It was a subdued bunch of girls the tiger stripped saucer let out at the Amazon village. Zhu Shu led the way, followed by the Senshi. They looked weary and tired, but no worse for wear, though the mood was far from jubilant. Even Lum, when she emerged, looked slightly sad.
"I'm sorry Xi'an Chi escaped." Sailor Moon said for the umpteenth millionth time to the downcast Chinese girl.
Zhu Shu shook her head. "Project Banshee finished. That all that matter. Zhu Shu deal with Xi'an Chi again. Next time, he not escape." She sighed heavily. "Is not Usagi fault Zhu Shu not catch Xi'an Chi. No need apologize."
"No indeed, Princess." A still young Lo Shen said, coming up to meet them. "It is an honor for Princess Serenity to grace our humble village with her presence. Be welcome, along with your guardians." She bowed to the Senshi, then turned to Zhu Shu, "and to you as well Dragon's Child."
Zhu Shu bowed back, then kicked Usagi in the shin. The gaping blonde jumped, then hurriedly bowed as well. The other girls had already returned the courtesy.
"How'd you know I was Princess Serenity?" Usagi asked.
"The Amazons are one of the few peoples who were not silenced by Saturn when she rebirthed the world, Princess. We still remember what was in truth, not the history rewritten."
Lo Shen raised an eyebrow, then nodded. "Not all your guardians have been reborn yet, Princess."
Usagi's eyes got round. As the blonde girl attempted to absorb that, Zhu Shu turned to Lum. "Zhu Shu wish to thank for bringing back to village."
Lum smiled. "I had fun here last time. And you don't call enough."
Zhu Shu gave her a small smile. "Zhu Shu's life is complicated. Very sorry. Should make more time for friends."
Lum shrugged. "Oh, that's okay. I know how it is. I have friends all over the galaxy." She smiled. "Just do me a favor and cheer up." She gave Zhu Shu a hug. "I gotta get back to Tomobiki. My little tracker is showing that Darling is trying to sneak out again."
Zhu Shu smiled. "Have fun with beloved."
Lum waved to all the girls as she flew back to her saucer and it zipped away. They all waved back as the saucer vanished into the distance.
"So how do we get home from here?" Usagi asked. "I had enough difficulty getting Dad convinced we had a way home without us getting stuck longer than a day. If we're not back home by tomorrow, he's going to let me have it."
"Zhu Shu said there would be a helicopter come to get us." Rei said. "So don't worry about it."
"Why couldn't we just go home?"
Zhu Shu broke in. "Ke Lun say come back to village." Zhu Shu turned back to Lo Shen. "Loremistress?" she asked in Chinese
"Yes, Child?" Lo Shen replied, in Chinese as well.
"I have spoken with my grandfather. He has finally told me who I am."
Lo Shen nodded. "If I may be so forward, Empress, it's about time Shi told you the truth."
Zhu Shu sighed. "Please Loremistress; I have no desire to be the heir to a throne no-one even remembers. I am content to be a servant. The titles have done nothing save make me a target of a madman, and cost Amazons their lives."
"Whether you wish it or not Zhu Shu, you are the Empress. You are our liege. The Amazons swore an oath a millennia ago to be the guardians for Lin Tzu and Clan Dragon. We have spent three hundred years believing we failed our oath. You're not going to stop being the Empress just because you wish it, any more than we can abandon our oath to defend you. And I do not think Scorpion's attack on our village was primarily directed at you." Lo Shen said as gently as she could. "I know you don't feel comfortable with this, child, but you cannot escape your heritage. We will do what we can to support you, but now that you know the truth, you can no longer be shielded by ignorance."
Zhu Shu nodded, her eyes lowered. "I understand, Loremistress. But please, my name is far more comfortable for me to hear than a title."
Lo Shen smiled. "Very well. I certainly can sympathize. You have no idea how tired I get of being addressed as Loremistress."
Zhu Shu blushed. "My apologies, Lo Shen."
"None needed, Zhu Shu. However, did I hear you mention the name Xi'an Chi just now?"
Zhu Shu nodded. "He is the leader of Clan Scorpion. This much I learned from our travels to Lan Tao."
Lo Shen's mouth twisted in a sour look. "I see. We shall discuss this later, Empress," she said firmly. "Would that we had known that earlier. Regardless, for now, please come to speak with the Elders. They have been waiting to hear your news since Har Spra advised us of your coming."
"So can we know what you two are talking about?" Usagi complained.
Zhu Shu nodded. "Zhu Shu and Lo Shen needed settle something. Will need to advise elders of what occur in Hong Kong."
"Yes. The report Har Spra sent was… sketchy at best." Lo Shen said in accent free Japanese. "She kept bemoaning the fact she'd finally found a male who could best her, and he was unavailable. If I never hear the name Chan again…" Lo Shen sighed. "Of course, living in China, that shall be unavoidable." She turned to Usagi. "And, she failed to mention the Princess." She gave the odangoed blonde an amused look. "Though I am curious as to how you felt being at a festival held to mourn the fall of your previous self and Prince Endymion."
Usagi shrugged. "Kinda sad, I guess. It was strange."
The other Senshi nodded. Rei stepped up next to Zhu Shu. "Are you okay? You look like she gave you bad news." she asked quietly.
Zhu Shu shook her head. "No. Remind Zhu Shu of things she wish not necessary."
"Oh. Pushing you to find a husband?"
"Only part. Usagi not only person stuck with title not want."
"Oh. It was about you being the empress, huh?"
Zhu Shu nodded. "Yes. Xi'an Chi wishes to capture because is heir of Lin Tzu. If Zhu Shu no empress, she maybe be safer." She shrugged. "Zhu Shu think curse less trouble."
Rei nodded. "I guess. I can't say Usagi's really gotten much use out of being a princess either, other than it making her a target for Beryl."
Zhu Shu smiled. "Zhu Shu not feel alone then."
Rei laughed softly as they turned to follow Lo Shen to the Elders hall.
Inside the large hut, they found the Amazon elders waiting. Zhu Shu bowed to Ke Lun as she entered then guided the Senshi to seats along the wall.
"Zhu Shu must need tell elders what happen." she explained to the curious girls. "Forgive, but will be easier to speak Chinese."
They nodded, watching as she stepped before the elders' table.
"Greetings Zhu Shu," Ke Lun started. "Lo Shen informs me that Shi has finally told you your true heritage."
"Yes, Great-grandmother. He has told me of the history of Clan Dragon and his role in the events that led to the fall of our stronghold. I know about Clove of the Musk, and the events that led to his hiding." She paused. "I do not know if you know why my grandfather hid himself"
Ke Lun shook her head. "Shi has never explained."
Zhu Shu sighed. "According to my grandfather, the wizard Xi'an Chi was behind the aggression the Musk showed. He promised Clove she would have Shi following the destruction of our clan. When my grandfather escaped, Xi'an Chi attempted to capture him, and Clove gave her life to allow him to escape, realizing Xi'an Chi had used her." She paused and looked Ke Lun in the eyes. "I am cursed with her form, Great-grandmother. I know you could not help but to have known that."
Ke Lun nodded. "Yes. I did not know what you truly knew of your history, Great-granddaughter. I did not wish to burden you if you were unaware of the past."
The little Chinese girl nodded. "I understand, Great-grandmother."
"What of the events in Hong Kong?"
"There is not much I can say. Xi'an Chi was working with a group of Americans to create weapons. With the aid of the Senshi and the Heir of Clow Reed, as well as that of an American archeologist named Chan and his niece Jade, we ended the experiments they were performing on a young woman named Alice and destroyed the base. Regretfully, the leaders escaped."
Ke Lun nodded. "I see. That is a far cry from a 'scouting mission', young lady. I believe you promised to avoid danger, did you not?"
Zhu Shu hung her head. "I did, Warleader. I did not seek out danger, but it found me anyway."
"I see. You are fortunate indeed I have already decided to only bring Lung-Lung and Ling-Ling with me to Japan. Were you not as formidable a warrior as you are, Empress, I would have a full contingent of warriors follow you around."
Usagi saw Zhu Shu's face pale and leaned over to Rei. "What are they saying?"
Rei shrugged. "I don't know. I don't speak Chinese."
Zhu Shu meanwhile had recovered from the thought of being surrounded by a horde of Amazons at all times and looked at Ke Lun. "I thank you for your praise, Great-grandmother. And for your allowing me the freedom to defend myself."
"You have earned it Zhu Shu, at least until such a time as I deem greater protection is warranted. I will not allow the heir to the empire to come to harm."
Zhu Shu nodded. "I understand, Great-grandmother. Yet I do ask for as much leniency in this as you are willing to give."
Lo Shen laughed. "She's already given you far more leniency than some on this council feel she should, child. Yet I agree with her that keeping you on a light leash is best. For all that you are our Empress, you are still young, and have much of life to learn about. Experience is always the best teacher. Still, we will all rest easier knowing that Ke Lun will be near to your hand, as will our champion. I will also keep in touch occasionally. We do not seek to interfere in your life Zhu Shu, but we will not allow serious harm to come to you."
Zhu Shu bowed again. "I understand, revered Elders. I will not resist you in this unless I feel it is overly restrictive."
"Fair enough, Zhu Shu. Thank you for not putting us in a position where we would feel a need to disobey your orders to keep our oaths to your clan. However, knowing now that Xi'an Chi is the wizard behind our recent misfortunes, be aware we may have to revise these measures, my Empress. Xi'an Chi is the brother of Song Lin Tzu, and a most powerful adversary. While I believe you may one day exceed him in skill and power, at present he is far beyond you, and ancient in his evil. We have for most of a millennium believed him safely dead during the Silencing. To know that he was behind Clan Dragon's fall answers many mysteries behind those events." She turned to Ke Lun. "Will you approve of my wish to train any of our new tribe members who show talent as mages now, Ke Lun?"
Ke Lun nodded. "Very well, Lo Shen. I withdraw my objections to your plan. As badly as we need warriors, if Xi'an Chi should attack us directly, we will need magecraft far more. Let your apprentices train as many as can be found."
Lo Shen nodded. "Xi'an Chi ever was a cautious individual, Ke Lun. He will never attack in person where he can manipulate others to attack. If he has been defeated in Hong Kong, it will be some time before he can establish a new base of operations, and with the number of men we eradicated, the Scorpion tong will take months to rebuild. We should have several months to prepare before then. I will set my students to combing the records, and see what other evidence of his hand in our past affairs they can find. We will not be so vulnerable now that we know he yet lives." She looked to the other elders and switched to Japanese. "However, for now Zhu Shu is safe and well protected, so I believe this matter is settled?"
The other elders nodded. Ke Lun cracked an almost imperceptible smile. "Good." She added, also in Japanese. "Now, we have other matters to settle, including welcoming our esteemed…" She broke off as her ears twitched. "Ah… but first, we have a new arrival." She turned to the Senshi. "I apologize Princess Serenity, but I fear we have a tribal matter that must be dealt with immediately. I must beg your continued indulgence and patience. Once we have this settled, we will have a dinner to prepare in your honor. Our esteemed liege neglected to inform us you were returning with her, or we would have had a feast already prepared. It has been a millennium since the Moon Kingdom has been our guests."
Usagi blinked until Rei nudged her. "Tell her thank you, dummy!"
"Oh, um… Thank you and we don't mind waiting for you to finish your… um… tribal business." Usagi managed.
The sounds that Ke Lun's ears had picked up were audible now to everyone, proving to be the roar of a plane. It took several minutes as the tilt-rotor landed, then Tao-Ching was escorted in by an Amazon bearing a spear with an enormous blade. She bowed to the elders.
"I have returned with my son as you requested, Lo Shen. He submitted without protest."
"Thank you Rin Se." Ke Lun said. She turned to Lo Shen. "Before the accused is tried, I wish to make a statement."
"That is your right, Warleader. It may have no bearing on my decision as Loremaster."
"Of course not. Your job is to interpret the Law, as mine is to enforce it if need be. I wish merely to remind the Loremistress that Tao-Ching nearly died defending my great-granddaughter against the Musk. Herb owed a blood-debt to him."
Lo Shen nodded. "I have taken that into consideration, Ke Lun." She turned to Tao-Ching. "So, I'm in a bit of a quandary here, Tao-Ching. You disobeyed a direct order to report Herb's whereabouts when you found him, choosing instead to take him on by yourself. In so doing, you jeopardized our quest to retrieve the Chisuitton. While you apparently succeeded in obtaining the Kaisufuu, you succeeded only by luck, and we suspect, by ambushing Herb. Despite your services to the tribe in the past Tao-Ching, your actions were reckless in the extreme and endangered our entire tribe. What have you to say?"
"I have no defense, Loremistress, save that Herb owed me a debt of honor. I took what steps I saw as necessary to ensure the Kaisufuu was returned to the Joketsuzoku, and that Herb was repaid for the debts he owed to myself and the tribe."
"You took this on yourself? Why?"
Tao-Ching sighed. "With all due respect, elder, I had no time to do anything else. Those I had hired to detain Herb were killed. I went armed to deal with Herb, expecting to have him delivered unconscious and in chains, only to find him the only living person who left the boat."
"You should have advised us before making such arrangements, Tao-Ching. I could have advised you that Herb would have overcome any common warriors."
"She did not overcome me, elder. I retrieved the bucket and ladle, and the kettle."
Lo Shen looked at Tao-Ching for a long uncomfortable moment. Finally, as the silence grew oppressive, Lo Shen spoke again.
"It is only because you were indeed successful that I am willing to be lenient in sentencing you, Tao-Ching, but I cannot allow you to go unpunished. You were raised an Amazon, and as such, you are governed by our laws. I am tolerant of the fact that you are truly Japanese, Tao-Ching, but I cannot allow you to wholly forget your upbringing."
She stood and stepped around the table to look Tao-Ching in the eyes. "Your actions reflect your attitude, Tao-Ching. You are arrogant."
She motioned to an Amazon who stood to the side, and she brought forward a long chest and laid it on the table next to Lo Shen. The Loremistress placed a hand on the chest.
"You need to learn that there are some things more important than simple success. Winning at all costs is sometimes worse than losing when victory comes without honor. I fear that there may yet be repercussions to your actions we will all regret, but only time will tell. You have proven you can be a fighter, Tao-Ching, but the soul of a warrior requires an understanding of honor that I am not certain you possess."
She opened the chest to reveal seven katana. "This is your punishment, your quest, your lesson. Among the treasures recovered from the Musk we found these blades. They are ancient, marked by family crests. You are charged with their return to the families they were stolen from. Return their honor and perhaps you will find your own."
Tao-Ching bowed. "I understand, Loremaster. I will obey."
Usagi looked puzzled. She whispered to Rei. "That doesn't sound like much of a punishment."
Rei looked at her in surprise. "Are you mad? Don't you have any idea how impossible that's going to be? Finding the families those blades belong to? Between the War and the Shogunate, many samurai families don't even exist any more!"
"And if those are the family blades, their loss would have destroyed the family's honor. If any of them survived that disgrace, they'd have been pariah. The odds he can even finish this test in a lifetime are slim."
"Then why give it to him?"
"Test remind Tao-Ching of own honor. Test not intended to be completed." Zhu Shu supplied.
Usagi shrugged. "Okay, I guess. Sounds silly to me."
"I think it's a rather fitting punishment." Makoto said. "Martial Artists have a responsibility to uphold their own honor and respect the honor of those they fight. Sounds to me like Tao-Ching didn't fight fair."
Minako shrugged. "I don't know. He seems nice enough to me, and really cute and muscular."
Zhu Shu shook her head. "No. Hentai boy already claimed by Nabiki. No chase."
They all blinked. "Hentai boy?"
"Tao-Ching very appreciative of females. Fewer clothes better." Zhu Shu sniffed.
Lo Shen's ears twitched. "What was that, Empress?"
Zhu Shu blinked as Tao-Ching looked at Zhu Shu and paled. "Empress?"
Lo Shen smiled. "Yes. Empress. Song Zhu Shu is the heir to the true Song Dynasty and your liege as an Amazon. Did I hear her correctly? That you have treated our Empress improperly?"
Zhu Shu shook her head. "Tao-Ching has only expressed his opinion that I am attractive, mostly. While that opinion has been expressed several times while I have been in a more or less unclothed state, he's never done more than comment or look." Zhu Shu told Lo Shen in Chinese. "He has never laid hands on me."
That didn't stop Rin-Se from hitting Tao-Ching in the head with her guan dao. "Son! I taught you better than that!"
Tao-Ching growled. "Yes, Mother. It's a bad habit I picked up in the JSDF. Most male soldiers are perverts, because they get denied access to females for so long." He gave his mother a look. "And I grew up in a village where I was surrounded by beautiful women every day. I've developed a taste for having them around."
"Please, I'm fine with him. He's crude, but tolerable." Zhu Shu said.
Lo Shen gave the still pale Tao-Ching a look. "Very well. Your Empress is magnanimous." The twinkle in her eye told Zhu Shu she was rather amused.
Turning back to the girls, she bowed. "That concludes our official business. We certainly wish to show you proper hospitality, Princess Serenity. If I may escort you, we have a dwelling prepared for you to refresh yourselves as dinner is prepared."
She gathered up the Senshi and gently herded them out as Ke Lun motioned Zhu Shu to stay. As the Loremistress left, Ke Lun gave Zhu Shu a brilliant smile.
"Lo Shen wanted to be the one to do this, but I over-ruled her based on our relationship, Great-granddaughter. We have catalogued the treasures of the Musk this last week, and we found some things that need to be returned to you."
Zhu Shu blinked. "But I have never met the Musk before. They have stolen nothing from me."
"Three hundred years ago, they stole your heritage, Zhu Shu." She turned to the guard who had brought Lo Shen the swords. "Bring it in, please."
Every person in the hall was grinning as Zhu Shu blinked in confusion. The guard opened the large door she had been guarding and stepped inside, reappearing a few minutes later bearing a long pole with a golden banner on it. Zhu Shu's breath caught as the emblem captured the light and the Imperial Song Dragon glared at her.
Behind the banner, four more guards walked in bearing a sedan chair, also carved with Clan Dragon's crest and covered with gold inlays. More guards followed, each bearing in additional treasures, all adorned with the Dragon. Then a final package was handed to Ke Lun, who brought it to Zhu Shu.
"These are the treasures of the Dragon. It is our honor to return them to their rightful place with the Dragon's Child." She unwrapped the silk covering the bundle she was carrying and offered it to Zhu Shu. "This, I am especially proud to return, since it was originally my gift."
Zhu Shu unfolded the cloth to find a qipao of incredibly fine silk. The crimson fabric had been woven as a single piece and adorned with small Dragon mandalas made of tiny jewel beads. The hem was pure gold thread so fine it appeared nearly liquid, and the material was incredibly soft.
"I crafted this for Mu for her wedding dress. I had feared it destroyed forever with the fall of the Clan. Now, it can serve for you. The silk is from a rare species of silkworm that creates nearly unbreakable thread. It will stretch to fit regardless of whether you are in your true form or cursed."
Zhu Shu nodded. "It's beautiful."
"I look forward to your wearing it on your wedding day."
Zhu Shu blushed and reached behind her back to pull out her herb case. She opened it and lifted the trays out to reveal a small panel, which she lifted. Then she folded the dress carefully and laid it in the secure space. Re-closing the case she smiled at Ke Lun. "I shall keep it safe for that day, Great-grandmother."
Ke Lun then led her on a tour of the items, explaining their history and leaving Zhu Shu breathless with wonder. She had never imagined so much opulence.
"Shouldn't this all go to Grandfather?" she finally asked Ke Lun.
"Shi did not wish to see it. Too many painful memories. He said to keep it safe for you."
Zhu Shu nodded, running her hands over a beautifully crafted tea set. "Yes. Please, Great-grandmother. I have no idea what to do with any of this. Please keep it safe for me."
Ke Lun nodded. "There are other treasures as well. The Musk stole from more than just Clan Dragon. There is one I especially set aside. I intend it for Akane, but I think perhaps it will mean more coming from you." She lifted the cloth over one last item.
Zhu Shu stared for a long moment before hugging Ke Lun in joy. "They're perfect! Thank you so much, Great-grandmother. I can't wait to get home and give them to her!"
0 0 0 0 0
The dinner the Amazons threw for the girls was entertaining, and was a welcome break from the aggravations of their recent adventure. Zhu Shu smiled and danced along with the girls, glad most of the Amazons seemed unaware of her title, or at least, uncaring.
The flight back to Japan in Tao-Ching's plane was uneventful, the girls spending most of the flight looking out the windows. Stepping out of the tilt-rotor at Tokyo airport, Tao-Ching smiled. "Good to be home."
Zhu Shu nodded. "Zhu Shu feel same. Village not seem home any more."
"Your heart's here." Ke Lun said as she hopped over on her stick, once more her normal self. "It's only natural that you feel more comfortable here."
The unloading went uneventfully, and they waved the girls away in a taxi as Tao-Ching was trying to step into the driver's seat of the Humvee. Ke Lun waved him into the back, making Shan Pu's father drive instead. Zhu Shu had just met the small, wiry man, Gel, but she could see where Shan Pu had inherited her cheerful nature from.
They pulled up at the Tendos to let Zhu Shu out before heading off to the restaurant Ke Lun had bought, leaving her at the path with the single large crate she had brought back. As she looked up at the Tendo house, she blinked away a tear. Visiting her home village had illustrated where she really felt home was any more.
As she started up the walk to let Kasumi know she was home, it being a school day, she stopped when a small pink and purple kitten pounced on her from the roof. She smiled as Shan Pu nuzzled her face. "Zhu Shu happy see sister too." she said as Kasumi was opening the door.
"Oh my. You know?" Kasumi asked.
Zhu Shu blinked. "Know?"
"That that's Shan Pu."
Zhu Shu gave the kitten a look, then blinked, remembering Ke Lun's statement that Shan Pu was helping Ranma overcome his fear of cats.
"Akane and Ranma not know?"
Shan Pu shook her head.
"Akane's calling her China. She thinks she's just a smart cat."
Zhu Shu rubbed her temples. "Who tell you do this?" she asked the kitten.
"Apparently, Ke Lun told her to give this a try." Kasumi said.
Zhu Shu sighed. "Hope Great-Grandmother know what do. Zhu Shu not sure is best course. Akane not like be fooled."
Shan Pu looked forlorn.
Zhu Shu sighed. "Let get bath and you tell Zhu Shu what happen so far."
Kasumi looked at her crate. "Are we bringing that in?"
Zhu Shu smiled. "Zhu Shu not. Cannot lift. Was hoping Panda man bring in."
Kasumi smiled. "Of course. I'll bring you a tea set."
0 0 0 0 0
"I'm doing my best not to spy, Zhu Shu. I'm just being around her when she's here. And trying to give Ranma lots of small doses of kitty me." Shan Pu said as they shared the tub.
"I understand." Zhu Shu replied. "I just am worried. Akane is much mellower than she used to be, but she was extremely upset with me when I didn't tell her about you."
Shan Pu pouted. "All I want to do is get her to love me, and Ranma not to run whenever I come into a room."
"I know. I'm sorry I wasn't here to help much."
"You had your own life to deal with, Zhu Shu. You can't always help me out. Besides, I'm the Champion of the Joketsuzoku; I should be able to do this on my own." Shan Pu groused.
Zhu Shu splashed her. "Silly. Being a good warrior doesn't always make you good at the ways of love. Particularly with these two. Give it time. Akane takes forever to figure out her heart because she so seldom listens to it. Ranma ignores his because he doesn't understand it. And you are all way too competitive. The way of hearts is not a challenge match. If you compete with each other, there are only losers."
"Gods, Zhu Shu. Why won't you just accept all of our offers of marriage? You could make this mess work. It's so tangled I don't even think my wish is going to come true, whatever Urd does."
"Humm?" Zhu Shu looked at her. "Wish?"
Shan Pu laughed. "Yes. When I was looking for Ranma, I ran across a drunk goddess. She granted me a wish, and has been trying to fulfill it ever since. She said she arranged for the voodoo priest to seal up the demon master, and called in Great-grandmother to witness it. She's been trying to help out, but she's not very good at it, I don't think."
"What did you wish for?"
"For everything to work out for us."
"Were those your exact words?"
"No. But I wanted to make sure that if I wished that my quest for Ranma worked out, I didn't want it be at your expense, so I included everybody involved. Not that I really expected the wish to be granted, but…"
Zhu Shu blinked. "Well, that explains some of the coincidences. I wonder what she's up to now."
The door slid open to admit Kasumi with a tea tray. "I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to listen but I did hear you as I came in. You said a goddess was involved in giving you a wish?"
Shan Pu nodded.
Kasumi looked at Zhu Shu. "Rei said a demon came to you and told you where to find Ranma?"
Zhu Shu nodded, then looked at Shan Pu. "I wonder if they're connected?"
"Urd did come in a few times complaining about someone named Mara." Shan Pu said, then did a double take at Kasumi. "You're speaking Mandarin?"
Kasumi blushed. "Well, Zhu Shu has been learning Japanese. I did take Mandarin in school, so I went to the library and got a couple of learning programs and I've been teaching myself."
Zhu Shu blinked. Kasumi's accent was so slight she'd not even realized she wasn't speaking Japanese, and in retrospect, she could recall a few times Kasumi had said something in Mandarin and she'd never noticed.
She stuck out her tongue. "You make me jealous. I'm lousy with languages. I know a lot of vocabulary words, but I'm lousy with sentence structure in Japanese. My English is a joke, and my Tibetan is embarrassing. I'm not even all that good at Cantonese."
Kasumi laughed. "I don't know what to say, dear. I'm fluent in English, French and now Mandarin."
Shan Pu and Zhu Shu both splashed her. Kasumi laughed. "I figured it would be easier for you. I know you're both working on your Japanese, and Akane now understands Mandarin since she got it from Zhu Shu, though Zhu Shu's lost the Japanese she learned from Akane…" Kasumi stopped. "I wonder if all of this is connected."
The two girls in the tub blinked. "Huh?"
"Shan Pu made a wish, and suddenly, Zhu Shu is visited by a demon who tells her where Ranma is." Kasumi explained as she set on the side of the tub. "And you said nothing like the exchange you had with Akane happened when you learned from Sarhia?"
Zhu Shu shook her head.
"I remember Ranma said that Sandal asked about magic surrounding the dojo during that night. I wonder if the reason you two merged was due to Shan Pu's goddess?"
Zhu Shu nodded. "That would explain a lot."
Shan Pu blinked at Zhu Shu. "You merged chi with my Ai Ren?"
Zhu Shu looked abashed. "Not intentionally."
Shan Pu smiled. "So that's how Akane knew the Song School."
"And the Dance of Shiva." Zhu Shu noted. "She learned all my skills, and I mainly got her emotions. After I died, I seem to have lost most of it."
Shan Pu frowned. "I still wish I had been there. I could have kept you from dying."
"I had to merge all the power the Senshi could throw my way and every last bit of my own chi to kill that thing, Shan Pu. I wasn't planning on dying, but I couldn't control my fall."
"I could have caught you."
Zhu Shu gave her sister a peck on the cheek. "Of course you could have."
The sound of the front door opening caught their attentions. "Kasumi! We're home!" Akane's voice came from the front of the house.
Shan Pu looked at the bucket of cold water, then smiled mischievously. "Great-grandmother came with you, right?"
Zhu Shu nodded.
Shan Pu smiled wider and launched herself out of the tub and out of the room. Kasumi and Zhu Shu listened as she bounded down the hall with a cry of "Ai Rens!"
There was a surprised cry of "Shan Pu!" then a crash.
Kasumi smiled. "She's been pouncing Akane everyday when she comes home. Sound's like she just did it as herself."
Zhu Shu laughed.
0 0 0 0 0
They found Akane in the foyer drying off after a hug from a very smug, wet, naked Amazon. Ranma was snickering from the railing of the stairs, where he'd escaped a similar fate, but he lost his balance in surprise when Zhu Shu came down the hall in a towel.
"Zhu Shu! You're back!" Akane exclaimed when she noticed the diminutive Chinese girl.
"Yes. Return with Tao-Ching and Ke Lun."
"Cool. Nabiki will be happy to hear her fiancé's back." Akane said with a smile
Zhu Shu blinked. "Nabiki engaged?"
"Yeah. Short story. Dad caught her trying to make out with him in the front yard, so he engaged them."
"There's more to it than that, dear. We were having a bit of a problem with hyperactive sex drives. Nabiki was extremely frustrated."
"Ai Ren not bunny-girl any more." Shan Pu added.
Zhu Shu's eyes widened. "Being rabbit make want sex?"
Kasumi smiled. "Extremely."
"AND ZHU SHU NOT HERE?"
Everybody laughed at the forlorn note she put into her voice.
0 0 0 0 0
Zhu Shu spent the next hour with Akane, Ranma and Shan Pu catching up on what had happened. She let Ranma and Akane think Shan Pu had arrived with her and Ke Lun, but finally, Kasumi called to let them know dinner was ready.
After dinner, Zhu Shu rose to stand by the big crate she'd had Genma lug in and waited for everybody's attention.
"Zhu Shu brings gifts from China. Many things discovered in Musk fortress." She unlocked the catches and opened the lid.
"First, for aid in defending village, Amazons share spoils." She struggled to pick up a large chest, finally looking pleadingly at Genma. He stood and hefted the chest out, grunting with the weight, and set it down on the floor. Zhu Shu knelt and unlocked it as well. As she lifted the lid, everyone gasped.
The chest was filled with large gold coins. Nabiki blinked in shock. "Do you have any idea how much that is?"
Zhu Shu shook her head. "Did not count."
Nabiki blinked several times, her eyes not moving.
Zhu Shu went back to the crate. "Zhu Shu also bring several treasures as gifts." She brought out a finely embroidered silk shirt. "Clan Dragon recover many things from Musk. This for soldier of high rank."
She handed the shirt to Ranma, who shook out the midnight blue silk to admire the gold and scarlet dragon. "It's beautiful," he said.
Zhu Shu nodded. "Ranma need nice clothes wear on date." She tossed him a pair of matching pants and shoes, as well as a red sash belt. "Now have no excuse."
Ranma sighed as everyone gave him a significant look. "Alright already!"
Zhu Shu smiled as she handed a package to Kasumi. "These for you."
Kasumi unrolled the bundle to find a set of gold handled kitchen knives. "Oh my!"
"Very sharp. Amazon smiths say very old too."
Kasumi nodded and smiled. "Thank you, these are wonderful."
The next item was an abacus carved from a dark wood and inlaid with gold and silver dragons. The beads were various shades of jade. Zhu Shu handed it to Nabiki. "This for you."
Nabiki took it and smiled as well. "An antique worth a small fortune. I shall have to find a safe place for this."
Zhu Shu nodded and handed the next item to Soun. "For both fathers Zhu Shu has in Japan."
Genma peeked over Soun's shoulder as he lifted the lid to reveal an ornate antique Go board made of jade, with ivory and jet stones. They both looked at her with tears of joy. "We will treasure this forever!"
The next item she took out was a set of jeweled gold and silver combs that she handed to Shan Pu. "For use on dates with Ai Rens."
Shan Pu smiled and nodded happily.
Zhu Shu gave a long slow smile to Akane. "Zhu Shu not forget Akane." She reached into the crate and pulled out a long case of carved teak. "Zhu Shu save for last."
She placed the case on the table in front of her and pointed out two carvings. "To open must press here." She touched the two together and there was a faint click. She lifted the lid towards Akane.
Akane gasped. "Oh my," she said faintly in imitation of Kasumi. Hesitantly, she reached out, hardly daring to blink lest the vision in the case vanished. Her touch confirming its reality, she lifted the twin objects from the case to display them for everyone.
The twin Song broadswords were nearly as ancient as Zhu Shu's; the blades still mirror bright and razor sharp. Etched into the sides of the blades were matched tigers in mid spring. The circular guards were also carved into tigers curled around the blade. The hardwood hafts were of an orange and black wood, ending in carved gold tiger's head pommels, their roaring mouths forming the rings to which long orange and black striped ribbons were attached. Akane stood and took them to the small wooden deck just outside the dining room and took a stance, flowing into a twirling form that caused the swords to sing merrily. Akane beamed.
"How ever can I repay you for this?"
Zhu Shu smiled and in Chinese replied. "There was never a need to repay me, Akane. If anyone deserved those swords, it was you. I do not know their age or history, but they were crafted by a master. And like my blades, they were crafted for a blood bond."
Akane blinked. "You are linked to your swords?"
Zhu Shu nodded. "As you must be to these if you wish to fully use the Song School. Only by joining with the blade may the full power of your chi be unleashed. The blades will become a conduit that will not resist your will. Once linked, you will be bound to these blades for life."
Akane looked down at the swords. "The Dragon and the Tiger," she murmured softly. Looking up she smiled. "Tell me what to do."
You must anoint them with your blood and chi." She held up her palm to show the faint crescent mark in her palm. "It doesn't require much."
Akane nodded. Stepping up to the table, she laid the blades in the box and held out her palms. Shan Pu produced a small throwing dart and looked at Zhu Shu. At her nod, she stepped forward and as gently as she could cut two small crescents on Akane's palms. Akane reached down and grasped the blades, channeling chi into her blood as it touched the hilts. A slow wave of gold fire burned along the blades as the tigers seemed to spring to life and roar. As the fire encompassed the entire blade, Akane gasped.
"I can feel them. Like extensions of my body."
The ribbons unfurled themselves and began to make slow undulations despite the absence of wind or movement of the blades, lashing almost like the slow wave of a tiger's tail.
Setting the blades back down, Akane looked down at her hands and the healed crescents. Shaking her head, she reached behind her back and pulled out her practice swords, handing them to Shan Pu, then took her new ones and put them away.
Looking at Zhu Shu again, she smiled. "Thank you."
0 0 0 0 0
After dinner, Shan Pu "went home" and China put in her appearance, earning a fuss from Akane as a lazy kitty who'd probably been sleeping in some warm corner until the sun set. China just gave her a cool look, as if to say "I was doing no such thing" before confiscating Akane's lap. Ranma set behind Akane, doing fine so long as he couldn't actually see the kitten.
While Soun and Genma broke in the new Go board, Zhu Shu filled everybody in on her visit to Hong Kong, and dragged every last detail about the last week out of the Tendo girls. She also answered the mystery of where Kodachi had vanished to, informing them that the obsessive martial gymnast had tracked her to Hong Kong in an attempt to "defeat the Chinese demon who had dared lay hands on her goddess." This news made Akane wince.
Zhu Shu also told them of the meeting Tao-Ching had had with the elders and the quest he'd been put on. Nabiki sighed in relief when Zhu Shu gave them the news.
All in all, the night went quietly, a far cry from what awaited tomorrow.
0 0 0 0 0
The next morning began quietly enough, China sneaking away after breakfast so that Shan Pu could be waiting outside to join them for her first day at school. Even the walk to school was uneventful, for once no-one splashing anyone, nor was anyone waiting to attack at the school.
Indeed, nothing at all unusual, strange or out of the ordinary occurred until school began. That was when the handsome new student was escorted into Ranma and Akane's homeroom by the principle's secretary, Miss Tsukigumo. Ranma blinked as most of the girls sighed happily. There was something about the boy that struck a familiar cord in his memory.
Then, the teacher announced his name.
"Let's all give a big welcome to Ukyo Kuonji."
Ranma straightened like a shot. "Uc-Chan?"
The new guy looked at Ranma and smiled a rather cold smile. "So you do remember me, huh? I certainly remember you, Ranma."
"Yeah, I remember you. Okonomiyaki Uc-chan! We used to be best friends."
"Really? That's why you ran away?" The smile grew even colder. "I've spent years hunting you, all so I could give you this!"
A small round object flew from his hand towards Ranma's face. He caught it and looked, noting it was an okonomiyaki. Spelled out in sauce on the pizza was a challenge. He blinked.
"You're challenging me?" He looked at the cold stare Ukyo was giving him and shrugged. "Fine. When and where."
"After school, in the athletic field. I want everyone to have a nice view of me beating the tar out of you."
Ranma shrugged again. "Okay." He ate the okonomiyaki. "Heh. Just as good as I remember."
The teacher looked between the two boys. "That settled? Good, take your seat."
0 0 0 0 0
"You really should have gone to school today, Usagi." Mamoru said as the boat pulled up to the dock. "Not that I'm not enjoying a day with you, but you've already missed a week."
"A week without you. I just couldn't stand it."
Mamoru smiled. "Silly. You called me almost every day." He stepped up to the dock and offered Usagi his hand, helping her out of the boat.
"Oh, you're so gentlemanly." Usagi said as she stepped on to the dock.
Mamoru avoided saying it was because Usagi likely would have fallen into the water otherwise, though she was benefiting some from these martial arts courses with Zhu Shu. He simply pulled her close. "Of course. You bring out the gentleman in me."
Usagi smiled and pulled him down for a long kiss.
Sadly, said kiss was interrupted.
All Usagi knew was that something heavy landed on her head, knocking her to the ground. When she recovered enough to look up, she saw Mamoru had been knocked down, and a small, vibrantly pink haired girl was kissing him.
"HEY. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE!" she yelled.
The pink haired girl turned, revealing eyes that were a sinister shade of magenta. "Usagi Tsukino. Why are you wearing my trademarked odango?"
"Hey, odango are my trademark! And I'm Usagi Tsukino!"
"You are Usagi Tsukino? Then you know where the Ginzishou is!" The small girl hopped over to Usagi and produced a pistol, placing the barrel between Usagi's eyes. "Give it to me."
"Now, now." Mamoru tried to move towards them. "Little girls shouldn't play with guns."
"One more step and she gets it!" The girl warned. "Now I want the Ginzishou!" she said to Usagi.
"Um… err… um… I don't know what you're talking about?" Usagi tried.
"So, you won't just give it to me, huh. Too bad."
The pink haired girl pulled the trigger as Mamoru screamed "Nooo!" and dove towards Usagi. He grabbed her as she fell backwards, then both their eyes went to the small flower stuck to Usagi's head by a suction cup.
"It was a toy?" Usagi asked.
Mamoru looked for the girl to tell her it wasn't a funny joke…
But the pink haired girl had vanished.
0 0 0 0 0
"She's going to be fine, Urd. She's just still weak. As far as I can tell, she wasn't mortally wounded, just tortured." Belldandy said as she came from the room they'd put Mara in. "Though I shudder at the fact someone would do that to her."
Urd nodded. "The only one I can think of who could would be Hild. You've heard the stories."
"I know. I just hate to think anyone could be that cruel." Belldandy said sadly. She wrung her hands in her apron. "And I have no idea what Legend did to her either. She's not a demon anymore. I think she's a goddess."
"How is that possible? How can anyone change what she is? I've never even heard of Kami-sama doing that!" Urd shook her head. "And wouldn't the doublet system stop it?"
Belldandy raised her hands. "I don't know."
Urd sighed. "Is she awake?"
Urd knocked on the door and opened it to the faint response. Mara looked up from her breakfast. "Urd!"
"Um, heya Mara. Feeling better?"
"Much. Belldandy says I lost a lot of blood, so I have to eat to replace it. I'm still a little woozy, but I can focus."
Urd smiled. "That's good. Do you remember much?"
Mara shook her head. "I was in a funk, I know that. A lot of my memories for the last couple of months are foggy. I… I was angry a lot. And I remember the pain, knowing that I was going to be forced to hurt…" her voice faded so that Urd barely caught the "you." Mara couldn't meet her eyes.
"You didn't want to hurt me?" Urd asked. "You were saying you were going to make me your slave."
Mara looked away. "I'm sorry. I don't remember much. I know I was a bitch."
"You're always a bitch, Mara. It's your job. You were positively evil for awhile though." Urd laughed.
Mara sighed. "I never wanted to be a demon, Urd. I couldn't help what I was born as. I was always jealous that you could choose; that you chose to be a goddess while I had to be a demon."
Urd blinked. "I never knew that."
Mara gave her a half lidded look. "No. You never did. You never asked either. Do you even have any idea how hard I had to work to get assigned to you all as chief adversary?"
Urd shook her head. "I thought it was just luck."
Mara laughed. "You wish. I had to beat out Velsper for it." She gave Urd another half lidded look. "I think it was worth it."
Urd shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Those looks carried way more meaning than she was sure she wanted to respond to. Mara noted the fidget and looked away. Urd sighed.
"Do you remember when Keiichi and I brought you here?" she asked finally.
Mara nodded. "It's one of the few things I do remember clearly. You held me in your arms as we started leaving the apartment."
Do… do you remember what you said?"
Mara shrugged. "Do you?"
"I… I'm not sure."
"Then don't worry about it." Mara sighed. "He did tell me there were no certainties."
"You're in love with me aren't you?" Urd said. "That's what you said; 'I love you'."
"For… for how long?"
Mara laughed bitterly. "For forever. Since we were in school together."
"I… I don't know what to say."
"Then don't say anything. Let me keep hoping that someday my love won't be in vain." Mara sighed. "He gave me a choice, don't you know, for killing his daughter. I could cease to exist and escape Hild's wraith, and no longer have to do her bidding, sparing you from the mischief she wanted me to wreak."
"Or?" Urd prompted.
"I could give up everything I was to him in exchange for a chance. Only a chance."
"A chance at me?"
Mara nodded. "I gave up everything, my life, my job, even my powers as a demon. I'm nothing anymore, Urd. Just a mortal in love with a Goddess. Gods, I can certainly sympathize with Keiichi now."
Urd blinked. "Mara…"
"Please, Urd, I don't need false words of comfort."
"Belldandy said she thinks you're a goddess now." Urd finished.
Mara blinked. "What?"
Urd looked around and grabbed a hand mirror, handing it to Mara. The former demon looked, and blinked. "Yin Yang's?"
Urd raised an eyebrow and looked closely at Mara's marks. It wasn't obvious unless it was in shadow, but she was right, the golden marks she had taken to be claws were one half of the overall symbol. The Yin half was such a pale gold, it had blended in with her skin in the light. In shadow, it contrasted better.
"We think Legend made you a Goddess…" Urd said softly. "…like me."
Outside in the hall, the phone rang. Urd and Mara both looked towards the sound. After a second, there was a knock on the door and Belldandy peeked in. "Um… I have a phone call from Licensing… for a Mara, Goddess, third class, probationary."
0 0 0 0 0
"Yes, okay, alright, Shan Pu IS my fiancée as well as Ranma!" Akane finally yelled to the pestering girls in her gym class. "THAT DOES NOT MAKE ME A PERVERT!"
"But if you're marrying a girl, you have to be." Asuka said, holding her towel up to cover her breasts.
Akane growled. Shan Pu just had to give her a kiss and a swat on the rear in the hall as they went to classes. She was going to kill the Amazon!
"Look. I had to get engaged to her because of the laws of her tribe! Ranma's Grandfather arranged some sort of dual marriage with her as his other fiancée, so I had to get engaged too!"
"Why Ai Ren not tell truth? She win Shan Pu in fair combat." Shan Pu's voice came from behind her.
Akane turned to the dressing room door. "What are you doing here? Don't you have class?"
"Shan Pu have Home Ec. She teaches teacher right way make ramen. Teacher send in hall, so Shan Pu come find Ai Ren. Ranma in boy gym, so come see other Ai Ren."
"Oh gods." Akane mumbled. "Shan Pu, you can't just wonder the halls. If the teacher had you stand outside it was meant to be a punishment."
"Punishment? Teacher only give buckets of water to hold. Shan Pu learn balance when child. Put buckets on top of funny thing in yard outside."
Curious, Akane had to go to the door and look. "That's a goal post, Shan Pu. How ever did you get them up there."
"Jump. Not too high for Shan Pu."
A flash of light from across the athletic field caught Akane's glance, and she blinked. "That's funny."
Shan Pu looked up from admiring Akane's rear in the tight fitting gym outfit. "Humm?"
"I could have sworn I just saw somebody watching us. Someone in a long Chinese robe."
Shan Pu looked out. "No see anybody."
"He's gone now."
"So you two want some privacy?" Sayuri said.
Akane whirled. "What?"
"She shows up and you just forget we're here, hummm? And you say you're not a pervert?"
Shan Pu picked Sayuri up and said, "You no call Ai Ren pervert!"
"Please put her down, Shan Pu. This is my problem." Akane said. As the Amazon complied, Akane stepped forward.
"Now, I'm only going to say this once. Yes, I do like girls as well as guys. In my case this is limited to a very select few girls. Namely two: Zhu Shu and Shan Pu."
"Now, knowing I live with Zhu Shu, and her preferences are well known, it should be obvious where that came from. Now, Shan Pu is Zhu Shu's sister, and that should answer a few other questions. Now, on top of that, Shan Pu can almost beat Ranma in a fight, and holds even with me. In light of all that, do you really want to aggravate any of us?"
Sayuri swallowed hard. "Geez, Akane, we're just joking."
Akane looked around at the other girls in the gym. "Is that true?"
The other girls nodded, wide eyed.
"Good. I will consider the matter settled."
"My Goddess! There you are. I'm so sorry I was away for so long! I got delayed in Australia, but now I'm here!"
Akane cringed. "Oh gods. Kodachi's back."
The raven haired gymnast landed at Akane's feet. "What may I do to show my adoration for my goddess?"
The feeling of a raging battle aura filled the air as Shan Pu looked at Kodachi. "Shan Pu think not like what girl say. Akane Shan Pu Ai Ren."
Kodachi looked at the Amazon. "Ai Ren?" she looked back at Akane. "Have you gotten some cheap Chinese whore to be your slave because I was gone, Mistress?" She gave Shan Pu a cool look. "I'm certain you must have been desperate to have chosen such a barbarian."
It was a good thing the gymnast was quick, as she barely moved away from the sudden impact crater left by Shan Pu's bon buri.
"Shan Pu kill! Akane is Shan Pu Ai Ren. Fiancée!"
"Fiancée? My Beloved Goddess?" Kodachi laughed. "I see my Mistress has been ensorcelled. I say never! I accept your challenge, barbarian! I will trounce you and free my Goddess!"
"Idiot girl meet Shan Pu outside!"
"Pagh! I shall meet you in a proper challenge! In one week I shall meet you on the field of combat in the school gym! The Rhythmic Gymnastics tryouts shall determine which of us my Goddess shall favor!" With a maniacal laugh, Kodachi started her rose petal blizzard. "Farewell for now, Barbarian!"
Shan Pu incinerated the petals as Kodachi bounced away across the field. "Shan Pu very angry now. Make idiot bouncy girl very dead at challenge."
Akane sighed and shook her head.
0 0 0 0 0
At lunch time, Ai watched Zhu Shu come out into the school yard with a smile. Phase one was about to start. She had been patient; waiting for the Chinese girl to return to school, but now, the time to strike had come. She signaled the squad to stand ready.
"Now remember, don't let her distract you again. I don't want a repeat of last time."
"But won't that drink weaken her?" Kyoko asked. "You said it was going to weaken her."
"Yes, but that would only make losing to her even more humiliating. Stay focused!"
The five girls watched as part one was carried out flawlessly. The Hentai Squad, carefully armed with Super Soaker Bazookas, managed to catch Zhu Shu after little more than five minutes. She shook her head ruefully as she stood dripping in the thin white dress, then bowed to the crowd of boys who had all fainted from nosebleeds.
Ai's eyes narrowed as Zhu Shu then went to her customary spot near a tree at the edge of the field and set down to eat, pulling out her small brazier and bento. Ai paid special attention to the small thermos Zhu Shu pulled out, grinning viciously as she sipped. As Zhu Shu finished her lunch, Ai gave the signal.
The blonde dragon-girl sighed as the cheerleading squad tumbled into the open area before her tree and struck poses. Ai stepped down from the hands of Ayeka and Megumi and gave Zhu Shu a long look. "Okay, Zhu Shu. We never settled this last time, and I've trained my squad better. I'm the prettiest girl in this school and it's time Furinkan re-learned that!"
"Ai not get argument from Zhu Shu that is pretty. Has tried to get Hentai not chase." She gave the tall cheerleader a long look. "But is right. Zhu Shu lose temper last time, not fight well. Is game for rematch."
The news spread like it always did, and less than five minutes later the athletic field was crowded. Akane and Ranma stood at Zhu Shu's end of the field looking at the cheerleaders nervously.
"Be careful, Zhu-chan. Ai's been training the squad pretty intensely since your last match." Akane said.
"Yeah. Are you sure you want to fight her in your cursed form?" Ranma added.
Zhu Shu nodded. "Lose temper last time when change. Maybe if already changed not lose control."
"And no interfere!"
"Okay, okay. I promised last time. So long as she's not trying to outright kill you."
"Don't worry, Zhu-chan. I'll keep him out of it."
A cheery "Ni hao!" announced Shan Pu's arrival. "Heard blood-sister challenged."
Shan Pu nodded. "Is referee. Make sure fight fair."
"Not one on one. Zhu Shu fight squad."
Shan Pu grinned. "Even better. Shan Pu like melee."
Zhu Shu shook her head, and blinked at the wave of dizziness.
"Sister okay?" Shan Pu asked, noting the surprised look.
"Zhu Shu fine." She stepped out onto the field to stop any further questions.
Ai led off with a flying kick after being catapulted by Ayeka and Megumi. Zhu Shu dodged as she reached to pull out her ribbons, then blinked in shock as she felt her chi refuse to respond. A wave of dizziness struck as Ai's heel slammed into the small of her back and hurled her towards the waiting squad.
Ranma blinked as Zhu Shu landed in the middle of the girls. "Something's wrong. She's moving way too slow."
Akane blinked and nodded. "She's not glowing. Her chi's missing!" She waved at Shan Pu, trying to get the Amazon's attention as she monitored the fight. "Shan Pu!"
The Amazon was frowning at where Zhu Shu was blocking several pom-pom thrusts. She heard Akane's shout and hopped over, keeping her eyes on the fight. "Why sister not use weapons? She want lose?"
"Something's wrong with her chi!" Akane hissed. "I can't see her aura!"
Shan Pu raised an eyebrow. "If sister no have chi, she maybe not win!"
"Oh man. I gotta stop this!" Ranma said, preparing to step out on the field.
"Ai Ren will not! Is challenge!" Shan Pu responded. "Will keep eye on sister! Ai Ren stay!" She jumped back out into the center of the field towards the fight.
Zhu Shu for her part had just blocked a high kick from Kaede when she felt her head spin savagely. She stumbled to her knees as Ai smiled. "Feeling a little punch drunk?"
Zhu Shu warily stood again and gave her a grim and toothy smile. "Again, Zhu Shu not fight best." She yanked at the sash to her dress, and lashed out with it, catching Ai's leg and tripping her. "But she still game."
Kyoko and Megumi responded with an exploding pom-pom attack that left Zhu Shu's dress in tatters. The dragon-girl gave the viciously smiling Kaede a glare as she stood smoking. "Not want make Zhu Shu mad!"
The glare lasted for a few seconds only as once more the wave of dizziness hit, leaving her wide open for an air kick. More cloth flew as Zhu Shu slammed into the fence around the field. She braced herself against the fence as she tried to stand, but the dizziness was overwhelming.
"Shan Pu call halt!" she heard her blood-bister announce. "Sister never fight this poor! Shan Pu think Ai do something to Sister."
"Stay out of this girl! This is between Zhu Shu and my squad!"
Zhu Shu fought to her feet and nodded. "I will fight, Shan Pu. I'm just dizzy." She said in Chinese. "This is between Ai and I." She turned to the blonde cheerleader. "Zhu Shu not care if Ai cheat. Still will beat."
"Big words, Zhu Shu. Won't be so easy without your magic."
"Sister no need magic deal with pervert girl." Shan Pu said as she handed a pair of wooden practice swords to Zhu Shu. "She only need sword."
Zhu Shu took the swords and smiled. "When ready."
The other cheerleaders looked to Ai for a cue. Ai smiled. "I think I like it when you're naked Zhu Shu. Maybe after I've beaten you, you can be my pet."
Ayeka's eyes burned at Zhu Shu as the Chinese girl nodded. "You say same last time. Still no do."
Ai's eyes gave her just enough warning to jump above the pair of batons that cut across where her ankles had been, but without chi, her speed wasn't enough to avoid a second volley of exploding pom-poms. Barely enough of her dress survived the blast to keep the Hentai squad from going comatose, but the explosion left her reeling. She recovered just in time to meet a baton attack from Ayeka that would have sent her into unconsciousness. Her swords twisted as she sent the batons flying into Kaede, doubling her over.
"Y– you bitch!" Kaede choked out. "I'll get you for that!" She launched herself at the dragon-girl.
Zhu Shu met the attack with a parry and a twist that sent Kaede face first into the ground, but it left her open as Ai once more planted both feet in her back. She staggered forward into a simultaneous Air Kick and pom-pom barrage, the impacts driving the wind from her as she was hurled into the fence. She slammed into the chain links with a gasp of pain as within her she felt her hold over her anger fail, and a sound of a vast beast roaring in triumph filled her ears
She faintly heard Akane scream her name as the world turned inside out and fire burned along every nerve. She lurched forwards on her hands and knees as she tilted her head back and screamed. It felt like her very soul was burning.
The entire school watched in amazement as a column of fire shot out of Zhu Shu's mouth and engulfed the bench by the field. As the flames died, ash drifted down from where the bench had been. Zhu Shu shakily stood and stumbled a few steps clutching her head as her aura returned, glowing a swirling gold streaked with black. The cheerleaders stepped back, wondering what was happening.
Zhu Shu hit her knees again, her aura growing brighter and brighter as she moaned softly. With a loud tearing noise, the remaining shreds of her dress ripped asunder as a pair of small wings sprouted from her shoulders and a thick tail sprouted from her spine, both covered in tiny black scales. The claws on her fingers grew another inch longer and sturdier as a pair of horns pushed through her hair and swept back behind her ears, which had also grown longer. As the flaring of her aura died, she coughed, a puff of smoke escaping her mouth.
Ai was staring transfixed as the entire school gasped. Blood gushed in rivers from the noses of most of the boys as the nearly naked half dragon shook her head to clear it. Zhu Shu tried to stand, and stumbled. She didn't seem to notice as her wings fluttered and set her back upright, her stance none to steady. Her eyes locked on Ai, the anger in them nearly incandescent. "What do! What do to Zhu Shu!" She launched herself at the tall cheerleader, not realizing she was flying as she grabbed her and lifted her effortlessly thirty feet off the ground. "WHAT DO TO ZHU SHU!"
Ai stammered. "It– it was just Dragon Wine. It– it was supposed to make you a little drunk!" Ai gulped. "It's only alcoholic for dragons! It wasn't supposed to do this!"
"Zhu Shu! You're flying!" Akane yelled up at the transformed girl. "You grew wings!"
Zhu Shu blinked, and looked over her shoulder, to where her small wings were working overtime to keep her hovering. "Zhu Shu can fly?" She turned back to Ai, her eyes wide. "Zhu Shu can fly?"
Ai nodded. "Um? yeah?"
She screamed as Zhu Shu let her go, only to be grabbed a second later in an embrace. She looked into the dragon-girl's eyes fearfully.
The anger was gone, replaced by a different light. "ZHU SHU CAN FLY!"
And there, in mid air, in front of the entire school, she bussed Ai noisily on the lips with a loud "MMMMMMWAH!" before setting Ai back down on the ground. She smiled at the blonde cheerleader and offered "Zhu Shu can fly," by way of an explanation.
"YOU BITCH!" Ayeka screamed as Ai blinked in confusion. Zhu Shu turned to the raven haired girl.
"Zhu Shu can fly!" she said happily, trying to convey the immensity of that fact to the steaming Ayeka, but the jealous girl would have none of it.
"You have kissed my darling Ai! For this sin, I, Ayeka, can never forgive you!" The tall raven haired girl's eyes had gone an almost glowing red as she glared at the dragon-girl. Wielding her baton like a two handed sword she charged.
Zhu Shu dodged out of her way and fluttered over to where Akane and Shan Pu were watching the exchange with dropped jaws. "Zhu Shu can fly!" she said to them, hoping against hope she was conveying the importance of this to the stunned girls.
Akane nodded. "You can fly?" She blinked. "Watch out!"
"I'll kill you with one swing!" Ayeka screamed as her baton, glowing with the orange light of her angry ki slashed down through the air where Zhu Shu had been fluttering.
Zhu Shu had zipped behind her. She pursed her lips and let fly with a stream of fire, engulfing the enraged girl. "ZHU SHU CAN FLY!" Why couldn't anyone understand?
The soot covered girl, protected by her chi aura, coughed a small puff of black smoke. "Perhaps I have underestimated you. I will forever regret this." Then she gave a mad grin in which it almost looked like her teeth had become fangs. "But now the real action begins! Die!" She swung her glowing baton at Zhu Shu again in a swing that would have sliced her in half.
Zhu Shu had dodged behind her. "Zhu Shu can fly!" she tried explaining again.
"Don't think you can talk your way out of this one! I, Ayeka will not fall for your charms, you sneaky dragon-girl!" She swung repeatedly as Zhu Shu dodged. Backing up across the field she came to the goal post. Without thinking about it, she bent it backwards with one hand as Ayeka advanced, then let go to let the post slam into the cheerleader's face.
Akane cheered as Ayeka stumbled back several steps, dazed, but Kaede decided to lend a hand and threw an exploding pom-pom at Zhu Shu. Caught unawares, the dragon-girl was knocked to the ground by the explosion. Ayeka shook herself and recovered enough to start swinging again.
"DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE!" she screamed as Zhu Shu dodged blow after blow, rolling on the ground, shedding the final scraps of her dress. With a last dodge, she leaped up to the cross bar of the goal post.
"You can't get away!" Ayeka yelled. "I won't let you escape!" She leaped after Zhu Shu, landing on the cross post. "I ATTACK!"
Zhu Shu dodged her downward slice, blinking as the baton sheared through the post. Ayeka blinked as the cross post creaked, then gave way under her. She crashed to the ground. Zhu Shu blinked down at the fallen girl.
"I, Ayeka, shall forever regret this!" The girl moaned. Zhu Shu fluttered down to see if she was okay.
"Why don't you just give up?" Akane yelled at the raven haired girl. Ayeka's head popped up.
"I, Ayeka, will never give up! MEGUMI!"
A pair of pom-poms connected by a wire wrapped around Zhu Shu, entangling her wings and arms and grounding her. The blonde haired cheerleader looked down from the goalpost and shrugged. "She's my teammate. Even if she is currently insane."
Zhu Shu blinked sadly at the charging cheerleader. She'd failed to communicate the immensity of being able to fly to the girl, and now she wasn't going to be able to fly anymore.
"Oh, for Pete's sake!" Ranma growled as he jumped forwards and kicked the baton out of Ayeka's hands. It lost its glow as it flew up, watched by the crowd. Ayeka stared dumbstruck at her empty hands.
Then the baton bounced off her skull and she looked at Zhu Shu in amazement.
"One more step… and I could have… avenged the squad… and earned a reward from Ai… and regained our popularity… I… Ayeka… shall… forever… regret… this…"
With the last words, Ayeka collapsed to the ground, out cold. Zhu Shu blinked at her, then looked at Ranma pleadingly. "Zhu Shu can fly?"
Ranma unwrapped the pom-pom bolo from around her. "Yes. Zhu Shu can fly. Maybe we should have you fly to Doctor Tofu's? You're acting really strange."
Zhu Shu nodded. It seemed like a brilliant suggestion to the happy fog in her brain, and she told him so.
"Zhu Shu can FLY!"
Authors Note: And so ends Book 2. Zhu Shu and her friend's adventures continue next in Book 3: The Black Dragon. What will the arrival of a spatula wielding chef mean for our heroes? And who is that strange figure in Chinese robes? The answers are waiting…