Author's Notes:

I decided I should come right out and say that while this crossover mostly sticks to the Negima world, there's one rather important mechanic I'm changing significantly and calling part of the AU of the combined universes. That is the underlying mechanic of magic.

For those who don't know, in Negima canon, magic and ki are ultimately the same life energy. The difference is that martial artists and fighter types use ki generated from inside their body while mages and onmyoji draw the life energy in from outside them. This is described by Chamo in chapter 92 of the manga for those that are curious.

I don't like this system, and don't think it even makes much sense with kanka. What would be so powerful about a technique that mixes two different sources of the same energy?

Anyway, in this story, magic is a completely separate energy that is also generated inside the body. Although it can be possible to make use of magic around you such as that generated by the World Tree as well.

I'm also going to say that onmyoji dabble in a bit of magic, but use mostly ki, since I don't like them having the exact same energy just used in different ways like in canon. Just thought I'd explain that.

The day of the festival was finally here. When it was clear that Negi was too excited about it to focus on training she told him to just take the next three days off. The fact that he didn't even argue just proved how much he was anticipating this. Well, he was still a kid, so that was to be expected. As for Ranma, she had the opening shift for their haunted house, so it was off to there for her.

She was once again glad that she'd managed the costume switch. Not that she really liked the school uniforms that girls wore, but she was at least used to wearing them. And getting a look in the mirror, after they were done setting her up, the rest of the work was pretty well done. She had one of those prop knives that made it looked like she'd been stabbed in the head, and some powder that left her skin looking unnaturally pale. After a while, Ranma even started to get into the running of the haunted house.

Almost no one who came in had any training, so it was a joke to sneak up behind them and announce her presence at just the right time to maximize the terror. This had sent more than a few people running for the exit. Although very few came close to the terror Negi already had on his face, and that was before Ranma had even tried anything. As panicked as the boy was, they were probably lucky he wasn't blasting magic everywhere.

"Ranma!" Negi called out, running up to her after he spotted her. "Thank goodness you're alright."

"No," Ranma said, pointing up to the prop knife. "They already got me. Now it's your turn to join us!"

"Nooo!" Negi screamed, running off again and out the exit.

Heh, he freaks out like this over a haunted house he helped build but didn't seem scared at all when he'd run into an actual ghost. Go figure. Well, Ranma's first shift was about up, so maybe it was time to go have a look around the rest of the festival. After exiting their set, cleaning up, and making a quick change into some less girly clothing, Ranma started wandering around. She hit up some of the food stalls first and was just trying to decide what to do next when she saw Ryoga running up to her.

"Ranma!" he said, "Is Shampoo gone?"

"Um, I think so," Ranma answered, not seeing the girl anywhere.

"Great, looks like I lost her," he answered. "But what happened to the other two girls you were with?"

Ranma was about to ask him if Shampoo had done something to his head, because she had no idea what he was talking about, but then paused when a thought occurred to her. Could this actually be related to the time travel device Chao had given her? Maybe she was going to use it and Ryoga had run into her after she did. But did that even work if she hadn't gone and used it yet?

Gah, Ranma didn't like trying to wrap her head around time travel, but she supposed it was at least possible. Then again, maybe Ryoga was just confused.

"Um, they went their own way," Ranma answered vaguely.

"Okay, well, actually, I have something I wanted to tell you but I didn't get the chance before," Ryoga said, but then clammed up for some reason instead of explaining.

"Yes?" Ranma prodded losing her patience.

"It's just that … I …" suddenly a dart flew out and stuck itself in Ryoga's chest, interrupting his words. "Hey! Who did that?"

Ranma looked around too, wondering if they were under attack or something but couldn't spot where it had come from.

"Well, back to what I was saying … I …" three more darts then flew into Ryoga in rapid succession, and this time Ranma caught a glimpse of a gun dipping back behind a nearby corner.

"When I catch whoever is doing that!" Ryoga said threateningly before reaching into his backpack and pulling out his box. "Anyway, I got you this souvenir from Hokkaido and I wanted to give it to you. There I said it."

Taking the box, Ranma saw it contained purple sweet potato tarts, a specialty of Okinawa. Somehow Ranma doubted Ryoga had actually gotten them in Hokkaido.

"Now, I'm feeling a bit sleepy, so I think I'm going to take a nap," Ryoga all but slurred out before toppling over so he was lying flat on the ground.

Then the source of those darts finally made herself known as Mana walked out from around the corner and up to Ranma.

"Looks like he wasn't a threat after all," she declared. "Not enough backbone for that. Well, it's amazing he stayed on his feet so long after four darts. Everyone else has been out in an instant with just one."

"What are you even talking about?" Ranma asked. "Why would he have been a threat?"

"Oh, you haven't heard?" Mana asked. "It's dangerous to let anyone confess during the festival. The magic from the World Tree could force the person receiving the confession to accept it."

"And you thought Ryoga was going to confess to me?" Ranma said with a laugh. "He's a martial artist too. I'm sure he just thinks of me as a potential sparring partner or rival. It's not like we even really know each other."

"Whatever you say," Mana said dismissively. "Anyway, whether he was a threat or not, he's neutralized for now."

"Ah ha, I knew I heard you before, and now I've found you!" Mousse cried out as the boy marched on the sleeping Ryoga. "Don't think playing dead will fool me! I won't fall for your tricks!"

Mousse then sent an impressive array of objects flying toward Ryoga, more than one of them being dangerously pointing. Ranma quickly jumped in their path and knocked them all out of the way.

"He's not playing dead!" Ranma told him. "He's been hit with some kind of knockout drug and is sleeping it off. You aren't going to kill him in cold blood, are you?"

"Well, no," Mousse answered. "But if he's really asleep this is still the perfect chance to capture him. I'll make sure to separate him from Shampoo forever!"

"So, you just going to stand there and watch this?" Ranma asked Mana as Mousse looked prepared to go after Ryoga again.

"This isn't part of my job," she answered with a smirk. "If you want to pay me I could help out."

So, she was going to be like that was she? Ranma wasn't a big fan of her attitude, but maybe she could do a little something about that.

"Do you really have time for this?" she asked Mousse.

"What do you mean?" he said, pausing for a bit.

"Haven't you heard?" she asked. "If you confess to Shampoo during the festival, the magic of the World Tree will force her to accept it. And according to Ryoga, she's here too."

"What?" he said in surprise. "This is great! I have to find Shampoo now!"

"Now is it your problem?" Ranma asked Mana with a smirk of her own.

"Oh, fine," she said drawing her gun and pointing it straight at Mousse's head before firing, only to have Mousse lean back and just barely avoid being hit by the dart.

"She just tried to shoot me!" Mousse said in shock.

"Don't be such a baby," Mana told him. "It's just a sleeping dart. It's my job to stop anyone from confessing during the festival."

"Well, I won't let you stop me!" Mousse vowed. "I can't miss this opportunity."

He then threw down a smoke bomb blinding the both of them. By the time they made their way out of it, Mousse was already disappearing into the crowd off in the distance.

"Aren't you going after him?" Ranma asked.

"I think I'll pass," Mana answered. "Oh if I run into him again I'll take care of him, but I have a lot of other cases to deal with, so I'll stick to my route. Now I'd strongly suggest you refrain from spreading the news of this any further. You're only creating more problems."

"Not like it makes a difference with Mousse," Ranma said, waving off the issue. "He confesses like every other sentence even without anything like this going on. Does it even make a difference?"

"Still, you got him that fired up," Mana pointed out. "I think, if anything, it's your responsibility to stop him now."

Er, she might have a point there. Mousse would have confessed regardless if he ran into Shampoo, but now he was going to put everything he had into finding her.

"Fine," she said. "I'll go chase the idiot down. But you take care of sleepy here since you're the one who shot him when you didn't even need to."

"Very well," Mana agreed, hoisting the boy over her shoulder. "I'll take him to the infirmary before I get back to my patrol."

Good. Hopefully that would keep him out of sight of both Mousse and Shampoo. So with that taken care of, Ranma began her own search. Only it became apparent very quickly just how hard it was to find one person in an event as big as this. She wasted away most of the rest of the day, and was beginning to think it was hopeless when she finally caught a flash of white on top of a building. Quickly chasing it down, she found Mousse scanning the crowd from up there.

"Oh, Ranma," he said upon seeing her. "Have you seen Shampoo since we last met?"

"No, and you should probably let this whole thing drop," Ranma urged him.

"What?" he asked in shock. "You're the one who told me about it in the first place, and now you're trying to keep up apart?"

"No, I fully support you and Shampoo getting together, it's just that this might not be the best way. How does the magic even work? For all we know, it might turn her into some kind of mindless slave."

"It could do that?" Mousse asked in complete horror. "Why didn't you say that before?"

"I just didn't think of it before," Ranma told him, trying to calm him down. "I'd only just learned about it myself. Anyway, the school seems pretty determined not to let anyone use the power, so I figure there's a good chance it isn't a good result."

"I guess it was too good to be true," Mousse said, completely deflating. "This is so frustrating though. I may never have another chance like this. Is there any way we could test out how this works or something first?"

"If you do start testing, they'll probably send a whole squad of mages after you or something," Ranma told him, even though she had no idea whether or not that was true. "Besides, I'm sure you'll win her over eventually. It's only a matter of time, right?"

Ranma really hoped he was buying that, because she'd wasted way too much time chasing him down, and she did not want to even think about doing it a second time.

"You're right," Mousse said, perking up. "She's bound to realize my love for her eventually. I just need to keep proving it."

"Great, so just remember not to confess again until the festival is over," Ranma reminded him, before heading to the edge of the roof to jump off.

"Wait," Mousse told her. "Before you go, I just wanted to confirm something. You are that demi-human girl that was asking about Jusenkyo in China, right?"

"Huh, have we met before?" Ranma asked. The fact that he knew about China and Jusenkyo meant that they probably had, but she didn't recognize him.

"You were pretty upset at the time, and I gave you directions," he answered. "Or at least I think I did. My Japanese wasn't very good yet. Anyway, that was you right?"

Ah, there had been a boy about her own age she'd run into that day. She'd forgotten him completely, but she supposed Mousse could very easily be him. That was quite the coincidence.

"Ah, I guess it was," she said. "But I'd prefer if you could keep quiet about the whole demi-human thing. I don't let many people know about that."

"Oh, of course," he said. "That's probably why you went and got a Jusenkyo curse. Still, could you at least show Shampoo you're not human sometime? No one back at the village would believe I'd really seen a demi-human."

Konoemon probably wouldn't like her spreading that fact around too much, but they already knew about magic, and she wasn't too happy with him right now anyway. Besides, Mousse was sure to tell her anyway. Proving it wouldn't make much of a difference.

"Sure," she agreed. "I'll show her when I get the chance."

"Perfect!" Mousse declared loudly. "I'll prove to them all that I'm not crazy!"

Maybe he would, but standing on top of the roof like this laughing as wildly as he now was probably wouldn't help his cause at all if anyone saw him.

"Well, I've still got things to do," Ranma declared, this time make it off the roof after her farewell without being stopped.

Well, that was a day wasted. It was now dark and most of the festival events had shut down. Ranma supposed she should get back to the end of day party. Making her way through the crowd, she paused when some guy she didn't recognize called out to her unexpectedly.

"Oh, you're that girl from before," he said. "I thought you were great. It's a shame you lost."

"What?" Ranma asked, but the man was already wandering back off into the crowd of people filing out for the night.

She didn't recall losing anything. Was this another time travel thing? Ranma was really wary of trying that device, but this was the second piece of evidence she had that made it seem like she was going to decide to go for it in the end. Still, Ranma had to admit she was getting more and more curious about it, and if it worked, it would prove Chao's story wasn't complete garbage.

That said, even not knowing what it was she apparently lost, just the knowledge she would lose something bothered her. Well, maybe she could change it, if that was even how time travel worked. She'd just have to double her efforts in any competition she was in and be careful not to do anything stupid.

Ah, looked like she'd already all but decided to try the thing after all, so there was no point wasting any more time thinking it over. Pulling out the device she decided to start with a small jump, just back a few hours to see if it even worked. Then, Ranma activated it, feeling it pull at her magical power as she did. Great, it was a magical tool after all. Well, Ranma didn't have any time for second thoughts before there was a flash a light.

When her vision cleared, Ranma saw the sun was up again. So it had actually worked? She was really back in time? Well, it could have just knocked her out until the next day or something. The first thing she needed to do was confirm what day it was. Running around she was trying to figure out just how to do that. Maybe if she went back to where she'd been at this time before? Looking at the sun, Ranma tried to figure out just where in her search for Mousse she'd been at this time.

Actually, she might not even need to do that, as she saw Ku Fei standing a short distance away talking with some older boy.

"Hey, Ku Fei," she called out walking over to the other girl. "This is the first day of the festival, right?"

"Yes?" Ku Fei answered, making it sound more like a question in her confusion. "Should it not be?"

"No, that's fine, just forget about it," Ranma answered.

Wow, actual time travel. Ranma had seen some amazing things in her life, but this might just take the cake. Just think of all the possibilities. You may not be able to set it to go back more than a day, but even still, not even her distrust of magic could contain her excitement about what she could do with this thing.

"Actually, I'm glad you're here, aru," Ku Fei declared. "You see this guy keeps trying to convince me to sign up for his martial arts tournament, but it's a lot smaller than the big one during the sports festival. So it sounded pretty boring to me."

"Please," the boy cut in to say. "If you signed up, I'm sure we could attract a much bigger crowd. It'd practically put our tournament on the map."

"As I was saying," Ku Fei continued. "You're strong, and I've been wanting to fight you since I first saw you in action in the library. If you were to sign up too, it would make it very much worth my time, aru."

Now that was an interesting idea. Ranma had stayed out of the martial arts tournaments because she'd been avoiding doing anything her classmates were involved in. But now she'd been convinced to change that policy, so there was no way she was going to be stubborn about the one area she was actually passionate about.

And to be honest, a match with Ku Fei sounded great. None of the other martial artists in the area were a real challenge, but she'd seen enough of the Chinese girl to know that she should be able to actually put Ranma's skills to the test.

"You know what," I think I'll go ahead and sign up if you will, Ranma told her, turning to the guy that had been pestering Ku Fei with the signup sheet only to see he'd been pulled away by a girl that was currently showing him some piece of paper. The boy then came back and put down a poster for another tournament in front of them.

"Actually, looks like we won't be running this one," he told them. "Someone has been going around and buying up all the rights to all the fighting tournaments in the festival. They're merging them all together into one big one. Here's the information if you want to go."

"Well, this is even better, isn't it?" Ku Fei asked. "Hopefully we'll still get to fight, but you might not being the only interesting opponent."

"Yeah, this will be my first real tournament," Ranma informed her. "Might as well go big."

Looked like the new tournament was a good distance away, but for the two of them, it'd hardly be a warm-up to hoof it on over. Still, it gave Ranma time to think it over. Was she going to lose to Ku Fei or someone else? Was this was that guy had been talking about? Well, her pride wasn't about to let it be considered a lost cause. Even if that was what he was talking about, she'd just make certain to change it. A martial arts tournament was one thing she'd absolutely hate to lose.

"You know, we could have just taken the bus, aru" Ku Fei pointed out when they finally arrived.

"We're here aren't we?" Ranma answered, before noticing a small crowd of people she recognized up ahead.

"Ranma, Ku Fei, you're both entering too?" Negi asked, sounding panicked. "At this rate I'm not going to finish anywhere close to a good place."

"Don't give up before you've even started," Kotaro berated him.

As for Ranma, she was actually thinking Negi might have a point if Takahata and Evangeline were there to do more than watch. Okay, maybe Evangeline wouldn't be at full power out here, but if Takahata-sensei was involved, Ranma wouldn't consider it surprising at all if she lost. Even so, win or lose, she wasn't going down without a fight.

"It really is nice to have us all here together as a family again," Kasumi declared cheerfully.

Akane had to agree with her sister. She may not remember more than one or two of the trips very well, since they'd stopped going when her mother had died, but having the whole family attend the Mahora Festival like they used to do every year was a lot of fun. They'd been all over the place today trying different events and games, with even her father and Nabiki seeming to just let go and enjoy themselves. And her father had even pulled Nabiki and her out of classes at Furinkan so they could go for the whole three days.

"Oh, the tournament I signed up for," Akane declared realizing it was getting late. "It's almost time for it to start."

"Geez, Akane," Nabiki said. "Even when we're out here having fun you can't think of anything but martial arts, can you?"

"Hey, it's just one little tournament," Akane said. "I thought it'd be fun to see what the fighters are like around here."

Leading them on, she returned to the area where she'd signed up, only to see a notice that it was being moved to a new location.

"That's a good distance from here," Nabiki complained. "Can't we just forget about it and go do something else?"

"Now, now, Nabiki," their father said. "The art is very important to Akane. Besides, there's still two days left. Plenty of time for other entertainment."

"Yes, we should support Akane," Kasumi agreed.

"Fine," Nabiki consented. "Let's get it over with."

Following the directions on the poster, they soon arrived at the new location, seeing a rather large crowd of people already gathered. Akane was actually getting a bit nervous now. She'd won her share of tournaments, but she'd never seen anything like this before.

"Forget what I said before, you are definitely entering this," Nabiki declared eagerly, and Akane wondered what had caused her sudden change in attitude only to see her almost drooling over a sign that announced a ten million yen prize for the winner. Akane actually couldn't blame her for her behavior this time. That was huge!

Well, ignoring her nerves, Akane signed herself up for the tournament just in time for a girl about her own age to get up on stage and begin explaining the details. Although Akane was having a little trouble figuring out if she was serious or not. Some of what she was saying didn't even make sense.

"What's this inner world/outer world thing?" Nabiki asked, showing that Akane wasn't the only one confused by the speech.

"You know, maybe this tournament isn't such a good idea after all," Kasumi then said.

"Nonsense," their father said. "It's just showmanship is all. Trying to get the crowd interested. This is a martial arts tournament, and I'm sure Akane can handle herself just fine."

Her father's confidence in her firmed her resolve. If he thought she could handle herself here, then she probably could. He was probably experienced enough to tell the strength of the crowd from a glance or something. So after her group was decided for the preliminaries, Akane made her way to the correct arena, but had another shot of nerves when she saw the opponents she'd be fighting. Some of the guys in the arena were huge!

She was pulled away from her thoughts by laughter, and assumed they were making fun of her only to see it was actually directed at a young boy making his way to the ring. Even when they tried to talk him out of joining the battle royal, he still insisted on entering. Well, if a kid like that was brave enough to fight in this, there was no way Akane would back out now. Still, she hoped the kid didn't actually get hurt.

Anyway, once the match started, she had to worry about herself. Most of the fighters immediately went for each other, but one of them, a boy a few years older than her was charging her way. Slipping around his attack, she grabbed his arm and tossed him out of the ring. That had been easier than she'd expected.

Taking the offensive this time, she charged two fighters that were going at it too close to the edge for their own good. One of them saw her coming and turned from his opponent to run at her, but Akane parried his blow then hit him with a palm thrust into his chest that sent him flying back into the dumbstruck guy he'd been fighting, causing them to both topple out of the ring.

Turning around she saw a grown man running at her, probably planning to shove her out of the ring like she'd just done to those two, but she dropped to her knees, ducking right under his attempted shove before jumping back up in an uppercut that sent him a couple of feet into the air before he collapsed to the ground unconscious. Akane was really starting to get her confidence back. These guys weren't so tough after all.

"Wow, is that Anything Goes?" the boy from earlier asked her, causing Akane to get in a defensive stance when she realized how close he'd gotten.

"Yeah, you've heard of it?" she asked, a bit surprised that an obviously foreign boy like him would have heard of her family's style.

"That's actually my style too," he answered, which was even harder to believe. "Anyway, my name is Negi Springfield. If you don't mind, I kind of want to test how I compare using just my martial arts."

Well, what else would he use besides martial arts?

"I'm Tendo Akane," she told him, since he'd given his own name. "And I'll fight you if you want, but I won't let you win just because you're a kid."

And she wouldn't but that didn't mean she was going to go all out against him either. She'd let him get the first attack and see how good it was before she did anything. And he did attack, with much greater speed then she expected, she barely managed to block his first attack, and had to quickly get some space to recover when he continued to press her defenses.

Believe it or not, this kid was easily her strongest opponent yet. She'd figured he was only still in it because no one wanted to pick on him, but now she thought he might just have fought his way through an opponent or two himself. Not underestimating him this time, Akane was ready for his next attack, and while Negi was skilled, she quickly got the upper hand and started pushing him back. She didn't want to hurt someone so young, so she'd probably just force him out of the ring as gently as she could.

As she pressed him closer to her goal, she realized he'd been telling the truth about Anything Goes. There were significant differences in their styles, but some of those moves were clearly part of her school.

"Wow, you really are better than me," Negi told her. "I guess I've still got a lot to learn."

"You should be proud though," she encouraged him. "You're very good for your age. You're going to be quite the martial artist someday."

"Thanks, and I'm sorry for this," he told her. "I really didn't want to use this against you, but I can't afford to lose here."

It was kind of cute that the kid thought whatever trick he was still hiding would be enough to beat her, but her eyes bulged when he suddenly moved far faster than before. Akane hadn't got a defense up at all when a palm strike hit her midsection, much like she'd done to her first opponent but with even more force. She'd pushed Negi almost back to the edge, but now found herself flying backwards all the way across the ring and going out on the other side before landing hard on the ground.

It took her a few seconds just to catch her breath and clear her head, but when she did she slammed her fist into the ground in frustration. How had he gotten so much stronger all of a sudden? Had he been holding back? But he made it sound like it was some kind of trick. Well, whatever it was, she was thoroughly humiliated now. Losing to someone that much younger than her.

Getting back to her feet, she saw that Negi had finished up, being one of the two remaining fighters from there block to advance to the main tournament. The boy then immediately ran over to her.

"Are you alright?" Negi asked.

"Fine," Akane insisted a bit irritably, even though to be honest she was still a little shaken up. "Well, since you eliminated me, you better win this thing. You're the one carrying on the honor of the Anything Goes school now."

She really did want him to win, but mostly because it would be a lot less embarrassing to lose to a kid that couldn't be much more than ten if he beat the rest of the competition too. Hopefully that speech would motivate him a bit to actually do that.

"I'll do my best," Negi said firmly, giving Akane hope her little pep talk had worked. "Oh, but I'm not the only one carrying on the school's honor. Ranma, the one who taught me Anything Goes is in the tournament too, and she's much better at martial arts than I am. I can't even hit her when we spar."

Wow, there was someone that much better than him? That was a bit of a scary thought. Akane just hoped this Ranma at least was old enough that she wouldn't feel so humiliating to be outdone by her. She was interested to ask more, but saw her family approaching and decided to break away. They'd be hard enough to face without Negi right there.

"Well, that's my family, I should let them know I'm okay," she said quickly, darting off to the group in question and leaving Negi behind.

"Way to lose to a six-year-old brat," Nabiki quipped as soon as she'd reached them. "So much for that prize money."

"Hey, he was a lot older than six," Akane fired back, cheeks flushing nonetheless.

"You shouldn't feel too bad," Kasumi told her. "It was hardly a fair fight. It looked like you were the better martial artist to me."

What was Kasumi talking about? Negi had mentioned a trick too. Had he cheated somehow and Kasumi had caught him?

"Dad, did you see Negi use any sort of underhanded trick or something?" Akane asked.

"No," he admitted. "I mean unless you consider holding back his true strength to catch you unprepared a trick."

That was probably all Negi had meant after all. He'd wanted to beat her with skill but had to resort to the amazing speed and strength he'd been holding back. After all, Kasumi had never even taken any serious martial arts lessons. There was no way she'd have noticed something her father wouldn't have. Her sister was just trying to cheer her up.

"I would like to talk to that boy though," her father then continued. "I'm interested to hear where he learned Anything Goes."

"You used to train students," Nabiki reminded him. "One of them probably taught some of it to their kid or something."

"No, that was definitely the Saotome School," he corrected. "My old training partner Genma must have taken up students, and I'm eager to hear how he's doing these days."

"Actually, he said the one who trained him was named Ranma," Akane informed her dad. "Oh, and Ranma is supposed to be participating in this tournament too. "

"Ranma is here?" he asked, suddenly becoming about as excited as she'd seen him in ages. "This is incredible news. And if Genma's son is here, my old friend himself can't be far."

"Wait, son?" Akane asked in confusion. "This must be a different Ranma, because Negi said the one training him was a girl."

"Another Ranma that practices a specific school of a tiny little style like ours?" Nabiki asked skeptically. "I think dad just needs to get his facts straight. I've never even met this Genma, have any of you?"

Akane shook her head at her sister's question, but Kasumi actually thought about it for a bit. "Saotome … Saotome … that does sound familiar, but I can't quite remember from where."

"Well, it's been a very long time," their father admitted. "But I know he'd said he had a son named Ranma."

"You're a hundred percent positive of that?" Nabiki pressed him.

He then began to furrow is brows as if deep in thought. "I supposed it's possible that this was before Ranma was born. And doctors do sometimes make mistakes about the sex of the child."

"There you have," Nabiki said smugly. "I'd wager money this is Genma's child after all."

Her father practically wilted at that as if all his former excitement had been turned into depression.

"What are you getting so worked up about?" Akane asked him. "Why do you even care whether he has a son or a daughter?"

"Well, I suppose I can tell you girls since it doesn't even matter now," he answered. "But before any of you were born, Genma and I made a promise that one day our children would marry and unite the schools."

"What?!" Akane yelled out, before lowering her voice when she saw the attention she was getting from those around them. "How can you make a promise like that?"

"Calm down, Akane," Nabiki told her. "Like dad said, it doesn't even matter now. Ranma's a girl too."

"That probably explains why Genma hasn't contacted me in so long," her dad said. "He was probably devastated that he couldn't fulfill the pledge after talking about his son. But even without the marriage aspect, I'd still like to see him again. We should find this Ranma and ask her about him."

"Then we might want to look for that Negi boy first," Kasumi suggested, "and ask him to introduce us."

"You want to find a short brat like him after he disappeared into this crowd?" Nabiki complained. "We should just wait until tomorrow when he fights in the main tournament."

"You do know that actually means coming tomorrow morning right?" Akane asked, curious since her sister hadn't even wanted to come to this in the first place.

"I'm interested now," she explained. "And not just because of the money. I tested it out, and they really are jamming the ability to take pictures. Neither my camera nor my phone worked. I didn't even know that kind of technology existed. I don't know if they're hiding something or just want a monopoly on the pictures so they can sell them at exorbitant prices, but either way, I'm going to see if I can get around their jamming tomorrow."

"Well, I suppose it can wait until tomorrow," their father declared a bit reluctantly. "It will be a bittersweet reunion given the circumstances anyway."

As for Akane, she was more interested in meeting Ranma than her father. None of her friends really understood her interest in martial arts. It could be nice to meet another girl that was not just another martial artist, but even practiced the same style. And if their fathers knew each other so well, maybe they could even become friends.

Ranma got into the arena for her preliminary match. There was only one person she recognized in there with her, Gotokuji. The other martial artist was easy to spot considering he was still sporting that ridiculous pompadour hairstyle. Well, since two people could make it to the finals from each group, Ranma figured she could let him have the other spot, and as soon as the signal was given for them to start, she went to work knocking out the rest of their competitors as quickly as she could.

In quick work, they were down to the last handful of fighters, when a flash of light out of the corner of Ranma's eye made her turn just in time to see a ball of light streaking toward not. Not having time to dodge, Ranma just braced herself as well as she could. She absorbed the impact of the blast without injury but was flung backwards from the force of it. Realizing she wasn't too far from the edge, Ranma did her best to slow her progress and was just starting to feel relief as she slowed to a crawl when she felt the back of her feet go over the edge.

Was it fate after all that she would lose here in the preliminaries because she'd gotten overconfident? A moment later she stopped, but was teetering on just the tip of her toes and wasn't sure how she'd stop herself from going the rest of the way over. But with an extra burst of determination, Ranma put everything she had into maintaining her precarious hold on the ring, managing to throw herself forward without slipping and landing on her hands and knees inside.

Having a moment now to assess her attacker, she realized it was none other than Gotokuji that had attacked her. And here she was planning to be nice and let him into the finals. The older boy was already preparing another of those ki blasts since the first had failed, but Ranma jumped back to her feet and sprinted in, not about to let him. Ranma, being quicker, closed the distance and knocked his arms apart before he could complete the blast, then ignored finesse for a moment to grab him by the front of the shirt and slam him into the ground, hard.

That might have been a neat technique, but he'd need to learn to get it off faster if he was going to leave himself that defenseless. He was easier than usual to take out like that. Still, she looked at the fallen boy to see if he would try anything else, but instead he held up his hands in surrender.

"No, no, I'm not getting up again from that," he assured her. "You're as unstoppable as always."

Seeing that she'd just been declared one of the two winners of her group, Ranma relaxed and decided to have a little chat with the backstabber in front of her.

"A ki-blast, huh?" Ranma asked, a bit jealous he'd developed one first. "You've been holding out on me."

"Can it really be called holding out after how long it's been since you last showed up?" he asked.

"I've been busy," Ranma said, trying to make that sound like an apology without actually apologizing. "But if you'd told me about something like this, I'd have definitely made time to show up. So why didn't you tell me?"

"Because you were right, I was holding out on you," he answered. "I'm a martial artist too. I just wanted to beat you, if only once. I guess I'll just have to stick for rooting for you in the main tournament instead."

Wanted to beat her, huh? Well, Ranma could certainly understand and respect that. "You need me to get someone to look you over or something?"

"No, I'll be fine, just let me rest here for a bit," Gotokuji told her.

"Sure, sure," Ranma answered, leaving to go see how everyone else did.

Well, looked like Ranma had changed her fate after all. She hadn't lost and the main tournament wasn't until tomorrow morning. Moving over to where her classmates seemed to be gathering, Ranma waited for a bit while more of them filed in.

"Hey, Ranma," Negi said excitedly. "I won. And I even beat another Anything Goes practitioner. Do you know a Tendo Akane?"

"Tendo Akane?" Ranma said, thinking it over briefly. "Doesn't even sound familiar."

Ranma didn't even know anyone else besides her father practiced, but if it was the Saotome School of Anything Goes then it only made sense there would be other schools if nothing else.

"Well, congratulations everyone," Asuna then said as she and Setsuna approached. "It looks like all of us made it through."

Ranma was actually a bit disappointed by one particular pair, since both Takahata and Evangeline were present. When she'd seen they were both in the same group, she was kind of hoping one would take the other out right here in the preliminaries, but it looked like they'd played nice.

"Well, it seems all the winners have been decided," Asakura then announced. "So let me announce the results of the drawings for tomorrow's tournament."

Ranma's eyes moved to the display that had just been put up next to Asakura, looking over the matchups and grinning. Looks like she'd get the fight she wanted after all. She was up against Ku-Fei in the very first match tomorrow.

"Oh, we get to fight in the first round," Ku Fei told her cheerfully. "Although it looks pretty impossible after that."

Ranma wondered just what she meant. Their half of the bracket didn't look that bad. Her classmates Kaede and Mana were the only two names she recognized … wait … did someone really put down Colonel Sanders as their name? Well, anyway, the important thing is that both Evangeline and Takahata-sensei were in the other half of the bracket.

Ranma did notice one other fact though that would explain why Negi had gone so stiff all of a sudden. He was matched up against Takahata in the first round.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how you've grown, Negi-kun," Takahata told the boy.

Well, with the schedule announced, Ranma decided it was best to head out. She had the first match at eight in the morning so she'd want to get in early so she could get here on time without having to rush. Besides, she'd stuffed a few extra hours into the day, so she was getting a bit tired. Well, having made up her mind to skip the end of day party, Ranma started back to the dorms, only to be chased down and stopped by Setsuna a short way off.

"Ah, Ranma," she called out. "Good luck in the tournament tomorrow."

"You too," Ranma said. "Although I doubt you'll have much trouble in the first round, going against your own student and all."

"Well, you never know," Setsuna said humbly. "Asuna is a good student. She could surprise me."

"Not likely," Ranma said with a snort. Asuna was really just a novice when it came to fighting. Some strength, but no real technique. Kind of like a gorilla, really.

"Anyway, I just wanted to apologize again for everything from before," she said. "The way you shooed us off so quickly, I was afraid you might be upset, but I wanted to assure you we didn't do anything weird."

"Huh?" Ranma asked in confusion.

"Oh, sorry, that's right," she said blushing a bit. "It's really odd being out of sync like this."

"Wait, do you know about the time travel?" Ranma asked.

"Yes, but forget I said anything for now," Setsuna answered. "I'm not sure how much you're supposed to talk about in a case like this."

"Believe me, I know," Ranma sympathized. "It's confusing stuff, isn't it?"

"Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow, and earlier today too," Setsuna told her. "And again, good luck."

Well, time travel made for some amusing conversations if nothing else. Ranma wondered if she should head back now and see what Setsuna was talking about, but decided against it. She was eager for her match with Ku Fei and didn't want to put that off. So instead, she went back to the dorms and turned in. Ranma wondered if Chao would want to discuss the device but if she returned to their room at all that night, she was gone before Ranma woke up.

Anyway, after she'd gotten around and finished her preparations, Ranma was about the head to the arena when she found Ayaka rushing up to her door.

"You have to switch shifts with me right now!" she demanded. "I just found out Negi is fighting in a tournament this morning, and I simply must be there to cheer him on."

"You do know I'm in that tournament too, right?" Ranma asked.

"That doesn't matter," she insisted. "We had a deal, and I won't let you get out of it. Besides, you shouldn't want to pick on poor Negi-kun in a fight anyway."

"Actually, you know what, fine," Ranma agreed. "You're right. I made a promise, so I'll take your shift."

"Excellent, now I must be off," she said eagerly as she ran off.

Good thing she had a time machine for this. Still, Ranma was too excited about the tournament to put that off. She'd go back and cover Ayaka's shift later. So without further delay, she hurried to the arena arriving a bit early, only to bump into Chao on her way in.

"Oh good, there you are," Chao said. "I was hoping to talk to you before the match."

"I haven't made up my mind yet," Ranma told her quickly. Honestly, she hadn't been giving it as much thought as she probably should. She almost felt a bit guilty that Chao had given her this thing and she was just off doing her own things instead of actually making a decision like she'd asked.

"That's fine," Chao said waving her off. "It's not what this was about anyway. I just wanted to confirm you were planning to keep to martial arts when fighting Ku Fei."

"That's right, why?" Ranma asked.

"Because I thought you might be interested in a little bit of my knowledge of the future," Chao answered. "Because I happen to know that in the first match between you and Ku Fei, you lost."

"Well, it's a good thing you've changed the past then," Ranma replied. "Because I don't plan to repeat that, if you're even telling the truth."

"Oh, don't get me wrong," Chao said. "I can't guarantee the same thing will happen this time. Your match wasn't in a big tournament like this, and you never know what will happen in the heat of battle. Still, it's my understanding that you put up a good fight, but were pretty obviously outmatched."

"Now I know you're lying," Ranma insisted stubbornly. Losing was one thing, but she refused to believe that Ku Fei was significantly better than her after all the hard work she'd put in over the years.

"Is it that hard to believe?" Chao asked her. "You've basically been training yourself for the last four years, right? That's hardly the best way to learn."

"Takahata-sensei has helped train me," Ranma pointed out.

"Not very often, and not seriously even when he does," Chao countered, a point Ranma couldn't really argue. Even if she was from the future, sometimes it was almost eerie how many details she knew about what happened on campus. Was she spying on everyone or something?

"Well, I'll find a way to win," Ranma vowed. "What good am I if after all my hard work I'm not even strong enough to beat my own classmate in a fight?"

"I never said you weren't strong enough. After all, you just told me you were planning to hold back."

"Wait, are you saying you want me to use magic in our match?" Ranma asked.

"If you want to win, you might have to," Chao answered.

"No way," Ranma declared firmly. "Ku Fei doesn't even know any magic. I want this to be a fair match between martial artists."

"The rules always allowed magic," Chao pointed out. "She knows you could use it, so it would still be a fair fight."

Ranma still didn't like anything about the idea.

"Here, just take this," Chao said, holding out what appeared to be a plain silver colored bracelet of some sort. "It'll work as a focus for your magic. You don't have to use it if you don't want to. It doesn't hurt to wear it though. Even if not during the tournament, you never know when it will come in handy."

Ranma was still skeptical, but with Chao continuing to all but shove it in her face she soon relented and took the bracelet. After all, this could be another situation like when she was captured in Kyoto where it would get her out of some jam only Chao knew was coming. Slipping it around her left wrist, Ranma found she could snap the piece of metal shut, letting it rest there snugly.

"Great, now that that's settled I'll have to wish you luck," Chao said. "But this is my limit for playing favorites. Don't expect any unfair rulings from the sponsor just because I like you. Use incantations or break any other rules and you're out. Ku Fei is a close friend of mine too after all. "

That was true. Despite being roommates, Chao was clearly closer to Ku Fei than to Ranma. So why was Chao helping her like this? She must really want to win her over for that plan of hers. But then, why was she recruiting Ranma instead of Ku Fei? If the other girl was such a great martial artist, couldn't she do whatever it was Chao wanted Ranma for? Unless she was secretly trying to recruit Ku Fei as well.

Seeing the other girl walking into the tournament grounds, Ranma decided to ask her directly. Still needed to keep it subtle, though.

"Hey, Ku Fei," she called out. "Chao isn't trying to recruit you for anything, is she?"

"Why?" Ku Fei asked. "Does she need another test subject for a new meat bun recipe? Tell her I'm not doing it until after the tournament."

Well, Ranma doubted the baka ranger in front of her could have hid it from her if Chao had been trying to bring her into her plot. So she didn't have an answer yet. But she'd think about it another time. For now, she had a fight to win.

"So, why aren't we trying to find Ranma?" Nabiki asked, as they took their seats. "She's in the main tournament too. Probably would be easy to find just asking around."

"We shouldn't distract her before the tournament," Akane answered. "Besides, I want a chance to see her in action before we meet, so I'll have something to talk about."

"Fine, fine," Nabiki said, pulling out a strange contraption, which Akane realized a moment later was her camera wrapped up in some kind of metal mesh box.

"What is that?" Akane asked in confusion.

"It's a Faraday cage," Nabiki answered. "I'm hoping it will block out whatever interference prevented me from using my camera the other day."

Aiming the contraption at the arena, Nabiki immediately looked troubled. "No, no, no! You can't do this to me!"

"I take it that it didn't work," Akane said.

"I didn't even get a chance to check. The battery died," Nabiki complained. "I was sure I'd charged it too. And I don't even have the tools with me to set up another camera in there. Although, maybe I can put your muscles to use. Think you could pry open this mesh enough to shove my phone inside?"

"I could try," Akane answered.

Only her sister became even more agitated after pulling out her phone. "No way! My phone's battery is dead too. I plug these in every night. Maybe one of them had a loose connection, but both?"

"Maybe there was something wrong with the outlet," Kasumi suggested. "I'll check the breaker when we get home."

"Forget that, just let me borrow your phone for now," Nabiki urged.

"Oh my," Kasumi answered. "It seems I left it at home."

"Don't look at me," Akane told her before even being asked. "If it's your phone, that's one thing, but I'm not trying to force my phone through a hole in that cage."

And since their father never even saw the need to get a cell phone, Nabiki was out of options. "Just perfect," she complained. "What else can go wrong?"

"It's not so bad," their father told her. "No need to worry about pictures. Just sit back and enjoy the show."

"So, do you think Ranma can win it all?" Akane asked.

"She won't even get past the first round," came a voice from behind Akane, so she turned to see a high school boy sitting. "Her opponent is Ku Fei, the defending champion in the fall tournament and strongest fighter on campus."

Akane didn't realize she'd be going against an opponent like that. Hopefully she wouldn't be in too bad of a mood even if she lost early on. But apparently the first boy's opinion didn't sit well with the boy next to him.

"No way!" she only won that because Ranma wasn't participating. "I don't think Ranma has ever lost a fight, and she's not going to start now."

"Master Ku hasn't lost a fight either!" a third boy shouted, standing up from his seat. "She's the leader of the Chinese Martial Arts Research Society and has a skill far beyond anyone else."

"Well, Ranma carries the honor of Japanese martial arts," yet another boy declared. "She won't lose when representing the pride of our nation."

More and more high schoolers seem to stream in from the stands around them to join in on side of the debate or the other and it looked like a fight was about to break out at any moment until one of them yelled out loudly enough to be heard over the uproar.

"Quiet!" the match is starting.

Realizing this was the case, they all rushed back to their seats, the whole fight just forgotten. Well, Akane couldn't blame them. After hearing both competitors talked up she was more eager than ever to see this match. The two competitors were on the field, and Akane was a bit surprised to see that both of them were girls around her own age. She figured the blonde was Ku Fei given her Chinese style clothing, which meant the more plainly dressed redhead would be Ranma.

This was confirmed quickly enough when they started fighting as Akane was able to recognize the Anything Goes style she was using, but even that hardly registered in her awe at the fight in front of her. Both competitors were fighting far beyond the level Akane was capable of. She should probably find it depressing how much her own skills paled in comparison, but she was too enraptured in the fight in front of her to give it much thought right now.

The speed and skill at which they both fought was such that despite her best efforts to try to pick up some new ideas to try herself, she missed more than half of what was even happening.

"Ranma's really good, isn't she?" Akane said.

"Yes, Genma has trained her well," her father answered. "Pity she's losing though."

"What?" Akane said. "They look pretty evenly matched to me."

The blows went back and forth, but so far, there hadn't been any significant blows landed by either of them, so she didn't know what her father was talking about.

"Yes, but only because this Ku Fei girl isn't trying to finish it," he explained. "She's creating openings and then just backing off. I don't know if she's toying with her or what, but there were half a dozen times she could have broken through Ranma's guard if she wanted."

"So Ranma doesn't stand a chance?" Akane asked.

"Well, I wouldn't go that far," her father said thoughtfully. "It looks bad, but Genma was always a devious opponent. I'm sure he's taught Ranma a few tricks too."

Akane hoped so. She may not know either of the fighters, but it was hard not to root for Ranma just for the sake of pride in her style. Akane only wondered what kind of tricks she might have.

Ranma's confidence may not have been as solid as she'd tried to pretend it was after what Chao had said, but this was worse than she expected. In terms of physical speed and strength, they were fairly evenly matched. In a lot of ways, you could say they were on the same level. If there was one thing Ranma had to put down as the reason she was doing so poorly, it was experience.

Other than the big brawl with the demons in Kyoto, Takahata was really the only high level fighter she'd ever fought since she'd last trained with her father. Even then, he really just used one trick and simply overwhelmed her with it. In her head, she knew what she needed to do, but her reactions to the wide variety of moves from Ku Fei coming at such high speeds were a bit too hesitant and slow.

Her only saving grace was that Ku Fei had chosen not to exploit Ranma's weakness in that regard, and if she lacked experience, well, she was getting it in spades now. Ranma's mind was hard at work learning and sharpening itself, and she could feel the gap between them closing as they fought. But it wouldn't be enough. There was a time limit on this fight, and even if Ku Fei was content to toy with her the whole time, she wouldn't come close to matching her before it went to a decision.

"This is a lot of fun," Ku Fei told her, even as she let another opportunity go, when Ranma committed too strongly to a feint. "You're a really good fighter, aru."

Hearing her say that when she was in control of the fight almost made Ranma feel like she was being made fun of. Glancing down at her wrist, Ranma was for the first time tempted to make use of her new bracelet, but quickly firmed her resolve. It was too soon to be giving up on her martial arts. Ku Fei may be more experienced, but perhaps she could use that experience against her. Her opponent wasn't aware that Ranma wasn't quite human.

How well would those highly honed reflexes of hers do when her adversary started pulling off moves a human shouldn't be able to maintain their balance through? Putting her plan in motion, she started deliberately choosing attacks and defenses that were as difficult as possible to pull off. Meanwhile, she was focusing her mind as tightly as she could on speeding her reactions and avoiding the mistakes that had been plaguing her so far.

It wasn't as if the tail was that big of a counter-weight, but a fighter of Ku Fei's caliber knew to the centimeter what sort of balancing acts the body was capable of, and in a fight this precise, every centimeter off you were from where your opponent expected you could be a rather large advantage.

Sure enough, she saw some confusion on Ku Fei's face as Ranma pulled off some particularly acrobatic dodges, and even a little hesitancy in some of her responses after she'd strung a few of them together. But Ranma needed to turn that advantage into something material, and a moment later, she saw what just might be a chance.

Ku Fei was trying to counter Ranma's own attack, giving her the choice between a trade of blows that wasn't in Ranma's favor or abandoning her attack and going back on the defensive. But Ranma was going to pick a third option: leaning her body to the right while keeping her feet planted where they were. Ranma did her best to make it look like she was planning to fall the ground and then lash out with a kick, maybe to try to sweep Ku Fei's legs out or something, and she could already see her opponent preparing to defend against an attack like that.

And for a moment, Ranma thought she was going to fall, whatever she intended. She'd know even when she went into this that she might be pushing it a bit too far this time, but it was worth risking an embarrassing spill for this chance. And somehow, even as Ku Fei's fist grazed her left shoulder, Ranma switched direction, flinging her body back toward Ku Fei and putting all the strength she could into a punch she landed on the side of her ribs.

The force of the blow lifted her into the air, but she landed gracefully a few meters away before rubbing the spot she'd been hit with a wince. Meanwhile she heard Gotokuji commenting on the exchange to crowd.

"That's contestant Ranma showing off her unmatchable balance," he announced. "More than a few have been confused by her seemingly impossible movements, and it appears she's used them to turn this match in her favor."

"You're even better than I thought," Ku Fei then told Ranma. "I don't even know how you managed that, but it certainly hurt. It looks like I'll have to go all out if I want to win this."

Now it was going to get rough, but Ranma charged back in anyway, hoping that hit she'd got in might slow the Chinese martial artist. But if it did, she didn't show it at all as she met Ranma charge with one of her own. Worse yet, she'd come up with a pretty effective strategy at limiting Ranma's ability to confuse her with unorthodox dodging. She was pushing in as close as she could get short of actually grappling and striking from a range where Ranma simply didn't have time to dodge.

Having to somehow block each and every blows all but eliminated the one real advantage she'd been able to get, and Ku Fei wasn't passing up any chances to strike this time as several made it past her guard, giving Ranma a few bruises of her own, even if none of the hits were as solid as the one Ranma had landed on Ku Fei.

Well, Ranma wasn't about to just let her have her way with this fight. Since this range didn't work for her, she'd just have to get more space. Blocking one of Ku Fei's punches, she used its force for an extra little momentum and jumped backwards, but when she was barely a meter away, a piece of cloth wrapped around her wrist. Ranma cursed herself for being caught off guard like that as her opponent pulled her back in, but she'd never expected that cloth dangling from the back of her outfit was anything but decoration.

Ranma sacrificed her defense, and took a painful kick across her back in exchange for ripping her arm free from the cloth, then immediately went into instant movement, determined to get some space this time. Ku Fei tried to pursue, but Ranma used her experience chasing Takahata-sensei around to her advantage, escaping with another instant movement that got her safely away. Still, Ranma wasn't content to simply stand out here, and used instant movement again, but this time directly at Ku Fei.

Sure enough, she wasn't expecting the sudden change from hunter to hunted and Ranma got a quick hit in on the same ribs she'd punished before, hoping for maximum impact. Then she again fled with instant movement. This might actually be her chance. Chasing people around with instant movement seemed one area Ranma had a clear advantage, so maybe some hit and run tactics were the way to go.

Ku Fei tried to chase Ranma down again, and this time there was a good little chase around the arena, but Ranma came out on top again, losing her pursuer only to dart in. Ranma attacked from Ku Fei's right side this time, going for her yet uninjured ribs as she didn't want to be too predictable. The blow didn't have as much power as she'd like behind it, because couldn't afford to commit too heavily if she wanted to get away, but Ku Fei would certainly feel it.

Besides, the damage would add up over time if it kept working this well. Ranma did manage to escape again, but this time, the Chinese martial artist didn't even pursue her. Well then, Ranma would just have to make the first move herself, putting together a string of instant movements, she sped around the arena to throw the other fighter off before charging in for the attack, only to be hit mid hit in the midsection and brought up short mid move.

Several more blows rained down creating welts on Ranma's arms as she blocked them, and Ranma realized it was that piece of cloth again. Ku Fei had hardened it with her ki so it felt like iron. Ranma wanted to kick herself for falling for that. Of course it would be easier to follow her movements if she was just standing there watching instead of trying to catch her. She would have easily seen that attack coming.

And now, while Ranma was still trying to recover, Ku Fei used instant movement herself and was right back in Ranma's face going at her with her fists. No matter how Ranma looked at it, this was bad. She was out of clever ideas, and she knew her odds of winning were very slim if things stayed as they were. Again she couldn't help but think of the bracelet on her wrist. And even more firmly she refused to consider it this time.

Maybe she was going to lose here, but she'd do it as a martial artist. And until the match was over, she was going to put everything she had into finding a way to win. But first she needed to get some distance again and buy some time to think. It was hard to come up with anything when it took all her effort to avoid being thrashed by the aggressive in-your-face assault Ku Fei was continuing to put up.

But the girl was relentless, not giving her any opening to get away, and Ranma arms were starting to feel like two giant bruises from all blocking she was doing. Finally, just when she was beginning to despair she wouldn't get one at all, she saw and opening and used instant movement to jump to the edge of the arena preparing to launch into another one to ensure she got away only to feel her ankle wrapped in that cloth.

Gah, it had been a trap! Ku Fei had given her that opening on purpose, knowing there wasn't enough room in the arena in that direction for her to get out of range that stupid cloth. Now Ranma found herself flying through the air as she was pulled back toward Ku Fei, only to be slammed down hard on the walkway leading to the arena.

Ku Fei had pulled the cloth free right before she landed, and now seemed content to let Asakura begin the count for the ring out as Ranma lay there. Ranma quickly took stock of her situation. She was hurting, but still more than capable of continuing the fight. Still, if Ku Fei was going to let the count go on, it would give Ranma a short while at least to gather her thoughts.

"Get up Ranma!" she heard Negi call out from a short distance away. "I know you can still win it."

"Yeah, it's not over yet! You can do it!" Konoka then added, before elbowing Setsuna. "You cheer Ranma on too, Secchan."

"Uh, do your best," Setsuna said, if far less energetically than the other two.

Heh, looked like she had her own little cheering section, but it wasn't necessary. She was going to get up, she just wasn't going back in just yet. The slow count Asakura was giving was only up to four.

"Don't waste your time," Evangeline then said. "It's clear how this is going to end, since Ranma doesn't even want to win. She'd rather just play around. And believe me, she will be punished for ignoring my training like that."

Ranma really hated that stupid vampire. She wasn't just playing around. Just because she refused to fight the way Takahata-sensei, the dean, Evangeline, Chao, and just about everyone else seemed to want her to, didn't mean she wasn't serious. She'd wanted to see how she compared to Ku as a martial artist. And, well, apparently she fell a little short.

And saying she didn't want to win was even more absurd. Of course she wanted to win. It was driving Ranma crazy that she was losing this thing. And, well, maybe she was being a bit stubborn about just how she won, but her opponent only had her martial arts. It felt wrong not to fight her on even ground. Still, she couldn't remember the last fight she wanted to win this badly. Well, Ranma supposed there was only one thing to do.

Standing up and walking back into the ring at the count of nine, Ranma charged her magic and shot out a fire based evocatio spell. It was the most basic attack spell she knew, but the only one she could cast without an incantation. Watching it fire harmlessly straight up into the air, she then spoke to Ku Fei.

"I'll admit that for today I've lost to you as a martial artist," she said, barely able to spit those words out. "But I don't plan to lose the match. That's a little preview of what I can do. Consider it a payment for going easy on me at the start of the fight."

"Well, thanks you for that," Ku Fei said gratefully. "This is going to be hard enough as it is if that's how it's going to be now."

The crowd was probably getting restless now since they wouldn't be able to hear what they were chatting about, but Ranma wouldn't make the wait any longer. Using instant movement, Ranma went straight for Ku Fei, accepting the blow from the hardened cloth she knew would be coming, ignoring it to dart out quickly with her left hand and grab it before her opponent could pull it back. Then Ranma thrust forward her right hand and shot out another evocatio attack, ripping through the cloth right in the middle and leaving the remaining two halves in flames.

"What an amazing ki attack!" Gotokuji announced to the crowd as Ku Fei and Ranma each dropped their still burning halves of the cloth. "I've heard rumors of ki being able to manipulate the elements to some degree, but I've never seen anything like this in person."

It might be hard to explain it away to the older boy later, but that was problem for another time. Ranma may have robbed Ku Fei of that annoying weapon, but there was plenty of fight left in her. So with her now making use of magic in the fight, Ranma decided to really put it to work, rapidly thrusting her right palm out again and again, sending attack after attack after Ku Fei, who ducked dodged, and rolled around to avoid the fireballs.

Thrusting her palm out again, Ranma had Ku Fei already diving to her right to avoid the attack that was about to come, only this time nothing did. At least from that hand. Instead it shot out from the fist of her left hand, which had been casually pointing in the direction Ku Fei was now dodging in. There was no need for her to thrust her palm out like that, but she'd tricked her opponent into thinking there was, and now she had no way to dodge the real attack.

She did manage to get her arms up to block it, but gave out a cry of shock as she had to quickly put out her burning sleeves. Which gave Ranma the perfect opportunity to go back to physical attacks, as she hit Ku Fei with a flying kick that sent her tumbling backwards. It might be best to avoid using fire from here on out anyway, unless she wanted to burn off all of Ku Fei's clothes off. Just knowing that Ranma hands were capable of sending out attacks like that should be enough to throw the Chinese martial artist off her game anyway.

Besides, if she was using magic, that left her with a very huge advantage if she stuck to hand to hand combat. That was the fact that she now had a barrier up to protect her from attacks. So when she chased Ku Fei down and attacked her again as soon as she recovered from the kick and finished putting out the last of the embers on her clothing, she started worrying a lot less about defense, letting as many of Ku Fei's attacks through as she wanted as long as Ranma could get in a hit of her own in exchange.

It must have been quite the change for audience, as instead of a match of dodging and blocking, both of them were landing hit after hit on each other in rapid succession. But with Ranma's barriers combined with the toughness she'd built up, she was taking very little damage, while it was starting to add up on Ku Fei. Ranma could see the other girl slowing and weakening as it was getting to the point where even simple movements seemed to pain her.

Ranma was actually starting to worry she'd seriously injure her classmate, but Ku Fei was stubbornly refusing to go down. Hoping to end this without too much further damage, Ranma took advantage of an opening in the now much less solid guard of Ku Fei to grab her by the arm and toss her out of the arena and all the way to the very far end of the walkway leading back to it.

She mush of been hurting even more than Ranma had realized, as Ku Fei didn't even manage to land on her feet, instead falling flat on her back. But as Asakura began the count, Ku Fei struggled her way back to her feet. Reaching them by the count of three and starting to walk back toward the arena. Ranma fired a couple more evocatio blasts at her hoping to discourage her from coming back in, but she actually dived forward into a roll bringing her close to the arena while avoiding them.

She stopped on her knees and had to struggle to her feet again, accomplishing that feat as Asakura's count reached seven. Ranma probably could stop her from getting back in if she really wanted to, but decided that if her opponent were that determined to get back, she'd let her and finish this the way she wanted. She respected her enough after a fight like this to give her that much.

So Ranma was surprised to see Ku Fei take only one more step forward before her legs seemed to give way and she fell forward, landing flat on her stomach less than a meter from her from goal. She lay there unmoving as Asakura finished the count, announcing Ranma the winner of the match. Ranma ignored her victory for the moment, instead joining the small crowd running toward Ku Fei to make sure she was alright.

"I'll be fine, aru" Ku Fei assured Negi, who had been the first one to reach him. "I just fought to the point of exhaustion, that's all."

"Really?" Kotaro asked as he walked up and poked her in that spot on the left side of the ribs Ranma had kept abusing getting a gasp of pain from Ku Fei. "I'd say those ribs are cracked at least, and you probably have a concussion too."

"Ha ha ha," the girl laughed weakly. "You're probably right. Ranma gave me quite the beating. But I'll heal up from that in no time."

"You put up a great fight through," Ranma encouraged her. "But next time I'll make sure to beat you in a fight of pure martial arts."

"I'd like to say that next time I want to beat you even with you going all out," Ku Fei countered. "But my goal might be a bit too much to ask for."

"You did both fight really well," Negi then said excitedly, now that he'd determined nothing was too seriously wrong with Ku Fei. "It was great to see that before my own fight. It gives me some ideas of things I can try. I'll certainly need all the help I can get."

"Negi's right, you were both great!" Konoka announced cheerfully.

"Yes, it was the most exciting match I've watched in some time," Setsuna agreed.

"Yeah, I'd say it was like the finals in the first round, but there's some real monsters in the other half of the bracket," Ranma announce.

"You'll have a good fight sooner than that," Ku Fei warned her from where she had now at least forced herself into a sitting position. "Mana and Kaede are both stronger than I am."

"What? Really?" Ranma asked in surprise. "He'd seen that Mana was good with a gun, but they wouldn't be allowed in the tournament to begin with, and he'd never even seen Kaede fight."

"They are," she answered confidently. "I recommend you go all out from the start when you meet them. Neither of us would last long with just our martial arts against them."

Sure Ranma heard all sorts of rumors about Ku Fei's strength, but she had never realized there were so many strong fighters in their class. And that was even if you didn't count the monstrous power of the class vampire. Anyway, with Negi's match starting soon, they helped Ku Fei off to the first aid room for a real checkup before Ranma returned to watch Negi and Takahata duke it out. Before that though, she had to deal with an angry looking Ayaka.

"So you ran out on your shift anyway?" Ayaka asked sharply.

"No, I've got someone to take care of it," Ranma assured her. "I promise she'll do as good a job as I would too."

"Well, as long as I don't find out you're lying, that's fine," she agreed. "Ah, but I'm no nervous. Negi has to fight with Takahata-sensei? He wouldn't fight a boy like Negi seriously, would he?"

"Probably not," Ranma answered honestly.

After all, the man had never even been very serious in his sparring matches with Ranma. Although when the match actually started, it quickly because clear he was holding back even more than he did against Ranma. He seemed more interested in seeing what Negi could do than actually fighting him. As far as that went, Negi even had one surprise for Ranma. When had he learned instant movement?

Ranma had shown him the technique, but hadn't really put any effort into teaching it to him yet, wanting to focus more on his actual fighting technique. Well, it was only more proof Takahata wasn't even trying, as he let Negi hop around as he pleased without doing a thing to stop him. Anyway, even though it made for a nice show for the audience, Ranma wasn't able to enjoy it much knowing that Takahata could probably end the fight in an instant if he really wanted.

Ranma wished he would at least take it up a notch, but when he finally did, Ranma wasn't at all pleased by how he chose to do so. She'd been stunned by the destructive power of whatever it was he did, that had torn up the ring. Ranma always knew he'd been holding back something from his style, and now she'd finally seen it. And she was pissed off that she had. All her begging and the man would never even show it to her because of how dangerous it was, and now he goes and uses against a kid years younger than Ranma in a fight?

How was that supposed to be fair? Takahata was the one guy in these last four years Ranma felt actually cared two bits about her, and he'd been hiding something as awesome as this from her when he knew full well how important it was to her that she get stronger? Ranma barely watched the rest of the fight, even as Takahata continued to toy with Negi right up to the point where he let the boy get the better of him and actually win the fight.

She should be thrilled that the guy who would probably be the biggest hurdle to winning this tournament was out, but she was still too hung up on that betrayal of his. Maybe she was being childish about this, but she wanted some way to get back at the man, and Ranma believed she knew just the thing. So what if something so small was what finally pushed her to make what could be the biggest decision of her life? She was already considering it anyway. Couldn't this be the straw that broke the camel's back?

Hurrying off, Ranma hid behind the main building of the complex where it wouldn't be so obvious and set the time travel device back to its maximum one day jump. Chao wanted an answer soon? Well, she'd give her one as soon as she could. Firing it up, she was hit by how much stronger the drain on her magic was this time. Thankfully, there wasn't any time to worry about it before it stopped. Maybe going back a full day right after burning magical energy in a fight hadn't been the best idea.

Ranma had been planning to try a second jump after this one to go right back to when Chao first gave her the thing, but her magic was on fumes now, so that was out. Well, maybe she could find Chao now. Assuming it had worked as planned, it was still morning of the first day of the festival. Walking back around to the front of the building, Ranma was mulling over where to start looking when she rounded the corner to see the girl in question standing a short distance off. Well, that was easy.

"Oh, Ranma, I'm surprised to see you here," she called out as Ranma walked closer. "I'm planning to put together a big tournament for tonight, but then it looks like you might already know about that. Nice bracelet, by the way."

Ah yeah, maybe still wearing that thing did kind of give away the future a bit to Chao. Well, that shouldn't be an issue.

"I'll help you," Ranma told her. "If you really think this is the best way to go, then I'm in. So what do you need me to do?"

"Oh, I'm sure there will be plenty for you to do. You didn't already participate in the tournament did you?"

"Um, only the first round of the main tournament," she answered. "Is that going to be a problem?"

"It should be fine," she answered. "I just want the tournament to be as flashy as possible. The more magic you can get away with, the better. I'll be secretly recording everything that happens as the first step to my plan."

"Well, my first match did get a little flashy at places," Ranma informed her. "But I think I can probably take it up a notch for the next one."

"Excellent," she declared happily. "Sounds like everything goes well in the early stages at least."

"Wait a minute," Ranma said realizing something. "If I told you this, that means that when you gave me the bracelet, you already knew everything? That I'd end up using it in the match to win? Even that I'd agree to help you?"

"I can only assume that I'd known all that, since it's yet to happen from my perspective," she told Ranma.

Their discussion was then interrupted by a beeping, causing Chao to pull out a phone and hold it up to her ear. "Do you have something to report?" she asked.

"The target has been spotted," Ranma heard Hakase saying on the other end of the line. "I've got a drone following her now."

"Excellent. Feed me the coordinates and I'll be right there," Chao said through the phone before turning to Ranma. "If you want to come along, I've got someone else I'd like to recruit."

"Sure," Ranma agreed, curious about who this was. "I'll come with."

Following the other girl as she used her phone occasionally to check whatever tracking they had set up, the pair of them hurried back to the main grounds for the festival. Chao was in pretty decent shape herself to be able to keep up the pace she was setting. Ranma would have expected the school's top genius to take a bus or something. Soon enough, they came to some shriveled old mummy of a woman sitting on a bench.

"You know, I don't like being spied on," she told them. "So I'd appreciate an explanation for your little machine."

"I apologize, Cologne-sama," Chao said bowing deeply. "I didn't have any intention of spying. I just wanted to find you so I could speak to you."

"Well, here I am, so speak," she told them. "I have business to attend to, and I've been delayed enough already."

"This will be hard to explain, so I'll start by giving you this," Chao said holding out a small green orb that Ranma probably would have mistaken for a gumball if not for the seriousness of the gesture. "I'm from the future, and this is a magical message given by me to a descendant of yours. It should explain everything."

"Time travel?" Cologne asked. "I would dismiss your claims as nonsense outright if I could explain how you made an exact duplicate of an item you'd have no way of knowing even existed. There's obviously something strange going on here, so I'll reserve judgment until after I've seen this message. I'll contact you when I'm finished, so don't send any more of those flying cameras after me, or I'll destroy them on sight."

"Pleasant old crone isn't she?" Ranma asked after the woman had hurried off. Although Ranma was impressed with how quickly she'd darted off through the crowd. Ranma would have expected someone as ancient as hers to have actually had a need for that staff she was carrying around.

"That old crone is Shampoo's great-grandmother," Chao informed her. "And a powerful martial artist as well as the mage that laid the groundwork for much of magic that I'll be using in the final part of my plan. If the stories I heard are true, she might even be stronger than Takahata-sensei. Having her as an ally would go a long way toward making sure this succeeds."

"Wow," was all Ranma could say. That decrepit old hag was as strong as all that?

"Anyway, I've got a million things left to do to get ready, and we're almost out of time," Chao said. "But I promise I'll get back to you when I have another way for you to help."

Ranma was now left alone without anything she had to do until she caught back up to the tournament tomorrow. She'd calmed down a lot from her reaction to Takahata, but still didn't regret her decision. She just didn't get the feeling that Chao was up to anything sinister, and if she got some information she desperately wanted out of it, then it was worth helping her out. Well, as for what to do to pass the time, she supposed she could actually use the time to look around the festival.

Apparently she was going to meet up with Setsuna at some point too, so she'd probably bump into her whether she went looking for her or not. That would give her something to do. It was also worth thinking up just how to make her second fight flashier. She had a few ideas on that front already.

Cologne found an empty room to hide away in and activated the magic in the orb. Sure enough, a young purple-haired woman popped up on the screen and pleaded with her to listen to Chao's plan and help reveal magic to the world. But Cologne just couldn't figure out why she would want to do something like that. When the message had ended, she examined the device closer, looking for any kind of forgery.

That was when she noticed a second enchantment on it, but not one that was in any way malicious or deceptive. Smiling to herself, she activated it, causing her mind to suddenly be flooded with information and plan. Yes, this telepathic connection was far more efficient than previous one. It explained everything too. Yes, now she understood completely.

Beyond the plan itself, there were a few other interesting tidbits of information strewn in. One in particular stuck out. Evangeline McDowell was trapped here on this campus. That was quite the surprise, but after learning that, she was eager to meet up with the immortal vampire. This trip to Japan was proving far more fruitful than she'd ever anticipated.

Shampoo was annoyed that even with the bad sense of direction she'd learned Ryoga had, he seemed to keep finding his way back to this school that Ranma attended. She'd realized early on that Ryoga had a thing for Ranma, but since Ranma didn't seem to return his affections, Shampoo hadn't thought that would be an issue.

He was a teenage boy, and Shampoo knew she was a very attractive young woman. She'd fully expected he'd turn to her as soon as she showed the slightest interest in him. Well, one way or another, she'd get him in the end.

"Shampoo," came a voice she recognized, although not one she'd been expected to run into here in Japan. "Have you decided what to do with the oni boy yet?"

Why did her great-grandmother have to speak to her in Japanese? She was getting frustrated having to deal with the annoying language all the time.

"Yes, Shampoo decide to marry," she answered. "Chasing future husband right now."

"That will have to wait," she answered. "There are more important matters to attend to. Now come along. We'll have a busy schedule for a few days."

Shampoo was shocked to hear those words from her mouth. She knew how important the woman considered Joketsuzoku law. What was more important than following through on that? Wordlessly she followed as she was led out of the festival grounds, eventually coming up to a small wooden cabin. Approaching the door, her great-grandmother simply stood next to it, not even knocking.

"Just wait here," she told the girl. "It would be unwise to go inside."

They stood waiting like that for about ten minutes, and Shampoo's patience was wearing thin when a young girl approached them with what seemed to be a robot, surely it had to just be a costume or a magical construct though. While, whatever it was, it was impressive enough.

"Wow, is that you, Cologne-chan?" the girl asked. "I probably wouldn't even have guessed that dried up old husk was you if it weren't for that staff you were carrying."

"Little girl should show respect to …" Shampoo began harshly only to be smacked painfully over the head with her great-grandmother's staff.

"Forgive her, Evangeline-sama," her great-grandmother said with great deference as she bowed deeply. "I neglected to warn her you are older, more powerful, and less forgiving than myself."

Shampoo's eyes widened in fear at the thought of that as she quickly bowed just as deeply. "Yes, forgive ignorant girl. Was simply fooled by clever disguise."

"Well, I suppose I can let it slide just this once for your sake, Cologne-chan," she answered. "But really, how do you put with a body as old as that? I'd rather die myself. Why don't you just give it up already?"

Shampoo couldn't help but frown at that, but wasn't foolish enough to speak up. She really thought it would be better for her great-grandmother to give up on life? This is why immortals were such abominations. Not only did it go against everything natural, but they just lost sight of what life was all about and treated mortals as lesser beings.

"My village has need of me yet," she answered. "So I'll persevere a little while longer yet."

"Suit yourself," Evangeline replied, not seeming to care much either way.

"Why don't you wait out here, Shampoo," her great-grandmother then said in what was clearly an order. "We have some private matters to discuss."

Watching them go inside, Shampoo didn't like this at all. Immortals should be hunted down, not sought out to have a conversation with. Shampoo understood that if she was really so powerful, it would be pointless to confront her directly, so maybe this was just a plot to take her down with trickery. Her great-grandmother always had been a devious woman. Still, it just didn't sit right with Shampoo. Unless she was killing them, she wanted nothing to do with immortals.

After going back in time with Negi for the second time, their group decided to do their work patrolling for any would-be confessors. Negi and Asuna had already split off to do their own patrols, but Konoka hadn't left Setsuna's side, and that suited her just fine. It was her duty to protect her ojou-sama, after all. They'd barely started their patrol when they saw a familiar red ponytail up ahead.

"Ah, Ranma, over here," Konoka called out, getting Ranma's attention as the girl walked over to them.

"There you are," she told them. "I was wondering when I would run into you. Anyway, what are you doing here, Konoka? I thought you had club activities and that's why you didn't want to meet up today."

"Heh, heh," Konoka said dramatically. "You may not believe me, but we've travelled back in time from the future. I already took care of my club responsibilities."

"Oh, so you guys have one of these too?" Ranma asked, pulling out a device that looked just like the one Chao had given Negi. Just what was that girl up to?

"Well, Negi does," Setsuna answered. "He's taken me back with him a couple of times now."

"I've travelled back a couple of times myself," Ranma informed them.

"Aw, no fair," Konoka complained. "I wanted to surprise you and you're already a more experienced time traveler than I am."

"Well, if you're free, do you want to have a look around the festival?" Ranma asked. "I promised I'd make some time, and this is as good as any for me."

"We were actually patrolling for anyone that might be trying to confess so we could stop them," Setsuna explained. "But you're welcome to join us."

"I already spent too much time with that nonsense my first time around," Ranma complained. "I didn't use this thing just to give myself more time to work."

"Ah, then I guess we'll have to meet up another time," Setsuna told her.

"No way!" Konoka protested. "We should go have fun now. Ranma or Negi can always send us back later to do this patrol or something."

"I suppose that is true," Setsuna admitted. It felt a little wrong to put off a responsibility like that, but Setsuna supposed it wasn't like they were putting it off if they were going to be doing it at the same time.

"Ah, Ranma," called out Ryoga as the boy walked up to them after making his presence known. "I wasn't expecting to see you at the festival. Do you, uh, happen to know what this festival is?"

"It's our school festival," Ranma answered. "So it's not surprising to see me here."

"This is a school festival?" Ryoga asked in awe, looking at everything go on around them.

"Well, for the whole campus," Ranma admitted. "There's a lot of schools and colleges and stuff all working together to make this."

Setsuna kind of wished the boy would stop finding them like this. He was clearly violent and prone to fits of rage. Not the type of person you wanted to have around, much less infatuated with a friend. He was a problem waiting to happen. Still, it would be rude to start something herself when he was behaving himself for now.

"Yeah, I'm really glad I was able to run into you," he told Ranma. "I mean because it's just nice to talk to you when we have so much in common. We're both martial artists, and both of us know what it's like to live with humans when you're not human yourself."

Setsuna couldn't help but grind her teeth at that. The fact that neither of them was human was the first real connection Setsuna had made with Ranma, and now Ryoga was trying to stomp in and dirty that by using it as some kind of a pick-up line? Setsuna found herself pulling a page from Yue's book almost before she realized it.

"Look out, Ryoga, it's Shampoo!" she told him urgently.

"What? Where?" Ryoga asked looking around in fear.

"I don't think she's seen you yet," Setsuna claimed. "If you hurry you can still get away."

Then she practically shoved him off as he ran into the crowd.

"That was mean, Secchan," Konoka told her, but not really in a disapproving manner.

"I'm sorry, I don't really know what came over me," Setsuna apologized, feeling more than a little ashamed of herself.

"Don't worry about it," Ranma said. "I'm pretty sure he just bumps into past me right away anyway. Funny thing is, Mana actually gets some weird idea he was going to confess to me and shoots him with some sleeping darts. So he'll be sleeping it off in the infirmary soon enough."

Well, it was certainly a good thing Mana was around to keep Ranma from falling under the effects of the World Tree's magic. Although if Ranma wasn't even aware of Ryoga's feelings, she'd have to make sure she kept them separated at least for the rest of the festival. She wouldn't be properly on guard.

"Well then, shall we get started before there are any other interruptions?" Konoka asked.

Setsuna had already seen some of the festival with Negi after her first trip back in time, but with a festival of this size, there was always plenty more to do. They just wandered around for a while looking at many of the outdoor acts like juggling, robotics shows, and an assortment of other things. Then they watched a short comedy play some class was putting on before trying out some of the standard festival games.

It was obvious that the owners of the stalls weren't expecting many players as skilled as Ranma and Setsuna were, but they had mercy on them when selecting their prizes. Just a stuffed bear Konoka found cute and a festival mask for each of them. Ranma took a tengu mask and Konoka selected a hannya. After a bit of thought, Setsuna just settled for a green sentai mask.

"Maybe we should get a whole set of them for the baka rangers," Konoka suggested after Setsuna had picked hers, making the owner of the cart look more than a little nervous that they weren't done getting prizes from him yet.

"Please, you don't want to encourage them," Ranma replied, shooting down that idea. "Anyway, I'm getting a bit hungry, why don't we check out the food stalls?"

As they went to do just that, Setsuna was struck by just how odd it still felt to be out relaxing and having fun like this. A year ago, she never would have imagined anything but a life of protecting Konoka from the shadows. Now she had several friends and days where she could enjoy herself weren't even that rare, even if few could compare to how much fun she having at the festival.

"Ooh, okonomiyaki," Ranma pointed out excitedly. "You guys can grab something else if you want, but I'm going to get something here."

It was strange for Ukyo's old man to bring them out to a festival like this, but as huge as the event was, Ukyo could see why. They'd been raking in money with their little stand at three times the rate they'd ever seen back home. Although they were finally getting a bit of a lull so Ukyo had been left alone with the stand for a while. The only current customers were a group of three, all about Ukyo's age eating their okonomiyaki a short distance off, wo girls and one redhead that Ukyo initially couldn't tell whether they were a flat girl or a just a pretty boy whose voice hadn't really deepened yet.

Ukyo had guessed a guy, if only from the way he was dressed, but was pretty sure of it now. With a name like Ranma and how the two girls were fawning over him, it seemed all but certain. Ukyo couldn't stand to see them acting like that just because of a boy with a pretty face. Probably some stuck up model or something just toying with their hearts. Okay, that was probably being a bit unfair to him just because Ukyo had overheard his name was Ranma.

Even with the wrong hair color Ukyo had almost used the family spatula for its other purpose on hearing that name. Still, hair could be died, and Ranma wasn't the most common name, so Ukyo was getting very tempted to go up and ask outright was his surname was, but stuck with eavesdropping for now.

"Wow, it's been a long time since I had okonomiyaki this good," Ranma announced.

"It really is delicious," the girl dressed up in some kind of witch outfit agreed.

"You know, I'd almost forgotten, but I used to have a friend whose dad made really good okonomiyaki," Ranma announced, causing Ukyo to tense up.

No way, it couldn't actually be him, could it?

"What was it again?" Ranma asked deep in thought. "Ah, that's right! It was Ucchan's dad that made the okonomiyaki."

That was the final nail in the coffin. Ukyo hadn't heard that nickname in a long time, and this was far too much to be a coincidence. Ukyo couldn't believe Ranma was out on some date with two girls having a grand time after breaking his promise and ruining Ukyo's life! And the worst thing was: he barely seemed to remember he'd done it! But that would end here. This would finally be Ukyo's chance to get revenge for everything Ranma had done.

That okonomiyaki really had been great, and Ranma was just about to ask for more, when one plopped down right in front of her. She'd been wondering if the chef could read her mind or something when she noticed there was writing on the food in front of her.

Saotome Ranma. I challenge you to combat right here in one hour.

"Huh, I'm up for a fight if you want one," Ranma said turning to the chef. "But how do you know my name?"

"You were just talking about me and you still can't figure it out?" he fired back.

Wait, he didn't mean … "Ucchan is that you?" Ranma asked excitedly. "Wow. I didn't think I'd ever see you again. So, you want a friendly match to see if I'm still stronger than you?"

"There will be nothing friendly about this match," Ukyo said angrily. "After you broke your promise, this is about revenge."

"Huh, I don't remember breaking any promises," Ranma said in confusion.

"The fact that you don't only makes it worse!" Ukyo said angrily. "You ruined my life!"

"Um … could we just calm down and try to talk this out," Konoka suggested.

"Yes, I don't know what happened, but this was a long time ago, right?" Setsuna added. "You may be upset, but we won't let you unfairly take your anger out on Ranma like this."

"There's nothing unfair about this!" Ukyo insisted. "This is a formal challenge. I expect you to be back here in an hour unless you're a coward who plans to hide behind these girls."

"I'm no coward, and I'll be there," Ranma said firmly, not willing to let something like that stand even from an old friend.

"Then go," Ukyo ordered. "I have preparations to take care of and I don't want to have to look at your face while I'm making them."

"Fine," Ranma answered, "but I really don't know why you're so mad."

The three of them then left, and Ranma could see the questions on the two girls' faces.

"So, what exactly happened between you and Ukyo?" Konoka asked when they'd gotten a short distance away.

"I really don't know," Ranma answered honestly. "I had to have been around six when we met. My father and I travelled around a lot back then. Ukyo's father ran an okonomiyaki cart and my dad and I stuck around for a while. We were just childhood friends. I don't even remember this promise at all."

"And you can't recall anything you might have done to upset him?" Setsuna asked.

"I don't know," Ranma said thinking it over. "Maybe he was mad that I always won our sparring matches, but I always thought we were great friends anyway. I mean, I even remember him running after us crying when me and my father had to leave."

"Maybe he's just mad you left like that," Konoka suggested. "You could have promised you'd be best friends forever and then just disappeared or something. I know how hard it can be to lose your best friend."

"Ojou-sama," Setsuna said, looking ashamed of herself.

"Ah, no use guessing," Ranma declared. "I'll just win the challenge and then make him tell me exactly what's gotten him so worked up."

"Then hopefully you can work it out and be friends again," Konoka said.

Ranma wouldn't mind that. She just wished they could have got the challenge out of the way then and there. Waiting an hour sucked when she wanted to figure out what had gotten into her old friend. They tried to pass the time at the festival, but none of them could really enjoy it anymore, so they quickly gave up. Instead, Ranma just did some stretches and warmed up a bit for the match. Finally, the hour was nearly up and they returned to the stand where they'd first run into Ukyo.

Only now Ranma could see exactly why Ukyo had needed time to prepare. He'd set up some kind of ring like in a boxing match. Only maybe he didn't have time to finish it, because the actual arena floor was a smaller square in the middle with what looked like metal in the outside part. There was also a decent crowd of people gathered around, including a few faces she recognized. Kaede was standing by the ring alone with the twins, Fuka and Fumika.

"Ranma," Fuka called her over cheerfully. "We heard about this fight and had to come see it."

Fuka then leaned in dropping her voice to a whisper, "Although I'm pretty sure Ukyo thinks you're a guy. Guess you really are just that flat-chested."

"Nee-san!" Fumika complained, having been able to overhear the whisper simply because she was right next to her sister. "You really should stop saying things like that. It's only sadder coming from you."

Urk. How had Ranma not realized that in the first place? Of course Ukyo knew she was really a guy. Well even if he tried to give that away, maybe everyone would just keep thinking he was confused until Ranma had a chance to talk things over with the boy.

"I just want to know how you heard about this in the first place," Setsuna then spoke up to the trio.

"There was a notice," Kaede informed them, holding out a piece of paper with a crudely drawn picture of someone with a giant spatula standing on top of a fallen redhead.

Come see the fight for honor between Kuonji Ukyo and Saotome Ranma.

"That's right!" Ukyo declared, walking up to them. "I wanted plenty of witnesses to your punishment. Now, since you haven't run away, let's get this started so I can have my vengeance."

Ukyo then hopped into the ring. Quickly setting down the mask she'd won so it wouldn't get damaged, Ranma followed, only to immediately have to jump out of the way of several small spatulas thrown like knives that were probably just as sharp based on how they buried themselves into the floor.

"Be careful," Konoka called out to her. "He looks really mad."

Those throwing spatulas were only the beginning of Ukyo's strange attacks though, as he dipped his giant spatula into a big bowl that was sitting along the side hurling something gooey at her.

"Let's see how you handle my special okonomiyaki batter," he shouted.

Even though she didn't know how the batter was supposed to be dangerous, Ranma jumped over the wave it hurled her way. Still, when she landed where some of it had splattered, Ranma realized this was no ordinary batter when her foot stuck to the ground. It must be some kind of glue.

"And now some rubber yakisoba," Ukyo declared, tossing a thick cord of the stuff that wrapped around Ranma's arm and torso, trying to further pin her down.

Ukyo then charged at where Ranma stood, raising his spatula to use as a giant flyswatter, but Ranma had no intention of standing there and being squished. Ukyo was underestimating her strength if he thought this would stop her. Ripping free from both the glue and the yakisoba, Ranma rolled away out of the inner arena only to leap away from it in pain and back to center from the heat she felt as she'd rolled across it. After she'd returned to safety, Ranma idly saw Fumika walk up to the edge, lick a finger, and then test the surface.

"This part is like a giant grill," she declared.

"This is hardly a fair fight," Setsuna complained. "This is an arena of your design. You should put a stop to this and fight at a neutral location."

"Nothing about Ranma is fair," Ukyo complained, charging at Ranma again with that spatula of his. "I'll do what I have to for my revenge."

Ranma decided that friend or not, it was time to stop playing around and win this. Ukyo didn't look like he was about to come to his senses without a beating first. So she ran forward to meet his attack, only to come up short after a single step forward when her right leg just froze. Ukyo smirked, as Ranma windmilled her arms trying to keep from falling on her face after that surprise.

Looking down Ranma expected to see more of that glue or something, but instead saw a glowing symbol on a charm that had been hidden on some flour, blending it in with the white floor of the arena. Was Ukyo some kind of an onmyoji or something? Whatever the case, this was worse than the glue, Ranma's leg was not just stuck, but she couldn't even move it.

And thanks to her not exactly graceful recovery, she wasn't in any position to block the spatula again coming down to smash her over the head. Unwillingly, her mind returned to that guy saying she'd lost something. Ranma had assumed she'd already changed that when she won the preliminary match, but what if it was it about this challenge instead? Was she going to lose this?

Well, if she was, it wasn't going to be here. Ranma still had one good leg, so she pushed off from that one, causing her to pivot around her frozen leg as she simultaneously leaned backward to avoid the spatula. This let her avoid the downward stroke almost completely for a while as just the corner of it brushed across the front of her shirt buying her enough time to get her left palm up and stop the thing completely.

Her hand stung like crazy from the blow, but better that than her head, especially since it let her do this next part. Pressing her right hand down on the other side of the spatula, she sandwiched it in and yanked it out of Ukyo's hands then flipped it around so she was holding it by the handle. Surprisingly, there had been almost no resistance. Ukyo must have like the weakest grip ever. Or maybe that dumbstruck look on his face just indicated how shocked he'd been that Ranma was strong enough to stop it like that with one hand.

It was then that Ranma realized a couple of facts. One was that the throwing spatulas weren't the only ones with sharp edges. She knew this because the corner hadn't brushed along the front of her shirt, it had sliced through it, and the bindings beneath as well. While she wasn't completely flashing the audience, it was now very easy to see the pair of breasts Ranma had been carefully concealing underneath.

Not wanting to show off any more than she already had, Ranma quickly grabbed the front of her shirt with one hand and held it tightly shut.

"What kind of a man does that to woman!" Setsuna complained loudly, earning a few angry jeers of agreement from the crowd.

"B-but, I didn't know he … I mean she was a girl!" Ukyo protested loudly.

"Like we'd believe that from a monster like you! Pervert! Beast! Molester!" Fuka then shouted, despite having admitted earlier she suspected he thought as much. She wasn't quite able to hide her cheerfulness as she yelled them either.

"Just leave Ranma-chan alone already!" Konoka added as well, and the crowd really seemed to be turning on Ukyo now.

Ranma for her part just wanted this over before she really humiliated herself, and taking advantage of Ukyo's distraction, brought the spatula down hard on his head knocking him out cold with his own weapon. Ranma then dropped the spatula and looked to her ruined shirt, trying to figure out a way to salvage it. The best she could do was poke a few holes on either of the shirt and used the ripped bindings kind of like a shoelace to hold the front together.

It wasn't ideal, and no longer hid her stupid breasts or would stop them from bouncing around, but it would do until she could replace them.

"Wow, that fight was amazing," Fuka declared from the edge of the ring. She then tried to pantomime some of the highlights, complete with sound effects. "And I realize you never bathe in public or anything, but how did you manage to hide those breasts all this time? They're not as big as Kaede's or anything, but they're still on the upper end of even a class like ours."

This was not a conversation she wanted to be having, and hoped for an interruption, until she actually got one a second later when Gandolfini marched in. The dark-skinned mage did not look happy.

"What's this I hear about an unauthorized fighting event?" he asked the crowd.

Ranma quickly scooped up Ukyo into her arms and jumped out the ring, landing next to Setsuna and Konoka.

"Could you two try to clear this up for me please?" she asked as she snatched up the tengu mask she'd left on the ground. "I still need to talk to Ukyo here, and I don't want either of us getting in trouble just yet."

"We'll do what we can, Ranma," Konoka quickly answered as Ranma already started running off with Ukyo.

"Hey, come back here!" Gandolfini called after her.

"Wait, we can explain," Ranma heard Setsuna say as they were already fading off into the distance as the two of them must have been stalling him. Ranma would have to thank them properly for that later, but for now she kept running, making sure she was clear before heading back for the dorms.

Ranma almost carried Ukyo in through the front door, but realizing that publicly bringing a guy into the girls' dorm might not be the best idea, so she detoured to her window and leaped up to the windowsill, slipping Ukyo inside before following herself. With Ukyo still unconscious, Ranma set him down on her bed to rest and went to change. Rebinding her chest, Ranma then switched into a new shirt. Thankfully, it was only a couple minutes after that before Ukyo started to stir, quickly sitting up and looking around.

"Here," Ranma said, tossing him a bottled water. "Something to drink in case you're thirsty from the fight."

Ranma then opened one of her own and gulped down about half of it.

"I lost, huh?" Ukyo said morosely. "Even after I rigged the ring and put together an audience so you couldn't use any magic. Still, were those really breasts, or is it just the blow to my head making me think crazy things?"

"Afraid they were real," Ranma answered, glad that Ukyo seemed much calmer now, but just as she'd thought that, Ukyo's anger did seem to fire up again.

"But you still broke your promise," he accused her. "It's not like being a girl would have stopped you."

"I'm still a bit lost here," Ranma told him, wishing he'd stop beating around the bush and tell her what this promise was she'd supposedly broken. Instead, Ukyo just slapped a charm on the bottled water Ranma had given him, before getting up and walking over to her.

"What are you doing?" Ranma asked curiously.

"I just have to check something," the boy answered, opening the bottle and dumping some of it over Ranma's head.

"What was that for?" Ranma asked, startled to have hot water dumped on her like that. Wait, why was it hot?

"So, you really are a girl," Ukyo then declared.

Wait, Ukyo had actually suspected the Jusenkyo curse? If he knew about Jusenkyo, had he been there too? Taking her own bottle of water, Ranma returned the favor, dumping the cold liquid over Ukyo, but seeing no transformation.

"Hey! I dumped water over you for a reason," Ukyo protested. "There's no reason to retaliate like a jerk."

"I was checking for a Jusenkyo curse too," Ranma informed him. "Assuming that's what you were doing."

"Then why did you use cold water?" Ukyo asked, getting a tick in his eye. "Or had you expected me to be this unfeminine?"

Ranma was confused, but that quickly turned to outright shock when he dumped the remained of his hot water over his own head. The transformation wasn't too extreme, but Ukyo shrunk maybe an inch and his face softened a bit. But most noticeably was that he … she now Ranma supposed had a noticeable pair of breasts. But that had been hot water so …"

"You're really a girl?" Ranma finally managed to gain enough sense to ask. It was hard to process the thought that her childhood friend had been a girl.

Ukyo let out a bitter laugh at that. "Oh, this is rich. So each of thought the other was a guy? Even if you had planned to keep your word, we'd have both been in for a real surprise."

"Okay, that's it," Ranma snapped out, not willing to put up with this anymore. "You're going to tell me exactly what this promise was, right now."

"You promised that I could be your partner," Ukyo fired back angrily. "But then you ran off and left me behind!"

"Partner?" Ranma asked. "Like a pactio?"

With her knowing about magic it wouldn't be a surprise if that's what she meant.

"Of course like a pactio," Ukyo answered. "What else would I be referring to?"

Actually, now that she mentioned it, Ranma did faintly recall a memory of six-year-old Ukyo asking if they could be partners. She was almost surprised she recalled anything about it, since it didn't seem like a big deal at the time.

"Actually, I didn't even know about magic back then," Ranma explained. "I thought maybe you meant a sparring partner, or wanted to play a game as crime fighting partners or something."

"Hah, like I'm supposed to believe your father never even mentioned it to you before then?" Ukyo asked, completely dismissing his excuse.

"Well if I knew about it, then how do you explain this?" Ranma asked, grabbing her wrist and pulling her hand so that it could feel the invisible ears on her head. "I really am I guy, and I do have a Jusenkyo curse, some kind of animal girl curse. It's just that various things happened and I'm completely stuck this way. I hate this curse and if I'd known the first thing about magic you wouldn't have caught me within a hundred kilometers of Jusenkyo."

"You're not making that up? You're actually a guy?" Ukyo asked in surprise. "And how are you hiding those ears?"

"It's a pretty simple illusion spell," Ranma told her, answering the last question first. "And yeah, I really am I guy. And I hope to break this lock and get back to being one as soon as possible. Just please keep quiet about this. I don't tell anyone about my curse."

"Um, well, if you'll keep mine a secret, I suppose I can probably do the same for you, for now," Ukyo answered. "But I still don't really trust you, and if I find proof you're lying about not having known about magic, all bets are off."

"Speaking of curses and stuff, how did you get yours?" Ranma asked. "If you knew about magic, wouldn't you stay away from Jusenkyo?"

"That's because you left me!" Ukyo declared angrily again. "Not only was I stupid enough to believe you'd actually make me your partner, I actually hoped that somehow it might turn into something more. When you ran off, I swore off my femininity. This was only the final step to that."

Ukyo had actually got her curse on purpose? As much as Ranma hated her curse, that idea itself just seemed foreign to her. Still, Ranma felt kind of bad that she was at least a little responsible for that.

"Look, I didn't know any better, but for what it's worth, I'm sorry all this happened," Ranma told her. "It's a shame a cute girl like you had to go and get cursed, and I know none of that would have happened if it wasn't for me. Still, can't we just go back to being friends?"

"I don't know," Ukyo answered. "This is all too crazy. I need some space to think it over."

With that, Ukyo ran for the window and jumped out. After Ranma had recovered from the surprise move, she followed her out, wanting to get this worked out now.

"Wait!" she called out to Ukyo as the girl ran from the dorms.

Ukyo didn't turn back, but Ranma figured she could catch up, but forgot all about Ukyo momentarily when she saw herself come racing around the corner right in front of her, causing them to nearly collide. Only it was clear something was wrong. To start with, the illusion hiding the tail and ears was gone, but it only took a moment to realize that was the smaller problem. Ranma had obviously never seen the neko-ken herself, but being on all fours, and acting like that, it was pretty clear that's what was going on.

"Meow?" the other Ranma, sounding confused. Despite herself Ranma took a step back in fear. That sound and behavior, even knowing it was actually Ranma herself making them, they were just too catlike.

Actually, couldn't this be even worse than a real cat? If the … thing … in front of her was acting just like a cat, couldn't it still maul her? And Ranma's body was a lot more dangerous than an average housecat, especially while under the neko-ken. It could slice her to ribbons. The fear was starting to build up, but thankfully the cat Ranma lost interest in her and ran off. Once it was gone, Ranma was able to take a few calming breaths to get things back under control. She finished just in time for Setsuna and Konoka to hurry around the corner.

"Ah, Ranma," Setsuna said. "So that was you we saw. What where you doing running around like that?"

"I'm just glad I finally got to see you without the illusion," Konoka said. "You don't suppose you could take it off again so I could get a closer look? Everyone will just think it's a costume during the festival anyway."

"Actually, we have a bit of a problem," Ranma informed them. "That was a different me that ran past. It's a bit of a long story, but she isn't in her right mind right now. When I'm like that, I act just like a cat."

"You will go back to normal though, right?" Konoka asked.

"Ah, if I can be calmed enough to take a nap, I should wake up in my right mind," she explained.

"Then it doesn't seem that bad to me," Konoka declared. "You're really cute like that."

"Well I don't want to be seen like that by any more people than I have to be," Ranma insisted. "Besides, I'm even stronger than usual when I'm like that, and if anyone upsets me, they could end up seriously hurt. It's dangerous to leave to me like that."

"Then why didn't you stop yourself?" Setsuna asked. "We need to get you under control immediately."

"Er, about that," Ranma said, trying to figure out the best way to explain this without admitting to her fear. "Let's just say that if I were to get involved, you'd likely just end up with two of me like that."

"Don't worry then, we'll take care of it," Konoka promised.

"Yes, leave it to us," Setsuna agreed.

"Uh, maybe we should just find Takahata-sensei or something," Ranma suggested. "As I said, I can be pretty dangerous like that."

"I'm sure cat or no, Ranma wouldn't hurt us, right?" Konoka said.

"Um, probably not," Ranma replied a bit hesitantly. "I'm not sure exactly how much of me is still in there when I'm like that, but I don't think I've ever really hurt anyone seriously like that."

"Ojou-sama," Setsuna cut in. "Maybe it's best I handle this one alone."

"No, I want to see cat-Ranma too," Konoka insisted. "So which way did you go?"

"Um, that way," Ranma said pointing, while wondering just how seriously Konoka was taking this.

Well, as usual, Setsuna seemed unable to stop Konoka as the two girls hurried off. Ranma wished them the best of luck. Then again, maybe it was still possible to avoid this completely. Ranma knew she hadn't gone into the neko-ken yet, so that was a future version of her. As long as she didn't go back this far in time again, she should be able to keep that from happening at all.

For now though, maybe she should go after Ukyo. She'd long since lost the girl, but if Ranma went back to the stand, maybe she'd find her. Then again, Gandolfini could still be there instead. Not to mention that it might be best just to give Ukyo some time alone after all. Yeah, it was probably smart not to push too hard for now. Ranma just hoped it would all work out in the end.

Ukyo had changed back to his male form. After three years of living like this almost exclusively it just felt more natural. And he needed every little comfort he could get to help try to sort through all the crazy stuff that had just happened. But he was a long way from any success there. He still didn't even know what to believe, much less how to feel about that. Some of the less crazy parts of it felt almost too much like some of his old fantasies.

As angry as Ukyo was, there were times early on when a younger Ukyo would picture it all turning out to be a big misunderstanding. Where Ranma's father was the villain that had taken Ranma away and Ranma had been thrilled to see her, told her how much he'd wanted to be together all this time. Okay, so saying that his girl form was cute didn't go that far, but some part of it had hit one of those old nerves he'd thought were dead and buried.

That said, Ukyo was half convinced Ranma was just conning him all over again. Trying to sweat talk him until he got bored with Ukyo and ran off again. But what if Ranma had been telling the truth about everything? Ugh, maybe his father could help him figure this out, so Ukyo was glad to see the man waiting back at the stand, having already cleaned up the fighting ring for Ukyo.

"There you are," he called out when he spotted Ukyo. "Do you mind explaining just what happened while I was gone?"

So Ukyo did just that, telling him everything. From seeing Ranma, to the fight, to everything Ranma had said to him afterwards. He felt a little guilty about mentioning Ranma's curse so soon after being asked not to, but this was only to his father, and the man wasn't going to go around telling Ranma's friends about it. His father listened to everything without question before finally speaking up at the end.

"Ukyo, I have a confession to make. I knew all this and more about Ranma already. I even set up this trip knowing Ranma would be in the area."

"What?" Ukyo said in surprise. "Then do you know how much of what Ranma said is true?"

"Well, some of it," his father replied. "I can't say for certain Ranma didn't know about magic when he made that promise to you, but it's certainly possible. I never hid it from you, but a lot of parents prefer to keep their kids in the dark for a while, if for no other reason than because kids are notoriously bad at keeping secrets. Besides, it makes a lot of sense for the next part I'm about to tell you."

"Oh, what's that?" Ukyo inquired, very interested in what the man had to say now.

"Well, a few months ago I managed to find out some shocking details about Ranma," he began. "She does have a Jusenkyo curse, but it only made her into a demi-human. She was a girl all along."

"Why would she lie about that?" Ukyo asked in confusion. That had been the one part of Ranma's story he'd believed completely.

"I don't think Ranma is lying. From what I've been told, Ranma is one hundred percent convinced that she used to be a guy. Her father even repeatedly claimed as much back when we met. It was always his son this, and his son that. So, anyway, I've put a lot of thought into it and there's only one explanation I can come up with for why he took Ranma to Jusenkyo and why she's convinced she used to be a guy."

Ukyo hoped he explained quickly, because it didn't make any sense to him.

"I believe Genma was obsessed with having a son," he continued. "To the point where he was going to take Ranma to Jusenkyo and give her the same curse you have, but lock her in that form and use magic to convince her she'd always been a guy. Keeping her unaware of magic until he had everything prepared was just an easy way to make sure she wasn't suspicious of anything."

"That … that monster!" Ukyo said angrily despite himself. What sort of father would actually do something like that?

"Well, his actions caught up to him quickly enough," his father explained. "They ran into some trouble with another mage at Jusenkyo. I don't know the details, but somehow Ranma ended up in the wrong spring, and her father was taken captive. No one knows who the mage was or what became of Ranma's father. Sadly, the lock and the memory charm still took effect even with the new curse. Ranma was just lucky the curse was such a minor one compared to many of the other possibilities."

If all this was true, Ukyo really felt sorry for his old friend. Everything he'd accused her of, and she was an even bigger victim than Ukyo.

"I can't believe she'd been through that much," Ukyo then said out loud.

"Don't feel too bad. It did get her away from that father of hers. And without him in the way, you could still become Ranma's partner after all."

"Still become her partner?" Ukyo parroted in surprise.

"Why not?" his father said simply. "Her father may have been a scoundrel, but Ranma seemed like a nice girl. And you two always got along so well as kids. It seems like a great idea to me."

That … actually made a lot of sense. And looking back at everything Ranma had done now that he knew what was going on, it put Ranma in a pretty good light. Even after everything Ukyo had accused her of, and even done to her with that unintentional damage to her clothes, Ranma had still been trying to save their friendship right up until the end.

"Oh, one more thing though," his father added. "Whatever you decide, you probably don't want to tell Ranma what I just told you. Some truths aren't easy to swallow, and if you try to force that much on her at once, there's no telling what she might do."

Yeah, keeping quiet might be the kinder course of action. But now, as overwhelming as this day had been, Ukyo actually felt elated. He'd never imagined that this saga could have such a positive turn. Now if Ranma would just make him her partner, it would be the perfect closing to it.

The elder Kuonji let out a sigh of relief after his son had left. He was a good boy willing to believe everything he'd just been told. That only made him want to ensure Ukyo was set up with a good life all the more. He'd been worried everything would fall apart when he'd heard Ukyo and Ranma had somehow run into each other like that. He'd wanted a much more controlled reunion.

Still, it sounded like it was all for the best. And Genma being out of the picture made things a lot easier in some ways. He'd only managed to wrangle that fact away from Konoemon earlier today. He understood why the man was so cautious as far as that piece of news was concerned, but the man needed to understand that the last thing he wanted was for Ranma to go back with her family.

They'd do all the arranging of things like partners and marriages for young Saotome, and would never even stoop to considering a Kuonji for the part. They were a clan of onmyoji with about as little talent as you could have and still be called such. Ukyo may be the most talented member the clan had ever seen, but that wasn't enough to shake the stigma the family had. No one from any halfway respectable clan would consider marriage with a family so desperate they'd been forced to rely on their okonomiyaki to get by for generations.

Then, all those years back, a golden opportunity had all but fallen into his lap. An estranged Saotome who might agree to just that if only to upset his family. Many onmyoji hated western mages, and the Saotome clan in particular, but for the sake of Kuonji clan, he was more than happy to take whatever path presented itself. He knew how much respect the partners of powerful mages got. Even if that's all it ever turned into, it would open so many doors for Ukyo and change the fortunes of the clan.

Of course the man had then gone and run off with their cart, breaking his agreement. It shouldn't be any surprise that someone so strongly disliked by even his own clan might not be the most honorable individual, but after seeing an opportunity like that right in front of him, he'd never quite been able to let it go.

The biggest problem with that had been Ukyo herself. She'd actually blamed Ranma more than Genma and by the time he'd even realized what was happening, Ukyo had sworn off her femininity and he hadn't been able to shake her of the notion any more than he'd been able to get her to forgive Ranma. Then, around four years ago, all news of Ranma and Genma had dried up, as they seemed to disappear.

He'd all but given up on ever seeing it work until Konoemon had contacted him a few years ago. The old man had told him that his name had come as someone that had been looking for Ranma, and he was curious as to why. Even back then, it had been like pulling teeth to get anything out of the man, but when he'd kept pressing to meet Ranma, he'd finally at least found out about the Jusenkyo curse.

It was funny how things worked out sometimes. He'd been convinced Ukyo's renouncing of her femininity would ruin everything, but it may turn out to be the biggest boon they had. One thing he had learned from his years of searching for Ranma is that the Kuonji Clan wasn't the only one that had met Genma and tried to use Ranma to jump up the social ladder, and some of them were a number of rungs further up already.

But most of them probably didn't know Ranma had basically gone through puberty locked as a girl. There was no telling which way the current girl swung at this point. As for Ukyo, a couple carefully dropped suggestions and she'd all but demanded to be taken to Jusenkyo. Now, whatever Ranma preferred, Ukyo could offer.

Oh sure, partners didn't have to be someone you were physically attracted to, but how many teenagers wouldn't look for one they were if they had the choice? Yes, he may have spent the better part of a decade working on this, but he was going to do his best to see it all come together.

Author's Notes

First off, I originally hadn't put much more thought into it than Ranma being another fighter besides Ku Fei that was well known on campus. The bit with actually making it Japanese vs Chinese martial arts was suggested by sagitarius. I liked it, and had conveniently only mentioned Japanese styles when Ranma had met up with the group of fighters, so I decided to run with it. Just giving him proper credit.

Also, I realize it probably would have been more natural to cut this chapter off before getting into the Setsuna/Konoka/Ukyo bit, but luckily for anyone who enjoyed that bit, I really wanted to get it out, so I appended it anyway. Also, I really wish their was a canon name for Ukyo's father. If there's a widely used fanon one, someone please let me know, because I can't recall one way or the other.

Finally, don't expect the next chapter so quickly. As I mentioned last time, this chapter was over half written when I posted the last one.