Ranma 1/2 manga fanfiction
by Gary Kleppe

The characters of Ranma 1/2 are the creation of and rightful property of Rumiko Takahashi. They are used here without permission. This story may be freely redistributed, but it should not be altered substantially or used for profit in any way.

The HaM Preludes detail the changes in the characters over the seven years between the end of the manga and this story. They can be read here. I've added extra scenes with background information to this chapter in the latest revision so you should be able to jump in even if you haven't read the preludes.


Please, goddesses. Let me get home safely; that's all I ask. I just want to be home.

Ti Pi repeated the mantra to herself as she trudged forward along the dirt road. She didn't know whether anyone or anything would be listening, but it couldn't hurt. If nothing else, maybe it would help control her fear, though it wasn't doing that very well so far.

The last vestiges of evening sunlight were quickly dying. Soon only the pale glow of the full moon would remain, and the road would be blanketed in darkness. Home lay somewhere ahead, but how far? It was impossible to know what distance she'd already walked, and the blackness ahead seemed to stretch on forever.

She remembered how happy she'd been when the Chief Elder had assigned her this task. It had sounded so simple. Visit one of their cities, and find out everything you can about them. Telling Ti Pi to gather information was like telling fish to swim. What she hadn't counted on was how difficult the journey there and back again would be.

Her stomach rumbled, demanding to be fed. When she'd left Yinchuan, the food and water in her pack had seemed like a terrible burden. Now she wished she'd carried more. She needed food, and sleep. Her eyelids sagged, begging to be closed. It would be so easy to give in, to drift away like a log floating serenely down a stream....

Somewhere ahead, an animal howled. Ti Pi knew that rabid dogs hunted in this part of the country. With her Amazon strength and training, fighting the beasts off wouldn't be a problem -- if she heard them coming. As she continued to walk, she stretched her senses to the utmost, trying to take in everything she could. A cool breeze blew across her face. Insects chirped in an endless, monotonous rhythm. There was no sign of anything remotely human.

Earlier, Ti Pi had passed through a village called Yaocaicun. She'd been there before, and the place seemed to be just as she remembered it. Buildings of brick and wood lay strewn haphazardly about a gently rolling landscape. Lush gardens stood fenced off from the roads. Large signs stretched overhead, identifying various shops; most of them seemed to be selling herbal medicines.

There were no people.

Yaocaicun was normally a lively place. There should have been children running in the street, farmers gabbing noisily as they tended to the day's crop. But today, no one at all could be seen or heard.

Ti Pi spent over an hour searching through Yaocaicun, looking for any clue as to what had happened to the population. She found none. Had the General already sent his armies in this direction, and decided to wipe out this village simply because it had been in the way? Or had the people here simply fled? She didn't know.

And now, as she marched through the endless darkness, she was afraid, not only for herself but for all of her people. She pictured her Amazon sisters being imprisoned and eventually sold into slavery. Or perhaps they would be simply slaughtered. That would have been the easiest way to deal with them. Obstacles are for killing.

Please, goddesses. Let me get home safely. And let home still be there when I arrive.

She looked up at the sky. The moon gleamed brightly amidst the canopy of stars. The hills and craters seemed to form a face. It bore an enigmatic smirk -- as if to say, I know something that you don't.

The road began to climb sharply. Ti Pi was sure she knew where she was — a pass between the hills near the edge of the Amazon village. Home had to be near. She pushed herself forward on aching legs. Just a little further.

Abruptly, a light stabbed out of the darkness, shining in Ti Pi's eyes for just a moment before turning away. She looked toward the source, and could barely make out a figure.

Instinctively, she inched away from her position, off to the side of the road. A rocky spire stood nearby; she moved around, as noiselessly as she could manage, to crouch behind it. Footsteps approached. She had no idea who was there. It was probably just an Amazon -- but if it wasn't, being spotted could be fatal. For moments that seemed to stretch into hours, she waited, for something that would identify the unknown person.

A voice spoke. "Who's there? Show yourself!" The voice was male; that told Ti Pi all she needed to know.

The light panned along the road where she had been standing. Her mind raced as she considered her options. She remembered a hidden path leading to the village that she'd used many times when she had played out here as a child. She could picture in her mind exactly how it looked — but would she be able to find it in the dark?

And what if she made it to the village, and found it overrun with soldiers? Amazon law would require her to attack. It wouldn't matter how many of them there were, or how certain her death would be; her duty to her sisters would be to kill as many enemies as she possibly could before they stopped her.

The sensible thing to do would be to turn around now and sneak away. Go back to Cunzhuang, or even all the way to Xining, and wait for help. If they had beaten all of sisters, how could she possibly win? And how would her walking into certain death help them?

Still, she had to know for certain what had happened. After all, how would she be able to ask for help if she didn't know what the situation was? Yes, she would go to the village. Once there, she'd decide what to do.

Waiting until the person with the light was as far away as he was likely to get, Ti Pi moved.

The narrow light beam turned towards her. "Stop!" the voice commanded. She broke into a full run, trying desperately to keep her balance on the uneven ground as she sped away.

Something whistled through the darkness, catching the lower part of Ti Pi's legs, wrapping itself around her ankles. Her body tumbled forward uncontrollably, coming to a stop as it skidded across the ground.

She twisted around to face her attacker. The light blared directly in her eyes as she turned her head. "Don't move!" The voice sounded familiar. Where had she heard it before? The figure advanced. Ti Pi could make out the long, narrow shaft of some sort of weapon. He could shoot her, and there would be nothing she could do about it.


"Greetings, Saotome Ranma." Kuno Tatewaki stepped into the house and offered a firm handshake. "Truly it has been a long time."

"Hiya, Kuno." Ranma noticed Tatewaki's sister behind him. "Hey, Kodachi. Yeah, it's been, what, seven years? You guys are lookin' good." Tatewaki's hair was longer now and bound into a ponytail that draped over one shoulder.

"Thank you, Ranma dear. You aren't so bad yourself." Kodachi smiled. "I hope these years of wedded bliss haven't caused your combat skills to atrophy."

"Nah, I get plenty of practice running the training hall." He led them toward the living room. "Make yourselves at home. Akane and Ryoga are in the kitchen, I think. He actually made it here on time. Mu Si is here too. We should have all the usual suspects, plus maybe a few others. Even Doc Tofu is coming with us tomorrow; he's been gone longer than you have. And Kasumi will be here a little later tonight. She's learned things in her studies that I think are gonna help us a lot."

"Studies?" Tatewaki said. "I hadn't heard."

"Yeah. Some of the stuff I've seen her and her teacher do... Well, long story. I'll fill you in on what I understand. Not that that's much. " Ranma said. "You can tell us what this big threat against the Amazon village is, too." He remembered how Ke Lun, on her deathbed, had talked about some future great danger to the village; she'd gotten him to promise to help defend it. Obviously now was that time.

Tatewaki nodded. "I'll tell you what I know. Shan Pu will be here shortly and she can probably answer any questions that I cannot."

"Oh, Ranma, isn't there one other person we ought to recruit?" Kodachi said. "The girl with the pigtail. I'm sure you know the one I mean. The one my dear brother was so sweet on back in the day."

"Er, I don't think she'll be traveling with us," Ranma said. Some things never changed. The Jusenkyo curses were evidently something that the Kunos would never, ever figure out, and there was no point in trying to explain it. "You might run into her over there."

"I heard a rumor," Kodachi said to her brother in a low voice, "that the pig-tailed girl and Ranma here are, shall we say, close. That whenever she's around, she shares his bed."

"Hey, it's not like you're thinking." Ranma shook his head. "She's more like a sister."

"I have heard a different rumor," Tatewaki said. "I have it on reliable sources that the pig-tailed girl is involved in a torrid, passionate love affair with Ten-- excuse me, with Saotome Akane."

"Are you--" Realization dawned. "Hey! You know! Both of you know!"

Tatewaki cracked a wry smile. "I've spent the last seven years among the Amazons. It's been educational in a variety of ways."

"Yes, I've had my own educational experiences during that time," Kodachi said. "Perhaps I'll let you in on them, if I choose to."

Ranma laughed. "You guys really got me with that one. Well, like I said, make yourselves at home. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we're on our way to a whole lot of trouble."


The figure moved even closer, and a face became visible. Ti Pi squinted, straining to see as the light burned her eyes. "Zhen? Zhen Ben? Is that you?"

"Ti Pi?"

"What are you doing here?" She pulled her legs toward her and sat up, relieved beyond words.

"I'm on guard duty!"

"The Elders put you as a sentry?" They had to be desperate to use a male for such an important job.

"They did indeed." Zhen lowered his weapon -- a staff, not the gun that Ti Pi had thought -- and stepped forward. "I don't know why the Elders have been increasing the guard, but whatever the threat, I'll defend our home with all of my strength."

Ti Pi quickly unwound the bolo from her legs. "I'm sure you will." Just as long as they didn't take advantage of his weak spot — the one above his neck.

"The Chief Elder has left instructions that you are to report to her immediately upon your return."

She sighed as she stood. "Very well. Is she in the Council Hall now?"

"No. In her home. She said you should wake her."

Ti Pi nodded and turned away. Then she stopped and held up the bolo with which Zhen had snared her. "Oh, is this your weapon?"

"Yes," Zhen answered, looking bewildered.

"Here, then." Ti Pi threw the bolo back toward Zhen, expertly bouncing it off his head.

"Ow!" Zhen rubbed the lump on his upper forehead. "What was that for?"

"Because you knocked me down!"

"But... but I didn't know...." Zhen's voice trailed off as Ti Pi wasted no time in walking toward the village.

She was probably harder on Zhen than she should be, but she didn't want to do anything that might encourage him. He was exactly the type of man whom she disliked -- all muscle, and no brains. And ever since that night at the solstice celebration, he had seemed to think that she and he were someday going to be wife and husband. All because she'd lost her head and let him kiss her. She'd wanted to know what a boy's kiss felt like, and he'd seemed nice enough, but that didn't mean she was ready to commit the rest of her life to him.

She forced her weary body forward, continuing on to Chief Elder Lan's residence. Ti Pi wanted to stop at her own home for a nap, maybe take a hot bath and exchange her dirty, smelly t-shirt and jeans for Amazon clothes. At least drink a cup of tea. But when the Chief Elder of the Amazons said immediately, that was what was meant.

Like all of the buildings in the village except for the Council Hall, the house had no door. Once, Ti Pi would've called that a sign of strength; doors were an empty pretense, a bluff not needed by those who were truly secure. Now that didn't seem to ring true anymore.

She made her way through the darkened house to the bedroom. A loud snoring cut through the air, like a wounded animal's cry. Ti Pi quickly walked up and leaned over the source of the noise. "Elder Lan?"

Lan's eyes opened.

"Zhen Ben told me I was to wake you upon my arrival, Elder." If Zhen had gotten Lan's instructions wrong, Ti Pi was going to make him regret it.

"Yes." The old woman blinked her eyes several times as she sat up. "Good. You've completed your mission?"

Ti Pi nodded. "I'm prepared to give you my full report."

"Not yet. I need to summon the other Elders. You will meet me in the Council Hall in fifteen minutes to present your information to the full Council."

"Yes, Elder," Ti Pi replied formally, excitement washing away her exhaustion. She would finally get to see what went on in the Council. That was something she had always wanted. Given the circumstances, it was hardly something to cheer about, but it was still the realization of a lifelong ambition.

Lan swung her legs around to the floor and stood. "I am happy to see that you have returned safely."

"Elder, what is the situation? Do you believe that an attack is imminent?" It was a little presumptuous to be asking such information of the Chief Elder. But Ti Pi still thought of Lan as her teacher, the one who always encouraged her to question.

Lan looked back with great weariness in her eyes. "Such matters are the concern of the Council. In time, when you are older, they may be your responsibility, and you may end up wishing that they weren't."

Ti Pi continued, her enthusiasm and curiosity undampened. "What of Shan Pu? You had sent her on another mission. Has she returned?"

"No." Lan opened a closet door and took out a set of clothes. "Not yet. I hope she will be able to bring back some of her Japanese acquaintances to fight on our side."

Ti Pi felt a little taken aback by this. Did the Elder have more faith in these strangers than the village's own Amazon warriors? Still, there was no denying that they needed any help they could get.


Hibiki Ryoga stared at the face in front of him. Tiny brown eyes framed by dark leathery skin gazed back suspiciously. The upturned snout wriggled slightly as the animal snorted.

Though Ryoga presently looked nothing like the black piglet, it still felt as if he were looking into a mirror. It had taken Akari a lot of searching to find a miniature pig — what she called a "pig-my" — that looked like Ryoga's cursed form. Even so, the new pig hadn't fooled Akane, but at least she'd accepted it as a replacement for her pet.

"Uh...." Ryoga smiled weakly. "Hi there, P-chan."

"Bu-kee!" Snorting irritatedly, the animal quickly backed away from Ryoga. With a speed that would've made most martial artists jealous, it jumped off the counter top, scampering across the kitchen floor and up into the arms of its owner.

"P-chan, you don't need to be afraid of Ryoga," Akane said in a firm but calm voice. "He's a friend." She smiled apologetically as she held her pet forward. "Now be nice!"

Ryoga walked over and reached forward hesitantly toward the animal, to scratch it under the chin the way Akane used to do to him.

The pig snorted angrily as its teeth chomped down sharply on Ryoga's finger. "Aaaaaa!"

Akane scowled down at the pig. "P-chan, that was mean! I'm sorry, Ryoga."

"Oh, uh, that's all right, Akane." Ryoga's finger throbbed with pain; he nursed it in his other hand, and the stinging lessened a bit. It was only fair, he supposed; payback for the times he'd bitten Ranma.

"Ryoga, would you mind if I asked you something?" Akane looked up, hesitantly. "It's a little personal, and I don't want to embarrass you...."

"Sure, go ahead!" What could be so bad?

"Well, it's just that... I think I've figured out your secret."

Ryoga laughed nervously. "My... secret?" Calm down, he told himself. If she had really figured out his secret, she'd be getting out a meat cleaver right now to prepare a little pork cutlet.

"Yeah." Her eyes grew distant, her face unreadable. "Actually, I started thinking about it a long time ago, but I just wasn't sure. Back when I had the old P-chan, I noticed that you and he were never together. In fact, any time he showed up, you kinda disappeared, almost like magic. Then Ranma used to talk about pigs to make fun of you... and when you and Akari met, she gave you a sweater with pigs on it, and it made you really upset."

Ryoga felt a bead of sweat trickling down his forehead. He quickly wiped it off.

"So I started to think that maybe...." Her gaze dropped to the floor. "That you were... y'know, like Ranma... except that in your case, it's...." She pointed to the pig in her arms, thrusting it forward into Ryoga's face.

"Akane, I--" Ryoga quickly considered his options, and decided that pleading for his life would be appropriate. "I'm sorry! I meant to tell you!"

"What's there to be sorry about?" She smiled warmly at him. "I think it's great that you could overcome your problem."

"You're... you're not angry?!"

"Why should I be angry? You must really love Akari. Imagine someone with your condition marrying a pig farmer!"

"Yes... yes, I-- I do." Why wasn't she hitting him? It didn't make any sense. She didn't even look the slightest bit irked. "Akane...."

"I can't believe the way Ranma used to tease you about your problem. What a jerk! And he knows exactly what it's like, too!"

"Akane!" Ryoga fell to his knees. "Please don't hate me!"

Akane stared back at him in wide-eyed confusion. "Why on Earth would I hate you? Ryoga, it's not your fault that you're afraid of pigs!"

"Afraid of--"

"I'm sorry, Ryoga. I guess you're not completely over it, huh? I just kind of assumed you'd be cured after living with Akari. If it's any consolation, Ranma is still the same way about cats, too."

"Yes!" Ryoga laughed, almost maniacally. "Afraid of pigs! Not completely cured! But getting better! Hahaha!"

"That's all right." She patted him on the shoulder. "Would you like to go rest in the guest room?"

Ryoga shook his head. "Thanks, but I'll stay up and wait for Shan Pu with everybody else in the living room. Afraid. Pigs. Heh heh." He walked toward the doorway, keeping a wary eye on P-chan.

It was so absurd, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Though he no longer loved Akane, she was still a good friend. He didn't want her to hate him -- no matter how much he deserved it for what he had done. So he had to live with the constant fear that his real secret might someday be exposed to her by a random splash of water.

Kodachi's insane laugh reverberated through the house as Ryoga came into the living room. He silently slipped across the room, taking a seat on the floor next to the panda.

"Ran-chan, I feel bad about not going to China with y'all," Ukyo said. She sat with her head turned directly away from Kodachi, as if deliberately snubbing the gymnast. Next to her was Sanzenin Mikado, quietly nursing a bottle of sake.

"Hey, don't worry about it, Ucchan," Ranma said. "I think we all understand. You need ta stay here to run your restaurant."

"Yes, of course," Kodachi said with a patronizing smirk. "Don't worry. I'm sure someone else can cook for us during this trip."

For a moment, Ryoga thought about staying behind as well. He could probably come up with some reason why he was needed at home. He didn't really want to go on the trip -- not with Akane. How would he be able to avoid water for the whole time? One slip-up and she'd know the truth.

But Shan Pu was his friend. So were the others, and he couldn't just walk away when they needed help. He didn't blame Ukyo for doing what she had to, but his situation was different. Akari could handle the farm by herself. She'd done so for years before they'd been married.

Ranma put a friendly hand on the chef's shoulder. "Besides, Ucchan, Akane and me need you to help out here. Mom's gonna take responsibility for the house and the kids, but she and Mr. Tendo can't do everything. Around here, you never know when some nutcase will show up to cause trouble. If that happens while we're all gone, you'll have to handle it."

"Yes." Ukyo cast a glance back over her shoulder. "Nutcases do have a habit of showing up here."

"How very true." A bemused smirk played across Kodachi's lips. "By the way, dear, did I tell you that I tried some of the fare from your restaurant? Brother brought it home last night. It was a simply delightful confection. I understand you're worried about your restaurant going bankrupt. Don't be. If your current enterprise doesn't last, I'm certain you'll be able to obtain employment at Okonomiyaki World."

"Kodachi." Ranma stood, glaring at the gymnast. "Knock it off."

Kodachi looked back innocently. "Hmmm? Have I given offense? Oh dear, how discourteous of me."

"You've been tryin' to pick a fight all evening. Cut it out, or you'll get one. With me."

"Why, Ranma dear! Are you challenging me to a match?"

"That's not what I...."

"That's all right, Ranma. What with college, marriage, and child-raising, you haven't had any time to train, have you? I can understand perfectly if you're out of condition."

"I am not out of...." Ranma heaved an irritated sigh. "All right, you're on. Meet me in the dojo in ten minutes."

It was so easy to push Ranma's buttons, Ryoga thought. If it had been him... he had to admit it probably would've been just as easy.

"Very well. And the loser shall owe the winner a long, passionate kiss?" Kodachi laughed, grinning impishly. "No? Oh well. Can't blame me for trying!"

Unnoticed by most, Kasumi stepped out of the room.


Heat a little oil in a frying pan on high. Add the food and fry until brown. Add several spoonfuls of water and cook for five minutes or until the water has boiled away.

Akane wondered when cooking had gotten so complicated. Humanity, presumably, had been doing it since the days when they had lived in caves. For modern people, capable of mastering differential geometry and quantum mechanics, a little thing like the proper preparation of food should be easy.

Heat oil in pan. Check. Of course, to check whether it was hot, she would need to touch it, and probably burn herself; so she'd just have to assume it was ready.

She picked up one of the dumplings from the counter top, and gently dropped it onto the frypan. It hissed and sizzled, like the desperate cry of one who was about to die. Sorry, Mr. Dumpling! You're being tortured to death because a roomful of martial artists need a little midnight snack. Nothing personal! She chuckled a bit as she dropped five more dumplings onto the pan, then winced. She had to be pretty tired to find that funny.

"Mmmm, smells delicious!"

She spun around, startled by the voice. "Oh. Kasumi!"

"Hi, Akane. What are you cooking?"

"Gyoza dumplings. I figured we could all use a little something to eat while we're waiting for Shan Pu. Wanna try some when they're ready?" Akane turned back to the stove. "Ack!" The first of her dumplings was turning black on the bottom. It was embarrassing to make such a mistake; she'd wanted to show Kasumi how much she had learned.

Kasumi took a spatula from the wall rack, handing it to her sister. "Oh, I've cooked these before. You need to keep moving them around on the pan so they don't burn."

"Right." The burnt dumpling was by now stuck to the pan; Akane pried it away with the spatula. Why did things have to go wrong every time she tried to cook? She was hopeless; that's all there was to it.

Reaching over Akane's arm, Kasumi took the burnt dumpling from the spatula. She sniffed at it, then bit into it and chewed. She smiled at Akane, giggling slightly.

"What's funny?" Akane didn't know whether or not to be angry. Kasumi wouldn't make fun of her, would she?

"Oh, Akane, I was just thinking about what your cooking used to be like. Remember? If you had tried this back when you were in high school, these gyoza would've been hard as rocks. Look how much better you've gotten!"

"You like it?"

"Oh, yes!" She took another bite. "It's just fine. The only change you might want to make is to add a few more spices to the filling inside."

"I'm so glad you like it!" For a moment, Akane beamed with pure joy. Then she turned back to the stove. The other dumplings had turned black on the bottom. "Aaaaaargh!"

"Oh my, I'm sorry." Kasumi lowered her head in embarrassment. "I've been distracting you."

Akane turned off the burner. "That's okay. I'll feed these to P-chan, or maybe Mr. Saotome." She pushed the pan onto the back burner, and leaned against the counter top. "So tell me what you've been doing the past few years! You must have learned some incredible things."

"Yes, I have." Kasumi's look suddenly became more distant, as if she were staring off at something. "I want to tell you everything, Akane. Someday when there's more time, all right?"


Kasumi's normal cheerful expression returned. "Anyway, I bet you've learned a lot yourself. You and Ranma are running the dojo now. Father must be so proud!"

"Yeah, Ranma's been training me." Akane hopped down and stepped over to the sink. "Let me show you something. It's a secret, so don't tell anyone."

Kasumi nodded, watching with wide-eyed fascination.

Akane twisted the faucet slightly, and a tiny stream of water trickled down. Her hands stretched forward, palms outward, facing the water.

She thought about the fights she'd won in the past few years, the battle techniques she'd learned. In her mind, she tapped into the small but growing confidence that she was feeling as a martial artist, and pushed the feeling forward, through her arms and out of her hands. It emerged as a tiny burst of air, rippling through the water with a barely-perceptible splash before dissipating.

"Akane!" Kasumi gaped with awe. "Was that a ki attack?"

"Uh huh!" Akane smiled proudly. "It's called the Moko Takabisha. Ranma taught it to me." True, it wasn't much of a ki blast when she did it; the amount of power she generated was far too small to be of any use in battle. But no matter how ridiculously small a thing it was, it was hers. It was a kind of magic, and she was the one who could make it happen.

"That's wonderful. I'm so proud of you!" Kasumi stepped forward, and the two sisters hugged each other.

Except for Ranma, Kasumi was probably the only person Akane would've trusted to see what she'd just seen. Most anyone else would've laughed at the world's smallest, most useless ki attack.

"Oh my! Akane, I almost forgot to tell you about Kodachi and Ranma!"

"Kodachi and--" Akane felt her temper rising instinctively. What had Ranma done now?


Ranma and Kodachi took positions at opposite ends of the practice hall. The onlookers lined up against the walls.

"Ready?" Tendo Soun asked. He stood between the two combatants, with an arm raised high.

"Yeah, sure," Ranma said. "Let's get this over with quick."

"As you wish, Ranma-sama." Kodachi laughed as her ribbon twirled lazily.

"Oooh!" Shiratori Azusa stepped forward excitedly. "That ribbon is so cute! Dominique! Dominique!"

Mu Si stopped her with a hand on the shoulder, speaking in a gentle but firm voice. "Azusa, that ribbon is Kodachi's. You can't have it."

"Giving my ribbon a name as if it were... alive." Kodachi smirked. "How amusing. Let us get on with this, shall we?"

"Ready?" Soun repeated. Ranma and Kodachi nodded. Soun lowered his arm. "Then begin!"

Ranma waited casually, arms at his side. Though he generally didn't like fighting women, he was going to enjoy this. Kodachi had evidently learned a few new moves, and now thought she was hot stuff because she could beat her idiot brother. It was time for someone to take her down a peg, and he was just the guy to do it.

Kodachi stood her ground, tracing out complicated patterns in the air with her ribbon. "You know, Ranma-sama, this really isn't going to work unless one of us attacks the other," she said, her tone mocking.

"Good idea." Ranma beckoned her toward him with a finger. He wasn't going to play by her rules. "And stop calling me that."

"Very well, dearest." Gliding across the floor, Kodachi grinned gleefully as she thrust her ribbon forward. With a fraction of a second to spare, Ranma jumped upward. Moving faster than the eye could see, he landed behind her.

"Looks like you missed!" Ranma tapped Kodachi on the shoulder -- or rather, tried to. For some reason, he couldn't lift his right arm. Or his left.

She casually swung around to face him. "Oh?"

Ranma looked down. Wrapped tightly around the entire lower half of his body, Kodachi's ribbon pinned his arms and legs. Except for his head, he looked like a mummy. He exerted all his strength, but the ribbon didn't budge at all. It was like pushing against solid steel; not even Ryoga had ever gripped him so tightly.

"Mmmmm. I win." Slipping an arm behind his back, she brought his face toward hers. The others in the room gaped with stunned surprise. "Now it's time for my reward, Ranma-sama."

Oh shit. Ranma desperately stretched his neck, trying to pull his head back. Kodachi's face inched in close to his, near enough that he could feel her hot breath. Her lips drew inexorably nearer with every second, a predator about to swoop in for the kill. Oh shit, she's gonna.... He had to get away. He struggled frantically to escape, but with all of his strength, he could only manage to pull back a few inches.

The door flew open. Akane stormed into the dojo. "What's going on here?!" Her face twisted with rage as she saw Ranma.

"Akane, I--"

"What are you doing?" she yelled furiously. Ranma couldn't tell whether the question was directed at him or at Kodachi.

"Hm? Just a little fun." Kodachi tugged on her ribbon, and it quickly unrolled, like the string of a yo-yo. Ranma watched the room spin rapidly around him, then felt the wind knocked out of him as his chest slammed into the ground.

"Ranma is my husband! Do you understand that?"

"Of course I do." Kodachi remained completely blase despite the angry woman screaming into her face. "I meant nothing by my actions, my dear. You mustn't take things so seriously."

Ranma spoke before Akane had a chance to explode. "Kodachi." He rose to his feet, fighting the dizziness that made the room seem to spin. "You ain't comin' on the trip."

"Oh?" She raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"

"Because I can't trust you, that's why. You think I'm gonna just forget all those times you drugged me?"

"That?" She chuckled. "Dear Ranma, we were different people back then. I had my... problems, but with the right help, I've worked them out."

"Ranma," Mu Si said, "what gives you the right to decide who comes on the trip and who doesn't?"

"Ke Lun put me in charge, that's what. She said so, right before she kick-- before she, um, passed away."

"Well, I say we should vote on it."

Tsubasa beamed an adoring smile at Kodachi. "If I get a vote, I say she should come."

"And I say she shouldn't." Akane folded her arms under her chest. "I think she's just shown very clearly how much we can trust her."

"I don't know about Kodachi, but I trust Akane's judgement," Ryoga said. "I'll go along with her."

"I'm not going, so I suppose I don't get a vote," Ukyo said. "Same goes for the Golden Pair here."

"And I vote for her to go with us." Mu Si slipped his glasses on as everyone looked at him. "Sorry, Akane, but it's my homeland that's being threatened. If she's good enough to beat Ranma, then we need her kind of power on our side."

Thanks for rubbing it in, Ranma thought. Jerk.

"I have likewise come to think of the Amazon village as home," Tatewaki said. "But I must nevertheless disagree. Though it pains me to say so, I feel my sister would do more harm than good to our efforts."

All eyes turned to Kasumi. "Me? Well, I think we should give Kodachi a chance. She said that she was only teasing you, Ranma. Why shouldn't we believe her?"

"Three and three." Ranma looked around the room. "Where the heck's Gosunkugi? I coulda sworn he was here a minute ago."

"It appears the deciding vote is yours, Ranma-sama," Kodachi said, still as unperturbed as ever. "Very well, if you wish me to stay in Nerima, I shall. Perhaps I'll even look in on your two lovely children from time to time."

Ranma felt his anger rise at the implication. There was nothing that pissed him off worse than people threatening his kids -- if that was what she meant. But if it was, how could he go to China and leave Kodachi here with them?

Mu Si had a point, too. If they didn't bring Kodachi along, would it screw their chances of winning the fight? Or of even coming out of it alive? On the other hand, Kuno could be right. Damn. Ranma didn't know what to do. And Ke Lun had called him a natural leader? What a joke.

His gaze scanned over Kodachi, searching for something, anything to tell him what her game was. True, she had beaten him this time. But did she get good through years of training and practice, the way he had? Not likely. She was using a gimmick. And gimmicks could be beaten, once you figured them out.

"All right, Kodachi. You win."

"Why, Ranma-sama!" She grinned, speaking in a voice that was all but musical. "So you trust me after all?"

"I ain't letting you come 'cause I trust you." He looked her in the eyes with as much force as he could manage. "I'm letting you come so I can keep an eye on you."


The Council Chamber was almost disappointing. Ti Pi had expected it to be full of arcane objects, or at least antiques; instead, a simple wooden table occupied most of the room, with wooden chairs all around it. Still, and despite her great tiredness, excitement bubbled within her. To gain entrance to the Council Chambers had always been her dream. It took all of her self-control to keep gazing at the Elders instead of taking in the room, memorizing every little detail of the place.

"The agent will now give her report."

"Yes, Elder." Ti Pi bristled inwardly a bit at being addressed in such an impersonal manner. As her teacher, Elder Lan had always been warm and friendly towards her. But such was the way of Elders. "Upon arrival, I managed to blend in with the locals with no difficulty. Simply listening to their conversations told me much of what I needed to know. The rest I learned once I had met up with a small resistance group working against the Mongol forces."

"I hope the group learned nothing of your origins," said Elder Bi, a short, somewhat heavy-set woman. Her face held an expression of vague disapproval, the only one she ever seemed to use. "Such groups are often infiltrated by their enemies, and if word got to the regime that an Amazon was working against them, it could provoke reprisals against us." She was actually Ti Pi's great aunt, something which the young Amazon was less than happy about. It seemed that every time Bi spoke to her, it was to criticize for something.

"I did not tell them that I was an Amazon, Elder. They were happy enough to have my help, and didn't ask many questions."

"I hardly think it matters, given the circumstances," Lan said, addressing Bi. "The message I received from the Mongol leader was quite clear. Our village would join his nation. He asked that we do so voluntarily, but there was little doubt that he was not offering us an option to refuse."

"How did the Mongols take Yinchuan?" Elder Kui asked Ti Pi. "Did you learn anything about that?" She was the village's foremost weapons expert; Ti Pi had studied under her some years ago.

"They showed up right after a bomb had exploded in one of the central temples. At first they claimed to be Chinese soldiers, sent from Beijing in order to protect against a 'terrorist conspiracy.' The bombing had frightened people enough that they welcomed them with open arms. Enough that they didn't object when all telephone and mail communication was shut down. Nor did they object when the soldiers began taking selected people into custody for 'questioning.'"

Ti Pi shuddered at the thought of an entire community subjugated so easily -- before they had even known that it was happening. At least the Amazons had had some sort of advance warning.

She drew a breath, then continued. "It wasn't until later that the local government announced the region's 'secession' from the PRC. 'It is the will of the people that cannot be denied,' they said. Not long after, they announced that they would be allying with the new Mongol nation. As for the people, while they had no great love for the PRC, they wanted to know who was now in charge and why they should trust them. They also knew that there would be reprisals from Beijing."

"And were there?" Lan asked.

"Not in that area. The new regime reportedly clashed with the PRC in the east. Amazingly, they held their ground. Meanwhile, they began a campaign to 'root out spies.' Citizens were told to report anyone who acted suspiciously -- defined as asking too many of the wrong questions. Naturally, this drove most of the opposition underground, and those who were openly uncooperative just disappeared."

"Do you have any information on where the new regime came from?" Kui asked. "Where they got their armies, and their hardware?"

"Their leader is usually referred to as the General. Reportedly, he came to power in Mongolia in a coup. Some call him Khaan. He's reputed to be a man of great personal power. Curiously, though, some people claim that they've seen the General and that he's actually a woman."

Lan's eyes narrowed at that last statement. For a moment, she seemed about to say something; when she didn't, Ti Pi continued, wondering what the Elder was keeping from her.

"From what I was told, many of the General's armies are mercenaries from other countries. Others were soldiers in the Chinese army until they defected for whatever reason. Still more were local people who joined up when the new regime took power in parts of China. As for where their weapons and other equipment comes from, I was unable to find out. Nor did I learn anything about any plans they have concerning our village. If they are planning any... expansions, the local opposition group is unaware of it."

"Perhaps they are not," Lan said. "But in case they are, we need to be prepared for the worst."

"The worst?" Kui leaned forward. "You have no idea. The Outside has weapons that could instantly reduce this entire village to rubble. How could we possibly defend against that?"

Ti Pi kept quiet, hoping the Elders would forget that she was there and carry on as usual. All her life she had watched the Elders go into the mysterious Council Chamber, and come out with the answer to whatever problem the village had been facing. Now that she was finally in the Council Chamber, she wanted to see exactly what they did.

"We can't," Lan answered. "But it seems unlikely that they would simply destroy us. If they attack us, it must be because they want something that we have."

"True enough. But what if they conclude that whatever it is they want is beyond their reach? Might they not then decide to wipe us out, as an object lesson to anyone else who might decide to resist them?"

Another Elder spoke up. "Can we be sure that they plan to attack us at all? Perhaps we are making some unfounded assumptions in this."

"Their communication to us left little doubt," Kui said. "The Amazons will become part of the new Mongol nation -- one way or another. I do not believe this General is the type of person who would bluff about a thing like that."

"What would you suggest we do?" Lan asked.

"I suggest that we accept their invitation. Join them voluntarily -- but on our own terms. By negotiating with them, we can retain some measure of control over our own village. If nothing else, at least it will keep our sisters alive."

"That is out of the question!" Bi spat. "Amazon law does not allow us to submit to outside control. Even if it is to the last woman, we must stand and fight! We must!"

"We submitted to the PRC for... how many years now?"

"We did not submit to the PRC," Bi retorted sharply. "We allowed them to claim official ownership of this region. On paper. It was always understood that we would retain our right of self-determination, and always Ke Lun stood ready to deal with any of their bureaucrats who would dare attempt to violate our rights."

Ti Pi felt herself cheering inside for her great aunt. That certainly didn't happen often. On the other hand, she could see Kui's point, and it scared her. She had pride in her people, but she didn't want to die for a point of principle.

"In this case, I must agree with Bi Dei," Lan said. "To surrender our freedom, our independence, is to accept defeat before we begin. As long as I am Chief Elder, I will not allow it." She turned toward Kui. "You, of course, may make your case to the sisterhood at large, and as is the custom, I shall step down if that is their wish. But I do not expect you to find much support for your position. Now, let us discuss how — not whether — we plan to fight back."

Kui lowered her head slightly, and an awkward silence fell over the room. One by one, each Elder's stare turned toward Ti Pi.

"Are there any further questions for the agent?" Bi asked. "If not, then perhaps she should be excused."

No one answered, so Ti Pi stood. "Thank you, Elders." She stepped to the exit, a little self-conscious because of all the eyes watching her. The cloud of exhaustion that hovered over her returned in full force. Sleep. Sleep was what she needed.


"Oh, don't feel bad, Ranma-sama!" Kodachi said. "Everyone has to lose sometime!"

Ranma grumbled slightly as he walked past her to sit down next to Akane.

Mu Si put his hand to his chin, trying to look thoughtful, so no one would see the smile on his face. Though the two of them weren't vying for Shan Pu's affections any longer, he still didn't like Ranma's attitude. Ranma seemed to think that he had a right to have beautiful women at his beck and call — even when he treated them like dirt. Women like Shan Pu and Kodachi deserved better than that. So did Akane — but she, at least, didn't seem to put up with him making an ass of himself.

It had been outrageous of Ranma to try to keep Kodachi from going to China. The team could've lost a good fighter -- possibly its strongest member -- all because she was better than he was. All because she had given him a well-deserved and long overdue kick in the ego.

Mu Si turned around. Kuonji Ukyo, another of Ranma's would-be brides, was speaking with Azusa and her old skating partner, Sanzenin Mikado. The former held a small metal spatula. "Rhonda! Rhonda!"

"That belongs to Ukyo here, doesn't it?" Mu Si said. "Did you ask her if it was okay for you to take it?"

"That's all right, sugar." A smile lit up Ukyo's face, making her look twice as pretty as she had the moment before. "She can have that one. I've got a ton of those things."

Suddenly, Akane shouted, "Shan Pu! Look, everybody! Shan Pu's here!" The others turned and shouted enthusiastic greetings.

Kuno Tatewaki moved over and bowed. "Fair Shan Pu, our fighting force is assembled in your hour of direst need."

Mu Si felt as if his dinner were about to come up. How phony could you get? And yet Shan Pu's eyes sparkled as she looked back at the kendoist. He was laying it on thick, and she was eating it up.

Tatewaki turned to face the others. "Warriors, for the young lady and her people, stand we united?" Arms rose in unison along with bokken, clubs, and spatula, as shouts of "Yes!" resounded through the house. Mu Si joined in, feeling some of the elation of the moment. Though Tatewaki was as much the arrogant blowhard as Ranma, it was still inspiring to know that a group like this one could put aside their differences to help people — his people.

Ranma bounded across the room to Shan Pu. Mu Si quietly slipped out of the room, deciding that it would be a good time to relieve himself. He remembered an old song he'd heard on the radio. I don't want to spoil the party, so I'll go. Ha.

Boisterous shouts echoed from outside, muffled by the walls. The bathroom was quiet. I could stay in here, he thought as he quickly washed his hands and dried them with someone's towel. I don't have to go out there at all.

Mentally slapping himself for being so foolish, he opened the door and stepped out. Why should he have to avoid Shan Pu? The past was past, but they were both there for the same reason. Anyway, she probably wouldn't bother to talk to him.

"Hello, Mu Si."

He gaped, momentarily forgetting how to speak. Shan Pu stood just outside the lavatory. She wore an old style silk dress colored deep crimson; reflected light cascaded off it in an outline that highlighted her perfect figure.

"How are you?" she asked.

"I-- I'm fine." What should he have answered? Fine, now that I've met someone else! Now that I don't have you kicking me out into the cold! Are you proud of that? "Um, how about you?"

"Okay, except worry about what going to happen to sisters. Thank you for go back to help, Mu Si."

He flashed an embarrassed smile. "I, uh, well, it's my homeland, too. I mean, I grew up there."

"Er... Mu Si...." She stared up at him, with a wide-eyed, smiling expression that said she was waiting for him to do something.

"Um... yes?" He stared back into her eyes. What was she trying to say? I stupid fool for rejecting you! When I go back China, I realize how crazy mad about you I really is! Oh, xiao Mu, make love to me now!

She motioned with her head slightly. "I need use bathroom."

"Oh." He glanced back at the door. "Oh!" Abruptly, he stepped aside. Smiling politely at him, she walked past. He stole a glance at her before the door closed. Her dress, slit at the knees, stretched slightly as she walked, offering tantalizing glimpses of leg. Those legs... how many times had he imagined them entwined with his in a frenzy of love-making?

Mu Si drifted back into the living room. He'd thought that he was over her, he really had. But at that moment, he knew that he would never truly be over Shan Pu.


Elder Kui stepped out of the Council Hall. It was pitch dark, save for a deathly pale glow cast by the moon.

She had tried. She really had. But they refused to listen. All they could do was blather on about Amazon law and tradition — as if that meant anything in the current situation. None of them understood. On the outside, they had weapons that could obliterate entire cities from thousands of kilometers away. Next to that, the swords and crossbows of the Amazons were as childs' toys. Even the much-vaunted Dragon's Heaven Blast would be useless — if anyone left even knew how to use it.

Arriving at her home, she went to the bedroom. She found the papers in the closet behind her clothes, where she had hidden them that morning. For several minutes, she stared at her handwriting on the pages, just wishing that there were another way. But there wasn't.

Rolling the papers together, she moved over to the wire cage that rested atop the bedroom table and opened the door. The small, white bird still sat inside, nibbling away at some seeds. The bird squawked slightly as she affixed the pages to it -- the pages that would insure that Kui Ziling's name would go down in Amazon history as the great betrayer.

But this way, at least, there would be an Amazon history.

She slid the bedroom window open. The bird flew into the air, and out of sight. The window slammed shut. Kui lay on the bed and tried to sleep.


The gathering at the Tendo dojo kept going strong until three o'clock AM, at which time it died out quickly. The guests -- except for those who were staying the night -- left, agreeing that everyone would meet tomorrow, nine-thirty in the morning, at the train station. By the time Akane had shown Kasumi and Shan Pu to their respective guest rooms, and Ryoga to Hikaru's room (laying out a trail of towels so he would be able to find his way to and from the bathroom), and straightened up in the living room, it was already quarter to four.

In the bathroom, she quickly undressed, then slowly creeped open the bedroom door. Not turning on the light, she silently slipped onto the futon to lay next to Ranma. She wanted to wake him up and make love to him; it would be the last chance they'd have to be alone together for who knew how long. But it was better to let him sleep, while he could. In only a few hours, it would be seven-thirty, and they'd have to get up to pick up the kids at Mrs. Komori's place. No, better just to try to get as much sleep as she could manage.



"Do you think the kids'll be all right with Mom?"

"I-- Sure I do, Ranma. Don't you?"

Dumb question. It was easy to forget that Nodoka was the same mother who had planned to make her son commit seppuku if he didn't measure up to her rather strange ideas about manliness.

She rested her head against his chest. "It'll be all right, Ranma. It was your father's fault for making that stupid pledge, and nothing like that would ever happen with Hikaru and Ririko. Besides, they've got Dad to help look after them, and Ukyo too."

"Akane, I like Ukyo, really I do. But sometimes it seems like she's a few cups of flour short of an okonomiyaki. Know what I mean? Just calling her 'cute' was enough to make her go from wanting to kick my butt to wanting me to marry her."

"Look... I worry about it too. But sometimes you just have to trust people. I'm not staying behind to watch the kids, if that's what you're getting at. That's out of the question. I may not be the greatest martial artist in the world, but I'm part of the team."

"I wasn't gonna say that you should stay home." Ranma sounded slightly peeved. But what else could they do? He had to know that it was impossible for them to take the kids along on the trip. So....

"Ranma...." Akane moved a little closer to Ranma, searching for the right way to say what she wanted to say. "When Kodachi had you tied up, was it... bad for you?"

"No way! I'll beat that chick. Just you watch! I just gotta figure out a way to beat whatever trick she's using."

"Right, whatever," Akane grumbled, rolling over to lie flat on her back. Why did he have to act like such a jerk? She was trying to help him, and all he could do is this stupid macho posturing. And what would happen to the kids while she and he were in China? Now he had her worrying.

"I can't believe Mu Si bought into her 'I'm a changed person' crap. I ain't fooled."

"Couldn't she be telling the truth? We don't know what she was doing all those years. Maybe she went through psychotherapy."

"Akane, some people in this world act crazy because they can't help it. Other people act crazy because they don't give a damn, and they can get away with it. Which one do you think Kodachi is?"

"I-- I don't know." She wanted to believe that Kodachi was telling the truth. Maybe it was because the thought of crazy old Kodachi becoming more powerful than Ranma was so frightening. "I think we should get some sleep now, OK? We have to get up early tomorrow."

Maybe Kodachi wasn't using a trick. Maybe she had spent the past seven years doing nothing but training. Ranma hadn't. Not with the intensity he had in high school, anyway. What if while he had been taking college courses and starting a family, she had been learning martial arts techniques from someone as good as Ke Lun?

Was that what it took to be the best? Total dedication to the art, with no hobbies or children or any other of those little things that got in the way of training? It was a depressing thought — because it had the ring of truth. Would Ranma want that kind of life? Maybe. Maybe not, but he might accept it if there were no other way to be number one. And what would happen when he grew old? Would he become like Happosai, doing so many terrible things just to get a little attention?

Akane didn't want that kind of life. Maybe she was lazy and undedicated, but she liked having the pleasures that a family could bring. She liked spending time with friends. Without those kinds of joys, life would be pretty pointless, art or no art. If that meant she couldn't be the world's champion fighter, then so be it.

On the other hand, total dedication and sacrifice for the sake of the art didn't sound much like Kodachi, either. Okay, so if she was using a trick, what was it? It couldn't just be a matter of strength. The way she had held her ribbon, it shouldn't have been able to immobilize Ranma no matter how powerful a grip she had.

"Maybe her ribbon had a contact poison on it?" Akane said out loud. "Some drug that takes away your muscle power."

"That could be. I never thought'a that." Ranma paused thoughtfully. "Then again, it didn't feel like a drug, and I don't think one woulda wore off that quick. I think she was using ki power. Y'know, focusing her own energy through the ribbon to make it grip harder."

A ki power. Kodachi had been training in serious martial arts for how long? The last few years? And she already had an attack that could make Ranma helpless. Akane had been training in Anything Goes since she was a child, and she could barely generate enough ki to make a tiny ripple in the kitchen faucet water.

She pushed her head into the pillow, hoping that sleep would take her, knowing that it would be a very long time before she would be able to make her own magic come.



Sanzenin Mikado strolled steadily down the sidewalk. His head felt a little fuzzy — the unmistakable sign that he'd had too much sake the previous evening -- but the feeling was not severe enough to be uncomfortable.

He'd allowed himself to be distracted the night before. The fine drink, everything else going on made him neglect the reason he had come. That wouldn't happen today. This was his last chance to obtain his just revenge against Kuonji Ukyo before her friends left for China.

Though Mikado didn't consider himself a vengeful person, there were certain things that he just couldn't allow to go unpunished. Maliciously damaging a skating rink was one. The other was what Kuonji had done to him. Though it had happened more than six years ago, the memory still burned in his mind as if it had been just yesterday.

Some might have called him hypocritical. A man who had kissed thousands of women objecting to the kiss of just one? But of all the recipients of Mikado's touch, not one had there been for whom he had not felt a genuine affection. The Kuonji woman, on the other hand, obviously cared nothing for him. Otherwise why would she have refused his kiss for so long? No, she had merely used him as a tool to impress her friends, to save face.

It was a far worse offense than doing harm to an ice rink. Mikado's lifelong mission was to find that one woman who he knew existed somewhere, whose kiss would give him that instant of magical ecstasy. Kuonji had cheapened that sacred quest by using Mikado for her own selfish purposes.

Now, finally, with enough of her friends present, he could carry out his revenge. And he would make sure that the punishment would fit the crime.


Mu Si stepped out of the back door to the skating rink. He hoped Azusa would be all right while he was gone. Her father was still in prison for tax evasion and other financial improprieties that Mu Si knew little about. Fortunately, Mikado, her old skating partner, had promised to keep an eye on her. Though she was much better now about not taking things without permission, there was still no telling what trouble she might get into on her own.

The bike rack stood at the side of the building. Mu Si crossed to the far side, where he had left his bicycle locked up. That particular space was empty. He slipped his glasses into place, and scanned anxiously up and down all the racks. His wasn't there.

"Damn it!" How could this happen to him? Here he was, ready to defend his village from well-armed killers, and now he'd been stymied by a simple thief? He should have gotten a heavy key lock instead of the combination one he used. But he had tried that before, and found that it took forever to pull the correct key from his robes.

Water. He would have to splash himself so that he could fly to the train station. There was no other way to get there on time.

"This is unsuitable for a man of your stature, you know."

The voice spoke in Chinese. Mu Si jerked around, startled. "Who-- who are you?" In the shadow of the building, a woman sat atop his bicycle. She wore a black sweater that matched perfectly the color of her long hair. A scarf was wrapped around her head, and dark sunglasses covered her eyes, making her face unrecognizable.

"A man like you ought to command armies. You ought to be chauffeured, not reduced to riding around on a second-hand bicycle."

Mu Si sighed. The woman was obviously insane. "Excuse me, ma'am, but that appears to be my bicycle that you're sitting on. I need you to move, please. I have a plane to catch."

"Yes, I know. You're going to try to defend the Amazon village. Such a noble quest. Pity it's doomed to failure."

How did she know that? Obviously, this woman was more than she had seemed.

"I'm an Amazon myself," she said, as if in answer to his unspoken query. "Or was. I left after I was denied membership on the Council of Elders. Your Chief Elder will remember me. Ask her about Zhen Biaozi."

"Of course you were turned down. You're too young!" While Mu Si couldn't see her eyes, the skin around her hands and mouth had no wrinkles at all. Her body was well-proportioned -- busty and muscular. Healthy black hair peeked out from under her scarf. Unless it was an incredibly good disguise, there was no way she was an Elder. "Look, I'm trying to be reasonable here. But if you don't move, I'll... I'll have to move you." He tensed, preparing for battle. He didn't like fighting women, but this one was probably going to force the issue.

"Oh, go for your hidden weapons if you wish to embarrass yourself," she said confidently.

"My weapons? How did you know about--"

"I know all about you, Mu Si. I know about your techniques, and exactly what they and you are capable of. I wouldn't be facing you like this if I weren't able to counter anything you might try against me."

"We don't have to fight. Just give me back my bicycle and I'll be going." She was probably bluffing, but there was no point in putting her to the test if he didn't have to.

Resting her elbows on the handlebars, she stared up at him expectantly. He considered for a moment, and then reached down with both hands, preparing to grip one of the tires in each.

Zhen Biaozi casually reached over with a finger, and, with lightning speed, poked Mu Si in the chest. Abruptly, his arms and legs went limp. He could feel nothing below his neck. His body refused to leave its hunched position, making him feel like a side of beef in a meat locker.

"A very elementary pressure point technique. Oh dear, it seems as though you'll be missing your plane!"

Mu Si twisted his neck up, and managed to look the woman in the eyes.

"Perhaps you might take a lesson from this," she said. "I don't tolerate any nonsense. If you try to get clever with me, you will suffer. On the other hand, if you are properly... cooperative... you will be rewarded." Her finger jabbed at Mu Si, who toppled over from the force of the strike, landing face-up on the sidewalk.

Mu Si tried to move and found himself back to normal. He staggered cautiously off the ground and stood.

"Now then. The trip you and your friends are about to undertake is a wasted effort." She hopped off the bicycle seat onto the ground, holding the frame with one hand. "The Amazon village will fall. Nothing your tiny band of would-be heroes can do will change that. The days of the Council of Elders are numbered."

"Oh? We'll see about that."

She continued, as if he hadn't spoken. "Yes, your group will fail. But you need not. I'm offering you a chance to join the winning side."

"You want me to betray my people?" He smiled. "I guess you don't know me all that well after all."

"Such a noble, loyal warrior." She laughed. "Tell me, Mu Si, what have your people ever done for you?"


"Since your birth, the Amazons have treated you as second-class simply because of your gender. Despite your mastery of techniques that very few have ever been able to learn, you are still afforded very little respect. You have been continually denied the one thing which you want most. You deserve better."

Yeah, right, Mu Si thought. And I'm going to get it from you? Not likely. She was going to take advantage of him for as long as he was useful, and then discard him. Though he was far from an expert on human nature, some things were just too obvious.

"I can give you Shan Pu."

"Wh-- what?"

She inched her face closer; his own visage, close up, gazed back at him from the lenses of her sunglasses. "I can see that you still want her. Deep inside, you still yearn to hold her, be with her, make love to her. I can make it happen. Serve me, and she is yours."

It was an obvious lie. Why couldn't he make himself not believe it? And even if it were true, it was wrong. But the image of her, of him and her together, danced around his mind, refusing to leave his consciousness. Shan Pu was all he ever wanted, and he would do anything to get her. How many times had he told himself that?

Zhen Biaozi rolled the bicycle forward, passing it to Mu Si. "Your answer?"


Ukyo strolled into the train station. Her shoes padded noiselessly on the tile floor as she slipped around clusters of people. A cacophony of conversations filled the air, along with the dull mechanical thumps of ticket-dispensing machines. She wondered when they'd switched away from human clerks.

She stole a quick glance at the clock on the wall as she passed; it was nine twenty-three. She could see Ranma and the others off, then be back at her restaurant by ten to set up for the lunch customers. Someday, she was going to get on one of these trains and go; ride to somewhere, anywhere, just because she could. But for now, she had to go back to the same place that she saw every day, look at the same four walls and make the same food, because it was the only way to keep Ucchan's Okonomiyaki out of bankruptcy.

Ukyo wasn't quite sure why she had come. Maybe after spending so many years alone, she needed to know that there were people in the world who thought of her as more than just someone to buy food from, to be connected to someone else in a way that was more than just restaurateur to customer. Or maybe she was just tired of bridges burning behind her.

Following the signs to the airport train's boarding area, she turned a corner and spotted the familiar bright red of Ranma's shirt. Just about everyone from last night was there, sitting on long, narrow benches of unfinished wood.

Ranma waved. "Hey, Ucchan!"

"Hi!" Ukyo smiled cheerfully as she seated herself at the edge of the bench. "Just stopped by to see y'all off. Everybody here?"

"Everybody except Dr. Tofu and Mu Si." Akane glanced down at her watch. "They'd better hurry." She wore a faded pair of jeans and a red Ikasama University T-shirt. The smile she gave Ukyo was cautious, but not hostile. "Oh, and in case you're looking for Mikado, he just went to the bathroom. He said he'd be right back."

"Oh. Thanks." Everybody seemed to think that Ukyo and Mikado were an item, ever since the time she had told Nabiki that they were dating. She wished everybody would just forget the whole thing. Maybe changing the subject would help. "So, listen... y'all take care on this trip, okay? I want everybody back here for the big welcome home party that I'm gonna throw."

"Hey, no problem, Ucchan. Just make sure you got plenty of food for the bottomless panda over there." Ranma's expression was nothing but friendly towards Ukyo. It was ridiculous to think that he would hold a grudge against anyone. The day he'd do that, pigs would fly.

"I've never been on a plane before," Ryoga said. "I hope nothing goes wrong."

Ranma smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry about it, man. Statistically speaking, air travel is safer than land vehicles."

"Really?" Ukyo was surprised that Ranma was so well-read on the subject.

"Yeah," Ranma said. "At least, that's what Akane said yesterday."

"Such confidence, boy." Genma chuckled. "I'll be sure to have enough airsick bags on hand for both of you."

"Goodness! You're coming on the trip with us, Mr. Saotome?"

"That's right, Kasumi." Genma beamed a self-satisfied smile. "I figure you young folks can benefit by having someone along who's wiser and more experienced."

"Good idea, Pop." Ranma punched him lightly in the shoulder. "Do you know anyone like that?"

Genma gave a look of mild disapproval. "Humor isn't your strong point, boy."

Ranma seemed about to reply; then he looked past Genma, and waved. "Hey, Dr. Tofu's here! Over here, Doc!"

"Hello, Ranma!" Tofu walked up to the others. His face looked a little worn, but still had the same genial smile that it had so many years ago. "Mr. Saotome. Akane. Mr. Tendo. Ka--" He froze in place, shaking slightly as a haze covered his glasses. "Ka-- Ka-- Ka--"

"Oh dear. I'd better reduce my aura!" Kasumi closed her eyes and bowed her head for a moment, then looked up again.

"Ka-- Kasumi." Tofu's glasses quickly cleared. He reached over to shake Kasumi's hand. "Nice to see all of you again."

"Um...." Ukyo tried to think of something to say. "Oh my."

A pair of young children, one boy and one girl, scampered over to Ranma. "Hey, Dad!" the boy said, flashing a cheeky grin. "Where's the video game room?"

"There isn't one, li'l buddy."

"But when we were at home, you said you were taking coins so you could play Killer Kombat!"

"At the airport, kiddo. Not here." Ranma looked up. "Say hi to Ukyo. She's an old friend of your mom and me."

"Hi!" The boy smiled impishly and winked, as if Ukyo were his co-conspirator in some secret scheme. Then he turned back to his father. "Can we go to the airport?"

"Nope. You've gotta go home with Grandma Saotome and Grandpa Tendo."

Akane looked the boy in the face. "Hikaru, you need to be good when we're gone, and do what your grandpa and grandma tells you. Daddy and I will be back as soon as we can. Okay?"

"Sure! I'm always good!" From his parents' expressions, they obviously knew better.

The little girl came running over to Akane. "Mommy, I want a chocolate bar!"

"Not now, honey," Akane said. "When you get home, maybe Grandma will give you some candy. All right?"

"But I want a chocolate bar!" Her bottom lip curled into a pout. She looked so adorable, Ukyo could barely resist the urge to hug her.

"No, honey." Akane patted the girl's hand, smiling apologetically at Nodoka. "I hope they won't be too much trouble."

"Oh, not at all. They're such wonderful children. I'm honored to look after them for you."

The two children began to run around the bench, giggling uncontrollably. Ukyo watched with fascination. So much energy, so much... life. Wonderful was exactly what they were. And suddenly, a terrible sadness engulfed her, like a wave rolling over a swimmer and drowning her. Akane had Ranma. Akane had the children. Ukyo had... nothing.

"Hi, everybody." Mu Si waved. "Sorry I'm so late." He huffed and wheezed as he forced his words out, like a man who'd just run a marathon. Ukyo pushed the thoughts she'd just had out of her mind. What was feeling sorry for herself going to gain her?

"We were about to leave without you, man," Ranma said. "The airport train's gonna be here any minute. And where's your luggage?"

"Luggage?" Mu Si looked perplexed for a short moment, then shrugged as he turned to Mr. Tendo. "Sir, may I ask a favor of you? My bike is locked up outside. Would you mind taking it to your home and watching it while we're gone?"

Mr. Tendo nodded. "Certainly, son. Best not to take chances with bicycle thieves."

"My thoughts exactly." He pulled out a tiny note pad and scribbled on it, then tore off the page and handed it to Mr. Tendo. "Here's the combination for the lock."

"Excuse me, everyone."

The sudden interruption startled Ukyo. She turned to see Mikado standing directly behind her. All conversation stopped, and all heads looked up at him.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I'd like to wish all of you good luck and a safe trip. Also, while you're still here, Ukyo and I have an announcement that we'd like to make."

"We do?" Ukyo eyed Mikado suspiciously. "All right. For those who don't know, Mikado and I have been... dating."

Mikado flashed a smile that was as phony as a three-yen piece. "Don't be shy, my dear."

"Huh?" What was her 'boyfriend' trying to pull here?

"After all, your friends are going to have to learn of our engagement sometime."

"Our-- ?!?"

Congratulatory shouts and cheers filled the air. And Ukyo felt Mikado's lips on hers.


Ti Pi rose, stretching her arms behind her as she yawned. After a night's sleep, she felt clear and focused. Whatever the day might bring, she would be ready for it.

She quickly slipped into her favorite battle garb, a simple silk shirt and loose-fitting pants. Wearing her old familiar clothes made her feel like herself again. On the dresser, her dagger lay in its leather scabbard; she strapped it to her calf and pulled her pants leg over it. No telling when it might come in useful.

She checked the time; it was six-twenty. Because she had just returned from her mission, the Chief Elder had given her an extra hour this morning before she needed to be on guard duty. That left her forty minutes, to do what? Maybe take a short walk in the countryside. Maybe just relax and have some tea.

A whistling sound attracted Ti Pi's attention. She looked out the window, but saw nothing but the trees, their leaves shaking in the wind. The shrill noise grew louder. She poked her head out the window, trying to see what in the world it could be.

A deafening roar struck, like thunder but a hundred times louder. The building shook violently; the windowpane shattered into fragments. Ti Pi screamed, as an invisible hand tossed her helplessly across the room, a leaf in a storm. She crashed against the far wall, head first.

She staggered to her feet. For a moment the world seemed as if it would fade, as a black haze clawed at her consciousness. More of the same sounds erupted, these somewhat muffled by distance. The house shook again. Bits of wood and plaster fell from the ceiling. A few drops of blood trickled down from her head. She had to get to safety, but where was safe? And how could you fight an enemy who could strike at you without being seen, without even being near?

Outside. She had to get outside. That way she at least had a fighting chance of finding the attackers, or getting away. She ran through the house, and dove desperately through the door just as another blast exploded. Thrown off her feet, she felt the darkness threatening to engulf her, and she could hear screams from all around, and she grasped for something, anything, either inside or outside of herself, to hang onto. And she prayed for the goddesses to help her, to take her away, just make it stop, make it stop.

And as she looked up, she saw men dressed all in black, with face masks that looked like the snouts of pigs. Hundreds, thousands of them, swarming through the village like insects. And she could do nothing to resist as they dragged her across the ground. And the world faded, and the blackness swallowed everything.


Thanks once again to the esteemed HaM pre-reader team, Matt Posner, Keener Barnes, Yoiko, Lara Bartram, Ed Becerra, Krista Perry, and equally esteemed guest pre-reader for this chapter Thomas Schmidt. Thanks also to everyone who sent comments when this first appeared on the FFML and my webpage.

A few words of warning for those who haven't read this before and are contemplating reading on to part 2 and beyond: As you've almost surely guessed, this is not a happy-happy-joy-joyfic. While I wouldn't call it dark in an overall sense, it does have some pretty dark corners. At least one of the series regulars won't survive to the ending.

Also, though this story draws on some real world elements, it also uses Shinto sorcery, ki blasts, and curses -- and that's just for starters. This is not a "realistic" story by any means; if I wanted to write one of those, I probably wouldn't be using these characters.

If you're okay with the above, I hope you'll stick around, and I hope I'll hear from you.