kasumi sternly shook her head, crossing her arms in a stance Akane feared all too well. "You will not challenge her or do ANYTHING that hurts her, either physically or emotionally. Kimiko-chan told us emphatically last night she has no interest whatsoever in Ranma-kun. You have nothing to fear from her, Akane-chan. PLEASE, treat her nice when she's here. Alright?"
Akane shuddered before she nodded. "H-hai."
Kasumi departed. Nabiki gazed on Akane before she turned to leave. Before she took a step, Akane whispered, "I still have to know."
Nabiki stopped, shaking her head; she just heard that. "You got to learn how to trust people, Akane. Let me give you some free advice: DO NOT follow whatever Dad or Uncle told you to do concerning Ranma last night. If you do, it'll be the biggest mistake of your life."
She headed back to the house. Akane watched her go, and then she turned back to her cleaning. Suddenly, one arm came up, some of the Doogi's fabric stretching as a small sign appeared in its grasp. [I BELIEVE IN YOU.]
Akane smiled. "Thanks, Dou-chan."
* * *
"Yes, honoured friends, it IS true!" Kunou Tatewaki stood before the assembled members of the kendou club, along with a small gathering of students from the school's other sports teams. They had gathered on the front lawn of Fuurinkan High School. "Tendou Nabiki did proclaim it to the Blue Thunder last week! Tendou Kasumi confirmed what her sister said right then and there! That most beauteous flower, that fighting tigress, our beloved Tendou Akane, is now free from the clutches of that foul sorcerer Saotome Ranma!"
Hearing that, the group of forty young men before him -- the noble lads who, not so long ago, had gone out to duel Akane to win the right to date her -- emitted a joyous scream. "Yes, my friends!" Kunou shuddered, his eyes tearing as he gazed heavenward. "Justice has prevailed! The wicked one who dared attempt to take Tendou Akane away from us is defeated! Therefore . . .!" He pointed to them. "As we did before, so will we do now! Commencing tomorrow morning, we will show our love for the fair Akane! And again, I say this: Whoever should defeat Tendou Akane will win the right to DATE her! And there will be NO exceptions to our proclamation! NONE!"
A loud cheer echoed from the Horde as they raised their bokken and other instruments in salute. "Hey, guys, let's get ready!" Koriko Nagao, a member of the kendou club, yelled. "We've got a lady's heart to win over tomorrow!"
The others cheered before the groups broke off, spreading out over the school grounds to begin warm-up exercises. Kunou watched them go, shuddering delightedly. "Oh, yes! Yes!" He cackled. "Now I will finally win Tendou Akane's love, as it was TRULY meant to be . . .!"
"You're being real smart, Sempai."
Kunou jolted, looking around. "Pig-tailed girl . . .?!"
"Not exactly," echoed from his right. "I'm actually the mirror-twin of your Osage-no-Onna that showed up at school some months back."
The kendou team captain blinked, and then he snapped his fingers. "Ah, yes! I do remember hearing of you from Tendou Nabiki!"
"Wonderful." A giggle tickled his ears. "You can call me Saotome Toshiko, by the way. It's the name she chose for me. Now . . . "
Kunou gasped as he felt SOMETHING slip inside his trousers as another finger touched the back of his neck, specifically over a shiatsu point that would paralyse all movement from his legs. "Wh-wh-what . . .?" he sputtered.
"Oh, SEMPAI!" Toshiko cooed. "Is that because of ME?!"
He shuddered before sighing contently as waves of pleasure flooded his body from his groin. "Oh, that feels so good," he whispered.
"I'm glad. Relax, Sempai. I'm using a certain fool's invisibility technique. Just relax and enjoy it. Besides, no one's watching us right now."
"Indeed." He crossed his arms, bokken still in hand, in front of him to hide whatever was happening THERE from exposure to the others of the Horde. "Tell me, fair Saotome Toshiko, is there some reason you are here other than to bestow your loving touch upon the Blue Thunder's robust manhood?"
"Well, I do have a message from the Osage-no-Onna."
"Indeed?! Pray tell me what it is!"
"Patience, Sempai! It's this: Tonight at eight o'clock, all those who've been enchanted by the 'foul sorcerer' will learn of his ultimate fate!"
"What?! What fate is that?!"
"That's a surprise, Sempai," she soothed. "A surprise is meant to be anticipated, Sempai. Dreamt of, contemplated over and yearned for. But Sempai, I will tell you this, since touching you gives me SUCH pleasure," she purred before adding in a whisper, "The foul sorcerer is no more."
"Indeed?" Kunou breathed in, shuddering as Toshiko's fingers danced over his body. "A pity it was not I that delivered the final blow to that monster, Saotome Toshiko. It was only proper! But alas, Fate can be cruel at times."
"Hai, Fate can be that," Toshiko noted. "However, I can give you this promise, Sempai: The one who was TRULY responsible for the demise of the foul sorcerer will be revealed tonight. Will you be there?"
"I shall be there!" he vowed.
"Wonderful!" Toshiko yipped. "Oh, do tell your sister, Sempai. She would desire to know this, I think. Can you promise me that?"
"I shall do so, beautiful Toshiko! My oath is my bond!"
"Oh, I'm so happy," Toshiko breathed out as she unlocked his legs. "Now, Sempai, what say we go somewhere a little more private, ne?"
He paled, shakily nodding. "Ah, h-hai!"
* * *
A replica of Akane in slacks and a flower-print shirt stepped into the Tendou yard. Kasumi waited for her by the patio. "Welcome back, Kimiko-chan." Grinning, she then embraced the entity which once was called "Noroi no Ningyou." "Everyone's waiting for you inside."
Kimiko smiled. "Arigatou, Onee-sama."
Moving to escort the newcomer inside, Kasumi then paused, a curious look crossing her face as she sensed a slight difference in Kimiko's wa. "Kimiko-chan, are you all right?" she asked.
Kimiko looked nonplussed, and then she smiled. "Hai, I'm alright. Last night, Negako-sama released blocks she had imprinted on my body when it was created so I can learn how to make use of the many gifts that came with it."
"Ah, I see." They stepped in. "Everyone, Kimiko-chan's here!"
"Ah, Kimiko-chan, there you are!" Souun beamed as he waved her to a seat across from Akane. "Please, come in!"
Kimiko sat down. "Thank you for your hospitality, Tendou-sama."
Souun balked. "Kimiko-chan, I said last night that you . . . "
Kimiko did NOT return the Tendou patriarch's stare. "I understand that part." She tried not to overact as she moved to properly express what Negako suggested she say to Souun during this meeting. "But right after you said that, you turned around and, without a care in the world concerning your daughter's feelings, tried to force an engagement between myself and Ranma-sama. In doing so, you not only insulted your daughter, you also insulted Ranma-sama and I. Until such time as you properly apologize to your daughter, I will not look upon you as a father even if, genetically, we are related."
"Um, Kimiko . . .?"
"Akane-san." Kimiko stared on her, ignoring Souun's wailing. As did everyone else save Genma, who was forced to dodge around the fountains of tears pouring out of his best friend to avoid having his curse triggered. "On the memory of my first owner, I speak the truth when I say this: I do not have any romantic intentions or desires concerning Ranma-sama. Not now, not ever."
"I see," Akane whispered. Then taking a deep breath, she added, "By the way, Dad DID apologize for what he did to me last night."
Kimiko nodded. "I see."
In the blink of the proverbial eye, Souun straightened, a determined look etched in his face. "With that resolved, we can get to a much bigger problem. Namely bringing Ranma-kun back here where he belongs," he sternly declared.
"You won't be able to see him until this evening."
Eyes locked on Kimiko. "Why's that?" Nabiki asked.
"Ranma-sama will, according to Kumiko-san and Toshiko-san, be meeting some people when he returns to Nerima," Kimiko stated. "I believe Happoosai-sama is one, as is the Nujiézú elder Kelun. I have not been told about anyone else, but there are more. I do not believe he will have time to see you."
"Ridiculous!" Genma slammed a fist into the table. "That boy will come here IMMEDIATELY after he comes back! If he does not . . .!"
An invisible storm of fists smashed into his head and back, making Genma kiss the floor. Everyone save Kimiko gasped as Saotome Kumiko dropped the Goshin Buufu cloak, she behind her "father." "Kumiko-chan!" Kasumi said, and then she smiled. "Would you like some tea?"
"No thank you, Kasumi-san." The raven-haired mirror-twin shook her head as she pointed to the unconscious Genma. "Tell the panda here when he recovers that whatever he thinks is 'proper' will NOT be acknowledged by Ranma, much less Toshiko or myself, from this day on!" Seeing Souun move to unleash a Demon Head, a feral smile crossed her face. "Got a problem with that?"
Ki coalesced around her hands. Souun was quick to recognize that as the energy needed to unleash the Yamasen-ken's most devastating attack, the Demon God Assault Shot. "Y-you really wouldn't . . .!" he sputtered.
"Give me a reason NOT to?" Kumiko's voice was ice as she dispersed the ki in her right hand. She then pointed at Akane, not moving to look at her template's ex-fiancée. "And don't think for an instant that your cute little bunny suit'll save your ass from me, Miss Mallets. I can take you down right here and now if I wanted to. But that . . . " She glared at her, a mirthless smile crossing her face. "I'll let Ranma do tonight."
"You're here to deliver a formal challenge?" Kasumi asked.
"On her, yes." Kumiko crossed her arms. "Tonight at eight o'clock, on the front lawn of Fuurinkan High School, those who desire to pursue any marriage or other honour claims with Ranma are to assemble. Ranma'll deal with you then and there. NO TIME BEFORE!" she bellowed as she spun on Souun, unleashing her own Demon Head to make him curl in on himself.
Kasumi shook her head. "Oh, Father . . . "
Nabiki rolled her eyes. Akane did nothing save stare at her hands. "Kumiko-san, PLEASE, will you stop that?" Kimiko then asked.
The Demon Head vanished as Kumiko gazed on Kimiko. "Well, since you DID ask so nicely, Kimiko-san," she tittered before turning to leave. She then stopped. "Oh, I forgot something!" She glanced at Akane. "If you want to fight Ranma to force him into acknowledging your father's idiotic wishes, bring your doojou sign. If you do not, Ranma will refuse you. And you won't be in any position to challenge that! Ciao ciao!"
She vanished under the Umisen-ken cloak. Silence fell over the sitting room. Akane then whispered, "The doojou sign . . .?!"
"No . . . he can't demand that . . .!" Souun burbled.
"I think he's not going to give you a choice, Dad," Nabiki warned.
Kasumi shook her head. "Oh, dear."
* * *
"Hi, Mom, it's me!"
"Oh, Ranma!" Nodoka replied. Ranma was relaxing in the foyer at Welcome House, the rotunda's lone telephone in hand. "I didn't expect a call from you until you came back to Nerima! Are you still on Promised Island?"
"Hai, but we'll be heading back in an hour or so. Chikage-chan's gonna let us use her travelling rainbow to get back into town," Ranma replied, and then she smiled. "So how are things going with the divorce?"
Silence, then Nodoka asked, "How did you know . . .?"
"Ataru's friend, Yumoa Reigi, warned me about that a couple of days ago." Ranma chuckled. "Relax, Mom. They won't interfere or do anything stupid like that if you want to get away from the panda. In fact, they can help."
"That's a relief. It's nice to know that Ataru-kun's family are being so helpful. Things are going well. But there is the problem concerning what happens to you when Genma and I part ways." She paused. "You can adopt my maiden name if you want to get away from Genma, Ranma-chan. My family has no problems with that. In fact, they'll be happy to welcome you into the fold."
She smiled. "Mom, would you please tell them that while I appreciate their thoughtfulness, it isn't necessary. There's another solution."
A wary tone appeared in her voice: "The Moroboshis will adopt you?"
"Nothing that drastic, Mom. Look, if I turn around and adopt another family name, that'll give Oyaji some sense of satisfaction. He'll be able to tell himself that I ran from my 'responsibility' . . . " She made finger-quotes with her free hand. "To maintain the family 'honour.' Do you really want him to feel something like that after all he's pulled?"
"No, not really." Nodoka chuckled. "So what WILL you do?"
Ranma smirked. "That, I'll save until we get together at Ataru's place after lunch. Look, can you be there in about three hours? And can you ask your lawyer to be there, too? She'll want to know these things, I think."
"Alright, that's easily arranged. If you want, I can even bring my twin sister with me. Onee-chan's always wanted to meet you."
"I'd love to meet her too, Mom." Ranma perked. "Oh, one more thing."
"Bring OUR doojou sign with you. If we still have one after Ukyou, Shanpú and Kodachi trashed the place sometime ago."
"Yes, I can do that. It's still here. The property's in my name, so I was going to throw it out when everything was settled. I assume you'll do something with it when you finally decide to confront Genma?"
"You can assume that. I'll fill you in on the details later."
"Alright, dear. I'll see you soon."
Ranma hung up, and then allowed herself to sink into Ataru's embrace. "I made arrangements on our end." He kissed her forehead. "You sure you want to do this? Even if it helps, hearts are going to be broken today."
"Did you know that when you confronted Lum and Ran?"
"Hai, I did."
She stared at him. "Then why do you expect me to feel different?"
He considered that before chuckling. "Touché!" He kissed her again, and then waved her to his bedroom. "C'mon, let's get packed."
* * *
"Tonight at eight at the school?" Ukyou stared at Saotome Kumiko as the latter waited for her order. "Sure, I can be there."
"That's wonderful." The raven-haired mirror-twin nodded before taking a breath. "U-chan, I should warn you right now that if what Ranma plans comes off the way she envisions it, any hopes of you marrying him will be dashed once and for all. I . . . " She gasped on seeing Ukyou swing her battle spatula at her face. "HEY! What are you doing?!" she demanded as she smashed it away.
"WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!" Ukyou reached for Kumiko's top. She then screamed as the latter vanished. "DAMN YOU, KU-CHAN! STOP PULLING THAT SHIT ON ME!" She looked wildly around, and then she yelped as a fist hit her head, sending her to kiss the floor.
Kumiko appeared behind the chef. "Would you kindly CALM DOWN and listen before you throw a temper-tantrum?!" she demanded. Sensing Konatsu moving to defend Ukyou, she pointed a finger at the kunoichi. "DON'T YOU DARE!"
Konatsu screamed as a Demon Head formed in front of him, he immediately vanishing upstairs. Kumiko relaxed, and then she hopped over the counter to sit in her chair. By then, Ukyou was on her feet. "Okay, TALK!" She slammed her fist on the counter. "What did you mean by all that?!"
Kumiko sighed. "Ranma is going to renounce all links with Genma, plus renounce his standing as a student of Musabetsu Kakutou-ryuu."
Ukyou's eyes widened. "Ran-chan's gonna make himself roonin?"
"Not exactly. He will still retain the name 'Saotome Ranma.' However, in the next few hours, he'll apply to form a NEW branch of the Saotome family, based on Oomure-jima. Your engagement is to a Saotome Ranma, son of Saotome Genma and Saotome Nodoka of Nerima-ku in Tokyo. NOT to Saotome Ranma, head of the Saotome family of Oomure-jima, part of the city of Odawara in Kanagawa."
Ukyou stared absently at her stove as she considered that. She then gazed back on Kumiko. "Is that even possible?"
"Oh, yes! It is." Kumiko nodded. "U-chan, PLEASE! If you truly, REALLY care for Ranma, you won't try to screw this up!"
"But . . . " Ukyou shuddered. "What if Dad doesn't accept it?!"
"He'll have no choice BUT to accept it. Look, under normal circumstances, Ranma won't be able to do much to get himself out of this mess without hurting someone's honour. That's something he doesn't like, U-chan. I would think that you'd have realized that by now."
"Yeah, I do, but . . .!"
"No 'buts,' U-chan! There's something else that'll happen, too. When he was off with Tampopo-san to find your yatai, Ranma arranged for some investigators to take a detailed look at EVERY illegal thing Genma has done. It wound up creating a file THIS thick!" She made a three-centimetre space between thumb and index finger. "We're talking five ADDITIONAL fiancées, a debt of almost half a BILLION yen for stolen food and other items, the whole mess with the Neko-ken and everything else he pulled. THAT will be turned over to a representative from a special branch of the Imperial Household Agency. From there, it'll be spread to the National Police Agency and Interpol!"
Ukyou breathed out, "Whoa . . .!"
"Yes. The panda won't have any time to try to fight what Ranma has in mind. Once that information gets to the National Police Agency, he'll have NO PLACE in Japan to hide. And Interpol'll make sure the news gets to Korea, China and everywhere else the panda dragged Ranma off to so he could learn the Art. No matter what, Genma loses in the end."
"About damned time, too!" Ukyou scowled before she asked, "Ku-chan?"
"Doesn't Ran-chan want ANYTHING to do with me?!"
"Not as a fiancée," Kumiko confirmed. "Like he told you: He wants his friend back. He doesn't want a fiancée. You can't be both, U-chan, not anymore." A pause. "He's very sorry about that. The one thing you can be assured of is that Ranma doesn't want anything to do with Shanpú, Akane or Kodachi. He's making arrangements now with Shan's great-grandmother to help Shan go back home with her honour intact. Kodachi has no legal claim on Ranma, so anything she says is meaningless. And Ranma renounced everything with the Tendous on Tuesday. And if Miss Mallets wants to challenge Ranma on that, she has to offer her doojou sign up or Ranma will refuse her challenge."
Ukyou winced. "Ai-ouch! Akane's dad won't like that!"
Kumiko nodded. "True, he won't. And if she refuses, Ranma destroys the Saotome doojou sign. Either which way, that morons' agreement comes to an end today. And with the panda on the run . . . "
Kumiko held up a finger. Ukyou smirked. "Damned if he does . . . "
"And damned if he doesn't," Kumiko drawled.
* * *
"Hey, check that out!"
People turned as the beat of Yanni's Highland echoed through the streets of Tomobiki. Whatever the onlookers were doing came to a halt as they focused their attention on the road-train chugging past. Since some repair work was underway on the main road connecting Tomobiki to Nerima -- a frequent occurrence in this town given the times streets were chewed up by the treads of tanks, self-propelled artillery and the like -- the road-train had to take a detour which arced Ataru, Ranma, Negako and the sisters close to Tomobiki High. While some of the sisters snapped their fingers and clapped their hands to the beat -- not to mention Ataru gaily dancing with Haruka -- the others took in the scenery. "This doesn't look like such a bad place," Yotsuba mused, she examining everything out through her digital camera lens.
"Don't let the looks fool you, Yotsuba-chan," Chikage warned as she gazed on her crystal ball. "Even if many of the 'usual suspects' are either dead or rendered effectively powerless, the threat to Ani-kun is still there."
The would-be detective considered that before she nodded, and then she continued her inspection. In the cockpit, Rinrin scanned a computer map before calling back, "We should be back on the main road in ten minutes, Aniki!"
"Hai!" Ataru nodded as he and Haruka swept to the song's climax, and then they exchanged a bow. "Most enchanting, Haruka-sama."
"Anigimi-sama!" Haruka's cheeks flamed. "P-poh!"
Hinako waved her hands. "Hina wants to dance with Onii-tama!"
Ataru moaned, dropping to his knees. "Oh, my poor back . . .!"
Laughter echoed through the passenger compartment as Hinako gave her Onii-tama a properly annoyed pout. Ataru reached for her as the CD went to the next song, If I Could Tell You. Hinako giggled as they swayed to the music. Ranma stared at him, and then she turned her attention to the cityscape. She blinked on seeing a white military-like car parked on a side street, and then she shook her head. Didn't look too threatening.
* * *
"Moroboshi . . .!"
"Yes, Young Master, that does look like him!" the driver confirmed.
Mendou Shuutarou quaked as he watched the road-train pass. Yes, there he was. And he was DANCING with a GIRL?! And there were well over ten other GIRLS, some of them exceptionally beautiful, riding with him! An outraged quiver shook his body. How DARE he?! How DARE he abandon Lum-san in her time of vital need, all to chase girls?! That . . .!
"Follow him!" he ordered.
The command car swung onto the road, Mendou soon finding himself three vehicles behind the road-train. Gripping his katana with one hand, he drew out his cell phone in the other, and then he speed-dialled a number.
* * *
An air-raid warning siren went off at the Mendou estate. Pilots and gunners manned the Air Corps' large fleet of Apache and Huey Cobra gunships as crews boarded the Panzer Division's Leopard II main battle tanks and Marder armoured fighting vehicles. As the first flight of helicopters rose from the airport, several emergency gates along the outer perimeter opened, allowing tanks to surge out onto the streets. Passers-by scrambled out of the way of the vehicles. "What's got into Mendou now?" one man asked.
His friend shook his head. "Search me!"
A third rolled his eyes heavenward. "I thought this would've all come to an end when that Oni girl left!" he lamented.
"Wishful thinking!" a fourth grumbled.
* * *
Ranma started on sensing something coming her way. She leaned out of the passenger compartment to gaze skyward. Seeing the menacing shapes sweeping toward the road-train, she looked at Ataru, who was still dancing with Hinako. "Hey, Ataru, is there a military base here?!"
Ataru stopped, and then he walked over to see what just caught Ranma's attention. "What the . . .?" He blinked. Then seeing the helicopters' guns pointing in their general direction, he sighed. "Oh, hell!" he spat out.
"It appears Shuutarou has leapt to conclusions again," Negako wryly mused, she having leaned out to take her own look.
He turned to see a familiar command car behind them. "Oh, great . . .!"
Karen tensed. "Onii-chan, what do we do?!"
"Yotsuba'll handle this!"
Eyes locked on the young detective. Jaws hit the deck as she reached into her jacket to draw out a red cape. "Hey, Yotsuba, what the heck are you . . .?" Ranma demanded before Yotsuba whirled the cape around her, a burst of light blinding everyone. When the light faded, Yotsuba was gone.
"Yotsuba-chan . . .!" Kaho gasped. "Where did Yotsuba-chan go?!"
Unseen by the others, Chikage and Negako had also vanished.
* * *
"Young Master, the helicopters are moving into position!"
"How soon will the troops have the road-block prepared?!"
"Two minutes, sir!"
"Excellent!" Mendou shuddered as he slipped his cell phone into his pocket. His mind quickly drew up images of what might happen -- No! What WOULD happen! -- after he thoroughly punished Moroboshi for this latest transgression against the fairer gender, especially the many beautiful girls in that slime's company aboard the strange vehicle some . . .
The scion of the Mendou fortune started, his hairs standing on end on his hearing that shrill laugh. He looked around. "Who . . .?!"
A blur of red and green whipped past his face. Mendou cried out as his eyes automatically snapped shut. His sword hand then squeezed on empty air! "What the . . .?!" He looked at his hand, and then he bolted up, wildly looking around. "WHO TOOK MY SWORD AWAY?!" he shrieked.
More of that mocking laughter from his left. He turned, glancing at the top of a nearby telephone pole. Standing there was a caped figure resembling a French musketeer, with a green knee-length skirt, a red pleated cape, a silver feathered hat, brown calf-length lace boots and a mask covering her face. In her hand was his katana. "Looking for this, oh vile villain of villains?!"
"WHO ARE YOU?!" Mendou wailed, overwhelmed on hearing this mysterious stranger call HIM of all people a "vile villain of villains."
"Aaaah! It's the Bishoojo Kaitou Clover!" Kaho cried out.
Mendou barely picked that up. He then screamed out to his driver, "Catch her! Summon the Kuromegane at once to capture this thief!" He then reached into his pocket, and then he blinked on feeling nothing there. "EH?!"
"Looking for this, perchance?!"
Mendou looked up, and then he cried on seeing the Lady Clover hold up his cell phone in her other hand. "Hear this well, beast!" she declared as she pointed at him with the hand holding his katana. "I ACCUSE YOU, SIR!"
He paled, eyes as wide as saucers as the shock of this moment froze him in place. "Ac-c-c-cuse . . . m-m-me . . .?" he sputtered.
"Yes! Hear my words and know the full level of your villainy against the innocents of Tomobiki!" she thundered. "Know this! I, the Bishoojo Kaitou Clover, sworn defender of the weak and oppressed, eternal foe of the rich and selfish, know ALL your deeds! How YOU lusted after an alien, an ONI, when she clearly desired you not! How YOU harassed and bullied an innocent man because the Oni you so lusted for desired HIS love, not YOURS! How YOU played with the hearts of HUNDREDS of maidens when you were bound by giri to marry yet ANOTHER innocent maiden! How YOU have brought anger, misery and endless disruptions to the lives of all of Tomobiki as you prosecuted your selfish goals! I ACCUSE YOU, SIR, OF ALL THAT! AND I FIND YOU GUILTY! GUILTY! GUILTY!"
Before Mendou could find it within himself to respond, a surge of women from the local high schools surrounded his command car, all of them glaring at the Lady Clover. "WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TO ACCUSE OUR MENDOU-SAN OF BEING A CRIMINAL?!" Ogin demanded, she pointing back at the caped woman. "Who the hell are YOU to STEAL from our Mendou-san, you bitch?! How dare you . . .?!"
A gust of wind slammed into Ogin's gut, sending her flying into Mendou's car. "Ogin-san!" he screamed, and then he paled as the air before the Rosebuds crackled, morphing into a familiar crimson-haired woman. "SAOTOME!" he gasped. Instantly realizing Ranma was standing against him, Mendou roared, drawing a spare katana from a hidden compartment. Leaping out, he charged . . .
He then went flying! "MENDOU-SAN!" the Rosebuds screamed in horror on seeing their icon disappear, and then they spun on Ranma.
Only to see a young girl in a blue hoop skirt and petticoat staring at them, eyes wide and tearing in fright. "Kusun!" Aria burbled, her feelings for these bad women who threatened her Nii-ya, her Nee-ya and Yotsuba as clear as crystal. "Kusun! Kusun! KUSUN! KUSUN! KUSUN!"
That last cry echoed like a thunderclap throughout Tomobiki. Within seconds, an ominous rumble shook the streets, causing the Rosebuds to look around in confusion. That didn't save them from the large group of worried mothers, who literally ran them right into the asphalt as they crowded around Aria! The young Parisian gazed around confusedly. Then on hearing several of the people around them ask, "Are you alright, dear?! Did those mean girls hurt you?!" she relaxed, basking in the attention she was receiving.
Standing on the telephone pole, the Lady Clover watched this, and then she slipped off her mask. Yotsuba leapt to the ground. Making her way around the crowd fawning over Aria, she tossed Mendou's sword and phone into the car. "When you see that jerk, tell him this." She gave the driver the evil eye. "If he tries to hurt Ani-chama again, he'll get WORSE! Understood?!"
"H-h-hai!" the driver sputtered.
Yotsuba nodded, taking off her cape as she used her own Combat Clothing Transform Whirlwind to switch back to her normal clothes, and then she headed back to the road-train to rejoin her family. Ranma was there, standing by the stairs leading into the passenger compartment. "I take it Negako taught Yotsuba how to switch clothes like that," she commented.
"She did," Ataru replied. "Yotsuba came up with the 'Bishoojo Kaitou Clover' thing after seeing the Errol Flynn Robin Hood one too many times. By the way, where'd you get the megaphone to amplify Aria-chan's crying?"
"Mendou's car. You wouldn't BELIEVE the amount of stuff he's got crammed into that thing." Ranma shook her head as the crowd around Aria finally dispersed, allowing the young Parisian to re-join her siblings.
Aria daintily made her way to the stairs. "Nee-ya, Nii-ya, did Nee-ya and Nii-ya like what Aria did?" she asked.
Ataru flashed her an "OK." "Oscar performance, Aria-chan!"
"Got that right!" Ranma leapt into the passenger compartment, and then she reached down to help Aria up. "Hey, driver, let's go!"
"Wait! Where're Onee-sama and Chikage-chan?!" Sakuya called out.
"We're right here, Sakuya-chan."
Everyone screamed on seeing Chikage and Negako relaxing in their seats, the former enjoying a can of ice tea while the latter seem to doze. "So where did you go?" Rinrin demanded as the driver guided the road-train toward Nerima.
"Do you hear helicopters now, Rinrin-chan?" Chikage asked.
People glanced outside. "What did you do?" Ataru asked.
The grandmaster and the sorceress exchanged a look and giggle. That response sent sweat drops pouring down the others' hair.
* * *
"How -- is this -- POSSIBLE?!"
A drenched Mendou, just treated by one of the clan's first-aid teams, stared at the pile of wrecked helicopter and tank parts on the lawn before the mansion. He was fortunate; he had landed in one of the swimming pools after experiencing the Rising Dragon Ascension for the very first time. The tank and helicopter crews were teleported back to the estate by Chikage when Negako destroyed their mounts. Ryooko then walked up to him, bringing with her a note that had been tied to one of the Leopards' cannons. "I highly suggest you better read this before you decide to play with your toys again, Onii-san." She handed it to her brother, a mischievously delighted smile crossing her face. "It appears to me that Moroboshi-sama no longer wants to play with you."
Hearing that, Mendou snatched the note to read:
Today was a warning. Next time, it will be for REAL.
Leave Ataru and Ranma alone from now on.
Lum's feelings for Ataru are no longer relevant in this matter.
Neither are yours.
Moroboshi Negako
Mendou shuddered before screaming out, "CURSE YOU, MOROBOSHI!"
Ryooko shook her head. "You are such a fool, Onii-san."
* * *
"Feeling a little better, Ran-san?"
Ran nodded. "Yes, I am." She was currently in her bedroom, a cold compress on her head. Though her skin was still quite clammy, she looked much better than she did when the Crossing Over began. "Just trying to meditate. I'd think the Crossing Over'd be easier than this . . . "
"Well, your Crossing Over is quite unique." Yamada softly cackled as he gazed on his scanner. "As you might now be able to sense, Lum-san is progressing well. Both of you should be on your feet by tonight."
"Wonderful . . . " Ran closed her eyes, and then she started on sensing something odd about her home. "Darling was here, wasn't he?"
The doctor paused, unsure as to how to respond. That response might as well have been a white flag to the Seishin-Urusian-turned-Nendo-kata/Terran. "He WAS here? But why . . .?" Ran stared wearily at him. "He said . . . "
Yamada sighed. "Yes, Ran-san, I know. Forgive me, but I've no WORDS to describe what I saw late last night. But . . . " He paused as he marshalled his thoughts. He knew Nendo-kata did not telepathically pry on other sentient beings unless they felt it was VERY necessary. "He was able to help you endure the Crossing Over with greater ease, Ran-san," the doctor finally stated.
Ran considered that. "He did . . .?"
"Yes. And he asked you one thing."
"To take care of Lum-san. He . . . " Yamada paused before lowering his eyes. "He learned of the abuse you endured thanks to your mother when you were a child. In fact, his exact words were, 'Now we have something in common.'"
Ran returned to gazing at the deckhead as she absorbed the doctor's words. "Darling . . . " she whispered. "Oh, Darling . . . "
"There appears to be much more going on with Ataru-san than any of us first suspected, Ran-san," Yamada warned.
"I know of some of it," Ran said as her eyes then glowed, the telltale sign of her telepathic powers going fully active. "Eh . . .?"
"Is there someone here?"
"Six at the front gate . . . " Ran concentrated. Her eyes then widened before a groan escaped her. "Oh, Blessed Mother, not THEM!"
Yamada looked ready to panic. "What?!"
"The Church of Lum . . . " Ran grumbled, reaching for her forehead.
* * *
"Are they both in there, Yukimi?"
"Yes, I can sense them clearly now." Yukimi's eyes were narrow as she used her empathic powers to scan Ran's scoutship. "Ran-sama is in her bedroom. Lum-sama's in the swimming pool, I think. And there's a third . . . "
Footsteps. "Hello . . .! Oh, Miruko-chan, is that you?!"
"Hi!" Miruko waved as Shinobu and Ryuunosuke came up. "Look who's back!" The crippled girl indicated the alien starship.
Ryuunosuke crossed her arms. "You aren't mad about that, are you?"
Miruko shook her head as one of her hands grasped Yukimi's. "Not really. In fact, you might say Lum, in a way, helped me meet my girlfriend," she explained as she glanced up at the wavy-haired, golden brown-eyed Avalonian.
Shinobu's eyebrow arched. She knew of Miruko's gender preference and how that had ultimately led to the estrangement with her parents. She also knew Kitahara Yukimi, having met her in passing, though she did not really know the older woman. From the start, Yukimi always struck her as being something of a gypsy, what with her flowery headscarves and flowing clothes. "Really?"
"Really." Miruko chuckled, gazing fondly at her lover. "Do you want to tell her this or do you want me to do it, love?"
Yukimi wriggled her eyebrows. "As you see best, Beloved."
"What're you talking about?!" Ryuunosuke wondered. "What's with these people? Are they aliens or something like that?"
The very tall girl in the halter-top, striped shorts and high-heel boots nodded. "We are, Ryuunosuke-sama."
Shinobu and Ryuunosuke exchanged a look. Everyone then tensed on feeling a strange, moist warmth flood them from head to toe. They are that, guys.
"Ran?!" Shinobu looked wildly around before she relaxed on remembering what Doctor Yamada told her last night about the Nendo-kata.
The motherly looking newcomer started. "Ran-sama?! But . . .?!"
Never mind! the Seishin-turned-Nendo-kata/Terran's voice sounded like brittle ice. She then seemed to relax. Remember what Darling told you guys yesterday about the Church of Lum? she asked Shinobu and Ryuunosuke.
"What about it?" Ryuunosuke asked.
Meet their agents. Ran sighed. All but Miruko-chan. However . . .
She paused, humming. "We're not Niphentaxians," Yukimi finished.
"But they aren't Terrans, either," Miruko added before cupping her mouth with a hand as she lowered her voice conspiratorially. "I think we'd better take this inside to ensure no one overhears us, ne?" she warned.
The others nodded.
* * *
"Everyone, okaeri ne!" Chigaiko stepped out of the kitchen as everyone streamed into the old shrine. "How was your vacation?"
"Much better than expected." Ataru slipped off his shoes before he carried his bags into his bedroom. "No problems here?"
"No, but that China girl who wants to marry Ranma-san here called this morning, wondering when her 'Airen' will be back," Chigaiko reported before she looked sympathetically at Ranma. "I pity you, Ranma-san."
Ranma tried not to look nauseous. "She'll be dealt with . . . "
Everyone started on hearing the doorbell. "Who's that?" Mamoru asked as she opened the door to see an officious-looking gentleman there. Another, younger and looking like salaryman, stood behind him. "Hai, can I help you?"
The older man gracefully bowed to them. "I'm sorry for coming so soon, young lady. Are Saotome Ranma and Moroboshi Ataru here?"
"Your Honour, you're just in time!" Ataru hailed as he waved Ranma up. "Ranma, this is Judge Nozawa Kyuusuke of the Court of Special Appeals. He's the man who got Muchi and Kinshou off my back. I assume you must be . . . "
He gazed on the other visitor. "From the Family Registrar? Yes, I am, Moroboshi-san," he confirmed with a polite bow.
Ranma nodded, accepting the man's business card. "Pleased."
"We just got back from Oomure-jima, Your Honour." Ataru waved them inside. "Shirayuki-chan, we need some tea made up real quick!"
"Hai desu no!" Shirayuki called out as she headed to the kitchen.
* * *
"Hai, Shinobu-san, they are that!" Yamada lowered his scanner. "Quite similar to Terran norm -- in fact, I'd swear they were templated off normal Terrans -- but there are some distinct differences in their DNA."
"Including empathy, right?" Ryuunosuke wondered before she blinked as a smiling Tamako handed her a cup of tea. "Er, thanks!"
"My pleasure, Ryuunosuke-sama," the tomboyish Avalonian replied.
A sweat drop flowed down Ryuunosuke's hair at Tamako's show of formality towards her. "Not to mention touch-telepathy, different than the broadcast telepathy Nendo-kata use," Yamada added. "I never knew the Niphentaxians had advanced that far in bio-genetic engineering."
"They haven't," Yukimi reported. "Eighty years ago, explorers came to Phentax Twelve and discovered a bioroid factory left there by an extinct race from beyond the edge of the galaxy known as the Sagussans. The bioroids -- our people . . . " She indicated herself, and then Tamako, Namie, Hiro and Kanami. "Address ourselves as a whole as 'Avalonians.'"
Ran, who had been carried down by Ryuunosuke so she could join the others in the living room, sneered. "Stolen technology, you mean."
Kanami shrugged. "In a sense."
"You don't seem to be too angry about this," Shinobu noted.
"Why should we?" Namie wondered. "Were it not for Lum-sama, we would not exist. At least, not exist in this format." She pointed to herself in emphasis. "As Avalonians come these days, we are very lucky in that we've been allowed to live outside the Union's territory, free from any oversight by our 'creators.' Granted, it would be very ideal for all of our kind to be free of the Niphentaxians, but . . . " She shrugged.
"Well, with three billion of Lum-chan's so-called 'worshippers' now dead, you just might get the chance," Ran ruefully lamented.
Ryuunosuke gazed on her, the others paling on hearing the number of dead their host just quoted. "What does that mean?" she demanded.
"Yesterday, Benten called and told us that some awful calamity befell the Church of Lum a couple weeks ago. It . . . " The Seishin-turned-Nendo-kata shuddered. Oh, Mother, how could she explain what happened without making Shinobu and Ryuunosuke believe that Ataru deliberately instigated what happened in Lumukyou? "It was an event that, according to one of Benten's friends, claimed the lives of those who were 'hard-core' supporters of the Church. The type who would have killed Darling at first sight, in other words."
Shinobu blanched. "Three billion . . . "
Ryuunosuke tried not to gag on her bile as the sheer SCALE of what Ran just described to them sank in. "Oh, fuck!"
Ran nodded. "Hai. Much that I, even before the Crossing Over, wished they'd all get a life, I wouldn't wish THAT on them!"
Yukimi shook her head. "Nor would we. Ran-sama, we know that given the dire straits your people must be in thanks to the Noukiites -- not to mention you and Lum-sama merging with the noble spirits who came to help you yesterday afternoon -- the chances of you and Lum-sama returning home to Uru are very slim to nonexistent. Please, would you two consent to live with my sisters, Miruko and I at our apartment block? Sooner or later, someone like the monster who blew up the school on Monday'll notice this ship's back, and then decide to press on their warped goals against you. Do you want to really deal with that, even with the powers you've now been given?"
Yamada nodded. "Yukimi-san has a point. Even if the Great School has dedicated itself to promoting Unity between all the Schools, there are those who WOULD view what you and Lum-san are as a vile threat to their worldviews."
"It would be the smart thing to do," Shinobu agreed.
Ran gazed on them for a moment before nodding. "Alright, we'll consider it. But we best get in contact with Jay and Kay to tell them what's happening. Though they sometimes annoyed me, the MiB have the better interests of all, Terran and non-Terran, at heart. Oh . . . "
She winced, feeling her forehead. "I think you better get back to bed, Ran." Ryuunosuke moved to her side. "Here . . . "
Kanami rose to help. "I can do that, Ryuunosuke-sama."
"Nah, it's cool! I'll be okay."
Kanami nodded. Ryuunosuke carried Ran to her bedroom. "Thanks, Ryuu-chan," the latter said as the former slipped her under the covers. "Hard to accept, aren't they?" she then wondered.
"Yeah, they are that." Ryuunosuke drew the blankets over her, and then she sighed. "Ya know, even with what Moroboshi said about them, haulin' out that book and all, I still found it hard to believe that there're people out there who actually WORSHIP us as living gods! I mean, what the heck did we do ta deserve somethin' like THAT happenin' to us, Ran?!"
"That why I don't waste brain cells trying to figure them out." Ran tittered as she drew the covers close to her. "Still, I have to admit, it is nice that Yukimi and her friends are here. Hard to believe someone in the Church got away with sending 'slaves' to Earth without Oogi finding out."
"What do you mean?"
Ran sneered. "Oogi, above all else, was a control fanatic. It's a miracle in itself, but there are Church sects that actually view Darling with kindness. Of course they couldn't be too open about it or else they'd have been branded 'heretics' and dealt with." She yawned. "Not that it matters, given that Darling's dealt with him . . . "
Ryuunosuke considered that before her eyes widened. "He was there?!"
"Moroboshi! He was there when this all happened, right?"
Ran gazed on the tomboy with a smile. "You always were a pretty smart one, Ryuu-chan." She reached over to squeeze her friend's arm. "Yes, Darling was there. In the middle of it, to be exact. He . . . " She paused.
Ryuunosuke stared at her before shaking her head. "He couldn't . . . "
"No, he didn't. Not according to what Benten passed on. And I'd think we all know Darling a lot better than THAT, Ryuu-chan."
"Yeah, ya gotta point."
"And that HAS to stay secret."
Ryuunosuke sighed. "'Cause of Shinobu, right?"
"And a few others, too. Especially if there're other Church agents still active here in Tomobiki. The chances are VERY good that there're some out there now. After all, how was it that they were able to get copies of all our diaries to write the Book of Lum?" Ran grimaced. "I wish I could figure out HOW they were able to do that!" She then slowly nodded. "And yes, Shinobu, too. Please don't think that I hate her, Ryuu-chan. She's got many good qualities. But one of her more apparent bad qualities is how she sometimes views people more as personal property than as equals."
"Like Moroboshi?"
A tired nod. "Especially Darling. I noticed it a lot when I watched them. Lum-chan let Darling get away with more than what Shinobu ever did. Did you think that, in the wake of all that, Darling would continue to care for Shinobu in the same way he cared for Lum-chan?"
Ryuunosuke shook her head. "Not really. But still, Shinobu-chan's got some really strong feelings for Moroboshi, even now . . . "
Ran gazed at her visitor before her eyes narrowed. "You saw them too, didn't you?" she asked. "Darling's half-sisters?!"
"'Half-sisters?!'" Ryuunosuke gasped. "What're ya talking about?!"
Ran ordered Mister Big Screen -- her deck-to-deckhead tele-video monitor -- on, and then she linked into her ship's memory banks. Three holo-images appeared. Ryuunosuke recognized two, telling Ran about hers and Shinobu's encounter with Ataru, Sakuya and Chikage on Friday after the memorial service to Megane and the others. Hearing of Ran and Lum's encounter with Sakuya, Chikage and Haruka after the gang's meeting with Ataru and Negako at the Mendou mansion, Ryuunosuke shuddered. "Shit! How'd Lum take that?!"
"Not good," Ran said.
* * *
"So how are things with Lum and Ran?"
Negako smiled. "Progressing." She and Ataru were in the kitchen, while Judge Nozawa and the registrar, Sakagami Tetsuo, were busy with Ranma, Sakuya and Chikage -- the elder of Ataru's half-sisters acting on behalf of the Moroboshi Clan -- in the living room. Toshiko and Kumiko, along with Tendou Kimiko, came shortly after the judge and the registrar arrived to join in on the discussions since the mirror-twins would join Ranma as part of the Saotome family of Oomure-jima. "It appears the Church of Lum dispatched five Avalonian agents to be ready to take the place of Aisuru and his cohorts. They are with Lum and Ran, as is a local girl who became lovers with one of them."
Ataru blinked in surprise. "Avalonians?! But I thought that no Avalonian was to ever leave Niphentaxian sovereign territory!"
Negako peered toward Tomobiki. "It appears these five were created by one of the 'pro-Darling' sects of the Church." A pause as she scanned them further. "And they know no one in the 'normal' Church hierarchy knows of their existence, so they have incentive to 'play it safe.'"
"Really? We'll keep an eye on them, then."
Both glanced at Chikage. "His Honour and Sakagami-san would like to see you. Ane-kun's mother and aunt just came, too."
They headed into the living room. Sakuya was greeting Nodoka, her twin sister and another smartly dressed woman with briefcase. No doubt, that was Nodoka's lawyer. "Mrs. Saotome, it's good to see you again!" Ataru hailed as he joined his sister to greet Nodoka. He then waved to Ranma. "As you can see, he came back to you safe and sound."
Nodoka smiled. "I never doubted it for a moment. And I'm grateful that your family has been so willing to help my son in his time of need."
She then proceeded to introduce Hisayo and Maya. Once that was done, everyone formed a circle in the middle of the living room. Ranma sat across from Judge Nozawa, she flanked by Ataru and Sakuya. The justice of the Court of Special Appeals took a breath. "Saotome-san, it surprises me that you never reported any of this to the proper authorities." He indicated the folder thick with affidavits and other testimonials concerning Genma.
"I'm sorry, Your Honour. Until very recently -- about seven weeks ago -- I neither knew the full extent of Genma's actions on my 'behalf' . . . " Ranma's voice dripped with scorn at that word. "Much less believed that I could simply sidestep my 'obligations' and seek legal redress against those who desire to press one sort of claim or another on myself. It wasn't until I met Kamekichi Tampopo that I learned that I ultimately HAD that right, Your Honour. If I realized that much earlier, I would've . . . " She fell silent.
The judge nodded. "I see. Ranma, it will take some time for me to review all of this. But from what I've seen so far, I'd gladly issue an injunction today that would temporarily eradicate all obligations you may have to all the parties mentioned here." He indicated the folder. "By next Wednesday, I can have a full review of this matter completed, and then render a full judgement in that case. Do you wish that to happen?"
Ranma stared at him before she nodded. "Yes, I do."
"Very well, then. Mrs. Saotome, it has come to my attention that you are now seeking a divorce from your husband. Is this correct?"
"It is, Your Honour," Maya spoke up on her client's behalf.
"You're her lawyer?"
"Yes, sir." She handed him a business card.
He examined it. "Thank you, Nishiki-san. Mrs. Saotome, understand this now: The pledge your husband signed on his and Ranma's behalf eleven years ago no longer has any legal standing. Further, any attempt by you or your birth-family to force him into any agreement -- familiar, commercial or otherwise -- without Ranma's VOLUNTARY consent AND witnessed in the presence of Kamekichi Tampopo; Grandmaster Moroboshi Negako of the Moroboshi-Hana Saikoo Jinseijitsu Ninjutsu-ryuu; the Matriarch-in-Waiting of the Moroboshi Clan, Sukeyama Sakuya; the Second Matriarch-in-Waiting of the Moroboshi Clan, Hirosaki Chikage; or the Patriarch-in-Waiting of the Moroboshi Clan, Moroboshi Ataru . . . " He paused. "Will have no legal standing. Do you understand this clearly, Mrs. Saotome?"
He stared at Nodoka. She bowed. "Yes, Your Honour, I do."
"Good. Please make VERY sure that your family understands that as well, madam. Certain people have raised questions about your father's ultimate motives towards bringing Ranma into the Asagaya Clan. The Grandmaster here . . . " He indicated Negako. "Was one of them. If it turns out that your father's desire towards Ranma is ultimately to Ranma's physical or emotional detriment, it will be stopped. Is THAT understood?"
Nodoka gazed at him before nodding again. "I understand, Your Honour."
Hisayo placed a hand on Nodoka's shoulder. "Good," the judge said as he nodded before he took a deep breath. "I am sorry it had to come to this. Ranma's situation is very unusual. And because of that uniqueness, the court which I serve as justice is perfectly suited to deal with this matter."
Nodoka nodded. "I understand, sir. I'm grateful that my son will be able to live his life under his control. I . . . " She looked at Ranma. "For a long time, I allowed my husband's foolish ideas of a 'man above men' to direct my every action concerning you, Ranma. I can't BEGIN to beg your forgiveness for the pain you've endured because of that." She then gazed on Sakuya and Ataru. "And again, Sukeyama-hime, Moroboshi-dono, I cannot thank your family enough for stepping in to help when my son needed you."
Sakuya nodded. "It was our pleasure, ma'am."
"Your Honour, may I get copies of that file?" Maya asked.
"Here." Ranma drew out a file like the one the judge had. "We anticipated you wanting something like this to help Mom divorce that jerk."
She handed it to the lawyer. "Thanks."
"Will Ranma have to testify at the hearing, Nishiki-san?" Judge Nozawa asked. "Who's presiding over your case?"
"Judge Mizuko Shimako of the Tokyo Family Court, sir."
"Ah!" The judge nodded. "I'll send a message to her about this matter. Do you believe Ranma will be needed to testify?"
"I believe not, but if necessary, I can contact you about it."
"Please do so."
Ranma smirked. "Chances are you'll win hands down, Mom."
"What do you mean by that?" Nodoka asked.
"Do you really think the panda'll show up for the trial?"
Judge Nozawa blinked. "Ranma, do you believe that man is a potential flight risk in case criminal charges are raised against him?"
Ranma sighed. "Yes, Your Honour, I'm more than sure. If there's one thing Genma's capable of doing, it's running away. I . . . " She paused. "Two days ago, a friend of ours . . . " -- she nodded to Kimiko -- " . . . with Negako-san's help, erased from his mind the knowledge of two very devastating martial art forms Genma could use to stay free of the law. It won't make things easier for the police, though. That's one of the things I've always been concerned about when questions about police come up. If they intervened, especially against some of the martial artists or other creatures I've dealt with, they would've been slaughtered. I won't have that, not at all."
"What do you propose then?" the judge asked.
"What has to happen, sir, is that Genma has to be deprived of all LEGITIMACY," Ranma explained. "Part of that will be done by yourself and the honourable registrar here." She indicated Sakagami Tetsuo. "Part of that will be done by the grandmaster of my old martial arts school, when he strips Genma of his teaching license. Part of that will be done by Mom here because even though he technically runs our family doojou, Mom is the owner of the property that doojou stands on. And she happens to have the doojou sign right with her now. Ne, Mom?" She grinned as Nodoka produced a wooden sign faded with age, but clearly marked MUSABETSU KAKUTOU-RYUU - SAOTOME DOOJOU.
The judge nodded. "I see. What of your father's Jusenkyou curse?"
"Easily dealt with."
Eyes locked on Negako. "What do you mean, Onee-sama?" Sakuya asked.
"There is a variation of the soulsword that can be used: The Fire Scythe of Death. When it comes to a victim of Zhòuquán-xiang, all that happens is the cursed form is severed from the birth form. They would live as two beings."
Ranma nodded. "Oh, you mean like that magical burner Jijii has!"
Negako nodded. "The same idea."
Ataru grinned. "So one part of Genma could never again hide as a panda while the other half gets tossed into the zoo."
"In a sense. What more likely will happen is that Genma's soul will remain in his birth form while a copy of the soul of the panda who drowned in Xióngmaoniquàn all those years ago will take full control of his cursed form."
"So he won't be able to hide behind that?" Judge Nozawa nodded. "Very well, then. I'll have an arrest warrant sent to the National Police Agency later today. By tonight, Saotome Genma will be a very wanted man."
Ranma bowed thankfully. "That's all I can ask, Your Honour."
Nodoka handed the doojou sign to her child. Pausing for a moment, she drew up the bundle containing the clan honour blade, moving to hand it to Ranma. Seeing what she was doing, Ranma shook her head. "I don't need that."
Nodoka stopped. "Why not?"
"First, it reminds me of what kept us separated for so long. And second . . . " Ranma then grinned. "Someone like you needs something to help protect you from all sorts of evil jerks out there, ne?" She winked at Nodoka.
'Including a certain deadbeat husband who is about to have the whole world come crashing down on his head,' Nodoka interpreted the underlying meaning behind Ranma's words. "Understandable." She embraced her before moving back to her place in the circle, she holding the blade close to her.
"Well, if that's all you need me for, I best get back to the office and get warrants drafted." The judge rose and turned to head out. "Sakagami-san, I leave the rest of this matter in your more-than-capable hands."
"Of course, Your Honour." The registrar nodded as everyone rose, bowing thankfully to the judge as he departed.
* * *
Genma stared wide-eyed at Souun. Both were alone in the sitting room. "The doojou sign!" the latter sobbed. "Kumiko told us Ranma said he'd refuse a challenge from Akane-chan unless we put up our doojou sign!"
Genma slammed his fist into the table. "He can't demand that!"
"But he'll refuse to fight Akane-chan if we don't!"
"How about dropping this once and for all?!"
Both spun around to see Nabiki standing by the door, arms crossed. "No!" Souun shook his head. "The schools MUST be joined!"
Genma nodded. "Indeed! And they WILL be joined even if I have to drag that fool boy back here beaten and bloodied to a pulp!"
"Oh?" Nabiki smirked. "You are such a stupid idiot, Uncle!"
"Nabiki, how dare you speak to our guest . . .?!" Souun demanded.
Instant Niagara Falls. "WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! Nabiki just yelled at me! WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! She hates me!"
Nabiki ignored Souun's caterwauling as she glared at Genma. "Do you really think Ranma-kun's going to let you pull that garbage on him now, after all the things he, Toshiko, Kumiko and Kimiko've done to you since this began?!" Her voice was as thick as molasses in its faux sweetness. "Besides, why are you panicking so much about OUR doojou sign, Uncle? After all, what's to stop Ranma-kun from destroying YOUR doojou sign?! I'm sure it's still there even if the doojou itself got wrecked by Ukyou, Shampoo and Kodachi!"
Genma paled. "What . . .?"
Nabiki's grin grew wider. "Why not? Ranma-kun is now a student of Saikoo Jinseijitsu Ninjutsu-ryuu under Negako-san's tutelage. Ojii-chan approved of that just after Ranma-kun met Ataru-kun, remember? You haven't had a chance to train anyone else in your school since you founded it, have you? And do you really think that Ranma-kun's going to give you a chance to teach a new student before he calls the law down on your head?!"
"What are you talking about?!" Souun demanded.
Nabiki glared at him. "What I'm talking about, Dad, is the fact that while Ranma-kun was off on his trip that produced Ukyou's yatai, someone was VERY busy investigating ALL of us! ESPECIALLY your 'friend.'" She indicated Genma. "As to who was behind it, I don't have a name, but I'll lay a VERY strong bet that someone was the very same person who helped Ranma-kun get the jobs that allowed him to send those cheques to us . . . "
"Then you must find the name of this person so we may punish him for his interfering with our agreement!" Souun asserted.
She shook her head. "No can do, Dad. This person investigated ALL of us, remember? If I tried to go after this person, what's to stop him or her from nailing me with extortion and child pornography charges?" A hiss then entered her voice. "You remember that, don't you? All the things I had to do to keep this house over our heads because YOU were lazy about teaching new classes, much less allowing THIS bastard to nearly eat us out of house and home?!" She indicated Genma again before turning away. "Tough luck, Uncle. Ranma-kun's made pretty damn sure you can't freeload off ANYONE ever again."
She headed off. "Nabiki . . .!" Souun then turned to Genma. "Saotome-kun, how could your son do this to us . . .?"
Genma stood up. "I have to go."
"Wha . . .?!"
"Nabiki may have a good point about the boy going after my doojou sign," Genma warned. "I'll be back soon, Tendou-kun!"
He raced off. "Saotome-kun," Souun whispered.
* * *
Rinrin smiled. "So this is it, huh?"
Ranma nodded, gazing at the beautiful hanko in her hand. Written on a circlet around the shadowed image of the Stargazer Park statue was the phrase KANAGAWA-KEN ODAWARA-SHI OOMURE-CHOU SAOTOME-KAZOKU. The official seal of the Saotome Clan of Oomure-jima, residents of the city of Odawara in Kanagawa prefecture. "Yeah, this is it!" She shuddered. As head of the new family, the hanko was Ranma's by right, though she had an arrangement with Sakagami Tetsuo to ensure that if anything happened to her, the hanko would pass into Toshiko's possession as the next-oldest sibling. Once it was properly registered with the civil district office on Promised Island, it was legal.
Even better, Toshiko and Kumiko had a greater sense of legitimacy over their lives. After the registrar opened the book for her new family, Ranma welcomed Toshiko and Kumiko as adopted sisters. She would have to prepare a will to ensure the mirror-twins would get her mortal possessions in case she died before having children, but that would come at a future date. Right now, all they had to do was await Judge Nozawa's indictment against Genma and Ranma could finally put Nerima and its troubles behind her.
"You better put that somewhere safe, Onee-chan," Karen warned. "Even if your baka father can't make himself invisible now, if he gets his hands on that hanko, who knows WHAT sort of trouble he can cause."
"Good point." Ranma then turned to Chikage, she holding out the hanko. "And who better to trust this with than a person who'd give Elder Kelun an industrial-strength case of the willies . . . hey!"
The "hey" came thanks to Cologne's walking cane tapping the back of her head. "I heard that, 'son-in-law,'" the Nujiézú elder, perched on Rinrin's shoulder, said with a smirk, a mischievous sparkle twinkling in her eyes.
Everyone laughed. Ranma flustered. "Sorry, Hibaa-chan!"
Silence fell, and then Cologne's eyes softened. "So, it has happened," she whispered, gently feeling Ranma's face. "To believe this particular power of Zhòuquán-xiang has eluded even OUR knowledge for all those years."
"From what I've learned of Zhòuquán-xiang, Elder, those of your tribe who've been afflicted in that manner have chosen to flee rather than face persecution from their clansmen." Chikage took the hanko from Ranma and slipped it into her blazer pocket. "Still, some news might have percolated to your ancestors. If not, then how did the Blood Sibling Law come into effect?"
Cologne nodded. "A good point, young lady. I take it, Ranma, you've been told about that particular law."
"I have. Chikage told me." Ranma indicated the sorceress. "If I am deemed worthy of it, I will gladly become blood-sisters with Shan if that is what is needed to allow her to return to the bosom of her family with her honour and standing intact. And if I am allowed to exercise my rights as that law dictates, I will . . . " She paused before shaking her head. "Not force your great-granddaughter into another marriage. After all my experiences, Hibaa-chan, I don't want to put Shan through anything like that."
"I can agree to that." Cologne then blinked as a gloved hand gently touched her cheek. "What . . .?" She stared curiously at Aria.
The young Parisian smiled before she kissed the elder's forehead. "Hibaa-ya is very, very, very sad that Nee-ya is not a boy anymore," she said. "There's no need to be sad, Hibaa-ya. Nee-ya loves Hibaa-ya very much."
She walked away. Rinrin blinked. "But how . . .?"
"I thought she couldn't accept me as a boy," Ranma muttered.
"That one has something of an enchantment on her," Cologne warned.
"A tree-spirit spent time with her some weeks before Christmas," Chikage explained. "They are very close friends, Elder."
"A tree-spirit?!" The Nujiézú elder spun on the sorceress before she breathed out, "Oh, yes! I keep forgetting it IS Promised Island we're talking about here! It has been some time since I was last there!"
The others laughed, and then they jolted as a bullet slammed into Ranma's chest. "HOT-CHA! You did it, didn't you?!"
"Happy!" Cologne moaned.
More laughter as Ranma pried the grandmaster of Musabetsu Kakutou-ryuu from her. "Jeez, Jijii! Ya didn't need to squeeze me THAT hard!" she panted, allowing him to drop to the floor before she felt her chest.
"Oh, don't be so shy, Ranma-chan! Give your old master a hug!" Happoosai cooed before lunging again for Ranma ample bust.
He landed on target, his eyes widening as that pained sob froze him. He gazed on Aria. "Kusun!" the young Parisian sobbed again, tears brimming in her eyes. "Kusun!" The sisters shuddered as they backed off. "Kusun!"
Happoosai gulped, quickly leaping up to Ranma's shoulder as he waved his hands frantically at the young girl. "Now, now, dear, d-d-don't cry!" he sputtered. "Please don't cry! I was just having fun with R-Ranma here!"
Realizing he wasn't going to win this one, Happoosai quickly flipped to the shoulder of the nearest girl to Ranma. He relaxed as Aria seemed to calm down, and then a shudder shook his body as an icy chill warped around him from head to toe. Turning left, he gazed directly into Chikage's dark eyes. The young sorceress was NOT amused. "What are you doing on MY shoulder?"
Happoosai screamed, vaulting into Negako's arms as the grandmaster stepped in from the living room. "Happy, when are you EVER going to learn how to control yourself?" she wondered as she allowed her friend to relax.
Rinrin shook her head. "Aneki sure has some strange friends."
More laughter echoed through the kitchen. Ranma turned to Happoosai. "So how are things back with the panda and his friend, Jijii?"
"They are not pleased at all." The aged grandmaster drew his pipe, and then he lit it. A quick glance around the room to ensure Aria was nowhere in sight before he relaxed. "I assume you got your doojou sign with you?"
She drew it out. "Right here."
He took it, shaking his head on noting the weathering the sign had taken. "Stupid idiot," he muttered as he turned the sign around, tapping a point near the top. A door opened, revealing a slender compartment bearing an envelope. Taking that, Happoosai handed the sign to Ranma before he opened the envelope. Looking at what was written there, he sighed. "Foolish place to hide this."
Yotsuba leaned in to take her own look with her spyglass. "This is his teaching license, isn't it? Why'd he hide it in the doojou sign?"
"Actually, my dear, I put it in here when I made this sign for Genma just before he helped Souun seal me in that cave. I did the same thing for Souun." He shook his head. "To believe they failed so badly . . . "
"Their children have all the potential in the world," Cologne noted.
Happoosai nodded. "Hai, Cologne-chan, they do."
Seeing him now, Ranma was suddenly struck by how old the man before her really was. "It is not all over yet, Happy," Negako mused.
"What do you mean, Negako-chan?"
"As Kelun just stated, their children DO have potential." Negako indicated Ranma. "Ranma is exploring the limits of her potential. So have Toshiko and Kumiko since they were set free of that compact. Nabiki is rediscovering hers. Akane will do the same if she continues to make use of the Densetsu no Doogi. Kimiko has her own potential if she desires to explore it, as does Kasumi. And there are your other students, those who are not directly affiliated with Genma or Souun. The only way for it to be 'all over' is for them to stop doing what they are doing. Do you envision that happening?"
Happoosai considered that before he smiled. "You have a point, Negako-chan." He then handed the sign back to Ranma. "You might want to hang onto that, Ranma-chan. Who knows when you might need it again!"
Ranma smirked. "If I think of starting up my own doojou, Jijii, I'll carve a new one." She slipped the doojou sign somewhere safe, and then took a deep breath. "Well, I best get ready for tonight's fun at the school."
"Come with me, Ranma." Negako waved her outside, allowing Happoosai to place himself on the kitchen counter before departing.
Ranma followed her out. The others watched her go. Chikage hummed as she reached into her blazer to draw out a tarot card. Death. The sorceress' eyes narrowed, and then she sensed Cologne gazing at it. "You best prepare your great-granddaughter, Elder Kelun," she warned. "Tonight is not going to be a pleasant night for anyone, even Ane-kun."
The Nujiézú elder nodded. "Good point."
As she departed, a distant look appeared in Chikage's eyes.
* * *
Darling . . .
Ran's eyes opened as she sat up. Her body moved more easily now, though a chorus of painful dings continued to dance the Macarena around her joints. "Lum-chan?" She glanced around the bedroom before she stood up with a grunt.
"Huhn . . . it done now . . .?"
She looked to the couch beside Mister Big Screen to see Ryuunosuke stretching herself from a couple hours' nap. Watching the gentle shift of every one of the tomboy's well-honed muscles, Ran's eyes sparkled as a surge of arousal bubbled deep within her. Sweet Blessed Mother, she's beautiful! Her cheeks flamed before she quickly calmed herself. No! Damn it, given the amount of mindless garbage Ryuunosuke had to endure since she was a baby, making any suggestions, no matter how subtle, toward forming THAT sort of intimate relationship with the tomboy would hurt her far more than help!
Still, she COULD dream . . .
"No, not yet." Ran walked over to help Ryuunosuke up. "But Lum-chan's drifting in and out of consciousness. Feels like she's undergone Psi-Unity. It's just a matter of time. You want something to eat? You look hungry."
"I can use a bite," Ryuunosuke smiled her thanks, and then she found herself gazing deeply into Ran's evergreen eyes. "Ran . . . "
Time seemed to stand still for them. Then, without understanding why she suddenly wanted to do this, Ryuunosuke leaned down to gently caress the alien teen's lips with her own. Ran's eyes widened in shock. They then softened as the warm tidal wave of feeling bursting from that contact surged right into her brain. They gazed into each other's eyes for another eternity. Ryuunosuke's cheeks then flamed as her brain caught up to her heart. "Ah . . .!"
A gulp. "Um . . . ah, s-sorry about th-that . . . "
"Please, Ryuu-chan, don't apologize." Ran placed a hand on her friend's cheek. "I really liked that. You're a good kisser."
"Ah . . . w-well, you s-see . . . " She stopped, blinking. "I am?"
"Hai." Ran took a step back as she gave her guest a knowing look. "Yamada-sensei told you about the -- uniqueness of the Great School. I'll have to live with that uniqueness for the rest of my life. I won't disguise it, either. To do that would mean that I'm ashamed of what I am. And I'm certainly not ashamed of THAT. Not one bit," she admitted with a serene smile.
Ryuunosuke considered that, and then she stepped up to Ran. She reached over to grasp the other woman's hands. They stared into the other's eyes. Ryuunosuke then leaned down to give Ran a chaste kiss. They pulled apart, and then Ryuunosuke smiled. "You won't be alone. I . . . " She shrugged. "You're my friend. Regardless of what happened before, I . . . " She paused again before giving Ran's hands a squeeze. "I want us to be friends. And if we become something more . . . " She shrugged once more. "Then we do."
"I'll hold you up to it." Ran playfully winked before turning as footsteps heralded the coming of Namie to the bedroom. "Yes?"
"Forgive me for interrupting, Ran-sama, but Shinobu-sama just came back from a brief shopping trip," the bioroid announced with a smile. "She brought with her Marubeya Momoe-sama with some news concerning Lum-sama's Darling."
Ran and Ryuunosuke nodded as they followed Namie to the living room. There, Hiro was serving Shinobu and Momoe tea. Both looked up as their schoolmates came down to join them. "Welcome back to Earth, Ran-san." Momoe nodded pleasantly to her host as Ran and Ryuunosuke sat down. "Though I have to warn you now that your presence in Tomobiki these days won't be as enjoyable as it might have been when you lived here before."
Ran nodded. "I've already sensed that, Momoe-san. Thank you."
Ran never got the chance to know any of Mendou's female fans; during the previous school year, she had been assigned to Class 2-7 while Mendou, Momoe, Shinobu, Ryuunosuke and the others were in Class 2-4. Since her primary focus living in Tomobiki was fixed on Lum, events centred on Mendou didn't bother her. From what she could sense of Momoe, Ran knew she cared deeply for Mendou as well as her small circle of friends. There was also a powerful surge of hate within her, but it wasn't focused on Ran. Most likely, that was reserved for Lum; most girls at Tomobiki High not so long ago fervently believed that if Lum hadn't been interested in Ataru, she'd have scooped up Mendou in a New York minute. "I take it Shinobu told you who else came back with me."
"I've been told," Momoe said with a shake of her head. Anger tried to swell forth, but something dampened it. Curiosity? Confusion? "I was told of what's happening to you and Lum. I find it so hard to believe that there's this race out there that DOES this sort of thing."
"We've done it for a hundred millennia, Momoe-san. No one's yet to complain about our desire to help others," Ran stated with a chuckle before she nodded thanks as Hiro came up to hand her a cup of tea.
"How long before Lum comes out?" Shinobu asked.
Ran glanced in the direction of the swimming pool, her eyes glowing. "A few more hours. By eight o'clock at the earliest. Things like this can't be rushed." She turned to Momoe. "What else brings you here today?"
"Some news from earlier concerning Mendou-san and Ataru-kun."
She explained. The others listened, surprise appearing on many of their faces as they heard how easily Ataru, his sisters and Ranma had dealt with Mendou and the Rosebuds. Ran remained relaxed, using her empathy to pick out how Shinobu, Ryuunosuke and Momoe, not to mention the Avalonians effectively standing in for Megane and his friends, reacted.
As questions started to fly, Ran focused on Shinobu. Ataru's ex-girlfriend was dismayed, no doubt at Moroboshi Muchi's infidelity to his wife. There was also concern and trepidation. That was understandable; Ataru had spent a considerable amount of time with those girls ever since he departed Tomobiki. Given what his feelings might have been like when he finally left Tomobiki -- if what his words yesterday reflected his true feelings, his actions toward Ran late last night notwithstanding -- Shinobu believed those girls probably thought the worst of their brother's old associates.
A glance to Ryuunosuke revealed a sense of envy. Ran understood that. To go from being the only child of a broken, emotionally hollow home to suddenly having a family of twelve loving, caring sisters -- thirteen if one counted Negako -- would probably make anyone like Fujinami Ryuunosuke VERY happy. And there was concern, even worry, for Shinobu as well, Ran noted. Given that woman's mixed feelings toward her former boyfriend, what could happen if Shinobu should ever directly meet any of Ataru's sisters? Would those sisters allow Shinobu to get close to their brother again? Or force her away? If that happened, how would Shinobu herself react to it?
Now to Momoe. That woman was a nexus of fear, anger and confusion when it came to Ataru's sisters. Momoe's anger at them was quite simple for Ran to understand. If what happened that morning continued to play out, it would ultimately drive Mendou to seek violent redress against Ataru. And in that realization laid the heart of Momoe's fear: If those girls were hurt, what WOULD Ataru do to Mendou in return? As for the confusion . . .? Ran tried not to groan. Oh, Sweet Blessed Mother, how could she be so STUPID? Did she really, truthfully believe that EVERY teenage girl on Earth would automatically reject Moroboshi Ataru because he once chased girls?
"What do you think, Ran?" Shinobu asked.
Ran started before relaxing herself. "I see no problem here."
"What does that mean?" Momoe demanded.
"Simple. People in this town have deluded themselves a LOT when it comes to Darling. Do you honestly think that he lived ONLY to chase girls? Of course not. But until his memories were repaired from what his 'mother' did to him, he had no means to pursue other interests. He got the chance thanks to Negako-san. They leave Tomobiki. Along the way, they meet these other sisters. Darling had a family again, one willing to give him a chance, a chance no one here EVER gave him." She focused on Shinobu. "Yes, Shinobu, that not only includes you, but Lum-chan as well. So why SHOULDN'T Darling get defensive if anyone from here tries to probe into his personal business? As far as he's concerned, no one in Tomobiki HAS that right. And if they disagree . . . " She shrugged. "Look what happened to Shuutarou and the Rosebuds."
Momoe's eyes narrowed. "There's something you're not telling us."
"Yes, there is . . . "
She gave them a replay of the encounter between her and Lum and Sakuya, Chikage and Haruka. Ryuunosuke cut in to remind Shinobu who Sakuya and Chikage were. At the end, the others in the room were thoughtfully silent. "So because his clan is run as a matriarchy, this Sakuya girl is seen as the new Matriarch of the whole family. And because of that, she has final say toward who Ataru-kun'll marry? Not his parents?" Momoe asked. "And that would override anything Ataru-kun's parents might've said because the leadership of the clan is passed on from grandmother to granddaughter?"
"That's unbelievable," Narumi Miruko spoke up for the first time.
Ran smiled. "Not really, Miruko-chan. Where I come from -- my Nendo-kata side, that is -- that would be seen as quite normal."
"Sounds like those Chinese Amazons from Nerima I've heard about a lot," Shinobu mused. "So what do we do?"
"Make sure they don't hurt us again," Momoe muttered.
Ran stared at her. "And why would they?"
"Why not?! Mendou-san's not going to live what happened today down! He's going to keep going after Ataru-kun again and again . . .!" Tears brimmed her eyes as she started to deflate on herself. "Until . . .!"
Her voice faded. She then jolted on feeling comforting hands on her shoulders. Momoe looked around to see Kanami gazing at her. The former blinked, and then she tried to smile as she gave one of the bioroid's hands a thankful squeeze. "Momoe-san, why do you care so much for Mendou?" Ran wondered, crossing her arms. "Don't you know that he's now engaged to marry someone else? What happens when he does get married? What will you or any of your friends do then? You can't keep pining for him, you know."
Momoe quaked before she muttered, "You never gave up on Rei-san!"
Shinobu and Ryuunosuke winced. Ran remained calm as she replied, "No, I didn't. Because I didn't, I'll be mourning Rei for a while to come."
"What . . .?" Momoe rasped. As realization dawned, she looked away.
Gazing concernedly at the silent woman, Kanami then turned to Ran. Ran-sama, I'll walk her home, she telepathically transmitted. Momoe-sama needs a chance to think over what she's learned today.
Ran closed her eyes to hide their glow as she responded, Make sure she does nothing against Darling or his family, Kanami-chan.
Hai, I understand.
Wordlessly, Kanami helped Momoe to her feet, and then she walked her out of the room. The others watched her go. Yukimi then stared at Ran. "Ran-sama, what do we do now? Lum-sama still cares a lot for Ataru-sama . . . "
Ran nodded. "I know. But do NOTHING to him or any of his sisters, Yukimi. That goes for the rest of you." She focused on each of the other bioroids to make her point. "I know you feel your first duty is to Lum-chan, but trying to pigeonhole Darling into something he doesn't want is going to cause a lot of pain. I won't tolerate that, especially now!"
"Hai," the others nodded.
As the bioroids turned back to their own business, Ran beckoned Shinobu and Ryuunosuke to the pool. Stepping in, Ran telekinetically locked the door. Yamada was currently at the side of the pool, his scanner out as he monitored Lum. Gazing at the squid-like shape in the deep end, both Terrans noted the birthing sac on the side of the Nendo-kata's body. Within that, there floated a nearly adult figure, clearly female. "Man, she'll be a knockout when she comes outta that finally," Ryuunosuke noted.
Shinobu smirked. "All the boys are going to be pretty disappointed once they learn she can only mate with another woman."
"Couldja imagine what Megane'd say if he ever saw this?"
Shinobu considered that before she screamed out in a plausible Megane imitation, "IT'S A TRAGEDY!" Laughter then filled the room; even Yamada cackled on hearing that. Then Shinobu quickly sobered, her cheeks flaming. "I can't believe I just DID something like that!"
"He's now in the Black Ocean, Shinobu," Ran reminded her. "He wouldn't really care about that sort of thing anymore."
"Is that what you believe?"
Ran nodded, gazing on the growing humanoid form in the pool. "It is. In a way -- if you want to be pessimistic about this -- the Ran you knew is gone now, as is the Lum . . . and as is the Moroboshi Ataru we all knew before."
Shinobu shook her head. "I don't want to think that."
"You may not have a choice now, Shinobu," Ryuunosuke warned.
"But . . . "
"She's right, Shinobu," Ran affirmed, gazing once more on the "new" Lum. "And Lum-chan's going to have to realize that as well."
No . . .
All three jolted as that weak voice echoed in their minds. "Lum?!"
No . . .! that voice moaned. I'll never -- stop loving Darling!
Shinobu's eyes softened. "Lum . . . "
* * *
"Damn it! It's not here!"
Genma gazed frantically around the ruins of the doojou he had called his own since he and Nodoka married. The building had not been touched by the repair crews since before the incident on Mount Phoenix. That had not bothered Genma until today. The Tendou doojou was still intact and usable. And the agreement between himself and Souun DID stipulate that Ranma and Akane would live and work at the Tendou doojou. But . . .!
"What are you doing here, Genma?"
The shiing! of a drawn katana made him leap to safety. Nodoka's cutting thrust missed his feet by inches as he landed some distance away. Scanning the area around his wife, Genma quickly noticed the presence of two other people. Asagaya Hisayo was one, someone Genma despised as much as he did his father-in-law, Isao. The other woman was Nodoka's lawyer, someone whose name Genma didn't know. "This is my house and doojou, Nodoka!" he snarled. "I have every right to be here! Now, where is my doojou sign?!"
"Your house?" Nodoka snorted. "Your doojou? Don't be so quick to assume that, Genma. As for that worthless sign, I gave it to Ranma. I'm sure my son will find use for it soon enough! As part of a fire!"
Genma shuddered, and then he perked on hearing a bemused snicker echo from somewhere behind him. "My, are WE the stupid one today?!"
He turned. "Boy . . .!"
His stomach was then caved in, making him double over. The air near Genma fizzled. "Lucky thing for all of us that I came out this way just in case you decided to do something REALLY stupid today!" Toshiko smirked. "Not that it's going to really matter in a few hours anyway."
Genma groaned before he suddenly lunged. Toshiko back-flipped clear, landing on the ground near the doojou entrance. "KIJIN RAISHUU DAN!" she bellowed, sending a storm of vacuum blades at the Yamasen-ken's creator.
Genma dodged that attack, ducking behind a cloud of shattered wood and flung-up dirt as he moved to charge Nodoka. His wife didn't see Genma in time before his fist slammed into the side of her skull, the force of the blow sending her flying into Hisayo. Nodoka's katana dropped to the ground as the sisters collapsed. The sword and its scabbard were both snared by Genma before he vanished. "Nodoka! Hisayo!" Maya screamed as she races to her client's side, drawing out a cell phone to call an ambulance and the police.
Watching this, Toshiko grinned before she vanished under the screen of the Goshin Buufu. Once she was masked, she proceeded to a nearby cull-de-sac before going visible again. Drawing out her own cell phone, she made a call. The other end was quick to respond. "Negako."
"It's me," Toshiko reported.
* * *
"Damn it . . .!"
Genma tried not to shudder as he secluded himself under a bridge over the Shakujii River close to Kasuga-chou. Calmly sheathing the sword, he took several deep breaths to replenish the oxygen in his body. Once relaxed, he adjusted his glasses, mentally running over what he had just been through over the last while. Hell, since that meeting over four weeks ago when he tried to put matters concerning his and his family's future on the right track.
Unseen, an invisible hand reached out to tap several shiatsu points on the head and back. Genma gargled before he passed out, the katana clattering to the ground. A second later, the air behind him fizzled, revealing Kumiko.
"You'll keep for now."
* * *
"Oh, guys . . .!"
Ranma gazed mistily at the uniform the sisters just presented her. For junior high and high school students at Stargazer West College, the girls' standard winter uniform was a white shirt and tie covered by a red button dress, which was topped by a beige button jacket. The school crest was emblazoned on the left upper arm. Elementary school and kindergarten girls wore a simple beige, tent-like sailor suit. For boys, the uniform was a beige jacket and chestnut-brown trousers, that worn over a white shirt and tie. "School for us doesn't start until next Monday, Onee-chan," Karen explained. "Even if you want to go to Fuurinkan for the next week, you won't miss much."
Sakuya pointed to Ranma's heart. "Would they force you to wear the girl's uniform if you're 'stuck' this way, Onee-sama?" she asked.
"Nah, they didn't bother when I was locked because of the Chiisui-ton or the Cat's Tongue. 'Sides, even if I do go to school, I got Doc Toofuu's chit to 'cover' me." Ranma picked up the Stargazer West uniform, she holding it close to her. "Well, I better put this somewhere safe."
Ranma stopped. "Hai, Sakuya-chan, what is it?"
The eldest sister wagged a warning finger. "When you and Onii-sama get back to the Island, I'm DEFINITELY taking you shopping!"
Sweat-drop, eyebrow twitch. "Is that a threat?"
Laughter filled the living room as Ranma scooped up her uniform before heading to her bedroom. Placing that somewhere safe, she headed out, and then she stopped on seeing Inu Chigaiko standing in her way. "Chigaiko . . .?"
The slender Tomobiki native's eyes were misty. "Is this true?"
Ranma blinked. Ataru had gone for a walk with his old classmate while Negako was teaching Ranma the Shihi Oogama modification to the soulsword. No doubt, he told her things she, the only girl in Tomobiki who cared unconditionally for Ataru, really would not want to know. "Yes."
Chigaiko considered that before looking down. "I . . . " she began before she took a breath to calm herself. "I love him, you know."
"Well, you're one up on me, then."
The other woman gazed on her, surprised by the attempted show of humour. She then asked, "Do you want to love him?"
Silence falls as Ranma considered that, and then she crossed her arms. "Right now, I'm not worried about that. I got more important things on my mind. It doesn't mean I wouldn't shy away from wanting a relationship with him if he wants it. But . . . " She then shrugged.
"I see." Chigaiko lowered her head. "Maybe I should go."
"What the hell for?!"
That response surprised her. "But Ataru-kun said . . .!"
"I know what he must've told you, Chigaiko. But why the HELL do you wanna go back to a place where nobody remembers your name, treats you like you were part of the furniture, you have no friends and all the memories you have of that place are bad ones?" Ranma demanded. "Why the hell do you think Ataru left that place? Why do you think I want to finally put Fuurinkan behind me?"
Chigaiko considered that before she sighed, shaking her head. "I can't shut my feelings off, Ranma-san. It's not that simple . . . "
"I know. I just spent the last ten weeks trying to come to terms with my feelings for those people who said they 'cared' for me."
"They're not going to understand what you've just been through."
"I know."
They stared at each other, and then Ranma squeezed the other girl's shoulder as she gave her a pleading look. "Don't go back to Tomobiki. Hell, if you want, come live with us on the Island when we go there. You ARE Ataru's friend and I don't want to take that away from him. Please?"
"I . . . " Chigaiko blinked before she nodded. "Okay, I'll stay."
Both gazed on Karen, who had just come up from the sitting room. "Gomen nasai, Onee-chan, but it's a little after six," she warned. "Don't you want something to eat before you go to the school to deal with those people?"
Ranma nodded. "Good point."
She passed Chigaiko as she headed to the kitchen. The latter watched her go, and then she looked nowhere in particular. "Be careful."
* * *
"Uncle hasn't come back yet?"
Akane shook her head. "No sign of him." She and Nabiki were relaxing at the sitting room table, having just finished supper. The younger Tendou had the Densetsu no Doogi on. "I guess Ranma's dealt with him already."
Nabiki sipped her tea. "Probably."
Kasumi then stepped into the room, a wrapped object in hand. Noting the size and shape, her sisters were both quick to deduce what it was. "Make sure you take that with you when you go meet Ranma-kun," Kasumi instructed.
Akane trembled. "Onee-chan . . . "
"No. You heard what Kumiko-chan said. If we refuse to acknowledge Ranma-kun's wishes, ESPECIALLY now, we dishonour ourselves."
Akane considered that. She then took the doojou sign in hand before the sisters were surprised by Souun asking, "What are you doing?!"
They gazed on him. The look on his face reflected his current mood. "Doing what Ranma wants us to do," Akane said as she stood, tucking the sign under one arm as she moved to leave. "Isn't that the HONOURABLE thing to do?"
He advanced on her. "You put that right back . . .!"
Before Souun could finish, Akane's fist smashed into his jaw, sending him into the koi pond. "Dou-chan!" Akane gasped as the Doogi let go of her hand, she giving her father a look. Fortunately, the strike only stunned him. "Don't do that, alright!" she then scolded the sentient battlesuit.
A stretch of cloth raised a sign. [SORRY.]
"Let's go, sis." Nabiki finished her tea before standing up. "We'll be back in a couple of hours, Onee-chan."
"Be careful," Kasumi said as they went. A chill then warped through her as she gazed on the table. "Such a pity," she quietly lamented.
* * *
"Hibaa-chan, it's time, isn't it?"
Cologne glanced at the wall clock. "Yes, child, it's time."
Shampoo grunted, brushing her sleeves as she reached for her bonbori and butterfly swords. "I'll bring Airen back," she assured the elder in Mandarin as she stowed her weapons on herself, and then she glanced at the cage holding a transformed Mousse. "Thank you for keeping him out of my way," she added.
"It's quite alright, Shan." Cologne sagely nodded. "But remember, this situation is very fluid. Trust in your training, child."
Shampoo nodded. "I will."
After the door closed behind her, Cologne hopped down to let Mousse out. "Give her ten minutes, and then follow her discretely."
The duck waddled out, nodding thanks as he flew upstairs to get some hot water and access his weapons. The elder watched him go with a smile. "You wished for a long time to win Shan's heart, Mùsi," she said, switching to English. "Tonight, your chances can improve greatly if you don't let your mindless passions override your common sense."
Shaking her head, she headed to the kitchen.
* * *
"Heading off to see Saotome-sama, Mistress?"
"Yes." Kodachi collected her gear. "Hopefully by the end of today, a clear road will stretch between myself and Ranma-sama's heart!"
"Do be careful, Mistress," Sasuke warned, raising a finger in emphasis. "Saotome-sama did insist that all his other would-be suitors be present."
"I'm aware of that."
Kodachi sprang clear of the Kunou mansion, and then she took to the rooftops towards Fuurinkan High. The martial arts rhythmic gymnast tried not to cackle as the wind whipped past her. While she had no legal claim on Ranma, the fact that there existed a permanent estrangement between him and his fool father made things MUCH easier. Once Genma was out of the way, Tendou Akane's and Kuonji Ukyou's claims would be made meaningless. And it only would take a call to the Interior Ministry to see that Chinese barbarian sent packing.
With that done . . .!
* * *
"So Ranma's gonna be here to deal with all his fiancées, huh?!"
"That's what Sempai thinks." Takuichi Daikun, one of the seniors in the kendou club, gazed on the front lawn of the school. In the middle of the path between the front gates and the front door, a lone figure stood, bokken ready. Almost all of the other members of the Horde had gone home; Daikun and his companion were about to leave themselves. "Though he was being weirder than usual about what's going on with Saotome! Said somethin' about that crazy mirror-clone of his tellin' Sempai Ranma was dead."
"Man, is Sempai EVER gonna figure that out?!" Koriko Nagao wondered.
Daikun shook his head. "Search me, man."
* * *
"Something in the air . . . "
Ono Toofuu frowned as he gazed on the darkening sky. He had been in the process of closing up his shop when he sensed -- well, SOMETHING unnatural in the air over Nerima. What was it? It didn't seem to be any typical ki or mana signature he was familiar with -- and after studying under an archmage like Hirosaki Ryuuji, he knew a LOT! -- so what was it?
And why did he have this awful sense of FOREBODING?
What was going to happen?
* * *
"Uhnn . . . "
Genma's eyes fluttered as he slowly picked himself off the ground under the bridge. Glancing around, he was shocked to see that the sun had long since set. Snaring the clan sword, he stepped into the open, scanning around for an outdoor clock to get the time. Just his luck, a digital timepiece hung in the window of a nearby store. Seeing the time, he paled.
"Seven-forty . . .!"
No! In twenty minutes, the boy would . . .!
Grunting, he leapt for the nearest fence-line and raced off.
* * *
"Kunou-kun, what are you doing here?"
"Ah, Ninomiya-sensei, a pleasant evening to you." Kunou nodded sagely as Ninomiya Hinako, in her child's body, stepped out the front doors of the school. "I was called here by the pig-tailed girl concerning the final fate of Saotome Ranma. According to the lovely Toshiko, one of the lovely pig-tailed one's mirror-clones, Saotome is said to be dead."
Hinako stopped, staring quizzically at the kendou-ka. "Are you sure about that? We haven't received any notification of the sort."
"Ah, that seems understandable, Sensei." Kunou chuckled. "You know how slow the government bureaucracy can be at times."
"True." She then started on hearing someone laughing. "Who . . .?"
A storm of rose pedals showered the ground around Kunou. "A good evening to you, Sensei!" Kodachi hailed as she landed some distance from her brother, and then she dramatically bowed to Hinako. "I see we're the first ones here."
"It appears we are, sister." Kunou nodded before he tensed.
"What the hell're you guys doing here?!"
"Kuonji-kun!" Hinako turned as Ukyou came up, followed by Nabiki and Akane. "Tendou-kun?! How many people are coming today?"
"Might be quite a few, Sensei." Nabiki looked around, and then she perked on hearing a bicycle bell. "And there's Shampoo . . .!"
"Nihao!" Shampoo landed on the walkway, hopping off her bike as she scanned around. "Where's Airen?! He said he'd be here!"
Akane glared hotly at the warrior-maiden. "Why'd he invite you?!"
"This one wonders why Airen invited you!" Shampoo retorted. "This one knows he said he no longer wants anything to do with you . . .!"
Ukyou moved to moderate. "Girls, that's enough! Ran-chan's got something important to tell us! There's no need for a fight!"
The other suitors glared at the chef. "What does a servant girl like you know?" Kodachi hissed. "As far as I know, Ranma-sama desired to treat us all equally and fairly." A sneer turned her lips. "Not that I'd consider any of you equal to myself, of course!" she then added.
"Hey!" the others snapped.
"That's enough!" Hinako drew out a five-yen coin. "There'll be no fighting on school grounds even if there are no classes on . . .!"
"Dad?!" Akane spun around as Souun stormed onto the property, a fretful look on his face. "What are you doing here?!"
"I'm here to take that back!" He pointed to the wrapped bundle in Akane's hand. "You have no need to bring th- . . .!"
Before he could finish, much less get his hands on the doojou sign, a glowing chain snared him by the legs. He was then flung toward the clock tower. Everyone cried out in shock as Souun kissed concrete, and then he dropped to the steps. "Tendou-san!" Hinako screamed.
Kunou looked around. "What was . . .?!"
"Aiyah! That was a psychic kusarigama attack!" Shampoo exclaimed.
"That's right."
Everyone spun around to look off to Kunou's right as someone stepped up, a glowing hook-chain-weight hanging off one hand. "Ranma!" Akane gasped.
"Ran-chan!" "Airen!" "Ranma-sama!" "Pig-tailed girl!" echoed from the others as they swarmed toward the redhead . . .
As she vanished, a wall of air slammed into her would-be suitors, sending them flying back to the walkway. Ranma reappeared some distance behind Akane, an annoyed look on her face. "Do I have your attention now?"
Ranma ducked as chains raced for her head. The Psychic Kusarigama flew. Mousse could not avoid it; he screamed out as it snared him by the neck. Ranma sent him into the walkway beside Nabiki. "Nice to see you, too, Mùsi."
She withdrew the ki-chain, allowing the energy to flow back into her. "We're here," Nabiki said. "What's this about, Ranma?"
Ranma's eyes narrowed. "We're not all here yet, Tendou-san."
She vanished behind the Umisen-ken cloak as a scream howled from the east. Genma slammed into the ground, his katana parting empty air. Before he could recover, an invisible fist smashed into his nose, sending him flying into the stonewall fencing the school property. As Genma dropped in a dazed heap on the ground, Ranma reappeared. "Pathetic," she hissed.
"What's he doing with your mom's katana?" Nabiki wondered.
"He attacked her at her house, looking for this." Ranma drew out the Saotome doojou sign from under her jersey, popping open the hidden hatch on the back. "Not to mention this." She then drew out the envelope contained within.
"What exactly IS that, pig-tailed one?!" Kunou asked.
"Glad you asked, Kunou-san." Ranma dropped the doojou sign as she drew out the license. "This's Oyaji's teaching license, given to him by Jijii to help him start the Saotome-ryuu. So . . . " She moved to rip it up. "Once this and the sign are destroyed, the Saotome-ryuu is no more . . . "
Ranma jumped clear as Souun lunged, his hands grasping for Genma's license. Before the Tendou patriarch could move to guard, a ki bolt slammed into the dirt beside him, sending him flying into a tree. As Souun slid to the ground, Ranma landed. "Stupid idiot!"
"Saotome-kun, you have no right to destroy that!" Hinako marched up, five-yen coin at the ready. "That is your father's . . .!"
"I have no father."
" . . . property . . .!" Hinako stopped. "What did you just say?"
Ranma reached into her tunic, drawing another envelope. Stuffing Genma's license into a pocket, she handed the new envelope to her teacher. Hinako opened it. Scanning the contents, she gaped. "Oh . . .!" She covered her mouth, and then she gazed on Ranma. "Saotome-kun, is this true?"
"It is." Ranma turned to the others. "As of noon today, I applied for and was given the right to form MY OWN branch of the Saotome Clan. I have renounced all familial ties with BOTH Saotome Genma AND Saotome Nodoka of Nerima. As of that moment, Saotome Ranma, son of Genma and Nodoka, ceased to exist. I am now Saotome Ranma of Odawara in Kanagawa-ken." A pause. "And I am an orphan. Because I am still under age, I am under the legal guardianship of Grandmaster Moroboshi Negako of the Moroboshi-Hana Saikoo Jinseijitsu Ninjutsu-ryuu, presently resident of Kasuga-chou in Nerima. None of you can use either Genma or Nodoka to get at me anymore."
Ranma waited for someone to say something, and then she turned to Akane and Nabiki. "Whatever claim your family has towards me is now null-and-void." To Ukyou. "The same applies to you." To Shampoo. "Given that our situation is unique, Shanpú, I will explain what will happen in your great-grandmother's company in the near future." To Mousse. "But that doesn't give you a free ticket to molest Shan like you did before." To the Kunous. "And no, I've no desire to have anything to do with you two. Not now, not EVER . . .!"
Ranma spun out of the way as Genma charged, the katana ripping close to her heart. The older martial artist spun around as he tried to cut off her legs. Ranma wheeled clear, sending a Mooko Takabisha at Genma. He dodged, and then he lunged toward Ranma. Hinako leapt in the way.
Genma howled in frustration as the ki-drain began, his hands letting go of the katana. Seeing the blade fly right at Hinako's face, Ranma lunged. The teacher was knocked clear as the katana buzzed past. The others watched Hinako fall, and then they turned back as the sword plunged through Ranma's chest, punching out the back to the left of her spine.
"RANMA!" Akane screamed.
Unseen by the combatants, a certain crucifix given to Ranma some days before touched the edge of the blade. As contact was made, the rose in the heart of the cross blossomed, a burst of brilliant light blinding everyone.
* * *
Chikage grimly nodded. "Yes . . .!"
* * *
Negako closes her eyes. "Perfect."
* * *
Cologne perked. "What was that?!"
* * *
Happoosai puffed his pipe. "You did it now, Genma!"
* * *
"Ranma . . .!"
Looking confusedly around his bedroom, Ataru stood. As a whispered metallic voice began to echo in his mind, he raced out the back door so that the sisters wouldn't notice his departure. Leaping for the nearest roof, Ataru then took off at a dead run toward Fuurinkan High . . .
* * *
Genma's vision was full of spots as he staggered to his feet. Before he could sense any danger, a hand covered in fur grabbed him by the throat. One hard toss later sent him back first into a cherry tree. Before he could slide down, something bracketed his shoulder joints to pin him in place. His hands, feet and legs were likewise nailed down. Dizzy from the impact, he closed his eyes as he tried to recover. "R-r-Ranma . . .?"
Blinking, he looked up to where he thought his son was . . .
And then he wished he hadn't looked at all.
"Nice try."
Standing before him was what should have been Saotome Ranma in female form. But Genma knew Ranma's female form didn't include golden fur covering her skin, a cat-like tail sticking out her back that ended in a diamond-shaped pad, cat-slit eyes, fanged canines, puffed cheeks sprouting a grove of whiskers, elegantly pointed ears tipped in black fur and large, bat-like wings sticking out of her shoulders. On her chest, the crucifix Chikage passed on to her through Ataru glowed softly. The katana that nearly skewered Ranma's heart was in this being's hand, no blood anywhere on the steel.
Gazing at this monstrosity from a safe distance away, the others were speechless. "Ranma-sama . . . " Kodachi whispered for them all.
"But no cigar," Ranma added, playfully waving the katana close to Genma's face, her voice ringing with the rumble of thunder mixed with a tiger's purr. The older martial artist winced as the blade flashed before his eyes, he turning away as he squeezed his eyes shut. A faux-pout turned her lips at the supposed lack of attention. "What's the matter? Aren't you happy to see what YOU created, Oyaji?!" she then mockingly asked.
"YOU MONSTER!" Kunou then roared, drawing his bokken as he prepared to strike this beast down. "RELEASE THE PIG-TAILED GIRL THIS INSTANT!"
He charged at Ranma's back as she swung around, the katana flying. That sliced through his bokken in a flash. Along with his neck! "TATEWAKI!" Nabiki shrieked in disbelief as Kunou's severed head flipped in mid-air before hitting the ground with a hollow, wet thud! His body collapsed right afterward. That sound was enough to make Genma's eyes snap open, they dropping at once to stare upon the corpse lying not two metres from him.
Before he could think of what to do, claw-tipped fingers tapped several places on his face. "Uh-uh!" Neko-Ranma shook her head. "You're not going to avoid seeing THIS, Oyaji! There's no escape for you THIS time!"
"Ranma, are you INSANE?!" Akane screamed as the others around her braced themselves for what might happen next. "He didn't . . .!"
"He didn't WHAT?!" the felinoid snapped as she loomed over Akane, the air around her ablaze with fiery rage. "Deserve what I just give him?! SO WHAT?! He always kept screaming at me 'Die, Saotome!' all the time! WHAT SHOULD I'VE DONE?! THE WORLD'S BETTER OFF WITHOUT HIM!"
"Dad, NO . . .!" Nabiki shrilled.
"SOUUN!" Genma screamed.
Everyone was frozen in place as Neko-Ranma used the claws of one hand to shred Souun's Demon Head. The katana slashed across at the same time, catching Souun in the abdomen. "TENDOU-SAN!" Hinako screamed as the winged felinoid wheeled around to deliver a stroke through his side, ripping him in half! As the severed parts of his body slumped to the dirt, Neko-Ranma's wings spread out, the blazing aura of ki surrounding her flaring.
"Just in case you get any ideas of leaving . . .!"
Energy lashed out to touch the four corners of the school property. In the wink of an eye, a large ki-dome formed, sealing off Fuurinkan High from the rest of Nerima. Watching this, everyone still standing shuffled closer together, their eyes locked on the monster who just struck two people down with the same nonchalance one might apply to swatting an annoying fly.
"Now . . .!" Neko-Ranma purred. "Where were we?"
* * *
"Toofuu-sensei, what IS that?!"
Toofuu shook his head. "I'm not too sure, Kasumi!" He and Kasumi had met two blocks from the school's front gate seconds before the strange energy dome was formed. "Energy unlike anything I've EVER seen before."
The chiropractor peered intently at it.
* * *
Neko-Ranma remained still, allowing the tip of her mother's katana to punch into the dirt, as Hinako's energy-absorption powers tried to absorb her fighting ki. "Oh, please!" The felinoid's lips twisted in a demonic approximation of Ranma's cocky grin. "I hardly feel that!"
Hinako screamed as she felt NOTHING coming at her. She then spun her coin on Mousse, who was closest to her. He cried as she drained his ki. Now in her adult body, Hinako spun on Neko-Ranma. "HAPPOU TSURISEN GAESHI!"
The felinoid held up a hand. "No thanks! I don't want that!"
The ki bolt slammed into the palm. Neko-Ranma curled her fingers to pool the energy into a spheroid. "Here, have it back!" She then grinned savagely as the ki ripped out, lancing right for the teacher's heart.
Ukyou moved to shove her clear. "Look out, Sensei!"
All the fiancées and Nabiki were then snared around their legs by spirit kusarigamas. As they were sent flying away from the hapless teacher, the ki bolt punched through her fifty-yen piece. She screamed as the energy flooded her system. Then, a mindless shriek stole her voice as even MORE ki, a virtual tsunami of energy, flowed relentlessly into her. Neko-Ranma smirked. "Here you go. I've got much, much more to spare . . . "
She then blinked in mock-surprise as Hinako's body exploded thanks to her cells becoming supersaturated with energy! As the area was showered with a fine reddish mist, Neko-Ranma covered her mouth. "Ooops! Overdid it!"
"Why, Ranma?"
She then turned to see Nabiki standing nearby. Reaching down to yank the Saotome honour blade from the ground, Neko-Ranma walked over to the still-weakened Mousse. "I'm doing to them what they long threatened to do to me, Tendou-san!" She raised the blade, and then she contemptuously slammed it into the back of his head. "I'm giving them a taste of what they've long wished to see happen to me!" She then twisted the blade to ensure that the weapons-master's brain was sufficiently shredded. As soon as his body stopped twitching, she pulled out the katana, and then she turned to face Nabiki. "Any reason I shouldn't be doing this?" An eyebrow arched amusedly.
Despite the calm look on the felinoid's face, Nabiki was quick to realize that this thing before her was in NO mood to be civil. And given what Neko-Ranma had just done to Kunou, her own father, Hinako and Mousse, she knew that any false step she made, any wrong word she said, could easily be her last. Hopefully, the others would recover fast enough so they could find some way to take this damned thing DOWN. "I can think of some."
Neko-Ranma crossed her arms. "Oh?"
* * *
"Uhnnn . . . " Nabiki blinked. "Where . . .?" she grunted, sitting up as she rubbed her eyes. "What the hell . . .?! Where am I . . .?"
All around her was white. Not the blinding white one might associate with staring into a noon sun. But a ghostly white, what one might find in a billowing cloud. Standing, Nabiki took an intense look around. Wait . . .! She could pick out darker elements in the bland scenery. And her feet were clearly pressing on something solid. What could it be? Kneeling, she reached down, running her hand at the level of her toes. Wait . . .! Was that . . .?
She had to still be on school property!
Standing, Nabiki straightened. Then, remembering nearly forgotten lessons about perceiving surrounding ki fields, she relaxed.
* * *
"Let me tell you what I think." Neko-Ranma placed the tip of her sword on a large rock. "I think the time has LONG since come for EVERY LAST idiot who's imposed himself, herself or itself on my life to finally understand what doing that will COST them! After all, Tendou-san, you don't allow people to take advantage of you without extracting a pretty steep penalty in return, ne? Why shouldn't I do that, then?!"
Nabiki shook her head. "It's not the same . . .!"
The felinoid's eyebrow arched. "'Not the same?!'"
One hand then lashed out, a psychic kusarigama leaping from the palm. A scream echoed from where that ki-chain went. Nabiki watched as a dazed Kodachi sailed through the air toward Neko-Ranma. "Take our local psycho-maniac gymnast here." The felinoid snared Kodachi by the neck, slamming the katana through her heart before ripping open her throat with her claws. "Assumed she's my fiancée when I made it VERY clear that I wanted nothing to do with her!" She allowed Kodachi to drop to the ground, and then she produced another kusarigama. "She poisons me, paralyses me, then has the utter GALL to presume that because she's of 'higher' birth, she could do whatever she wanted to do with me regardless of what my 'honour' demanded otherwise!"
The ki-chain flew off to Nabiki's left. The felinoid yanked back soon enough, this time producing Shampoo. "And speaking of people who think they've got the right to impose their worldview on me, let's talk about Miss Kitty here!" Neko-Ranma allowed the katana to impale the warrior-maiden through the forehead. With a yank, the felinoid ripped off the top of her skull, allowing the rest to drop to the ground beside Mousse. "Represents an 'advanced' culture that's survived on its own for three thousand years! Feh! One nuclear bomb'd wipe them out in the blink of an eye! Doubt all their magic'd help then!" She shrugged before gazing disparagingly at the fallen warrior-maiden. "And to believe I actually defended them from Saffron! Heh! Maybe I should've let them die! Best way to get rid of them, ne?!"
"R-Ran-chan . . .!"
Neko-Ranma turned to see a wobbly Ukyou emerge from the darkness, her battle spatula in hand. Snorting, the felinoid walked over to glare into the chef's eyes. "Friend or fiancée, U-chan? What'll it be?"
Ukyou shuddered before she shook her head. "You're not Ranma . . . "
In a flash of steel, Ukyou's head flew off her neck. Nabiki gulped helplessly as the okonomiyaki chef's headless body dropped to the ground, her head landing nearby. Still bound to the tree, Genma could do nothing but gaze in horror as the heartless beast that had been his child carried on its work. "Jeez! Ask a simple question and you get THIS crap!" Neko-Ranma shook her head as she turned. "There you are!" She crossed her arms on seeing Akane standing there. "So, 'friend,' what do you want?!" She smirked. "Think that cute little bunny suit'll save your ass THIS time, tomboy?!" A shake of the head. "And to actually believe I really wanted to WEAR that flimsy thing! Dear Fates, WHAT was I thinking?!" She turned away, shrugging.
Akane charged. Neko-Ranma faded from view. A thunderous "KONTOU!" then filled the air. Nabiki and Genma watched in horror as a blazing katana popped out of NOWHERE to punch through Akane's abdomen, psionically slicing the Densetsu no Doogi's buckle in half. The blade twisted around, and then it vertically "ripped" her in half from groin to head. A surprised scream bursting from her lips was instantly cut off as her very soul was shredded by the soulsword. As Akane dropped, Neko-Ranma dropped the Goshin Buufu cloak, dispersing the soulsword as her eyes fell on Nabiki. "She was supposed to be the 'heir' to your school?!" A snort. "Get real!"
"Actually . . . " Nabiki assumed a ready stance. "If you really want to know, Saotome, I'M the real heir of the Tendou-ryuu!"
They gazed on each other. Neko-Ranma then walked over to pick up the dropped Tendou doojou sign. Tapping the back of it, she popped open the small compartment, drawing out Souun's teaching license. "Is that a fact, huh?!" She held up the envelope, and then she used a ki ball to burn it. "Well, I guess it's your doojou now, Nabiki! Here, catch!"
She tossed the sign at the middle Tendou daughter. Nabiki caught it, and then she screamed as the Saotome blade punched through the wood -- and her heart! "Some heir." Neko-Ranma sneered as Nabiki looked in stunned disbelief at her before dropping lifelessly to the ground.
* * *
"Where are we, Dou-chan?!"
A small sign appeared hanging off Akane's left arm. [I CAN'T TELL.] The sign twirled around. [THIS IS SOMETHING I'VE NEVER EXPERIENCED BEFORE!] Another twirl. [HE'S BEEN DOING SOME REALLY STRANGE TRAINING, AKANE!]
"Yeah, but WHERE?!" Akane frantically looked around. She then blinked on seeing a human-shaped shadow pass by to her right. "Hey!"
She ran over to intercept it, and then Akane screamed out as the shadow faded into the cloudy white without a trace. "DAMN IT!"
* * *
"Wh-why . . .?"
Neko-Ranma perked, turning to see Genma staring blearily at her. Drool dripped from his mouth; his whole body was sagging as if Ninomiya Hinako had just nailed him with her ki drain. "Why?!" Genuine surprise appeared on the felinoid's face as she walked over to stand beside her father, waving to the corpses scattered across the lawn. "Well, isn't this what you wanted, Oyaji?!" She gazed intently into his eyes. "It IS what you wanted, after all! You . . . " She pointed at Genma. "Wanted ME . . . " She pointed to herself. "To be able to defeat and destroy anyone who faced me in a fight! Isn't that why you taught me the Neko-ken? Isn't that why you took me away from Mom? Isn't that why you never wanted me to have friends or know a normal life?" A hard edge appeared in her voice. "So I COULD be the best martial artist ever?! Isn't that what you REALLY wanted of me, Oyaji?!"
Genma shuddered, his eyes trying to turn away from the carnage. Not a muscle in his head or neck responded. "Well, then . . . " Neko-Ranma sighed, concentrating as a strange, icy fire seemed to consume her. Within seconds, she was back to normal. "I guess you just didn't meet up to my expectations, Oyaji." Her voice reverted to normal, though her eyes were still cat-slits. "Gee, isn't that just too bad."
She drew out a cell phone, dialling a number. A second later, a man's voice called back, "Toranoseishin Finances, Yumoa here."
"Reigi-san, it's Ranma."
"Yes, Ranma-san, can I help you?"
"Has Judge Nozawa put out the arrest warrant for Genma?"
"It went out two hours ago. In fact, the Nerima District Police Box got a call from Saotome Nodoka's lawyer sometime ago. Genma is wanted now for assault and battery on both Nodoka and her sister, Asagaya Hisayo."
"Is that a fact?" Ranma shook her head. "Stand by a moment."
"Hai, standing by."
* * *
"Stand back, Kasumi-san!" Ataru waved Kasumi away from the sealed gate of Fuurinkan High School, and then he touched the handles.
"Be careful, Ataru-kun!" Toofuu, who had been trying to analyse the energy field encompassing the school when Ataru came, warned.
"Relax, Ono-sensei! I know what this energy's about!" Ataru grunted before he relaxed himself as he tried to pull the doors apart.
* * *
"Well, Oyaji, what's it gonna be?"
Genma quaked as Ranma glared amusedly into his eyes. "Do I tell Reigi-san to get the police down here so they can haul your ass into jail? Make you face up to ALL the things you did? After all, during those weeks I was gone from Nerima, I had some friends do some research on the stuff you pulled during the trip you NEVER, even to the day of the wedding, bothered to tell me about!" She leaned into his face, snaring his full attention with those burning, slit eyes. "Does the name Asayama Yuuko sound familiar to you, Oyaji? How about Fujiki Sayuri? Or maybe Sasamoto Miwa, Sasamoto Narumi and Sasamoto Mizuho?! What the HELL was I supposed to be doing marrying TRIPLETS, Oyaji?!"
No answer. Ranma raised a hand. A sphere of ki appeared. With a fling of the hand, she sent it to the corpses littering the school grounds. In a flash and clouds of smoke, they vanished. "Or do I give you one last chance?"
"L-l-last ch-chance . . .?" Genma sputtered.
She nodded. "Oh, yes! You see, Oyaji, much that right now, I hate you, I can't deny for a minute that you did teach me some important things about martial arts. And life. And honour." A sarcastic grin crossed her face. "Especially where it concerned upholding promises made on that honour. Ne, Oyaji?" Her eyebrows wriggled. "All I have to do is call Reigi-san and tell him that you're not here. It might give you a few hours' head start to get out of the country. Say head to Korea or China, where the police can't catch you. After all, you stealing Mom's katana, not to mention hitting Mom and her sister, isn't going to go down well with a lot of people."
"Wh-what do I have to d-do . . .?" he asked in a stronger voice, though Ranma was quick to sense the truth behind his words. To Genma, anything looked better than facing what Ranma had just unleashed. "T-t-tell me . . .!"
"Well . . . " She glanced to the gate. "Just meet my new fiancé!" she gushed. "After all, all YOUR choices for my fiancées kinda . . . well, as Yotsuba-chan would say it, just took the Last Checky to Saint Peter's Gate." She waved to the empty lawn where there had lain nine corpses. "Not to mention them having all sorts of problems and all that!" She snorted. "So I felt it was time to choose my OWN fiancé. After all, a 'man above men' should have full freedom of choice when it comes to his wife, ne?"
He rapidly nodded. "Yes! Y-yes! Of c-course!"
"Fair enough, then," she said before sauntering to the gate.
* * *
"You bastard . . .!"
Nabiki's teeth gnashed as she gazed through the fog at the bound, sagging Genma. She had come to this point in this weird place a minute before. She was unable to overhear everything Genma and Ranma had said, but with her years of experience reading lips, she got the general point. Ranma had his father over the hot coals. One call to Yumoa Reigi -- Oh, yes! She knew who that man was! -- would see the lazy ass panda jailed once and for all.
So why the HELL was Ranma willing to give the fool one last chance?
Unless . . .
* * *
Ataru gritted his teeth. "I think I got it . . . "
The front gates opened. Before he could understand what was happening, Ataru was snared by his collar and yanked into the school grounds. "Ataru!" Toofuu moved to catch him, but nearly got his face smashed in when the gates closed up. "Ataru!" He grabbed the bars, moving to yank hard. They did not move. "Damn it!" he screamed out in frustration.
"Toofuu-sensei, wasn't that Ranma?!" Kasumi wondered.
"I . . .!" The chiropractor stopped, gazing nowhere in particular as he considered her question. "I'm really not sure, Kasumi."
* * *
"Hello, Ataru!"
"Ranm- . . . mmmfpht!" Ataru's voice was cut off as Ranma swamped him with the proverbial mother of all French kisses.
Stuck to the tree, Genma stared at his son -- his perfect martial artist, his own legacy, his icon of manliness (even if he was currently in a girl's body!) -- presently kissing another MAN! And not just any man, but one of the most girl-crazy teenage men ever to walk the face of the planet! And that was no friendly kiss, either! Finally, Ranma pulled away from a stupefied Ataru, and then she turned to gaze at Genma. "You failed, Oyaji. Completely, totally failed!" She looked up as Ataru seemed to recover. "Right, my love?"
He looked at her, and then he shuddered as something overcame him. His eyes closed, and then opened. His left eye glowed with a burning crimson fire. "You can say that, dear." A smirk twisted his lips. "So why haven't you killed this fool yet?" he then wondered, crossing his arms.
Ranma pulled away from him, closing her eyes as that icy fire returned. This time, it consumed Ranma and Ataru both. Once the fire faded, Neko-Ranma stood once more on the grounds of Fuurinkan High. Seeing that homicidal felinoid again sent a painful weight into Genma's stomach.
But the being standing beside Ranma . . .?!
HE was the stuff of nightmares!
* * *
Nabiki paled. "Kami-sama have mercy!"
* * *
"Okay! Get me to her, Dou-chan!"
* * *
Water exploded!
Yamada moved to help the brunette get out of the pool before she drowned in what had just been her native environment. "Lum-san!"
"N-no . . .!" Lum sputtered as the door to the poolroom opened, revealing Ran, Shinobu and Ryuunosuke. "N-no . . . D-DARLING . . .!"
* * *
A growl escaped Neko-Ranma as she glared towards Tomobiki. "NO!" she howled. "DON'T YOU DARE, ONI! HE'S MINE! HEAR ME?! MINE! MINE!"
The Cyborg sighed. "Ranma . . .!"
* * *
"Y-y-yeah . . . when Ranma-chan falls in love with someone, h- . . .!" Nabiki sputtered before spitting out, "She doesn't mess around!"
* * *
Lum looked up, her deep brown eyes glowing. She didn't sense the towels moving to wipe off the gestation fluid from her, much less the comforting hands of her friends squeezing her shoulders. "Y-y-yours . . .?!" she gasped.
* * *
"Yes!" Neko-Ranma snarled. "Mine!"
She slunk herself against the Cyborg, one of her clawed hands tracing the outline of the gunmetal-grey ascending phoenix insignia fused to the cybernetic right side of his chest. The finger traced down to the point where that symbol merged seamlessly into a golden cloth mirror version on his human left side. "And we have YOU to thank for this, Oyaji." She gazed on Genma. "Remember when you took me to Sendai? When you left me alone at our campsite when you tried to steal supplies from Ataru's uncle? Remember when you tried to take me from Ataru and Nokoko, who found me at our campsite, ALONE?!" Her voice took on a brittle edge. "Remember what happened next?!"
Genma paled. "N-no . . .!"
The felinoid peered at him, and then she snorted, looking at her half-machine soul-mate. "He doesn't remember. Typical, ne?"
"Hai, that it is!" The Cyborg shrugged before straightening himself. "Well, if it must be done, it must be done right."
Neko-Ranma pulled away from him as Ataru approached Genma. Stopping in front of him, the machine-man closed his good eye. Icy fire enveloped him, restoring him to normal. Almost normal; his left eye still glowed. "Saotome-san, I've a request of you," he then announced.
Genma stared blankly at him. Ataru looked tense. "Sir, having come to know your child over the last couple of weeks, may I . . .?" He paused dramatically, and then he finished, "May I ask for her hand in marriage?"
* * *
Sweat-drop, eyebrow twitch. "At least he's doing it right," Nabiki muttered before gasping on feeling a hand touch her. "Who . . .?!"
"There you are!" Akane breathed out. "Are you okay?!"
"Akane!" Nabiki felt a lump in her throat. She started on hearing her sister cry out in shock. "What . . .?" She turned to the image before them. "Oh, that!" She chuckled in embarrassment, rubbing the back of her head.
"WHAT HAPPENED TO RANMA?!" Akane shrieked.
A shrug. "Something to do with the Neko-ken, I guess."
* * *
"Marriage . . .?"
Spittle dripped from Genma's mouth as a laugh burst from him, he gazing maniacally at Ataru. "Marriage?! MARRIAGE?! WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?! I HAVE NO DAUGHTER! I HAVE NO SON! I HAVE NOTHING! NOTHING!"
Ataru blinked. "You've abandoned your child, then," he wondered. Seeing Genma readily nod, he shrugged. "Well, I guess you have to die."
That stopped Genma short. "'D-d-d-die' . . .?"
"Of course." Ataru turned away, an unwelcoming smile crossing his face before that cold fire came back. "After all, according to the laws of that land where my Other and I hail, those who willingly abandon their own flesh-and-blood -- those who KILL their child's happiness for their own greed -- must pay for their sin with their LIVES!" He gazed on Neko-Ranma. "Agreed?"
* * *
"What manner of beast IS that?!" Kunou hotly demanded; he had arrived ten seconds before. "What has he done to the pig-tailed one?!"
Akane's and Nabiki's elbows slammed into his head. "Shut up!"
"That, you had coming to you, Stick Boy!" Shampoo snapped.
* * *
"Agreed," the felinoid replied with a smirk before she allowed the cold fire to transform her. Unnoticed by anyone, the energy dome enclosing Fuurinkan High faded. Drawing out her cell-phone, she dialled a number.
"Toranoseishin Finances, Yumoa here," the other end answered.
"It's Ranma!" Ranma barked. "Genma's at Fuurinkan High! Get the police here right away! I don't think we can hold him down long!"
"Right away!"
The line was cut off. Ranma drew out the Saotome doojou sign. Walking to Genma, she stuffed that into his gi top. The teaching license then came out of her pocket to join the doojou sign. Ranma playfully tapped her father's cheek. "I won't be needing that anymore," she said with a smirk before stepping back as ki began to coalesce in her right hand.
A wave of ki leapt from the soulsword to cleave Genma from head to groin!
* * *
"Saotome-kun . . .!" Souun burbled.
* * *
A sonic boom shattered the windows of Fuurinkan High as the cherry tree Genma was bound to was instantly shredded. Two balls of energy billowed from the impact point. The one to Ranma's right quickly formed into a panda, a replica of the same animal that drowned in Jusenkyou all those thousands of years ago. The one to Ranma's left formed more slowly into Genma. "There!" She dispersed the soulsword. "Now you can't hide, Oyaji!"
Ranma started on hearing Ono Toofuu's voice. She then closed her eyes. They opened a second later, once again their normal sapphire blue shade. Ataru remained in shadow as he allowed cold fire to revert him to normal. "Yo, Doc!"
Toofuu and Kasumi stopped, their eyes widening in stunned shock on seeing Genma and the panda separated into two living beings. "What the . . .?" the former gasped before he spun on Ranma. "Ranma-kun, what happened . . .?!"
Genma jolted on hearing that scream, and then he bolted to his feet as a storm of Tokyo's riot police raced onto the property, shields and batons ready to do their necessary work. Flanking them on both sides were representatives of the Nerima division, guns out. Screaming, the martial artist turned to flee. He then cried out as a glowing kusarigama chain snared him by the leg. He kissed the ground as Ranma dispersed the ki-chain. She waved the police on to their target. "He's all yours, boys!" she called out.
Genma spun on the riot police, a weak ki ball in hand. "NO!"
It blasted through the phalanx advancing on him like a cannonball. Fortunately for the riot police, their shields and body armour protected them from serious injury. Seeing what just happened, one Nerima policeman levelled his revolver on Genma. A squeeze of the trigger later, half of the target's head disintegrated in a shower of crimson blood, pulped grey matter and shattered bone. Movement stopped as the burly martial artist wavered before he dropped to the ground. Silence fell as people stared wide-eyed at Genma. Smoke suddenly billowed from his body before a bright fire began to consume his corpse. Screams escaped the police as they backed away from the bonfire. They then fell silent as the fire instantly faded, leaving nothing behind.
A riot officer turned to Ranma. "What happened . . .?"
"We can explain that."
Everyone turned to see Negako, Cologne and Happoosai perched on her shoulders. "Negako-san?!" Toofuu blinked. "What . . .?"
"When Ranma separated Genma's birth form from his cursed form using the Fire Scythe, she didn't do it precisely enough to ensure both could live separate lives to their fullest, Doctor." Cologne's eyes narrowed. "Happy here learned that the hard way a century ago when he tried to sever the birth form and cursed form of a boy cursed by the Nyanniichuan."
"We had to watch the poor boy grow weak and die over a year's time," Happoosai continued as he bowed his eyes. "When he died, he disintegrated. There was nothing left to bury. Nothing at all. Save memories."
He looked away. The others took that in. A detective from Nerima, the senior officer present, then holstered his weapon. "Pity." He stared at the spot where Genma fell. "It would have been interesting to see that fool on trial. Alright, everyone, let's secure the scene!"
"Hai!" the other policemen chanted as they went to work.
"Ranma, did you forget something?" Negako asked.
Ranma looked nonplussed. "Oh, shit!"
She walked over to tap a point in mid-air over the walkway leading to the school's front doors. A fizzle later, nine people dropped into a heap by her feet. "Sorry about that!" She helped Nabiki and Mousse up. "We needed you all out of the way so Oyaji could be finally taken care of!"
The others were silent as they stared at Ranma or Ataru or the place where Genma just fell. Ranma was quick to notice the fear, disbelief and shock in their eyes as they glanced either at her or Ataru. Once they appeared to have sufficiently recovered, she headed to where the Tendou doojou sign rested, splattered in blood and nearly cleaved in half thanks to the Saotome honour sword. The sword in question was on the ground nearby. Ranma picked up the sword to stare at it for a moment before she gazed curiously at Ataru.
"Would you mind?" she asked.
He nodded. "Toss it."
She did. Ataru reached into his jacket to yank out his Lawgiver. Aiming on target, he barked, "Homing disrupt! Five shots!"
"Homing disrupt, five," the pistol's on-board computer responded.
Five cracks! later, the sword was gone. Staring at the billowing mist that followed a disintegrating shot from a Lawgiver, Ranma shook her head. She glanced at the Tendou doojou sign. Taking a deep breath, she picked it up.
"Ranma-kun . . .?" Kasumi whispered.
Nabiki, Akane and Souun also noticed. Seeing the damage the sign had taken, it wouldn't require much from Ranma to destroy it. Staring at the wood, symbol of something that had warped the lives of so many over the last decade and more, she sighed. Shaking her head, she tossed it contemptuously at Souun. "Train a REAL martial artist! That is, IF Jijii gives you a new license!"
She moved to depart. "Ranma, wait . . .!" Akane called out.
The redhead stopped, snapping her fingers. "Oh, forgot . . . " She gazed on Akane, ki coalescing in her hand. "SEISHIN REEZAA KOOSEN!"
Akane screamed as the Psychic Laser Beam slammed into her, the impact's force sending her skidding back a half-dozen paces. As the youngest Tendou collapsed to the dirt, Ranma held out her hand, cupping it. "Kontou!"
The soulsword formed, causing almost everyone present to take a hesitant step away from Ranma. Even if they did not know exactly what that burning blade could do, that Ranma was willing to strike Akane -- with a KI blast of all things! -- spoke volumes. Sensing no one moving to stop her, she marched over to the slowly recovering Akane, swinging the deadly tip of that energy blade toward her face. "Ranma, don't . . .!" Nabiki cried out before her voice caught in her throat as Ranma's gaze raked over her.
Akane grunted, and then she tensed on sensing something hot yet icy cold hovering very close to her ear. She turned to see a burning column of very intensive energy, and then she shakily looked up into Ranma's eyes. "Do not EVER again presume you have the right to fight ANYONE because of me, Tendou-san," the redhead warned. "If you do that again, I will see to it you NEVER practice the martial arts for the rest of your LIFE!"
Without another word, Ranma turned around and marched off towards the front gate, the soulsword perched on her shoulder. Akane was still too out of it to make any attempt at pursuit. Save for one, the others on the lawn were just too shocked over seeing Ranma STRIKE her former fiancée to do anything.
A Demon-Head then exploded from Souun. "RANMA! HOW DARE YOU STRIKE MY LITTLE GIRL?!" he bellowed.
"Heavy stun, one shot!"
"Heavy stun, one."
Souun dropped to the dirt as Ataru holstered his Lawgiver. "Lieutenant, does Ranma have to be here to give testimony?" he asked, staring at the senior police officer as Kasumi headed over to help her dazed father.
"No, Moroboshi-san. We can send someone to talk to her tomorrow." The detective nodded, inwardly smiling on seeing Tendou Souun finally brought down so low -- and with such speed, too! Unlike many of the other senior public officials in Nerima, he knew how truly ineffectual Souun was when it came to matters such as the panty thief. "She looked tired. She best get some sleep."
"Hai." Ataru nodded as he headed off after his friend.
* * *
"Much more happened here than what they know," Cologne mused.
She, Happoosai and Negako sat on the front steps of Fuurinkan High. They were quick to note that none of Ranma's other would-be lovers had moved to accompany her and Ataru off the grounds. "Indeed," Negako said. "It would be interesting to see how these ones put this puzzle together."
Happoosai cackled. "Yes, it would be, wouldn't it?"
* * *
"Welcome home, Ani-kun."
Ataru stopped. A teary-eyed Ranma was in his arms, asleep. She had finally broke down some distance from Fuurinkan High. He stared neutrally at Chikage, she leaning against the wall beside the door leading into the old shrine. "Was this really necessary?" he finally demanded.
"It would've happened sooner or later. Just like the emergence of your hidden side would've occurred sooner or later, Ani-kun," the sorceress calmly replied before her eyebrow arched. "What would you prefer? What would Ane-kun prefer? Have it happen now when it could be controlled? Or have it happen when you least suspect it and risk the deaths of many?" A pause. "You at least had to confront the mass slaughter of Oogi's mindless minions when the Cyborg first appeared. I shudder to wonder what might have happened had that part of you emerged when Lum was still living in Tomobiki."
Ataru considered that, his lips twisting sourly. "True."
* * *
To be continued . . .