Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 and Sailor Moon characters are the properties of their respective owners. I'm not making any money off this fic! Thanks to everyone who has reviewed, and to everyone who has added this story as a favorite - I appreciate the encouragement, and hope you enjoy this (belated) next chapter!
At first, it had just looked like a giant mound of soil, pushed up by the latest tremor
At first, it had just looked like a giant mound of soil, pushed up by the latest tremor. But then it had rolled towards them, picking up massing, growing a head, legs, and tail. It was slow – very slow. But it was powerful, and the three Scouts had no idea how to stop it.
Sailor Mercury was the first to fall, smashed against a wall by the monster. Her Shine Aqua Illusion had hit the creature, but it had absorbed the attack and somehow grown even bigger. Mercury had spun around, her eyes shining. "Of course!" she'd exclaimed to Venus. "It's an earth-based youma – water attacks won't work! You need to-" but the monster's tail had flicked out and smacked her, sending her flying before she could tell Venus what it was she needed to do.
Sailor Jupiter was the next, hit by the youma's rancid breath as she ran in close. Venus could see her now, gasping for air as the monster slowly turned its head around to face her, the only Sailor Scout left standing. "Artemis…" she said, her voice trembling. She wasn't sure that she could do this by herself.
"Still getting yourself into trouble, Princess?"
At the sound of the unfamiliar voice, Venus turned back to see someone crouching over Mercury. As the figure straightened, Venus gaped. It was a woman – definitely a woman, from the way her clothes hugged her body. Her face was obscured from view by a black helmet; on her feet were black leather boots that reached almost to her knees; and she was clothed in what seemed to be a black jacket and skirt, and golden tights. Movement from the corner of her eye made Venus yell out – "Watch out!" – but the woman had seen the monster's tail coming towards her and leaped, impossibly high, flipping through the air and landing next to Venus with a gymnast's flourish. The small part of Venus' brain that wasn't gaping at the woman or trying to figure out how to attack the monster noted that in actual fact the woman was wearing a dress, long sleeved, high-necked, and that her helmet was topped by long gold plumes.
The youma roared, unhappy that it had missed its quarry. "It will strike again in a moment," the woman said, her quiet, controlled voice a stark contrast to Venus' a moment ago. "Bind it, after impact, and destroy it then."
"After impact?" Venus asked, not sure she understood. Did this strange woman want her to get hit? How was she supposed to fight it then? And how did she know whether she should trust this woman, anyway?
"I will protect you, Princess," the woman said, her voice calm.
The creature's head had finally reached her and it roared again, once more releasing the toxic breath that had proved Jupiter's undoing. Even as Venus prepared to be hit the woman darted in front of her, holding out a hand which somehow diverted the fumes around them both.
"How-" Venus started, but now the woman was pulling her out of the way as the youma's head came crashing towards her.
"Your chain, Princess," the woman said, her voice still calm. Venus nodded, and called for her Venus Love-Me Chain. The youma was slow enough that it had not had time to recover from its failed head butt as she first bound it firmly and then attacking the now still monster with a Rolling Heart Vibration. The creature roared as her shot hit, then seemed to collapse in on itself, its limbs sinking down into the ground until it was nothing but a mound of dirt once more. Jupiter sat up, now breathing freely; Mercury, too, seemed to be moving. Venus turned back to the woman. "Thank-" she started to say, and then stopped, puzzled. The woman had disappeared.
Monday, two weeks earlier…
"Nabiki, why are you walking to school with us?" Akane asked. After the ruckus Ranma and Shampoo had created yesterday she didn't think Nabiki would want to be seen with her ever again. "I don't think you've walked to school with me in my life before. When we were kids Kasumi had to walk me to school because you refused to be seen with me." Nabiki looked at her sister a moment, trying to work out if Akane suspected the truth. Then she relaxed; there was no way that her younger sister could possibly know a thing.
"I deal in information, Little Sis," she said, in her most superior tone. "And after yesterday, it's easy to see that the three students most people are going to want to know about are you, you, and you," and she pointed to each of them in turn. Akane rolled her eyes.
"After one little fight? Besides, they're used to Ranma and me. It's not like everyone's going to be just standing there, waiting for us to arrive," she scoffed as they approached the school gates.
"Are you willing to bet on it?" Nabiki offered, and allowed her lips to twitch in amusement when Akane's eyes widened. Her sister knew she'd never make a wager she had any chance of losing, and Nabiki could almost see her sister's brain ticking into gear.
"Nabiki," Akane said warily, "you didn't-"
"Shampoo! We are here to challenge you!"
Even Nabiki had to consider herself somewhat surprised. She'd heard rumors – Nabiki always heard all the rumors, even the ones she didn't start herself – that Kuno had announced whoever defeated Shampoo could date her, and she'd expected to see one or two of the judo club, maybe a couple of kendoists. Instead, apparently the entire male population of the school had gone collectively insane. (Er, and so had one or two of the girls.)
Or maybe not completely insane. Nabiki's knowledge of martial arts was extremely limited for someone whose father owned a dojo, but she was sure Shampoo was more than capable than defeating every single one of the boys now attacking her in single combat. But attacking her all at once like that – all it needed was for one of them to get in a lucky blow and –
Nabiki's thoughts were interrupted as she was pulled up onto a wall. She turned to glare at her sister. "You could ask before you go dragging me around."
"Would you rather get hit by a stray missile? And you could ask before organizing for Shampoo to be hit by a riot." Akane's voice was sour, but Nabiki didn't feel like correcting her. Better that people did think she was organizing a riot if she wished.
"Aren't you going to help her? Isn't that the martial artist's code?" Nabiki asked superciliously.
"Nah." That was Ranma, who was now standing on the wall next to Nabiki. She hadn't even heard him land. "Shampoo needs to practice fighting more than one assailant. 'Sides, if me and Acchan joined in we'd have to help the other side."
Nabiki noted the truth in his words. Shampoo was, very quickly and efficiently, taking out every single one of her attackers. Nabiki found herself holding her breath as she watched the younger girl. There was something so admirable about the gracefulness, the athleticism, the ruthlessness of Shampoo's style.
Clearly her attackers thought so too. Most of them looked unconscious but happy.
"Isn't that that Kuno guy? Surely he's not having another go?" Ranma's question was answered by a crack ringing through the air and Kuno sinking to the ground. Nabiki shook her head and demanded to be let off the wall so she could go make sure her biggest source of financing hadn't been maimed.
In the classroom, Kuno was still smiling as he sunk into his chair. "She is a fiery chieftainess," he announced. Nabiki cocked her head at him and asked if his arm was broken. "'Tis but a scratch," he replied, his voice stoic. "Truly, her desire for me is driving her to madness."
Nabiki rolled her eyes, careful not to let Kuno see her expression, then was struck by an idea. "So she loves you, Kuno-baby?" She bowed her head, and made her voice low and troubled.
"The lass cannot help herself! That she denies it only proves her maidenly virtues!"
"Then…" Nabiki slowly turned to Kuno and grasped his hand. "I understand. If you both love each other, then I won't stand in your way." She glanced at Kuno under her eyelids and desperately wished she had her camera handy. Forget a thousand words, the picture of his face just then would be worth a few thousand yen. "I only want you to be happy," she added, experimentally.
Kuno's mouth opened and shut a few times. Nabiki idly wondered if the new information was going to cause him to malfunction completely.
"You- You- You- You- You-"
"I think you broke him," Nakama murmured from Nabiki's right.
"You need not fear being alone!" Kuno finally got out. "I will comfort you both!"
"Oh, brother," Nakama sighed. Nabiki shrugged. Life looked like being interesting for now, at any rate.
"How can you find school boring?" Acchan demanded as she and Ranma turned into the Tendo's property. Thuds and giggles could be heard from the dojo; Soun took classes for preschoolers at this time of the day. Yesterday, Ranma had finally given in to the urge and gone to watch; he had to admit, some of those kids had talent.
"It's just routine, you know? Nothing ever changes, nothing interesting ever happens…"
"You don't think Shampoo getting ambushed every day so far this week is exciting?" Acchan's voice was teasing.
"I don't think it's even exciting for Shampoo," he answered with a grin. "Kuno literally showering her with roses was kind of funny, at least." Kuno had obviously decided that having his ass handed to him on a plate on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday had not been romantic enough. Shampoo, who was subject to hayfever, had been decidedly not amused.
The two friends were met at the door by Kasumi, whose mouth was drawn in a tight line. "Ranma, your mother is here, in the dining room. She'd like a word with you. Akane, would you please come help me hang out the sheets?" Ranma exchanged a startled glance with Acchan. Kasumi sounded a little put out, which Ranma mentally translated to 'incredibly pissed off'. What had his mother been saying?
He knew better than to keep her waiting asking questions, though. He kicked off his shoes and presented himself smartly to his mother.
"I thought you were planning on being home sooner, Mom?" he asked, after he had greeted her.
"Home?" Nadoka repeated. "Son, you didn't think we'd be staying here for long, did you?" Nodoka's voice was kind, but as always it contained that hint of steel that told Ranma she was not to be argued with.
"Well – I thought we'd at least stay here for a while. I mean, on the way back from China you said you wanted me to go to school again. I didn't think we'd be back on the road." Actually, Ranma hadn't given the matter much thought. The idea of actually settling down somewhere was odd; he hadn't been to a Japanese school since he was eleven or so.
"The business I conducted in Juban included renting property and arranging for you and Shampoo to attend the local high school. It took some persuading for them to start you in the middle of the term; not all schools are as accommodating as Furinkan."
"Then why change schools at all, Mom?"
"It will be good for you and Akane to spend some time apart," Nodoka mused, as if her son had never spoken. "The matter of your curse we will have to consider how to deal with before Monday-"
"Monday?" Ranma interrupted. "You mean, we're moving right now?"
"Please don't interrupt me, Ranma," his mother admonished him. "We're moving tomorrow morning. It won't matter if you miss one day of school in the process. I'll let Shampoo know when she comes home; you can go upstairs and start packing up both your things."
Ranma recognized a dismissal when he heard one. He bowed to his mother again and headed upstairs. He chose to ignore her orders, though, and headed out his window instead, up onto the roof, where Acchan was already waiting for him.
"Hello," she said, her voice subdued. "Kasumi told me that you're leaving already."
Ranma sat down next to his best friend, trying to keep the scowl from his face. "She didn't waste any time," he said bitterly. "So much for settling down. Well, according to her, we are settling down – in Juban! Why can't we stay home? And- it's going to be weird, without you, Acchan."
Acchan produced a familiar shape. "You should take Panda-chan," she said, matter-of-factly. "He can keep an eye on you, since I won't be there to keep an eye on you. Goodness knows what kind of trouble you'll get into if I'm not there."
"Me?" spluttered Ranma. "What about you? No one to teach you how to fight properly, you'll probably just go back to all your old bad habits…" The two glared at each other for a moment, and then burst out laughing. Ranma put his arm around Acchan, and she leaned into him, her head on his shoulder.
"Kasumi said that the train between Juban and Nerima takes hardly any time at all – she said that one of Daddy's pupils comes from Juban every day. We can see each other weekends, and afternoons, even. And there's always the phone."
"It won't be so bad, then," Ranma said, but he was sure that Acchan was thinking the same thing that he was – that no matter how much they saw each other, it wouldn't be the same as actually living together.
Hotaru had grown up quite suddenly. She'd heard Michiru-mama say that of course she had grown up quickly; all children did. Haruka-papa had laughed, and said that she didn't think most children grew up this quickly. Despite their laughter, Hotaru knew that Michiru and Haruka were worried. If Hotaru was growing up – she thought she was probably about ten years old now – then that meant, almost certainly, that Sailor Saturn was going to be needed very soon.
But Hotaru didn't feel like being Sailor Saturn, Bringer of Silence and Destroyer of the Universe. Mostly, she just felt bored. Her two adopted parents refused to let her go to school again until they were sure we was strong enough, and Hotaru had to admit that yes, she was quick to tire after her sudden aging. But there was no one to play with. Haruka-papa and Michiru-mama were always busy with school or clubs during the day, and Setsuna had disappeared to watch the time stream a few days ago. Worse, Hotaru's best friend, Chibi-Usa, had gone home to her own time, leaving Hotaru bored, and lonely.
Today, however, Hotaru was thinking of other things. The house next door had been sold, and a friend of Haruka-papa, a realtor, had said that the new family was moving in today. Hotaru had lain awake half the night, excited at the prospect that maybe a girl her age would move in next door, and that she would be all by herself, too, so she would want to be friends with Hotaru, and…
…and she was to be disappointed. As she watched from her bedroom window, she could see three occupants arrive – two girls who were both maybe the same age as her adoptive parents, and an older woman, who one of the girls addressed as "Mom". The family arrived not long before their furniture, and as Hotaru watched the furniture being unloaded she quickly forgot her disappointment. The movers were big, burly men, capable of carrying a large table between them, but obviously not moving fast enough to please the mother. She sent the two girls into the van; the first girl, purple-haired and wearing a cheongsam, reappeared carrying an armchair. Hotaru was surprised. Those things were heavy. Last week, when Michiru-mama had decided she wanted their living room rearranged, Haruka-papa had barely managed to lift theirs, and had complained about it the whole time, and Haruka-papa was strong.
And then the second girl, the redhead in boys' clothes, reappeared, and Hotaru gasped in surprise. She was not carrying one, but two armchairs, balanced on a couch, with what looked like two futons resting on top. She was grinning, too, rather arrogantly, but Hotaru supposed someone that strong was allowed to be proud. As she watched, the redhead walked towards the front door – then tripped, and the furniture went flying. The girl momentarily blurred, and then she was standing, holding the furniture again – this time, the whole lot precariously balanced on one of the upside-down armchairs.
Hotaru found herself giggling – too loudly, apparently, since the girl, still balancing the furniture, glanced up to her window and grinned at her, rather sheepishly. She turned back towards her own house, and found herself face-to-face with her mother, who did not look amused. She didn't say a word, as far as Hotaru could tell, but the girl bowed – a feat in itself, given his uneven load – and continued on to the house in a less jaunty manner. The mother followed her daughter's previous gaze to Hotaru at her window and smiled, lessening the severity of her look.
Hotaru retreated into her room after that, not wanting to draw any more attention, but she felt hopeful. The girls were older than her, to be sure, but the redhead at least seemed very friendly. Maybe – just maybe – her neighbors would turn into new friends after all?
Shampoo was irritated to find that school at Juban was just as boring as school at Furinkan High. Worse, Ranma wasn't even in her class! She'd been told that until her Japanese improved she would be studying with students younger than herself. "It won't take you too long to catch up, Shampoo. You're better at school stuff than me," Ranma had assured her that morning, but Shampoo wasn't sure how she was supposed to learn anything when it was all so boring. At least the uniform here was better than the one at Furinkan; Shampoo was aware that she looked particularly cute in it.
Things came to a head when her history teacher asked her what she thought lead to Matsudaira Kiyoyasu's downfall. Shampoo replied that naturally, no man was capable of leading a clan, and the teacher threw her out the classroom.
"And you!" The teacher snapped, throwing a piece of chalk at the blonde girl sitting next to Shampoo, who had until this point been happily snoring through most of her classes. Which was how Shampoo found herself outside the classroom, wearing the placard that said Idiot.
"You're new, aren't you?" The other girl who had been dismissed did not look overly shamed by her punishment. Instead, she was looking curiously at Shampoo. Shampoo felt fairly curious herself – what had possessed the blonde girl to tie her hair in a style that was so reminiscent of a pair of dumplings?
"Yes, Shampoo start school just today. Shampoo not find school too too interesting so far." The girl smiled warmly.
"I know what you mean! School is so boring, and they make you work so hard, and then they punish you if you do the slightest bit wrong!" Shampoo looked at her blankly.
"Uh… Shampoo thought falling to sleep in class maybe big thing wrong? At Shampoo's village, if fall asleep during lesson and caught, hung by ankles from tree." Ranma had naturally managed to turn this punishment on its head, by treating the whole thing as some kind of training exercise. In the end, the Elders had given up punishing him by traditional means and had had to turn to something else instead.
"At your village? Where are you from?" The blonde girl had forgotten her complaints and was looking curious once more.
"Shampoo from China. Came to Japan to speak better Japanese. Speaking only so-so bad, writing worse. Shampoo always forget characters different here than home. But Shampoo try hard, not want to dishonor village."
"Do you miss your home much?" The girl's voice was now sympathetic. Shampoo considered. She couldn't admit her weakness to a complete stranger, but she didn't want to lie. Eventually she said, "Shampoo not know many people in Japan."
"Oh," replied the girl, looking unhappy. Then, "Oh, but you know me now! I'm Usagi. Why don't you come sit with me and my friends at lunch?"
There was something about Usagi which made her hard to say "no" to, and so at lunch time Usagi found herself introduced to a large group of girls – Yumiko, Naru, Ami, Makoto, and Minako. Shampoo's practiced eye noted that Makoto was a fighter, but it was Minako that drew her particular interest. There was something about the girl's movements that lit a spark in Shampoo's mind – almost as if the two of them had met before. She tried to focus, to figure out what it was, but the conversation Minako was holding with Makoto made it a little difficult concentrate.
"Have you seen the new upperclassman?"
"He's a hunk all right."
"I heard he's a martial artist."
"I heard he actually fights crime, and he's at the school undercover."
"He looks just like my old boyfriend…"
"I wonder if I should write him a letter…"
"Shampoo, do you like ice cream?" Shampoo tore her gaze away from Minako and smiled at Usagi.
"Yes, Shampoo big big fan of ice cream. Is somewhere on school to buy?"
Usagi pouted, shaking her head. "That would make school so much better! But after school Ami and Minako and me are going to go get some – do you want to come?"
Shampoo nodded her head, amazed that it was so easy to make friends here. Now, if she could only work out what was bothering her about Minako, her day would be a lot better.
Ranma was not happy. He'd managed, miraculously, to go through the entire school day without incident - at least, any incidents involving water. Although he had been told three times that he was expected to wear the Juban uniform, and been caught napping twice, that was all par for the course and neither resulted in him being labeled a freak by his classmates - but two streets from the house he'd been blasted by an off-balance fountain.
"And it figures that I'd leave my keys at home and Mom would be out," the now-female Ranma groused as she sat on the front doorstep. "An' Shampoo said she was going out with those girls, so there's no use waiting for her. An' Mom said last time I broke in somewhere to get some hot water me being cursed didn't count as an emergency." She'd also said she didn't want him turning out like his father, but Ranma had had no idea what she'd meant by that. His memories of his father were hazy, and Nodoka seldom mentioned him.
"And what am I meant to do now?" she added, unnecessarily. She knew exactly what she was meant to do now; wait until her mother got home, and hope to avoid being lectured on the perils of forgetfulness.
"Um... excuse me?" A young girl was standing in front of her, smiling at Ranma shyly.
"Uh, hi," Ranma said, then, recognizing the girl, felt a wave of embarrassment and scratched the back of her head. "Uh, you were watching us unload furniture yesterday, right?"
The girl nodded happily. "You were so strong!" she exclaimed. "I've never seen an ordinary person being able to carry so much before!" Ranma grinned.
"Aw, it's easy really. You just have to know how to balance it..." Remembering her manners, she stood and bowed. "I'm Ranma Saotome, by the way."
"Hotaru Tomoe," the girl responded eagerly. "I, uh, I heard you talking to yourself just now. I was wondering if you'd like to come inside, until your mother and sister get home?" Ranma thought about it - for all of a second.
"Thanks," she said gratefully. "Hopefully Mom won't be too long, but isn't exactly a comfortable place to sit."
"She left just before you arrived, and she was carrying shopping bags. If she was walking to the market she won't be back for a while yet," Hotaru responded. Ranma caught the younger girl's eye as she turned to lead Ranma back to her own house, and she blushed. "I've been too... too sick to go to school for a while," she explained. "I spend an awful lot of time staring out my window." Ranma looked at Hotaru, really looked at her, as she followed behind her. She was rather pale, and she seemed to be too thin for her body.
There were signs of the house's other occupants inside. A music stand against the wall; car keys on the table; a hairbrush, which Ranma nearly tripped over before Hotaru grabbed it.
"So what do you do all day?" Ranma asked. "How come your parents leave you by yourself?"
Hotaru looked like she was considering. "I don't do a lot, I suppose," she said. "And Haruka-Papa and Michiru-Mama are at high school, and they're busy after – they're not my real parents," she added, accurately interpreting the look on Ranma's face. "After my father died, they took me in. Setsuna-Mama lives here too, most of the time, but she- she has a job that takes her away quite often."
"Aw, it must be hard being by yourself," Ranma said. She felt sympathetic; until their trip to China, Nadoka and Ranma had been travelling by themselves, and Ranma had often felt lonely – Acchan was the only person she was able to stay friends with. Most of the other kids didn't want to stay friends with someone who'd only be there for a months or so before they left again. "When will you be well enough to go to school again?"
"Haruka-Papa says I need to build up strength," Hotaru said. "But I don't know how long that will take."
"Oh," said Ranma. And then, "Oh! But I haven't got anything to do in the afternoons. I could come over and keep you company after school – Mom won't mind, as long as I do my homework. I mean, if you don't mind," she added, belatedly remembering that maybe Hotaru didn't actually consider herself to be lonely.
Her first assessment had been right, however, and Hotaru looked happy at the thought of having someone to spend time with. Ranma stayed for most of the rest of the afternoon, only leaving when Hotaru's 'parents' arrived home. They were nice enough, Ranma supposed, by something about how the couple were looking at her set her teeth on edge. She returned to her own house, to be scolded by her mother.
She walked down the corridor, smiling to herself. The princess was young, but she was powerful – and better yet, eager to learn the lessons of leadership that she, as the former Captain of the Terra Guard, already knew. The princess was not the spoiled daughter of royals that she had been expecting; instead, she was serious about her duties as leader of the Sailor Senshi, protector of the Moon Queen's only daughter.
She was so deep in her thoughts that she almost failed to sense to attack; a rough hand gripped her right arm and pulled, hard. She spun with the momentum, planting her leg, hard, in something soft, recognizing her silver-haired assailant as he struck out with a jab that missed its mark and glanced off her shoulder. She grabbed his flailing arm and pulled him closer, gripping his throat with her right hand and then shoving him back against the wall of the corridor. He struggled, but only for a moment.
"Still the better fighter, I see," the man said, her grip on his throat making his voice rough.
"Kunzite." She relaxed her grip, a little. He had technically been her superior, back on Earth, although it was a technicality she had usually chosen to ignore. "What are you doing here, of all places?"
He reached for her right hand, and she let him pry her fingers loose. "I have some errands to run for my… master," he said.
"His Highness sent you to run an errand on the Moon?" she repeated, disbelieving. Kunzite was a proud man, although he hid it well; it seemed unlikely that the Prince would send him on an errand unless it was of great importance.
"Not exactly," Kunzite replied. "But I am here, nevertheless." He paused, and she stepped back, allowing him to move freely once more. "And your duties, they go well? Princess Venus is not a difficult ward?"
"Not at all," she responded, automatically, but something about the question, asked in such an offhand, casual manner, struck her as odd. What game was Kunzite playing? He looked at her a long moment, then sighed.
"You are missed at the palace," he said, "but I am glad you are here. If there were anyone to protect the princess, I would have picked you, Vespa." He bowed slightly, his hand over his chest, and turned past her, back down the corridor. She watched him leave, bemused. What had all that been about?
"Vespa," Shampoo said out loud, without opening her eyes. That was the second time she had dreamed about her, but the first time she had heard her name. The name felt… right, somehow. Important. Almost as if it were her own name…
"But that's just silly," she whispered. "I am Shampoo, of the Joketsuzoku Amazons. I've never served any princesses. And I've certainly never served any kings." Not in this life, anyway, she added silently, and then wondered where the thought had come from. But again, it seemed… right. Maybe she was dreaming of a previous life, in which case she certainly had nothing to worry about. But the two dreams had felt, well… right. And important.
She rolled over in bed, trying to get more comfortable. There was no point worrying about it now. She would just have to get some sleep, and set aside some time to think about it when she didn't have to get up and go to school the next day. Her mind made up, Shampoo pulled her covers up under her chin, and tried to go back to sleep.
"Akane, come look at this!" Nothing loath, Akane got up from the table where she had been sitting, eating breakfast, and went through to where Kasumi was watching the morning news. The picture on the TV showed a large whole in the middle of a street of shops, people standing around it gaping.
"Kasumi?" Akane asked, not understanding.
"It's Juban," Kasumi explained. "Apparently the hole appeared yesterday afternoon, in a big explosion. No one can explain how it got there, but apparently Sailor Mercury was spotted there last night, investigating it."
"I hope it's got nothing to do with Ranchan," Akane murmured, distractedly. Then – "You really admire those Sailor girls, don't you, sis?"
"How could I not?" Kasumi replied frankly. "They're champions of Love and Justice, here to help people when they need it most. Dr Tofu says he always thought that the people who help others, with no gain in it for themselves, are the very best people."
Akane quickly agreed, and then went to finish off her breakfast. Her and Nabiki had started walking to school together every morning, but Nabiki had made it very plain that Akane should be ready to leave exactly when she, Nabiki, was ready. For Akane, all this really meant was getting up a little earlier to go through her morning training routine; Nabiki never got up a moment before she had to.
"70,000 yen," Nabiki announced that morning as the two of them left the house. Akane stared at her.
"70,000 yen," Nabiki repeated. "That's how much Kuno-baby offered to pay me to give him information on Shampoo when he rang last night."
Akane shook her head. The thought of having that kind of money to throw into – well – stalking someone made her head hurt. "So did you give him information?" she asked.
"Sure," Nabiki drawled. "I told him everything he already knew. I guess next time Kuno-baby will remember to be more specific."
"Excuse me, miss, but do you know the way to the Tendo Dojo?" Akane stopped in her tracks and turned to look at the speaker. A boy about her own age, with a backpack that must be nearly the same size as her, was waiting patiently for her answer.
"That'll cost you one hundred-" Nabiki started to say, but Akane quickly interrupted her.
"We've just come from there ourselves, actually! It's my father's dojo – were you looking to challenge him?"
The boy's face suddenly deepened into a scowl. "Not unless your father is that coward Ranma Saotome," he spat out the words, as if they left a bad taste in his mouth. "He ran out on our man-to-man fight seven years ago… but not this time! Not now that I've almost found the Tendo dojo!"
Akane stared. Ranma had never run away from any fight, ever. "Are you sure you aren't looking for someone else?" she asked warily, "I don't think Ranma ever mentioned you…". The boy shook his head.
"Ranma said he lived there, and though a coward he may be, he never lied to me!"
Akane tried to answer, but could think of nothing to say. Nabiki came to her rescue. "Ranma used to live with us, but he's just moved to Juban. For a very reasonable price I could give you-"
"No!" the boy screamed. "Ranma, you coward! You heard I was on my way and left, rather than face me! But I will find you, Saotome, and then I, Ryoga Hbiki, will make you see Hell!" He left at a run.
There was a moment's silence.
"Did he say Ryoga Hibiki?" Akane asked.
"I think so. Why?" Nabiki's eyebrows were raised in a way that suggested the whole incident had been as strange to her as it had been to Akane.
"Because Ranma did talk to me about him. They met that year that Auntie Nodoka to Ranchan to Hokkaido for six months and he brought me back…" Akane paused, remembering for a moment how much she had Ranchan and how happy she had been to see him when he had returned. Seeing Nabiki looking at her, her eyebrows raised even higher, Akane hurriedly continued – "er, anyway, he went to school with Hibiki then. Only," and she glanced over at the school wall that had collapsed under the Hibiki boy's assault, "only he always said that they were very good friends."
"It looks like Hibiki disagrees," Nabiki said, her face finally returning to normal. Akane agreed, and suggested that they hurry to school as soon as possible. She had no wish to be late.
It was late, but Shampoo couldn't sleep. She had spent most of the week spending time with Usagi and her friends, and she had thoroughly enjoyed herself, but there was something still bothering her about the girl Minako. It didn't help that every night she dreamed again of people and places she vaguely remembered but which she knew she had never meant, and that now Minako's face featured prominently in her dream. She wondered if she should talk to Ranma about it, but decided against it; Ranma was fine for talking to about fighting, but when it came to magic and mysticism he held barely any interest and even less knowledge – surprisingly little, for someone who was cursed.
"What would Grandmother do?" Shampoo asked out loud, using her native Chinese. "She would say; 'Shampoo, my child, this is not beyond your understanding. What do you feel when you see this girl in real life? What do you feel when you see her in your dream life?"
Shampoo stopped, and followed her grandmother's imaginary advice. In real life she found the girl confusing, and even a little tiresome, with her constant chatter about boys and love. But in her dream she always felt like she needed to protect her. What was it that the man Kunzite had said to her in her dream? "If there was anyone to protect the princess…" Could it be that Minako was-
Shampoo's head whipped around, as though she had heard a startling sound. "She's in trouble," Shampoo said out loud, and then sprang into action, leaping out her bedroom window and landing softly in the garden below. She had got herself lost walking home from Usagi's house that very afternoon, but now, somehow, she knew exactly where she was going and how to get there.
For a moment she thought she had arrived too late, but the blue-suited girl she saw get thrown against a wall was not the one she had come to help. Shampoo felt for the girl's pulse anyway; it was steady. She was only concussed, she realized, and not badly at that. "Is stupid to fight opponent without tactic," she murmured to the unconscious girl. "Stupid, but brave." There was a roar, and a cry – she glanced around, and saw the green-suited girl fall to the ground, gasping for breath. That left just one fighter, but her memories were telling her that that one was more than enough.
"Still getting yourself into trouble, Princess?" she called, and found herself smiling as the Venuvian Princess turned to stare at her in surprise.