By Andy Searls
Characters are creations of Rumiko Takahashi
Prolog: The Pieces Are Placed...
Akane cheerfully strolled towards school, beaming a smile up to the top of the fence, where Ranma was walking. She couldn't bring herself to get too upset that he wouldn't hold her hand. After all, it was his idea to walk with her to school. Besides, watching him walk so effortlessly on the narrow beams reminded her of how unbridled his spirit had become.
At the first intersection, she was amazed at how easily he leapt across to the top of the wall on the other side. He waited at the corner patiently as she jogged across to catch up with him before resuming his stroll.
As they reached the gates of the school, Akane chuckled at the sight of the nearly empty walkway.
"What's so funny?" Ranma asked after he landed on the ground behind her.
"I keep forgetting that I don't have to battle my way to class anymore. All the other guys sure seemed to respect you after you defeated Kuno Tatewaki."
"Aw, he was just a poetic blowhard."
"You have to admit, he knew enough about how to use a bokken to be the school champion."
"Feh. Until I came along..."
"You're just not impressed with him because you won."
Akane giggled, tugging playfully at Ranma's braid before taking an opportunity to tuck her arm around his elbow. The two walked into the main school building, blissfully unaware of the two figures that were watching them from a tree just outside of the school grounds. One of the figures was average height, had long, flowing hair, and was sitting on a large branch. The other was very short, and balanced on a branch of the tree from the top of a walking staff.
After the school bell rang and the last of the students disappeared, the taller one spoke first, "I no see her. We find other school."
The shorter one spoke quietly and thoughtfully, with a raspy old voice. "Patience, great-granddaughter. I'm not entirely sure that the one we seek isn't here."
The taller figure stood up. "You see her? Show me, so I can kill!"
A small amount of irritation crept into the shorter one's voice as she put a hand out to hold the other at bay. "You will wait. There is more to this adversary than we know. I saw it when she fought you before. I can feel it now."
The taller figure stared at the main doorway to the building for a moment before sitting back down. "Yes, Khu Lon. You wise Amazon. Xian Pu happy you come help."
Khu Lon narrowed her eyes. "In the meantime, we should keep a close eye on that boy with the pig-tail. I have a feeling in my bones that he is involved..."
Chapter 1: ...The Game Begins...
Ranma and Akane walked from the pathway to the grass, passing a couple of tree stumps as they did. Ranma chuckled, "At this rate, Ryoga will have the whole school bare before the end of the year."
"He should take up logging." Akane giggled as they sat down under the shade of a particularly large tree and began to eat. From where they sat, Akane could hear splashing from the school swimming pool nearby. She bit into her okonomiyaki thoughtfully before turning and asking, "Ranma?"
"Mmph?" Ranma mumbled through a mouth-full.
"I was thinking of joining the swim team this season."
Ranma coughed, spitting out some of his food before managing to swallow the rest. "Swim team?! Why would you wanna do something stupid like that?"
Akane looked hurt. "I...just thought.... it might be fun....that's all."
Ranma let out a snort. "That's not MY idea of a good time."
Akane sighed quietly, picking at blades of grass.
An all too familiar cry echoed across the school yard: "SAOTOME RANMA, PREPARE TO DIE!"
Ranma stood up calmly. "What d'ya know, it only took him a week to find the school this time. Here, hold my lunch." He dropped the box into Akane's lap. She angrily tossed it aside, spilling some of the toppings on to the lawn.
Ranma stepped out to the concrete path, waiting patiently for Ryoga to appear. He didn't have to wait long. A kiai sounded from above as Ryoga dropped, swinging his umbrella down to strike at his enemy. As usual, before the swing was completed, Ranma was no longer in its path. The concrete cracked and pitted where the tip of the umbrella struck, sending small pieces flying. Ryoga looked around wildly, then felt Ranma's hands on his head. Ranma pivoted from a hand-stand on Ryoga's head to vault into a ready stance beside him.
"I dunno how many times I gotta tell ya," Ranma complained. "I ain't a Saotome no more."
"Shut up and die!" Ryoga cried as he pulled his weapon out of the impact crater and swung at chest level. Ranma performed a neat back-flip, staying out of reach. Ryoga's temper was still rising. "Stay still!"
"I can't stay still," Ranma teased. "I gotta get my exercise somehow."
Ryoga yelled incoherently. He swung at Ranma again and again, as fast with the incredibly heavy umbrella as another would be with a light fencing foil. Ranma ducked and dodged, staying just out of reach, and almost chuckling. Ryoga's face turned a deep red at the smiling Ranma. He threw the umbrella, but Ranma easily ducked under it. The umbrella flew over the pool before embedding itself in the stone wall of a classroom building.
Ranma didn't have time to watch the weapon. Ryoga leap into the air, one leg poised for a kick. Ranma leapt up to intercept, and grabbed Ryoga's foot with both hands as the lost boy kicked. Ranma tucked his legs and yanked on Ryoga's leg, sending both of them tumbling. Ranma extended his legs in time to land feet first, splashing into the deep end of the pool. Ryoga cleared the pool, face-planting in the concrete on the other side.
A disgusted red-headed Ranma crawled out of the pool. She marched up to Akane, pausing long enough to say, "You know why I think the swim team is a stupid idea." before marching into the men's locker room. Shouts of confusion and anger could be heard from within. Akane shook her head sadly, picking up both her and Ranma's lunch boxes as she headed back to class.
Not long after, Ryoga came back to consciousness. He stood up warily, and suddenly remembered the image he had seen just before he hit the ground. He could have sworn that Ranma's hair changed color after he hit the water. "That bit of information could be usef-WHOA!" Ryoga was so busy talking to himself that he nearly walked straight into the pool. *That was sooo close...* He walked over to the building to pull his umbrella out of the wall. He looked around, and ran off in a seemingly random direction.
After the students went back into the classrooms, Xian Pu and Khu Lon dropped out of the large tree. Xian Pu was visibly excited. "You right! Xian Pu enemy is here!" She turned to Khu Lon. "Now I kill?"
Khu Lon hopped atop her staff over to the swimming pool. "No, you will not kill her."
Xian Pu stood, amazed. "What great-grandmother say? Xian Pu no kill enemy?"
Khu Lon reached the pool and dropped to the ground. She swung the bottom of the staff out, using it as a brace as she bent over and dipped a finger into the water. "As I suspected, the water is cool."
Xian Pu ran to the pool. "What great-grandmother say? Xian Pu no understand."
Khu Lon regarded her companion for a moment before hopping back up atop the staff. "That's all right, child. Not many, even among the elders, know much about the Jusenkyo curses. The cool water means that the male body of the outsider is dominant."
Xian Pu tried to process the new piece of information. After several long moments, she turned to Khu Lon. "You mean...."
"Yes, she's a he."
"Xian Pu no should give kiss of death to male outsider."
"That's all right, we didn't know at the time. The law, however, is still clear."
Xian Pu nodded. "Xian Pu need MARRY male outsider. Bring back to Joketsuzoku."
Khu Lon smiled. "I'm proud of you, child. You know our laws well. Come, we need to see what else we can find out about this boy they call Ranma."
Ukyo was sweating heavily. Well, she was perspiring considerably. The heat of the afternoon had not died off during the dinner rush, which was in full swing. Added to that was the fact that she was working like mad over a large, hot grill. The restaurant was full; there were no empty seats to be found. A couple of customers stood against the wall, holding their meals in one hand while eating with the other. The front doors were wide open, and the receiving door in the back room was propped open. A couple of fans were placed in the back room in an attempt to get a breeze to go through the building. Even Ranma was breaking a bit of a sweat, and not from the exertion of serving or cleaning.
One of the regulars sitting on a barstool stopped Ranma as he was headed to the back room with a load of dirty dishes. "Say, where did that other kawaii little red-head get to? I haven't seen her around for a while."
Ranma nearly dropped his plates, but managed to prevent a catastrophe with the help of fast reflexes. He turned to the middle aged man and reminded himself to be polite. "She, um, was temporary help. She's busy with school now."
Ukyo happily added, "You might see her here from time to time."
Ranma quickly walked to the back room, mumbling something under his breath. Ukyo giggled.
From the roof of the store across the street, Xian Pu and Khu Lon watched. Xian Pu remained quiet, not wishing to disturb her elder. Finally, Khu Lon spoke, "Well, I believe I've seen enough for now."
Xian Pu looked back into the restaurant. "He seem busy. Look happy. How we get him leave Japan?"
"Don't worry, my child." Khu Lon tapped a finger thoughtfully on the top of her staff. "I'm coming up with a strategy."
"Oooh, Xian Pu like great-grandmother think of stragedy...straji.... Xian Pu like plan."
Ryoga leaped easily across the stream. *Where did Ranma run off to now?* he thought angrily. He looked around, trying to get his bearings. *That's funny,* he puzzled to himself. *I don't remember there being this many trees in the school....oh no, not again.* His chest heaved for a few breaths before he threw his head back and yelled at the top of his lungs, "WHERE ON EARTH AM I NOOOOWWWW?!?!"
"Keep it down there, boy."
Ryoga spun around, umbrella ready. "Who's there?!"
A few seconds later, the voice spoke again. It was a raspy, old voice. "You are a difficult person to track down."
Ryoga didn't like being teased. "Show yourself!"
"Very well." A wrinkled up prune of a woman dropped out of a nearby tree. She landed perching on a walking staff. Her hair was long and white. The woman waited patiently for Ryoga to stop recoiling and settle down. "You know, you look a bit taller from down here."
Ryoga wasn't impressed. "What do you want, old hag?"
"Tsk, tsk. You should not treat your elders that way. Especially since I have come to offer you something."
Ryoga snorted. "What could you possibly offer me that I would want?"
The old woman smiled, Ryoga winced. "I happen to know that you have a certain adversary that you have not been able to beat."
This got his attention. "Who are you?"
"I am one of the elders in Joketsuzoku, the Amazons of China. My name is Khu Lon."
Ryoga furrowed his brow. "Cow-loin?"
This time, Khu Lon winced. "Khu Lon."
"......Close enough. I have come to offer you training to help you in your martial arts."
Ryoga hefted his umbrella. "What could YOU teach me?"
Cologne chuckled. "Never underestimate an Amazon." With a flash of wood, Cologne poked her staff on a chosen spot in Ryoga's chest.
Ryoga collapsed, his umbrella hitting his head before coming to rest beside him. "Ow!" Panic filled his eyes, but he was otherwise motionless.
Cologne hopped to his side on her staff, chuckling. "Relax, young warrior, the paralysis is temporary. Still believe I have nothing to offer you?"
Ryoga slowly became able to move his jaw, becoming re-acquainted with the sensation, before he was able to speak again. "What do you want in return?"
"You will have to trust me that in exacting your revenge on your enemy, my reward will be fulfilled as well."
After a few moments, a light dawned in Ryoga's eyes. "Ah, yet another who seeks the defeat of the foul Ranma."
"Well spoken, boy. I have a camp not far from here....I will lead you there. We can begin your training tomorrow."
Ryoga resisted taking Cologne's hand to help him sit up.
Akane sniffed a bit as she sat alone in the shade of the large tree. Her unopened lunch box in her lap. She heard soft footsteps approaching, but she didn't care.
"Why you sad?"
Akane looked up. Staring back was a young woman, about her age, with very long blue hair. She was wearing a blue Chinese dress, which showed off her figure as well as complementing her hair. Akane sniffed again. "Why do you care?"
"Xian Pu no like see pretty girl sad." Xian Pu knelt in front of Akane. "Try make you happy."
Akane furrowed her brow. "Zan shoe?"
Xian Pu winced, "Xian Pu."
"....Close enough." Shampoo sat down beside Akane, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Nice girl tell why no happy. Shampoo listen."
"My name is Akane."
"Akane tell why no happy," Shampoo repeated. "Shampoo listen."
Akane sighed, wondering why she was going to share her feelings with a foreign stranger, but deciding not to care. "I told my boyfriend that I wanted to do something yesterday. He just laughed at me."
"Oooh, man no laugh at woman in Joketsuzoku. Not if man want to live."
Akane snorted. "Sounds like my kind of place."
"Shampoo no keep man who not nice. Nice Akane no stay with mean man either."
"Hmm, don't tempt me."
"Nice Akane come with Shampoo. See Chinese Amazon. Meet nice men. No be mean to Akane."
Akane stood up. "Sounds like a nice offer, but I can't." She looked down at her unopened lunch box. Shampoo stood up. Akane held the bento out to Shampoo. "Here, want some food?"
"No need food. Thank you. You eat."
Akane sighed, noticing that most of the students were beginning to head towards the classrooms. "I can't, I have to get back to class." She handed the box to Shampoo and walked away.
Shampoo looked over at the students as they walked past. Suddenly, she dropped the box, running over to Ranma. "Nihao, airen!"
Ranma was walking along a path that maintained a safe distance from the swimming pool. He looked up at the sound of Shampoo's voice. His face registered confusion, but a spark of recognition hit him before Shampoo glomped him. "You! How did you find m-ooof!"
Shampoo gleefully snuggled Ranma's shoulder. "Wo ai ni, Ranma."
Ranma pushed at the young Amazon, but Shampoo's grip was firmly set on his arm. "You're not gunna try to kill me? What do you want?"
"Ranma Shampoo future husband."
"What?!" Ranma twisted his arm out of Shampoo's grasp, only to have her hug his torso, rubbing her cheek on his chest. "Get away from me, you crazy girl!"
"Ranma?" He heard a voice behind him that made him turn. Akane's eyes flared as she saw Shampoo snuggling contentedly.
"Wait, Akane, it's not what you think!"
"Ranma no baka!" Akane's backhand connected with Ranma's cheek. She huffed a few times, glaring at Shampoo, before turning and running to class.
Shampoo disentangled herself from a stunned Ranma. "Shampoo sorry violent girl hit Ranma. Shampoo take care of Ranma. Ranma no get hit next time."
"That's right," an old, raspy voice said from the tree above. An old woman dropped down in front of the two. Balancing on her staff, her eyes were even with Ranma's stomach. She waited for Ranma to stop recoiling before continuing. "You don't need to take that kind of treatment from a Japanese woman."
Ranma looked from Shampoo to the old woman and back. "I know who you are," he said to Shampoo, who bounced a happy affirmative. "...But I don't know you," he said to the stranger.
"I don't expect you would," the woman answered, "though I was at the tournament where you bested my great-granddaughter. I was impressed with your martial arts skills. I am Khu Lon of the elders, and have come from Joketsuzoku to make you an offer."
"So, you guys aren't out to try to kill me anymore?"
"Of course not. An honest misunderstanding. Had we but known about your curse, your treatment would have been very different."
Ranma wasn't sure if he could trust the two. "Well, what do you want, then?"
"The women of our tribe are always trying to improve themselves. A mighty martial artist such as yourself would be treated better than any other man in the village if he were to offer his services as an instructor."
*This sounds weird.* "You want me to go back to China to teach a bunch of girls how to fight?"
"Never underestimate an Amazon woman. We pride ourselves in our fighting ability. You would be teaching martial artists in advanced techniques, as well as learning some advanced techniques yourself."
Something tugged at the back of Ranma's mind, but he couldn't put his finger on it. Another issue, seemingly more important, was clouding his thoughts. "You mean, I'll be learning martial arts too?"
"Yes, you could see this as a training trip, if you wish."
A short series of memories invaded Ranma's thoughts, most of them more repulsive than the old woman in front of him. "Ugh, I ain't goin' on no training trip."
"I gotta go, I'm late for class." With that, Ranma ran, knowing he'd rather hold a bucket of cold water in the hallway than talk about more training.
Shampoo watched Ranma bound away, noticing the grace and strength of his motions. She sighed to herself before turning to Cologne. "What do now? Ranma no want go to China."
Cologne stared at the door Ranma had just disappeared through. "Not to worry, child. We're still in the opening moves of the game."
Chapter 2: ...Pawn Takes Knight...
"SAOTOME RANMA, PREPARE TO DIE!"
"Hey, Ryoga, it's been a while..."
The two faced off, Ranma making sure that the swimming pool was to Ryoga's back this time. Ryoga calmly regarded Ranma. "This time, you won't get away from me."
Ranma sneered. "As long as you don't get lost again, you mean." Ranma stood ready for Ryoga to make his first attack. After a few moments, he taunted Ryoga again. "What are you waiting for, lost boy?" Ryoga said nothing. Ranma noticed that Ryoga wasn't holding his umbrella. He stole a glance at the pack Ryoga had dropped on the ground. The umbrella was still strapped to the top of it. Ranma refused to allow himself to be shaken in the least over Ryoga's apparent change in tactics, but he was getting impatient. "Well, are you gunna do somethin' or not?"
Ryoga stamped his foot, throwing his arms out and yelling a kiai. Ranma leapt into the air, expecting an actual attack. Ryoga watched as Ranma twisted to land on his feet behind the lost boy. At the last moment, Ryoga pivoted and threw his fist out. Ranma, his arms out for balance in the landing, was wide open. He attempted to pull away, but he was still in the air, and had nothing to push off from. Ryoga's punch hit Ranma in the chest. Ranma fell back, tucked to control his landing, and back-rolled away. He finished the back-roll and jumped back to his feet. *That's just great,* he thought. *He fakes me out, finally gets in a punch, and now I've got my back to the pool again.* He felt more hurt to his pride than pain in his chest.
Ryoga calmly resumed his ready stance for a few seconds before stamping his foot again. Ranma bounced a foot into the air, but landed in the same spot. "You're gonna have to do better than that. This is gonna get boring real quick." Ranma put his hand to his mouth in a mock-yawn.
"No problem," Ryoga calmly stated. "How about this? Bakusai tenketsu!" Ryoga threw his fist, index finger out, down to the ground. The spot where his finger hit immediately exploded. Fragments of concrete pelted Ranma as the concussion from the blast sent him flying into the pool.
"Alright, that does it!" Ranma growled as she crawled out of the pool. "Now, I'm REALLY mad!" She marched back up to Ryoga and dropped into a somewhat shorter stance.
Ryoga stared at Ranma's red hair for a moment. "So, I see the old woman was right."
Ranma blinked. "What?"
Ryoga, nearly losing his temper again, threw a kick at Ranma's head, yelling, "It was YOU!"
Ranma had no trouble blocking the kick, but was too distracted to dodge the blow completely. She fell back, rolling again and jumping up. "What did I do now?!"
Ryoga stood, motionless except for his heavy breathing. "I followed you, trying to catch you so that I could have my revenge. You were always just ahead, but I never managed to catch up. You ran at a pace only a coward would keep to run away from his enemy."
"I ran with the old man because we were training. Besides, it wasn't like you couldn't catch up because you kept getting lost, was it?"
Ryoga ignored the comment and closed his eyes. "I kept finding places where you had just been the day before or the week before. I finally managed to catch up with you in China."
Ranma looked at the ground thoughtfully. "We didn't spend a whole lotta time in China."
Ryoga opened his eyes to stare at Ranma. "Yes, but you did spend some time in Jusenkyo ." He paused, enjoying the sight of Ranma's wide eyes, before continuing. "I was on a cliff, wondering how I had lost track of you again, when this red-haired girl with a pig-tail ran out of the forest, chasing a panda. You knocked me off the cliff as you ran past. I was glad at first that I was going to land in one of the ponds instead of hitting a rock or something. Had I but known about the water in the pond..."
"Which one did you land in?" Ranma quietly asked.
"That's not important." Ryoga dismissed the question with a wave of his hand. "I now have an even stronger reason for revenge." He pointed an accusing finger at Ranma, trembling with anger. "You forced a curse upon me after you were cursed yourself!" Ranma stood with her hands at her sides, blinking. Ryoga resumed his ready stance. "Now, prepare to DIE!"
Ryoga threw a combination of punches and kicks at Ranma. Ranma was busy dodging the attacks. They were working their way towards a tree, which Ranma ducked behind as a kick flew out. The tree was knocked flat by the impact. Ranma stood behind the new stump for a moment, wide eyed and thinking, *Wow, he seems really mad this time.*
Ryoga continued his attack. Ranma, ducking under another kick, saw an opening and threw a kick of her own. She connected squarely with Ryoga's stomach. Ryoga was knocked airborne and landed on his rump. Ranma fell on her side. She jumped back up, watching in amazement as Ryoga stood back up, unhurt. "Give up, Saotome, " Ryoga sneered. "You can't hurt me."
He took a few steps towards Ranma, who backed off a few steps. Ryoga jumped forward, yelling, " Bakusai tenketsu!" again, striking at Ranma herself. Ranma jumped up out of Ryoga's reach, but the blast from the ground sent her flying again. This time, she hit about halfway up a tree. She collided with several branches as she fell to the ground, unconscious. Ryoga smiled and began walking towards the girl.
"That's enough, boy." Cologne landed atop her staff between Ryoga and Ranma.
Ryoga frowned. "You said I would have my revenge."
"And you have. Ranma is beaten. Now leave him....her."
"But I want him DEAD!"
"Not in front of these witnesses, you don't."
Ryoga stopped and looked around him. A number of students and teachers were watching from a safe distance. From nearly every window of the nearest building, faces could be seen, watching, waiting to see what would happen.
Cologne hopped up to Ryoga, putting a wrinkled hand on his arm. "You got what you came for. Now, you can return home."
Ryoga pulled his arm back from the ugly old woman, wrinkling his nose, before walking back to his pack. He snorted to Cologne before running off the school grounds. Cologne thought he sounded like a disgusted pig.
Shampoo dropped out of a tree after Ryoga was out of sight. "Ryoga strong warrior. Maybe we take him too?"
Cologne grunted as she checked over Ranma. "Not likely. We'd never know where he ran off to. HE wouldn't know. Besides, all he had was a couple of tactics, a technique that I taught him, and a small sampling of this." Cologne held out an old envelope, shaking the powder within.
"Which potion that?"
"Just a little something I cooked up to make him stronger, faster, and nearly impenetrable for a little while. It's probably wearing off already."
Shampoo turned to look at Ranma. "Shampoo future husband hurt?"
"No, other than some nasty bruises, he'll be just fine. It's a good thing he has a thick skull."
Ranma groaned. Any small movement sent pounding waves of pain through his head. As he slowly became more aware of his body, he noticed several places that were burning with pain. He took a few deep breaths, concentrating on controlling the pain that was overwhelming him. He managed to put most of the discomfort to the back of his mind, but, for some reason, he couldn't find his center and come to peace. A soothing voice interrupted his meditation. "Ah, Ranma now awake. No sit up. Is hurt."
Ranma opened his eyes, maintaining enough control over his pain to see Shampoo sitting beside him. "Where am I?"
"You with Shampoo. We in house. Great-grandmother rent for visit in Japan." Shampoo reached into a packet that was resting on a nearby table, taking out a sliver shaped tablet. She held the pill over Ranma's mouth. "Here. You take. Make feel better." Ranma looked at the pill for a moment before allowing Shampoo to put it in his mouth. She handed him a glass of water and supported his head as he drank. In a few moments, relief from the pain washed over him like a cool refreshing shower. He closed his eyes and meditated a moment more before sitting up.
Shampoo blinked. "Ranma no feel pain?" Ranma shook his head. Shampoo smiled. "Is good."
Ranma slowly got to his feet and looked around the sparsely furnished bedroom. "Where's the old ghoul?"
"Right here," Cologne stated as she hopped into the doorway. Ranma wondered for a moment if she was constantly on the staff merely because it nearly doubled her apparent height. Cologne hopped into the room. "Looks like you had a nasty spill."
Ranma sat back down on the bed as his memory began to come back to him: "Ryoga beat me."
"You sound as though you don't believe that it's possible. Trust me, you don't get to grow as old as I do by believing you can't be beat. You train with the knowledge that there are those better than you. You train in order to grow stronger than your adversaries. In Joketsuzoku, a warrior who stops training already has her foot in the grave."
Ranma stood up again, attempting to rub the thought out of his head: "Ryoga beat me."
"And he will again, unless you train to grow stronger than he has." Ranma blinked at Cologne. She calmly returned his gaze. "Come with us to Joketsuzoku. We will make you stronger than you can imagine."
Ranma's thoughts were beginning to come back into focus. "No....no, I need to get back to U-chan." The two Amazons watched quietly as Ranma walked out of the house.
Shampoo shook her fists after the door closed. "Ukyo person is obstacle. Obstacle is for killing."
Cologne put a hand on her great-granddaughter. "Patience, child. In time, Ranma will come to you."
Shampoo blinked. "Ranma come to Shampoo?"
"Yes, in time."
"Khu Lon wise Amazon. Shampoo glad you come help."
Ukyo yawned as she put the last of the dishes on the shelf. She turned the water off before trudging across the back room to the stairs. Each step was a conscious effort. She made the mistake of looking up the stairs, which suddenly seemed impossibly tall. She released a tired sigh and turned off the last of the lights downstairs before taking a few steps up. She stopped when she heard a noise at the front door. She bent over to look under the lintel, noticing Ranma's silhouette as he unlocked the door and stepped inside. She waited for him to lock the door again as she sat down on the stairs. Ranma found his way past the counter from the light coming through the glass in the door. Ukyo took a breath before speaking. "Ranma?"
Ranma paused in the darkness. "What is it?"
"Where were you during dinner rush? I was swamped. I had to turn people away because I couldn't keep up with everything by myself."
Ranma swallowed before answering, "Me an' Ryoga got into a big fight."
"Well, I wish you could have found a better time to pick on him. You said you would always be there for me. How can I keep this place going if I can't count on you?"
Ranma's breathing was becoming labored. Whatever Shampoo gave him was beginning to wear off. His arms were beginning to ache, and he fought to keep control. He gasped as the pain broke through his concentration, filling him with frustration and anger. "I'm sorry I can't live up to your standards," he finally spat before he stumbled back to the door.
Ukyo stared in shock as Ranma fumbled with the lock on the door, threw the door open, and stumbled into the street.
"He's coming back," Cologne stated, eyes closed. "The effects of the pill must be nearly worn off by now." A few moments later, a knock came at the door. Shampoo ran down the hallway and opened the door. Ranma stood, shaking and gritting his teeth. Cologne hopped up behind Shampoo, looking Ranma over. "Well, well, I see my medication has worn off. You were able to come back from who knows where, in spite of all that pain. You are a strong martial artist indeed."
Shampoo took Ranma's arm, gently pulling it over her shoulder to support his weight. Ranma hissed in pain, but leaned on the young Amazon gratefully. Shampoo whispered in Ranma's ear, "Shampoo help airen feel better. Come to bedroom. Must rest." Ranma allowed himself to be half-lead, half-carried down the hallway to the bedroom. Shampoo eased him down onto the bed before offering him another silver pill. "Here. You take. Make feel better." Ranma took the pill out of her hand, not waiting for the glass of water before swallowing. Cool relief splashed over him again, and he melted into the bed with a sigh. Shampoo gently rubbed Ranma's chest. "You rest. When feel better, we go to China." Ranma looked up at Shampoo for a few moments, enjoying the small massage, before nodding his head and falling asleep.
Ranma took several deep breaths of the fresh mountain air. Shampoo giggled, rubbing his shoulder with her cheek. "China air good for Ranma. Better than nasty Japan city air."
Ranma was enjoying the view from the path. "Hey, ghoul." Cologne stopped her hopping and turned on her staff, eyes narrow. Ranma didn't notice her expression. "We're pretty close to Jusenkyo now, aren't we?"
Cologne stared at him. "Yes we are, son-in-law. And one day we may take a trip there."
Ranma started skipping and humming to himself, ignoring the fact that Cologne had begun to address him as if he and Shampoo were married.
As they approached the pass, a pair of guards stepped out of hiding, crossing their spears as they stood on the trail. Cologne silently hopped in front of Ranma and Shampoo. At the sight of the elder, the guards pulled their spears back and stepped aside. The three travelers stopped a few feet away, and Cologne held out a wrinkled hand. <I have returned with the one that defeated the champion at our last tournament. Send news to the council at once that I would speak with them.>
One of the guards bowed deeply before turning around and breaking into a dead run. The other guard bowed, holding her spear in salute. <The Amazon guard proudly welcomes you back home, Khu Lon. The Amazon guard proudly welcomes you back home, Xian Pu.> The guard straightened up and regarded Ranma. <I do not know you.>
Khu Lon turned to Xian Pu, who still had her hand on Ranma's shoulder. Xian Pu spoke, <Xian Pu introduces Ranma, champion of the last tournament.>
The guard gave a shallow bow. <The Amazon guard welcomes Ranma.> Ranma bowed back, saying nothing.
Ranma shifted uneasily in his seat as he waited for the council meeting to begin. Khu Lon hopped up to him on her staff. "Men are not allowed to speak in the council chambers. You may see better treatment once they learn your story and your capabilities. However, it would be better if you would remain silent and allow us to speak for you."
"That's ok," Ranma sighed. "I don't know a single word of Chinese anyway."
Xian Pu sat beside Ranma, maintaining a small distance from him. "Ranma no worry. Xian Pu and great-grandmother take good care of Ranma. Make Amazon see good man. Amazon people will like Ranma."
The news had spread quickly. Most of the village had arrived in the council hall to see the newcomer. A hush come over the hall as a large, ornate door opened. Several older women, some nearly as old as Khu Lon, walked slowly to the table at the front of the hall. As they sat down, Ranma noticed that there was a gap with an empty chair at the table.
The elder sitting at the middle of the table looked to the other elders before standing back up. She looked directly at Khu Lon. <The Council of Elders warmly welcomes Khu Lon back home.>
Khu Lon bowed. <I am proud to be back home, Xia Wur.>
Xia Wur nodded and continued. <We understand that you have an outsider with you.>
Khu Lon hopped to the middle of the main aisle. <He is the champion of our last tournament.>
The elder blinked. <The last champion was a young red-headed woman.>
Khu Lon smiled. <The last champion had just come from Jusenkyo before fighting in our tournament.>
Whispers were heard around the hall. The whispers ceased at a wave of Xia Wur's hand. <The Elders wish to know more about this outsider and the events at Jusenkyo leading to our tournament.>
<I do not know the exact events at Jusenkyo . I was not there. This young man somehow fell into the Jusenkyo spring of drowned young woman. He was in his cursed form when he fought at the tournament.>
The whispers returned, louder this time. Most of them being about a man fighting at the tournament. Xia Wur patiently held her hand out again, and the whispers stopped. The elder looked over at Ranma. <Khu Lon, why have you brought this outsider man to the council hall?>
<I have seen this person fight. His curse does not impede him. He is a swift and strong martial artist. He knows techniques that we do not. His skills would be a great asset if taught to our warriors. I have come to ask that he be allowed to stay in Joketsuzoku, so that we can learn these skills and become stronger.>
Xia Wur stared evenly at Khu Lon for a few moments before speaking again. <The Council of Elders will consider this request in our chambers.> Khu Lon bowed to the other elders. They each stood and returned a bow before walking through the large, ornate door.
Once the door closed, the whispers returned. Ranma was suddenly aware that most of the crowd was looking at him. He turned to Xian Pu, and opened his mouth to ask her a question. Xian Pu noticed the movement, and put out a hand to hush him. "Elders know you strong warrior. Elders go talk. Elders decide you can stay or you no can stay." Ranma nodded that he understood.
It wasn't very long before the elders returned to the hall table. The hall was quietly still for what seemed to Ranma to be an eternity. Finally, Xia Wur stood and spoke, <Xian Pu.> Xian Pu stood and bowed. Xia Wur bowed back before continuing. <You gave this man the kiss of death.>
<I did not know that he-> Xian Pu stopped short at the elder's raised hand.
<Did you not give this man the kiss of death?>
Xian Pu dropped her head. <Yes.>
<We understand that you did not know of the young man's curse at the tournament.>
Xian Pu looked back up at the elder. <Yes.>
Xia Wur paused for a moment before continuing. <Unusual circumstances such as these are not entirely unknown in the elder scrolls. Our proximity to Jusenkyo has brought us difficulties in the past. Because you did not have all of the facts when you acted at the tournament, your duty to kill the outsider is no longer a concern.> Xian Pu nodded, and Ranma heard her exhale a quiet sigh. The elder continued. <Do you understand that we cannot allow this outsider man to be in our village without a constant chaperone?>
Xian Pu nodded, trying to hide her enthusiasm. <Yes.>
<Do you accept the responsibilities of being his chaperone, knowing that his actions will lead the consequences to you?>
Xian Pu took a deep breath before nodding again. <Yes.>
Xia Wur put her hand out once more. <The Council of Elders recognizes this young man as a potential asset to the Amazons. He will be allowed to stay here under the supervision of Xian Pu. Any woman who has a grievance with this young man will answer to Xian Pu.> The Amazon village, in a single movement, bowed to the wisdom of the elders. The speaker elder turned once more to Khu Lon. <Are there any other matters you wish to speak of, Khu Lon?>
Khu Lon bowed deeply. <I wish to thank the Council of Elders for the honor of their time.>
Xia Wur nodded. <This meeting is over, then. You may return to your daily lives.>
At that, the crowd stood up, and the whispers continued. The women slowly left the hall. Khu Lon and Xian Pu led Ranma to Xian Pu's home, a small hut that consisted of a single room. The door had no lock. Xian Pu walked inside first. Khu Lon shooed Ranma in before she entered. A small bed took up one corner. A table used up most of the floor space in the center.
Xian Pu looked around, quickly noting that everything was as she left it. Khu Lon pointed to the small bed. "You should rest for now. We have had a long journey, and you must be tired." Ranma shook his head, but walked over to the bed and sat down. Khu Lon mumbled something quickly to Xian Pu, who gasped at the suggestion. Khu Lon then quickly left.
Xian Pu knelt in front of Ranma. "Khu Lon say some Amazon may not like Ranma. May not believe Ranma tournament champion. May challenge Ranma to fight."
Ranma wasn't impressed. "I beat you, didn't I?"
Xian Pu smiled. "Xian Pu remember Ranma strong martial artist. Xian Pu glad you come help."
Ranma smiled back before kicking his feet up onto the bed. "Well, I might as well relax a bit. Who knows how busy I'm gunna be tomorrow?"
Xian Pu's smile vanished, but she tried to keep the cheerfulness in her voice. "Ranma rest. Xian Pu make good dinner. Ranma eat later."
Ranma yawned, just then realizing how tired he was from the trip. "Yeah, thanks." A few minutes later, he was asleep.
Xian Pu smiled again. She pulled a bottle out of her dress. The bottle was labeled with only a number, "110". She filled a basin with water and placed it at the head of her bed. <Soon, airen,> she whispered, <you will not remember your life in Japan.> With that, she poured some of the contents of the bottle in her hand.
Chapter 3: ...Knight Takes Queen...
<This man is heavier than he looks.>
<Quiet. You'll wake him.>
<Are you kidding? I accidentally hit his head on the doorway. Twice. This guy sleeps like a rock.>
<Looks like he's built like a rock, too.>
<Quit pinching him and help me.>
Ranma woke up after hitting the ground. Usually when he woke up, he felt groggy until something got his attention, like breakfast. Strangely enough, even laying on the ground, he felt refreshed. He rubbed his eyes and rolled to his hands and knees. It was only after he opened his eyes and saw dirt that he realized that he was no longer in Xian Pu's hut. He stood up. It was only then that he noticed that he was surrounded by five young Amazon women, all standing in different ready stances. One of them narrowed her eyes when Ranma looked at her and spoke with a heavy accent. "Outsider male should get used to being on dirt."
Ranma dropped into his own ready stance, nearly sighing with contentment. "Finally, some stuff I can understand."
Three of them attacked at the same time, two of them kicking, one of them swinging a staff. When their strikes reached Ranma, he wasn't there. The staff hit the foot of one of the other women, knocking her down. Ranma landed on top of the staff. He looked at the person who was holding the staff. She glared back. Ranma stood on the staff for a moment, saying, "I don't hit girls." Another woman kicked at Ranma's feet. He jumped out of the way, but the first woman pulled the staff away as he landed. Another swept his feet before he landed. Ranma fell on his back. He looked up and saw the staff swing down towards him. He reached out and blocked the blow, realizing afterwards that the blow came from above his head. He looked down, seeing the end of the staff just between his knees. "But in your case, I might make an exception..."
Xian Pu woke up in her bed. She sat up and rubbed her temples, fighting off the headache that was trying to pester her. She slowly stood up, and collapsed to the floor as a wave of dizziness and nausea overcame her. Eventually, she remembered that someone was missing. A kiai was heard from somewhere outside, and the realization hit her with a gasp. She ran out the door and headed straight for the fighting square.
The fighting square was a small quad in the middle of the village. The ruts in the ground and holes in some of the surrounding buildings bore witness to the number of disputes that were resolved in the square. Xian Pu saw that Ranma was working on a dispute with three women as she turned the corner. She came to a stop at the edge of the square and noticed that two other women were unconscious. One of them was leaning upside down against a hut, the other was lying face down a short distance away.
One of the remaining three woman, holding a broken staff, jumped into the air towards Ranma. He leapt into the air, catching her swing and throwing her underneath him. She hit the ground on one shoulder and yelled in pain. Ranma landed on his feet between the remaining two women and Xian Pu. The woman he had just thrown slowly stood up, holding her arm, and limped out of the square.
Xian Pu regarded the two women still standing in the fighting square. One of them was sporting a foot-shaped bruise on the side of her face. The other seemed to be holding her stomach. Both of them were breathing heavily. Ranma was lightly winded. The woman with the bruise on her face dropped her jaw as the other woman yelled and charged Ranma. Ranma watched her run towards him, his hands at his sides. At the last moment, Ranma stepped to one side, allowing the charging woman to fly past him, her kick missing him completely. His fist flew out to her head as she passed, and she was unconscious before she hit the ground.
The remaining woman looked at her companions. She carefully touched the new bruise on her face. Finally, she bowed to Ranma, speaking to him in Chinese. Then, she said, <I am Khu Ki. Leave the square in peace.>
Ranma turned to Xian Pu, asking, "What'd she say?"
Xian Pu smiled. "She say you win. You best fighter she see. You no more trouble in village. She listen to you, even though you man."
Ranma smiled and returned the bow.
"I'm glad you are finally done with that, son-in-law," Khu Lon said as she hopped up from behind Xian Pu.
Xian Pu jumped. "Oh, great-grandmother. You startle Xian Pu."
Khu Lon ignored Xian Pu, and hopped right up to Ranma. "...It is time for you to begin your training." Without waiting for a reply, Khu Lon hopped out of the square.
Ranma followed her, stretching his arms and putting his hands behind his head. "I was really impressed with your warriors, not! Five to one, and they still couldn't beat me."
He turned to see Xian Pu's hand on his shoulder. She didn't glomp on him, but she was nearly radiant with pride. "Ranma strong martial artist."
Khu Lon continued down the street, not looking back. "The Amazons you fought were young and impetuous. They did not believe me in the counsel hall when I said you were the champion of the last tournament."
Ranma chuckled. "I bet they believe us now."
Khu Lon nodded before turning at the next corner. "You will be respected now, even though you are a man." Khu Lon stopped at the doorway of a particularly large hut. "Here we are." Ranma stepped inside and looked around. In one corner was a large boiler. Standing in the doorway, Ranma could feel the heat from the fire beneath the boiler. There were pipes leading from the boiler to a large machine that took up most of the rest of the room. The machine was a complex tangle of metal pipes and wooden logs of different lengths and sizes.
Ranma whistled in appreciation at the complexity of the machine. "Man, it's gunna take some time to untangle that thing and get it fixed."
There was a small amount of irritation that showed in Khu Lon's voice. "Foolish young boy. The machine works perfectly. There is nothing wrong with it." She hopped over to a panel that contained a number of levers.
Ranma furrowed his brow, "Then what the heck does it do?"
"Stand over there. Your speed is barely acceptable. We need to work on it before I can teach you any new techniques." Khu Lon motioned to one end of the machine.
"Whaddya mean, I'm not fast enough?"
Khu Lon sighed, and pulled a handfull of chestnuts from her cloak. "Here," she said, throwing the nuts into the fire under the boiler, "get them."
Ranma stepped towards the fire. He stopped a short distance away, holding his hands up to the heat. He turned to Khu Lon, pointing to the fire. "In there? No way! You want me to burn my hands?"
Khu Lon patiently dropped from her staff and approached the fire. Ranma watched as her hands and arms became a blur. When she finished, she held the chestnuts in her hands.
Ranma gaped at the demonstration. "Wow."
Khu Lon put the chestnuts down. "Ooh, ah. That's how it always starts." She pointed to the machine. "But later, there's running and yelling. The kind of speed that this technique requires allows you to take chestnuts from an open fire without burning your hands. Are you interested?" Ranma nodded, mouth agape. "Then get over there."
Ranma walked to the spot. He looked at the machine from the position Khu Lon indicated. He could see that the metal pipes were mostly around the outside of the machine. The logs formed an uneven passageway. From his spot, Ranma could see completely through the machine. Xian Pu had stepped over to the other side and smiled at him down the uneven hallway.
"I don't get it," Ranma admitted. "Are we supposed to spar inside this thing?"
"You will not be able to spar inside there," Khu Lon explained. As she spoke, Xian Pu began removing her two hair bows. "The goal is to work your way down the log hall to the other side."
"Looks easy," Ranma said confidently, watching Xian Pu tie her bows to a pipe at the very end of the log-hall machine. "Piece of cake." Xian Pu stepped back. Ranma jumped on top of the first log.
"I'm not finished," Khu Lon interrupted. "You must make it through the hall when the log-hall machine is on." With that, she reached out and pulled a large red lever. The sounds of steam whistling through lengths of pipe, flowing past valves, and pressing against pistons soon filled the room. Gradually, the logs began to move. Ranma watched, maintaining his balance on the first log as it moved back and forth. Soon, the hallway was a quickly undulating and shifting mass of logs.
"No problem." Ranma leapt from the first log, landing on a smaller log a few meters away.
"Foolish young boy," Khu Lon spat, reaching and pulling another lever.
Ranma nearly fell off the log as it began spinning underneath him. He let out a yell of surprise and began back-pedaling to keep on top of his perch. He spied a larger log further down that was not spinning as quickly, and planted his foot to jump. The spinning log pushed against his foot, and he nearly overshot his mark. He waved his arms to keep from falling between the large log and the next log down the hall. "No.. wha.. problem!" He said, reacting to a vertical log that had shuddered closer and hit his arm.
Khu Lon's hand hovered over the third lever before pulling it. "How about a challenge, especially difficult for Jusenkyo -challenged warriors?"
Ranma jumped for another log when a splash of cold water hit him. She concentrated on controlling her landing, now that her size and balance had shifted. She landed on the log on one foot, the other swinging wildly in the air. A vertical log lurched in her direction. Ranma kicked the vertical log, using the push to regain her balance. Before she lifted her foot, a shot of steam doused her, heating her wet clothes enough to make her yell, "Yeow! It doesn't gotta be THAT hot!" As she changed back into a boy, his now longer leg against the vertical log now pushed him off balance.
Xian Pu watched with admiration. Three of the five levers were down, and Ranma was nearly halfway through the hall on his first try. She peered through the gaps in the pipes and logs and peeked at the space between the machine and the floor. Over the din of the steam and creaking wood, she could hear Ranma's exclamations: "Yeah... ooops.... whoa.... (splash) darn it.... (grunt)... (whoosh) yeow.... (thump) ow..... (splash) (thump) erk!" Xian Pu gasped as Ranma landed on the floor, clothes and red hair splashing water as she hit. Ranma groaned and put a hand to her head as Khu Lon pushed the large red lever back. The machine slowed and fell silent.
Ranma groaned and put a hand to his head. He tried to sit up in Xian Pu's bed. A wave of nausea hit him, and he laid back down. A small hand touched his shoulder, and he opened his eyes to see Xian Pu sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Shhhh, no move." She took a silver pill out from her dress and held it in front of his mouth. "Here. You take. Make feel better."
Ranma opened his mouth and swallowed the pill. Almost instantly, the pain and nausea were gone. After a moment of enjoying this, he frowned. "Shampoo, what were we doing before this?"
Xian Pu blinked. "You in log-hall machine."
"No, I mean before Joketsuzoku."
Xian Pu rubbed his chest gently. "Shhhh, Must rest."
Ranma opened his mouth to say something, but fell asleep before he could make a sound.
Ukyo waited patiently at the front door to the Tendo home. Kasumi slid the door open. "Oh, Ukyo. Come in please."
Ukyo bowed to Kasumi before stepping inside. "Arigatou gozaimasu. I've come looking for Ranma."
"He isn't helping you with the restaurant?"
"He was, but I haven't seen him at the restaurant since three nights ago."
Kasumi put a hand to her mouth. "Oh my. I haven't seen him, but Akane might know where he is."
"Do you know where Akane is?"
Kasumi wiped her hands on her apron. "She's usually over in the dojo this time of day. Come, I'll show you."
Kasumi led Ukyo to the dojo, where Akane was busy breaking bricks. Kasumi and Ukyo watched quietly while Akane slammed her fist down on a stack of two bricks. All three girls were pelted with little pieces of brick. Akane looked up to see Kasumi and Ukyo dusting themselves off. "Oh, I didn't see you two there."
Ukyo stepped over to Akane. "That's ok. I'm here looking for Ranma. Have you seen him?"
Akane's face hardened. "That jerk? Who cares?" She dusted the pair of flat rocks that she was using to hold her targets off the floor.
"Well, I was hoping that you knew where he was, since I haven't seen him for nearly three days."
Akane's jaw dropped, but only for a moment. "He ran away before. I'm not surprised he's done it again."
Ukyo swallowed, pushing back the thought of what nearly happened last time Ranma ran away. She watched Akane walk to one side and pick three bricks from a stack on the wall. "Well, Akane, he must have done something to make YOU angry."
Akane quietly put the three bricks down on the pair of rocks. She stared at the bricks for a moment.
Ukyo spoke quietly. "I suppose we all say things we don't mean sometimes..."
Akane tried to ignore the comment. She reached up, her hand flat, and chopped at the bricks. The top brick broke in two, but the other two were undamaged. Akane grabbed her hand, refusing to look up at Ukyo.
"Oh my." Kasumi gasped as she stepped over to Akane's side. "Let me look at that hand."
Ukyo bowed. "I'm sorry to have bothered you. I will see myself out."
Kasumi, still holding Akane's hand, looked over her shoulder at Ukyo. "I'm sorry we couldn't help you."
Ukyo silently nodded and turned to leave.
Akane shed a tear as she realized why she had lost concentration.
Ranma was just reaching the halfway point in the log-hall machine. The spinning and moving logs were becoming easier to deal with. He was getting better at judging the timing of the water and steam jets. Even when he did get doused, she had fewer troubles dealing with the changes his body went through. He was controlling his fear over being crushed between logs. Even more, he was thinking he was going to snatch the two bows this time.
That was, until Khu Lon pulled the fourth lever.
Suddenly, pointy sticks and large logs jutted out into the hallway. Some of them sweeping across the space inside the machine, some of them poking in and out of the hallway. Ranma was rapped on the head by a dropping staff as he leapt to a spinning log, causing him to fall short. He spread his legs and managed to span the distance between two logs, hopping back and forth a couple of times as the logs slowly turned.
He looked up in time to see a large vertical log move towards him. He put his hands out to catch it. The blow threw him out of the machine. He landed on the floor on his rump.
Xian Pu ran to him as Khu Lon pushed the red lever back up. Xian Pu knelt down beside Ranma, holding his shoulders. "Ranma ok?"
Ranma slowly stood up, groaning as he held the seat of his pants. Xian Pu glomped him, giggling. "Ranma make almost two thirds! Is farthest today!"
Khu Lon hopped up, shaking her head. "You are taking far too long. You also need more strength."
Ranma blinked back for a moment before looking very determined. "I'm gunna beat this machine."
Khu Lon shook her head. "I don't think a fourth attempt will get you any further today. You need to work on something else. Follow me."
Xian Pu and Ranma followed Khu Lon outside the building. She led them to the edge of the village where a new hut was being built. A number of men were using large branches as levers to place small boulders for the foundation. Other men were digging depressions for the rocks to fit into. A couple of women were standing around, supervising.
Khu Lon waved at the pile of rocks beside the working men. "They need more of these rocks from the river. Rocks with a flat side are preferable for the floor. Round rocks will be acceptable for the walls."
"You want me to carry a bunch a' rocks?" Ranma complained.
Xian Pu rubbed Ranma's chest. "Xian Pu know Ranma strong. Little rocks no problem."
Ranma looked irritated at Xian Pu. "Of course those rocks ain't no problem. I just wanna know what this has to do with my training."
"You need to build your strength." Khu Lon used her staff to poke a bruise on Ranma's arm. "Those logs shouldn't be throwing you around so much. You are too weak. Carrying the rocks will build up your strength."
Ranma sighed. It wasn't the first time he felt like he was being taken advantage of in the name of training. He couldn't remember any specific instances right off hand, but he had a feeling that this kind of thing happened more often than he liked. "Ok, where's the river?"
Khu Lon pointed with her staff. "Just across the field and over the hill."
Ranma sighed again and jogged off. Xian Pu watched him run for a while. Once he was farther away, she turned to Khu Lon. "Great-grandmother, why you send him over hill? Bend in river not far OTHER way."
"Sometimes, the journey is more important than the goal. Besides, the rocks are bigger over the hill."
Ranma fell face-first into Xian Pu's bed, exhausted. Xian Pu sat down on the edge of the bed and began rubbing his back and shoulders. "Xian Pu proud of future husband. Ranma do much today."
Ranma groaned back. "I shouldn't have tried to carry that last boulder over the hill." He reached over to his lower back and pressed with his fists.
"Shhhh, no move," Xian Pu scolded. "Must rest." She put his hands back to his sides and began massaging his lower back.
"Mmmmuuuch better," Ranma moaned.
Xian Pu smiled as she started rubbing his shoulders, working her way down his back again...
"Ow! That's sore!" Ranma complained.
"Yes, Xian Pu know. Saw you land." Xian Pu giggled. "Xian Pu get to seat of problem."
Ranma rolled to his side to face Xian Pu. She let her hand slide to his hip. "Look, um, Shampoo...." He looked up, seeing Xian Pu with her best cute kitten face on. "I...I just need... some sleep. That's all."
Xian Pu let out a dramatic sigh before kissing him. "Is ok. You sleep. Feel better tomorrow." She reached into her dress and pulled out another silver pill. "Here. You take. Make feel better."
Ranma took the pill, closing his eyes and smiling gratefully as the fatigue and pain washed away. After bathing in comfort for a while, he opened his eyes again to find himself alone. He released a sigh of relief before falling asleep.
Akane stepped through the door at U-chan's. Being a week-end, she was able to visit as the lunch rush was winding down. Ukyo smiled as she put some food down at a table. The customer at the table sniffed appreciatively at the aroma of the okonomiyaki before digging in. Ukyo wiped her hands on her apron as she smiled at Akane. "Konnichiwa, Akane. Would you like your usual?"
Akane waved her hand. "Just some water, thanks." She sat down on an empty barstool at the counter.
"Well, things are winding down here for a while." Ukyo handed Akane a glass and scraped the grill clean for a moment before putting her spatula down. "What can I do for you?"
"First of all, I wanted to apologize." Akane fidgeted with her hands. "Nabiki says I'm getting into the habit of scaring guests off."
"Don't worry about it," Ukyo chuckled.
Akane sat for a moment, at a loss for words. She looked up to Ukyo. "Did you find Ranma yesterday?"
Ukyo sadly shook her head. "I've cut back on the hours that I'm open, so I've been able to keep up with everything here, but only barely. I don't have a single idea of where to look for him."
Akane stared at the wall. "Last time I saw him was at school. He had this strange girl hanging off him."
"Oh really?" Ukyo's eyes were wide. *That explains why YOU’RE upset.* "Was he....ah...affectionate with her?"
Akane shook her head. "Actually, I think he was pushing her off." She sighed. "Of course, I didn't pay attention at the time. I was just so angry, I wished I had a mallet to hit him with..." Her voice trailed off.
"A big, wooden..... oh, never mind. Anyway, she was talking to me before. Something about going to Chinese Amazon."
"You don't think he went to China, do you?"
"Well," Akane said thoughtfully, "Genma mentioned that the Chinese Amazon village was kinda close to Jusenkyo . I wonder if he went with this girl try to find a cure."
A muffled patter could be heard from the roof. A few customers that were nearly finished quickly left the restaurant and ran down the sidewalk. A couple other customers confidently tugged at coats and umbrellas. Ukyo and Akane didn't notice.
"China." Ukyo scratched her chin. "Well, I've got some money in a savings account. Profits from this crazy place. I was beginning to think about what I should do with it, besides saving it for a rainy day..."
The patter became louder. The street outside was wet, and water began to collect in the gutter. Ukyo and Akane both looked outside and saw the rain at the same time. They both started to giggle.
Chapter 4: ...Checkmate!
Xian Pu gently wrapped Ranma's hands. He hissed occasionally from the pain, but for the most part, he was too tired to make much of a fuss. Xian Pu looked into his tired eyes. "Future husband no should try chestnut technique yet. Great-grandmother said not ready."
"I was born ready." Ranma sighed. "I was so sure I could do it after I got to the ribbons through the log-hall machine."
"Fifth lever not down. Training no done."
"Xian Pu." Xian Pu stopped. It was the first time Ranma had correctly pronounced her name. "What does the fifth lever do?"
Xian Pu stared into Ranma's eyes. Her lip trembled a bit, and she bit it to hold her emotions in check. "No can tell."
"Well, why not?"
"Martial artist who train log-hall no should know what come next. Is part of training."
"Have you been through it?"
Xian Pu smiled. "Some elders go through log hall. Khu Lon go through. No younger person make it. You first at fourth lever." She let go of his hands and held his shoulders. "You be youngest go through. All five levers. Make Xian Pu proud."
"I'll make it through. I'll beat that stupid machine."
Xian Pu smiled again and finished the wrapping. Ranma hissed again as she finished the knot. She pulled another silver pill out of her dress. "Here. You take. Make feel better." Ranma, almost without thinking, opened his mouth and swallowed the pill. Xian Pu rubbed his chest gently. "Must rest. Feel better tomorrow." She leaned forward to kiss Ranma.
He leaned back, causing her to miss. "Uh, Shampoo?"
Xian Pu opened her eyes, her lower lip sticking out. "Yes, airen?"
Ranma thought for a second, before kissing Xian Pu on her forehead. "Thanks for taking care of me."
Xian Pu blinked back her tears. "You welcome." She quickly got up and left her hut.
Ranma sat there a while, thinking, *Why couldn't I let her kiss me? I know I have a reason, I just can't remember. Maybe she knows why.* He stood up and walked out of her hut. *I just need to find where she went. First place I can check is Khu Lon's place.*
Khu Lon's hut was a larger house not far from Xian Pu's. Being an elder, Khu Lon had the luxury of three rooms and her own private storage shed, which was attached to the side of the hut. Ranma stepped up to the doorway and pulled the curtain aside. "Hello, Shampoo?" Not seeing anyone, he started walking around the corner to the shed.
He nearly ran into Khu Ki as he turned the corner. The bruise on her cheek had faded, but she touched it lightly as she recognized Ranma. "What are you doing outside without your chaperone?"
Ranma blinked. He had not heard anything about a chaperone since the day he had arrived, nearly a week ago. On the other hand, Shampoo had always been with him when he went anywhere. "I was looking for Shampoo."
The Khu Ki regarded Ranma for a moment. "I will see you back to her house."
"I just came from there. She ain't in there."
Khu Ki patiently waved in the direction that Ranma had come. "I will see you back to her house. You should stay there. I will look for Xian Pu for you."
"Um, thanks." Ranma allowed Khu Ki to lead him back to the hut. He sat quietly down on the bed and waited for Khu Ki or Xian Pu to return. A long time passed, and no one came.
Two young women approached the pass leading to Joketsuzoku. One of them was using a long staff as a walking stick. The other had a large spatula slung to her back. The guards stepped out of the shadows and crossed their spears. The women stopped a short distance from the guards. One of the guards spoke first: <State your business.>
The two women looked at each other. The woman who was carrying a large spatula turned back to the guard and asked, "What did you say?"
The guard changed her expression. She looked as though she was looking at something that crawled out from under a rock. "State business."
"We are travelers who are seeking a place to stay for the night."
The guard scowled even more. "No hotel here. Go find other place."
The other young woman stepped forward. "We have come to see Amazon. We wish to see if Amazon is worthy enough for two young warriors to join."
The guard snorted, but regarded the large, metal spatula. She looked to the other guard, who shrugged. They uncrossed their spears, and the first guard began walking towards the village. "Very well, come with me."
The two young women quietly followed.
Xian Pu pouted in the corner of the elder hall. Khu Lon and the other elders were sitting at the table, discussing Ranma's progress that morning. Usually, Xian Pu was interested in being an active part of the discussion, but now she just sat, feeling sorry for herself.
<He is getting closer to mastering the log-hall machine,> Khu Lon reported. <Soon, he will have the strength and confidence to teach our younger warriors.>
<Yes, but will he remain in the village once he feels his training is over?> Xia Wur asked. <We are taking a risk by giving this man something he wants before getting what we want out of him.>
<He enjoys the company of Xian Pu. It is only time before she can claim him. Then he will be bound by vow to stay with us.>
Xian Pu muffled a sob, but it was loud enough for the elders to hear.
Khu Lon looked across the table at the young one. <What is it, child?>
Xian Pu gained control over her emotions before speaking. <He doesn't love me. He wouldn't kiss me this morning.>
Khu Lon stared at the table for a moment. <It appears that I have underestimated his feelings for the Tendo girl. His memories of her may be stronger than I thought.>
One of the younger elders looked puzzled. <I still don't understand why we can't just drug him into staying.>
Khu Lon patiently explained: <A drugged sensai is useless. I have been keeping most of his memories of Japan well buried, but even that little technique has effected his abilities. His sense of honor will keep him here.>
Xia Wur looked at Khu Lon. <And if it doesn't?>
Khu Lon met the elder's gaze. <We may have to finish what Xian Pu started at the tournament.>
<I am concerned that we are training a warrior that we might have to kill. He may grow strong enough to be dangerous.>
Khu Lon smiled. <Don't worry, he is still not nearly fast enough to be a match for me. Besides, as long as he does not remember that he has a home in Japan, we have little to worry about.>
Ranma stared at the boiler, unwrapping his hands. When he finished, he looked down at his hands. They were still a little red, but not very sore. He looked back at the fire, trying to remember something while speaking to himself. "What was the name of that chestnut thing? Klatu verada.... nah. Supercalifra.... (sigh) Ah la peanut butter sand... Where did that come from?" He shook his head. *I need to focus.* He closed his eyes and meditated. For some reason, he still couldn't find his center. Something kept his concentration off balance.
"What you do here?" He spun around to see Xian Pu in the doorway.
He turned back to the boiler. "I know I can get that chestnut thing." Both of them failed to notice two figures peek through the doorway after Xian Pu stepped inside.
Xian Pu stepped directly behind Ranma, reaching under his arms and holding his chest. She rubbed her cheek on his back and swallowed hard before asking, "Why you no like me?"
Ranma looked down to the floor. He took Xian Pu's hands off his chest and turned around. "You're a cute girl and all, and you've been a good friend, but..."
Ranma sighed. "I dunno. Something tells me this is wrong."
"What is wrong?"
"Well, whenever we get close, I feel like I'm doing something wrong. I can't explain it better because I dunno what it's about."
Xian Pu looked down, tears falling to the floor. "You love Xian Pu?"
Ranma scratched the back of his head. "Um. I dunno. It just doesn't feel right."
Xian Pu sniffled through her tears, saying nothing.
"I'm sorry, Shampoo."
Xian Pu wiped her eyes and looked back up. "How long you stay Amazon village?"
Ranma closed his eyes. "Um...."
"Not much longer," a voice behind Xian Pu said. A loud clang followed by a thump shook him out of his meditation.
He opened his eyes to see Ukyo hovering over Xian Pu, her battle spatula sporting a small dent in the blade. Ranma looked to the doorway and saw Akane. "What are you doing here?"
Ukyo stepped over the unconscious Amazon, staring at Ranma. She still held her battle spatula ready. Akane stood in the doorway, watching Ukyo. Ukyo walked halfway between the door and Ranma before stopping, her free hand on her hips. Her breathing was beginning to get heavy. Her face started turning red. She hefted the spatula with one hand menacingly.
"Hey," Ranma chuckled nervously. "You're starting to look upset."
Finally, Ukyo found her voice: "I closed my restaurant, spent most of my savings, walked for days to get here to you, and all you can say is 'What are you doing here'?!"
Ranma put his hands up. "Take it easy, uh, whoever you are. I don't like to hit girls." He looked back at the fallen Amazon. "Why did you hit Shampoo?"
Ukyo dropped her spatula, which make a loud clatter on the stone floor. "What's the matter with you, Ranma?"
"Hey, how do you know my name? I ain't never met you two before."
Akane stepped up from behind Ukyo. "Ranma, I know I've done some things that I wished I hadn't. I'm sorry I hit you before. We just came here to make sure you were all right."
"I'm fine. I don't remember you hitting me, though."
Ukyo put her hand on Ranma's shoulder and looked into his eyes. "You really don't remember me?"
Ranma shook his head. "I don't remember nothin' about you or her hitting me."
Xian Pu moaned and stirred a bit. Ranma stepped around Ukyo and knelt at the Amazon's side. He gently rolled her over. Her eyes fluttered a bit as she began to wake. "R....Ranma?"
Ranma put his hand on her cheek. "It's ok, Shampoo. I'm here."
Akane's anger flared again. She stepped towards him, but stopped herself. Fists clenched, she finally spat out, "What do you think you're doing?!"
Ranma stood up angrily. "Look, I dunno what you two want, but you hit my friend. You'd better leave before I get really angry and forget you're girls."
Akane threw her arms up in frustration. "Ranma, you dolt, we're trying to save you!"
Ranma furrowed his brow. "Man, you're weird."
Akane huffed a few breaths before back-handing him. "Were you born stupid or did you just grow that way?!"
Ranma put his hand to his cheek. "You.... you hit me." Something was in his head. Something that was coming out of the fog, the fog that made him forget. "You.... HIT me." Something that floated up to the surface. "At the school.... you hit me."
Akane's eyes went wide. "You remember?!"
Ranma thought for a moment, but the fog was thick. He shook his head. "Something about you hitting me at some school."
"Hit him again," Ukyo suggested.
Ranma held his other cheek. "Whadjya do that for?"
Akane frowned. "You don't remember anything more?"
Ranma shook his head.
Ukyo sighed. "It's going to take forever to get through THAT skull!"
Ranma turned to Ukyo, hands on his temples. "Why did you yell at me... in the... restaurant?"
Ukyo's eyes went wide. "There's something about insulting him."
Akane grabbed Ranma's shoulders and yelled to his face: "Your head's like a brick! Your clothes make me sick! Your girl-type's a dumb chick! You're not even slick! Your head is too thick! You talk like a hick! Your pig tail's a cow lick! You itch like a tick!"
Ranma grabbed his head. The fog was beginning to clear. He struggled with himself for a few seconds. He peered out through the haze, and saw Akane's angry face. "Wha..... what... did... you... say?"
Akane sighed. "This is hopeless! Ranma no baka!"
Ranma jerked suddenly. The fog was gone, like a light was suddenly turned on. "Akane."
Akane nearly fell down. "You.... you remember?"
"Too bad," an old voice said from the doorway. Ranma, Ukyo, and Akane spun around to see Khu Lon in the doorway.
"You leave my baby brother alone!" Ukyo dove for her battle spatula and swung it at the ancient Amazon.
Khu Lon hopped off her staff. She raised it above her head to block the spatula. "Foolish little girl. You are three hundred years too late to beat me." Khu Lon slid her staff down the handle of the spatula, the knotted wood hitting against Ukyo's hands.
Ukyo let go of the spatula, yelling and pulling her hands back. Khu Lon swept her staff out, throwing the spatula across the room. The tip of the staff struck Ukyo in the middle of her chest. She collapsed, unable to move.
Akane jumped out, kicking at Khu Lon's back. The ancient Amazon spun around, the staff catching Akane's legs. Akane tumbled to the ground, grabbing her legs and groaning.
Khu Lon turned to Ranma. "So, you remember your life in Japan."
Ranma looked at Ukyo and Akane. "You hurt my family, my friend." He looked at Xian Pu. "My friend." Things were happening too quickly. He felt himself torn between two different lives. Two lives that he suddenly had to choose between.
"You must decide where your loyalties lie. You can't be in two places at once."
Ranma looked at the three fallen women. Akane's head lifted, her jaw clenched in pain, but she still managed to speak. "Ranma."
Xian Pu, eyes open, propped herself on an elbow and reached for Ranma. "Ranma."
Ranma stood motionless, regarding three of the most important people of his life. All three on the ground. Two in pain, one unconscious. Khu Lon watched patiently as the battle in his head waged on. After several long moments, Ranma took a breath and turned to the fallen Amazon. "Xian Pu..."
Xian Pu sat up, smiling. "Ranma..."
Ranma closed his eyes. "Xian Pu.... I'm sorry." After speaking, he felt at peace. He had found his center.
"Not any more than I am." Khu Lon's staff swung out. Ranma opened his eyes in time to block the blow that was aimed at his throat. He knocked the staff out of Khu Lon's hands and hit the far wall. Khu Lon stood, hands at her sides. "Not bad, boy, but you don't have the speed to defeat me."
*What the heck is the name of that technique?* Ranma racked his brains, maintaining a careful defense in case Khu Lon attacked again. She didn't. She just watched him curiously. *The arigatou... no... apple jack... no...*
Back at the Tendo home, Kasumi was folding laundry when she came across one of Akane's school dresses. "Oh dear," she sighed to herself. "I hope Akane is doing all right in China."
Ranma snapped his fingers. He stepped towards Khu Lon, yelling "Kachu tenshin amaguriken!" His fists and arms became a blur.
Khu Lon laughed, blocking his punches. "So, you've learned the chestnut fist, eh? Why do you think you can use it against someone who has mastered the technique herself?" Khu Lon increased her speed, not only blocking Ranma's punches, but throwing punches of her own. Some of her punches connected with his chest, but her reach was short. She didn't have enough power at arm's length to do little more than thump against his rib cage. She was, however, making sure to hit the same spot as quickly as she could.
Ranma stepped to one side, still facing Khu Lon. Her aim followed, and she stepped to her side to match. Akane watched, and noticed that the two were stepping closer to the large machine that took up most of the rest of the room. She looked around. Not far away as a short panel with five levers on it. She began pulling herself over to the panel.
Ranma could spare no attention to see if Akane noticed what he was trying to do. He could barely tell which direction to go. He inched towards the machine, step by step, keeping his fists flying the whole way, and making sure Khu Lon followed. Her repeated punches were beginning to build up pain on his ribs.
Akane reached the levers, and blinked at the labels above each lever. The writing was all Chinese. She shrugged, reached out with her arm, and threw down all five at once. The steam in the pipes made the entire machine shudder as all the logs began to accelerate.
Xian Pu started to stand, but faltered. "Not all five! No pull at same time!"
Soon, the hall in the machine was not only convulsing with shuddering, turning logs, but the entire hall was spinning. The floor quickly became one side and then the ceiling before the dropping to the other side and back to the floor.
Khu Lon laughed again. "You think you can distract me with the log-hall machine? I cannot be distracted by something I've already mastered." Ranma stepped back, wincing at his sore ribs. Khu Lon followed. "You are beaten, boy."
As the hall writhed and twisted, logs occasionally struck out. The occasional erupting steam gave the impression of a tumbling steam engine turning itself inside out. A splash of cold water cleared the logs, hitting Ranma in the side. Without stopping her punches, she shook her head. "But I'm even faster when I'm a girl."
She increased her speed, and Khu Lon was forced to stop her punches just to keep up her blocking. Khu Lon was beginning to get winded. She was not used to long fights. Her pressure point attacks usually kept her battles quite short. Ranma, however, was barely breathing hard, and was punching faster still. Khu Lon was forced to concentrate fully on keeping up with the red-head. Ranma started stepping forward, driving Khu Lon back. The machine was roaring with the sounds of steam, water, wood, and pipe. The ground shook as logs of all sizes spun and moved at an accelerated rate. They stepped again, and Khu Lon was hit in the side of the head by a large log as it punched out of the machine.
The groaning of the pipes was getting louder. The ground shook as steam began spurting from some of the pipe joints. Ranma nodded to Akane, who threw the levers back. The machine began to slow down. The steam stopped leaking. Eventually, the machine stopped moving.
Ranma looked at the unconscious Khu Lon. She began to speak: "Well...." A loud thud came from the machine as a log fell. The three conscious women jumped. "... no doubt everyone heard that," Ranma finished.
"We should get out of here," Akane agreed. "But how? Ukyo's still out, and I can't use my legs."
Ranma looked at Xian Pu. The Amazon, still sitting, was holding her head. "Shampoo no can help," she muttered. "Is defeated."
Ranma looked at the water dripping from the steam pipes. "First of all," she said before kicking a pipe open and standing in the splash of hot water that fell. "...I need to be a guy." He walked over to Ukyo and picked her up over his shoulder. "I'm not strong enough to carry both of you as a girl..." He stepped over the Akane, who helped him lift her over his other shoulder. "...But (ooof) my shoulders are... almost... wide enough as a guy."
Akane swatted him after he said "almost".
Ranma wrapped his arms around their legs and slowly stood up. "(huff) I just hope one of you can walk soon."
Akane swatted him again.
He stopped close to Xian Pu. "Good by, Xian Pu."
Xian Pu looked up. "Ranma should go by river. Is back way out of valley."
"Thank you." Ranma stepped away.
Xian Pu reached out and touched his leg. "No get hurt. Take care of Ranma."
Ranma didn't look back, but stood a moment. "I will." Slowly, he hiked out the door.
Ukyo woke up to the smells of fish cooking on a campfire. She rubbed the headache from her head before looking around. She was propped up on a log in a small clearing. Akane was sitting beside her. Ranma was turning some fish on a stick. She thought back, her last memories being when she attacked Khu Lon. She looked over to Ranma and asked, "Where are we?"
Ranma smiled when he heard Ukyo. "We're a safe distance from the Joketsuzoku valley."
"He carried us out along the river," Akane added.
Ukyo nodded, noticing that she could hear the muffled sounds of water in the distance. She turned to Akane. "Why did he have to carry you?"
"Cologne hurt my legs. I'm ok now, but I don't think I should hike all the way back to the nearest city."
Ranma looked at Akane. "I can carry you to the airport." Akane nodded, smiling.
Ukyo looked back to the camp fire. "You even got us some fish."
Ranma snorted, remembering how well the chestnut fist worked for grabbing things. "That was easy. Didn't even get wet."
Akane snapped her fingers. "Hey, we can still stop by Jusenkyo , can't we?"
Ranma shook his head. "They're still looking for us. They know about my curse, so they'll probably be there. I can't risk both of you when I don't even know what do to once I get there."
Ukyo brightened. "We'll just have to save up again for another trip, that's all."
Ranma sighed. "Well, it'll probably be a long time before we can risk coming back anyway."
"Speaking of long times," Akane said. "You sure seemed to take forever to decide between Shampoo and me."
"Oh." Ranma scratched the back of his head with his free hand. "Heh, didn't seem that long to me."
"Oh, yes it was. Come on, spit it out."
"Well... um... you see... I was, uh, still getting my memory back. Yeah, that's it."
"Baka." Akane shook her head and giggled. Ranma chuckled a little, then yelped a bit as Akane poked at a sore rib with a stick.
"Now, you guys." Ukyo scolded. "Do you two always bicker like this." Ranma and Akane both looked over at Ukyo, who sighed, "Never mind. I don't want to know."
Episode 1: Murphy's Law Return to Fan Fiction Page Episode 3: Double Trouble
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