"Megami no Ooi (Is in the Eye of the Beholder)"

by Richard Ryley

Chapter 1

It had been almost a year since she last saw Ranma.

Ukyo Kuonji walked along the streets of Nerima, smiling as she took in the sights. After such a long time away, it was like returning home, to a lot of fond memories. She had returned once for a visit, about two months after she left, as she had promised. But seeing Ranma Saotome again so soon had only reopened wounds both old and new.

It had been hard, admitting to herself that the man she once loved had never loved her in return. And Ranma's new form and identity had only made the reunion harder. So, after a tense and awkward visit, she had bid her old friend goodbye again, and set off across Japan, going wherever the wind would take her.

After a year of travelling, Ukyo felt ready to return. A lot had changed. She had changed, and she knew that Ranma had changed as well. Considering what she and Ranma had gone through, it was a wonder that they had survived at all. No one could go through what they had been through and not be changed.

A year ago, she and Akane Tendo had been captured by a group of magical girls, the improbably named Pretty Princess Institute. Normally, she would have considered such an offering flattering, but both she and Akane had been tortured mercilessly, subjected to a tiara-like device that caused incredible pain when they disobeyed, and forced to become magical girls whether they wanted to or not.

It would have been bad enough if they had just been forced to join the Institute against their will, but the whole thing was just a trap for their real target, Ranma. There was a certain amount of insult in knowing that your captors felt a MAN would be more valuable to them as a magical girl than you were.

With Ranma's help, Ukyo had escaped, but Ranma had of course insisted on returning for Akane. A dark cloud of jealousy settled over her eyes before she shook it off. Naturally, the stubborn tomboy had refused the help, and naturally, it was a trap. The senshi at the Institute were ready and waiting for his rescue attempt.

They had tortured him, then, subjecting him to mind altering techniques that had changed him, irrevocably. He became the pet project of Artemis Serenity Silvervine, the Director of the Institute. Ranma managed to escape, of course, but by the time he rejoined Ukyo, he was no longer the Ranma Saotome that she knew. Among other things, Ranma had become a magical girl, and had so embraced her feminine side that Ukyo had trouble calling her "him" any more.

The reborn magical girl Ranma had turned her wrath upon Artemis. Even in that, the stakes of the fight were so far beyond her understanding that Ukyo wasn't sure she wanted to know the whole story. Artemis was apparently part of that alleged "Moon Kingdom" that had given Sailor Moon her powers, and her plans had been the complete destruction of the Earth, in order to remake it into a magical girl utopia.

She and Konatsu had offered their help in the fight. So, in order to stop Artemis, Ranma had used her own powers to give Ukyo the boost needed to become a magical girl as well. With the help of some other allies, Cologne and Shampoo among them, Artemis had been defeated and killed. And when Artemis Serenity Silvervine died, Ranma took her place as Director, driven by the responsibility of the choices she had made.

She now realized the cost of those choices. At times, she could feel Ranma's presence within her mind, and she could feel a force inside her, pushing her to be loyal to the Institute and its Director. She knew that it wasn't Ranma's fault, it was what the Institute was trying to do to the cursed boy turned girl; they were trying to make her into a magical girl factory which would create and indoctrinate senshi in one fell swoop. She was grateful that for all the times she felt Ranma touch her, she was trying not to influence her, only check up on her. Not that her opinion wasn't biased, but Konatsu had reported the same thing, and was certain he sensed Ranma's reluctance to use the power.

She looked over at her companion, who walked beside her, dressed in a feminine kimono as always. Over the last year, her relationship with Konatsu had changed as well. Not that she was ready to explore a romantic entanglement so soon after the last, heartbreaking failure, but they were closer friends now than they had ever been. And she found his attention and his submissiveness to her less annoying and more endearing lately.

He had proven his loyalty her again and again, over the last year, and she was very glad to have him along. She still wasn't sure she was happy with him acting and dressing like a girl, especially with her own insecurities about her femininity. But she had to admit, they were both pretty messed up individuals. Together, they had been helping each other to be just a little bit more normal. And, despite herself, they had grown closer.

If she and Konatsu had changed so much, she mused, perhaps the rest of Nerima had changed as well. And unlike before, she was looking forward to seeing all of them. Akane, Shampoo, the Tendo and Saotome families, Ryoga, and all of the people whose lives had seemed to revolve around Ranma Saotome. How had they all coped with having Ranma out of their lives, she wondered? Had Ranma made up with her parents and invited them to join her at the Institute? Was Akane still a magical girl, and was she there at the Institute as well?

For a moment, the cloud of jealousy returned, but Ukyo again shook it off. Ranma and Akane hadn't exactly been on the same side in the battle against Artemis. Still, their relationship had seemed to survive worse. It had been too painful to think about back then, so she hadn't asked, and the Director hadn't mentioned her. But now, she felt ready to move on, starting with re-establishing old friendships and forgiving the mistakes of the past.

There was suddenly an explosion from her left, and Ukyo looked up to see a creature smash out through a building wall. She glanced at Konatsu, who shared a knowing look with her. It was a demon, one of the nastier ones, vaguely female-shaped, but hideously ugly. As they turned back to look at the fight, a small dark haired figure rushed out of the hole the demon had made. The human, for it was obviously a human, slammed into the demon and pushed it farther away from the building.

Ukyo then stared in astonishment. It was Akane Tendo! Quite a coincidence, after she had just been thinking about her former rival. She was dressed in a school dress, which was already dirty and ripped. And she was a little thinner than Ukyo remembered, and her hair had grown out, down to about her shoulders. But there was no mistaking that hair color, a sun-bleached shade of black that almost looked blue in the right light. And if that wasn't enough, the scream of fury that came from the girl could only have been that of Akane Tendo.

"Hurry! Run away!" She yelled, at a crowd of girls that were even now cautiously peeking out of the destroyed wall. "I'll buy you time, get away while you can!" With that, Akane leaped back into the fray.

"Foolish human!" the demon countered, with its usual distain for normal mortals. "You dare to stand between me and my prey! For that, I will devour your energy last... but your fight ends now!" It slapped the hapless girl with an outstretched arm, and she slammed into an undamaged part of the wall.

Why wasn't Akane transformed? Ukyo was distracted for a moment, by a memory of Akane in a childish-looking plastic dress, protected by molded armor plates and wielding a gigantic Pico Pico hammer. She had assumed that Artemis had forced her transformation, her "tenki", just as Ranma had forced Ukyo's tenki. But she had never bothered to find out if the transformation was permanent.

Maybe without Artemis to help her, and still mad at Ranma for rescuing her yet again, Akane had returned home to her family. Ukyo abandoned that train of thought, as Akane struggled back to her feet, painfully slowly. This was not the time, and if Akane was no longer a magical girl, then she was a sitting duck.

Ukyo glanced at Konatsu again, then unslung her giant spatula and raised it over her head. Despite what the common folk might believe, magical girls didn't have to make a physical gesture or say a magical phrase to activate their henshin. Even so, Ukyo preferred to, just so her megami no ooi didn't just trigger a transformation based off of a stray thought. It was already getting harder and harder to hold tenki back when the situation DIDN'T call for it. She did, however, draw the line at shouting out a transformation phrase. She wasn't one of Usagi Tsukino's Sailor Senshi. Those girls apparently liked the limelight, but Ukyo had spent the last year trying to avoid attention.

Ranma had explained this to her the first time she had helped Ukyo transform. First, Ukyo felt her megami no ooi, the sense of her own feminine beauty, expanding. The crossdressing okonomiyaki chef of before wouldn't have had the confidence to do this, but Ranma's help had made it second nature. Then, her haigeki, a spiritual force connected to her battle aura, began to cleanse and purify her aura. This was somewhat akin to how priests would use their ki to weaken and seal away demons.

Then came the rough part. Shuken, haigeki's spiritual opposite would rip apart the imperfections in her clothes and body, and impose her will on them, making them beautiful. Ukyo was well aware of how vain and egotistical the whole thing was, but she couldn't argue with the results.

When the blinding light faded, Ukyo's clothes had changed. Over the last year, Ukyo had continued wearing her okonomiyaki vendor's outfit, even though she hadn't sold any okonomiyaki in over three months. Her tenki had taken the theme of her uniform, and turned it into a frilly, sparkling display of bare skin and lace.

Her main color was lavender, although she had inherited the pink highlights from Ranma. A stitched on apron blended in with the outfit's short skirt. Her legs were wrapped in ribbons, which ended at platform shoes on her feet. Her brown ponytail was also tied off with an elaborate ribbon.

Beside her, Konatsu's transformation was even more dramatic. A dark lavender bodysuit covered the kunoichi's shape, its color a nod to Ukyo's. Unlike the typical magical girl outfit, Konatsu's had no skirt, although a long loincloth partially covered her legs. Small, dark weapons on the belt and along the suit's neckline took the place of frills and ribbons.

Most astonishingly, the crisscrossing bandoliers over Konatsu's chest outlined her prominent breasts. A cutout over her cleavage proved conclusively that her femininity was not an illusion. Despite Konatsu's manner and dress, Ukyo knew that the ninja was a man, underneath, at least until tenki took over. Then, Konatsu's self image was actually able to tear her body apart, and rebuild it to be the woman she had always wanted to be.

That thought always sent chills up her spine. Concentrating on the here and now, Ukyo prepared her attack against the demon. Other senshi might shout a challenge or a warning, but Ukyo was more practical. Plus, the demon had picked up Akane, and was holding her, as she struggled to escape. "Run!" She shouted again to her friends. "Forget me, just run!" The monster then threw Akane down, and she fell limp to the ground.

Ukyo brandished her spatula, and the sunlight reflected off of it. The light seemed to refract and split into pieces, and then a dozen tiny spatulas formed in the air around her. The spatulas blazed with heat, firing a volley of energy blasts into the demon. It roared, and turned to face its attackers.

Konatsu flickered and vanished. She reappeared behind the demon, with her wakizashi drawn. She brought it down, and a massive blast of energy cut across the demon. It was driven forward by the blast. Ukyo had time to build up another blast with her spatula attack, and this time the demon was reduced to dust.

Ukyo shouldered her spatula, and then walked over to Akane to awaken her. The girl took a few moments to come back to consciousness. As Ukyo got a good look at Akane's face, she gasped.

Akane WAS thinner than she remembered, a lot thinner. She looked pale, and drawn, and her face was sunken, without as much of the roundness she had when Ukyo saw her last. Although she had never been a fat girl, despite all of Ranma's claims to the contrary, she was almost bony, now. And although her muscle tone was still good, it wasn't anywhere as good as it had been a year ago. She looked like she had been recuperating from a long illness.

As Akane opened her eyes, Ukyo noticed the dark circles around them. The black haired girl heaved a tired sign of relief. "Senshi. Thank heavens. I thought I was a goner, there."

"Why did you attack that demon, Akane? If you don't have any magical girl powers, you shouldn't fight demons. They're way too strong for... ordinary martial artists." She was about to say "someone in your condition", but given what she knew about Akane, she would react badly to that.

Akane nodded. She stumbled trying to stand up. Ukyo put an arm around her, helping her to her feet. "I had to try. There was no one else around. I had to get those other girls to safety." She had her face lowered, but raised her head to look into Ukyo's eyes. "I didn't see you there, so I thought their only chance was for me to distract it."

Ukyo's mind boggled for a moment. At first she had thought Akane was just being foolhardy, but she had intended to sacrifice her life for those girls. Ranma was always complaining about her doing things like that, and Ukyo had always thought she was pretty foolish for not listening to him. But here, Akane had rushed right into danger, and didn't have Ranma to back her up. Reluctantly, Ukyo had to admit that took a lot of courage.

"Well, at least we showed up. Let's take you home and get your wounds looked at." Ukyo said. Konatsu faded into view next to her, and then returned to his normal form. To her credit, Akane didn't seem shocked, although she did look at him.

Akane looked back at Ukyo, curious. "You mentioned my name before. Do you know me?"

Ukyo looked confused. Ordinarily, her megami no ooi didn't hide her identity, as it did with Usagi's Senshi. But maybe her appearance was just too outlandish. She let her tenki go, reverting back to her normal form. "It's me, Akane. It's Ukyo."

"Ukyo? Do I know you?" Akane studied her face carefully. "Have we met?"

Ukyo was boggled again. Had Akane lost her memory? "Yes, Akane, we met about two years ago. We were... well, I guess you could say we were friends."

"Ah, that explains it." Akane shrugged off Ukyo's embrace, and shakily tried to stand on her own. Konatsu helped steady her, and she thanked him.

"I lost my memory in a terrible accident about a year ago," Akane said. "The last thing I remember is going to junior high school. I lost a whole year of my life, while I was in high school. I'm in my Senior year now, but I don't even remember my Freshman year."

"My God..." Ukyo grabbed Akane by the shoulders, and turned her to look into her eyes. There was no sign of recognition there. "Ranma..." she muttered breathlessly. "What have you done?"

At the name, Akane's eyes widened. "Ranma! Did... Do you know Ranma?"

"Yes..." Ukyo studied her carefully. "Do you remember him?"

Akane shook her head, sadly. "No. It's just... my family, and Uncle Genma and Auntie Nodoka, they sometimes mention him when they think I'm not listening. They never tell me who he is. They just hush up, and whenever I ask about him, they just say that he's dead, and no one should speak ill of the dead."

Ukyo swallowed. "I can imagine. Well, if you don't remember Ranma, maybe it's best if you don't ask about him."

"Where is he?"

"Somewhere far from here," Ukyo said. The Pretty Princess Institute wasn't in Nerima, although it was a bus ride away. "You might even say that he is dead."

"Is see..." Akane looked at the ground, thoughtfully.

"Akane, what happened to you?" Ukyo's mind again shot her an image of Akane in her childishly cute dress, swinging her Piko Piko hammer, which made an incongruous "squeak" before demolishing whatever it touched. She remembered how Shampoo and Konatsu had brought her down. Akane had chosen the wrong side, and at the time, Ukyo had believed that Akane deserved whatever she had coming to her. But Akane didn't ask for what happened to her. Ukyo shuddered at a memory of agony from the tiara. If Ukyo had been the one to give in... Hell, she WOULD have given in if Ranma hadn't rescued her, she wasn't vain enough to think otherwise... would she have shared the same fate?

Akane took a deep breath and put a hand to her head. "I don't know why I'm telling you all this... burdening you with my problems. But you just seem like someone I can trust." She looked up and smiled, and for the first time, Ukyo saw a fleeting glimpse of the old Akane. She was forced to hold her tongue as her conscience reminded her of all the reasons the old Akane WOULDN'T have reason to trust her. Instead, she smiled and nodded.

"It all started about a year ago," Akane said. "I don't remember any of this, this is just what my family has told me. Apparently, I was asked to join the Pretty Princess Institute, the school for magical girls. I guess I said yes. I was taken away, and my family wasn't able to see me for a long time. Finally, just about the time they really started to miss me, and regret my decision, all of a sudden just I showed up on the front walk, unconscious and with an intense fever. It seems I was dumped there."

Ukyo frowned. That was an awfully cleaned up version of the story. Akane hadn't agreed to join the Institute, she had been kidnapped. But maybe her family didn't want her to think they would come back for her or something.

"Whatever happened to me at the Pretty Princess Institute, I guess it failed. I was really sick. At first, no one knew what to do about me, I was weak, and delirious. Then Nabiki managed to find Dr. Tofu." Akane stared off into the distance, her eyes starting to get misty. "I didn't even know he was gone. Last I remember, he was still at the clinic and taking care of me as always. But apparently in that year I lost, he moved away.

"Anyway, Dr. Tofu said that there was some damage to my ki. Part of it had been... ripped out. It's left me weak, and tired all the time." She looked down. "I get sick really, really easily, and when I do, it takes time for me to recover. With Dr. Tofu's help, I was able to get better, but by the time I did, I had lost most of my strength. I had to start my martial arts training all over again."

Ukyo nodded. That explained the weight loss and the decrease in her muscle tone. Without making it obvious, she began to shift her ki sight, in order to look at Akane's aura. As a magical girl, she could do that easily, plus her martial arts training helped her understand some of what she was seeing. Her talk with Ranma about the nature of tenki had filled in the rest. Maybe she couldn't see as clearly as with Michiko's glasses, but a year of exploring her new powers and training with them helped focus her concentration.

As Akane's aura came into view, Ukyo gasped again. Akane's tenki was GONE. Not just disabled, not just dormant, it had been ripped out of her aura. She had no haigeki, she had no shuken, and even her megami no ooi was damaged. Not that that part of her aura had been that strong to begin with. There were even signs that her magical potential had been removed, not that Akane had ever expressed any interest in the occult. That was more Gosunkuji's area.

And there was a huge, gaping hole in her ki. It was ragged, and inflamed; even though it had healed up, the edges were, figuratively speaking, red and swollen. This wasn't even a clean operation. It was surgically precise, of that Ukyo had no doubt, but it was like killing a mosquito with a flamethrower. Any part of her ki that had ever been corrupted by her tenki was gone now, removed along with its corruption. The disruption in her ki flow was like a cancer, or more like, the rest of the body after the removal of a cancer. It was no wonder she found it hard to heal and ward off disease.

Fortunately, there were signs that she was getting better. Her ki was stronger in areas away from the wound, and showed signs that she had learned meditation and focus. She assumed that this was a sign that someone had been training her, probably her father, and since Akane had mentioned him, Genma as well. If the training continued, her healing would get better, as the ki healing took over for her physical body's natural healing. And she would get stronger as well. The training would have to be intense, far tougher than anything Akane had been through before, but it could take up the slack.

Akane continued her tale, as she had not noticed Ukyo's distraction. "Anyway, I was starting to get better, and father and Uncle Genma were training me, when something even worse happened..."

She paused a moment, as her mood became dark and frightened. Then she went on. "I had been out of school for a while since I was so sick, and as far as I knew, my last memory of school was junior high. I had no idea what was waiting for me in high school, but I was excited. I had been told I had lots of friends, including Yuka and Sayuri, so I knew there would be familiar faces there..."

Her face became even more clouded. "Only... nobody told me about Kuno, or his challenge to the other boys. I didn't even remember meeting him. I was walking to school, looking forward to my first day, when all these boys came charging at me, yelling about how they all loved me, and they were going to beat me, and I would have to go on a date with them."

Ukyo's eyes widened. She had never seen the morning fights when they first happened, of course, but they had started again when Akane transferred the engagement to Nabiki. She hadn't cared, at the time, too busy attacking Nabiki, but she had seen it happen. "They... they didn't...?" she asked, her voice a whisper.

"No." Akane shook her head. "I had no idea what was going on, though. There was no time to prepare. I struck out blindly, my instincts kicking in, but as weak as I was, I could barely stop them. They overwhelmed me... I held my own for a while, but then I tripped. I fell down, and some of them fell on top of me, and..."

Ukyo's eyes were as wide as they could be. Akane shuddered, then went on. "Somehow, Sayuri and Yuka managed to force their way through the crowd. My dress was ripped, and a couple of the boys had hit me, but they got to me before... anything more could happen." She fell silent, her eyes haunted. "Nabiki showed up, too, and started ordering the group to disperse. Everyone seemed to listen to her.

"She told me later, somehow her contacts had missed Kuno getting the morning attacks back together. She apologized for miscalculating so badly, and promised to prevent any betting on my fights until I got better. I got the feeling she meant her own bets, but she said she'd stop anyone else who tried to challenge me."

"And that doesn't bother you?" Ukyo asked, disturbed. Where was the proud overconfident Akane who always said she could win her own fights?

Akane just shrugged. "What choice do I have? I can't fight in my condition." There was a harsh finality in her voice. "I'm going to have to get better... before I can do that.

"I feel like... like I lost an arm, or something." Perhaps as a sympathetic gesture, Akane clutched at her arm, holding it close to her side. "I feel like there's a part of me missing. A hole... in my life... that I just can't fill. Even after I started going back to school, it was a struggle, every day. I didn't realize how much of my memory I had lost until I started taking classes. I ended up being put back - but even that didn't help. There are... gaps... in my memory from before. It's random. I don't know what I'm going to end up having forgotten."

She looked up at Ukyo with a wry grin. "I had forgotten what six times seven was. Nothing else, just that one multiplication problem. I had to learn it all over again. It's all like that."

"Eventually, father pulled me out of school. He's home schooling me, and Kasumi is helping as well. They say I'm catching up but... it's hard. It's hard to have the will to... keep going. My martial arts will never be what it was before, and that's all I've ever cared about. If I can't have that... I don't know what I'm going to do."

She was silent for a long moment. Then she spoke, in a whisper. "I've thought about ending it. I can't... I can't really, Kasumi would be so unhappy... the rest of them too, but..."

Ukyo shifted uncertainly. She didn't know what to say. She knew more about what happened than Akane did, but maybe it was better if she didn't know. She couldn't help but think that if Ranma had been unable to get to her in time, this might have happened to her. Akane had been brainwashed by the Institute, and maybe this was the only way Ranma could reverse the brainwashing. She wanted to think that if was just that Akane wanted to remain a magical girl, like Ukyo herself, Ranma wouldn't have resorted to this. But that was Ranma. She wasn't sure what to think of the Director of the Pretty Princess Institute.

In the silence, Konatsu leaned over. "Mistress Ukyo," he said. "I do not think Ran... the Director would wish us to leave her like this. We can at the very least escort her home."

"Yes, of course." Ukyo shoved aside her disturbing thoughts and focused on the present. "So, Akane, you're training with Genma Saotome, is that it? I'm sure if anyone can get you back in shape, he can."

"Oh, do you know Uncle Genma?" Akane looked interested.

"I've met him before," she grimaced. "He and I don't have the best history, though. We don't exactly get along."

Akane nodded as if in understanding. "He is a harsh trainer. Father has to hold him back, sometimes. But I want to get stronger. I want to prove to him that I can do it."

Ukyo shuddered at the thought of Genma's training. She hoped Soun was able to spare his daughter the worst of it. "So... where did you meet Genma, anyway?" She eyed Akane carefully, wondering if she suspected there was a connection between Genma and his son.

"Oh, Uncle Genma and Auntie Saotome have always been there. They were there the day I awakened. I didn't have any memory of them, of course, but apparently I met them during the year I lost. Uncle Genma and my father trained together."

"Yeah, I'd heard that." She grimaced. "Have you met their master?"

"No, I don't think so." Akane looked thoughtful. "I think I saw him once. My father was talking to him, asking him to help train me. But he said that I was so weak, his kind of training would be dangerous to me." She looked down. "He was a funny little man. It sounded like he was in a hurry to move out and go somewhere else."

"Akane, why don't I help train you?" Ukyo didn't like the dejected tone in Akane's voice. "We used to spar together sometimes, although we never formally trained together. But I always felt you had a lot of untapped potential. Why, if we set our minds to it, I'm sure we can make you just as strong as you used to be. Maybe even stronger!"

Akane looked up, a glimmer of hope in her eyes. "Do you really think so?"

"Of course!" Ukyo patted the other girl on the back, genially. "Don't you remember... um, I mean, I know a guy who received this moxibustion that made him as weak as a baby. He never gave up, and he trained hard to learn this technique that didn't use strength, so he could fight the guy who weakened him, and convince him to give him his strength back. And it worked, too!"

Akane smiled, shyly. She looked like she was trying not to get her hopes up. "Okay. If you are willing to try, then I'll do my best."

"Of course, Akane. Let's take you home."

It took only a few minutes to make it to the Tendo home, and Ukyo smiled at the familiar setting. Akane walked in the front door, calling out a greeting, then continued to the family room. Kasumi favored Ukyo with her usual smile, but the others were more cautious. She noticed that Genma was sitting at the table next to his friend Soun. Nodoka was sitting a little bit apart from them, next to Nabiki.

"Everyone, this is Ukyo. She says that she is an old friend of mine, although of course I don't remember her."

"Hello," Ukyo said, bowing to the others. "I've been away for a long while, but I've decided to return to Nerima." She glanced at Akane. "I hope Akane and I can... um... renew our friendship."

Nabiki raise a speculative eyebrow at that, and Soun and Genma both glared at her. But Nodoka gave a polite nod. "We are happy to welcome a senshi of the Pretty Princess Institute to our home," she said. "Might I inquire as to the health of your Director?"

Ukyo returned Nodoka's gaze, a bit intimidated by the cool hostility of her expression. "I am not here in any official capacity, Mrs. Saotome," she said. "You have all met Konatsu, my companion?"

Konatsu nodded to them. As he did, Ukyo continued. "I have not been to see..." she paused, "... the Director since my return, but I will inform her of your concern, if that is your wish."

Nodoka turned back to the table. "That will not be necessary. If this is a personal visit, then I will speak no further on the matter."

Ukyo frowned. Apparently Ranma had NOT resolved things with her parents as she had hoped. As she considered her next move, Akane interrupted.

"If you will excuse me, everyone, I am going to bed," Akane said. "I'm suddenly very tired, and I can't wait for supper. Kasumi, if you would bring me up my meal, I would appreciate it."

"Oh, my," Kasumi commented. "Are you all right?"

"It's okay. I'm just tired, is all."

"I'm not surprised," Ukyo said kindly. "After all, you fought off that demon. You must be exhausted."

Both Genma and Soun leapt to their feet. "What!" Soun shouted. "You let a demon attack my little girl?"

"It was nothing!" Akane shot back, cutting Ukyo a harsh glare. "It was just a little demon, and I distracted it until my friends could escape."

The two men rushed over to her. "Akane, you are not ready to take on such a challenge," Genma told her sternly. "You could have been injured or even killed!"

"Waaaah!" Soun wailed. "My baby girl!"

"Mr. Tendo, Mr. Saotome, please!" Ukyo cut in. She had obviously stepped into something, and didn't want Akane to get into trouble. "Akane was very brave, but she didn't take any undue risks. As soon as she saw Konatsu and I were in the area, she stepped back and let us handle it."

"Is this true?" Genma asked, eyeing the pony tailed chef suspiciously. Behind him, Akane shot her a look of gratitude.

"Even if Akane had been in any trouble, fighting demons is what we magical girls do. I was happy to help, and we were lucky to come along when we did. If it weren't for Akane's quick thinking, the demon would have started draining the girls' energy, and Akane would have been caught anyway!"

Genma turned back to Akane. "Is that demon draining your ki why you are so tired?"

Akane put a hand to her forehead. "I don't know. Maybe. I just want to go to bed, Father, Uncle. It's been a long day."

"Of course." Ukyo took her by the shoulder and hurried her down the hall. "We'll talk tomorrow, you and I. Maybe we'll go on a picnic or something! It's good to see you again, and I hope we can catch up again real soon."

"Thank you, Ukyo," Akane said. She smiled as she looked up at the taller girl. "I'm sorry I don't remember you, but I'm sure that we can be great friends." Then she seemed to sag a bit. "I'm just so tired..." She shuffled off towards the stairs.

"I'll bring you your supper in a few minutes, Akane," Kasumi called out. "Have a nice rest!"

As soon as Akane was out of earshot, Genma and the Tendos rounded on Ukyo. "What are you doing here?" Genma growled. He was keeping his voice down, but his tone was still just this side of roaring in outrage. "Did that ungrateful boy send you?"

"As I said, I have not seen Ranma in over a year. I had to..."

Nodoka interrupted. "We do not use that name in this house," she said, coldly. "My son is dead. The Director of your Institute bears the name Saotome because that is the name she is known by in the government. However, officially she is a niece of Genma and myself. For Akane's sake, especially, I ask you not to mention that name again."

Ukyo was drawn up short by this admission. Things had definitely not gone well. Her shoulders slumped. "My apologies, Mrs. Saotome. I meant no disrespect." She looked up. "As I was saying, I had to leave, after the Director took over the Institute. I had some things to work through, not the least of which were my feelings for... her.

"I returned two months later for a visit, but left soon after. I've been on the road since then, and although I am officially a senshi of the Institute, my loyalties do not lie with them. Not entirely, anyway..." Ukyo's voice trailed off, as she gazed at the floor.

Nabiki moved up to stand beside her. "We have no need of either your help, or the help of your so-called 'Director'," she said. "Don't you think you've done enough?"

Ukyo swallowed as she turned to look into the Tendo girl's eyes. She had never know Nabiki to feel compassion for anyone, and even now, her expression was more critical and calculating than filled with empathy for her sister's plight. But from what Akane had said about Kuno and his "friends", Nabiki may have had reason to question her judgment. It was a start.

"Look, I know I made mistakes. Ranch... The Director too. You don't know what happened there." She met Nabiki's gaze unflinchingly. "You don't know what we all went through. You may know some of it, but not all of it. I probably know more than you do, but even I don't know everything. I'm as caught off guard by all this as you are.

"Maybe I did ignore Akane. Maybe I didn't think about what this would mean to her. But that's because I was too busy with what it meant to me." She averted her eyes, running a hand through her hair. "I was hurt, and I had changed... so much, and I didn't know who I was any more. I had to get away, to wander the world, and find out who I had become. And Konastu, he needed the break, too."

The boy in the feminine kimono smiled shyly, and Ukyo took his hand. Then she turned back to Nabiki. "And then I get back here and find out that Akane has apparently had her magical girl powers taken away, and it's left her weak and sickly. I don't understand it, Ran... the Director has changed, she's not the person she used to be. I don't know what she's capable of any more. I'd like to think he... she had a good reason, that no matter how she felt before, she would still feel responsible for Akane since she's one of her senshi."

"But she isn't anymore, is she?" Nabiki's tone was cold. "And your 'Director' just abandoned her like last week's trash..."

"No... I won't believe that!" Ukyo said. Although she was having a hard time holding on to that belief in the face of the evidence. "Ranma went in there to get Akane and I OUT of that place, and whether Akane wanted it or not, that's what he DID. And I know Akane was brainwashed by the former Director." Ukyo sighed. "Maybe this was the price of reversing that brainwashing."

"That was our conclusion as well," Genma said. "At least we are a position to help Akane. With my training, she can get stronger again, and we will succeed, where we failed with that boy." He frowned, and Ukyo was again reminded of why she had never liked that old panda. She would have to watch out for Akane, and make sure Genma never tried any of his crazier training techniques on her.

"At least the schools are finally joined," Soun said forlornly. "It may not have happened as we hoped, but now Akane is the heir to both the Tendo and Saotome schools of Anything Goes."

Ukyo turned back to Nabiki, who was still regarding her cautiously. "I'll be happy to help with the training as well," Ukyo said. "And believe me, I'm no happier with the Director of the Pretty Princess Institute than you are." She snorted. "'Pretty Princess Institute'. There's a ridiculous name - and misleading, too - if I ever heard one. I think I'd be happy if I never saw that place ever again."

"Fine," Nodoka said. "You may stay. But you are not to tell Akane anything about the Director, or what happened to her." Ukyo nodded, and Ranma's mother continued. "Dr. Tofu felt that Akane would never get her memories back, but telling her about the Director might reawaken fragments of memory that could be disturbing, or might cause her emotional distress."

"He's probably right," Ukyo agreed. "Akane went through a horrible experience. It's best if she doesn't remember."

"So what happened with you?" Nabiki asked, her voice probing. "Akane returned to us weak and with no powers. How come you're not the same way?"

"Don't think I hadn't considered that," Ukyo said, wrapping her arms around herself. "But the simple answer is, R... Saotome did this to me, not Director Artemis. I became a magical girl, but I didn't undergo the brainwashing that altered Akane's personality."

"What about Saotome?" Nabiki looked as if she already knew the answer.

"Yeah, he... she went through it. That she is what she is today proves that. She fought back, though. They changed her, but they didn't break her."

"And Akane broke?"

Ukyo shuddered. The memory of agony was still as fresh as it was a year ago. The long hours she spent studying the Institute's lessons. The frustration of struggling with her megami no ooi, trying and failing to form her tenki. And the whole time, that damned tiara, always ready to punish her at the slightest hint of defiance. Even after all this time, it still haunted her dreams.

Ukyo stared Nabiki in the eye. "I know I would have."

"It's been a while since I've made okonomiyaki," Ukyo said, "and I had to improvise without a proper griddle in your kitchen. But I hope you like it."

"Well, for me, it'll be the first time trying your okonomiyaki," Akane said cheerfully. "So I'm sure I'll love it."

As Ukyo had promised, she had packed a picnic lunch for herself and Akane, and had set out for the park for their meal. It was nice to see Akane smiling again, it had been so long since she had seen any of the folks from the old days, and Akane's dour mood had made it hard for Ukyo to stay upbeat. Although it was obvious that Akane had no memory of what she had been through, Ukyo could tell that the mystery of it was constantly on her mind. Plus, she had been awakened last night by Akane's screaming, from a nightmare that Akane hadn't even been able to describe.

Plus, it was no secret to Ukyo that the Tendos still resented her. Although they did seem to accept her help with Akane's training. There was little she could do physically outside of sparring with the shorter martial artist. But she could use her powers to try and heal Akane's wounded ki, and make sure that nothing suspicious crept into her aura. Although she could never repair the hole, she could concentrate on the spiritual scars that were left behind.

Akane's mood was improving as well. Since Akane was no longer going to school, she didn't have much chance to see her friends Sayuri and Yuka, and never got to see her other classmates. It was obvious to Ukyo that the girl was lonely, but unwilling to admit it to anyone. One thing that had not changed about Akane was her stubbornness, she was just a lot quieter about it these days. She hoped that with a little time alone, she could coax the old tomboy out of her shell.

She decided to start with what she knew was a hot button topic. If she could turn it into a challenge, Ukyo was sure she could bring out Akane's competitive spirit. "So, have you tried to cook anything lately, Akane? I could teach you to make okonomiyaki, if you like."

"Oh, I don't know how to cook," Akane said, matter of factly. She tasted her okonomiyaki, and her eyes lit up. "Oh, you were right, Ukyo! This is fantastic!"

"What?" Ukyo struggled to regain her bearings. "Um, thank you for that, Akane, but what do you mean you don't know how to cook?" Had she lost that much of her memories? "You used to cook all the time!"

Akane made a face. "I know. My family told me that I started to learn how to cook last year, and it was really horrible. But I don't remember that." She took another bite. "Maybe it's best that I don't remember how to cook, if it was that bad."

"Well, it wasn't THAT bad..." Ukyo said, weakly. "Besides, maybe I can help you get better."

"Why?" Akane looked honestly curious. She was not at all bothered by her inability to cook. "Kasumi is a great cook. I don't have any reason to cook, myself. Why would I want to learn how to cook?"

"Well, because of..." Ukyo cut herself off. She was about to say, "because of Ranma." And in that moment, her brain did a flip-flop. Akane had only ever cooked for Ranma. She had never shown any interest in cooking for anyone else. She had cooked for her family, but only because she was already cooking for Ranma. And without Ranma... Akane no longer wanted to cook.

"Well, a woman really should learn how to cook," Ukyo said, taking a bite of her okonomiyaki herself. "It's not right for you to depend on Kasumi to do it if for the rest of your life."

Akane's face fell. "You're right. I never thought of that."

"And besides," Ukyo continued. "You might find a boy you like. You might want to cook for him."

Akane took another bite. "If all boys are like Kuno and his friends, I don't want to have anything to do with boys." Then her expression turned more pensive. She ran a hand through her hair. "Ukyo... how did my hair get cut?"

Ukyo wondered at the non sequitor. "I don't know." She noted again how Akane's hair was growing out. "When I met you, your hair was already short. I thought it had always been that length."

"My family says it was an accident, but they won't say anything else." She stared off into space, still stroking her hair. "It used to be down to my back. I was growing it to be as long as Kasumi's..."

Then she shook off the mood. "I'm sorry, I'm just being silly." She smiled sadly at Ukyo. "I've had a year to realize that Dr. Tofu loves Kasumi, not me. At least he came back for me when I needed him. I'm really grateful to him for that.

"Anyway, you're right. I guess I should learn to cook. What good would it do, though? I already know I'm not any good."

"Don't think about it that way," Ukyo said. "Think of it as, now you can start all over from the beginning. There's no reason to assume you'll make the same mistakes all over again."

"Well, if I don't know which mistakes I made, how can I avoid them?"

"Don't worry about that. I'll teach you. You'll do fine." Ukyo smiled.

"That would be great, Ukyo." Akane studied her new friend for a moment. "So what's it like to be a senshi, anyway? I've heard so much about them, but I was never really interested since my specialty is martial arts." She looked a bit confused. "I'm actually surprised I wanted to join them in the first place."

Ukyo tried not to let her dismay show on her face. "The truth is, I was never really interested in magical girls, either. I kind of got... caught up in things. It's kind of fun, though. I've been traveling all over Japan, and I've foiled a few monster attacks. Not as many as we have here in Tokyo, but I somehow managed to be just in the right place at the right time. It's nice to be able to help people."

"What's the Pretty Princess Institute like?" Akane seemed to be thinking, deeply, and rested her head in her hands.

"It's okay, I guess. It's a lot like school." She sighed. "It can also be like a prison. Magical girls are actually pretty dangerous, and the government likes to keep an eye on them. I actually had to get a special permit to be able to travel. I'm sure the girls there are happy enough, they have their lessons to concentrate on." Ukyo winced at the memory of agony again, at least she hoped the girls where no longer going through that. "I guess once you get to be a full fledged senshi, like me, you've earned a bit more freedom."

Akane was silent for a moment. "I didn't ask to join the Pretty Princess Institute, did I?"

Ukyo eyed Akane cautiously. Despite herself, she felt herself relax. It didn't feel right to keep lying to her. "You figured that out, huh?"

"I've seen the news reports, heard the news stories of how Director Silvervine led a coup against the government and was overthrown. But everyone knows the government doesn't tell the whole story. Rumor is, it was an uprising from within.

"Were you and I... were we captured together?" Akane looked up at her friend.

"Yeah... yeah, we were Akane. We were just innocent victims, caught in the crossfire."

"How did you escape?"

"I had help. A... a girl on the inside. She got me out, then she went back in for you. She... she didn't make it."

"Oh." Akane's face clouded over. "I thought it was Ranma. You know, everybody talks about him, but they won't say anything to my face. Even at school, I heard rumors, but I guess Nabiki told everyone to keep quiet about it."

Ukyo was silent a moment. She was breaking her promise to Nodoka, but it was already too late. Maybe she could share part of the story, to reassure her friend. "I don't like to talk about Ranma. I... I loved him." She looked away.

"Oh. But I thought your friend was a girl?"

"Ranma was there, too." Ukyo wrapped her arms around herself.

"I'm sorry, I'll stop asking about him."

"It's all right. He gave his life, to get us out. In the end, he got what he wanted."

Akane nodded. "Ukyo... what happened to me?"

Ukyo hesitated again. "Well, as you've probably guessed, you were captured. You were turned into a magical girl. Director Silvervine she... she brainwashed you. You fought on her side."

Akane looked up, her brown eyes pained. "Did... did you and I fight?"

"Yeah, yeah we did." Ukyo swallowed, then inched closer to Akane. "I wasn't the one who took you down. Konatsu did that, and another girl named Shampoo."

"Was that the girl who helped you?"

Ukyo shook her head. "No. It was the girl who's the Director right now. She's the one who helped us. She risked her life to do that."

"I see." She looked down. "So... when I was defeated... ?"

Ukyo looked off into the distance, gathering her thoughts. "You were brainwashed. Under the control of Director Silvervine. I guess my friend couldn't save you. So she reversed the process the best way she knew how."

"And that left me... crippled."


There was a long silence. Finally, Ukyo spoke up again. "I can see what happened to you, better than Dr. Tofu. I'm a magical girl myself, after all. Your tenki, what makes you a magical girl, it's been surgically removed. Your tenki, it's a part of your ki, so that hole is where it was cut out."

Ukyo looked at her. "You'll never be a magical girl again, Akane. The ability has been removed."

"Well, that's good," Akane said with a smile. "I never wanted to be one in the first place. No offense, but using magic to give yourself a boost and all these magical attacks... it seems like cheating, to me. I'd rather earn my abilities with hard work."

"Me too," Ukyo said, with a smile of her own. "Although you'd actually be surprised just how hard achieving tenki can be. Not to mention how dangerous. But I always felt it was a bit of a shortcut myself." She grasped her spatula. "Unless it's against demons, I'd rather fight in my own form."

Akane giggled, nodding. She looked as if a weight had been taken off of her shoulders. She stood up, and brushed off her dress. "Well, that okonomiyaki was delicious. However, if you'll excuse me, I need to go, um, wash up. I'll be back in a minute."

"Okay, Akane. I'll be waiting." Ukyo watched as the Tendo girl headed off across the park. Despite her promise, she was glad she had told Akane the story, or at least part of it. Only she, Akane, and Ranma could truly understand what they had been through, and while Akane no longer remembered that torture, she still had to deal with its aftermath. And in that, she and Ukyo had a lot in common, and could support each other.

As Ukyo sat waiting for Akane to return, she heard a noise from a nearby bush. Someone was hissing at her, trying to get her attention. Was that Konatsu? Unsure, she stood up and headed to the bush.

As soon as she neared, an arm snaked out and grabbed her. Ukyo struggled as she was pulled into the bush. As she broke through to the other side, though, she managed to shrug off the hold. She pushed the other girl, for it was a girl, away from her, and stood up, glaring with her hands on her hips.

The girl was dressed in the most glaringly outlandish dress she had ever seen - or would have never seen, if she hadn't become a magical girl. "Over the top" was the standard in senshi uniforms. The girl in front of her was dressed all in pink, with long, crimson hair tied up with ribbons, and cascading in twin tails all the way to her hips. And her dress was figuratively exploding with ribbons, of black and white, they trailed out from her frilly skirt and bodice and surrounded her in a halo of streamers, which flowed and swayed in the breeze.

She had changed from the last time Ukyo had seen her, she was taller, and her face had more of a slender, regal manner, not the impish roundness of before. And her hair, which previously had been a chaotic mix of scarlet and pink, had apparently settled on a sharp delineation, which made her hair look like it had pink highlights. Her hair was longer, too, it had previously been only down to the small of her back. While Ukyo's own senshi outfit made her look cute and playful, even silly, on this girl it worked. Even the extreme nature of her outfit made her look all business.

The embarrassed look on the girl's face, though, and the way she said, "Sorry about that" removed no doubt as to who it was. Even if she didn't recognize the dress, she would never fail to recognize her old friend.

"Ranma Saotome!" Ukyo yelled, fixing her captor with a glare. "Just what in the HELL do you think you're doing?"

Author's Notes:

This story is a sequel to "Haigeki", by Xylix. As that story centered exclusively on Ranma, I decided to tell this story, which tells the aftermath of Ranma's decision to overthrow Director Silvervine and take her position as head of the Pretty Princess Institute. Xylix had left a number of questions unanswered; if Akane would truly be able to recover from the loss of her tenki as Ranma hoped, if Konatsu was permanently changed into a woman, or only became one as a senshi, and what would happen to all the girls who were frightened by Ranma's bid for power, and did not trust the Institute any more. (Or even, had never trusted it in the first place)

I also plan to explore some other ideas I had, which will be revealed in later chapters. This will not be an action oriented fanfic, with demon attacks and senshi fighting senshi, although I did put that scene in the beginning as a nod to the genre. This also won't be a dark mind rape fic like Xylix's original. Probably, the majority of the story will be dialog, the characters talking to each other, and working out their problems. If you don't like that sort of fanfic, you probably won't like this one.

As Xylix did in his own first chapter, I will take the opportunity here to explain some of the terms from the original story, so they will hopefully not be too confusing. I'm using MY interpretation of the terms here, which may not exactly mesh with the way Xylix saw it.

Megami no Ooi [Mantle of the Goddess] - A combination of ki and mystical energies, manifesting a woman's self image as a woman. It is associated with beauty and vanity. This aura is the foundation of all "magical girl" abilities. Even without tenki, it can theoretically be used to power ki attacks, like Ryoga's Shi Shi Hokudan, which is powered by depression, and Ranma's Mouko Takabisha, which is powered by confidence. As such, both attacks can disrupt the magami no ooi, although by how much depends on the will of the senshi.

While men could form a megami no ooi, it is assumed that the vanity and attention to personal beauty involved makes it usable only by women. While it is certainly not true that ALL women are vain and obsessed with beauty, those that aren't wouldn't be able to achieve tenki. Which is the point. They could be helped by an existing senshi, and apparently, a senshi could also empower a man that she was involved in a romantic relationship with.

Of course, anyone who understood that the source of this power is actually vanity might not consider it so appealing. :D

Tenki [Turning Point] - A physical transformation, using the opposing forces of haigeki and shuken (described below) to empower the megami no ooi and allow it to enforce its standards of perfection and beauty on the wielder. A side effect of this transformation is that a magical girl cannot be harmed, injured, have her costume ripped, or even get it or her dirty, as to do so would spoil the wielder's beauty. The very fabric of the universe itself can be warped by this magical "law". By extending this law to offense, the magical girl gains "attacks", which purify and destroy things (such as demons) which are ugly.

Over time, the transformation bestowed by tenki "crystallizes" and becomes easier to manage. Removal of this crystallized "matrix" requires a brutal form of spiritual surgery which removes the part of the ki "infected" by the tenki. This process (as described by Xylix) leaves the victim weak, unable to heal properly, and with a severe loss of memory, as well as preventing her from ever using magical girl powers.

Kinzu [To Forbid or Suppress] - A priest technique which is the basis of both haigeki and shuken. The priest uses an aura of purity, formed by his love and understanding of the universe, to seal or even destroy demons.

Haigeki [To Reject or Denounce] - A derivation of Kinzu which uses a magical girl's own vanity and confidence in her own beauty to form the aura to reject and seal

Shuken [Dominion, Supremacy] - The polar opposite of haigeki. While haigeki rejects ugliness and seals it away, Shuken then destroys it, and forces a fantasy over the reality, in which the "impurities" are purified and replaced with beauty. It is this force that allows a magical girl to reject the normal laws of physics and create her own law.

Shuken, and the Tenki which depends on it, can be overcome by imposing your own will, which means that magical girls battle by essentially overriding each other's auras. As Ranma found, once the aura has been counteracted, most magical girls are vulnerable to physical attack. Unfortunately, a magical girl's power is exponential in its progression, not linear. (Possibly because one a magical girl has the will to change the universe, she has the will to change her own strength of will)

That will probably be the last definitions page I will post here, I don't intend to go into as much detail as Xylix did.