Title: Magical Girl Ranko vs. Z-Fighter Ryouga
Author: Rowan Seven
Teaser: Ranma and Ryouga's epic duel begins as Jadeite's master brings her dark schemes to fruition. Can the world survive either of these developments?
Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2, Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Looney Tunes, and any other series I mention belong to their respective creators and copyright holders, as do the characters and settings in this story that don't belong to me. I make no claims to any of them and am making no financial profit from writing this story.
Author's Notes: Marked with (#) and posted at the end.
Chapter 4 Part 1 – Originally Supposed to be Chapter 3 Part 2 but Plans Have Changed!
"Nine days," the Master of the School of Pretty Magical Girl Martial Arts spoke appraisingly, standing behind the wooden gateway that demarcated the holy grounds of her temple from the outside world and looking remarkably unchanged from the first time Ranma-chan had seen her. Wearing either an identical or the same simple gray kimono with a white sash and with Kuroyo once again perched on her right shoulder, the only noticeable difference between her now and their introductory meeting was in the elder woman's pink eyes. Whereas before they'd been filled with amused interest and taunting mirth, now a glimmer of respect danced in those bright orbs. "A little more than the week you boasted, but still much less time than I expected."
On the other side of the traditional torii and with a cheerful Shogi sitting on the ground beside her, Ranma-chan grinned cockily. "Heh, not surprising considering I am the best. I could've completed your training in even less time too had you not insisted I practice something as useless as screeching for hours on end."
The Master smiled coyly and raised her right index finger. "There's a perfect pitch for every occasion, Ranko. Remember that for it'll serve you well...occasionally." Not bothering to hide her good mood, the powerful woman clasped her two hands together in an enthusiastic clap. "Regardless, you have proved yourself worthy of carrying the name of this school with you as you head out back into the world. Any doubts I might have had faded this morning when you passed your final test and polished off that breakfast feast faster than a Google search! Truly an appetite worthy of a magical girl..."
The blue-eyed redhead prudently did not mention that was how she normally ate. "Eheh, well, now that you've said that am I free to go now? I have a date with destiny back in Nerima, and with the training I've received here I'm confident of what the outcome will be." Her lips curled upwards in a vindictive smirk as she said this, clearly anticipating a victory.
"I'm sure destiny isn't the only thing you have a date with," the silver haired woman said slyly, unable to pass up such a perfect opportunity for innuendo, "but the answer to your question is yes. While I haven't taught you everything I know, I've taught you enough for you to learn how to master the power of your soul and you will certainly figure out the rest in time."
"Often in the very nick of time," Kuroyo chimed in sarcastically, looking down at his canine apprentice somberly. "Ranko is in your ha-er, your paws now, Shogi. Support her in times of hardship, be there even when she doesn't want you to be there, and persist in being the voice of common sense no matter how harebrained she might act, and you will make a great magical familiar."
"Understood, Kuroyo! Even if my partner becomes a total airhead I won't give up!" the black and white puppy declared fervently and, noticing the glare that was being leveled his way from the girl in question, quickly amended, "not that I, uh, expect my partner to be utterly irresponsible and senseless! I'm confident that she will always act intelligently and with good intentions!"
"...Right. Anyway, you have my thanks, sensei." Somewhat surprisingly, Ranma-chan bowed before her latest teacher in a rare display of honest respect. "I haveta hand it to ya, you may be one of the kookiest of the many strange instructors I've had and your training methods are absolutely absurd, but there's no arguing with the results."
"Heh, and while you've been one of the most stubborn, unruliest pupils in my tenure as the master of this school, you have also been one of the best," the Master said kindly, returning the redhead's bow with a lesser one of her own. "I expect great things of you, Ranko, and I know you won't disappoint. Now go out there and make all students of Pretty Magical Girl Martial Arts proud!"
Ranma-chan's arrogant smirk said everything as she turned around and walked down the steps that would lead her back into the city, an eager cadence to her gait. Shogi followed close behind her, practically bouncing with excitement at the true start of his new job. Solemnly watching the two depart, the Master and Kuroyo remained silent until their students had completely disappeared from view.
"And so as one journey ends, another begins," the mystical martial arts instructor said at last with a sense of profoundness, inclining her head to gaze down at the raven perched on her shoulder. "You know, Kuroyo, as much of a headache as she was to train, I'm really going to miss Ranko. A student like her is a rare find."
The animal familiar rolled his eyes. "You're just saying that 'cause now with her gone you don't have any more valid excuses to put off doing your paperwork," he retorted sarcastically. "I'm actually surprised you let her go so quickly. Aren't you worried about the possible consequences of rushing her training so much?"
The Master narrowed her eyes. "Are you doubting the effectiveness of my Hyper-Accelerated Turbo-Mystical Pretty Magical Girl Ultra-Training Miracle Course, Kuroyo?" she asked ominously.
The black raven sighed. "Were you anyone else I'd say get over yourself, but since I suspect that's an impossibility for you nevermind. Still, I would feel better had you kept Ranko here an extra week or two to refine her technique and make sure her conceptual understandings are correct. Unleashing the power of the soul can be dangerous if mistakes are made."
"Ha! Dangerous smangerous," the expert martial artist replied with a dismissive wave of her left hand. "You don't always need the equivalent of twenty four animated episodes of experience to master the art of being a magical girl, and resorting to that sort of methodology can be self-limiting anyway. After all, who wants to be stuck using the same attack against the monster of the week for weeks on end these days? That is so last season."
"And at any rate," she added confidently, "I have expert judgment in this field and Ranko has my stamp of approval. I wasn't lying when I said that she has been one of my best students, and what she lacks now time and experience will take care of." She wagged her left index finger at her partner. "And remember, Pretty Magical Girl Martial Arts is more than just a method of fighting – it's a lifestyle in and of itself and once Ranko gets into the swing of things everything will take care of itself so stop worrying so much!"
Kuroyo looked away from his master and spared another glance down the stone steps, his expression becoming contemplative. "I suppose you could be right. With a few NOTABLE exceptions your students have all turned out well and with more sanity than yourself, and Ranko does possess remarkable innate potential. I just hope her promise isn't blinding you to the risks posed by her Jusenkyo curse."
"Please, a Jusenkyo curse is nothing to be concerned about!" the Master scoffed before doing a rapid double-take. "Wait, a Jusenkyo what?"
The incredulous look the raven shot his master could have powered a rocket to the moon and back on sheer amazement. "Please tell me that all this time you weren't completely unaware of your student's aquatic curse?" Kuroyo asked pleadingly, mind reeling at the scope of his partner's obliviousness. "Did you even once read her aura fully?"
"Err...aha, nope," the Master answered with a hint of embarrassment, making apologetic gestures with her hands. "I just kind of assumed that a cute girl like that was totally what she appeared to be. So, um, Ranko has a Jusenkyo curse? Those are those Chinese springs that cause you to change form when splashed with water, right?" She frowned accusingly at her magical familiar. "Why didn't you tell me this earlier, by the way? It's your job to screen prospective students before they get to me!"
Kuroyo sighed exasperatedly. "I was deferring to your so-called 'expert judgment in this field' and assumed that not even you could miss something that obvious! So forgive me for preferring to think that it was curiosity rather than carelessness that convinced you to train an aqua-transsexual!"
"Aqua-transsexual? You mean Ranko's actually a...boy?" the older woman said in shock, eyes widening noticeably. "Oh my..." Fair face scrunching up in thought as she mulled over this revelation, the Master suddenly snapped her fingers as a new insight struck her.
"Aha! No wonder she became Razzle Dazzle Ranko! If she's actually a he then Ranko mustn't be her real name, which means that her transformation sequence doesn't give away her true identity after all! I was wondering about that."
The weight of the magical familiar's sweatdrop sent him toppling off his master's shoulder to land loudly on the ground. "You just unknowingly taught the secret style of Pretty Magical Girl Martial Arts to a guy AND YOU'RE CONCERNED ABOUT NAMES?"
"Well, yes. Should I be otherwise?" the silver haired woman replied casually, bending over to face the dour raven. "Why worry over spilled milk? What's done is done, and regardless of whatever gender issues she might have Ranko proved herself worthy of being my student. Besides," she added with a mischievous wink, "aren't you forgetting Pretty Magical Girl Martial Art's ultimate secret technique?"
Kuroyo squinted up at her, annoyed but also curious. "When pressed for time, soliloquize?"
The Master's face scrunched up cutely. "That's actually the second ultimate secret technique, right above when in doubt, cry." Shaking her head once to clear it of distractions, the ancient teacher rose to her full height and gazed penetratingly at the distant horizon where the sun was slowly rising. On cue, a well-timed gust of wind arrived to rustle her clothes and blow her silver hair back theatrically. When she spoke next, it was in a voice that was old and experienced beyond measure.
"No, my friend, the ultimate secret technique is something much subtler than that and is a fundamental truth for those who unlock the power of their souls. I could enumerate on it for hours and still not fully explain it, but to put it in its simplest terms..." She was silent for a moment, letting the tension and suspense build, but not even the amazing power of the dramatic pause could save the seriousness of her speech from her next words. "...things will work out in the end so let's eat ice cream in the meantime!"
The raven was silent for a long moment, first gazing long-sufferingly up at the sky, then tiredly at his partner, and finally resignedly at the empty stone steps, Ranko and Shogi long gone. There really was only one thing he could do now.
"Dibs on the peppermint flavor."
"Man, am I glad that's finally over with! Another week there and I'd be loopier than Kodachi!" Ranma-chan said with relief, walking along the streets of a residential area in one of Tokyo's many wards. "I honestly don't know how you put up with those two weirdos for so long, Shogi. I'm probably going ta have nightmares for weeks on end just from my short time there!"
"Ruff," Shogi answered noncommittally, trotting alongside his partner and shirking back from the odd looks the many passersby were giving the two of them. Ranko was apparently unaware of the incongruity of a seemingly truant redhead girl complaining about crazy people while holding a conversation with a dog in a public area, he noted ruefully. Hopefully this wasn't a sign that Kuroyo's predictions of ditziness were already coming true.
"Meh, whatever," the martial artist replied, stretching her arms above her head as she walked. "With that absurdness behind me, I can finally focus on what's truly important and prove that I'm the best again! If Ryouga thinks being powerful enough to destroy the entire city with a wave of his hand is enough to keep me down he's got another thing coming to him! After all, Saotome Ran-" She spared her traveling companion a quick glance. "-ko never loses!"
"Bark," the young canine whined plaintively. There were a lot of questions he wanted to ask, such as who was this Ryouga and was fighting somebody powerful enough to destroy cities really the smartest way to start off their careers as mystical warriors of justice. Unfortunately, a talking dog would have attracted even more attention than they were currently receiving, and he'd been warned not to put his partner's new vocation at risk of discovery. Oh, if only they were in Akihabara or Shibuya right now! He'd have been able to speak freely there because those two places were so accustomed to strangeness that he could pass himself off as a next-generation robot and no one would bat an eye.
For her part, Ranma-chan was mentally shifting gears. Prompted by the reminder that her canine partner was unaware of her true identity and ignorant that her opponent was in fact _Hibiki_ Ryouga, the redhead quickly concluded that it would be in her best interests if the animal familiar was far away when she met up with her rival again for their inevitable rematch. There was no need to test his loyalties this early on, and if Shogi learned that she'd been deceiving him and the School of Pretty Magical Girl Martial Arts this entire time he might tell the Master...and the Master was already insufferable enough when she was in a good mood! The thought of facing her former teacher when she was angry sent shivers down her spine. Not that she was afraid or anything, but she'd prefer to deal with all of those potential problems after she'd beaten the Lost Boy. Idiotic, over-powered rival first, deranged martial arts sensei who took cruel and unusual to new levels second.
"Hey Shogi, I have a great idea!" she said sweetly, stopping and crouching down so she didn't tower over him. "Now that we've both graduated, why don't you pay your mother a visit and spend a week or two with her so the two of you can catch up?" She clasped her hands together cheerfully. "I'm sure that she'd love to hear from you!"
"Yip?" the off-colored puppy questioned, feeling uneasy as he met his partner's now beaming eyes that seemed to have tripled in size. It always disconcerted him when people (and animals too, for that matter) did that, although at least it seemed that the Master hadn't taught her pupil how to add stars and glitter to the effect.
Undeterred by the language barrier that currently existed between them, the young martial artist plowed ahead. "Aw, don't worry about that, Shogi! I'll be fine on my own for a little while, and I guarantee ya that I'll stay out of trouble until you get back. Honest!" Noticing the familiar's hesitance, Ranma-chan decided to try another tactic and narrowed her eyes dangerously. "You do trust me, right Shogi? I'd hate to think that you're treating my kindly suggestions with suspicion when we've only been true partners for less than an hour!"
"...Ruff," the canine youth finally conceded, sighing worriedly. He still had a bad feeling about this, and while he was young he wasn't quite so naïve as to believe that there wasn't something more to Ranko's "kindly" intentions than what she was telling him. Still, expecting his charge to completely trust him right off the bat was even more foolish, and he certainly wasn't going to earn her confidence if he appeared to doubt her every word. Besides, it wasn't like it was hard to get around Tokyo and he could always track her down quickly if necessary, and he did want to see his mother again...
"Great!" Ranma-chan spoke enthusiastically, taking her familiar's gruff response as an affirmative. She patted him a couple times on the head encouragingly. "I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time with your Mom! And in a week or two when you're done catching up and spending family time doing...well, whatever it is dogs do for family time, come to Nerima! I'll be waiting."
Shogi nodded and, keeping a half eye on his partner, slowly turned around and trotted off. Only after he'd disappeared around a corner and she'd waited five minutes to be safe did Ranma-chan let the smirk she'd been suppressing surface.
"Heh, good thing for me that Ryouga won't be any trouble for me to handle now," she remarked, her trademark confidence clearly restored. "By the time we meet again it'll all be over! Hehehe." An unwelcome thought occurred to her, and she frowned unpleasantly as she suddenly realized the one critical flaw in her otherwise brilliant plan. "Assuming I can find that idiot! For his sake, Ryouga better be in Nerima so I can wring his neck out 'cause if he isn't I'll wring it out twice as hard later!"
Completely ignoring the many stares she was receiving, Ranma-chan broke into a purposeful sprint and took off towards Nerima. Time waits for no man, and although she was technically a girl at the moment she wasn't about to let such minor technicalities get in the way. The sooner she fought and utterly defeated her rival the quicker she'd have her spot as Nerima's best martial artist back, and after the utterly mortifying training she'd just been through she was determined not to let anything stop her, not even the end of the world if it came to that.
Little did the young martial artist know as she dashed through the streets of Tokyo, it would.
Elsewhere that same morning, in a familiar restaurant with two even more familiar and equally truant youths a scene that both were sadly all too familiar with was playing out again.
"...Was that really necessary?" The Eternally Lost Boy released a long-suffering sigh from where he sat in front of the counter at Ucchan's and raised his head to give his attractive companion a pointed look. While he had scarce grounds on which to criticize communicating through violence considering his own track record on the matter, this routine was getting old and he didn't need an oversized spatula slammed over his head to understand that Ukyo was displeased with his lack of progress at wooing Akane. The irate looks she'd been sending his way every time he walked into her restaurant had become sharper than the edges of a Destructo Disk lately, making her unhappiness known to him with almost painful clearness.
For her part, the act of violence seemed to cheer Ukyo up and the glower that had been on her face moments ago transformed into a haughty grin at Ryouga's glare. "Of course it was! Trust me, you look less pathetic when you're angry than when you're sullen, and how else am I supposed to test my new adamantium spatula other than over your thick skull?" She eyed her favored instrument of combat and cutlery appraisingly and smiled at the results of her inspection. "See? No dents this time!" The lovely dark haired woman proudly held up her remarkably unmarred spatula for him to see. Unfortunately for Ryouga, his lack of common sense kicked in again.
"So?" the Lost Boy retorted, clearly unimpressed.
"Just double-checking, hon," Ukyo said vindictively and with a wicked smirk. "After all, with all the spatulas that have gone to the scrap heap because of you I want to make sure this one'll hold up after the warranty expires. And on a different note..." She resheathed her spatula and slammed both hands down on the counter in front of the Eternal Wanderer. "Ryouga, why aren't you at the Tendo's? Akane won't find out you love her if you spend all your time moping about here acting like you just discovered your mother's an international criminal!"
That got a reaction from the Lost Boy, but not the one the okonomiyaki chef had expected.
"Hey! I'll have you know that Mom's never hurt anyone with her thefts!" Ryouga replied defensively and a little hotly. "She's the nicest criminal mastermind you'll ever meet, honest!"
Ukyo blinked and stared at the Lost Boy in silence for several long moments. "That was a figure of speech, Ryouga," she said at last, not sure she wanted to know the answer to her next question but her curiosity was so strong she couldn't help asking anyway. "Your mother isn't actually a global outlaw...is she?"
As it was wont to do, the young martial artist's demeanor performed a complete 180 degree shift. "Wha? A joke? Yeah, ha ha hehe, I was...um...just playing along!" he said unconvincingly, further undermined by his nearly trademark nervousness. "After all, eh, it's not like, ha, my mother's the head of an international thieving organization with a sinister acronym like VILE or any...thing." The look on the fanged fighter's face clearly said that he'd revealed too much. "So, ah, let's forget I said anything about this at all, okay? Eheh..."
"It's not important!" Ryouga interrupted with borderline panic in his voice, stiffening in his stool. Remarkably, though, he managed to exert some control over himself a moment later and relaxed slightly. Wearing a strained smile, the brown-eyed youth changed the subject to less familial but equally uncomfortable matters. "So, anyway, let's talk about Akane! Yeah, Akane...what do you think I should do, Ukyo?"
The young chef was quiet for several seconds but eventually decided to let the previous topic drop. After all, breaking up Ranma and Akane was what was important to her, and the Lost Boy could have a vampire for a mother for all she cared about that...though that would explain the fangs..."I've told you countless times already, Ryouga!" she answered, refusing to allow such meaningless trains of thought to distract her. "The only way you're going to get Akane to look at you as anything other than a friend is to tell her how you feel! Just look at Ranma and me, for example! If I didn't keep reminding Ranma that I love him he wouldn't think of me as anything other than his best friend."
The Eternal Wanderer scratched the back of his head in confusion. "But Ukyo, Ranma does only think of you as his best frie-"
"You were saying, hon?" Ukyo said with the same sweetness of a gingerbread house that hides a witch, giant spatula held menacingly in both hands.
"Er...that might work for you, Ukyo, but Akane doesn't handle proclamations of love as well as Ranma," Ryouga spoke eventually, self-preservation instincts giving his common sense the volume it needed to warn him that he was better off not completing his earlier sentence. "Probably has to do with Kuno and all those guys at Furinkan who attack her everyday." He growled at this, angered by the thought of any man using force against a woman to make her go out with him. That was despicable and dishonorable, and those guys were lucky that Akane already gave them all the punishment they deserved. He wouldn't be as merciful.
"And more than that, I'm worried what'll happen if I do tell her," the talented martial artist said gloomily, mind shifting gears again. "Akane...to her I'm just a friend, but every time I work up the nerve to tell her how I feel she says something that reminds me of just how much our friendship means to her. I love her, but if she finds out and thinks I've only pretended to be her friend to get close to her it could poison our friendship, and I could lose her for good. And...it would cause her pain," he concluded sadly. "Hurting Akane is the last thing I want to do and...I dunno...maybe if it would make her happy, I should just accept being her friend forever."
Ukyo rolled her eyes and sighed disgustedly. Was it honestly too much to ask for a co-conspirator who didn't suffer from massive self-doubt and self-esteem issues that would make even Freud throw up his hands in dismay? No choice now but to taunt his idiotic masculine pride. "Ryouga, stop being such a coward!" she yelled, looking him squarely in the eye. "Despite what you think, it's not noble to suffer in silence for the sake of the woman you love just because you don't know if she'll return your feelings! That's just plain stupid, especially if there's a chance the two of you could be truly happy together! Besides, in this case Ranma is clearly meant to be with me so you'd be doing Akane a favor getting her out of that doomed relationship!"
"That still doesn't make telling her any easier!" Ryouga retorted irritably, annoyed by both his friend's tone, the truth of her words, and the cruel irony of the situation. His desire to see Akane again was one of the few things that had kept him going during the darkest hours on Namek, but now that the girl of his dreams was finally within reach she seemed farther away than ever. So much for happy endings after saving the world.
"Then don't!" the dark haired chef replied, surprising the Lost Boy. "Ryouga, you're clearly overthinking this," she continued in a softer, more persuasive tone. "Your options aren't just silence or confession. Yes, Akane's dense enough that it might take a full-blown declaration of love before she figures things out, but you can lessen the risk of scaring her away by working up to that! Instead of just training her, put the two of you in more obviously romantic situations by asking her to the movies or treating her to meals after your sparring sessions. In other words, take her out on dates without calling them dates! At the very least it'll be a step in the right direction, and it's better than your current strategy of indecision and hoping she'll make the first move."
"And besides," she added, lowering her voice and doing her best to grin playfully, "let's just suppose, hypothetically speaking, that you did miraculously manage to admit your feelings to Akane and she felt similarly. Do you honestly expect her to throw herself into your arms and all of a sudden you two become the happiest, lovey-doveiest couple in Nerima? Things like that take time, even with love."
The Lost Boy blushed and coughed in embarrassment. "N-no, of cour-course not. I would never think something so silly, though...th-that would be nice if it did happen that way, right?"
Ukyo sighed and rolled her eyes again. Honestly! She already had a low opinion of men (with one notable exception!) in general, in part because she'd pretended to be one for so long and knew firsthand just how stupid and immature they could be, but Ryouga tested even her depressed expectations at times. Was it any wonder why the urge to thwack him with her spatula was so hard to resist? Hm, speaking of which...
"That one was for good luck!" the okonomiyaki chef proclaimed cheerfully, giving the Lost Boy an encouraging smile. "Now go out there and make your parents proud, hon."
"Darn it Sis, we've been everywhere from Chicago to Czechoslovakia and back and she still escaped us! How does she do it?"
"I don't know, little bro. I'm still trying to understand how she got from Berlin to Belize so quickly! Even when we had her cornered in that corner in China she somehow appeared in Nashville and then dashed to Norway! It just doesn't make sense."
"Neither does stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza, but she did that too along with nabbing the Roman Coliseum and Machu Picchu! If we don't stop her soon there won't be any wonders of the world left!"
"Yeah, well, that's what ACME's here for. We'll solve this case, just as soon as we figure out...where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?"
"Intruder detected! Initializing security protocol 7-Theta-8B."
"Feh, not bad but I can do better! Mōko Takabisha!"
Tendo Nabiki smirked and took another sip of her tea as she sat on the floor next to the dining table and listened to the sounds of combat coming from her front yard. It seemed Ranma was back and getting familiar with their new Arquillian security system. Of course, she could easily spare him the inconvenience and reset it to standby mode, but where would the fun be in that? The middle Tendo daughter had no doubts about her future brother-in-law's ability to deal with the situation, and truth be told she was getting pretty tired of the house's newest protection. The startled looks on the faces of the hapless deliverymen had been fun at first but quickly lost value once they started raising their prices, and the lasers and sonic emitters were interfering with her business dealings. It had taken almost thirty minutes to talk that Toyoto representative down from that tree the other day.
Sure enough, a few rounds of laser-fire and several small clangs and explosions later Nabiki heard the sounds of someone sliding the front door open and kicking off their shoes. The irritated voice that followed was clearly Ranma's. "What's with the robot sentries I just trashed? That definitely wasn't the homecoming I expected."
"Good afternoon to you too, Ranma," Nabiki called out, taking in Ranma-chan's unharmed appearance as the redhead plodded her way to the dining room and sat down across from her. "I take it your training was harder than anticipated? We all expected you back a couple days ago."
The young martial artist groaned unhappily at the memory. "I'd rather not talk about it. Suffice it to say that Ryouga won't stand a chance in our next fight if I can find the idiot to challenge him! I've been looking for him since morning without any luck."
"You could try asking Akane. She's been spending a lot of time with Ryouga lately," the brunette suggested slyly, watching with amusement as Ranma-chan stiffened at her words. "Sis really appreciates the martial arts lessons he's been giving her."
"Martial arts lessons, eh?" An annoyed expression flashed across the youth's face before vanishing under a veneer of indifference. "Meh, good for her then. That tomboy needs all the help she can get when it comes to fighting, though I doubt Ryouga's lessons'll make much of a difference."
Nabiki didn't bother to hide the growing smile on her face. Oh how she was going to enjoy this! "I wouldn't be so dismissive, Ranma. Akane should be home any moment now, and you just might be surprised when you see her again." The brunette turned so she was facing the open door that looked out onto the koi pond.
Ranma-chan squinted at her puzzledly. "What are you talking abo-"
"I'm home!" Akane announced cheerfully from several feet above the yard, slowly descending to horizontally land just outside the door. Seeing her fiancé as she took off her shoes, her face momentarily beamed with happiness. It quickly shifted to a more neutral expression as she remembered her annoyance at Ranma-chan for refusing to tell her where she'd gone and not even calling, but the utterly flabbergasted look on the redhead's face improved her mood again. "Welcome home, Ranma. Your training went well, I assume?" the youngest Tendo asked pleasantly with a hint of smugness in her voice as she made her way to the table to join her sister and Ranma-chan.
"Wha?" The young martial artist looked at her blue haired fiancée with clear shock, injured pride and jealousy both flaring at the thoughts that Akane of all people could do something she couldn't and that Ryouga was the one who'd taught her how to fly. Knowing how hard it was to teach Akane anything, Ryouga must've spent hours if not days with her and-
"You're wearing the boy's school uniform!" Ranma-chan blurted recklessly, eager to focus her mind elsewhere and perhaps hesitant to give Akane the satisfaction of asking the question she clearly expected and wanted to hear. Whatever the reason, instead of getting angry at the remark the attractive teenager blushed slightly and looked down at her white t-shirt and dark pants.
"Yeah, well, it didn't take me long to realize that flying in a skirt isn't a good idea," the brown-eyed Tendo answered a little sourly, fidgeting. "Kuno taking this as further proof that I'm an angel's bad enough without a herd of perverts trying to get under me every time I float a few feet off the ground. Fortunately, with a little help from Ukyo I managed to convince the Principal to make another exception in the dress code."
"And by 'help' she means catching the Principal after Ukyo knocked him out of a window and sweetly asking him to let her change uniforms while dangling him several stories above the ground," Nabiki chimed in genially, conspicuously enjoying the conversation. "I'd say it would be a long time before he puts you through another swim test too, but this is Kuno-baby's dad we're talking about. Still, that was definitely one of the week's highlights."
"It's not as bad as Nabiki makes it sound, honest!" Akane protested, embarrassed. "It's not like I was actually going to drop him if he said no, and I would have put him down no matter what he said...eventually."
"Uh-huh," Ranma-chan replied dubiously, chuckling at the mental image that provoked anyway. Heaven knew that Hawaiian freak deserved a few scares, and it wasn't as if a fall from that height would do more than inconvenience any of the Kunos for more than a few days. They were as persistent as they were resilient, unfortunately for just about everyone else.
For her part, the middle Tendo sister let a cat-like smile bloom on her features. "Suuure you would have, Sis, just as I'm sure you wouldn't use your newfound power of flight to make trips to Okinawa without telling your loving family." At Akane's bout of nervous laughter, Nabiki simply shook her head in mock disapproval. "The souvenirs gave you away, Sis. And really, if you're going to fly to Okinawa and back every other day the least you could do is bring back some fresh sata andagi with you."(1)
"It's not like I'm there on leisure," Akane asserted defensively, sparing her sister a slightly embarrassed look. "It's part of my flight training with Ryouga, and he says that if I continue to make such fast progress we might be able to travel to Hawaii in another two weeks."
At the mention of 'Ryouga' and 'Hawaii,' Ranma-chan winced sharply, covering her reflexive jealousy a second later with a mask of scorn. "My, it certainly sounds like you're enjoying your training, Akane, though if you let Ryouga lead you anywhere you'll be lucky to reach your destination in a month. Then again, maybe you wouldn't mind getting lost for a little while, hmm?"
Akane's left eye twitched. "That'd at least be better than spending my time with a certain arrogant jerk," she said tersely, taking her finance's insinuations and insults about as well as she ever did...which was to say not well at all. "Ryouga and I might even try flying around the world as part of my training, and I've always wanted to visit Paris..."
"Yeah, well, I hope you can afford airfare 'cause once I'm through with Ryouga he won't be flying anywhere for a while," the redhead retorted contemptuously, crossing her arms. "You're better off staying at home with Kasumi anyway since a tomboy like you would probably crash into a flock of birds o' something." A curious note entered the confident Saotome's voice. "Speaking of whom, where's Kasumi? I was hoping she could heat up a kettle of hot water for me."
"She's on a date," Nabiki answered playfully, amused by Ranma-chan's incredulous "Date?" and her sister's dismayed sigh. "Wouldn't you know it, but hardly any sooner than you left a mysterious stranger walked into her life and swept my dear sister off her feet." She raised and clasped her two hands together beside her head, leaning against them theatrically. "How wonderfully romantic and so unlike the other guys in Nerima who wouldn't know what romance was even if it drove a steamroller over them."
If the young Saotome detected the slight, her mind was still reeling too much from the surprise of Kasumi doing something that was, well, not Kasumi-ish to react. Instead, it took Akane's next words to break her mental shock.
"It's not actually a date," the youngest Tendo clarified, rolling her eyes at her sister who smirked in response. "Kasumi simply happened to make a new friend who's visiting the city and will be leaving shortly, so she's been showing him around Tokyo to be nice." She smiled reassuringly. "Trust me, there's no more going on between the two of them than there is between Ryouga and me."
Ranma-chan shot her a disbelieving look, the jealous part of her mind in hackles over the double-meaning and the rest of her that knew better boggling over how Akane could be so astoundingly oblivious. Fortunately for the redhead's physical wellbeing, before she could formulate a response that Takahashi experts would claim had an 80% chance of inciting Akane's wrath a visitor arrived at the house.
"Hello?" the Eternally Lost Boy called out as he glided down onto the Tendo's yard near the koi pond, traveler's backpack and bamboo umbrella on his back. He grinned happily when he saw the youngest Tendo through the open side-door. "Ah, Akane, just the person I wanted to see! I was thinking that for today we could-" He trailed off abruptly when he laid eyes on Ranma-chan.
"YOU!" the two rivals shouted in perfect unison, pointing angrily at each other. The fanged Hibiki growled and reflexively reached for his red combat umbrella, but Ranma-chan was even quicker and practically vaulted away from the table in her haste to rush out and meet him. The two Tendo sisters exchanged worried looks (less worried than amused in Nabiki's case) and also stood up to walk into the yard. By the time they reached the door the two martial artists were already standing nearly toe to toe and glaring at one other. The redhead was the first to speak.
"Ryouga, I demand a rematch!" she exclaimed hotly, looking up at him with fire in her eyes. "I've seen hell because of you, and I'm not going to let you get away with it!"
The Eternally Lost Boy blinked, Ranma-chan's words having two opposite effects on him. In the first instance, they reminded Ryouga that he'd easily won their last battle and he had every reason to feel smug towards his rival. On the other hand, that was one of his lines!
"Damn it, Ranma, don't steal my lines!" the dark haired wanderer demanded irritably, gazing down at his rival with eyes that nearly smoldered. "No matter what hell you've been hiding from me in for the past week, it can't possibly compare to the agonies I've endured because of you! And if you want to be defeated again so badly, it'll be my delight to oblige you!"
"Ha! Ya just got lucky last time, P-chan!" Ranma-chan jabbed her left index finger at Ryouga's chest to enunciate her next words. "Our next battle will be a totally different story! Just the two of us, one-on-one, no holds barred! And when it's your beaten body lying on the ground, my honor will be restored! And you'll buy me ice cream to make up for all the indignities I've suffered because of you!"
"Feh, awfully confident for someone who-...wait, ice cream?" Ryouga asked puzzledly, squinting down dubiously at his rival who, suddenly realizing what she'd just said, felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment. "What does ice cream have to do with any of this?" An answer came to him a moment later, and his face became florid with rage.
"First you steal my lunch, and now you want to take my dessert too? Curse you, Ranma! I won't let you get away with this!" Ryouga batted away the redhead's finger and clenched his fists, just barely managing to restrain himself from trying to kill his rival on the spot. "I'll see you tomorrow after school at Furinkan if that works for you, and this time I won't go easy on you!"
"Good, maybe you'll last more than a minute!" Ranma-chan retorted, eager to move beyond her ice cream lapse and hoping that was the only wound the Master's mentally scarring teaching methods had inflicted on her psyche. The training had been embarrassing enough without her starting to act like the pink-eyed freak too. And speaking of embarrassing...
"But, uh, let's not fight at Furinkan, okay? One giant crater at school is enough, and I don't want you claiming that you were holding back so as not to hurt any bystanders after I've beaten you!" Ranma-chan fibbed, actually more worried about her classmates seeing her mortifying transformation sequence. She wanted to win, but she also wanted to be able to go to school without being laughed out of the building afterwards!
"Fine, I'll fight you wherever you want, Ranma, and just in case you think about running away to China again don't even bother," Ryouga spoke contemptuously with a grim smile on his face. "As minuscule as your battle aura is compared to mine, I can still track it and hunt you down no matter where in the world you hide! I'll meet you at four o'clock, and trust me when I say that I won't be the one making excuses when the fight's over."
He turned to glance at Akane, and his belligerent mood lessened slightly. "A-Akane, I'm sorry, but today...today's lesson should probably wait. There are a few techniques I want to practice before using them on Ranma, just to make sure that I only almost kill him. We c-can pick up where we left off after tomorrow." Giving his rival one last spiteful look, the Eternally Lost Boy turned and flew away. Ranma-chan remained rooted to the ground, watching her soaring rival intently, until finally Ryouga's form completely disappeared in the distance. And then she smiled crookedly.
"Heh, you won't be the only one training, Ryouga!" she declared, confidently crossing her arms over her chest and looking smug. "Tomorrow's our big day, and if you think I'm going to spend even a second between now and then relaxing think again! I promise on my honor as a martial artist that you will admit defeat tomorrow, even if I have to spend all night reading through Akane's Sailor Moon collection! Gwahahaha!"
Nabiki gave her blushing sister a sidelong look as her future brother-in-law continued to soliloquize, seemingly totally oblivious to the audience behind her. "Sailor Moon? My my, Sis, I thought you said you'd grown out of that phase and donated your childhood manga to the kids in the neighborhood?" she teased.
"I, uh, well, y'see..." the youngest Tendo answered hesitantly, nervously twiddling her thumbs together before, following the example of her father and Genma, deciding her best option in this situation was to evade answering the question all together. "Ranma you jerk! Don't announce it to the entire block!" she yelled, summoning a mallet and running over to her fiancé with what were clearly violent intentions.
The middle Tendo sister couldn't help but smile as Ranma-chan's speechmaking came to an abrupt halt as her body slumped unconscious to the ground, an angry Akane standing over her prone figure with a mallet raised high. In a way, it was nice to know that in a world where her younger sister could fly, they had a hover car stored in the dojo, and her older sister was dating a mysterious stranger, that some things remained the same. And speaking of that...
"Heh, I wonder if Kasumi's having as much fun as I am right now."
"Kasumi, are you all right?"
"Hm?" The comely brunette shook her head once and turned to face her companion, a friendly and apologetic smile on her face. "Yes, sorry. I'm not sure what came over me. What were you saying again, Jadeite?"
The dark general looked down at the young woman he was with, taking in every detail of her from her brown eyes to her casual blue dress and green jacket, and frowned slightly. "Are you sure?" he asked, injecting a note of concern into his voice. "You look a little tired. Maybe we should come back to Shinjuku Gyoen another day to see the cherry blossoms?"
Kasumi shook her head gently and reached for his left hand, pulling him forward playfully. "I'm fine, honestly, and it's not like the cherry blossoms will be there forever. I really want you to see them before you go so please, just trust me. Everything will be all right."
Unwilling to resist her, Jadeite nodded his head slightly and followed along as she led him deeper into the former imperial garden they were visiting. Shinjuku Gyoen was an oasis of greenery and natural splendor in the mammoth metropolis that was Tokyo, an eye-pleasing sanctuary of flora, trees, and well kept paths that projected a feeling of freedom and respite from the city's nearly deafening hustle-bustle. Even with the sizable number of fellow visitors they passed on their walk the park's peaceful ambiance almost gave the powerful mystic the sense that he was alone with Kasumi, and it was to her that his heavy thoughts turned. Though she hid it well, there was a hint of gloom to the brunette's features that had been there ever since he'd told her that he was leaving soon, and the knowledge that there was someone who would sincerely miss him nearly made the illusionist feel...wistful, of all the strange emotions to be experiencing now.
"I know I've said this before, but I really appreciate you taking the time to show me around," Jadeite spoke after a moment as he accelerated his pace to walk beside rather than behind Kasumi, uncharacteristically uncertain about what to say but wanting to break the silence anyway. He shot her a grateful smile as he continued to talk and analytically noted the subsequent coloring of her cheeks. "As I told you earlier, I have to leave sometime next week, but if there's anything I can do for you between now and then just say it and I will make it happen. That's a promise."
Kasumi returned his smile with a warm one of her own, though there was a touch of sadness to it. "You don't have to do anything, Jadeite. I'm always glad to meet new people and make new friends, and I'm happy to be of help. Besides," she added, looking at him with a sheen to her eyes that was unreadable even to him, "our time together has been enjoyable to me too, so don't think any of this has been a burden to me."
"Never, and...I'm glad to be your friend. They're not something I have a lot of," the blue-eyed mystic confided quietly, drawing incrementally closer to her so their hands almost brushed as they walked through the park together. The density of trees increased as they approached one of the more popular cherry blossom viewing areas, and the general's lips quirked upwards in what could have passed as a grin. "Though I must say, the odds of finding another friend or anyone who could compare with your kindness are slim, even if I spent an eternity searching the universe."
The shorter brunette's head listed to the side as she turned to regard him, blushing faintly. "My, I think you're giving me too much credit, Jadeite," Kasumi said softly though she didn't seem displeased by the compliment. "Friends are each special in their own way and you're not supposed to compare them to one another and besides, I'm just me."
"Just me?" Jadeite repeated with a shake of his head, smiling disarmingly. "Kasumi, you're-" His next words were preempted by a particularly strong gust of wind that sent the young Tendo's long hair fluttering behind her and cascaded the two of them with loose cherry blossoms. To the general's surprise, he felt his breath catch in his throat as the scarlet and pink petals swirled around and seemingly gently caressed the serene brunette. This wasn't the first time Jadeite had seen this floral effect and he easily identified it as one of the colorful, trite tropes mass-produced in the media of this and many other worlds...but now, for the very first time, the blue-eyed soldier finally understood its charm.
Kasumi looked up at the words, a surprised and inquisitive expression on her face. Jadeite didn't blame her. For once, the mystic had spoken honestly without any lies or intent to deceive in his blackened heart, and there was a power and conviction in his voice that he had often simulated but which had never been genuine before. Gazing at her now and seeing her undeniable, unvarnished loveliness, he felt something approaching actual affection as he raised a hand to gently brush her cheek. Once again, the young woman didn't pull back and only continued to watch him with her deep, questioning hazel eyes, and the sight brought to mind their last visit to a park where he'd manipulated her into a similar situation. This time Jadeite planned neither to drain her lifeforce nor engage in osculation, though, and instead he sighed once and did something even rarer for him. He continued to speak the truth.
"Kasumi, there are many memories I'd love to be rid of...but our time together isn't one of them. I want you to know that, no matter what happens next, I will never forget you or your friendship. Thank you." He lowered his arm and took a step back, letting the outside world intrude between them again. This also had the effect of breaking the nonexistent spell the brunette was under, and she clasped her hands in front of her tranquilly, a beatific softness to her eyes.
"You speak as if we'll never see each other again, Jadeite, but surely that isn't true." Kasumi shook her head gently, as if to kindly remand him for his assumption. "Wherever your journeys take you, you will always be my friend and you will always be welcome in my home." A flash of uncertainty crossed her features, and in that moment she made a decision. "You told me that if there was anything you could do for me between now and when you leave that you'd do it. So please, promise me that you'll keep in touch and visit." She looked at him imploringly. "The world can be a lonely place to travel without people who care waiting for you to come back."
The wistful smile on Jadeite's face never faded, but the warmth quickly died as truth gave way to lies again. "Very well, Kasumi, if that will make you happy. I promise I'll return to visit you someday."
Even with all his skill at deception the impossible vow still sounded hollow to him, but it pleased his companion and her shining smile almost made him feel it had been worth it.
It was an unusual afternoon in Shinagawa Ward. The crowds of people and incessant activity typical of Tokyo were absent, leaving a profound sense of emptiness made all the eerier by the silently towering office buildings, department stores, and apartment complexes casting their long, ominous shadows over the abandoned concrete streets. Signs that even as little as a few hours ago Shinagawa had still been inhabited were strewn all about in the form of crumpled newspapers, dropped beverage bottles, and tossed wrappers, the city's usual reputation for cleanliness forgotten in the need for urgency caused by the unknown reason behind the ward's emptying out.
Perhaps even stranger, though, were Shinagawa's only two current occupants. The short redhead girl in the school uniform was not unusual despite the rarity of her hair color, but she radiated a sense of power and confidence that would have made her stand out even in Tokyo's thickest crowds. In the emptiness of the large four-way intersection she now stood in the center of this trait was magnified. What truly made the scene bizarre, though, was the clearly annoyed off-colored canine chewing the young woman out.
"-don't believe this! Using a Jusenkyo curse to learn an ancient martial arts style by deceiving me and the Master? Do you have any idea what the consequences will be once she finds out about this?" Shogi whined worriedly, head darting back and forth anxiously as if he expected the mere mention of their teacher's name to summon her. Slightly relieved by the lack of pink-eyed demon women, he refocused his attention on his 'partner'. "And then there's the fact that you're my mother's human owner's sworn enemy! What did I ever do to you to be put in this situation, Saotome Ranma?"
Ranma-chan reached behind her to scratch the back of her neck sheepishly. "Ah...heheh, I see you, uh, figured it out. Mind if I ask ya how...and why you're back so early? It's been barely more than a day since we last saw each other!"
The black and white dog sniffed affrontedly. "You might have tricked me, Ranma, but Mom's an S-Class ninja! She recognized your scent on me the second I returned home and told me all about your previous masquerade as Hibiki Yoiko! From there it was simple to figure out what was going on and that your training had all been a desperate ploy to gain the upperhand against your rival!" The young puppy narrowed his eyes angrily. "So much for everything you said about trust."
The talented martial artist looked down at her vexed familiar and sighed. While everything she'd done was absolutely necessary in her mind, it was unfortunate that Shogi had been dragged into this. The canine hadn't done anything wrong other than being crazy enough to actually want to be an animal familiar and had even given her the benefit of the doubt. And now, because of her, his very first assignment was a tangled mess of lies and tainted loyalties. Even if Shogi hadn't been a disarmingly cute puppy Ranma-chan would still feel bad. Still, defeating Ryouga had to come first so...
...so it was time to employ the Master's Seishinnyo Hikanrui special technique!(2)
"You deserve better, Shogi," the redhead said guiltily, bending over to pet him on the head gently. "And I feel bad about getting you involved in this. Really, I do! That's why I wanted ya to be as far away as possible from this battle," she fibbed, crouching down so she didn't tower over her partner so much. "And if you wanna, I'll go back with ya to the Master's school after all this, explain the situation, and apologize so you'll be free to start afresh with a new magical girl." Dropping him off there with a note probably wouldn't cut it, she thought ruefully, but she'd figure out how to let the Master know what had happened without actually facing her later.
"It's just...ya don't understand the relationship I have with Ryouga," she spoke heavily, looking away as she summoned the power of her soul and let it infuse her and her voice. "He and I...this is what we do. We fight, we train, we fight some more, and at the end of the day we laugh it all off and get ready for the same tomorrow. Our rivalry drives our friendship, and Ryouga's one of the few true friends I have." She sighed dispiritedly and clenched a fist in mock frustration, pulling out all of her acting abilities. "But now...Ryouga's gotten so much better, and if I can't fight him on equal terms how are we supposed to relate to each other? This was the only way I could compete with him again!"
Ranma-chan added a note of desperation to her voice and turned vulnerable, pleading blue eyes on her familiar, channeling her power upward. Only a few more seconds..."I don't expect you to forgive what I've done, Shogi, and maybe even understanding is probably too much to ask for. Heck, Ryouga and me barely understand each other outside our rivalry. But please, try to accept it for just a little longer. For my sake and Ryouga's, we need to fight again and I need to show him that our battle isn't over yet. Otherwise..."
"Otherwise...what reason will he have to come back and see me again?" she lamented, lower lip quivering. "Our competition binds us together, and without it...Ryouga's journeys will take him elsewhere...away from Nerima, and away from me. And I can't let that happen. I WON'T let that happen, because he's my friend!" A single perfect tear, beautiful in its sadness and impossible to ignore, dropped from her left eye, glistening myriadly in the light as it fell in a second made heavy by the weight off a burdened, purehearted soul. "So please, Shogi, don't try to stop me," the martial artist pleaded, voice rife with emotion. "This will be over soon enough, and then we can sort things out from there."
The black and white canine looked at Ranma-chan dubiously for a moment but was no match for a sad female face accentuated by a special technique that probably had far more in common with Genma's branch of Anything Goes than his son would ever admit. "All right, all right," he said uncomfortably, shifting listlessly and trying not to meet the ocean of gloom his partner's eyes had become. "The Master will definitely hear about this, but I'll wait for you to settle things with Ryouga first. Don't expect me to help you out during the battle, though, and I...uh, I hope you know that I'm rooting for Ryouga to win!" he asserted unconvincingly. "I'll stay in the neighborhood to watch, but unless the situation gets totally out of hand I won't interfere. You're on your own for this one!"
Ranma-chan beamed gratefully, face lighting up with more brightness than Las Vegas at night. "Thank you so much, Shogi! I won't forget this!" she said excitedly, wrapping her arms around him in a warm hug and squeezing tightly as she inwardly congratulated herself on her performance. Now if only defeating Ryouga would be this easy...
Shogi struggled futilely for a moment to get out of the redhead's grip before she finally released him. Free again, he gazed at her uncertainly for a second, conflicted emotions on his furry face. "Well...be seeing ya," he muttered, turning around to walk away and find someplace to watch from a safe distance. "And, uh, even though I want you to lose don't get hurt too badly, okay?" he called from behind his shoulder, a hint of poorly disguised worry in his voice. Before Ranma-chan could respond to his concerned comment, he ran off.
"Feh, I won't be the one hurting when all this is over," the young martial artist said confidently to herself, rising to her feet and turning to face the sun, fully expecting the Eternally Lost Boy to come from that direction. This was less a reasoned deduction and more a gut instinct honed by a lifetime of battle experience that told her arriving from any other angle simply wouldn't be appropriately dramatic. And sure enough, judging by the flying blur of green light she spotted a few minutes later rapidly approaching her, it seemed her instincts were right.
"And now..." the redhead said eagerly, cracking her knuckles in front of her as she gazed intently at the approaching viridian speck. "It's time for the main event."
To be continued...IMMEDIATELY.
(1) Sata andagi is a type of fried donut Okinawa is well-known for. Apparently Osaka from Azumanga Daioh is famous for liking it too, judging by the Youtube video remixes on the matter...which would probably be creepy if they weren't so amusing. Kind of like this story, I suppose. :)
(2) I don't know what methods Rumiko Takahashi uses to name martial arts techniques, but here I chose an intended meaning in English, looked up matching kanji, and then selected the kanji readings I wanted to use. In this case, sei is one of the readings for the kanji meaning "pure," shin for "heart," nyo for "woman," hi for "sad," kan for "feeling," and rui for "tears." Put it together and you have Sadness Tears of the Pure-Hearted Woman. For someone fluent in Japanese this probably seems painfully cobbled together for which I apologize. Hopefully it sounds cool, though.
Addendum: Remember how I said I was going to try to have the next chapter up quicker than the previous one? Well...it clearly didn't turn out that way. I'd like to say that the reason this update has taken so long is because I've been busy editing and trying to make this chapter the best it can be, and while that's partly true I also got distracted playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2. A great game that could have been even better had the content that was cut to meet the deadline been included, in my opinion. Oh, and I've been busy with school and finals too, but since that's actually a legitimate excuse it doesn't really fit here, does it? :)
Anyway, the two parts of Chapter 4 were originally supposed to be Chapter 3 Part 2, but after looking through the story for who knows what time it occurred to me that for readability purposes it would make sense to break it up. Chapter 3 Part 1 is now just Chapter 3, and Part 2 is now a split Chapter 4. Current plans call for a Chapter 5 and an epilogue to wrap things up, but since plans have already changed once they could change again. Regardless of what structure the finished story ultimately takes, though, I hope the whole audience enjoys reading it. Thanks for staying with this story despite the incredibly long intervals between updates, and now, without further adieu, here's Part 2.