Two years ago...

"Are you sure about this?!"

Yumi smiles, nodding. "It's one of the best training grounds in all of
China, Saotome-san. Perfect to test one's balance and coordination. I've
enjoyed my several training trips there."

Genma nods, gazing at the beautiful ponytailed brunette before him. She
seemed a mere eighteen, but looks were deceiving. Her physical aura was unlike
anything the master of Musabetsu Kakutou-ryuu had ever encountered. There was
nothing at all "girlish" about Yumi Tachibana. Her soft green eyes spoke a
different story. This was a fighter, a warrior with much skill and experience.
Whatever her true story was, it was much more than the simple tale of an
orphan looking for a suitable soulmate.

Pity.

"I see," Genma nods, folding the map and stuffing it into his gi. "Well,
thank you very much, Tachibana-san. And I'll keep my side of the agreement in
mind."

"I'm sure you will," Yumi smiles.

As the two part, they step outside the beautiful roadside restaurant.
There, a boy with raven hair in a tightly wound pigtail was busy practicing a
kata. "He has such wonderful skill," Yumi muses. "You must be very proud of
him."

"I am," Genma nods. "He'll carry on the School for a long time to come."

*Much longer than you think,* Yumi smiles, her hand falling on the
beautiful garnet jewel hanging on an intricate necklace below her navel.
*Much, MUCH longer than you think...'Otoo-san'...*

* * *

"Wanderer"
by Fred Herriot
fherriot@hotmail.com
**** **** ****
Based on "Ranma 1/2," created by Rumiko Takahashi; "NoeL - La Neige," created
by Pioneer LDC; and "Major Raeburn," created by Fred Herriot
**** **** ****

WRITER'S NOTES:

1) Okay, okay, you haven't read anything on "Major Raeburn" just yet, but I
have hinted at the ideas stemming from that character for a while, mostly
through Nicole McTavish, the character I created for "Urusei Yatsura - The
Senior Year." I hinted at the Seekers in my SM story "Sailor Twins." This
story will expand further on the concept, act as a prequel to a future MR
story.

2) For those of you who don't know about "NoeL - La Neige," don't be
surprised; it hasn't shown up anywhere in websites. The best place to go, I
believe, is Pioneer LDC, the company that created the game. The information on
Yumi, Ryou and Chisato was gleaned from the mook "Virtual Idol Collection"
(ISBN 4-7572-0036-6).

3) The beginning of this story is inspired in parts by Zen's "The Long and
Winding Road" and Nicholas Leifker's "Clothes Make The..." Maybe doing this
story will light a fire under them to get their excellent stories done!! (hint,
hint, hint)

4) The origin of the Nyu-che-zuu as related here, including the tale of
Jookoji-shima and Nini-Quan-Qi-Niang, was first proposed in my semi-lemon story
"Ranko: Abandoned No More."

**** **** ****

PART ONE - PARTINGS

Today...

"Mail for Ranma Saotome! Mail for Ranma Saotome!"

Ranma blinks, looking up from his lunch as the deliveryman walks into the
school cafeteria. "Yo, right here!!" he waves.

"Ah!" the deliveryman nods. "Sign here, please. It's a registered
letter."

"Yeah, yeah," Ranma signs on the dotted line. then takes the envelope in
hand. "Now, what's this about...?"

As the deliveryman leaves, Akane and Ukyou walk up. "Hey, Ran-chan,
what's with the letter?!" the latter inquires.

"Search me," Ranma muses, then notices the post mark. "It's from
Kamakura? Who do I know there...?"

His fingers rip open the envelope, then he draws out a sheet of paper.
Unfolding that, he gazes at the message, then his eyes widen. "Oh, no, not
again...!"

"What?!" Ukyou wonders.

Ranma sighs, then reads:

"Dear Ranma,
"You may not remember me, but we met two years ago prior to your journey
into Jusenkyou. During that meeting, your father made a profound promise to
me, one that directly involves you. To that end, I hope you're willing and
able to honour a debt your family owes me.
"Don't worry if you have other problems. They can ALL be taken care of.
I'll see you soon.
"Yumi Tachibana"

Silence falls. "Another one?" Ukyou rolls her eyes.

"Another one!" Ranma gnashes his teeth, dark thoughts about his father
seeping into his mind. "Geez, that's seven so far!! How many more does Oyaji
know about?!"

"Another fiancee?!" Akane snarls, then humphs, crossing her arms. "This
is your fault, Ranma!!"

"And how is it MY fault?!" Ranma snaps.

"What do you think?!" her eyes burn as a chi aura forms around her. "Are
you going to string her along just like you do Ukyou and Shampoo all the
time?!! How much more damage is the house going to take when she finally
arrives, huh?! Well?!!"

Ukyou shudders, her own aura flaring. "Look here, sugar, Ran-chan DOESN'T
string me along!!" she snarls. "It's because a dumb tomboy like YOU always
leaps to conclusions and blames Ran-chan for everything when half of it WASN'T
his fault that trouble occurs!! Is it any wonder why he DOESN'T like you at
all?!!"

The words hit Akane like a torpedo, silencing her as Ukyou's implications
sink deep. Ranma stares wide-eyed at his "cute" fiancee, surprised at the
vehemence of her attack. Ukyou grins as she presses the point home. "That's
right, Akane! He doesn't like you!! How could he?! You never trusted him
from day one!! All the reasons he fights for you is because of his family
honour, even when the honour of his family, MUCH LESS YOURS, doesn't mean
spit!!

"Do you want to know who Ran-chan turns to when he wants to talk to
someone about his problems?! Not you; you won't listen to him and you don't
CARE about his problems! Not his father; he doesn't give a flying damn about
Ran-chan's feelings whatsoever! Certainly as hell not that stupid sister of
yours; she doesn't want to help Ran-chan deal with all the problems since she's
making a mint keeping things as they are and making Ran-chan's life hell!!
Sure as hell not that bimbo from the Nekohanten; all she sees in Ran-chan is a
prize to show her friends back home!!!"

A pause, then Ukyou points to herself. "He tells me, Akane! Because he
knows I care for him, I love him and I'll listen to him! And there is NO power
you possess that will change that fact!"

Silence falls as everyone stares at the three people in the centre of the
argument, wondering if things were about to change forever or if they should
get out of there before things started flying. Akane shudders, then gazes
expectantly at Ranma. He doesn't return her gaze; his eyes are turned to the
floor in silent contemplation. A shriek of pain then escapes her as she runs
out of the cafeteria, sobs stealing her voice. Ukyou watches her go, a touch
of pity in her eyes, then she gazes at Ranma. "Ran-chan?"

"Yeah?" he looks at her.

"Sorry about that," she sighs. "But the only real way you'll ever get a
message through to her is to slam her in the face!! I'm tired of seeing her
run ripshod over you like that! If you won't do something about her, then so
help me, I will!!"

"Um...yeah..."

* * *

After school, Ranma and Ukyou depart together. Akane had disappeared
right after the fight; most likely, she had ran home to be alone and avoid the
crowd. Silence looms over them as they pass the front gates, then turn towards
her restaurant. "Ran-chan?"

"Yeah, U-chan?"

"You might as well come to the restaurant," she stares at him. "I don't
think after earlier on, you might be too welcome at the Tendou home tonight."

"Yeah, you got a point."

Ranma falls in behind the chef, head turned to the ground. He was glad
that things hadn't ended normally when he had a fight with Akane; she braining
him with a sledgehammer and nothing getting solved, nothing changing. No
change. There was the problem! It seemed as if no matter how hard he tried to
make things better for those around him, something ALWAYS happened to smash
things back to the way they were. His fiancees, being unable to admit
everything to his mother, all the people wanting his head for one reason or
another, all the other weird things that happened around here because of him or
in spite of him. At times it seemed as if Ranma had even worse luck ruling
his life than Ryouga Hibiki!

Still...maybe it was finally time to change things. But how could he do
it? Atop being woefully ill-prepared to deal with social situations, honour
bound him to so many things, he couldn't make one turn without seriously
hurting others. The worst case was with Shampoo; if she went back to
Joketsuzoku empty-handed, she could be put to death, forever frozen in her
cursed form, or worse. Ukyou wasn't that much better off; despite what just
happened, she seemed totally willing to subvert herself for Ranma's sake. And
he had used that dozens of times whenever things got too tense for his liking
at the Tendou home, like they might be now.

Ranma sighs. Ukyou had lots of advantages as a future life-mate. She was
smart, reasonably well-skilled as a martial artist, independent financially,
possessed a skill that could keep her independent even at the worst of times
and she cared for him. A little too much, unfortunately. Then, there were the
downfalls. Ukyou really had no idea how bad Ranma's life could be from time
to time; she wasn't involved in things like the fight with Herb or the
encounter with the Seven Lucky Gods. Atop that, she had totally wrecked her
life to pursue Ranma and her father after they parted. He had some
responsibility to deal with the pains that unleashed on her. And there were
times he used their bond to his advantage, not letting her understand how he
felt for her. Oh, yes, he told her that she was his friend many times, but
those words never hit home.

Enough. It was time.

"U-chan?"

"Yeah, Ran-chan?"

"Akane was right about one thing, though."

"What?"

He grimaces. "My stringing you and Shampoo along."

"I don't think so."

He stares at her. "U-chan...?"

"You think now that you've used me to your own ends," Ukyou stares at him.
"Believe it or not, Ran-chan, that's something we're all guilty of. We've
all used each other since we have our own agendas to press and we won't stand
for other people getting in our way. And since...a lot of our agendas concern
you, you get used a lot. So why shouldn't you do it in return?"

"It's not right..."

"Of course it isn't," she sighs, then smiles. "Ran-chan, please...tell me
the truth. Do you love me?"

"I..." Indecision seizes him, then he sighs. "You know, there are times
I wonder what love really is, U-chan. I care for you. If you're in trouble,
I'll be there for you, you know that. But...I...I can't see myself marrying
you, U-chan. Not now...maybe not ever. You...all I see in you is my best
friend, the one I played with when we were kids. I never knew this thing about
us being fiancees until you came back, remember?"

"Yeah, that's true," Ukyou nods. "For that, your father has much to
answer for...not to mention other things. Ran-chan...why won't you do anything
about Shampoo?"

"What could I do?" he muses as they step into U-chan's. "If I reject her,
things'll escalate to the point where someone could die. It could be her if
her tribespeople judge her that way. It could be someone here, especially if
the old ghoul goes ballistic; a lot of Shampoo's actions since she came here
were pushed by Cologne. I keep telling her I don't want anything to do with
her, but she normally nails me when Akane's nearby and..."

"And she uses that to give Akane the wrong impression about you, drive a
wedge between you two in hopes of making you break away from Akane," Ukyou
smiles knowingly. "Ran-chan, if you JUST had a choice between Shampoo and me,
who'd it be?"

"You," he stares at her.

"My point," Ukyou nods as she fires up the grill, then starts cooking. "I
think Shampoo doesn't really understand what love is, either. Her tribe
doesn't allow softer feelings to rule their lives. Their laws and traditions
won't let it happen. Personally, it's a wonder to me why people live in that
sort of situation."

"They live in China," Ranma wryly grins.

"Yeah, you got a point there," Ukyou muses. "I don't think the folks in
Beijing would like such independently minded people living in their country.
Maybe we could use that against them..."

"Don't."

Ukyou stops, then stares at Ranma. "There you go again."

"What do you mean?"

"Showing me why I love you so much."

Before he could respond, she leans over the counter, taking his hand in
hers and gently drawing it to her lips. Gentle kisses dance over his fingers,
then she draws one into her mouth to suckle it. Ranma blinks, stunned that
Ukyou was doing this, unsure if he should do something...and unwilling to
interrupt. Her lips trail into the palm of his hand, then she gazes intently
at him before leaning over.

The kisses are tiny pecks at first, soft as a breeze and so inviting.
Ranma gazes at her, then his own inhibitions start to fade as he begins to
respond, first with gently flecks of his own, then intensifying as he rises,
lifting Ukyou over the counter to the stool beside him. Their arms intertwine
as they hold each other, unsure as to where this might take them...and in
truth, uncaring, since the forces that are driving them now are in part more
primal than fragile emotions or cold logic.

Finally, they part. "Last time," Ukyou smiles.

"What...?" Ranma blinks.

"Ran-chan...something's happened to me in the last couple of days," she
sighs. "I...can't tell you what it is...not yet. But I can tell you this.
When I...go, I want you to come with me. It's time for you to make a decision,
Ran-chan. Do you want to leave your life in the rut it is now...or do you
want to finally say 'enough of this garbage' and get on with your life? In the
end, no one...and in some places, I've been guilty of this as well as the
others...really cares about what you feel, what you want out of your life.
Yeah, you may not really know what you do want, but isn't that your decision to
make at the end, Ran-chan? In my eyes, it is. And if the others can't accept
it, then I think it's high time for them to realize what that attitude'll cost
them."

He blinks at her, then sighs. "Okay, I can accept that. I better get
home and face the music then."

"Take your time," Ukyou smiles.

With that, Ranma places a kiss on her cheek, then walks out...and promptly
gets splashed by a passing truck hitting a pothole by her front door! As the
transformed martial artist howls in anger, then trudges off, Ukyou stifles a
giggle, then heads into her small apartment. "Perfect!" she closes the door,
then walks over to her dresser, reaching into the top drawer to draw out a
beautiful necklace holding in place a glittering ruby-like jewel.

Must you keep me in here? a voice tickles her mind.

"Sorry, but I don't want to let the cat out of the bag yet, so to speak,
so you'll have to stay here until Ran-chan's ready," Ukyou latches the necklace
around her neck, then takes out a bag, drawing out a similar necklace. "Okay,
sugar, it's your turn!"

With a flash, the jewel vanishes...

* * *

Ranma walks along the embankment of the Shakujii-gawa, shaking her arms
dry from being soaked by the puddle, then she makes her way under a bridge, a
favourite place to relax and think. And right now, she needed a chance to
think. Was Ukyou right? Had Ranma so lost control over her fate that the time
had come to make some real hard choices, no matter what the cost to everyone
around her? Was it time to finally let it all go?

Take what just happened that morning. It seemed as if every month brought
out yet ANOTHER crazy woman wanting to collect on one of her father's
countless debts from their training trip. And the collecting of that debt
would doubtlessly lead to another bizarre challenge that would press Ranma to
the limit yet again. Tack that onto an original engagement with someone who at
times seemed to wish Ranma hadn't existed, another engagement to someone Ranma
viewed more as a best friend, a third engagement to the native of a tribe
whose laws and traditions were so harsh that the very concept of "compromise"
was obscene, a crazed gymnast who saw herself as yet ANOTHER fiancee, countless
rivals that flew out of the woodwork at every opportunity, being separated by
yet ANOTHER of Genma's stupid promises from her beloved mother...it was a
wonder if the only way out for Ranma was death itself!

"I just don't need this!" she mutters to herself. "What do I do? What do
I do?!"

A flash behind her illuminates the area under the bridge, though Ranma
doesn't notice, her eyes being squeezed shut as she tries to damn frustrated
tears. However, a curious warmth seems to flood over her, drying her clothes,
soothing her like no mother ever could. Ranma blinks as she looks up, then
sensing the light, turns...then her jaw drops open. "What the...?"

Floating at eye level is a beautiful glowing emerald, oval in shape, about
the size of a Canadian two-dollar coin. It is neatly embedded in an exquisite
necklace of silver and gold, something that could potentially fetch ten
figures on the open market. It seems to pulse for a moment, then it drifts
around to nestle itself in the crook of Ranma's breasts, the arms of the
necklace laying on her shoulders. Surprised yet not feeling threatened, Ranma
reaches back to secure the necklace's latch behind her neck, then takes the
glowing jewel in hand. "Now, what are you?"

A friend.

"You can talk!"

Telepathically, as you would consider it. I apologize for my sudden
appearance, but you seem...to need a friend.

"You can say that again!" Ranma snorts, not bothered that she was now
talking to a glowing crystal. "But...what exactly are you? I gotta admit,
I've never seen anything quite like you before."

Doubtful...lest you think of the Earth Guardian.

"Earth Guardian...?"

Images floods the woman's mind from memory. Black-and-white pictures
taken from the Greater East Asian War; World War Two to the outside world.
Warriors of great power, many choosing to hide their faces behind masks and
garish costumes to fight for justice against the dark side of human nature in
peacetime...and for their homelands when war came. The greatest of them all,
an orphan girl from a small Canadian city, who stumbled onto an abandoned cave
in 1938 and discovered a jewel...a Power Jewel...

"Major Raeburn...!!!" Ranma gapes, wide-eyed. "Masaka, you must be
a...you're a...but how...?!!"

I am, the Jewel in her hand replies. Like the Power Jewel placed
here for Deannette Raeburn to find, I was placed on another world to await a
worthy host so that I may aide her in the defence of her race against potential
threats. However, the world I was placed on to protect hasn't developed an
advanced culture that would provide an adequate candidate to be One with me.

"Then why don't you wait?"

Because if I wait...then soon, life would disappear from that world and
I would have failed in my mission, the Jewel responds. By your terms, my
planet's culture is at the level of technology you know as the Jomon age.

"That's three thousand years ago...whoa!!" Ranma whistles. "But...why do
you need someone now? I still don't..."

Images flood her mind. Primitive villages, subsistence-level agriculture.
A beautiful native population, humanoid though possessing mixed canine-equine
features. Still shamanist in belief, only beginning to discover a wider
universe beyond the veil of their world. One simple word for it could
be...paradise.

Paradise aflame. Dark monsters, aeons worse than the martial arts masters
and magical entities Ranma had faced to date, slashing and ravaging the
landscape, laying waste to everything in sight, wiping out communities
wholesale. Age doesn't matter. Gender doesn't matter. All that matters is
living...and dying.

Ranma squeezes her eyes shut, the horror of it all bringing forth a worse
surge of nausea than Akane's cooking could ever provoke. Fates, could such
insanity actually exist somewhere in this universe?! Who could help them?
Who, what would be powerful enough to stop such monsters? Gazing at the
glowing crystal in her hands, she then sighs. Only a Power Jewel could. But,
as Major Raeburn revealed in a biography sometime before her mysterious
disappearance in 1945, a Jewel couldn't act without a human host.

"So why me?" Ranma wonders. "Surely, there must be others who would
better fit your purposes than me."

Not really, the Jewel muses. My creators, deceased for so many
billions of years, indicated three specific conditions for a potential Jewel
welder. One: the person must be physically or emotionally orphaned from her
birth family. Two: the person must have endured considerable hardship growing
up. And three...

"Must be a girl," Ranma bites her lip.

That would cause you considerable discomfort, wouldn't it?

"Believe me, it would," Ranma admits, allowing the Jewel to rest on her
chest. "But...I dunno..."

Perhaps I should let you ponder on that for a while, the alien
artifact seems to "smile." In the meantime, I will remain with you. I do
not wish to see you hurt while you're considering my offer. We are
granted...some leeway in selecting our future hosts and in my eyes, you are a
perfect candidate...if you would be willing to forever let go of your manhood.
You must admit, that would eradicate your paramour problems right then and
there.

"Never thought of it that way," Ranma sighs, standing. "Well, I better
head back home. It's getting late..."

* * *

"Tadaima!"

"Oh, Ranma-kun, there you are!" Kasumi looks up from her tea. "You missed
dinner."

"I was visiting U-chan for a while," Ranma sits by the table, then notices
the pensive look on Kasumi's face. "Something wrong?"

"Akane-chan came home early; she hasn't been out of her room since she
came in," Kasumi sighs.

"Well, U-chan laid into her pretty bad at morning recess," Ranma muses.
"If Akane hasn't told you, I've got yet another fiancee from my training trip
on the way now. We might be in for some trouble over the next while."

"Another one?" Kasumi muses. "Oh, dear, that's a problem. But,
Ranma-kun, what happened between you and Akane-chan?"

"I did nothing," Ranma sighs. "Despite what your sister might have said,
U-chan was the one who did all the yelling. And a lot of things U-chan said
were right. The instant I mentioned this new fiancee, Akane decided it was my
fault as she's always done. How on Earth can it be my fault when I just found
out about it today?"

Silence falls as Kasumi considers the point, then grudgingly nods.
"Akane-chan does have a great problem in controlling her temper, Ranma-kun.
She has...improved over the last while. Please don't be angry at her over the
way she reacts to things."

"I'm not really angry at her, Kasumi," Ranma sighs. "In truth, I'm just
as bad when something weird happens, believe it or not. But for me, I tend to
speak before I think things through." *Whoa, what's making me say all this?!!*
she wonders to herself. "In truth...I'm just tired of all of this. The
fiancee thing, all the challenges, the thing with Mom, everything. No matter
what I do, where I turn, something happens."

"You're not all to blame for it, Ranma-kun."

"Thanks, Kasumi," Ranma smiles. "You know, you're the only one outside
U-chan who seems to want to listen to me."

"Why, thank you, Ranma-kun," Kasumi smiles, then sighs. "Um, could you
answer me something?"

"What?"

"Do...do you love Ukyou?"

Ranma blinks, then sighs. "What is love, Kasumi?" she rises. "You know,
that word's been bandied around by everyone here ever since I came. And no
matter what, after all I've been through, I can't seem to get a straight answer
to that question. Anyhow, I'm going to make something to eat."

"Okay," Kasumi hums, watching the redhead walk into the kitchen, then
stares at her tea. Ranma seemed...different. As if something had started
tearing away the emotional shields she had placed around herself to protect her
spirit from all the pressures that had slammed into Ranma like the heavens on
Atlas' shoulders. What was going on? Much worse, what would it mean for
everyone?

* * *

"Do you think I should ditch the pigtail?"

The Jewel mentally "hums" as Ranma stares at her reflection in the kitchen
window, a pot of ramen boiling on the stove. The soft Celtic music of James
Horner's "Back to 'Titanic'" played on the small cassette recorder over the
windowsill. Well, it would make you less recognizable to those you'd wish to
avoid for the time being, it muses. Perhaps this might help...

An image appears in Ranma's mind of a pageboy cut similar to Akane's,
tapered at the neck. "Hey, that's an idea," she muses. "No more 'pigtailed
goddess' as that dork Kunou always calls me."

As you wish.

An invisible hand reaches over for a pair of kitchen scissors, then the
device is opened, the sharp blade snipping the pigtail away above the dragon
whisker. However, the hair doesn't grow. "Hey, did you do something about the
dragon whisker, too?" Ranma muses, reaching down to toss the shorn pigtail
into the garbage.

Naturally. Having hair that grew so fast would be quite annoying, not
to mention a vulnerability in battle.

"These dorks are that powerful?"

Individually, no. As a group, however...

"I get the hint," Ranma nods, then sighs, gazing at herself in the mirror.
"Okay, if I decide to be a girl full-time, how would I do it without
resorting to the old crone?"

I've spent some time analyzing your 'curse.' That what you call 'magic'
is in reality a very complex form of psionic energy. The gifts I would give
you are of a similar nature; to most of your race, it would be considered
'magic.' All that would be necessary is to locate another one afflicted by
Jusenkyou, draw off his or her energy, then I would convert it to match the
matrix of your curse, then infuse it into your DNA. Once that happens...

"Good-bye, 'man above men,'" Ranma bites her lips. "That wouldn't please
Mom one bit."

Could I make a comment on that?

"Sure."

As I mentioned before, the first qualification of a Jewel welder is
being an orphan. Deannette Raeburn was orphaned when her parents and twin
sister died when she was just nine, then her uncle threw her out of her home.
You are an emotional orphan since your father would rather use you to press his
own ends than be a proper parent and your mother has placed such a harsh
condition on your reunion that you have no choice but to deceive her every time
she visits. If your mother cannot eventually accept what you really are, than
the only option for you is to renounce her.

Ranma blinks. "Yeah, she does have a peculiar sense of honour and
propriety, doesn't she?" she muses, taking the ramen off the stove, then
pouring it into a bowl. "And if I renounce the whole family, then all my
'engagements' fly out the window."

And by you becoming a woman full-time, you cannot be Nyu Xian-pu's
husband. By the stratified marriage laws of her clan, she couldn't mate with
another woman, could she?

"No, but then she'd be honour-bound to kill me, falling back on her
original mission," Ranma warns. "I really wouldn't want to see her dead, you
know. She may be a pain in the ass at times, but deep down, this whole thing
is Cologne's doing, not Shampoo's."

You may not have a choice. There is something else I'd like to talk
about: your sense of honour. May I note that it is that which has led you to
this point in your life.

"What does THAT mean?!"

Ranma, your code of honour never foresaw a situation like you possess
now. Yet, you have conscientiously chosen to remain within the bounds that
code forces on you, believing you would be totally lost, not worthy of life, if
you renounced those codes. Any code of honour in the end demands truth, total
truth. All you have had for the last twelve years are lies and
misinformation. Were you told of all your would-be life-mates? Were you told
of your mother's demand for you to be a 'man above men,' your life to be
forfeit if you failed those expectations? Were you told of Jusenkyou and what
it could do to you? Did you know Ryouga Hibiki would follow you to China, his
lack of directional sense placing him in your path to make him cursed? Were
you told of the mating laws of the Nyu-che-zuu? Of course not; all those
situations were just forced on you when the people concerned came to take you
to task on it. Where I come from, that is not the least bit fair.

Ranma blinks, then sighs, slurping her noodles. Strange as it sounded,
the Jewel had made very valid points. And calling on Major Raeburn's
experience, she knew no one in Nerima would have the power to stop her if she
chose to fully accept her new life, not even Cologne or Happousai. What good
were shiatsu points when the Jewel could raise a shield to stop a finger from
touching them...or even better, could alter or eliminate those points? What
good were energy attacks when Dean Raeburn once took a V-2 rocket in the chest
and was barely winded from the explosion? It would be so easy! And why not?
Wasn't Ranma entitled to some peace and quiet after the last year or so?

Eating her noodles, she sighs. Part of her wanted to throw away this
whole mad idea, reject renouncing her manhood and go back to the way things
were, despite all the problems she confronted day in and out. But that was
drowned out by a more deeper voice. The core of her sense of honour. The
honour that demanded that she follow the code of a martial artist her father
had drilled into her. Protect innocents whenever, wherever they were
threatened. And like it or not, there was now a whole PLANET of innocents
crying for some major league protection. The needs of the many far outweighed
the needs of the few...or the one. She would have to hurt people to get to
that point...no...

They would hurt themselves. Everyone had developed such inflexible
opinions towards Ranma, it would take a great shake-up to make them change
their minds. Akane saw her as the cause of EVERYTHING that happened in Nerima,
not willing it seemed to listen to Ranma's side of the story. Nabiki used her
as a very convenient money-source. Genma readily used her to further his own
ends. Nodoka had no idea what had happened to Ranma and no one knew how she'd
react if she learned the truth. Souun looked on her to continue the school.
Kunou saw her as the culmination of all his fantasies. Kodachi was the exact
opposite, seeing the female Ranma as her darkest enemy. Ryouga was so obsessed
on avenging himself for all the slights Ranma had done or supposedly done unto
him, he'd never rest. Happousai saw her as a convenient target for his lusts.
Cologne, Ranma was excellent breeding stock. Shampoo, a perfect husband to
show her clanswomen. To Mousse, the stumbling block to achieving his own
dream. It just went on and on and on...

Biting her lip, Ranma sighs. She hated to lose...but with all that was
arrayed against her, she would lose one way or another. Death seemed the only
real option left...until now. By shedding her manhood, becoming a Jewel welder
with all that implied, Ranma would remove the target of their quest, change it
in such a way that SHE would have a sense of control over the future direction
of her life. Of course, no one could really control their own Fate; what
happened to Dean Raeburn in 1945 demonstrated that too well. But at least it
would be for something positive. Those innocents on that faraway world,
Kaemal, would more than benefit.

So you've decided?

"Hai, I've decided."

And with that, Ranma Saotome died...

* * *

It's happened.

Ukyou bolts up from her futon, then tears well in her eyes as that
pronouncement hits home. "Oh, Ran-chan, I'd knew you do it..." she grins as
the pains of a decade-long quest to regain her honour, her very sense of self,
finally began to fade...

* * *

Next morning...

"Get up, you lazy boy!!"

Ranma's eyes flutter open as she feels her father's hands on her tunic,
trying to drag her to her feet. Fortunately, the Jewel was tucked under her
pyjama top so her father didn't see it. "Get your hands off me, old man!" she
snarls, grabbing him by his tunic and with a one-handed toss, sent him flying
out of the window to smash into the tree beside the koi pond!

"Ranma-kun, breakfast!" Kasumi calls out.

"Thank you," Ranma nods, heading off to get her toiletries.

A moment later, she jogs into the living room, towel and bath supplies in
hand. "Oh, my!" Kasumi gasps. "Ranma, your hair!"

"Oh?!" Ranma blinks, feeling her shorn locks. "Yeah, I decided it was
time for a change. Excuse me, please."

Kasumi watches her go, blinking. "Did he find a cure for the dragon
whisker?" she muses.

Ranma arrives at the bathroom, then knocks. "Anyone in?!"

No answer. Ranma nods, then heads inside to wash up...just as Akane steps
out, a towel barely protecting her modesty. The two freeze in place, then
Akane's face darkens. "You pervert!!!" she screams, fist lashing out...

...to ram into an unyielding wall! As Akane grips her wounded hand, Ranma
shudders. "IDIOT!!!!" she snaps, knocking Akane over. "I ASKED IF ANYONE WAS
IN HERE!!!! ARE YOU DEAF?!?!?!"

Akane stares wide-eyed at the red-haired spitfire before her as Ranma
marches into the washing area. "If you can't control that anger of yours,
Akane, don't expect me to be your convenient target anymore!!" she snarls,
closing the drapes behind her.

Silence falls as Akane stares at the closed drapes, splashing water
echoing from inside the furo. Shuddering, she rubs her sore arm, then rises to
get dressed, trying to dam her tears. Having Ranma shout insults was one
thing. Having Ranma not raise a finger to defend her...having Ranma get REALLY
mad at her...was another.

She dresses, then shuffles out of the bathroom, fleeing to the safety of
her bedroom. There, P-chan relaxes on the bed, looking up as Akane staggers to
her dresser drawer, covering her damp face with her hands. Squealing cutely,
the transformed Ryouga leaps over to nuzzle against Akane's cheek, licking away
her tears. "He...he hates me, P-chan...!" she sniffs. "He hates me...!!"

The piglet's eyes widen. Ranma hated Akane?! Was that possible?
"He...he...yesterday, when Ukyou screamed at me, he just sat there, didn't do a
thing to stop her...he...he...I think he agreed with what she said..." she
rubs her face as she cuddles P-chan against her cheek. "J-just now...he came
to th-the bathroom...and we ran into...into each other...and when I got
mad...he...he yelled at me...! He hates me, P-chan..."

P-chan shudders, his eyes ablaze. How DARE that bastard do that to
Akane?! With that, he bounds off her, then races out of her bedroom. Akane
watches him go, then smiles. "Always out to defend me, huh...?" she sniffs,
then shudders as another wave of anguish slams through her, sobbing.

Skidding at the entrance to the bathroom, he leaps in...and in instantly
snagged by the bandanna by Ranma. "Hiya, P-chan!" she smiles at him. "Just
the person I'm looking for."

Growling, he tries to bite her...but fingers that could now shatter steel
lock on his spine, paralyzing him. "Relax," her eyes narrow. "Believe it or
not, my friend, your lucky day has come."

He blinks as Ranma places him down, then takes a towel to dry herself off.
At that time, he notices the beautiful necklace around her neck, the emerald
jewel at her nape pulsing with dimmed light. Squealing, he catches her
attention, then bounding to her shoulder, tries to bite the necklace off her.
"Hold it!!" she snares him again, then touches the Jewel. "You lay even a
piece of your skin on this, you die," she evenly intones. "That's no joke,
Ryouga, it's the truth. You will die. Understand?"

P-chan blinks. NEVER had he seen Ranma so serious before, so focused. It
was pretty intimidating, yet...he sensed that she really didn't mean him harm.
Deciding it was time for a talk, he wiggles his way out of her grasp, then
leaps into the furo. Ranma relaxes as Ryouga emerges, staring concernedly at
her. "What are you trying to do?!" the lost boy hisses.

"I'm trying to help you ditch your curse, that's what," Ranma sighs,
crossing her arms. "Ryouga, I admit that it was my fault that you wound up
cursed. I take the blame for it though I do note that I wasn't really in my
right mind at the time, seeing that I myself was just cursed and chasing
Oyaji...and only you can take the blame for your lack of direction putting you
into my path."

Ryouga shudders at her jab at his lack of directional sense, then blinks.
Ranma was accepting his responsibility for sending him into the piglet-drown
spring. Wasn't that really in the end what Ryouga wanted...? "Well, I suppose
after a change like that, I'd be pretty out of it myself," he chuckles,
rubbing his skull.

"Good," Ranma nods. "Okay, here's how it'll work. Your curse and mine
are magic. Magic in truth is a form of psionic, mental energy. No power in
this universe can destroy or create energy; it goes against every law of nature
there is. What I can do, however, is absorb the energy of your curse,
transform it into a neutral state, draw it into myself...and use it to augment
the energy of my curse. In essence, you would no longer be cursed..."

"And you'd be...frozen in your cursed form...!" his eyes go wide, the
scope of her plan overwhelming him. "Ranma...why...?"

"If you haven't heard by now, I've ANOTHER fiancee ready to come after me
sometime soon," Ranma sighs. "I decided the time had come to put an end to
this nonsense. And because my father is the author of a lot of this mess, then
there's really only one way out for this outside of committing seppuku:
renounce my family."

Ryouga's eyes widen even more at those words. "Renounce...?" he gapes,
then looks down. "Why...?"

"Why?!" Ranma sighs. "Try living with multiple fiancees and other whackos
breathing down your neck every day and see how you like it. Try living under
a death-threat from your own mother because you may not fulfil her pretty
narrow definition of 'man above men.' Try being seen as an object to aid
others to fulfil their hopes, being used and not respected as a human being
with his own wishes and desires. I have my faults, Ryouga. I'll not deny that
one bit. But if everyone is so fixated on seeing me in a certain fashion, NOT
WILLING to change their viewpoints because it'll inconvenience them or force
them to see their own faults, then I will not have anything to do with them
anymore."

Ryouga blinks. "Like the way Akane blames you for everything that
happens," he looks down.

"Exactly," Ranma nods. "She has to learn how to curb that temper of hers
or find a more constructive way to focus her anger than lashing out at
everyone. I thought that not fighting back might help...but when you tack on
everything else that comes after me, that just made her worse, not better.
I've tried, Ryouga. So help me, I've tried. I admit that I tend to call
things as I see them. I've never dealt with many people except at the
receiving end of a punch before coming here. But it..." she shrugs.

Ryouga shudders, then rising and wrapping a towel around himself, he sits
beside his silent, transformed friend. "Ranma, I...that you want to help
me...well, you've always been that way, I guess. I...yes, I'll help you,
but...do you really want this? Do you want to be...without a home,
family...?"

"I'm pretty well without one now," Ranma sighs.

"But still, your honour..." Ryouga balls his hands into fists. Why was he
doing this? Ranma was offering him a chance to be cured once and for all,
willing to sacrifice her manhood to see him whole! "Ranma, you can't just
throw your honour away like that!"

"Honour based on lies, half-truths and misinformation?" Ranma wonders.
"Honour based on fulfilling other people's desires and not having a moment's
peace, no influence whatsoever on my own life? That honour's meaningless,
Ryouga. Totally meaningless. Look where it's got me? The only real option
for me in that case, following that code of honour...is death."

"Seppuku?"

"Hai," Ranma nods. "And by...destroying my male half, I am committing
suicide. I'm destroying that which I was."

Silence falls as they gaze on each other. "Ranma...has something come
up?" Ryouga wonders. "I mean...this is so sudden."

"Is it...and yes, something has come up," Ranma nods. "This is a Power
Jewel," she thumbs the alien device on her bosom. "We know about Major
Raeburn; we studied her in junior high, remember? Well, it was placed on
another planet, one that's at the Jomon stage of development...and is now under
attack by an evil...I couldn't put words to this, Ryouga," she shakes her
head.

"Worse than Herb?"

"Oh, Herb's NOBODY compared to this!" Ranma snorts. "We're talking a
whole PLANET under threat, Ryouga! Whole villages and towns being wiped out.
For what, NO ONE knows! I...when I saw all that...and I compared it to what
we've endured until now...it's no comparison, Ryouga. None at all. I have to
go help..."

"But this being a Power Jewel, you have to be a girl," Ryouga shudders,
the full weight of what Ranma was about to confront finally sinking in.
"Gods..."

"So that's why I need your help," Ranma stares at him.

Ryouga blinks, then takes a breath. How could HE call himself a martial
artist if he didn't in some way help these unknown people far away? Ranma
would be the point, the lance. But even if most of those she knew wouldn't
support such a decision even if they were to understand the full scope of it,
she would still need help.

"Okay, I'll help."

"Arigato," Ranma smiles, then gently takes his hands in hers. "Okay,
this'll just take a second."

A flash then fills the bathroom of the Tendou home...

* * *

"YES!!!!" Ukyou gasps as that flash of energy warps through Nerima,
resonating deep within her...

* * *

At the Nekohanten, Cologne's eyes narrow as she feels a sense
of...POWER...race through the air. Canting her eyes around, her inner senses
reaching out to target whatever it could be, she then sighs. That flash had
flooded the Nyu-che-zuu matriarch with raw, alien energy, but it had been so
brief that she couldn't get a sense of what it was, much less why it was here.

She returns to monitoring Shampoo and Mousse as they prepared the
restaurant for the day, vowing to look into it in the future...

* * *

"What was that?!" Kasumi looks up.

Souun hums as he reads his paper. Kasumi and Nabiki look upstairs,
surprised on sensing the pulse of luminance flow through the house. Genma was
still unconscious beside the tree outside. Akane was in her bedroom. A moment
later, Ranma descends from the bathroom, now cleaned and dressed in her usual
shirt and trousers, the Power Jewel sitting displayed around her collar.
Ryouga follows her, dressed and with backpack in hand. "Oh, Ranma-kun, there
you are!" Kasumi smiles. "Your breakfast is getting cold. Hello, Ryouga-kun.
Would you like something to eat?"

"Please," Ryouga smiles as the two sit down.

"Hey, where'd you get that sparkler?" Nabiki points to the shiny emerald
on Ranma's chest.

"Oh, it's something that found me yesterday," Ranma shrugs. "Don't want
to leave it around for some thief to try to fence it."

Ryouga blinks, then smiles as Kasumi lays out some cream soup and mixed
vegetables. Nabiki blinks, surprised by Ranma stating "it found me" instead of
"I found it," then returns to her meal. By then, Akane descends, now dressed
for school. "'Morning."

"'Morning, Akane-chan," Kasumi smiles.

Akane sits beside Ranma, then stares concernedly at her, then notices
their guest. "Oh, Ryouga-kun. When did you come in?"

"Ah, just an hour ago," Ryouga admits; that was the truth. "Sorry I
didn't announce myself."

"It's okay," Akane sighs, then gazes warily at Ranma. "You okay...oh, I
didn't notice your hair!"

"I'm fine," Ranma smiles. "Never been better, in fact."

"What about the dragon whisker?"

"All taken care of."

"Oh, that's good," Akane nods, feeling a surge of uncertainty well up.
Something was up, something really BIG was up...but how could she ask Ranma
what was going on? Would she answer with Nabiki in hearing range? "Well, we
should get to school."

"Good point," Ranma muses, then rises. "Thanks for the meal, Kasumi. It
was delicious. I'll get my things."

She jogs outside. Akane watches her go, then looks at her sisters.
"Doesn't Ranma seem...bothered by something?"

"She seems pretty happy for some reason," Kasumi muses. "Still, you
better get to school. You'll be late."

"Good point," Akane rises. "See you later, Ryouga-kun!"

"Yeah, see you!" Ryouga nods as she heads outside.

He then finds himself at the receiving end of a questioning gaze from
Nabiki. "What's really going on here?" she hums.

"I won't say," Ryouga returns her gaze. "I'll let Ranma explain that
herself when the time comes."

Nabiki blinks on hearing the feminine term used for Ranma, but says
nothing as she herself rises for school...

* * *

Ranma and Akane walk to school side-by-side, the former electing not to
practice her balance technique by walking on the fence. Besides, the fence was
the place where Shampoo usually caught her with her bicycle tire, so if the
warrior-maiden was heard coming up, Ranma would be ready for her.

Akane gazes at the woman beside her. Despite her outburst of anger in the
morning and her newly-acquired resistance to Akane's punch, she wasn't afraid.
Still, the radical shift of behaviour was as unnerving as Ranma shedding her
pigtail...or remaining a girl. Why hadn't Ranma changed back to a man by now?
What was going on here? "Ranma?"

"Yeah?"

"Are...are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Ranma sighs. "I know. I'm not acting 'normal' and you want
to know what's exactly going on and if I tell you and there's something you
don't like, you'll get angry, totally waste both our time and it solves
nothing."

Akane jerks. Ranma had never spoken to her like THAT before! She then
sucks in her breath. "I...I'm sorry..."

"For what?"

"For...for yelling at you like that this morning..." she looks away.
"I...I should've said something when you asked if anyone was in the furo...I'm
sorry..."

"That's not enough."

"What does THAT mean?!" she glares at her.

"What about all the other times you've yelled at me?" Ranma evenly stares
at her. "What about all the times you've jumped to conclusions about what I've
been doing, never gave me the chance to explain my side of the story, never
tried to trust me. You don't trust me even now, you know that?! Well, fine!
If that's the way you want it, then that's the way you'll get it!"

Akane shudders. "Wh-what does that mean...?"

Ranma glares at her. "The engagement is over."

Silence. Akane stares in wide-eyed shock at the woman before her, stunned
that after all the times she had verbally declared their engagement "ended,"
Ranma would slam the door closed on the question so completely. Shuddering,
she looks down, tears flowing down her cheeks. "Why...?"

"Because I can no longer be a man, Akane," Ranma sighs. "You wondered why
I haven't asked for hot water anytime today? I froze myself as a woman. This
is the way I'll be until I die."

Akane gapes. No more gallant warrior coming to her aid. No more strong
chest for her to sink into whenever she needed to feel safe again. All...over?
"Ranma..." she stares at the other woman, stunned. "I can't believe...you're
giving up..."

"No, Akane, I'm not giving up. I'm ending my old existence in such a way
that will effectively eradicate everyone's need to come after me...BUT at the
same time, give me the chance to take back control over my fate. You know how
obsessed some are, Akane. So if I can't get rid of the fiancees, I had to get
rid of the target: me. I wouldn't marry one; I'm not ready for marriage and
even if I did, that decision would make the others come after me and make my
future wife's life total hell. I won't do that; it's not fair. By eliminating
my manhood...and since Confucian society doesn't in the least bit condone
relationships between two women...they can't do a thing to press a claim on me.
Quite simple, really."

Akane shudders. "How?"

"There's...someone who was cursed by Jusenkyou. I won't say who it is,
but it's not one of the ones you know. It was my fault that person was cursed.
I accepted my responsibility, then after discovering a way to transfer the
power of the curse from that person to me, did so. That person is no longer
cursed...and I am frozen in my cursed form," Ranma points to herself.

"And by doing so, you eliminated any hope for anyone to press a claim,
even Shampoo," Akane whistles. "Wow! I...gods..."

She looks down, fresh tears in her eyes. A hand falls on her, then she
looks up to see Ranma crying. "I'm sorry, Akane. It's the only real way we
can all walk away from this with something."

"But...wh-what about us?" Akane stammers.

Ranma's eyebrow rises. "Is there an 'us?'"

Akane tenses. All her words that had renounced Ranma, who she was, what
she was, their engagement...all come roaring back. Had those words...had they
hurt Ranma so deeply that...she decided that ending it, eliminating future
chances to repair the damage, build something better...was the only answer?
"Oh, Ranma, I'm sorry..."

"I am, too," Ranma smiles. "I care for you very much, Akane. If that is
a type of love, then yes, I love you. But...even if you and I get married,
even if we settle our problems, what then? Who will stop Shampoo? Who'll give
U-chan or the others Oyaji forced on me what they deserve? Who gets the old
lech off our back? Will Mom force me to commit seppuku if she finds out about
the curse? I'm sorry, Akane, but my life hasn't been under my control since
Oyaji took me on our trip. I don't want that anymore. And...while I made this
decision totally on my own...I would think that you'd want your life to have
some sense of control over it, too.

"This whole engagement business has warped our fathers so much, they'll
NEVER hear of our wanting to end it or even delay it. And even if I don't want
to marry you, they'll try to stick me with Kasumi (who already has someone
after her) or Nabiki (whom I can never trust and frankly, I'd probably want to
kill myself before I'd ever marry her given the way she loves to treat
people)," Ranma adds, then draws back. "Akane, I've...enjoyed being with you,
those times we weren't fighting. But at the rate we were going, I believe that
any marriage between us would have just made us both miserable. I won't be
the cause of making you more miserable."

"Oh, you...you dummy!" Akane sniffs, then stares at her.
"I...I...good-bye, Ranma."

With that, she runs off, sobbing. Ranma watches her go, then sighs.
"Good-bye, Akane," she looks down, then turns back.

She then pauses as a wave of power washes over her. Looking up, she sees
Ukyou standing there...her own Jewel glistening like a red sun on her chest.
"'Morning, Ran-chan."

"U-chan...!" Ranma's eyes widen as things suddenly fall into place. "Oh,
gods...!"

"It seems you and I've taken a commitment to the same place, Ran-chan,"
Ukyou sighs. "So, shall we get ready?"

Ranma blinks...

* * *

To be continued...