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.

"Greetings, 'General.' Or should I call you...."

"General will suffice, Zhen Biaozi. I do not fully trust this mode of communication."

"Don't worry, no one else will be able to pick up our little chat. I have learned a thing or two in my ninety years, you know."

"Let us attend to business. What is your assessment of the current situation?"

"The situation is rather precarious for your troops. I'm afraid that major of yours might be in a little over his head."

"Yes, he's reported a number of incidents of sabotage by the villagers. As yet, he is unable to determine which of them are responsible."

"Trust me, it'd be quicker for him to find the ones who aren't responsible. What did you expect, 'General?' You must know the Amazons quite well. Did you really think that they would lay down and surrender themselves to you simply because you've killed a few of them?"

"What of the group that recently arrived from Japan? Will the major be able to deal with their interference?"

"I don't know. They're a clever bunch, as children go. On the other hand, there are only a handful of them. Your major does have the advantage of vastly superior force, which might compensate for his ignorance."

"What plans do you have to assist the major, should he be unable to cope?"

"I? I agreed to rule the Amazons on your behalf. Nowhere was it said that it was my job to nursemaid incompetent male underlings."

"Your insolence does not amuse me in the least, Zhen Biaozi. If you refuse to be of use to me, I see no reason to continue with our arrangement."

"Oh, I'll be of use, all right. I just intend to let your major try first, to see what he can do. If he fails, we'll try things my way. Never fear, I'll capture both the village and Shan Pu's group for you,
if it comes to that."

"A bold promise. Are you certain you have the necessary power to fulfill it?"

"Don't underestimate me, 'General.' I may be one mere human being, but I'm an elder Amazon warrior. And unlike your major, I know my opponents. He might fail, but I won't."


"Turn left."

Lieutenant Batachikhan did as he was told. No doubt the Amazon behind him — Shan Pu was the name he'd heard — would kill him in an instant if he didn't follow instructions. He had no idea why they hadn't done away with him already. They were all crazy, these "Amazons," every last one of them. Nothing but cold-blooded killers. Command should've just dropped a bomb on the whole damn village and been done with it.

He could see nothing; even though it was still dark, they had covered his eyes with a blindfold. All he could hear in the background was the endless, rhythmic chirping of cicadas and the occasional howl of a wild animal. Evidently, they didn't want to take any chances that he might be able to locate their camp, or whatever out-of-the-way place to which he was being moved.

Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Move forward, and don't make a sound." Sharply-edged, her words were a knife held against his throat. Trying to escape now would be fatal. His chance would come later.

He trudged forward, one step, then another, then another. His body ached from lack of sleep. They'd kept him awake all night, questioning him about the layout of the occupation forces, feeding him drugs to make him answer. It would all amount to nothing, of course; as soon as someone reported that an officer was missing, the major would assume that the enemy had taken him prisoner, and that he had told them everything he knew. Then the camp would be reorganized, its defenses changed so that their information wouldn't do them any good.


Batachikhan halted. The blindfold tore away from his eyes. Around him, dim pre-dawn light illuminated old-style houses; it looked exactly like the Amazon village. A second glance confirmed that it was the Amazon village. He recognized the building right in front of him as the one he'd been assigned as his residence. Why had she—

"We're letting you go because you told us what we needed to know." Shan Pu tore the ropes that had held his arms tied behind his back. He turned to face her, and her voice lowered, becoming the hiss of a venomous snake. "It wasn't my decision. If it had been, I'd have killed you. If I get a chance, I still will."

He thought about yelling for help, then decided not to. Let her get away. He'd tell the major how he'd been taken prisoner and forced to reveal everything he knew. Only he wouldn't tell them that he'd been captured by a prostitute who was really a man; he'd make up a story involving a whole platoon of attackers, and berate security for letting them get in and out unspotted.

"Right, then." He began slowly backing away, watching her with a wary eye. "Be seeing you." Next time we meet, he thought, I'll have a gun in my hand. And I'll remember this.

She grabbed him by the shoulder, restraining him. "Turn around."


Grunting impatiently, she spun him to face the other direction.


"Whatcha got there, kid?"

Corporal Sauchuk folded up the piece of paper and slipped it back into his pocket, away from the eyes of his new partner on guard duty. "Just a letter." He still wasn't comfortable working with a mercenary. He'd joined up to fight for his country, for what he believed in. But this guy wasn't even Asian. He was only with them because he was getting paid. That was hard for Sauchuk to understand.

"The little wife back home, huh?"

"Fiancee," Sauchuk answered curtly. "We're getting married as soon as my hitch is up."

The mercenary grinned, his smile accented by his thin moustache. "I bet you've already done your husbandly duties with her, right?"

"I've taken out her garbage, yeah." That wasn't what he'd meant, of course, but what business was it of his anyway?

"Heh. It's been so long for me, I'll tell ya, pal...." He pointed behind Sauchuk. "Even that pussy over there's looking pretty good to me right about now."

Sauchuk turned in time to catch a glimpse of white fur before it slipped away into the underbrush. "A cat? You're one sick, er... puppy, Martinez."

The mercenary laughed, a sharp, staccato sound halfway between a chuckle and a giggle. Then the two of them abruptly straightened and saluted as they saw Lieutenant Batachikhan walking over to them.

"Morning, sir," Sauchuk said, his tone carefully neutral. Like most of the enlisted men, he felt a growing resentment towards the officers. Rou may have been an idiot, but he was a friend — until the 'Amazons' had knifed him to death. When the men had heard, some of them even wanted to go out shooting villagers until the killers were found. But orders came down that no reprisals were to be taken, and that Command would handle the situation. Morale dropped, sinking lower and lower as the men waited to see which of them would have to die next before the officers did something about it.

"Morning, Corporal. Anything to report?"

"No, sir. It's been quiet." So far. It wouldn't stay like that for very long.

"Sir," Martinez the mercenary said, "I heard you had a girl here last night. Is that true?"

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that, Private," the Lieutenant snapped back. "Otherwise, I'd have to put you on report. Carry on!"

"Yes, sir!" Martinez saluted, then broke into laughter as soon as the Lieutenant was far away enough that he wouldn't hear.

"You think he really did?" Sauchuk asked. The Lieutenant paused, staring into space as if trying to remember something, then shrugged and walked out of sight.

"Yeah. He did."

"How do you know?"

"His hair. I smelled some kind of 'essence of flowers' stuff on it. A guy wouldn't use that junk unless he was trying to impress a babe."


"Right, then," Ranma said. "Anyone got anything more to say, or are we done?"

Akane looked over the circle of friends sitting on the ground in the middle of the camp. Kasumi had dubbed the area the "family room," in an attempt to give it a homey feel. With a little imagination, it almost looked the part, with a floor of hard clay, irregular clumps of weeds for furniture, and sharply sloped mountainsides for walls. Okay, a lot of imagination.

"Are we sure we can afford to wait?" Ryoga asked. "We have no way of knowing what those people are doing to the Amazons. Shouldn't we attack right away with all we've got, before it's too late?"

"We aren't gonna help the Amazons by running in and getting ourselves killed," Ranma answered. "If we're gonna do this, we need to take the time to get it right the first time, or there might not be a second time, y'know?"

Genma nodded sagely at Ryoga. "Patience, boy. The acts of sabotage we'll be carrying out will serve two purposes: To weaken our opponents, and more importantly, to enrage them — to the point that when the time comes, they'll rush into a confrontation that we've set up on our own terms."

Akane smiled thinly to herself. It was funny to see Ranma argue so convincingly for that position when just yesterday he'd been on the opposite side himself. Of course, it probably helped that he liked to disagree with Ryoga.

"Remember, Ti Pi over there, since she knows the village, is gonna be coordinating everything." Ranma pointed across the circle towards the young Amazon. "When you guys finish something, let her know, and she'll tell you what to do next."

"Excuse me, Ranma-sama." Kodachi raised a hand. "I have a question."

"Yeah?" Ranma said with reluctance. Akane's stomach twisted. She did not want to hear whatever this would be.

"Exactly what level of injury to the Mongols do you deem acceptable? You've already specified no killing. Would severe bruises be out of the question?"

Ranma's face reddened. "Shaddup, Kodachi."

She smirked. "My dear Ranma, how can I carry out my assigned tasks if you refuse to clarify your instructions? I do wish so much to avoid committing another faux pas."

Shan Pu's face twisted angrily. The others' eyes drifted away, as if not wanting to be a part of what was going to happen next.

"Damn it," Ranma said, "just... just do what you have to. But not what you don't have to."

"Thank you, Ranma-sama. That makes everything quite clear." Kodachi turned away, a self-satisfied smile on her face.

The circle began to buzz with conversation. Ranma stared sulkily at the ground.

"Um... the meeting is over, I guess," Akane offered. "Let's all get busy with what we need to do." Inside, she seethed with the almost irresistible urge to walk over and slug Kodachi — even though she knew Kodachi would at best laugh it off, and at worst deliver her a beating in return.

"Um...." Hikaru Gosunkugi tapped Ranma lightly on the shoulder. "Excuse me?"

Ranma didn't notice, until Akane elbowed him. "Huh? Oh, hey, Gosunkugi. What's up?"

"Er, well, I was just wondering what my job was. That is, if there is one that I can do. I mean...."

"Um... sure, I've got something really important for you to do." Ranma paused, his eyes rapidly scanning the area. "Oh yeah! You're gonna be Ti Pi's assistant."

Gosunkugi boggled. "Assistant?"

"Sure, man." Ranma put a hand to Gosunkugi's shoulder. "She's supposed to coordinate who does what, but she's only really familiar with a couple of us. You know what most of us are good at, so you can help make sure the right person gets the right job."

Nodding, Gosunkugi walked over to Ti Pi, who was speaking with Kuno. Gosunkugi stood quietly by and waited. Kodachi said something to him that Akane couldn't hear, and he flinched noticeably.

Enough is enough, Akane thought. It was bad enough when Kodachi had picked on Ranma, who at least had a big enough ego to recover from it. But this was just going too far.

On the other hand, as the old saying went, turnabout was fair play. Sure, Kodachi could beat her in physical combat with one ribbon tied behind her back. But when it came to verbal sparring, there were some pretty obvious holes in her defenses.

"Ranma." She took her husband's hand, speaking loudly enough for everyone to hear. "Please try to be nice to Kodachi."


"I know how she acts, but she simply can't help it. She's been through some difficult times." Akane tried to duplicate the haughty, condescending tone that Kodachi used. "Just think of how badly she wanted to marry you, while all the while she was your last choice."

Ranma blinked, glancing over at Kodachi, and back at Akane.

"And I do mean last," Akane continued. "I mean, you'd probably have married the neighbors' dog sooner than her."

Akane smiled, as Ranma gazed back at her nervously. Okay, so maybe it was a stupid thing to do — making a bad situation worse. But it felt good, like finally landing a punch against an opponent who'd been untouchable until now.

Something struck Akane from behind in the back of her knees, sweeping her legs out from under her. Her arms flailed uncontrollably for balance for a second as the world tumbled around her, and she landed painfully on her rear end. "Yowtch!"

Ranma crouched into a combat stance, his eyes darting back and forth as if looking for some invisible attacker. Reaching a hand to the ground, Akane braced herself and cautiously stood, then looked down and picked up the object that lay beneath her. A club.

"Ah, I'd wondered where this one had gotten to." Kodachi came walking over. "I do apologize for leaving it where you could trip over it, my dear."

"Trip?!" Akane stood close to Ranma. "I was standing still! You obviously—"

"I obviously what, dear?" Kodachi's eyebrows raised in affected curiosity.

Obviously threw it, Akane was going to say — but that wasn't possible. From where Kodachi had stood, it would've hit her in the front. There'd been nothing behind her but craggy mountain peaks and ridges. Even if Kodachi had somehow managed to bounce it off something and still hit with such accuracy, it should've made some sort of noise.

"You ought to be more careful, dear," Kodachi lectured, picking up the club and cradling it in the crook of her elbow. "A place like this can be very dangerous to one without the necessary skills to survive."

Akane felt her temper about to boil over. One of them was about to do something they'd both regret.

"Stop it!"

Kodachi spun around to see Shan Pu standing behind her. "I'm sorry, my dear," she said innocently. "To what are you referring?"

"I ask friends come here to help Amazon village against killers." Shan Pu glared at Kodachi with a shocking hostility. "You not want to help, I no can force you. But you want to cause trouble, then go back to Japan!"

"My dear girl, there has obviously been some sort of misunderstanding," Kodachi said patronizingly.

"Hmph!" Shan Pu turned and stormed away.

Akane ran after. "Shan Pu, I'm sorry." It was her fault as much as Kodachi's; she had deliberately thrown oil on the fire.

Shan Pu looked back at Akane, and smiled weakly. "That all right," she said, nodding. Akane could tell that she was angry, and not only at Kodachi.

For a second, Akane saw hate flashing in Kodachi's eyes, a fire so intense that she and Shan Pu should've been instantly burnt to cinders. Then Kodachi's usual condescending smirk returned, as if none of this were particularly important.

This is your fault, Akane reprimanded herself. You could've ignored Kodachi's baiting. You let her anger get the better of you, and now gods only know what the consequences will be. After being married for six years, are you still so insecure that the thought of your husband paying attention to another woman shuts down your brain?

Why, she wondered, were things like this so painfully obvious, but not until after it was too late to stop herself? Enough was enough. Okay, maybe she couldn't stop herself from being jealous. But she could lock her jealousy away deep inside herself where it wouldn't cause harm to anyone. After all, it wasn't as if those feelings ever did any good for her.

Akane stepped across the dirt and grass towards Ti Pi. She felt pretty rotten, and the Mongol soldiers would be the perfect people for her to take it out on.


Ranma crawled quickly and quietly from vehicle top to vehicle top. Trucks, jeeps and a few tanks — about thirty total — were parked bumper to bumper in neatly arranged rows. Ranma wondered why the tanks were here; from what he'd been able to find out, they hadn't been used against the Amazons. Maybe they'd been brought along just in case.

He wondered if this was the place where he'd fought Shan Pu ten years ago. The official Amazon tournament arena, now doing business as a parking lot for Mongol invaders? He scanned over the surroundings, trying to jog his memory; the big open space in the middle of everything seemed familiar, but it had been too long ago for him to remember any of the buildings or scenery.

Down below, soldiers paced in regular circles around the perimeter of the area, guns held at the ready. As long as Ranma stayed on top of the trucks, they wouldn't spot him. Their long-range aerial scout people could, but he knew where they were and how to easily avoid them, thanks to the information from that captured officer guy. Ranma knew he could stay hidden for hours, if he wanted.

But that wasn't what he'd come for.

Time to get down to business. Ranma hopped gracefully off the roof of a truck, landing directly in front of a soldier.

"Hey there. Couldja help me out? I'm a terrorist, y'see, and I'm supposed to blow something up." He grinned. "Y'know, something really important that would totally screw you guys over if it got wrecked. Got anything like that around?"

The soldier pointed his gun toward Ranma. "Bie yidong!" he shouted, his voice quavering with a touch of nervousness. Running footsteps approached the area.

Oh, good one, ya bonehead, Ranma thought to himself. You spend half an hour coming up with that really cool speech, and never once does it cross your mind that the guards aren't going to understand Japanese. Oh well, no big deal. He could still do what he'd come for.

"Bie yidong!" the soldier repeated; it meant, Ranma guessed, something like 'stop or I'll shoot.'

Go ahead, you moron. That's what I'm waiting for you to do. Ranma jerked forward, as if about to pounce, a move even an idiot should have been able to read.

The soldier cocked his rifle; it made a loud ka-chunk sound, like a railroad switch being thrown. A bullet whizzed through the air. Ranma leapt out of its way easily. The bullet crashed into the front grille of a truck, from which water sprayed out.

"Your aim ain't the greatest, is it, pal. Try again?" Okay, the guy couldn't understand the words, but the meaning had to be pretty obvious anyway.

Three other Mongols came running around a corner, yelling something incomprehensible as they aimed their guns and fired. Ranma again avoided the shots without much effort. One bullet zinged as it ricocheted off a tank, leaving no visible mark. Another struck the back of a truck, crumpling the metal, and a puddle of liquid began to collect on the ground below it. Gasoline, from the smell of it. Ranma wondered why hitting the tank hadn't made it explode, the way it always seemed to in the movies.

More shots flew past, and again impacted into vehicles as Ranma dodged. He'd keep jumping around, letting the soldiers blow away their own trucks, until they ran out of bullets; then it would be time to say good night. After so many butt-kickings by Kodachi, it felt good to be in an easy fight for a change.


Corporal Yuan recovered consciousness in time to see Sergeant Li staring down at him.

"What happened here, Corporal?"

"We— we caught someone trying to sabotage the motor pool, Sarge," Yuan said.


"He got... we chased him off." Yuan glanced past the rows of wrecked radiators and punctured tires. "But at least we stopped him before he could damage anything!"


The Mongol soldiers were running around like proverbial decapitated chickens, guns clutched securely in hand as voices blared from the walkie-talkies they carried. It was easy for Akane to slip out of the kitchens, then away from the village entirely, without being noticed. When they looked, the Mongols would find the small Japanese-made bottle that she'd left behind and know that her group, not the Amazons, were to blame; but that wouldn't be until later.

The poison she'd added would take effect about half an hour after the victims ate the stew. Doctor Tofu had mixed it up from some of the herbs Mu Si had brought back from Yaocaicun. From what the doctor said, it would cause severe diarrhea, along with virulent stomach cramps in some cases. Just the thing to soften them up for the impending battles, Akane thought, and she winced at her choice of words.

Of course, there was no way to be sure what the effects of the poison would be. These were, after all, some of the same herbs with which Pin Ke and Lin Ke had subjugated Ranma and Shan Pu, and determining drug dosages wasn't exactly part of Tofu's specialty. Maybe the soldiers would experience a momentary discomfort, and then get back to what they were doing; or maybe they'd develop fatal infections. And the Amazons would be eating the same food as the Mongols. Most likely, they'd have a higher tolerance to local toxins than the invaders, but on the other hand some of them were elderly, and not all as tough as Ke Lun.

It was a good thing that Ranma didn't know the details of this particular assignment. She could just imagine the jokes he'd make. Why didn't we think of this before, Akane? All we need to do is feed the enemy your cooking. They'll surrender for sure — if there's any of 'em left, that is.

She sighed. Yesterday, when Kodachi had carelessly drugged a Mongol captain into a coma, Ranma had chewed her out, and Akane had agreed with him. But now, she might have done the same — not to one man, but to the entire village that they were supposed to be rescuing. Do as I say, not as I do, seemed to be her motto.

The sad truth was, this was a different kind of fight from any that she and her friends had been in before — fights where all they'd needed to do was pummel their opponents into submission. Akane was only beginning to realize — in her head, if not her heart — how different it was. The stakes had been raised, and they had to either call or fold. She had to make Ranma understand that, for his own sake as well as everyone else's, even though she didn't want to believe it herself.

Oh well. Time to go and look for some of the Mongols' remote patrols, she decided. Beating them up would make her feel better.

She paused for a moment to get her bearings. She stood against the wall of an old wooden cabin, probably abandoned from the looks of it. To the east, the sky was a vibrant blue, while on the other side a gray haze filled the air. The contrast was striking, like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that couldn't possibly fit together.

A sudden feeling shook through her head like a jolt of electricity. Danger!

Without thinking, Akane darted to the side. Instantly, something came pouring down on the spot where she'd just been. Liquid splashed onto the dirt. Mud splattered, leaving brown speckles on Akane's pants.

She looked up. A figure on the roof, shadowed by the sun's glare, was visible for the briefest second before fading back.

Akane sprang into the air, and landed on the roof, causing the whole hut to shake. It was empty. The attacker was already gone. How could anyone have gotten away so fast?

A small, clear plastic bottle lay in front of her. The rickety roof strained and groaned as she shifted her weight and picked it up. Only a thin film of liquid at the bottom remained inside. She shook it, and a couple of drops plopped out onto her hands. The bottle's label identified it as a dime-store fragrance for men, but it had no smell at all. Just water, as far as she could tell. But that made no sense.

Why would someone want to splash me? It's not as if I've got one of those....

Sunlight glinted off a droplet of water, stabbing into Akane's eye like a dagger. Slipping from her fingers, the bottle bounced off the roof and tumbled to the ground below.

... one of those curses....

Akane leapt from the roof. She felt helpless, so very vulnerable. If she hadn't moved at that instant, she'd have been turned into... what? A mouse? An ant, to be squashed under her unknown attacker's foot? Something even worse?

She'd been worried about fighting Mongol soldiers — but this was a whole new level of danger. The invaders had superior numbers and firepower, but they were ignorant when it came to curses and super-martial arts. Or so she'd thought. But now it seemed that someone on their side wasn't. Without that advantage, how could they possibly win?


At the camp in the mountains, Hikaru Gosunkugi sat with Ti Pi atop a flat boulder. About a meter high and twice as long, the rock would've (and, for all Hikaru knew, had) made a good picnic table during better times. Now, it served as the "conference room" where the two of them arranged ways to provoke the Mongols.

He scanned down the paper on his clipboard to find the line he wanted, and put a check mark by it. "Ranma, motor pool, back successfully," he said, mostly to himself.

Ti Pi's brows narrowed. "It's too bad that he couldn't damage the heavily armored vehicles, though. I wonder if someone else could."

Hikaru considered for a moment. "Ryoga. He's the strongest of the group, and besides, Ke Lun taught him that attack that makes rocks blow up by touching them."

"The Breaking Point? You think he could adapt it against armor?"

"Maybe." And he could call it the Bakusai Tank-ketsu, Hikaru thought, and quickly decided it wasn't worth saying out loud. "Er... but he'll need someone to go with him. On his own, he gets lost, even if he's only trying to go a few blocks."

"Really?" Her eyes widened as she leaned toward him. "I've never heard of anyone like that."

"Er, it's a family curse. At least that's what I heard Ranma say." Hikaru felt disgusted with himself for not being able to give a better answer. This wasn't anything new for him, of course. He was fully used to not having what women were looking for — whether it be looks, social status, or whatever intangible thing it was that guys like Ranma had and he didn't. But he'd thought, just for a moment, that it might be different with Ti Pi.

It was obvious that knowledge was her thing, the way some women were interested in money, others in fighting. He could tell by the way her eyes lit up whenever he talked about something she didn't know yet. Even computers. Where most any other woman he could think of would've been bored to tears, she had listened intently, and even asked him to write out a sample program.

Hikaru was a knowledge collector too, of course, but not for its own sake. For him, learning things was a means to whatever end he wanted to accomplish — even if he more often than not chickened out on putting his knowledge to any actual use. He could spend hours telling Ti Pi about Akane, or Ranma, but he'd never really bothered to learn much about Ryoga or some of the others.


"Huh?" Hikaru's head jerked at the sound of the voice behind him. "Oh, uh, hello, Kasumi."

"I switched that powder with their laundry soap, like you asked."

"Did you run into any trouble?"

"Oh, no," she said. "I know how not to be seen when I don't want to be." Did she wink at him? Or was it just his imagination?

Hikaru's mouth fell open, but no words came out. "Ah, heh heh." Sweat trickled down his forehead. Did she know? It made sense that a priestess would be able to see him despite his technique, and maybe even know a similar one. Did she know about his training under Happosai? Had she been watching him and the others secretly?

Kasumi smiled impishly. "It was fun, actually. I've never really done a practical joke on someone like this before."

"Practical joke?" Hikaru blinked. "Kasumi, do— do you know what that powder was?"

"Yes, Mr. Saotome told me. It was glass; one of their windshields that he, er, borrowed and ground up." She giggled.

Hikaru and Ti Pi stared at her in disbelief.

"I'm sorry. I know it's not nice to laugh at others' misfortunes. But just think of how they'll feel when they take their clothes out of the wash, and they're still dirty." She giggled again.

For a long moment, Ti Pi and Hikaru stared at each other. Almost simultaneously, they shook their heads, as if to say I'm not going to tell her.

"Is there anything else for me to do?" Kasumi asked.

"Um... not right now, Kasumi," Hikaru answered. "We'll call you when there is."

She waved cheerfully, and faded back into the "living room." Ti Pi began to chuckle, and Hikaru laughed along with her. Then an awkward silence stifled them.

"So..." Ti Pi said after a pause, "who should we send along with Ryoga?"


He scanned down his clipboard. Shan Pu was currently prowling the village in cat form, trying to make contact with some of the Elders. Mu Si was also at the village; Nabiki and Mr. Saotome had, for some reason, asked him to go there and take photographs. That had to be a sight to see; a duck with glasses pointing a camera, pushing the button with its wing. So who else....

"Kuno?" he offered hesitantly.

She nodded. "Good choice. He knows the area better than most of the others."

"I'll go tell him, then," Hikaru's legs swung down as he prepared to hop off the rock to the ground. "Him and Ryoga, I mean."


Pausing, he glanced back at her. "Huh?"

"I never asked you. Why did you come on this trip?"

"Oh. Uh...." Briefly, he considered telling her the truth, then decided against it. I came because I wanted action and adventure. The life of a computer programmer in Japan is too dull. He wasn't sure why, but somehow he didn't think that that would go over too well. "I, well, um, just wanted to help out. I mean, I heard about the trouble you were in. Your village, I mean. And I figured if I could do something to help, I should."

She smiled warmly at him. "Thank you, Hikaru. I and my sisters appreciate the help you and your friends are giving us."

"Uh... don't mention it." He nodded feebly, for a moment imagining a myriad of possibilities. Then he pushed off the rock, and his feet landed on solid ground. Why would she ever be interested in him? And even if she normally might be, this wasn't the time. He couldn't ask her out on a date when they were about to fight a battle to rescue her village. And after that, he'd be gone. No matter how he looked at it, it seemed that Hikaru Gosunkugi was going to end up alone.


Major Huang finally stopped writing and looked up from his desk. "All right, Captain. What have you found out?"

"From what the locals have told my subordinates, the leader of the saboteurs is named Shan Pu," Captain Shagdarsuren said. "Apparently they knew that we were coming, so they sent Shan Pu off to Japan to bring some friends of hers back here to help."

"And these friends are?"

"One who's a ringleader of sorts is Saotome Ranma. A martial artist who runs a dojo in Japan. From the description I got, he's our boy from the motor pool incident. Some of the locals claim that he's Shan's ex-husband, while others say that they're just old friends, or that she used to chase after him but he wasn't interested."

"I need something we can use to put a stop to these people, Captain." His tone was sharp, slightly accusatory. "I'm not interested in the details of their love lives, not unless there's something that will give us leverage against them."

"Yes, sir. As for the rest of the group, there's an ex-local who settled in Japan some years back. There's a Japanese who settled here at about the same time and is Shan's current squeeze, name of Kuno. There's Saotome's wife, also a martial artist. And some others that nobody here knows much about."

"Is that all you've found, Captain?" the major asked. He more than likely knew the answer already, but wanted Shagdarsuren to say so just to keep him in his place.

Not that Huang wasn't an all right guy. Shagdarsuren had known him for years, ever since the two of them were junior lieutenants; he'd had an uncommon amount of good sense, and still did. It was just a fact of life: a CO had the top brass and the bureaucrats looking over his shoulder. If something wasn't being done the way they wanted it done, chances were he'd get blamed, even if it wasn't his fault.

"Yes, sir," Shagdarsuren repeated. "The locals' stories were surprisingly consistent. I think they've really told us all they know."

"These terrorist attacks need to be stopped. Not only are they doing real damage to our manpower and equipment, but morale is dropping like a rock."

"I'm aware of that, sir. I've already given you my recommendation on the matter. Execution. One local, every hour on the hour, until the attacks cease and the terrorists are in custody."

"I thought you said the locals have told us all they know?" The major sipped from his coffee mug.

"Yes, sir. But the terrorists are acting on behalf of the locals. They'll surrender if it's the only way to keep the people here from being killed."

Major Huang paused thoughtfully. "I have orders to avoid unnecessary killing, Captain. Orders from the top."

Of course he did, Shagdarsuren thought. It was the age-old story. As long as they'd existed, the job of bureaucrats and politicians had been to get in the way of people who were trying to get a job done. If they had any sense, they'd simply decide what they wanted done and then step aside. Let the military men — the men who had spent their lives in combat instead of pushing papers — have free reign to decide how to achieve their goals. They were the ones who were good at it.

"I understand the need to follow orders, sir," Shagdarsuren said evenly. "But 'unnecessary' leaves some room for judgement. It's necessary that we stop these saboteurs, isn't it?"

He said nothing further as the major dismissed him with a nod. He knew that Huang would come around to his way of thinking soon enough.


Feline paws padded stealthily across dirt and onto hard wood floor. Shan Pu was home. To her cat eyes, the walls seemed to stretch out to vast distances. Almost-dead memories tugged at her mind: this was how it had looked so many years ago when she had played here as a child.

Against one wall stood the ancient urn that Great-grandmother had bought nearly a hundred years ago. Across the room, the Ke family tea set rested on the small wooden table, the gold inlaid designs on the ceramic cups and pots highlighted by the glare of the late afternoon sun. All non-magical — Great-grandmother wouldn't leave any items of power in plain sight — but of priceless value for the memories they held. It was very strange. All the other buildings Shan Pu had seen had been looted and emptied; why not this one?

Following along the wall, she quickly made her way toward the bedroom. Why they'd left her home untouched was a mystery she'd have to think about some other time. For now, she was after something that the Mongols couldn't have gotten to even if they did know about it. Linghungbao. Great-grandmother, on her deathbed, had told Shan Pu how to access its secret hiding place. With it in hand, soon these barbarian invaders would be begging for mercy — mercy which she would deny them.

"Hello, kitty."

The voice jarred to the bone, like the scraping of metal against metal. Shan Pu whirled around to face an old woman in a plain, somewhat oversized brown frock. But for her narrow eyes and hair of dark gray, she could have passed for Great-grandmother. I must have walked right by her and not noticed, Shan Pu thought. To mask her presence like that, she must be greatly skilled.

"Oh, you needn't be afraid," the old woman purred. "I won't hurt you. Old Zhen Biaozi likes kitties, yes she does."

Zhen Biaozi? Shan Pu couldn't place the name, though it seemed vaguely familiar. She knew all of the Amazon Elders — both by face and by name — and this old woman wasn't one of them. But intuition honed by years of experience told Shan Pu that this woman was not to be taken lightly. Someone with the skills of an elder Amazon, whether officially recognized as such or not, would be one of the deadliest foes one could encounter.

Pushing her cat legs to their limit, Shan Pu sprinted to the doorway and out of the house. There was no point in trying to recover the Linghungbao; Zhen Biaozi would surely take it from her before she could use it. No, she knew better than to fight a battle that she could not win.


"See 'em?"

Slowly, Corporal Sauchuk tilted the binoculars. In the image, terrain zipped rapidly by. There. A flash of color amidst the brown. He centered the view on it and adjusted the focus. There was a shapely young woman in a glossy skin-tight costume. A pig-tailed man in an old-style Chinese shirt. A... a panda bear?

"Surprised me when I spotted it," Private Martinez said. "I mean, who'd've thought a travelling circus would be out here in the middle of—"

"You idiot. Those are the saboteurs." Sauchuk handed back the binoculars. "C'mon, let's go tell the lieutenant. He can get a map and figure out roughly where we were looking at."

"Sounds good to me. I wouldn't mind getting a closer look at that babe." Martinez laughed. "'Course, she can leave the bear and the bozo home, and that'd be fine with me."

Sauchuk sighed. "It'd be fine with me if the major could track down these saboteurs. Then maybe you wouldn't have to worry about getting poison in your stew or a knife in your back."

The two Mongol soldiers walked off. Concealed in the shadows, a duck watched. The camera hanging by a strap from its neck bobbed back and forth as it lifted its head. And to the extent that a duck can smile, this one did, knowing that everything was going according to plan.


Major Huang thumbed through the photos, pausing to stare at each one for a few seconds. "Where is this area on the map?"

"Here, sir." Lieutenant Batachikhan spread the map onto the desk. He pointed to one spot marked with a bright red X. "We figure their camp has to be somewhere beyond this location. Not too far, obviously, since they come and go from here on foot."

"Yes, they'd pretty much have to be on foot with this terrain." Huang's eyes pored over the topographic contours in light brown that zig-zagged across the map's surface. "I don't think you could get any vehicles through there. Even choppers would be too risky with the low visibility. Mules might make it, but that's about it. Which makes it difficult for us."

"I imagine that's why they picked the location, Major," said Captain Shagdarsuren.

"Yes, yes of course." Huang paused thoughtfully. "So... if we were to attempt a raid on the presumed location of their base, how much of a force could we spare?"

Shagdarsuren glanced over a paper on his clipboard. "Given the number of our troops who are currently incapacitated, I estimate we could send sixty men. That would leave us only a minimal force here, with backups for night duty."

Huang mulled the situation over in his mind. It was entirely possible that these people had let themselves be spotted in order to lead his forces away on a wild goose chase, hoping to attack the village while it was under-defended. But while a saboteur or two could slip in unnoticed, reconnaissance surely ought to be able to spot a full attack force before they got here. If that happened, the attack troops could be recalled, and it should take at most about an hour for them to get back.

He slurped a mouthful of tea, feeling the warmth slide down his throat. This plan had far too many shoulds and ought-tos for comfort. The sensible thing to do would be to simply tighten security here. Sooner or later, the saboteurs would make a mistake and be caught.

But these obviously weren't ordinary saboteurs. One of them, reportedly, had faced an AK-47 at point blank range and dodged. Easily. Several times. Another had fought unarmed against an entire patrol and beaten them up before they'd even managed to fire a warning shot, and yet another had disabled several tanks, somehow drilling holes in the armor without being spotted. If there was any chance to catch these people with their guard down, he had to take it.

"Make your preparations, Captain. Your force will leave at oh-nine hundred hours tomorrow morning."

Shagdarsuren saluted. "Very good, sir."


By early evening, the sky over the camp had clouded over into a grayish haze, with only a barely noticeable bright spot to betray the sun's hiding place. The group sat down to another strategy meeting.

"What did you find out, Shan Pu?" Ranma asked, his words slightly slurred from a mouthful of Kasumi-cooked noodles.

"I speak with Elder Lan. Sisters are ready as soon as we give signal."

Ranma turned to his father. "So when is the whole thing gonna happen?"

"I expect it should be soon. Tomorrow morning, more than likely. By now, the Mongols should've noticed the clues telling them where to find us."

"They did notice, Mr. Saotome," Mu Si said. "I was watching them when they spotted it."

Ranma blinked. "You guys want them to know where we are?"

"Not where we are, boy. Where we'll be. By now, we've surely enraged these Mongols to the point where they'll jump on any opportunity to attack us. We're going to exploit the situation by luring them into a battleground where all the advantages are ours."

"You know somewhere like that, Pop?"

Genma nodded. "As a matter of fact, yes."

"You don't mean...."

"I do, boy."

"That's nasty, Pop." There was a begrudged admiration in his voice, but also a hint of disapproval.

"Of course, I shouldn't need to remind you that we all need to be on our guard. The weapons these people are using are deadly. One slip-up, and any of us might not live to tell about it."

Kasumi, who had listened silently up to this point, spoke up. "I can do something that might help."

"What's that, Kasumi?" Ranma asked.

"The Amazon village is the site of a tremendous amount of spiritual energy. Not only from currently living Amazons, but all the generations of ancestors as well."

Ranma gazed at her curiously. "So?"

"I can tap into some of this energy and redirect it to all of you. It'll make each of you a little faster, stronger, more resistant to harm."

"That's great, Kasumi," Ranma said. "We sure need any breaks that we can get."

"Kasumi," Akane said, "will you have to be on the battlefield to channel this energy?"

"Oh, no. I can do it from anywhere in the general area."

"Okay." Akane let out a relieved breath. She didn't want Kasumi anywhere near the battle.

Ti Pi leaned forward. "Shan Pu, Linghungbao zenmeyang?"

Shan Pu noticed the uncomprehending stares she was getting. "She ask about Linghungbao. Is powerful Amazon item. For many, many years, Great-grandmother keep hidden for in case of emergency. No one else know how to find. Then before she die, she tell secret to me."

Hikaru seemed to flinch a little at the mention. Strange, Akane thought. But probably not worth worrying about.

"I'd sure as heck call this an emergency," Ranma said. "Can we dig out that... whatever it is and use it against these guys?"

"I try to get, Ranma. Someone else now live in my house. Is Amazon elder."

"An Elder? On the side of the invaders?" Ti Pi's brows raised in surprise. "Which one?"

"I not familiar with this Elder. She say her name 'Zhen Biaozi.' Never know this name. But I just watch way she move, way she look, and I can tell she is Amazon warrior. If I get Linghungbao from hiding place, she take from me before I can use."

Mu Si's mouth fell open. "Zhen... Biaozi?"

Everyone turned to look at him.

"I... I met someone who gave that as her name," he said reluctantly. "But it couldn't have been the one you saw. This person was young. Not an elder at all."

Ranma snorted. "Yeah, and we all know how what great powers of observation you have."

"I was wearing my glasses, Ranma," he said defensively. "She had her face bundled up so I couldn't get a good look at it. But I saw enough to be sure that she wasn't old."

"Where you see this person, Mu Si?" Shan Pu asked.

"On the way to the train station. Right before we left for China. She... she asked me to switch sides. To secretly work for her and sabotage this group's efforts."

The whole group fell silent, staring at Mu Si, waiting for an explanation.

"I said no, of course! Do you think I'd be telling you this if I hadn't?"

Shan Pu eyed him suspiciously. "Why you no tell us this before?"

"Because..." he stammered, "because I didn't think it was important. Because if you found out, you wouldn't trust me anymore."

Akane wasn't sure whether to believe him. Are you really working against us, Mu Si? Was it you who attacked me with Jusenkyo water? It was easy to believe. After all, he'd chased the same girl for so many years, and always ended up denied her. But then again, why choose Akane to attack?

"Well, I for one think he's telling the truth." Kodachi touched Mu Si playfully under the chin. "After all, if our enemy were to place a spy within our midst, wouldn't they choose someone more... competent?"

Ranma smirked at her. "Know anyone in particular who fits that, Kodachi?"

"Oh, you are amusing, dear Ranma." She put an arm around his shoulder, much to Akane's irritation. "Be assured that if I were opposed to your little group's efforts, there would be no reason for me to be secretive about it."

She turned, noticing that Kasumi was staring wide-eyed at her.

Kodachi glared back quizzically. "Yes?"

"Oh, I'm sorry," Kasumi said. "I couldn't help noticing something strange about your aura."

Kodachi stood. "Well, I think perhaps we ought to get to work." She turned to Mr. Saotome. "Perhaps you could show us this battleground on which we are to fight tomorrow? I'm sure there are preparations that need to be made."

Ranma nodded. "Good idea. I think we're done with this meetin'."

Akane smiled to herself. Quickest change of the subject I've seen in quite a while, she thought. Obviously, Kodachi was afraid of Kasumi, and it had to be because Kasumi was capable of finding and thwarting whatever gimmick the gymnast was using. Enjoy your superiority, Kodachi. For now. Because it won't last you much longer.

"C'mon, let's go." Ranma beckoned to Ryoga. "We need you along with us on this one."

"I'll stay here tonight and keep an eye on the non-combatants, if that's all right," Akane said. "After all, sisters should look after each other."


"Ha ha!" cackled the old crone. "You are too late, Xi! Soon, my conjured demon shall destroy your village, and I shall have my revenge!"

"No! An Amazon warrior never gives up hope!" said Xi. "I shall defeat you, Dong Wupo!"

"Ha ha! You can do nothing! Even now, my spell prevents you from moving!"

"Eeeeeeeeek!" screamed Nanbei, as he clung to Xi's arm. "You've got to save us!"

With the last vestiges of her fading strength, Xi closed her eyes. Oh, goddesses, she prayed, your servant needs your help to save our sisters from this evil!

Shan Pu shoved the dusty old book into her pack, disappointment weighing heavily on her. As a child, she'd loved the tales of the ancient Amazon warriors. When she read them, the stories would unfold in her mind as if she were there herself.

But not now. Now they were just words, lying lifelessly on decaying pages. Their world was a papier mache construct, in which things always worked out for the best in the end and any situation, no matter how dire, could be made better by appealing to the goddesses for help.

Great-grandmother had never liked these old stories. To Shan Pu, that had seemed quite strange; why should the Amazons' oldest and greatest warrior not want to hear tales of her tribe's greatness? A good story takes you from this world, she said when Shan Pu had asked her about it. A great one brings you back to it. This answer only left her as confused as ever — at the time.

Years passed, slowly teaching Shan Pu the difference between fiction and reality. The true villains of the world were unlike the ones in the stories. They did what they did not simply because they were evil, but for their own reasons. That made them no less evil, no less deserving of punishment, but it did allow the possibility that their reasons could be neutralized, and hence they might cease to be villains.

And now the Amazons were beset by villains, and she had no real idea why. Right now, she could only see the tips of the weeds that infested the garden that was her home; but soon she, along with her sisters and friends, would pull them by the roots, however far they might stretch. And in the meantime, she was stuck in this world of death and uncertainty, unable to escape even for a little while.


Feline eyes glanced expectantly towards the kitchen area, then forward again. "Mmrroooow!"

"I can't feed ya now, hon," Ukyo answered. "I'm on the phone." In her ear, the saccharine sounds of sax and violins faded. An announcer's voice asked her to please stay on the line because her call was very important to them. Another musical number began, indistinguishable from the last.

Kakikizu stared at her forcefully. "Mraaoow!"

Ukyo sighed. "All right, sugar, I'm coming. Seeing's how you absolutely can't wait...." There wasn't much point in staying on hold. How long had she been waiting already? Ten minutes? Twenty?

Abruptly, the music cut off, and an actual live voice sounded. "Akemi Restaurant Supply. This is Tanaka. How may I help you?"

"Oh, um, hi. I'm calling about the bill I've recently received." She retrieved the piece of paper from the chair on which she'd set it down earlier. "I'm Kuonji Ukyo, account number K9-23151506."

Computer keys clacked in the background. "I have the record, ma'am. Is there an error?"

"Well, I'm not sure. My charges were considerably higher than last month's, even though my order was smaller."

"Yes, ma'am. Our rates have recently increased for non-bulk-discounted customers. There should've been a notification about it on your previous invoice."

"Um, yeah." She couldn't remember seeing any such thing — but then, she might well have missed it. "Look, the thing is... my restaurant barely makes enough profit to squeak by as it is. If I have to start paying these kinds of grocery store prices for my ingredients, I don't think I'll even be able to make enough to cover my fixed expenses."

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't help you. Those prices are set by our company office in Osaka. What I can do is file a complaint in the system on your behalf, which will be forwarded and noted at the next company meeting."

Her mouth opened to scream at him, but she just didn't have the energy. What was the point? This person obviously had no authority to decide prices, or anything else. He was more than likely just some low-paid employee whose job was to try to mollify people like her.

"All right, sugar, you do that," she said. "Thanks for all your help, and bye now." She hung up the phone, slamming it down with considerably more force than she'd meant to, feeling as if she'd been slamming her head against an immovable stone barrier. The good thing about banging your head into a wall, one of her schoolmates had quipped long ago, is that it feels so good when you stop. But it didn't, not at all; it just left her tired, aching and sore.


"Oh, right. Sorry about that, kiddo." Ukyo dragged herself across the room and glanced down at the cat's supper dish. "You've already got food, sugar. There's enough food in this dish to feed a kitty for a hundred years."

Kakikizu strolled calmly over to the dish and began to lap up his food. He just wanted some company, Ukyo supposed; could she blame him? She knelt down on the floor next to him and watched him feed his face.

She still remembered Mr. Tsukubari, the man who'd always sold supplies to her father so many years ago. She could still picture the short-haired, chubby-faced man as clearly as if she'd seen him only yesterday. He and her father used to meet for "negotiating sessions;" each one would bring along a bottle of sake, they'd spend the evening talking over old friends or the weather or whatever came to mind, and somehow when it was time to go home they'd have managed to agree on a price. It all seemed like a fun game, one that Ukyo couldn't wait to play. But by the time she was old enough, the rules had changed. It wasn't fun anymore.

His bowl of food half-finished, the cat suddenly got up and sauntered away. A leap propelled him onto his owner's bed, where he stretched lazily out on his side. Ukyo smiled wryly as she picked the dish off the floor. Such was life in the food service industry. Still, it was what she liked to do, and would keep doing as long as she could — even though some customers were more appreciative than others.

The phone rang. Ukyo stepped over to answer it, wondering why Akemi Restaurant Supply might be calling her back. "Hello?"

"Hello, Ukyo-san. This is Saotome Nodoka."

"Oh, hello, Mrs. Saotome," Ukyo said. The voice of Ranma's mother reminded her of the other impending doom in her life — marriage to Sanzenin Mikado.

"I've just spoken with your fiance, and I'm afraid I owe you an apology."

"You do?"

"Yes. I should have talked with the two of you before trying to arrange your wedding."

Ukyo certainly wasn't going to argue with that.

"Mikado-san explained to me how you're waiting for Ranma to return from China," Mrs. Saotome continued. "As you and he are old friends, I can well understand why you wouldn't want to get married until he could be present."

"Um... oh, yes. Of course!"

"I'd still like to host your wedding here, as soon as Ranma does return. Would that be all right?"

"Er...." Ukyo tried to think of a way to gracefully refuse. "If it's all right with Mikado...." It would be, of course. Her "fiance" didn't want the marriage any more than she did, but he was far too stubborn to be the one to call it off.

For a moment, she felt an odd sort of kinship towards Mikado. They were, after all, passengers on the same sinking ship, and if nothing else, he'd helped to keep it afloat a little longer. He'd bought them time.

Then again, he was the one who had started the whole thing. It was all his fault anyway. Now Ukyo was going to find a way out of it. And if Mikado would have to suffer in the process, she wouldn't lose any sleep over it.


The bright orange morning sun peeked at the world briefly, then disappeared behind a sheet of dull gray. The sky groaned and rumbled, as if swallowing the sun had given it indigestion.

Major Huang stared at the village through his office window. Everything was quiet. A few minutes ago, the attack force had marched off unobtrusively, or as unobtrusively as sixty heavily-armed soldiers could march, leaving the village under-defended. The villagers seemed to be going about their normal business, nodding and smiling through masks of politeness as they passed. If they had any idea what was happening, they weren't showing any sign of it.

Still, he thought, a little deterrent might be a good thing. Stepping to the doorway, he called to the guard on duty. "Sergeant."


"Have Ms. Lan report to my office immediately for interrogation."

"Yes, sir."


The trail ahead sliced its way between two mountains; it narrowed to less than a meter across, like the gap between two teeth in a giant's mouth.

Captain Shagdarsuren spoke into his walkie-talkie. "Leader to squad five. Come in, squad five."

"Five here," the voice answered.


"We've scouted the entire area. The ring of mountains goes all the way around. The only opening is the one at your position."

"No other way inside?"

"That's correct, sir. Unless you happen to be a bird, that is. Or you've got climbing equipment and are willing to spend two or three hours."

"Return to this position, five. Sergeant Li will contact you with further orders. Leader out." Shagdarsuren set the walkie-talkie back onto his belt.

"You think this is where they're hiding?" the sergeant asked.

"One way to find out," Shagdarsuren mused. It would certainly be an ideal place for a band of terrorists to hole up; not far from the village, accessible by only one entrance, and highly defensible. Most likely they were here. But that also meant that it would be heavily guarded, and probably booby-trapped.

No matter. Superior numbers and firepower would win. These guerillas might be able to take out ten or twenty of his men, but eventually the advantages of surprise and home turf would wear out.

"Squad one will take the point," he ordered. "Go in slowly and carefully, ready for any sort of traps or ambush. When you get inside, you'll go forward fifty meters and no more, until squad two arrives."

High above, the sky rumbled, louder than it had a moment earlier.


"More tea?"

Lan Zhilei held out her cup. "Thank you, young man." If nothing else, this particular barbarian had good manners.

"You're welcome. I know what you must think, but there really is no reason that we should have to be enemies."

"Would you consider someone who invaded and took over your village an enemy?" There was no reproach or hostility in her voice; it was merely a question.

"Ah, but this village doesn't belong to you, not anymore." The major took a slow sip from his cup of tea. "It is a part of the Mongol nation. That is a fact of life about which you have no say. You can choose to deny it, but all you will accomplish in so doing will be to make life difficult for yourself."

The teacher in Lan again spoke. "You've yet to answer my question. What would you have done had the situation been reversed?"

Major Huang smiled bemusedly. "You obviously believe that I would struggle against the situation. What makes you think so?"

"In the years I've lived, I've known soldiers, and I've known warriors. You are unlike those soldiers that you command. You are a warrior."

"Perhaps you could explain the distinction?" he asked curiously.

"For a soldier, combat is but a means to an end. For a warrior, it is an art. A true warrior would never cease to fight because it became impractical."

"Ah." Huang set down his cup. "Perhaps I am as you say, madam. But I am also a soldier, and a realist. And a military officer needs troops to command and an attainable cause to fight for, just as an artist needs stone to sculpt or a canvas on which to paint."

All empty words. Lan knew very well why the major had asked her here. He suspected that her sisters would be making a bid for freedom, and she was a hostage to try to prevent that. The only thing she wasn't sure of was how the other Amazons would react. Hopefully, they would carry on as planned. It had been a good life, a long life, and better now to die while the village is freed than to live on in captivity.


No one ambushed Shagdarsuren as he and his men penetrated the interior of the circle of mountains. No bombs exploded, no soldiers plunged into concealed pits, no trip wires brought spears flying out of the brush, and all of that made him even more paranoid. The guerillas were out there... somewhere. Maybe in this area, maybe elsewhere.

At Shagdarsuren's command, his men spread out over the shallow valley between the mountains. Squads two and three went to the left and right sides, stepping around the pools of water that lay scattered about the ground. Ghostly white patches of mist floated languidly through the air, chilling with their touch. He wasn't sure why, but the captain couldn't help thinking of the place as a graveyard. The pools were graves, with bamboo poles sticking out of each one as headstones.

Squad five remained in the back, readying the M-79 type "Blooper" that they'd brought. It was a launcher loaded with special grenades containing nothing but a few hundred streamlined nails; the perfect item for convincing guerillas to come out of hiding. Squad four stood in the center of the area, Shagdarsuren with them.

Squad one crossed to the far side, guns pointed at the small shack there — the only man-made structure visible. Crudely constructed from bamboo and mismatched pieces of wood, it looked like it'd been thrown together in about twenty minutes. Just a little too obvious for my tastes, Shagdarsuren thought, and he cautioned the men that it probably concealed a bomb. The soldiers circled around the shack, guns at the ready, as a pair of explosive ordinance disposal specialists stepped cautiously toward it.

Then the mountainside exploded. The troops of squad one flattened themselves prone against the ground as rock shrapnel rained over them.

From inside the mountain, several figured rushed out.


The martial artists quickly charged out of the hole that Ryoga's Breaking Point attack had made. The spiritual energy of the Amazons coursed through them, energizing, supercharging like a rocket engine in a compact car. For now, all infighting and suspicion were forgotten; all that mattered was the battle.

In teams of two, they rushed to the positions that they'd planned out previously. Ryoga and Tatewaki remained in the front; fists and bokken slammed into Mongol soldiers before they had time to recover from the rock blast.

Mu Si flew in duck form towards the middle group of foes. As he landed, he morphed back to human form. A volley of chains, polearms, and axes assaulted a crowd of Mongols. They dodged frantically; two of them landed in a spring, from which a pair of monkeys in military uniforms crawled out a moment later. Kodachi followed behind, and the Attack of a Thousand Clubs battered another group of opponents into unconsciousness. One of them, from his insignia, was a captain, surely the high-ranking officer of the platoon. She laughed to herself, amused at the delightful rules these children invented for their little games.

Ji Ma and three other Phoenix Tribe warriors flew to engage the far group, their powerful wings covering the distance in an instant. Razor-sharp feathers flew from her hand, slicing through soldiers like tissue paper, killing four instantly and wounding two more. This was the Amazons' battle, not hers, but she had agreed to join it in exchange for a promise of future aid, and she never gave less than her all in a fight.

Ranma and Akane leapt toward the squad on the left. Ranma systematically took out opponents by strikes to nerve clusters. Akane protected his back, knocking into the springs any of the soldiers who managed to get a gun pointed in her husband's direction. Troopers watched wild dogs crawl from the pool, in uniforms that had belonged to their compatriots, and understanding crept up on them. This battleground was a minefield. The mines didn't blow off chunks of their victims' body — instead, they transformed them into animals. And maybe it would wear off, and maybe it wouldn't.

Genma repeated Mu Si's approach, but in reverse; changing to panda form in mid-leap, he slammed into the group on the right, knocking them over like bowling pins. Shan Pu started on the other side of the same cluster; powerful Amazon muscles began throwing Mongols against mountains with back-breaking force. These men had violated her village, killed her sisters who had never attacked or committed any wrong against them, and she meant to hurt them for it. For the unprovoked pain they had brought to the Amazons, she would pay them back a hundredfold.

With only a moment's thought, Sergeant Li frantically aimed the "blooper." With a quick prayer, he fired straight up towards the bird-people where they hovered in the gray sky. Just what sort of creatures were they? He'd joined the military expecting to fight against other armies. Nothing in his training had told him what to do against mythological beasts, or evil transforming magic.

A massive swoop of Ji Ma's wings created a downward gust of air as the grenade exploded. Pushed down by the wind, the deadly spikes fell harmlessly to the ground. Li turned, managing to avoid falling into a spring as he ran to the safety of the mountain pass. He'd face dereliction charges if he had to; it was preferable to being sliced up as his friends had just been.

Suddenly, a resounding thunderclap split the air. As instantly as if someone had flipped a switch, water filled the air. Rain poured down, spattering into the pools like rapid-fire bullets.

Tatewaki blinked and shook the water away from his eyes, only to find his fighting partner gone. How? But there was no time to wonder about it. He thrust his bokken forward, knocking three soldiers off their feet. He had to finish them off before....

A gunshot flashed. Tatewaki collapsed to the ground, clutching at his chest. He staggered in shock, trying to stand as he watched his blood trickle down and soak into the ground.

"Oh, shit... Kuno!" Ranma turned, calling back to Akane in mid-leap, "Finish these guys off! I need to help Kuno!"

Adrenaline surged through Akane as her fists tore into the remaining attackers in rapid succession. Ranma trusted her — so much that he could leave a fight to her without a second thought or even a glance back. That made her happy, but there was no time to think about that now. She had to finish the job at hand.

"Tatewaki!" Shan Pu screeched. Her own group forgotten, she ran over and began attacking the men who had shot Tatewaki.

Genma-panda, currently grappling with five soldiers, looked up. "Urh?" Two of the remaining Mongols leveled their guns in his direction. He held out a sign that read, Uh... help?

"Pop!" Ranma estimated the distance. No way could he make it there in time. "Somebody—"

"Never fear, Ranma darling," Kodachi said. "I'll attend to this." A razor hoop whirled through the air. It sliced through the neck of one Mongol; his head flew from his shoulders to land in one of the springs with a plop. The other dodged as the hoop came back his way. His foot landed on loose ground, and he slipped, plunging into a pool and crawling out a moment later as a wild dog.

The remaining soldiers threw down their guns and raised their hands in surrender. Those who had been turned into animals simply ran, unable to comprehend what had happened to them.

"Hot water!" Ranma called after them. "Hot water turns you back to—"

Shan Pu's fist crashed into his mouth. He fell to the dirt, rubbing his jaw. She turned her eyes from him, walking around to the opposite side of the adjacent spring. For long moments, Ranma lay on the mud-soaked ground, letting the heavy rain beat down on him, only glancing momentarily across the gap that separated them before looking away. Damn.

Tofu attended to Tatewaki while the rest of the group secured the prisoners. "Is he gonna be all right, Doc?" Ranma asked. Shan Pu stood on the other side of Tatewaki, snubbing Ranma with a barely audible grunt. Unnoticed in the rain, a small black piglet looked up, eyes wide with concern.

"Oh, yes," Tofu answered. "It's serious, but there's no reason he shouldn't be fine with the proper care. Actually, from the way the bullet entered I'm surprised there wasn't more damage than there is. The energy that Kasumi channeled must have shielded him."

"Thanks, Doc," Ranma said with relief. He looked up. "Hey, Ji Ma. Time to give the signal."

The bird-woman soared high into the air. She spread her wings wide, hovering for a moment before returning to the ground.

"All right." Ranma let out a tired breath. Except for one injury, everything had gone about as well as could be expected. Now it was up to the Amazons.


The sound of gunshots resounded from outside. Major Huang glanced out the window.

"That," Lan said in answer to his unspoken question, "is the sound of people who insist on making life difficult for themselves."

Huang stood, drawing a gun and pointing it against Lan's head, pushing her so that she faced away from him.

"I see," she said. "Perhaps I was wrong about you."

"Quiet." He hustled her out the door and through the corridor towards the exit.

"Does a Mongol warrior hide behind an old woman?" Go ahead and shoot me, she thought. At least she'd die knowing that her sisters would be freed.

"You— urgh." The major's grip loosened, and he slumped to his knees.

Lan turned to examine the major. Dead. A tiny dart protruded from the back of his neck. Poisoned, no doubt.

She very unceremoniously kicked the major's corpse to the ground. In the end, he had proved her assessment wrong; he was no warrior. Nothing but a soldier, to the end.

But who had thrown the dart?


Concealed beneath the branches of an evergreen tree, Zhen Biaozi watched.

The major was a fool. He had had his chance, and failed. Had she let him live, the most he could have accomplished was to take a few Amazons with him as they killed him.

No, from here on, they would do things her way. First, she'd take care of Shan Pu's little group. Then it would be easy. And if anyone was to be killed, she would decide who and when.

Zhen Biaozi slipped out of the village. There were arrangements that needed to be made.


The open road stretched out before Private Martinez, winding between mountains and through valleys. And he began to walk.

Actually, he thought, he wasn't a private anymore. He was through with the Mongol army, and he was pretty sure that it was through with him. When the Amazons had started to rebel, he had quietly slipped away. No point in staying just to get himself killed.

No big deal. He had a little cash tucked away in his wallet, and he had time. Time to wander around for a while and end up... wherever. Maybe he'd go join up with some other outfit. He was never crazy about the Mongols anyhow. His only real regret was having been in an Amazon village and not getting any. After all, it wasn't like he was asking for a lot. In a town full of women, why couldn't there be just one who'd let him have her body?

"Mmmm." A honeyed voice spoke from above. "You'll do."

Looking up, Martinez barely glimpsed the figure that swooped toward him before it struck him on the head, and his world dissolved into darkness.


Boisterous shouts and cheers rang through the Amazon village. It was celebration time. But only a muffled echo of the sounds of revelry permeated the walls of the infirmary. Tofu conversed in hushed whispers with the local doctor, a small woman with graying hair. Ranma sat next to the table on which Kuno lay, listening to the kendoist's breathing.

"Ranma," Tofu said, "as long as you're here...."

"Hm?" Ranma looked up.

"Tatewaki's lost quite a bit of blood. It would help if...."

"No problem, Doc." Ranma rolled up his shirt, presenting a bare arm. "Um, I'm type A."

"Oh." Tofu shook his head slightly. "I'm afraid Tatewaki is type B. He'd need a donor of type B or O."

"Like I said, no problem." Ranma concentrated for a moment, bringing his female body into being. "I'm type O."

"That's a handy little trick." Tofu began to root around in his medical bag.

A weary voice called from the doorway. "Hello, Ranma. I'd heard you were here."

"Oh, hiya, Ms. Lan. How's it going?"

The Elder took a seat next to Ranma's. "As well as can be expected, I suppose. Thirty-seven Amazons dead, fifteen with permanent injuries. But our village is our own again, at least for the present."

"Yeah. It could've been a lot worse, right?" Ranma felt like a clumsy fool. Being emotionally supportive was something he was no good at.

"Indeed. I'm grateful to you and your friends for risking your lives to help us. If you were to decide to return home now, we would still be very much in your debt."

"Hey, um, it was no problem. I'm sure you'd've done the same for us. But I'm glad you didn't have to." Ranma mentally kicked himself for talking stupid. Well, whatever. It didn't matter all that much anymore. The whole thing was done with, and they could relax. They could go back to the way things had been before, with no more fighting and killing.

Tofu held a small sealed bag of thick plastic. "All right, Ranma. Let me see your arm so I can find a vein."

"So, what happens to the prisoners?" Ranma asked, as Tofu began poking and prodding at his arm.

Lan paused before answering. "Amazon law," she began, almost sighing the words as if to say you won't like to hear this, but, "is quite clear on such matters. These men have killed Amazons, or have aided in causing their deaths. Each prisoner will face trial by combat. He will fight one of our warriors; the choice of opponent is his, the choice of weapons hers. Should he win, the Amazon becomes his wife, and he is free to go. Losing will mean he is put to death."

The whole idea sickened Ranma, for reasons he couldn't completely identify. Still, he knew he'd never talk Lan out of it. Once an Amazon had made up her mind, it's made up. There was nothing he could do about it. It wasn't his responsibility, right?

"Ranma?" Tofu stopped looking at his arm and stared him in the face.


Tofu prodded Ranma's chest. His male chest.

"Huh? How did that happen?" He'd slipped back into male form without thinking about it, without even noticing it.

"It's okay, Ranma." Tofu patted him on the back. "I'll get someone else to donate the blood."

"Um, sure. Sorry about that, Doc," Ranma said feebly. Sheesh. Can't do nothing right, can you, Saotome? How could he have switched bodies without wanting to? It didn't make sense. He sighed. Oh well, there'd be time to puzzle it out. "I'm just glad the whole invasion thing is over."

Lan stared back at him neutrally. "For you it is, if you choose it to be. But for us, I'm afraid it isn't over. This was just one small part of the Mongol army. Just the tip of the iceberg, if you will. They could have sent far worse after us, and they will. We won't be able to rest as long as the General and his kind are in power."

Ranma felt her obvious meaning finally penetrating his thick skull. She wanted him and his friends to stay to fight with the Amazons some more. "I'm gonna have to talk with Akane about this," he said. "With everybody."

She nodded. "Of course." Deep down, he already knew what the answer would be. After all, they'd come this far already. And Ranma desperately wanted to know why this whole thing had happened, whose idea it had been to screw up the lives of his friends for no good reason that he could see.

"So who is this General, anyhow? What's he got up his butt that's making him so hot to attack you guys?"

"The second question I can't answer," Lan said, smiling wryly. "But as to the first... he's an old acquaintance of yours."


"Ranma?" The shout echoed from the buildings. "Akane? Anybody?"

Ryoga stared at the darkening evening sky. Okay, there were houses, so he was still in the village. At least he hadn't wandered out into the countryside. But night was falling, and where had all the people gone? He'd only wanted to check on Kuno, make sure everything would be all right. Couldn't possibly get lost going such a short ways, he had thought, but obviously he could, and did. The bandanna on his forehead shone like a beacon in his mind. He knew which direction was toward Akari and Japan, But what good would that do him?

"Damn it!" he shouted, at no one in particular. In the past, he'd been quick to yell this is all your fault! at whoever happened to be convenient — usually Ranma. Now, he couldn't bring himself to do that. It wasn't Ranma who had turned into a piglet, leaving his teammate on his own. That wouldn't have happened if he'd had the guts to admit his P-chan masquerade to Kasumi.

Now, because of this attempt to cover up past sins, a man, a friend, lay injured. A friend could have been killed. This is all your fault, Hibiki Ryoga.

Enough was enough. Tomorrow, he was going to speak with Kasumi, tell her exactly what he'd done, take whatever punishment she'd give him, learn her technique if she'd teach it to him. But for now, he needed to find Kuno, or at least find the rest of the group before he ended up out of the village entirely. He had to find someone and ask for directions. That was the only way.

He walked around the side of one of the houses. The arm and a leg of a figure were barely visible in the fading light, everything else shadowed by the building. "Excuse me," he said, "do you have any idea where I could find Saotome Ranma?"

The figure didn't answer, or react at all. Ryoga belatedly realized that whoever it was probably didn't speak Japanese. Still, he should've gotten some sort of reaction.

"Um, hello?" He reached out to tap the unknown person's shoulder, and he (she? it?) slid down to the ground.

Dim illumination fell across the lower half of the body. Ryoga's nose began to bleed. Whoever this person was, she hadn't a stitch of clothing on. And she still wasn't reacting. Was she asleep? Drugged?

"Miss? Are you all ri—" Ryoga reached to where her head should have been, but felt empty air. Oh, my gods.... He pulled the body out where he could see it. It had no head. The neck had been neatly severed a few inches above the shoulders. Mostly-dried blood felt sticky in his hands as he examined the neck by touch. Oh, my gods.

He turned, and accidentally kicked something next to the building in the darkness. The wall shook slightly. Something fell, bouncing once and landing in the light. A head. The head. If he put it back on the body, would the two pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle? He looked at the face. The face. He knew that face.


He ran, past houses and trees, without even a thought as to where he was going, calling the name of his former nemesis. In the distance, the familiar voice answered. "What the heck? Ryoga, is that you?"

"Ranma! They've... they've killed her!"

"Huh?" Ranma came running. "Killed? Who? Where? What are you talking about?"

"They've...." Ryoga gasped for breath. "They've killed Kodachi!"