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.

Kodachi reached in with a hand to test the water. Finding the temperature adequate, she stepped inside and slid the frosted glass door closed. Water gushed from the shower head, pouring over her body, caressing her in its delicious warmth.

And she laughed.

She laughed thinking of 'darling' Ranma, and the reaction she'd already provoked in him after only a day and a half. It was so delightful watching him attack her again and again, only to be defeated easily each time. Yet he always came back for one more chance, each time more eager and determined than the last, not unlike a compulsive gambler. And he was afraid of her. She could see it in his eyes. Every defeat made him fear her more, by demonstrating yet again how helpless he was against her. She could have her way with him at any time — whatever way she wished — and he would have no way of stopping her. None of them would.

Except for Tendo Kasumi. She alone had the necessary training and skill with which to discern Kodachi's secret. It was possible that she already knew. Perhaps her sweet and innocent demeanor was a facade — a mask from behind which she mocked Kodachi, secure in her ability to deal with anything the gymnast might attempt.

Or not. In any case, it might be worthwhile to do something to divert Kasumi's attention to elsewhere. But what? Kodachi would have to ruminate on that question.

A dull thump from outside attracted Kodachi's attention. Quickly spinning the water control to off position, she peered through frosted glass to locate the source of the noise. The bathroom door was now open, and something — or someone — which she couldn't make out had entered.

Kodachi's pulse quickened. For the first time since she had embarked on the journey, she was in danger. How very like her enemies, to attack when she was defenseless. Perhaps she could bluff whomever it was into leaving or not attacking. It was the best chance she had.

"It's bad manners to enter a room without knocking, you know," she said in her confident, semi-mocking voice. She pulled the largest of the white towels from the rack and wrapped it around her body.

Nothing answered her. She pushed the shower door open a crack, wide enough for her to see out.

"Oh, it's you." She let out a relieved breath. "Wait where you are until I am finished."

How sweet, she thought. The pets were lonely for their owner. She threw the towel back onto its rack, then rotated the dial to turn the water back on.

And she laughed, this time more loudly than before.


Akane's legs swung back and forth idly as she sat on the bed. She flipped open her pack for the fifth time and checked through it to make sure she hadn't forgotten something. If they left anything behind in the hotel room, there'd be no getting it back.

She wondered what Ranma was doing. Kasumi had phoned their room early in the morning to ask him to come and visit her, refusing to say why. It was probably nothing to be concerned about. If there was anyone he could be trusted with, it was her. Still, Akane couldn't stifle the curiosity that gnawed at her. What were they up to?

So, she thought. Here she was, in China for the second time. At least for this trip she had been able to come freely, instead of being kidnapped and then nearly killed. That had been a trip she would rather not have taken; though, on the bright side, being used to christen a new spring was preferable to being cursed by one of the existing springs. At least that hadn't happened to her... yet.

Ranma was excited about the chance to finally go to Jusenkyo to remove his curse. Akane kept quiet about it, not wanting to ruin his enthusiasm, but she was pretty sure that that wouldn't happen. They'd had too many promised cures already, and each time something had gone wrong. It was as if there were some sort of power behind Jusenkyo; some malevolent intelligence wanting to keep Ranma and the others in its grasp, always keeping one step ahead of them.

"Hey, Akane!" Ranma's female voice called from the hallway. The door lock fidgeted and popped open, as did the door itself a second later.

"About time you got back." Akane looked at her watch as Ranma entered the room. "We're supposed to meet the others down in the lobby in less than half an hour." She wondered why he was in female form; maybe he'd gotten splashed in the hallway.

The door clattered shut behind him. Saying nothing, he stepped over to the bed and leaned his face toward hers. She closed her eyes, tilted her head, and their lips met. When she pulled back and opened her eyes, Ranma was male.

"Neat trick." She stretched her head to try to see around him. "You've got a kettle behind your back, right?"

"Wrong." A playful smile spread across his face. He became female, then went back to male again. The change was so quick that Akane could barely notice the transition.

"You jerk!" She took a pillow from the bed and threw it forcefully into the side of his head. "What's the trick? Tell me!"

"No trick." He grinned like the cheshire cat. "I can change whenever I want now. Kasumi helped me learn how."

"Whenever you...." Akane stared at him incredulously. "No way!"

Ranma answered by turning female again. Akane jumped into the air and threw herself into his arms. Both of them shrieked a loud whoop as he held her above the floor, twirled her about, changing gender every few seconds as he did so. They bounced onto the bed.

"I'm really happy for you, Ranma!" They kissed. "I know how long you've wanted this."

"Yeah." Ranma became male. "Kasumi taught it to the cat, the duck, and the panda, too. That only leaves P—" Ranma looked away from her for a moment; his face dropped slightly, as if he'd just remembered something.

"Only leaves?"

"Uh, only leaves Pantyhose." Ranma grimaced as though he had a bad taste in his mouth. "Can you imagine that baka-mono being able to do this?" Akane felt dissatisfied with his answer, but decided not to press the issue, at least not at the moment. "Anyway, this is just so cool. I'm all man, except when I don't wanna be." He nudged his body against hers and smiled salaciously. "And y'know what men do, right?"

"Yeah." She reached inside the pack on the floor to pull out a change of clothes for him, thrusting it into his arms. "They smell bad. Go and take a shower, Ranma. We have to hurry."

His face showed only a hint of disappointment as he faded into the bathroom. The fan hummed, and a moment later the muted hiss of flowing water could be heard. Akane was still amazed at what she had seen. After all of the false leads and failed cures, for the problem to be solved just like that... it still seemed unreal. At least this meant that her idea about the Jusenkyo evil spirit had to be wrong. A powerful entity like that wouldn't just let Ranma be cured by Kasumi.

Or would it? Maybe the spirit of Jusenkyo was protecting the Amazons. Maybe it wanted Ranma and the others to succeed on this mission, and was giving them a helping hand.

Or... Akane shuddered as a new thought came to her. What if the power of Jusenkyo hadn't wanted its victims freed, but Kasumi had helped them anyway, not knowing? What if it was aware of what she'd done, angered at the young upstart priestess who thought she could defy its will, and ready to swat her like a fly?

Akane steadied herself. It was a frightening thought, but she really had no reason to believe it. There was no dark god of Jusenkyo or anything like that. Probably. But what if there was? Kasumi with one of those curses... that was unthinkable. She needed to be kept away from the springs, because of what might happen to her. No matter what, Akane had to make sure her sister didn't go there.


"You wanted to see me, Major?"

"Yes." Huang motioned Lan toward a chair, and she sat. Behind him, another soldier stood at attention. Zhen Biaozi leaned on her staff nearby, watching.

The room had been Lan's study; now, it had been converted to the Major's office. Folders and spiral notebooks now occupied the space where her personal and official items had been; she hoped she would be able to get all of her things back when this was all over.

"Now, then." Resting his arms on the desk, he leaned forward. "Lately there've been a number of incidents of sabotage."

"Sabotage?" Lan asked neutrally.

"Yes," Huang said. "Equipment damaged, foreign substances introduced into food, and so on. In one incident, someone mixed a contaminant into our motor oil. I don't know how it was done, but it caused quite a bit of damage to our vehicle pool."

Lan nodded, not bothering to feign surprise. "Tung oil?"

"Yes. You no doubt know that when such a mixture is heated, it vulcanizes into a hard rubber compound. We now have several vehicles whose engines will need to be completely replaced. Needless to say, my superiors back in Ulan Bataar are less that pleased." He stared more closely at Lan. "If this sort of thing continues, I will be forced to institute more drastic security measures. Your entire village will suffer greatly due to the acts of a few criminals. But you can help prevent this."


"By identifying the troublemakers so that they can be dealt with."

Lan forced herself not to smile. The major obviously had no understanding of the people with whom he was dealing. "I have no idea who is responsible for these incidents, if indeed they are not just accidents," she said. "None of the sisters, nor their males, has spoken to me of acts of sabotage, nor of plans to carry out such acts. I have nothing to tell you." All of this was the truth.

"Ah, but you can tell me of your people." The major beckoned to the subordinate who stood behind him. "Lieutenant." The other soldier handed a piece of paper to Lan. "This is a list of the village's current residents. I want you to go through it and identify those who, based on your knowledge, might be the culprits. Cross out all of the other names."

Lan scanned over the names, then gave it to Huang.

"You can eliminate no one at all?" He eyed Lan dubiously. "I would have thought a leader would know her people better than that."

"I am not leader of this village. Zhen Biaozi is."

"Ah. Yes." Huang saluted Lan with a grim smile. "Still, you are well acquainted with the residents of this village, are you not?"

"Very well indeed."

"Then which of them could have committed the sabotage?"

"It could have been any of them."

He stared at her for a moment, as if trying to see through her. Then he sighed. "I really hoped you could have helped us avoid taking more unpleasant measures. On to other matters. Are you familiar with an item called Linghunbao?"

Lan nodded, wondering why the major would be interested in such a thing.

"I have orders that this item, whatever it is, is to be sent back to Ulan Bataar. Reportedly, these orders came from the General himself. Our troops have searched the village to the best of their abilities, and not found it."

"I cannot help you," she said, again not lying. "The Linghunbao has been hidden away somewhere by Elder Ke Lun. I do not know where."

"And where is Elder Ke Lun now?"

"She resides in a place about one kilometer southwest of the village."

"The burial grounds."

Lan nodded.

A slight bemused smile crept onto the major's face. "Among those who are still living, who might know where this Linghunbao is kept?"

"Only Elder Ke's great-granddaughter, Shan Pu. She was with Ke Lun at the time of her passing. If the Elder told anyone, it would be her."

"And where would I find this Shan Pu?"

"She has not yet returned from Japan, to which she traveled in order to enlist the aid of some friends."

"Very well." Huang leaned backwards in his chair. "When she does arrive and is captured, I will question her."

"That may not be as easy as you think," Zhen Biaozi said. "Underestimating Shan Pu will be a mistake." Her wrinkled face wore a secret smile. Lan wondered what Biaozi might know about Shan Pu that she wasn't telling.

"I don't plan to." Huang said to her, then turned back to Lan. "Thank you, that will be all. For now."


Ranma stepped onto the bus. His friends were in the back, interspersed amidst a crowd of miscellaneous Chinese nationals. Most of the seats faced forward, but those were already occupied. He spotted an empty space next to Ryoga on the three-person bench that ran along the side of the bus over the back wheel, and he sat there.

"Ranma, is it true?" Ryoga whispered to him. "There's a way to change without water?"

"Yeah," Ranma whispered back. "It—" He took a cautionary look towards the front, and abruptly began to speak at normal volume. "It's gotta be my favorite video game. There's over a hundred levels, the combat moves are about as realistic as this kinda thing ever gets, and the animation's some of the best I've seen."

Ryoga looked confused for a moment, then understood. He and Ranma slid over to make room for Akane to sit. "I, um, tried that game a couple of times. I didn't last very long."

"Yeah. You gotta practice to get good at it. I played a lot back when I was pregnant." Oops, Ranma thought. Shouldn't have mentioned that. He prayed to any powers that might be that Kodachi hadn't been listening. "Anyway, it's a great game. The only thing I don't like is that you can't change the teams. Hikaru always insists on being the Killer Claw, which means I'm stuck with Lady Onyx."

"I'll try it again next time I'm over at your place. But...." Ryoga's voice became edged with tension. "Do you think you could teach me how to use that special maneuver you told me about?"

"Sure." Ranma nodded. "I'll try, anyway. Soon as we get a chance."

"Thanks. Because I'm not sure what's coming up on the higher levels." He glanced toward Akane. "I might need that one in order to survive."

"Dude, it's a partner game," Ranma replied. "If you get killed, chances are so do I."

Ryoga opened up a book and started to read. The bus door thumped closed, and the vehicle pulled out onto the road. Across from him, the two Kuno siblings were engrossed in some sort of discussion. Idly curious, Ranma tried to listen, but couldn't manage to hear over the other chatter and the frequent blaring of the bus' horn. He would probably get into another fight with Kodachi when they got to the next stop. She'd win again, he expected, but still he'd have to try.

He reached into his mind to change himself to female form, and smiled at her. Being a woman felt safer around Kodachi. No matter how strong she was, she couldn't... do what Asuka did to him, if he didn't have the right equipment. Can't conquer a prize that's not there.

Kodachi gazed coolly over at Ranma. If his change surprised her. she let no sign of it show. She leaned over to speak to him, and he stretched an ear to listen. "That body suits you, Ranma dear. What a lovely figure! I'm sure all the other young mothers are jealous."

Good going, big mouth, Ranma grumbled silently at himself. Of course she'd heard. With his luck, was there any chance she wouldn't? Then he noticed her brother staring at him with a pained look. What was his problem?

Then he remembered, and it was obvious. Having a guy pledge his love to the 'pig-tailed girl' had been enough to give Ranma nightmares. How much worse it had to be for Kuno, finding out that the girl he'd lusted after for so long wasn't a girl at all. You couldn't blame him for wanting to crawl under a rock.

"Sorry, Kuno." Ranma turned himself male. "I won't do that around you anymore."

"No, Saotome."


"Use your female form whenever you wish to do so," Kuno said in a heavy voice. "A man ought to be reminded of his mistakes, in order that he might avoid repeating them."

"You're an all right guy, Kuno." Ranma gave him a friendly chuck on the shoulder, then sat back in his seat and stared out the window. Fields of yellow and green stretched to the horizon. Tall grasses danced back and forth in the wind. And he wondered when he would be home with his kids again.


The group disembarked from the bus in Cunzhuang. The small village provided a chance to buy extra provisions and to take care of other necessities. Then they started walking. Shan Pu, being the most familiar with the area, led them as they paraded down the long dirt roads and narrow paths along which she had traveled so many times.

Before long, night fell. Had Shan Pu been by herself, she would have kept going. She knew the route well enough to find it in the dark. Skipping one night's sleep wasn't a bother, and she was anxious to be back with her sisters as soon as she could.

But she wasn't alone. And with the current group, she had to admit that stopping for the night was the only sensible thing to do. If they went on, some of them would inevitably get separated and become lost.

So, choosing a clear spot well away from the road, they set up camp. After some bickering, arrangements were agreed upon for the sharing of the seven two-person tents. The group also came to a consensus that one martial artist should be awake and on guard at all times. Since there were nine of them, they would alternate in shifts of three per night, with each of them taking a shift every third day.

And so Shan Pu, being first on watch, sat on the grass inside the circle of tents, staring into the vast darkness.

She wasn't superstitious about the dark, the way a lot of people — even some Amazons — seemed to be. Back home, she had fought in nighttime combat tournaments, and was the best at it in her age group. It was nothing but a new set of circumstances. As such, it presented a challenge, but an opportunity as well. She couldn't see, but neither could her opponent; and a sound or even the slightest brush of air against her skin could tell her what her eyes didn't.

Yes, she knew what illusions were, and how to look past them. She had her mother to thank for that. Mother had been wrong about so many things, but the two of them were also alike in many ways. Shan Pu wondered whether they would ever see each other again, and what they would say to each other if they did. She still resented Mother for trying to keep her from taking the Amazon initiation ritual. But even while Mother herself stubbornly refused to see certain truths, she had shown Shan Pu that one could discern truths from illusions. The night wasn't full of mysterious monsters. There were lurkers in the darkness, but they could be understood and dealt with, just as what you met in the light could be.

Now, of course, Shan Pu had a new advantage in the darkness, thanks to Kasumi.

Looking within herself, she concentrated and brought her cat form into being. Her clothes collapsed around her like a deflating balloon as she crawled out through the collar of her shirt. The world looked much larger, but dim luminescence now emanated from the stars and moon, bathing the landscape in an eerie glow. Doing her guard duty as a cat was a good idea. Not only was her night vision improved, but she would also be able to take most attackers by surprise. And if she had to change back to human form to fight, being naked would give her a psychological advantage against certain opponents.

She silently padded over to one of the tents. The sounds of heavy, impassioned breathing echoed from within. Ranma and Akane. Something within Shan Pu still wanted to run into their tent and get between them, maybe pull out her claws and scratch them where it would hurt the most. It was still painful to think that she had given her heart to Ranma, and he had liked someone else better. But some battles just couldn't be won. Sometimes striving to achieve a goal just pushed that goal farther away. If nothing else, Ranma had taught her that lesson, and surely it would be a valuable one.

To Shan Pu's cat eyes, the moon was nearly as bright as the early morning sun. The craters in it seemed to form a face, looking down on her. In her imagination, the face was Great-grandmother's. She had come this way fifty years ago, with a similar group, to defend the village against the Nationalists. It was strange how time sometimes seemed to repeat itself. Perhaps they, too, had stopped for the night at this very spot. Kasumi's teacher, Kaede, had been part of that team. There had been others, too; Shan Pu didn't know who.

If only Great-grandmother could be there with them. They needed her fighting abilities, but more importantly, her leadership skills to keep them focused on task. Shan Pu was a warrior, and that was all she wanted to be. Let those whom she trusted tell her whom to fight, and she would defeat them. That was what she was good at. She wasn't a leader. If she were, she'd be able to keep her group from fighting and arguing with each other so much. Surely Great-grandmother hadn't had so much trouble with her own team.

Shan Pu looked up at the moon again, and saw Happosai's face in it. What are you doing there?! she mentally screamed at him. You don't belong there! Get out!

She looked again, and the face was Tatewaki's. Okay. He had been a faithful companion to her over the last several years. She had no doubts about his loyalty to her. As a fighter, he was quite capable; not as much so as Ranma, but then, who was? Still, doubts nagged at her, kept her from fully accepting the love that he offered. She wasn't sure why that was.

She looked back up at the moon, as if expecting it to provide an answer to her question. And the face now belonged to Mu Si. Mu Si, who had constantly showered her with affection, but who she was sure had never really loved her. He hadn't really even known who Shan Pu really was. Never had he been able to look beyond whatever fantasy-person he saw when he looked at her. No, he wasn't in love with her, just with the idea of being in love. And that was the problem with Tatewaki. She needed to know that he wasn't another Mu Si.

It had been so much easier when Great-grandmother was with her. Shan Pu remembered the day at the Nekohanten when Great-grandmother had made the announcement, as calmly as though it were nothing more than her favorite television program being canceled. "I'm dying."

Shan Pu couldn't believe her ears. Dying? There had to be something that could be done. But Great-grandmother just smiled placidly, as if nothing were wrong, and even laughed a bit. Why?! Nothing was funny! There had to be a way to save her!

"Of course there is," Great-grandmother said. "I can think of half a dozen just offhand."

"Then tell me," Shan Pu pleaded. "Tell me, and I'll get them for you, no matter what stands in my way!"


"Great-grandmother, you—"

"It's my time." She stared wistfully ahead. "When your time comes, you have to go."

"Of course you don't have to go!" Shan Pu shouted. "You already told me that there were ways you could be saved. Why won't you tell me how to help you?!"

"Hush, child. My life has lasted more than a hundred years. Now it's over. I've been the elder. Now it's your turn."

No. No! Why didn't she understand? Shan Pu didn't want a turn. The only thing she wanted was for Great-grandmother to stay.

But she didn't.

And as Shan Pu sat in the darkness, she stared at the face in the moon again. But it wasn't a face — just a random collection of hills and craters. There was no one looking down on her from above. And if her group fell, and the Amazon village fell with it, there would be no one to tell the story.

How fortunate it was to be able to see through illusions.


2:07 AM.

Ranma stared at the numbers on the small digital watch. His thumb pushed down on the small stud, turning the display light off, then back on again. He stared, testing how long his eyes took to adjust to the darkness when he switched it off. Then he stopped, setting the watch down. Nabiki would get mad at him if he wore out the batteries.

His head ached a little. He had been too keyed up to fall asleep right away, and had lain awake for quite a while. Just when he had drifted off into pleasant unconsciousness, he'd felt Shan Pu's nudge jolt him awake. After his turn was done, he'd have a chance to sleep again, but he knew that he probably wouldn't doze off until right before it was time for everyone to get up.

Guard duty sucked. There was nothing to do. Nobody to talk to. He couldn't go and take a walk around the area or anything like that — he had to watch the campsite. There wasn't even anything interesting to read, and even if there were, he wouldn't be able to see it in the dark.

He could try to get in some practice, but that probably wasn't a good idea either. He'd end up absorbed in it, and not paying attention to what was happening. And he didn't feel like doing martial arts at the moment, either. No particular reason — he just wasn't into it.

Ranma sighed. Of course there was a reason. He was tired of being beaten up by Kodachi over and over. He wasn't giving up, and he wouldn't be. But he wasn't looking forward to it. It wasn't fun. In fact, it was fast approaching pain-in-the-butt status.

Still, he had to keep trying. It wasn't just his ego, though he had to admit that that could be a small, tiny, fraction of a part of it. But Kodachi was planning something; Ranma had no idea what, but sooner or later, she would make a move of some sort, and by then it would be too late. He had to figure out her secret now, before the stakes got a lot higher. And the others weren't going to be any help. They'd sit and laugh at that idiot Saotome behind his back as he made a fool of himself, knowing that it wasn't their problem as long as it wasn't affecting them at the moment.

He sighed again. Maybe Kodachi didn't have a secret. After all, with something like five trillion people in the world, what right did he have to expect to be number one his whole life? Maybe she was just better.

Nah. Nobody was 'just better' than anyone else. If she was beating him, there was a reason why. He just hadn't found it yet.

A breeze kicked up, blowing chilly night air across Ranma's face. Something tugged at the corner of his memory. Nobody's just better. Where had he heard that before?

"Forget it, old man! I ain't doin' this junk no more!"

Pop gazed down at Ranma. "What's the problem, boy?"

"I keep getting my ass kicked, that's what!" Ranma threw his gi to the ground near his pop's feet. "If you think martial arts is so cool, you do it!"

"You got beaten again, boy," Pop said matter-of-factly. "Why was that?"

Ranma shrugged. "Dunno."

Pop folded his arms and gave Ranma The Stare. That answer wasn't good enough. Ranma didn't really care. He was just sick and tired of everything Pop kept making him do. He wanted to be a normal kid, to hang out with friends and do whatever they did; he didn't even know what that was.

"I dunno!" he repeated. "That guy's just better than me, okay?"

"No one's just better than anyone else, Ranma. There's always a reason. What did he do to beat you? Was he stronger? Faster?"

"Um...." Ranma thought about it. "Faster, I guess. And a little bit stronger. But mainly faster. I couldn't hit him in the places you told me were good because he moved quicker than I could get there."

"Faster, eh?" Pop seemed to take Ranma's word for it. "Then what kind of training can you do to make yourself faster?"

"Run around in a circle?" No, Ranma knew that that was wrong. Running was a different kind of fast than what he needed. "Um...."

"You think about it, boy. By morning, I want you to give me some ideas on this." Pop stepped away, leaving Ranma by himself. Let's see, he thought. Faster? Maybe he could....

Ranma had had years after that, of course, to work on his speed, as well as everything else. He was certain that if he met any of the same people now, he'd beat them easily, though in truth he had no way of really knowing, since he didn't remember any names or faces. But it was an important lesson that Pop had taught him. Being bad at something wasn't any reason to quit; in fact, it was the only way to start out if you wanted to get good.

So what made Kodachi better than him? She was certainly faster. He couldn't think of anyone else who could match her current speed. Judging by the force with which she hit him, she was also about as strong as Ryoga. She also managed to immobilize him with her ribbon, probably by focusing her ki through it; he'd picked up a spare ribbon and tried duplicatng the trick just before they'd left for China, but it didn't work at all.

Suddenly, Ranma remembered. There had been another time when he kept getting beaten, and nothing he did seemed to make any difference. It was when Ryoga had had the goofy face painted on his stomach. Some old man from the school of "martial arts calligraphy" had given it to him. Ranma had checked afterwards, and there wasn't any such school, at least not that Ke Lun or anyone else had ever heard of. But he had no doubt that Ryoga had told the truth as far as he'd known it.

So maybe Kodachi now had the same face painted on her abdomen. That would explain everything. And if that was true, it wouldn't be hard to get her into a position that would contort the face enough that it wouldn't work. After all, the gymnastics moves that she did required a lot of bending.

Ranma quietly stepped over to Kodachi's tent. With everyone else asleep, now was the best time to check her out. If she did have the face, then he'd know how to beat her the next time they fought. Problem solved.

He pulled back the tent flap and paused for a moment. The soft sound of the two women's breathing filled the air. Ranma could barely make out the outlines of their heads. If Kodachi had the face, he'd never be able to see it this way.

For the second time that night, Ranma came up with an idea. He stretched out a finger, and concentrated a small, steady amount of ki through it. It lit up with a dim glow. Cool, he thought. Instant flashlight. Maybe Akane would be able to do this trick, what with her world's smallest ki blast and all. He'd have to try to teach it to her, though he'd have to keep quiet about where he'd invented it.

Kodachi slept flat on her back, her face serene. Shan Pu faced the side of the tent, her body curled as much as the confines of the tent would allow. Perfect. Ranma reached over Kodachi's sleeping bag to pull it back. Finally, things were going his way.

"Ranma?" Shan Pu abruptly spun around, speaking in a half-whisper. "What you doing?"

Ranma froze, trying to think of an explanation that would sound reasonable. "Huh?" That wasn't it.

"Hmm?" Kodachi's eyes opened groggily. "Ranma?"

"This is woman's tent!" Shan Pu said, a little louder than before. "Why you here?"

"Uh...." Ranma concentrated for a moment, and shifted genders. "Because I'm a woman?" He smiled feebly.

"Ranma, darling, I'd like to get some sleep." Kodachi rolled over to face away from him. "I'll be happy to beat you up again in the morning."

"Damn it, Kodachi!" Ranma blurted out. "I just want to look at your stomach!" Kodachi laughed.

"Ranma." He turned to meet Shan Pu's icy glare. "You not the only one who can change."

Suddenly, Ranma's face was inches away from the most horrifying beast in the universe. "Aaaaaaaa!" He leapt to his feet and ran, barely noticing the tent pole he knocked down on the way out. "Cat! Cat!"


Shan Pu morphed back into human form. Kodachi shone a pocket flashlight on the pole as she fixed it back into place. Outside their tent, voices echoed through the night.

"What's all the noise?"


"Ranma, what are you doing?! You're supposed to be on guard!"

"Akane, it's not what it looks like! I just wanted to see Kodachi's stomach!"

"You what?!"


"Hey! Be quiet, willya?"

"Are we under attack?"

The two women smiled briefly at each other, and lay back down to sleep.


4:13 AM.

Ryoga sat cross-legged on the ground. Ranma stood behind him, feeling more and more frustrated.

"Look, man, it ain't this difficult. Just do what I told ya!"

"You still haven't explained what I'm supposed to do!" Ryoga grumbled.

"All right, just hang on a minute here," he said in as calming a voice as he could manage. Good going, Saotome, ya bonehead. He'll never be able to do it if he's pissed off. "Just relax, and try to feel your inner pig."

Ryoga growled.

Okay, once more from the top. "Look, dude, just imagine yourself standing in the same place as the pig. Like there's you, and there's P-chan, and you're both in the same place at once. Got it? Picture that, and convince yourself that it's true. Can you do that?"

"Umm... I guess so."

"Don't guess. Either you can, or you can't."

"I can do it!" Ryoga said testily. "What next?"

"Okay, I'm gonna pour cold water on you." Ranma stood behind Ryoga. "Ready? Here it comes! I'm pouring the water right... now!"

After a pause, Ryoga looked up. "Well?"

Ranma heaved an exasperated sigh. "Look, this isn't working. Let's pack it in for the night."

"Giving up?" Ryoga's tone was a little accusatory, like Ranma was abandoning him or something.

"I'd like to get a little sleep, if that's okay with you," Ranma shot back. "Especially since we might have to fight those military guys tomorrow. Today, actually. Anyway, we can try again next time. As soon as we get a chance."

He walked away toward his tent before Ryoga had a chance to respond. If it had been just him, he'd have kept going all night until he'd figured out the technique. But if Mr. Pig-head couldn't learn, what was Ranma supposed to do about it?

Or maybe it was his own fault. Maybe he was just a lousy teacher. So far, he'd only worked with beginners, and they were pretty easy. And he'd taught Akane, but the results with her had been pretty mixed. She'd learned the Moko Takabisha, but couldn't generate enough power to swat a fly. Okay, she did learn it, so he wasn't a complete flop as a teacher. But he didn't have whatever magic touch Kasumi had, that was for sure.

He zipped open the tent door, being as quiet as he could manage. Akane lay in the middle of the tent, her limbs sprawled out in random directions. Ranma crawled inside and slipped into a position against one wall. His head sank into the pillow as he waited for sleep to overtake him. Just a couple of hours of shuteye, and everything would be clearer. He'd figure out what to do with Ryoga in the morning.


5:29 AM.

Ryoga switched off the lantern, and sat in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the night. Insects chirped in an endlessly repeating rhythm. Branches rustled as the wind blew around the trees. Ryoga had spent enough time wandering around in dark wilderness to know exactly what they sounded like. If anyone or anything out of the ordinary tried to sneak up on the campsite, he'd know.

His instinct told him that he should be walking. It was strange to be out in the middle of nowhere and not on the move. Standing still made time run much more slowly. Nothing to do but stay and keep watch for his friends.

Yes, friends. He'd never really been in a group of friends before. Funny to think of Ranma that way, after all of the fighting and bickering they'd done. And that was pretty typical for this group. Still, despite all the past squabbles over who was going to date whom, when Shan Pu needed help, everybody was there. That was better than a lot of the groups he'd known in school — people who would hang out together, but the moment one of them got in trouble, the rest would disappear.

Ryoga waited, and watched. Stars were faintly visible in the sky above. They were supposed to form pictures of bears, kitchen utensils, and things like that; but Ryoga had never been able to see them. To him, they always looked like nothing more than a bunch of random dots. He wondered what it would be like to travel among the stars. Supposedly, it took at least something like four years to get to the nearest one no matter how fast you went.

The stars seemed to become fainter. Then Ryoga noticed that the sky itself was gradually lightening. From one direction, illumination encroached onto the darkened sky, like water soaked up by a paper towel. The orange sun emerged from between deep blue clouds, filling the air with light.

Ryoga yawned as he rubbed his tired eyes. Somehow, the scene reminded him of his parents, when he had been young. We'll be back home soon, son. We promise. He had soon learned not to believe them. Yet there were a few occasions when they had managed to find their way back home, for at least a little while, and on seeing them return Ryoga had felt like he did now. The sun had returned. As promised.

He stood, wondering how soon he ought to start waking people, when they began to crawl out of their tents on their own. The sounds of idle conversation buzzed through the air as tents were efficiently dismantled. Rice boiled over a portable gas stove, and the group lined up for much-needed nourishment.

Hot and moist, the rice melted deliciously in Ryoga's mouth. He quickly finished his bowlful and sat for a moment, staring at the one person who could solve his problems. Well, his biggest one, anyway. Unsure of what he should say to her, he listened.

"Does it say anything in there about your village?" she asked Mu Si, whose face was buried behind a newspaper.

"No, not a thing." He folded the paper and set it down on the ground. "Strange. I'd always heard that the Congtou was China's finest news source."

"Well, no news is good news, isn't it? I guess that means your people are all right."

"I hope so. I'm worried about my brothers. If anything's happening, they'll be right in the middle of it." He scooped rice into his bowl from the pot.

"Goodness, I didn't know you had brothers."

"Three of them, all older. Mu Yi, Mu Er, and Mu San. My parents weren't very imaginative."

"Such a large family. Were your parents hoping for a daughter?"

"Not really. But their parents really wanted a granddaughter." His chopsticks scooped a clump of rice into his mouth. Ryoga took the opportunity to step up to where Kasumi was dishing out rice.

"Oh, good morning, Ryoga!" she said brightly. "How are you today?"

"Er, okay, thanks, Kasumi," he said as a second helping of rice went into his bowl. "How about you?"

"I'm just fine, thank you." She smiled warmly. "It looks like it'll be a really nice day."

"Um, yeah." Ryoga mentally kicked himself. He needed to get to the point. "Um... do you mind if I... er, that is, could I ask you something?"

"Yes?" She stared at him, eyes rapt at attention.

"The change technique," he forced himself to blurt out. "You know, the one that Ranma uses to change back and forth when he wants to?"

"Oh, that. It's something that my sensei and I developed," she said with a hint of pride in her voice.

"How— how does it work?"

"It's a little difficult to explain." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "You see, our theory is that each curse has a spirit that's responsible for it. The spirits of the various creatures and people who drowned at Jusenkyo are imprisoned in the pools."

"You mean like the girl who Ranma turns into?" Ryoga felt a little horrified at the idea of an innocent woman being stuck in a spring for thousands of years. "So... so these spirits have to stay in the pool, until someone else falls in it? Then they get out?"

Kasumi nodded. "Not all of them, though. A portion of the spirit is released to bind with the cursed person. The magic of the spring water locks them together in such a way that water triggers a change of form."

Ryoga nodded. He understood, or at least thought he did. He noticed Shan Pu standing next to him; she seemed interested in the explanation Kasumi was giving.

"What I did for Ranma and the others was to unlock their curse spirits," Kasumi continued. "I did it while I was sitting next to them on the plane and the bus. Essentially, I talked to the spirits and convinced them to work with the people, not against them. After that, they could trigger the change themselves by communicating with the spirits on a sort of basic level."

Ryoga's heart sank. "So it wouldn't work for someone if you hadn't done that first?" he asked, trying to sound just casually interested.

"That's right." Kasumi smiled, looking like a teacher whose student had just mastered a lesson.

That's interesting, Ryoga didn't say. Because I'm cursed myself, you see. I slept with your sister off and on for three years as her pet, P-chan.

No, somehow he didn't think telling her that would be a good idea. She'd probably turn him into a pig and lock him that way permanently. Could she do that? He didn't want to find out.

Or... maybe she already knew his secret. If there was a pig spirit within him, her training ought to enable her to sense it. Maybe this was her revenge on him for taking advantage of Akane — inventing a technique that could cure his curse, when she knew that there was no way he could ask her for it. He stared at her, studying her face for any hint of what lay behind its ever-present smile. Did she really hate him that much?

"Yes, I really think it's going to be a nice day." A gentle breeze blew Kasumi's ponytail over her shoulder. "What do you think, Ryoga?"

"Nice... day." He nodded dumbly. "Yes."


Cleanup began, and within minutes the campsite had been completely packed away. Akane took a last look over the site. If she hadn't seen it earlier, she wouldn't have known that anyone had been here.

"Time to move out, gang," Nabiki said. She wore a khaki blouse and shorts, and a safari hat that shaded the sunlight from her eyes. "Shan Pu will lead us, since she knows the area."

"We go to village today," Shan Pu said. "No know what we going to meet on way. You all need be ready for anything." She turned to Nabiki. "Walk is very far, through mountains. You can keep up?"

"I'll be fine. I'm no martial artist, but I've hiked a good portion of the Appalachian Trail. What about you, Kasumi?"

Kasumi smiled. "I'll be fine, too."

"Good." Shan Pu looked at Kodachi, clad in her Black Rose leotard and tights. "You wearing that for hiking?"

"This is what I fight best in, my dear. You did say there would be battle today, did you not?"

"I say might." Shan Pu eyed Kodachi with suspicion. Evidently she didn't trust the gymnast any more than Akane did.

"Ah well. If nothing else, at least I can give dear Ranma another beating or two." She laughed. "He seems to enjoy that. Don't you, Ranma?"

Ranma turned his eyes away, ignoring her. Akane seethed with rage. Her husband was becoming more and more obsessed with another woman. She was jealous; not only because Kodachi was getting so much attention from Ranma, but because she was better at fighting. Because despite all of the training Akane had put herself through, she had been so completely surpassed by Kodachi.

Without any more words, Shan Pu began to walk off at a brisk pace. The others followed.



Ukyo stretched a bit as she stepped out of bed. She picked up the robe that lay draped over the bedroom chair and slipped into it. According to the clock, she was awake ten minutes earlier than usual.
That meant she'd be able to relax a bit before opening up for lunch.

She turned around, now facing the bed and the one who had been sharing it with her. "Sleep all right, sugar?" With a playful laugh, she tickled him under the chin.

His head turned lazily upwards. "Mrrrowwr!"

"I'll getcha your food, hon." Ukyo stepped into the kitchenette that adjoined her bedroom. The cat followed.

Ukyo poured a cup of dried food into the dish that lay on the floor, and the cat began greedily lapping it up. Just the usual morning routine.

"You'd scare the wits out of my old boyfriend, y'know?" Well, not boyfriend. Fiancee. Whatever. The cat continued eating. His official name was Kakikizu, but she doubted that he'd even know it if he heard it; he was always 'honey' or 'sugar,' or 'my cat' when she was talking to someone else.

The bowl empty, the cat padded over to the floor near the window, and curled up for a nap. Ukyo picked up the bowl and washed it in the sink. Motherhood was a thankless job, she thought with a smirk.

A paper tacked to the wall reminded her that the bill from her supplier would be due in three days. She hoped she could scrape enough money together to cover it. The prices went up just about every month.

The telephone rang.


"Hello, Ukyo-san." It was Akane's father's voice.

"Oh, hi, Mr. Tendo. How are you?"

"Just fine, thank you. Nodoka-san and I were wondering whether you'd like to join us for dinner tonight?"

"Sure!" Ukyo brightened at the thought of visiting with Hikaru and Ririko again. "What time?"

"Seven. See you there. I've already spoken with your fiance, and he says he'll come."

"My— oh, yes." Ukyo said her goodbyes, and hung up the phone. She wished the whole thing with Mikado would just go away — that people would forget about their 'engagement.' But everybody seemed to believe that they were going to get married. And neither of them liked it, but neither wanted to be the one to back out of it. It was like the game where kids held their feet out on the street, and the last one to pull his back was the loser.

Still, it would be worth having to deal with Mikado, just to be with the children for a while. They were so full of life and spirit; things which Ukyo herself was running low on.

The day before, she had read a cheap fantasy novel, the story of a wizard with the power to animate the dead into zombies. So driven was the man by his quest that he didn't notice his own health deteriorating. By the end of the book, he had become a zombie himself. Only the force of his will kept him walking around while he should've collapsed into a pile of rotting flesh and bones. And Ukyo wondered whether the author had known that he was really telling the story of a girl from Kansai.

Well, she felt like that sometimes, at least. True, she wasn't a zombie, but she hadn't felt the joy of life, the kind of life that Hikaru and Ririko had, since... she couldn't even remember when. Maybe as a child, when she played with Ran-chan. Maybe that was why she had been so angry with him, because he had run away with that special feeling.

But if nothing else, she did have the same thing the character in the book had. Force of will. It would keep her going, for the time being. And maybe there was a spark of life still within her that someday she could manage to fan into a flame.



Gosunkugi Hikaru's shout echoed slightly through the mountains before disappearing. Not much of a shout, really. His voice wasn't terribly loud even under the best of circumstances, and after all the climbing, little breath remained in his body.

It had been hard enough keeping up earlier, when they had walked through mostly flat grasslands. Now the dirt road was zig-zagging up and down between hills and mountains. The climbing didn't seem to slow the others down at all; but Hikaru felt like he would collapse if he walked another step. Each breath of air burned in his chest — a fire which the water in his canteen, now lukewarm, could do little to dampen.

With a supreme effort, he dragged himself up to a seat on top of a nearby ridge, from which he could see the trail ahead. The others were barely visible, walking briskly along a plateau down below. There was no way he could catch up. From the speed at which they continued forward, they evidently hadn't noticed that he was missing. He was Gosunkugi Hikaru, the invisible man. The kind of person nobody ever paid any attention to when he was there; why should it be any different when he was gone?

How could he have been stupid enough to volunteer for this trip? It was already too much for him, and the fighting hadn't even started yet. Now he was going to be lost, on his own in a foreign country, with invading soldiers running around somewhere armed to the teeth. Or maybe he'd end up dead in the mountains, from lack of food and water. Some local people might find him, and for a moment wonder who he was before going on with their own lives.

Some sort of bird swooped through the sky. Hikaru stared at it, using a hand to shade his eyes from the bright sun. As it got closer, he saw that it wasn't a bird — rather, a woman with white, feathery wings. She wore something similar to Kodachi's leotard, and even from such a distance it was obvious that she was well-built. All in all, she looked like a cross between an angel from Christian mythology, and one of the Lovely Angels.

For a moment, he thought this might really be an angel, sent to take his soul away as his body perished. He wondered whether she'd accept a last-minute conversion to Christianity from him. Then he noticed that she was headed not toward him, but in the direction of the others ahead. Whoever she was, they'd have to stop to deal with her.

Feeling a second wind, he sprang to his feet and began to scurry down the trail. The rest of the group wasn't moving, and the path between him and them was mostly downhill. This was his chance to catch up.


Panting furiously, Hikaru arrived just as Shan Pu and Kuno were leaving. He listened to what the others were saying.

"So what was that all about?" Ranma asked Mu Si.

"Well...." He looked around, probably wondering where he should begin. "In case anyone doesn't know, that person was Ji Ma. She's a sort of captain of the guard for a race of bird-people who live somewhere near here."

"Yes, we know," Kodachi said patronizingly. "Ranma just told us that."

"Ah. Anyway, according to her, the Amazon village has already been taken over. It's occupied by Mongol soldiers as we speak. Shan Pu has gone to scout it out, with Kuno."

A visible tension swept over the group. Most of them were probably hoping, as Hikaru had been, that the invaders wouldn't show up at all, that whatever rumors of an attack they'd heard had been false. So much for that. Things were going to get very ugly, very soon.

"Excuse me." Dr. Tofu interrupted. "Mr. Mu, do you know anywhere in the area where I could get some medicine? It would really help the young lady."

Hikaru glanced past Tofu. A woman lay on the ground. Her Amazon clothes were torn, her face badly bruised. Still, he couldn't help staring. His eyes ran back and forth over her pretty face, her slender, well-toned body. She wasn't the knockout that Ji Ma was, but she was attractive in a quieter sort of way.

It was almost funny. Years ago, Upperclassman Kuno had lusted after two girls — one of whom wasn't really a girl, but he hadn't known that — never choosing one because his colossal ego made him think he deserved each of them. And now Hikaru didn't have to choose who he wanted, because there was no chance of either liking him. I would not have them both! he said to himself in an imitation of Kuno's voice, and he laughed, silently and painfully.

"There's a village named Yaocaicun a little ways to the north," Mu Si said. "They're supposed to have the best healing herbs around."

"Can you take me there?" Tofu asked.

"It'd be faster if I went alone. Could you write me a list of what you need?"

Tofu took out a pen and notepad and wrote, then tore the page off and handed it over. Mu Si transformed into a duck and flew off.

"Right." Ranma's eyes hardened with determination. "No point in sitting around waiting for them to get back. Let's go kick some butt!"

"Not so fast, boy," his father said.

"You scared, Pop?" Ranma eyed his father with a look that approached contempt. "Don't worry. We'll find you a nice hole to hide in until this is all over."

"Yes, I am afraid, boy," 'Pop' said evenly. "So would you be, if you had any brains. Your usual pattern will get you killed this time."

Ranma raised a skeptical eyebrow. "I have a 'usual pattern?'"

"Yes, you do. You start off with a straightforward attack, and generally get beaten. Then you figure out what's making you lose, and devise a way to counter it. Normally, that's a good strategy."

"Uh huh." Ranma paused, probably trying to think of some witty comeback and not able to.

"But in this case, it isn't," Mr. Saotome continued. "This enemy isn't out to 'kick butt' — they'll want to kill us. We only get one chance, and we have to win the first time."

The words seemed to sink in. "Okay then, Pop, you got a better idea?"

Mr. Saotome smiled, as if he'd just been the victor in a fight. "As a matter of fact, boy, I do."



That was what Shan Pu thought as she stared at the soldiers standing by the village entrance. That was what they were doing to her village, to her sisters. Not raping them in a literal sense — though for all she knew that might be going on as well. But they had forced their way into the village with their weapons, violated its most private areas and made it submit to their will. Her fingers squeezed tightly into fists. She was going to kill them. Each of them, one by one, would die. So would the next group, and the next, until they had no more soldiers to send out, and then she would go after whoever had sent them. Amazons weren't vulnerable. They were going to learn that the hard way.

"We cannot." Tatewaki put a hand to her shoulder. "Not yet."

"I know," Shan Pu said begrudgingly. She wanted to charge in, to slash one throat after another. How many would she kill before they stopped her? Fifty? A hundred? But not all, and she'd end up dead and her sisters still wouldn't be free. Great-grandmother had taught her not to fight an unwinnable battle — not unless there was no alternative.

Turning her back to the village, she began to move away. She knew that her dreams would be haunted by images of her sisters, crying out as barbarian invaders ravaged them over and over, and she would casually stroll off with a promise to be back as soon as it was convenient. Nightmares were such unforgiving things.

Tatewaki walked along at her side, silent. From his eyes, it pained him as much as it did her to leave without doing anything. He was a man of action, far more impulsive and impatient than she was. Years of Amazon training had toned down his rashness, but only to a certain extent. His natural instinct when he saw something that he considered evil was to attack it, as directly and fiercely as he could. She had admired that about him, while at the same time finding it inconvenient. Now she felt the same way that he did.

They walked away, for now. But they would be back, and the invaders would pay for what they had done.


Returning to the prearranged meeting place, Shan Pu and Tatewaki met up with Ranma, who took them to the camp the group had set up. It was a small valley hidden between tall hills and mountains.

A strategy meeting was quickly convened. The group sat on the dirt, in a circle. "So, what's our first move?" Ranma asked, directing the question to no one in particular.

"First, we need a little information on the enemy," Genma said. "Capturing an officer would help. I've been talking with Nabiki, and it seems she has an idea on how to do that."

"I should be going." Ji Ma's wings unfolded as she stood. "Curiosity has led me this far, but my responsibility is to my people and to Lord Sa Fulang. I need to get back to them."

"Won't you help us in the battle that's coming up?" Kasumi stared at her with big, pleading eyes. "I'm sure that with your great skill on our side, we'd win easily."

"Yeah," Nabiki said. "And you'd be doing your own village a favor, too. Having a bunch of armed invaders in the neighborhood can't be a good thing. Leave them alone, and you could be next."

"I shall consider what you say." Ji Ma turned away from the group. To Shan Pu, it was obvious that she was brushing them off. She had no intentions of helping them, and only claimed that she would think about it to get them to stop asking her.

"Ji Ma."

At the sound of Shan Pu's voice, the bird-woman stopped and looked back.

"Bring your soldiers to fight alongside us," Shan Pu said in Chinese. "In return, you may call on the Amazons in the future when you are in need of warriors."

"An alliance?" A guarded smile crept onto Ji Ma's face. "I doubt that you have the authority to enter into such an agreement."

Shan Pu hesitated. What had she been thinking? Of course she had no legal right to ally her village with Mount Phoenix. Only the Chief Elder or her direct appointee could do that, and only with approval from the Council. That was impossible under current circumstances. But she knew that Ji Ma and her warriors might make the difference between victory and death. If there was a chance to get them onto her side, she had to take it.

"Madam, this is Shan Pu, great-granddaughter of Ke Lun." Tatewaki spoke proudly, in badly-intoned but perfectly grammatical Chinese. "She is respected as the foremost Amazon warrior of her generation. If she tells you that her people will assist you when you call on them, it is as certain as the rising of the sun."

"Our warriors will honor the agreement," Shan Pu said. "If I have to call in every favor owed to me, I will see to it." Tatewaki's confidence in her boosted her spirit. She hoped she could live up to the expectations that he had set.

"Very well. I shall consult with our leaders." Ji Ma gave a small nod of approval. "Until next we meet." Her white-feathered wings spread as she soared into the air, and soon vanished into the clouds.

"What the heck was that all about?" Ranma asked.

"Her people will help us." Shan Pu smiled. "Maybe. She go back to ask them now." They would certainly need any assistance they could get.

"That's cool." Ranma turned to Nabiki. "So, you said you had an idea on how to capture somebody?"

She nodded. "Want to help?"

"Um... sure. If I can, yeah."

"Oh, you can." She flashed an alligator-like grin. "In fact, Ranma, I think you'll be especially good for this job."


Nabiki walked toward the now-occupied Amazon village. Her stomach fluttered nervously at the thought of all the trigger-happy goons she'd be among. Kuno and Ryoga following behind her only made her feel a bit more at ease. But she was a professional, and wouldn't let it show.

"Will you need me to interpret for you, Tendo Nabiki?" Kuno asked.

"No, Kuno-chan, that won't be necessary. I happen to speak a bit of Chinese myself."

"Oh?" he said skeptically.

"Yup." Nabiki turned to Ryoga, and spoke in Mandarin. "Mr. Kuno here is my employee. Be nice to him, for he has the mental capacity of a squashed apricot." Ryoga nodded his head blankly.

Kuno laughed. "Most impressive. Where did you learn?"

"Taught myself, with help from some Chinese-American friends. UCF does a fair amount of dealing with the Chinese. There are definite advantages to language skills, especially when no one knows you have them. So relax. I'll do the talking. You're just the muscle."

Nabiki strolled up to the village entrance. Two guards stood on duty. "Halt!" one of them called out at her.

"Evening, boys." She did her best to exude the kind of sleazy confidence that streetwise people had, in spite of the two AK-47s pointed in her direction. "How's guard duty tonight?"

The guards eyed her cautiously. "What you want?" one asked.

"Must get dull, being in an Amazon village and all. Girls here'll rip your face off if you try to touch them. A man can get pretty... lonely."

"You lookin' for some action?" the other guard said. "We get off in a half-hour."

Oh my. Such wit and sophistication. "Sorry, boys. Not my scene. A businesswoman like me needs to get up early."

"Don't be anti-social, Mama." They began to inch closer to her.

Nabiki stood back, flanked by her two musclemen. "You don't want to be like that, boys. You'll miss out on the good stuff." She pulled out several photographs and handed them over.

"Whoa!" The guards' eyes bulged as they stared at the pictures. "How does she fit that body into that dress?" one said.

"Look at this one with the pig-tail," the other said. "Now that's a woman!"

Nabiki pointed to the next photo. "The other one here is that one's lover. I'm sure a threesome could be arranged." The guard sweated noticeably.

"What's this stuff this one has?" the first guard asked. "Clubs? A whip?"

"Oh, that. She's into gymnastics, acrobatics, that sort of thing."

"Sold!" The second guard grinned from ear to ear. "I'll take all of 'em!"

Nabiki handed him a sheet of paper. "The price list."

The guards' jaws dropped as they scanned the paper. "Are you nuts?! How would we get this kind of money?"

A voice from behind interrupted forcefully. "What's going on here?"

The guards looked, and their hands quickly snapped into salutes. "Sir! We were—"

The new arrival was a little older than the guards, with a few more decorations on his uniform. "Carry on with guard duty, private." He glanced at the photos. "I'll handle this situation. Personally."


Lieutenant Batachikhan smiled as he closed the canvas cloth that hung over the room doorway. The orders that he had left said for him not to be disturbed under any circumstances until morning. He was going to enjoy this evening.

The girl giggled demurely, smiling back at him. His eyes traveled up and down her body, unable to believe how good she looked. Her body was muscular yet slender, and her face pretty without a trace of sleaziness. And she was in her twenties, not one of the usual girls who barely looked adolescent. He had always turned down this kind of offer before; but a girl like this just couldn't be passed up, even considering the price.

It wasn't like he had any reason to feel guilty about it. He hadn't asked to be sent out to some backwater hellhole, though he did understand why they had to be there. Everyone knew the stories about these 'Amazons' — how they raided other villages to take their men into slavery, then killed them just for the fun of it. And of course, they denied that any such incidents had happened. What else would you expect them to say? With people this crazy, you had to get them before they got you. Ignore them, and in no time at all they'd be marching through Ulan Bataar, chopping people's heads off as they went, just like they had cold-bloodedly killed private Rou.

Yes, Batachikhan hated them for making him leave his home. By rights, he was supposed to be there looking after Tikhtamysh. And Alagh had just had his tenth birthday, without Daddy there, all because of the damn 'Amazons.' So if he wanted to have a little pleasure with a local girl once, that was his business. It was a lot less than they owed him.

He moved closer to the girl, staring deeply into her eyes. Then he backed up and took another look. The black pig-tail was the same, but on the end of it... no, that wasn't right. This was a man, not a woman.

He blinked several times, unable to believe his eyes. Then a fist came crashing toward his face, and he blacked out.


"Here ya go." Ranma tossed the groggy, blindfolded Mongol onto the ground. "One officer, as promised."

"Good work." Akane smirked at him. "I guess you really know how to use your feminine wiles."

"Hey, the guy picked my picture, not yours," Ranma said. "I guess that's 'cause I'm cuter." Akane stuck her tongue out at him. "Did Kodachi get hers too?"

"Of course I did, Ranma dear." The gymnast dragged a body over and set it next to Ranma's catch.

The man's face was uncovered, and his eyes open wide. Ranma waved a hand in front of his face, and got no response. "Um... is he alive?"

"Of course, Ranma-sama. It's just that I was experimenting with a new drug, and I miscalculated the dosage a bit. I'm sure he'll come out of it eventually."

Tofu knelt down by the officer and took hold of his wrist. "Pulse is slow, but regular. He's alive. I'll see if I can do anything for him with the Yaocaicun herbs."

Ranma sighed. "C'mere." He dragged Kodachi by the hand to a spot away from the others. "What the heck were you doin'?"

"Ranma, dearest, one must try new things in order to learn." She smiled bemusedly. "If nothing could go wrong, it wouldn't be an experiment, now, would it?"

"Damn it!" He glanced back at the Mongol. "This is serious. You coulda killed him!"

"Killed someone? In a war?" Her laughter rang loudly through the camp, resonating as it echoed against the mountains. "How ill-mannered of me!" She stepped away from him, continuing to laugh.

Ranma fumed. One must try new things in order to learn. Easy to say when you're experimenting on someone else. He wanted to smack Kodachi right across the face. If she weren't a girl.... Of course, if he did try to hit her, she'd just dodge and then beat the crap out of him again.

He suddenly found himself face to face with a glowering Amazon. "Shan Pu?"

"Ranma, what you mean no killing?"


She pointed to the drugged-out captive. "That man invade Amazon village and kill Amazons. You not think he should getting killed?"

"I... um...." Ranma fumbled, tongue-tied. "I'd just rather not see anybody killed, Shan Pu. I will, but only if we have to."

"And what if Ranma let this man alive, and he come back next time and kill more Amazon? What if he kill Shan Pu?"

"Huh?" Ranma was taken aback by the question. "You don't know he's gonna do that! You can't kill a guy because he might do something bad. That's dishonorable. If we did that, wouldn't that make us as bad as him?"

"We as bad as him?!" she spat. Ranma thought the question would make her think. Instead, her brows twisted in anger. "We not go invade his city, Ranma. We not attack his people with bombs and make them slaves. We not do anything to him, and he attack us.

"You go back to nice, safe Japan when this over, Ranma," she continued, with a bit of contempt in her voice. "You not have to worry about more armies come for you. Easy for you to talk about honor."

She turned and and walked away. Ranma stood as rage built inside him. He wanted to smash something. But he wasn't sure who he ought to be angry at.


"Would you like more?"

Smiling, Ukyo nodded. Mr. Tendo poured another helping of sake into her glass. "Thanks, sugar."

"Perhaps you shouldn't drink too much, dear," Mikado said with obviously feigned concern. "You don't want to embarrass yourself again."

"Ah heh. Thanks for looking out for me, honey." Ukyo beamed a broad smile, though inside she was snarling. "You go ahead and drink all you like. I know how it improves your kissing."

Mikado flinched at the last remark. Good. That was Ukyo's goal — to make him so uncomfortable that he'd give up on the engagement thing. Of course, he was trying to do the same to her. It was psychological warfare; a battle of wills, and she had just scored a hit. But she had to keep pounding.

Mrs. Saotome stepped into the room. "Hikaru and Ririko are in bed. They're such wonderful children."

"They certainly are." Mr. Tendo smiled as he began to pour himself a drink.

Mrs. Saotome gazed at him with a serious expression. "Soun-san, we need to talk about the television programs that the children were watching. Do you think they're really appropriate?"

"Eh?" He set his glass down. "I hadn't thought about it."

"The violence is bad enough." she said with agitation in her voice. "But the sexual titillation and innuendo... what sort of thing is that for young children to hear? And the jokes aren't even funny."

"Well, I suppose we could watch something other than dubbed American sitcoms. If you think it's important."

"Until Ranma and Akane return, Hikaru and Ririko are our responsibility. We are duty-bound to do what is best for them. I'll not have their parents come back and find that the children have been exposed to bad influences."

"Right. Consider it done." Mr. Tendo smiled with a confidence that didn't seem to rub off on Mrs. Saotome in the least.

"I try to get Mikado to watch those shows as much as possible," Ukyo said. "He needs to pick up any tips he can that might help his lovemaking ability."

Mikado flinched noticeably at the last remark. Ukyo surged, feeling like a predator who had finally captured her dinner. So sex was a hang-up of his, was it?

Mrs. Saotome stared quizzically at her. "Am I to understand that the two of you have been having sexual relations?"

"Well, I guess you could say that, yes. Mikado certainly tries his best." She smiled flirtatiously at Mikado, and watched his face fluster. Time to move in for the kill. "He's such a sweet boy, the way he tries to pleasure me in spite of his, er, shortcomings."

Mr. Tendo avoided meeting Ukyo's eyes, clearly uncomfortable with what she was saying. Mrs. Saotome's expression was unreadable. Ukyo wondered whether she had taken things too far. From what Ranma had said, his mother was rather old-fashioned. Ukyo didn't want to get on her bad side; coming over and playing with the kids was about the only fun thing in her life at the moment. Maybe, she thought, she'd better try to make amends.

"Look, Mrs. Saotome, Mikado and I may kid around a lot, but we are engaged. And we love each other. So is what we do so bad?"

"No, not at all," Mrs. Saotome replied. "I think it's perfectly healthy."

"Thanks, Mrs. Saotome," Ukyo said with great relief. "And I really mean it. We could get married next week, that's how in love we are.

"Why don't you do it right here? Would Tuesday be all right for you?"

"Huh?" Some rather disgusting images flashed through Ukyo's mind. "In front of everyone? That— that would be wrong!"

"Wrong?" Mrs. Saotome seemed genuinely puzzled. "Well, you could certainly have a private ceremony if you prefer."

Ukyo's mind boggled. "Ceremony?"

Mikado glared daggers at her. "Our wedding, dearest."

Ukyo gulped, as a large truck drove over her foot.

AUTHOR'S NOTE-TYPE THINGS: Thanks to pre-readers Matt Posner, Krista Perry, Lara Bartram; and special thanks to Ed Becerra for sharing his particluar expertise. Thanks also to "Dot" and Donny Cheng for help in determining the correct Mandarin/pinyin names for the Chinese characters, and to all those who sent feedback on the previous draft of this. Finally, thanks to you for reading this, and I hope to hear from you. Until next time....