"Here is legendary training ground. Cursed springs of Jusenkyo. This place very dangerous. You very strange ones to come here."

The pudgy man in the seventies-style Chinese uniform stepped to the side and pointed into the clearing without looking. In that place were hundreds of small springs with long bamboo poles sticking out of them. Each of the pools had its own horror. There was some terrifying creature at the bottom of each one, ready to spring out onto any unsuspecting victim. Akane couldn't see them, but she knew that they were there. She felt their presence in her mind.

"Let's go, Ranma." Akane jumped up onto one of the poles. Her fiance did likewise. She faced him, assuming a combat-ready stance. "I won't make things easy for you."

"Hey, like you ever did?" he sniggered. "Just don't make me eat any of your cooking!"

"JERK!!" Akane swung her mallet, knocking Ranma off of his pole and sending him plummeting below.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!!" Ranma cried, as he fell, tumbling down to the ground in slow motion. Akane strained to see him in the dim evening light (hadn't it been daytime moments ago?) as she heard a splash from below.

She jumped down from her pole to the ground below. "Ranma?" Bubbles rose from the spring next to her. She turned...

... and a skeleton rose from the pool. A skeleton wearing Ranma's gi bobbed up, empty eye sockets gleaming in the moonlight.

Loud, uncontrollable laughter was heard. Akane looked toward the source. It was the Guide, his face obscured by the darkness. Akane said angrily, "You never said anything about --"

He stepped into view. He now had the face of Principal Kuno. "HAHAHAHA!!! 'Ey, wahine, we wen' made one o' dese springs fo' you too, yeah!"

Suddenly, Akane found herself immersed in water, the laughing Principal visible above the water surface. Akane, being unable to swim, splashed around helplessly, slowly sinking to the bottom.

Desperately holding her breath, she reached the bottom. Her powerful leg muscles pushed, propelling her upward. After long seconds she reached the surface...

... and the surface was covered by some transparent barrier. Akane struck the barrier, again and again, as hard as she could, but it did not budge. She struggled desperately, as the last traces of air were gone from her lungs, and the water would be denied entrance to them no longer, and the man kept on laughing, and laughing, and laughing...

... and Akane woke. She was wet; at first she thought it was from the pool, then she realized she was covered in her own sweat.

Then her door opened.


Shampoo woke. She checked her watch: Seven A.M., Japanese time. The "Red Eye" flight she was on from Beijing to Tokyo would be landing soon. She was sad about her great-grandmother, but there was nothing that could be done for her now. She was also sad to have had to leave her Amazon sisters so soon after recovering; but she had to come to Japan, to see if she could help Ranma.

Meanwhile, back in Shampoo's village, Cologne, eldest and most respected of the amazons, was contentedly lapping up a saucer of milk.


It was seven A.M. in the Tendo living room. Happosai stood on the table, petulantly pacing back and forth. The scene had been going on for hours. They were at an impasse.

"Please, master," Soun pleaded. "You've got to help Ranma!"

"Or what?" Happosai snapped. "Or you'll all hate me forever? You probably will anyway!"

"Or... or..." Soun turned to his middle daughter. "Tell him, Nabiki." Nabiki would be able to persuade him, she had to be.

The old man jumped onto Nabiki's lap. "Okay, or what? Come on, tell me!"

Nabiki thought for a moment. "Nothing," she said weakly.

Soun gaped. "What??"

"I said nothing!! None of you can outfight him, can you? And you just can't blackmail someone who doesn't give a damn about anything!"

"So," Happosai said with a smug air of superiority, "we finally have that straight."

"Master Happosai," Kasumi said, "won't you help Ranma? He was your friend. I'm sure you want to see him back as much as the rest of us do!"

"Yeah, that's what I don't get," Nabiki said. "Why don't you want to help him? If nothing else, he was a playmate of yours; and Ashura might come for you if he isn't around to get in her way."

"You think it's that easy, eh?" Happosai sounded a little offended. "Think that the only reason Happosai won't help is that he's an evil, cruel man? Apparently you have no idea what you're asking.

"Yes, I did receive a delivery from Cologne-chan. A special variety of 'raw' Jusenkyo water. When a curse victim is doused with this water, it causes a sort of ionization, a temporary separation of the curse spirit and the host body. A special technique, with which I am familiar, can then be used to mentally reach in and pull out the curse spirit, thus bringing the host completely back to normal."

"But Master, then why..."

"Don't get it, do you? The curse spirit must have a host! If I reach in with my mind and yank it out, it attaches itself on to me. To free Ranma from his possession, I would have to get possessed myself! Totally and permanently!

"Now... is there anyone here who'll call me an evil, cruel man for not being willing to make that sacrifice?"

No one spoke up. No one could think of anything to say.

Lili quietly slipped out of the room and up the stairs. She had heard enough. If it would help, if it were possible, she would gladly agree to let her spirit be moved to the old man's body, or even be sent off to oblivion. But it made her feel so bad to be treated as a parasite to be gotten rid of, some unwanted pest who brings nothing but misery.

Passing Akane's room, she heard a cry of agony from within. Perhaps she could help, she thought. She opened the door.

Akane was obviously startled. "Couldn't you have knocked?! This is my private room! Don't you understand that?"

"I'm afraid I don't," Lili said meekly. "I guess I wasn't raised with the concept. I heard you call out and thought I could help. I'm sorry to intrude on you, I'll go."

"No, wait. Please stay," Akane said. She had done it again. Though Ranma was gone, maybe forever, she was still chasing him away when he was trying to be nice. "I was just having a nightmare. How did I get up here, anyway? Last I remember we were downstairs with Happosai. What happened? What's the situation?"

"Your friend Ukyo is sleeping in your sister Kasumi's room. The others, the ones named Kuno, went home to rest. You fell asleep in the living room around three o'clock, and your father and sister carried you up here. The rest of us have been up all night trying to convince Happosai to help, but so far he won't. I'm sorry. If there were anything I could do, I would. I never wanted any of this to happen."

"I know. I'm the one who should be sorry. Sorry for yelling at you just now, and yesterday too. I just didn't understand... I didn't know, I thought you were Ranma... oh, God, he's really gone...."

"We never even said goodbye! The day before, I was just yelling at him, over some petty little annoyance, and he just kept on saying 'I'm sorry'. That must have been the last time I talked to him. Wherever his spirit is now, he's going to remember me as the girl who hated him. The one who could only scream at him when he needed help.

"Why is it so much clearer now that he's gone? Oh, Ranma, if there's any of you left in there that can hear me, I don't hate you. I love you!"

Lili held Akane in her arms, not knowing what else to do. "He knows, Akane. I'm sure he knows."


Kasumi changed her clothes and headed back downstairs to get started on the day's breakfast. She could hear Akane talking to Lili from outside her door. She thought about going in to try to help her sister, but decided against it. What could she do? Reassure her that everything would be all right? It seemed very much that everything would not be all right.

She thought about Akane and Ranma. The pain of losing a loved one was enormous; Kasumi knew that all too well from the time her mother passed away. How much more painful it must be to lose a loved one before having expressed your true feelings to one another.

She thought about the upcoming battle, which any or all of the combatants might not survive.

Then she went to the phone. She hoped that Doctor Tofu would be awake already.


Soun was the last one left with Happosai in the living room, Nabiki having gone to catch some sleep. He didn't know what he could or should say to his master, but he felt obligated to stay and try to think of something.

"Let me talk to him, Dad," Akane said upon entering the room. She was freshly dressed after a morning shower. "I think I can get him to help us."

"Akane? You weren't here to hear. To help us, the master would have to --"

"Lili explained everything to me. Trust me. I need to talk to Happosai alone."

"If you think it will do any good, all right. I could use a little sleep myself right now."

"Thanks, Dad," she said, as Soun wandered sleepily up the stairs.

"Well?" Happosai asked as the two were alone. "What now? You have something to say that's supposed to convince me to help?"


"Feh. Don't waste your breath," Happosai said with contempt. "You never liked me. Isn't that so?"

"Right." There was no point in trying to deny the obvious.

"You know, I've seen you around your school. You're attractive, popular. The kind of girl who could end up with any guy she wanted."


"Ranma, too. He's the kind of boy who has girls crawling all over him."

Akane looked somewhat annoyed. "Your point being?"

"I've always had what you might call a fetish. Pretty women, and some of the things they wore, have always been the most wonderful, the most magical things for me. All I wanted was for one of them to be my friend, and I would have been content. Just one of them to take pleasure in my touch, instead of recoiling in disgust.

"But," Happosai continued, "and you may not believe this, I was always a short, unattractive kind of fellow. I wasn't rich either, and I didn't have any kind of important social standing. Beautiful women like Cologne-chan never wanted anything to do with me. For a long time I hated women because they denied me what I wanted the most; maybe I still do."

Akane wondered why anyone wouldn't believe that about Happosai. She kept her mouth shut and let him continue.

"I became a martial arts master so I could take what I wanted. No, I never raped anyone; I stole a lot of undies and other valuables and I copped a few feels, but that was it.

"Now you want me to give up my life for Ranma, someone who's had a whole life of women trying to force on him the things I never had? Well, forget it. I'm not that kind of person. I'm not a hero. That's not what life's made of me. What have you got to say to me now, hm?"

"One thing...."


It was seven forty-five. Kasumi came down into the kitchen. "Good morning!" she said cheerfully to Ukyo, who was there cooking okonomiyaki in one of Kasumi's frying pans.

"Morning. I just came down to do what I do best. Wanna try some when it's ready?"

"Why yes! Thank you!"

"I gotta admit, I was pretty skeptical at first. I wondered if this whole business with Ran-chan wasn't just an act."

"Goodness! What changed your mind?"

"A lot of things. Taro. Rouge. Genma. And talking to that girl, Lili. I know a little bit about the history of certain kinds of foods. She knows things about fifth-century cooking that Ran-chan couldn't have known."

Ukyo sighed. "I guess I always thought in the back of my mind that Ran-chan and I would end up together. I mean, nothing against Akane, but she always seemed so... violent. But now it's not going to happen. It just makes me so MAD! I want to find the person responsible and... and..."

"And do violence to him? Oh my! But I'm afraid it's too late for that. Mr. Saotome is the one who knocked Ranma into that spring, and he's already suffered the same fate as his son."

"Ranchan told me there was a guide at Jusenkyo. I'm betting that he knows something about who created that place, and who allows it to stay there. Maybe it's him. If I survive against Ashura, I'm gonna close my shop and go hunt down whoever is responsible for those cursed pools."

"Oh, dear. Ukyo, please be careful. You could end up in one of those springs and coming back in someone else's body in the year 3500."

There was a knock. "Come in!" Kasumi said brightly, as Lili entered.

"Ranch- er, Lili! Want some breakfast?"

There was a look of pleading in Lili's eyes. "Please, both of you, I need your help. I need to know everything you can tell me about this person Ranma Saotome."


Ten thirty. Nabiki entered the kitchen and found the three girls talking. "Kasumi," she asked, "what happened to Happosai?"

"Goodness, I don't know. Isn't he still out in the living room with father?"

"No, Dad is in his room sleeping."

"Happosai probably went with Akane," Lili said. "She said that she was going to persuade him to help get Ranma back, and that she would have to take him off somewhere private."


"Calm down, Nabiki!" Kasumi said.

"The hell I will! Don't you realize what's happening? At this very moment our sweet, naive, stupid little sister is being... de-flowered! By that... that old..."

"Nabiki, you don't know for sure that that's what she meant," Kasumi said evenly. "We have to trust Akane to look after herself."

"Yeah!" Ukyo added. "And besides, if it helps Ranchan, isn't it worth it? I mean, if I had to to get him back, I'd screw a --"

"Happosai doesn't have a shred of honor. You should know that. After he's had his little fun, he'll just go on his merry way. DAMN! I ought to --"

"Oh dear. Have you any idea where they might be?" Kasumi asked matter-of-factly.

"No," Nabiki grudgingly admitted.


Eleven thirty.

The demon Ashura fought with various units of the Japanese and American military above the suburbs of Tokyo. Shells and gunfire were unable to penetrate a globe of fire that the demon surrounded itself with. Missiles and other long-range weaponry were simply unable to hit the swiftly-moving creature. When the military men had exhausted their ammunition, they were decimated by flaming energy blasts.

At eleven forty, a pair of heat-seeking missiles were launched. Ashura gestured with two of her arms, and a troop-carrying vehicle became white-hot, causing the missiles to home in on it instead of her. The demon laughed wildly as the vehicle exploded.

By eleven fifty-five, the battle was already over. Unequivocally, undeniably, indisputably, the military had lost.

Ashura flew, surveying the landscape to see if anyone else would be challenging her. One lone figure caught her attention. As she flew down closer, she saw that it was a teenage boy. He wore what her host body knew to be old-style Chinese clothes, with his hair tied into a pigtail.

"Do you wish to fight Ashura, little one?"

"All right, you big JERK!" the boy said, his tone trying to hide the fear that was obvious in his aspect. "I, Ranma Saotome of the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts, challenge you!!"

"Then DIE!" Ashura lobbed a fire blast toward the boy.


Lili leaped. Her legs, the legs of the magnificently-toned body that she was an involuntary guest in, propelled her away with incredible velocity toward the next building as the demon's blast struck the place where she had just been.

It was a desperate plan. If Ranma was the only one capable of defeating this demon, and he could not be brought back, then Lili would have to be him. She was in his body, hot water having transformed it back to his gender. She had listened to his friends tell of him; so that she had some idea of how to act like him, if only she could manage it.

Ashura moved and threw another fiery bolt. Lili leapt again, her legs moving before she was even consciously aware of it. She was operating on instinct. However much of Ranma Saotome had been lost, there was still some underlying subconscious part of him left. It was what allowed Lili to speak Japanese. It was also a basic instinct that would, if not help
her fight, at least hopefully allow her to survive long enough to do what she had to do.

"You are swift, frightened one," the demon said in its eerily synchronized triple voice. "Perhaps you will be what they call 'fast food' for Ashura?"

Lili was frozen with fear for a moment, gripped by the icy fingers of the demon's words. Ashura was right; she *was* frightened. It was so foolish of her to think she could be Ranma just because she wore his form. She found her legs and bolted away, not waiting for Ashura to fire again, desperately leaping and running to get away as fast as she could.


On the waterfront, not far away, Nabiki could see boy and demon heading rapidly towards her location. She looked at the assembled group. Oddly enough, Tofu wasn't freaking out in Kasumi's presence; rather, he just gave a slight smile every time he looked at her. Maybe it was the seriousness of the situation, Nabiki thought.

"Okay, gang. Time for the pre-fight pep talk. Ashura's going to be here any minute. Remember that we've chosen this battleground for a reason. Anyone who gets set on fire will be able to jump in the water to put it out. What's more, if we can dunk Ashura in the water, her aura will heat it up and she'll transform back into human form. No way she'll be able to boil away a whole section of ocean. If that happens, get her out of the water right away before it cools and changes her back.

"Lili's leading Ashura here to us right now. When she gets here, hit hard and fast. Hopefully that won't give Ashura time to utilize her chief advantage, which is range. Range and power. Her two chief advantages are range and power. And mobility. And stamina, and resilience, and --"

Kasumi interrupted. "That's enough pep talk, Nabiki."

"Very well, then, the Blue Thunder shall be the first to strike!" With a spirited yell, Tatewaki leapt into the air to intercept the flying demon. His bokken struck the shell of solidified flame that surrounded Ashura. The shell wobbled a bit, but the blow seemed to cause no appreciable effect other than to get the demon's attention. She laughed as she turned toward the young kendoist. Her flame aura became a cone that blasted outward, striking him, knocking him down the shoreline, stunned.

Lili leapt off of a building, only to find that there was no adjoining structure to land on. She traveled uncontrollably through the air, screaming helplessly, until she was caught safely by Ukyo.

It was Ryoga's turn to attack. Without a sound, he jumped up to where Ashura hovered. She restored her defense just in time. Ryoga landed on top of her flaming bubble and struck with pulverizing force.

Kodachi watched from the sidelines, studying to discern her opponent's techniques and limitations, using her stealth training to try to erase any sense of her presence. She knew that raw rage would not win the day for her side. Watching her brother's defeat had given her vital understanding of the demon, which she intended to put to use.

She marveled at the disguise that made the pig-tailed girl look exactly like Ranma. She would get the girl to teach her to conceal her own identity in such a manner if they were to both survive the battle. Surely it would be an immensely useful skill. Yet for all of the girl's skill at disguise, she lacked ability as an actress; it was obvious by her movements, her body language, that she was not truly Ranma.

Kodachi readied one of her razor hoops. She just had to wait for the right moment.

Ryoga slammed his fist into Ashura's globe of solid fire a second time. He could feel it begin to weaken. Ashura merely laughed, and continued laughing as the sphere of energy around her focussed into a ball between her and Ryoga. She prepared to blow the boy away...

... when Kodachi flung her razor hoop. Ashura turned at the last moment as the hoop cut through one of her shoulders, neatly severing it and sending the no longer attached arm tumbling lifelessly down to the ground below. The trio of laughing voices turned to screams. The unthinkable had happened. Someone had hurt her.

The Black Rose laughed, imitating the sound of the demon from mere moments ago. An enormous burst of energy from the creature struck her, slamming her into the shore, head first. The hapless Ryoga was flung in the opposite direction by the recoil, hitting the water and seemingly vanishing. Kodachi felt the pain of a serious head injury. But she had drawn first blood. She had succeeded where the others had failed. As her world went black, she laughed, and laughed, and laughed...

The now five-armed Ashura flew to the now unconscious gymnast. Regrowing a limb would require a great expenditure of time and energy. For damaging her, this girl would have to pay.

"Oh no you don't!" Ukyo's combat spatula slammed into Ashura, knocking her off balance before she could blast Kodachi. Ukyo had missed the beginning of the fight, having gone over to save Lili. Now it was up to her. She struck with her spatula again, hitting the demon's flaming aura. Ashura was unprepared for the speed and strength of the attack, and was flung towards the water.

Ashura dipped deep into the power of her ki, using it to turn her momentum by ninety degrees. She flew up and stopped, hovering, and let off a wide-angle fire blast that engulfed Ukyo.

Meanwhile Doctor Tofu was examining Kodachi with Kasumi's assistance. "It's serious, but it could be worse." The plan was for Tofu's combat abilities to be kept in reserve. His shiatsu techniques could only be used at close range, and might not be effective at all against a demonic creature like Ashura. He was more useful as a healer for the moment. "She's out of the battle, but if we get her to a hospital before too long she'll be all right. Anyway, she'll live."

"No," Ashura said. "She will die." Lili watched as the laughing demon's aura began coalescing into a massive ball of fire. It would fry her three friends!

Time froze as realization struck the young girl in the young man's body. The aura! Ashura needed to take down her flaming shield in order to attack! She could be hit now! But there was no one left standing to hit her. No one except... no! Lili had never hit anyone! Not EVER! She COULDN'T!

The flaming ball was glowing with a blinding brightness. "Now, little ones, time for you to feel Ashura's wrath!"

Lili slammed her fist into Ashura. It was a sloppy, half-hearted blow, but it was backed by the strength of Ranma. The attack of the frightened girl took Ashura by surprise. Her concentration interrupted, the fireball exploded in her hands. Ashura and Lili took the force of the blast, recoiling in opposite directions.

Lili was thrown out into the ocean and landed in the water, instantly changing back into her normal body. She splashed about wildly, desperately, crying for help. This had been how it all started. This would be how it would all end.

For Lili had little experience at swimming...