Ranma sighed after another long day of being groped and hit by fiancées and rivals. You would figure that everyone would get tired of chasing him; seeing how they have been doing it for 2 years now, and nothing had changed from day one. He had half-heartedly hoped that some of the fiancées would have given up by now. He didn't particularly like anyone of them more than the other. They each had something alluring about them, but that was extremely offset by something else. Shampoo was like a big cuddly sex-toy, but she was almost psychotic when it came to 'winning' him. He supposed her determination should be admired. However, living his life away in a remote area of China with a bunch of women with a superiority complex was not on his to-do list. Ukyo would make good company if she wasn't so busy daydreaming about having a bunch of little versions of him running around in the background while he helps run her shop. He loves her food, but not that much. Akane would be closest to what he wants, especially since marrying her involves the art, but staying around a dojo day in and day out teaching classes doesn't bring new adversaries and new techniques. That is not including the high risk of dying of food poisoning or death by mallet. Sometimes she shows a hint of caring, but bludgeoning him with blunt objects is a very odd way of showing it. That might just be a preview for a long and painful marriage. Something tells him even after they got married, she would still smash him for just talking to woman.

Ranma snorted. She probably would still smash me for walking in on her in the furo.

Ranma sighed and slid his shoes off at the door stepping into the house, ready for any more insanity to leap at him. He was long overdue for a new fiancée. He started getting antsy when there wasn't at least one a month.

"I'm home!" Ranma shouted. He paused to see if there was any chaos waiting. He got an pleasantly unexpected normal response from Kasumi.

"Welcome home!" There was a pause. "Ranma, there is a package here for you."

Ranma frowned and went towards the living room. His challengers normally didn't send packages. Just letters of challenge. And that was only when he was lucky. They were more likely to attack him at school, or on the way to or from school.

"It is on the table." Kasumi elaborated.

Ranma saw a small box, the size of a the one used for a ring. He started getting angry.

"This better not be another marriage scheme by the dumb panda," Ranma muttered under his breath.

He tore off the paper and it was indeed a ring box. He quickly stuffed it in his pocket and made for his room. He had no idea how no one else hadn't opened it up yet and drew their own conclusions. Privacy was a scarce commodity around this dojo. Scratch that, his privacy was a scarce commodity. Ranma shrugged. Thank god for small favors.

He sat Indian style on the floor of his room. After the failed wedding his father had moved back in with his mother. It was decided Ranma would stay here, so he could continue 'getting to know his fiancée'. He still missed his mother, but not as much since she had found out about his curse. She still waved that contract around occasionally, and seemed to have some skewed ideas of how he should act. She probably thought it odd that he didn't have 5 kids by now, and several on the way. It was much safer for his neck and sanity to not live with her. Of course, that didn't mean the panda didn't come spend half his day here play Shogi.

Ranma opened the box and found a folded note. On the outside it said, "To my worthy adversary:" He unfolded it.

Saotome Ranma,

I thank you for giving me one of the most enlightening battles of my life. No one else I have fought could yet compare to me, but my father. You showed me there was more in the world than I imagined. A human defeating a dragon… ha! It was a much humbling experience. I give you this gift as a thank you for a great battle, and for saving my life. I consider us friends, perhaps maybe even brothers. If you ever desire something of me, just request it.

Sincerely,

Prince Herb of the Musk Dynasty.

PS : Don't worry about damaging my gift. It is ancient and indestructible. There is more to it that meets the eye.

Ranma folded the letter back up and looked inside the box. He pulled the ring out of its stand and examined it. It looked to be gold with some sort of runic markings around it. It turned it around and looked for anything odd about it other than the markings. He found nothing. The pigtailed boy cupped his chin thoughtfully. He had no where he could put the ring, without trusting it would get stolen. Nabiki would probably take it and call it payment for his debt to her. She charged him for a hefty bit of the damages for the wedding. Though, for once, Ranma had no intention of paying her for that. He may not have the guts to tell her that to her face, but she was the one that attracted all that chaos. Maybe he should be thanking her, however. After the destroyed wedding, Ranma thought things would change, but nothing did, including between him and Akane. If anything, the fiancées were getting more desperate and that was making Akane more volatile.

It did say it was indestructible, right?

Ranma decided to slide it on his middle finger, so no one gets any stupid ideas of it being an wedding ring or the like. When the ring moved past the second knuckle, a glow seemed to emanate from underneath it. The runes started glowing in sequence, like someone was tracing them with light. That caused Ranma to panic and he tried to pull off the ring. It suddenly was too small to slide back over his middle knuckle.

"Crap."

As soon as a spoke he realized he felt satisfied and delighted. As if an expectation had just been met. But that didn't seem right, he wanted that ring off now! Ranma and magic does not mix well. It was like magic had a grudge with him, and judging from Jusenkyo, it might play for keeps.

He ran downstairs past Akane, who was just getting back from her evening jog.

"Ranma?!" Akane frowned at Ranma's urgency. The pervert must be trying to hide something. "What's wrong?" She asked. It wasn't filled with concern, but with suspicion. Ranma kept going like he didn't hear her. This time the short tempered girl's eyebrows furrowed. She didn't like to be ignored.

"Kasumi! Do you have anything to get this off?"

Ranma thrust his hand under her nose. "Oh my, what a pretty ring Ranma. Who gave it too you?"

The frantic youth didn't feel he had time to be chit-chatting with Kasumi, but couldn't bring himself to cut her off cold. "Herb… the guy who locked me in my cursed form way back…. Anyway, I think this thing is magic, so I need to get it off. Right. Now."

The eldest Tendo daughter blinked at Ranma's curt response. She thoughtfully held a finger to her chin.

"I suppose something to lubricate it. You could use butter or oil."

Ranma was in motion before he responded, "Thanks, Kasumi."

Ranma quickly grabbed the vegetable oil that Kasumi had out on the counter for dinner and liberally applied it his middle finger on his left hand. He slid the ring back and forth to get it under it. Then he started yanking. And yanking. And yanking. It was really starting to hurt. He started to feel his knuckle want to dislocate and the ring was starting to show slight progress. Then his grip slipped on the vegetable oil, and the ring settled in its original position. It seemed to glow for a moment and he felt it tighten. Ranma paled. He was beginning to suspect it was designed not to come off. His mind skirted away from the thought earlier when he didn't understand how it went on so easily, yet suddenly seemed to small. But in the face of this obvious adjustment he could no longer deny it. He had a really bad feeling about all this.

"Ranma! What did you do?"

Ranma did not miss the tone of her voice and immediately tried to form and answer.

"Um, this ring is stuck…."

Akane took a look at the hand he was staring it and rapidly came to a conclusion.

"One of your hussies gave it to you, huh! Shampoo? Ukyo? Ranma no Baka!"

Alas, for all the skill with his fists the youth had, he had an inverse amount of social skills. If he had them, he would have realized a need to quickly elaborate where the ring came from. With a swing that would make a golfer envious, Ranma went through the roof and into the Nerima skyline. At least that area of the house did not have a floor above it.

*****

After Ranma did some rudimentary repairs on the roof, to keep the bugs out and the elements out to prevent water damage until it was fully fixed, he came in for dinner.

"Stupid tomboy." At this rate he'd be a master carpenter. It was a lot cheaper for him to fix the damage to the house himself, than to wait for Nabiki to arrange a contractor. Inevitably the price would be taken from him for it, and then for the trouble the middle Tendo sibling had to go through to get the contractor out. Roof damage was the worst because it had to be done quickly and emergency calls were naturally expensive.

Ranma sat despondently at the table with a great sigh. There was a growl from the tomboy.

"So, Ranma," Akane began. Apparently she wasn't through with him yet. "whose ring is so important you can't take it off?" She asked smugly. He knew she was trying to cause more trouble for him for some unfathomable reason.

So jealous she can't think straight. Ranma thought.

"RANMA!?!?, HOW DARE YOU ACCEPT PRESENTS FROM OTHER WOMEN!?!" Came the expected reply from the Tendo family waterworks. Demon Head at full, almost filling the room. Ranma figured he would learn to use it sparingly, not every other day. It ruins the effect, but maybe he was too stupid to realize that.

"It's not from a girl." Ranma replied in a flat voice, nonplussed by the intimidation tactic. The novelty of the technique had worn off long ago. "It is from Herb. The half-dragon that I fought to get my curse unlocked."

With that stated the demon head instantly disappeared. However, the suspicion that followed it made Ranma much more wary.

"Why do you have a ring from a boy, Son? You aren't getting strange on me, are you?"

Ranma turned a nice lime green. "Bleh. He's a guy!" Ranma screamed in his face. Soun was unperturbed by the spittle hitting him in the face because he was too busy sighing in relief. "Herb gave it to me for saving his life when the mountain collapsed. He was knocked out because I beat him."

Soun nodded his head sagely. "It is the Martial Artists duty to protect. I'm proud of you, Son." The genuineness in his possible future father-in-law's voice made an awkwardly pleasant feeling rise in Ranma, which he quickly squelched down. He was only an idiot like his father, anyway, Ranma told himself.

Akane just harrumphed and refused to look at him for the rest of dinner. The self-proclaimed best Martial Artist idly wondered if sighing was some sort of disease. It had been getting worse lately.

****

Ranma woke up to a bucket of water in the face.

"Wake up, Baka! We are going to be late for school."

Yet another sigh. It has been almost two years since the first time she woke him up that way. It was still occurring.

He stood up and realized Akane was still there. He looked towards the door to see her looking at him confusedly.

"What now?"

That snapped the raven haired girl out of her trance. Her mouth opened and shut a couple of times before she turned her nose up and spun on her heel. She strode haughtily out of the room.

"If I'm still going through this when I'm 40, I'm going to commit seppuku."

Ranma gathered his…correction, her, bathing supplies and headed to the bath. The one good thing about Akane waking him up is that she always already used the furo before coming to find him. It was one less bludgeoning a day. He walked by the mirror and stopped shortly after. He slowly backed up and turned his head towards the mirror. He now had a white streak running through his bangs. Now anyone who knew Ranma knew he was vain. He screamed.

Everyone except Akane came running and slid the door open. "What's going on?" Nabiki asked. Anything around Ranma meant money whether it was selling embarrassing information, or blackmail material. She then noticed that their guest had a streak of white in his hear. "What the f--"

" I can't believe this!" Ranma screamed, "My hair 's already turning gray! Soon it'll be falling out, judging by the old man!"

"My, my, Ranma-kun. Looks like you are your father's son." Nabiki teased.

Ranma just grumbled and promised himself to play pound the panda the next time his father stopped by to make sure he was not "slacking."

*****

Ukyo did her customary latch onto Ranma's arm; she ignored the accompanying growl from the eternally angry one.

"So, Ranma, what's up with your hair?"

He growled out in response, "Stupid old man, and his stupid genes." He tried to pry his arm out from Ukyo. She never was quite as physically affectionate as Shampoo until after the wedding. She normally was too shy, seeing how she would bash him for the slightest compliment. However, now she was as bad as Shampoo had been. He really did not even want to get into Shampoo. He had to ensure the bathroom window and his bedroom window was locked before settling into either now. He swears he could still feel the pain from the ensuing beat down he caught the last time. Ukyo, held fast though. He felt his arm going numb from her desperate grip.

"RANMA!"

The martial artist's fiancée's lack of patience was well known. He quickly found himself embedded up to the waist in the ground, dazed. His suitors quickly took up ready positions.

"How dare you hit my Ranchan! I'm gonna to return the favor!"

The reluctant friendship that was between his suitors before, was no longer there. It wasn't rare for one of them to be sporting a limp from a previous battle. The only reason Akane never had one, is because she rarely participated. She would only hit him and stomp off. Leaving the others to fight over his dazed, or unconscious body. Though everyone knew Akane would never turn down a direct confrontation when challenged, even against better judgment. She was like Ranma in that aspect.

Luckily for her, their discipline-enforcing teacher took that moment to take the fight right out of them. Literally. Too bad Ranma was in the way. Shampoo had gotten smart about not showing up at school because of the teacher's vigilance. It was his few blessed respites from her.

*****

All throughout the rest of the day, Ranma kept having odd feelings in his head. He had no idea where he came from, and they seemed unprovoked. He decided to meditate on it when he got to the house. He didn't feel up to dealing with Shampoo today, so he took the time to use his father's forbidden techniques to make it home unscathed.

As he sat in the dojo, he took the time to meditate. He usually only did it when he was preparing for a new competitor to hone his mind. His father did not teach him more than basic aura control exercises and how to run through battles in his head. However, he did know the rudimentary calming and centering exercises he picked up from dojos they visited.

When he found his center, an hour later, he still felt emotions. He was supposed to be in the mind of no mind and incapable of feeling emotions. He searched himself to find any thoughts that would make him feel something, and found nothing. Either something was inside of his head, or he wasn't meditating properly and couldn't truly find his center. The latter wouldn't surprise him with the current stresses of the overzealous fiancées compounded by their respective backers.

The next week continued much the same as usual…. Shampoo took the time to hide as a cat in the furo and jump in his bath with him, since she could no longer sneak in through the window. Ukyo took the time to ensure she held me whenever she spotted him with Akane. She even took the time to come over to the house, and Kasumi will never turn away a polite guest, even if it was against better judgment.

Running away was becoming more and more appealing as time went on. Waiting it out their determination was in no way easy within reach of them. He would have possibly allowed himself to be tricked into marrying Akane like before, but she has only become nastier since the wedding because of the desperation of the others. He was seeing her sweet side that made his heart pound less and less. He was starting to forget why he liked her in the first place.

So everything was par for course until 2 weeks later…..

*****

Ranma had a bad feeling as he approached the Tendo compound. The anonymous feelings had gotten stronger over time and he had gained more white hair and pronounced canine teeth. It affected both forms. His shoulders became broader, and her body became taller. This happened a little too fast, even for a growth spurt.

He quietly approached the door. It was quiet. Too quiet. He swallowed and took a deep breath before opening the door. He felt an unholy mood almost blast him back out the door as he opened it. He felt like his was forcing his way through it. No doubt about it. Probably another fiancée. At least no more had been as persistent as the original three. He should be able to get rid of her in a week tops. He just had to endure the beating he was about to receive.

"I'm home!" Ranma croaked out. The air seemed thicker than last time. He also took note there was a powerful presence here that felt familiar. But the closest he ever felt to this was Herb. Even Happosai didn't have the sheer amount of ki that this person had. Happosai was powerful, but he recovered his ki at an inhuman rate, more than just having a huge aura. Herb had a unrealistically huge aura to draw his strength from. Ranma approached the amount of reserves the old goat had, but there was still a disparity in skill, experience, and recovery. He had yet to see all of the ancient master's tricks. It also hurt Ranma that the founder had as close to the same amount of ingenuity that Ranma had on the fly.

The soon to be persecuted youth approached the living room, or actually engawa, apprehensively.

He found Kasumi delightfully conversing with an exotic looking female who had a worldly and ancient smile more fit on a grandmother. She had mostly white hair with a few green streaks. Her ears were pointed along with her nose. The woman's brow seemed angular in a very exotic and non-human way. Her skin almost seemed to glisten like scales. Her canines were so predominant that her upper ones showed even with her mouth closed.

His father was there looking indignant, and Tendo was sitting and quietly brooding in anger. Akane had an almost invisible incandescent aura, waiting to explode outwards. Nabiki had a calculating look as she regarded the visitor. He saw a kimono with red hair, he assumed was his mother sitting by his father. At least she did not appear to be upset, but then again her back was to him.

The youth's throat caught as he caught the newcomer's eyes. It was her! He didn't understand how he knew, but he knew. She was the cause of all his funky emotions and probably the changes too. He felt a surge of happiness and a slight predatory feeling. He suddenly realized it was this woman in his head as the emotions he categorized in his head as not his, was on her face.

The moment was broken as everyone realized that the guests attention was somewhere else. The scariest thing he had ever seen was when Soun eyes met his, without a demon-head. He said nothing immediately, appearing to will his displeasure on Ranma through his eyes.

Genma immediately jumped into his face. "BOY! Who told you that you could marry anyone but a Tendo!?"

Akane, surprisingly seemed to stay on a slow simmer for now. His father's words filtered through his conscious.

"M-M-Marry?! What're you talking about pops!?"

Shaking his son by the shoulders, the Saotome patriarch elaborated, "This woman says she is your wife!"

Ranma took a glance towards the woman in questions to see her calmly sipping tea. He could feel she was content to allow the preliminaries to play out.

"What?! How!?" Ranma actually out-screamed his father. The lazy man was now cowering before his son.

That was when the woman cleared her throat, gaining everyone's attention.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Prince Ranma. I'm Princess Reia."