Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Urusei Yatsura Fan Fiction / Sister Princess Fan Fiction ❯ Lonely Souls ❯ The Sixth Part, C Side - Reality's Surprises ( Chapter 14 )

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

"I am truly disappointed to hear that, Nodoka."
Nodoka winced as Isao's gaze raked over her. Both sat in the reception lounge of the latter's office, located atop a skyscraper in the heart of Tokyo's Marunouchi district, close to the metropolis' main railroad station. "I am truly sorry about this, Father," she apologized with a deep bow. "I had hoped that, regardless of what legal action the government had taken on my so- . . .!" Her voice then choked as she remembered what Ranma had told her at the Moroboshi home earlier in the day. "My child's behalf . . . "
"Do not SAY that!" Isao snapped, the icy rage in his voice causing Nodoka to freeze in place. "Isn't it obvious, Nodoka?! This whole insane story about those cursed ponds in China altering BOTH my grandson's mind as well as body is just that: A STORY! How could you have blinded yourself to the truth, girl?! You know that monster Happoosai is friends with this Moroboshi Negako! Why didn't you make yourself see that Moroboshi is manipulating Ranma to stand against us, all because of her friendship with Happoosai?!"
"But, Father . . .!"
"ENOUGH!" Isao roared.
Silence fell as Nodoka remained frozen in place. She dared NOT raise her head to gaze upon her father, do ANYTHING that might serve to rile Isao further. Her very existence as a daughter of Asagaya Isao, a member of the Asagaya Clan, hung in the very balance. Taking a deep breath to calm himself down, Isao then closed his eyes. "Return to your home. When the time comes, we will confront this Moroboshi woman -- or whatever she is! -- directly! We WILL bring Ranma into the family! By FORCE if necessary! Go!"
Nodoka rose, she swiftly exiting the lounge. After the door closed behind her, Isao took a breath. "No . . . " he hissed as his eyes focused on a painting of his late wife Nana, hanging on a nearby wall. "You WILL be avenged, Nana! You will be finally avenged . . . "
A buzzer sounded off on the phone sitting on the table beside his chair. "Asagaya-dono?" his secretary called out over the intercom.
Isao relaxed. "What is it, Etsuko-san?"
"Hoofuku Reiji-sama is here to see you, sir."
The patriarch of the Asagaya Clan perked. "Send him in, please."
"Right away, Asagaya-dono."
The door opened a moment later to reveal a man who appeared well past his prime. Dressed in robes reminiscent of what Buddhist monks in Korea typically wore, he has next to no hair on his head, save for wisps of pure white over his ears plus a moustache and goatee. His dark brown eyes glimmered with an icy fire that would make most people believe he wasn't in full command of his senses. Isao knew much better. Hoofuku Reiji was the patriarch of a minor ninjutsu clan whose distant ancestors had been Shaolin monks who had migrated from China during the time of the Fujiwara Regency in the latter part of the Heian age. His family was related to the Moroboshi Clan only by marriage; his younger daughter Jiko had married the brother of the late Moroboshi Nagaiwakai, Hana Seinen, decades ago. From that marriage came one daughter, Hana Naho.
It was a marriage the elderly Hoofuku patriarch had NOT approved of whatsoever; the Hoofuku Clan had opposed the Moroboshi Clan -- and by extension, the Imperial Household and the Japanese government as a whole! -- in the last phase of the shinobi wars during the 1950s. That was when Nagaiwakai had first made contact with the alien race known as the Zephyrites. The power that Nagaiwakai had been able to gain from that first contact had been enough to put down the rebellious ninja clans in the name of the Shoowa Emperor. That was an act Reiji or his clansmen had never forgotten nor forgiven. Seinen and Jiko later paid for their "crimes" with their very lives.
As for Naho, her ultimate fate remained a total mystery to this day.
"Konban wa, Isao-san," Reiji greeted his host with a respectful bow.
"Konban wa, Reiji-san," Isao returned the greeting with an equally respectful bow. "Did you learn what happened to Genma's friend?"
"The soulsword happened," Reiji replied as he sat in front of Isao.
Isao perked. Having associated with the Hoofuku over the last couple of weeks, the Asagaya patriarch had become aware of the basic fighting manoeuvres in the Moroboshi Clan's in-house school of ninjutsu. "How did that happen?"
Reiji explained. Hearing what just happened to Tendou Souun in his last attempt to "unite the schools," Isao laughed. "That fool's no different than Genma!" he exclaimed before composing himself. "Is Souun doomed to die?"
"No, he will eventually recover. If left alone, I'd say it would take several weeks. Two months at maximum." An icy smile then crossed Reiji's face. "It CAN be shortened if the right treatment is administered, Isao-san."
Isao's eyes narrowed. "What do you have in mind?"
Reiji's grin widened. "Something that will serve both our ends, my friend. We both agree on this: Neither of us wants an alliance or anything like it between Saotome Ranma and Moroboshi Ataru, to say anything of those bastard bitches Ataru's spineless father sired on the side. Are we agreed on that?" Seeing Isao nod, Reiji then relaxed. "I have an idea that will forever sever whatever bonds of friendship presently exist between your grandchild and Nagaiwakai's loon grandson." He then smiled again as he moved to add, knowing well that Isao would LOVE to hear this point: "At the same time, Isao-san, it will guarantee the final demise of the last living heir of Happoosai."
The Asagaya patriarch gazed on his guest. "Do go on, Reiji-san."
* * *
On ground level, standing near the outer border of the Imperial Palace grounds, was a lovely teenage girl with short-cut black hair and deep blue eyes masked by a pair of sunglasses. She was dressed in a dark blouse and knee-length skirt, a black choker with a chrysanthemum around her neck. Hanging from one hand was a bag full of goodies she obtained from shops in Harajuku before her powers locked in on her target and led her across town. Her eyes were fixed on the top of the building where Asagaya Isao had his offices. While trailing the likes of Hoofuku Reiji could be dangerous if one didn't take precautions, Inaba Ayano really had nothing to worry about. Even if he knew about Nagaiwakai's connections with the Zephyrites, the Hoofuku patriarch couldn't conceive of him being tracked by someone possessing Avalonian abilities. Thus, he couldn't shield himself from her empathic probes.
Too bad for him.
Ayano's cell phone then rang. She reached into her skirt pocket to pick it up. "Moshi-moshi. This is Inaba," she hailed.
"Hello, Ayano-chan," a mature woman's voice called back over the line.
Ayano blinked. "Naho-sama!"
"Are you keeping an eye on Grandfather now, dear?"
Ayano nodded. "Hai. He's still meeting with Nodoka-san's father."
"Good. As soon as that's done, track Grandfather down to wherever he might be staying at this time. When you learn that, call me with all the information, and then you can go back to your friends. I can deal with matters concerning Grandfather from that point on."
Ayano nodded again. "Naho-sama, shouldn't Negako-sama be told . . .?"
An amused laugh. "Ayano-chan, believe me: Negako-chan already knows."
Ayano took that in, and then she nodded. "Hai."
* * *
In her bedroom in Nerima, Negako looked up, her eyes angling over in the direction of downtown Tokyo. "Yes, Naho, I already know."
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Lonely Souls
By Fred Herriot
pyeknu@hotmail.com OR fherriot@yahoo.com
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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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"Here, please."
A signature was jotted down, and then a hanko stamp was imprinted beside it. "Okay, last one." Yumoa Reigi drew up the final sheet in the pile of papers to place it before Kasumi. "Sign here and here, please."
He indicated the spaces. "Hai." The Tendou matriarch jotted her signature down, and then she stamped it.
Reigi took the sheet back to scan the paper before nodding. "Okay, then. I do say that congratulations are in order." He slipped the sheet with the other papers in his briefcase before facing his host. "I'll have these filed with the applicable agencies before the close of business today, to be made effective as soon as possible. Still, pretty much as of now, you and your siblings are free once and for all from anything your father might've arranged on your 'behalf.'" His lips twisted scornfully as he uttered that word. "Not to mention the fact that everything that was legally his before today is officially yours to do with as you please. After taxes, of course."
"We're not worried about that, Yumoa-san." Kasumi shook her head. "I'll contact a real estate agent today. He's been interested in this property since shortly after Mother passed away. We should be able to sell it off quickly."
"Well, if you need any help concerning finances, you can contact me here." Reigi drew out a business card to hand it over to her with both his hands. "I understand that Ataru-kun's sisters have offered your family the chance to stay at Welcome House for the time being."
"Hai. I don't like the idea of imposing on them, of course . . . "
He made a dismissive wave. "It's alright, Tendou-san. Welcome House was initially built on the premise of allowing children who, for whatever reason, had to be separated from their parents for an indefinite period of time. That also includes young adults wanting to make a start with their lives away from any negative influence from their parents."
Her gaze turned inward for a moment. "Such as what Father tried to do."
"Hai." He gave her a sympathetic look. "I have a good appreciation of what you're feeling right now. Until now, you've never really contemplated making such a radical choice like this. Am I right?" His eyebrow arched. Seeing her nod, he breathed out, "Tendou-san, please don't let this decision weigh you down or negatively influence you in the future. You're not doing this just for yourself remember? There are your sisters and your brother to worry about, too. Don't they deserve the chance to go out on their own, take control over their lives? Of course they do. You do, too. You've put in so much time and effort into keeping this place standing. You've sacrificed so much on your family's behalf. Well, here's the reward for all that hard work."
He waved to his briefcase. "Granted, it wasn't gained in a way that would win the ultimate approval of your father. But whose fault is it really when it comes to what happened between him and you? Much less your family as a whole and Saotome Ranma?" he continued. "The older generations these days tend to forget that along with the rights they're due to receive because of their experience, they have RESPONSIBILITIES to the younger generation, especially their flesh-and-blood. And one of those responsibilities is to acknowledge that the time must come when the children have to leave the nest and chart their own lives. And to prepare them, parents have to train their children TO be ready to face that time. Your father never did that for you, Kasumi-san. You, Nabiki-san and Akane-san had to pretty much learn that on your own."
She grimaced. "Still, when he recovers from what Negako-san did . . . "
"Then he'll have no choice but to face up to what he's done wrong."
Kasumi considered that before she hesitantly nodded. "Hai, that's true. I just wish it didn't have to happen THIS way."
Reigi shook his head. "He's the one who forced you and your siblings into this situation, Tendou-san. As I said, it is not your fault by any stretch of the imagination. Ataru-kun didn't allow Kinshou or Muchi to get away with what they did to him once he was allowed to see the sum total of what their actions cost not only him, but also other parts of his family. Ranma-san didn't allow Genma, much less Nodoka, to get away with what they did to her once she was allowed to fully comprehend what they were willing to force onto her shoulders. The good thing about your family's situation is that the damage your father did to you is easily corrected. Count yourselves very lucky."
Kasumi gazed at him for a moment before she breathed out, "She . . . "
"Tendou-san . . .?"
The eldest of Souun's daughters perked on hearing her guest. "Gomen nasai, Yumoa-san. I heard you call Ranma-chan 'she.' Even now . . . " She flustered. "I can't think that about her, not after all she's been through!"
"That's a good attitude to have." He then took a deep breath. "Tendou-san, that Rinrin-chan and Yotsuba-chan are now pressing to allow you and your family to come live with them at Welcome House is understandable. Laudable, even. But understand also that my primary concern is the welfare of not only all the girls at the House, but Ataru-kun, too. I know about this weird psychic bond that brought Ataru-kun together with Ranma-san all those years ago. I know that bond's drawing them closer together as we speak. And I know that despite all her denials to date, your sister Akane still harbours very deep feelings for Ranma-san. That's understandable given what they've been forced through since the day they met. But please understand that ensuring Ataru-kun's happiness is MY primary concern. And if it turns out that the key to Ataru-kun's happiness lies with his forging a willing, open and freely accepted relationship with Ranma-san, then I will do everything in my power to ensure that relationship happens." His voice softened as he added, "After all, given all the garbage they've been forced through in their lives, don't they BOTH deserve a chance at achieving their own sense of happiness, Tendou-san?"
"If it is freely chosen and freely accepted, I can accept it and wish both Ataru-kun and Ranma-chan the best," Kasumi conceded before she took a deep breath. "And I'm sure Akane-chan will accept it in the long run, too."
"That's good." Reigi took a breath as he prepared to leave, and then he jolted. "Oh, I forgot! Ataru-kun's daughters arrived from Noukiios earlier today. So if you see two girls Hinako-chan's age looking like blue-haired Klingons, don't be surprised about it."
Kasumi rose to escort him out. "I'll try not to be."
The financier took his leave. Kasumi then walked over to the telephone to put in a call to Midorikawa Hayato, the real estate agent who had kept a close eye on the Tendou property for some years. After arranging for him to come visit, she moved into the kitchen to make some tea. As she warmed up the kettle, her mind ran through the conversation she just had with Reigi. At that moment, something came back to her. "'Daughters' . . .?" she whispered, her eyes going VERY wide. "Ataru-kun has DAUGHTERS?!"
"What's this about daughters?!"
Kasumi spun around to see Nabiki staring at her from the doorway. Pausing as she tried to think of what to say, the eldest of the Tendou children then took a deep breath. "It's something Yumoa-san just told me, Nabiki-chan."
* * *
"No, no, Reiko-chan! Do it like this!"
Ranma relaxed. Stepping forward with her right leg, she calmly executed a twisting hand block-and-parry she learned when she was even younger than Reiko. She and the twins were in Hikarigaoka Park, having come here to spend some time together after a late lunch at the Moroboshi home. Watching her, the elder twin nodded, and then she slowly mimicked her future mother's movements. Carefully observing the Noukiite's moves, Ranma nodded. "Definitely a lot of yoga training," she muttered as Reiko returned to a relaxing stance.
Just as Reiko was about to repeat the move, a voice hailed, "Onee-sama!"
Ranma turned as Sakuya walked up, ice cream cones in hand for the martial artist and the Noukiites to enjoy. "Thanks!" Ranma said as she took two of the cones to hand them to Reiko and Kaneko. "This okay with you guys? You don't mind having milk products, do you?"
"This is from an ut'he, right?" Kaneko asked.
Sakuya blinked confusedly. "'Uuttohe?!'"
"She means 'cow.'" Reiko smiled before she gave her sister a scornful look for not stating the term in Japanese.
"Most likely." Ranma nodded before licking her own cone.
Kaneko started to slurp the vanilla and chocolate mountain in her hand. "It's good," she then commented with a smile.
"Don't they have farm animals on Noukiios?" Sakuya asked.
"Not much," Reiko lamented. "Most aya -- milk, I mean! -- that I've drunk comes from plants. I'm not used to animal milk."
"You mean things like soy milk?" Ranma perked before she nodded. "Yeah, I guess that would've been a problem on Noukiios, eh?"
"Sickening," Sakuya hissed, and then she started. "Onii-sama!"
She waved. The twins turned to look, and then they squealed, "Papa!"
Before he could react, Reiko and Kaneko bowled him over with hugs. "Hey, how're my favourite seuet?!" he asked, ducking to boost them off their feet and allowing them to wrap their arms around his neck as he joined the others.
Watching this, Sakuya felt a brief flash of jealousy rip through her, and then she calmed herself. Staring at her future sister-in-law, Ranma tried not to grin as she reached over to give Sakuya's hand a supportive squeeze. The eldest sister started, and then she gazed at the transformed martial artist. Ranma winked before she walked over to allow Kaneko to slip into her arms. "Ne, Kaneko-chan, can you tell me something?" Ranma cooed, allowing her forehead to rub against the young Noukiite's. "What does 'seuuetto' mean?"
"'Se-u-et,' Mama!" Kaneko scolded, enunciating it a syllable at a time.
Ranma gave her a long face. "It means 'flower blossom.'" Ataru passed a hand through Reiko's hair. "It's a normal nickname parents on Noukiios give children. Since the syllables in Nouki-e match better with Korean sounds than Japanese, it's easier for me to speak it without having to slip in unwanted vowels. It's almost as bad as English . . . hey, Sakuya, what's wrong?!"
Ranma spun around to see a pained look cross Sakuya's face. "You okay?!" She reached over to squeeze the taller girl's shoulder.
Sakuya blinked, and then she sighed, her eyes misting as she walked over to lean against Ataru. "Onii-sama, how long WERE you in that damned place?!" She squeezed her eyes shut as she wrapped arms around him. "It should've been us! We should've been there for you . . . "
Ataru blinked, and then he lightly smiled as Ranma walked around to take Reiko into her arms, thus freeing his to return Sakuya's hug. "I didn't want to drag you into that mess, imooto-chan," he whispered, squeezing her tight.
Sakuya bolted back from him. "Onii-sama no baka!" she snapped, her fists quivering as he ducked her annoyed look. "We're your FAMILY, for Heaven's sake! You don't have to play this damned Lone Ranger act around us, you know!"
"So that means I can feel at liberty to destroy Aria-chan's innocence?!"
Sakuya jolted. "Onii-sama . . . "
"Sakuya-chan, I KNOW you can take this sort of thing!" Ataru pointed to himself. "I know Haruka-chan can take it! I know Chikage-chan can take it, too . . .! Hell, Chikage can take pretty much ANYTHING tossed at her! But what about Aria-chan?! What about Kaho-chan?! What about Hinako-chan?!" He waved with his free hand in the direction of the Moroboshi home as he stared pleadingly into her eyes. "Does letting you in on what happens to me -- especially the bad stuff -- mean that I have to spill it to all of them? Is that really fair to them in the long run, Sakuya-chan? Yes, you're my sister, but they're my sisters, too! I can't forget THAT, you know!"
Sakuya shuddered as she reached over to squeeze Ataru's hands close to her heart. "Gomen ne. I don't mean to sound selfish, but . . . " She paused for a moment. "I just want all those bastards to stop hurting you, Onii-sama!"
"I want that, too!" He embraced her. "But I don't want them to hurt me THROUGH you, Sakuya-chan! Or any of the others! There are people out there willing to do that, you know!" he warned, shifting her to stare into her eyes.
Silence fell as the eldest of the sisters considered that. She leaned her forehead against his chin. "I think the sooner we get back to the Island, the better," Sakuya whispered. "At least there, we'll be on home ground!"
"But do you want to drag all those dorks to the Island?" Ranma wondered.
Sakuya gazed on her future sister-in-law with a sigh. "It's not fair."
"Life rarely is," Ataru warned.
* * *
"Yep." Nabiki nodded before sipping her tea. "Twin girls, both around seven years old. Their names here in Japan are Moroboshi Reiko and Moroboshi Kaneko. They were two of a group of special esper warriors -- part of a group called the Lost Stars -- the Noukiites used against the Urusians."
Seated around the coffee table, the other Tendous paid rapt attention. "How'd Ataru adopt them anyway?" Shinshi asked. "And is this adoption going to stick now that things are souring pretty much between us and the Onis."
"Won't be a problem." After hearing from Kasumi about Ataru's adopted children, Nabiki got on the phone with Negako to get the lowdown. "The Noukiites are breaking away from the Galactic Federation. That's this group of planet-states living close to us. The Onis and several other races Ataru-kun's run into since Lum first came to Earth are part of this group. It's the FEDERATION the United Nations doesn't want to deal with anymore. Since the Noukiites are breaking off from the group . . . "
"Sort of like an outer-space version of the U.N., right?" Akane asked.
Nabiki nodded. "Roughly the same idea."
"So when did Ataru-sama meet Reiko-san and Kaneko-san?" Kimiko wondered.
"Just right after the fun he had on Phentax Two," Nabiki replied. "We remember what he and Negako-san said about what happened there, don't we?" On seeing the others nod, she continued, "Well, in the wake of what happened, he almost had a full mental breakdown. Not so surprising after experiencing the deaths of three billion people, eh?" Another chorus of nods from her siblings, and then she carried on, "Well, Negako-san realized right away that she was in no position to help Ataru-kun recover from this. And Ataru-kun was very adamant on the idea of getting the younger sisters involved, even someone like Chikage-san. Fortunately, it was around this time that the Noukiites wanted someone to help train the Lost Stars. The Noukiites contacted the Zephyrites about that, the Zephyrites contacted Negako-san to ask for her help and the Lost Stars were brought to Sanctuary so she could do her magic on them."
Kimiko's eyebrow arched. "Who are the Zephyrites, Onee-sama?"
"The local galactic superpower. Turns out, they're the ones who've settled the planets in the solar systems closest to us."
Kasumi nodded. "Oh, that's right! The night Lum-san and her friends were sent home, this large ship showed up to escort them away."
Nabiki nodded. "That was a Zephyrite ship. It also turns out that because of a famine some decades ago in the colonies the Zephyrites have closest to us, Ataru-kun's late grandmother managed to forge some very strong ties with their government, ties that came to benefit Earth in many ways. Especially when it comes to the Men in Black. And . . . " She held up a warning finger, the smile slipping from her face. "It was because of those ties that Nagaiwakai-sama was murdered by the Onis during the First Tag Race."
Shinshi gaped. "Whoa . . .!"
"When did Ataru-kun learn this?" Kasumi asked.
"Second weekend after Lum was sent back home, while he was training in Sanctuary with Negako-san," Nabiki replied, and then she sighed. "So that explains how Ataru-kun decided to side with the Noukiites against the Onis. And by extension, the Niphentaxians."
"Are you going to reveal this to your friend in Tomobiki?" Kasumi asked.
Nabiki shook her head. "No. First of all, like I warned you the day Tomobiki High got bombed, Onee-chan, it's hard for me to predict what Mendou's reaction to all this will be -- not to mention how that'll ultimately reflect on everyone here in Nerima. Or over on Promised Island. Secondly, there's this wonderful habit the people of Tomobiki, especially people our age, have when it comes to weird occurrences and how they love to blame the whole mess on Ataru-kun regardless of the facts. And after he basically told the whole town to go kindly screw themselves last Monday . . . "
"They'll do anything to get back at him," Shinshi finished.
His twin nodded. "Exactly. Then you factor in his sisters, his daughters, his training . . . " A pause. "And the Cyborg."
Kasumi shuddered. "Plus Ranma-chan and her neko-self."
* * *
"Eh?! They used a neuralizer to make us stop chasing Ataru-kun?!"
Shinobu stared wide-eyed at Minako as they stepped through the gates of Tomobiki High after last classes. "Hai, they did." The rose-haired Avalonian nodded. "I can understand why, though. From what I sensed, some of the boys . . . " -- one could coat a street with the scorn dripping from her voice -- "Well, they were about to ask some pretty ugly questions about that girl. And in front of Ataru-kun's DAUGHTERS, too?!"
Shinobu took that in before she shuddered. "I suppose I could see that. Most of the boys in our class can be such pigs at times!"
"So I sense. Ditto with Tomomi and Kyooko." A thoughtful look then crossed her face as she gazed on her friend. "Still, I think this whole business with Lum might do those guys a load of good. After all, there ARE loads of nice girls in school. And with Lum 'dead,' so to speak . . . "
She made finger-quotes with her hands. "True," Shinobu replied, and then she perked on seeing a familiar cat-ghost walking in her direction, a small boy perched on his back. "Ah, Kotatsuneko-san!" she called out, waving.
Minako looked, slowing down as a curious sensation surged through her, her eyes locking on the boy. "What the hell . . .?"
Shinobu gazed on her new friend. "What is it?"
"That's an Avalonian he's carrying!"
"Ah, Shinobu-oneechan! Hi!"
Shinobu spun back, peering intently at the boy. Wait a minute . . . why, didn't he look somewhat like . . .? "Ten?!" she gasped.
Kotatsuneko ducked, allowing Ten to leap off his back and into Shinobu's arms. Laughing, the two shared an embrace before Ataru's ex-girlfriend gave the boy an once-over. "So they had to disguise you, eh?!" she mused, taking in Ten's black hair, brown eyes, lack of horn-bud, fanged teeth and pointed ears.
"Well, according to Lu- . . . " He caught himself. "Sorry! According to Seiko-chan, my body kinda was ready to bite the dust when I was teleported here. Lucky for me Hinako-oneechan had Bou-san with her to give me this body."
He pointed to himself. Shinobu's eyes spiralled. "Wait! Slow down, Ten! What are you talking about?! What happened to you?!"
"Oh, it was the Ip'ihu! They're real bad Noukiites who don't like Urusians at ALL! Anyhow, they attacked my ship near Toshitto. But four friends of Nassur-chan rescued me, and then they brought me here to get Ataru's help to fix me up! So we teleported here through the Tritonians' Central Warp Chamber, and then Seiko-chan and Sakiko-chan showed up, and then Ataru and some of his sisters show up, along with Jay-san and Kay-san, too! Hinako-oneechan uses Bou-san to give me my new body and . . . !"
Shinobu laughed. "Ten! Ten! Stop for a moment!"
The Urusian-turned-Avalonian/Terran gazed nonplussed at her, and then he scratched the back of his head. "S-s-sorry about that, Shinobu-oneechan!" He flustered. "I kinda forgot that you don't know a lot of things!"
"Well, no matter what, you're here and you're safe." Minako gave Ten a warm squeeze of the shoulder. "That matters more, ne?"
Ten gazed at her, blinking. "Hey! You're an Avalonian, too!"
Minako held out her hand. "Half; my dad's Terran."
"Uh . . . oh, right!" Ten shook her hand as introductions were made.
"How do you know about the Avalonians?" Shinobu asked as they made their way down the street, Kotatsuneko falling in behind them.
"Other than I'm one now?" Ten asked. "Well, just before the Ip'ihu attacked my ship, I met four of them. They're replicas of Lum-chan -- her name's Hensou -- Ran-chan -- she's Damasu -- Benten-chan -- that's Kamen -- and Oyuki-chan -- she goes by Mienai. That dork Oogi -- do you know about Oogi, Shinobu-oneechan?" he asked. Seeing her nod, he carried on, "Well, Oogi made them on special order for Nassur-chan. He's a friend of Lum-chan's; he taught her how to use her powers. Anyhow, they were all linked to their templates to ensure they could, if they had to, step in and take their places in case one of Nassur-chan's enemies tried to go after them. But after Oni- . . .!"
Minako gaped at him. "They were living TARGETS?!"
"Nassur-chan didn't know they were bioroids!" Ten waved his hands. "He couldn't sense their brainwaves and he couldn't scan 'em, so all he could think of them was that they were androids, like the ones the Zeiwanites make!"
Shinobu gazed at Minako. The older Avalonian had an intent look on her face. "Where are those girls now, Ten?" Minako asked.
"They're with Seiko-chan, Sakiko-chan and the others." Ten pointed down the street. "Everything's okay with them, if that's what you're really worried about. Hinako-oneechan used Bou-san to make them all look human and all that."
Minako gazed at him. On sensing his honesty, she nodded. "That's good."
"I take it using Avalonians as expendable bodyguards was something the Niphentaxians did with your people," Shinobu noted.
Minako nodded. "Many times. According to Mom, that is."
Shinobu squeezed her shoulder. "Gomen ne, Minako-chan."
"Oh, hey! It's cool!" Minako reached up to give her friend's hand a reassuring squeeze, and then she stared ahead. "Let's just hope that with the factory in orbit over Earth, my mom's people aren't suffering anymore."
"With the Church of Lum all but gone?" Ten stated. "Count on it."
Shinobu perked. "What do you mean, Ten-chan?"
"That's part of what Ataru's been doing since we left Tomobiki," the young boy assured her. "Other than helping the Noukiites fight our people, not to mention him adopting those two Noukiite girls . . . "
Ataru's former girlfriend gaped, and then she looked nowhere in particular as that message sank in. "He actually FOUGHT with the Noukiites . . .?" she whispered before shaking her head. "I know he's sympathetic to their cause and all that -- he practically told us that on Saturday, just after Lum and Ran came back! -- but to actually FIGHT with the Noukiites . . .!"
"He had no choice."
The girls looked at Ten. "What do you mean, Ten-chan?" Minako asked.
"Ataru's grandma was killed by an Urusian during the first Tag Race."
Shinobu paled. "Jesu Cristo . . . "
Minako gaped. "Did he tell you that?!"
Ten sniffed. "He told Seiko-chan. Sakiko-chan overheard him, then they t-told me." He sniffed again, wiping his eyes. "It's no wonder he's so mad now! Why'd they go and do that to his grandma, anyway . . .?"
He curled in on himself, clinging close to Shinobu as he began to sob. Gazing on Ten, Ataru's ex-girlfriend quaked, and then she offered a silent prayer to the soul of Moroboshi Nagaiwakai as she moved to comfort the young boy. A warm hand squeezed her shoulder. She perked, and then she smiled at Minako as they turned a corner, heading towards a row of multi-floor townhouses. Shinobu, like the others who knew what happened to Lum and Ran, had been told where Kitahara Yukimi's apartment block was located.
Speaking of which, the mistress of said apartment block was busy emptying her mailbox as Shinobu, Minako, Ten and Kotatsuneko approached her front gate. "Oh, Shinobu-sama! Konnichi wa!" Yukimi grinned before her hazel eyes locked on Minako. "Who . . .?!" Those eyes widened as her psi-senses confirmed what the rose-haired girl actually was. "Oh, Fates . . . "
Minako tried not to burn with embarrassment as the other Avalonian gazed at her. "Ah . . . um, h-hello . . .!" She faintly waved.
Yukimi turned to Shinobu. "Shinobu-sama, do you realize that . . .?!"
"Minako-chan's an Avalonian." Shinobu chuckled. "Hai, I learned that when I met her yesterday morning. Um, is Seiko here . . .?"
One of the upper floor windows then opened, revealing a dark-haired Urusian-turned-Nendo-kata/Terran. "Konnichi wa, Shinobu!" Seiko hailed with a wave as she leaned on the windowsill. "Thanks for bringing Ten-chan back!"
Shinobu sighed. "Seiko, we've GOT to have a long talk about Ataru-kun!"
* * *
"Bless you, Onii-chan! Are you alright?!"
Ataru moaned as he rubbed his nose. "Someone's talking about me, I bet," he muttered before nodding thanks to Karen, and then he turned to Rinrin. "Okay, Rinrin-chan, how're we going to do all this? And will it all be ready by Sunday afternoon when we go back to the Island?"
"This is easy stuff, Aniki!" The inventor waved him down, and then she pointed to her computer screen. "Here's what we'll do . . . "
The others crowded around. "Now, Jonna-san and Orin-san don't want to take up too much room, so we'll just expand Hinako-chan's and Aria-chan's rooms five metres. In Aria-chan's case . . . " Rinrin pointed to the diagram of the second floor. "All this'll do is fill in the space right above Aniki and Aneki's bedroom, counter-clockwise from where Reiko-chan and Kaneko-chan'll live. Hinako-chan's new space'll form a foundation for the expanded room on the third floor connecting into Yotsuba-chan's space."
Marie gazed at Jonna and Orin. "Are you sure that'll be enough room?"
Miree's daughters nodded. "We don't have much with us. It'll do," Jonna answered. "Besides, it keeps us close to Hinako-sama and Aria-sama."
The others smirked. Rinrin slid her finger to the diagram of the third floor. "Anyhow, for Himiko-san and Mikiko-san, what we'll do is take the spare bedroom and repeat what we're planning for Yotsuba-chan's space. The main floor'll wrap clockwise around the boy's furo room and sit right atop Aria-chan's and Orin-san's expanded space, plus part of the twins' bedroom. As for Miree-san, we'll give her a new bedroom on the fourth floor, right over the stairwell to the main floor. Is that okay with you, Miree-san?"
"A private loft, you mean?" The Hollywoodite priestess then nodded. "Yes, that sounds rather cozy, Rinrin-chan. I'll take it."
"Are you sure we can do all these changes, Rinrin-chan?" Ranma asked. "I mean, even if this place is modular in construction . . .?"
Rinrin waved her down. "Oh, relax, Aneki! As long as we don't go too far over the tip of the rotunda, we'll be fine. Besides, it keeps us all together IN the rotunda. If we couldn't do this, that means all of you . . . " Her eyes fell on Miree, her daughters and the two survivors of the previous week's bombing. "Would have to live in the commons."
"That's the main part of Welcome House, right?" Himiko wondered.
"Yeah, it is." Rinrin tried not to groan. "Whoever built that place didn't really put some careful thought into things like phone lines, the bathrooms, the furos, kitchens and all that. Ne, Shirayuki-chan, you remember the first time you went into the kitchen by the lobby?"
The mauve-haired chef blanched. "Hime NEVER wants to think of that horrible place ever again!" She patted her heart.
"I remember seeing that shortly after I met you girls." Ataru shook his head before he glanced at Ranma. "Cripes, I was tempted to get somebody to knock the whole damn building down and have them rebuild the place."
"That bad?" the martial artist asked.
"Think of Kasumi-san's kitchen after Akane got through with it the first time she tried to cook for you . . . " -- a dramatic pause -- "Then magnify the damage to the tenth degree! You'll get the idea then."
Ranma winced, and then she stared at Shirayuki. "Shirayuki-chan, you make VERY damn sure Akane doesn't go into your kitchen when those guys move to the Island full-time, okay?" She wagged a warning finger at the chef.
"Hime'll remember, Nee-sama." Shirayuki then sighed. "Still, Hime is a little worried about Kasumi-san . . . "
"Why's that?" Sakuya asked.
"Well, Kasumi-san has been cooking for her family every since her mother died, Sakuya-chan." Shirayuki shrugged. "She might not like the idea of being forced to sit in the dining room when Hime cooks . . . "
"Whoa! Hold on for a moment, Shirayuki-chan!" Ranma held up a hand. "First of all, we're doing this to help Kasumi BREAK AWAY from slaving for her family all the time. There's a big difference between cooking because you love to cook and cooking because you feel it's your duty to your family to cook! Ever since her mom died, all Kasumi's ever really done is cook and clean after the others in her family. She never really LIKED doing all that stuff, especially when you figure out how lazy her stupid old man was! YOU, on the other hand . . . " She pointed to the chef. "Cook because you enjoy and LOVE to cook. We all notice it, Shirayuki-chan."
Shirayuki stared wide-eyed at the martial artist. "Nee-sama . . .!"
"Ane-chama's right, Shirayuki-chan!" Yotsuba cut in. "Yotsuba noticed it when Kasumi-anechama made lunch for Yotsuba and Shi-chama. Even though Kasumi-anechama's lunch was pretty checky, Yotsuba thinks it wasn't checky compared to ANYTHING Shirayuki-chan makes!"
The chef's cheeks flamed. "Yotsuba-chan . . . "
"Hey! Hey! Girls, go easy on her, huh?!" Ataru quickly cut in to moderate. "We don't want to butter her up too much now, do we?!"
Sakuya dramatically pointed to the ceiling. "Yes, we DEFINITELY must avoid kimch'i rice puddings in the future."
Shirayuki jolted before she turned away to sulk. "Hime hates it whenever everyone tells Hime about her kimch'i rice puddings!"
Two hands tugged at her skirt. "Ne, ne, Auntie Shirayuki, can we try them?!" Reiko asked as she and Kaneko stared hopefully at her.
Gazing at her nieces, the chef nodded. "Hai desu no!"
Everyone laughed.
* * *
"Who is he, Kanami-san?"
"Hibiki Ryouga, a wandering martial artist from somewhere close to Tokyo." Kurosu Kanami then held up a finger in warning. "That is, I think he's from somewhere close to Tokyo, Shinobu-sama. It's hard to tell."
"Why's that?" Minako asked, nodding thanks as Kashima Namie poured her a new glass of lemon tea. "He's not roonin, is he?"
Kanami shook her head. "He's got the most horrible sense of direction you could ever imagine, Minako-san. And it seems to be linked to some sort of metaphysical teleportational ability. One minute, he's in Nerima. Next minute, he's in Chicago, then Paris, then . . . "
"Talk about being forced to become a Wanderer!" Sakiko shuddered, she exchanging a knowing look with Seiko before she turned back to the dark-haired Avalonian. "How long has this problem been affecting him, Kanami-chan?"
"His whole life, Sakiko-sama," Kanami replied. "Even worse, his mother and all his siblings also suffer from this 'directional curse.' He hasn't seen any of them, much less his father, for quite some time now."
"So why'd you and Tamako-san bring him here?" Shinobu asked.
People spared a glance through the open door into one of the guest bedrooms. There, lying on a futon, Hibiki Ryouga slept, a damp cloth folded neatly on his forehead. His clothes and backpack were currently undergoing a thorough wash in the apartment's laundry; Kodama Hiro was keeping an eye on things there. "I sensed him in the farmer's market when I was doing some shopping for dinner," Tamako explained. "I never sensed such levels of depression and loneliness in all my life, Shinobu-sama. So when Kanami-chan and I gave him a brief mind-scan to learn what happened to him, we decided the best thing to do was to bring him here, give him a chance to rest."
"Is he in trouble?" Seiko asked.
"No, Seiko-sama, but some days ago, he got himself into a terrible fight with his girlfriend's sumo-trained pigs."
Everyone stared wide-eyed at the tomboyish Avalonian. "Sumo-trained pigs?!" Minako parroted Tamako's words. "You SURE about that?!"
Tamako nodded. "Quite positive. Even stranger, Ryouga-kun himself has a metamorphic 'curse' that transforms him into a small piglet when he's exposed to cold water. Heated water transforms him back to normal."
"Can people DO that here?!" Ten asked.
Recognition then flashed across Shinobu's face. "Why, that sounds an awful lot like the curse Saotome Ranma has!" she declared.
"Darling's girlfriend?" Sakiko asked, ignoring Seiko's pained wince.
Shinobu nodded. "In that case, Ranma-san was able to turn from a boy to a girl. Hey, maybe Hibiki-san might even know Ranma-sa- . . .!"
The front doorbell pealed. Yukimi headed to the window to glance towards the front gate. Her eyebrow then arched. "You said that Hibiki-san was attacked by sumo-trained pigs, Tamako-chan?" she then asked.
"Hai, Yukimi-chan, I did. Why?" Tamako asked.
"Well, there's a pig outside the front gate now who's about the same size as Rei-sama's transformed self." Yukimi pointed out the window. "And it's wearing a sumotori's kesho-mawashi. And there's a young lady with it, too!"
Tamako and Kanami walked over to look themselves. "That's Unryuu Akari!" the latter declared. "She's Ryouga-kun's girlfriend!"
"I'll let her in," the former announced as she headed out.
* * *
"So you really have no idea why your pigs attacked Hibiki-san?"
"Iie." Akari nursed a cup of tea as she sat at the table. Due to his girth, Katsunishiki was forced to remain outside, though Kanami was now delivering a large salad for him to snack on. "I mean, beforehand, all the boys treated Ryouga-sama so kindly. It just took me by surprise to see them pounce all over him when he was transformed . . . "
She sipped her tea, her voice failing her. "Well, if what we sense of your companion outside is true, your charges love you very much, Unryuu-san," Yukimi mused. "Perhaps they got jealous of your boyfriend . . .!"
"JEALOUS?!" Akari shrieked, bolting to her feet.
Shinobu gave the pig farmer a sympathetic look. "Many pets have been known to do that for their owners, Unryuu-san."
"I . . . " Akari stuttered, and then she sighed. "I never thought of that, to be honest. I mean, I have trained them to be fierce when they step into the dohyo. It's what they have to do, after all. But to . . . "
Tamako gently squeezed the other woman's shoulders. "It's alright, Akari-san." The raven-haired Avalonian smiled as she moved to refill Akari's cup. "After all, this might be just an isolated incident."
Akari gazed on her, nodding. "I hope so . . . "
Kanami stepped back into the kitchen. "Is he hungry?" Yukimi asked.
"He's got an appetite," Kanami mused. "Then again, I've never dealt with pigs before, especially one the size of a truck." Taking her place at the table, she then gazed concernedly at Akari. "I hate to break this to you, Akari-san, but there's a problem with your stable."
"A disease?" Seiko wondered.
Kanami shook her head. "Iie. I was barely able to sense some of Katsunishiki-san's thoughts when I fed him just now. He knows what made his brothers attack Ryouga-kun. In fact, he supported what happened."
"What?!" Akari shrieked. Sensing Tamako's hand on her shoulder, she took a deep breath before asking, "What happened, Kanami-san?!"
"Simple," Kanami replied. "When Ryouga-kun returned to your farm some days ago, the pigs sensed the empathic auras of a considerable number of young women all over him. They . . . " She paused. "Your stable concluded that those other women, whoever they were, had tried to seduce Ryouga-kun away from you. Thus, they . . . " She paused again.
"Sought to defend Akari-san's honour from what they perceived as a very serious threat to her continued happiness," Minako completed.
Akari paled. "Ryouga-sama wouldn't . . . "
"Oh, no! Of course he wouldn't!" Kanami chuckled, she giving the pig farmer a wave. "You've got quite the gentleman as a boyfriend, Akari-sama! But . . . " She shrugged. "Clearly, he recently ran into a group of women sometime recently whose empathic auras are quite overwhelming. It was feeling THAT which made all your rikibuta freak out."
"They assumed someone was trying to steal Ryouga-kun away from Akari-chan, you mean." Sakiko then sipped her tea before glancing at Akari. "I think you've got quite a loyal stable of would-be samurai, Akari-chan!"
Akari flustered. "That's about it." Kanami then perked. "Eh?"
"Where'm I . . .?"
"Ryouga-sama!" Akari gasped.
Eyes turned to the bedroom as Ryouga sat up, automatically catching the cloth that had been on his forehead. Fortunately for the wanderer, Yukimi and her sister Avalonians had been able to locate some clean pyjamas for him while his clothes went through the wash. Opening his eyes, he looked around the strange room, and then he turned as Akari glomped him. "RYOUGA-SAMA!"
The wanderer acked, staring in disbelief at his would-be wife before he finally sputtered out, "A-a-Akari-ch-ch-chan . . .?!"
"She just came in a few minutes ago looking for you, Ryouga-kun." Tamako stood by the doorway. "Would you like some tea?"
"I . . .!" Ryouga moved to answer, and then he shuddered as Akari's sobs tore his attention back to the pig farmer. Staring at her, the wanderer then wrapped his arms around her. Seeing this, Tamako smiled as she stepped out.
* * *
"So can this be done by the weekend?"
"Oh, quite easy enough, Kasumi-san." Midorikawa Hayato nodded as he gathered his papers to load them into his briefcase. "I must confess that it's a terrible shame things had to happen THIS way . . . "
The Tendou matriarch smiled. "You don't view this as a victory?"
The real estate agent chuckled. "Please, don't think of this transaction as THAT, Kasumi-san!" He closed his briefcase. "Yes, I've tried to persuade your father to let go of this property, especially after your mother's passing. After all, maintaining a plot of land like THIS would be a considerable drain on any family's budget, especially here in Tokyo. And, even though I am loath to speak of this, your sister Nabiki HAS engaged in some blatantly illegal transactions to help your family keep this property . . . "
"Well, she won't have to do that anymore," Kasumi noted.
The older man nodded. "Hai, true, true. So where exactly are you and your family moving to, if you don't mind my asking?"
Kasumi held up an objecting finger. "As long as you don't allow this to fall unto the ears of Principal Kunou or his son."
"You have my silence," the real estate agent vowed.
She chuckled. "We'll all be moving to a youth hostel on Oomure-jima. It's in the Sagami Sea, near Odawara. We've been invited there by the family of Moroboshi Ataru -- and PLEASE, Midorikawa-san, don't tell anyone about Ataru-kun's involvement in this!" she added with clapped hands.
"Well, I heard from a very good friend of mine that his family did purchase a desecrated shrine in Kasuga-chou to act as a home for his sister Negako. My friend's worked for years to get rid of that particular plot of land. Then Moroboshi-san shows up and . . . "
He shrugged. Kasumi grinned. "Ataru-kun recently befriended my younger sister's former fiancé. After the falling out between Ranma-kun . . . " -- the eldest Tendou daughter kept to the more "masculine" honorific since scant few in Nerima knew the truth about what befell her -- " . . . and his parents, he decided to join Ataru-kun and his family on Oomure-jima. To show there are no bad feelings, Ranma-kun persuaded Ataru-kun's sisters to allow us to come to Oomure-jima after Father was . . . " Her voice trailed off.
Hayato nodded. "Hai, I understand. Well, I'll contact the potential buyer and we'll have everything set up as quickly as possible."
"By this weekend?" Kasumi asked.
"Certainly! That'll please my client very much."
"That's nice. Oh, may I ask what'll happen here after we're gone?"
"Both the house and the doojou will be demolished to make way for smaller townhouses. Most likely, a convenience store might be added since this part of Nerima doesn't have much in the way of quick-stop shopping areas. I . . . " The agent then looked apologetic. "Well, I do realize you have put in a lot of work to keep this place intact, but . . . "
"No, it's alright." Kasumi shook her head. "Actually, to be frank, this is quite a relief for my family and I. I certainly wouldn't want to inflict anyone with the amount of responsibility maintaining a home like this demands."
He nodded. "That's understandable. Much that this building does have some history in it, it's not enough to see it declared an historic property and turned over to the Culture Ministry to see it preserved."
Kasumi shook her head. "Personally, I think that after all that's happened under this roof, this place would NEVER deserve something like that, Midorikawa-san. So, when can you come by to finalize everything?"
"Friday morning?" Hayato proposed.
"That's fair enough."
* * *
The real estate agent was escorted off the property. Kasumi returned to the sitting room to see Shinshi at the table, appearing rested. To the older sister's eye, her magic-born brother was dressed in stylish jeans and a polo shirt. Yotsuba-chan DOES possess a sharp eye for detail, Kasumi mused as she sat beside him. "Konnichi wa, Shinshi-chan. Do you feel a little better now?"
Shinshi nodded. "A heck of a lot better, Onee-chan. So how did things go with Midorikawa-san? No problems about selling the property?"
"Hai. It'll be finalized Friday and we'll be out of here by Saturday," Kasumi reported. "Let's just hope the modifications to Welcome House'll be ready when it comes time for us to move there. Rinrin-chan warned me that the House's main building is a lot more run down than the rotunda."
"It should be alright." Shinshi stretched, glancing around. "I guess everyone else is still asleep. Where's Chieko-san?"
"She left an hour ago. I think her mother was worried about her staying the whole day away from school," Kasumi mused.
"That's good. Let's hope she won't get into trouble with the teachers when she goes back to school tomorrow morning."
"True . . . " Kasumi perked on hearing footsteps, looking up as Nabiki and Akane stepped into the sitting room. "Konnichi wa, minna."
"Everything's all set?" Nabiki asked as the sisters sat down.
"All ready to go. We'll be on the Island full-time by Saturday night."
"Pity it couldn't happen sooner," Akane lamented.
"'Cause of Kunou-chan?" Nabiki asked.
"Hai. Wouldn't THAT blow the wind out of his sails?" A grin then crossed Akane's face as she crossed her arms. "His precious 'fierce tigress' moving out of the city to another prefecture where he couldn't chase after her. And add that to him losing his pig-tailed goddess, too . . .?"
Shinshi smirked. "Especially losing Ranma-chan to a guy like Ataru?"
No one noticed Akane's pained look in response to his comment connecting Saotome Ranma to Moroboshi Ataru. "Oooh, THAT would hurt!" Nabiki chuckled. "Maybe I should remind Kunou-chan about that sometime this week . . . "
"Nabiki-chan, please don't," Kasumi calmly scolded. "Ataru-kun and his family are already doing a lot for us. We shouldn't . . . "
"Oh, Onee-chan, RELAX! I was just kidding!" Nabiki waved her sister down, and then she perked as something washed through her. "What the . . .?"
"What?" Shinshi gazed at his sister before he jolted. "Hey . . . "
Akane stared concernedly at them. "You guys alright?"
"Oh, we have visitors." Kasumi gazed at the entrance, and then she stood to see who was standing at the front gate.
Akane watched her go, and then she turned to her other sister and brother. "What is it?" she asked as she placed a hand on Nabiki's shoulder.
"Avalonians . . . " Nabiki whispered. "Two of them. Both not bonded."
"They're as surprised at our being here as we are about them," Shinshi added as he glanced towards the front gate.
Everyone then turned to look as Kasumi stepped back inside. Following the Tendou matriarch were two girls dressed in the dark blue seifuku of Tomobiki High School. One was a girl with long brown hair in a high ponytail while the other had electric blue hair extending to her waist. Akane watched as the visitors' eyes darted over the room for a moment before they focused on Nabiki and Shinshi. Once eye contact was made, the visitors then relaxed as they took their seats opposite Akane's sister and brother.
Silence fell as they gazed on each other, and then the blue-haired girl softly declared, "You weren't born this way, were you?"
"Ah . . . " Nabiki caught herself, shaking her head. "No. My brother and I were just converted very early this morning."
"I don't recall Mom telling me that the factory was programmed to create male bioroids," the pony-tailed girl noted, gazing at her companion for a moment, and then she turned back to Shinshi. "Unless . . . "
Shinshi pointed to himself. "Actually, it was because of a device called the Staff of Gihan that this body was made for me."
The visitors' eyes widened. "Gihan's Staff?!" the blue-haired girl gasped. "How in Buddha's name did THAT damned thing get here?!"
"Brought here by three refugees from Phentax Two who came here via the factory itself," Nabiki reported, and then she jolted as something came to her. "Oh, geez! I'm sorry!" She waved to herself as introductions were made.
"So how did you girls come to be here?!" Kasumi asked.
"We were born here." Yoshino Tomomi smiled. "Twenty years ago, a group of Avalonians came to Earth to make contact with a Zephyrite missionary colony. Our mothers eventually scattered themselves from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Actually . . . " She blushed, pointing to herself before she continued, "Those on Hokkaido, like my mother, were close to the mark; the colony was on Rishiri-tou living with Moroboshi Ataru's grandmother, Nagaiwakai."
"So you've come here to look for Ataru-kun, right?" Nabiki wondered.
Ikusawa Kyooko nodded. "Hai. When the factory came into orbit over Earth, our mothers sensed it. The link between them and the factory was broken when we . . . " -- she indicated herself, and then Tomomi -- " . . . were born, but our mothers can still sense it."
"Are you guys afraid the factory or whoever's in control of it now might take your mothers away?" Shinshi asked, he sensing deep fear in the visitors.
"Well, we doubt the factory can be able to lock in on us since we ARE half-Terran," Tomomi noted. "And yes, we are afraid that even now, whoever controls the factory might have at his disposal some means that could take our mothers away. And if that happens . . . "
"It could easily kill our fathers since our mothers are all psi-bonded to their husbands," Kyooko finished for her companion. "Not to mention badly hurt us because a subtle bond exists between ourselves and our mothers."
Kasumi covered her mouth. "Oh, my!"
"What do you hope Ataru-kun could do to help you guys?" Nabiki asked.
"Our ultimate goal is to break the factory away from any influence by the Niphentaxians." Kyooko sighed. "We learned from Ataru-kun's old classmates in Tomobiki he's already made headway in dealing with the Niphentaxians . . . "
"You've got that right!" Shinshi noted. "Ataru-kun was on Phentax Two when the Staff of Gihan was set off and killed three billion people . . . "
The visitors paled. "Ataru-kun was THERE . . .?!" Tomomi gasped.
The Tendous grimly nodded. "Do you think he'll want to go fight the Niphentaxians again after that, Onee-chan?" Akane asked.
Nabiki sighed. "He'll really have no choice in the matter, Akane-chan. Think about it. This whole 'church of Lum' thing on Phentax Two declares that Ataru-kun is nothing more than the 'great evil.' That means that until the day comes when this whole church is done away with, Ataru-kun's going to have to keep an eye out for potential assassination attempts from people who actually think they're doing their 'goddess'' bidding."
Shinshi frowned. "Just like what Ranma-chan went through after she got cursed and was chased out of China by Shampoo."
Kasumi shook her head. "Saddening."
"And there're all of Ataru-kun's sisters to worry about, too." Nabiki held up a knowing finger. "What better way to target him than through them?"
"Would they do that?" Akane wondered.
"Most likely."
Kasumi turned to Kyooko and Tomomi. "Do you girls want to visit Ataru-kun today? He doesn't live too far away from here."
Both visitors nodded. "Please?"
"I can take them over there, Onee-chan," Shinshi volunteered.
Nabiki gave her brother a knowing look. "Hell, you just want to go over there to be with Yotsuba-chan!" Her eyebrows wriggled.
Shinshi gave her an even stare in response. Kasumi tried not to fall over laughing. "I'll go with you," Akane volunteered, standing.
"Are you going to try to talk to Ranma-chan?" Kasumi asked.
The youngest Tendou paused. "Hai, Onee-chan." She then gazed at the ceiling. "Whether or not I'll succeed, though . . . " she then added.
* * *
"A wedding dress party?!"
Everyone sitting around Yukimi's coffee table gazed on the pictures of the recent party Ryouga took part in when he visited Promised Island. "Hai!" the wanderer said, an embarrassing blush crossing his face at the comments many of the people around him just made about his playing the preacher. "The girls came up with this idea just after they met their brother. But the first time they did this, Chikage-san wasn't involved." He pointed to a picture of the sorceress, dressed in her dark-hued gown.
"Chikage-oneechan . . . "
Eyes locked on Ten. The young boy was gazing on another picture of Chikage, hearts glittering in his eyes. "Uh-oh!" Sakiko mused as she gazed knowingly at Seiko. "Ten-chan's got another girl he can chase around. Remember what he was like around Sakura-sensei?"
Shinobu shook her head. "I definitely remember that!"
The Izumo sisters laughed. Ten ignored them; his attention was still held by the picture of the sorceress. "Ryouga-sama, I hope you're NOT considering the priesthood," Akari said as she gazed concernedly on her fiancé.
Ryouga acked. "No! No! No! No!" He waved his hands. "Of course not! B-but . . . " he stuttered before he waved to the pictures. "The girls needed someone to play the priest this time since Ataru's older sister Negako was in Nerima when I went there. They asked me to do it and . . . " He stopped. "Well, wh-what was I supposed to do?! I mean . . . "
"Well, at least you were being a gentleman about it," Shinobu mused.
"It's not just that, Miyake-san." Ryouga shuddered. "It's Aria-san."
"Aria-chan?" everyone said as they turned to gaze on the couple of photos showing the young Parisian at the altar.
Ryouga nodded. "Yeah! I mean, all she has to do is make that sound . . . " He paused before softening his voice in a bad imitation of Aria's painful sob. "'Kusun!'" His voice went back to normal. "Man, when you hear THAT, your guts just twist up and all you want to do is just make her STOP crying! Not even Ranma or Ataru are immune to it!"
Seiko felt a painful chill warp through her as her eyes focused on the pictures of Ataru with Ranma. Sakiko stared at her sister, and then she reached over to give her a supportive squeeze. Seiko started, and then she faintly smiled. "Well, I suppose that clears up all that!" Akari mused as she helped Ryouga collect the pictures and stuff them back into the small photo album Yotsuba had given the wanderer before he left Promised Island. "If you'll all pardon us, I want to get back to the farm with Ryouga-sama."
"Are his clothes all through the wash?" Yukimi wondered.
"Last batch is going through the dryer now," Kodama Hiro reported.
"I see." The apartment block manager then turned back to Ryouga and Akari. "Would you like to stay for dinner, then?"
The pig farmer blushed. "We don't want to impose . . . "
Yukimi waved her down. "Oh, relax! It's no imposition!"
Ryouga stared at Akari. "Can't refuse free food, Akari-chan."
Akari's blush deepened. "W-well . . .!"
* * *
As excited chatter picked up, Seiko headed up to her bedroom. Shinobu watched the other woman head off. Excusing herself, she followed the Urusian-turned-Nendo-kata. Reaching the doorway into Seiko's bedroom, Shinobu paused on seeing her former rival sitting on her bed, gazing out the window at the darkening afternoon sky. "Are you okay, Seiko?" Shinobu asked as she walked in to sit herself at the other's desk.
Seiko took a deep breath. "Should I be?"
"I guess seeing those pictures must've hurt bad."
"Hai, they did." The other woman nodded. "Even now . . . "
"Is it true?"
"About what?"
"What Ten-chan told me?" Shinobu asked as she crossed her arms. "About one of your people having killed Ataru-kun's grandmother?"
Seiko stared at her, slowly nodding. "Awful, isn't it?"
"Hai. Why did it happen?"
"How much do you know about the Zephyrites?"
Ataru's former girlfriend shook her head. "Not much."
"Well . . . " Seiko began. "Think of them as a model theocracy. I know . . .!" She paused, giving the other woman a knowing smile. "I can sense that you're very passionate about your faith. Imagine a whole RACE like that! A race of nearly a trillion sentient beings, spread over two hundred planets. Add to that, they're also the most technologically advanced race in this part of the galaxy. NO ONE equals them, Shinobu. No one . . . " Her voice trailed off as she pointed to the sky. "Their closest colony to Earth, Jiyuu, is only five light-years from here. Toshitto, Uru's closest colony, is over thirty."
"And you guys . . . " Shinobu stopped on seeing a flash of deep pain in Seiko's eyes. "Excuse me, the Urusians tried to invade us?"
"I know. On occasion, people who are outside the accepted Zephyrite faiths can be given an honorary bishop-like status in one of their churches. Those people are called 'righteous gentiles.' Darling's grandmother was one."
"The people of Israel do something like that. They call them 'Righteous Among The Nations.' Those are mostly people who helped Jews avoid the Nazi death camps during World War Two, like Oskar Schindler . . . "
Seiko shook her head. "Not like that at all, Shinobu."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if a Righteous Gentile -- especially if she's living on a world close to the frontier of Zephyrite space -- feels it necessary, she could call on the power of the Holy Republic to defend her home planet against outside aggression. And that defence could, if it has to, go all the way to what the Zephyrites call a 'holy crusade.'" A pause before Seiko quietly added, "Which is their term for religiously-sanctioned genocide."
"That can't . . .!" Shinobu blurted out. On seeing the deadly serious look on her host's face, she paused. "Oh, God . . .!"
"Hai, it's true. It's only happened once," Seiko reported. "And that was against a people who once conquered Uru, Neptune, Fukunokami and Karasutengu and held them captive for three hundred years. But the threat is there . . . "
"And Ataru-kun's grandmother actually had the authority to call that . . .?" Shinobu's voice trailed off before she stared anew at Seiko. "So to make sure their planned invasion of Earth wouldn't result in a total disaster . . . " She paused again, gaping. "Did your father know?!" Seiko nodded. Shinobu stared at her before she turned to look away, a hand reaching up to rub her other arm. "Oh, Jesu Cristo . . . "
"The person who actually killed Darling's grandmother was an old acquaintance of mine. He . . . " Seiko grimaced. "The stupid sub-creature practically BOASTED that I was his friend! That he was damn proud of the fact that he killed Darling's grandmother to make sure that your people would become slaves of the Urusians!" Squeezing her eyes shut, she shook her head as she added, "Right to Darling's face . . . "
"And your dad knew . . . " Shinobu whispered.
Seiko nodded, sniffing back fresh tears. "Hai, he knew."
"When did Ataru-kun find out?"
"He bumped into Ando the second weekend after he left Tomobiki. The whole part about the ruling council on Uru being in on what happened to Darling's grandmother . . . " A pause. "He found that out later. At that point, he chose to support the Noukiites since that would give him the chance to locate all the people involved in what happened to his grandmother . . . "
"And take his revenge," Shinobu finished.
Silence fell as Ataru's former girlfriend took the time to think over what Seiko told her, and then she asked, "What do we do now?"
"It's done. The people who were involved are either dead, in the hands of the Noukiites to be tried for crimes against the Dominion or else they're in the hands of the Zephyrite Inquisition, facing heresy charges . . . "
Shinobu blanched. "The Zephyrites even have an Inquisition?!"
Seiko nodded. Hearing that, Shinobu gazed nowhere in particular, and then she folded her legs close to her, hugging them with her arms. "God, I'm not sure I'd ever want to meet someone like that!" she hissed before turning to stare at her former rival. "This was part of the thing Ataru-kun's mother had Negako-san erase from his mind, right?" she asked.
"Suppress, not erase," Seiko amended. "And yes, that was the big part. I . . . " She shook her head. "You know, Darling told me this morning that he LIKED my parents. He was envious of me, Shinobu, because I had parents who really cared for me. But . . . "
"Finding out your fiancée's father conspired in the murder of your grandmother . . . " Shinobu quaked. "I can see why he'd get angry."
"Hai." Seiko's eyes turned to the ceiling. "And even worse, Oogi's still out there." She pointed up. "Atop making sure that the Church of Lum could never harm his sisters, Darling went after Oogi to make damn sure that the Niphentaxians couldn't come to the Urusians' aid against the Noukiites. Now finding out about the Avalonians . . . "
"So what do we do?"
Seiko sensed Shinobu's concerned look, and then she sighed. "The big thing we have to do is keep information about Darling's sisters under wraps until the time comes when Darling'll deal with Oogi." She looked out the window at the surrounding cityscape. "Remember, Shinobu, if Darling was willing to do all that to avenge the death of his grandmother, could you imagine what might happen if any of his sisters came to harm?"
Shinobu blinked as Seiko's warning sank in, and then she blanched.
* * *
"A little gift for a suffering friend."
"Ku-chan!" Ukyou blushed as she took the rose from Kumiko. The raven-haired mirror-twin of Ranma's had come to Okonomiyaki U-chan's minutes after the proprietor herself returned from her meeting with Kamekichi Tampopo. "Did Ran-chan call you?" she then asked.
"Hai, she did. Told us everything about what happened between you and that sack of refuse you once had to call a father. After hearing that, I felt that the sooner I got here, the better." Kumiko took a seat by the counter as Ukyou proceeded to place the rose in a flute filled with fresh water. "Did you speak to anyone from the Court of Special Appeals?"
"Yeah. Tampopo-sensei called 'em over to talk to me at her shop." Ukyou then stopped. Staring at her, Kumiko was quick to notice the sense of stunned bewilderment deep in her friend's eyes. "Damn . . . " She shook her head, leaning on her counter. "I got up this morning thinking I was within a hair's breadth of losing everything that had meaning in my life! And now . . . " She tossed up a hand as she shook her head.
"Stunned to see that things can actually go your way for a change?"
"Damn right about that, sugar!" Ukyou admitted. "So how're things with you and To-chan on the Island?" she then asked.
"Settling in well," Kumiko admitted. "Toshiko and I'll do a special entrance exam on Friday to see if we can attend Stargazer West College. We should pass with little problems." She shrugged nonchalantly.
"Be in the same class as Ran-chan when she goes there?"
Kumiko shook her head. "It's hard to predict. Probably wind up in the same class as Sakuya-chan, Haruka-chan and Marie-chan, if not the one Chikage-chan is a part of. Ranma's and Ataru-kun's classes are pretty well filled up according to the present class lists."
"Who's with them?"
"Karen-chan's with Ataru-kun."
"Karen?!" Ukyou's eyebrow arched as she recalled who that was. "She's kinda young to be starting off in the third year of high school, isn't she?"
"She skipped a grade because she did advanced studies when she was living with her mother and stepfather overseas," Kumiko explained.
"Really?! I thought Marie-chan was the smart one of that bunch."
"Seems that way, ne?" Kumiko chuckled as she considered the point. "Then again, from what I've heard, she spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital during most of last year. Not sure of the illness, but I think the death of her stepfather had something to do with it."
Ukyou sighed. "Poor kid. Oh, interested in something, Ku-chan?"
Kumiko smirked. "You."
"Oh, no prob- . . . "
Ukyou gaped, staring wide-eyed at her friend. "Wh-what?"
Kumiko reached over to tap the chef's nose. "Gotcha!"
Ukyou flustered. "Oh, you!" She swatted the other woman's hand away, and then she proceeded to prepare batter. "Damn, you actually had me going there for a moment! I though you'd be more interested in boys than girls!"
"Don't forget, U-chan, I WAS born a boy," Kumiko reminded her.
"So was Ran-chan."
"Hai, true, true. Oh, I do happen to have something for you."
Kumiko reached into her jacket to draw out a padded envelope to hand to Ukyou. The chef opened it, drawing out a small pile of papers. Gazing at the covering sheet, her jaw nearly dropped to the floor. "Business application for Promised Island?!" she blurted out as she stared at Kumiko.
"Toshiko and I figured that, regardless of what happened between you and Ranma, you'd want to stay close even if she's moving out of Nerima," Kumiko explained. "I talked with one of the people who help manage Welcome House. Since you have been, in effect, orphaned, that qualifies you under the founding Imperial Rescript on the settlement of Oomure-jima as a potential resident." She gazed at the table. "Besides, you're our friend too, U-chan. You helped us. Why shouldn't we help you? I'm sure Tampopo-san wouldn't mind at all."
Ukyou gazed on the raven-haired mirror-twin. A tearful smile crossed her face. Hopping over the counter, she dropped into Kumiko's lap to swamp her with a grateful embrace. No words were said as the two held each other closely for what seemed like an eternity. They then pulled apart to gaze into the other's eyes. "Thank you so much, Kumiko-chan," Ukyou whispered before leaning in to give the other woman a warm kiss. Kumiko shuddered, and then her hold on the chef stiffened as she tilted her head. Ukyou's eyes widened as she felt the mirror-twin's tongue gently slink into her mouth. She then relaxed as she pulled herself even closer to Kumiko. They remained in that position for yet another blissful eternity before slowly, reluctantly, pulling apart.
Gazing once more into the other's eyes, Kumiko quirkily smiled. "I guess I wasn't kidding when I said I wanted you, U-chan."
"Guess you weren't, Ku-chan." Ukyou lightly shrugged before she asked, "Are you doing this because . . .?" An eyebrow arched in curiosity.
"Did Ranma ask me to do this? No. Am I doing it out of some sense of obligation to you? Well . . . " She reached up to gently stroke Ukyou's cheek. "As I said, I am grateful for your help when Ranma and Jijii broke Toshiko and I out of that compact and sent us on our way. No denying that. But . . . " A twinkle appeared in her eye. "I do love you, Ukyou. You'll always have a special place in my life. I want you to come to the Island. Live with Toshiko and I at the cottage. Set up U-chan's there. You'll have a lot of customers there waiting for you. Far as I can tell, there's not another okonomiyaki shop on the Island. And as for what happens between us . . . "
They shared another kiss. "I guess we gotta find that out for ourselves, ne?" Ukyou said, straightening herself in Kumiko's lap.
"I guess so . . . "
A telephone rang. Both winced before they gazed at the offending object. "Don't you just HATE that, Ku-chan?!" Ukyou muttered as she slipped off Kumiko's lap, and then she headed over to pick up the receiver. "Moshi-moshi, Okonomiyaki U-chan's, Kuonji Ukyou speaking," she hailed into it.
"They DO ruin the mood, I guess," Kumiko muttered to herself as she rested her elbows on the counter, chin in her palms . . .
She the jolted on hearing Ukyou's surprised voice cry out, "WHAT?! Sensei, are you SURE about this?!" Silence fell over the restaurant as Ukyou took in the message from Kamekichi Tampopo. The chef nodded. "R-right! Did you pass it on . . .?" Her voice trailed off, and then she nodded again. "Okay, Sensei, I understand. Look, Saotome Kumiko's here. She brought in some papers I'd have to fill out if I want to move the restaurant to Promised Island. Are you . . .?" She was cut off by Tampopo's quick reply, and then she nodded. "Okay, I appreciate that, Sensei. How soon can you find out more about this?" Another pause, and then Ukyou nodded yet again. "Sure, I'll come by tomorrow after school to talk to you about it." Another nod. "Right, I'll see you later. 'Bye, Sensei." She hung up.
"What is it?" Kumiko wondered.
Ukyou walked back to the counter, the bewildered look Kumiko saw in her eyes earlier back with a vengeance. "Sensei . . .! Well, she just got a call from a friend," she began, leaning on the counter. "This guy works for a bank that's affiliated to the group Ataru-kun's uncle owns. And . . . " She gulped. "Jeez, my grandfather . . . "
Kumiko stood. Ukyou didn't resist as the other woman boosted her over the counter to plant her in the seat beside hers. Gently holding the chef's hands, Kumiko gazed into Ukyou's eyes. "What about him? Tell me."
"Well, it's . . . " Ukyou bit her lip. "It's my mom's dad. I . . . " She stopped, barking out a shaky laugh before rubbing one of her eyes. "I never knew much about Mom's relatives. And after Dad sent me off to go after Ran-chan and Genma, well . . . " She threw up her hands.
"You lost all contact with your mother."
"Y-yeah!" Ukyou sputtered before taking several deep breaths. Kumiko kept her peace as her friend marshalled her thoughts, and then the chef gazed at her. "Well, Mom's dad didn't like Dad at all. He didn't approve of them getting together and all that. But he wasn't going to just leave it all be, you know. And . . . " A shudder raced through her, and then she blurted out, "When he died, he bequeathed all his property to me!"
Kumiko blinked, one of her eyebrows arching. "How much money are we talking about here, U-chan? A lot?" Seeing a wary look flash in the chef's eyes, she quickly moved to moderate. "U-chan, I'm sorry! I didn't mean it THAT way! But if it's a lot of money . . . "
"About two hundred million yen after taxes."
Kumiko stared wide-eyed at her friend. A delighted smile then crossed her face. "U-chan, that's . . .!" She stopped herself as realization dawned on her. "Oh, damn!" She covered her mouth. "Your dad was trying to . . .?"
"Sensei thinks so. According to Granddad's will, I can get the inheritance when I turn twenty. No strings attached. It'd be my money and property, regardless of what happens between my family and I. Guess Granddad figured Dad out a long time ago. However, the only way I can get it ahead of time is when I . . . " She turned to Kumiko, shrugging.
The other woman's eyebrow arched. "Get married?"
"Yeah! Of course, because I'd be underage . . . "
"Your legal guardian -- namely, your father -- would have nominal control of the money," Kumiko quickly concluded before she shook her head. "Damn! And I thought Genma was a backstabbing thief at times?!" she spat out.
"Yeah," Ukyou snorted, leaning her head on her hand, elbow on the counter. "Well, that's something to look forward to, ne?"
"I'll say. What do you plan to do?"
"Well, talk to Sensei about it, then find some way to make sure Dad can never lay his hands on my inheritance." Ukyou headed behind the counter to continue preparing the batter. "Then I'll just sit back and wait for things to happen. After all, I can support myself with the restaurant. And if the Island doesn't have another okonomiyaki shop -- bizarre as I find THAT to be! Doesn't everyone like okonomiyaki?! -- then I'll be able to make a handsome profit even before I get hold of Granddad's money, ne?"
"True." Kumiko nodded, and then her eyebrow arched. "Lucky for you Genma never got wind of that before Ranma did him in. If he did . . .?"
"Yeah, he would've dumped the Tendous like hot potatoes and Ran-chan and I'd have been married in a flash." Ukyou smirked before a thoughtful look crossed her face. "Then again, would it have helped him in the end?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if he tried to get some of my inheritance from my dad . . .?"
Both women gazed on each other, and then they laughed.
* * *
"'The island of promises.' Nice place."
Seven Bake Rose sipped her espresso as she relaxed in one of the sidewalk bistros located on Second Street East, Promised Island's restaurant district. Being on Earth in late winter meant a change of clothes from her preferred battlesuits. A stylish pair of black slacks topped with a ruffled white shirt, which was covered by a cardigan sweater. Knowing natives in Japan would automatically pick her off as "gaijin" -- Ellsians were generally Caucasian in appearance -- Rose elected to enhance that by wearing tinted sunglasses. Sometimes, it was prudent to make yourself vanish in a crowd, the alien mercenary knew. Sometimes, trying to disguise yourself was too much a bother.
Taking out what appeared to be a pocket notebook computer, Rose flipped it open on the table, and then she tapped controls. Despite its appearance, the device was likely the most advanced machine that ever graced this quaint island lying off the coast of the Japanese mainland. Fortunately, given the lack of shoppers frequenting this part of the Island, Rose didn't need to concern herself too much with potential eavesdroppers. Still, she took a careful glance around before getting down to work.
Images appeared before her. First one up was "Mr. Groom" himself. Remembering the nickname everyone from Elle and Uru gave the man, Rose snickered. Did he ever learn what his given name meant in the Urusian language or was that one of the many secrets the Devil's Daughter managed to keep from him before she died the day the Noukiites destroyed Onishuto? Perhaps when the chance came, Rose would pass the information on. Given how much Ataru must hate Lum, all that could do was add another nail to the coffin.
Data on the other members of the Moroboshi family came up. Ataru's parents were both deceased, killed in a terrorist attack on his old high school over a week before. That was a good thing. With the parents out of the way -- that tacked onto the deaths of Lum and her family -- there was no strong authority figure that could plant the necessary seeds of doubt in Ataru's mind when Elle came to Earth to claim her Honey back.
Much to her surprise, Ataru turned out to have a twin brother, Kaeru. The mercenary had learned of Ataru's twin on Noukiios; when he and his family had been welcomed into the Dominion as honorary citizens, Mr. Groom made sure that the late Moroboshi Kaeru had been added onto the family list. The other brother was of no real concern, of course; he had died in an accident on Nakadoori-jima, one of the Gotou Islands off the west coast of Kyushu, when he was only three years old. The one surprise in that affair was that the boy's body had disappeared from the hospital after his injuries were pronounced terminal. All attempts at tracing Kaeru's remains down had proven futile.
Now, to the sisters . . .
Elder sister number one: Moroboshi Negako. Adopted into the family five years ago. Origins and actual parentage were a total mystery. She was currently residing in the Nerima district of Tokyo. Occupation unknown.
Elder sister number two: Moroboshi Nokoko. Muchi and Kinshou's first-born daughter, a year older than Ataru. Turned over to the care of Muchi's elder brother Komeru when Nokoko was three, immediately after Kaeru's death. Vanished without a trace when she turned six. As with Kaeru, all attempts at locating Nokoko to date had proven totally fruitless.
Rose then smiled as the first of Ataru's twelve younger half-sisters came up. So he got it from his dad, huh? the mercenary chortled as the truth about Mr. Groom's siblings flashed in her mind. Twelve girls, all born out of wedlock to twelve different mothers, all of who came to live on Promised Island over the last two years. Ten were Japanese by nationality; Yotsuba Dunn was from the United Kingdom while Aria des Beauchamps came from France. That would change, Rose knew; lawyers working for Ataru's family were busy making arrangements for all twelve of the girls to be adopted into the Moroboshi family. Once that was done, the eldest of the group, Sukeyama Sakuya, would then be formally recognized as the next matriarch of Mr. Groom's family.
Definitely bring these girls along, Rose mused as she sipped the rest of her coffee. From what she had been able to ascertain when she inspected the youth hostel located on the western shore of the Island, Ataru had become VERY close to his half-siblings. To shatter that would simply make things worse between Ataru and Elle when they got back together. Of course, these twelve would make the perfect hostages if things should go really sour for the Queen.
But that was the worst-case scenario . . .
Hurting the sisters, especially the more fragile girls like Susumu Marie, Aria des Beauchamps and Saeru Hinako, would be stupid. Best to woo them, and then get their help in making Ataru see reason. Even if Ataru had not stepped on Elle's shadow years ago, the Rose Queen was adamant on the idea of having Honey back. Lum's recent death and the defeat of the Urusians by the Noukiites had been a sign to Elle. And she certainly did not want to put him into the Refrigerator of Love; Elle's love for Ataru, much to everyone's surprise in Baran, didn't come close to falling in THAT vein . . .!
Oh, Fates! The Queen's got it for this guy but GOOD!
Rose shook her head as she deactivated her computer, and then she motioned to a waiter for the bill. Was that really such a bad thing? The Kingdom had begun to show grave signs of political, social and economic stagnation as the Rose Queen's behaviour toward her "cute boys" evolved from the darkest of state secrets to barracks scuttlebutt and juicy meat of street hof jokes. With a husband acting as Crown Prince Consort, especially one with close ties to the Holy Republic of Zephyrus and the Dominion of Noukiios, Elle might finally shake off her idiosyncrasies and do what she had been born to do. Everyone in the Kingdom and many beyond would gladly benefit from THAT!
The bill was paid. After slipping her computer into her purse, Rose made her way towards the ferry dock. It was time to get to work.
* * *
"WHAT?! What do you mean, Sasuke?!"
"What I mean, Master, is that Saotome Ranma no longer appears on his family register," Sasuke proclaimed as he faced Kunou in the latter's reading room. "As near as I can discover, this happened Sunday afternoon, just before the fight you and Mistress Kodachi were involved with at the sch- . . . "
"Enough!" Kunou stood, moving to stand by the window. Gazing on the front yard, the kendou-ka hummed in contemplation as he mentally reviewed the information Sasuke just gave him. "So, he has made himself roonin, has he?"
A mirthless chuckle escaped him. "It appears so, Master."
"What of the pig-tailed girl and her mirror-twin replica?"
Sasuke perked. "There's good news concerning them, Master." He smiled. "Mistress Ranma and Mistress Toshiko were granted the right to form their own autonomous branch of the Saotome family by the Court of Special Appeals. Also part of their group is a Mistress Saotome Kumiko." He bowed his head apologetically. "I've yet to ascertain who she might be, Master."
Kunou perked. "The Court of Special Appeals?!"
"The very same, Master."
"I see . . . " The kendou-ka then chuckled, it soon turning into a full-blown laugh. "Oh, the sheer JOY of it all! The pig-tailed girl and her sisters FREED from that honourless wizard's clutches! At LAST can I finally go forth and claim their hearts and ensure victory against that monster who dared think himself BETTER than the Blue Thunder . . .!"
Sasuke held up a finger. "Um, Master, there's a problem . . . "
Kunou spun on him. "SILENCE!" he roared. "Wretched cur, how DARE you interrupt me when I seek to proclaim my victory?!"
"But Mistress Ranma won't be living in Nerima anymore, Master!"
"WHAT?!" Kunou thundered.
Sasuke flustered. "It's true, sir. You see, Mistress Ranma and her sisters have elected to move to a district of the city of Odawara . . . "
The older ninja sighed as his employer railed on. This is just NOT worth it . . . he moaned, fighting down the urge to lash out physically at Kunou. This is just simply NOT worth it! Wait until the Master learns of what Mistress Akane and her sisters are planning to do!
* * *
"Dear brother, you are SUCH an idiot at times!" Kodachi muttered to herself as she slipped on her leotard. Even given the sturdy construction and thick walls of the Kunou mansion, it was normally impossible to ignore her brother's thunderous ranting, especially when it came to the subjects of Tendou Akane and Saotome Ranma. Shaking her head, she quickly checked herself over to see if anything was missing, and then, with a graceful spring to her open window, Kodachi was off! Another bounding stride and she landed on a telephone pole just outside the mansion's walls. With that, she was on her way, racing in the general direction of Saint Hebereke Girl's High School.
As the wind whipped past, Kodachi took several deep breaths. A package from the Court of Special Appeals, just like the one Ranma's other suitors received, had arrived at the mansion this morning. Since all the members of the family were off at school when it came, Sasuke received the package, and then examined it. Realizing the gravity of what the Court's decision concerning Ranma would mean to everyone who associated with her, the ninja raced off to Saint Hebereke to allow Kodachi to see the package first.
While she cringed at the idea of Ranma officially declaring herself a girl, the martial arts gymnast had to admit that using such a strategy was prudent. That, tacked onto the move to officially shatter every tie to her birth family, plus establish their new family in a place outside Tokyo, should have forced Akane's father to take pause. Not that the fool could possibly hurt Ranma-sama; after what happened that morning, it would be a long time before Souun would be able to force his will -- Did the idiot even HAVE one?! Kodachi mused as she did a pirouette atop a telephone pole, and then headed towards Hikarigaoka Park -- on Ranma, much less his daughters.
Reflecting on what just happened to Ranma, Kodachi tried not to frown as she made a perfect bound to a streetlight located by the front gate of Hikarigaoka, and then she daintily dropped to the ground. Personally, once she finally forced herself to accept that her Ranma-sama and the pig-tailed girl was indeed one and the same person, Kodachi realized that she didn't care a bit about that awful curse. Still, she had to know if Ranma's decision about his legally becoming a woman was either farce or truth.
If it was the former . . .?
And if it was the latter . . .?
What then?
Kodachi stopped, noisily exhaling before her eyes focused on the yatai located some metres away. "Konban wa, Kodachi-san," Yamada Fred hailed with a warm smile as the gymnast came up to take a seat. "Your usual?"
"Hai, Fred-san, please."
He got to work preparing an order of poutine, a Québécois dish he learned about over the Internet. "Aren't you getting cold prancing around town in just a leotard tonight, Kodachi-san?" he wondered as he gave her a curious look.
She flashed him a delighted smile. "I can keep myself warm with exercise, but right now, I need to get some calories into me."
"Hai, hai! Quick as I can."
He got to work. Kodachi watched as he dumped raw French fries into a fryer, and then he drew out a can of gravy and a bag of fresh cheese curds. She then perked on hearing footsteps echo from behind her. Fred looked up, a smile cutting across his face. "Konban wa, Ranma-san . . . " His voice suddenly trailed off as confusion crossed his face. "Wait a minute!" he then declared as he pointed at the newcomer. "You're not . . . "
"Iie, not really." A lovely redhead slipped into the stool beside Kodachi. "Didn't U-chan ever tell you about Ranma's mirror-twins?"
The hamburger yatai vendor blinked, and then he snapped his fingers before pointing at her. "Oh, I remember now! Toshiko, right?!"
"The same! A Ranma Special if you don't mind."
"Hai, right away."
As Fred got to work, Kodachi took the chance to give Toshiko a look-over. Like her brother, the gymnast learned of Ranma's mirror-twins the instant both of them emerged from Mirror Mansion. Knowing one of them was male had sent jolts of anticipation through Kodachi. After all, if she couldn't have the original -- this had sunk into her around the time of her battle with Saginomiya Asuka, the White Lily -- why not go after a replica? Of course, if Ranma's father had even the barest flicker of intelligence, he should have used that magic mirror to clone his son enough times to satisfy all who wanted him.
Sadly, Nabiki's later announcement that the mirror-twins had been disposed of crashed any hopes Kodachi might have had towards claiming even a small part of the awe-inspiring magnificence that was Saotome Ranma . . .
Kodachi caught herself. Stop that, 'Dachi!
She then relaxed as Fred placed a plate of poutine before her. "Here you go, Kodachi-san," he declared with a smile. "Enjoy!"
"Arigatou!" She picked up a fork. "Itadakimasu!"
She dug in. "Hey, Yamada-san, what is that, anyway?" Toshiko asked.
"Poutine. French fries, gravy and melted cheese. Care to try some?"
"Hmmm . . .! Sounds great. Okay."
"Here." Kodachi picked up some cheese-coated fries to dangle it before Toshiko's mouth, she giving her a friendly smile. "Try it."
"Aaaah!" Toshiko opened her mouth to munch the sample down. "Hey, this IS good!" She nodded in approval. "Thanks, Kodachi."
"I take it you want that with your order?" Fred asked.
The crimson-haired mirror-twin nodded. "You bet!"
"Hai, right away."
He got to work. As she ate her poutine, Kodachi watched as Fred prepared a huge pile of beef, complete with sizzling onions, tomatoes and lettuce, on his grill. "This is normally what Ranma-sama eats?!" she asked.
Fred nodded. "Yep, that it is! Had to craft it myself when he decided he needed a break from U-chan's and the Nekohanten. Not that I'd personally knock Ukyou-san or Elder Cologne; they're both very good. But limiting your choices to okonomiyaki or Chinese cuisine . . .?"
Kodachi smiled. "Hai, that is true. Believe me, Yamada-san, I truly rejoiced when I heard you'd established your yatai here."
"Everyone did, I guess." Toshiko smirked as she reached into her jacket to draw out a padded envelope no different than what Kumiko had just given Ukyou. "And speaking of which, Fred-san, Ranma asked me to pass this on to you for your personal consideration." She held it out to him with both hands.
"What's this?" He took the envelope, and then he opened it to scan the contents. "Business application for . . .?" He gaped before turning to stare quizzically at Toshiko. "Where the heck's Promised Island, anyway . . .?"
"Real name's Oomure-jima. It's located in the Sagami Sea just off the coast of Odawara. It's where Ranma'll be living, starting this weekend. My other sister Kumiko and I are there already. And I know they don't have anything like this place." She indicated the yatai.
"Ranma asked you to do this?!" Fred asked. At her nod, he chuckled, setting the envelope aside as he turned back to preparing Toshiko's meal. "Much that I how much business he brings to me, but for him to do THAT . . .?!"
"Well, if you want to stay here, that's no problem. This IS your place," Toshiko asserted. "But I'll tell you this: Given how bad the hamburger joint on the Island is, having you demonstrate what REAL hamburgers are about . . . "
She held up a finger. "One of those places?!" Fred asked. On seeing Toshiko nod, he smirked. "Tell Ranma I'll consider it. How big's the island?"
"About six thousand permanent residents, plus the fishermen who dock by the place from time to time. Few tourists come by the area, but there's a small staff of scientists from Kanagawa University who come by throughout the year to make use of the telescope on Stargazer Hill."
"Hmmm . . .!" Fred scratched his chin as he flipped the patty on the grill. "Sounds like a pretty interesting place. Okay . . . "
A very big burger complete with all the trimmings was soon placed before Toshiko. In lieu of a regular order of fries, the mirror-twin got an order of poutine. Seeing the amount of food a "Ranma Special" took, Kodachi whistled before she turned back to her meal. "My, is Ranma-sama capable of eating ALL THAT as a girl as well as a boy?" she asked.
"You bet." Toshiko winked, smiling as she pulled up a hunk of poutine to dangle before the gymnast. "Kodachi-san, say 'aahh!'"
Kodachi opened her mouth. "Aaahhh . . . "
The poutine was slipped into her mouth. As the martial arts gymnast started to munch it down, Toshiko used her chopsticks to flick off the bits of melted cheese that got caught on the skin around Kodachi's lips. Seeing that, the raven-haired woman opened her mouth again to accept the morsels of food. Once they were clean, Toshiko swung the wooden sticks around to sensuously draw them through her lips to give them an extra cleaning. Kodachi watched this, her heart picking up as Toshiko's beautiful sapphire eyes locked with hers.
Her eyes . . .
Ranma-sama's eyes . . .
The same . . .
Kodachi's cheeks heated as she ducked away from Toshiko's penetrating stare. Smiling, the mirror-twin turned back to her meal.
* * *
Some minutes later, two women stepped away from Fred's yatai, heading deeper into Hikarigaoka Park. As soon as they were relatively out of sight from eavesdroppers -- it was a quiet night this evening -- Toshiko reached over to grasp Kodachi's hand. The gymnast perked on feeling that grip, and then she shuddered. "I hope I'm not embarrassing you too much," Toshiko said.
Kodachi sighed before she gave the other woman a look. "If Ranma-sama had been this direct with me anytime before that 'wedding,' I would have gladly done a lot more than simply pursue him, Toshiko-san . . . "
Before the gymnast could react, Toshiko spun herself around so they were standing face-to-face. Kodachi slipped into the other woman's arms as their eyes locked on the other. "My friends call me 'To-chan,' Kodachi-san."
A delighted smile crossed the dark-haired girl's face. "And you can call me ''Dachi,' To-chan." She gently glided a finger over Toshiko's nose. "But do tell me, please: Does Ranma-sama consider me her friend?"
Silence fell as Toshiko considered what to say, and then she slowly exhaled. "I think she can let herself accept you as a friend, 'Dachi," the mirror-twin admitted. "But you have to admit, there are some problems."
"My witless brother being the primary one, I believe."
"Hai." Toshiko nodded as they proceeded to walk to a nearby bench set in a clearing surrounded by a grove of trees. "Much that we'd all wish that your brother -- much that he IS a prime specimen of beefcake! -- would finally get a life and stop chasing people who want nothing to do with him, the chances are there that even if Ranma goes to Promised Island, your brother will follow."
"Indeed, he will." Kodachi nodded as they sat, and then she smiled as Toshiko slid a comforting arm around her. Sinking into that warm embrace, she gazed on her companion. "Even now with the potential embarrassment of his drawing live steel at the wedding hanging over him, he charges ahead without a single care in the world. Tendou Akane, not yesterday morning, proclaimed that she would no longer acknowledge his desires for her and swore it on the memory of her late mother. Tell Tatewaki that . . . "
She shrugged. Toshiko snorted. "I've got no use for Miss Mallets myself, so even if your brother did go after her, I wouldn't care."
"Are you the girl-born mirror-twin?"
She nodded. "Hai. Kumiko was a boy -- we called him 'Komakichi' then -- up to when he fell into the Nyanniichuan when we visited Jusenkyou. This was probably just days before that whole mess with Saffron began, I think."
"Ah, so that's why you're so venomous toward Akane."
"We both are," Toshiko admitted.
Kodachi laughed, and then she sighed. "May I ask you something?"
"About Ranma?"
A brief silence as Toshiko considered what to say, and then she breathed out, "She's a girl in heart as well as body. That's thanks to Jusenkyou, but the full effects of that part of the curse were delayed because of the damage the Neko-ken training did to Ranma's mind."
"And that has, I assume, now been dealt with?"
"On Sunday, just before the big fight with the panda."
"Ah!" The gymnast nodded before she gazed quizzically at her new friend. "So what does bring you to Nerima this evening, To-chan? Other than seeing Fred-san, of course . . . " A sly grin crossed her face.
"Well, seeing Yamada-san was the main reason I did come, though I must confess, meeting you at last is a truly delightful bonus." Toshiko winked, eliciting another delighted laugh from the gymnast. "Kumiko's with U-chan right now trying to persuade her to move to the Island herself. U-chan had a big falling out with her dad this morning. Turns out that U-chan was due to receive a pretty big inheritance from her mom's dad, but if she wanted to get her hands on it earlier, she had to marry . . . "
"And, by the sounds of it, Kuonji-san's father planned to embezzle that inheritance from his daughter," Kodachi finished, frowning.
"Hai. Well, hopefully, he won't be much of a bother anymore. After all the crap she's been through, U-chan doesn't deserve that."
Kodachi blinked. "Bad?"
"Very. Almost as bad as what Ranma herself went through because of the panda." Toshiko then stared knowingly at the gymnast. "Not to mention what things you yourself might've lived through. Ne, 'Dachi?"
The other paled before she composed herself, and then she felt Toshiko's hands warmly squeeze her shoulders. Staring into the crimson-haired woman's eyes, Kodachi lightly smiled. "How, may I ask, did you come to assume something like that, To-chan?" she quietly asked.
"Well, even with all the profane curses she heaped over you, U-chan was pretty explicit when she described you to Kumiko and I." Toshiko drew her hands down to gently grip Kodachi's. "There's been no talk about your mother whatsoever, so I assume she is no longer with us. Your behaviour is quite . . . " -- a wry grin crossed her face -- " . . . well, eccentric to say the least of it. Ditto with your brother, though I think he's a lot worse than you. And I don't think we need to mention your father, ne?"
"Certainly not." Kodachi shook her head. "I admit that I've stepped over the bounds many times in the past when it comes to Ranma-sam- . . . " She caught herself, and then she shrugged, smiling embarrassingly. "With Ranma-san, I mean. In spite of all that, I will also admit that your bro- . . . " She caught herself again. "Gomen. 'Sister,' I mean -- was the first person in a long while who did treat me with kindness and concern. And who wasn't a doctor or a nurse, I should add." She held up a finger in emphasis.
"Or your mother, I assume," Toshiko noted.
Kodachi nodded. "Hai, Okaa-san as well." She reached up to gently wipe her eyes, sniffing. "I miss her so much."
Toshiko drew her close. "I grieve with you."
They held each other for a while, and then they pulled apart, Kodachi shifting herself to lean against Toshiko again. "Well, it seems that you seem to be on your way to getting some control over your life," the latter noted.
"Hopefully, given what the Moroboshis and the Court of Special Appeals did for Ranma-san, she will soon enjoy the same."
Toshiko gave her a curious look. "Does this have something to do with you showing up at that farce of a wedding in a wedding dress?"
"Pretty much," the gymnast admitted. "Sasuke was spying on everyone in the Tendou compound right from the moment Ranma-san and the others came back. When he relayed to me that Ranma-san's fool father was trying to force him into marrying Akane, well . . . " She shrugged.
"And doing it in a wedding dress was just your way of safeguarding your 'eccentric' reputation, ne?" Toshiko quipped, her eyebrow arching.
A wince shuddered Kodachi's body before she nearly froze in place as Toshiko leaned over to gently kiss her cheek. "Sorry."
Silence fell as the gymnast's mind rolled over what just happened. She then gazed into the other's eyes before leaning up to return the kiss on Toshiko's lips. "It's alright. I believe I deserve that." She then gazed nowhere in particular. "Still . . . "
"What is it, 'Dachi?"
"I wouldn't mind being rid of that reputation, to be truthful."
Toshiko considered that before she gave her a smile. "I think I know how to help you towards that end, 'Dachi." She slipped her arm away from the other woman before she stood up, and then she helped Kodachi to her feet. "C'mon."
"Where are we going?" the gymnast asked.
"To see a movie, plus shopping. ONCE we get you into decent clothes."
Toshiko waved Kodachi with her. Kodachi stared wide-eyed at the other woman before a smile crossed her face. "Hai!"
She then raced off after her new friend.
* * *
"I can understand your concerns very well, Ikusawa-san."
"So will you help us?" Kyooko wondered as she and Tomomi relaxed.
Ataru stared at them before he nodded. "Yes, I will. After all . . . " -- a knowing smile crossed his face -- "It's not the least bit fair that your mothers' people are forced to serve a pack of lifeless fools like Oogi."
Miree, sitting to the left of the visiting Avalonians, chuckled. "It is fortunate that your desires now mesh so well with Ataru's."
"How can we do this?" Tomomi then asked. "I only know the basics about what goes on between the Avalonians and the Niphentaxians. Atop that, our mothers don't have much knowledge when it comes to the factory. How can we fight Oogi if he's up in orbit . . .?"
"We will need to take time to ascertain what is exactly going on aboard the factory before determining a proper course of action against Oogi, Tomomi," Negako, she seated between Ataru and Sakuya, stated. "We . . . " -- she indicated the members of Ataru's family plus all the hangers-on, all of them seated in a circle around the old shrine's living room table -- " . . . were in the process of commencing a proper investigation when you and Kyooko came to speak to us. I see no reason to alter that plan at this time."
Yotsuba chuckled. "Funny way to start an investigation. We're all planning to go to a hot spring up north until this weekend!"
Surprise crossed the visiting women's faces, and then Tomomi's eyes widened. "Oh, you mean act normal for the time being, right?!"
Negako nodded. "Exactly. Now, your mothers currently possess no active link to the factory. To ensure there might not be any passive link, we can have Hinako use the Staff of Gihan to sever such links and thus impede any search launched against your parents. With that done, all you two and Minako have to do is what you have always done: Strongly control any urge to make use of your telepathic or empathic powers until such time as the threat from Oogi has been dealt with, and then proceed from there."
Akane, sitting close to Kyooko, perked as she remembered the incident when she first learned of the Niphentaxians. "Negako-san, if these people've bugged the whole of Tomobiki with those listening devices Chikage-san found in Mendou's sitting room, wouldn't the girls' apartment block be likewise bugged?"
She indicated Kyooko and Tomomi. "A reasonable point, Akane." Negako turned to Chikage. "When the girls return to their domicile tonight, ensure their apartment block, plus the area around it, is swept clean."
The sorceress nodded. "Might want to do more than that, Onee-chan," Ataru warned. "If a single blank spot appears in their coverage, it'll be a red flag to these idiots. Random blank spots all over town'd work better."
Kyooko stared at Chikage. "You won't mind this?"
Chikage lightly smiled, crossing her arms. "It's no problem. Those things are ridiculously easy to locate and eliminate."
"Even more, what of the morale of those observers in Tomobiki?" Miree mused. "After all, the chances are very good that most of their relatives back on the Homeworld are dead. How have they been taking all of this?"
Ataru sighed. "We should, for now, assume the worst."
"Why not find all these jokers now and get rid of them as soon as we can?" Mamoru asked as she tucked her legs into her arms.
Ranma shook her head. "Not a smart idea, Mamoru-chan."
"Why'd you say that, Anee?"
"Simple. We don't know where they all are. We don't even know how many of them there are in Tomobiki. If we hit one group, the rest'll all scatter and that makes it worse for us. What if they have people living in the neighbouring areas, like here in Nerima? We have to figure all that out before doing anything against them." Ranma ticked off the points on her fingers before she indicated Miree with her hand. "And Miree-san has a very good point, too. What's their morale now that so many of their fellow believers are all dead? Will they want to fight on or lay down arms? If the latter, it makes this a lot easier for all of us, but the chances are there . . . "
"There'll be some fanatic holdouts that won't want to surrender," Shinshi, who currently had one arm wrapped around Yotsuba, finished.
"And unfortunately, they're living in a fair-sized town which could provide loads of potential hostages," Ataru added. "Not to mention the very faint possibility that some of them might want to tag up with some of Lum's would-be fans, trick them into falling into the Church's side as a way of 'avenging' what happened to their 'goddess' on me."
"Onii-sama, you can't believe that even now . . .?" Sakuya blurted.
"Sakuya-chan, I'm NOT taking that chance," Ataru cut her off.
The eldest of the sisters gazed on him. "Ataru-kun has a good point, Sakuya-san." Tomomi held up a finger. "At school today, after Ataru-kun and Hinako-chan met up with Reiko-chan and Kaneko-chan, some of the guys, especially in our class, were grousing a blue streak about all the 'good luck' Ataru-kun's had recently. And this was even AFTER that MiB guy zapped them with a neuralizer to make them leave Ataru-kun alone!"
Mamoru snorted. "Goes to show what idiots they are!"
Haruka tensed. "They were conspiring against Anigimi-sama?"
"No, but you can be pretty darn sure that if the chance comes that might provide them an opportunity to hurt Ataru-kun, they'll take it," Tomomi warned.
Akane gaped. "Why?!"
Ataru smirked. "That's how much Lum's presence affected them."
"There's also the matter of Mendou-san," Kyooko warned.
Ataru tensed. "What about him?"
"Well, the girls in class noted he was absent today," Kyooko reported. "I took a look at the nominal roll and saw that he'd been scratched off the list. The teachers are being really quiet about it, but you can bet his removal'll become common knowledge before long."
"Wait until they find out about Mendou-san getting married to that man-phobe Mizunokooji," Kawamura Himiko muttered under her breath.
Tomomi blinked. "He's getting married?"
Ataru held up an objecting hand. "Yoshino-san, PLEASE don't spread that around! If the girls at school get wind of that . . . "
"It could be as bad as when Rudolph Valentino died?" Kyooko asked.
"Partially. But the bigger problem is people crashing the wedding. As Himiko just hinted, the idea of Sword-for-brains marrying Mizunokooji Asuka -- even given that Asuka ISN'T afraid of being around Mendou -- doesn't sit well with most of the girls at Tomobiki High."
Ranma stared knowingly at him. "And if they DO get married, those idiots at school'd turn around and blame it all on you, right?"
Ataru nodded, his eyes rolling. "Hai."
"So when's the happy day?" Tomomi asked. Then, noting the warning look from Ataru, she waved her hand. "I'm not going to ruin it!"
He winked, grinning. "You better not!"
"It's Saturday after lunch," Sakuya provided, her eyes glittering. "A nice, quiet, private ceremony. It's SO romantic!"
"Sakuya-san, PLEASE don't rub it in!" Serizawa Mikiko moaned.
Laughter filled the living room.
* * *
"There we go . . . "
Rose smiled as she secured the last of the transporter guide beacons into the window-side corner of the third floor classroom. It had been too easy to beak into Tomobiki High; since Fujinami Ryuunosuke no longer lived there full-time, there was no one available to keep watch over the property after hours. For the Ellsian-born mercenary, it was easier still to confirm where Miyake Shinobu currently attended classes: The nominal roll for this particular class was taped to the lectern. Five noticeable names had been scratched off that list, names Rose knew of very well. Four of them were beyond any hope of retrieval, of course; they had died two weeks before. The fifth one was still alive, thank the Fates. Even better, he was easy to retrieve from his mansion if the Queen ultimately wanted to see her last Cute Boy once more.
Stepping back to inspect her work, the mercenary nodded. "Folks here'll be in for an interesting session tomorrow," Rose mused to herself. Then, after cleaning up her gear, she slipped out of the room. In two minutes, she would be aboard her scoutship and making a situation report to Queen Elle. The Royal flagship, the patrol monitor RENS Rose Emperor, was a half-day from Earth.
Queen Elle would definitely like THIS news.
* * *
"My diary?"
Shinobu nodded. "Hai." She and Ryuunosuke were relaxing in the living room of the Miyake home, their homework spread out before them on the coffee table. "I was wondering if you've added anything to it since Ataru-kun told us about the Church of Lum on Saturday."
The tomboy blinked as she considers her friend's question, and then she shook her head. "No, I haven't. Then again, I haven't really had much to write about since Oyaji and Nagisa died. Why are you asking, Shinobu?"
Shinobu took a deep breath. "It's because of the Niphentaxians, Ryuu-chan." A pause. "And Ataru-kun, too. He . . . "
"What about Moroboshi?!" Ryuunosuke snapped, cutting Shinobu off as she bolted up. "Why the hell should I care one damned bit about him after all he's done to you, for heaven's sake?! Especially since he left this place . . .!"
Shinobu shook her head. "Ryuu-chan, you don't understand! It's not about Ataru-kun directly! It's about his sisters!"
That comment caused the tomboy to stop. "His sisters?!"
"Could you imagine what might happen if those people find out about Ataru-kun's sisters?" Shinobu then wondered. "Especially about the young ones? They're sitting targets for those monsters to go after just because they're related to Ataru-kun! Do you want to see them hurt?!"
"I . . . " Ryuunosuke paused before she shook her head. "Oh, hell, no! Of course not! But . . . " She sighed. "Shinobu, I really don't think it matters any which way! You heard what Sakiko-chan said about them on Sunday! Three billion of them are dead! I don't think they're going to be in any sort of shape to go chase after Moroboshi now . . . "
Shinobu held up an objecting finger. "How can we be sure, Ryuu-chan?"
Silence fell as they considered that. Ryuunosuke then sighed. "He hurt you, Shinobu-chan," she hissed, her fists clenching and unclenching. "He's hurt you since before Lum came into your lives, then when she left, he basically told you to go screw yourself for all he ever cared! I hate that! I really do! And he's got the fuckin' gall to demand things of you . . . "
"He hasn't demanded anything of us save to leave him alone, Ryuu-chan!" Shinobu cut in with a shake of her head. "And he's got a pretty damned good reason to want us to leave him alone! Twelve good reasons, in fact!"
Ryuunosuke stopped, staring quizzically at her friend for a moment, and then she blinked. "Because of the diaries, right?"
"Right! Now, I don't know how is it those people are able to get copies of our diaries to make new chapters for their so-called 'holy book.' But we know how they just LOVE to twist our words around to make sure their damned party line's kept, don't we? And we both know how much they hate Ataru-kun! Could you imagine what might happen if news of the sisters got to them?! What those people might end up viewing them as?!"
The tomboy shuddered. "That's true, ain't it . . .?"
"Yes, it is. And . . . " Shinobu stopped as she considered what more she should say. "Ryuu-chan, I don't know what my feelings for Ataru-kun are. There are days I want to strangle him for all the things he's done, yet . . . " She paused. "There are days I want to take him somewhere safe and isolated, and live with him forever. I don't know! But right now, Ryuu-chan, he sees US as a threat to his family because of the Niphentaxians and what they do with our most private WORDS! And like it or not, he's got every right to see us that way! You heard what he told us on Saturday! Just because some dictator somewhere tried to have Lum and her family killed, those monsters murdered five million innocent people! Could you imagine what could happen if they went after Ataru-kun's sisters, not to mention those girls he adopted?!"
A chill warped through Ryuunosuke as images of Sakuya, Chikage, Haruka, Hinako, Reiko and Kaneko passed through her mind. While the three older women seemed capable of caring for themselves, the younger ones were vulnerable. And if these Niphentaxians were as fanatic as Seiko and Sakiko both asserted . . .! "Yeah, you got a point," she whispered before staring at Shinobu. "Damn, why can't we get Seiko to try to find these people and let her deal with them? When she was Lum, she was their 'goddess.' Won't they listen to her?"
Shinobu shook her head. "I don't think it'll work, Ryuu-chan. If they're so willing to blind themselves to the truth when it comes to our diaries, I doubt Seiko'll be able to make some headway with them. And look how much she's changed, for God's sake! Would they even BELIEVE her to be Lum even if she telepathically linked with any of them?"
"If she ever WANTED to link with them, that is," Ryuunosuke noted.
The other girl then nodded. "Hai, even if she did! She did say she hated them," Shinobu mused as she turned back to her homework.
* * *
"Sisters . . .?"
Fungi sat in the listening room, gazing at the computer that was at that time linked to listening devices positioned in the domicile of the Sinful Doubter Miyake Shinobu (also serving as the temporary home of the Holy Friend Fujinami Ryuunosuke). Running a hand through his sandy hair, the observer, a man appearing to be in his late teens, grimaced as the words Miyake Shinobu and Fujinami Ryuunosuke exchanged echoed again and again through his mind.
And those words were troublesome indeed.
Not for him personally, of course. He was a member of the Church of Lum in name only. Having Vosian ancestry through his mother's side, Fungi was blessed -- or cursed, depending on one's viewpoint -- with an independent streak in his personality. He joined the Church out of peer pressure, not to mention an understandably profound fear of being labelled an apostate, which was, these days, considered a capital crime in the Niphentaxian Union. And while being part of the Church allowed him to travel off-planet, he could gladly do without some of -- hell, "some?!" Try ALL! -- the rituals his brother and sister worshippers engaged in every day, from dawn unto dusk.
Still, even now, he had to be careful. The news of the Cataclysm had smashed morale among the Holy City's observers to the sub-strata. Fungi's relatives were all right; he wasn't from Phentax Two but one of the colony worlds. None of them had been on the Homeworld when the Cataclysm struck. The same was true with those other observers hailing from the colonies, regardless of personal viewpoints; Fungi wasn't the only one who just paid lip-service to the Church. As for those who DID hail from the Homeworld . . .!
He sighed, tapping controls on his machine. While he grieved for his co-workers' terrible loss, the fact that there existed a dangerous power vacuum in the Union had to be kept VERY prominently in mind. As communications between Earth and Phentax Two were being restored, news flowing from the Homeworld wasn't good. Emergency councils were being established in all the provinces as the sheer scale of the Cataclysm began to sink in. Without direction from the Church, those believers in the colonies, not to mention the Niphentaxian Fleet, were without any firm spiritual guide. Even more, the heretics from the old churches, all of whom survived the Cataclysm unscathed, were undermining the Lumites' authority. Civil war in the Union was a possibility.
And sadly, there was only one sure-fire way to avert such a calamity:
Kill Moroboshi Ataru.
Destroy the "Great Evil."
Fungi took a deep breath as he shifted the files of the audio recordings from the Miyake home into a secure folder accessible only to him. It was the constant in internal conflicts: Find some way to bring outsiders into it. And with the hatred many Lumites felt towards Moroboshi these days, it wouldn't take much for someone to rally the troops in a crusade against the "great evil." Of course, that many innocent people here on Earth would get killed along the way was totally irrelevant to the issue at hand.
Including these sisters Shinobu and Ryuunosuke had just spoken of . . .
Finishing his work, Fungi closed down the computer, and then he stretched before heading out of the listening room. Returning to his living quarters, the observer prepared to retire for the evening. If Shinobu and Ryuunosuke were forewarned about their diaries, chances were good that the other survivors of the "holy company" might have also been warned. If those diaries were sealed off from Niphentaxian observation, it could result in a panic among Church leaders in the colonies and the Fleet. And if any one of them decided it was the Great Evil who was at fault for the silence from the Holy Company -- which it actually WAS, Fungi bitterly mused, though for good reasons . . .!
"Damn mess," he muttered as he slipped under the covers.
Wait until everyone heard what happened to the Goddess herself.
* * *
Chikage gazed at the image in her crystal ball. It was presently giving her a metaphysical bird's eye view of Fungi. While the young sorceress had yet to discern an easy way to magically pick out all the Niphentaxian agents in Tomobiki, it was possible for her to lock her mystical vision on those possessing a very strong will. And Fungi certainly had THAT!
A smile crossed Chikage's face as she heard, "Hey, who's the cutie?"
Chikage's eyes turned up as Sakuya stepped into the spare bedroom the former had temporarily taken over as her scrying chamber. The latter slipped into the chair across from her sister, her eyes locked on Fungi's softly chiselled face. "Yes, he is quite handsome, isn't he?" The sorceress then chuckled, holding up a finger. "But of course . . . "
"He's not Onii-sama," Sakuya finished.
Chikage nodded. "Naturally."
Both gazed on each other with a chuckle. "So who is this guy, anyway?" Sakuya asked. "I can tell he's not a local."
"Niphentaxian, though not from Phentax Two itself. His name's Fungi dai-Jaedeen. As Miree warned us, those who are members of the Church of Lum rarely if ever make use of family names these days. Some non-Niphentaxian ancestry in this one, I think. He's not a hardcore member of the Church. He only joined because of peer pressure and a desire to avoid being labelled an apostate."
"That's bad?"
"People are put to death on Phentax Two for being such."
Sakuya winced. "Ouch! Perfect incentive to join the church, huh?"
Chikage nodded. "Hai. He one of the observers in charge of keeping a close eye on Miyake Shinobu. Just before turning in for the evening, he overheard Shinobu and Fujinami Ryuunosuke talk about their diaries."
An eyebrow arched. "Diaries?"
"The Church's holy book is based on distorted copies of the diaries of those people who closely associated with Lum," the sorceress explained. "Even if Ani-kun's former classmates wrote positively about him, the people who wrote up the Church's holy book would rewrite the text to ensure that Ani-kun's image as their 'great evil' was steadfastly maintained. Shinobu warned Ryuunosuke that if she were to make new diary entries, she should avoid making any mention of any of Ani-kun's relations. Fungi overheard that."
Hearing that, Sakuya moaned, "Oh, terrific . . . "
"Fungi sealed the audio file of that conversation. From what I could divine, no one will be able to get into that file," Chikage added.
Sakuya considered that, and then she smiled. "So he's on our side?"
The sorceress shook her head. "Not firmly. Being what he is, Fungi must walk a fine line for the next while. Without any control from Phentax Two, the observers here on Earth are unsure as to what they should do. Continue their mission knowing three billion of those they once served are dead? Abandon their mission and return home, thus potentially risking punishment for failing their duty? Abandon their mission and simply fade into the masses, ending all contact with their compatriots back home? What happens in that case? Will more come, this time acting more overt in serving their 'goddess?'"
A groan escaped the eldest of the sisters. "In other words, it's a big mess and resolving it's going to be really, really hard."
"Oh, cute . . . "
A knock was heard at the door. "Come!" Chikage called out.
The door opened, revealing Miree. "I apologize for . . . " Her voice trailed off as she took in the darkened space, lit only by the square of candles fencing in Chikage's worktable. "Bothering you," she finished before she gingerly stepped over the candles to stand beside Sakuya's chair. "But I wanted a chance to speak to both of you as soon as possible."
"Is there something wrong, Miree-san?" Sakuya asked.
"Yes." Miree then glanced quizzically at the image in the crystal ball before turning to gaze on Chikage. "One of the Lumite observers?"
"Yes, but not a firmly loyal one, fortunately," the sorceress replied. "I believe if he's approached right, he could become an ally."
The priestess took that in. "I see. Well, there are those sects in the Church of Lum who look upon your brother in a more positive light. Instead of the 'great evil,' he is seen as the 'Goddess' Beloved Darling.'"
Sakuya wryly smirked. "Amazing."
"Indeed, it is, Sakuya-san," Miree confirmed with a nod. "And that difference of opinion will give us ample opportunity to ensure that whatever backlash events in Lumukyou produced will not be felt here on Earth."
"Could you actually speak to these people, Miree?" Chikage asked. "Even if they are more sympathetic to Ani-kun, you are still the nominal leader of a 'heretic' faith. Will they listen to what you have to say?"
"Not unless I have one of you with me when I speak to them."
"Do you have anyone specific in mind?" Sakuya asked.
"ARIA-CHAN?!" Sakuya shrieked. "Are you out of your mind?!" She bolted to her feet to glare Miree down. "Uh-uh, lady! There's no way in hell that I'd let you put Aria-chan in THAT sort of situation! And you can be assured that Onii-sama won't go for it, either!"
The chief priestess remained calm. "But what if Aria-chan is armed with a device similar to what Hinako-chan possesses, Sakuya-san?"
The younger women gazed wide-eyed at Miree, and then Chikage asked, "Is there such a device available at this time, Miree?"
"Yes, there is. It is called the Genesis Wand of Parah."
"Where is it?" Sakuya demanded.
"On the other side of the galaxy." Miree held up a hand to cut off Sakuya's angry retort. "But, thanks to the Staff, it is accessible. All we have to do is convince Hinako-chan to go retrieve the Genesis Wand and bring it back here for Aria-chan to use."
"And you would go with Hinako to ensure her safety?" Chikage asked.
Miree nodded. "Yes. Jonna as well."
Sakuya and Chikage exchanged a look. The elder sister turned back to Miree. "You better make DAMN sure that Hinako-chan isn't hurt when you go find this thing." Her voice turned very cold as she glared at the older woman.
Miree lightly smiled. "The Staff will guarantee that, Sakuya-san."
* * *
"Is that checky, Shi-chama?"
Shinshi grunted appreciatively as Yotsuba's fingers pulled and kneaded his shoulder muscles. "Oh, that's DEFINITELY checky, Yo-chan!" he cooed as he leaned into her, resting his head in the crook of her neck. Both were sitting on the front porch, gazing at the sky overhead. "If I die right now, lying in your arms, I die in ultimate bliss," he whispered, closing his eyes.
Yotsuba stared at him, and then she smiled, sliding her arms under his armpits to rest her hands on his stomach. Shinshi quaked as her fingers gently tugged his T-shirt, and then began to dance around his navel. "Yotsuba definitely won't like it one bit if Shi-chama suddenly took the Last Checky to Saint Peter's Gate," she playfully purred.
"No, I guess you wouldn't." He then turned to gaze into her eyes. "Oh, Kami-sama! You're so beautiful, Yo-chan."
Yotsuba's cheeks reddened, and then she leaned in to give him a kiss. "You're the most perfect man I've ever met," she whispered in English, and then she flipped to Japanese. "Except Ani-chama, of course!" she added with a wink.
He smirked. Okay, if she wanted to play language roulette, he would go along with it. "Miss Dunn, why is it you're always putting your own brother on such a high pedestal?" he asked in English, grateful that Nabiki was fluent in the language of would communications (not to mention world business!). "After all, much that he HAS done a lot to keep our planet safe from idiots out yonder . . . " He pointed up to the night. "He isn't perfect. Not by far."
Yotsuba blinked, and then she slid her hands up to his chest. "Shinshi, what on Earth makes you think I'd want a perfect boyfriend, much less a perfect big brother?" she asked, returning to her native tongue.
Silence. Shinshi gazed nowhere in particular for a moment as he absorbed her words, and then he gazed on her. "Yotsuba . . . "
"Nobody's perfect." She leaned her chin on his shoulder. Then, after patting his chest, she moved to stand. Stepping onto the lawn, she gazed into the evening sky, and then turned back to look at him. "Do you want to know what Ani-chama's best attribute is?" she asked.
She walked back to sit into his lap. He drew her close. "What is it?"
"He's willing to admit that he's nowhere close to being perfect. And he doesn't want to be someone's idea of being 'perfect.'"
His eyebrow arched. "That's an attribute?"
"Yes. I found out the truth about my real father -- and my relation to Ani-chama -- six months ago when Negako-anechama came to England. Dad -- my step-dad, that is -- and Mom had always been honest with each other about where I came from. I still keep in touch with them, even now. And at first . . . "
She paused. "You didn't want to be associated with someone like Ataru, right?" Shinshi finished as he gazed knowingly at her.
Yotsuba nodded. "Yeah. Of course, when Ane-chama told me about what Ani-chama had been made to forget, much less what was going on between Ani-chama and those twits he called parents . . . " -- here, she rolled her eyes -- "Well, I've never been one who could accept something like *that!* So I decided Ani-chama NEEDED a sister, someone who'd be willing to give him a chance, give him the benefit of the doubt. So I moved to the Island, then when the chance came, I visited Tomobiki. Guess when I was there?"
Shinshi considered that. "Not the Tag Race; that was only three months ago." A pause, and then his eyes widened as it hit him. "The Pseudo-War?"
"Checky!" Yotsuba then chuckled. "Oh, man, was THAT weird!" A pause. "Well, I had some of the Kuromoroboshi with me to help out with my investigation. I got there while Ani-chama and those goofs were making some sort of school movie in and around Mendou's cherry tree, the Tarouzakura. And there was one time . . . " Her eyes narrowed. "Just before things started going really weird." She nodded before carrying on with the narration, "They were filming a scene and Ani-chama didn't do something right. Right away, Megane -- you know about him, don't you?" She looked at Shinshi. At his nod, she went on, "Well, Megane starts berating Ani-chama about being such an idiot. He told him Ani-chama wasn't living up to what being Japanese was all about. And Ani-chama . . . " She smiled. "You want to know what he said back?"
"He told Megane that he just didn't care about all that nonsense. That he knew he wasn't perfect and . . . " Yotsuba stopped. "I don't really recall what else he said, but when I was hearing that, I realized that Ani-chama wasn't ashamed or embarrassed by what he said. And I sensed that he really, really HATED all the things Megane and Mendou and the rest of those clods were grousing about, Shinshi. And . . . " She pointed to some spot on the lawn. "There was Lum sitting there and she said NOTHING!"
Shinshi shrugged. "Well, she was an alien. She lived under very different social circumstances than from what you or I'd know."
"Yeah, true, but the way I saw it back then, Lum supported Ani-chama in what he believed in. And I knew that with Lum supporting him, even with silence, there was just no way in hell that those stupid dorks in Tomobiki could ever try to make Ani-chama into something he didn't want to be. And then . . . " Here, she paused, gazing nowhere in particular.
"Well, Negako-anechama told me soon after that the chances were pretty good that if Ani-chama got all his memories back, things'd happen that'd see Lum sent back to her planet." She closed her eyes, clasping her arms in her lap. "And hearing that, I realized that if he was left all alone in Tomobiki, without Lum's support, Ani-chama would've eventually been smashed down by those creeps. And I didn't want that, Shinshi. I didn't want it at all!" She nodded. "Yeah, I know Ani-chama's done some pretty stupid things when he was living in Tomobiki. But after I watched the whole Pseudo-War, then stayed around for a bit afterward, I . . .! Well . . .!"
She blinked as Shinshi squeezed her shoulders. "You decided it wasn't fair that he had no one supporting him." He drew her close to him, sliding his nose on the side of her neck. "And you decided that no matter what, you'd stand by him and give him a real home when he came to the Island, right?"
"Yeah. You know . . . " She leaned her head into the crook of his neck. "I've watched people in Tomobiki, Nerima and a few other places. You want to know something, Shinshi? So many people hide themselves behind these masks they project to everyone. To their friends, their mates at school . . .! And even family. And all these masks create this . . . " She paused, struggling to find the right words to describe what she felt.
"A country filled with lies," Shinshi proposed.
"Yeah! And because of all these lies, people end up getting hurt. You have people like me, born outside the bounds of a wedding. A lot of people in Japan wouldn't have anything to do with me because of that. Why? Just because my real dad was horny one night and my real mom was willing to have fun in the sack without taking precautions? And people turn around and act as if it's MY fault that I was born that way?!" Another pause. "Then there're all the Koreans in Japan. Look what happens to them, Shinshi! They're denied basic rights of citizens today because their grandparents and great-grandparents were shipped here during the first part of the last century to be labourers. Then there're the burakumin descendants. And the Ainu. And . . . "
She shook her head. "It'll take a lot to make any sort of real changes here, Yotsuba," Shinshi warned, gently rubbing her shoulder.
"Yeah, I know." She leaned against him, resting a hand on his heart. "What about you, Shinshi? What happens when people find out the truth about you? Or Kimiko for that matter? You both weren't born 'naturally' but because of magic and alien technology. Wouldn't that make you as much of an outsider as I am? Or the other girls? Or Ani-chama?"
"Yeah, I guess it would." He then grinned. "Well, lucky for us, one wonderful aspect about our so-called 'country of lies' is that there're ways to make those who'd condemn us look the other way when that's really needed. I guess that'll have to stay that way for a while yet." A smirk crossed his face as he stared bemusedly at her. "So, Miss Dunn, you're ultimately saying to me is that you fell in love with me because I'm as much an 'outsider' as you. Right?" he prodded as he gave her a soft stare.
Yotsuba stiffened for a second, and then she relaxed on seeing the amused look on his face. "Well, Mister Tendou, I could admit that was part of it. After all, when I saw you in that room, being tended to by Chikage, Ane-chama and Ani-chama's friend, it didn't take me long to realize that SOMETHING bad was wrong with you." She gazed in his eyes. "Guess I was right."
She winked before kissing him. "Hmmm . . . " he moaned through their kiss. Then, as they pulled apart, he smiled. "Guess you were right."
They slipped into another mouth-watering kiss. That was interrupted by the door. Both watched as a shivering Akane stormed out, racing for the gate. "Akane?!" Shinshi stood after Yotsuba got off his lap. "What's wrong?!"
Akane stopped, turning to give her brother a teary-eyed look before she raced off into the night. Shinshi was quick to notice the flaming skin on her right cheek, something only a well-aimed slap or punch would leave behind. As the youngest of the Tendous raced away, the door then opened again, revealing Marie, Michael at her side. "Akane-san!" she called out. "Come back!"
Yotsuba walked over to her. "Marie-chan, what happened?!"
The other woman took a deep breath. "Oh, it was just awful, Yotsuba-chan! Akane-san tried to have a talk with Aneue-sama, but . . . "
She shook her head, waving to the gate. "Let me guess." Shinshi slid up beside Yotsuba. "Akane tried to talk nice to Ranma, but their mouths got out of control and it became a shouting match. Sans Mallet-sama, of course."
"Almost right, I admit."
The sisters perked. "Ani-chama!"/"Aniue-sama!"
Shinshi turned as Ataru joined them on the porch. "What happened?"
The Moroboshi patriarch-in-waiting shook his head as he gazed towards the front gate. "She asked if she could talk to us both. I went along with it because, regardless of what happened yesterday, Akane and Ranma DO need and deserve the chance to set things straight between them. But . . . "
"What happened?" Yotsuba prodded.
Ataru closed his eyes. "As soon as we were alone, Akane started to beg and plead for Ranma to move back with her family."
Shinshi shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Oh, good grief! That's the LAST thing Ranma needs to hear right now!"
"Why would she ask that?" Yotsuba wondered. "Come this weekend, they're gonna be living with us at the rotunda at Welcome House!"
Ataru nodded. "True. She did try to apologize for some of the stunts she pulled with Ranma when they were engaged. But when Ranma said she didn't want to live anymore with them, Akane got pretty upset. She then tried to blame everything on me." He pointed to himself.
"WHAT?!" Marie and Yotsuba shrieked together.
"Did she try to hit you?" Shinshi asked.
"Not while I had my Lawgiver sitting on my lap and one of my eunuch's swords within quite reach." Ataru winked. "Much that I'd prefer to solve things without fighting, I do know about your sister's problematic control over her temper, Shinshi-san. I wasn't going to just stand there and let her try to beat me down just to make her feel better!"
Shinshi nodded. "So what did Ane-chama do?" Yotsuba wondered.
"She slapped Akane and told her to get out of her life once and for all," Ataru whispered as he gazed at Shinshi. "This time, Ranma made it VERY clear she won't tolerate any further attempts by Akane to force herself on her."
"Akane's pretty stubborn, Ataru," Shinshi warned.
"Even against what Ranma used Sunday night against Genma?"
Maria and Yotsuba blinked confusedly. They then turned to see Shinshi's face pale as the unspoken message in Ataru's words sank into his mind. "Right . . . " He turned to head off. "Look, I'll check up on her. I guess Akane's taking what's happened to Ranma a lot worse than we first suspected. You . . . " He then sighed. "Please tell Ranma-chan that Onee-chan, Nabiki and I understand what she's going through now."
He raced off. "Shi-chama . . . " Yotsuba whispered.
Ataru took a deep breath before he turned to head inside. Marie gazed worriedly at him. "Are you going to be alright, Aniue-sama?"
He stopped, lightly smiling. "Even if we're not . . . " He shrugged. "Fully ready to say it, we are feeling it, Marie-chan." The smile slipped as he gazed wearily at her. "But believe me, neither Ranma or I wanted our coming together to cause anyone pain. Especially like this."
Yotsuba smirked. "Wishful thinking, Ani-chama."
"Yeah. Guess so."
Ataru headed inside. Marie remained still, and then she stepped back inside to get her coat and outdoor shoes. As she moved to exit, Yotsuba's surprised voice stopped her. "Hey, Marie-chan, where the heck are you going?!"
The look her bespectacled sister gave the would-be detective sent chills down Yotsuba's back. "To have a discussion with that selfish woman about the way she's been treating Aneue-sama!" Marie snarled. "Come on, Michael!"
Marie and Michael raced off the property. "Marie . . . " Yotsuba whispered. She then jolted on remembering Ranma's tales about Akane. Put Marie, a girl who wasn't anywhere near the best of shape when it came to anything of a physical nature, in a situation like *that* . . .!
"Hey, wait for Yotsuba!" she screamed before she raced after her sister.
* * *
A half-hour later, Shinshi stopped at the front entrance of Hikarigaoka Park. His eyes were narrow as he peered into the wooded space. Yamada Fred's yatai was folded up and covered for the night; it was parked in an alcove to ensure it wasn't damaged or didn't become the target of thieves. Relaxing himself as he reached out with his ki senses, he then nodded before heading inside. In two minutes, he was standing beside a wading pool. Glancing at one lit area, Shinshi was quick to spot the lone woman seated on a bench, her back to the pool. As he approached his sister, Shinshi winced on seeing the tears flowing from Akane's eyes. The sound of his footfalls caused her to jolt. She then looked his way. He gazed intently at her, inwardly hoping his face didn't imitate Nabiki's usual "ice queen" look. Akane blinked as she recognized who just came, and then she looked nowhere in particular.
"What happened?" Shinshi asked.
Silence responded, though he was quick to notice Akane's hands clenching. Her lips quivered, as if they were trying to twist into either a sneer or a frown. Shinshi watched her, and then he sat beside her. Akane tensed, and then her hands relaxed as her head drooped. He stayed quiet, giving her a chance to compose herself. Finally, she sniffed. "He hates me . . . "
"Who?" He gazed on her. "Ataru?"
Akane jolted. "Baka! I meant Ranma!"
Shinshi winced. "Akane, you know Ranma's a girl now."
Hearing that, she paused before she shook her head. "N-no . . . " she sputtered, the lack of forceful conviction in her voice telling Shinshi a lot more than what Akane might have wanted him to know. "N-no, he can't . . .!"
"She is," he whispered, slipping a comforting arm around her. Akane stiffened, and then she found herself relaxing as Shinshi drew her close. "She is, Akane-chan. There's no getting away from that now, sis . . . "
"B-but . . . "
He shushed her. "No, sis. You can't deny this anymore. If you keep on doing that, you'll only hurt yourself. Let it go . . . "
Akane tried to mutter something, and then her strength failed as she sank into his embrace. Shinshi held her close as Akane sobbed into his shirt, gripping his jacket as if it was the only thing holding her to a time and world, a way of life, she never wanted to be free of. Time faded away as they remained in that position, and then Shinshi perked on sensing a familiar presence approach from his left. Turning, he relaxed on seeing Nabiki and Kasumi walk up, the worry on both their faces speaking volumes.
Without verbal bidding, Kasumi sat behind Akane, drawing her arms around her sobbing sister. As Akane reciprocated her sister's embrace, Nabiki walked behind the bench, placing her hands on Akane's shoulders in an extra show of support. No words were said between any of them as Akane continued to weep. Finally, after another eternity, Akane's sobs melted into a string of sniffles, and then she pulled herself away from Kasumi. Wiping her eyes, she gazed on her sister. "Wh-what are you doing here . . .?"
Kasumi drew a handkerchief to help wipe Akane's cheeks. "Sakuya-san told us what happened between you, Ranma-chan and Ataru-kun."
The youngest Tendou's eyes widened. "S-s-Sakuya . . .?!"
Kasumi sadly nodded. "Yes. Right now, there are a group of very angry people at that shrine, Akane-chan. They didn't take well to the idea of you accusing their brother of acting improperly towards Ranma-chan . . . "
"SO WHAT?!" Akane bolted to her feet, the sorrow in her eyes vanishing. "Whose business is it of theirs when to comes to what happens between Ranma and us?! They're not Ranma's family! WE'RE Ranma's family!" She pointed to herself. "They've got no right to do ANYTHING . . .!"
Akane's voice was cut off, her eyes widening as she stared at Kasumi, who had bolted to her feet. Nabiki and Shinshi remained quiet as the elder of the Tendou sisters took several breaths, her outraged look melting into a mask of pain and disappointment. "O-Onee-chan . . . " Akane stammered, stunned that Kasumi had just screamed at her like that.
"That is enough, Akane-chan!" Kasumi hoarsely repeated before taking a deep breath. "You've been given every opportunity in the world to fully make up with Ranma-chan. To finally put a stop to this pointless bickering you two engage in. To correct all the misunderstandings that has cropped up between you two. But every time you've tried to speak to Ranma-chan since she met Ataru-kun and his family, all you've ended up doing is throwing accusation after accusation into her face. No different whatsoever from the time when you were actually engaged. And NOW, you turn around and start accusing Ataru-kun of some of the same STUPID things you once accused Ranma-chan of doing?!"
"WHY NOT?!" Akane roared. "You KNOW what that perverted jerk . . .!"
Akane's voice caught in her throat as Kasumi's shout echoed in her ears. "That is ENOUGH, Akane!" Kasumi snapped again, the rage in her voice making Akane wilt. "Yes, I am aware of what Ataru-kun's reputation was like when he still lived with his 'parents' in Tomobiki! That is not the issue here! How DARE you try to paint Ataru-kun with the same sloppy brush those IDIOTS in Tomobiki once used on him after all he's been through in the last six weeks?!" She pointed in the direction of the Moroboshi home. "You were there this morning when Ataru-kun told everyone about what he went through on Miree-sama's home planet. How can you possibly THINK that he'd revert back to the way he was after seeing three billion people DIE before his very eyes?! How can you possibly THINK that he'd try to manipulate Ranma-chan after all the things that Oni forced him through when they were living together?! Especially AFTER all the insane things all of Ranma-chan's would-be suitors -- INCLUDING YOU, Akane-chan! -- tried to force HER through before the wedding?! HOW, Akane-chan?!"
Akane hugged herself. "Ranma killed for me . . . " she hissed, turning away from Kasumi. "He fought for me every chance he could, even after I told him again and again that I didn't want him to do that for me! He gave up a chance at a cure on Toma's island to save me from being CURSED! He stayed with us even with all the times I tried to cook for him, even after all the times I hurt him, even after all the times I tried to chase off all those other girls . . . " Her voice broke before she staggered up against a lamppost. "And NOW he wants to leave us?! NOW he wants to forget I even existed?! Forget the last year even happened?! WHY, Onee-chan?!" She gazed at Kasumi. "Why . . .?"
Kasumi walked over to place a supportive hand on her shoulder. "Akane-chan, you've got to stop thinking of Ranma-chan as a boy," she stated with a shake of her head. "Negako-sensei explained it to you last night . . . "
Akane spun on her, bashing Kasumi's hand away. "SO WHAT?!"
They remained frozen for a moment, and then Akane collapsed against the lamppost, her arms folding against her. "He just gave up . . ." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "After all those times he yelled 'I'm a boy!' -- after all the times people like Herb and Cologne froze him as a girl -- after the times he was forced to act as 'Tendou Ranko' to hide from that damned bitch he called a mother -- even after the times we forced him to wear girl's clothes . . .! HE JUST GAVE UP! WHY, Onee-chan?!"
Silence fell as Akane's voice disintegrated into moans. Kasumi drew her sister into another comforting embrace. Akane held tight onto her sister until her wailing turned into muttered words. "He's my fiancé . . .!" she cried out. "I want my fiancé back . . .! Ranma . . . "
"Akane-san?! Is that you?!"
The Tendous perked on seeing two people and a very large animal step into the light. "Ryouga-kun! Akari-san! Konban wa!" Kasumi hailed with a blush on recognizing them, and then she moved to help Akane back to the park bench.
Seeing the sobbing girl he once loved deeply -- and still cared for -- Ryouga walked over to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Akane-san, what happened?!" he demanded before he stared at Kasumi. "Kasumi-san . . .?!"
Kasumi sighed. "Gomen nasai, Ryouga-kun. Akane-chan just had another big fight with Ranma-chan . . . " Her voice trailed off as she remembered something. "Oh, I'm sorry. You haven't been around here for some time. Recently, we've discovered something shocking about Ranma-chan . . . "
"About him actually being a 'her?'"
Everyone stared at the wanderer. "You KNOW?!" Nabiki gasped.
Ryouga then sighed. "Hai, I do." He straightened up, pulling his hand away from Akane. "I bumped into Ranma some days ago at a place called Promised Island. Incredible as this'll sound, I met Moroboshi Ataru and all his sisters at the same time; that's where they live now. Ranma . . . " He paused for a moment. "Just found out the night before about what Jusenkyou really should've done to her, plus how the brain damage from the Neko-ken stopped it from fully happening. Um . . . " He turned to Kasumi, though he was quick to notice the tall fellow standing beside Nabiki. Who was he? "How is Ranma now, anyway? Is she still being treated for what happened . . .?"
"All finally taken care of thanks to Negako-san, Ryouga-kun," Nabiki explained. "Ranma-chan's a girl in her heart and her head as much as her body. Problem is . . . " She gazed at Akane.
Ryouga noted that, and then he nodded. "Right."
Akari shook her head sympathetically. "Poor Ranma-sama. Do his . . . " She stopped, blushing. "Gomen ne. Do her parents know?"
"They are no longer of any concern, Akari-san," Kasumi announced. "Ranma-chan legally severed herself from her parents on Sunday. As of now, she is the head of her own branch of the Saotome Clan, free of any responsibility Genma or Nodoka could demand of her. Further, Genma is dead. He died in a fight with riot police on Sunday night after Ranma-chan decided it was time for that beast to face up to all his crimes."
"Dead?!" Ryouga gasped with a jolt, and then, after thinking about it for a moment, he sighed. "Perhaps that was for the best. All Genma ever seemed to do for Ranma was screw her life up more and more every step of the way."
"How can you SAY that, Ryouga-kun?!" Akane pleaded.
He returned her look with a wry smirk. "C'mon, Akane-san, you should've finally realized it when we all found out about the Neko-ken! What type of father'd dump a boy into a pit of starving cats just to teach him a supposedly 'invincible' martial arts manoeuvre?"
Akari paled. "He did that to Ranma-sama?!"
Shinshi shook his head. "That was the worst of it."
Ryouga stared at Nabiki's magically born twin, and then he turned back to the middle Tendou daughter. "Um, who . . .?" He indicated Shinshi.
"Say 'hi' to the latest result of Dad's attempt at forcing Ranma-chan into marrying into our family AFTER he learned the truth about what Jusenkyou DID to Ranma-chan." Nabiki waved to her twin. "This is my brother Shinshi. He got created after Dad hit me with that cask of Nanniichuan the Jusenkyou guide sent Ranma-chan." Seeing the disbelief cross the wanderer's face, she added, "The cask Ojii-chan drank was ordinary spring water. Dad hid the real cask to make sure he could keep Ranma-chan under his thumb."
Ryouga nearly exploded. "WHAT?! You dad cursed YOU just to force you to marry Ranma?! Who the hell does he . . .?!"
Kasumi placed a hand on the ranting wanderer's shoulder. "It's alright now, Ryouga-kun," she said. "Father's been dealt with."
Ryouga stopped before embarrassingly chuckling. "S-s-sorry . . . "
"It's alright. It's good that you do care, even if you're not capable of being in Nerima as much as you want to." Kasumi then perked as she remembered something the wanderer told everyone. "You've been to Promised Island?"
"Eh?! Oh, y-yeah, I did!" Ryouga flustered as he exchanged a knowing look with Akari. "Real nice place! And the people are something else, especially Ataru-san's sisters!" He then held up a finger. "Only thing I didn't like about it was that statue atop Stargazer Hill! Ugliest thing you ever laid eyes on! Whoever the heck built it . . . "
He shuddered. "We'll be moving there this weekend," Shinshi announced.
"Don't bet on that, brother dear."
Eyes locked on Nabiki. "What do you mean?" Akane asked.
Nabiki sighed as she stared at her. "Like it or not, sis, you screwed up BIG TIME when you started throwing insults Ataru-kun's way." She crossed her arms. "Sakuya-chan says that if we want to feel at home in Welcome House, YOU . . . " -- she pointed to Akane -- " . . . will have to apologize to Ataru-kun for what you tried to accuse him of tonight AND vow that you'll do NOTHING to interfere with his relationship with Ranma-chan!"
Akane jerked, her eyes going wide as Nabiki's words sank in, and then she bolted to her feet. "SAY WHAT?! They have . . .!"
Nabiki's knuckles rapped on Akane's forehead to silence her. "Uh-uh, sis!" The former held up a warning finger. "Not THIS time! And yes, they've got every right in the world to demand that, you know!" She pointed at Akane's heart as she added, "Remember, they're the ones who invited us to come live with them at Welcome House! If they can do something like that for us, well, they can RESCIND it just as quickly, Akane-chan!"
"And they have threatened to do just that," Kasumi added.
Akane spun on Kasumi. "B-but . . . "
"Sorry, sis." Nabiki shook her head. "Take it or leave it."
"B-b-but . . . "
Kasumi sighed. "No. You cannot object. If you continue to believe you can interfere in Ranma-chan's life without acknowledging that she has the unquestionable right to decide what to do with her life, especially when it comes to whom she desires to love, you are no better than Father, Genma and Nodoka, Akane-chan. And if you do . . . " She took a breath as she turned away. "I will not acknowledge you as my sister anymore."
Akane gaped, she wide-eyed at Kasumi's declaration. "O-Onee-chan . . .!"
Shinshi and Nabiki remained silent. Ryouga moved to say something, and then he jolted on feeling Akari's hand touch his arm. He looked at her. Then, on seeing her shake her head, he nodded before taking a step away from Akane. Akane herself didn't notice; her eyes locked on her sister's back as her mind rolled over what Kasumi just told her. Finally, the look on her face melted into an icy neutrality. She straightened herself, turning to leave. "Suit yourself then, Kasumi," she said in a hoarse voice.
She walked away. Kasumi shuddered, the urge to follow Akane welling up inside her when a woman's voice called out, "So she won't accept defeat!"
Eyes snapped over to a shadowed figure standing near another lamppost down the walkway, the shape of a large dog sitting by her feet. "Marie-chan!" Shinshi and Ryouga called out on recognizing her. The former's eyes then locked on another woman standing near a tree to Marie's right. Yo-chan! Shinshi gasped, and then he slipped away from Nabiki to join Yotsuba.
Akane stopped, her eyes locking on the bespectacled teenager standing in her path. "What the hell do YOU want?" she snarled.
Marie was unperturbed by Akane's show of anger, a reaction that caused everyone to focus their attention on her. Very few could stand in the path of Tendou Akane's wrath and NOT be affected, even emotionally. None of the Nerima natives expected that a girl like Susumu Marie would be one of them. "I came to see for myself what sort of spoiled, selfish brat Aneue-sama was once forced to call a fiancée," she tonelessly replied.
Akane jolted, her skin sallowing as Marie's words cut into her heart, and then her fists clenched. "How dare you . . .?!" she hissed as she advanced on Marie, and then she jolted as Michael arched, a warning growl escaping him.
"How dare I?!" Marie smirked as she calmly crossed her arms. "A blind man couldn't help but notice what you are, Tendou-san! It's a sheer, utter MIRACLE to me that Aneue-sama was able to survive over a year of your self-possessed, cowardly abuse with as much of her sanity and good nature intact!"
The older girl's skin flamed as insulted rage roared up her spine, her fingers curling around an invisible mallet shaft. "You . . . "
Again, Marie was unaffected. "Ah, yes! Tendou Akane's first defence against facing reality! Simply mallet the person trying to demonstrate her shortfalls into the dirt, then insult the poor fool whose skull she nearly crushed to the point that permanent BRAIN DAMAGE sets in!"
She took a step toward Akane, Michael remaining at her side. That sudden manoeuvre made Akane balk, though she tried to disguise her surprise with a mask of righteous outrage. "I have to really wonder, Tendou-san. How did it feel when you hit Aneue-sama? Did you actually LIKE it, knowing deep in your heart that Aneue-sama couldn't bring herself to fight back?"
Another step on Akane, that action making the youngest Tendou wince as Marie's words sliced right into her heart. "Did you, perchance, get a THRILL knowing you had total POWER over Aneue-sama's very LIFE?!" Marie asked. "After all, there was your lazy, selfish father and that child-abusing MONSTER Aneue-sama called a father, ready to jump on your side every time Aneue-sama showed even a HINT of resistance to their plans!"
She took yet another step, Michael's warning growl intensifying in sync. That joint action made Akane stagger back yet again. "And even if those two total fools couldn't do something about Aneue-sama, there were both of your sisters to HIDE behind!" Marie indicated Kasumi and Nabiki, a condemning smirk crossing her face. "Oh, how wonderful it must've felt!" She clapped her hands. "After all, Nabiki-san was having the time of her life twisting poor Aneue-sama around her baby finger and making all that MONEY! Even better, Nabiki-san felt JUSTIFIED in making Aneue-sama's life total HELL!"
Her eyes locked on Nabiki, her stare causing the middle Tendou daughter to wilt. Ataru's sister then turned on Kasumi. "And worst of all . . . " -- Marie's voice dripped with scorn as Michael moved to place himself in front of her -- "There was sweet, wonderful, 'Oh, all's well with the whole world!' Kasumi. One of the two people Aneue-sama readily declared was her 'friend.'" A sneer crossed her face. "Who, in truth, became the worst HYPOCRITE when it came to dealing with Aneue-sama! A 'friend?!' Not likely!"
Kasumi stared wide-eyed at the bespectacled young woman facing Akane down. Akane herself shuddered as Marie's blue-grey eyes locked once more on her. "Oh, yes," the latter hissed, nodding. "After all, Kasumi could make friends with everyone she encountered. And that ESPECIALLY included someone as starved for real, trusting friends, as Aneue-sama was the day she first walked into your home. And by doing so, Kasumi could help SHIELD you from learning what the world is really all about! She's your older sister, after all. That's what older sisters do for younger sisters, especially when it comes to disruptive, barbaric, so-called 'perverted jerks' like Aneue-sama!"
Akane's fists clenched as Marie threw up her hands in an "Oh, well!" gesture. "And what happens now?" she asked, her voice lilting to a mocking tone as she waved to Akane's sisters. "When Kasumi-san and Nabiki-san both have to come to realize their mistakes and are willing to fully reconcile with Aneue-sama? YOU HATE IT!" She pointed accusingly at Akane. "You hate it because you KNOW if your sisters aren't there to shield you anymore, you'll never have ANY chance to force your will on your 'property!'" Seeing Akane about to retort, Marie wagged her finger. "No, PLEASE! Don't bother trying to make up excuses! You might as well just come out and admit it, Tendou-san! Aneue-sama was NEVER a real person to you! All she ever was . . . " She lowered her arm, her voice dropping to a disgusted whisper. "Was your TOY!"
"You . . .!" Akane hissed. "You have no right . . . "
Marie snorted. "About what?! I've no right to judge you? Think again, Tendou-san. Rinrin-chan offered your family the chance to relocate to the Island so that you can finally break clean from your past and start over again. And here you are, bound, bet and determined to drag that past with you to the Island! Why?! Just because the person who was literally GIVEN to you as a fiancé decided to take control of her life and was forced to come together with my brother to help her do just that!" She took another step toward Akane. "Are you so afraid of admitting defeat finally that you'll gladly turn around and ruin the lives of EVERYONE around you just to get your way?! WELL?!"
Akane's fists quivered. Marie remained icily still, her eyes boring into the other woman's like twin daggers. Sensing that the youngest Tendou wasn't going to make any reply, the bespectacled teen sighed. "I see then." She then gazed at Kasumi. "I'm sorry to say this, Kasumi-san, but after what this THING you call a sister did to my brother and future sister-in-law, not to mention her unwillingness to finally see the light about a lot of things, I cannot, in all good conscience, support her coming to Promised Island. The invitation to come live with us still stands for you, Nabiki-san and Shinshi-kun. As to what you can do with this spoiled brat . . . " She indicated Akane before turning to leave. "I leave to you to decide. Have a good evening."
She walked off, Michael following her. Akane jolted before she screamed out as Mallet-sama appeared in her hand, "YOU BITCH!"
"MARIE-CHAN, LOOK OUT!" Yotsuba cried out.
Marie turned as Akane lunged at her . . .
An orange-and-black blur surged between them, that melting into Ryouga, umbrella at the ready. With one sweep of the umbrella's sharp edge, Akane's mallet was shredded, the pieces dropping into the wading pool. Akane screamed, she collapsing on her backside as Ryouga closed up his umbrella. "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!" the wanderer demanded as he glared her down.
Silence fell as everyone took in what Ryouga did. Akane stared wide-eyed at him, and then she staggered up. "Ryo-ryou-Ryouga-kun . . . " she sputtered, her mind rolling over what just happened. "Wh-why did you . . .?"
"I think you would understand why." A neutral look crossed his face as Marie gazed dispassionately at her would-be attacker from behind him. "You were about to hit someone in the BACK with that mallet of yours! Someone who wasn't even a martial artist, for heaven's sake!" He pointed at Marie. "Damn it all, Akane-san, you should KNOW better than that!"
Akane gazed at him before she screamed out, "RYOUGA NO BAKA!"
The wanderer was caught by surprise as Akane's fist smashed into his cheek. The blow sent him flying into the pond. "RYOUGA-SAMA!" Akari cried out as he hit the water, sinking immediately into the pool.
Akane turned, and then she gasped as Marie's hand slammed into her cheek. Given the latter's lack of any decent physical strength, the strike did nothing more than cause the former's head to jolt. Akane spun on the smaller woman, a new surge of outrage boiling up her spine. Then, as Shinshi and Nabiki lunged over to yank Akane away from Marie, a piglet's squeal echoed from the pond. "What . . .?" Akane gasped as she turned right . . .
To see P-chan float up, his forepaws helplessly slapping the water as he tried to stay afloat. Michael leapt into the pond, snaring the transformed Ryouga by the bandanna, and then he waded ashore, depositing the piglet on the edge of the pond before leaping back in to retrieve Ryouga's clothes.
"Hibiki-san, are you alright?!" Marie said as she drew a handkerchief from her skirt to help dry him.
"'Hibiki' . . .?!"
Marie stared at Nabiki, Shinshi and Akane. The looks on their faces caused her to pause, her eyebrow arching. "Didn't any of you know about Hibiki-san's curse?!" she asked before moving to cradle Ryouga in her handkerchief as Akari joined her, a larger towel in hand to help dry him off.
Shinshi and Nabiki exchanged a stunned look. Akane was white-faced as memories of her spending time alone with her pet flashed through her mind once more. Nabiki then spun on Kasumi, quickly noting her saddened look. "You KNEW?!" she demanded, letting go of Akane as she moved to confront Kasumi. "Did you know about this?!" She pointed at P-chan.
"I . . . " Kasumi then nodded. "Hai, I did. So did Father."
Nabiki blinked before she crossed her arms. "When did all this happen? Hell, when did Ranma find out about this, anyway?"
"It . . . " Another pause before the eldest Tendou daughter took a deep breath. "Ranma-chan learned of Ryouga-kun's curse the night he first came to the house. This was before, I should add, Akane adopted 'P-chan' as her pet."
Silence fell as that information rolled through Nabiki's mind. She then took another step closer to Kasumi. "And how is it this pervert here managed to convince Ranma to keep this whole mess a SECRET?!" she hissed.
Kasumi closed her eyes. "It's because Ranma-chan was the one who cursed him. By accident, I should add. Ryouga-kun just had the ill-luck to wander into Jusenkyou the day Ranma-chan and Genma trained there."
Nabiki nodded as it all finally clicked in. "So the idiot played up on Ranma's sense of honour to keep it quiet from everyone else, then turned around and took advantage of that silence to press on his vendetta, right?!" On seeing Kasumi nod, the middle Tendou daughter shook her head. "I can guess Dad decided to keep silent about this as a way to motivate Ranma into admitting her feelings for Akane. I assume the panda knew about this, too. Right?"
"You . . . "
Eyes locked on Akane. The blank look on her face had melted into a typhoon of outrage. "I thought you were my friend . . . " She yanked her arm away from Shinshi, her eyes locked on the piglet in Marie's hands. "I thought I could TRUST you!" An accusing finger rose to point at P-chan. "But you . . .!" Her breathing became laboured as ki coalesced in her hand. "You . . .!" She grabbed Mallet-sama with both hands as she prepared to dish out some VERY overdue punishment, regardless of the fact that two innocent women were presently in her field of fire. "YOU BASTARD!"
A giant shadow draped over Akane. Before the enraged girl could react, much less dodge to safety, a ton of rikibuta landed on her. Katsunishiki's paws forced Akane's shoulders to smash into the cement fence line ringing the pool. As her body crashed down, the sickeningly grinding sound of bones shattering was nearly muffled out by her attacker's bulk. What wasn't muffled was a loud crack! as Akane's head bounced off the cement, the whiplash effect enough to snap her spine like an old twig right at the base of her skull! In a flash, Katsunishiki bounded back, he moving to protect his mistress.
That allowed everyone else to see what he had done.
"Oh, MY!"
"Oh, shit!" Yotsuba paled on seeing the blood flowing from Akane's nose and lips, not to mention a throat ripped open by dislocated bones. Realizing instantly that the youngest Tendou was about to hop onto the Last Checky, the detective screamed out, "HINAKO-CHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!"
* * *
To be continued . . .