I want to live in fire

with all the taste I desire

it´s all good if you let me dive

with sharks on the ground

you loose your routine

cause I found my path

what the hell are you trying

now I know there is something more

what happened to you

still staying on my path

are you still denying

now I know there is something more

that this is the truth

it´s all in you

what do you came for

what did you expect to find

so boundless I feel

and boundless all my fears

stop running back to old times

(Excerpt from: Path Vol. 2

Apocalyptica feat Sandra Nasic)

----------

SOUL HEIR

----------

A Ranma ½ Fanfiction by Ralf Martin

-

Disclaimer: All characters featured in this wonderful work of art sprang originally from the fertile mind of Rumiko Takahashi. Except for a  few that sprang from my own, less prolific model. Trust me, you'll notice the difference.

-

CHAPTER 17:  Mother's Day

-

Another sunrise.

A new day dawning.

The sounds of an early morning Nerima awakening from its well earned slumber. Of course a lot of those sounds resembled mumbled curses and shuffling feet, but concerning that department, Nerima simply had a very international flair.

And one of the most 'international' of residents happened to be a certain Tendo Nabiki.

"$%&/%&/)(//)=))?%%$" she declared sourly as she trudged towards the bathroom, one hand holding a change of clothes, the other a small black piglet.

"I'm going to bleed you dry for this, you realize that?"

The small black piglet didn't appear too intimidated by this statement. Considering that most piglets were rather dumb if somewhat cute animals, this shouldn't pose much of a surprise to anyone. Except in the case of that special animal, which actually happened to be a well-known enchanted guy who usually got all too easily intimidated, abashed or otherwise diverted by a woman's attention.

And also considering that the girl in question happened to be Tendo Nabiki, local heavyweight champion when it came to intimidation, humiliation and general exploitation of male weaknesses.

One might theorize that, with Ryouga, him being the pig, embodying one extreme, and Nabiki being the exact opposite, this whole threatening business was so much overkill that it traveled the whole 360 degrees only to cancel itself out again.

One might theorize that Ryouga, with him not being much of a morning person himself, hadn't yet woken up enough to thoroughly acknowledge the immaculate perfection of Nabiki's threats.

Or one might notice the trickle of blood coming from the pig's snout and his somewhat dazed expression, probably caused by that rather skimpy little excuse for pyjamas that Nabiki wore.

A good thing that he was already being carried towards the bathroom, for he would have probably left stains all over the neighborhood if he had tried to find it all by himself.

-

"Good morning Nabiki," came Kasumi's chipper voice from the kitchen. To someone who was, as had been mentioned before, not exactly a morning person, this was almost too cheerful to stand. Nabiki though bore it with traditional Japanese stoicism.

"Good morning Kasumi," she replied with minimal enthusiasm and a big yawn.

"Good morning Nabiki," came Akane's equally chipper voice from the kitchen.

Now while Kasumi's cheerfulness in the morning could sometimes be pretty irritating, the combination of Akane's voice and even the general direction of the kitchen were a deeply ingrained adrenaline producer for each and every living thing around Tokyo Bay. As well as for some of the other kind, too.

"G… Good morning Arrg… Akane…" Nabiki greeted with much trepidation, judging by the stammer and the sweatdrops. Turning stiffly towards the unexpected threat, formerly known as the breakfast table, she tried to single out any signs of lethal toxins or other seasonings her younger sister might feel inclined to give a try.

"… what are you doing up so early…?" she finished rather lamely.

"Why, help Kasumi with preparing breakfast of course…" Akane replied cheerily as she carried a tray into the room. 

An unusually evil grin crossed her features as she watched the rising dust cloud beyond the new Nabiki-shaped hole in the veranda-door.

"Gee," she complained theatrically to the world in general, " what's so bad about me setting the table?"

-

Over at the Kuno Mansion, breakfast was an affair far less exciting than at the Tendo's. A fact that the only person attending found rather disappointing, if not exactly unusual. It wasn't as if the girl currently seated at the gigantic table was all alone in the house. There were a couple of servants around. A cook, two or three chambermaids, a gardener as well as the majordomo. Somewhere there even had to be a chauffeur hiding. But not one of them would ever dream of joining her, for obvious reasons. Not that Kodachi felt inclined to invite any of them either. She wasn't that desperate.

But idly stirring her café au lait, she wondered if it was an option to call the Tendos. Not to intrude upon them, mind you. Simply inquire if they had any news about Ranma. Maybe chat a little.

Or she could call the 'U-chan's'. Sure, Miss Kuonji was probably already busy preparing her enterprise for another busy day, but that also meant that Kinyou should be free to … whatever. Go shopping or on a walk or do anything else that young adults their age were supposed to for passing the day. Not that Kodachi was exactly a pro when it came to hanging out with friends.

She was willing to learn though. Actually  she experienced such a strong urge to learn, it almost scared her.

Maybe it was nothing more than one of her usual whims, and she had never before bothered to question those. If everybody sees you as a crazed freak, why bother to justify your actions?

Yet before she could make up her mind one way or the other, one of the maids, Yuni or Yuna or whatever her name, already announced a visitor, thus taking the decision from her hands.

-

It had taken some time, but finally Ryouga found his way out of the bath all on his own, scrubbed, scented and in freshly cleaned clothes, courtesy of one Tendo Kasumi.

It hadn't even proven too hard, really. Finding the way out, not the part about body-hygiene.

For, as Ryouga had discovered just recently, it was absolutely possible for him to make his way to the breakfast table at the Tendo's without taking the grand-tour through Europe and the African sub-continent first. This surprising feat was accomplished by simply ignoring all outside stimuli except for the sonar-signals of his growling stomach. It worked pretty well, at least on the forty-somewhat feet from bath to dining area.

So, with high spirits due to a good start of his day and a couple of 'good mornings', Ryouga made his way to the by now customary seat next to Nabiki's. Or what would have been the girl's seat, had she been present. 

Voicing his ensuing surprise with a simple 'Huh? Where's Nabiki?', Ryouga cast a questioning glance at Akane, who sat opposite of him. He didn't get a straight answer right away, that with the girl's mouth stuffed full with what was left of her second helping. She only graced him with an innocent, if rice-framed, smile and a noncommittal shrug.

Kasumi seemed strangely amused by the situation, a sound not quite unlike a giggle escaping from behind a coyly raised hand. As unlikely as the concept first appeared to Ryouga, it actually was a giggle, the sparkle in Kasumi's eyes as she trades glances with her youngest sister unmistakably betraying her mirth.

Well, the guffawing and ensuing coughing sounds as she almost choked on her tea were pointers too.

So, with the two girls in attendance rolling on the floor in unexplained mirth and the patron of the house unavailable for comment behind his ever-present newspaper, Ryouga simply filed the situation under 'everyday madness' and helped himself to a portion of Kasumi's cooking. Well, hopefully Kasumi's cooking.

He didn't get a chance though to inquire whether Nabiki's unexpected absence had anything to do with any form of culinary activity by Akane.

For just as he opened his mouth to voice some cautiously formulated, and hopefully mallet-proof question, the hair at the nape of his neck rose sky-high and a cold shiver ran down his spine. Currently he knew of only one thing in the vicinity that had such an effect on him. This was mostly thanks to his second identity as a baby-boar. And verily, the dark-furred predator that had haunted Ryouga's nightmares ever since their fateful first encounter chose this moment to crash the peaceful gathering.

-

Ryouga's nervousness actually wasn't unfounded. A tired cat is a creature easily irritated. A tired and hungry cat even more so. Especially in the case of a big black tomcat with the tendency to put scratches not simply on the furniture but rather through it.

Yet with Akane present, the chances of the feline taking a part in, or rather apart the, indoor decoration were rather slim.

It seemed that the miniature panther preferred to head straight for the girl's lap where he dropped down without further ceremony, rolled on his back and started to whine as pitifully as a whole sack full of kittens.

With his eyes repeatedly wandering between Akane's face and the contents of her bowl, it wasn't too hard for the girl to figure out what the animal in her care expected.

"Awww, will you look at that…," she remarked jokingly, referring to the prior conversation. "At least someone who appreciates my dishes…"

Or maybe not. Because as soon as she spoke those words, the cat's head snapped up, eyes wide and ears twitching. If there was any possibility for a black cat to blanch, this one just did.

Before anyone had a chance to react, the animal was out of the lap and gone through the backdoor with  two mighty leaps onto and from Ryouga's head.

There was a clattering sound from outside, some hissing, and before any of the breakfast's participants could blink the cat had once again vanished.

-

Speeding down the corridor as if her wheelchair was on fire, Kodachi giggled insanely to herself. For once it wasn't her trademark insane laughter that sounded like a fork scratching across a chalkboard, but the standard –issue insane laughter of an adolescent girl planning some kind of mischief or another.

Crashing through the doors to her humble abode, a place that might have easily housed a third-world village community when push came to shove, she headed straight for her closet. It was one of those big, walkable kind of affairs. Or rollable under the actual circumstances.

But size hardly mattered in this case, as every girl with the slightest sense of fashion will confirm. No matter how big the closet, or how many different clothes it contains, there's never anything to fit the occasion. Critically sifting through her private collection of haute couture, Kodachi thought back to the little conversation she'd had just minutes ago.

"Well…," her unexpected early-morning visitor who had turned out a certain Mr. Juusan, had replied to her cautious inquiries as to what he had planned for the day. "I thought that if you haven't got more important appointments, then you might give me the grand tour of the town. You know, show me some historical sites, places of interest…"

"…Manga shops, computer stores and Arcades…" she had hazarded, following a sudden insight into the male psyche.

"Only if you absolutely insist!" Kinyou had exclaimed, putting on such a wide-eyed expression of utter innocence that she hadn't been able to stop a giggle from escaping her.

"Maybe I will," she had stated while tapping a finger to her chin as if in thought. "But only if we also visit a couple of establishments suiting a more refined taste..."

"Sounds like a plan to me," the guy had happily agreed,  giving her the thumbs-up. "So when we're gonna start?"

"As soon as I slipped into something more … appropriate…" she had replied, getting out of the chair to present Kinyou with a better view of her silken morning robe and the nightgown beneath. And the silhouette of what was beneath that 'beneath', that with the way she had coincidentally positioned herself between her visitor and the window. 

-

Back down at the dining table, it had taken Kinyou almost a minute to remember how to breathe, so engaged had he been in fighting back the lava-like blood that tinted his cheeks and threatened to turn his nose into Mt. Krakatao, and maybe also erupting certain other parts of his anatomy while already at it.

But when, after a last wink back over her shoulder,  Kodachi was out of his sight, swaying walk that defied the cast on her leg and all, he somehow found the strength to get his lungs back in working order. And as he rested his still boiling forehead in his suddenly clammy hands it dawned on him, that with the oxygen slowly returning to his brains, that either he'd bring this girl to stop teasing him like that, or being friends with her might prove a tad bit hard…err, …  more complicated than he had bargained for.

-

"I'm not talking to you," Akane exclaimed as she walked down the street, factually contradicting her own words. "You insulted my cooking! I mean I'm used to this from my family, but YOU..?!"

Turning around with her hands on her hips, she glared at the cat that had followed her all the way from back home.

"It's not like you ever tried any of it in the first place," she continued heatedly. "And just for the records, I'm not going to give you a chance for it either. Ever. No matter how much you're going to whine."

The cat simply stared back at her from its position on the ground, head cocked to the side and obviously rather unimpressed by the threat. It seemed to ponder something, or at least that was what the twitching tail and thoughtful expression implied to Akane.

Then suddenly it leaped forward and up, right at the surprised girl's chest, forcing her back a couple of steps.

That's how Akane suddenly found herself with her arms full of several pounds of purring fur, the cat's cheek rubbing against her own in a unmistakable display of affection. Needless to say that Akane's heart started to form a rose-colored pool around her feet in mere seconds.

"Aww… I'm sorry,… I'm sorry…" she reassured the feline she held in a firm embrace with one hand free to stroke the animal's back. A fact greatly appreciated by her passenger. "Yeah, I like you too… Even if you've got a talent of getting on my nerves."

That remark seemed to quench the purring, just as it silenced whatever other thoughts the girl might have liked to express. No surprise here, considering who else fit that description perfectly.

Standing rigid, she held on to the cat tightly, while the animal did its damn best to melt into her, not complaining once about the force Akane applied unintentionally.

"Ranma's going to come back soon, isn't he?" she finally whispered with only a small hint of insecurity. But a hint nonetheless. "He always kept his promises, no matter what... didn't he?"

These questions had of course been rhetorical in nature, yet when the cat seemed determined to dislocate its own head by nodding vehemently, Akane couldn't stop a grateful smile from showing up on her face.

"Sure thing," she agreed with somewhat renewed vigor, "he's gonna be back soon."

Her gaze turned more contemplative, as she suddenly seemed to remember something important. "Say, didn't the doctor say that I'll have to take good care of YOU for that to happen?"

With that she turned on her heels, setting out towards her original destination, with the cat still nestled in her arms.

"Come on," she told the affectionate feline, "maybe Auntie Nodoka has got some proper food for a poor, poor starving kitty…"

-

"So let me get this straight," the officer at the Lan-Ding airfield in the southwestern part of the Quinhai province remarked in an annoyed voice.

"You want to send these two animals," with that he motioned towards two cages standing on his counter, one containing a lavender colored cat, the other a white duck, "and this casket," with that he pointed to a small wooden and heavily sealed barrel, " to Japan. Tokyo, to be exact. Via express-airmail. Duty-free since you claim them to be gifts. But of course you'll only pay standard fare. Have I forgotten anything?"

"Well yes," the strange old crone replied happily as she balanced atop some gnarled walking stick across the counter. "These animals have to be fed three times a day and put up save from drafts. You didn't mention that."

That did it for the usually polite and oh so friendly official. No wait, that one was on holiday. This official was always a short-tempered hysteric with an overly inflated sense of self-importance.

"You've got to be out of your mind," the officer balked in a voice that anybody more knowledgeable of the neighboring Amazon tribe would have instantly interpreted as a death wish. "That would be far better treatment than most of our human passengers get. Even IF they pay the appropriate brib… err fees. What gave you the idea that Chin-Air would make an exception for the idiotic requests of an old gnat like you, granny?"

Those words were insulting for sure, as had been the intention. Still they didn't exactly have the desired effect. Much to the officer's irritation they only produced an amused smirk on the wrinkled face of the ancient woman.

"Why don't you just ask your supervisor?" she asked slyly, looking right past him. "I'm sure he'd love to explain some of the more intricate local customs to you…"

And that was when the officer first noticed the hyperventilating noises that his boss produced while breathing down his back.  And all of a sudden he had this sinking feeling in his stomach. Like the one you get when you recognize that the funny looking guy in the brightly checkered jacked you just made a crack about in the elevator is the new manager your company put in direct charge of your division.

And he really, really loves his stupid jacket.

-

The doorbell was ringing.

Well, fancy that.

There had been a time when that sound would have had her out of the kitchen in the wink of an eye. And she would have welcomed anyone that showed up on her doorstep, be it neighbor, salesman or Mormon.

And she would never show her disappointment that it wasn't her son returning home.

Again.

And her husband.

Again.

And still she would show great hospitality to her visitors, even if she refused adamantly to buy or sign anything, by use of her ancestral blade if need be.

But she would always do so with a smile.

And hold on for the next time the doorbell was ringing.

This had been her habit for years on end.

But now there was no longer a point in doing so, was there?

Her husband was upstairs, locking himself up in the room that should have been their son's.

Should have been, if their son still needed a room.

But the boy had his own place now.

Completely furnished with all he'd ever need.

An urn.

A marker.

But no doorbell.

He'd never need no doorbell again.

And neither did she.

-

"Nekko no Baka! Will you come back here?" Akane exclaimed as she sped after the unruly feline.

A moment ago the animal had rested comfortably in her arms while she rang the doorbell at the Saotome's residence, without getting any reaction though. Then suddenly its head had come up, ears twitching, and  the next instant the cat was on the ground and speeding around the corner of the house as if its tail was on fire.

Akane, never one to be left behind easily and possessing tons of experience in chasing after people, kept hot on its tail of course. That's why she rounded the corner towards the backyard just in time to see the cat pounce through the open backdoor of the house, onto the kitchen counter beyond and straight at the sole figure standing there. Akane let out a cry of warning, but it was already too late.

The figure in the house got knocked over backwards with a very female shriek and, among many clattering sounds, fell from view. Akane, fearing the worst since she remembered the destruction in doctor Tofu's clinic only too well, crashed through the backdoor armed and ready to rescue the assumedly helpless Nodoka. For what other woman should be found in the kitchen of the Saotome's house?

Though when she cleared the porch and got a good look at the inside she froze in her tracks, panic forgotten for the moment. There sat Nodoka, as expected, with her derrière on the ground, her back to the sink and the big cat all over her. But the large animal was simply nuzzling her cheek like there was no tomorrow and making purring noises. No real threat there.

If there was anything dangerous at all then it was those little pangs of jealousy that nagged at Akane herself. She had no idea where they came from, but she chose to ignore them, for the moment anyway. Instead she silently looked on as Nodoka went all 'ooh' and 'aah' over her unexpected visitor, stomaching the initial shock surprisingly well as she stroked the affectionate animal's fur expertly.

After a few minutes of watching the exchange silently, Akane finally saw it fit to make her presence known.

"So," she remarked in an amused tone of voice, "seems like you two hit it off pretty well."

Nodoka's head snapped up, her surprise evident as she looked up towards the backdoor with eyes wide open.

"Who...?" she began before she recognized her visitor against the backdrop of the open door.

"Oh it's you, Akane. How nice to see you. If I had known that it was you at the door…"

While talking, Nodoka struggled to get back on her feet. Not an easy task while holding the not inconsiderable weight of the cat in her arms. Akane quickly came forward to assist her with a steadying hand, and with joined forces they managed to get Nodoka upright without dropping her passenger in the process.

"It's okay," Akane assured while steering Nodoka towards the main room. "I'm used to letting myself in. And that cat wouldn't know privacy if it got bit by it."

"Oh," was all that Nodoka replied to that, her attention freshly directed back to the feline. Stroking the soft fur as she sat down with Akane's assistance, her face took on a thoughtful expression.

"So, this is your cat?" she asked with only the slightest hint of surprise.

"Not really," Akane replied honestly, "I'm only taking care of him for a while."

"I thought about buying a pet too," Nodoka continued as if she hadn't noticed the answer. "It's supposed to help with…" She stopped the sentence there, as if unsure how to continue. Akane though understood what it was that she wanted to say.

"With the loneliness?" she offered helpfully.

Nodoka answer was nothing but a slight nod, but her bleak expression and the possessive way she held on to the cat told an eloquent tale to anyone who bothered to look.

Akane didn't think long about her next actions. She simply encircled the woman in a tight embrace, careful to avoid crushing the cat in the process.

"Why didn't you visit us, Auntie?" she chided the older woman. "Why did you hole yourself up here if you feel like that?"

"I just couldn't…" Nodoka explained half-heartedly. "I wanted to, but I couldn't. I had been looking forward to finally calling you daughter so much and then… and then…" She sniffed once, her self-control obviously crumbling under the pressure of all those repressed emotions. "I thought I finally had my family back. Not just that, but your family too, and we would all have been one big family, and then suddenly… suddenly I don't have anything. Anything at all…."

It was obvious that Nodoka fought valiantly to hold back the tears, but Akane was in no mind to let her get away with that. Instead she took the woman's face in her hands and looked her straight in the eyes.

"Call me daughter," she commanded with a serious expression.

"What..?" Nodoka asked in utter stupefaction.

"I told you to call me daughter," Akane elaborated as if talking to a child.

"I don't understand…"

"Just do it," Akane urged on, "please?"

Not seeing any real reason to deny the favor she had been asked, and since she had expressed the wish to do so herself, Nodoka did what had been demanded.

"Daughter…," she said hesitantly at first, but soon with growing fervor. "My… daughter. You may be  thickheaded and.. and impulsive and tomboyish but… but you're everything I'd ever wish for as a daughter…"

Whimpering quietly she reached out with the one hand not obstructed by either hug nor cat to wipe away the trickle of salty fluid that had started a trip down her cheek. She might as well have tried to stop a river with a spoon.

"Oh Kami,…" she wailed as the dams burst and she returned Akane's hug with surprising strength , forcing the poor cat to flee her arms. "I've missed you so much, Akane. I've missed you all so much…"

"We missed you too," the girl replied as she gently rocked the sobbing woman back and forth. "You don't have the slightest idea how much we've missed you…"

And then something occurred to her, something she hadn't really thought about. But if this woman called her daughter, then it was only fair if Akane went all the way and called her something appropriate too. Like for example:

"… mom."

-

It had taken Nodoka the better part of an hour to relieve her aching heart, and then about half of that again to fall into an exhausted slumber. But finally she was lying on the mats, tucked in safely  under a blanket and hopefully dreaming something nice for a change, and two heads shot up towards the stairs, with murderous intent clearly visible in their eyes.

"I'll go fetch Genma. You stay here and watch auntie, or… mom… or whatever." Akane ordered, looking down at the cat. Or where the cat had just been a split-second before.

Shortly after that all hell broke loose.

-

Genma Saotome was a simple man. Most of his life revolved around three simple things. Eat, drink and sleep.

If he could have had everything his way then he would forever have only spent exactly the least amount of energy necessary for the next circle of eat, drink and sleep. He never foraged, he never saved for tomorrow, he only lived for the present day.

If there had ever been an element that involved long-term planning in his life then it had been his son's future. His son's future as the heir of the Musabetsu Kakutou Ryu, to be exact. It could be safely stated that if Ranma had shown no interest in martial-arts, then Genma would have been royally screwed. But luckily for all involved, Ranma had not only shown an interest in the art, but probably one of the biggest gifts for it that ever graced the world with its presence. There simply seemed no end to what this boy could learn. Katas, techniques, whole schools of fighting. The boy sucked them up and came back for more. It seemed like there was nothing that could ultimately stop the boy from going all the way to the top.

From becoming the very top.

And since there was no stopping the boy, Genma became more and more reckless with his methods of training. Why bother with precautions if the boy's not gonna need them anyway?

And didn't it prove true, too? From cliff diving with tied hands via barehanded shark hunting to the Nekko-Ken training. The boy survived anything. Not without scratches maybe, but such was life. Fraught with peril and all.

But that way of thinking was exactly why, when Ranma so suddenly and unexpectedly got himself ripped to pieces, Genma  couldn't cope with it in the least.

Ranma couldn't die. That had been cheating. And cheating, while being something he frequently did, was nothing that Genma tolerated when it happened to him.

And if his own son cheated on him like that, with his stupid friends and this stupid town and basically the whole fricking world plotting along to ruin his life then he, Genma Saotome, would simply not play along anymore. He'd rather sit up here all day, pitying himself silly and only going downstairs for the meals.

There, that would teach the world what it got from cheating on Genma Saotome.

Teach it a lesson it wouldn't forget.

Hah!

-

While Genma Saotome was contend to prophesize how the world quivered in fear of the mighty Saotome's revenge, he should have better foreseen the angry feline shooting straight towards him like a fur-covered missile.

But since Genma didn't, he was taken completely by surprise when she door suddenly exploded from its hinges and smacked into his face. This was the gentle part. The rest was all pains and scratches and curses unfathomable.

-

Akane couldn't see what happened, that with her still being located in the main room, but the sounds drifting down spoke a very clear language for someone as experienced in inhouse fighting as her.

It spoke of unhinged doors, caved-in closets, shredded futons and a doomed desk. And it spoke of how something big had just crashed through a windows of the upper floor, with a toe-curling scream that was ended only by a dull thud as it hit the ground.

After that there was silence.

-

The cat wasn't stupid. It knew that a little drop like that couldn't hurt the fat guy.  It also knew that the fat guy was a sneaky one. So the cat was cautious. It dropped from the ledge to a point well out of reach of the fat guy. The fat guy didn't react. So the cat came closer. It wasn't a stupid cat. Unfortunately though, like any other feline, it was curious. And we all know what that did to the proverbial cat.

-

If Genma Saotome had learned one thing during the numerous fights in his long career as a martial-artist it was this: If you can't fight it, play dead.

It was usually only a matter of time until your foe either loses interest or gives you an opening because he gets careless. So Genma Saotome did once again what Genma Saotome did best. Not move a muscle.

Lying in his formfitting depression in the ground, his patience was finally rewarded when he heard the soft padding of paws coming nearer and nearer.

He had no idea where this monster of a cat had come from, but he had a very precise idea where it would end up if it only came a tad bit closer. In a shallow grave in the backyard.

A little closer…

Don't breathe…

Here it comes…

Suddenly Genma's hand lashed out, with a speed that belied his massive frame, and successfully managed to get a hold on the surprised feline. The animal struggled of course against the man, but unable to apply its own superior dexterity and speed, and being no real competition against his greater strength and massive weight, this was nothing more than a token resistance. Having his first real chance to take a good look, Genma practically sneered at the cat he had pinned down.

"Now what do we have here?" he asked in the classical way of the stage-villain. "A little kitty. And how comes that a little kitty is attacking me in my own house? Huh, how comes?"

Of course he didn't get anything but angry hisses as answer, but the question had been rhetorical in nature anyway.

"Well, seems to me that this is a rabid little kitty," he continued tauntingly. "And you know what they do with rabid little kitties, don't you?" He moved one hand cautiously so that he had it near the cat's throat without losing any of his hold on the irate animal.

"They snap their necks, that's what they do…"

Before he could prove though whether this was just an empty threat or an actual intention, a peeved-sounding voice called out from behind him.

"Don't you dare touch that cat, pop," it said while gracing Genma's backside with such a mighty kick that he skidded all through the yard.

"If ya wanna fight, then ya better pick someone ya own size."

-

To Akane, Genma's expression as she addressed him in such a sloppy way had been absolutely priceless. As the kick propelled him through the air, he made a face as if his late son had just jumped out of the woodworks. Which was just as well. One of these days someone had to carefully point him towards the fact that Ranma would be coming back. Oh well, maybe not too carefully. He sure was due to a little teasing, the big oaf.

"What's the matter oyaji,," she asked tauntingly as Genma skidded to a stop. "Gotten rusty in your old days, have you? You should have seen that coming from a mile away."

"Huh?" was Genma's intelligent response as he leaned upside down against the fence. "What are you doing here?"

"Oooh, sooo nice to see you too," Akane drawled sarcastically as she stalked closer. "And as to your question, I simply thought I'd pay a visit to my in-laws. Have a look at how you guys are holding up."

"Oh, I'm just peachy," Genma replied with a bitter tint to his voice. He was still propped up the wrong way round, with his arms crossed and his head cocked to the side. "It's not like anything big happened lately that could put my life to shambles. So why are you asking?"

"Gee, pop, one could think that you're the only one who lost someone," the girl chided as she placed her hand on her hips. "Here's news for you. You're not! There's other people who miss Ranma every bit as much as you do! So stop moping around like a little baby, will ya?"

"Oh yeah?" Genma retorted angrily as he rolled back onto his feet in a surprisingly graceful movement. "And the next thing you'll probably tell me that YOU miss him too, huh? When you're probably glad that you're finally rid of him!"

The moment those words had left his mouth, even as dumb as he could sometimes be, Genma realized that he had just said something really, really stupid. Of course, he'd have to be already dead to not be affected by the look the girl gave him as she practically glowed with righteous anger.

"You know old man," she told him in a voice  so eerily calm, it would have scared even the most valiant of hearts. Which, by the way, Genma's feeble little pump definitely was not. "I think it's time that someone teaches you some manners…"

The irritated cat by her feet couldn't have put it more eloquently.

-

A long time ago, in a land far east of the setting sun, there once lived a martial-artist of big ambitions, but sadly not enough wisdom to go with them. Not to mention a general lack of devotion, diligence and discipline.

And yet he could be caused to surpass even the greatest expectations, if only there was the right incentive.

Like when people expected him to be a thoughtless and dangerous sensei, and then he came up with the Nekko-Ken training, claiming it to be for the best of his own offspring no less.

Usually the reason that he went beyond his limits was an outside source though.

Few were the times when the reason was one of his family, even if it did happen sometimes.

A far more common reason came in the form of an ugly, dried up dwarf with an egocentric and nasty attitude. When it came to being a thoughtless and dangerous sensei, then this creature known otherwise as Happosei was easily up to par with our dear martial-artist. The general difference being that Happosei knew exactly what he was doing instead of stumbling blindly through a minefield during an air raid while carrying a load of unsheathed blades. Actually, this was neither a metaphor nor an allegory. It's been plain stupid though.

And finally, and this is the classic case of 'last but not least', are all those thousands and hundreds of thousands of people that held one kind of a grudge against him or another. It is truly amazing how fast a man can run, how high he can jump and in what Zen-like silence he can stay hidden beneath the foliage if only a large enough crowd was out for his skin. Oh, and did this man ever have a talent to endear himself to the masses.

So it came that, while he was probably one of the laziest men in human history, he still got in lots and lots of training.

He got tough, even as he stayed spineless.

He got strong, even as he stayed faithless.

He got fast, even as he stayed dense.

And what a good thing that was, because otherwise he might not have survived the brutal beating he was just receiving.

-

When Nodoka slowly awoke from her unscheduled slumber, down there on the floor of her own living room, she felt strangely out of place. The funny thing was that this still felt actually a lot better than what she had gone through the last few days. On second thought, maybe it wasn't so funny after all. But that didn't change the fact that she felt strangely invigorated. As if not only a burden had been taken off her shoulder, but also she had been given a gift.

A gift from her daughter?

Or the gift of a daughter?

Oh yes, now she remembered again. Akane had insisted that she called her by this title.

What else had she said? There had been something about Ranma that she had mentioned.

The memories of the last hours were hazy at best, too much emotional turmoil having messed them up almost beyond use. But there had been one thing that Akane had whispered over and over as she had held Nodoka tight. One thing that hadn't made sense then, that had sounded too much like a pleasant lie or the crazy babbling of a heartbroken girl.

What had it been?

Raking her brain as she might, it just didn't come back to her. But how could that be when Nodoka understood at the same time that it had been ultimately important? It somehow gave her the urge to bash her head against the wall repeatedly, simply in the hope of dislodging the missing piece of information from wherever it had gotten stuck.

Now that was an untypical thought for the prototypical traditional lady if ever she had one. But even so, Nodoka simply saw it as a sign that things were changing. And from her point of view, any change was for the better.

So when she noticed the sounds of fighting from her own backyard, she wasn't too worried either. Instead she walked out onto the porch with only a slightly curious expression on her face.

She got greeted by a most unusual sight.

Her husband, whose face she hadn't seen all that much lately except for during the meals, not that it would have been all too recognizable at the moment with all those bruises he sported, seemed in a little quandary.

It seemed that he had somehow gotten himself on the receiving end of Akane's mallet. While this could well prove to be unpleasant, the girl alone shouldn't have posed too much of a problem for an accomplished martial-artist of Genma's caliber.

And somehow he had gotten himself on the receiving end of the cat's claws. As with the mallet, this shouldn't have posed too much of a problem for him.

But both of them combined gave Genma a taste of what it would feel like to get initiated into the mystical art of  the Cat-Girl-Ken.

Maybe he hadn't been thrown into a pit first, but it looked that the unholy terror was already well under development.

And as the girl bashed and the cat slashed and Genma crashed, Nodoka stood at the sidelines and watched with a strange sense of fulfillment. Standing on the porch and watching her husband getting beaten up felt almost as if her son was still with them. As long as she had been reacquainted with her son after his long absence, he had always taken great care to beat up his father in their daily sparring-sessions. Though back then, Genma had usually given almost as good as he got, while the current fight was more on the lines of a massacre.

Admittedly, there had been times when Ranma had been a little overenthusiastic in his spars, too. Especially after he had come back from China…

After Ranma came back…

Ranma… back…

Oh Megami-Sama…!

-

It had been a great day for Kodachi and Kinyou. They skipped through two different malls, avoided a museum  by unambiguous vote, marked off most of the historical places by using one of the telescopes on top of Nerima-Tower and then took a break at a restaurant right in the middle between their respective financial means.

Actually, Kinyou had insisted that they took some time out, after it had become pretty obvious that Kodachi's injured leg had begun to cause her problems. Not that the girl had mentioned it, a fact that Kinyou didn't really understand. He figured though that it had something to do with pride and being a martial-artist.

The lunch break seemed to have worked though, as Kodachi appeared a lot more energetic afterwards. For a while at least. But two hours of shopping or so afterwards the problematic leg made itself known again, and it seemed worse for the wear, too. So they decided to call it a day and headed back home. They didn't come too far though before Kodachi almost fell to her knees with a unladylike yelp as the leg gave out under her. Luckily for them there was a bus stop nearby, with a bench where they could sit down and rest for a while. 

It was here that they sat and wondered what they should do now.

It was here that Kinyou actually found the courage to ask something that had bothered him for a while.

"Can't I just carry you home?" he asked the girl next to him. She looked up at him from where she sat cursing her feet with a confused expression.

"Excuse me?" she asked bemusedly, one eyebrow cocked.

"Carry you," he repeated while trying to look as nonchalantly as possible. "You know, since you can't walk at the moment I could maybe repay the… favor… from the other night."

"The favor?" Kodachi echoed, not quite catching his drift yet.

"Well yes," Kinyou repeated, his poise slowly eroding. "You remember how you, well, carried me, ahem, over to the Tendos? Across the roofs?"

Kodachi didn't answer this at once, though if Kinyou hadn't been so nervous himself, he might have noticed a slight reddish hue covering her cheeks.

"My, Kinyou," Kodachi  finally returned the question, "Do you honestly think you can take me across the roofs?"

"No, no," Kinyou contradicted, hastily trying to clarify his offer. "I couldn't do that. I'd drop off if I tried, I mean, if I got up there with you at all and … and…" His face turned a deeper shade of crimson and very apologetic. "I can only do piggyback."

"You've got to be joking," Kodachi stated incredulously after a moment's stunned silence. "I can't be seen carried around like that. What if anyone recognizes me? The Kunos are a very old and distinguished…"

That was about as far as she came before Kinyou interrupted her.

"No one's going to recognize you," he insisted with a firmness that surprised both of them. Pulling off his ever-present cap, he put it on top of Kodachi's lustrous black mane. Then he stood up and shrugged off his coat, only to place it on the stunned girl's shoulders.

"See," he concluded as he inspected the effects of his image counseling. "No one's gonna identify you as a Kuno in those…"

-

"Akane?" Nodoka's voice called out across the yard. When the preoccupied girl didn't react at once she called out once again. "Akane?!"

"Just a moment," came the answer at last, as the girl put the finishing touches to the plate of Sushi that was once recognizable as Nodoka's husband. With a wide swing of her mallet she lobbed the result of her redecorations right before the older woman's feet. Shouldering her favorite weapon, she and the cat followed close behind, but at a more leisurely pace.

"Sorry for the mess," she stated with far less remorse than the mere words might lead to expect. "But the old man needs a good beating once in a while."

It looked like that apology had been unnecessary though, judging by the way Nodoka simply stepped around the heap she had once married, and intercepted Akane on her way.

"Akane," she spoke in an urgent tone of voice, "what you said about Ranma, about him coming back, that… that wasn't really serious, right? Right?"

"Huh?" came Akane's brilliant response, "Oh that. No, that's absolutely serious."

"But… but that's not possible!" Nodoka insisted almost hysterically. "Nobody can come back from the dead! It's just not done! It's just…"

Stepping around the babbling woman, Akane walked over to were Genma lay and grabbed him by one ear, thus lifting his head from the ground.

"Hey, old man, wakey wakey…" she said while shaking the ear, and thus the head.

"Whzzhp?" came the unintelligible reply.

"Ever seen someone come back from the dead?"

"S'ffr'n" was Genma's half-conscious reply.

"Yeah right, Saffron." Akane agreed in a tone that implied surprise, even though she had expected the answer.

"He's been that Phoenix-god that Ranma had to kill back in China," she clarified in case Nodoka didn't remember the name.

"And say, " she asked, returning her attention back to the guy that belonged to the ear in her hand, "if there was anyone who could figure out how to do exactly that trick just by seeing it done once, who'd that be?"

"Ranma 'f 'course…" Genma responded in an exasperated mumble, as if it was sheer insolence to interrupt his coma for something that should be the most obvious thing in the world.

"How stupid of me, of course that's Ranma" Akane agreed wholeheartedly. She let Genma's head drop back to the ground and patted him on the head like a good dog. Then she stood up again and turned back towards the confused Nodoka.

"So you see," she stated triumphantly, " it's just like the old man said. Saffron knew how to come back from the dead. And Ranma can best him anytime, anywhere and in anything."

"Meoww!" sagely added the cat that sat down by her feet.

-

"I tell you, people are looking!"

"Of course they're looking. You don't see girls getting carried around like this any day."

"But.. then they're going to recognize me."

"No they won't. Not in your current getup anyway."

"But I'm sure that someone will recognize …."

"Not if you don't scream it out to the world like that…"

"But I'm positive…"

"Kodachi!"

"What…?"

"Stop worrying, okay? We're almost there anyway."

"Oh… okay."

"Kinyou?"

"Hmm?"

"Thank you."

"Hey, it's nothing, really."

"Still, thank you…"

"Hey Kodachi..?"

"Hmm...?"

"I… had fun today…"

"Yeah… me too."

"… and I was kinda wondering… if you've got nothing planned for tomorrow…"

…?

"…would you mind if I came over again..?"

"Hello? Kodachi?"

"…you, … you wouldn't mind..?"

"Huh? That's more or less what I've just been asking you, remember?"

"…oh…"

"So… what you're saying..?"

"I'd be… happy if you came over."

"Really?"

"Really!"

"Yay!!"

-

And somewhere in an abandoned house, an old woman was holding court over her cats.

She heard the reports about the latest addition to her minions, a certain doctor's love live and what generally happened around her little fiefdom.

And she waited, more or less patiently, for the pieces of this puzzle to fall into position.

And for one special delivery.

It should already be on its way from one of the remote parts of China.

Somewhere in the Quinghay province.

Or more precisely:

From Jusenkyou.

Author's Notes:

Oi, what's this. A new chapter of Soul Heir before the turn of the century? Hah, I bet nobody expected this.

Which is just as well, since I need every little moment of surprise to keep the story interesting.

Oh well, I hope, as always, that you liked the chapter. I believe it's getting obvious by now that things start to come together, and I'm positive that the whole thing should be finished by the time I reach chapter 20.

I know, I keep saying stuff like this all the time, but I'm serious. I'm going to finish this story sometime soon. I'm not going to rush it though.   I want to really enjoy the Grand Finale after all just as much as you guys do. :-)

One more thing though.

Concerning my reviewers, I'm sorry that I don't address all of you folks personally. But at the moment I'm more in the mood for writing Chapter 18. I hope you've got that E-Mail though. :-)

Just some choice words for whoever wants to know:

- I'm not stealing from Pratchett and Adams, I'm practically robbing them blind.

- Yes, I do confuse words that sound alike. So do half of America's college students. And I at least have the excuse that half of my English lesson came through MTV-Germany.

- Trust me, you CAN pierce someone's chest with a Katana. Wanna try?

- Sorry, but no support group this time. They only meet once a week.

- Thanks guys, all of you. And I do mean ALL. Because I prefer to be flamed by the Paladins of strange gods rather than being ignored completely. Now that would be frustrating.

So there, 'nuff said,

See you soon,

RaMa