"Whoa. Wait. Hold on. Slow down, here," Ranma said, almost stumbling over his words as he stared at the piece of paper in his hands. "Wh-What is this, exactly?"

The pigtailed boy was currently standing in front of the principal's desk at Furinkan, having finally returned to school after the battle at Jusendo to begin his next semester.

The entire ordeal at Phoenix Mountain had left him emotionally and physically drained, and honestly the last place Ranma had wanted to go after wrapping up that mess was back to Furinkan. Literally. He would have rather stayed in China surrounded by Amazons, Musk and Phoenix than return to the dreary, painful rut that described his scholastic and social life.

Fighting people who wanted to kill him he could deal with. Hell, by now he was so good at it that NOT having a weapon to his throat seemed unusual to him. But taking classes and doing homework and dealing with his non-combatant peers? Bleagh.

Of course, if the paper in front of him was any indication, none of that was going to be a problem anymore anyway.

"I's 'zactly as i's written, keiki!" Principal Kuno said, his usual manic grin in place as he leaned back in his chair. "From now on you not be gettin' in da Big Kahuna's way no mo'! You officially expelled from da school!"

Boom! Ranma groaned as the door behind him promptly burst open without the benefit of anyone having actually used the knob. He just knew he was going to get blamed for that somehow.

"What do you mean expelled?" Ukyo demanded, unslinging her battle spatula as she separated from the crowd of eavesdroppers that had piled into the room. "There's no way you're expelling Ranma-honey!"

"Principal, don't you think that's going a little too far?" Akane asked nervously.

Hinako pouted. "If Mister Saotome is expelled, then I'll NEVER get to reform him! My delinquent-busting record is ruined!"

Tatewaki Kuno stood up behind Ranma and opened his mouth, but everyone was saved from his speech as the pigtailed boy negligently kicked him over everyone's head and down the hall.

Principal Kuno seemed unfazed by the interruption. "Now all yah be listenin'! Dis here troublemakin' keiki been missin' school left n' right, and even messed up da finals when dat Chinese keiki go bustin' troo da wall da udda day! Da Big Kahuna try everytin' ta get da Saotome in line! New haircuts, new teachahs, attackin' durin' school rallies, puttin' bombs in da lunches, da works! But dis da last straw! Dis semester, keiki not be causin' no trouble at Furinkan, ya!"

The students all sweatdropped at the idea that the principal's wanton violence and arbitrary rules were supposed to enforce discipline in the school. The only thing the principal had ever done that had arguably INCREASED order rather than destabilizing it was the appointment of Ninomiya Hinako as an English teacher, and it was commonly supposed that Hinako's occasional rampages were probably far more destructive than the individuals they suppressed.

As Ranma went back to staring at the expulsion notice intensely, Principal Kuno grinned and leaned forward, clasping his hands together on his desk. He knew that the Saotome boy wouldn't take this lying down, and had prepared several... countermeasures in advance. The original expulsion forms that officiated everything had been hidden in an armored safe floating on an island in the middle of the school pool. The island, however, was not nearly as solid as it seemed, and once someone landed on it...

Ranma shrugged. "Well, all right. I guess I'll be leaving, then."

And then there were the sea mines strewn about the island, the sword-wielding monkeys that he had populated the gym with, and the sharks with laser-wait, what?

Principal Kuno gaped along with everyone else as Ranma tossed the paper back onto his desk and then turned around, hands in his pockets.

"Wait! Ranma-honey! Are you seriously gonna let him do this to you?" Ukyo asked incredulously.

Ranma shrugged again. "Well, I don't really like it, but the moron actually has a point this time," he admitted. "I don't do great in school, I'm always missing school 'cause of something or other, and I really don't see it changing any time soon, so why bother?"

"But... But there has to be a way to reverse this!" Akane said, turning toward the rather shocked-looking principal. "Where are the original expulsion documents?"

Principal Kuno shook his head to clear it, his grin recovering. "Ah, da Big Kahuna hid dem real well, yah! In ordah to find dem, you gotta-"

"Akane," Ranma said suddenly, startling the girl, "it's not that I don't appreciate the concern, but let's not."

"What do you mean?" Ukyo asked, looking worried. "Ranma-honey, we can do this! You know how Principal Kuno works! He's probably set up some zany obstacle course for us to protect the documents. We've dealt with this before. As soon as we find the papers, this whole thing will blow over and he'll forget all about it."

Ranma looked uncomfortable as he scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, well... that's the thing," he mumbled. "I... I don't really mind being expelled."

That brought a rather shocked blink to the assembled crowd.

"Well, actually, that's not quite right," Ranma said, crossing his arms over his chest. "Actually, it's more like... I don't want to have to put up with the principal's stupid stunts just so I can keep having to put up with the principal's stupid stunts."

There was another synchronized blink, although this one was a lot less shocked.

"I mean, when I think about it, there's not too much goin' on here that I'll miss," Ranma admitted, "and I wasn't really banking my future on a solid education in the first place, you know? I just don't see a point in fighting this when he's pretty much doing me a favor and actually has a half-decent reason for doing it."

Many of the students were deep in thought at this point, mulling over Ranma's words. When they thought about it, most admitted that Ranma easily had the hardest time of ANY student on campus by far, and not just because he had grown up completely separated from civilization at large. None of them would have considered expulsion a favor by any stretch, but when applied to Ranma it made a twisted sort of sense.

Two students, however, weren't running this thought process, their minds overwhelmed with sadness and fury.

Naturally, Akane and Ukyo were royally pissed that Ranma hadn't included a "present company excluded" clause when he said that there wasn't much at Furinkan that he'd miss.

"Oh, so you wouldn't miss me, huh?" Akane growled as she gripped her mallet.

"You jackass! School is practically the only time I get to spend with you!" Ukyo cried, winding up a whopper of a spatula strike.

"Wait! I didn't mean-" Ranma tried to retract his earlier statement, but it was far too late.

"IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE HERE ANYMORE, GET LOST!!" the pair of fiancees screamed, smashing Ranma through the window and into the sky.

A few minutes later Ranma was dragging himself out of the crater in front of the Tendo Dojo, grateful that the girls had smashed him in a convenient direction, and upset at pretty much everything else.

"Geez, I didn't even do anything! What're they actin' like this for?" He growled to himself as he walked through the front door. "Especially Akane! I mean, I LIVE with her! What, is it too much that I don't spend every waking minute by her side? Hell, she's seen what I have to put up with at school! If she really cared, she'd be glad I'm not goin' anymore!"

Ranma had exactly two seconds to reflect upon the fact that it was probably a really bad idea to mutter current events to himself while walking through the Tendo household before his folly resulted in the expected ambush.

"Ranma! What's this I hear about you not going to school anymore?" Soun demanded, practically leaping out of the living room to confront him.

Genma took Ranma's flank, leaping out behind the boy with a condescending expression on his face. "What are you talking about, boy? Don't tell me you're quitting! I didn't raise you to give up so easily!"

Ranma's expression soured even further as he turned toward his father. "No, but you DID raise me to be a 'delinquent,' apparently, and the principal was raised to be a lunatic. So as of today I'm expelled for missing so many classes and stuff. Nothing I can do."

"This is absolutely unacceptable!" Soun said angrily, crossing his arms over his chest. "Who will protect Akane during the day? And what will you do if Akane's not with you? No, expulsion is out of the question!"

Ranma's eyebrow twitched. It figured that the Tendo patriarch was only concerned with how this might affect Akane when HE was the one being punished for what was barely his fault. "Get real. Half the school would fight to protect Akane if anyone attacked her there. Heck, she'll probably be in less trouble without me around anyway."

"And what about you, boy?" Genma growled.

"What about me? I'll find somethin' else to do during the day," Ranma said, shrugging off the older men's glares. "I'll just train more, or maybe I'll get a part-time job and actually earn my keep around here. Without school tyin' me down, I've got all kinds of options."

Honestly, now that he was actually away from Furinkan and the people he was leaving behind, he was even more certain that he'd never want to return. There was so much of his day that Furinkan stole from him, and it usually replaced otherwise productive hours with undiluted misery.

"I knew it!" Soun roared suddenly, almost knocking over the pigtailed boy. "You're going to abandon my Akane and go philandering about with those Amazons!"

Ranma clenched his teeth, his expression starting to heat up. "It wouldn't be my first choice, but it's starting to sound better and better the longer you talk."

Soun blinked at that, taking a step back. It was common for Ranma to respond to Genma's rants and accusations with anger and physical violence, but this sort of vehemence was rather unusual. Ranma tended to acquiesce quickly to the various Tendos, and Soun found himself struggling to think of something to say as a few tendrils of fear started taking apart his backbone.

"Now see here, Ranma!" the patriarch said firmly, his expression turning from angry to grim, "I cannot allow this sort of behavior in my home!"

"What behavior?" Ranma demanded, throwing his arms up in the air. "You mean constantly running around to save your daughter so often that the school gets fed up with me? Is that the behavior you want to stop? This ISN'T my fault!"

"If you weren't so lazy, you could've passed their tests easily!" Genma growled, backing up his buddy. "You think that being a good martial artist is all there is to life? What's the point of being good at fighting if you're dumber than dirt?"

WHAM! The haymaker that relieved Genma of consciousness blurred as it slammed into his jaw, disguising two hundred or so punches as a single brutal attack.

"I don't wanna hear that from you," Ranma growled, his eyebrow twitching.

Soun gulped deeply at seeing his backup fall comatose, wondering what to do now. Ranma was being rational rather than pliable, and this presented a great many problems. Obviously if he didn't say the right thing now, then the boy would make a decision about his future, and as a rule he and Genma did everything in their power to prevent that from happening.

Luckily, he was saved from having to salvage the disastrous encounter as a pair of women emerged from the next room.

"Oh, Ranma, welcome home!" Kasumi said, smiling brilliantly as always. She didn't bother asking what he was doing home so early, and Ranma knew why; she had emerged from the living room where the two men had come from, and had likely heard everything they had.

The second woman to emerge from the room had Ranma wincing, afraid of the conversation to come.

"Son, may I speak to you in private, please?" Nodoka asked calmly, her honor blade held against her shoulder as usual.

Ranma hung his head forlornly as he followed his mother upstairs. Dealing with his father was easy, especially when the man insisted on turning to hypocrisy to get his point across, but his mother was a different beast altogether. If she insisted that he go back to school and get re-admitted, he wasn't sure that he could refuse her. A few minutes later he was seated on the floor facing Nodoka, his expression pensive as his mother studied his face.

"So Ranma, I want to know," Nodoka said bluntly, "do you want to go to school?"

"No," Ranma said immediately. Only a slight eye twitch revealed his immediate regret in saying that. "Er... well... I don't want to go back to Furinkan, at least."

"I see..." Nodoka mumbled. "Is there any particular reason why?"

"Lots of 'em," Ranma said frankly. "And most of 'em have got names. Kuno, the other Kuno, Miss Hinako, Nabiki, Akane-"

He was interrupted by his mother's voice as she frowned. "Why wouldn't you want to go to school with your fiancee?"

Ranma grimaced, realizing he'd stuck his foot in his mouth again. He hadn't really meant to say Akane's name, but as he was scrolling through the list of people who created problems for him at school, the tomboy easily made his top three.

"It's not like I hate bein' with her, but it's just such a pain. I can barely talk to another girl without her gettin' angry, and I can't spend time with her without a bunch of other people gettin' angry. It's lose-lose, ya know? And she's hell on my reputation."

Nodoka raised an eyebrow, thinking it inconceivable that her son could have anything but the most sterling and heroic repute... until a thought crossed her mind. "I see. Not all of your peers appreciate your manly ways, do they?"

Ranma winced. That was a bizarre way to put it, but in a twisted sort of way his mother had hit the nail on the head. "Yeah, pretty much. Every time Akane gets jealous, she rants to her girlfriends about what a lecherous jerk I am, and then a new wave of rumors starts up. To hear my classmates tell it, I have somewhere around nine fiancees and I've knocked half of 'em up."

Nodoka blinked. "Of course, that's not true."

Ranma snorted as he turned to the side. "Of course not."

He missed Nodoka's disappointed expression, but turned back to his mother when she cleared her throat.

"Ranma, while I understand that you don't like Furinkan, you must know that being expelled from school is not very manly." She hesitated. "Although I suppose you can be expelled for very manly reasons. In this case, I believe you acted as best you could given the circumstances, and frankly there are plenty of things you can do to make up for this incident."

Ranma sighed in relief, but cautiously waited for her to continue.

"You can, as you mentioned, increase your martial arts training, get a job, or spend more time with your other fiancees. Any one of these would be very manly, indeed," she said pleasantly, looking happy.

Ranma started to brighten, thinking that maybe he'd take Soun's unintended suggestion and start working at the Cat Cafe again. That way he would accomplish all three of Nodoka's options at once. Even if being a girl for so long had been hell, his employment under Cologne was otherwise some of the best few weeks he'd had since he'd come to Nerima, and he didn't mind the thought of working there as a man one bit.

"Or... you can even go back to school!"

Ranma's imagined happiness shattered to pieces all around him. "What."

"As it so happens, something arrived in the mail for you today," Nodoka said brightly, reaching into the folds of her kimono and withdrawing some sort of flyer and handing it to her son.

"Wha? What's this?" Ranma asked skeptically, looking over the piece of paper. It was addressed, ominously enough, to "Destroyer of Saffron," and the front of it was covered with advertisements for some place known as "Youkai Academy". He had to admit that it looked extremely suspicious, especially as the promotions included words like "secluded," "dark," and "beyond the prying eyes of the mortal world." It also boasted some very odd promises at the bottom, claiming that its curriculum taught students to "cope with the struggles and temptations of living in the human world."

Being utterly confused by the front, Ranma flipped it over, and then he raised an eyebrow as he found a message on the back that seemed to have been written specifically for him.

To the destroyer of the Phoenix, it read, instantly puffing up Ranma's pride, We have been informed of recent events that have led to the permanent and unfortunate wide-scale remodeling of much of the Bayankala mountain range in mainland, China, as well as the extent of your personal participation. Ranma winced, his pride deflating slightly. It was odd to hear his fight referred to like that. It has been decided that you are a definite threat to human civilization, and as a result have been given the chance to undergo formal rehabilitation at Youkai Academy. In order to facilitate your education with us, you have been offered a full scholarship, including room and board should you decide to join this coming semester.

Ranma's face darkened as he read the next line.

Yours truly, Mysterious Benefactor (???)

It annoyed him considerably that the writer of the letter had included such an obvious hint that his intentions weren't entirely good-natured, but the next line had him tossing away the flyer with a snort.

P.S. We totally know where you live.

"Yeah, right. Scholarship or no, that just sounds like more trouble inviting me to walk into it. Nothin' doin'," Ranma declared, leaning back onto his hands. Some of it sounded intriguing, and the thought of suddenly taking a vacation from his life in Nerima for completely plausible and honorable reasons certainly appealed to him, but his experience with such matters told him to stay away.

Nodoka nodded. "I see. Very well, I respect your decision Ranma. There is a considerable stigma attached to those who do not complete high school, but you have acquitted yourself well and it is not entirely necessary. Why, your father also dropped out of school when he was about your age, although I believe he did so voluntarily."

Nodoka stared up at the ceiling for a few moments, smiling as she reminisced about her past.

It was for that reason that she was rather surprised when Ranma suddenly leaned in and hugged her.

"Oh! Ranma... uh..." now that she was looking at her son again, she noticed that he was wearing his traveling backpack as he gave her a gentle, loving squeeze.

"Well, it's gonna be a long semester, so I guess I'll see ya later," Ranma said as he disengaged from the stunned woman, standing up. "Tell Pops that I'm off getting educated, unlike HIM. Oh, I guess you should probably say something to all the girls too, since I don't really have time to say goodbye. Love ya Mom! Bye!"

As Nodoka sat in place blinking rapidly, Ranma stepped out of the room, grimacing as he noted the directions given on the front of the school flyer. "Not much time to catch that bus..."

End Prologue