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.

Thanks to Yoiko, Kara, and Krista for prereading this chapter.

Daylight rose slowly over the Amazon village, spilling past clouds of purple and dark orange. Ranma and Akane walked through the outskirts of the village, shoes scraping on loose dirt.

"Man, my back still hurts," Ranma said. "I dunno how all these Amazons can stand sleepin' on those bamboo mats."

Nodding, Akane grunted unintelligibly.

"I can't believe Shan Pu told us those things would be comfortable. Tonight I think we should go back to using our sleeping bags."

"Um, sure. Whatever."

The repeating clank of metal against stone attracted Ranma's attention. Two villagers stood nearby, chisels in hand, carving into a vaguely female-shaped blob of rock.

"Uh, hey." Ranma waved at the two women. "Whatcha makin'? Looks cool."

The sculptors smiled at him embarrassedly, then pointed down at a metal placard that lay against their toolbox. It was engraved with kanji, something about a great warrior defeating invading soldiers.

"Wow, this is great," Ranma said. "But why're you makin' it female? I mean, not that I don't appreciate it and all, but I am a guy, I mean normally I am, and...."

The women stared blankly at Ranma. Heaving a sigh, Akane pointed to the toolbox. Inside was a picture of Shan Pu, posed in the same way as the carving.

"Oh. It's Shan Pu's statue. Yeah, of course." Ranma felt his face redden. "Like I said, it's really cool." He nodded; the women smiled back at him, then went back to their work.

Ranma continued walking. Without a word, Akane fell alongside him, not even looking in his direction. Okay, he thought, I hate to state the obvious, even to myself, but something's going on here.

"Say, Akane," Ranma said. "I noticed that your subscription to Tomboy Magazine was about to run out, so I called them up and had them put you down for five more years. That okay?"

"Fine, fine," she mumbled.

"Is something bugging you, by any chance?" The answer was pretty obvious, but asking was the only way to get it out in the open.

"It's nothing," she answered. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Okay. Just askin'." Ranma knew from experience that I don't want to talk about it really meant I want you to drag it out of me. By backing off and refusing to play that game, he'd leave her with no choice but to spill it, whatever it was.

They walked along in silence for several minutes. "I didn't want her to die," Akane grumbled.

"Huh? You mean Kodachi?" Duhhh. Of course she did. Ranma still couldn't believe that Kodachi was dead. The whole thing seemed unreal; he half-expected her to come swooping out of nowhere, her insane laughter bursting in his eardrums. Just any moment now.

"I wished so hard for something to happen to her. Something to shut her up, to wipe that superior smirk right off her face. But not this."

"Look, Akane..." Ranma began. This was the part of being married that he dreaded more than anything else — having to say something to try to cheer her up. The worst part was, eight times out of ten it wouldn't work anyway. "Wishing doesn't mean anything. It's like... well, for a long time, you've wished to be a really good cook, right?"

"Yeah," Akane replied, looking back at him curiously. "So?"

"But after all that wishing, your food is mostly just barely tolerable. And how many times have you wished to be a decent swimmer? Yet every time you get in the water, you sink like a rock. And...."

"Okay!" she snapped back angrily. "I get the point already."

Ranma decided he'd better shut up. So I was wrong, he told himself. It's nine times out of ten. Or maybe some people just didn't want to be cheered up.

They strolled along the dirt path that circled the village. From above, hammers pounded with the rhythm of trotting horses as a trio of women made repairs to a house. Nearby, a group of men plucked cigarette butts from the grass, stuffing them into garbage sacks.

"Do you think it might've been suicide?" Akane asked.

It took Ranma a moment to realize that they were still talking about Kodachi. "Cut her own head off? And then hid the weapon?" He mentally filed this under Things To Tease The Wife About Later. Now, obviously, wasn't a good time.

"Of— of course not." Akane began to fluster. "I— I just thought maybe someone else picked it up later, or something like that."

"C'mon, Akane. We know what happened. One of them got her. Probably that Zhen Biaozhi, or whatever her name is."

Akane sighed. "I suppose that probably is what happened."

"Whaddaya mean 'probably?' Don't be an idiot, Akane. The only other people around with anything against Kodachi are...."

Ranma stopped talking as his last verbal salvo exploded on its launch pad. What he was thinking was just... wrong. Sure, his friends could be jerks. But they weren't killers. Or at least they wouldn't kill someone unless they had to. They wouldn't kill someone on their own team just because she was being an annoyance.

They walked onward. Ahead stood Elder Lan. She waved to them. "Hello, Akane. Ranma. Did you sleep all right?"

"Uh, okay, thanks," Ranma said. "How's it goin'? Getting the town defenses set up in case they send more troops out here?"

Lan nodded. "We're setting up new guard and sentry positions in places that we hope will be unexpected. Also, we're trying to ready as many magical and other special weapons as we can get our hands on." She smiled enigmatically at the two Japanese. "But defense is only part of what we need to do."

"It is?"

"What's the rest?" Akane asked, regarding Lan with the narrow-eyed skepiticism of someone waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.

"As martial artists, I'm sure that this is familiar to the two of you," Lan said. "Imagine that you're in combat and you've just managed to block your opponent's strike. What will you do next? Wait for her to attack a second time?"

"No," Ranma answered without missing a beat. "I'd attack. Now's probably the best time to get through the guy's defenses." He wondered why the old woman couldn't give him a simple answer without turning it into a guessing game.

"I see," Lan said neutrally. "Well, then. Let's consider the situation of our village. Our friend the 'General' wants to subjugate us, and isn't going to stop until we're defeated, or he is. What would you suggest as our next move?"

Ranma considered for a moment. "Send somebody over to attack them?" Yeah, that was where she was trying to get him to go. "Boy, I feel sorry for whoever gets stuck with that job...." He actually had a fair idea of who that was going to be, but he didn't mind playing dumb if it would help lighten things up.

Lan's smile widened. Akane's eyes rolled as she heaved a very audible sigh; it was her patented "my husband's being an idiot" look.

"Take some time to think it over and discuss among yourselves," Lan said. "I realize that this is asking a lot of you. Rest assured we wouldn't ask you to undertake such a desperate mission if our need weren't absolutely dire. Should you decide that you are unable to help us, we will understand."

"I don't need to think about it," Ranma said. "I'm in. This is what being a martial artist is about. Pop didn't train me just so I could fight in tournaments."

"I don't think there's much choice in the matter, ma'am." Akane stared forcefully at the Elder. "We'll go. At least Ranma and I will. But we do have family and other responsibilities to get back to. I for one would like to know when this is going to end."

"As would I." Lan smiled in resignation. "And I think you can believe me when I say that like you, I would like to see our troubles over as soon as possible."

One of the repair workers called to Elder Lan, and she hopped over to investigate. Akane was shaking like a volcano about to blow.

"C'mon, Akane, you can't expect us to just leave, do ya? Our friends are in trouble. They need us." Ranma put a hand on her shoulder hoping she would relax; she didn't.

"Yeah, they need us. And what happens next time someone needs us?" she asked. "And what about Hikaru and Ririko? Don't they need us too?"

"Oh, don't worry. My mom and your dad'll take care of 'em until we get back."

"It's not their responsibility, Ranma! It's ours! Don't you understand that? Our children are our responsibility! And what if one of us doesn't make it back? What if I get killed like Kodachi? Do you think you can be both mother and father to those children?"

"Are you kidding?" Ranma said. "Don't forget who you're talking to, Akane." Her face began to turn red. Ranma knew he had better say something to calm her down, now. "Anyway, that's not gonna happen. Look, we'll get back to Japan in a few weeks. It's not like it's gonna hurt the kids to be away from your cooking."

"Damn it, Ranma!"

Okay, so that wasn't it. "Hey, I—"

"You just don't get it! We're adults now! Stop acting like you're still a... a teen-ager!!" She opened her mouth as if searching for more words, then stomped away.

A sickened feeling gripped Ranma's stomach, as if he'd eaten food and later found out that it had been contaminated. Oh, I don't measure up to your standards of maturity, huh? Well, excuse me. If I'm such a jerk then why'd you marry me? For maybe the first time, he had a good idea of why his pop had gone on all of those training trips. Who wants to stay where he's not wanted?

I don't need to take this crap, he thought. I've been a good husband and a good parent. I'm as grown-up as the next guy.


Except that someone he knew had just died. One of his friends whom he'd known since high school was murdered, and he was never going to see her again, and he still had nothing to say, still didn't feel anything that he should feel, whatever that was, and all he could think to do was make the usual stupid jokes.

Damn it, he thought, shouting silently as if at some unknown deity that was responsible for all his troubles. Akane and he shouldn't have to go through all of this. Not now, while they were still young. They ought to be home, teaching the kids how to add and multiply, not trying to come to grips with the fact that one of their friends had died trying to save some of their other friends from a bunch of gun-happy bozos who'd invaded a peaceful village, and he still had no idea why they'd done it — what they wanted to gain or were trying to prove. All he knew was one thing, and that was who to blame.

Ha Bu... "Herb"... I'm coming for you. And for what you did, you're going to answer to me.


Flanked by heavily-armed guards on motorcycles, the limousine sailed through the streets of Ulan Bataar. Bystanders stood well clear, shooting furtive glances at the car's occupants but not daring to linger for more than a moment.

In the back of the car, its sole passenger sat, and considered, and pondered. He was known by many titles: Ha Bu, supreme general of the Mongolian armies, president for life, even (as his lackeys were touting him in the conquered terrirories and beyond) the modern-day successor to the great Genghis Khan. Grand-sounding designations these were, which in actuality amounted to little more than cattle herder. For what more did they require than to keep the livestock within its pens and to thin out the herd when appropriate?

Ha Bu, bearer of the blood of dragons. This was the title of greatest substance, without which any other designation was no longer meaningful. Dragonkind had a glory that he could only barely comprehend, hinted at by the whispers of ghosts and racial memories; unimaginable secrets, sciences and philosophies as far beyond humankind as quantum field theory would be to an ant.

Ha Bu, ruler of the Musk. This rank, by contrast, held great importance, for the Musk had melded aspects of humanity and those of the (marginally) lower species into a whole that was far greater than the sum of its parts. If the rulership of the Mongols had any meaning, it was to be found in the fact that ruling the Mongols allowed the Musk to continue, just as humans raised cattle solely as a source of food and milk.

It had been a struggle to persuade his people to change their way of life. Some objected, denouncing Ha Bu as unfit to rule because of his willingness to abandon the Musk's traditional isolation. As ruler, it would have been within his authority to have such insurrectionists put to death. But instead, he allowed them to have their say, listened to their arguments, and eventually persuaded them that the course of action he proposed was a necessary one. For how could a true leader of a worthy people do less?

And now for the glory of his people, Ha Bu was a cattle herder. What was it that allowed him to be effective at this task? Intelligence? Planning? No, for little of what he had done had he planned himself. He had military strategists under him as well as allies abroad for that. No, what made him effective was strength. Not only in the physical sense, with which he could defeat the attacking PRC forces, but strength of will, the resolve to do what was necessary.

The buzz of the limousine's intercom interrupted Ha Bu's thoughts. His aide's voice crackled over the speaker. "Sir?"

"What is it, Major?"

"Message from Mr. Michaels overseas, sir. He and his three special agents are on their way."

"Good. Have them meet up with Zhen Biaozi, as planned."

"Yes, sir."

A push of the button, and the man's voice gave way to the sounds of the Symphony Orchestra. For a moment, he closed his eyes, and he was nothing save Ha Bu, last of the dragons, soaring, majestic wings pushing against the air with every beat of the percussion, gliding, changing direction with every trill of the violins. If there was anything that set humanity apart from the rest of animalkind, it was the arts, the ability to construct representations of one's own existence, and to use them to transcend it. Those displaying a talent for the arts would always find comfortable lives under Ha Bu's rule — provided, of course, that they did not oppose him.

And now he faced opposition from Saotome Ranma. For the moment, he would let Zhen Biaozi attempt to deal with the situation. Both of them had, in the past, proven to be highly capable, even worthy of a measure of respect. It would be interesting to see which would prevail.

A noise from outside, muffled by the heavy plating of the limousine, attracted Ha Bu's attention, and he paused the music to hear. A man leapt over the surrounding barricades, onto the street. Police scrambled toward the scene as the man began to shout to the surrounding bystanders. "Stand up against the usurper! General Ha displaced the elected government! The tyrant has no right to rule the Mongolian people!" He continued yelling as police began clubbing him into submission.

The intercom buzzed again. "This appears to be one lone demonstrator, sir. Any orders?"

"Take him away. You know what to do."

"Yes, sir."

A touch of the button, and the music resumed. The dragon flew high into the clouds.


The almost imperceptible taps of feet sneaking across bare ground alerted Zhen Biaozi to her visitor's presence.

Biaozi's perceptions stretched into the darkness, finely-honed instincts filling in the gaps left by aging sense organs. If only she hadn't had to stay like this to meet her guest... but to do otherwise would have been an unacceptable risk. Meeting the Mu boy was one thing; his particular disability ensured that no one would take anything he reported very seriously. This current visitor was another matter entirely.

"Greetings," she said, turning to face her guest directly. "If you're thinking of trying to overpower me, don't. I may be an old woman, but I'm an Elder Warrior of the Amazons." It was, to some extent, a bluff. While her skills were still sharp, her body was in such bad health that a serious fight might be the end of her. She knew that her old bones weren't going to last her much longer. Fortunately, they wouldn't need to.

"I'm here," the visitor said, face barely visible in the moonlight. "Say what you've got to say, before I go."

"Straight to the point. I like that. But I've already told you my offer in my message. And I assure you that it is quite genuine. Our allies from overseas are putting up the money."

"You haven't told me what you want me to do."

"All you need to do is to wear this." Biaozi reached into her pocket to pull out a long, thin chain, at the end of which dangled an amulet. "Do not fear; it will not harm you. It is an Amazon relic, albeit a rather minor one. All it does is to radiate a particularly distinctive aura, by which its wearer can be tracked over a distance."

The guest's voice remained darkly serious. "You want me to wear this so that you'll know where our group is when we leave the village."

"Correct. We merely want to be able to locate your party. What we do after that need not concern you. A group as skilled as yours ought to be able to fend off any assault we could muster, no?"

Biaozi's visitor fell silent, head lowered as if mulling over what she had said.

"Of course, if honor prevents you from acting against your companions, so be it. I'm sure I can find someone else with a use for the money my allies are offering."

A wild dog howled in the distance as Biaozi waited for her guest's answer.


The dense foliage stretches out to infinity in all directions. Shadows swoop around him like gigantic birds of prey, swallowing up shrubs and animals inside the black folds of their wings. Pine needles squish under his feet as he trudges forward, ever forward.

A river of wind snakes through the trees, splashing cold on his skin as he wades through the current. It whistles as it passes, telling long-dead secrets whispered in ghostly voices.

She's leaving him.

He walks forward, toward the destination long since forgotten. His rifle (when did he start carrying one? He can't remember) dangles at his side like a lifeless appendage. Shrill shrieks echo in the surrounding darkness. The cries of animals? Or human laughter?

She's leaving him. He knows, and yet he can only continue inexorably forward, a passenger on this journey to... somewhere. She's leaving him. How many times did he wish for her to be gone? It was only because of his father that they were together in the first place. And after all that, would she even believe him if he told her that he wanted her to stay?

He stops. Staring into the impenetrable darkness ahead, he knows that they wait ahead. The ones who attacked his friends, made him leave his family and put his and his wife's life in danger. His hand reaches down to grip the trigger of the rifle. No! he tries to scream, but no sound comes out of his mouth, and the gun barrel swings upward, and he fires.

With a lion's roar, the gun spits forth a ball of white-hot molten metal, as bright as the sun. The forest lights up as fires blaze across the landscape. Trees vaporize as if made of newspaper. The river of wind spins, churns into a waterspout, a vast tornado that begins to consume everything in its path. He flattens himself to the ground as the world explodes around him.

As quickly as it had started, the noise and light fade. He stands. The landscape is flat, indentical in every direction. He advances, and bodies lie ahead, strewn about like debris after the passage of a hurricane. Familiar bodies. Blood streams from a gaping hole in one's chest, spilling out over her Chinese silk dress. A pair of candles burn atop another's head, wax dripping down into emptied eye sockets. A bandanna-clad head rests nearby, its body nowhere to be seen.

He wants to leave, but no longer knows which way is forward or back, to or from. And she's gone. He stands, an actor left on stage after the audience has left, the play forgotten. She's gone. The one who'd been closer to him than any other, who could have helped him find his way out of this place, is an ice floe drifting slowly away over the ocean. A soul of ice. Outwardly cold, mostly hidden and unknowable beneath murky depths, yet refusing to melt, to surrender her uniqueness and become one with the flowing currents. He calls out to her, but the shout echoes into nothingness, and all he can do is to watch her float away....

Float away....

Float away....

Float away....

"Aaaaaa!" Ranma's eyes snapped open. He stared into the darkness, and memories fell into place like the pieces of a child's jigsaw puzzle. He was in the Amazon village. But... it had felt so real. He was so sure.... She was leaving him. But that couldn't be right. She was—

His hand probed the space next to him, finding only empty sleeping bag.

"Aaaaaaa!" he said again. It was true! She—

"Ranma...." Her sleepy voice came from behind his back. "What on Earth are you screaming about?"

He rolled over, and was looking Akane in the eyes. "You're here? But... you left!"

"What are you talking about?" She chuckled slightly, then put an arm on his shoulder. "Of course I'm still here. Did you have a nightmare or something?"

He pulled her close. She let out a playful yelp. Snuggled together, their bodies rolled across the sleeping bag. He knew that they had issues that they'd have to work out. But she was still here, and for now, that was all that mattered.


The sun was barely visible in the sky when Ryoga awoke and began methodically packing away the few posessions that he carried with him. He had spent the night in the half-aware, half-sleeping state of a prisoner waiting to be executed the next morning — a description that he feared wasn't very far from the truth.

He began walking, and after only half an hour miraculously managed to end up at the dirt lot on the edge of the village at which the group was to assemble. Ranma and Akane and Elder Lan, the only ones already present, waved to him; deciding not to interrupt their conversation, he stood off to one side in the shade of the wall of a building. Today was the day. He was going to tell Akane who P-chan really was. But not yet. There'd be a better time later. During the night, his mind had imagined the scenario a hundred times; he had gone over all of the reasons why he had to confess, and he had to do it today. But everything that had made rock-solid sense then had melted into molten tar that was flowing through the bottom of his stomach.

Before long, Ranma's father had shown up, along with Shan Pu and Mu Si, and Ryoga knew it would be time to leave soon. This was it. No more waiting. He edged closer to Akane and the others, waiting for a break in the conversation.

"Is this it?" Ranma pointed at the assembled group. "Just us are going?"

"I'm afraid that Shan Pu will be remaining here," the Elder said. "I need her to help prepare the village for the second attack that will doubtless come." Shan Pu smiled helplessly at Ranma.

Ranma shrugged. "Okay, yeah, I can understand that. But with only five...."

"Seven, Ranma."

Everyone turned to see Dr. Tofu, with Kasumi behind him. "You two are coming with us?" Akane asked, and Tofu nodded.

"Uh, Kasumi...." Ranma eyed Akane's sister cautiously. "Are you sure? This is liable to be pretty dangerous."

Shut up, Ranma! Ryoga almost said. Who did he think he was? If Kasumi didn't go on the trip, then he wouldn't be able to learn the secret of changing forms without water. Then he mentally chastised himself, appalled at what he had just thought. Was that all Hibiki Ryoga really cared about — himself? How could he not even consider Kasumi's own welfare in this situation?

"Don't worry, Ranma," Kasumi replied with a carefree smile. "I'll be fine." Ranma stood expressionless, as if unable to answer. After all, none of them knew what Kasumi's new skills were capable of doing.

Ryoga breathed a small sigh of relief. Okay, so that's settled. He had the chance to learn the technique. But only if... yes, it was now, or never. "Er...," he heard himself say, "Akane?"

She turned to face him. "Yes, Ryoga?"

"Could I talk for... er, that is, could we talk to you? Just for a minute?"

"Sure," she said brightly, and stepped into the shade by the wall. "What's on your mind?"

"Akane, this...." Maybe now wasn't a good time. "This isn't easy, Akane, I...." Maybe he should just forget about it until after the trip. And maybe... maybe someone else would end up like Kuno because of him. Maybe it would be Akane. "I... have to confess something."

She stared at him with sober eyes. "What?"

"Akane, I... it's my fault. What happened to Kuno."

"Oh, Ryoga." She waved a hand dismissively. "It's not your fault. That could've happened to anyone."

"It is my fault! You see, Akane, I... I've got a... curse."

She nodded casually. "A Jusenkyo curse. Yeah."

"You know?!"

"Oh, come on, Ryoga." She smiled, patting him reassuringly on the shoulder. "I'd have to be pretty dense not to figure out what happened. You should really tell Kasumi so she can teach you how to change like the others."

"Akane, how... how can you not be mad at me for what I did?"

"Mad? Honestly, why should I be mad? Ryoga, anyone could've fallen in that spring!"

"Yes, but...."

"Ryoga, it was an accident! You slipped in the mud during the battle and fell in a spring. Okay, so you left Kuno to fight on his own, and he got hurt. But it was an accident. You didn't mean to!"

Ryoga found himself unable to do more than stammer. "Slipped... fell...."

"Look, I'll talk to Kasumi for you. All right? She can teach you how her technique works."

"Akane, I... thanks." Ryoga's mind was a burning building, and all he could do was to run for the exit. That he hadn't told her the truth — the full truth that he'd intended to tell — didn't matter anymore. She was giving him a way out, and he had to take it.

As he turned to go, Akane called to him. "Oh, Ryoga?"

Stopping with a jerk, he turned back around. "Yes?"

"So what is it?"

"Huh? What's what?"

Akane giggled. "What do you turn into?"

Ryoga opened his mouth, but couldn't form words.

"Look, you don't have to tell if you don't want to. I mean, if it's something embarrassing...."

"Embarrassing. Yeah." He laughed awkwardly. "If you saw me in my cursed form, I'd just die."


Elder Lan stood at the village entrance, watching the seven youngsters recede into the distance. Perhaps it was a fool's errand that she was sending them off on, but Ke Lun had spoken quite highly of this group. From what she'd said, if anyone could succeed in this mission, this group could.

In any case, there were other matters that needed to be attended to. Lan turned to Ti Pi behind her. "We need a complete list of what was lost in this invasion, both in terms of lives, and material goods. I'm putting you in charge of compiling such a list."

"Thank you, Elder," Ti Pi replied. "May I enlist the Gosunkugi boy to assist me?"

"As you wish." Lan beamed a motherly smile at the youngster.

"Good," Ti Pi said. "I want him to tell me more about computers. He knows so much more than anyone around here."

"I see." Lan hoped that the Gosunkugi boy wouldn't misinterpret Ti Pi's interest in him; if he did, he could be in for a painful awakening. But it really wasn't any of her business. "Off with you, then." She had other things to worry about; the Council of Elders was meeting in just a few minutes, and afterwards the prisoners had to be given their trial by combat.


"We must be honest with ourselves," admonished Elder Kui. The room's furniture having been looted, the Council stood in a circle around the now-missing table. "Our leadership has failed. We were forewarned of this crisis, and were still caught off-guard by it."

The words weighed heavily on Lan. It was true; she had failed to prepare an adequate defense against the Mongols. "You have the right to challenge me to a vote for the leadership of the Amazons, if you wish to do so."

"I do not," Kui said. "I was part of this council when we knew of the impending attack, and had no better suggestions to offer. I bear the same blame that you do. No, the time has come for new leadership. We need a leader who will inspire confidence. One with the energy and fresh ideas of youth."

Lan blinked. "You mean...."

"I mean that for the position of Chief Elder of the Amazons, I hereby nominate Shan Pu."


Tatewaki's head lifted from his pillow. His eyes opened, and slowly focused.

"Hi," Shan Pu said, smiling at him. He shifted his position as if to rise, and she prodded him gently back down. "You need rest some more. I only can stay a little minute. Is trial for prisoners soon, and all warriors need attend."

Tatewaki pushed his pillow up and lay against the wall. "According to the doctors, I am recovering adequately enough that I should be able to leave the infirmary in a day or two. I shall be glad to be able to help ready the village's defenses."

"I think there some time until invaders come back," Shan Pu said, knowing it was probably just wishful thinking.

"Today I accomplished the arduous task of traveling to and from the lavoratory facilities." His expression twisted into a grimace. "Let the world sing songs in praise of Kuno Tatewaki, for he is able to relieve himself without the aid of a nurse!"

With a friendly chuckle, Shan Pu slipped her hand around his. "You just rest, and get better."

"Yes, you are right, of course." Sighing, he rolled over to lay flat on his back. "Though it feels... wrong. A true warrior fights until breath no longer remains in his body. I recall my mother telling me so when I was... seven? Eight? It's difficult to remember so far back."

"You are not robot. Everybody have to take a rest sometime," Shan Pu said, trying to think of a time when she had refused to take part in a battle for health reasons. Oh well, hopefully he wouldn't ask. "Good parent should understand that."

"I suppose that you are right. My mother always invested all that her children did with such importance. So very unlike Father, who has never really cared about anything, who was made a principal only because it would be inconceivable for a Kuno not to hold a position of authority of some sort. I often feel...." He paused to wipe sweat from his brow. "I often feel that she left the family when she did because my sister and I were inadequate in her eyes."

"I think it normal for child to think that way." She smiled at him playfully. "Why you think that?"

"Perhaps it was the note that she left," he said straight-faced. "'I am leaving because my children are inadequate.'"

"Oh." Shan Pu felt her face begin to flush. "Well... you get better and you not have to think about these things. Okay? I got to go now." She held his hand for a few seconds, then stepped out of the room.


Shan Pu paused momentarily, staring through the window. Outside, warriors herded captured Mongols into a group in the middle of the courtyard. Soon they would face their trial by combat, their chance to leave the village with their lives spared. Not much of a chance, for there was little likelihood of them defeating an Amazon warrior without the advantage of superior weaponry; but infinitely more of a chance than they'd given their victims.

Brave, brave warrior, some inner voice mocked, who can face any enemy but runs from a friend. She had run away from Tatewaki, and she didn't know why. He had changed so much since his days back in Nerima. There was a side to him that was... vulnerable; perhaps it had always been there, but living with the Amazons had taught him that it was all right for that side to show. Shan Pu didn't mind that, yet there was something else that came along with it that she couldn't quite identify, something he was offering that she couldn't accept. Not yet. Not until she was sure.

She moved her head closer to the open window and listened. Elder Lan's voice carried forth from the courtyard, issuing instructions to the captives. "In twenty minutes, your trials by combat will begin. Each of you will be allowed to choose which of our warriors you wish to face; that warrior, in turn, will be allowed to choose the weapon that both of you will be armed with. Those who lose, and are not killed in the combat itself, will be put to death. Any of you who defeat your chosen combatant will win not only life and freedom, but also the right to marry the defeated warrior."

The soldiers' voices buzzed with confused murmurs. Obviously, the Amazon traditions made no sense to them. A chance to get free? Marriage? There had to be a catch. And, of course, there was. An Amazon wouldn't possibly lose to men like these. Not in a fair fight, where they weren't allowed to rely on long-range explosives and assault rifles against unarmed opponents.

Yes, they would die. That was certain. But it wasn't enough. Goddesses help her, Shan Pu wanted more than just to see them killed. She wanted to kill them herself. She wanted to feel their bones crushing to powder in her fingers, see their eyes as the last gasp of breath leaves their bodies and they finally, in that last minute of life, understand what it really means to fight an Amazon. They'd violated her village, her sisters, for reasons that even they most likely knew nothing of. They were simply soldiers, and soldiers followed orders. But soldiers also died, and Shan Pu would show them the truth of that.

Out in the center of the courtyard, the captured Mongols stood as if frozen in place, waiting. And Shan Pu considered. She had ten minutes before she needed to be out there. Time enough to get changed.


The Amazons had formed a circle around the perimeter of the courtyard. Mongol soldiers inspected them, eyeing them carefully as if shopping for a used vehicle. There had to be a weak link somewhere — and whoever managed to find it would be able to get out without being skewered on the end of one of their spears.


One of the women smiled at them, waving effusively back and forth. Unlike the others, she wasn't wearing a battle outfit. The silk dress into which her ample body was squeezed only reached to just below her crotch, with slits running up the sides to the top of her hips.

"I'm Shan Pu," she squeaked. "You choose me, we have good time, hmm?"

Soldiers began to congregate around her, like insects attracted to light. "Er... what weapon do you fight with?" one of them asked.

"Weapon?" Her eyes went absurdly wide. "Oooh, weapons are nasty! We do it with bare hands, no?"

The voice of Elder Lan carried above the din. "Gentlemen, I need a decision from each of you."


Shan Pu staggered into the Chief Elder's office. Behind her, voices roared with thunderous approval. She didn't care. Blood stained the silk of her dress; wet and clammy, it clung to her skin in several places.

"You wanted to see me after the combat, Elder?" Shan Pu sounded weary, despite her best effort not to.

The Elder raised an eyebrow. "You're finished with all of them? Already?"

"Yes," Shan Pu answered. "To save time, I fought them all at once."

"I... see." Lan motioned Shan Pu to the seat in front of her. "I'll send a squad out to finish off the survivors."

Shan Pu shook her head. "That won't be necessary."

"Our law is quite specific on this point. Those who are defeated in a trial by combat must...."

"No, you don't understand," Shan Pu said as she slumped into the chair. "That won't be necessary."

"Oh." Lan nodded slowly, as if digesting what Shan Pu had told her. "All right. One more thing before you go."

"Yes, Elder?"

"As I'm sure you know, your actions in liberating us from the invaders has earned you considerable popularity among the sisterhood. I would like to know how you feel about that."

Shan Pu shook her head. "I don't care." As far as she was concerned, the sisters could think what they liked. She'd fought a battle that needed to be fought. Nothing more.

"Though it is unprecedented for one of your youth, I want to make it clear: You have a legal right under Amazon law to accept their nomination, should you so choose."

Shan Pu's weary mind tried to make sense of Lan's words. "What nomination?"

"For Chief Elder," Lan said. "I'm sorry. I thought you'd heard."

"They want to nominate me for—" Shan Pu's hands balled into tight fists. How could the sisters think that she would want such a thing? Or were they so desperate to follow someone that they didn't even care how she felt?

Regaining her composure, Shan Pu brushed a sweat-soaked lock of hair from her forehead. "Elder, I have no wish to lead the Amazons." She forced herself to crack a smile. "Not until I am your age, and perhaps not even then."

"Very well." The Elder rose from her seat, signalling Shan Pu to do the same. "Soon you must retrieve the Linghungbao from its hiding place. Its power will be invaluable in fending off the invaders' next attack." Her expression softened. "But for now, get some rest."

"Thank you, Elder." With a tired nod, Shan Pu turned and dragged herself away.


"I still don't understand this practice you called 'object-oriented programming,'" Ti Pi said as the two of them approached the next house on their list. "Why should it be helpful to limit ones own capabilities? It seems to me it would be quite a hinderance."

"Er, well, maybe," Hikaru answered, appalled with himself for such an indecisive answer. "I mean, it keeps you from making some bad mistakes. Sometimes." Oh great, he thought, now she was going to think he was an incompetent prorgammer. "And it, um, encapsulates things together, which helps if you have several people writing the same program."

"I see." Ti Pi stepped up to the door and knocked. Hikaru wondered whether she was just being polite; he was sure that his explanation had been as clear as mud.

At first, it had been a thrill to meet a woman who was actually interested in what he had to say. But it seemed like computers were all she wanted to talk about, as if he were nothing more to her than a library book, and he had no idea whether she was interested in taking things beyond that. He wished that he could open his mind directly to hers, the way the characters had in the science fiction book he'd read the week before. He and she, each one fully aware of what was in the other's mind. No more guessing, no more of this terrible uncertainty that was clawing him to pieces from inside.

The door opened, revealing an elderly woman. Ti Pi and the woman spoke to each other in Chinese, with the enthusiastic, informal tones of people who knew each other well. The woman stood back and motioned for the younsters to enter. Hikaru followed Ti Pi inside, nodding and smiling at his host. He only knew a few words of Chinese, and wasn't about to embarrass himself by trying to say them.

Ti Pi jotted down notes on a pad of paper, while Hikaru began to take photographs of the inside of the house, as Elder Lan had asked him to do. Empty areas on the floor marked places where furniture had stood, while smaller items lay scattered about. Obviously, the Mongols had quickly ransacked the house, looting the valuables and leaving the rest behind.

A tap on the shoulder made Hikaru turn his head. The old woman held out a steaming cup of tea, which he gratefully accepted. A hesitant sip, and deliciously warm liquid eased its way down his throat. "Mmm. This is really good." He pointed to the cup, nodded, mimed a drinking motion, and patted his stomach appreciatively in an attempt to get his point across.

"Thank you very much, young man."

"Mmppth." Hikaru coughed as a second swallow of tea went down the wrong tube into the back of his nose. "You— you speak Japanese?"

"Oh, yes. My husband is originally from Japan." Her eyes focused on the camera around Hikaru's neck. "He does photgraphy as a hobby, just as you seem to. Let me show you my album."

"Er— well," Hikaru stammered, wondering whether Ti Pi would be upset with him for not finishing the job he'd come to do. But the old woman didn't seem likely to take no for an answer.

Ushering Hikaru to a chair, she set a leather-bound volume on the table in front of him. Opening it revealed a series of photographs, the corners of each tucked into slots cut out from the book's pages. "This first one is from the day Bukiyo first challenged me." The woman in the picture was quite buxom and muscular, nothing like the wrinkled creature sitting next to him.

"Challenged you? You mean to combat?"

"Yes. According to Amazon legend, if a man is truly worthy of the woman he pursues, the blessing of the goddesses will bring him victory. It must seem like a strange custom to you. Still, I've heard of stranger ones. Some men actually choose their mates based on their chest measurements."

Hikaru jerked his gaze up from the picture he'd been staring at. "Uh, yeah. Ridiculous."

The woman flipped to another page. A picture caught Hikaru's eye; a man and a woman, mouths reaching toward each other as if about to kiss. The man was unfamiliar, but Hikaru recognized the woman unmistakeably: Ti Pi.

Why, he asked himself, WHY did this always happen to him? Every time he found someone who looked like she might be interested in him, she turned out to have a husband or a boyfriend or a fiance. Why was it so impossible for him, when the inconsiderate muscle-bound jerks of the world had no trouble at all?

"That's my son," the old woman said, her voice tinged with sadness as it lowered to a whisper. "I probably shouldn't have kept this picture. His interest in your friend there was mostly a one-way thing."

"Oh." Hikaru felt his face redden with embarrassment. "Really?"

The old woman nodded. "Perhaps given enough time, things might have changed. But it's all moot now."

"It is?"

She gazed back at him with a pained expression. "I'm afraid my son has recently passed away. He was on guard duty when the Mongols attacked."

"Oh," he said feebly, disgusted with himself for what he had thought. "I'm... sorry." He'd always wondered why women went for jerks like Ranma. But Ranma had fought to free the Amazon village while Hikaru had cowered in the background. And now here was someone who'd tried to defend his home, and paid the ultimate price. What sort of person could feel such jealousy, such hate toward someone like that?

Maybe it's not Ranma who's the jerk, he thought. Maybe those women were good judges of character after all.

Nodding meekly, Hikaru went back to taking photographs of the house.


By the middle of the third day, the bare, craggy peaks of Qinghai had given way to gently sloping valleys and ridges. Mu Si led the group along what could be barely called a path, over grasses and between shrubs that clawed at pants and shirts like tiny, skeletal fingers.

"Are you sure we're going the right way?" Ranma asked, his tone laden with skepticism. Every direction looked pretty much the same as every other, and Mu Si usually couldn't even tell one person from another.

"Yes, I'm sure," Mu Si said with confidence. "In fact, unless I'm mistaken, the first thing we're looking for should be right over there." He pointed ahead at a cluster of conifers.

"You mean those trees?" Ranma stared closer, and concealed in the center of the cluster was a small wooden shack.

Pulling from his robes a ring with what looked to be hundreds of keys on it, Mu Si walked up to the shack, and began trying various keys in its padlock.

"This looks like it might take a while," Ranma said. "How about we all take a pit stop here?"

Mu Si nodded. "Good idea."

"Okay, then. Ten minute break, guys." The rest of the group dispersed behind various shrubs and outcroppings.

The lock popped open. Mu Si disappeared inside, and came out a moment later lugging a flat-bottomed rowboat over his head.

"We're going by boat?" Ranma asked.

"Uh huh." Mu Si set the boat face down on the ground. "We keep several of these hidden in various locations for times when we need them. There's a river just a little farther up that we can ride all the way into Mongol territory. It'll be faster than walking."

Ranma took a seat on the upside-down rowboat. "Don't you think someone'll spot us and tell those guys where to find us?"

"No one really lives around here, Ranma. Not since the Mongols bombed out all the oil refineries last year. Only a few nomads, and they mind their own business. Once we get closer to Mongol territory there'll be patrols around, but I'll be able to spot them from the air and take them out before they can report us."

"Take them out. Yeah. Permanently, right?" Ranma sighed, wondering whether he was the only one bothered by this kind of thing.

Mu Si's expression hardened. "I'll kill to protect my home, Ranma. If I have to."

"Yeah. Yeah, I don't blame you for that. Really. It's just...." Ranma fumbled for words, unable to explain the sickening feeling that this whole killing business gave him. Of course the Amazons had a right to defend themselves. But....

"Y'know," Ranma said, "there was a time, when I was around twelve or so, when Pop started working days. I got sent to junior high, where I first met Ryoga. It was just about the first time I'd had a chance to make friends with other kids my own age, and pretty soon I had a regular bunch of guys that I hung out with."

Mu Si nodded, and Ranma continued.

"These guys, they... we stole. Food, usually. Sometimes we'd just go out and break stuff, just because we could. It was fun, and I was good at it, fast enough to be pretty sure I'd never get caught. I never really even stopped to think about whether it was right or not. The other guys were doing the same thing, and that somehow meant I didn't need to worry about it."

"Then what happened?"

"Pop found out. He took me out of school and gave me this long speech about how I was the heir to the Saotome school of martial arts, and it was unacceptable that I should disgrace that legacy, blah blah blah. He hardly ever let me out of his sight for the next year or so after that. It was actually kinda ridiculous hearing all that from him, considering some of the stuff I'd seen him do. But it still made a pretty big impression on me, feeling like I'd let him down."

Mu Si straightened. "So what's your point, Ranma?"

"Point is, that most of these soldier guys probably aren't really any different than I was back then. They're in a group, and that means you don't have to worry about whether what you're doing is okay or not. It's the group doing it, not you. When I hear people like that Elder Lan say that these guys have to be killed, I feel like... like I oughtta be killed too. Y'know?"

His eyes tiny behind thick glass frames, Mu Si's gaze slowly narrowed. "I suppose I can understand that. But what about the Amazons? Don't we have a right to not be killed?"

"Of course you do. It's just...." Ranma shook his head. "I dunno." His mind whirled around in circles, like a dog trying to catch its own tail. "I just don't know."

The two men sat in silence for a moment. In the distance, some wild animal howled.

"Maybe we're just kidding ourselves," Mu Si said. "What chance have we got? They've already taken out our best fighter before we've even started."

"I ain't been— oh, you mean Kodachi." Ranma bristled, but it wasn't worth arguing over at a time like this. "Hey, maybe it'd confuse these guys if I dressed up as Kodachi. I bet my girl form'll be able to pass for her."

Ranma briefly shut his eyes and willed himself to turn female. "Oh ho ho ho—" He stopped in mid-laugh at the sound of his still-male voice. "Huh?"


"It didn't work." He concentrated again on changing gender. "I'm still a guy. What the heck?" Turning his head, he scanned the area. "Hey, Kasumi?"

Kasumi popped out from behind a copse of trees. "What is it, Ranma?"

"My change thing ain't workin'. I try to switch form, but nothing happens."

"Oh dear. I wonder why that would be?" Standing next to Ranma, she shut her eyes, then opened them a minute later. "Hm. That's very odd."

"What's the deal?" Ranma asked.

"It's Lili. Her spirit... it's gone. The link between it and yours has just... disappeared. I can't see any trace of it anymore. It seems that she's left you."

"Left me? Just like that?" It couldn't be true. But suddenly, the previous night's dream came back into Ranma's mind.

She's leaving him.

Suddenly, he understood what the dream had really meant.

"Congratulations, Ranma." Kasumi smiled. "You're un-cursed. This is what you always wanted, wasn't it?"

Yeah, he thought, it was. So why did he have this empty feeling at the bottom of his stomach, like he'd just lost his best friend?


The jeep drove up to the front gate of Noyan army base. Guards emerged from their shack, rifles at the ready. Identification papers were shown, and checked, and the visitors were cleared to enter. The gate lifted. Loose gravel crackled under the jeep's tires as it rolled over to the designated parking area.

Zhen Biaozi turned away from the window, awaiting the entrance of her guests. She could hear the muted murmur of voices on the other side of the building, the low thud of the door closing behind them. What a relief it was to have fully acute senses again, to no longer have to depend on that tired, decrepit old husk of a body.

How outraged her fellow Amazon elders would be if they knew the truth. Fools, all of them; clinging to their useless rules and traditions while the world passes them by. They called her a renegade, a traitor, but Zhen Biaozi would be the one to insure the survival of her people, to insure them a place in this modern world.

"Hello, Bob," she said in English as the first of the men entered the room. "How was your flight?"

"Not too bad. Of course, flying's always better after a couple of scotch and waters." He straightened his sport coat, then took a seat next to Biaozi. "Anyhow. As promised, I've brought you three of the most... talented subjects from our paranormal agents program. Gentlemen, introduce yourselves to Ms. Zhen."

A sandy-haired young man stepped forward. "I'm Chuck Crandall, ma'am." He stood nearly two meters tall, with a boyish face and ruddy complexion. "We'll beat those rebels and take back your village, don't you worry."

"My name's Carl," the next man said. "Carl Jorgenson." A beard of brown steel wool hung down from his heavy caveman-like face. "No offense, but I want to finish this job and get out of this hellhole of a country where I can't even drink the water." A pit bull of a man, thought Biaozi. Such people were easy to deal with; sic them on an enemy when appropriate, and keep them in their doghouses the rest of the time.

"I'm Jim Wesley," the last one said. He had the sort of face that could easily lose itself in a crowd; his only distinctive feature was his baggy eyes. While the other two struck Biaozi as quite predictable and straightforward to handle, this one would need to be watched more closely. There was more to him than met the eye.

"You've already been briefed on the unique talent that each of these gentlemen possesses," Bob Michaels said. "With their aid, I'm sure you'll be able to deal with that group of Japanese paranormals that have been causing you so much trouble. Fighting fire with fire, so to speak." He turned to the three men. "I don't need to tell you all how important this mission is for us, gentlemen. Several of my superiors have argued for the abolition of this project, on the grounds that paranormal agents are too unreliable to be of any use. We need to prove them wrong."

Turning his head back toward Biaozi, he continued. "On another matter, the payment requested by General Ha has been approved, and the money deposited as per your instructions." He adjusted his wire-framed glasses.

"What we gain will be worth every penny." Biaozi pulled a small compass-like device from her pocket; its metal arrow wobbled, then came to a stop pointing toward the south. "Thanks to an item that one of the Japanese group now wears, I can track their location with this." Actually, the amulet had been ditched somewhere along the way; a double-cross, just as she had expected. But unknown to her patsy, the amulet left a residue on its wearer that would, for at least the next several weeks, be as easy to track as the amulet itself. "Tomorrow night, they ought to be close to the Mongolian border, if not beyond it. I'll enter their camp and abduct the most... difficult... of them."

"As I understand it, that one's already been killed by some unknown assailant. We got a report on it on the way over here. A bit... unsettling, to have this happen for no reason that we can figure out. But you know what they say about gift horses and mouths."

"Yes, I've studied classical European literature. I know how beneficial that little piece of advice was to the Trojans." Biaozi took great satisfaction in seeing Bob's crestfallen expression. "There's a loose cannon out there somewhere, a joker in the deck, if you will, and we should all be on our guard. But in any case, that person wasn't the one I was talking about. Biaozi produced a photograph. It was a telephoto shot of Tendo Kasumi, her eyes shut, her face serene, in one of her morning meditations.

The four men stared at the picture. "She don't look that tough," Jorgenson said.

"You can't defeat someone you can't attack," Biaozi countered. "This woman has... I don't know what. A magical spell? A psychic aura? I doubt that even you, my little pit bull of a man, would be able to keep a hostile attitude towards her in her presence, much less attack her."

Bob Michaels took a long look at the photo. "But you have a way to get around this problem?"

"Yes. All we need to do is to find someone so insensitive that he won't feel her aura, not even on a subconscious level." She smiled. "Fortunately, I know just the person."


Mu Si yawned.

It was about a quarter before six, he supposed, and the campsite was deadly silent. The stars had faded into the gradually lightening orange sky. Kasumi had already woken for her usual morning meditation. Soon the others would be up as well, and it would be time to pack up once again and continue downstream.

He didn't like taking his friends into this so-called "no man's land." From what he'd heard, the weapons used by the Mongols had toxified the area so much that both sides' troops mostly kept out, entering only to make occasional patrols. But this was the best chance his group had of making it into Mongol territory without being spotted. Only he knew the precise route that they were taking, which meant the chances of being found were near zero.

A tap on the shoulder made Mu Si turn. A figure, outlined in the day's first few rays of sunlight, stood behind him, face covered by a familiar head scarf and dark glasses.

"You? Zhen Biaozi?" Falling into a battle crouch, Mu Si tensed, ready for any sign of attack. "I told you before. I won't betray my friends!"

"Did you really think my offer was any more than a ruse, meant to foment confusion and distrust within your little group?" She smiled from ear to ear, like a Cheshire cat that was about to disappear. "Do you actually think that I'd want a buffoon like you working for me?"

"Sh— shut up!" Mu Si shouted. "Just SHUT UP!" He hoped it would be enough to wake the others; any more obvious alarm, and she would probably be gone before anyone could react.

Biaozi's arm flashed out, and Mu Si jerked his head back. She missed, he thought, then noticed that the world around him had blurred into an indistinct haze.

"Give me back my glasses!"

She began to laugh. Mu Si lunged toward her, and a foot slammed into his chest. He flew backwards, skimming the dirt before sliding to a stop.

Picking himself off the ground, Mu Si reached into his robes. He lunged forward, a volley of bludgeons, mechanical claws, and yo-yos spearheading his charge, but met only empty air as his target zipped out of the way at the last second.

"I'm over heeeeeeere!" she taunted.

Mu Si squinted in that direction, and could make out a vaguely human-shaped blob. If he could take her off-guard.... He moved his eyes from side to side, tentatively staggering foward as if completely blind. He just needed to get close enough, and then....

Making a sudden leap, he tackled his target. His momentum carrying them forward, they slid headlong across the dirt. She only had time to let out a startled "Ohhh!" before her head knocked against the ground, and she fell silent.

I did it, Mu Si thought triumphantly. I captured her!

Then something jabbed him in the neck, and the world went black.


The sun was already bright in the sky as Shan Pu woke. Though she'd slept for nearly half a day, she still felt tired, still wanted nothing more than to roll over and fade back into blissful unconsciousness. But there was work to be done, so she forced herself away from her mat and onto her feet.

Everything had been so much easier before Great-grandmother had passed away. There wasn't this terrible uncertainty, this feeling of not knowing what to do. Great-grandmother always knew what to do. And the Amazons were so used to depending on her wisdom that with her gone, all they could do was to look for a substitute. But Shan Pu wasn't, and could never be, Great-grandmother, no matter how much her sisters might want to force her into that role.

She slipped on her pants and tunic. Though she had washed most of it off last night, traces of blood still stained her hands. She'd killed the invaders with her own hands, just as she'd wanted to. And yet it left her hollow. Why? They were enemies, and she killed them. It was as simple as that.

But... they'd been unarmed, untrained in hand-to-hand combat. And with each neck she'd snapped, the terror in the other soldiers' eyes delighted her more and more. What sort of person had she become when she could take such pleasure from the death of a helpless opponent? She remembered something that Great-grandmother had said long ago: The greatest danger in fighting monsters is that one may become a monster herself.

"Shan Pu?" Elder Lan's voice called from outside the doorway to Shan Pu's house.

"Yes, Elder?"

"Come with me. There is news of your friends. Tendo Nabiki has received a telephone call."

"Yes, Elder," Shan Pu said, banishing other thoughts to the back of her mind as she walked toward the doorway. The village needed to be prepared for the inevitable second attack, and to assist Ranma's group if necessary. Those things were important now; nothing else.

Shan Pu's foot snagged on something as she neared the exit. She bent down to look, and water rained down on her from above.

"Aaaiee!" she screamed, and then gasped wordlessly as the air vanished from her lungs. The world around her began to dim. What... how....


Lan rushed to the side of the fallen heap that had been her fellow Amazon, a thousand questions running amok in her mind. Had someone set a trap for Shan Pu? Who could've done such a thing, and why?

She grabbed Shan Pu's wrist. Her once-flawless skin was withered and chalky, wrapped loose around shrunken bones. A pulse throbbed within, irregular and barely noticeable. She was alive, but would need a healer immediately if she was to stay that way. Had she been... aged?

Lan looked down at the face that Shan Pu now wore. It was Elder Ke Lun's.