Ranma 1/2 manga fanfiction
by Gary Kleppe

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


The blaring of the alarm bells abruptly cut off, as everything went dark.

Kasumi reached out tentatively. She pushed to the side, and the previously unmovable cell door slid right. Was this her chance to get away? Briefly she wondered whether it could be a trap. She'd seen movies where prisoners were deliberately given a way to escape so that the guards could justify shooting them. But somehow she didn't think that's what was happening here.

She stepped out into the hallway. The constant thrumming of exhaust fans had stopped when the lights had gone out. Kasumi could only hear footsteps and a few shouts in the distance. She relaxed her body and tried to tune into her surroundings. There was a mental trail, a spiritual wagon rut left by the guards who followed their patrol route day after day. All she had to do was to tune into that and she would find her way out.

Kasumi rounded a corner, and a flashlight blasted into her eyes. Its holder let out a surprised exclamation in a language she didn't understand.

"Good morning!" she said, beaming a smile at the guard, walking casually past him. The guard pointed his gun, barked out what was obviously a command to stop, but did not shoot. Kasumi hurriedly followed her path into the dark, resisting the urge to break into a run, as the guard sputtered helplessly, unable to understand why he couldn't make himself fire his weapon.

She slipped through a doorway, and a voice sounded. "Where is Kasumi?" It was Doctor Tofu, only about a meter in front of her.

"Doctor? Doctor, I'm here!"

"Kasumi?" Akane's voice.

"What have you done with her?" Tofu cried, apparently oblivious.

Reaching deep inside herself, Kasumi ramped up her aura, and projected its full force at the doctor.

"Ka— Ka... Kasumi? Is that you?"

A pale light shone down from above. A glowing figure leapt down, crashing feet-first into something else. It was Ranma. Akane pulled away from a still dazed Tofu and clobbered another man who had been standing behind her.

"Is everybody here?" Ranma asked, gasping for breath. Ryoga sat slumped against a wall, awake but unmoving. Nearby, Genma-panda, his fur badly singed, staggered to his feet. Two other unfamiliar men lay on the floor, one of them just knocked out by Ranma. "Where's Mu Si?"

Kasumi concentrated for a moment. "I think he's escaped," she said. "I directed spiritual power to him, like I did for everyone at the Jusenkyo battle. Those spirits are reporting that he's left the area. I think he might have been the one who knocked out the electricity."

"Lucky for me he did, or I might not've beat those soldiers up there," Ranma said. "Right, then, let's get the hell outta here. We probably only got a few minutes to spare."


A white powder squall exploded in the back room of Ucchan's Okonomiyaki. In the middle of the burst, a figure swooned, then toppled over.

Ukyo Kuonji peeked out from the stairway curtain, and, seeing that her uninvited visitor was unconscious, emerged. She had no idea who it was who'd broken into her home and made a racket loud enough to wake her. In situations like this it paid to attack first and ask questions later. So she'd used a relatively new invention, the medicated flour bomb. Its target would be out for the better part of an hour.

Stepping forward, Ukyo saw who the intruder was. Kuno Kodachi? How could that be? Kodachi had been in China, fighting alongside Ranma and company. Later, they'd said that they'd found her head and body, not attached to each other.

She stared as the scene, trying to mentally prod herself into being fully awake so that she could make some sense out of it. It was definitely Kodachi. Had Ranma and the others been tricked somehow? And a naked cadaver lay on the floor in the shape of Shan Pu's great grandmother, the same form into which Shan herself had been changed, according to Nabiki, a transformation that for some reason even Shan's own water couldn't reverse. Was it Kodachi who had set that trap? And this time it had obviously been meant for Ukyo. But then who....

The broken collar next to the body answered that last question. "Oh no. Kakikizu...." For several minutes she knelt, stroking the ex-cat's stringy white hair that was still warm and wet from the water that had doused it. What could she say, even if she had the chance, to an innocent who got killed as accidental collateral damage in some sort of grudge fight that she didn't really understand?

"Wait a minute...." Ukyo felt the dead cat's hair again, and then the bowl that had obviously held the transformation water. And then she nearly tripped over Kodachi as she ran to the telephone.

She dialed, and after eight rings Soun Tendo answered. "Hello?"

"Mr. Tendo! Tell Nabiki to heat the water!"

"Mmm... wha?"

Ukyo took a breath and decided to try to start at the beginning. "Mr. Tendo, Kodachi is still alive. She tried to trap me with the same water she used on Shan Pu. Kodachi heated the water! That's why they couldn't change—" She lost her words as she gaped at an impossible sight. One of Kodachi's clubs hovered in mid-air, wobbling as it floated towards Ukyo. The chef could only stare in disbelief as the club swerved behind her head, and as she turned she felt it crash forcefully into her skull.

"Ukyo? Hello? Ukyo!" Soun shouted, as she blacked out.


"After I called Nabiki, I ran right over, but there was no one here," Soun said. "I can only guess that Kodachi overpowered Ukyo and took her away."

"I see," Mikado said. "Rest assured I will do everything in my power to free her."

"Me too," Azusa added. "The Golden Pair's going to rescue Mickey's fiancee."

Mikado rolled his eyes slightly. "It matters not whether she is my fiancee. When a fair maiden is in distress, Sanzenin Mikado will be there to assist her."

"Excellent," Soun said. "I think we should start by looking at the Kuno estate. It's possible that Kodachi thinks that we think she's still dead. If that's so then she won't be expecting us to come looking for her."

"We?" Azusa asked.

Soun nodded. "I may be getting on in years, but I can still help. Just let me go get my samurai armor...."

"I appreciate the offer, sir," Mikado said, "but we need you to remain here. You must arrange for backup in the case that we too are captured."

"All right, then." Soun shook Mikado's hand. "Good luck to you." He shouldn't worry, he told himself. The Golden Pair were capable enough to have caused Ranma quite a bit of trouble years ago.

"Yippee!" Azusa moved towards the door. "We're going to see Dominique again! Dominique!"

Then again.... I'd better get that backup in a hurry, Soun thought.


Steam billowed forth from the kettle in Nabiki's hands. "Are you certain that this will cure her?" asked Elder Lan.

"Not certain, no," Nabiki said. "But it makes sense that it would. According to Ukyo, the water Kodachi tried to attack her with was heated. Presumably, the same was true of the water that hit Shan Pu."

"Which tells us what?"

"Which tells us, in all likelihood, the reason why we weren't able to change her back. To deactivate the curse, water probably has to be a certain amount hotter than the water that originally imposed it. Ours wasn't."

"Interesting. I'd never considered that possibility."

"If that's the case, the special water heated to near boiling might indeed cure her," Healer Ban said. "But it is also possible that the scalding water will kill her before her body can return to normal." She looked up at Lan. "Your decision, Chief Elder."

Lan pondered for a moment. "We have no real choice in the matter. Left in her current state, Shan Pu surely will not survive much longer." She nodded to Nabiki.

Nabiki hefted the kettle over to where Shan Pu's wrinkled form lay cradled in Tatewaki's arms. Pu's father, Shan Peine, held onto her wrinkled hand with both of his. Here goes... something, Nabiki thought, and suddenly wondered whether this was really a good idea. While she was used to gambling, she didn't like the idea of having someone's life at stake.

The hot water streamed from the kettle as Nabiki watched, and before she knew it, wrinkled skin had ballooned into tight, buxom muscles, hair of stringy white had been replaced by lustrous black. Shan Pu was back. The changes always happened that way; Nabiki had never been able to observe a transition from one form to another no matter how closely she watched. Shan Pu opened her eyes, heaved air into her lungs like a just-resurfaced pearl diver, and then went back to sleep, her head nestled against Tatewaki's chest. Peine looked upward, as if thanking some deity, and let out a sigh of relief. Good, Nabiki thought. The man had been going crazy with worry. Any more of this and he would've completely popped his cork.

"I'm happy for you, my love," Tatewaki breathed into her ear.

Nabiki smirked. "Happy for her, eh?" Some people just needed to learn to whisper quietly enough to not be heard.

"Yes," he said. "Only for her."

Strange, Nabiki thought. What had he meant by that? Oh well, it didn't matter.

"By the way," Elder Lan said to Nabiki, "your friend Mr. Gosunkugi asked me to show something to you."

She produced a white metal object about the size of a matchbox, which Nabiki examined. Three buttons and an LED display adorned the front. The back had a USB port and a hole for a power cord.

Lan pointed to some printing on its underside. "That is the imprint of the company you work for, no?"

Nabiki looked. It was. "I'm pretty sure I know what this is. It's a new model encrypter/decrypter, used to encode radio transmissions so that they can't be understood by any intercepting third party. But... but..."

"Is it anything that would be useful to us?"

"No, it won't work without the correct encryption key, which will already have been changed. But I know this project. I helped out getting the funding for it. There's no reason why these people should've gotten their hands on a machine like this, unless..."


Nabiki tried to think, tried to come up with any possible explanation for this. "I'm going to have to make some phone calls," she said. "I might need to return to the states to check this out."


"The good news for us is, they can't completely lay this loss at our feet," Michaels said. "From what we've determined, the prisoners got out on their own, before their rescue team even got there. If that hadn't happened, we would've captured the rescuers."

Jorgenson rubbed his arm. "All I know is that those guys hit like a goddamn mack truck. I'll be sore for weeks."

"Nevertheless," Michaels continued, "this puts us in a precarious position. A lot of very influential people would like to see this project closed down. If we fail again, they'll get what they want, and you know what that will mean for the three of you."

"The unemployment line," offered Crandall.

Fat chance, thought Wesley. If the higher-ups were through with them they'd be sanctioned with extreme prejudice. He felt like ripping Michaels' head off. He was going to take the fall because somebody else screwed up. And for what? To help General Ha ruin the lives of a village of innocent women, so that he could get his hands on some sort of super-weapon that would let him ruin even more innocent lives?

He took a breath. The emotions that he'd absorbed from the Japanese fighter surged through him. But he'd always known what to do with emotions: Suppress them, and follow orders. They would go away. They always did.

"We move out to Ulan Bataar today," Michaels said. "Our foes are pretty obviously headed there. We leave from here at eleven hundred hours. Be ready."

"Yes, sir," Wesley said.


Mu Si soared through the air. A wind blew into his face, cold, wet, clammy. His feathers felt dirty. The overcast haze would have made the ground below a blur even if not for his visual handicap. But his duck form had some sort of internal navigation that told him exactly where he was and which way he was heading. North by northeast. Ryoga should have gotten this curse, he mused.

If he continued, he could get to Ulan Bataar long before the others. He was eager to confront the enemies who had destroyed his village, especially the one who tricked him into hurting a friend.

But when he got there, what then? He hadn't any weapons left, or even any clothes. And his glasses had been destroyed. Here in enemy territory, the chances of being able to get a pair made to his specifications were slim. Being unable to see clearly would leave another opening for someone to manipulate him into hurting his friends, or worse.

It wasn't fair, he told himself. Was it his fault that he had bad eyesight? His friends would be fighting against the people who had caused all of this trouble, and he wanted to be there to help them.

No, it wasn't his fault that he had poor vision. But it was his fault if he didn't acknowledge the reality of his disability and take action accordingly. No matter how much he wanted to be in on the final battle with Ha Bu and Zhen Biaozi, right now the only thing to do was to return to the Amazon village. There he could pick up a spare pair of glasses, and possibly fly back to Mongolia in time to meet up with Ranma and the others.


Ukyo woke to find herself in a roomy canopied bed. She pulled away the covers slightly, looked down at her body, and was relieved to see that she was still herself.

Kodachi sat at a nearby desk, turning her head as Ukyo looked up. "Ah, you're awake. Good. I do hope my pets weren't too rough on you."

"I'll live," Ukyo replied. Unless you decide to kill me, she added to herself. Kodachi had already tried to do away with her once, and almost succeeded but for a dumb mistake that wouldn't happen again. She wondered just how she was going to walk away from this one. "Those are some interesting pets you've got there, sugar."

"Ah, yes." Kodachi smiled as she stood. "My fighting gear are animated by powerful battle spirits, as is my leotard. A certain priest created them for me, in exchange for services which I rendered to him."

Ukyo smirked.

"Oh, please." Kodachi's eyes rolled slightly, as if dealing with a child. "I simply guarded his temple and convinced certain enemies of his to leave him alone long enough for him to build up his own defenses."

"So now you're tougher than anybody." Ukyo sat up. "But Ranma will figure out a way to beat your 'pets.' He always does."

"Ranma?" Kodachi laughed. "My dear girl, he still thinks I'm dead. And even if he didn't, from what I've gathered, he has other problems right now. No, I'm not worried about Ranma at all. He's had his chance."

"If you're not worried, why fake your death?" Ukyo tried to sound a lot more nonchalant than she actually felt. She did have one advantage — Kodachi obviously didn't know that she'd managed to get word to Nabiki. But would that do her any good? It was undeniably true that Ranma wouldn't be available to save her. If he wasn't coming to beat Kodachi, who could?

Kodachi's eyes hardened. "I would've been content to embarrass dear Ranma by defeating him over and over, if not for Tendo Kasumi. Things she said indicated that she may have been on to me. Perhaps I acted precipitously, but I felt that I had to throw her off. At the same time, Akane reminded me that I owed a certain debt to her, you, and Ms. Shan for denying me what I'd wanted." She flashed a predatory smile as her eyes glanced over to a cask of water on her desk. "One ought to always pay one's debts, oughtn't one?"

The skeleton of an idea began to form in Ukyo's mind. She certainly couldn't overpower Kodachi under current circumstances. If she was going to come out of this alive, she'd better do some fast talking, and make it convincing. "I know. But you botched it, didn't you. Shan Pu is still alive. So am I. Now I guess Akane is next on your list. You'd damn well better not screw up with her, because you'll only get one chance."

"Oh?" Kodachi raised an eyebrow.

"Actually, you botched it from the beginning," Ukyo continued, trying to infuse her voice with some of the very real pain and anger she'd felt over the last decade. "Using Ranma as your punching bag may have felt good, but it put him and everybody else on their guard. Gaining the confidence of people like that isn't easy. It takes months, even years, of pretending to be the reasonable one who's gotten over it."

"How very interesting. You make a very good point. It really isn't easy to gain the confidence of one's enemies." Kodachi grinned. "But while we're on the subject, there's one thing I've often wondered about. Back in the days of our rivalry, there was another contender for dear Ranma's affections. The girl with a pigtail. Whatever became of her?"

"That was Ranma, hon. He and his dad had gone to a remote spot in China and picked up curses. Ranma turns female when he gets splashed with cold water, back to male when he touches hot water. I've a feeling you already knew that, and just asked to see what I'd say. I think the water you used on Shan Pu and tried to use on me is the same kind that gave Ranma his curse. Right?"

"Yes, it's true." Kodachi gave a nod of begrudging respect. "Although I didn't get it in China. It was all very strange, really. I was about to leave Nerima after my contest with Akane when I came across a remote listening device left by someone in a back alley. I listened to the voice of elder Ke Lun telling her great-granddaughter where to find this cask of water which could cause great harm in the wrong hands. I felt almost compelled by destiny to sneak in and retrieve this substance. After all, whose hands are wronger than mine?" She laughed. "Of course, once I had this water I had no idea what to do with it. That changed after I left town and had a brief... relationship... with a certain young man."

"Relationship?" Ukyo smirked again.

"We used each other for a time. His name, apparently, was Pantyhose. He seemed relieved that I didn't really care what he was called. But I soon discovered that he could turn into a real monster."

Ukyo couldn't help smiling.

"Oh, please spare me whatever witticism you're about to make. I'm sure you're well aware that I'm speaking quite literally. I had to go through every different possible explanation I could think of before I could convince myself that this was real, that one thing could magically transform into another. It was, for me, a revelation that completely changed the way I looked at the universe. I'd thought myself clever for disregarding the rules of men, but I'd unknowingly been obedient to a much more restrictive set of laws — those of physics. I'd been putting laxatives into my opponents' foods when I could've been turning them into toads. Have you ever had such a life-changing experience? No, I don't suppose you have.

"So," Kodachi continued, "I sought out someone who could teach me how magic worked, and eventually found my dear priest friend. Alas, I wasn't able to grasp it. Perhaps he was holding back, or perhaps, as he told me, I didn't have the right frame of mind. But acquiring my new pets made it more than worthwhile. I can do as I choose, and no one can stop me."

"I don't care what you do to me," Ukyo said, forcing the bitterness back into her voice. "Just as long as I live long enough to see Akane get what's coming to her. And if you botch it again, I won't."

Kodachi laughed, louder than before. "My dear, I have no intention of letting any harm come to you. You can trust me on this. For we have a common goal, and persons with a common goal would never try to deceive one another, am I not right?"

Ukyo's head throbbed, and she leaned back against the wall. For now she probably was safe. But there would be further tests later. She would have to wait and hope the right opportunity presented itself. Until then, she told herself with frustration and disgust, my survival depends on convincing Kodachi that I'm as messed up as she is.


Gosunkugi Hikaru stood behind a house, his back against the wall, trying (and surely failing) to look casual as he glanced from side to side, hoping he wouldn't be spotted. Ti Pi had gone into Shan Pu's house, insisting that Hikaru stay outside until she made sure it was empty, because if someone caught him inside he'd be in big trouble. That was true, but what if someone caught him outside? Ti Pi might come back looking for him any minute, so he couldn't use the technique to erase his presence, not that it was likely to work against Amazon elders anyway. So if someone came by he'd have to do some fast explaining, although he had no idea what he'd say.

Long seconds ticked by. An animal howled in the distance. Hikaru felt a little relieved. Maybe no one was going to see him.

"Hey, Gosunkugi."

Hikaru whirled towards the voice but saw no one. "Who... where..." he stammered. Was someone even better at being unseen than he was?

"It's me." The cover of a garbage receptacle lifted up, exposing a familiar head. "Tsubasa."

"Oh," Hikaru said, relived. "What are you..."

Tsubasa stepped out of the trash bin, hefting a bulky pack. "I'm heading out of town to take care of something. Should be gone not longer than a day or two. Let everyone know, okay?"

"Um, sure." Hikaru wondered whether this would be a good idea. Weren't the Mongol soldiers expected to be back soon?

"I'll be okay," Tsubasa said as if in answer to a question that wasn't asked. "The Amazons couldn't spare anyone to go with me, but they gave me a map, and the place I'm going isn't far."

"See you," said Hikaru, unable to think of anything else. Tsubasa strapped on his backpack, waved, and walked off. Hikaru glanced back at the house and saw Ti Pi's arm waving for him to come ahead. He advanced, looking in every direction as he went.

Ti Pi led him into the house and down a narrow flight of stairs, into a small cellar. The stone-walled room contained only a couple of ceramic wash tubs. He held back, thinking that she might not appreciate having to be cramped with him in the small space.

"Um... is this it?" he asked.

"No," Ti Pi said. "Now we need use password."

"Oh, right." Hikaru had called home on Nabiki's phone and asked his mother to play the tape he'd made years ago. When she'd finally found it in his closet, Ti Pi had listened, and said that she had learned the phrase that would get them into Ke Lun's secret hiding place. A Chinese phrase meaning "vomit spray," she told him, which Ke Lun had thought of after one of the Elders' parties.

Ti Pi fixed her gaze on a blank wall of granite, and spoke. "Ou Pen!"

Hikaru stared. "Um... should something have happened?"

Ti Pi reached tentatively ahead. Her hand went straight into the wall, as if it weren't there. "Let's go!" She bounded forward, disappearing entirely into the wall. Hikaru heard the muted sound of an impact. "Ow!"

He followed after her through the wall.


From outside the bedroom, a loud clank sounded, followed by a shout of pain. "Aaaaa!" The voice was Mikado's.

Ukyo's head turned. "What was that?"

"Hm? I keep a number of rat traps around the house. It seems one of them has caught a particularly large vermin. Odd that someone should show up now, of all times."

"Should we go check it out?"

"I shall go. You remain here." Kodachi zipped out of the room.

Ukyo's eyes fell on the desk, where the cask of water sat. Maybe it was a decoy. But if it really was the Kelunniquan water, then this was an opportunity too good to pass up. She snatched the cask and stepped gingerly out of the room. With luck, she could dispose of the water and be back before Kodachi knew she'd been gone.

Voices carried through the hallway. "Does it hurt when I pull here?" Azusa.

"Owwwwwwww!" Mikado.

Ukyo padded quietly but quickly in the other direction, peering through opened doors. There had to be a bathroom nearby. If she could just find it without triggering another of Kodachi's traps.

From down the hall, the sounds of a scuffle ensued. Azusa's voice pleaded with "Dominique" to please stop hurting her friend. Ukyo knew she didn't have much time left.

Another open door was the bathroom that Ukyo had been looking for. She screwed open the cask, feeling a little disgusted with herself, not for pretending to be like Kodachi but because it had been so easy. Something inside her really did resent Akane for marrying the man that she had wanted, something that she'd kept bottled up inside her for years, until even she was barely even aware of it.

Ukyo poured. The water streamed down the drain, leaving the cask empty, ready to be filled up again.

"The lever on the left is cold water."

Ukyo glanced over her shoulder to see Kodachi standing behind her. "Er, thanks." She tried to think of something to say, but a club to the head saved her the trouble.


Hikaru found himself crawling in a low-ceilinged room. Shining his flashlight around revealed a number of boxes on one side. Next to him, Ti Pi lay prone on the floor. "Uh, are you all right?" Hikaru asked.

"I okay." She rose to her knees, then reached up to feel the ceiling. "I hit my head." She turned on her flashlight. "We look through boxes?"

"Okay." Both of them set their lights down on the floor. Hikaru pulled a box down off another one and began to pull it open. Suddenly a tone reverberated through the room, like the sound of drum sticks rolling on a metal cymbal. "Aaaaaa!" Hikaru leapt to his feet; his head whacked against the ceiling, and he fell to the floor. I'm dead, he thought as he rubbed the back of his skull. Why, why, why hadn't it occurred to him that Ke Lun might booby-trap her stuff? Stupid.

Ti Pi said a few words in Chinese as she pulled a coin-like talisman from her pocket. The sound grew louder, but then stopped. "I need go now," she said. "Is signal. Warriors are summoned to meet with commander. We come back later?"

"Oh," Hikaru said with relief. He began to move back to the exit, but thought for a moment. "Maybe I should stay?"

She looked back at him. "You sure?"

No, of course he wasn't. But... "We might not have time to wait. The soldiers could be back anytime. We need this weapon."

"How you find? You not know what it looks like."

"Neither do you, remember?" Hikaru smiled weakly. "I'll just bring back whatever looks promising, and we can sort through it together."

"Okay. Be careful." She stood for a moment, as if expecting that something else might happen, and then exited through the wall. Hikaru briefly wondered what he'd been thinking to agree to this, and whether he'd come out of it alive. Then he pulled the box to him and started looking through its contents.


Nodoka sipped from her bowl of ramen as she glanced around the diner. Patrons conversed in loud voices as waiters in Chinese clothes slid food onto their tables. According to the clock it was four twenty-six. She would give the man another five minutes to show up, and if he didn't then she would leave.

Perhaps, she thought, she shouldn't have come. With Ukyo still missing, Soun would need her help. But the man who had called her had said it was a matter of family honor. He might have been lying about that, in which case she would teach him the results of such behavior. But if it was true, then she had to deal with it, no matter what the other consequences were. When we stand before the gods, she often liked to say, all we have left is our honor.

The door chimed as a pair of men entered the diner. The taller, thin one in front sported a dour expression; the other was pudgy and wore what seemed like a permanent grin. They scanned through the tables until reaching hers. "Mrs. Saotome?" the thin one asked.


"My name is Hakano Jiro." He pulled up a chair and sat at her table. "This is my associate, Fukumi Warai. We've come to talk with you concerning Kuonji Ukyo."


"This is no good."

"What, Ranma?" Akane asked.

Ranma gestured all around. "This."

Their group walked over vast plains of dirt dotted with irregular patches of weeds. Azure skies and occasional sunbeams peeked through thick white clouds. It was a refreshing change from the dull gray haze of the past few days, or at least that was how Akane felt.

"We're wide open. All those Mongols looking for us will need is a good pair of binoculars, and they'll see us coming from miles away."

"I don't think they'll be looking for us here, boy," Genma said.

"Why not, Mr. Saotome?" Akane asked. It was true that they hadn't seen any sign of pursuit since rescuing Kasumi from the military base. But that didn't mean that nobody was out there.

"Why should they scatter their forces all across the desert to get us? They know we're either headed back to the Amazon village, or ahead to confront General Ha. It makes much more sense for them to just be ready for us to show up at those places."

"Makes sense," Ranma said. "Though I wouldn't want to bet my life on it. Let's keep a sharp lookout for trouble."

It did make sense, Akane thought, but she also remembered how they had somehow been tracked down a few days ago, in much less open country where no one ought to have known what route they would be taking. If they could be found there, surely they could be found here just as easily.

"We should be close to Ulan Batar in a few days," Dr. Tofu said. "Before that, we'll be back in the mountains. A little south of the city is a place called Bogdkhan National Park, where we can spend the night camped in the backcountry and rest up for the battle the next day."

"Good," Ranma said. "With Mu Si gone, we're gonna need every advantage we can get."

Akane put a hand on his back. "We've got Saotome Ranma, world's greatest martial artist. What more do we need?"

She'd meant it to make him feel better, but his sickly grimace and the way he looked straight ahead, not at her, told her that it had had the opposite effect.

"Look... we need to talk," she told him.

Genma stopped and turned. "Ten minute break," he announced. Tofu waved to signal Ryoga and Kasumi who were walking about twenty meters behind. Ranma and Akane sat down by a rocky spire where they would hopefully be out of earshot of the others.

She stared at him.

"So what did you wanna talk about?" he asked.

She stared at him.

He rolled his eyes.

"What is it, Ranma?"

"How should I know? You pulled me over to talk."

She resisted the urge to knock his block off. "You're... you're just not yourself lately!"

"I am myself. That's the problem."

"How's that supposed to make any sense!?" She threw up her hands. "Look, I guess everything we've been through the last few weeks has shaken your confidence. But you're still the one who beat Saffron."

"No, I'm not. I'm really not." He shook his head. "I mean, it was me, but it wasn't just me, it was us. I figured it out. It's the only way it makes sense."


"Look, not long after I got my curse, I got a lot faster, more powerful. That didn't just happen. It was her. The girl, what's her name, Lili. All those years I didn't know I was cheating. Her spirit added to mine was the only reason I could do all that stuff I did. And now she's gone."

He walked over to where Dr. Tofu and Genma were looking at a map, leaving Akane alone as disgust with herself settled to the bottom of her stomach. Her husband, the man she loved, was going through a personal crisis. She ought to help, at least comfort him. But she felt such envy towards this dead girl whom she'd never met. Akane wanted to fight alongside Ranma as a team, but never really saw herself as good enough. And now it seems that he already was a team with Lili, whom he had never met either but who in some ways had been close to him in a way that neither of them had asked for but that Akane could barely understand let alone equal.

No, she thought, this was not what she should be feeling. Being jealous of Lili wasn't doing anyone any good. So she would simply push these feelings out of her mind... as soon as she could.


Ukyo pressed her arms against her body, trying to summon up some warmth. The gymnasium floor on which she sat was cold linoleum; the air was chilly, and being in her underwear didn't help at all.

In an opposite corner sat Mikado, clad only in boxer shorts, nursing the bruises on his head and dutifully keeping his eyes away from Ukyo. Thankfully, Kodachi hadn't killed them... yet. She'd merely taken their clothes and locked them in the Kuno basement. Azusa sat nearby, fully dressed and apparently uninjured, mostly staring into space.

Ukyo couldn't stand the silence any longer. Someone needed to say something, anything.

"Dominique really doesn't want to hurt us," Azusa said. "If I could just talk with her, I know she'd listen."

Okay, make that anything that had some basic connection to reality, Ukyo thought. Well, if you want something done right.... "Mikado... thanks for coming here to try to help me."

"You're welcome," he said, and then quickly looked away.

"Look... I guess I owe you an apology. I was hurting when you met me, and I kind of took a lot of it out on you, because you happened to be there. Sorry."

"I am to blame as well," Mikado answered, without much feeling in his voice.

Ukyo straightened her back against the wall. Was that all he had to say? Still, it was a relief just to get it out in the open. "I spent most of my youth planning revenge on a couple of people who did me wrong. Most everything else is kind of a blur. I guess I never learned all of the courtship rules and customs."

"Do you remember your first kiss?" Mikado asked.

"Sure I do," Ukyo said. "Don't you?"

"I do not remember my first kiss," Mikado said distantly, "because I never received it."

Ukyo stared back skeptically.

"Oh, I received a second kiss, and a third, and many, many kisses after that. But never my first. My elementary school classmate Tanaka Tayorinai agreed to meet me behind the school on the last day before vacation. But she never showed up. I later learned that her family had left town. I don't know if you'd understand."

"Maybe I would." A memory flashed through Ukyo's mind: You said you'd take me with you! She stood up, suddenly uncomfortable with this conversation. She looked around the room. Kodachi struck her as the paranoid sort. If she had a place in her basement to lock people up, chances were she had a secret way out to use in case someone ever locked her down here. There would be a way out. They just had to find it.

"Why don't we just use the trap door in the ceiling?" Azusa said.

"What trap door..." Ukyo looked up, strained her eyes, and could barely make out the outline of a rectangle. "Oh. All right, Mikado, stand against the wall near the door. Azusa, stand on his shoulders, and I'll climb up and stand on yours."

The Golden Pair expertly flipped into the requested position, and Ukyo climbed to the top. She pushed the rectangle, and it moved slightly. With a little more force it might open. She reared back to push hard on it, but stopped as the door started moving on its own.

"There's somebody up there!" Ukyo whispered, then flailed, trying to regain her balance. Azusa eased her back into position. Ukyo watched the door as it opened, ready for a fight that they obviously couldn't win. She looked up, into a familiar face.



Ukyo threw her arms around the ninja, who pulled her up into a corridor. "How— how did you get here?"

"Mister Tendo called me. He said you were in trouble. I searched the house and finally found you here." He offered Azusa a hand and pulled her up. Mikado followed. "Ukyo, you're not dressed!"

"No time to worry about that," Ukyo said. "Let's get out of here before..."

"Too late."

Ukyo turned to see Kodachi, leaning against a wall, her ribbon twirling circles in the air. Konatsu crouched into a battle stance.


The evening sun cast widening shadows on the Amazon village. The streets and pathways were mostly clear, save for an occasional worker passing by. Ti Pi watched from an outcropping on the side of a hill overlooking the village. It was a picturesque sight. She wished she had brought a camera, to save the image.

Happily, the barbarians weren't at the gate just yet. But everyone expected them to come soon. She had been summoned not because an attack was imminent, but because the Elders had decided to increase patrols as a precaution.

She glanced toward Shan Pu's residence, which stood undisturbed. Perhaps letting Gosunkugi stay there on his own had been a mistake. She hoped he wouldn't get himself into trouble. The Elders probably wouldn't punish him, considering his status as a visitor who'd helped rescue the village from invaders. But no one knew what artifacts Ke Lun had in storage, what hazards they could cause if misused; Pi wanted to learn, but not the hard way.

"Everything looks to be clear," she called to Kuno Tatewaki, who stood behind her and off to one side. "Let's finish checking the southwest perimeter." Kuno nodded, and moved forward to take the point. He wouldn't have been Pi's first choice for a partner, but not her last choice either. He seemed to have little grasp of tactics, but was nevertheless a powerful and capable fighter, and thankfully his affections were directed towards another.

Kuno proceeded down a path that circled around a tall hill. He paused, and raised a hand, cocking an ear forward. Pi fell silent, stepping back and readying her gun. Most of the Amazon warriors still preferred the old weapons; Pi, not wanting to concede any advantage to their enemies, resolved to continue using the weapons they had captured from them until the ammunition ran out.

Cautiously, Kuno probed a scraggly clump of bushes with his bokken. A chestnut-colored rabbit emerged, and quickly scurried away. Kuno raised his wooden sword in triumph. "Run, varlet! When next we meet I'll not be quite so merciful!" Was he trying not to smile? Pi couldn't tell.

They forged ahead, and the path sloped gently down, leading to a wide plateau. A disabled tank stood amidst a field of weeds. Holes in dark green paint exposed its rusty metal frame. A Mongol logo lay on its entry hatch, partly covered in a blanket of bird dung.

"I thought this had been removed," Kuno said.

"Not yet," Pi said. "I think the Elders would like it gone, but nobody has figured out how to get inside it, much less how to move it."

"We'll figure out a way. In the meantime, let it stand as a memorial to the crime which has been committed here. A crime of such magnitude must eventually be punished, and those who conspired to perpetrate it must be brought to justice, and I shall not rest until this is accomplished."

Abruptly, a man rolled out from under the back of the tank. "An attitude that does you credit, my good man." He stood up behind Kuno, grabbing the swordsman's arm. "What is your opinion on lesser crimes? Say, assault?"

Ti Pi went for her rifle, only to see that the man had a handgun of his own pointed against Kuno's head.

"Allow me to introduce myself. Lieutenant Amar, Mongol Army Intelligence. A contradiction, I know. Everyone says that. Now I believe it would be customary for the two of you to throw down your weapons?"

And they did.


Hikaru peered at the flask he'd found. The liquid inside was red, and moved stiffly as he tilted the flask; it almost resembled a blood sample, except for being a little brighter and slightly translucent. But it was the label on it that caught his eye. The Chinese characters on it were similar enough to Japanese kanji that he could glean the meaning, that this liquid was to be imbibed in case of an emergency. This probably wasn't the Linghungbao, but it might come in useful, he thought, so maybe he should bring it back to Ti Pi.

But what did it do? He considered trying a little of it. Common sense told him that it was a stupid idea. Then again, if he brought it to Ti Pi, she would want to know what it was for, and might even try it herself. Letting her take the risk wouldn't exactly be the gentlemanly thing to do. And certainly he was more expendable than she was.

Recalling a fantasy role-playing game he had played in college, Hikaru knew what to do. He unscrewed the cap and held it upside down, then tilted the flask so that only a few drops fell into the cap. Then he lifted the cap to his mouth and poured in the contents. A small taste ought to give him a rough feel for what the potion would do, without actually triggering the effects and without any risks. Or so he hoped.

Hikaru paused. A brief feeling jolted him, a surge of confidence. Things would work out. There was no problem that couldn't be solved.

But he was forgetting the job he'd come here for. Dropping to one knee, he set the flask down on the floor and went back to the wooden chest from which he'd taken it. His fingers probed the bottom of the chest, and he pulled out another container, a leather-covered oval-shaped box only a little bigger than his hand. It took only a little experimentation to discover how the top of the container flipped open.

A gem of brilliant green, set into a metal clasp, lay in the box, nestled in a cloth and cardboard holder. Hikaru picked it up to examine. He could see his reflection, and oddly, despite the gem's rounded shape, his image didn't seem to be distorted. And was that a fiery red light emanating from the center of the gem? No, he must have imagined it.

With a Herculean effort, Hikaru forced his eyes to turn away from the gem, feeling as though he might get sucked inside if he continued to stare. He slipped it into his jacket pocket. Ti Pi would figure out what, if anything, to do with it.

He looked back at the flask of liquid. He still had no real idea what it was for. He needed to know. One more little taste. Surely that couldn't cause any harm.

Hikaru lifted the flask and took a gulp. The liquid was sweet, but with a lingering aftertaste that was slightly medicinal. He remembered being invited out to dinner after a job interview, and trying some mixed drinks, but those had made him numb, sluggish; now he felt sharper, more alert than ever. And, he suddenly realized, what was he doing here? His enemies were attacking, or were about to attack! He had to go find and destroy them.

Almost as an afterthought, Hikaru raised the flask higher, and guzzled.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: After a very lengthy hiatus — during which, among other things, I got married and had a son — I'm back to writing this; hopefully someone still wants to read it. I still have every intention of writing the remaining three parts; hopefully before I'm a grandpa. :)

As always, I'm eager to hear any feedback you, the reader, can provide.