Ranma Nibunnoichi - Reflections
A. V. Morgan
Part Forty-Five: In Hot Water Again
In spite of the comfort and relaxation offered by the hot springs near Jusenkyo, a great tension and uneasiness hung over the heads over the travelers from Nerima. Full dark had set in while they were bathing, prompting them to set up camp near the hot springs and huddle around a fire wrapped in blankets. They were all grateful to put a little distance between themselves, the Musk encampment and the cursed springs. Once morning came, it would be impossible to avoid either. Ranko was still shocked by Herb's actions at their meeting, having confirmed that the Chisuiiton had made her curse proof when she joined Ranma in jumping into the Nanniichuan before their baths. In spite of her bitter regret at losing the chance to reclaim part-time manhood, she had taken the Chisuiiton that Ranma had liberated from Lime and Mint, and splashed her mother, Akane, Ukyo and Cologne to grant them equal protection from the springs of sorrow. Of the four, she had been most concerned about Ukyo making good on her threat to acquire a Nanniichuan curse. That precaution was the only thing sparing her the need to watch Ukyo like a hawk. Which was good, since Ukyo had been so upset she had stormed off and could only be tracked by the sounds of violence erupting from the surrounding forest.
"I think she'll forgive you, once she's had a chance to come to her senses," Cologne soothed, unable to resist a sympathetic smile as Ranko cringed at the sound of wood and stone breaking to the accompaniment of curses. It seemed obvious from the chef's outburst that she had been intent on getting herself cursed. Which only added to Ranko's gloom.
That was nothing that a little anger could not save her from. "I told her to experiment with Instant Nanniichuan first! I can't believe she was really plannin' on jumpin' in! I am definitely not telling her about the other cask of Nanniichuan now!" she growled. As much as she hated the idea of Ukyo getting cursed for her, the chef had made her point about what her options were if she did not marry Ranma. While Ranma was getting water for their father, Ranko filled a cask that could be given to Ukyo under special circumstances. It still pained Ranko that Ryouga had told her it was too late for him to love her. It had forced her to reconsider Ucchan's dilemma, and the possibility that marrying Ranko might be the only solution to her problems. That, and a male Ucchan might be enough to tempt Ranko's heart to love her best friend back.
"If you told her, maybe she would calm down," Ranma retorted.
"Yeah, but I don't want her to get the idea that I WANT her to be a man," Ranko sighed, turning to look at the reclining boy.
"But you do, don't you?"
"Well, you can't marry Akane AND Ukyo, and Mom won't let me marry a girl unless I am a guy. I'm just glad Mom's givin' us a choice about this," Ranko said under her breath. These contingency plans had been discussed during rest periods over the past couple of days, along with another matter that had to be brought up. Clearing her throat, she turned back to Cologne. "Right now, I'm more concerned about Shampoo. We just can't leave her like that!" she exclaimed with a shudder.
"I've already told you I have no problem if Shun decides to come back," Cologne replied edgily, shying away from Ranko's demand that she recognize her great-granddaughter in her present circumstances. Ranko rolled her eyes.
"Great, but that doesn't change the fact that right now we have that- that- that c-c-c-ca-cat followin' us around!" she stammered nervously, resisting the urge to try and spot the threat in the darkness. "Besides, if 'Shun' comes back, then I just have one more guy runnin' around tryin' to beat me up and force me to marry him! An' since you won't let Mousse go back to bein' a girl, he's talkin' about that joint marriage thing with Shampoo and maybe double-teaming me!"
"Yes, well, no one said being an amazon would be easy, Ranko."
"Oh, come on! Easy was never an option! This is just insane!" she shrilled, looking to her siblings for support.
"She has a point," Ranma argued, sitting up and putting on a serious face. "We've already talked about this, and it's not that hard to say that Shampoo was just trying to help us with healing Ranko. She'd still be helpless if Fa Shen wasn't turned into a guy, and if anyone asks we could just say Fa Shen was acting like me and that's why Shampoo locked her as a man. It was an accident anyway."
"It does not change her intentions, children. The crime she committed was against the tribe, not just Fa Shen and Ranko. Turning an amazon woman into a man is unforgivable!" Cologne stressed in exasperation.
"Even if she was a man before? Even if Shampoo only meant it to be temporary?" Ranko challenged. Crossing her arms and looking slightly away, she revealed, "It's not like her actual plan would have worked. Fa Shen tried to sleep with me earlier, after she got drugged, and I just didn't have the ki for any kind of sexual stuff, not even when the drugs got passed into me!"
"And what makes you think we'd have let you kill Shampoo anyway?" Ranma threw in with a dangerous look. "It's one thing to tell us that we're all amazons because of your weird laws, but if the only thing those laws are good for is getting' people killed there ain't no way we're going to stand for it. Killing people is not the way to solve problems! A true martial artist is sworn to protect and help people. Sometimes that means you have to fight someone who wants to kill you, but you still have a duty to help them find a different solution. You kill only as a last resort, when it's the only way to save those you are sworn to protect. If that's the first thing you jump to, you never have a chance to make your enemies into friends or allies."
"That may be true, Ranma, but we are not a tribe of martial artists. We are a tribe of warriors. Even today we have too many enemies who would be happy to see us all dead."
"Yeah, but how many of them did you create with your own laws?"
"As I told you, things are not that simple. It is always unfortunate when young people like yourself come afoul of certain laws, but your problems with Shampoo are nothing compared to the trials we have faced in the past hundred years. We have an old way of life, and it has been tested and perfected to guarantee harmony with the outside world. But the outside world has gone insane. No one with any business crossing our path would be unaware of our ways, and so long as they respect us as a people they can avoid coming into conflict with us. When a great, faceless army rolls over the horizon, intent on crushing everything under its fist, not only is there ignorance and lack of respect for us as a people, there isn't even any interest in finding out. We are all just cattle to be penned or slaughtered," Cologne lectured with unusual vehemence.
In a small voice, Ranko asked, "What does that have to do with killing Shampoo? I'd think, if you are that afraid of the outside world, you'd do everything you could to protect the people you have. You're already out numbered a million to one, or worse."
Cologne sighed, "The problem with preserving a way of life is that with each new generation there is a chance of a people crumbling from within. For every outsider that comes into the tribe, our children are exposed to the dangerous influence of ideas they bring with them. If they are allowed to reject or ignore the old laws, we would quickly cease to be amazons and become easy prey for the next tyrant who came along."
"Then you really don't understand anything," Ranma accused sadly. "I may not know much, but I know the Art, and it is a model for life. To survive, you have to change and adapt, you have to take new ideas and test them, make them part of your arsenal. If you don't, you stagnate, and eventually someone comes along who beats you, not because they're better, but because you just don't understand how they fight."
Cologne blinked and took a good look at Ranma, Ranko and Fa Shen. With a bit of chagrin, she admitted, "I have to agree with that wisdom. I myself have taught scores of warriors the same. But you have to understand, newer is not necessarily better. The most powerful techniques you three possess are ancient. They have been tested by time, and should not be thrown aside just because they seem old fashioned. I can see you three bringing any number of new ideas to the tribe and making it stronger, but nothing you could bring can change the fact that turning women into men deeply injures them and the tribe."
"Hey, you don't have to tell us that changing sex doesn't mess up us and the people around us," Ranko leaned back, waving her hands to protest the idea. "We're just sayin' that turning Shampoo into a man or killing her for playin' with that kind of fire doesn't fix anything. Sure, it'll make the next person think twice about pullin' that kinda stunt, but you end up hurting and losing one of your best warriors. Isn't that kinda stupid?"
"By your own rules, you should be totally against 'Shun' coming back, and if you don't forgive Shampoo, all that leaves is forcing her to stay a c-cat," Ranma threw in, picking up the thread of Ranko's argument. Before anything more could be said, Ryouga shuffled up nervously and bent close to speak into Ranma's ear. The lost boy needed to make a call of nature, and wanted Ranma to come along and make sure he could get back to camp. Ranma stood and excused himself, "I've gotta take Ryouga for a walk. I'll be back in a little bit."
Cologne took the opportunity to consider what the three teens had been demanding, hoping for her own sake they had managed to provide a convincing argument to do what she had wanted to do from the beginning. Seeing that the matriarch was thinking the matter over, Ranko let go of it for the moment and let her mind drift to the two boys who had wandered into the woods. She had a terrible suspicion, knowing that Ryouga was capable of tempting Ranma to go back to him. Ranma had confided his willingness to give up Ryouga to remain a man, but Ryouga's altered curse had made things different. Their curses complemented each other, and even Nodoka might make an exception because of it. Which meant Ranko would have to choose between Akane and Ukyo, because of the debts of honor that needed to be paid. Getting to her feet, and telling herself she was not just going to spy on Ranma and Ryouga, she set out in search of Ukyo, who had stopped venting her anger in the woods.
It was not hard to find her, in spite of the dark and silence. All Ranko had to do was follow the trail of destruction. When she found Ukyo, she was sitting in the middle of a clearing she had created, caught in a pool of moonlight. She looked beautiful, with her hair blowing gently away from a face that was calm after the storm. Her eyes were closed, as she took deep calming breaths, and faint trails of moisture glittered on her cheeks. Ranko was tempted to turn back and not disturb her, but her foot fell on a hidden branch and announced her presence with a snap. Ukyo's eyes snapped open, and anger returned to her features like an old friend.
"Go away! I don't want to talk to you!" she shouted.
Ranko cringed, but advanced, reaching into her shirt. Pulling out a handful of Instant Nanniichuan packets and dropping them in Ukyo's lap, Ranko replied, "I won't bug you. I just wanted to give you these."
Ukyo stared at her, and picked up the packets. "Why?"
Ranko shrugged, turning away, "Ranma didn't need them anymore."
"But, why give them to me? What good does that do, Ranko?"
"They'll still work over the lock," Ranko explained, turning back around and adding, earnestly, "I meant it when I said you needed to experiment first, Ukyo. And, I'm sorry about interfering, but I didn't just make you curse proof to keep you from getting a guy curse. There are a lot of other springs here, and I wouldn't want you falling in any of them by accident."
"I suppose that's sort of thoughtful, but you might as well take these back," she held out the packets, looking sad. "Now that I can't get cursed, there's no point in experimenting."
Ranko made no move to take them. With a deep sigh, she shook her head. "No. Mom asked me and Ranma to think about marrying you. It's a matter of honor. I'll be honest, I'd probably marry Ryouga if he wanted me, but I'm not sure he does. He said it's too late. He probably can't let go of Ranma. I don't know if Ranma is going to pick him, but if he does then I have to decide between you and Akane. Somehow, I have to get out of marrying anyone else, but if I can, and you still want me, you'll have to be able to be a guy. I'll make sure you get to use the Kaisuifuu after this mess with Herb is sorted out."
Ukyo considered this promise. Biting her lip, she dared to ask, "Do you love me, Ranko? Do you think you can love me? Or, is it just to satisfy honor?"
"No. I don't, but I think I can," the red-head admitted shyly. "If I didn't I would not tell you any of this. I can't promise I'll end up with you, Ucchan. I'd prefer it if you didn't get cursed until we know it can happen. Doing it won't make me any more likely to chose you, because I don't really have a choice right now. This amazon thing sort of screws everything up. If you don't want to hang around waiting for me to solve this mess, I won't blame you. It's not like marrying me really fixes anything for you."
"It doesn't matter. At least I'll be with the person I love," Ukyo stood up and approached Ranko, reaching out a tentative hand. Ranko flinched away before Ukyo could brush her cheek.
"Please don't," she looked down. Taking a ragged breath, she tried to explain her turmoil. "I can't do this now. I need time to get over Ryouga before I can love you the way you want, Ukyo. I can't just use you to get away from him. Please don't make this any harder. If you push me, it'll never happen."
Ukyo felt her insides twist. She wanted to find the lost boy and strangle him. After the scene that first day in the mirror, Ukyo and Akane had grown very close worrying over the threat Ryouga was to their loves for Ranko and Ranma. It still surprised Ukyo that Akane had gravitated toward Ranma, but Akane had confessed that, even as a boy, he had been drawn to Ranma, to the inner man. Ranko had become her best friend, one of the people she loved more than life itself, but there was no real romantic interest. Akane could not picture Ranko as the father of her children, and certainly could not picture herself—himself, at the time—as the father of Ranko's. For Ukyo, the lines of gender had blurred too much to cause the same difficulty. It was too easy to see the advantages of sharing the child bearing and rearing duties with Ranko, tasting the best of both worlds. But these optimistic fantasies turned to ash as she realized that Ranko's heart had to be shattered before she could hope to claim it, and Ukyo would have to wait until she picked up the pieces before she could try. Both girls were going through the same thing, but for one to win, the other had to lose. "It's not fair!"
"What else is new?" Ranko muttered, hugging herself and moving away. The sad truth was, she finally understood Ukyo, and part of her resented the thought of sacrificing her own hopes and dreams to grant her friend's. She was not in a hurry to fall in love with Ukyo, and it made her hate herself for prolonging the other girl's agony. Especially when the okonomiyaki chef would ultimately have to make a greater sacrifice, in Ranko's mind, if it came to marriage. "Promise you won't get cursed until it's absolutely necessary," she begged.
Ukyo studied the pain on Ranko's face and finally bowed. "I promise."
Ranko nodded. "Good." She watched Ukyo put the packets away and said nothing when the chef approached, suggesting they return to camp and get some sleep. In silence, they started walking back through the woods.
As they were passing the stream, looking for the stepping stones that would let them cross over without getting wet, they noticed voices coming from around a large boulder. There was no mistaking who it was, or that Ryouga had reverted to girl form. After a moment, it was also clear what Ryouga was up to, as she hesitantly pointed out to Ranma that she sort of owed him for what happened when the boy woke up as a girl. Biting her lip, Ranko edged forward, to see what they were doing. Creeping over the top of the boulder, she saw the pair standing close together, with their arms around each other. As she watched, Ryouga tightened her arms around Ranma's neck, pulling his mouth towards hers. Ranko stared, unbelieving, until Ranma began to respond to the kiss, moaning in pleasure and returning it with interest. Unable to watch any more, she leapt from the top of the boulder to the other side of the stream, sprinting silently away towards camp. Wondering what the other girl had seen, to react like that, Ukyo edged forward to peer at the couple.
Ukyo's eye twitched as the desire to throttle Ryouga returned with renewed force. In spite of herself, she took this insult to Ranko personally. As much as she hated the idea of losing Ranko to the lost one, it bothered her more that Ryouga was causing her beloved so much pain. She was about to jump in and brain the jerk, when Ranma stiffened and shoved Ryouga back.
"Dammit, Ryouga!" he growled in frustration. "You're not listening to me. I don't want you to be a girl for me! I can't ask you to do something I can't. I appreciate you wantin' to pay me back for what happened, but I can't just have sex with you and walk away. For one thing, Ranko would kill me!"
"She doesn't have to know," Ryouga protested, reaching out to him again. "I mean, it's not like she even wants me, Ranma. Don't turn me away too! Not now! Not, like this!" she gestured to her body, letting all her frustration show.
"You don't understand, Ryouga. I can't keep secrets from her. It's not because I'd tell her," he cut off the expected protest. "There is nothing I can do to keep her from finding out! We're all linked to each other. And who said she didn't want you, you idiot! I don't know how it happened, but… She loves you. She somehow pulled the copy Ranko out of me, and left me just the memories. I love you too, but, not like she does."
"Then why did she run away from me!? Why does she always avoid me!?" The past few days had been sheer torture, and only the confusion and unexpected intensity of the pain had kept her from sinking into a killing depression over it.
"I don't know, Man. She said you rejected her. That's what I was trying to say earlier, before you started tryin' to seduce me. She tried to tell you how she felt, and you told her it was too late! What kinda moron are you!?" Ranma accused, throwing in the insult without even thinking.
"I didn't tell her that! When she told me she was MY Ranko, I decided to tell her about what happened to my curse! She was trying to keep me from messin' it up with my depression, but it was already to late! It was already altered the night before, but she wouldn't listen to me. She just jumped up and refused to talk to me anymore. Today, in the onsen, was the first time she's said anything directly to me!" Ryouga protested, pulling at her hair.
"Huh?" Ranma gaped.
In the shadows, Ukyo mimicked him. In haste she lunged forward and announced, "Hey! If that's true, you better go get Ranko! She just saw the two of you makin' out!" Ukyo felt like an idiot at once, letting her rival, Ryouga, know she had just guaranteed Ranko would never trust her again. Kicking herself, she grabbed Ranma and hauled him off, "Come on, Ran-chan. We have to tell her before she does something stupid!"
Ryouga had frozen in place at Ukyo's words. Ranma had already blown her away by insisting that Ranko loved her and thought Ryouga did not love her back, presumably because of her experiences with Ranma. The horror of realizing that Ranko probably hated her now swept away all the confusion and anger, letting the depression that had been bottled up since the start of the journey rise up and consume her fear. A massive pillar of heavy chi spilled out of her, climbing high into the sky, until every erg of pathos was balled up in the heavens, waiting to crash down to Earth in a perfect shishihokodan. What she could not know, as she was emptied of all emotion, was that the curse she thought she had escaped had sloughed off during the incubation of this trademark chi attack. Triggered by the release of Ryouga's depression, the ghost of the reactivated curse was hurtling downward, seeking a subject to transform.
Defenseless, in the wake of her special attack, there was nothing Ryouga could do to keep the awesome power of her own shishihokodan from branding her soul with the Heitonniichuan curse. Not that she understood this, as far as she was concerned, the world exploded around her and then suddenly grew to huge and eerily familiar proportions. Leaping out of the crater that now straddled the stream, to avoid drowning in the large pool that was forming, she voiced her terror at her transformation in the only way she could.
Akane stumbled through the early morning mist, roused from slumber by the return of three desperate and tired searchers. Anyone within a mile of Jusenkyo would have seen the release of Ryouga's desperation the night before, and Akane had been among the first to reach the site of the detonation, where Ranma, Ranko and Ukyo were desperately searching for some sign of Ryouga. When all that could be found were Ryouga's clothes, the entire party was mystified. With everyone convinced that the pig curse had been lost, the only explanation anyone could come up with for Ryouga's strange disappearance was the horrible thought that she had been vaporized somehow by her own special attack. Ranma dismissed the idea at once, pointing out that the clothes she had been wearing were so loose on Ryouga's girl form, the impact of the heavy ki might have stripped them down around her slender body. Ranma, Ranko and Ukyo followed suit, when he began scouring the area, convinced that she would turn up, lost and naked, trying to find her way back to camp.
Akane had become too worried when they returned, after searching all night, without finding Ryouga. Combined with her anxiety over the meeting with Herb, later in the morning, she had grabbed a couple of kettles and wandered toward the stream to collect water to make breakfast. Pushing through the haze, she thought about what had happened between herself and Ryouga, and surprised herself to discover that, somewhere in her heart, she was actually grieving over the loss of P-Chan. Seeing the change in Ryouga's curse had forced her to realize that she would never see the cute little piglet she had grown so fond of, before Nodoka confronted her with the lie. Remembering that discovery was enough to summon a spike of pain, but in the days following she had taken another look at Ryouga and found enough forgiveness and understanding to lay it to rest. A little smile touched her lips as she found herself able to think back upon the piglet's bizarre knack for showing up unexpectedly in the strangest places, with humor. If Ryouga still had that curse, she figured, then P-Chan was due to appear at any moment now.
No sooner than she thought it, she rounded a boulder and almost tripped over a little black piglet wearing a yellow and black bandanna around it's neck. Stumbling and gasping in shock, she blinked and rubbed at her eyes. The pig looked up at her in mortification. "P-Chan!?" Akane cried out, dropping the kettles, she snatched the piglet off the ground and held him up at eye level. Focusing in a little, as she glimpsed the pig's exposed underside, Akane changed that to "she" as the creature was obviously female. "Oh. Silly me. You're a girl pig. I guess Ryouga was planning to make up for being P-Chan by giving me you," Akane theorized, recovering her smile. The pig stared at her in disbelief and sighed. A thoughtful look crossed her face. "Then again, this is Jusenkyo. Maybe I better make sure you're not a person or something, hey?" The pig nodded enthusiastically. After a quick detour by the hot springs, Akane found her hand on top of Ryouga's head as the boy blushed in relief.
"Thanks, Akane! I've been trying to find the hot springs all night!"
"Wh- why did you turn into a pig again?" Akane demanded.
"I don't know," he sighed, climbing out of the spring, carefully shielding his privates as a surge of renewed depression welled up inside him. "It makes no sense! I fired off all that depression and suddenly… ernk urnk bweee!" the boy's explanation devolved into grunts and whines as his depression peaked and he turned back into a pig. Once again, the transformation left Ryouga too shocked and horrified for any other reaction.
"What the…!" Akane recoiled. Picking up the pig again she noticed an obvious difference, "Now you're a boy pig. Oh, Ryouga! Your curse really did get screwed up!" Gesturing for him to stay where he was, she raced to retrieve the kettles, filling them with cold water from the stream before returning. It was just a suspicion, but sure enough, cold water brought back Ryouga's girl form. "I don't get it. Hot water turns you into a boy, cold water turns you into a girl… but what keeps turning you into a pig?" she challenged the lost girl.
"Oh, Akane! What's wrong with me!?" Ryouga cried, fear and confusion leading rapidly back to horror and depression. "I can't think of anything more depressing than spontaneously turning into a pig! This is worse than Ranko catching me kissing Ranma!" she cried. This time, as the heavy chi began to gather, Akane sensed the energy spilling back into Ryouga and triggering the change.
"Ryouga!" she shouted, spilling more cold water on the pig. "It's your chi! When you get depressed all that heavy chi is powering the transformation!" she declared, as Ryouga shivered and stared back in disbelief. In shock, she looked down at herself, watching as more heavy ki gushed out and soaked back into her body. The true horror of this self sustaining curse washed through her with the tingle of transformation. Akane was ready with more cold water, grabbing the girl by the shoulders and shaking her hard. "Snap out of it, Ryouga! You're doing it to yourself! Stop getting depressed!"
"I can't help it!" she shouted in angry terror. Fortunately, the terror was overwhelming her depression. With her moody disposition, she was doomed. "Ohgod! This can't be happening!"
"Ryouga, look at me! Calm down. Don't think about it. Just breathe."
"What am I going to do?"
"We'll figure something out. Just… what happens after you change? Are you still depressed?"
"What?" Ryouga looked surprised. "No. No, I'm just shocked. It's like changing snaps me out of it, but it's already too late."
Akane sighed. "That's good. The change eats up the depression. If you didn't get depressed as fast as you change back, you'd be alright," she guessed. All that conditioning to summon the shishihokodan at will was working against Ryouga. Watching as Ryouga's face fell again, she lashed out with an open palm. "Stop it!"
Ryouga held her cheek where Akane slapped it. "What did you do that for?" she cringed.
"You keep doing it!" Akane flared. Jumping up, she grabbed Ryouga by the arm and marched her back to camp, ordering her to put on some clothes while she called Cologne over to ask if there was a pressure point that would keep Ryouga from getting depressed. The commotion drew the attention of everyone else, causing them to hear Akane's recapitulation and Cologne's assessment of the situation. Fortunately, the same point that helped to calm Tofu the night Fa Shen possessed Ranko worked on Ryouga.
"This is a very interesting problem," Cologne pronounced, after explaining the location and pressure needed to stimulate the "Clear Head" pressure point so that others could pull Ryouga back from the brink of despair. She completed the quick lecture with a warning. "That point loses its effectiveness if it is over stimulated. I warned you that the shishihokodan was a dangerous technique, Ryouga."
"Yeah, but you didn't say anything about it turning me into a pig!"
"True, but I never considered what would happen if a curse was shed into someone's chi. I suspect that anyone who had been hit by that burst you let off last night would have ended up with the same problem," Cologne admitted pensively, sucking on her pipe and considering the ramifications of such an idea. Blowing out a puff of smoke, she concluded, "Well, it seems to be a legacy of your old curse. It's as controllable as your emotions, and it does not interfere with your girl curse, or the trigger to restore your male form. Why don't you go get some sleep, and I'll take another look at you after we're done dealing with Prince Herb." Not meaning to be dismissive, Cologne shoved the lost boy's problems onto a back burner. Ryouga had already caused enough distraction, and neither Ranma or Ranko were looking entirely fit for the ordeal ahead. It would hardly be the first time they faced a battle with no sleep the night before, but it was not encouraging to watch them gnawing on pillows and asking Akane what she had intended to fix for breakfast.
Fortunately, the trio departed with Cologne and Mousse for the Nyanniichuan before Akane realized they had thought they were eating her cooking, and not encouraging her to prepare a meal. As she settled before the cook-fire with a disturbing assortment of ingredients, everyone remaining in camp suddenly announced a desire to follow and watch Fa Shen's restoration and inevitable battle with Herb. Akane promised to have something extra special ready for them all when they returned.
Ranko trudged behind Ranma and Fa Shen, conscious of what lay ahead but unable to focus on it. The events of the previous evening had conspired to distract her completely. Her mind kept flashing back to when Ranma and Ukyo caught up to her. They barely had time to get her attention when Ryouga blew up behind them. It was not until they were searching for the missing martial artist that Ranko had been informed of the misunderstanding that had been cleared up with Ryouga. The whole time she thought he had rejected her, he had actually been trying to confide what happened to his curse. It was because she had avoided him that Ryouga tried to offer his girl half to Ranma, hoping, because of the change, he would not reject her too. Ranko had been frantic to find Ryouga and verify all this for herself, but as the sun came up she was forced to turn her mind back to the ordeal with Herb. The fact that he wanted to meet at Fa Shen's grave did not bode well for the morning. No doubt part of the reasoning for unlocking Fa Shen in the midst of the springs was to prevent a free-for-all battle for the Kaisuifuu, and deny safe access to water if they managed to capture it. Since Herb could fly, he had a natural advantage in a place like Jusenkyo. Of course, Ranko now knew that Fa Shen had that much control of his ki as well. If he had the raw power Herb had, he too could flit around in the air and never need to touch down.
Fa Shen was used to being overpowered by dragon princes, and trusted his skill and ingenuity to see him through. Ranko was much closer to Herb in power level, but even she would need the power of their united triumvirate to overwhelm the dragon prince. In the battle they anticipated, the contest would be decided by skill in aerial combat, since even Herb would not risk collateral damage to the cursed springs. Who knew what the consequences of that would be? They had already taken Herb's best weapon, the Chisuiiton, out of play. Mousse had it concealed in his robes, no doubt along with Shampoo, now that it was apparent that Fa Shen might be able to tap into the Neko-ken.
Fa Shen's first objective was to distract Herb so the others could seize the Kaisuifuu and unlock Ranko. Once she was free of the Chisuiiton, she could race over to the Nanniichuan and get cursed, ensuring that Herb would not try locking her again. It was simple insurance, since just taking the Chisuiiton away from Herb did not mean he did not have any of the enchanted water bottled. Once she was safe, Ranko would join Ranma in ensuring that Lime and Mint did not interfere and Fa Shen did not get knocked into one of the springs.
All this planning was fast and loose. No one expected things to not get out of hand. But as they arrived, they were encouraged to see the Musk warriors had brought a barrel of water to the spring. It was just large enough for a young teen to bathe in. Upon closer inspection, they could see the Kaisuifuu hanging from a chain attached to the barrel. All that needed to be done was dip the magic kettle in the water, and it would possess the ability to unlock a curse.
"Which one of you is Her?" Herb greeted them coolly.
"I am Fa Shen," Ranma's twin announced, stepping forward. Herb studied him and bowed at the neck. Fa Shen inclined his head in return, keeping his eyes fixed on his challenger.
"Before we begin, I must know if you have agreed to my marriage challenge, and ask that the Chisuiiton be returned to me," he declared.
"Once I have been restored to my proper gender, I will be fit to accept your challenge. I have Locking Instant Nyanniichuan, in case my original form was lost. I just need a bucket of water to activate it, which can be drawn from the barrel before you use the Kaisuifuu."
Herb considered that for a moment. "And…?"
"You can have the ladle back after I am back to normal," Ranko responded, cutting in and glaring at him.
Herb smirked, "Well then, we should make haste. There is still a battle to be fought before I may grant your request, Ranko. You may prepare the water She has requested."
Ranko cautiously approached the barrel. Behind it were a pair of buckets. Glancing inside, she noticed a fish and a frog were idly swimming in the water. Nodding, as she realized what that was supposed to prove, she dipped the bucket in the barrel and studied the chain securing the kettle to it's side. It looked tough, but Ryouga could break it with a simple tap. If her own body was toughened enough for it, she realized she too could use the bakusaitenketsu on it. Turning back to face Herb, she stated, "The fish and the frog don't prove anything, Herb."
Herb considered that and approached Ranko. Dipping his hands in the water, he splashed his face, changing into a female version of himself. "Does this satisfy your suspicions?" She smiled. It seemed that Ranma, and by extension Ranko, had learned caution. Gesturing to Mint, standing guard by the barrel, Herb turned back to Fa Shen. "Your bath awaits."
Fa Shen watched Mint scoop out the animals into a pair of glass jars, pick up the kettle and dip it into the barrel. It only took a moment before steam was billowing off the water in the cold morning air. Fa Shen handed Ranko the packet of Instant Nyanniichuan as he approached. Picking up the other bucket, he remarked, "You really didn't think I'd take an actual bath, did you?" Filling the bucket and tipping it over his head, he was instantly soaked from head to toe in steaming fluid. Shaking his long red hair, he sighed, "It looks like I was right. My true form was already lost."
Fa Shen had expected this, but she had also expected Herb to be caught off guard. From the time frame the dragon prince had been given by the Guide, Fa Shen should have had another day before the instant curse degenerated. Instead, Herb waved dismissively, "No matter. It simply offers me a chance to satisfy my curiosity." Before anyone could ask what that meant, Herb snapped her fingers, and Lime grabbed Fa Shen and thrust him into the Nyanniichaun. The whole pool seemed to react to this intrusion, heaving and churning madly. There was a brilliant flash, as if a ball of chi had detonated under the water, and Fa Shen surged out of the pool as though the hounds of hell were at her heels.
"Fa Shen!?" Ranma and Ranko cried, having felt something stab at the back of their minds. There was no response from her as she whipped her head around searching for something. Snatching the jar containing the frog from Mint, she flung the poor animal at the spring. Nothing spectacular happened, and a moment later a confused frog pulled itself out of the water and started croaking on a lily pad.
"It's gone," Fa Shen gasped. "I took it back."
"What!?" several voices exclaimed in shock.
Fa Shen whipped around, staring at Herb. "This spring is no longer cursed," she spelled it out. To make her point, she grabbed the other jar and flung it in. Everyone waited for another frog to come out, but when they edged forward, they could see the fish swimming merrily in it's new home. "It's just normal water now. How?"
"So. It is true," Herb smiled and rose into the air. "Truly, you are Her."
That was a clear signal that the battle was about to be joined. Fa Shen immediately shoved everything else out of her mind and sprang up to the pole that rose from the depths of the former Nyanniichuan. She could find an explanation for what had happened later. As Herb moved to attack, Ranko dropped the bucket she had been holding and sprinted toward the barrel of kaisuifuu water. Lime saw her move, and promptly kicked it over, spilling the precious cure over the ground before picking the barrel up in one hand. Ranko almost screamed in frustration, but focused on the now innocent spring behind him. Raising her arms, she let off a powerful chi blast right into the tiger-boy's chest. Exploding on contact, it shattered the barrel just as he was snapping the chain that bound the magic kettle to it. The force of the detonation sent him reeling back, throwing the kettle into the air.
"Mine!" Ranko cried, bunching to leap after it. Past her, Fa Shen jumped over Herb's charge. Herb landed on Fa Shen's pole as she alighted on another.
"No! The Sacred Kettle!" Mint was a fraction faster than Ranko, leaping after the kettle, bounding across the bamboo poles to intercept the falling artifact. As Ranko rocketed in pursuit, Ranma turned to Mousse and nodded. The master of hidden weapons pulled the chisuiiton out of his sleeve and quickly splashed the heir to the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts. The witnesses took this as a sign to retreat from the springs. No sane person wanted to be in the middle of a fight in Jusenkyo. Ranma shook the water out of his eyes, holding out a hand for the magic ladle and bucket, his gaze flickered between Ranko and Fa Shen. They were both racing in opposite directions, trying to close with Mint and Herb. Ranko was protected well enough for battling over cursed springs, but Fa Shen was in danger of a new curse mutating the one she just reclaimed. He took off after the legendary amazon and the dragon prince who would claim her.
"Fa Shen! Wait!" he called out to her.
"Got it!" Mint caught the kettle, carefully orienting on a bamboo pole for landing and turned to see Ranko streaking towards him. With a shout, he caught Lime's attention and hurtled the kettle at the tiger-boy to keep it out of Ranko's hands. Ranko snarled, clipping the boy on the shoulder with an outstretched foot to reverse her direction and continue chasing after the kettle, knocking the wolf-boy into the spring below.
"You shouldn't have jumped in like that!" Ranko cried in apology.
"Too easy!" Fa Shen's voice called out. "Vengeance of Heaven!"
"Is it…!?" Herb began as Fa Shen's clawed hand slipped through her guard. The dragon prince closed her eyes, searching her mind for a counter as Fa Shen completed the name of her attack.
"Raking Claws!" A flash of light and deafening explosion filled the valley, as Fa Shen revealed the power of her electro-charged ki technique under an open sky, clutching at Herb's head and drawing a true lightning bolt down from a towering thunderhead. Ranma gasped, then groaned as Herb instantly transferred Fa Shen's charged ki into the bamboo pole underneath her as she leapt away. Acting as a lightning rod, the charged pole channeled the massive arc of electricity into the pool below.
"Nice! You should be toast!" Fa Shen was impressed in spite of herself.
"I am a master of ki," Herb preened. "Lime! I need hot water!"
"Coming, Herb!" Lime lunged up to catch the kettle, then raced in the same direction Herb was leading Fa Shen. Tucking the kettle under one arm, he pulled out a thermos and hurled it toward the dragon prince. Ranko boosted her flight with ki, cutting the tiger-boy off by landing in front of him.
"Give me the kettle, Lime!" she growled.
"Herb has forbidden it!" Lime hesitated only long enough to see his prince catch the thermos, and then dodged to Ranko's left. Stretching to reach a different pole, he caught sight of Mint exploding out of the pool Ranko had dumped him in. Unchanged by the cursed waters, it was suddenly obvious that the Musk boys had also protected themselves with the Chisuiiton. Mint tried to converge on his compatriot and Ranko, shouting for the other boy to toss the kettle to him.
"Quick! Back to me!"
"Here it comes, Mint!"
"Would you stop that! I need that thing!" Ranko fumed.
As Ranko lunged to intercept the toss, Herb quickly spilled hot water over herself and turned back to Fa Shen. Ranko's hands closed on empty air, forcing her to shift her attention to her landing. As she came to rest, Fa Shen and Herb launched themselves at each other, trading blows in genuine aerial combat. After raining a series of kicks, thrusts and furious elbow and knee strikes, they pushed away from each other to reach opposing perches, before they dropped below the height of the bamboo poles.
"Be careful, Fa Shen!" Ranma warned, running toward her, spanning the gaps between poles with giant steps.
"I'm trying, Ranma!" she shouted back, jumping out of the way as a ki blast shattered the pole she was just standing on. "Are you trying to screw up my curse, Herb!?" she raged, catching her balance and clutching her heart.
"Perish the thought! I am just keeping you off balance," he smirked.
Ranko was now moving roughly away from Fa Shen and Herb, as Mint hugged the Kaisuifuu to his chest and raced past the Nanniichuan. "Where do you think you're going with that!?" Ranko could sense Lime charging up her wake, ready for Mint to lob the kettle over her head again to prolong this game of pickle. "If you do that one more time, I'm gonna break your arm so you can't throw anymore!" she threatened, closing on Mint's back.
"I guess it's true, Lime! Women really are more violent than men!" Mint loudly observed, for his companion's benefit, cringing at Ranko's threat.
"Do you want me to brain you too!?" Ranko shook her fist at him.
"I believe you are right, Mint!" Lime agreed, wide eyed.
"You're open!" Herb shouted, as Fa Shen arced in the air above him, readying a chi blast. Before Fa Shen could summon her aura and focus it in her hands, Herb snapped off one of his own powerful bolts, catching her right in the stomach. As Fa Shen was blasted away, Ranma noticed she was too stunned by the blast to control her flight.
"Fa Shen!" he shouted, realizing he could not catch up to her. Gauging her descent, he noticed Ranko in that direction and hollered, "Ranko! Catch her!"
Ranko whipped around, reacting at once to Ranma's distress, and spotted Fa Shen flying towards her. Sprinting over the poles, she closed on her twin, and realized exactly where she would land if Ranko did not get there in time. Putting on a burst of speed, she positioned herself on the bank of the Nanniichuan. At the last moment, she launched herself up, catching Fa Shen in the air and letting the girl's momentum knock them both toward the pole sticking out of the spring. Pausing to slap Fa Shen's face, to shake her out of the effects of Herb's powerful blast, Ranko noticed Ranma, Herb, Lime and Mint racing in to bracket them.
"Snap out of it! Lover boy's still coming," Ranko warned.
"Damn he has a lot of power," Fa Shen muttered, shaking her head.
"You should not interfere, Ranko!" Herb challenged, charging up for a blast as he closed within shouting distance.
"You shouldn't be knocking her into the springs, you idiot!" Ranma bawled, coming in at an angle, readying the ladle to splash Fa Shen when he was in range. It seemed such a stupid thing for the prince to risk, Ranma had to wonder if he did it just to lure Ranko away from the kettle.
Unfortunately, Herb fired at the twins before Ranma could make such an accusation, aiming for the pole they rested on, and shattering it below their feet. As the bamboo disintegrated, Ranko was unable to generate enough force to launch off, and could only heave Fa Shen towards the embankment as she fell into the water.
While Herb paused to unleash his attack, Ranma was able to take the lead, landing next to Fa Shen and splashing her with the ladle, "Don't worry, you're safe now!" he announced, turning to see Ranko breech the surface of the pool, "Are you okay, Ranko?"
"'M fine. If she's safe, help me get the kettle!"
Fa Shen was one step ahead, lifting her eyes to see Mint racing toward them with the kettle in his arms. Refocusing the blast she had intended for Herb, she target the top of the pole he was about to land on, causing it to become a foot shorter than the boy expected. When Mint's foot came down on air, he instinctively threw out his arms to recover from the misstep, throwing the kettle clumsily away as he scrambled for some kind of footing. Ranma caught this and raced forward, leaping up to catch the kettle and lob it toward Ranko, as Lime barreled in to tackle him. "Ranko! Catch!"
Mint hit water and began thrashing toward the edge of the pool.
Fa Shen took her eyes off the flying kettle at the sound of Herb's arrival, and launched herself at him to keep him distracted. Ranma and Lime crashed into a neighboring spring with a loud splash. In the Nanniichuan, Ranko attempted to stand, so she could catch the Kaisuifuu, but a rock turned under her foot, causing her to topple face first into the water, as the kettle passed over her head to land in the pool behind her. In the blink of an eye, the water heated enough to unlock the Chisuiiton, exposing Ranko to the now scalding water's curse. Ranko reared back, yelling in a masculine voice, "Hot! Hot! Hot!"
Ranma pulled himself up and darted out of the spring at about the same time Ranko shot out of the steaming Nanniichuan. Stumbling onto the narrow banks, they suddenly came face to face, and gaped. Around them, everyone else was staring in surprise, the fight between Fa Shen and Herb momentarily suspended.
"You've been cursed by hot water," Herb strode forward, bending down to retrieve the Chisuiiton. Fa Shen saw this, and snatched the artifact away from him, glaring. He straightened and glared back. Recovering his dignity, he considered his impulse. Fa Shen backed off, waiting to hear what he had in mind. "The Chisuiiton always produces cold water. Please, use it. The Kaisuifuu is right here. I just have to know…" he insisted, pointing at Ranko.
"Ranma, get the kettle out of the pool. And be careful!" Fa Shen ordered, approaching Ranko with the ladle. Ranko looked up at Fa Shen and nodded. Fa Shen splashed the boy Ranko had just become. The magically chilled water triggered his change back to female and locked her form. "It's backwards. It really is a hot water curse."
"It is fortunate you were locked before," Herb sighed. "I was afraid for a moment there that heating the pool would just make the curse permanent."
Ranma found a stray bamboo pole and proceeded to try fishing the kettle out of the Nanniichuan. "Are you serious, Herb?" he asked. The dragon prince nodded woodenly. Ranma turned to look at Ranko, "I guess you got lucky, Ranko. Cold water still turns you into a girl. That's not a problem, is it? I mean, this is just like getting your old curse back, right?"
Ranko blinked and nodded. "Yeah. I guess so. But if I can be locked as a girl…" she trailed off, looking up at Herb accusingly. She did not have to say that Herb could still challenge her if he lost to Fa Shen. The part of her that had been aching to be a man was already howling over her male form being locked away. With a shudder she realized what would have happen if she had been standing in a different spring when Ranma threw her the kettle. As much as she ached to get her hands on it again, it was just plain stupid to continue fighting over it among the springs. Seeing Ranma hook the kettle and pull it out of the water, she stood up and declared, "Herb, we have both of the artifacts in our possession. If you want them back, I suggest you stop this fight for now until we can find out if this," she gestured to herself, the matter of her curse, "is okay."
Herb watched Ranma and Fa Shen tighten their grips on the Musk's most valued treasures. For the moment, he had lost the upper hand. Putting on a mask of regal indifference, he nodded, "I will postpone my challenge for now. As I am the only one present not proof against curses, it is not in my interest to remain here and fight." The thought suddenly occurred to him that the cure to his condition was right next to him. Turning with sudden anticipation, he gazed at the spring. His eyes narrowed and his face fell as he noticed the steam still rising from the surface. As long as it remained heated, it would do him no good. If he remembered correctly, the magic of the kettle would ensure that the spring remained hot for some time to come, as well. Gritting his teeth, he stalked away. "Truly, there is no reason to remain here."
Ranko considered what must have gone through the dragon prince's mind and turned to Ranma. "Um… You know…" she began.
Ranma blanched. Looking down at himself, he shook his head. "No. This is permanent enough for me. I wouldn't want to risk it." Something in his bones told him that having two curses with the same form was not the same as being a normal man. Holding the kettle nervously, and proceeding very carefully, he encouraged the others, "Come on. Let's get outta here."
Evening had settled over Jusenkyo once again, laying the chaos of the day to rest. Since the morning battle, there had been one tense argument or debate after another, until the only thought on Ranko's mind was to slip away and lose herself in the comfort of the hot springs. For the first time in a week, the prospect came with the assurance of a numbing tingle and the familiarity of her male form. It should be strange that would relieve her; that only as she slipped into the onsen and became a he, did he feel like things were finally back to normal. Granted, there was a moment earlier in the day when he was reminded of the inconvenience of the curse, as he was doused repeatedly with hot and cold water, or had his curse locked and unlocked, to determine exactly what this new curse was like. According to the guide, there had always been the rare victim of a hot water curse. Usually it was the result of water being taken from a spring and heated before someone was splashed. In his case, the matter was complicated by the additional magic he had been exposed to at the time. The magic of the Chisuiiton and the Kaisuifuu had been absorbed by his curse. If he wanted to, he could lock himself in female form while in cold water. He needed to be in hot water to unlock himself and turn male.
It was not complete control. He could not be locked in male form, since even water proof soap was repelled by the chisuiiton effect in his curse. In fact, Fa Shen had told him it was unlikely Ranko would be able to master the curse, since his normal form was female. Ranma and Fa Shen would have the same problem, since they were the only ones who did not unlock themselves before the Chisuiiton and Kaisuifuu were given back to Herb. Like Ranko, they were now locked in their natural forms. As Fa Shen had explained, the trick to using a lock to master a curse was the ability to draw upon a mastered form, which was the person's natural form by default. Being locked in that form made it more unlikely for someone to master a new form. Ranko did not fully understand the logic, but thought he might be able to try the slow approach, since he was already half way there. It would be harder to learn how to keep from changing into a girl in cold water, but if he ever managed it, he could attempt changing without any water. But that was something to worry about in the future.
For the moment, he was more concerned about what the future held. Herb had been informed of Cologne's intention to adopt Nodoka, and Nodoka's intention to adopt Fa Shen. Together, this would make it possible for Fa Shen to be named Cologne's heir. In spite of the fact that the trio had finally convinced Cologne to go along with their version of events, claiming that Fa Shen had been mistaken for Ranma, and locked in male form accidentally, Shampoo would not be able to reclaim her favored status. Herb could still pursue marriage to Fa Shen, but if he succeeded, it would verge on becoming an alliance to merge the two tribes. It was not exactly a bad idea, since it created a symbiotic union of male and female warrior traditions, a sort of equal but separate system that benefited everyone. It was still weird and made everyone squirm to think of it.
It was very likely that Herb would turn his attention to Ranko instead. That would also be an Amazon-Musk union, but it would not effect everyone on both sides. Of course, Ryouga strenuously objected to that suggestion, when he was not turned into a pig by the thought of it.
Ranko sighed. "Oh, Ryouga. You idiot…"
"What did I do now?" Ryouga stood up in a neighboring pool and glared at the startled Ranko. Seeing that Ranko was male at the moment, he came over and joined him. As he settled back, waiting for Ranko to answer, he realized this was the first time they had been together in private.
Ranko sighed. He knew this had been coming. "Just a general observation," he finally answered. Looking away, he told himself they needed to talk, but he just did not know how to start. They had both been there when Nodoka told Herb that Ranko and Ryouga were married by amazon law. The council had not ruled on it, but the fact was, Ranma had given the lost boy up. It was almost certain to be supported by the elders. Not willing to offer Herb any encouragement, Ranko had been forced to bite her lip and not protest. "Do you think Herb will go after Ranma if he can't get me or Fa Shen?"
Ryouga shuddered. "Maybe. And I am sure Shampoo and Mousse will both be chasing after you again soon." Ryouga snorted and shook his head in disbelief. "They've been plotting together all afternoon."
"Shampoo's back to normal already?" Ranko was surprised.
"I gave her a hot oil bath. I figured, it broke the soap lock on me, it would work on her. And it did." Ryouga rubbed his eyes, "She's been going on about how I didn't really sleep with you, and how, even if the council accepts our… marriage… she could still challenge me, and that would give her rights to be with you. If Mousse does the same with you, he gets rights to be with her."
"It looks like being married to each other for a week did more than we thought, if they can plot together over something like that," Ranko groaned. The reaction was not entirely about Mousse and Shampoo. Now that it had been mentioned, they had to talk about it. "What are we going to do about that? The marriage thing, I mean…"
Ryouga hunched in on himself. "My feelings haven't changed. I fell in love with a girl, and she's… you. I want to be married to you, Ranko, but I know you hate to have it forced on you like this. Besides, I still don't buy into this whole amazon thing. I may have beaten you once or twice, but… Let's face it, I've never defeated you. You may not actually be Ranma, but, you're enough like him to be able to say, 'Ranko never loses'."
"You got that right!" Ranko clenched his fists under the water. They both fell silent for a while. Timidly, Ranko spoke up, "I still don't know what to do about Ucchan. When… When I thought you didn't want me, I told her I…" He closed his mouth grimly. "I didn't promise to marry her, or nothin' but I told her it wasn't impossible. Ranma couldn't marry her because he thinks of her as a guy, but for me…" she let it trail off.
"Do you want her? I mean, if she became a guy for you, would you want Ukyo?" Ryouga asked in a pained voice.
"She's my friend, Ryouga. I want her to be happy," Ranko looked down, hugging his knees to himself. It struck him then that, as a boy, he was no Ranma. Ranko was just not that assured of himself as a male. It fit him, in form and function, but there was something in spirit that distinguished him from his twin and predecessor.
"Maybe it's best then," Ryouga commented. "I mean, the engagement is there. That sort of puts her on the same footing as me, right? After all, you always treated the marriage to Shampoo as more of an engagement. Why don't we do that? If they say we're married, we can just act like it's an engagement, and when… if we decide to make it official, we can have a ceremony. Whatever you like."
Ranko looked up at him. "It's not quite that easy. But… I suppose that would work. It's not like I'm just an amazon." He reflected silently for a moment, wondering if it was fair to give Ukyo hope, string her along. But knowing Ukyo, she would assume she had an equal claim. She just would not give up, and neither would any of the others. That was the real problem. He sighed, "You know it will leave me open to everyone else, don't you?"
Ryouga nodded. "It doesn't matter. Even if no one else does, I have to give you a choice. I don't want to be with you if you don't want me. I can't take that. I'd rather have to fight over you with everyone else, than fight with you. I don't want us to be Ranma and Akane."
Ranko found himself nodding at that. A part of him still loved Akane, but even if he felt it as powerfully as he did with Ryouga, he would not want to go back to being Akane's punching bag. Jealousy was something he found extremely unattractive. Not that Ryouga could not be just as bad. Nothing would make Ranko forget what a complete and utter jerk Ryouga could be. It was as big a problem as his gloominess. The pig curse was useful for weaning the boy off of depression, especially since it made his best attack useless and would force him to learn something else. Ranko wanted to make sure he did not switch to anger or jealousy instead, but he really did not know how to prevent it. With so much uncertainty about the sanity and stability of the man he loved, maybe it was best to keep the relationship at arm's distance.
"You're right, Ryouga. It's more important right now for us to be friends," he finally responded. Meeting the other boy's eyes, he smiled. Ryouga looked back, still struggling with uncertainty and looming depression. If there was anything as attractive to him as the offer of love, it was the offer of friendship. It was an invitation to a state of being he was quite unfamiliar with.
AN: This might seem to be a bit abrupt of an ending, especially in so busy a chapter. Certainly, things are left a bit up in the air. For that, all I can say is, this is a part of life. A new chapter starts before the old chapter ends. There is a great deal more to come, but it is no longer possible to see Ranma and Fa Shen as mere reflections of Ranko. To continue this story, it is necessary to take up a new title and explore the life that unfolds after the events that set Ranma, Ranko and Fa Shen on diverging paths. This story of unity and diversity will come to you in Ranko Nibunnoichi : Refractions after a short hiatus. I hope you have enjoyed this tale of the emergence of a very different Ranko, the resurrection of a very different Drowned Girl, and the very extraordinary challenges of our familiar Ranma. I hope you come back for more!
A. V. Morgan