Ranma 1/2 fanfiction series: All Over Again
A timeline summary can be found at the end of the story.
Episode 6: Equal Parts
By Andy Searls
Characters are creations of Rumiko Takahashi
Shampoo sighed as she sat heavily and surveyed the mess of the dining room. Cologne locked the doors and turned to face her great-granddaughter.
Their eyes met for a moment. Shampoo found herself smiling at Cologne’s expression.
Cologne broke off first, looking again at the work to be done. <Are you ready to clean up for tonight?>
<You’re not tired?>
<I am a little, but not like I was a few months ago.>
<That is good. You need to be strong for the struggle that lies ahead.>
Shampoo looked at the floor. <Do you mean that I might be able to become an Amazon again?>
<I will not raise hollow hopes with such nonsense.>
Shampoo looked up at Cologne, frowning. <Then, what is this struggle you keep mentioning?>
Cologne sighed, stepping away from the door. <Hopefully, that bridge is still a good distance away.>
<When will you tell me what we are preparing for?>
A knock startled both of them. Cologne turned and opened the door.
Shampoo craned her neck, but she could not see who the visitor was. She stepped to the middle of the room to get a better look, but Cologne shut the door too soon.
Shampoo watched as Cologne opened an envelope and read the letter that was inside. Cologne’s eyes grew ever wider as her eyes scanned down the page. Shampoo thought she saw Cologne’s hands shake, but she wasn’t sure. Cologne crumpled the letter and envelope into a wad, tossing it into the trashcan behind the register.
Shampoo stepped towards Cologne. <What was it, Great-grandmother?>
Cologne turned to Shampoo sharply. <None of your business. Now, clean up the dining room. I’ll be in the kitchen.>
Shampoo began clearing the tables, placing the dirty dishes in the window to the kitchen. Each time she took a handful of dirty chopsticks and napkins to the trash, she would pause and look at the crumpled letter.
After half a dozen of such trips, Shampoo finally reached into the trash can and pulled the letter out. She flattened the paper and looked over the Chinese characters.
Cologne peeked around a stack of plates as Shampoo frowned. She watched as her great-granddaughter crumpled the letter again and dropped it into the trash distastefully.
Cologne sighed sadly before carrying another stack of dishes to the sink. *I was hoping you would not have to grow up so soon, my child, but fate has been against us from the start.*
** ** **
Ranko smiled as she hopped over another strike. “That’s good, you’re getting faster. Now, try to anticipate which way I'll dodge.”
Tamiko nodded and snapped her ribbon again.
This time, Ranko had to block the strike. “Good. Now the club.” She tossed a club into the air.
Tamiko sent the ribbon to the club. The strike glanced the side, and the club fell to the ground.
Tamiko sighed. “I’m sorry, Ranko. I’m just not as fast as you are.”
Ranko shrugged. “Hey, I wasn’t always this fast. I had to train to get my speed, you know.” Ranko pointed to another team member. “Look at Kumiko.”
Tamiko watched as Kumiko sparred with a teammate. “She’s become so strong and fast.”
Ranko nodded. “And I saw you had the upper hand the last time you two sparred. You’re already stronger than you were at the beginning of the season. Just keep practicing, and you’ll be faster, too.”
“Thanks, Ran-chan.” Tamiko gave Ranko a quick hug. Then, she saw Ranko blush. “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot.”
“That’s okay.” Ranko waved her hand as she turned away. “Practice some more on the club.”
Tamiko watched Ranko step out of the gymnasium. She turned to coach Kosagi, who also saw Ranko leave.
Kosagi sighed and nodded to Tamiko. “Ganbatine.”
“Un,” Tamiko said as she nodded. “I will. I’ll practice ‘till I can make Ranko proud.”
Kosagi smiled before walking after Ranko. She stepped outside the gym and looked around the empty courtyard. Ranko was not in sight.
Ranko watched quietly from the roof as Kosagi shrugged and walked back inside. The fall wind whipped at her back, and she shivered.
Chapter 1: Parts Apart
Ranma jogged along the top of the fence. The Tendo home was not far away, and his spirits rose with every step. When he reached the door, he slid it open and slid inside.
Kasumi put a foot into the hallway and looked up. “Oh, hi, Ranma. Akane’s out in the dojo.”
Ranma turned to the dojo. “Great. Thanks, Kasumi.”
Nabiki stepped in his way. Ranma decided against pushing her aside.
Nabiki stood, her arms folded. “Now just a minute, Mister. I’ve heard about the Western-style party this weekend.”
Ranma scratched the back of his head. “Western-style party?”
“Don’t play dumb with me. I go to the same school as you, remember?”
Kasumi turned to Nabiki. “Western-style party?”
Nabiki explained, “At the end of this month, Americans have a holiday where they dress up in costumes and give away candy. It’s a harvest festival that’s been perverted into a sweets-fest. Really bad on the teeth.” She looked back at Ranma. “Word around the school is that couples see this as a great excuse to go off and be alone late at night.”
Ranma shrugged. “I don’t care about some stupid candy or costumes, and it ain’t like Akane and I are gonna do... um, anything.”
“Oh really, then why are you so excited about it?”
Ranma peeked over Nabiki’s shoulder. “Akane’s been so busy helping Mr. Tendo with the training at the dojo, we haven’t seen much of each other outside of school. She promised that she’d take the ‘holiday’ off.”
Nabiki shook her finger at Ranma. “I know you. You just want to be alone with her at night. I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
“Feh.” Ranma ducked under Nabiki’s arm and ran to the dojo.
“Don’t worry, Nabiki.” Kasumi smiled. “I’m sure they’ll be just fine.”
Nabiki frowned. “How can you be so casual about this?”
“Well, first of all, if they really wanted to have sex, they wouldn’t have to wait until it was dark. They’d just find a place where they wouldn’t be disturbed.”
Nabiki blinked. “Kasumi?!”
Kasumi smiled again. “Don’t worry, Nabiki. Ranma’s too honorable to try anything before they get married.”
Nabiki looked out the doorway to the dojo. After watching Ranma creep quietly down the path, she turned back to Kasumi. "Bet?"
Ranma halted at the dojo doors. He slid one side open a crack, peeking at the class inside.
Akane was walking the class through a basic kata. She stepped over to a particularly tall student to correct him. The student said nothing, but stared deeply into her eyes. Akane noticed his stare, and uncomfortably shied away.
She quickly regained her composure, and walked back to the front of the class to finish the kata. As she finished, she noticed that Ranma was watching. She started the class on a set of drills and walked over to the door.
Ranma smiled as she stepped outside. “You ready for this weekend?”
Akane nodded. “Kasumi’s helping me with my costume.”
“Really? What is it?”
Akane smiled back. “I’m not telling.” She glanced back inside the dojo. “I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.”
Ranma watched as Akane stepped back inside and shut the door. “Um, sure.”
** ** **
Shampoo and Cologne stopped at the doorway. Shampoo had never seen so many people in one place before. She gaped at the mass of the crowd.
<This is not an aquarium,> Cologne snapped. <Quit acting like a fish.>
Shampoo shut her mouth and followed Cologne to an inconspicuous seat.
In the middle of the gymnasium was a ring, not unlike the fighting square of Joketsuzoku. The main difference was the smaller area and the ropes on the border. <Is this a tournament, great-grandmother?>
<It is, my child.>
<Why are we here?>
<I have heard of someone that may be here. Someone who might be of interest to us.>
Shampoo looked at the competitors. They appeared to form two teams from the colors of their outfits. She looked at the banners over the ring. One of them read “Furinkan”, the other “North Shinjuku”. <One of the schools is the same one that Ranma goes to.>
<It is, but I am not expecting to find him here.>
Shampoo looked at the two teams more closely. They appeared to be evenly matched, at least as far as she could tell from their warm-up exercises. She looked curiously at one of the coaches. The red hair looked familiar, but Shampoo decided not to bother the elder Amazon.
** ** **
Kosagi finished her pep talk before turning to Ranko. “Anything to add?”
Ranko nodded. “One thing to try is to avoid worrying about winning or losing. Dwell on that, and you’ve already lost. Don’t concentrate too much on the present. Keep thinking about what is ABOUT to happen. Stay one step ahead.”
Kosagi smiled. “That’s right, anticipate.” She turned and signaled to the ref that they were ready.
** ** **
The two ex-Amazons had seen two matches, and Shampoo was quickly getting bored. <They seem fairly weak, especially for women.>
The two watched as Ranko deftly caught a club that flew out of the ring.
Cologne stood up. <We’ve seen enough.>
Shampoo stared at the redhead again. <The coach?>
Cologne turned and looked at Shampoo, mildly surprised.
Shampoo looked back. <What is it, great-grandmother?>
Cologne smiled. <I think our future is in good hands.> She turned and continued out of the gymnasium. *I just hope my interpretation of the prophecy is correct.*
** ** **
Ukyo look up at the sound of the door. “Irrashaimasu!”
The image was too distorted for Ukyo to recognize the visitor, but the voice was familiar. “Hello, Kounji-san.”
Ukyo bowed. “Hello, Mrs. Saotome.”
Nodoka looked around the restaurant. There were still a number of customers. “Is now a good time to visit? I should have called before I came.”
Ukyo smiled. “Nonsense. You’re always welcome here.”
Nodoka looked back at Ukyo. “But you’re handling the store on your own, and with these customers....”
“The three in the corner have already been served. They usually get a dessert, but that’s easy enough. The elderly man on the far wall has already had his fill.” Ukyo leaned forward to whisper. “I think he just likes watching me.” She winked and straightened up. “The two customers at the bar here are just about taken care of.” She flipped a pancake into the air, catching it with a plate and presenting it before a younger woman.
The younger woman enjoyed the scent of the okonomiyaki before looking back to Ukyo. “Arigatou.”
Ukyo smiled. “Do itashimashite.”
Nodoka watched as Ukyo flipped a second cake and served the little boy. “You certainly have a skill for cooking.”
Ukyo reached for a towel and wiped her cooking surface. “You don’t know how many times I ruined a batch by missing.”
“Your perseverance has paid off for you. More than once.”
“Do itashimashite.” Nodoka looked into the kitchen. “Are either of them here?”
“Yeah, Ranko is doing some dishes. Ranma’s at the Tendo’s.” Ukyo jerked a thumb to the kitchen. “Go ahead.”
Nodoka patted Ukyo’s shoulder as she went behind the counter and into the kitchen.
Ranko was furiously scrubbing a dish. Most of the other dishes were clean, but this one was stubborn.
Nodoka watched Ranko scrub for a moment. “Sometimes, the food just doesn’t want to leave.”
Ranko grunted. “I don’t know how they do it, but some of the customers can make the most infuriating messes.” She held the dish up, showing the chunk of dried sauce. “Stupid thing won’t come off.”
Nodoka took the plate from Ranko’s hands. “Let it soak for a while.” She put the plate back into the sink. She poured enough water onto the plate to cover the stain. She stopped and looked at Ranko, who was staring into the sink. “I hear that you walked out on the gymnastics team again during practice.”
Ranko said nothing. She stared at the stain.
“I thought you liked helping them.”
Ranko sighed, and looked at the floor.
Nodoka put her hand on Ranko’s shoulder. “You know-“
Ranko cut her off. “I know you wanna help, Mom. I appreciate it, I really do.” She stepped away from Nodoka’s touch.
Nodoka struggled to contain her disappointment. “I just want you to be happy.”
Ranko waved her arms vaguely. “The team HAS been improving. Kosagi says the martial arts training has been making a big difference.” She folded her arms. “Somehow, it’s not enough.”
“The girls don’t accept you?”
“They treat me the same way they do the coach.”
“And that’s not enough.”
Ranko shrugged. “I don’t know. They’ve never given me any reason to feel like an outsider. So, why don’t I feel like I fit in? Why can’t I make my place?”
Nodoka sighed. “Why do you have to MAKE a place where you fit in? You’re still treating yourself like you’ve been handicapped or cheated by life in some way, like you have an obstacle to overcome that other people don’t. Do you think that no other teenager worries about fitting in? Do you think that no other teenager in the world worries about how they look? Just because you didn’t get the body you wanted doesn’t mean that things are more difficult for you.”
Ranko stared at the floor again.
”Yesterday at the store, Ukyo told me you stopped cooking.”
“The customers like Ukyo’s cooking better.”
“Ukyo has been cooking longer than you have, so it’s natural to expect her to be better. But, if you don’t practice, you won’t improve. It doesn’t mean you’re more feminine or that you’ve lost your honor.” Nodoka reached into the sink and rinsed the plate. The sauce, after soaking in the water, came off quickly. Nodoka held the plate for Ranko to see. “Sometimes it’s better to let things take care of themselves.”
Ranko took the plate, incredulous that the stain she had struggled with came off so easily.
“Not everything has to be a struggle, Ranko.”
Nodoka lingered for a moment before leaving Ranko with the plate.
** ** **
Akane shifted her weight, hands ready. “You’d better not hold back.” She threw a side kick at head level, as if to make her point.
Soun ducked the kick. “With stakes this high, only first blood will do.”
The two circled. Both attacked at the same time. Both threw furious combinations of attacks and counterattacks. Both had bruises before Soun was able to sweep Akane to the ground.
Akane rolled over and struggled to her hands and knees.
Soun knelt beside his daughter. “Still alive?”
Akane nodded. Her voice came as a raspy whisper. “Just got the wind knocked out of me.”
Akane watched the drops of sweat fall from her brow to the dojo floor. She sighed, raising a hand. “Ok, ok. I give up. You get the furo first.”
Soun patted her on the shoulder. “Good. Can’t have my best instructor forgetting her place.”
Akane followed Soun back into the house. Kasumi met them in the hallway. “There you two are. One of your students left you a letter.” She handed a piece of paper to Akane.
Soun smiled. “Ah. Nothing will get Ranma to want you more like a little jealousy.”
Akane looked up from the letter. “Dad, the furo’s calling.”
“Yes, dear.” Soun cleared his throat and walked away.
Akane read through the letter before looking up at Kasumi. “Who left this?”
Kasumi shrugged. “It was left on the path from the dojo. It wasn’t there before the students left, so I assumed it was from one of them. I didn’t want it to blow away, so I took it inside. What does it say?”
“Something about how I’m in good shape, and that who ever wrote this is looking forward to seeing me this weekend.”
“You suppose they mean the Halloween party?”
Akane was too lost in thought to answer.
** ** **
The arrival of the urgent telegram was not unexpected. The time of the arrival, so soon after the letter, was an unfortunate surprise. Cologne closed the Nekohanten early, nearly shooing the customers out onto the street with their mouths still full of food.
Shampoo began clearing the tables, wondering about the contents of the telegram.
Cologne locked the doors and turned to face Shampoo. <Forget that. The restaurant can wait.>
Shampoo put the stack of dishes back down on the table. <Is this about that letter you got last week?>
Cologne nodded. <Actually, I’m glad you read it. I’ve been holding the entire story from you. I wanted you to be able to concentrate on your work here. Finding out about it a little at a time might have softened the blow for you. That’s why I’ve mentioned this future struggle. That is why I let you read the letter.>
<It’s Joketsuzoku.> Shampoo held her emotions in check. <It’s in trouble, isn’t it?>
<The threat has been slowly building for years. No one expected it to happen this quickly, but when have these things ever been completely predictable?> Cologne sat down at one of the tables, motioning for Shampoo to sit beside her. <Outside of the village, the government has been placing increasing pressure to keep families down to one child. Since it is important to carry on the family name, many Chinese families have gone to great lengths to ensure that they have sons. After several years of this, the shortage of women has become quite a predicament. Joketsuzoku has managed to stay out of the picture by remaining inconspicuous.>
Shampoo frowned. <I don’t understand why we are here. Shouldn’t we be fighting with our sisters?>
<You forget, you are no longer an Amazon.>
<But, great-grandmother, you are still an elder. What is so important here in Tokyo to keep you from the council?>
Cologne sighed. <There is a prophecy. Not many believe in it, but I was able to convince the council to allow me to pursue it.>
<The prophecy states that the village will not be lost because of a battle of weapons. The village will be dispersed, and the culture will be lost in dilution amongst countless outsiders.>
<But why have we been training to fight all this time, if the prophecy says that fighting is not the answer?>
<As I said, not everyone believes the prophecy. There are those that believe that maintaining the warrior sect is the best way to ensure the survival of the village, no matter what the threat. The solution in the prophecy, however, can be interpreted in different ways.>
<I was just getting to that. The prophecy states that an outsider can save the village. Everyone agrees that the savior is a martial artist and that the savior is from Tokyo. Unfortunately, what we don’t agree on is how this savior prevents our annexation into China.>
Shampoo thought for a moment. Her eyes went wide. <Is that why you tried to get Ranma to come to Joketsuzoku? Do you think he was the savior?>
Cologne smiled. <The prophecy mentions that the savior will be identified by the champion in the Amazon tournament. I think the tournament that he defeated you in was the test that is mentioned in the prophecy.>
<The coach. Ranma’s girl-type!>
<Yes. I could tell by her ki and her performance at the high school tournament that she is Ranma in female form.>
Shampoo frowned. <But, we deceived him. How will we get him to come with us now?>
<That is something we must accomplish very soon. Time, my child, is no longer on our side.>
Shampoo looked at the floor. <Um, Great-grandmother?>
<Yes, my child?>
<There is something I haven’t told you. Not for months.>
<Is it about Ranma?>
Shampoo looked at Cologne. <I thought you might already know. When I thought about it, I didn’t think you cared, so I forgot it. Until now.>
<And now, with this, you’ve remembered. I cannot fault you for withholding information that you thought was insignificant, especially since I have been purposefully deceiving you about his importance.>
<I’m not sure what exactly happened, but I saw both Ranma boy-type and Ranma girl-type.>
<At the same time?>
Shampoo watched as Cologne walked into the kitchen. She returned with her pipe. She lit the pipe, and took a long draw from it, holding the breath for several seconds before releasing it.
Finally, Cologne spoke. <Well, it’s too early to conclude too much from that. We will have to watch both of them and see, but this might be to our advantage.>
Kosagi sighed as the girls filed into the locker room. “Hey, what’s with all the long faces? You guys put up a good fight today.”
Kumiko shook her head. “We got slaughtered.”
Tamiko sat down heavily onto the bench. “I didn’t even last two minutes.”
Several of the other girls moaned in agreement.
Kosagi held her hands out. “You can’t expect to win every match. If you guys never went up against teams that challenged you, you wouldn’t improve. Besides, I saw each one of you put out a great, honest effort. No one can hold anything against you. You all did your best. Now, we should learn what we can from this and move on.”
Kumiko sighed. “How about if we just move on?”
Kosagi looked around the room. “Does anyone know where Ranko is?”
Tamiko shrugged. “She probably took off somewhere, like she does during practice.”
Fumi kicked her duffel absently. “What is it with her, anyway? It’s not like she’s fat or anything. Does she have some hideous tattoo or something she doesn't want us to see?”
Ranko stopped short of touching the doorknob to the locker room and held her breath, waiting for an answer that never came.
After a few moments, Ranko felt something brush her leg. She looked down to see a familiar cat rub against her affectionately. Ranko frowned. “Shampoo?” The cat purred as Ranko picked her up. “What are you doing here?”
Ranko pet Shampoo absently as she looked to the door again. Then she sighed and walked outside.
“There you are,” Cologne murmured. “I was beginning to wonder....”
Ranko shook her head wearily. “Look, I’m too tired to fight with you guys. Go back to China.” Ranko put Shampoo down and turned to walk away.
“Joketsuzoku is under attack.”
Ranko stopped. She frowned at Shampoo, who was rubbing against her leg again. “Why should I care? You tortured me there.”
“We trained you.” Cologne’s eyes narrowed. “You’re twice the martial artist you were before we trained you. Have you forgotten your debt to us that easily?”
Ranko nudged Shampoo away. “You tricked me. You made me forget about my home.”
“I saw the potential in you.” Cologne stepped closer, picking up the cat. “Even when you knew everything, your decision to come back here wasn’t easy. You were unsure. I told you that you can’t be in two places at once. Now, you can.”
Ranko looked sharply at Cologne.
“Yes, child, I know that you’ve somehow separated your two sides. The difference seems to go deeper than just gender. You’re looking for a place to belong.”
“What do you know about what I want?”
Cologne waved her staff in the direction of the locker room. “I know you avoid your team when they change. Do you avoid the locker rooms at school as well?”
Ranko stared silently at the ground.
“I thought as much. Do they complain that you don’t like being with them? Have you really earned their respect? Remember Khu Ki? You’ve earned her respect. Will you betray that respect now that she needs you?”
Ranko pointed at Cologne. “Now just a minute. Who betrayed who?!”
“Trusting outsiders has never come easily to the Amazons. Many opposed giving you as much freedom and training as you received. That stubbornness and distrust is part of the cause of the Amazons' troubles. I've tried warning them for years that change was inevitable, and because I insisted on it, your training was more than any Amazon has ever earned.”
Ranko turned her back, arms folded defiantly.
Cologne continued. “I know you. Your martial arts training has been more than just physical. You believe in honor. There is nothing honorable about allowing a civilization to be destroyed, and its ancient culture lost.”
“I don’t care about culture.”
Cologne turned. “Maybe what I’ve heard is true, then. You really will turn your back on anyone, even if they’re a friend in need. It truly doesn’t bother you, then, that so many families will be scattered to the winds.” She looked over her shoulder. “You must not have felt the pain of losing a family.” Cologne walked away, carrying Shampoo with her.
Ranko stared at the floor. After several moments, she muttered, “Feh,” and trudged home.
** ** **
Ranma leapt among the rooftops. “Dammit, I’m late! Akane’s gonna kill me!” He held on to his hat, hoping that the large feather Ukyo stuck in it wasn’t getting thrashed.
He got to the Furinkan gymnasium as quickly as he could. He stopped in the doorway, looking at the crowd of unfamiliar characters. *Oh, great. Akane never told me what her costume was. How am I gonna find her now?*
A panda walked to the snack table and grabbed some cookies.
Ranma took a step, but stopped himself. *Naw, he wouldn’t dare show up around here. It’s gotta be a costume.*
“I sure wish I had my camera,” a familiar voice said from behind.
Ranma turned to see Nabiki, jaw slack. "Wha?"
Nabiki smiled. “Oh wait. I DO have my camera.” She pulled it from behind and snapped a shot at him. “Who are you supposed to be, anyway?”
Ranma tipped his hat. “I’m Robin Hood, one of the Three Musketeers.”
“I, ah, see. And what did Ukyo say about your costume choice?”
Ranma frowned. “She giggled, too. Why?”
Nabiki put her hand on Ranma’s shoulder. “Oh don’t worry. You’re cute this way.”
Ranma looked at Nabiki. “And what about you?”
Nabiki took a step back and spread her arms. “What do you think?”
Ranma stared and stroked his chin. “Uh.... The red hair is, um, different.”
Nabiki reached into her jacket. “I’ll give you a clue.” She pulled out a wallet, opened it up, and showed Ranma the badge inside.
Ranma frowned. “Fashion police?”
Nabiki sighed. “You probably never watched X-Files, did you?”
Ranma shook his head.
“Just keep in mind that my assignment is to keep an eye on you.”
“I told ya. I ain’t gonna do nothin. Besides, I haven’t even found Akane, yet.”
“I suppose that would be difficult, considering that you don’t know what her disguise is.”
“You’re not gonna just tell me, are you?”
“One thousand yen.”
Ranma’s eyes bugged out. “What?!”
“Oh, come on, Ranma. You can’t expect me to let this one go by so easily, do you?”
“Nevermind,” Ranma huffed. “I’ll find her myself.”
“Whatever you say.” Nabiki smiled confidently as she watched Ranma search the crowd.
** ** **
Shampoo trudged down the street. *Why did she send me out to get soap at this hour?* She shivered against the night air, wishing she had taken a jacket.
She stopped on the end of the bridge. A familiar red-head stood at the rail, looking into the canal below.
Ranko glanced up as she came closer. “What do you want, Shampoo?”
Shampoo bit her finger. “Uh, soap.”
Ranko blinked. “What?”
“Great-grandmother send me for soap. Strange time, is it?”
“For getting soap. She never tell me why she want.”
“You know she’s a trickster. Why follow her so blindly?”
“I know she want what best for Amazon. I help because I want what best for Amazon, too.”
Ranko shook her head, looking back into the canal. “At least your Japanese is improving.”
“Do you like? I practice with customers. Some of them do not like my accent. I try to speak with less accent so customers happy.”
“Trying to fit in?”
“No. I already have place where I want to fit in. Joketsuzoku. Here is just place for now.”
“Then why try so hard to lose your accent? Won’t that make it harder to be accepted back into Amazon?”
“Before you came, I was best fighter in Amazon.” Shampoo put her hands on the railing and looked down at the water. “After you beat me, I did not know what do to. Great-grandmother say ‘A woman reach should exceed her grasp.’ She say that knowing what I cannot do does not mean I should not try. So, I try.”
“So, you’re learning to speak better Japanese so that you can improve yourself as a person.”
“I try because is something difficult to do.”
Ranko looked up, noticing the full moon for the first time. “Not everything has to be a struggle.”
Shampoo stared at Ranko. “When I stop trying to be better, is first day I start to die.”
Ranko stared back at Shampoo. “How can two things that are so opposed to each other both make sense?”
“Is... is... How you say?”
Ranko shrugged. “Balance? A happy medium?”
Shampoo smiled. “Is Zen. Both are different, but also are same.”
“Yin and Yang.”
Shampoo nodded. “Yes, is Zen. Yin is avoid struggle. Yang is make stronger. Both can be improvement. Wisdom is knowing which to do when. Sometimes do both.”
“So, how do you know so much about Zen?”
“Amazon teach more than just fighting.”
Ranko looked at Shampoo. “Why are you guys so bent on getting ME there?”
Shampoo looked up at the sky. “Is legend.” She looked back to Ranko. “You are savior.”
Ranko stared back, unsure what to say.
** ** **
Akane watched Ranma through the crowd, being careful to avoid his gaze. She smiled.
She nearly backed into a particularly tall person. She turned quickly. "I'm sorry."
The basketball player costume was a good choice. He smiled. "Not at all. It's crowded."
Akane smiled. "Hey, you're one of my students."
"Yes." He bowed. "Yasuyoshi at your service."
Akane looked back towards Ranma.
"Looking for someone?"
Akane turned back and smiled. "No, avoiding someone. My friend told me that anticipation makes good things better. I'm trying it out."
Yasuyoshi smiled. "I see. How is it so far?"
Akane looked back to Ranma. "Well, I'm having fun, but I'm not sure if he is."
"Perhaps the refreshment table would be a good place. He seems to be headed away from there."
Akane nodded. "Yeah, that panda costume is probably giving him bad vibes."
Yasuyoshi frowned. "He doesn't like pandas?"
"It's a long story."
They walked to the table. Yasuyoshi picked up a cup of punch. "Drink?"
Akane waved her hand. "No thanks. I've already had to go to the bathroom twice, and this thing's hard to get out of."
Yasuyoshi looked at her costume again. "I suppose so. Why did you choose that particular costume?"
Akane waved her arms. "Well, I just wanted something that would take Ranma a while to recognize me in."
Yasuyoshi nodded. "The feathers are a nice touch."
"Thanks." Akane touched them gently. "I thought they might be a bit much, but Kasumi thought they looked cute."
Yasuyoshi gently took Akane's hand from the feathers. "They do."
Akane looked at Yasuyoshi, unsure how to take this gesture. She watched as he stared at her hand, as if inspecting it.
He finally looked up and smiled at her. "Feeling a little warm?"
"Um, yeah." Akane pulled at a ruffle with her free hand.
"There are some people going outside for fresh air. Shall we join them?"
Akane looked back to find Ranma. She couldn't see him. "Uh, I guess for a little while."
** ** **
Cologne opened the door and smiled at Shampoo and Ranko.
Ranko held her hand up. "I haven't promised anything. I'm just curious what exactly you want me to do."
Cologne narrowed her eyes. "This is no contract. Either you come fulfill your destiny or you stay back here and wonder why you never fit in. The choice is up to you."
"I didn't say anything about a contract. I just don't think committing suicide by fighting with a couple hundred women against a billion is a good idea."
Cologne laughed a bit. "You think we're going to fight all of China?"
Ranko shrugged. "Not really, but what else can we do?"
"First of all, there aren't enough Amazon to interest more than some local groups. Second, the legend suggests that fighting is not the answer."
"Well, if it ain't fighting, why do you need me?" Ranko looked as the two Amazons stood in silence. "You're going to tell me you don't know?"
"Now, you must understand, child, that the legend is somewhat vague. There are many interpretations to what the exact solution is. What is not vague is that the champion of the last tournament will identify the savior. That champion is you, so you must be the Joketsuzoku savior." Cologne peered into Ranko's eyes. Then, she reached into her robe, pulling out an envelope. She offered the envelope to Ranko. "I can see your inner struggle. Let me make it easier for you. These are round trip tickets. You can come with us of your own free will. No deceptions. You may leave any time you wish, as you already have the return ticket."
Ranko stared at the tickets uneasily. "If you really have no deceptions, you must be desperate."
"Joketsuzoku will no longer exist if we do nothing. I can think of nothing else that is more important than this. You are a person of honor. You must do what you think is the best."
Ranko reached for the envelope. "I'll need to say goodbye."
Shampoo put her hand on Ranko's shoulder. "Please no take long. Village no can wait long."
Ranko held the envelope in her hand, still staring at it.
** ** **
Ranko closed the door to U-Chan's as quietly as she could, and felt her way to the end of the counter in the darkness.
"I was beginning to wonder if you were coming home tonight at all," Ukyo sighed from her seat on the stairwell.
Ranko's silence disturbed her.
"Ranko." Ukyo stood up. "What is it?"
"I... I have... I've got to... to... go away."
"What?" Ukyo's knees shook, but she managed to remain standing.
"It's only for a little while. They need my help. Then, I'll come right back."
A thousand questions screamed in Ukyo's mind. She fought to clear her head. "Who? Why?"
"It's Joketsuzoku. They're in trouble. I can't explain. I don't know the whole story myself."
A number of pieces fell into place, but Ukyo didn't like what the picture was beginning to look like. "Can you trust them?"
"I'm not really sure, but Cologne was acting strange. I think they really need the help."
Ukyo sat down on the stair before the world moved again. "You've made up your mind, then."
Ranko knelt in front of Ukyo. The two stared at each other's dark forms. Ranko took a breath. "I'm hoping that by helping them I can find some peace for myself as well."
Ukyo wiped an eye. "I hope that when you find that peace, it doesn't cost you any more than you've already paid." She took a deep breath, struggling not to shudder as she released it. "I'll tell Ranma when he gets back from the party."
Ranko took Ukyo's hand. "U-chan."
Ranko squeezed gently. "Thanks."
Ukyo squeezed back. "I can tell you need this as much as they do."
Ranko let go of Ukyo's hand and walked upstairs to pack.
Ukyo drew her knees up to her chest, staring at the shifting patterns. Their moving curves remained sharp, despite the tears.
** ** **
Nabiki smiled as Ranma walked up to her. He looked frustrated. This could mean money.
Ranma frowned at Nabiki's smile. "Are you sure she's here?"
Nabiki put her hands on her hips. "I came here with her. Of course, she's here."
Ranma jerked a thumb back towards the crowd. "I just looked over everyone I can find. There's a handful of martial artists out there, but none of them are her."
"Maybe you're not as good as you thought."
"Hey, I can tell how people are built and how they carry themselves. Akane ain't here."
Nabiki smiled and shook a finger. "You're not going to trick me that easily."
Ranma stared into her eyes. His intensity bothered her. "I'm telling you, Nabiki, that Akane's gone. I'll go outside or something, and you can check for yourself."
Nabiki pointed to the door. "Fine, but if I catch you peeking, you'll regret it."
Without another word and without looking back, Ranma walked out the door.
Nabiki stared at the door for a moment, frowning, before beginning her search.
Ranma walked out to look over the playing fields. He also looked at the windows in the main wing. He went back to the gym when he heard the door open. Nabiki's expression confirmed his fears.
Nabiki held out a piece of paper. "One of your classmates said Akane slipped this note to her."
Ranma looked at the writing. "Yasuyoshi, near Kuno." He shrugged. "I don't get it."
Nabiki sighed. "Well, she's obviously pointing out a place for us to look for her. I've been around the Kuno residence before. I think I can find this Yasuyoshi residence."
Ranma grabbed Nabiki's hand. "Then what are we waiting for?"
Nabiki had no time to reply. They were already headed for the nearest rooftop.
** ** **
Despite the breathtaking pace they kept, it was the second evening of November before the three reached the end of the trail in the Byankala range. They ran up to the pass, stopping at the crest.
Shampoo looked around the immediate area. "No guards. Is not good."
Cologne ran down towards the village. Shampoo and Ranko followed.
There were weapons lying near the fighting square. Most of them were broken. Off to one side were a couple broken chairs.
Ranko picked up a spearhead. "There's not much blood."
Cologne nodded. "It looks like there was an ambush. They must have been heavily outnumbered."
Shampoo knelt to pick up a bow. "So, where they now?"
Cologne sighed. "It's hard to tell. The counsel was aware of a few nearby military factions that may have done this. We'll have to search for clues. I very much doubt that they gave up without leaving us some hidden information."
Ranko dropped the spearhead. "That would help, but how do we find it?"
Cologne waved at the buildings that surrounded the square. "We'll have to search the village, building by building."
A breeze whistled through the empty village. The three stood quietly as the breeze died down. Shampoo shivered in the stillness.
Back at Halloween night....
Nabiki braced herself against the rush of wind and looked at the sign again.
"Here it is, Yasuyoshi residence."
Ranma looked at the raised kanji on the metal sign beside the gate. "How can you tell without the little furigana?"
Nabiki stared at Ranma for a breath. "We'll discuss minimum literary requirements later."
"I ain't no illiterate." Ranma pushed on the gate and walked inside.
Nabiki opened her mouth for a witty response, decided not to bother, shut her mouth, and followed Ranma along the path.
Gnarled, leafless trees loomed over them from either side, creaking in the gusty winds. The light of the street lamps didn't reach far into the lot. The two found themselves walking in the moonlight.
The path curved around a dark bush. Ranma and Nabiki rounded the corner to find the main entrance.
Whomever built the house had made a decent job of creating a Japanese-Gothic style of architecture. Squared-off columns framed the front walls, but half-meter-tall gargoyles stared at the two from the corners of the roof. Ranma looked at one of the statues, trying to decide if he just saw it blink.
Nabiki marched up the small stoop to the front door, which was wide open. A gust of wind moaned through the house, tugging at Nabiki's suit. She peered into the darkness before turning back to Ranma. "I don't suppose you brought a flashlight."
Ranma jogged up the steps. "Didn't think of it."
Nabiki waited for her eyes to adjust, calling into the large house. "Hello, anyone there?"
Ranma scratched the back of his head. "Well, the door's open. Let's go look. Akane's gotta be here."
Nabiki silently nodded and stepped inside. Ranma followed.
Once the two were clear of the door frame, the massive door slid shut. The impact of solid wood-on-wood echoed through the house, almost sounding like a low chuckle.
Ranma tried to see anything in the pitch darkness, including his hand in front of his face. "Now what?"
Nabiki carefully felt through her pocket purse, pulling out a small book of matches. She took a match out and lit it.
Ranma turned to the small flame. "Since when did you smoke?"
Nabiki found a small candle to one side. She quickly lit the candle before the match burned her fingers. "I don't, but I like to be prepared."
Ranma took the book of matches out of her hand, trying to read it in the light of the candle. "Good-time girls esco-"
Nabiki snatched the book out of his hands. "It was free."
"You didn't." Ranma stopped at Nabiki's expression. "Nevermind."
Nabiki carried the candle by the brass stand and stepped into the room. "Stay here if you want, Ranma. I'm looking for Akane."
** ** **
Little black piglets floated and bobbed in space, circling lazily. Akane wondered, *Why piglets?*
She took a deep breath. The effort made her head throb. She raised her hand to rub her temples, only to find her wrists restrained. She opened her eyes. The blackness was so absolute that she could see no difference from when her eyes were closed.
A click sounded off to one side, and a piercing brightness stabbed into her head. She closed her eyes tightly.
Yasuyoshi's voice careened off her ears in a single, short burst. "Sorry." The sound caused flashes of red and yellow in her head.
Akane whispered. "Where am I?" The sound of her own voice was weak and distant. A chill splashed down her spine, making her shiver.
Yasuyoshi put his face close to Akane's ear and whispered in a low, husky voice. "The drug has some side effects. Your senses are heightened. Stimulus from one sense will cause hallucinations in the other. Can't be helped. Sorry."
Akane waited for the jagged spikes and the sharp red flashes to subside. She turned her head away from the light that still burned through her eyelids. "Why?"
"A scorpion wanted to cross a stream, but it couldn't swim. It found a frog nearby and asked him if he could carry him on his back.
"The frog refused. 'You're a scorpion,' he said. 'You'll sting me and I'll die.'
"'If I sting you, then I'll drown,' the scorpion replied.
"The frog reluctantly agreed to take the scorpion across the stream.
"When they reached halfway across the water, the scorpion stung the frog.
"'Why did you do it?' the frog asked. 'Now we will both drown.'
"'I am a scorpion,' the scorpion replied. 'It's what I do.'"
Akane tried to move her feet, finding them bound as well. She took another deep breath, the sensation bringing the taste of pork yakitori to her mouth. The sensory feedback was even more confusing than Yasuyoshi's story. "What?"
His cold breath splashed against her face, making her cringe. "This is what I do."
Akane tried to open her eyes a little. The intensity of the light was overwhelming. "What... what is ... what you do?"
Akane felt a cold hand stroke her arm, trailing towards her hand. She tried to shy away, but her bindings did not allow enough movement.
"You're confused enough as it is. I'll wait until you feel better."
Akane pulled at her bindings as she heard him step away. "Wait." She squinted towards the sound to see a tall figure in a doorway.
"Rest. Everything wears off in time."
The figure reached to one side. Akane heard a click, and was plunged into darkness again.
** ** **
Ukyo was nibbling on her okonomiyaki when someone knocked on the front door.
"Blasted holiday," Ukyo muttered as she dropped the cake on a plate and picked up a bowl full of miniature cakes beside it. "Who's idea was it to have this stupid free hand-out-fest so late?"
She carried the bowl along the bar, only partly relying on the distorted image of the door to guide her.
She noticed the large figure before the door was completely open. She wondered if he would fit in the door. The black and white attire complicated the shifting patterns in her vision. The image was familiar, but with all the strange things that had come to her door that evening, it was tough to put her finger on what it was.
If she weren't already in the habit of looking down to see shorter, costumed child figures, she would have missed the second visitor completely. He was shorter than most of the kids she'd seen that night.
A gust of wind puffed through the door as the three stood in silence. Finally, the short one spoke in a raspy, high-pitched voice. "Trick or treat?"
Ukyo knelt in front of the short one, holding the bowl in front of her. "What are you supposed to be, little one?"
The initial silence was Ukyo's first clue that she'd said something wrong.
The second was the angry stomping and jumping that the short one did while shouting. "I'm not in a costume!"
Ukyo bowed deeply. "Please forgive me, sir. My eyesight is not very good, and with all these kids running around in costumes, well, I just thought..."
"You just tho-." The short one cut himself off as he faced Ukyo's bow. "Here, just put this silly bowl aside and all will be forgiven."
Ukyo straightened up, confused, but allowed the little man to place the bowl on the ground. Before she knew it, he was in her lap, leaning against her chest.
"Bindings," the man snapped. "You dress like a boy. And here I thought you were just flat."
Despite the black and white overlays that punctuated her vision since Ranma's and Ranko's separation spell, Ukyo could only see red.
She stood up, swinging to hit his head. "Jackass." Her fist thumped her chest, as the man was no longer there.
He now hung on behind her. "Now, these are firm and round."
Ukyo reached around to grab the groper, only to have her hand close on empty air.
She glanced toward her battle spatula, which hung on the far wall. Even if she could snatch it before they got to it, the idea of a fight inside the store didn't sound good. She huffed angrily, trying to regain her composure. It didn't work. "What the hell do you jackasses want?"
"Excuse ME, madam." The short one reappeared on the ground in front of her. "I came here for a purpose, and allowed myself to be distracted."
Ukyo eyed him cautiously. "What do you want?"
"It appears that my student here has, well... it's kind of embarrassing." The short one looked down and wiggled his foot. "You see, of the few rules I myself take seriously, he's, ah, bent one of them."
Ukyo looked back at the large one, trying to remember where she'd seen him before.
"You may not recognize him in his panda form."
Ukyo's eyes went wide. Her hands clenched into fists. Her voice sounded more like a low guttural growl than a woman speaking. "You." She turned on her heel and marched straight for the battle spatula.
The little man jumped in front of her. "Don't you turn your back on Master Happosai when I'm talking!"
Ukyo paused short of stepping on the man. "Who?"
"I am the grand master of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts."
"Anything Goes... "
"And the panda back at your door-." Happosai stopped short, looking at the vacant doorway. "Hmm, maybe I should keep him on a shorter leash." He leapt through the doorway, calling over his shoulder. "Don't worry, I'll be baaaaaaaack!"
Ukyo marched outside, locked the door, and ran down the street.
** ** **
Flashing forward to Joketsuzoku and early November....
Ranko ran along the large training building, stopping at the doorway to look at the log hall machine inside.
The maze of piping that fed the steam to the various parts twisted and wound around the logs, like huge strands of stiff, black ramen.
As Ranko walked slowly towards it, old wounds seemed to become sore again. She moved her shoulder, as if to remind herself that the joint had healed. Her hands drifted down behind her.
"Ouchie machine still call Ranko?"
Ranko didn't look away from the steam-powered punishment device, but nodded.
Shampoo stepped up beside her. "Shampoo wish she could take test one more time."
Ranko looked down at the packets in Shampoo's hand. "What are those?"
Shampoo looked at the envelopes as if she had just seen them for the first time. "Oh, these? May come in handy."
Ranko sighed and looked over to the blue-haired teenager. "Where's Cologne?"
They both looked back to the doorway.
Cologne tiptoed in, looking much like a cat trying to sneak around a dog pound.
"What is it, great-grandmother?"
Cologne brought a finger to her lips. She whispered so quietly Ranko almost didn't hear. "We're not alone."
A resounding chorus of mechanical clicks confirmed Cologne's fears. A number of men with assault rifles climbed out of the machine as more came through the door. The three were quickly surrounded.
One of the men stepped forward. <Well, look here. Two more for our collection.> He sneered at Cologne. <And another throwback.>
Cologne glared, but watched the large number of guns pointed at the three of them. "We will let them lead us to the others."
Another man lunged, swinging the butt of his rifle. <Shut up!>
Cologne caught the impact, allowing the strike to knock her off her feet. She held her head and winced, trying not to glare at her attacker too much.
** ** **
Nabiki looked at the door in the candle light. She twisted on the handle. It was locked. "Maybe we can find a key or something."
A foot flew past her, shattering the door into splinters.
Nabiki shielded the candle from the blast, waiting for the dust to settle before shrugging and walking inside. "I just hope they don't bill you for all the damage you're probably going to cause."
Ranma blinked. "They would BILL us?"
Nabiki turned to face him. "When we get back, you and I are going to have a little talk about the Tendo finances."
Ranma shrugged. "Why?"
Nabiki smiled. "You'll find out, soon enough." She turned back and stepped into the room.
Ranma followed her inside and looked around. "Hey, what's with all these books?"
"It's called a library, Ranma."
"Hey, just because that stupid old man dragged me on a stupid trip so I couldn't go to the stupid school doesn't mean you can make fun of me all night."
"You're right, Ranma. I'm sorry. Besides, you're smarter than you look."
"Thanks." Ranma stopped in front of one of the many shelves. "Hey, this one's not dusty."
Nabiki turned and brought the candle over. "How can you tell in this light?"
"I was running my finger on the top of them. This one felt different."
Nabiki tilted the book to see the top in the candlelight. Sure enough, there were fingerprints in the dust. She pulled the book further to get a better look. It stopped with a mechanical click.
Behind them, they could hear something big move.
** ** **
Akane worked on one of her bindings, which seemed to be loosening around her wrist. She could hear his footsteps this time. She stopped struggling and closed her eyes.
The click came, and so did the light. She blinked at him. "What do you want with me?"
Yasuyoshi smiled. "I'm a collector. I collect beautiful things. That's what I do."
"What are you going to do to me?"
Yasuyoshi walked to the table, stroking her fingers with his. "I want to ask for your hand."
Akane sighed. "I've had suitors before. None of them were as crazy as you."
Akane glared. "Drugging me, taking me to this place, tying me to a table. You sure have a funny way of asking me to marry you."
Yasuyoshi leaned over Akane. He brushed her hair aside. His cold breath made her shiver. "My poor girl. You misunderstand. I collect rare and beautiful things. That's what I do."
"I know, I heard that already."
"I have a plank of wood from the deck of the Yamato. I have preserved petals from a rare African orchid. I have a saka-batou blade to a sword that is said to have been used by a retired assassin in the early Meiji."
Akane frowned. "What does any of that have to do with me?"
"Your hands have the beauty and grace of a Japanese woman, and yet they are capable of breaking brick."
"What if I don't want to be part of your collection."
His smile made her shiver again. "Part of you will."
** ** **
Ranko grabbed a bar in each hand, testing them for strength. "So, what exactly is this prophecy again that says I'm going to fix everything?"
Cologne sat in the corner of the cell. "The village will not be lost because of a battle of weapons. The village will be dispersed, and the culture will be lost in dilution amongst countless outsiders.
"There will exist a savior who can restore the society of the village. The savior will come from the capital of the island nation to the east, but the winner of the annual tournament will also identify the savior.
"The savior will make possible the Amazon's exodus from captivity through a unique gift from Jusenkyo."
Ranko frowned. "But, I can't change back and forth anymore."
Cologne nodded. "That has been on my mind, but I am certain the exact nature of the solution will come to you, just as the prophecy says."
Ranko turned back to the bars. "I suppose I'm the one who's supposed to find a way out of here, too."
Shampoo thumped the stone wall with her fist. “Stupid soldiers. They think walls stop us.”
Ranko turned away from the bars, blinking. “What did you say?”
Cologne nodded. “After all, I was the one that taught Ryoga the breaking point technique.”
Shampoo smiled, pointing to the wall. “What we wait for?”
Cologne waved her hand. “Patience, child. We can’t just poke through the wall and walk away from here. There are undoubtedly armed guards about. Besides, we still haven't seen any of the others.”
Ranko shrugged. “So, what do we do?”
“We wait for the proper time.”
A guard walked up to the cell, shoving three bowls of gruel and a small bucket of water under the door.
Cologne smiled at the bucket. "In the meantime, we need to do some sneaking around."
Shampoo looked nervously at the bucket. "Uh, how Shampoo change back?"
Cologne beckoned the ex-Amazon with a gnarled finger. "One step at a time, great-granddaughter."
Ukyo stumbled through the park, around the corner, and down the street. She reached the Saotome residence with barely enough energy to stand and knock.
The voice rattled the door. "What is it?!" After a few moments, Nodoka opened the door. "Ukyo?"
Ukyo put her hands on her knees, fighting to catch her breath. "Did I wake you?"
Nodoka sighed. "No, I just...." Ukyo felt Nodoka's hand on her shoulder. "Well, we're not getting anywhere out here. Come inside."
She let Nodoka lead her into the entryway. Her hands shook as she removed her sandals. She took a deep breath. "I just had a visitor... (puff) at U-Chan's."
She could see Nodoka fold her arms. "What kind of visitor?"
"Some strange little man. He... (puff) he brought a student to see me. (puff) Someone you know."
"Ukyo, just tell me, who was it?"
"The old man said his name was Happosai."
Nodoka turned her back. "No. No, that's impossible."
"He grabbed me. I swung, but I couldn't touch him."
Nodoka sighed. "It's him. More bad news. I hope he hasn't seen Ranko. That's all she needs."
Ukyo stopped. "Uh, Ranko left this morning. She went to China to help Shampoo and Cologne."
She saw Nodoka's head shake sadly. "It's funny. I was just reading about a headstrong redhead, named Anne Shirley, who lived in Canada. She left her adopted mother to go to school. But in the story, she returned home."
Nodoka's quiet voice unsettled Ukyo. "She was in a big hurry. I'm sure she would have stopped by if she had the chance."
Nodoka took a step away. "You said that Happosai had brought a student."
"Ukyo, I've had enough frustration today, just tell me who you saw."
Ukyo took a deep breath. "It's... uh, Genma."
Nodoka's hands fell to their sides. "You came here to tell me that he's back?"
Ukyo backed away from the edge in her voice. "I thought you would want-"
"You think I WANT to be reminded of what I've lost? The husband who betrayed me?!"
Ukyo shook her head. "I'm sorry."
Nodoka marched into the front room. "You come to my house and tell me my child has left me without saying goodbye. How do you think that makes me feel? You think I LIKE feeling disgraced?!"
"I didn't mean to upset you."
Nodoka returned, the katana in hand. "I have this pain in my heart night and day! I have a bastard for a husband! I have children who still avoid me! And you... you...."
Nodoka stopped, looking down at the young woman who knelt before her. Ukyo sat with her hands on the floor, her forehead pressed against them. Her hair had fallen in front of her, exposing the bare nape of her neck to the moonlight from the window.
The katana clattered on the floor.
Ukyo peeked up to see Nodoka reaching for her shoulders.
Nodoka choked back a sob. "I've tried not to be jealous of you, of the time you have with my children. Forgive me."
"Actually, they're always somewhere else." She straightened as Nodoka pushed some hair from her face. "They get along when they're together, but they are almost always apart."
Nodoka stared. "Do you think they remind each other of... unpleasant things?"
Ukyo gestured at her eyes. "You mean, like the separation?"
Nodoka's hand covered her mouth. "Your eyes, I forgot. You came to try to help me, and I reward you with anger and hurt. Ukyo, can you ever forgive me?"
Ukyo could not bring herself to answer. The emotional tide had already swept away anything she could think to say. She found herself buried in the warmth of the older woman. A warmth she had all but forgotten. Her memories crashed and swirled with current events. Her head was swimming in the maelstrom of emotion. A single thought pierced through the black and white eddies and came unbidden to her lips.
Nodoka hugged her tighter.
** ** **
Shampoo waited for the guard to leave before sneaking down the hall and back into the cell. In her cat form, she slipped between the bars with ease.
She marched straight up to Cologne and sat, staring at her.
Ranko read her mind. "Ok, old woman. Now what?"
Cologne reached down to the remaining bowl of gruel. "This bowl seems to be warm enough." She picked it up and turned it over on the cat.
"Ayah!" Shampoo cried. "Yucky!" She pulled clumps of the stuff out of her hair. "Hair gooey!"
"You can wash up later," Cologne said. "Tell me what you found."
"Is castle. We in dungeon."
Ranko rolled her eyes. "We saw THAT on the way in."
Shampoo turned to Ranko. "You no see villagers. I find. I see many men workers, too. Not soldiers, but workers."
Cologne's eyes lit up. "Where are our people, child?"
"Not far, but with many guards, many guns. Young women in one part. Elders in other." Shampoo grabbed her clothes, deciding to put them back on before another guard came. Before she put on her shirt, she reached inside it and pulled out a few envelopes.
Ranko frowned. "Didn't the soldiers take those away from you?"
Shampoo smiled. "They didn't. I hide."
"Let me see them." Cologne snatched an envelope out of Shampoo's hand. "Instant Nanichuan (tm)." Cologne looked back to Shampoo. "Were you in Xia Wur's home before we were captured?"
Shampoo nodded. "I look for elders. These give us disguise."
"There looks like you might just have enough for nearly all of the villagers. I would recommend to the two of you to stay away from it, though."
Ranko frowned. "Why?"
"Both of you already have a curse. And YOU have a spell on top of that. If you put another curse, even a temporary one, on top of that, well, it would be hard to tell WHAT would happen."
Ranko looked down at her feet. Then, her head snapped up. She starred at Shampoo, wide eyed. "YOU'RE the one. YOU'RE the savior. Not me."
Cologne nodded. "Yes, now I understand. 'The tournament champion will IDENTIFY the savior.' And 'a unique gift from Jusenkyo'." She pointed at Shampoo. "Pull this off, great-granddaughter, and they might just forgive your previous failures."
Shampoo's eyes lit up. She jumped, spinning in a tight circle. "Ayah! Ayah!"
Cologne pointed to Shampoo. "Quiet, child."
Shampoo stopped, blinking. "Oro?"
** ** **
Akane heard the approaching footsteps again. She muttered under her breath about her bad luck. She had nearly worked her wrist free. Another minute and she would have escaped.
She closed her eyes, pulling the strap tight.
Yasuyoshi turned on the light. "It is time." He carried a cooler.
Akane turned and looked at the box. Inside was a tray of scalpels, forceps, and tweezers. The tray was resting on a pile of ice cubes. Beside the tray was a smaller box that contained bottles.
Akane looked up into Yasuyoshi's eyes, frightened at the casual calm they showed. "What are you going to do to me?"
Yasuyoshi shrugged. "I told you before. I want your hand."
Akane could feel her face go pale. "What if I don't want to give you my hand?"
He put the box on the floor, taking the scalpel out and holding it up. "When the avalanche has started, it is already too late for the pebble to vote." He held her hand down and lowered the scalpel.
"Ranma is coming to save me."
He turned and looked at the doorway. He looked back to her and shrugged again. "Looks like he might not get to see the procedure. Pity." He grabbed her hand again.
Akane pulled. "Wait."
Yasuyoshi straightened and sighed. "If you move, the cut will be ragged. If I don't get a clean cut, it'll be difficult to get the preservatives in."
"You don't want it to dry out and decay, do you? I don't." He bent over her hand again.
Akane pulled, harder. "Wait!"
He blinked. "What is it?"
Akane looked around, trying to find something. She spied the bottles. "Aren't you going to give me something?"
He smiled. "Of course. You want reimbursement. When I'm done, we can go into my study, and we can discuss payment. I'm sure I can find an amount that will make you happy." He looked back to her wrist.
Akane pulled both arms, hard. "No! That's not what I meant!"
Yasuyoshi shrugged. "What, then?"
Akane nodded to her wrist. "This is going to hurt. Don't you have something for the pain?"
His eyes lit up. "Oh, of course. I'm so sorry. In my excitement, I forgot about that." He turned his back and looked into the box.
Akane gave another tug.
"Oh, here it is." He turned back, holding a roll of leather. Akane stared incredulously as he put it into her mouth. "Here you go."
Akane bit down on the gag, certain that she would need it.
** ** **
Khu Ki stood at the bars, glaring at the guards on the other side. In fact, most of the young Amazon women did exactly that. Khu Ki tried to hear any sounds coming down the dark corridor that separated the younger, "useful" women from the "old hags".
The soldiers who had separated the village had made many enemies. Even though the Amazon were not known for practicing voodoo magic, one of the soldiers involved mysteriously died a short while later from an extreme compound case of arthritis and incontinence.
A rumble in the ground distracted the young women, as it did their captors. The rumble came from the corridor.
Khu Ki wondered if the disturbance was something the elders were up to. Then she saw the cracks in the hallway floor. She stared at them, as they glowed a deep blue.
** ** **
Xia Wur thought that the rumble sounded familiar. When she saw the cracks lit in blue, she knew it was someone using the breaking point technique.
She watched the soldiers jump in alarm, but they were too late. The floor shattered and fell, creating a dark chasm. The soldiers fell into the darkness and were silent.
Xia Wur looked at the floor outside the bars. There was a narrow ledge along the near side of the hall. She turned to the other elders. <Only one woman not among us has such control.>
<I'm glad to hear that my skills are well appreciated.>
Xia Wur turned to see Cologne, Shampoo, and Ranko standing on the ledge. <If you weren't our best chance at escape, I'd accuse you of defying your own pursuit of the prophecy.>
Cologne turned to Ranko. "Tell them what you told me about the prophecy."
Ranko pointed to Shampoo. "Shampoo is the savior."
An elder stood from her place in one corner. <What did she say?>
<She said that Xian Pu is the savior of the prophecy,> Xia Wur interpreted. She turned back to Cologne. <Interesting, if not convenient for the outcast. What is your plan to get us out?>
Cologne turned to Shampoo, who held the envelopes of Instant Nanichuan (tm) up for all to see.
Xia Wur folded her arms. <I suppose this is your way of getting revenge on the village for casting you out.>
Shampoo shook her head vehemently. <It is a disguise, so we can escape. If you have a better idea on how to get past the other soldiers....>
<As a matter of fact, I do. They have kept us tired and weak, but with Cologne here, we should be able to tunnel under their walls.>
Cologne shook her head. <It would take too long for me to dig by myself.>
Xia Wur waved around the cell. <They've kept us hungry and thirsty to keep us weak. We have no water here for your powders.>
Shampoo nodded. <They have kept the others healthy. There should be enough water there for all.>
Xia Wur folded her arms. <It looks as though the young whelp has already made up her mind.>
<If I were acting on my own, I would not be talking to the elders right now.>
Xia Wur looked to the other elders before nodding. <We will escape with your plan.>
Cologne turned to Ranko and Shampoo. "I will stay here. You two go to the other cell and fetch the water."
** ** **
Akane bit down on the gag, tensing up her entire being in preparation.
Yasuyoshi set back to his task. He barely had time to get a surprised look on his face by the time he saw Akane's fist arc toward his head. The impact sent him flying to the back wall. His unconscious body slumped to the floor.
Akane untied her other hand, inspecting it quickly to make sure nothing was cut before untying her feet.
She jumped off the table at the sound of approaching footsteps. She relaxed as Ranma and Nabiki ran through the door. "You're late."
Nabiki waved the candleholder, nearly putting the flame out. "Yes, well, the directions we got were a little vague. Are you alright?"
Akane shivered. "This is place is too creepy. Let's get outta here."
"Why the rush?"
The group turned around to see Yasuyoshi standing.
"After all, I wouldn't want to miss a chance to add to my collection."
He pushed a button on the wall, and a part of the wall slid to the side. Behind was a kind of display case.
Akane stared, too horrified to look away.
Nabiki averted her gaze the moment she caught a glimpse of the contents.
Ranma peered deeply into the case. "Hey, this looks like that one scene."
The other three turned and looked at him.
"Ya know, that scene outta that... movie. Can't remember the name...." Ranma looked closer at an empty shelf. "Hey, why does this have Akane's name on it?"
"Because, Ranma, he wants to cut my hand off and put it in there with... with... with the other... parts."
Ranma dropped into a ready stance. "Over my dead-"
A metallic click cut him off. Yasuyoshi raised the gun to him. "Cut the clichés. You know, I've heard rumors of this inhuman speed of yours. I wonder. Is it fast enough to handle a bullet?"
Ranma frowned. "Where did you get that? Is that real?"
A pair of soldiers watched as the workers trudged their way out to the mines. One of them frowned and turned to the other.
<Is it me, or are there more of them?>
<It's the smell. It's playing tricks with your brain.>
The first stepped forward for a closer look. <No, I think there are more of them. Don't those look->
The other soldier was not in sight.
<Chow? Chow Yun? Don't fool around, now.>
His answer was a pole jabbed into his gut. He folded neatly.
Shampoo jumped out of the shadows and raised her hand to strike.
Ranko stepped forward, pole in hand. "Wait."
Shampoo stopped. "Huh?"
Ranko leaned over, tipping the soldier's helmet to the floor.
The soldier almost looked up to see what was going on when Shampoo's strike knocked out his lights.
Shampoo turned and frowned. "Where you get staff?"
Ranko shrugged. "The guard wasn't using it."
Shampoo looked at the man she had just dispatched. She rolled him over, revealing a curved sword. She picked up the sword, holding it in front of her.
Ranko looked at the gleam in her eye. "Uh, Shampoo. You're getting scary."
"What worry? I on our side."
"We need to keep moving. It's only a matter of time before they..."
Shampoo looked up from her reflection in the blade. "Before they what?"
The workers had all gone past. Some of the soldiers that followed them had stopped and noticed the two.
"...Raise the alarm." Ranko crouched, holding the pole ready. Shampoo pointed the sword at their opponents.
** ** **
Happosai was becoming very disappointed in his disciple. "You know. I remember Soun was able to get a much bigger haul."
Genma jumped at every strange sound. Since it was Halloween night, there were more sounds outside than usual. All he could manage was, "Please, master."
He nearly bumped into the diminutive leader, who was staring at the building directly in front of them.
Happosai pointed at the structure. "Dry cleaners?" He didn't wait for Genma's answer. He could see through the window well enough. "We're going inside."
Genma dutifully followed his master through the broken door and into the back room.
Happosai flung aside a multitude of business suits and work dresses, stopping only when the dresses became smaller. "I could almost get used to these."
Genma watched helplessly as the dresses were pushed aside, revealing lingerie.
Happosai reached up and plucked a brassier.
They were plunged into red light. Loud bangs announced the closing of very heavy doors.
"They think they can hold me...?" Happosai looked around.
"Willful destruction of property, vandalism, reckless endangerment..."
"Who is that?! I know that voice."
"...Recruiting into a cult with a purpose of harming others..."
"...and several hundred thousand yen in stolen... property." A figure staggered into the doorway.
Happosai's eyes nearly popped out. "Ma... ma... master... Nakago?"
The figure struggled to remain upright, but managed a couple steps closer.
"It can't be. You're dead."
"Not dead. Merely retired."
"That was, until some bookworm followed you around until he was able to trace you to me." The figure leaned on the counter.
"They took me out of retirement, nearly yanked me out of my home, to catch you."
"This isn't about the school of Anything Goes...?"
"This is about you, and how you took your teachings and bastardized them into something... something unworthy."
"Oh, well, surely we can-"
"You can do nothing. You are not the man who was my disciple. You are no master. I do not know you."
Happosai stared at the ancient man, for once, at a loss for words. He allowed the police officers to escort him away. Genma followed, almost gratefully.
** ** **
Ranma stared down the barrel, muscles tensed.
"Tell me something," Yasuyoshi sneered as his finger tightened on the trigger. "Do you feel-"
A dull thump, and he fell again.
Ranma and Akane looked up and blinked at Nabiki, in the basement, with the candlestick holder.
Nabiki glared at the prone figure. "He turned his back on me! How dare he! Don't EVER take a Tendo girl for granted!"
Ranma shrugged, and led Akane out through the house.
** ** **
Khu Ki marched double-time with the other temporary males. They had made it outside the main gate, but guards surrounded them. Most of the soldiers were at the back of the crowd, near Khu Ki. He risked a glance back.
There was a large commotion in the gate. Ranko and Shampoo were fighting their way free. The guards were only men, and Ranko and Shampoo were making headway.
Khu Ki held his makeshift bundle and concentrated on being inconspicuous.
Ranko paused to look at the villagers after launching the nearest opponent. "They're moving too slow." She pressed her attack forward, leaving Shampoo to cover their escape.
The crowd of workers and villagers shuffled on, only slightly faster with the threat of Ranko's approach.
Ranko's charge was too fast. She quickly found herself in the back of the crowd of villagers. Her staff was useless with so little room. She threw it aside and fought hand and foot.
The villagers were forced to defend themselves in the melee. An elder glanced at Ranko in between punches. "Impetuous youngster. Your lack of patience will be your undoing."
Ranko stopped to stare at the elder, trying to figure out who the man was.
Khu Ki saw a soldier strike at Ranko's back with a sword. She kicked the sword aside. Another guard struck Khu Ki from behind, sending him into Ranko. Both of them fell to the ground.
Khu Ki quickly got up. She continued fighting without a second glance.
Ranko sat up in the midst of the battle, staring at a body that was so familiar mere months ago. Now, he felt awkward and unfamiliar.
His staff, carried by a soldier, found him again. The soldier's strike reached beyond Khu Ki, and knocked Ranko unconscious.
** ** **
He came to back at Joketsuzoku. He sat up and looked at his unfamiliar features once more.
"Is not so bad?"
He turned to see Shampoo sitting in the room. He looked back to his hands. "A few months ago, I would have given anything to be like this again. Now..."
"Is not sure. Be woman not so bad."
"I guess I was getting used to it."
"Great-grandmother say no sure if permanent. Instant Nanichuan(tm) usually not, but you already many-spelled."
"I suppose it could have been worse." Ranko eased out of bed.
"I should get back home."
"You stay. Is honorary villager."
Ranko paused. "As a guy, I don't think life here would be... ideal."
Cologne stepped through the door. "You're welcome to return any time. Your heroism has not gone unnoticed."
"What heroism? Shampoo did all the work."
"You came to help people you had little reason to trust, and risked your life doing so. You fought alongside us and helped us win our escape. Also, your... sacrifice... has not gone unnoticed. You would not be treated as a common male if you stayed."
"...If I stayed."
** ** **
Nabiki opened the door to the Tendo home, leading Akane and Ranma inside. They followed familiar voices into the tearoom. There, they found Ukyo and Nodoka sipping tea with Soun and Kasumi.
Ukyo looked up first. "Any word from Ranko?"
Ranma frowned. "Ranko? Why? Where has she been?"
"She's taking on the Amazons by herself?!" Ranma turned, bumping straight into Akane.
Akane held firm. "Don't go running off. I'm sure she can take care of herself."
Nodoka stood and walked over to place a hand on Ranma's shoulder. "She's right. Ranko was going with Cologne and Shampoo to HELP the village."
Ranma closed his eyes. "You don't understand. How could she take off without me?" He opened his eyes. "Akane, you're special to me, but Ranko is... a part of me. I can't turn my back on that."
Ukyo sighed. "You don't have to, Ranma. I saw her plane tickets. She'll be back here tomorrow night. You'd barely get to China in that time."
Nabiki looked over to Nodoka. "Speaking of back here, why the get together?"
Kasumi smiled. "Oh, Ms. Nodoka and Ukyo were just telling us that the underwear thief has been caught."
Ukyo smiled. "An anonymous tip led the police to someone who knew how to stop them."
Nabiki nodded. "I see. Wasn't there some sort of reward...?"
"Yeah. U-chan's will be expanding with my part."
Nabiki turned to Nodoka. "If you need any investment tips...."
Nodoka pointed to Soun. "I was just talking with your father about how smart his children are. I would be happy to listen to any suggestions you might have."
** ** **
Two nights later, the rain and wind was enough to keep everyone at home. Nodoka sat alone, staring at the katana on the stand in the candlelight.
A rattle at the door startled her. At first, she didn't know if it was the wind or a visitor. "Who would be out at this time of night, in this weather?"
She opened the door against the rain, and looked out to see a soaked Ranko. "Come in. Come in. Get out of the rain."
Ranko trudged inside, stopping at the entryway step.
Nodoka closed the door and turned. Her daughter's body language told her much. "What's wrong?"
Ranko didn't move. "I'd like to stay here, tonight."
"Of course. You're welcome anytime." Nodoka walked around to see Ranko's face. "Did you have a fight with Ranma or Ukyo?"
"I haven't been home."
Nodoka nodded. "Lets get you out of those wet clothes and into something warm and comfortable. Then, you can tell me whatever you want."
Ranko took her shoes off and followed Nodoka into the hall. "It's just... everything that happened... and some things that almost happened...."
All Over Again synopses:
Episode 1: Murphy's Law – Ranma leaves the Tendo home. Ukyo takes care of him.
Episode 2: Battle Chess – Cologne and Shampoo succeed in getting Ranma to China.
Episode 3: Double Trouble – Ranma finds a cure that splits him into two separate people.
Episode 4: Joining Forces – Ranko fights Akane in the martial arts rhythmic gymnastics competition.
Episode 5: Unwanted Surprises – Ranko discovers more complications of the curse. Ukyo confronts Genma.
Arigatou (Thank you)
Do itashimashite (You're welcome)
Ganbatine (Keep it up)