Ranma 1/2 manga fanfiction
by Gary Kleppe

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


Kodachi stood in the darkened bedroom, gazing at the slumbering faces dimly illuminated in moonlight. Hikaru and Ririko. That's what Ranma had said their names were. They lay almost soundlessly sprawled out on their futons, even their breathing barely audible. So very adorable. So very precious. So very... vulnerable. Kodachi smiled.

From what she'd been able to glean, Ranma was still out of the country. Kasumi, the priestess who knew secrets that might be able to counter Kodachi's weaponry, was with him. The other one, the skater who had managed to turn Kodachi's pets against her, was still in town, but not in this house. The only ones present were two of the children's grandparents, and they would be sleeping at this hour. Kodachi could do whatever she liked here, and by the time they even knew about it she would be long gone.

But what would that be? In situations like this, Kodachi relied on her own instinct to guide her actions. It was an inner sense that would always provide her with the appropriate action to take when she listened to it. But now no such inspiration seemed to be forthcoming. This was dismaying. Had she finally developed that most pathological of psychiatric disorders, a conscience?

No. Rules of right and wrong were nothing more than constraints set up by society in order to confine its members to narrow, limited paths. Kodachi was above and beyond such things. The one law she lived by stated that she was Kuno Kodachi, the Black Rose. That was reason enough to do anything, and it was reason enough to refrain from doing anything.

And that, she realized, was where she had gone wrong. It was a self-imposed rule, but an ironclad one: she had to be who she was. And she had violated it, both earlier and now. She had attacked her former rivals with transformation water out of a desire for revenge over her losing Ranma, and her coming here tonight was also to take revenge for her later defeat by the skater.

This was not her. Revenge was the province of the weak and fearful, always. It was a way of trying to deter one's opponent from wanting to engage in future contests, used when one feared not being able to compete in such contests. It was not Kuno Kodachi. To seek revenge for a past defeat subsumed that one had been defeated. She knew the right way to deal with defeat; it did not exist if one simply refused to allow it to.

Kodachi knew exactly what to do. Silently, she searched across the children's desks for some suitable items to utilize.


The jeeps full of Mongol soldiers drove away one at a time, falling into an orderly procession along the dirt road with each one directly behind the next. Ryoga watched from behind a tree, resisting the urge to call out as he spied Akane in the back of one of them, handcuffed, the soldiers' guns pointed at her head.

"What do we do now?" he said, exasperated. With Mu Si having gone back home, Ranma's father run off and possibly dead, and Ranma and Akane captured, they were down to just three, less than half of what they started the trip with. How could they possibly accomplish anything now?

"We go on to the capital," Kasumi said. "That's where they'll be holding Akane and Ranma."

"We should figure out a plan first. There are only the three of us remaining," Tofu said, echoing Ryoga's earlier unspoken thought.

"I know. But we still have the one person we need the most."

"Who's that?"

"That's Ryoga here."


"Yes." Kasumi smiled at him. "Back at the remote base, I was able to tap into the spirits of the dead to provide extra power to Mu Si. I'll be doing the same for you here. In the city there's a much greater number of such spirits so it will work much better for you."

"I don't know...." Tofu looked thoughtful. "Are you sure this is safe?"

She nodded. "Ryoga's in no danger at all. He's already nigh-invulnerable. With this extra power, not even an anti-tank gun will be able to faze him."

"We certainly can't leave Akane and Ranma in those people's hands," Ryoga said. "I don't think we have much choice."

Tofu nodded. "You're right. Let's go, then," he said, his tone betraying a good deal of uncertainty.

Ryoga waved the two of them ahead. "I'll be right behind you." The puzzled glances Tofu had given Kasumi meant that they needed to talk; Ryoga recognized it from the way Akari looked at him sometimes. They walked off at a brisk pace, hand in hand. He let them get out of earshot, then followed, staying a respectable distance behind but near enough not to lose them.

It was all very strange. Up until now, Kasumi had stayed mostly quiet, letting others plan out the strategies and tactics. Now she was suddenly leading the group, and she seemed absolutely sure, not only of what they should do but of what the result would be.

Still, as he'd said, they didn't have much choice. Ryoga on his own wouldn't even be able to find the city. He had to trust that Kasumi knew what she was doing.


Back at the Amazon village, Ti Pi returned to join Tatewaki, Mu Si, and Hikaru, all of whom were crouched behind a hedge overlooking the Council Hall.

"Did you get it?" Mu Si asked.

"Yes I did." She handed him a flask of liquid. "This is a potion of free thought. If, as you suspect, Shan Pu is under any kind of mind control, drinking some of this will snap her out of it. The hard parts, as I said before, will be getting past the guards into the Chambers, and then getting her to drink it."

Tatewaki nodded. "The second matter is up to Mu Si, who will be the one to actually go in. As to the first, we have a plan. But we will need your help to execute it."

Ti Pi knelt behind the hedge. "Tell me everything."

"I shall." Tatewaki smiled. "You know of course that I dislike being immodest, but this plan affords me the opportunity to demonstrate skills that I particularly excel at."


"Are you mad?!" Tatewaki bellowed loud enough to make Ti Pi's ears hurt. "Surely the gods, the heavens themselves must revulse at such a suggestion! Surely what's right and proper should be maintained, and not defiled by the creation of some third-rate bowdlerized version."

"There's nothing wrong with watching Sailor Moon in the Cantonese dub," Ti Pi said steadfastly. "I happen to like it better that way."

"Have you no sense of value?!" Tatewaki threw up his hands. "Would you turn down a Beethoven symphony to listen to J-Pop?! Would you turn down a gourmet meal for a can of spam? Would you—"

"The dub isn't that bad." She understood why Hikaru had wanted her to perform opposite Tatewaki instead of himself. Ruse or no, he would likely have wilted after about fifteen seconds of Tatewaki's onslaught. "I thought they had quite a good voice actress for Yuet Yea Tou."

"Her name is Tsukino Usagi!" he screamed. "Could there be any more—"

"You there!" One of the guards called to Tatewaki.

"Eh?" The two of them turned to look.

The guard stepped forward, her eyes narrowed sternly. "The Council of Elders is in session. You need to take your argument somewhere else."

Out of the corner of her eye, Ti Pi saw a certain duck waddle into the Hall, slipping under the gaze of the guards. "Sorry," she said.

"I, too, humbly apologize," Tatewaki said with a bow, which Ti Pi took as him congratulating himself on his performance.

"That's all right. Just don't do it again."

The two of them moved a little ways down the path. Their part was accomplished, now it was up to Mu Si. And... Ti Pi looked around. Where had Hikaru gone?


After morphing back into human form, and checking to make sure his glasses were on — now was not a time they could afford any mistakes — Mu Si tiptoed down the stairs and walked into the Council room. "Shan—"

He halted as a man in a Mongol army uniform pointed a rifle at his face. Another such man had another such gun pointed at the Elders, who occupied their usual seats. And in the middle of it all stood Shan Pu.

"Throw down all your weapons," the soldier said.

"Don't be ridiculous," Shan Pu said. "We don't have the time that that would take. Just keep an eye on him. He carries plenty of weapons but they're all of the martial arts variety, no guns."

The potion, Mu Si remembered. He needed a clever way of getting her to drink it. Think of a really, really cunning plan.

"Ummm..." He held it up to her. "Shan Pu, drink this!"


"It's a potion to remove mind control. Because, er, because I don't think you're being controlled. But Ti Pi does, and this'll prove that she's wrong."

Shan Pu accepted the flask and sniffed at it. "Ah yes, a potion of free will." She put it to her mouth and gulped down about a third of it, then set it down on a table. "Satisfied?" She motioned with a thumb. "Now go and stand next to Elder Ban."

Mu Si did as he was told, his mind boggling. Had they come up with a control method that was strong enough to resist the potion? Or was Ti Pi's potion a dud? Could she be in on the whole thing?

Shan Pu abruptly turned towards the door and pointed. "And you. Don't think I don't see you there, young man."

All eyes turned to see Gosunkugi Hikaru standing there. Both soldiers turned, pointing their guns, and Hikaru raised his hands above his head. "I'm not armed," he said in Japanese. "Please don't shoot!" Mu Si stared. Where had he come from? How had he gotten down here without being stopped by the guards?

"I don't think he'll be armed," Shan Pu said to the soldiers, motioning for them to lower their weapons, and they did. Hikaru breathed a very audible sigh of relief as one of the soldiers patted him down, then returned to his position.

"Why did you call him 'young man'?" asked Elder Lan. "Aren't you and he the same age?"

"Oh, you are amusing," Shan Pu responded, her sharp glare indicating that she hadn't come here to be amused. She turned back to Hikaru. "As long as you're here, go out into the kitchen and fetch some water for our brave fighting men. And don't try poisoning the water or anything like that. I'll be able to tell."

"If we're having refreshments, I'd like some hot tea, please" Lan said.

"No!" Shan Pu snapped, then regained her composure. "Just do as you're told, boy." Hikaru left the room, and Shan Pu switched back to speaking Mandarin. "Now then, Elder Lan, we have some business to discuss, don't we?"

"What will happen to us?"

"Ah. Tragically, the Council of Elders will be killed. You see, everyone thought our old friend Lieutenant Amar was done for. But he managed to crawl out of the healer's and somehow sneak past the guards to enter these chambers. And with his dying breath, he managed — or will shortly manage — to set off a bomb and blow up this building. Then Shan Pu, having been lucky enough to have left the building just before the bomb exploded, will reluctantly take over as Chief Elder. She, of course, will be forced to institute new security measures, including the detention of any who have a habit of asking the wrong questions."

"Lieutenant Amar is already dead," Elder Ban said. "He died last night. And all of the assistants at the healer's are quite aware of it."

"I see." Shan Pu smiled at Ban. "Then our old friend Lieutenant Amar, before he had even encountered Mu Si and his group of friends, had managed to sneak into this building and place a bomb with a timer — set to go off shortly. Thank you for that correction." She turned back to Lan. "But before any of that happens, there are some questions I'd like you to answer concerning the running of this village."

Lan chuckled. "Do you think I will assist you in your attempt to usurp power?"

"Yes, I do. I know you, and I know how that analytical mind of yours works." Shan Pu's smile broadened, becoming almost shark-like. "If you cooperate, I won't kill you... yet. That leaves you with a chance of being rescued. Not much of a chance, but any chance is better than no chance."

Lan paused to consider for a moment. "What do you want to know?"


From her box, the real Shan Pu listened as Zhen Biaozi questioned the Chief Elder. Elder Lan very skillfully replied in ways that honestly answered what was asked but did not volunteer any scrap of information beyond it. She was obviously stalling for time, hoping that help would arrive. But it didn't seem like it would.

For Shan Pu it was maddening, having her identity appropriated right in front of her face and not being able to do anything about it. Once again, she thought over her options. She could will herself back to human form. If bursting out of the case didn't kill her, and if it didn't set off the bomb which was obviously in the same case that she was, and if the soldiers didn't shoot her on sight, then she would have to fight Biaozi. It would be a contest between two identical combatants, except that one had decades more fighting experience, and the other was weak from not having eaten and from being locked in a box for nearly a full day. Or she could make noise, let the others know that she was there. But Elder Lan clearly already knew, and the knowledge wasn't doing her much good. None of those ideas would work. Shan Pu needed to think of something else, and time was running out.

She remembered what Kasumi had said about the curses. Jusenkyo magic worked by binding a portion of the drowned creature's spirit to the victim. That gave those spirits a limited amount of influence over the cursed individuals. In the old days, Ranma sometimes seemed like a magnet for water, no doubt due to the influence of the girl who died at Jusenkyo. She later got him pregnant and still later abandoned him. In this case, Shan Pu was the spirit that caused Biaozi's transformation. Could she use that connection to reclaim that part of herself and turn Biaozi back to normal? Or if nothing else, could her spirit influence what happened to Biaozi in some small way and interfere with her plans?

Shan Pu closed her eyes and let her cat body relax. She concentrated on the rhythm of her breathing and let her mind expand. It was worth a try. At this point anything was worth a try.


Hikaru came back into the Council chambers bearing two cups of water. He passed by Shan Pu who gave a quick sniff and then waved him on, barely even looking before going back to the discussion she was having in Mandarin with Elder Lan.

His five minutes or so alone in the kitchen had given him a chance to think. Shan Pu, obviously, didn't have to be told how old she was. So when Lan asked her Aren't you and he the same age? it was clearly intended as a clue for him, especially considering that she'd said it in Japanese. It meant that this person who they'd thought to be Shan Pu under mind control wasn't actually Shan Pu at all but was actually somebody older. Either this as yet unknown person had managed a full mind-body transfer — stranger things had happened — or she was simply an impostor who'd figured out how to convincingly look like Shan Pu. He and his friends had screwed up, came up with the wrong answer to the puzzle, and would have to pay the price. Lan's asking for hot tea had to be a clue too, but Hikaru had no idea what she'd meant by that one. So he'd gone ahead and brewed some tea, but left the urn full of it in the hallway outside the room, hoping that he'd figure out what to do with it later or that someone else could make use of it.

He set the cups in front of the soldiers. There was no question that he'd have to try something, before the soldiers and the fake Shan Pu killed them all anyway. But what could he possibly do? The sham Pu could still see him even when he masked his presence. True, she wasn't paying much attention to him right now. So maybe he could get away with something, but it would have to be subtle. If he did anything obvious like try to take away their guns then they'd all know.

He glanced down at the table and then an idea formed. Probably not a good idea, but an idea. He wasn't even sure what it would accomplish. But he had to do something.


"Is there anything else I can tell you?" asked Lan, her voice heavy.

"No, I think that covers it." Biaozi smiled. "Thank you very much for your cooperation." She couldn't help feeling a bit smug. Lan had dragged things out as long as she could, waiting for someone or something to show up and save her. But no one had. No one would.

Biaozi glanced down at the case that contained the bomb. "Corporal, it's time to set up our little goodbye present."

For a moment, nobody spoke.

"Corporal, did you hear me?"

"Yes, ma'am," came the soldier's voice.

"Then kindly do what I've asked you to."

"No, ma'am."

"Corporal, are you refusing a direct order?"

"Yes, I am, ma'am."

"Corporal, General Ha himself placed me in command of this mission," Biaozi said indignantly. "If you disobey my orders, I'll see you at court martial."

"Ma'am, with all due respect, I don't think blowing up a room full of unarmed civilians is a legal order."

She let out an exasperated breath and turned to the other soldier. "Private..."

"Uh uh. No chance, lady. I've seen how you operate. How you bump off anyone in your way without a second thought. Frankly, I don't trust you."

Biaozi's mind boggled. Were Ha Bu's troops so undisciplined that their allegiances could change so easily?

Then she noticed the potion bottle on the table. The empty potion bottle. She put two and two together and realized what had happened. Had the youth — Gosun-something? — done it while she hadn't been paying attention? Or did they have an unseen helper? The soldiers' minds, of course, had never been magically controlled. But it seemed that the potion of free will still stimulated free thought and critical thinking, qualities that were rather inconvenient in low-level combat troops.

"Back home they told us that these women had deposed Ms. Zhen in a coup and were ruling by force," the private said. "It's pretty obvious that we were fed a line of crap." The other one nodded.

"Fine," Biaozi grumbled. If you wanted something done right.... "I'll do it myself. You watch the prisoners."

"No, ma'am." The corporal raised his weapon. "Stand away from the case, ma'am."

"Let's talk about this, soldier." Biaozi surreptitiously slipped a certain packet out of her pocket and into her fist.

"Yes, let's all talk," Lan said. "I think we can come to an understanding and settle all of these matters without more violence." The others gave audible breaths of relief as they began to move more freely.

Biaozi threw her item to the floor. It exploded into a cloud of green gas. She waited the usual few seconds and listened to the sound of unconscious bodies hitting the ground. The gas was made from Yaocaicun herbs; a marvelous invention. It produced what was essentially a short, severe allergic reaction. Any human being who hadn't taken the antidote, as Biaozi had, would fall asleep in seconds. Then the gas would dissipate on its own, leaving no trace.

She flipped open the compartment of the case that contained the bomb. If you want something done right, do it yourself. It was a rule that had served Biaozi well over her ninety-plus years. A corollary of the rule was that any plan that depended on the cooperation or competence of one's allies needed to have a contingency alternative that didn't. Biaozi knew that the only person she could really rely on was herself. And her so-called sisters had expected her to go willingly to her death, to nobly step aside and leave the fate of her people in the hands of younger generations. Not likely. The future was too important to be left in the hands of youth.

An axe's blade slammed into the table. "Shan Pu, stop!" It was Mu Si.

"You?" Biaozi was perplexed for a moment, and then remembered his curse. "Ah, you changed yourself into a duck, didn't you." The gas' major limitation was that it only worked on human beings.

"Shan Pu — if it really is you — don't do anything more, or I swear I'll—"

"No, you won't. This is why." In one quick motion she grabbed the silk sheath dress that she wore and pulled it up past her head. It flew across the room, leaving her naked. "This is what you've always wanted." She spoke with the slow, even voice that made people want to accept verbal suggestions. "It is me. You know it is. And you know I'm not under anybody's control. I've been working for the other side all along. I had to. I only did what was necessary. But I don't need to pretend anymore. You and I can be partners. In every sense." She slank forward, pressing her body against his.

"No, Shan Pu." He grasped her by the shoulders and pushed her away. "You're right, it is what I wanted. What— what I still want. But I won't let you kill my friends! I won't let you help foreigners invade our village!"

Biaozi stared directly into his eyes and puckered her lips. At the same time she stuck out a finger and lifted her hand into position. Just one jab in the chest. That was all it would take.

"No!" Mu Si grabbed her hand. "It— it's you! From the skating rink! And the campsite! That's why you had to cover your face there!"

"You're right." She twisted in his grasp and squeezed his wrist between her thumb and forefinger. He winced in pain. A knee to the chest sent him tumbling onto his rear end, landing near the door. "A day late and a dollar short, but I suppose you should still be proud of having figured it out."

Mu Si got up and launched a volley of knives. Biaozi reached up and swatted each one away with ease.

"Is that all you've got?"

Mu Si reached inside his robes and pulled out a flail with one hand and a machete with the other. He began to inch forward. Biaozi knew enough about the Hidden Weapons technique to know how this would go. She'd have no trouble getting rid of this set of weapons, but then there would be another, and another, and more after that. Dealing with all of them would be tedious, and she might eventually make a mistake. Fortunately, she had a better option.

Extending her hands toward Mu Si, Biaozi focused her energy to generated a certain special form of ki. "Sweltering dragon's fire!" she announced. A sphere of air in front of her began to blaze with power as it sailed toward Mu, briefly engulfing him before dissipating.

Mu Si looked down, obviously surprised to find himself unharmed. "Is that all you've— huh?" He looked at his weapons. Their metal was warped, stretched and bent out of shape. "Aaaaa!"

Biaozi chuckled. She would have to thank Ha Bu for teaching her that attack. It was very handy for dealing with military types, but it had other uses too.

Mu Si reached for another weapon. He pulled out a scimitar. Its shape was distorted and its blade dulled.

Slowly but deliberately, Biaozi advanced toward him. "Let's end this." Her breath was heavy in her chest. She could feel her heart pounding. It had been a while since she'd had any sort of combat workout. She really needed to practice more.

"No!" Mu Si lifted the scimitar and threw it at Biaozi. The unexpected move surprised her, but she still had no problem reaching up and knocking the item out of the air. A volley of warped hand weapons ensued; she blocked each one that got near her.

Mu Si ducked back into the hallway. Biaozi stepped forward and followed him out of the room.

"Take that!" Mu Si began taking books off the shelves and lobbing them toward Biaozi's head. She smacked each one out of the air before it hit.

"Just tell me when you're through," she taunted as she took a step closer.

"Take that!" He grabbed and threw the nearest object, a waste basket. She knocked it away and it bounced noisily against a wall. She wasn't worried about him damaging anything; the Mongols had already looted most everything valuable anyway.

She took another step closer.

"And that!" Another object, some sort of metal urn.

She hit it. It broke. Steaming liquid from the urn splashed out, some of it on her legs. Legs that a second ago had been muscular powerhouses were now wobbly sticks that seemed like they might collapse at any moment. She was old again. How— Where—

"Shan—?" Mu Si pushed his glasses closer as if unable to believe what he was seeing.

Biaozi tried to talk but could barely even breathe. Her chest felt as though it were being squeezed by an invisible hand. It can't end like this, she thought. It can't—


Mu Si stood staring, unable to comprehend what he'd just seen. It was far too vivid to be a dream. So either someone had slipped him a hefty dose of hallucinogens, or he'd simply gone mad. Those were the only things that could explain Shan Pu turning into an old woman and then dying of a heart attack on the spot.

A noise came from back in the Council Chamber. "Mrrroooowl!"

What now? He stepped back into the room.

"Mrow!" The noise had come from Biaozi's case, the one that she'd said contained a bomb. An adjacent section was closed and locked.

Zipping back into the hallway, Mu Si searched his fallen adversary and came up with a set of keys. He went back to the container and started trying each key. The first was obviously too large. He tried the second and it didn't fit either. The third fit and turned. The box opened and a familiar pink cat scurried out, then morphed into another Shan Pu.

"The bomb!" Pu two said. "Is it—" The two of them looked. An LED readout on the device showed just dashes. She breathed a sigh of relief. This had to be the real one, Mu Si thought. The other one had looked and sounded the same, but this one acted like he'd expect Shan Pu to act.

Shan Pu turned and hugged Mu Si. They embraced, and for those few minutes it didn't matter who would be marrying whom or what the future would bring; they were just two people who were grateful for each other.

Shan Pu perked up as if remembering something. "Where's Zhen Biaozi? The other one who looked like me?"

"Dead," Mu Si answered. "She collapsed right after she became old. I don't know what happened."

Shan Pu nodded. "It was her time. When it's your time, you have to go." She reached for her dress that lay on the floor. "I think we should try reviving the Elders."


Soldiers hustled Akane up a ramp and through what looked like a service entrance to the Mongolian governmental palace. They pushed past a guard station, down a hallway, and past another set of guards into a wide room lined with plush sofas. Reaching the middle of the room, they let Akane drop to the floor.

Akane recognized the man standing over her. Last time she'd seen him, his hair had been much longer and he'd been female. But there was no mistaking the tall, muscular frame and the impossibly clear complexion. "Ha Bu," she said.

The man nodded, then turned as a fresh batch of soldiers came in carrying Ranma's unconscious form. Obviously none too pleased, he yelled something at them, and they set Ranma down very gently onto a couch.

"What are you going to do to him?"

"Nothing," Ha Bu answered. "I brought him here only so that he and I could talk. I actually owe Saotome Ranma a debt of gratitude after our previous encounter."

"So you dropped a bomb on him? Is that how you repay your 'debts of gratitude'?" Akane could feel her face turning red with anger.

"I thought our discussion would be easier if some of his more... troublesome associates were removed first," Ha answered calmly. "From what I know of Ranma, a little thing like this shouldn't cause him any major harm. Actually, I'm surprised he's been out this long."

"Yeah, well, he hasn't quite been himself lately." Akane cut herself off. There was no reason to give Ha more information that he could use against Ranma if it came down to a fight. It was none of his business anyhow.

She looked around the room. Nearby, a bulky man with forearms covered in gorilla fur — whether real or fake, Akane couldn't tell — sat next to a busty woman in a skimpy bikini. Behind them, a man with an elongated neck and misshapen mouth fondled another woman's exposed breasts. Several other such couples sat scattered around the room, including a seven-foot-tall man that Akane remembered meeting back at the Cat Cafe those years ago. "These, plus a handful of others, are the last remnants of the Musk Dynasty," Ha said.

"And the women? Do you keep them as slaves?"

Ha chuckled. "Nothing so crude. They are given a free choice. They may stay here and provide hospitality to our special forces, or they can go out on the street and fend for themselves."

"It figures," Akane said. "I don't know why I imagined that you might develop some respect for women after being stuck as one."

"Respect? We're subsidizing them. And they clearly appreciate it. We get about five times as many applications for these positions as we can use."

Akane fumed, too mad to even articulate what she was mad about.

Finished with Ranma, the group of soldiers conversed briefly with Ha in what Akane assumed to be Mongolian. They then converged around her.

"What's this?" she asked.

"I owe Ranma gratitude," Ha said. "I owe you nothing whatsoever. But I will be kind enough to provide you with space in one of our holding cells." He waved the soldiers away.

"You jerk!" Akane yelled as they dragged her out.


The physician felt Ranma's head, then pressed her stethoscope against his chest and listened. "He's a bit banged up, but he'll be fine. He should be coming around shortly."

"Thank you, Doctor," Ha Bu said, dismissing her with a nod.

Major Cogenki entered. "The other prisoner is in holding, General. Any orders?"

Ha considered. While Ranma was clearly the strongest of the group, the two others with whom he had fought on Horaison Mountain were certainly capable fighters, much stronger than any of his human troops. This woman was surely not in their class, but still, perhaps it would not pay to underestimate her.

"Assign a Musk as her guard," he said.

"Yes, General. I'll check on who's on duty." The major saluted and exited.


"Here," Kasumi said. "This is where we'll start."

She, Tofu, and Ryoga had walked through city streets and come to what looked like a park that had fallen into disuse. Weeds poked out through cracks in the pressed stone walkways. Scraggly bushes and overgrown trees encroached on the paths. Overflowing trash receptacles and park benches stood off to the side. A bearded man in a long brown coat lay on one bench.

Tofu paged through one of the guidebooks that they'd gotten from the rebel group. "According to this, we're in what used to be the Palace Gardens. Nominally they're a public park, but the previous regime couldn't afford to keep them up, and the current one hasn't gotten around to doing anything with them yet. That big complex in front of us is the Government Palace. They'll be holding Ranma and Akane somewhere inside." He paused, surveying the surroundings. "Kasumi, are you sure it's a good idea for us to stay this close? Can't you power Ryoga up from a distance, the way you did at Jusenkyo?"

"No, that wouldn't work. This place isn't like Jusenkyo. Too many people make it too hard to keep the energy focused. I need to be as close as possible." She looked at him wide-eyed, as if pleading with him not to argue. "It has to be like this."

Tofu paused for a moment. "Let's do it, then. Are you ready, Ryoga?"

The Lost Boy set his backpack down next to a bench. "Anytime."

Kasumi smiled at him. "Go around to the other side before you start. I'll reduce my aura so that anyone is less likely to notice me here. But you, Doctor, will need to keep an eye on me."

Tofu nodded. "You can count on me, Kasumi. For everything."

"Thank you!" Kasumi hesitated for a moment, then threw her arms around Tofu.

Ryoga began to walk around towards the corner of the building. Kasumi's eyes lingered on Tofu briefly before she pulled away. She sat on the bench and her eyes went blank. Tofu crouched behind a clump of trees and waited.

As he followed the wall around, Ryoga could feel the power already starting to build. But that would only be half of what he needed. He remembered all of his fights with Ranma back in the old days. Ranma had often beaten him, not with superior strength or speed, but by some sort of trick. He couldn't let that happen here. In this fight he had to engage not only his muscle, but his brain. The lives of a lot of people were at stake here. He had to stay alert and had to keep thinking about what he was doing.

It was up to him now. As Ranma might have put it: Don't screw up, pig-boy.


Akane peered through the bars of her cage. Her guard was a short, thin man with what looked like a huge skunk's tail sticking out of his pants. Obviously a Musk.

That's great, she thought. Ranma had explained what Musk were like. While they were inhumanly good fighters, they had certain very definite weaknesses which she could exploit. She would just wait until her guard brought lunch, and then she could escape. She didn't like taking advantage in this way, but he certainly had it coming, and as a real woman she was certainly at least as capable of using feminine wiles as her husband was.

Except, she thought, it might not be so easy anymore. She remembered the women upstairs. In the old days most of the Musk had never even seen an exposed breast, but obviously things had changed for them.

Akane frowned. Her idea could work. She would just have to take it to the next level.


"Ha Bu!" Ryoga shouted. "Come out here!"

He stood on a staircase, between two statues that each depicted a warrior on horseback. Behind him was a public square that looked to be nearly three hundred meters wide. Passers-by pointed at him and backed away discreetly.

Okay, he thought, time to show these Musk that he meant business. The trick would be to get their attention without harming any innocent people. With the massive power he could now feel surging through him, he could probably demolish a good chunk of the city. But he was there to avenge the dead who were now feeding him energy, and he wouldn't do that by indiscriminately creating more of them. He especially couldn't risk a full Shishi Hokodan; at his current power level that would surely level the city like a nuclear bomb.

A pair of sedans sped across the square's stone tiles. They screeched to a stop near the bottom of the stairs. Uniformed men got out of the car and crouched behind it, aiming rifles at Ryoga. One of them barked out something through a bullhorn in what Ryoga assumed to be Mongolian.

Ryoga aimed at the car and a regular Shishi Hokodan fired from his outstretched arms. Recoil pushed him back and he had to brace himself to stay on his feet. That didn't usually happen. The men dove for cover as the attack careened into the parked vehicles, reducing them to scrap metal. Of course, he thought, he was tapping into the depression and anger of the Mongolians killed by Ha's regime. He didn't own the emotional energy and so he wasn't immune to its effects as he usually was. That also meant that if he ended up blowing up the city, he'd go with it himself.

Ryoga shook a raised fist. "Ha Bu!" he repeated. The men in uniform began hustling civilians away. Good.


Akane heard the jingle of keys as they turned the lock of her cell door. She stood and stepped back, and the door slid open. "Mmmm, is it lunchtime already?" she purred.

The Musk guard looked at her and his eyes bulged. "Guh— muh—" he stammered. The tray wobbled in his hand, nearly spilling as he stared up and down her body, her very healthy and very female body without a stitch of clothing on.

Akane eased toward him. Then her knee swung up, forcefully connecting with the area between his legs. "Pervert!"

The Musk staggered. The tray clattered to the ground, splattering rice and soup against a wall. With a series of rapid-fire chops and kicks, Akane put the hapless guard down for the count. She very quickly dragged him onto the cell's cot, grabbed her clothes, and pulled the door shut from the outside.

So, she thought as she slipped her clothes back on, now what? She could confront Ha Bu, but she wasn't anywhere near powerful enough to take him on. She doubted if even she and Ranma together could beat him, certainly not with a dozen or so Musk on his side and Ranma in a weakened condition.

She moved along a wall down the hallway, as stealthily as she could manage. Surprisingly, the soldiers who'd been here when they'd taken her in were now absent. She glanced through an outer window. In the parking lot down below, police and soldiers were hustling people into cars and trucks. Evacuation? Was Ha Bu going to demolish the building? Was he fighting with Ranma, or about to? If she stayed, she might just end up getting caught in whatever disaster these people were rushing away to avoid. But then again, Ranma might need her help.

Akane decided to explore a little more. Farther down the corridor she came to the loading area through which she'd been brought in. A ramp led through an opening to the outside. Again, no persons were present, and even all of the vehicles were gone. But on the receiving desk stood a stout, short-legged bird. It strutted around in a circle, as if waiting for something or someone. Akane looked closer and saw on the bird's leg a strap which attached a tiny carrier case.

Curious, Akane reached out, and the bird didn't flee when she touched it. She unhooked the case and opened it to inspect the cargo. It was a gemstone in verdant green. Why would anyone...

A pale red light shone from within the gem. Akane stared at it, looking closer as the image started to resolve, and saw her husband. In the gem, Ranma was sitting upstairs in Ha Bu's room, locked in an embrace with one of the Musks's comfort women, laughing as his hands explored every part of her shapely anatomy. That jerk! Was he really doing that while for all he knew his wife was locked up in a cell? How dare he—

A blast of energy suddenly rocketed forth from Akane's hand, smashing the section of the wall in front of her to splinters.


"What the heck was that?" Ranma strained to see out the window. He'd been watching Ryoga take out soldiers and tanks with a combination of ki blasts and good old-fashioned violence. But he hadn't seen him do anything this last time and the sound had come from a different direction.

"Nothing that need concern you," Ha Bu replied. "As soon as the civilians are finished evacuating, my special forces will deal with this miscreant."

"Looking out for civilians? That's a considerate and responsible thing to do. Doesn't sound like you, Herb."

"I care nothing for the welfare of humans, Saotome. But the business of running a country requires their continued functioning. I've several deals I'm negotiating for foreign investors to take advantage of Mongolian labor and other resources. It's better to keep the public unaware of... certain things, and that requires keeping them away when those things are happening."

"You're all heart." Ranma watched through the window as a soldier hefted a bazooka over his shoulder and fired. The blast left Ryoga's head covered in soot but it didn't seem to faze him. He brushed his face off with his sleeve, then threw off a Shishi Hokodan that scattered the cluster of soldiers like bowling pins.

I should be out there with him, Ranma thought. Ryoga was doing incredibly well so far, but soon he'd have the "special forces" to contend with. Against a dozen or so Musk, there was no way he wouldn't get taken down, unless he had some sort of secret that Ranma didn't know about. Then again, if Ranma joined the battle, so would Ha Bu. So for now he'd wait. He was obviously going to get his chance to fight soon, and when that came he needed to be ready.

He had two problems. Ha Bu was an exceptionally tough opponent, and surely wouldn't fall for the same trick as last time. Second, Ranma himself wasn't up to snuff at the moment. Lili, the curse spirit, had left him, and taken with her a good portion of his strength. Whether there was anything he could do about either of those two problems, he didn't know. But he needed a plan of some sort. If it were just himself, he'd have no qualms about just charging in and making it up as he went along. But it was the Mongols that this guy's gang had enslaved. It was the Amazons who he'd attacked before and would again if not stopped first. It was even Akane who according to what Ha had said was locked up in some dungeon or something. For their sake, he needed to get it right the first time, because there might not be any second chance.

Okay, then. Clearly Ha Bu could generate vast amounts of energy, and his dragon heritage gave him a much greater control over how he wielded that energy. But he still had to generate it somehow. Did he use an emotion, like he and Ryoga did? Somehow he didn't see Ha as the depressive type. He did have plenty of confidence. Was he using a souped-up version of Ranma's own Moko Takabisha? What else could it be? What quality defined him best? Arrogance? Complete lack of any sense of humor? Just generally being an asshole?

"What I don't understand is why you were interested in taking over this country in the first place," Ranma said. "I thought you guys were just interested in perfecting animal-style martial arts."

"Ah, but a ruler must have a kingdom to rule. When I succeeded to rulership over the Musk Dynasty, I realized that my people faced imminent extinction. The number of Musk had been steadily dwindling. There were very few suitable and willing mates for our people, and the Chinese government's 'one child' policy made the situation far worse. Couples in our part of China wanted boys to work their farms; girls would be aborted or even suffocated at birth so that the couples could try again for a male. As those boys grew up it of course led to a surplus of men."

"That's why you decided to move?" Ranma laughed. "To meet girls?"

"To establish a base of power. I had been approached by representatives of a certain overseas government. They were concerned about China gaining too much leverage and usurping their status as the world's preeminent power. They saw me as someone who could challenge that. Taking control in Mongolia was no great feat, but when I managed to expand our borders to include a sizable section of China, I think even my benefactors were surprised."

"So why attack the Amazons?" Ranma said. "It's not like they're of vast strategic importance."

Ha Bu smiled. "Oh, but they are. There are resources of vast power hidden in that part of the world. Forces that even I barely comprehend. Jusenkyo is only one of them."

"Oh, that's great. Go messing with powers you don't understand. That always works out well. Brilliant idea, Rufus T. Firefly."

"I do not understand the reference."

Ranma smirked. "You need to watch Hiroshi's collection of old foreign movies."

"Insolence does not serve you, Saotome," Ha Bu said. "Trifle not with dragons..."

"...for I be crunchy and good with ketchup. Yeah, yeah. If dragons were so darn great, how come they're so darn extinct?"

"An infestation of microbes may wipe out a tribe of humans, but that does not necessarily make a virus a higher life form," Ha Bu said with some rancor. "Humans destroyed dragon civilization, turning them into slaves. Human cities used 'dragons in a box' as defense against invaders. And not long after, when dragons were wiped out, they were erased from the pages of history as well."

One of Ha's Mongol military flunkies came into the room, and they conversed. I struck a nerve there, Ranma thought. Wisps of white haze sparked near Ha, and Ranma could feel the heat emanating from them. He wondered how Ha would react to being reminded that, according to his own story, his presumably human ancestor somehow dunked a dragon into the spring of drowned human woman. That would wound his pride.

Pride... was that what he was using to generate energy? Certainly he never seemed to get tired of telling Ranma how great his dragon lineage was. And when Ranma had first met him, his power had been somewhat reduced, because of...

Wait a minute, he thought. Did Ha Bu still have... Shan Pu had said there was no safe way to remove it, so maybe he did. And that meant there might be a chance. He just had to hope that there weren't two different ones.

"Hey, I'm hungry," Ranma said as the military officer finished up and left. "Got anything to eat around here? It doesn't have to be anything fancy. Just bread and—"

"You'll be served when a meal is scheduled," Ha Bu replied curtly.

"Okay." He would wait. "Hey!" He looked out the window. "A bunch of Musk are about to take Ryoga on."


The man in the bandanna swung his fist, knocking the one with the tiger-striped shoulder pads into the air. He flew up and then down in the path of an arch about the same size as the one in St. Louis.

Jim Wesley watched from the sidelines with the other members of his team. "That was one of ours, right?" asked Carl Jorgensen.

"Yes," Bob Michaels said. "The one in the bandanna is the one who needs to be stopped. His name's Hibiki Ryoga."

"It'll be burnt smudge when I get through with him." Jorgensen stared at Ryoga, whose clothes spontaneously burst into flame. Ryoga let out a surprised yelp and jumped back. Then he looked down at his legs and torso. His shirt and trousers were on fire, but it didn't seem to be hurting him.

A crowd of Musk encircled Ryoga, then closed in. Ryoga brought his fist down on one in a panda skin, driving him into the concrete. The other Musk hit, kicked, chopped, and blasted at him but he didn't seem to pay it any mind. One of them, a tall man with thin, elongated legs and neck, screamed as he ran out of the pack, his shirt torn and arms covered with burns. An energy blast flared from Ryoga's hands and knocked him away.

"Next time wait for an order before you attack," Michaels said in the measured tones of someone trying to hold back anger. "It obviously didn't hurt him, but it did hurt the ones on our side, and the fire might spread to the palace." He turned to Wesley. "Can you drain him?"

"I'll try." Wesley closed his eyes for a moment. He opened his mind, and torrents of emotion buffeted him from all sides. The man named Ryoga was the great hope, the great avenger. They had only wanted to live free. The usurper had taken their country, their land, their lives. The usurper had to die! The—

With a phenomenal effort, Wesley forced his mind closed.

"I can't," he said. "He's a lot stronger than before. It'd be like trying to drink the Mississippi dry." He paused to think for a moment, to try to make sense of what he'd experienced. "He's being fed energy from somewhere. From a lot of places. There must be some central point of control but I couldn't zero in on it."

They watched as more Musk were tossed away or punched into unconsciousness. "Find it. Cut it off at the source," Michaels said. "Do whatever it takes to disable this guy. Jorgenson, go with him. Crandall and I will stay here. If the Musk fail, we'll keep him busy as long as we can to buy you some time."

Wesley nodded. He had his orders and would carry them out. It didn't matter that his emotions screamed that he was on the wrong side of the battle. Such feelings were unreliable and couldn't be trusted. He did what he was told.


"Yeeeowtch!" screamed the Musk with tabby-cat stripes on his shirt. He pulled his hand back, his claws now a mangled mess. The attack had been flawless; Ryoga hadn't seen the strike coming. But connecting and actually doing any damage were two different things.

Ryoga elbowed the cat-Musk in the face and followed up with a kick to his chest that knocked his opponent into the air. The Musk expertly flipped in mid-flight, landing upright. Then he pitched forward and his face slammed into the concrete.

Ryoga remembered serving as a demonstrator for Akane's class on fighting multiple opponents at her training hall. Take out the biggest one first, she'd told the students as her first piece of advice. Now Ryoga had followed that advice and taken out all of the big ones, then the medium-sized ones, until there were only three left: One with a monkey's tail, one with a helmet that looked like a rooster's comb, and the one with wolf ears who had been there at Mount Horaison. The Monkey hung on Ryoga's back, jumping away every time Ryoga made a grab for him and then jumping back on right away. The other two just circled around him as if searching for an opening. It was something of a Mexican stand-off; they were too fast for Ryoga to hit, but they had no attack that was effective against him.

Ryoga surveyed the area. Poles stood at the corners of the square, each topped by a light fixture shaped something like an old straw boater's hat. He moved to one of the poles, pulled, and ripped it from its base. The pole, nearly thirty meters in length, wobbled in his grasp, and he had to move his grip closer to the middle of the pole. He swung the pole at Rooster and Wolf-ears — Mint, Ryoga remembered was this one's name — but they again dodged effortlessly out of the way.

Stalemate, Ryoga thought. What would Ranma do?

"Wow!" He pointed behind Mint and Chicken-man. "Is that a naked woman?"

"Where!?" They turned to look.

Ryoga swung the pole back the other way, clobbering both of them in the head. He dropped the pole and suddenly reached up, catching Monkey's leg in his hand. "Sorry, boys, looks like you screwed up," he said as his fist rapped against Monkey's skull. "Don't be embarrassed. It can happen to anybody."

That was that. What next? He spun around to see a pair of Western-looking men in civilian clothes, one of them tall and blond, the other with glasses and a mustache. Ryoga had seen the first one before. It had been that night when they'd broken into the Mongol base to free Kasumi and Mu Si.

Suddenly the world changed. The Mongol palace and city had disappeared. Ryoga was standing in a vast field, with neatly arranged rows of corn stalks more than a meter high stretching off in every direction. "Aaaaaarrrgh!" he screamed. How could this happen? How could he get himself lost without having even moved?

Then he remembered. Back when they'd gone to rescue Kasumi, one of the Westerners had fooled Doctor Tofu by projecting illusions into his mind. At least that was how Ranma and the others had explained it. So this wasn't real. Despite what he saw, he was still in front of the Mongol palace. But even knowing that, how could he fight back without being able to see what he was doing?

Okay, he thought, he hadn't really moved. So those two would still be in front of him. Ryoga raised his hands and fired off a Shishi Hokodan. He felt the recoil knock him back, and this time he didn't resist it.

The real world clicked back into place, like changing the channel on a television. Ryoga landed with a thud onto his rear end. At the other end of the public square, the two Americans had also been knocked back and were picking themselves off the ground; Ryoga couldn't make out what they were saying and probably wouldn't have understood it anyhow but they certainly didn't sound happy.

Now was his chance. Ryoga took a step toward the men. But suddenly he was back in the cornfield. He pushed himself backward, and his surroundings changed back to Mongolia.

So that was it. The illusion power could only reach so far. But Ryoga had no attack that would be effective from that distance either. Certainly he couldn't target a Shishi Hokodan accurately at that range, and there was nothing he could throw that far either that they wouldn't be able to dodge.

The answer was simple, really. He just had to ignore what the guy made him see and walk over to him. He could win this fight. All he had to do was to walk about a hundred meters in the same direction.

For anyone else it would have been easy. For Ryoga, it was as easy as flapping his arms and flying to the moon.


What the heck is he doing? Ranma wondered as he watched through the window. Usually Ryoga just charged into battle without a second thought. But now, when there was no apparent reason he couldn't just charge over and kick those guys' butts, he stopped to think. Go figure. Okay, his shirt and pants were still burning, and soon there wouldn't be much left of them. But it didn't seem like him to quit a fight just because he was afraid of flashing his you-know-whats to the world. Not when there weren't any women around, anyhow.

Ha Bu grimaced with his I'm-surrounded-by-idiots expression. "Most of the Musk, the finest warriors in all of China, defeated easily. What trickery is your associate using, Saotome?"

"Y'got me," Ranma said. Not that he was about to tell Ha Bu even if he did know anything.

"I'm forced to deal with this situation personally. You shall remain here."

"Not bloody likely, Herbie. If you're joining the fight, so am I." Ranma jumped to his feet and moved toward the door. "After you?"

The door opened before either of them got to it. A serving woman stood there, bearing a tray with some bowls of rice and a pitcher of water.

"About time!" Ranma said. "Mind if I take that from you?"

The woman looked puzzled for a moment. Then with a smile, she shifted her tray to one hand, and unfastened her bikini top with the other, pushing out her naked breasts for Ranma to see.

"No. No!" Ranma waved his hands. "That wasn't what I..." At least there was one silver lining in Akane still needing to be rescued. Usually when things like this happened to him, then as soon as he turned around, there she was.

The door slammed open, and Akane barged in.

"It—" Ranma stammered, "it's not—"

Akane pointed. A massive burst of energy streamed forth from her arm, tossing Ha Bu to the floor.

"Heh." Ranma saw Akane looking at him, and carefully backed up several steps. "Can we talk about this?" He pushed the half-naked serving woman away.

"So you think you can fly with dragons, girl?" Ha Bu rose up on one knee and reached forward, and a narrow beam of power sliced through the air.

Akane twisted. The blast caught her below the shoulder as it whizzed by, slicing a gash in her shirt. "Yeeowtch!" She dove behind one of the sofas. "Ranma!" she called out. "Stand with her."

"Huh?" He followed her eyes to see the topless servant girl. "You want me to..."

"Just do it, you jerk!" Akane said. "I'm using it to generate energy!"

"You're getting emotional ki power from... that?"

She ducked as Ha tossed off several more bolts, leaving sizable holes in the couch and blowing clouds of fluffy upholstery into the air. Back at Horaison his attacks had been much less focused, more diffuse. Was he trying to avoid damaging the palace, Ranma wondered?

He bounded over to the serving girl. "Hey, baby." He put an arm around her shoulder. "Whaddaya say we ditch the idiot and the tomboy and go have some fun?"

Akane scowled. "Why, you..." An aura like red-hot magma churned violently around her.

"Blast Herb!" Ranma yelled, wondering if he should also dive for cover. It was a somewhat tricky balancing act. Akane had to stay genuinely mad at him enough to control the feelings that she was using to power her attacks. If she failed to own her emotions, the attack would blow up in her own face. But he didn't want to make her so angry that she'd turn the attack against him.

A torrent of energy slammed into Ha Bu with the force of a runaway locomotive. He fell back, dazed. Ranma noticed something in Akane's pants pocket glowing a deep crimson. Was that where she was generating all this extra power from? He hoped Ha wouldn't figure it out. Then again, knowing him, even if he did he might try to fight her anyway out of sheer vanity.

Now or never, Ranma thought. Ranma bounded over and grabbed the water pitcher from the table.

"What good's that supposed to do?" Akane said. "Your curse doesn't work any more, remember?"

"Who said it was for me?" Ranma zipped across the room and upended the contents of the pitcher onto Ha Bu.


Ryoga closed his eyes and concentrated. In his mind he could see the bright white light in one direction, towards Akari.

He moved laterally, keeping his distance from where the Americans still sprawled on the ground, but angling so that they were in the same direction as the white light. Last year Akari had taken him and Yoiko to a billiards hall in Tokyo. He hadn't fared very well and by the end of the day he had owed the owners a healthy repair bill. But the idea here was the same: He was lining up his shot.

Ryoga started to walk in the direction of the light, with measured steps each about a meter long. The cornfield scene came back into view. He ignored it and concentrated only on the white light as he counted steps in sets of ten, reaching twenty, and then thirty.

A giant mass of vegetation lay directly in his path. He ignored it and kept going. Forty. Fifty.

A wall of solid stone at least five meters tall stood in his way. He kept going. Sixty. That wouldn't have stopped him even if it had been real. Seventy.

He burst through the wall and came to the edge of a cliff towering over a vast ocean. He didn't slow down. Eighty. For a moment he was walking in air — ninety — and then underwater. It wasn't real, he knew, but he still couldn't force himself to breathe and his lungs felt ready to burst.

The count reached one hundred. Ryoga ignored what his eyes and ears were telling him and listened to his inner sense. His finger stabbed downward. "Breaking Point!"

At first, nothing happened. Then he was abruptly back in Mongolia, tumbling clumsily backwards through the air amidst a hail of debris. He fell to the ground, and saw the two Americans do likewise a few meters away. They looked unconscious. Ryoga stood, took a deep breath, dusted himself off, and fired a Shishi Hokodan in their direction. He felt bad about attacking a foe who was already down, but considering how good these guys were at creating illusions, he needed to be absolutely sure that they were really out.

A siren wailed behind Ryoga; from the sound of it it was approaching rapidly. More police and soldiers? Bring them on, he thought. He had single-handedly beaten the Musk, some of the strongest fighters around. As long as Kasumi kept the energy flowing, the only one who had any chance of beating him was Ha Bu himself.

He turned to see a long, red truck with ladders on its sides. A hose was already raised and pointed in his general direction. He couldn't possibly jump out of the way in time.

Thoughts flashed through his mind. Obviously these people didn't know about his curse, or they'd have used it against him long before now. So this couldn't be an illusion. There was no escaping the conclusion: He'd screwed up. But it wasn't his mind that had failed but rather his character. Back at Juesnkyo, Tatewaki had gotten shot because Ryoga hadn't had the courage to reveal his curse to Kasumi. And now, having learned nothing from that history, Ryoga had repeated it, and he only hoped that he'd be able to find hot water in time to keep anyone else from being injured or worse.


"Ha! Take that, ya bum!" Jorgenson cackled. Nearby, a man rolled off the park bench on which he'd been lying and ran. Wisps of smoke wafted up from under his long coat.

"He's not what we're looking for," Wesley said. Reading the man's emotions had revealed nothing but surprise and fear. From all appearances he was just what he looked like, some random homeless person who'd just wanted a little rest. Not that Jorgenson cared. As far as Wesley knew, he only went on missions because it gave him an excuse to use his ability to burn people and not get in trouble for it.

"What are we looking for?" asked Jorgenson.

"I'm— I'm not sure." Wesley tried to spread his empathic senses wide, to pick up anything out of the ordinary. They had come to this park behind the palace because he could feel some connection between something here and the energy that had powered up the Japanese fighter. But he still couldn't zero in on whatever it was, and nothing here looked out of the ordinary.

"Well, neither am I. So we need to do something to force them out," Jorgenson said in the tone of one who'd just won an argument. "Hey, I could'a completely torched the guy. All I did was singe him a little."

From seemingly out of nowhere, a garbage can slammed down over Jorgenson's head, covering him down to his chest. Wesley turned in time to see the fist that crashed into his face.


The smaller westerner staggered dazedly. Tofu wasted no time in turning his attention to the other one. Pausing only a second to aim, he chopped at a nerve cluster in the burly man's leg. Tofu knew he had to finish this one quickly. He'd crowned his opponent with the trash can to keep him from using his power which, from what they'd learned in the last fight, was obviously pyrokinesis. What he couldn't see, he couldn't burn, or at least Tofu hoped not.

The trash can suddenly flew upwards like a Roman candle, rocketing overhead. Tofu figured he had only a second or two before the westerner got his bearings and roasted him. He went for the opening with a barrage of punches and kicks to the man's torso. While he preferred quieter and more precise methods, he had to admit that brute force had its place.

The man fell backward, unconscious. Not even pausing to take a breath, Tofu turned back to the smaller one and swung his arm back.

Then he felt the man's presence in his mind and knew he was too late.

Vitality and resolve drained from Tofu like a liquid sucked through a straw. No... resist it, he told himself, Kasumi needs you, but the thought was soon no more than a distant memory that belonged to someone else, and he collapsed to the ground.


Ha Bu, now female, shook his head to disperse the water with which Ranma had just doused him. "Was this supposed to accomplish something?" he said, energy crackling around his fingertips.

But Ranma could now feel a presence in the room. A familiar spirit that he hoped wasn't just his own imagination brought on by wishful thinking. He silently appealed, Help me.

And he somehow knew what the ghost — Lili — was thinking. That she would have stayed out of it and left her two hosts, who had never wanted her anyway, to fight it out on their own. But one of them had given her a child. A human child, not one of those half-human monstrosities that the early Musk had created.

Ranma felt his full strength, speed, and energy returning. His perceptions and reflexes sharpened. For the time being, at least, he was his full self — or maybe selves — again.

Having gotten to his feet, Ha Bu gestured, obviously about to fire off another blast. Ranma kneed him in the chest and followed up with a rapid-fire series of punches to his face. Ha Bu looked stunned but still conscious. What did it take to put this guy out? Ranma got behind him and gripped him under his arms, holding him still. "Blast him, Akane!"

She raised a hand, but all that came out was a short whoosh of air. Of course, Ranma thought; she'd lost the feelings that she'd been tapping into. Good thing that hadn't happened in the middle of an attack, or she'd have eaten it herself. He looked around for the serving woman, but she was gone; obviously she'd decided to slip out, and he could hardly blame her.

"Get away!" Ha Bu raised an arm and threw off a wide-angle blast like he'd done back in the old days. It flung Ranma across the room and slammed him into a wall, making a sizable hole in the plaster.

Akane took out the gem peered into it. She flushed a bit as if embarrassed by something she'd seen in it. A bolt of energy lanced from her hands and jolted Ha Bu, who looked a bit confused. Had she found a type of ki that he wasn't familiar with? Ranma made a mental note to ask her about it if and when they both got out of there with their butts intact.

Suddenly a short man with a skunk's tail on his costume was there. Obviously a Musk. The side of his hand chopped into Akane's arm, and struck again, and the gem flew out of her grip and into the air.

"Hey!" Akane said as she grabbed for the gem, but the Musk snatched it out of the air quicker than Ranma could even see.

Ranma lunged, trying to tackle the skunk-tailed Musk, but connected only with empty air; even with his newly-restored speed he was nowhere near as fast as this guy. In no time at all the Musk zipped across the room and handed the gem to Ha Bu.

Uh oh, Ranma thought. A hot, hazy miasma coalesced around Ha Bu as his eyes turned toward the gem.

"Akane, go. Get out of here," Ranma said. "No arguments."

"What are you going to do?"

Dark stormclouds roiled above Ha's head. Ranma tried to estimate what chance he would have against whatever attack was coming.

"I'll be right behind you," he said. "Maybe even in front of you."


Kasumi, Wesley thought as he stared at the young woman sitting quietly with closed eyes on the bench whom for some reason he hadn't noticed before. Even when he completely drained someone, he usually got only broad emotions, rarely specific information, and never had he ever learned anything precisely enough to put specific words to it. Until now. Her name was Kasumi. Obviously she was very special to the man in the glasses, and Wesley could see why. Her spirit shone with all the light and warmth of the sun. Hers was a light capable of cutting through all of the dark storms of conflicting emotions that Wesley endured daily.

Kasumi was directing the transfer of energy to the man in the bandanna. The man with the glasses had known, and Wesley's own empathic senses confirmed it; the psychic trail was clear to him now that he knew what to look for. Taking her down would put an end to it and revert the bandanna-ed man back to normal where he could easily be handled by the General.

But how? It was obvious that his drain power wouldn't be effective against a spirit of such fortitude. And doing anything to harm Kasumi would be like cutting off his own leg. Though he barely knew her, he felt what could only be called love, as if she were the mother he'd never known.

But he had his orders, and orders had to be obeyed.

Wesley stood back and pulled his gun from his pocket.


Ha Bu's energy streamed outward, coalescing into a gigantic storm cloud above his head. He was Ha Bu, bearer of the blood of dragons, so far as he knew the last such person in existence, and that knowledge provided him nearly limitless energy. His sphere of doom grew larger, darker. If it ended up leveling the palace, or the city, or even the entire country, he cared not. Whatever he destroyed was inconsequential and could be rebuilt. New bases of power could be found and new alliances formed. He would still have his dragon heritage, and that was the only thing that really mattered.

He lifted the Linghungbao and peered at its light. The image within resolved itself into a dragon. The dragon in a box. He looked closer and saw its face, which was his own. The face of Ha Bu, bearer of the blood of dragons.

Finally he understood the dream, the message that his dragon ancestors, or perhaps just his subconscious, had tried to send him. He had been used. The humans that he'd thought of as his allies and benefactors had used him to subjugate other humans and keep them under control, just as they'd used those dragons years ago.

The storm cloud of energy over his head began to press down onto him. He could no longer own nor control it. The emotional energy that was now crushing down on his body no longer belonged to him. He had no right to it.

The energy cloud festered in the air for a moment, then exploded.


Akane and Ranma ran. They found an open window and jumped down to the ground into a courtyard, open to the sky on top but walled off from the outside. They kept running, in a direction away from Ha Bu. This led them to another building within the overall walled block of the palace complex. Ranma kicked down the door, and they ran into the building.

An explosion thundered from behind. A wave of force rocked the building, throwing Akane forward. She lost her footing and flew forward, then hit the ground as pieces of demolished building fell on her. Something struck her head, and she blacked out.


Even after regaining consciousness, it took Akane a few seconds to remember where she was and how she'd gotten there. Ha Bu. The Mongol Palace. She lay pinned under a crossed pair of support beams amidst various other pieces of building debris. Blood ran over her forehead in thin rivulets, plopping down into a red stain on the floor. Her skull ached like someone had been using it for soccer practice, and she had to struggle to keep her eyes open.

A ray of daylight poked through as debris began to clear away. Someone was digging her out? From nearby she could hear Ranma's Moko Takabisha flash, and the clatter of more rubble shifting. And a moment later there was Ranma, pushing off the broken beams enough to let her roll over and out from them. And there was... P-chan? No, she thought, her brain had to be misinterpreting what she was seeing. Whatever this was, it couldn't be her old pet pig that was rapidly clearing away pieces of broken wood by carrying them in his teeth.

The rubble mostly cleared, Akane stood up. Then, from not far away, the soft thwwwip of a silenced pistol sounded. Everyone turned.


I killed the sun, Wesley said to himself. I snuffed out the sun.

His reasons, his excuses lay stripped away, leaving behind naked self-awareness. He'd never really needed to obey orders. He could always have told his own real emotions from the fake ones that he'd absorbed from others, for the tide of guilt and despair that engulfed him was unquestionably real, more real than anything he'd ever felt before.

Wesley opened his mouth and pointed his gun inside it.


Days later, when Akane and the others would report back to the Amazons by telephone, there would be some confusion over what occured next. Akane would remember Ranma lunging toward the Westerner as he stood over Kasumi with gun in hand pointed into his own mouth, about to do himself in. Ranma and Ryoga would both confirm that that was what happened (though Akane couldn't remember the latter even being there). But that left the question of what Ranma intended to do when he got there. Was he jumping over to attack the man, or to stop him from killing himself? Ryoga didn't know, and Ranma himself refused to comment.

For Akane, there was no question. If she herself had known what the Westerner man had just done she would probably have ripped his heart out. But at the time she was barely cognizant of her surroundings, probably suffering from a concussion. Still, she knew her husband. For better or worse, he was what he was, and always would be.

"No!" he'd said as he sped through the air towards the man. "Don't—"

The gun fired again. The westerner collapsed to the ground before Ranma could reach him. The reality of the situation began to penetrate into Akane's addled consciousness. No, he couldn't have. Any moment now, Kasumi would stand up, smile, and explain how she'd used her spirit magic to fake her death in order to trick her attacker.

A moment later, of course, any such hopes had evaporated, and what had happened next was something Akane knew she would always remember, though she only later understood it well enough to put it into words. With Kasumi no longer guiding the transfer of spirit power, the energy backed up and spilled outward like water from a clogged drain. At the time, it had simply been a feeling, something that couldn't be seen nor heard but nevertheless indescribably beautiful. It burst like an exploding star, touching everyone with the warmth of a gentle soul tinged by the sadness of knowing that that soul would no longer be among them.

Then Akane fell into Ranma's arms, and they cried together for a long time.


Assistant Deputy Director of Special Intelligence Operations John Werczynski checked his digital watch as he walked down the office hallway. In a few seconds it would be exactly two-thirty. He stepped into conference room 3C-1 and took a seat in one of the plush office chairs around the oval table. "I'll be in conference with Mr. Michaels," he said into the intercom. "No interruptions unless it's something absolutely urgent."

"Yes, sir," came the reply.

Werczynski got up to shut the door, then sat back down. He pulled out his cell phone, switched the ringer off, and put it back in his pocket. Switching on his tablet computer, he turned to his subordinate in the chair next to him. "Bob."


"You look tired. Your body not adjusted back to Washington time yet?"

"I suppose not. It used to be a lot easier. Guess I'm getting old."

"You need to exercise more." Werczynski prided himself on having the body of a man twenty years younger, although his strict fitness regimen hadn't stopped his hair from thinning into a horeshoe-shaped ring around his head.

"Anyway, let's get down to it." Werczynski leaned back in his chair. "I don't need to tell you that there's a lot of interest in this from higher up. One highly valuable special agent dead, two more hospitalized. The Mongolian palace blown up, along with the President, and the public in open revolt against the military. We need you to make a full report as soon as possible."

"I'll report what I can," Michaels said.

"You'll report everything," Werczynski said firmly. "We don't hold back information."

"Of course not, John. Jesus Christ, don't you think I know that? How long have we been working together? But we should at least make sure that what we report makes some sense."

"Just report what you saw."

Michaels sipped from his coffee cup. "I'm not sure what I saw."

"Let's go over what you've told me already." Werczynski scanned the display on his tablet. "You said that our agent, James Wesley, that would be file number 54776974, carried out extreme sanction against their empath, Tendo Kasumi, file number 4F686D79."

"Right. That was to stop her feeding superhuman energy to one of her compatriots, Hibiki Ryoga."

Werczynski scrolled his touch screen down. "Ah yes, file 4F686D79. You think her death caused the population to riot? How would they even have known about it?"

"They knew. Everybody did. With her dying breath, their empath touched the minds of everyone in the city and maybe even farther out than that. Even I sensed it, and I'm as insensitive as they come — just ask my wife. Everybody was overwhelmed by the sense that an innocent person, a beautiful spirit, had been snuffed out. Even I felt horrible about it at the time, probably — I shouldn't say this, but it's true — she made me feel worse than I would've if it had been one of my own kids who got killed."

Michaels gulped down a mouthful of coffee, then continued.

"And obviously I wasn't the only one. All over the city, people came out. They grabbed crowbars, garden tools, baseball bats, you name it, and they came. The local police and military, the ones that Hibiki hadn't trashed, some of them hid in fear for their lives. That's what I did. Others tore off their insignias and joined in. And there were the ones who did their duty and tried to stem the tide. I saw some of them take out a dozen or so of the rioters before they got crushed by sheer weight of numbers. People in the crowds were being gunned down, and yet more of them kept coming."

"We know all that," Werczynski said.

"Right, well, all in all, their empath put ours to shame. And while ours did manage to take theirs out, it cost him his sanity and his life. And the kicker is, this Tendo Kasumi 4F6-whatever—"


"Yes, right, if you read that file it indicates that she wasn't born with paranormal powers like Wesley was. Up until she was twenty or so, by all evidence she was just an ordinary young lady. Do you see the implications of this? In maybe five years or so, through training this woman got made into an empath powerful enough to depose a government. Under somebody else's control she could've been our worst nightmare. But think of how we could use someone like her to calm rioters down and make them go home, or make them rise up against somebody we don't like."

Werczynski sighed. "If you're recommending we pursue these lines further, I can't go along with it. Considering what a massive clusterfuck this ended up in, I see no reason why it wouldn't be better to just wash our hands of the whole thing."

"There was a time when I'd have agreed with you," Michaels said. "It would sure as hell be better for my career if I just let it drop. But Jesus, John, I wish you could've been there and experienced what I did. That feeling... it was so unquestionably real. As if nothing I'd ever experienced in my whole life had been real until that moment. So honest, so sincere."

Werczynski looked him directly in the eyes. "And your point?"

"Just think of what would be possible if we could learn how to artificially re-create what happened there."

"Put that in your report." Werczynski shut down his tablet. "And be sure to double-check all of the file codes before you file it."


Ti Pi walked along the dampened pathway. A short downpour had briefly showered the Amazon village before yielding to blue skies, leaving the air moist and damp. To one side, gardeners pulled weeds and replaced dead flowers.

She reached the Council Hall just as Shan Pu came out. They smiled at each other. "Hi," Shan Pu said.

"How are you?" Ti Pi said. "I heard about what happened."

"I'm okay. I wanted to go back on duty, but Elder Lan asked me to take a few more days off. Let's go have a drink sometime and we can catch up on everything."

"Sounds great. I'm glad you're all right." Ti Pi smiled. "I'm glad that renegade wasn't really you."

She stepped into the building and down the corridor to the Chief Elder's study.

"Come in," Elder Lan said.

Ti Pi entered and sat down.

"I've gotten word from Akane's group. They're on their way back here and should arrive sometime tomorrow. I'm also expecting Kasumi's teacher, Priestess Kaede, by then. The day after that will be our feast to honor our allies and commemorate those who gave their lives."

Ti Pi nodded.

"From information I've gotten I expect that China will retake the land that it lost in the war. As for Mongolia itself, Ha is missing, presumed dead. His regime is over, but it's not clear what will replace it. We have friends who will report back to us on any developments. They're also trying to recover the Linghungbao, which according to Akane is responsible for the palace explosion. It's not at all clear how it ended up there in the first place."

Ti Pi stared, trying not to look guilty.

"All of which brings me to what I wanted to talk to you about."

"What is that, Elder?"

"Kui Ziling, for personal reasons, has resigned from the Council and from her other duties as commander of our warriors. I want to take this as an opportunity for some structural changes. I think one of the issues that hampered our response to the impending invasion was that her job was too big for only one person. Also, we need to be better developing our next generation of leaders. I intend to assign many of the day-to-day responsibilities that she had to some younger Amazons, with an Elder to be named later in overall command. I'd like you to coordinate our intelligence and information gathering functions."

"Yes, Elder," Ti Pi replied, trying not to let too much enthusiasm show. It was a job she'd been born to do. "Will there be anything else?"

"One more thing. I'd like to tell you a story." Lan leaned over her desk. "Were I to tell you about confidential Council business, I would be breaking the law. Therefore this is just a story."

"Understood, Elder." The new assignment and Council secrets. Ti Pi didn't really believe in lucky days, but if there were such a thing, this would be one.

"Once upon a time, there were two Amazons. One was a scholar, a teacher and seeker of knowledge. Another was a warrior, a skilled combatant and clever tactician who had won many a tournament. Both were popular, and many thought that either of them could end up as leader of the village."

Ti Pi had a pretty good idea of who the scholar was, at least. She listened as Lan continued.

"The scholar knew that the warrior would be the more likely choice for leader, due to her tactical cleverness and because a fighter was a more prestigious thing to be than a teacher. She also knew that the warrior wasn't what the village would need, and that some of this particular warrior's ideas and attitudes would be very bad for the Amazons. At least that's what she told herself. She didn't like to think that personal ambition might be what was really motivating her. But whatever the reason, she called in a lot of favors and did a lot of maneuvering behind the scenes to convince a majority of the Council of Elders to vote to refuse this warrior a seat on the Council."

Ti Pi nodded. While the law didn't actually require it, in practice only members of the Council had ever been elected Chief Elder.

"And that was the end of it. Except that it wasn't. The warrior reacted to this decision by leaving the village. And years later, when she came back, she caused a lot of trouble."

Ti Pi waited until it was clear that Lan had finished, and stood. "Thank you for the story, Elder." Obviously Zhen Biaozi was the warrior, and Lan herself the scholar. There would be no point in asking her why she'd decided to reveal this now, and why she'd picked Ti Pi. "You've given me something to think about."

Lan smiled. "From one scholar to another."

Now Ti Pi really had something to think about, she mused as she walked toward the exit. Was Lan really saying that history might repeat itself? The scholar could be Ti Pi, and the warrior could be... who?

Shan Pu?

Certainly Ti Pi didn't think Shan Pu would ever go rogue the way that Zhen Biaozi had, and given her popularity no one would be able to blackball her from the Council when she was old enough. But her outlook on some matters was very different from Ti Pi's. There would be disagreements, and they would need to work through them.


Ryoga sat on a bench at the edge of the Amazon village, watching the sky as orange sunlight began to diffuse across the horizon. His group had arrived back late last night, and the others, as far as he knew, were still sleeping. Beyond the village, hills and mountains stretched out into the distance. Ryoga almost felt as though they were calling his name. This place wasn't like Honshu, where he could start walking and know that he would sooner or later get back to somewhere he knew. Continental Asia was big enough that if he started walking he might never see anyone he knew again. And somehow, at some level, that idea appealed to him. It was a terrible thing to be thinking. He had a loving wife and daughter waiting for him back home.

Kasumi was dead. At first, Ryoga had wondered whether it would turn out to be a trick, as it had with Kodachi. But no. Kasumi was dead. And maybe Ryoga could've stopped it if he hadn't been stuck as a piglet. If he'd admitted his curse to Kasumi and had her unlock it, he could've changed back to human form. But no. Kasumi had to die because Ryoga didn't want Akane to be mad at him.

The hills and mountains called to Ryoga. All he had to do was start walking, and in a matter of minutes he could be completely lost.

"Hey, Ryoga."

Ryoga spun around on the bench. "Ranma."

Ranma took a seat next to him. "Whatcha doin'?"

"Just thinking."

"What about?"

"Nothing much." Ryoga didn't feel like explaining. It wasn't anyone else's business anyway. "Have you told your father-in-law what happened? How'd he take it?"

"I talked to Mom on the phone, and she told him, yeah. Akane talked to him a little later. He's trying to be brave, but I think he's in pretty bad shape."

The two spent several seconds just staring into space.

"Is your girl side gone again?" Ryoga asked. "The ghost?"

"Lili? Yeah. She was with me when Akane and I fought against Herb, but she left after that. I wonder if I shouldn't just let her go. I figure maybe... maybe she deserves a rest."

"But— but you said that a lot of the strength you used to have came from her."

"Yeah. So without her I won't be anywhere near as good as I used to be. So is that so terrible? I'll work at retraining myself, from the ground up if I have to. Maybe I'll never be that good again, but at least this time I'll come by it honestly."

Ryoga shook his head. "And what happens when the next Herb shows up? Yeah, he'll kick your butt, but at least it'll be an honest butt-kicking. The rest of us will remember that when we're fighting the people that you can't."

"Oh, gimme a break," Ranma said. "You don't know—"

"Look, Ranma, I screwed up. I admit it. I could've asked Kasumi to unlock my curse and teach me how to change without water. But I didn't think I'd need that ability. And because I made that mistake, Kasumi is dead."

"You think that would've mattered?" Ranma laughed. "Stupid jerk. The only reason you were anywhere near Kasumi in the first place is that you went looking for hot water."

"That's not the point! You can slough off your responsibilities if you want to. The rest of us will be there to pick up the slack."

"Why, you..." Ranma stood and dropped into a fighting stance. Ryoga did likewise.

Behind them, a voice sounded. "Ahem."

Ranma and Ryoga turned to see the heavy-set old woman. "Priestess Kaede?" Ryoga said, not certain he remembered her name correctly.

Kaede nodded. "I thought you'd like to know, I have a message from Kasumi."

"A message?" Ryoga said.

"She can communicate with spirits," Ranma said. "Like people who're, you know..."

"Sometimes, yes," Kaede said. "When they have something to say."

"What did she have to say?" Ryoga asked.

"She just told me to thank you both for everything you did. She said it was especially brave of you, Ryoga, to run in and dig Akane out after the building collapsed on her."

"I don't think it was all that brave. I still had the energy that Kasumi had fed me. Don't think anything there would've hurt me."

"Someone could have," Ranma said. "Remember what you looked like then?"

Ryoga instinctively winced in pain. "That didn't even cross my mind at the time," he said in a low voice. "Does she... does she know?"

"I don't think so," Ranma said. "She was pretty dazed. I don't think she was too aware of what was going on. You got lucky one more time."

"Kasumi also said she'll be with you in spirit for everything that will follow," Kaede said.

Ryoga looked up. "That will follow?" He and Ranma looked at each other. They knew what it meant: It wasn't over. Maybe it would never be over.

"Um, she wouldn't care to expand on that, would she?" Ranma asked.

Kaede shook her head slowly.

"If you talk to her again, tell her we'll both be there and do everything we can," Ryoga said, "for whatever it is." He looked in askance at Ranma, who nodded.


The entire population of the village turned out for the event that followed. Amazons conversed in spirited voices around picnic tables that stretched in long rows across the large open field. Servers deposited trays of food onto a buffet table; there were plates of fresh fish, pots full of pork buns, red bean buns, assorted fruits and vegetables, and what looked like it might be a roast pheasant.

Mu Si watched and couldn't help feeling a bit elated. He'd seen some banquets of this size before back when he'd lived here. But now he was seated at the head table along with the Nerima crew, plus the Chief Elder as well as Shan Pu and Ti Pi. Back then he was just someone who people put up with because they had to. Now he was a guest, but a guest of honor.

He reached over the table to shake Tofu's hand. "I'm so sorry to hear about Kasumi."

Tofu smiled. "Thank you. It's good to be among so many good friends at a time like this."

"Indeed," Priestess Kaede, next to him, said. "She was a wonderful student. I suppose I'll have to look for another one now."

"How about... me?" Tofu said.

"Hm?" Kaede looked him over. "Well, I'll certainly give you the chance to prove yourself, if you want it."

Tofu nodded. "Thank you. I'll do my best to be worthy."

Elder Lan stood and addressed the full audience. "Before we enjoy the banquet, I'd like to say a few words." The noise of the crowd immediately died down. "We're here to honor the heroes among us, our friends as well as our own people. Firstly," she said, pointing, "Mu Si, who defeated Zhen Biaozi. Without him, I wouldn't be here to speak with you today."

The crowd applauded. Mu Si waved. Ti Pi repeated Lan's remarks in Japanese. Mu Si looked back at his own table and saw Shan Pu clapping and smiling, a sight he was sure he would never forget.

"Then there are our friends from Japan who fought and destroyed General Ha, liberating a country from his rule. Saotome Akane and Ranma. Hibiki Ryoga, Doctor Tofu. The Amazons owe you all a debt we can never repay."

The audience applauded again as Ti Pi translated for the Nerimans.

"Finally, we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Saotome Genma gave his life to make amends for his own error and to protect the lives of the others. And Tendo Kasumi. It may seem incongruous for a society of warrior women to say this of a pacifist, but Tendo Kasumi embodied the highest ideals of the Amazons. After the death of her mother she gave up years of her life to help raise her sisters. Then when the call came again, she willingly gave the rest of her life without a second thought."

More translation. Ranma and Akane embraced each other.

"Traditionally when an Amazon warrior dies in battle, we raise our weapons in tribute. I would ask all of you now to raise an open hand, a hand of friendship, as a salute to Tendo Kasumi."

All across the field, everyone's hand went up.

"Finally, and as previously agreed to by the Council, I declare our friends to be honorary members of the Amazons. If ever they should need us, we will be there for them without hesitation, as they were for us." The crowd applauded again. "Thank you. Please enjoy the food."

Lan stepped back. The crowd started to murmur again as serving men began to distribute plates of food. Kuno Tatewaki stood. "A word, Elder?"

"Certainly," Lan said. "What is it?"

"While I am grateful for the honor of membership in the Amazon tribe, I'm afraid I am unable to accept."

"Tatewaki?" Shan Pu said. "You were already given—"

"I cannot accept at this time," he continued, "for it is my intent to challenge the graceful and adroit Shan Pu to a combat match."

Everyone around the table shot puzzled looks at him.

"If she should lose, then by Amazon law, as an outsider she should marry me. If I should lose, then by the traditions of Furinkan High School, I should date with her. In fact, since I am an adult graduate of the school, I should marry her."

Shan Pu laughed. "Your school has no rule like that!"

"It has too," Akane said. "I can attest to that personally."

"Oh, all right." Shan Pu's face broke into a smile. "I accept terms."

"Very well, then I..." Tatewaki's eyes bulged. "She accepted?!"

Ranma slapped him on the back and shook his hand. "Way to go, buddy!"

Tatewaki began shaking hands around the table. When he got to Mu Si, he paused for a moment, and they looked at each other.

"Be good to her," Mu Si said. He offered a hand.

Tatewaki eagerly accepted the handshake. "Always."

Shan Pu leaned over and kissed Mu Si on his cheek. "Thank you," she whispered.

Mu Si smiled. There was nothing left for him to do but play the good loser. He would act happy for their sake. Yet somehow it didn't feel too much like a pretense. He didn't win her love, but he'd known for a long time that he wouldn't. But it seemed that he had managed to earn something that he'd thought he'd never have: her respect. That would do. It would more than do.

"Wait a minute." Gosunkugi Hikaru looked up. "What happens if the match is a draw?"

Shan Pu gave him a friendly pat on his shoulder. "We think of something."


The next morning, Elder Lan invited the Nerima group to her residence for dim sum. Gosunkugi Hikaru sat with Ti Pi, munching down steamed dumplings and rice noodles while writing code samples on a sheet of scrap paper. "So my variable gets set equal to whichever function is appropriate for this particular item, so I can call it later."

"How can a variable be a function?" Ti Pi asked.

"You just set it to one. A function is a standard type in some languages, like this one. Of course, if you set a variable equal to a function and then try some non-function operation on it, you'll get a runtime error."

She stared at the paper, pondering. Hikaru would miss these sessions, especially since Ti Pi gave as good as she took. In the past few weeks he'd gotten a fair training in Qi Gong. The exercises she'd taught him made him feel like he had more stamina. She'd also taught him some basic concepts of sorcery; he probably wouldn't know enough to actually do anything mystical in this lifetime — even she wasn't anywhere near as good as that — but he at least understood why the voodoo he had tried long ago couldn't work.

Elder Lan approached Hikaru. "I'm sorry to interrupt," she said. "Will you be leaving today with Doctor Tofu and Ryoga, or will you be staying for the wedding with Akane and Ranma?"

Hikaru thought about it. In the short time he'd been there he'd blundered into some serious mishaps, but he was pretty sure he'd also played a major role in preventing the impostor from blowing up the Elders. Mu Si had gotten all of the credit, but for some reason that didn't bother Hikaru too much. He was just glad that things turned out all right. And now he could go back to his safe, boring existence. Or not. He enjoyed exchanging knowledge with Ti Pi, but still had no idea whether she was interested in anything more, or whether she would become interested as time went on.

He smiled to himself. He'd come here looking for excitement and risk. And wasn't this what it was all about — taking a chance on an uncertain outcome?

"I'll stay for the wedding," he said. "And maybe longer. Er, if that's okay."

"Yes!" Ti Pi said. "Oh, I'm sorry, Elder. It is, of course, your decision."

Lan chuckled. "No harm done. As I said yesterday, Hikaru, you've been made an honorary citizen of the village. That means you can stay as long as you like."

"Thank you, Elder," Hikaru said.

"You're welcome, and we're happy to have you here." She added in a lower voice, "Please, please, stay out of trouble."

"Yes, Elder," Hikaru said along with Ti Pi, their voices almost in unison. But he knew they wouldn't.


"Goodbye, Doctor." Elder Lan bowed. "On behalf of the Amazons, thank you once again for all the help you've given us."

"You're welcome," Tofu said. "I'm sorry I can't stay for the wedding. But I need to get back and help my patients transition to other doctors."

"Seeya back in Japan, Doc." Ranma pointed to Ryoga. "And keep an eye on this guy. Don't let him out of your sight 'til you get back home."

"I'll see you soon, Ranma," Ryoga said. "Let's get together with our families. I know the kids would like to see each other."

Ranma nodded. "We'll be there. And hey, what you said before, you were absolutely right. We've got a couple days before the wedding. I'm gonna go swimming in a certain spring."

"I'm coming with you," Akane said in a tone that brooked no argument. Ranma nodded. Akane looked up. "Doctor, before you go, could we talk for a moment?"

Tofu nodded, and led Akane and Ranma aside as Elder Lan talked with Ryoga and Kaede.

"I just wanted to ask you... are you okay?"

"I'll live," Tofu said with a twisted smile. He'd never quite understood why bringing up a painful topic was supposed to help one feel better about it. It was like thinking that ripping open a wound would make it heal faster.

"We're worried about you, Doc," Ranma said. "We know how you felt about Kasumi. How you used to act around her. No offense, but how come you aren't flipping out?"

Tofu's eyes grew distant. "She knew," he said. "I don't know how, but Kasumi knew exactly what would happen to her. And she still went through with it, and she even went cheerfully. How can I do any less?"

Akane reached up and offered him a hug, which he returned. As a physician he knew how hard it was to want to help but not be able to. Sometimes a patient had to heal on his own.

People don't like to hurt nice guys. Someone had told him that a long time ago, and it was true. But it seemed like life — the universe, the gods, or however one wanted to think of it — did like to hurt nice guys. Maybe, just maybe, that was because life knew that they were strong enough to take it.


Ranma and Akane arrived at Jusenkyo by early afternoon. Ranma listened with half an ear as Akane talked with the guides. She was looking for the Niangniquan, spring of drowned maiden. No, she wasn't trying to rid herself of a curse; she didn't have one, and even if she did, according to the Amazons that spring wouldn't cure it. No, this was for Ranma. Yes, he'd already fallen in that same spring years ago. He needed, er, a booster treatment. We'll check the maps, said the guides, and they went into their shack.

A breeze blew damp air over Ranma, and he shivered. In the beginning he'd considered his transformation a burden, a curse. Then it was something to be exploited. And it had been a source of power, a way of enhancing his combat prowess, even though he hadn't been aware of that at the time. But only after it left him did he realize that it was more than all of that. It— she— was a part of his family. A sister, as he'd spoken of her long ago. Okay, a sister with whom he'd fathered a child. It just went to show that no analogy was perfect. But he'd already lost one sister and wasn't about to give up another if he could help it.

The guides came back out. The senior one, Pu Yichi, carried a map. He moved around the area, comparing the image on the map to the arrangement of pools on the ground. Then he pointed to one particular one. "That is spring you looking for, Mr. Customer."

"Okay, here goes nothin'," Ranma said as he moved toward the indicated pool.

"Hold it." Akane grabbed his arm, and he stopped with a jerk. "Are you absolutely sure that's the one?"

The teenage girl guide, Pu Lanmu, examined the map. The two guides exchanged some intemperate-sounding talk in Chinese. Then she took the map from her father's grasp and rotated it ninety degrees.

Pu Yichi looked at the map, nodded, then pointed to a different spring behind Ranma. "So sorry. This one."

Ranma turned and looked, and he no longer needed the guides to tell him anything. This was unquestionably what he was looking for. He could feel it in his mind, a sensation like coming back to a long-lost home.

He took a step, then another, then held his nose and dove in.

Tiny air bubbles floated to the surface of the pool. Akane wondered when Ranma would be coming up. Was Lili the ghost holding him down? Did she intend to drown him in the same pool so that the two of them could be together for all time? Or was Akane's imagination running away with her?

More seconds passed, and still nothing but bubbles came up. Akane would have to pull him out. There was nothing else for it. It might get her a curse of her own, but better that than a dead husband.

Before she could react, a black shape came up and rapidly broke the surface. Akane had to duck her head to the side to avoid getting splashed. Once again Ranma's head was a little smaller, with the slightly lower cheekbones of a female.

"Wooo!" he said in his familiar woman's voice. "The water's fine!"


The Shan-Kuno wedding went on for an entire day. The next morning, Ranma, Akane, and Mu Si said their final goodbyes. Worn out from the previous day's excitement, time passed quickly for them as feet, busses, planes, and trains carried them into Japan.

No one greeted the three of them as they arrived in Nerima. The pale glow of streetlamps illuminated sidewalks as they walked up to the Saotome-Tendo residence. Setting down his suitcase, Ranma turned his key in the lock and opened the door. He paused, waving Akane back with a hand, and cocked his head to listen.

"There're people in there," he whispered. "It's an ambush."

"Ambush?" Akane whispered back. Who would possibly...? The family were obviously all out for the evening, since the lights were off and it was too early for them to have gone to bed. And she and Ranma had spotted a figure watching them as they came out of Nerima station, but the unknown individual had ducked out of the way before they could see who it was.

"I'm gonna sneak in the back and hit 'em from behind," Ranma whispered. "Mu Si, turn into a duck and follow me through the window. Akane, get their attention. Keep 'em distracted." The two faded into the shadows.

And I'm left as bait, Akane thought. Gee, thanks. She needed to come up with a plausible reason for not going in the house right away. "Ranma!" she shouted, looking opposite to the direction he'd gone. "Come back! It's just a harmless little alley cat, for goodness sake!"

In the darkness, bodies scuffled.

"Hah! Gotcha!"



Furniture clattered. Glass smashed. Akane decided that any element of surprise had now been used up and reached for the light switch.

The lights came on. "Surprise!" voices chorused. "Welcome home!"

Mu Si and Ranma gaped in shock as they saw just who it was they had wrestled to the ground.

"Mrs. Saotome?!"


The skater dusted himself off. "We have to stop meeting like this," he said with a smirk.

Akane looked over the crowd. Besides the two children and their two grandparents, Nabiki was there, along with the three Hibikis, the Golden Pair, Ukyo, and Konatsu. It was quite a turnout.

"We're glad to have you back!" Tendo Soun proclaimed. "And to celebrate, we're going to enjoy a special cake that—" He turned towards a vaguely cake-shaped glop that lay on the floor beside an overturned table. "Never mind. But we are going to celebrate!"


Shortly, techno-pop boomed and thumped from Hikaru's portable music player over spirited conversation.

"Hey, Akane, take it easy on the sake, willya?"

"Ha. It looks like you've had a few yourself!"

"Yeah, well, I'm drinking for two. So there!"

"Are you pregnant, sir?"

"No! Don't be a dope, Konatsu. Do I look female at the moment?"

"Sometimes it's hard to tell, sir."

"Mrs. Saotome, I'm terribly sorry about before!"

"Think nothing of it, Mr. Mu. Why, if I were twenty years younger—"

"Mom! Geez..."

Soun cleared his throat. "May I have everyone's attention? Stop the music, please."

Ranma fumbled for a button on the player. The music cut off, and a deep voice began announcing baseball scores. "Good going, Pop!" Hikaru slipped over and touched another button, stopping the voice.

"Thank you." Soun raised a glass. "A toast to my daughter, Akane, and my son-in-law, Ranma, and to our good friend Mu Si. We give them a lot of trouble, but we're so glad to have them around." Glasses clinked, and voices cheered appreciatively.

"Excuse me, sir." Mikado stepped forward. "May I speak?"

"Certainly." All eyes turned towards Mikado.

"I hope it won't put a damper on the festivities," he said, "but I have an announcement of my own. I am hereby cancelling my engagement to Kuonji Ukyo. This is not at all the fault of anything she has done. Ukyo has been a wonderful fiancee and I'm sure would make a great wife, but I firmly feel I am not ready at this point to marry anyone."

"Honestly, hon, if you hadn't cancelled it, I would've," Ukyo said. "Not anything against you either. If I were ready to be married, you'd be the first I'd call."

Soun raised his glass. "A toast to our friends who, er, aren't getting married!" More clinks and cheers sounded.

"I too have something to say, and now seems as good a time as any," Nodoka said. "Ukyo, a group of persons have approached me on your behalf. A Mr. Hakano and his associates. I believe you know them. They brought up the matter of the okonomiyaki cart that my late husband had taken from your father."

"I do know them, unfortunately. Please don't pay any attention to what they say. I've told them many times in no uncertain terms that my life is none of their business."

"I've considered the validity of their argument," Nodoka continued, unmindful of Ukyo's response. "From what I've determined, the okonomiyaki cart in question actually belonged to the Gambling King, as he'd won it from you in a card game. Therefore it cannot be considered as a dowry."

"I don't want it to be considered—"

"Nevertheless, our family still owes you. By stealing your cart, my husband caused you great mental anguish and, more pertinently, deprived you of future earnings. Based on your obvious acumen and entrepreneurial skill, I estimate our debt to you at ninety million yen."

Ukyo chuckled. "That's a nice sentiment, even if you're never going to have—"

Akane sidled over to her and slipped a piece of paper into her hand.

Ukyo gaped. "A— a check for— Is this for real?" Akane nodded. Ukyo held it up to where Mikado could see it. "Still want to pass on that engagement thing, sugar?" She doubled over with inebriated laughter, and the room joined in.

"Excuse me," Nabiki said soberly. "Now that your shop is out of danger, could you use... an employee?"

"Nope." Ukyo smiled. "But a partner'd be nice."

"Wow," Ranma said. "I'm sure you two are going to own Okonomiyaki World in no time at all."

Ukyo blew a raspberry. "Who'd want it?"

"A toast to—" Soun swung his glass around a bit too forcefully and stumbled. Ryoga reached over to steady him. The room started to buzz with conversation once again.

"Hey, Dad." Hikaru handed Ranma a piece of paper. "I almost forgot. This is for you."

Ranma unfolded the note and began to read. "'Ranma, darling, thank you for a delightful time. I need to be going. Perhaps we can do it again in another seven years! Kodachi.' Where the heck did you get this?"

"I found it on my desk in my room."

"Kodachi was in your room?!"

"I guess so. She must've come in while we were sleeping. We didn't even see her."

"Great. Just great." Ranma crumpled the letter. "Something to look forward to."

"I've got to get going," Ukyo said. "Ran-chan, Akane, you guys are the greatest. I want your whole family over for okonomiyaki, on the house."

"Thank my pop," Ranma said. "It was a deal that he started."

"You're the greatest too, hon," Ukyo said to Mikado. "Thanks for straightening out the whole engagement thing. I'll see you later, okay?"

She stepped toward the door, then came back to him. Her head tilted, and she leaned over to kiss him. Her technique was a bit sloppy and awkward, not a great kiss by any objective standard. But he could tell that there was a genuine affection behind it, from someone who'd seen a little of the vulnerabilities that lay beyond his everyday facade and still truly cared for him.


"Hello, Saotome-Tendo training hall. Yeah, this's Ranma. A tournament? Osaka, in September? No, sorry, I'm permanently retired from all martial arts competitions. Why? Because two against one's not a fair fight. No, that's okay, you don't need to understand.

"Sure, I know the competitions are good exposure for our school. The school isn't retiring, just me. You want someone from our school to enter? Oh yeah, have I got a competitor for you. Hey, Akane!"


"Martial arts freestyle tournament in Osaka in September. Interested?"

"Sure, I'll do it. Tell them I'll call them back for the specifics."

"Yeah, my wife, Akane, will compete in the women's division. Yeah, only in the women's. She'll call you back. Thanks. Bye."

Akane stepped into the living room. Her father sat there, staring at the television screen, which currently featured what looked like a talk show about cosmetics advice for women. Empty take-out boxes lay scattered over the table next to him. They had been there since lunch six hours earlier; come to think of it, the same TV channel had been on since then too.

It was happening again. When Akane was a little girl and her mother had passed away, her father couldn't bring himself to set foot inside the kitchen. Kasumi had had to start cooking, because someone needed to do it and no one else could. Fortunately, she proved to be great at it, surprising everyone including herself. It had been Mother's last gift to the family, she'd said. By the time she had left to train with Priestess Kaede, Father had long since gotten over it. Until now.

Okay, Akane thought. Someone had to do it. There was food in the refrigerator that would spoil if they left it there much longer. She went into the kitchen.

Akane's knife chopped up meats and vegetables. She threw them into the heated pan where they crackled and sizzled on the thin layer of oil. She sprinkled a few spices onto the mixture, stirring it with a spatula. And she wondered why, why, why it had to be Kasumi. What sort of sickness permeated the world that would make such a thing happen? The person directly responsible, whoever he was, was dead, but surely the problem went a lot deeper than just him.

She shut off the burner, lifted the pan, and slid the contents onto a plate. Sticking several pairs of chopsticks under one arm, she carried the plate into the living room and set it down on the table.

"Thanks, Akane." Father started eating.

The thought suddenly occurred to Akane: What was she doing? Her cooking had improved to the point where she could successfully follow step-by-step instructions most of the time. But freestyle cooking for her was a recipe for disaster. Her father's state of mind was a problem, but it certainly wouldn't be improved by her trying to poison him.

"Akane... who cooked this?"

"I did," she admitted.

"It's... it's delicious?"

"It is?!" She tried some. It was. She even remembered what she had done, step by step, and knew why each thing she'd done had been the right thing.

"It's just like— like Kasumi used to—" Her father started crying. Putting down her chopsticks, she held him as he sobbed into her shoulder. Silently, Akane said a last goodbye to her sister and thanked her for passing along their mother's last gift.

Akane had lived most of her life in her own comfortable little bubble. The world outside of that had some dark corners and pitfalls. For now, she'd stay home and take care of her family. But sometime down the road, someone would need her and Ranma again. When that call came, they would answer, and maybe with their friends and family behind them, things might just turn out all right.


Extended author's notes and HaMake to follow in a separate post.