Thanks to the always mighty Yoiko for pre-reading.


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 mannequin looked like one you might see outside a restaurant. It sailed through the air at Jusenkyo, then landed, kicking up a cloud of dirt as it skidded along a weedy embankment. A voice called from inside it, "Charge!" It came to a stop with one of its drum sticks wedged into a rock and its floppy pointed hat smushed into a clump of weeds.

Pu Lanmu watched with mild curiosity, straining to see in the fading dusk light. "What's the big idea, Lord Sa Fulan?" she said.

A head popped out of the mannequin, followed by the body of what looked like a petite young woman. Definitely not who Pu Lanmu had thought it was. "You are good?" the person said in barely intelligible Mandarin. "My name is called Kurenai Tsubasa. I am Japan person."

"Japan, huh?" Pu Lanmu said, switching languages. "I speak pretty decent Japanese myself. That was a neat trick with the statue."

"Thanks," Tsubasa said. "I can get inside things, and make them move. I don't know how it works. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess. It's a good thing you speak my language. I took some Chinese in school, but I can't say I remember a lot of it."

"No problem." She offered a hand. "I'm Pu Lanmu. Pu Yichi, that's my dad, and I are sorta the caretakers for Jusenkyo here. We have some Japanese friends, the Saotomes, who send us DVDs and video games, so I've learned a lot of the language from them."

Tsubasa shook her hand. "I know the Saotomes. I came to China with them along with some other friends."

"I'm glad to hear that," Pu Lanmu said, "'cause that means I don't need to tell you how bad it would be for you if you fell into one of the springs. Right?"

"Actually, I came here looking for one particular spring. The spring of drowned girl."

Pu Lanmu peered closer at Tsubasa. "Um, aren't you already—"

"I'm all man." Tsubasa lifted up his frilly shirt to flash a glimpse of his scrawny, flat chest. "Don't let the way I look fool you. Deep down I'm dirty, rude, unpleasant, just like all guys. I want to change."

"You wanna become a woman?"

"Yeah. A woman." He smiled to himself at the thought. "Sugar and spice, all that is nice. And what's even better is that when I become a woman, I'll be a lesbian. Their relationships are always tender, loving—"

"Yeah." Pu Lanmu snorted. "I've seen the same animes you probably have. Okay, mister girly man, I'll show you where the spring of drowned girl is..."

"Hooray!" Tsubasa jumped up. "Let's go! No time to—"

" the morning."

Tsubasa frowned.

"Look, you can go creeping around the springs at night if you wanna," Pu Lanmu said. "But don't blame me if you slip and fall into the spring of drowned warthog instead. It's not a video game. If it doesn't happen the way you wanted, you can't just hit the reset button and try again."

Tsubasa paused to think for a moment, then slumped down. "Okay. I'll wait. It's only for one night."

"That's the spirit." She pointed in a direction away from the springs. "You can camp out for the night in that field over there. Don't do anything dumb, and in the morning you can get what you came for."

Tsubasa took off his backpack, rolled his sleeping bag out onto the ground, and settled inside it. Stars glistened overhead like lights on a Christmas tree as he lay his head back on his pillow. He could wait. One more day is all it would take. Finally.


Back at the Amazon village, Ti Pi paced down pathways dimly illuminated by pale lantern light, Tatewaki Kuno at her side. She followed along, occasionally glancing back at Lieutenant Amar of Mongol Military Intelligence who skulked behind the two of them with gun in hand, ready to shoot one of them if they were to offer any resistance.

"What is the purpose of the building on our left?" Amar asked.

"That's the library," Ti Pi answered. "We have a good collection of older books, plus some modern stuff. Though it got ransacked pretty thoroughly when your men were occupying our village."

"Ah, 'tis an uncouth business, this," Amar said. "Would that such atrocities weren't deemed as necessary. Truly I commiserate with you, madam. But war is war, and all of us must play the roles to which we're assigned."

"If I may, sir, you do not seem like the typical soldier," Kuno said. "Clearly you have a touch of the poet in you. Rarely does one encounter that, especially in combat."

"Your perceptiveness does you credit, my good man," Amar said. "I was a student of the arts at university when war broke out. I decided that my dream of becoming a thespian would need to wait. When one's country calls, one must serve."

"You're serving General Ha, not your country." Ti Pi stopped and turned to face him. "He's a madman who's usurped control of your country and is using its armies for his own benefit."

Amar sighed, saying nothing. Then he pointed. "What is that building to my right?"

"Combat practice hall," Ti Pi answered. "Both Tatewaki and I have trained there."

Amar smiled, and looked at Kuno. "It mystifies me that a people would let the fairer gender engage in fighting to such a degree."

"Tatewaki is perfectly qualified in combat," Ti Pi said. "I'd put him up against most any of our junior warriors."

Amar blinked, nonplussed.

Ti Pi noticed a white bird standing on its two legs, regarding the three of them with what looked like curiosity. A duck, she thought. I know that duck. Casually she maneuvered herself so that Amar would be between her and the fowl. "How long are you going to keep us held up at gunpoint?" she said, a little louder than usual so that you-know-who would hear it.

"It will all be done soon," answered Amar. "My apologies for such brusque treatment, but I must fulfill those duties that were assigned to me, gathering information on your village for those I call my superiors. After that I will gladly go and leave you alone."

Ti Pi nodded. Sure he'd leave them alone — after shooting them and burying their remains where they wouldn't be found. The intelligence he was collecting wouldn't do him any good if they were still around to warn the Elders. Somehow she doubted that Amar carried a supply of Formula Nine-One-One Shampoo with him. Therefore, she and Kuno would have to die. Nothing personal. Terribly sorry. Nasty business, this.

But with any luck, it wouldn't come to that. From the corner of her eye she saw the duck morph into a very naked Mu Si, who raised an arm and crept up behind Amar. Ti Pi fumbled for something to say, to keep Amar distracted long enough that he wouldn't see the blow coming, and hopefully keep him talking so that Mu would be able to find him even without glasses.

Suddenly, a figure came running down the street, screaming "Aaaaaaiiiiiieee!" It was Gosunkugi Hikaru. What the...?

Amar whirled, gun in hand, as Gosunkugi's hands wrapped around Mu Si's throat.

Kuno grabbed Gosunkugi by the rib cage and pulled him away. "What do you think you're doing?! Cease this behavior at once!"

"Are you threatening me?!" Gosunkugi smacked Kuno's arm several times in rapid succession, and was released. "I am Gosunkugi!" he exclaimed.

"Have you gone mad?!" Kuno said, eyeing him warily.

Good question, thought Ti Pi. From the look in his eyes, Gosunkugi was clearly crazed, as if under some malign influence. Had something he'd found in Elder Ke Lun's secret storage affected him this way? What had she been thinking, letting him stay and search on his own? She moved silently behind him and reached around his back to jab it with a finger. While far from an expert on pressure points, she knew a few basic ones. This one was supposed to accelerate the body's natural processes for eliminating toxins.

Gosunkugi pitched forward, grabbing Ti Pi around her midsection and pressing his lips into hers. "Aaaa!" she screamed. Her fists flailed against his back.

Kuno's staff crashed down onto Gosunkugi's head. He looked up momentarily and then slumped to the ground.

Amar smiled. "I do thank you for this bit of impromptu entertainment, my friends. A bit mystifying, but aren't many of the great works as such? In any case, I'm afraid we must return to the business at hand." He raised his handgun. "Kindly stand together, and walk that way."


Azusa's cries echoed through the Kuno mansion. "Dominique, please stop!"

It wouldn't do any good, obviously, but Ukyo felt like screaming too. For a few brief moments, she'd held hopes that Konatsu might be able to do something where she and Mikado had failed. The ninja had set up papier-mache duplicates of himself that exploded on contact, and attacked with a bewildering variety of thrown objects including everything from razor-sharpened coins to ordinary saltine crackers. But all of this only managed to confuse. Zipping and bouncing around the room at random had so far kept him from being hit. But he seemed unable to press an attack; Kodachi's animated weapons blocked all of his strikes no matter how unexpected a direction they came from.

What would Ran-chan do? she asked herself. But there was no answer. Maybe she could hustle out of the house with the Golden Pair in tow while Konatsu kept Kodachi busy. Ranma might do that. But Ukyo wouldn't leave her friend in the lurch, and she didn't see much point in it anyway. Kodachi would just catch up with her later on.

A club finally caught Konatsu in the stomach. "Oof!" He flew through the air and smashed into a wall. Well, that's it, Ukyo thought. Kodachi had beaten them all. There was nothing to do now but take what was coming to them.

The ribbon rose menacingly in Ukyo's direction. "Please, Dominique!" Azusa said to it. Ukyo privately wished that she'd give it a rest. What was the point?

Kodachi hovered over Ukyo as the ribbon twirled patterns in the air. "Whatever shall I do with you? You dumped my special water, so I can't use that. It seems I'll have to get creative."

"Whatever," Ukyo said. "Akane was still right. You were Ranma's last choice. Anything you do to me won't change that."

The ribbon cracked through the air. Stinging pain shot through Ukyo's shoulder.

"Dominique, you're hurting my friend!" Azusa said.

"Wouldn't... wouldn't matter if you did turn all of us into Ke Lun," Ukyo gasped. "He'd... he'd have even married her before you. Even though she's dead."

The ribbon cracked again. Ukyo's back screamed out in agony. At least she knew how to make Kodachi lose her cool, although exactly what this was supposed to accomplish, she hadn't quite worked out yet.

"Dominique, I'm your friend... I want you to be my friend too! You're so nice and cute... I know you don't really want to do this!"

The ribbon wobbled in mid-air. Ukyo braced herself for the next hit. It never came.

Kodachi gaped wild-eyed at her weapon, as if unable to believe what she was seeing. It refused to move.

Azusa threw up her arms like a cheerleader. "Yay! Dominique!"

"Azusa!" Ukyo called out. "Kodachi's leotard wants to be your friend too! And her— Oof!" She barely managed to roll with the blow as Kodachi's fist struck her in the chest.

Ukyo picked herself off the floor. The ribbon — Dominique — had interposed itself between Kodachi and the others. Kodachi stared up at it in disbelief.

For a few seconds, Kodachi and Ukyo eyed each other from opposite sides of the hallway. A Mexican stand-off.

Finally, Kodachi begrudgingly spat out, "Go."

They went.

For long minutes after the door slammed, Kodachi silently eyed the ribbon which now lay in a heap on the floor, as if it were a predator lying in wait in preparation to pounce on her. It was, as far as she could know, back under control, but for how long?

Dominique. That's what the girl had named it.

She began to back away, not taking her eyes off the ribbon. If this one could be made to defy her, then surely the others could as well. Even the one she wore on her back. That thought made Kodachi want to take off her clothes and run into the shower. Before, her animated leotard had seemed like an invincible suit of armor. Now it seemed like a bear trap that could close on her at any moment.

Dominique. How very ridiculous.

Kodachi had thought she'd understood this game called life. One simply needed to learn the rules — the real rules, not the ones that so-called civilized society imposed on itself — and work them to one's advantage to triumph over one's competitors. Sometimes one had to adjust one's understanding to reflect new understandings, as was the case when she had discovered the existence of magical curses and animating spirits. Still, the basic principles remained.

But this... this made no sense.



Just shoot me now, Gosunkugi Hikaru thought to himself as he walked through the outskirts of the Amazon village. Behind him and his three companions, the Mongol officer followed behind, gun at the ready. Every step he took felt like a well-deserved bludgeon to his head. No, he didn't really want to die. But if this guy — Amar, he'd said his name was — if Amar shot him now, at least it would make the headache stop, and at least he wouldn't have to explain to Ti Pi what an incredibly stupid blunder he'd made by drinking that potion.

Hikaru felt inside his pocket. He still had the other item that he'd found in Elder Ke Lun's secret stash. The gem. Would it help him escape? From what he'd heard, Ranma had experienced a few of the items made by the Amazons, and most of them were lemons that were likely to fail in comical ways. But this one, if it was the one they'd been looking for, was supposed to be different.

Anyway, it wasn't like he had a lot of options. He furtively pulled the gem from his pocket, hoping that Amar wouldn't see what he was doing, as he continued to follow in line behind Mu Si, Tatewaki, and Ti Pi. As before, a deep red light shone from within the gem. Hikaru stared into it. Can you get me out of this?

The red light coalesced into an image of Ti Pi. Clad in a skimpy satin negligee, she smiled as her outstretched finger beckoned him to her.

"What the—?" Hikaru pulled back. He was still outside the village. His arm bumped into something next to him. It was a super-sized Happodaikarin, about twice as tall as Hikaru. The fuse at the top was burning; he had only moments before it would explode.

Did I do that? he wondered. But there was no time. He shoved it in Amar's direction. It rolled into him, knocking him down like a bowling pin.

"Run!" Hikaru said, and he hurried forward, hoping he could get away before Amar could put a bullet in his back. The three others looked around and quickly followed. Then the Happodaikarin exploded. Hikaru flew through the air, stopping abruptly as his head collided with the trunk of a tree.


Konatsu led Ukyo as they slipped through shadowy streets and alleys to arrive at the Tendo home, with the Golden Pair following behind. He knocked on the door, Tendo Soun answered, and within minutes the four were sipping sake, relaxing in the relative comfort of Soun's living room, Ukyo and Mikado clad in a pair of spare practice gis.

"Should we expect Kodachi to come looking for you?" Soun asked.

"Hard to say," Ukyo said. "But with her transformation water down the sink, and her weapons starting to defy orders, I'm guessing she might want to rethink what she's doing. At least we should be okay for the next day or two."

"It's late." Mikado stood. "I should take Azusa home."

"Thanks for what you did, Azusa," Ukyo said. "You too, hon. If the two of you hadn't come for me I'd probably still be locked up in that house."

Mikado nodded, then turned and stepped out of the room, Soun following behind him. Ukyo had no doubt that Mikado would've come to the rescue of any other damsel in distress. Of course, tomorrow she'd have to go back to trying to deal with the faux engagement that the two of them had invented. He was still a jerk, even if he had other qualities that she could appreciate.

She turned to Konatsu. "Shouldn't you call your wife, sugar? I imagine she'll be pretty worried by now."

Konatsu looked away guiltily.

"Sorry, did I say something wrong?"

For a few long seconds, Konatsu hesitated. "I don't have a wife, Ukyo-sama."

"But you told me—"

"I know." He stared at the floor. "I lied."

"Why?" Ukyo asked, with more anger in her voice than she would have liked.

"You... you were always so nice to me, Ukyo-sama. And I was just a burden. When I found out that you didn't feel the same way that I... well, I figured you'd be better off without me around, and this was a way of getting away without making you feel guilty about it."

Ukyo shook her head, barely able to believe what she was hearing. "You figured wrong," Ukyo snapped back. "You were a friend, Konatsu. I could always use a friend."

"Sorry," he mumbled, and turned to go.

"No, wait." Ukyo took a breath. "I'm sorry. Look, things got screwed up. But I could still use a friend. Let's talk, okay? Not tonight. We're all tired. Maybe tomorrow."

Konatsu looked back, nodded, and smiled.


Kui Ziling lay prone on the ground, her squad of warriors concealed behind her, staring ahead at the field on which the bomb had obviously fallen. In the fading dusk light she could make out a wide circle of blackened grass, with several figures sprawled out unmoving at its outer edge.

It had been about fifteen minutes since they'd heard the blast at this location. Were more Mongol soldiers about to invade their village? She didn't know the answer, but so far there had been only the one bomb, with no apparent follow-up attack.

For moments that seemed to stretch into hours, she watched. Then, satisfied that there was no one else there, she stood and stepped forward, motioning to her squad to remain as they were.

From what she'd learned, it was a common tactic of modern armies to bomb an area, then wait until other persons showed up to retrieve the victims of that attack and bomb the same area again. If that was going to happen here, at least this way they would kill only her, and no one else. There was a certain irony there; Kui had collaborated with the enemy to help open the way for their first invasion in a perhaps ultimately vain attempt to prevent a total bloodbath. If her sisters were to find out, they would surely put her to death. And now the other side might kill her anyway, not knowing who she was and not likely to care even if they did.

She bent down to examine the persons on the ground. Kuno Tatewaki groaned as his head began to turn. Nearby, the other Japanese youth — Gosunkugi, she remembered, was his name — lay unconscious but intact, his fingers clutched around some small object.

"Over here!" she called to her warriors, who rose from their hiding spot. "Bring stretchers."

A flicker of moonlight reflected from the item in Gosunkugi's grasp. Kui looked closer. It was a gemstone, in the shape of a tiny egg that seemed to glow from within; she had never seen it before, but it was familiar. Could it be...?

"This one is bleeding from the chest, Elder," one of the squad said.


"A stranger, Elder. I've never seen him before."

"Put him on a stretcher and take him to the healers," Kui said. "This one here as well."

"Yes, Elder."

Two warriors approached bearing a stretcher. Kui eased Gosunkugi onto it as she surreptitiously slipped the gem into her own hand. Was this the famous Linghungbao? Did the stranger somehow manage to steal it from Shan Pu's hiding place, only to have it blow up in his face when Kuno and the others confronted him? Perhaps when the youths recovered they would be able to provide some answers. But for now, she would take custody of the item, and no one else needed to know.


"Mmmm." Hakano slurped down the last noodle from his bowl. "This is most excellent ramen." The evening crowd had began to thin, and the noise level of the restaurant died down to a low hubbub.

"Yep," Fukumi answered. "Good stuff for sure."

Nodoka drew a breath. "I don't wish to seem impatient, but you gentlemen said you had something to discuss with me? A matter of family honor concerning Kuonji Ukyo?"

Hakano wiped his mouth with a napkin. "That is correct."

"I'm surprised you chose to meet here," Nodoka said. "Why not at Ukyo's restaurant? She could certainly use the business."

"She always chases us out when we show up there," Fukumi said. "She said we annoy her paying customers."

Hakano shot his associate a disapproving look. "Never mind. There is indeed a matter of honor here, Mrs. Saotome, and once you have heard what we have to say I believe you will see a need for decisive action on your part."

"I'm listening," she said, hoping they would at last get to the point. If this was all nothing more than a ploy to get her to buy them free ramen, she would find a way to make them regret it.

"Here," Hakano said, producing a manila envelope stuffed with papers and slapping it onto the table. "This is a compendium of information relevant to the history of Kuonji Ukyo and your son, Saotome Ranma." He smiled self-approvingly. "It took many months of hard work to obtain this."

Nodoka picked up the envelope. "You spent months researching Ukyo and Ranma?"

"Not exactly," Fukumi said. "He worked for months at the gas station, to get enough money to buy this info from Tendo Nabiki."

"Fukumi, please." Hakano pushed his glasses up to the top of his nose. "Madam, this material clearly documents the fact that Kuonji Ukyo has the superior claim to your son's hand in marriage. Your husband," he said with some disdain, "accepted the Kuonji family okonomiyaki cart years ago as a dowry."

"You do realize that Ranma and Akane have already been married for nearly five years?" Nodoka said. "Do you really want to—"

"What I want is entirely beside the point, madam. Personally, I don't even particularly like Ranma. Ukyo is clearly far too good for him. Er, no offense intended. But it would be my hope that she would forget about him and instead choose someone better."

Fukumi smiled. "Someone like—"

"Fukumi!" Hakano glared at his associate, then turned back to Nodoka. "No, my own opinions do not enter into it at all," he continued. What matters is the obligation that your family owes to Ukyo. It is, as I said, a matter of honor. Honor trumps all other considerations, does it not?"

"It does." Nodoka stood, sighing slightly as she stuffed the envelope under her arm. "I will read your compendium and do what needs to be done, whatever that turns out to be. Good day, gentlemen."

The men nodded, stood, bowed, and stepped toward the exit. Nodoka lingered for a few moments then walked to the door.

Briefly, she considered simply dumping the papers in the trash. With most of her family in China fighting to save the Amazon village, reopening a dispute that was settled years ago was not at all helpful. These men had no connection to her family, no business involving themselves in its affairs, and from what they'd said about Ukyo it seemed that she didn't welcome their involvement either.

But honor trumped all other considerations. Whatever problems she had with Hakano, he had been absolutely right about that. And as she walked home, she prayed that there would be a solution to this dilemma that would satisfy the Saotome family's obligations to Ukyo, if any, without breaking that family apart.


Tsubasa noticed someone staring down at him. "Uh, hi," he said.


At first Tsubasa thought it was Pu Lanmu, but the face outlined in moonlight wasn't hers. The face resembled that of Ranma's female form, but somehow Tsubasa knew that wasn't who it was.

"I hear you're looking for the spring of drowned girl."

"Yeah, I am," Tsubasa said. His head felt foggy, sluggish. Why couldn't this person let him sleep and talk to him in the morning? "Pu Lanmu is going to show me where it is."

"Why wait?" she said. "I can take you to that spring."

On the other hand, there was no time like the present. Tsubasa bounded out of his sleeping bag.

"Follow me," she said, and strolled unhurriedly towards the springs.

A full moon dimly lit up the area as Tsubasa walked behind the woman. The bottom of her Chinese-style dress flapped in the wind, exposing her somewhat scrawny legs. "Look," Tsubasa said, "I don't want to seem ungrateful, but are you sure you're taking me to the right spring? I wouldn't want to accidentally end up as a warthog or something. I mean, nothing personal, but anybody can make a mistake."

She glanced back at him without slowing down. "I know exactly which is the spring you want. It's been my home for about the last fifteen hundred years."

"You mean...."

"I'm Feng Lili. My body drowned here all those years ago. Now this is my home. I'm a ghost. I have to stay here, except when someone lets me out for a little while."

"Like Ranma did?"

"Yes. That was a good union. Together we were strong, vital, powerful enough to challenge anyone. We even gave birth to our child. Ririko, he called her. She was beautiful."

"I remember. Still is," Tsubasa said. "But you abandoned him?"

"I left. I was tired of staying where I wasn't wanted, wasn't welcome. But you can give me a new home." She stopped in front of one particular spring, gesturing broadly at it. "The niangniquan. Spring of drowned maiden. At your service."

"This is it?" It was all too much for Tsubasa to take in. He hovered over the pool, staring at the moon's reflection in it. Okay, here I come, he thought. "Sorry about this."

"Why should you be sorry?"

"I mean for what this does to you. You have to share your existence with a man, and be in a man's body about half the time. I bet that makes you want to barf."

"No, not at all."

"Of course it does. How could it not? Men are filthy, disgusting creatures. I know. I am one."

Lili laughed. "I actually prefer being in the body of a man. I always secretly wished I'd been born one. Girls are weak. Men are strong. All my life I've stayed home and cooked and sewn while the men did the important work."

"You— you can't be serious!"

"It's not important. Jump in the spring, Tsubasa. You'll get what you want. As will I."

Tsubasa took a step closer.

A voice suddenly screamed in his ear. "Sir!"


"Mister girly man, sir!" A flashlight was shining in his eyes, and he felt his arm being pulled. "Wake up, sir!" It was Pu Lanmu.

Tsubasa blinked, looking all around. "I was... sleeping?"

"Not only that," Pu Lanmu said. "You were sleepwalking. You must be the luckiest guy in the world to be able to do that around here without falling into a spring."

"Nah. I had a guide."


Tsubasa looked where Lili had been, but nobody was there. "A ghost," he finally said.

"Go back to your bed," Pu Lanmu said, shoving her shoulders into his chest to emphasize her point.

Tsubasa started to protest, then decided there wasn't much point, and stepped away from the springs back towards his campsite.

Pu Lanmu walked alongside him. "I think maybe you did find the spring you wanted. Tomorrow I'll check the maps to make sure."

Tsubasa settled back into his sleeping bag. Pu Lanmu trudged off. He would see her again tomorrow and he could jump into the spring then... maybe. Then again, he might just forget the whole thing and go back to the Amazon village.

He still wanted to turn into a woman.

But not that one.

She was crazy.


Nabiki dreamed.

The man stood. implacable as a statue. She reached at the dark fitted cloth that covered his head, and yanked it off. Finally, here was the face of the person who had betrayed Ranma and the others by giving their position away to Zhen Biaozi. It was Mu Si. But Nabiki didn't even get a Curses! Foiled again! for her troubles; Mu Si merely stared blankly ahead, not even reacting as she waved her hand back and forth a few centimeters in front of his eyes. The lights were on, as it were, but nobody was home.

"His soul has been taken," came a voice from behind.

Nabiki whirled around. Another man, this one a bit shorter and bulkier, but dressed in the same black body suit and mask. Was this the true culprit? Nabiki pulled off this man's mask, fairly sure what she would find. Sure enough, Mr. Saotome's face lay underneath, showing the same empty gaze.

Still, it hadn't been his voice Nabiki had heard. Then who...?

As if in answer, another figure appeared. This one had a woman's build, dressed in gray robes with a hood that only partially obscured her head. The subtle but definite movements of her torso and slight curling of her lips told Nabiki that this one was not like the others. So who was it? Zhen Biaozi? Feng Lili?

"Er... you stole their souls?"

"Stole? Goodness, no." The figure laughed. "I don't steal. I took them as payment for services rendered. For Mu Si, I helped him get away from his Mongol captors. I guess he didn't know that I was the one who told them where to find him in the first place." Her head reared back, and her hood fell open.


"Surprised? I don't know why you should be. I'm a trader, just like you. A player in the free market. I just deal in a higher grade of commodity. But don't worry, I'm not going to bargain for your soul."

"You're not?"

"Of course not. There's no need." Her smirk broadened into an ear-to-ear grin. "I can take yours as recompense for debts unpaid." She straightened, and Nabiki suddenly felt as though she were floating upward....



A hand jostled Nabiki. "We're landing in Chicago O'Hare in a few minutes," a flight attendant said over the whistle of jet engines. "Please put your seat up."

"Oh, right." Nabiki pushed her chair, and herself, back to their original upright positions, marveling at the bizarreness of the dream she'd just had. The lesson, she supposed, was never go to sleep after pigging out on airline food.

She'd been mulling over in her head the question of who had betrayed the location of Ranma and the others to Zhen Biaozi. Obviously her subconscious was trying to suggest ideas. That Kasumi could be a traitor was just ridiculous, but the other suspects her mind had picked out were worth serious consideration. The story Mu Si had told about meeting Zhen Biaozi had some major holes. If an Amazon Elder had a way to make herself look eighty years younger, why would she bundle up her face on top of it? Why put a disguise on top of a disguise? And Mr. Saotome... there was very little that Nabiki would put past him. The only question was how he expected to get away with it. As soon as he started spending whatever bribe he'd gotten from the Mongols, it would take about ten minutes for everybody to figure out what he'd done, and then the only thing the money would pay for would be his funeral.

Whoever it was, it certainly wasn't Kasumi. But Nabiki remembered something she liked to tell her subordinates at work: If you believe in something so strongly that it seems like the whole universe would end if it weren't true, but you can't articulate a rational reason why it's true, then it's probably a load of manure; and if you can get somebody else to believe something, anything to that degree, then you can use it as a lever to manipulate that person into doing what you want.

The truth was, dealing with the magical-spiritual aspect of these things gave Nabiki the creeps. Too often it took things way outside her area of expertise. Sure, it had been there in the old days, but back then it had always been the kind that you could avoid by exercising a little common sense and not doing anything stupid. Stupid things like letting yourself be knocked into a cursed spring after being told what it was. But as Shan Pu had just proven, it wasn't like that anymore, if it ever really had been. The bad weirdness can get you even if you don't screw up, and there was no reason to expect that it wouldn't.

By now the plane was already on the ground and taxiing past rows of parked jets. It wasn't that deeply held beliefs were always wrong, she thought. The real lesson was that they were worthless as an indicator of what was true. All that really mattered was information.

Soon she would go through customs and then catch her scheduled connecting flight which would get her to Philadelphia around ten in the morning local time. Then a hot shower and a nap. Meeting with Mr. Kane could wait until tomorrow when she would hopefully be fresher. In the meantime, she could get word to her people and ask them to do a little research.


"Get up, everybody." Ranma scrambled from tent to tent, shaking bodies awake. "We gotta get outta here."

Ryoga's head popped out from underneath his tent's flap. "What's going on?"

"There's somebody on the way here." Ranma pointed into the distance. The sun still hadn't risen, and the sky was only beginning to light up on one side. "I saw a light beam sweeping the area. A little later, there it was again, but closer. A few minutes later, closer still. Whoever it is, they're headed straight here."

"Good work, son," Genma said. He and the others emerged and hurriedly began folding down tents and packing up belongings.

Except one. "Hey, Doc," Ranma called. "Didn't you hear? C'mon out! We need to be gone before—"

The pale glow of a lantern suddenly lit up the area. Ranma whirled. The man was unassuming, middle-aged with a thin build and weather-beaten face.

Crap, Ranma thought. Too late. "Look, pal," he said. "We don't have to do this. I dunno if the people who sent you told you what we're capable of. If it comes down to a fight, I promise you you'll hurt for a long, long time. So maybe that doesn't need to happen. Maybe we left five minutes ago, and you didn't see us, and your Mongol superiors won't know the difference. I don't know how you found us, but—"

"I told him where we would be," Tofu said, finally coming out of his tent.

What the hell? Ranma crouched into a fighting stance. Was the doc working for the other side? If this guy had been tipped off, no way was he going to be scared away; he surely knew exactly how tough Ranma's group was and would have something ready to deal with them.

Tofu stood up. "It's okay, Ranma. He isn't with the Mongols. I mean, he's Mongol, but not working for the government."

The man raised a hand then extended it forward for Ranma to shake. "You can call me Tsakhi," he said in passable Japanese. "I'm part of what you might call the resistance. My group is organizing in secret to oppose General Ha's regime."


A short walk later, Ranma and his group hung on to seats as Tsakhi's jeep rambled over bumpy ground.

Ranma broke the silence. "Give us a little heads up next time, Doc."

"Sorry, Ranma. But I promised Elder Lan that I wouldn't tell anyone. If Ha Bu found out how to reach Tsakhi's group, he'd infiltrate and set them up to be wiped out. So the fewer people who knew anything about it, the safer."

"Okay, when you put it that way, I guess it was a good call." Ranma crouched lower and gripped tighter as the jeep sped over some particularly rough ground.

"I am sorry we have had to be so secretive," Tsakhi said. "Thank you for caring about my country's problems."

"Your problems are our problems," Ranma said. "Unfortunately."

"When General Ha usurped power, members of opposing political groups were systematically slaughtered." Tsakhi looked back at Ranma, who pointed forward as if to say please watch where you're driving. "I lost some very good friends. I don't know how any human being could have ordered such an act."

"Ha isn't strictly human," Ranma said. "His people, the Musk Dynasty, years ago, well... let's just say they brought a whole new meaning to the phrase 'animal husbandry.'"

Tsakhi braked hard and his jeep jerked to a stop in front of a run-down cottage. "Here you will find food and clean clothes. There is a water tank and makeshift heater with which you should be able to clean yourselves up. There are maps which will show you the way into the city. There are also pre-paid disposable phones in case you need to get a message through to your comrades. What you do with all of this is your own choice, and I don't want to know."

Ranma shook Tsakhi's hand as he began to climb out of the jeep. "Thanks, pal."

"You are welcome. When General Ha took over the country, there were many who spoke out against him. I said nothing. Those people are gone and I am still here. This is the least I can do. After all, one of those people was my brother."

"We won't let you down," Tofu said.

Tsakhi nodded as he started up the jeep again. It sped off into the distance. Akane pulled open the door to the cottage.


Captain Janibek stared down the road that led to the Amazon village. "Scout patrol, report."

"Yes, sir," the corporal who had just returned from reconnaissance said. "They've posted extra guards, but apart from that it's pretty much as expected." He handed over a small digital camera.

"Thank you, corporal." Captain Janibek began flipping through slides on the camera. "Were you spotted?"

"I don't believe so, sir."

"Good." A photograph caught the Captain's eye. "This tank must be left over from the occupation."

"I think so, sir. Its engines appear to have been completely wrecked. I assume it was left there because no one in the village had any way of moving it."

"I don't suppose we do either. That's unfortunate. We could've used that extra firepower on our side." He set the camera in his pocket and peered through binoculars at the Amazon village where it lay nested among craggy peaks and valleys. Then he turned to Zhen Biaozi, who had been put in overall command of the mission by special order of central command. "I don't like this, ma'am. According to HQ, the intelligence agent they sent inside yesterday never even reported back. My force is considerably smaller than the original one, and this time they'll be expecting us. With all due respect, are you sure you've thought this out long enough?"

"I've thought this out for years, captain. I don't plan a frontal invasion like last time. Your forces, at least initially, are only here as a diversion. In twenty minutes, you'll bring your troops into range and begin shelling the village. Meanwhile, I'll be sneaking in to infiltrate it."

"My apologies, ma'am. I didn't mean..."

"That's all right. I have no desire to waste your life nor those of your troops, captain. If you encounter opposition that is more formidable than you're prepared to deal with, then withdraw. Otherwise I'll return disguised as one of them and take you into the village, ostensibly as prisoners. Once we're inside the belly of the beast, as it were, we'll have no trouble taking control."

"Yes, ma'am," the captain said as Zhen edged away. "But you said they know you there. Won't they recognize your face?"

"I'm counting on it," she said over her shoulder, and smiled.

Janibek sighed as Zhen vanished behind an outcropping. Here he was, taking orders from a woman who from all appearances wasn't even thirty, but who swore up and down that she'd lived with the Amazons for almost a century. But that wasn't the crazy thing. The crazy thing was that he was starting to believe her.

Back in Ulan Bataar he'd spent months working in administration. When the war started he'd practically begged for the chance to get out from behind his desk and into the field. But while the prospect of a field mission was a lot more interesting, the problem was you never quite knew whether you'd be coming back, and if so in how many pieces.

He turned towards his convoy of trucks and jeeps that snaked down the road. "Corporal, tell the convoy to stand by. We move..." He glanced at his watch. " exactly eighteen minutes."


Ranma, Akane, Tofu, and Kasumi sat cross-legged in a tight circle around the small phone. Nearby, Genma and Ryoga kept watch, standing crouched behind a dusty knoll. "Hello?" Akane said. "Are you there, Karina?"

Nabiki's voice came through, faint and slightly distorted. "Er, hello?"

"Karina, it's us! Cousins Henmei, Urana, and Imyo! Oh, we're really enjoying this vacation in Mongolia! The scenery is just breathtaking! And that, er, hostel service we hooked up with was just marvelous. They helped us get this pre-paid disposable phone. We're in one of the national parks now, but we expect to hit the big city by tomorrow."

"Er, I'm glad to hear that you're all right. What about that young Chinese man who was with you as a guide? You know the one I'm talking about?"

"Oh yes. I think he's gone back home. We never saw him, but Urana got word that he had left the area."

"I thought I was Henmei, Akane," Kasumi said.

Ranma shook his head. "No, Akane is Henmei. You're Urana, and I'm Imyo. I wrote it all down."

Akane slumped as she banged her forehead into the palm of her hand, again and again.

"Akane, don't worry about it," Nabiki said.

Akane blinked. "Er, I... that is..."

"Look, I get it. You're worried about somebody listening in on the call. I don't think that these guys have the technology to sort through a multitude of voices on four different carrier networks. But if they can then this little charade isn't going to fool them. If us speaking Japanese isn't enough of a dead giveaway, they can just check my number and look up who owns it. It's okay. Just don't mention any specifics about your plans, and ditch the phone after you're done so they can't locate you by tracing the signal."

"Sorry. Any news?"

"Ukyo is safe. She said the whole story was too much to explain over the phone, but she and the others got away from Kodachi and she thinks she'll be safe at least for the time being."

"Thank gods... kami... whoever," Ranma said.

"I will," Kasumi said.

"The Amazons are expecting an attack but it hasn't come yet. I'm back in the states. Tomorrow morning I'll talk to my boss and try to get some answers. But in the meantime, there's something else I'd like to discuss with you."

"What?" Akane asked.

"I have certain associates who are very good at tracking down information through computers." Nabiki paused to take a breath. "I asked them to do a search and they came up with some results that I find... interesting."

"What results?" Ranma asked.

"I was curious as to who had given away your group's location to the Mongols so that they were able to capture Kasumi and Mu Si. My people, through a rather unlikely bit of dumb luck, discovered what might have been the payoff made in exchange for that information. A secret international bank account with ninety million Yen, in the name of Saotome Ranma and Saotome Akane."

"Huh?" Ranma gaped. "We never— It's a trick! I didn't tell them where to find us and I don't know nothin' about no ninety million yen. Obviously they planted it to get us to fight with each other."

"I rather doubt that it's a plant. Like I said, we were very lucky to come across it. If they expected us to find it then they've got a lot more faith in my team than I have. But I never thought you had anything to do with it. Let's face it, brother-in-law, you're just not that great at keeping a secret."

Ranma let out a breath of relief, then his heart jumped as he saw where the others were looking.

Akane fumed. "You can't seriously think that I would ever do something like—"

"I don't know," Nabiki said. "You tell me. Did you sell us out, Akane?"


Kui Ziling crouched inside a small copse of trees that lay within a shallow ravine. The carrier bird chirped softly as Kui looped the leather carrier straps around its body. And she paused. Kui, the consummate Amazon warrior, always sure of herself, had no idea what she should do next.

It had seemed so simple just a few minutes ago. Ha Bu had made it clear that he wanted the Linghungbao. It was a primary reason, if not the reason, why he was intent on taking over her village. If she turned it over to him willingly, he might take it and go on his way and leave the Amazons alone.

But what if he didn't? What if he decided to conquer or destroy the village anyway? As things currently stood, the Amazons would have very little chance of defending themselves against an all-out attack. With their most powerful artifact in the hands of the enemy, they would have none at all.

The Linghungbao was a conduit into the wielder's true feelings and emotions, much like its sister artifact, the Reversal Jewel; but while the latter item turned those energies inward, affecting the wearer's behavior, the Linghungbao brought them outward. It worked as a ki amplifier, capable of producing impressive force even when used by someone like the Gosunkugi youth. In Ha's hands, there would be no telling what it could do.

For long seconds Kui stood, as if waiting for something to happen. Had she felt that she had the right, she would have prayed to the goddesses for divine inspiration. But she had never really been a believer in such things, always of the opinion that reason and logic were better guides than any sort of supernatural power.

Without warning, an explosion rocked the area. Kui stumbled, then pushed herself to her feet in time to watch the bird soaring into the distance. For a moment she considered chasing after it, but it was already a shrinking dot in the northern sky.

Kui sprang out of the ravine. The decision had been made. She could only hope it would turn out to be the right one. But there would be more bombs, and she needed to join up with her warriors.


The ground shook and bits of stone fell from the ceiling. A wave of force knocked Shan Pu from her chair. With one fluid move she pivoted and landed squarely on her feet.

They're back, she thought. Her eyes darted to the door of her storage closet in which her weaponry was stored. She just needed a sword or even a club and she'd teach these Mongols a very hard lesson they had obviously failed to appreciate the last time.

Another bomb exploded, this one sounding closer than the first had been. Shan Pu bounded across the room, not bothering to slow down. She felt eager to finally have another chance to get back at the men who had ruined the lives of so many of her friends, but fearful of the damage that those men's bombs and guns might do to her village.

She swung open the closet door and unexpectedly caught a faceful of a greenish gas that came out. She spun around and tried to back away. But her legs no longer seemed to work, and the room was spinning, fading.

Looking up from the floor, she was vaguely aware of a figure entering the room, smiling, laughing at her.

But, she thought as the last trace of consciousness left her, this had to be a hallucination. It couldn't be real.

Because the figure's face was her own.