CHAPTER XXVIII: STOMPING GROUNDS

Ranma tapped his foot in annoyance. Not for the first time he turned his eyes away from the greenery that filled the small park to the sky. As if taunting him, the fiery orb had made its way from just barely cresting the sky to now wherel it hung high above his head.

"Yeesh, they are sure taking their time and to think they were the ones who told me to show up in the morning." Ranma grumbled as he continued to wait in bored irritation.

He sure hoped they showed up soon. From the moment he had woken up his stomach had been growling out its discontent. By now the hunger was eating away at his concentration like a rabid wolverine in his gut. While discomforting Ranma was actually quite experienced in going long periods of time without food. Such things were inevitable when on the road with little or no money. That however, didn't mean that Ranma wanted to do so.

A light brush of growing energy upon his consciousness caused the pigtailed boy to perk up. His increased alertness was rewarded when a huge surge of ki and light exploded in the park. With the energy's entranced followed both Anito and Nabiki, flashing into existence only a few meters away.

The arch-mage blinked the light out of his eyes and glanced at the sun casually. Giving a slight shrug the wizard tossed off a meaningless apology that had not the slightest of strength behind its words. "Sorry to keep me waiting."

"I was waiting the whole damn morning. If I'd known you were going to take this long I'd of slept in." Ranma said snapped vexed at the two.

"Could you two just shut up?" Nabiki growled out wincing an instant later at her own words. The mercenary girl held a hand to her head attempting to assuage a great pain that pounded away at her skull.

Ranma glanced at her confused. That certainly wasn't the kind of response he was expecting. Looking back at the wizard Ranma searched for answers but saw only a strange sort of grin decorating the arch-mage's face. Lost the pigtailed boy asked in confusion, "What is going on?"

There was a sharp pause before Nabiki picked up the question. "I don't want to talk about it."

Stopping to glaring at Ranma for a moment she continued. "I suppose though I can't avoid a bare minimum amount of discussion. Anito." She said the last with a gesture toward Ranma.

Anito's goofy smile held for a moment while he absently rubbed his ring finger staring into the distance. Then startled he glanced at Nabiki. "What? Did you say something?"

"Get Ranma up to speed with the plan and unless you have a death wish keep it short, simple and clean." Nabiki's stare was enough to invoke envy from even a basilisk.

"Oh, yeah, that's right." Anito said collecting his thoughts. Pausing thoughtfully the wizard looked down and then snatched back his hands and placed both behind his back. Then facing Ranma with his characteristic grin he spoke. "Ah, yes, the two of us have successfully completed the endeavored task in a manner that was more than satisfactory for all parties involved. As such we no longer are suffering a distinct and attention consuming monetary problem. Therefore we are ready to redirect our time to other matters. Most notably the acquisition of a dwelling."

Now it was Ranma's turn to blink. "Wha-?"

"A house!" Nabiki snapped out immediately regretting her outburst.

"Oh." Ranma replied Anito's words becoming clear. "So, how do we go about that?"

Nabiki smiled coldly at Ranma's response, her concentration temporarily redirected from the raging pain that hammered away in her skull. "There is no 'we' Ranma. Anito and I are quite capable of taking care of that ourselves. You however, have another task. I don't want to get caught flat on our feet a second time, and knowing the two of you some sort of trouble is inevitable."

Nabiki looked like she was about to continue, but then grabbed her head with a painful whimper. Anito glanced at her and then picked up for the mercenary girl. "Basically, Nabiki is insistent that we lay down as many defenses as possible. Though this does tie us down more than I would really like, I agree. Unfortunately, that will require several weeks of work, in addition to all the... other modifications that will undoubtedly be necessary."

Anito looked at Ranma with a wicked grin. "Now since you have some free time everything that you can handle will be delegated to you until such a time that I finish the stuff that requires me. After that... well, depending on the situation I might help you out."

Ranma groaned. Might in the wizard's words was pretty much the same as never. "Why do I have to do that stuff? Besides, I can't do anything until you have the house anyway."

"If you would rather Ranma, we can charge you room and board. I am thinking something around 50 to 60 thousand yen a month. Though, perhaps you would like to offer a down payment of say 3 to 5 million yen instead." Nabiki replied dryly managing sarcasm even through the incessant pain in her head.

Anito laughed. "Actually, even then you would be expected to carry your part of the burden of the house work. Think of it this way, I am paying the money and still am doing work. You should consider yourself lucky that you are getting away with as little as you are."

Ranma hung his head a little. When put that way it was hard to argue with. "Well I suppose your right. Still there isn't anything I can do until you have the house."

The arch-mage's grin told Ranma all he needed to hear. "On the contrary there is indeed something you can do. Foremost you can familiarize yourself with the basic enchantments that the two of us originally placed on the Tendo House. Those should now be in your realm of skill."

Anito continued, "In addition there are quite a collection of defenses that I have not studied or have not the knowledge to produce. So you will, in addition to your other task, need to also seek out a priest that can produce effective and working demon wards or other miscellaneous charms. Don't worry about the raw power of the wards. We can buffer them up ourselves. I just need something that works. As for how to identify them, well they should be as plain as day to your aura sight. Of course in your case you may be able to identify them by touch alone."

Ranma grimaced at Anito's none to subtle reminder of his demonic taint. "Yeah, I suppose I can take care of that stuff."

"Good, I'm counting on results then. Here you'll need this." Anito said producing a thick ratty looking notebook for the martial artist.

Ranma grabbed the monster happily. It was always a good thing to have some sort of access to the more esoteric branch of the art. Though, in this case the normal willingness was dulled by the responsibility being handed over as well. Still it wasn't a moment before Ranma opened its pages and started browsing what exactly he had been offered.

"So where exactly in this is that stuff you wanted me to do?" Ranma asked browsing the contents.

"Near the back, I tossed the spell in on some of the later pages. Don't lose that, it contains a lot of my personal work on high ki manipulation and some fairly advanced things on stuff I am working on right now. Eventually, I should get it into a semblance of organization and have a few copies printed for backup purposes and personal use." Anito replied.

Ranma flipped the notebook closed and glanced where the authors name was handwritten into a blank line. "Hey, you wrote this!"

"Of course. I am after all the pioneer high ki manipulation theory." Anito added in proudly.

Ranma shrugged and flipped the book open to the center glancing at what was there. It looked to be a rather nasty mix of diagrams, impromptu explanations and random notes than a clear cut description of the process. To top it all off the wizard meshed together free hand writing with computer type in a maddening way that begged the term insane.

Grimacing with distaste, the martial artist shifted through the next several pages. They were not a whole lot better, though the computer typed explanations seemed a bit clearer. Of course, much to Ranma's regret the hand written side notes off to the sides of the very same paragraphs belied their accuracy. In fact, the only thing that Ranma could feel thankful for was that Anito's handwriting was at least barely legible.

"Oh joy this looks to be a whole lot of fun." Ranma grumbled out flipping the pages to a particularly interesting chapter. The attempt turned out to be a mistake. While learning about mundane energy conversions had looked useful the symbolic mathematical manipulations scrawled everywhere alone were beyond the pigtailed boy. Trying to follow the explanations induced a headache quite similar to the one Nabiki was currently nursing.

"You know you could have at least tried to make this understandable to normal people." Ranma said with sigh as he closed the notebook.

Anito shrugged. "I intend to clarify and smooth over the descriptions eventually, but I really have a whole lot of other things to do. I would though be more than happy to accept any help I can get."

Ranma shivered at the look directed at him. "Hey, I got enough on my plate as it is. Besides, I can't make heads or tails of half this stuff anyway, and what makes you think my explanations would be any clearer?"

Anito kept his grin. "I am well aware of that. In any case just concentrate on what is necessary. Oh yes, you'll need these as well." The wizard added dropping five more books into Ranma's hands.

"What more!? How the heck am I supposed to go through all of this?"

"You don't. Those are only for reference, I tend to avoid a great deal by referring to specific details elsewhere. These should cover every reference in the pertinent sections. Eventually, I plan on concentrating the information... but as you know time is not a privilege I seem to have... At least not a privilege I have yet."

"You don't expect me to carry all of this do you?" Ranma said his eye twitching in irritation.

Anito blinked, "Ah, good point. Nabiki, your pack please."

"Certainly not." The girl replied.

"Come now Nabiki, we have other things to do, and I can hold your stuff until you get another one. Ranma though will definitely need something to carry those books."

"Fine. You owe me Ranma." Nabiki gazed meaningfully at the pigtailed boy before emptying the pack and handing it over.

"Hey! I am doing this for your benefit so if anything you owe me!"

"You know if it wasn't for this monstrous headache I would be impressed. Instead you are just making me madder." The cold hearted mercenary's eyes held a deadly gleam.

"That should do it here." Anito said having filled the bag while they two were arguing.

Ranma lifted it leerily. "Its girly."

"You have a problem with that Ranma? I'll be more than happy to take it back."

"Hey, I can put up with girly." Ranma shot back flipping the pack over his shoulder.

"Good. The two of us have other things to do." Anito paused while eyeing Nabiki. "Well, I do in any case. Nabiki probably should rest for a couple more hours."

"I'll be fine." Nabiki grunted out shading her eyes from the harsh rays of the sun.

"Are you sure? I could take you to a nice comfortable bed in a high class hotel if you would rather." The wizard's eyes gleamed as insidiously as his smiled.

Nabiki's look was enough to freeze the Atlantic. "Do you have a death wish Anito?"

"I most certainly do not. On the other hand I think a little fire could help cure that cold heart of yours." Anito responded playfully. Even as he minced his words whips of light started curl up around the two as the wizard set down the foundations of his Full Teleportation Circle technique.

"It's going to take more than a little fire to get you out of the frozen pit of hell that you have fallen into." Nabiki shot back clutching her head. Wincing at the bands of light the girl added in, "Gods I hate teleporting with a headache."

Whatever Anito's reply was going to be the required chant stopped it. Then a moment later with the two gone it was impossible for Ranma to catch it anyway. Not that it really mattered. To the pigtailed boy most of it seemed nonsensical.

Left to his own devices Ranma looked over his shoulder at the pack and groaned. He was going to put off dealing with that particular monster as long as possible. Thankfully, he had actually seen the spell before so the pigtailed boy wouldn't be at a complete loss while trying to figure out the crazy diagrams and explanations.

That left Ranma with searching for a priest. This was something Ranma could most definitely handle. A quick roof hopping jaunt and a visit at the nearby temples looking for charms with an aura would be enough. It could very well take a few hours though.

At the thought of time so spent the pigtailed boy's stomach growled. Suddenly Ranma spoke up. "Damn it! I forgot to ask for food money!"

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If there was one thing in the universe that Ranma-chan absolutely and totally hated it was sprinklers, especially the automatic kind. Sprinklers were without a doubt a demonic invention created for the express purpose of torturing her. How did Ranma-chan know this? It really was quite simple. If they were not built for such a purpose then why on earth did they always insist on always turning on the moment she just so happened to be walking by.

Ranma-chan sighed. Sometimes she didn't really know what bothered her more about the curse. The fact that she was always uncomfortably wet, or the fact that she changed into a girl. Currently the latter was winning curtesy the demon's influence and the sheer and utter agony of roof hopping in heels. Still as tough as Ranma-chan was the misery of being wet still ranked high on the pigtailed girl's list of aggravations.

Fortunately the girl part was easy enough to solve. Just find some hot water and then, "Blamo!" instant guy. Unfortunately, Ranma-chan wasn't carrying a thermos around anymore so hot water wasn't in quick supply. Now Ranma-chan could go hunt down a source, but doing so took time. Time she could spend getting this damn priest thing over and done with. So she elected to bear with it and avoid upsetting the fates' most recent attempt to make her life a living hell.

So that is what brought her here. Wet, cold, miserable and most importantly female in front of the latest selection of Tokyo's Shinto shrines. Really, she didn't expect to find anything worth while. The rest thus far had all been hacks, but you just have to keep on plugging. After all as much as Ranma-chan would wish otherwise real wards don't find themselves.

Mind set Ranma-chan made her way up the steps at the entrance of the temple grounds at a fast paced clip. Bouncing up the hill with effortless energy the pigtailed girl glanced about the grounds in search of her prey. A young black haired man who had been sweeping stammered at her sudden appearance not more than a half a meter away.

"He- hey! Uh, can I help you ma'am?" He made out slightly nervous leaning back slightly with the broom.

Ranma-chan ignored his stammering instead choosing to cast her gaze about looking for where they sold their wards. Suddenly veering on the young man with the eyes of a hunter she asked suddenly. "Do you have any real wards, or are you just quacks like the rest of them?"

The young priestly assistant's face shifted between shocked and irritated from the pigtailed girl's presumptive words. During the pause it finally settled in on red faced nervousness at the presence of the girl that was leaning a bit too far into his personal space while showering him with a steely gaze. "Well, umm, I suppose, uh, we uh, have wards right over there." He replied, quickly scampering back while pointing out the location.

Ranma-chan twirled instantly leaving the assistant in the dust. Zeroing on her destination Ranma-chan halfheartedly waved back nonchalantly at the guy. "Thanks!"

Stopping in front of the selection of charms Ranma-chan looked the lot of them over. It was hard to tell, but it seemed she could just barely feel something drifting off of them. The energy was very faint and weak almost like a thin mist. Obviously whoever had made these either wasn't particularly strong, didn't put much effort into it, or quite simply didn't know what he was doing.

Ranma-chan reached out to grab one and then snatched her hand back when a tiny shaft of pain lanced up her fingers. Shaking her hand lightly Ranma-chan murmured, "At least I know they work."

A little shiver crossed her body as the weight of what happened sank in. Rejected by a ward against evil, a ward against demons. A startling statement of truth. She was no longer human, at least not in full. Somehow that terrible fact was beginning to sink in.

"Hmm, can I help you?"

Ranma-chan whirled to face the little old man that was behind her watching her with interest. Feeling his aura the pigtailed girl frowned slightly. It was strange. A low level mix of purifying powers and something strangely... demonic?

"Hey, I was just looking for some wards." Ranma-chan threw back in a conversational reply.

The old man nodded looking Ranma-chan over in a way that reminded the pigtailed girl of Happosai. With a shudder the pigtailed girl thanked the almighty this one certainly had self control unlike the gnome. Thoughtfully the old priest said, "Did you find them satisfactory?" The way the his eyes glittered made the girl nervous.

"Ah ha ha, well I suppose." Ranma-chan started nervously. Looking at the charms a second time she spoke up again. "They aren't very strong though, but it looks like you can make the real thing."

"You can tell!" The old man literally hopped from foot to foot in delight. "You don't know how hard it is to find cute girls these days that can tell. My even my own granddaughter has difficulty at times." Pausing the old man looked Ranma-chan squarely in the breasts. "Say do you want to be my assistant?"

Ranma-chan leaned back nervously. "Err..., hey! I was just looking for some real wards you know. Besides you already have that guy as an assistant!"

The old man looked downcast. Ranma-chan looked back sternly not even budged by the priest's pity attempt. Finding his effort was wasted the old man let a sight and spoke again. "Well, I suppose. Still what do you need the wards for anyway young girl?"

"Eh?" Ranma-chan scratched her head. "Not really sure, Anito is the one that asked me to get them. I figure he just wants to make sure all the bases are covered with the new house or something."

The old man nodded. It wasn't unheard of for new buildings to be erected with protections against evil spirits. For that matter, it wasn't unheard of for old ones to add similar protections. Given the state of affairs these days the old priest really couldn't blame the girl for wanting all the protection she could get. Still. "I suppose I can make something to keep away spirits with ill will. Making something strong enough to have a real effect though will be difficult."

"Err... sure I suppose that would work. I'd have to ask Anito though for specifics, but I am pretty sure we can strengthen them ourselves so you don't need to worry about making them strong." Ranma-chan said unsure of what exactly her response was supposed to be. The wizard had said to look for working wards, not to actually get any.

The old man hopped closer. "Really? Are you sure you don't want to be my assistant?"

"Err... yeah..." Ranma-chan said backing away from the old man.

The old man let out a sigh. "Too bad. It is so hard to find pretty young assistants these days. If you ever change your mind... there is always an opening for a girl like you." The priest's eyes glittered.

"Hey I am no-" Ranma-chan stopped herself and let out a sigh of her own. "Why do I even bother?" She muttered under her breath.

"Hmm, what is that?"

"Nothing. Thanks mister, I'll be sure to stop by later when everything is all sorted out." Ranma-chan said waving goodbye as she walked off.

"Come back soon!" The old priest shouted back as she walked away.

Ranma-chan just groaned. "Screw it. I am going to get some hot water the world be damned. Not cold water nor all the forces of fate will stop me." Ranma-chan muttered under hear breath. As she walked people steered away from the quietly murmuring girl. Then again, the occasional mad chuckle probably didn't do wonders for her image.

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It is an amazing thing how a just a small bit of hot water can really change a person. In Ranma case, it was enough to make a man out of him. This was of course the entire point. Which explained why the pigtailed martial artist was currently happily stretching out his newly masculine arms in front of a very disturbed chef. A chef that only moments ago had been trying to remove a very rude pigtailed girl from out of his kitchen.

"Ah, it's good to be a guy." Ranma announced out loud to the world. He didn't even bother to glance back at the frozen cook so preoccupied was he with his return to manhood.

Walking out of the kitchen back into daylight Ranma grinned. Really, what wasn't there to be happy about? Here he was back in male form and half done with his assigned tasks. There was no Shampoo, no Mousse, no Ryouga to bother him. For that matter the sun was still high in the sky signaling for the pigtailed boy a victory of sorts. A declaration that he, the eternally cursed, was reprieved with an actual chance to relax.

A pang of hunger struck the pigtailed boy and his stomach growled out in objection to its emptiness. Grimacing, Ranma stared at the sky a second time. This time he gave it a baleful eye. Who was he kidding? Him getting a reprieve? Ha! No, the real truth now seemed far more clear. The heavens were laughing at him. Taunting him with the reminder that it had been well over twenty-four hours since he had last eaten.

"I better stop thinking down that road, or I'll turn out like pig boy." Ranma murmured to himself. Shaking his head free of the dark thoughts he plodded on his way.

A shout, a cry of fear shattered Ranma's reverie. Glancing up he saw people piling away from a central location. Curiosity tugged at the pigtailed boy. What was it? A martial arts fight breaking out dangerously close? An appearance of a mythical entity like say a flying minotaur, or an asura? Remembering the battle between Rouge and Taro Ranma let out a laugh.

Approaching Ranma found himself sorely disappointed. The disturbance seemed to be nothing more than a oddly built and colored girl grabbing onto a rather ordinary looking business man. Strangely, the scene reminded him of the good old days with Kodachi, or Shampoo trying to squeeze out a confession of love from him, usually via some sort of potion, poison or mystical tool. Looking at it that way Ranma felt rather sorry for the guy, but the pigtailed boy wasn't about to step in the middle of something as down right messy as love.

Just as he was about to turn around and go the girl threw the man down to the ground, hard. Ranma stopped narrowing his eyes and reevaluating the situation. Apparently he was wrong, this wasn't a girl just trying to crush the love out of a guy like the last drop of juice out of a lemon. She was most definitely trying to hurt the man. Further, looking at their aura's the girl was most definitely stronger. Nope, this was more the case of the strong picking on the weak. While in this case the strong did happen to be a girl Ranma wasn't about to let this part of his martial arts credo pass.

"Yo weird girl! Let him go." Ranma announced lazily. Hopefully she would drop the guy. The pigtailed boy really wasn't sure about fighting her as funky as the aura he was reading off of the oddly built girl looked. Besides, the last thing he wanted to do was beat up a girl. It not only went against his preferences, it just plain looked bad.

Luck wasn't on Ranma's side. The girl just gave him a glance and returned her eyes to the guy on the ground. Irritated the pigtailed martial artist called forth a rather ball of turning life energy. Whipping his arm he threw the blast at the girl. It covered the distance in a streak of energy before impacting against her oddly colored skin.

"Hey, I told you to let him go!" Ranma shouted out in justification of his assault.

Despite his bravado a sinking feeling filled his guts. The weirdly built girl hadn't so much as blinked at his ki blast. Sure it was a weak blast, but it most definitely should have had some effect. On the other hand this did mean he didn't have to hold back. Confidence recovered Ranma smirked slightly while funneling ki into a brilliant crackling ball of energy that sat in anticipation of the start of the fight.

"How dare you!" The girl said finally glancing at her attacker in irritation.

Well, he certainly had her attention now. Ranma positively grinned. "Eh, if you got a problem with me butting in you should be more careful where you pick your fights."

The girls eyes flashed briefly. "For interfering die!" The girl yelled angrily streaking toward the martial artist.

Ranma dodged to the side easily letting the girl fly past with her charge. The strange girl wasn't very fast and if her lines were any indication she didn't have a whole lot more brains then pigboy. Not that it really mattered as the fight was over now. With that he tossed the shining blast of energy toward the girl with a flick of his wrist.

The glowing blast rammed into the girl's back and picked her up off the ground flinging her a good dozen paces. Ranma grinned almost sadly seeing she was knocked off her feet. This time the odd girl wasn't unscathed. Fight over the pigtailed boy turned to leave and then stopped. She was standing up, what was more she didn't even look particularly hurt. In fact, she looked mad.

"That hurt human." The girl spat out.

"Shit." Ranma hissed out nervously. He hadn't thought the odd girl would be that tough. Heck, even Ryouga would have been damaged by a blast like that. Not that the pigboy's incredible resistance extended to ki anyway.

The strangely built girl wasn't going to leave the pigtailed boy a whole lot of thinking time though. She dived back into combat with a savage recklessness of one who knows nobody can stand against her. Ranma skirted around the attacks with an inborn ease. Casually he dodged a sideways swipe took a hand sized chunk out of a tree. Those claw like hands of hers certainly were sharp. Still, for someone as tough as she was this strange girl was incredibly skill and had absolutely no finesse.

Shifting slightly he let another attack pass his head. Insane toughness or not Ranma had no intention of playing the defensive the entire fight. He had taken on plenty of things that were hellishly tougher than him. This odd girl was no exception.

With an expert eye Ranma awaited his moment. Flashing to the left he let a clawed hand pass his head lashing out with his own fist. The counter attacked connected placing all his strength, and all hers behind the blow. Surely not even she could take that kind of hit.

"Whaaaam! Crack! C-c-c-crrrrrraaaaaaaccccccck." First impacted with such force that the blow lifted the girl up and flung her half a dozen meters where she impacted with a tree. The body slumped to the ground in temporary unconsciousness as the meter wide trunk behind her split. Moments later the tree tilted and began to all as the remains trunk shredded unable to carry it anymore. Just before the large tree could crush her a wide eyed girl dived for freedom clutching something precious to her chest as she hit the ground.

"Oooops..., forgot about that weird mass effect thingy." Ranma muttered scratching his head. Then he grinned evilly. The odd girl was slowly making it to her feet stumbling slightly in delirium. "Looks like your weak against physical attacks, eh. Well then, let the fun begin." Ranma declared cracking his knuckles in anticipation.

"Weak against physical attacks!? Anyone would be weak against that!" Someone muttered in a mix of awe and horror from behind.

"Nah, Anito hits me worse all the time." Ranma let out conversationally as he leapt into the fray.

The strange girl swung her clawed hand desperately. The blow was blind and slow. So much so that Ranma didn't even bother to dodge. Instead he merely intercepted the hand gleefully remember the bracers that now protected his arms. Arm blocked the girl was now completely open and the pigtailed boy took advantage of it. Not wanting to punch her again as weakened as she was instead he simply reached forward and grabbed her head. Then with a slight twist he pulled her clean off her feet and rammed her straight into a convenient stone statute.

Ranma winced when the strange girl's head hit. He had wanted to bounce her head off the stone, not send it right through. Unfortunately he had again underestimated the incredible impact that the mystic mass had. Thankfully she looked to be okay, if unconscious. Dropping her unceremoniously on the ground the pigtailed boy looked instead at the statue. Seeing the now entirely missing lower abdominal section Ranma tossed off an apology to the marble that had lost its manhood. "Sorry about that."

The girl stirred to wakefulness and struggled to get back up. With a sigh Ranma pushed her back down to the ground with a foot. Squatting low the pigtailed martial artist asked, "You aren't going to go pick another fight if I leave you alone now will you?"

"You can't stop me human!" The girl spat from the ground.

"Now why did you have to say that? I feel bad enough beating you up already." Ranma muttered to himself irritated at the girl. "Stupid girl, all you had to do was say no."

As he spoke the pigtailed boy stood up dragging each of the odd girls arms up behind her back. Then with a quick twist he dislocated each, painfully. Finally, he impossibly crisscrossed them behind her back in such a way that she had no hope of freeing them without either intense pain, a lot of help or far more likely both.

"There, that should keep you out of trouble for a while."

Done Ranma walked off shouldering Nabiki's pack. As the pigtailed boy left the scene he let out a sigh. He didn't like fighting girls, but even he had to admit that the fight did let off a lot of built up stress. It was not a moment after that realization crossed his mind his stomach let out a loud growl.

"Grrr... can't I relax for even a moment!" Ranma shouted up at the sky now blocks away from the fight. There was stillness for just a moment before a car flew down the nearby road spraying water onto the now sputtering Ranma-chan.

"Damn it! I just changed back too!" Ranma-chan growled out. "Fine! I'll get hot water and there is nothing, nothing you can do to stop me!"

A pause of silence passed as the heavens gave no answer. Disturbingly she wasn't sure whether or not that was a bad thing, or a good thing.

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There is nothing quite like reading in a high tree branch. Ranma wasn't exactly certain if she meant that in a good way. It certainly did have the perk of removing you far from the troubles of your grounded siblings, and more importantly the continual nagging questions, or even worse people eating. Ranma shivered at the last. As hungry as he was watching people eat was his worst nightmare.

Then again bark didn't come close to comparing to a good chair, or even a nice soft bed of grass. Still, it wasn't so bad once you finally got into a comfortable position. Finding that position though could be hell. As bad as that was the real challenge was balancing the pack, most especially when rifling through it for the massive array of books left by the wizard.

Not that the so called sources did a whole lot of good. Oh, they might have been useful, if Ranma had the time and inclination to read them. As it was he had only bothered looking at the first three. When the he realized the third was written in Mandarin he hadn't bothered digging any deeper.

Truth was given enough time he was perfectly capable of puzzling out the blanks in Anito's little description anyway. The real difficulty was figuring out what the heck the wizard was talking about when he spouted out all that technical jargon. Here, the books didn't help anyway as they were at least as bad, if not worse.

Still, the particular part he was working on was immensely puzzling. Seeing that it referenced one of the Japanese books Ranma decided to try his hand at deciphering the reference, or at least identifying the answer by means of comparison. Shifting, Ranma reached toward the pack rifling around for one of the books. With a bit of difficulty he was able to procure it. The pack though didn't do so well and immediately took the two story plummet down to the ground. "Gaaaaahh!" Ranma shouted out vexed.

"Eeeeep!" Came out a twin cry from below as the pack narrowly missed impacting an innocent female bystander. The voice sounded slightly familiar.

Peeping down through the branches Ranma tossed off an apology while trying to make out the source of the voice. "Sorry about that, I just accidentally knocked the darn thing over."

Purple eyes peered back up trying to pierce thick branches. "That's okay, I wasn't hurt." The girl said shyly. Then catching sight of Ranma her eyes widening in surprise. "Your the one from the roof!"

"Ah ha! I thought I remembered that eeep." Ranma declared pounding his fist into his hand in understanding.

The girl looked away cheeks flushing with embarrassment. "Th-thanks for carrying me back to my room last night." She said quietly.

"Ah that? That was nothing. I couldn't leave you up there." Ranma said lazily.

If anything the girl's cheeks looked redder. She turned her head facing it down slightly to the ground so that Ranma could only see her dark violet hair. After a moment of silence she ducked down and started gathering up the books that had fallen out of the pack.

"Hey, you don't need to do that. Here just don't move I'm coming down." Flipping himself up off the tree branch the pigtailed boy completed an aerial summersault before landing easily on the ground.

"Wow, that was amazing. How did you do that." She breathed with some awe distracted from replacing the books in the pack.

"That? That's nothing, its actually pretty easy once you get used to it. Now being thrown off a three story building to practice your break falls hurts. You get good real fast, but it still hurts." Ranma winced in memory of his father's rather gung-ho attitude when it came to his son's training.

The girl giggled. Ranma frowned at her response. "Hey!"

She shook her head while smiling shyly. "Sorry." Looking at the books she asked innocently. "Do you like the occult?"

"Eh?"

"The books I just read the title 'Ryuu Hebi's Grimore of Enchantment and Transfiguration' and thought you might be into the occult."

"Nah, not really, its more the other way around. I was just doing some research." Ranma replied.

The girl looked at him her purple eyes filled with puzzlement before settling on disappointment. "Oh." She paused and then brightened. "What were you doing in that tree anyway?"

"Eh, that? People kept bothering me so I went up there so I wouldn't have to deal with them any more."

"I'm sorry." She said looking downcast.

"Wha-?" Ranma's eyes widened when it actually hit him. "Oh no, that isn't what I meant. You see I was just talking about in general not necessarily you, you know? That is, I mean, I was kind of wanting a break anyway." He finished lamely his hands waving wildly.

"Oh, okay. I was just worried I was bothering you." She replied smiling again.

Ranma's jaw worked itself up and down for a few moments. Then he stopped and murmured to himself. "That doesn't usually happen."

The girl frowned confused. "I am not bothering you aren't I?"

Ranma leaned forward and peered closely at her chest. Yep, he had thought right there were breasts. Small, but certainly there. Further, the aura presence indicated they were real, barring some really, really weird martial arts technique. Drawing back he blinked catching her last sentence. "Of course not."

The girl stepped backward slightly her face flushed red hot. "Ummm..." She began searching for something to say to someone that had just stared directly at her breasts with such intensity. Groping mentally she caught sight of the tree. "How did you get up there anyway?"

Ranma glanced following her gaze. "Oh that, I jumped."

The girl giggled again. This time he brushed it off. Then his stomach growled out angrily. Now it was his turn for red to touch his cheeks. "Say, you don't have any spare food on you?"

The girl shook her head sadly. "No, I gave my lunch to a friend. Why don't you buy some?"

"I'm out of money." He said sheepishly.

"What about the money in the pack?" She asked curiously.

"There is money in the pack!" The pigtailed boy's eyes were wide with disbelief.

The girl reached in and held up a wad of yen timidly. Ranma took one look at the money and let out a exclamation of irritation. "Gaaaaahhhhh!" Grabbing onto the tree he started pounding his head into the trunk at his stupidity. "Damn it, I didn't eat all day and he just left money sitting there. Damn it! I don't know if I should wring his neck or thank him!"

"Ummm, are you okay?" The girl asked nervously as she watched the pigtailed boy bash his head with threatening force into the wood.

"Oh sorry, its just that I haven't eaten all day and it turns out I could have had as much food as I wanted." Ranma explained. "I didn't disturb you did I?"

She giggled again and shook her head shyly. "No, not at all."

Holding the money in hand Ranma made to go get some food then stopped himself. "Say, do you want something to eat? I mean, it only seems right after all if it weren't for you I wouldn't have eaten anything for hours."

The girl's face turned beat red and she looked down at the ground shyly. "I'd like too... but, my father wants me home early today."

"Oh, well then I guess I'll see if I see you or something." Ranma said waving goodbye as he walked off.

"Goodbye..." She returned sadly as Ranma left.

Ranma glanced back at the girl, but she was already heading off her own way again. Shrugging he quickly made his way to a place where he could find nourishment. Even as he walked the terrible and telltale sound that haunted his dreams assaulted his ears. "Pit pat pitter pat pit pit." The nightmarish sound was that of rain falling from the sky. With a groan the pigtailed boy looked up his face asking the heaven's why. They gave no answer except more rain that turned he into a she.

"I get it okay! I get it damn it! If you want it that way I'll stay as a girl for a while you don't have to make it rain!"

Thunder rumbled in answer and Ranma-chan knew for certain that whatever gods had it in for her would not be assuaged today. That left only one choice, run for the nearest cover as fast as high heeled feet could carry her. Impressively, despite the handicap the pigtailed girl still made a speed some sprinters might envy.

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OMAKE, OMAKE, OMAKE

Ground was hard. Rocky ground was especially so. Thick slabs of granite beat those both out by a good margin Ryouga realized as he pried himself up from where he had impacted. Frowning the boy glanced about attempting to drag from the stiff fingers of the gods his whereabouts. The effort gave no more yield than ever before, instead all he could think was that somehow he had left that silvery place behind. For that matter he was a man again. He wasn't sure how that had happened, but he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

"Where in the world am I- Owwwww!" Ryouga howled out the last as Ranma's pack materialized in a fiery streak impacting the martial artist so hard he was knocked flat face first into the rock below once again.

Pulling himself off the ground he glared at the innocent canvas that was smoking from the heat of friction. Glancing about Ryouga looked for the bastard that dared to attack him with their pack. No one was to be found no matter how hard and how long he glared at the blasted rock that surrounded the mountain on which he stood.

While irritated Ryouga decided to make the most of matters. Ripping open the pack he glanced through the contents. Some strangely familiar clothes, snacks, and several books. The sometimes pig curiously picked up one of the tomes experimentally. Opening it he tried to decipher the strange symbols in which it was written. They seemed so hauntingly familiar, yet so strangely different. It was like some twisted and evil madman had gone through and flipped the darn thing upside down. "What kind of silly code is this." Ryouga growled out angrily.

Just then something registered against his ki senses. Now Ryouga's aura sight wasn't anywhere near refined. The difference between him and Ranma these days was quite like the difference of eye sight between a bear and a hawk. However, sensing that, that huge golden orb that tore across the sky with all the subtlety and power of an out of control eighteen wheeler filled with TNT didn't take anything near refined senses.

Ryouga however, didn't have anytime to really appreciate the energy blast. As fast as it was traveling he had only a moment before it slammed into the ground swatting away the top of the mountain as easily as one would swat a fly.

"Boooooooooooooom!!!!!" The entire earth shook under the blast and Ryouga's ears deafened as he was flung cut, burning bruised and broken into the higher atmosphere the book and pack reduced to ash.

As the boy careened through the sky he let out a shout unheard through the chaos below. "Ranma this is all your- bweeeeeee!" His words never made it to their finish due to the rain storm that had been flung into from miles away.

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Author In

Since my brother put a shameless plug for my fic in his own, it is only fair I return the favor. Thus I direct you all to "Void Contract" by ObsidianFox.

Author Out