The Sapphire Bet, Chapter One
A Wish Gone... Right?
Formerly: A Bet Too Much, Blue Side.
by Jared Ornstead
Since I basically co-authored this idea with Metroanime I'd grown rather fond of it and decided to take it on as one of my permanent projects.
Toltiir gave one of those deep, heartfelt sighs that indicated he was well and truly tired of this. Not so much the various bets, but when the nonhumanoids got involved...
Take this one, whose name was Rolling-Golden-Orange-Red. Toltiir had immediately dubbed it Goldie. Goldie was a minor Fate incarnation that dealt with a race of methane breathers. Of course, that meant that it understood humans about as well as Tatewaki Kuno understood cutting-edge microprocessor design.
Tatewaki Kuno came to mind, because it was he who was centered in the scrying pool, focused on the period when the wanna-be samurai was running around with the Wishbringer, the sword with three wishes.
"mAKING cHANGE, hERE." Goldie's voice was a combination of chiming and buzzing. It was giving Toltiir a headache.
Hours later, Ranma held the sword in front of himself and was sitting in the Tendo place.
"...and so Kuno told the sword to grant the pigtailed girl a wish." Ranma stared in frustration at the sword. "I tried wishing for the sword to cure my curse, and it buzzed at me, saying that there was a conflict."
"I see," Kasumi said, setting out a tray. "If you wished yourself free of the curse, you would not be the pigtailed girl, and therefore the sword would not have granted the pigtailed girl a wish."
For an instant everyone stared at Kasumi the same way they would at a squirrel that had paused in gathering nuts just long enough to recite some fiendishly difficult formulas in quantum physics or the entire Iliad in its original Greek.
They shook it off.
"Serves the pervert right," Akane said, sipping her tea. "Honestly, the way you acted around Kuno..."
Kasumi sat down beside her sisters with her sewing basket and began to do needlepoint.
"Hey! It's not my fault!" Ranma was shouting. "You see what it's like with a curse like this, and let's see how well *you* cope! Sheesh, I got girls coming onto me in my boy form, guys doing it in my girl form, and nobody listens to me no matter *which* one I'm in!"
"You know, you're pathetic." Nabiki smirked, enjoying herself and eying the sword. Now how could she manipulate him into giving it to her? "Maybe you're just too irresistible for your own good, Saotome. Doesn't everybody just LOVE Ranma?"
"Yeah, I w... Aw, man! I can't believe I almost said it." Ranma grabbed his head in his hands and shook it.
"Hmph," continued Akane. "You're always getting yourself into these problems, Ranma, and it's always your fault. Pervert."
Ranma turned his eyes heavenward. "Why did I have to get engaged to such an uncute tomboy?"
"Because, Saotome," Nabiki started ticking points off on her fingers. "You're not particularly intelligent and you're *definitely* not rich. You suffer from chronic foot-in-mouth disease. You're also a coward in everything but a fight; which makes you completely unsuitable for me. You're not old enough or mature enough for Kasumi. Your curse turns you into a girl, which both I and Kasumi find revolting. Need I go on?"
Ranma's head slumped. "Oh no."
"Ranma! How DARE you! How could you invite them over!" Akane, never far from boiling, began to steam.
"Actually, sis, I gave them the option of buying an info service where I call them whenever Ranma's about to go off on an adventure or do something that might impact their relationship with him." Nabiki smirked. "This qualified."
"Hey, Ranchan, if you're gonna wish, why don't you wish to marry the fiancee that really loves you?" Ukyo smirked, knowing that neither Akane nor Shampoo could compete as well as she in that department.
Ranma looked up. That actually didn't sound too bad. He tried unsuccessfully to think of what could be wrong with that.
Nabiki huffed arrogantly with a smoothly superior smirk. "Oh, get it *over* with Saotome. There's no one thing that can solve all the problems *you've* managed to accumulate. You KNOW that whatever you wish for will just make your problems worse anyway. Why not just give it up?"
Nabiki's obvious delight at baiting the ego-stuffed martial artist also concealed her hope that maybe he'd give it up in truth. After all, there were *much* better uses for a wish than *he* could obviously think of. She could think of several just offhand. Not to mention that she found him entirely too profitable as he was and a cure for any of his major problems could potentially derail that.
Ranma looked downcast at the table. "Well, Kasumi?"
"Ranma?" She didn't look up from her embroidery.
He sighed. "Everyone *else* seems to have something to add. I just thought I'd give you an opportunity to throw in your bit as well, is all." Ranma's voice was bitter. Here he had something that could end his curse, and nobody would give him any help in figuring out how to use it!
"Why would I do that, Ranma?" Kasumi asked as if she didn't understand, letting her needlework drop.
"BAKA, will you quit bothering my sister and GET IT OVER WITH!" Akane yelled, part of her hoping he'd do something stupid so she could pound him again and feel better.
He passed a hurt glare over his tormentors. Then Ukyo gave him a comforting smile, and Shampoo sent a gaze that was trusting. You know, there were parts of this that weren't so bad. If only...
Lifting the sword as he'd seen Kuno do, Ranma took a deep breath. Fighting REALLY hard to phrase this right, he ended up just being... honest, in the most plain and simple way.
"Sword, it's okay I guess that you can't do nuthin directly about the curse, but I'm *really* tired of all these cures that don't work er nuthin, and so I'd like to know how to get rid of it for good."
Deep Breath. Remember what Ucchan said.
"So I wish that I knew how to do that, an' that all the honor entanglements were satisfied, and that I'd be married to someone who'd genuinely love me without scarin' me all the time." He spoke from the heart, hoping that last bit would protect him from Kodachi, and for once not tripping over his own tongue. Then he caught a predatory frown out of the corner of his eye.
"...Oh, and that Nabiki were alot nicer to me."
"Urk!" was all Nabiki managed to say as she suddenly gained a compulsive niceness to Ranma curse.
-GRANTED- The sword called out, clattering to the ground where Ranma had once been. There was a moment of unbroken silence as everyone stared at the place where he had vanished.
Nabiki was slightly hunched over as she placed both hands on her stomach. "Why, that... nice young man. I'm sure he didn't mean to upset me like that."
Akane stared at her older sister in horror.
"What wish do?" Shampoo asked, fearful for her husband.
"I've been unfair. I think I'll go adjust my accounting and refund his outstanding debt. He never deserved my doing that to him anyway. It was unnecessary and cruel of me."
"Besides the obvious." Ukyo deadpanned.
After a breathless moment without any answers, Ranma reappeared in a silent bamf of sparkling green motes and a slight push of displaced air. His clothing had been radically altered. Whereas before he'd typically worn a red shirt over black pants, now he had on green tights leading down into thigh-high, soft, white leather boots that were folded down at the tops. On his torso he wore a green tunic over a white shirt with long, wide, mutton-leg sleeves. The ensemble was topped by a jaunty feathered cap set at an angle. A cloak hung off one shoulder and might have been green. But it was hard to tell exactly as the eye tended to slide off the fabric and it liked to delete itself from peripheral vision, so trying to focus in and be sure could be maddeningly difficult. His attire looked like a movie swashbuckler's costume and came complete with belt (in which were tucked gloves) and from which hung a pouch and sword. A quiver and longbow were slung over his back.
He was also floating a good two feet above the floor.
This did not count as usual even in Nerima. Jumping, sure. Staying there? Not.
Ranma was caught in a pose like he'd just been flying cross-country. Floating in the air before him was a massive, open book that he'd been reading. His left hand was curved in a mystic gesture, and in his right he held a staff level with the ground, as if directing his course. He pulled up and floated in the center of the room for a moment, bobbing silently above them, staring around as if having difficulty recognizing whom he was seeing. Then recollection came and he allowed himself to float to the floor. The book closed and floated obediently down to hover at his side.
The collected girls spent several moments appraising him while Ranma spent the same time seeming to readjust himself to his surroundings.
The staff he carried was capped with an elaborate headpiece, shaped like a pair of angelic wings encircling a sculpted flower whose petals served to mount an impressively large sapphire. Clinging to one of Ranma's shoulders was a small winged lizard whose coloration matched the jewel, and crouched at his feet was a large bag that hadn't been there a moment before.
Then that they noticed that, except for the jewel, the entire staff was shaped out of seamless white pearl.
Recognizing the people around him, Ranma relaxed his pose and lowered his staff. Then he opened his mouth and closed it again, spending what looked like a puzzled few seconds trying to remember the language.
One of them spoke and inadvertently reminded him of what Japanese sounded like.
"Did you...are you cured of the curse?" Akane sputtered. Ranma looked...older, more mature, much healthier. Also several inches taller and very tired.
Ranma stretched his shoulders and blinked for a moment, as if remembering something. He made a gesture and his weapons faded away, the book found itself a convenient shelf and the satchel waddled off into a corner.
"No." Ranma admitted, and he tossed out a self-controlled grin. "But I sure know *how!*" He sat back as a plush easy chair solidified out of mid-air right underneath him.
He was quickly surrounded by most of the girls.
That easy chairs simply don't ordinarily do that was noticed but not remarked on by most of those present. There was too much else that was impossible for them to be dealing with at that moment, so they focused instead on having Ranma.
-REMAINDER OF WISH. GRANTED. TRANSACTION COMPLETED.- The wishing sword vanished.
"Hah! Now I don't have to...worry...about... a dozen...fiancees?" Ranma stared at the gold band that had suddenly appeared on his finger, then at the matching band on Kasumi's. Then at Shampoo's ring, and then Nabiki's, and the one that Ukyo was wearing...
Ranma fainted, falling back into the easy chair without another sound. Nabiki, still sitting at the table, managed to estimate the street value of the gold before she slumped across the wood. Kasumi, who had been standing, saw a ring appear on THAT finger and managed to fall draped over Ranma's lap.
"Baka," echoed a choked whisper.
Shampoo was feeling more than a little unsteady, while Ukyo was leaning up against a wall. Both looked towards the only other member of this impromptu slumber party who was still standing.
"...that," Akane managed, staring at her empty hand, conspicuously void of any ornamentation, circular, metallic, or otherwise. "That...idiot...how DARE he make a wish like that!"
Akane gave a scream of rage rising into the higher registers at the injustice of it all.
Startled by this, the tiny drake flapped its leather wings and flew out the open doors of the veranda, disappearing into the strange world it had just been brought to. Tracking its flight out, Ukyo caught sight of something on the wall.
"Um, Shampoo..." Ukyo felt blood drain away from her face.
"What you want, Spatula Girl?" Shampoo had been too dizzy to watch the little lizard. Neither one were in any shape to notice the home had gone to wrack and ruin around them, in too much shock to consciously appraise the yellowed newspapers or the panda furballs and ramen containers accumulated in the corners.
Ukyo swallowed. "Take a look at this photo over on this wall. I think maybe...we need to consider being on a first name basis at this point."
"What you mean...you..." Shampoo looked at the photo and felt the blood draining away from HER face. "Aiyaaa..."
Ukyo gulped. "I'd remember if I'd had a picture like that taken. It doesn't *look* fake."
"Shampoo look so beautiful in wedding dress. Groom look so handsome...Why Spatula Girl and Too Too Nice Girl and Sneaky Girl and Who That? Everybody but groom wearing wedding dress?"
"It's not like he's not qualified! Let me see that!" Akane stomped over, taking a quick look at the photo crowded with familiar and unfamiliar faces her mind skipped a beat. "That's... that's Kaori Daikokuji! I have no idea who the girl with the facial tattoos is."
Akane looked over at the unconscious Ranma, her face flat with anger. "You... idiot..." How DARE he get married to anyone but her!
"Guys," Ukyo straightened up and looked at Ranma as a thought struck. "We gotta do something before certain people see this."
"What you mean?" Asked the woozy amazon, clutching the wall for support.
Akane caught the idea and grimaced. "She means that leaving a spellbook, wizard's staff, and who knows what in the bag for Happosai and our fathers to find would not be a very good idea."
"Happosai with book of magic?" Shampoo shuddered. "Aiyaaa! VERY bad."
The youngest Tendo heard this and it clicked in her mind. Her eyes caught the book and an idea began to form. Akane hid the spellbook while Shampoo and Ukyo tossed satchel and staff onto Ranma's lap, then carried the whole easy chair, Ranma and Kasumi included, up to the room right at the top of the stairs, which happened to be Kasumi's anyway.
Collapsing onto the bed, and raising a small cloud of dust, Ukyo noted. "Kasumi doesn't have much in the way of decoration in here, does she?"
Collapsing beside her and doubling the cloud, the woozy amazon looked at the bare walls, empty closet, and dusty furniture. "Maybe she too tired, always cleaning up after violent girl."
Shock finally hit them both and they gave in to recuperative slumber.
Downstairs, Akane spent fifteen minutes going through the spellbook before she found a page she felt she could understand. "Why, it's just like a cookbook!" Akane exclaimed, suddenly confident about this magic stuff. There, right before her, was a recipe with ingredients listed in minute detail!
Akane closed the book, glowing with confidence. She could do this no problem! Soon she'd get this whole misunderstanding cleared up. Ranma was always meant to be hers, the sword just hadn't understood that.
The satchel, however, which she presumed held all of Ranma's special herbs and things, refused to let her anywhere near it, and his staff actually gave her a mild burn when she tried to pick it up. So Akane went back down in search of a formula that called for ingredients she could find in the spice cupboard.
"What smell?" An amazon's abused senses finally penetrated her fog of sleep.
"Hmm? Oh, that's just Akane cooking." Nabiki murmured from where she'd crawled up to avoid the stench.
"AKANE COOKING!" Ranma was not the only one startled awake by that.
"My room?" Kasumi was looking around at the ghost of her chamber. Where were all her things?
"Hey, gang, I think we can all escape out the window." Ukyo stood ready to open the aforementioned.
"We go Cat Cafe. Great Grandmother know what going on here."
"My room." Kasumi repeated.
"What is it, Kasumi?" Nabiki got up, then her eyes bugged as she looked around. "Wow. Looks like you moved out. I wonder where you went?"
Kasumi had already risen, so Ranma stood up, the chair disappearing behind him. Folding his fingers together, an arcane symbol appeared in the air before him and began glowing. The symbol faded and Ranma dropped his hands.
"According to my lore spell none of us have lived here for months. The only occupants the house registers as current are Soun, Happosai, my father, and Akane."
"You must have moved out when we all got... ma... ma..." Ukyo stammered to a stop, blushing.
"We go Cat Cafe. Great Grandmother understand. She tell us."
"You're right." Ranma opened the window and jumped out onto the ledge. "Come on, everybody. I can handle a flight spell large enough to get us all there."
"Uh, husband dear."
Everybody LOOKED at Nabiki, too stunned for words.
She blushed, but was unable to alter her words. "Husband, flying might draw attention we don't want. We all remember how to walk."
Ranma glanced down and somehow looked ashamed. "You're right, Nabiki." He toyed with something in his hand. "This wasn't the way that I wanted it, but you're right." He opened his other hand and the staff flew to him. Suddenly the staff shrunk to about a foot long and went limp. He coiled it around his wrist, where it solidified again, looking like nothing but a pearl bracelet set with a small sapphire in one end.
Ukyo jumped down to the ground, noting with distaste all the garbage strewn throughout the yard and the recent firepit in the lawn. Shampoo followed after, carrying Nabiki, and Ranma hopped down a moment after, satchel in one arm and Kasumi in the other. They hopped over the outside wall in the same formation. Before anybody realized it, Ranma had summoned a gorgeously caparisoned horse and was lifting Kasumi into the high canted side-saddle.
"Hey Ranchan? Where'd that horse come from?"
Ranma looked around at his friend and bowed his head, sighing. "I've been planning my return for a long time, Ucchan. I've been setting up enchantments and all sorts of presents for the girl I eventually married. But I only ever thought that there'd be one! I'm sorry, but I seem to be three horses short. One of you can use mine." He held up a richly detailed tiny figurine shaped in the image of an inch-high black charger, complete with saddle and gear.
"Shampoo LOVE to ride horse!" The purple-tressed warrior maiden called out eagerly, bouncing and clapping her hands together in delight.
Checking that this didn't disappoint the other two, Ranma tossed the statuette to the amazon, telling her the command phrase and introducing her to the horse when it appeared.
Seconds later, Shampoo was charging about the street in cavalric glee. Ranma led Kasumi's horse while Nabiki and Ukyo paced beside him, everyone suddenly quiet save for the shouts of enthusiasm as Shampoo jumped small cars.
"Ranma darling, won't your horse get tired?" Nabiki eventually asked.
Ranma shook his head, still quiet in contemplation. Speaking softly he replied. "No, these are Fallon-type warhorses, first bred by Kisaby the Horseman. They can gallop day and night for weeks without tiring. They're the only mount alive than can run down an elven steed, and they're pretty intelligent to boot."
Kasumi's mount snorted and tossed its cream colored head in equine approval.
Ranma continued in a contemplative mode. "I had to raid the private stables of a sultan to get these two."
"They're very pretty." Ukyo offered by way of consolation for whatever hurt he seemed to be feeling.
Ranma looked at her and found a smile. "I spared no danger, no expense. I wanted everything to be wonderful. The cloth they wear has one of the most powerful spells I've ever woven into something. It sustains them without food or water, kills parasites, and keeps both horses perfectly groomed." He sighed sadly, looking down at his feet. "I wanted everything to be perfect."
Nabiki came up behind him and put both arms around his waist. "I don't know what you've done to me, Ranma. But my heart breaks when yours does. Please feel better."
Looking around himself, he brightened a bit and nodded.
Cologne looked up from her counter at the incoming youngsters. "Ah, so the happy family returns! Why, Shampoo, wherever did you get that fine animal?"
The giddy, purple-haired amazon hadn't been willing to be pried out of the saddle and had ridden the magnificent warhorse right into the cafe. "Is warhorse belonging to Airen, great grandmother! He say I could ride." She sparkled and considered leaping the charger over the counter to see what had changed in the kitchen.
Cologne seemed to sense this and moved aside, just in case. She smiled to her granddaughter. "Well, that was nice of him. You got so few chances back in China, and always did love it so. Did you do much horseback riding on your trip?"
While this interplay was going on Ukyo had found and pointed out to Ranma the poster-sized photo framed and hung prominently on the wall. The picture was one of Ranma hefting a laughing Shampoo in his arms, the other brides in the background laughing at something obscured by the closeup of Ranma's smiling head. It was a merry scene.
Ranma sat back into his easy chair, fighting vertigo. Ukyo and Nabiki sat on his chair arms.
Cologne blinked. "Uh, son-in-law? Would you mind telling an old woman where that chair came from? Not to mention the steed Shampoo's riding and the fact that you're wearing something rather different than your usual clothing style?"
With a start, looking up at Shampoo's radiant smile and the ring on her finger, Ranma realized that he *was* really the old ghoul... err, Cologne's great grandson-in-law. He swallowed and shrugged, having forgotten somehow to prepare an excuse for this beforehand.
"Uh, I took up magic in my spare time?"
Cologne hopped over and perched on the front of Shampoo's saddle. "What spare time, son-in-law? You just got home off your honeymoon three days ago. Don't tell me you were READING all those months."
Kasumi, looking very pale, sat demurely in one of the normal chairs. Luckily it was right before opening and there were no customers. She spoke in a bright, clear voice robbed of its usual softness by her strain.
"Ranma made a wish this morning. A wish in which he ended up married to all of us."
Cologne blinked. "But that's ridiculous, son-in-law. You married them all months ago! Don't tell me you'd waste something as precious as a wish on something you already had!"
"This morning I did not have it." Ranma replied reasonably, rubbing his temples, but seeming to adapt somewhat to the circumstances.
Cologne blinked her eyes wide. "What? Then all that was..." She pointed a sharp finger at her suddenly startled granddaughter. "Shampoo, what happened on February the thirteenth of this year?"
Shampoo recoiled in startlement. "Aiyaa, that no very important day. Shampoo go to Tendo place, bring Airen food. Spoil violent girl disgusting breakfast while at it. Airen get angry and chase Shampoo away. Hurt very, very bad, but is no unusual."
"I see." Cologne spun her staff and suddenly was holding a razor sharp sword to Ranma's throat. "Son-in-law, as far as everyone I know is concerned, Shampoo is your bride. But if you should get it into your mind to abandon her, or to hurt her as you once did..."
With two fingers, Ranma removed the blade from his neck, a slight trickle of blood falling from a nick in his throat. "I would have to be a creature with the morals of my pop to even consider that. I might not have *expected* all this to happen, but I'm sure not going to hurt *any* of them!"
Cologne studied him through sharp eyes, then put away her sword. "In that case, I'll bring you up to date. I don't know much about the specifics. I wasn't there you understand, but three months ago, give or take a few days, Akane finally managed to kill Ranma."
Hair stood up from every head in the room but hers. Even the horse's mane was sticking upright.
"Both fathers told me later that it was an accident, but that's hogwash. She might not truly have meant it, but you can't try that hard that consistently at something and not expect to eventually succeed. Anyway, you all got him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. You were already discussing funeral plans when another fiancee arrived. I don't know how or what she did, but she brought Ranma back to life. At any rate, she decided that she wasn't particularly jealous and so those fiancees she approved of were also allowed to marry Ranma. I spent the week after your wedding celebrating and you only returned from your honeymoon three days ago. That's as much as I know about it. I was planning on seeking you out in a few days to ask that first wife of yours how she did it."
Kasumi rallied somewhat. "But if that's... Where do we live?"
Cologne took out a piece of paper and scratched an address on it.
As Shampoo took the note, Ukyo asked. "So how did Ranma get to marry more than one of us, anyhow? I thought that was illegal?"
"What are you *talking* about, child? Ranma always could've married as many of you as he wanted. You were all just fighting over who got him first. Once that went to the maiden who restored his life there wasn't anything left for you to fight over!"
Nabiki's brow furrowed. "You mean multiple marriages are legal now?"
It was Cologne's turn to frown. "Now that you mention it, they're not. At least not in Japan, or in any of those other countries you visited. Come to think of it, I'm not sure *why* it's always been okay for son-in-law. But it certainly has been. Merely the fact that no one has objected to it should be proof enough of that. In fact I even think you got a well-wishing card from the Diet on your wedding day."
Kasumi perked up. They'd gotten cards at their wedding? And it sounded like from important people too. She hoped she'd been prompt about sending thank you notes.
Suddenly Ucchan was looking around. "Where'd the other horse go?"
Grinning sheepishly, Ranma took a cream colored figurine out of his pouch. "Here. We can activate it when we need it."
Cologne was studying him and it. "What is this, son-in-law? Do you manufacture horses in shrink wrap now? What is that thing?"
Feeling himself back on a familiar topic, or at least one more recently familiar, Ranma regained some confidence. "Well, it's an offshoot of the standard dimensional warp. You know how magicians have been making magic bags for centuries that could hold more than their physical dimensions allow? And dryads and other wood sprites create huge mansions inside their trees that far exceed their volume. It's all just a slight bending of space they've managed to stabilize."
He showed off the figurine. "These were common after the days of Kisaby the Horseman, a mage friend of his did alot of dimensional hopping, and discovered a kind of companion reality to normal space. As you all know, universes have varying levels of detail. Some have physical laws only allowing for chaos, others support a rich enough metaphysical structure for magic and human life. Well, this mage tapped into one that was extremely limited and nearly barren, allowing only for the existence of grass, water, and horses. Naturally they love the place. Some unromantic soul dubbed it the 'horse dimension' and so it's been called ever since."
He flipped the little horse statuette in his fingers. "These act as a link. Using one, you can call a specific horse out of there, the tradeoff is that the steed decides when he gets to go back, and since they like it so much it's basically the veto power of your own will that binds them to the place you're in. Once your attention wanders they're gone, off to grass and not having to carry you around. Their bridle and saddle and things get stored by the figurine until they return."
Kasumi felt some concern at the odd arrangement and asked. "But if they like it so much wouldn't it be nicest just to let them stay there all the time?"
Ranma shook his head, though not displeased. "It's not good for them. They can heal wounds over there and stuff, but they don't grow any older, which means no foals. And it's not exactly a stable reality. Parts of it keep slipping off into chaos. The only things keeping them safe over there are these links. It's like having a rope tied around your middle in a bog, if you encounter a sinkhole the rope provides an anchor. But we have to use the link to keep it strong, like too much slack on the rope will let you drown anyway. To give you an idea of how dangerous it is without one of these, there *aren't* any unlinked horses over there."
"So why does anybody use it, Ranchan?" Ukyo blinked.
He smiled at her. "Two reasons. One is that it's a least magic for the most effect sort of arrangement. I can traverse mountain, cave, and waterfall and on the other side still have my horse. The other ways either cost alot of power in non-renewing spells, or give you something that ain't a real animal, and there are limits you wouldn't think of to riding magic constructs. The other reason is that they *like* it. I kinda consider it a way of paying them for a lifetime of loyal service."
The black charger snorted and nuzzled his arm, seeming to agree.
Cologne had produced a quill and paper and had been writing furiously all this time. When it became clear that his explanation was over she stowed the items away in her robe and complimented him. "VERY interesting, son-in-law. And you explained that so well. I'd always had difficulty with dimensional theory before, but you made that quite plain. Tell me, have you had many students tell you you had a knack for teaching magic?"
Ranma blushed, but seemed quite pleased. "I haven't had any students, great grandmother. I've been too busy preparing for my return here."
"Ahh, I see. Well, soon all that will change. Come on over anytime you want to discuss something. I found our chat quite interesting. But for now you have other things you must be doing."
"Yah, where to, Ranchan?" Ukyo hopped pertly off of his chair arm.
Ranma suddenly noted with some astonishment that his right arm felt cold, and the reason why was that it'd been wrapped around Ukyo's waist and that source of warmth had left. She seemed to notice this at the same time and blushed furiously, not sure whether to be more pleased or embarrassed.
His eyes went wide and tracked over to see Nabiki, with his left arm around her middle. She smiled at him, then impulsively bent over and kissed him. He might have leapt out of his seat in shock, save that would've spilled Nabiki rather rudely onto the ground when the chair disappeared behind him.
"Ah, the young lovers." Cologne teased. "Now you'd better be going. I've got a restaurant to run and I can't stay closed to chat forever."
"I would like to speak with Akane about all of this." Kasumi essayed.
"We do later, Kasumi." Shampoo declared. "Now we go see where live with airen!" Turning the horse, she charged out of the restaurant. Ranma followed, summoning the other mount again for Kasumi.
The troupe followed and, clucking softly to herself, Cologne began to open for business.
As the third stirring rod dissolved in her hand, this time before even *reaching* the liquid, Akane began to wonder if substituting rice for mandrake root had been the great idea it had seemed at the time. Surely the cinnamon and cloves seemed to work well enough in place of the holly berries.
The overturned box of drain cleaner at her elbow didn't *say* cloves, but it had been in the cupboard at the time.
The only real main ingredient she'd *had*, the breath of a virgin, had caused her to blush to her toes. But she'd exhaled onto the potion.
Leaving the pot on to boil, Akane ran up the stairs to her room. She closed the door behind her and removed the spellbook from hiding. Groaning, she realized that she'd forgotten to turn the pot or say *any* of the magic words before she'd turned up the heat to let it boil. These recipes were so *complicated!* And while she was sure she could get along without half of that silly stuff, following the recipe without the book there was still a little difficult. She'd tried to take it into the kitchen so she could study it while she cooked, but the book wouldn't allow her take it in the door.
Suddenly she had a great idea, and Akane began to look around for her backpack.
Nabiki wished she knew why she'd had such a tough time removing herself from Ranma's arm. Okay, she'd overheard the wish, she wasn't stupid. But there was niceness and there was... he looked over at her again and her insides went to goo. Wistfully, she wrapped herself around his left arm as they walked.
"Err?" Ranma stood blinking unintelligently.
Ukyo saw this and her eyes lit up with mischief. "Hmm, looks like a good idea."
"Where is hotel room?" Shampoo stood up in her saddle to get a better view of the area.
"Excuse me?" Kasumi spoke up from the back of her horse. "But I'm a little eager to get home. Could you please hold off on that until..."
"Is good idea!" Shampoo interrupted, unintentionally cutting off the remainder of Kasumi's phrase. "...until things return to normal." The amazon stood her charger on his hind legs and then raced off, returning in moments.
"Shampoo find! Is great big restaurant! Husband is too too good provider!"
Ranma suddenly noticed a loss. "Hey!" He checked his wrist, side pouch, and inside of his cloak. Still finding nothing he turned around to ask of the girls. "When was the last any of you saw my spellbook?"
Happy with her ingenuity, Akane stuffed the huge spellbook back into her pack, following it with ream after ream of photocopies. She wished she hadn't run out of coins before getting the whole thing, but she was confident she'd gotten all of the important parts.
Sealing the backpack and lifting the weighty load, she began to hurry home. She had to check on her current experiment!
Behind her, Hikaru Gosunkugi leaned from around a shop display. He'd thought that it looked unusual for Akane to be so interested in an old book. The binding of the leather had looked more like something *he'd* be interested in.
Checking a paper from the machine, Gosunkugi's eye's bulged wide and his mouth fell open. It was minutes before he could turn his head to see where Akane had gone. But she'd long since disappeared. Quickly, he gathered up all the papers she'd spilled and the slight handful she'd left in the copier.
He'd have to try this out!
Returning to the Tendo house in a rush (Kasumi and Nabiki riding, the others leaping across houses) they came to the right place, but even Kasumi almost rode on past it. They stood for a few minutes taking in the changes to the Tendo home they'd somehow missed on their way out.
There were patches all over the roof. A huge section over the living room wasn't even shingled anymore. One of the swinging gates had been knocked from its hinges and rehung with wire. There was garbage in the rain gutters and waste paper had blown up into the branches of the trees.
All this was even before they'd opened the gate.
Hesitantly, Ranma opened the doors and they filed into the yard.
"My home?" Kasumi mourned.
Piles of broken bricks and masonry lay about the yard. Garbage flooded the bin, overflowing onto the ground. The clothesline had fallen and never been rehung...
It was too much. The eye couldn't take it all in. The devastation and neglect was just too severe.
Shampoo hopped over to the burst-out wall of the Tendo bathroom, picking up one of the broken boards. She examined it in her hand, then dropped it and returned to her fellows. "Board have Happosai face imprint. Guess Too Too Violent Girl defend self while in bathroom. Hole is weeks old."
Nabiki toed a discarded practice dummy at her feet. "From the look of the bricks, I'd say Akane got tired of using the dojo and moved it out into the yard."
Ukyo unholstered her giant spatula and held it ready. There was just something about the obscene wreckage that evoked thoughts of danger.
"Oh, hi guys!" Akane called from the front doorway, a little upset to see her two rivals but glad to have Ranma returned. "Sorry about the mess. Looks like we haven't been able to afford any repair people. Come on in. I was going to clean up later."
"From look of things, she say she 'clean up later' for months now." Shampoo whispered aside to Kasumi.
Kasumi's face had drained of all color. Her home had been her world. She tried to consider salvaging it, but at that moment Akane began cursing the veranda screen, sticking on clogged tracks, and managed to pull the door to pieces in her hand. She blinked at it in surprise, then tossed it aside and led them all in.
Kasumi paused at the ruined door, gazing down for a moment in sorrow at the debris, then looked around and bit back a tear. This wasn't her home anymore. This was where Akane lived.
With a sudden, painful realization, Kasumi discovered that wherever Akane lived, she no longer cared to.
Ukyo dropped back and asked Kasumi what was the matter, then stood with the elder girl while she cried. Further into the house Akane was handing Ranma back his spellbook.
Cleaned up for reposting, for ease of reading (since this site has some fairly unique rules that stripped out all of the original formatting and made it a bear to actually sit through).
Hope all of you enjoy!