The majestic mountain was towering over the outback of the small town of Gate. The peace and quiet that seemed to surround the tall mountain almost made one forget the evil that was dwelling underneath, deep in the bowels of the earth...
Still, the people had faith that whatever would come up to disturb their peace would always be hindered to do so by their guardian... the dragon that was resting on top of the mountain.
More majestic than even the mountain itself, the enormous Kaiser Dragon towered over the town and its surrounding woods and grasslands. Its front legs and its massive head were resting over the three entrances to the mountain itself, effectively sealing them off against any demon that might be struggling against them from the inside.
Its giant eyes, each one as big as a human's head, were closed. The dragon was sleeping peacefully.
Down below, at the foot of the mountain, two young individuals were standing, two female members of two different races.
One girl had long, blue hair and dark blue dragon wings that were folded on her back. She was dressed in a skimpy, but effective, red leather armor.
The other girl had short, red hair, striped fur that was covering most of her legs and lower torso, as well as her pointed ears and her long tail. Her armor as almost as skimpy as that of her dragon-winged friend, but was made of more metal. She was also carrying a long stick.
Patty, also known as the 'Phantom Thief', gently put down the bags and heavy stone figure she was carrying. Behind her, her feline friend was doing the same.
She smiled up at the motionless face of the dragon. "Hey there, big brother! Would you look at that? The villagers once again made you so many presents, can you believe it? Here, the old stone cutter even created a small statue that looks just like you."
She put down the figurine onto the big stone plate that had been placed in front of the sealed middle entrance, right beneath the dragon's muzzle. Here, many other presents for the heroic dragon have been placed.
"I still don't believe it..." Patty sighed. "My own brother, having become this famous..."
"Well, the people know that it was him who went down there to defeat the demon," Katt spoke up. "I figure they will think twice before turning to such a questionable 'religion' such as St. Eva..."
"Not that I'm not proud of what Ryu did... he's my big brother, after all. But, sometimes I believe the people forget that you, Nina, Rand, Sten and the others helped as well."
"Well, yeah, we always have been the 'sidekicks', you know?" the young Woren girl grinned bashfully. "We all know that it was your brother who held the group together as our leader... and wasn't it Ryu who in the end sacrificed himself to seal off the gates with his dragon form?"
"You almost speak of him as if he were dead," Patty grumbled as she crossed her arms over her ample bosom. "He's only sleeping... and one day, I'm sure, he will wake up again. Maybe... maybe when someone else will take his place."
Katt wanted to point out that she and her brother have been the only surviving members of the Dragon Clan that aren't sealed away in the underworld... but she wisely decided to shut her mouth for now.
With a sigh, Patty looked up at the sleeping face of Ryu's dragon form one last time, before she turned around and said: "Well, let's go!"
Katt nodded, and together, they walked back to town.
"Say, 'Patty'," Katt suddenly spoke up. "Do you still plan to carry this name? I mean, it's not like you still have to hide anything, with St. Eva gone and all..."
"Well, maybe, but this is the name I used for the past ten years, Katt," the dragon girl sighed. "'Yua' was just a little girl who ran away from home, because she couldn't save her father and brother..." She shook her head. "No, I prefer my current name, girl... That doesn't mean I would ever deny my true family name, but this is just the name I'm more comfortable with, you understand?"
"Yeah, I guess I can," Katt nodded with a sigh.
Patty blinked in confusion and looked at her red-headed friend. For a while, she believed to see something in the Woren's eyes that she had never seen before. Something like... regret? Sadness? She didn't get it.
Well, if Katt didn't want to talk about it, she would respect that decision. She would tell in time if she needed some help from her friends.
"So... you remember how I told you of that small vacation I've planned? I wanted to do a little bit of traveling, and visit all of our friends. You still wanna come?"
"Yeah, sure!" Katt said, perking up. "I can't wait to see them all again. Rand sure must have his hands full with his mother's farm... and Sten must have received his promotion by now. And Bow is still working as a ranger in HomeTown. You hear something from the others?"
"Well, Spar is just dwelling within the forest, being her calm little self. Nina is still in the middle of learning what it means to be a princess, now that Mina is stuck in her Great Bird form... Nina still tries to get on terms with that, I think. Bleu has returned to her little desert cave. I doubt that we'll be able to find it again... and to tell you the truth, I don't plan on going into the desert, just to visit an old friend. And Jean..." She shudders. "Well, who knows whatever is going on in that frog's head..."
"Yeah, our little frog prince has always lived in his own little world," Katt grinned. "Your father does approve of your journey, does he?"
"Well, he knows that I need to stretch my wings, every now and then," the Phantom Thief grinned. "What about you? Don't you have any relatives you wanna meet again? You never told us about your home, by the way. Rand told me you have been a warrior at the Coliseum in Coursair ever since he started working there. So where do you come from?"
She saw how her furry friend hesitated. "I... I don't really have a home," she sighed. "Before I met Ryu, I simply wandered around, seeing if there was a town that needed a strong fighter."
"And your family?" Patty asked. "Don't you have someone you would like to go back to?"
"I... I can't say for sure," the Woren said in a silent voice. "It has been such a long time I saw them, I wonder if they... if they would recognize me like this..."
"Hey, I'm sure they would be proud that their daughter has turned into such a fine warrior as yourself, girl!" Patty smirked. "So, you don't know where they are right now?"
"No, I... I don't know how to go back to them," Katt replied. "You know how it is with us Woren, right? We're the smallest of our tribe, and it would just be a big coincidence, running into a member of our tribe."
"True, Tiga has been the only Woren I've seen, except for you... oops!" Patty put her hands in front of her mouth. "I'm sorry, I didn't want to remind you of... You still must have some feeling for him."
"It's okay," Katt sighed. "He was a nice guy, but there never was something as love between us, even if he believed so for a while. Still, it's a shame what happened to him and Claris..."
She sighed again. "Sorry, Patty, I just need some time for myself... could you leave me alone for a while? I'll come back to your father's house in a while."
"Um, sure... no problem!" Patty nodded, wondering what sore spot she has hit now. But she saw that her friend wanted to deal with it by herself and left her for now.
Katt sat down on a big boulder, just outside of town. She put her arms on her knees and sighed, yet again.
Being reminded of that tragedy with Tiga had awakened yet another memory in the back of her head, which she had preferred not to think about anymore. And when Patty had started to talk about her family...
If she only...
She shook her head. "No!" she firmly said. "I won't see them again, ever! I came to terms with that, and there's nothing I can do about it."
A single tear ran down her furry cheek. "If only... forgetting wasn't that hard..." she whispered.
Out of her belt pouch, she pulled a small item, a locket that was formed like a horse.
She opened it. On either side, a picture was visible. Three different people were on those pictures... humans, with no trace of fur on their bodies.
On the left picture, she could see an adult woman, mature but still good-looking, with red hair that looked so similar to her own. She was dressed in an elegant kimono. Next to her, a portly man wearing a white gi and a kerchief upon his bald head was standing, holding her with his arm.
Katt sniffed. "Mom... Pops..." she whispered.
She then looked at the other picture, which showed a young, smiling girl with short, dark hair. Only her face was visible, but it was this face that made the feline girl cry. It was the memory of... the only person she had really ever loved.
How long was it since she had looked the last time at that locket? Looking at those pictures reminded the crying girl of so many things...
Like her real name, for instance...
She reached up to the backside of her head, where a red pigtail had once been dangling.
"Akane..." the girl formerly known as Ranma Saotome whispered. "I'm sorry... I'm sorry I can't come back to you... ever..."
The phone rang.
A small, wrinkled hand picked it up. "Yes, Nekohanten?"
Cologne, elder of the Chinese Amazon Tribe, listened to what the speaker on the other end of the line had to say and nodded.
"She did? Well, that's certainly good news. Yes, Shampoo will be glad to hear about that as well." A short pause. "Oh, not too good, I'm afraid. I believe she's still blaming herself for what happened... she hasn't spoken a word ever since." A sigh. "She also seems to spend much more time in her cat form. Yes. Yes, of course I'll tell her."
Another pause. "She asked to see me? Well, I can close early today, it wouldn't hurt our business much... No, we won't bring Mousse. Yes, I think so, too. Thank you, Mr. Tendo! Yes, we will hurry. See you in a while..."
She hung up. "Shampoo? Where are you, child? I have good news!"
She walked through the restaurant searchingly, looked into the kitchen and finally found her great-granddaughter lying on her bed in her room... in her cat form. "Shampoo! Guess what, Kasumi just woke up from her coma. Isn't that good news?"
Shampoo raised her head from where she was lying and looked at her great-grandmother with a hopeful expression. With a feline sigh of relief, she stood up and followed her great-grandmother downstairs, where a kettle of hot water was waiting.
"Now, hurry up and change back! Kasumi has requested the presence of both of us."
Shampoo-neko looked up at her questioningly.
"Yes, Mr. Tendo said so himself. You are welcome to come. Now, hurry up, we don't want to keep them waiting."
Later, the two Amazons were standing in front of the Nerima hospital. Shampoo, who was back in her human form, looked up at the building and sighed.
"I know this will be hard for you, child... but I'm pretty sure no one up there will blame you for what happened to Kasumi OR for Ranma's disappearance."
Shampoo didn't say a word, but her look and her raised eyebrows said everything.
Cologne sighed. "Yes, even Akane! I mean, it has been two years, surely she will have put aside that silly little grudge of hers. Of course it's a long time for someone to be in coma, but they all have seen how sorry you are. Now come and go up there. Kasumi has been out of it for two years, you don't want to refuse her request to see you, do you?"
Shampoo shook her head and Cologne smiled. "Well, let's go then."
"You did WHAT?" Akane Tendo shrieked so loud, that the nurse that was going past them threw her an angry glare. Akane remembered that this was a hospital and lowered her voice a bit. "What do you mean, you called Shampoo? Dad, all of this happened only because of that ditzy fool of an Amazon! And you're going to allow her to come close to Kasumi?"
Soun Tendo massaged his temples. "Akane, it was Kasumi's own wish to see her. And while I know all of this has started with Shampoo's little... experiment, I don't think she could have anticipated all of what happened... especially not that Kasumi would suddenly appear at the Nekohanten."
"Oh, so now it's suddenly Kasumi's fault that she has been in coma for two years?" the youngest Tendo sister ranted.
"Of course not," Soun sighed. "Listen, you know that Kasumi just came to the Nekohanten because she decided to take some ramen home with her... she didn't know that Ranma and Shampoo were doing their 'special training' in there."
"Training?" Akane huffed. "Daddy, that dumb broad changed herself into a cat deliberately, even though she knows that Ranma is terrified of cats. No wonder he entered the Neko-ken... and you know how dangerous Ranma can be to anyone in this state of mind."
"Well, from what Cologne told me, her great-granddaughter was just trying to cure Ranma from his fear of cats..."
"You think Ranma would be dumb enough to fall for a lie like that? It's obvious that they have used some hypnotic herbs again. I still think they know pretty well where Ranma has vanished to after this incident."
"Akane..." her father groaned. "Kasumi, Ranma and Shampoo were the only persons present, and Shampoo hasn't spoken ever since that day. We don't really know the whole situation here. Don't you think we should wait until Kasumi has told us the whole story behind all of this?"
"I still don't see why Cologne and Shampoo have to be present for that..." Akane grumbled.
"Because it was Kasumi's first request after she woke up," Soun said sternly. "Now you're going to respect your sister's wish, do I make myself clear, Akane?"
Akane's frown just deepened, but then she turned around and stormed down the corridor in the opposite direction of her father.
Soun scratched his head. "Akane... what am I going to do with you?" he sighed.
When he heard a strange noise, he turned around. He smiled in relief when he realized that it was just the clopping of Cologne's stick, as the Amazon elder pogoed out of the lift towards him, followed by Shampoo.
The young amazon warrior was looking very miserable. She didn't even look up from the ground once, and her beautiful hair was a mess. She seems to take what happened much more to heart than Soun had assumed.
He smiled at them. "Cologne, Shampoo! Good that you could make it!"
"How could we say no?" Cologne said in greeting. "After all, it was kinda our fault..."
Soun noticed how Shampoo winced under her great-grandmother's words and she looked even further away from him.
"I don't know what to do with her," Cologne said in a whisper. "She doesn't talk, she barely eats and she hasn't trained her battle skills for months... I'm really concerned about her future as an Amazon."
She coughed. "Well, how is Kasumi? Is she feeling fine?"
Soun smiled. "Yes, she's fine! She's wide awake and has an appetite I've never seen on her. And she seems to remember clearly what happened. But... she doesn't want to tell us until the two of you are present to hear it as well."
"Well, I must say I am pretty anxious about hearing the truth of what really happened. Are her sisters with her?"
"Well, Nabiki is with her now, along with Ranma's parents... Akane, well, she has just left, but I think it's best she wouldn't meet Shampoo right now anyway."
Cologne frowned. "Is she still holding a grudge towards her?"
Soun nodded. "Cologne, I know our families haven't always been on equal terms, but I know Shampoo would never do something to harm Ranma, so I am assuming everything that happened was just an accident. But... you really don't know where Ranma could have vanished to after all of this?"
The elder shook her head. "I'm sorry, I have just so many magical items in my possession... anything could have happened. Or, for a reason I can't quite see, Ranma ran away on his own and decided not to come back."
"Well, hopefully Kasumi will give us an answer to that... Please, come in! Everyone has been waiting for you."
Cologne nodded. After waving Shampoo, the purple-haired girl followed the two adults reluctantly into the hospital room.
Kasumi was sitting upward in bed, her eyes as wide awake as before those two years, and with that cute smile of hers that everyone had missed on her face.
When the door opened, this smile was directed at the two newcomers. "Shampoo! Cologne! How nice of you to come!"
"Well, I can't say we weren't worried for you, Miss Tendo," Cologne said. "I'm glad to see that you seem to be fine."
"Oh yes, the doctors said that I'll probably be able to leave the hospital over the week. Everything has healed quite nicely."
"That's good to hear," Cologne smiled. Then, her face took on a serious look. "Kasumi... I'm sorry I have to pester you with this, but... do you really remember what happened on that day?"
Kasumi's smile vanished and made place for a sad frown. "Yes, I remember all too well, elder," she said in a quiet voice. Everyone in the room looked at her in surprise. It was very rare to see Kasumi with such a serious look on her face.
"Well, Shampoo only told me that she wanted to do something against Ranma's fear against cats," Cologne spoke up. "She didn't tell me all the details... and if I knew what would have happened, I would have never accepted that challenge of Happosai." She sighed. "It turned out to be an invitation for a date anyway..."
"Excuse me, but I think I speak for everyone in here when I say that we don't need to hear the details about that 'date'," Nabiki said.
"Yes, you're right," Cologne nodded.
"Well, after I walked back home from the grocery store, I came past the Nekohanten, as usual," Kasumi started her tale. "I decided to take some ramen with me... your ramen is always so delicious," she smiled at Cologne. "But then, I heard some strange noises coming from inside. It almost sounded like... a cat's meow. I was curious and went inside..." She sighed. "I probably shouldn't have done that. Well, when I came in, I saw Ranma and Shampoo... Ranma was on all fours and hissed at Shampoo, who was in her cat form. I realized that she must have awakened the Neko-ken.
Well, what I did next was pretty careless of me... I figured, with Akane not nearby, I could be able to calm down Ranma in his feral state." She looked down. "It seems I was wrong. For some reason, Ranma reacted all hostile towards me when I approached. I stumbled backwards and fell. While he slowly approached me, Shampoo must have ran into the kitchen, because I could see her coming into the room shortly after, in the nude, her body dripping with water. She kicked Ranma away from me, but that only made him angry. Now he attacked her, and I could see that she had trouble defending herself against him. I should have fled to get some help at that point... but I believed I had to do something to help Shampoo. So I got a large frying pan from the kitchen and tried to knock Ranma out from behind."
"Kasumi..." Soun murmured. His eldest daughter had never been interested in the arts, so he really couldn't see why she thought she could simply knock down Ranma with a frying pan.
"It was a silly idea, I know... but I just wanted to help them both. Sadly, Ranma noticed me and knocked the pan out of my hands." She shuddered. "Things kinda got blurry after that, but... I remember lying on the ground, with a sharp pain in my chest. Ranma was standing in front of me, on his two legs, and Shampoo was lying unconscious on the ground."
Kasumi really looked sad now. "Ranma kept shaking his head and saying 'No!' over and over again. I... I could see how his hands were shaking. He then stumbled backwards, against an old shelf that was filled with what looked like Chinese artifacts. Some of the stumbled over and broke on the floor... The last thing I remembered before I lost consciousness was that Ranma screamed out loudly... and then a bright flash. Well, maybe it was just my imagination... but I believe that Ranma was gone even before I closed my eyes."
Cologne shivered. She knew she should have locked away some of the old, magical artifacts. "Kasumi... this is very, very important! Do you remember which artifact Ranma touched before he vanished?"
"Well, there ave been so many various things, and I couldn't quite concentrate in that moment, but... I believe it was a mirror."
"A mirror?" Genma asked in alarm. "Not that mirror that brought us back in time?"
"I believe it looked kinda different... it was a mirror that would normally hang on a wall, and it was really surprising that it didn't shatter on the floor, that's why it caught my eye in the first place."
With a loud clatter, Cologne's stick fell to the ground.
Shampoo looked at her great-grandmother in alarm, and the other occupants of the room looked at her in surprise as well.
"No, that can't be..." the old woman muttered to herself. "After all that time... not THAT mirror..." She groaned. "And I believed I already got rid of it..."
"What do you mean, Cologne?" Nodoka asked. "Do you know what happened to my Ranma? Can we find him again? What is that mirror?"
Cologne buried her face in her hands. "I hoped... I hoped I would never have to deal with that person again, but if what I suspect is true, then... then it's the mirror... of Bleu!"