had an idea for the beginning, knew how i wanted to end it. instead of letting the story flow normally (i usually just write and let everything flow forward, sometimes surprising me with the story going off in a completely different direction) i wrote the beginning and end, and went back to fill in more and more of the middle.

hey, at least i'm willing to *try* new things, ne?

------------------

Hall of Testing, near Tyr's Hall Of Judgement & Karaoke Bar, Asgard:

"You don't have to come, you know."

"I know."

"They probably won't even allow you in."

"I know."

"Do ALL of you have to follow me?!"

Edema smirked. "Why, Grey, how could we miss this? And with your charming girlfriend."

"SHE IS NOT MY GIRLFRIEND!"

"Is true. Not girlfriend." Miya nodded.

"See!"

"Is wife!"

"AAAAGGHHH!"

"You defeat me during A Very Scary Bet/Mirrors Multiplied(7) crossover. You no can just walk away from womans of Amazon Village."

"I did NOT defeat you! You walked into an enchanted warclub I was carrying. It was an accident!"

"So?"

"Ah, young love," Edema said with a sigh. The dark elf giggled a moment later, completely ruining her dramatic moment. "Mind you, I don't think I was *ever* that young."

Raideen, Thor, Athena, and Hephaestus exchanged a smirk. They found the reluctant incubus amusing, and his talents (particularly in Psychometry(1)) to be helpful. Mainly, though, it was just amusing to see the disasters that usually seemed to target the fellow.

Kasumi9, the Kasumi Tendo from the ninth branch off of the Wishing Sword nexal point, smiled and exchanged a glance with her sister of four timelines removed. Though that Nabiki had come from an apparently tragic timeline, and had become trapped here when she'd used a Chinese artifact, she had become much less despondent since meeting a variant of her sister. (2)

"Cut it out!" The incubus held his forehead as if he was getting a migraine. "And the only reason you were there in the first place was that you were feeling left out of the battle and were looking to mingle with the einherjar."

The Amazon blinked. "Again, so?"

"So it was all just a series of accidents. That's all! Besides, you're all of what? Sixteen? You can't possibly make a stable choice of a lifemate at that age!"

"What you mean?"

"Show me one relationship chosen by teenagers that lasts a decade and I'll show you two dozen where it fails. It just doesn't work out. The teenage years are a time where a LOT of things are out of balance: hormones, personalities, social and behavioral standards and the like. It's not a time where you can make rational lifelong consequence decisions."

"Happen all time in Amazon Village." Miya didn't add that most marriages took place around age 14. At 16, she was in serious danger of being an old maid.

=================================

RUNE WITH A VIEW... a Ranma SI fic, sort of, written because i hadn't done a blatant SI fic before, despite accusations of such.
this is just a brief fic meant to amuse folks, don't take it too seriously. Much thanks to suggestions from prereaders, especially J.Flores, Ammandeau, Skysaber, Jim Bader.

Ranma 1/2 tm Takahashi Rumiko, other char tm various others. No fanfic authors were injured, mutilated, or killed during the making of this fic. We used stopmotion and computer animation instead. The author denies being under the influence of Henry Weinhardt's Cream Soda during the writing of this story.
This story builds on a side story that developed during the Bet, continued with some of the events in Source Of Pride, Force Of Impact, etc. Bitter End by Zen, Mirrors Multiplied by Skysaber. Notes in the back plus an omake.

------------1981----------------------

Ranma reached into the little smoking crater and pulled out the odd bracer/gauntlet thing. It looked neat, so he'd have to hide it from his father. Otherwise, it would have ended up like everything else Ranma found- sold by his father.

*This really sucks. Oh, sorry. How ya doing, kid?*

"You talked!" The boy almost dropped his newfound treasure. The voice had been neither male nor female, young or old. "What are you?"

*Currently? Currently I'm what they call a Rune Weapon. Name's... aw hell. They took *that* from me too. Part of the test, no doubt.*

"You're funny." Besides, it was a kote or armored sleeve. How could it be a weapon. SCHNICKT Oh...

*Yeah, haha. Loads of laughs, that's me all right.* The gauntlet retracted the fangs back into its substance, trying to remember how to do that.

"Not funny 'haha', funny 'sheesh' kinda. You're talking in my head."

*Huh. Oh yeah. Telepathic abilities. i can talk to anyone in physical contact with me. You, the authorized wielder, can access the powers here. Unfortunately my position's kinda like being a genie. Even the tiny amount of power i've got can only be accessed by the owner, and that's you, kid. Anyway, i'm not even sure what all powers are available to me. i'm kinda on a mission, and if i can pull the mission off, I get promoted to guardian daemon. Much nicer treatment and benefits, i think. Or was that someone else?*

"A mission," the child thought about this. "I'm on a mission too. What's yours?"

*i'm supposed to help you, the one who found me, attain the status of hero somehow. Figures, don't it? Sailor Moon gets a talking cat, wizards get their familiars, all those shojo programs have some cute little pet critter. YOU on the other hand have a talking bracer whose power level is dependent on your own level.*

"You're right. This sucks."

*Thank you.* The bracer sighed. *Well, kid, it wasn't gonna be that bad, but i got people who really want to screw me over back where i came from. Anyway, this bundle of Mischief Personified gets this idea that ... i forget. Anyway, Ares puts in that i should have some handicaps and abilities so came up with this '12 years as a Rune Weapon' crap.*

"How could you forget?"

*Part of the handicap they're giving me. Selective amnesia over a lotta the details. Though i get the feeling that _someone_ put a wrench in the works. Anyway. So here i am. Mind you, you won't be able to use a lotta the full powers. i _do_ have some information resources they left me. For whatever good it'll do. Feels like i can access a Yggdrasil info kiosk. Hmmm. Yeah, they blocked access to certain areas. Figures they'd think of that.

*So, kid, what's your name?*

"Ranma Saotome." Ranma thought about it. This bracer had "information resources"? Hmmm. He could do much better on some tests in school.

The bracer couldn't facefault, but it certainly tried. *Ranma Saotome?! Why that dirty little black kitty cat! Why couldn't i get stuck in 'Oh My Goddess' or 'Gold Digger' or something? ERrrrr. Hmmm. Well, at least it wasn't 'Urusei Yatsura' or 'Patarillo.' Hmmm. i wonder why my personal memories are blocked. How old are you, Ranma?* (8)

"Six." Ranma frowned, puzzled. "Something wrong? I got a lot of pictures that didn't make much sense."

*Sorry. Kinda new to this telepathy stuff. Hmmm. Six. Damn. There's bits and pieces i remember, but most of it's been blocked.*

"Geez. So what can you do?"

*Advise where i can. Assist when i can. Power level's not that great. Uk. There was something about an Uk-something and you at age six.*

"Ukyou? Ucchan?"

*That's it! Where is she?*

"Ucchan's a boy. He's back there." Ranma sighed. "I really miss him."

The bracer snickered. *Well, hang on, boyo. Let's go get Ucchan. i think he was supposed to come with you, anyway.*

"Huh? Really?!" Ranma brightened but then went to puzzled. "Why would he do that?"

*i'll explain when we find your Ucchan. How long ago was it?*

"Yesterday." Ranma hesitated. "I don't think Pops wanted Ukyou to come."

*...dang there was something there, but it's gone again. Well, let's see if we can find him.*

-----Asgard, Mimir's Well---------------

"So," rumbled Bast in her tiger form. "What abilities does the Weapon have?"

"Oh, just minor talents. Telepathy right now, Psychometry, plus a level C Yggdrasil infodump access." Toltiir, currently in his Puck guise, folded his arms across his chest and looked suitably cocky. "The *interesting* stuff he'll only be able to start accessing at need, and as the boy gets more talented. There's also a glamour(3) field that neither knows about. Those that would be inclined to like Ranma, will REALLY like Ranma. Those that would be inclined to dislike Ranma, will REALLY dislike Ranma."

Bast chuckled. "Doesn't sound that different from the mainline."

"ARES!" Raideen snarled. Lightning crackled around his hands in a suggestive manner.

"Oh my!" Kasumi9, newly appointed goddess of Renewal, looked alarmed.

"What?" Toltiir looked at what had gotten Raideen upset and frowned. "Him and that sister of his..."

Athena's frown was much fiercer. "One of these days, Ares, one of these days." (Pow, to the moon!)

"How in the worlds is a six year old boy and an okonomiyaki chef going to handle a chimera?" A floating eye the size of a basketball demanded of the group. "And he didn't even use a tradional chimera, just threw something together on the spot. No class AT ALL!"

Thor frowned. "Well, if Ares and Eiris are going to start mucking with things..."

Toltiir's frown inverted. "Well now, that means _we_ can interfere, too. Not in a way to detract from the test, mind you, but if we should..." And what was the test but to prove that the current Rune Weapon was halfway competent for the new position? "I'll just add a little problem to the gate that'll modify the monster's power level a bit."

Raideen smiled. "I wonder if the boy would like to learn some martial arts. Just to give him a better chance handling some of Ares' interference, mind you."

Athena smiled and cocked her head in consideration of an idea. She had been fond of women warriors since the days of Atalanta. "You know, I haven't had a Champion in quite some time."

The nominal "Good Guys" didn't get a chance to engage in maniacal laughter very often. Therefore they took this opportunity. Athena would later admit that it was quite satisfying.

Well, all except for the goddess of Renewal (probationary). She was making tea.(4)

-----------Kansai---------

"Well, jackass! Show me what's gonna make me forgive you for leaving me behind!"

*Hello, Ukyou.*

"AAAAAAAHHHHHH!"

"Ucchan, I didn't know you could jump that high. That's really neat."

*Hang on. Hey, Ranma try extending your mind like i'm showing you, maybe i can get a link going.*

"Like this?" Ranma tried to form the pattern as his hand sought out Ucchan's.

The gauntlet tried to forge a link between two minds. This would cut through a lot of the bull if it could be done.

"You didn't know?!"

"You're a girl?!"

*Yatta! Yatta! i did it.*

"What was all that crap about choosing okonomiyaki(5) over me, ya jerk!"

*Oops.*

"How was I supposed to know?" Ranma considered for a moment. "So ya still wanna go to train with my old man?"

"Damn straight, ya still got the yattai(6), right?"

"Yeah," Ranma allowed.

"Then let's go!" Ukyou looked down at the odd bracer that almost formed an open fingered gauntlet. "Can I try that thing?"

*Hey, now. Don't go passing me around to everyone you know.* The bracer paused. *Y'know, you might want to designate Ukyou as a secondary user. She wouldn't be able to access any major abilities, but she'd at least be able to carry and communicate with me without activating a defense function. As it is, you have to be wearing me and she has to be in physical contact with you for communication.*

"Yeah, sounds good." Ranma had NO idea what the bracer had just said, but had come up with this act-like-you-know-rather-than-admit-ignorance plan. Proving that he was Genma's son. "OK, Ucchan. This is gotta be our secret!"

"Okay." Ukyou grinned. Her Ranchan had come back for her. All right, he'd had to be prodded and he hadn't even realized some very important points (such as Ukyou's gender), but he *had* returned.

"Oh, and I been meanin' to ask," Ranma addressed the gauntlet. "You got information 'sources' you said? What kinda info?" Maybe he could shock the heck out of Pop by throwing something unexpected out during the next sparring session.

*Yeah, some. All kinds, if it isn't blocked.*

"What'cha got about special manuevers and such?"

*Hmmmm. There's quite a bit here. Let me see. Amazon Techniques, Bakusai Tenketsu, Chi Manipulation (see sections on Basic Chi Manipulation, Building Up Chi, Chi For Advanced Artists), Elemental Martial Arts, Lightning Punch, Nekoken, Nikkouken, Pankration, Shiatsu (see Shiatsu Attacks), Ucchusenken, Umisenken, Yamasenken. That's just the surface. There's also cross references to sections on Awakening Psionic Talents, Physical Enhancement, So You Want To Find A Sensei, and a lot more. Most of the special manuevers seem to require a really high mastery of the martial arts to begin with.*

Ranma didn't understand half of that, but thought it sounded like a lot. Heh. He could really get Pop with some of those. "All right, some of that sounds good. How about this Lightning Punch thing?"

*In order to learn that you're going to have to learn to build up your chi, get in even better physical shape, and increase your resistance to electrical attacks. NONE of these can be learned overnight or without preparations, Ranma.*

"So we ought to start now, right?" The sooner he learned 'em, the sooner he could sleep in during the mornings.

Ukyou smiled and her eyes tracked from the hand she was holding (Ranma's gauntleted one) to Ranma. "Sugar, I think this is the beginning of a _beautiful_ friendship."

------------------------------

They were still en route back to the camp, when it came. Batlike wings, a serpent's head, a feline body, and a poisonous stinger. Due to a tragic miscalculation on Ares' part (engineered by a god of mischief), however, the creature was only about twice the size of a normal housecat.

"What the hell!" was Ranma's response. Despite being technically a question, it was more offered as an exclamation.

"EEEK!" Ukyou shrieked. SCHUNK! A throwing spatula whipped through the tail, cleanly severing it. "It's a monster!" SCHUNK! SCHUNK! SCHUNK!

The chimera screeched, blinked, and plummetted as the wings had just become sliced off by two other spatulas. The fourth, a clean miss, still vibrated in a telephone pole.

The little creature was tough, though, and merely hissed and bared venomous fangs. Nobody watching needed to be told this, as the spittle was clearly smoking where it contacted the concrete walkway.

The crowd of adults and kids in the plaza watched as the two kids beat on the attacking monster until it stopped moving. Pictures were taken. Congratulations given. The remains were taken to a university and briefly were featured in a number of tabloids about an escaped genetic experiment.

That two of the spatulas thrown at the monster had seemed to make course corrections was, of course, dismissed under the heat of the moment by most of the observers. Others put it down to incredible talent on the part of the little girl. (9)

That the boy's fist had seemed to glow before the final blow was struck had been duly noted by some observers. That, and the boy's gi, indicated that here was someone who showed extreme promise in the martial arts.

-------------------------------.

Two very busy weeks later, Genma sighed and tried to explain this to Soun. It wasn't easy, but he thought he'd gotten the basics across.

"WHAAAT?!"

Genma nodded. Yup, Soun understood the basics.

"How could you do this, Saotome? What were you thinking?"

"Food," answered Genma truthfully.

Soun's righteous indignation vanished as he realized that there were a few times he had done something vaguely similar. "So, you want to take one of my little girls on this training trip, do you? Get them to bond with your son so that the merger of the families will take place." Soun doubted that Kimiko would go along with it. Though she *did* have some odd ideas from time to time.

"He's 'bonding' with Ukyou already. The two are best friends. You have to admit that there are worse ways for a couple to develop as opposed to being friends that go deeper." Genma stretched, popping his shoulders back into place. "If I take one of your daughters along, there's a chance that he'll hit it off with one of them."

"Yes, that's true." Akane? Close to the boy's age and she showed enthusiasm for the martial arts. Still, Soun wanted to be the one to train her and Kimiko would certainly oppose the youngest going away. Kasumi? Certainly not. Kasumi was Kimiko's favorite in many ways, and showed every sign of becoming a very traditional and demure young lady. Nabiki? Possible. Would Kimiko go along with any of this? "Why not leave that girl here instead? Then you could continue your son's training."

"Neither Ranma nor Ukyou would go along with that, and it is impossible for me to watch Ranma 24 hours a day. As soon as I find some way of abandoning Ukyou, they start finding a way to track down and reunite. Believe me, Tendo, I've tried."

The sound of wood breaking punctuated something going on outside. The two curiously snuck to the porch to see.

Under Kimiko Tendo's watchful eye, the backyard had become a place of chaos. Kasumi was at the yattai with Ukyou, learning the Art Of Okonomiyaki. Nabiki was licking an ice cream cone and watching as Akane tried to hit Ranma. Nabiki would shout out an encouragement from time to time, and she wasn't being too clear as to who she wanted to win.

Akane was getting steadily more frustrated as the boy danced around her.

Kimiko alternatively watched Kasumi and Akane, since Nabiki wasn't doing anything even remotely dangerous. Noting that Akane's frustration was about to spill over into anger, Mrs Tendo called a halt to the sparring.

"Ya think that's something, watch this!" Ranma held his hands together then made a shoving gesture. The air seemed to shimmer briefly and the koi pond splashed.

Soun's jaw dropped and his eyes bugged. "A ki attack?! At his age?"

Genma nodded, proud of his son, but puzzled by the accomplishment himself. The boy had been getting strange lately. Talking about Chinese Amazons with lots of Special Techniques and other weird things. Where he came up with such things was beyond Genma. And Ranma had taken to wrapping his hands with an odd bandage. Genma wondered at that. And finding money and valuables, Ranma had supplemented their income almost as much as Ukyou and her okonomiyaki. Who'd have thought the cart was *that* good an idea?

Genma frowned as Ukyou went to Ranma and they held hands, smiling as if at a private joke. They did that a lot. It was going to be difficult on both of them when Genma seperated the two, but if he didn't the Tendo-Saotome alliance would be in danger!

--------------------

Ranma glanced at Ukyou, winking as if sharing some jest. By physical contact, both were able to communicate with Rune. Even if Ranma was the only one able to access most of the powers, they'd gotten the "conditional user" clause that allowed Ukyou to wear it without difficulty. She still couldn't get anything out of it consciously, but Rune said he was able to help her access and renew her chi. She just didn't have that much at this point of her development.

"So," whispered Ukyou, "do you remember yet?"

*No dice. The name 'Tendo' rings a bell, but it's all been blocked. So far, remembering's always been something with triggers. You'll say something or Ranma will say something, and i'll get bits and pieces of memories, or just a single flashback. Ares is SUCH a schmuck. Or was it Eiris?*

"Didn't you make any friends?" Ranma shared a grin with Ukyou.

*Yeah i did. i know i did. i just wish i could remember 'em.*

"What you guys doing?" Nabiki, eternally curious, grabbed their shoulders and tried to figure out what these new kids were talking about.

*Who?*

"Huh? Oh, Nabiki. What are you doing?" Ranma moved slightly, breaking contact. Without physical contact she wouldn't be able to hear Rune.

Nabiki paused and re-established physical contact, just that Ranma had moved away was enough for her to pursue. Besides that had been an unfamiliar voice. Neither Ranma nor Ukyou's mouth had moved. "You're a ventriloquist?"

"Uhm sure. Martial arts ventriloquistism." Ranma nodded his head up and down.

"Uh huh. Try again."

Kasumi approached, also curious, and touched Nabiki's shoulder. If there was a group hug about to take place, she wanted in on it.

"What about 'an okonomiyaki chef must master many talents'?"

"How about I tell Akane what you're doing? She'll pound you for sure." Nabiki bluffed, having no clear idea what was going on around here. She directed the comment to Ukyou, since she'd already seen how Ranma could dodge anything Akane threw at him.

Fragments of memory surfaced, crashing through four children's heads all at once. Somehow they knew this was an older Akane. One scene after another of an older Akane pounding someone they knew to be Ranma, over and over and over again. Yelling at him, her face a mask of anger. Laughing at him. Finally an image Akane wearing a bloodstained gi and a bloodthirsty snarl, wielding a katana as she stabbed through what everyone knew was an older Ukyou's unprotected back and on into the body of some redhaired girl. This last seemed different from the others, as if viewing it on a screen while the others were as if observing the scene in real life.

"Akane?!" Nabiki squealed, blinking. That had been Akane. A teenage Akane. A teenage Akane who had just stabbed through a defenseless Ukyou's back in a berserk rage. Literally killed, as in "the Tendo dojo's floor awash in blood" killed. "Who? What? How?"

"Oh my!" Kasumi felt a bit faint. Akane was developing quite a temper, but everyone thought it was just a phase the six-year-old was going through. Maybe they shouldn't humor her?

"What's up?" Akane asked, stepping forward, wondering what the little meeting was about. Her curiosity grew as she noticed the panicked expressions on all four faces and that they stepped away from her in unison. Akane frowned, thinking that these two were conspiring against her. Just like when Nabiki had put that frog in her bed! Probably that Ranma's fault, he'd smirked at her all during the sparring- proving he was making fun of her!

"Rune, tell me that wasn't all you got." Ukyou's whisper was a little hoarse. She'd become familiar with how the gauntlet's memory was spotty, and faded in and out. Sometimes Rune couldn't even remember the details of what he'd been talking about a moment earlier. They'd learned to tune him out when the frustration boiled over and Rune was bewailing the heavens.

*Afraid so. i'm not sure where that came from. It's just something i saw that had an emotional impact on me. i think it was using Akane and pounding together that triggered it.*

"Kinda had an emotional impact on me, too," Ranma quipped. He'd noticed that the youngest girl had a bit of a temper, (she'd been getting quite annoyed during their earlier sparring) but THAT had been scary.

-----------------------

The group waved, watching as the figures of Genma and Akane dwindled in the distance.

"My poor little girl!" Soun began bawling.

"Dear!" There was steel in Mrs Tendo's voice. "You admitted that you couldn't train her in ki attacks. You heard her. You and your 'old friend' agreed to this, too. I have my concerns, but if Akane is to attain her full potential in the martial arts, you BOTH said she had to undergo this."

"...but my little girl. Aka-NE, Aka-NE."

"Poor sis," Nabiki wiped a tear. "I get the feeling she doesn't know what she's getting into."

"Well, it won't be *that* long, surely." Kasumi looked cheerful. "The contract only calls for Mister Saotome to train Akane to Ranma's level. She's quite good at the martial arts. It shouldn't take that long."

"I really got a bad feeling about this."

"Maybe, Ranchan, but we got a lot to think about." Ukyou shrugged. She hadn't been _that_ fond of living outdoors, and this deal did get them a long term living arrangement with the Tendos. At least until Akane came back.

"Hey, Ranma," Nabiki approached the two kids. After all they were a whole year younger than her and therefore kids. "How come you didn't go to stay with your mother?"

"Mrs Tendo asked that too," Ranma shrugged. "Pop said she wasn't around anymore. I don't remember why we had to leave home, maybe she..."

"It's ok, Ranma," Kimiko sighed. "We can put you up for the year that Akane is training with your father."(10)

--------1984----------

Ranma walked into the room, looked everyone over, and read their expressions.

"Mrs Tendo..."

"Please, Ranma, this is a time for family..." Soun began to bawl. The little monster fighter wasn't family yet, after all.

"I can help," finished Ranma. "I think."

"Ranma," said Kimiko fondly. The little boy who kept fighting the odd monsters that found their way into the neighborhood could manage some impressive feats, but this was a bit beyond him. "The doctors have said it is too far, too widespread, inoperable. The radiation therapy isn't sufficient. What can you do?"

Ranma seemed to be deep in thought for a moment, turned a distrustful gaze to Soun, then stepped forward. Ranma overrode Rune's objections, as the gauntlet was absolutely certain that Soun Tendo was not to be trusted with knowledge of his existence. "This."

A white glow built around one hand, and Ranma held that hand over her belly. The Rune Weapon dropped its usual "don't notice me" effect as the power built. It was rather like you don't chew gum and perform major invasive surgery at the same time. "Sorry, but I think this is gonna hurt a little."

"What are you doing?" Kasumi stepped forward, concern obvious, but hope beginning to show. If he could throw lightning bolts (after being taught by that nice Raideen fellow), maybe...

"This is kinda difficult, and I've never done it before," Ranma said, "which is why I waited for the doctors to try everything. Rune here says he downloaded all the info, and now we're ready to try using chi to burn out the cancer while leaving the surviving tissue intact."

Soun eyed the odd gauntlet, but if there were any hope to be offered, he'd grasp it with everything he had. Looked expensive. Maybe he ought to get Ranma to pay rent.

Kimiko nodded her consent. Ranma began the procedure, Rune displaying the information as best he could.

A moment later, Kimiko was blinking sweat out of her eyes and clenching her teeth. Ranma was right. It _did_ hurt. She was of samurai descent, however, and managed to faint before crying out.

Four hours later, Ranma was carried off to rest by Ukyou and Kasumi. Six hours after that, Kimiko Tendo awoke. Hungrier than she'd been in over a year. She was joined by Ranma a few minutes later, just as hungry. Forty-eight hours after THAT, the doctors reported that the tests indicated that Mrs Tendo had a miraculous remission.

Twelve point five seconds after learning this news, Ukyou watched as Kasumi and Nabiki gave in to a crying fit while they attempted to hug the life out of Ranma.

After seeing how Kasumi and Nabiki were getting along with Ranma, Soun wept some more. After all, even though Ranma was only eight years old, he'd proven himself a warrior against tengu and goblin spiders. A minotaur showed up in Nerima, instantly it was given directions to the Tendo dojo.

Now he was a healer as well and had become a good friend to Kasumi and Nabiki. Ah, when Akane got back, what a fine couple they'd make!

-----------------------

Genma watched his young charge and almost despaired of teaching her a ki attack. Neither she nor her parents would be satisfied without *some* mastery of ki, so the "year" of training had stretched out some.

Genma well knew that pride, anger, and similar emotions made for good training incentives. Having learned in the first day of the training trip that Akane wanted to "get even" with Ranma had provided him with the emotional leverage he needed to turn the little girl into a supremely motivated martial artist.

That she now hated Ranma with a passion that bordered on absolute detestation was unfortunate. Besides, she was young, she'd get over it.

Some of the training had worked. Worked quite well, in fact. Akane was now showing all the signs of being a superior martial artist. Muay Thai, kempo, ju jitsu, karate, pankration, all had their place within the Anything Goes. Akane now studied, lived, and breathed the Art.

Some of the training hadn't worked out nearly so well. Genma had taken over _all_ the cooking duties. Then there was this new training. If it worked, Akane would be invincible. If it worked, she'd master a ki attack and they could go back to the Tendo place and Genma could present an Akane who was the equal of his son Ranma.

Problem was, the training hadn't worked too well. He'd tried fish sausages, dried smelts, sardines, fish cakes. Maybe a little fish paste here and there, a dab of fishoil behind the ears, and liberally sprinkled with bonito flakes would do it.

"Okay, Akane, get in there and learn the Catfist!" Genma threw the bound little girl into the pit and shut the trap door. He hoped this would work, he was getting tired of all these failures.


------1990--------

"NO! Let me go, he's got Tuxedo Kamen!" Usagi pushed forward against Makoto and Minako.

The image of a woman appeared behind Kunzite, and a teleportation effect began to form.

"HADOKEN!" A fireball slammed into Kunzite from the side. Kunzite staggered, dropping Tuxedo Kamen in the process.

"SHOOTING STAR KICK!" Kunzite was rather more than staggered from this attack.

The Senshi grasped hope like a drowning man would a life preserver. Reinforcements, even if the strange boy and girl weren't wearing tuxedo or seifuku, were more than welcome at this point.

The girl started throwing spatulas at Kunzite, who formed a protective shield in response.

"SUPREME THUNDER!"

"Nice try, but my shield protects me from such low power attacks." Kunzite sneered at the odd girl and the Senshi trying to break through. With Beryl's gate open, he was able to draw more than enough power to hold them off.

A gauntlet formed on the boy's hand, and he thrust it into the gate. "Dispel." Purple lightning flashed and began to undo the delicate streams of energy that kept the hyperspace tunnel active.

Ranma removed his hand. The gate slammed shut. Kunzite dropped the sneer.

Vaccuum blades began slicing into the shield. Another Hadoken cracked it. Several really miffed young ladies in seifuku then proceeded to vent their displeasure on the Dark Kingdom general inside.

"Tuxedo... Mamoru..." Usagi cradled her fallen boyfriend.

Ignoring the sounds of someone being beaten within an inch of his life, Ranma knelt next to the Moon Princess. "Heal," he commanded Rune. The weapon complied, having learned to access this ability recently.

---------------------------

"Akane, it's time to move on."

"He promised he'd meet me here. He promised we'd settle this." She didn't understand WHY that boy had been so angry, anyway.

"It's been three days now. We HAVE to go to China. That Hibiki boy must've chickened out."

Akane sighed. "Yeah, I guess. I thought Ryouga was more of a man than that."

Genma shrugged. "Well, come on, then."

Akane was silent as they walked for the first few minutes. "Can I at least get these breast binders off? They're tight and they itch."

Genma nodded. Besides, they had a long swim ahead of them.

-----------------

Nodoka Saotome was calm, refined, graceful. Of Samurai descent, as was her husband, she practiced the ideal of Japanese stoicism. Endurance without complaint, this was a major founding point of Japanese society.

Therefore, she was grateful that she was alone when she let out a spit-take that would have made Danny Thomas proud. A stream of tea that soaked the newspaper she had been reading.

After the coughing had died down, she returned her gaze to the section in question. It was a little harder to read with the wet newspaper, but she could still make it out.

"NEW ALLY OF THE SENSHI!" proclaimed the headline. Apparently a photographer with a zoom lens had gotten pictures. Another 'Nerima monster attack' but this time the Sailor Senshi had taken part. There were blurry pictures of the seifuku(11) clad Senshi, but the two in the center fighting the giant three-headed snake were clear.

More important was the caption. "Frequent monster-hunter and devil-slayer Ranma Saotome and local okonomiyaki chef Ukyou Kuonji join forces with the Sailor Senshi to destroy a monster threatening a local high school."

Nodoka immediately started making calls. Yes, Mrs Fujishima had been keeping track of the monsters in Nerima stories. Yes, what an amazing coincidence it was that this boy had the same exact name as Nodoka's long lost son. Oh yes, and this boy was quite often accompanied by his fiancee - an Ukyou Kuonji. Wasn't that amazing?

Nodoka smiled, nodded, bowed to the telephone, and made plans to visit Nerima. She'd just surprise Genma. It certainly sounded as if Ranma were well on his way to becoming a man among men!

------------------

Ranma growled and slapped his forehead. "Oh man, AGAIN?!"

Soun shrugged and looked apologetic. "The camera crew was here, Dearest had let them in for tea, so the whole thing was filmed. We tried to hold them off, but they were too skilled and too many."

"But this is the THIRD magical prince type to show up!" Ranma shook his head. It HAD been just monsters showing up weekly. THAT had been enough to get the camera crew following him last year. Then, when the TV program had started airing footage, the dojo challengers/destroyers/martial artist groupies had begun appearing. Some, like that Ryouga Hibiki fellow, were infrequent allies and had a bit of a following themselves.

Then came the Magical Princes, most of whom had apparently not seen the program. (Which was tolerated as it was free publicity for the Tendo dojo, as well as provided additional income that the family could well use.) The first one had kidnapped Ukyou to be his bride in his magical Caves Of Ice in Russia. The second prince had kidnapped Nabiki, and the destination this time had been the hidden kingdom of the Mole People.

"So who was it this time?" Nodoka inquired politely. Her son was so manly to have his own fanclub!

Kimiko brought out a tray full of tea things. "He said he was Prince Mustard Of The Hidden Kingdom Of Rowanwood. The style he practiced was Gypsy Martial Arts. He had five assistants, all with a different magical weapon. I got the distinct impression that they were all close relatives."

"Hmmm. European." Ranma shook his head. Even further afield this time. "So they grabbed Kasumi off to be some bride. Well, first we need to figure out where Rowanwood is, then go get her, huh?"

"Sounds good," agreed Nabiki. "So how do we manage the travel arrangements? Let the studio know about it and have them along to film us like the 'Caves Of Ice' incident?"

*i'm detecting magical signatures here, i may be able to use Psychometry if we can find something they left behind. Might i suggest that we get some help on this trip? That ambush with the Mole People almost ended in disaster.*

"We could use some allies this time," agreed Ranma. "Lemmee call a couple of friends. If Ryouga's back in town, he could be handy."

*i think it's time to try that Awakening manuever. Is Nabiki still game?*

"Nabiki, Rune says he's ready to try to awaken your psychic talents. Are you sure you want to go through with this?"

Nabiki grinned. "Damn straight. If I could have done SOMETHING instead of just being kidnapped by that overweight little slob, I would have."

*As it will take several hours, we can try it on the way to this 'Rowanwood' and once Kasumi has been recovered we can do the same for her.*

"In the meantime, let me call a few 'friends' and see if any of them are available for this." After all, he'd helped them with Beryl...

--------eyecatch-------

Ami Mizuno, Makoto Kino, Minako Aino, Cutey Honey are all dressed as feminine anime versions of Dumas' Musketeers and cross swords overhead. "ALL FOR ONE! ONE FOR ALL!"

Kasumi and Nabiki (in her hardsuit) walk in from the side carrying the "Rune With A View" logo.

Kodachi, Shampoo, Dominatrix Akemi and a small crowd of women chase Akane-kun through the foreground.

Everyone else sweatdrops.

-------March 12, 1992--------

Soun grinned. The gleam in his eyes was exactly the sort of gleam one gets upon sighting the promised land, or some unreasonable facsimile. At last the long anticipated postcard that showed a panda on one side, while the other side bore a barely legible scrawl.

"Hi. Bringing Akane from China. Saotome."

"At last, my little girl will be returned. The family reunited after all this time!"

Kimiko stuck her head out of the kitchen. "Genma's returning? Well, it's damn well about time! It's been *how* many more years than he'd said it would take?"

"Uhm, well, let's not start on that again, dearest." Soun tried to look nonchalant. "Oh, we need to gather everyone."

"Kasumi's practicing her shiatsu, Nabiki's working on some new mecha." Kimiko shrugged. One of Ranma's friends had introduced her to Mechanics and Nabiki had taken to it like a duck to water. The girl was always tinkering with some gadget or another. Kimiko Tendo didn't understand her daughter's fascination for strange gadgets, but allowed that there were much worse things that she could be into. "Ukyou's at the restaurant, and Ranma was called by one of his friends over in Azabu Juuban. Something about help putting down a monster."

"Ah well, hopefully it won't take him too long this time." Soun chuckled at the thought of Ranma and his friends over in Juuban. They'd apparently met two years previously when he'd met the Sailor Senshi. Maybe they were groupies of the Senshi or something, but they were Ranma's personal students in the Art so one could expect a certain friendship.

"Do you want me to page him?"

"That would be a good idea. Page Ukyou while you're at it, dearest." Soun's grin was electric. "Soon, very soon, the houses will be joined!"

"Dear," Kimiko looked up from where she was dialing. "You haven't got something odd planned do you?"

"Who me?"

--------------------

"Ranma!" Kasumi smiled at the young man as he led his friends in, exchanging a wink with Makoto. Kasumi had known Makoto Kino for two years now. And out of all the girls interested in Ranma from Ami to Yohko, Kasumi liked Makoto the best. Especially after that adventure two months ago with the mirrors and that Nehelenia woman. "Was it difficult?"

"Just a study session," said Ranma with a wink. He knew. She knew. He knew that she knew, but appearances were necessary. After all, Luna and Artemis had nearly had coronaries when Kasumi and Nabiki had crashed a meeting of the Senshi. (It had been right after that fight with Beryl.) They'd tracked him, trying to find out where Ranma had been going (hoping to find out why Ranma had been so secretive about his new friends). At the time, he'd deeply regretted using Rune to awaken their psychic abilities. Kasumi's sensitive abilities, Nabiki's telemechanical sense. At the time, it had been to cut down on the number of kidnappings. Then they'd proven themselves during that fight with Nehelenia. (Though Ranma had worried about Nabiki making statements like "Let me show you what girl power can do! Especially with a sonic cannon!")

Nabiki smiled and nodded her head at Ami. Out of all the girls pursuing Ranma, Nabiki favored Ami's cool intellectualism. At least this week. Last week it had been Ukyou, but Ranma and Ukyou had had a fight dealing with yet another challenger after Ranma - trashing most of the "Ucchan's" before Ukyou had demonstrated that it wasn't wise to discount an okonomiyaki chef who could throw a Hadoken. Now if only Ami could stop acting around Ranma in almost exactly the same manner that Dr Tofu reacted to Kasumi. Nabiki fingered her holy symbol of Hephaestus absently as she considered ways to get Ami and Ranma together.

Soun eyed the crowd of young women accompanying Ranma. "What... this is a family meeting. Sorry." Privately, he thanked all the kami that there wasn't any new faces among them. And that the film crew had already gone home for the day. Not that Nabiki probably didn't have a camera running somewhere.

"Oh, don't mind us, Tendo-san. Come on, we can wait out in the dojo." Makoto smirked. More time spent with Ranma. He could throw lightning. She could throw lightning. It was a match made with Heaven's Blessings! And they got along _so_ well! She enjoyed a brief flashback to last year, the Jade Undersea Palaces of Wakame, where she had been kidnapped with most of the other girls in the room for leverage against Ranma. The cramped escape pod where she'd been snuggled against Ranma for hours while they went through decompression. Ah!

Usagi grumbled a little bit. She wished that Mamo-chan were here. Having to wait out in the dojo on a cold drizzly day like this with Rei and Ami and Makoto... Still, Ranma had promised to show them a new martial arts technique, so they ought to stick around.

"Hotaru-chan, Mako-chan, could you give me a hand in the kitchen?" Mrs Tendo briefly looked over the group. So nice that Ranma made so many friends. She'd have to call Nodoka. Judging from the look Makoto was giving Ranma, it might be a good idea to make formal introductions soon! (They'd met during that Prince Mustard incident, but there hadn't been much time for the formal niceties. Nodoka had missed out on most of the other similar incidents.) Actually, Kimiko preferred Honey-chan (a slightly older woman seemed more suitable for Ranma). Of course, she rather liked Minako too. So much enthusiasm! It was really a pity that Nabiki and Kasumi tended to view Ranma as a brother.(12)

"Ahem," Soun cleared his throat as everyone sat down. "Dearest, actually if you'd come in here. There's something you should know."

"Yes?" Mrs Tendo stood near the curtain to the kitchen, waiting to see if this was another one of Soun's financial ventures. Some worked. Some didn't. The dojo had students, and Soun also helped out at the Civic Center, but they didn't have _that_ much to play with.

"Saotome is bringing Akane from China."

"That's great," Nabiki and Kasumi chorused enthusiastically.

"Oh good. It'll be interesting to see what Pop has been able to teach her in the past few years."

Ukyou shuddered briefly, remembering nightmares that had haunted her for years. Sometimes involving her death, or her humiliation, or some other personal suffering. At the first sign of a redhaired girl she was heading for shelter. "Yeah, great."

Soun smiled. If they liked that, they'll love this. "When Saotome brings Akane, she can marry Ranma and the Tendo family legacy will be secure."

There was a brief silence, broken by the sound of glass breaking in the kitchen, a loud thump as several people facefaulted outside, and a loud yelp from Nabiki. This last as Kasumi had been refilling Nabiki's teacup and had continued to pour the tea, but her aim had gotten a little off.

"WHAT?!" The chorus was nearly universal.

Soun blinked. This wasn't quite the reaction he had hoped for.

"Oh my."

"You've _got_ to be kidding, Daddy."

"Oh no, it's happening." Ukyou glanced at Ranma. Soon he'd be beaten on, then she'd get a sword through her. Or something like that. Rune still hadn't been able to come up with much detail. She was hoping that the redhaired girl never showed, maybe there was still a chance to avoid Doom.

*i didn't hear that right, did i?* Ranma, the only one in contact with the gauntlet at the moment, hushed Rune and couldn't help but wonder aloud. "What kind of nut came up with THAT one?" (13)

"Poor Mako-chan," commiserated Usagi briefly. Yet another romantic subplot unraveled, yet again Makoto's heart was destined to be trampled into the dirt. "Least I've got Mamo-chan!"

There was a brief sound of Rei elbowing Usagi.

"Dearest, can I speak to you for a moment?"

Those familiar with Kimiko Tendo edged away. When she started singing her sentences, especially with THAT look in her eyes, the prudent took cover.

Soun, feeling the Doom upon him, pressed ahead anyway. "It's a matter of honor, a pledge made years ago between families."

"Did Mom know about this?" Ranma asked, his mother had some weird ideas, but upon finding out that her son regularly battled monsters and was deemed heroic in the media, had rethought her definition of manly. She also seemed to think that Ucchan was _perfect_ for him since they'd met three years ago. Though she also seemed to think that a number of other members of the RFC (Ranma Fan Club) were also worthy of consideration. As it was, the only reason he was here instead of at his mother's house was the agreement with Mister Tendo.

Ranma reflected that there was apparently more than one such agreement for him to deal with.

Soun laughed. "I have no idea. They'll be here soon."

-----------------------

Passerbys at the Nerima WonderMall were few, the frequent cold drizzle being a deterrent to leisurely shopping.

Those that were out got a floor show.

The panda was attempting to bully a rather large and tough-looking fellow. The boy in question wasn't having anything to do with it.

There was a good dealing of yelling from the boy, followed by grunting and sign-waving from the panda. This was followed by the boy throwing the panda around as if it weighed nearly nothing at all.

Many of the passerby, including the girl named Minako Aino, were wondering what the boy meant about not being able to go home in his current condition. Minako appraised the boy and thought he was even more ruggedly handsome than Ranma, if in a sort of roughneck manner. No, Minako decided, this guy was rugged compared to Ranma's cute.

"A-ka-ne!" A girl's voice called through the rain, causing both panda and boy to freeze as if in mortal terror.

"Shit! Shampoo's still after us, sounds close too." The boy backed up, looking for escape.

The panda noted the distraction and took advantage of it. Taking a vegetable cart sign, he brought it down over the boy's head. It took three applications of the treatment for the boy to go down.

Finally the panda slung the boy over its shoulder, and with a nervous glance behind him, ran off into the rain.

Minako, curious and finding the large boy somewhat attractive, followed.

---------------------

Nodoka Saotome looked over the photos, the videotapes, the newspaper clippings, and smiled. Her son was now sixteen and it was time to make plans.

Her fingers traced a photo taken just a few months past. A photo she'd managed to take of her son that time that yet another magical prince (Prince Korvus of Ravensheart) had charged in and kidnapped BOTH Tendo girls and one of his friends.

Nodoka usually allowed herself to remain in the background. One gets a better view that way. She hadn't missed the looks that had been directed at her son.

The kidnapped friend had been one that Nodoka had considered adopting, particularly after finding the girl's parents had died in a plane crash. Now, perhaps, it was just as well that Makoto Kino had not been adopted into the family.

There was a far more satisfying method of becoming the girl's mother available.

---------------------

Soun Tendo found himself facing the one Being in all the universe he feared more than the Master. An unstoppable force with a will of iron.

Kimiko Tendo was unhappy. She never raised her voice, she never struck her husband, she didn't need such blatant measures. Her daughter Kasumi had learned the Gentle Voice technique first, then had learned the other techniques of the Martial Arts Voice after her mother's illness had been dispelled. "What EXACTLY were the terms of this arrangement?"

"Th-that the Houses and two Schools be joined. My child would marry Genma's child. It was made before they were even born, back when we served under the M-Master."

"Oh?" Mrs Tendo paused. "It wasn't Akane specifically?"

"Well, no..."

"Oh my!" Kasumi covered her mouth. She could be engaged to Ranma? Why, he was... actually pretty nice. Hmmm. She was so used to thinking of him as a friend of the family, how could she switch tracks to consider him a fiance? Hmmm.

"Ah," said Nabiki. She'd discounted any chance at him when it became obvious how crowded the playing field was. Now there was family honor to be considered. Yes, and she'd never properly displayed her gratitude for saving her from that Vega person...

"...but when Genma and I spoke last, we had discussed it as a marriage between the two strongest fighters. That would be Akane."

"Oh, so any girl who can defeat Akane then would be an acceptable candidate!" Usagi exclaimed from where she was listening, ignoring the frantic shushing gestures from the other eavesdroppers.

"Hmmm." There was another odd chorus as this concept went around.

"Well that wasn't what I said..." Soun was flinching under the steely gaze of his wife. There was a pleasant fiction about the man running the household in Japan, but it was the wife who held the reins of power. It was just that most of them weren't obvious about it.

"LEMMEE GO, YOU OLD FOOL!"

"That must be them! Saotome, it's been so long!"

"A panda?" Ranma held his hands up as if cupping a ball between them. Little blue arcs of lightning formed a cat's cradle between his hands.

Nabiki pulled her taser out, sure that this would be yet another challenger to kidnap her or Kasumi so that Ranma would fight them. (14)

Kasumi stood up gracefully, thinking the same thing. Small objects began to float up around her and her hair whipped around as if in a strong wind. Her telekinetic abilities had just hit a growth spurt within the last year, and they weren't that powerful, but if some new challenger thought that Kasumi Tendo was helpless, then they should think again!

Ukyou assumed the stance, ready to unleash a Hadoken at this latest dojo destroyer. Using a panda no less. What was this, Circus Performer Martial Arts or something? After fighting Yuki Kashiya and her Ice Cream Vendor Martial Arts techniques, this was a lot less silly.

Kimiko's bokken was held at the ready.

Makoto had drawn the nunchakus that Ranma had given and trained her in. Changing them into bo staff form wasn't practical inside the house.

"Stop it, you idiot! Can't you see you're scaring them spitless?!" The boy carried over one shoulder couldn't see the scene that had caused the panda to abruptly stop its forward momentum. It was merely an educated guess based on memories that this was a _normal_ family.

The panda set the boy down and looked over a large number of unfriendly faces, some of whom were quite obviously readying high level chi attacks. A sign flipped rapidly up.[Would you believe that I'm just a cute lil' panda?]

The boy stared at the incipient mayhem and came to the obvious conclusion. "Stupid old man! Ya picked the wrong house!"

[This _is_ the Tendo Dojo.] The sign flipped. [Had the sign out front and everything.]

-----------------

Akane looked over the group, trying to fit them in with what she knew.

That was her father all right, and her mother looked a bit thin, but was otherwise recognizable.

Was that Nabiki wearing a pair of overalls that had tools sticking out of a large number of pockets? She had a bandaid across the bridge of her nose and what looked like a smudge of grease against one cheek. She also had some odd necklace with a small hammer on it.

That _might_ be Kasumi, wearing a long sleeved blouse that had lace at the wrists and collar. Her dress was a simple ankle-length thing, and she was holding a book on "Introduction To Nursing" in her hands. She also had ball bearings hanging suspended in midair around her.

That had to be Ranma. Confident, conceited, arrogant. Almost six feet in height, which placed him well below the height of Akane's cursed form.

The two girls peering out from the kitchen and the three from the patio she didn't recognize at all. How odd.

------------------

Genma was good at many things. Stealing food, running away, hiding, training martial artists (for the most part), and gauging an opponent's power level were among the things he was best at.

His eyes flicked around the room and he swallowed involuntarily.

SOUN had improved, even better than during the days with the Master. How this had happened was unclear. Kimiko was about at the level she had been when they last met, but you didn't expect a Physics major to be that into the martial arts anyway.

That conservatively dressed girl (Kasumi?) wasn't in a martial arts stance but clearly had incredible ki judging from the cloud of little spheres floating around her. There was also something indefinable that spoke to Genma of vast power that slumbered, if just for the moment.

The girl in the modified flight suit was holding a taser in one hand, the other hand stuck in a pocket. Obviously she had a weapon THERE too, and if someone immobilized the hand with the taser she'd lash out with the hidden weapon. Basic training in Anything Goes, but nothing fancy. Still, there was a hidden power within this girl.

The tall girl in the kitchen doorway had slipped into an aggressive Anything Goes stance, and seemed to be fairly good. The girl behind her was in a more defensive pose, but the style was unfamiliar. Vaguely reminiscent of Tai Chi? Despite being a child, there was something about her that screamed DANGEROUS to Genma's finely honed survival sense.

The short haired girl in the backyard was studying something on her laptop, but seemed to have a fair amount of power as well. So did the girl with the long hair and handful of... spirit wards? The girl with the odango hairstyle MIGHT be an Amazon but wasn't carrying herself like a martial artist at all.

Then there was Ranma. Martial arts stance unfamiliar. Power level was, well, Genma told himself he had to be making a mistake. There was no way that Ranma could have attained that sort of power level on his own.

------------------

"Are you here to challenge the Tendo Dojo?" Ranma's tone suggested that answering in the affirmative would be a bad idea.

"Are you... Ranma?" The boy frowned. Had that been lightning around his hands earlier? No, couldn't be. After all, it was Akane that had gone out and learned the martial arts through long personal suffering.

*I'm reading some strong enchantment on them. Black band, so it's a curse of some kind. Maybe like that Ryouga Hibiki kid and his sense of direction.*

Ranma nodded, silently acknowledging the information and responding to the challenger's question. It wasn't the first time that the dojo challenger had turned up with a curse or enchantment.

"Growf!" Seeing as the violence was not imminent, the panda started looking for some hot water.

Akane grinned. At last, payback for whatever the boy had done that had gotten her the cold shoulder from her sisters. Payback for that humiliating win ten years ago. Payback for tricking Akane into going off on that damn training journey! Especially with this big male body, she should have no trouble pounding him. AND this would be as humiliating for Ranma as their earlier match had been for Akane. She had been dreaming and planning of this moment for years. She also didn't remember the incident very well, as both Genma (in the interest of motivating his student) and Akane herself had embellished it over the years. "Then I challenge you."

It wasn't just the two of them that went out to the dojo. It was a small crowd.

"Do it quickly, Ranchan," Ukyou glared at Ranma. "None of this playing around like you did with that Dimitri guy." She was still quite unhappy with the damage that had been done to her restaurant.

"Hey, he was tougher than he looked!" Ranma growled and settled into a ready position.

"How can you take any guy with a lace collar seriously?" Ukyou wasn't buying it.

"Go get him, Ranma," Makoto called from the sidelines.

Nabiki flipped switches. "Forcefield on. Surface set to impact absorbing anything over 160 psi. Dojo's secure. Camera on." The television station paid for a lot of this, after all.

Kasumi sat demurely and tried to get used to the idea that she could very well end up engaged to Ranma. In a way, she supposed she already WAS engaged to Ranma. Oh my!

Ami merely smiled at Ranma, a slight blush on her face. He was looking at her! He was concerned for her! He was smiling at her! THUD!

"Ami's fainted again," Rei said, looking down at her lap. Eyes glazed, check. Silly grin, check. At least she wasn't going off into la-la land and dancing with her books this time. It was bad enough when Minako did that, but at least Minako had given up on Ranma. Well, mostly. Makoto tended to melt into a puddle on odd occasions. Like that time that Ranma had carried her around after that skater couple had tried to make off with her henshin pen. Makoto had twisted her ankle and Ranma had immediately swept her up in his arms and took her home.

"I thought she was over that," Usagi complained. Poor Ami. She'd been having trouble ever since that one youma had caught both Ami and Ranma in its tentacles and had mashed them together. It had looked kinda hentai, what with their clothes being wet from the monster's slime at the time. Not that anything hentai could be the case with Ami though. Maybe she'd caught some kinda flu.

"Challenger, what's your name?" Kimiko started to fill out the documentation paperwork.

"Ak-" Akane paused, he wanted to fight Ranma and unload a lot of frustration. Likely he'd be unable to do that once everyone knew that he was actually Akane. "Akuma. Akuma, er, Hibiki."

"Insurance carrier?"

"Huh?"

"I'll put down 'none'," Kimiko put that down and shook her head. "Next of kin?"

"After I defeat Ranma," said Akane with a smirk, "I'll tell you."

"Yeah, sure." Ranma looked over the figure. Tall, fairly strong from the look, probably endurance in the extreme range. There was also that blackband curse to worry about. Maybe a vampire slave or something similar, in which case supernatural strength and toughness would be a consideration. Especially if that last name indicated a relation to Ryouga Hibiki. Conclusion: closing with the figure could be bad, trying to outlast him might be a problem, and if this was another assassin sent by Ares then it could morph at some point into a monster that would put the spectators at risk.

"Begin!" Kimiko's hand slashed the air.

Akane rushed forward, ready to use a piledriver punch. Ranma dodged, slid low, then came up in an uppercut that rattled the door to the dojo.

Akane hit the floor and blinked. That had HURT. Living at home, not having gone through the suffering SHE had, how could he be this good?

[Stop playing around, 'Akuma']

Akane got up, shaking his head to clear it.

"Shooting Star Kick!"

Akane got up again, growling and focussed in on his opponent.

[How could he know that move? I sealed those techniques!]

"My such a clever panda..." Kasumi smiled, then a furrow crossed her brow. She wasn't exactly a Biology major, (she was currently pursuing a fair number of studies while trying to decide between several career tracks) but she was pretty sure that pandas couldn't write. What could this mean?

"STAND STILL!" Akane was tired of this Ranma dodging everything he threw at him. How could Ranma be this good? He hadn't gone through any of the suffering Akane had, living peacefully at home. This was insufferable!

Ranma tensed slightly as he saw Akuma clench his jaw and come rushing forward. Time to end this. "Lightning..."

"FIST!" Makoto, Ami (having come to), and Nabiki (?) chorused with Ranma from the sidelines.

Akane made a mistake. He blocked instead of dodging. There was a brief crackle as thousands of volts discharged. Akane hit the floor with a thump, hair sticking up at odd angles and gi smouldering at the point of impact.

"Match: Ranma," Kimiko said with a sigh. Now they had to get back to waiting for Akane and Genma to show up.

Ranma looked down at the figure twitching on the floor. "Well, it's not another one of Ares' little surprises, nor is it a youma."

"I detect no evil on either," put in Kasumi helpfully. "There's something not quite right with either, but then a lot of challengers have something odd about them."

"Gezzuplik," managed Akane, trying to get his mouth and vocal cords to work.

"Well, come on, Ranma. We've got to go wait for Akane and your dad to show up."

"Akradurazz?" Akane twitched and rolled over onto all fours.

Nabiki watched everyone else filing off to the house. "Yeah, there's a furo if you want to get a bath. The muscle spasms and everything will fade out, fifteen minutes tops. If you attack anyone AFTER we've extended hospitality to you..."

Akane made a violent shaking of his head gesture. "Urakarua!"

"Well, good, I'm glad you understand that." Nabiki shrugged. _Most_ dojo challengers understood the protocol. Then there were also the martial arts groupie types who just wanted to measure themselves up against someone as infamous as Ranma. This Akuma would be able to go home and state that he'd lasted almost five minutes with Ranma, which was certainly an accomplishment for most. Even though Ranma preferred to spend some time checking out an opponent's skills.

"Gru Gree," Akane staggered off. A nice long soak sounded good.

-------Mimir's Well-----

"So how's the Test coming along?" Susano pulled his Walkman off and looked over the group monitoring the pool. He'd been listening to the "Voices Of The Heart" soundtrack and chuckling over a Japanese version of John Denver's "Country Road."

"Fine. Rune currently has three major and four minor abilities. The timeline is going well, though there is some doubt about the mission objectives being attainable."

"Well, don't give up hope. She might still pull it off."

------------------------

"AAAAAAAAAAAA!" Ranma came running back out into the room.

"I thought you were going to get a bath before Akane showed up, Ranma?" Kasumi smiled and tried not to stare at how Ranma was just barely covered by the bathrobe. Makoto (among others) were failing that Willpower Check.

Nabiki had been about to mention that Akuma was in the furo when she started staring and her mind went into a pleasant little naughty fantasy.

Usagi looked at how red Ami's cheeks were and was wondering if it were possible for her cheeks to explode from blood pressure.

Rei looked at Makoto's silly grin and glazed eyes and was glad that Makoto didn't go into the same silliness as Ami did on occasion. Rei traced her fellow Senshi's gaze and got an amused smile herself. You could almost see...

"There's some pervert girl in the bathroom!"

"AGAIN?!" Makoto, Ami, Rei, Ukyou, and Nabiki stood up.

"I thought you put some alarms on that window, Nabiki." Kasumi was suddenly aware that her telekinesis was in the process of untying the front of Ranma's robe and stopped the naughty impulse.

"I did. She must have snuck in while we were in the dojo."

"I thought you'd covered all that stuff, I mean..." Ranma managed to look acutely embarassed. "She looked kind of familiar too. I was trying to place the face..."

"She got a good look, huh?" Nabiki frowned. Ranma had to marry a Tendo, right? If Akane didn't show, she'd have to accept the burden. In which case some girl had just ogled HER fiance! "I'll drown her in the bathtub!"

"Thanks, Nabiki," said Ami after a moment. Nabiki was so nice about this, and Nabiki had already confided (two days ago) that she thought that Ranma + Ami would be a good match. With Nabiki's support, Ami was sure that she could win. Which would be good, as Ranma had come in *so* handy in the fights with Beryl and Metal'la that it would be in the best interests of the Moon Kingdom to bring him officially into their group.

Ukyou growled. She wasn't ready to forgive Ranma just yet, but was not about to let this latest tramp get away with this.

"Uhm, I'm Akane Tendo. Sorry about this."

"AAAAAaaaaa!" Ranma and Ukyou chorused. She looked just like the girl in the vision. Nabiki exchanged a glance with Kasumi. This could be bad. If she started beating on Ranma, they'd have to find some excuse to get the engagement switched. Purely in the interest of maintaining the "wa" of the home, of course.

"KNOCK IT OFF!" Akane snarled. This wasn't going at all the way she'd planned it.

"Akane, when did you get in?"

"You're that boy that was here earlier." Kasumi's voice was certain. "Your auras are the same."

"Auras?" Akane frowned. What kind of weird stuff had Ranma inflicted on her family?

Genma stepped out of the kitchen. "There's an explanation for this."

"And you're the panda," Kasumi said with a nod.

Ami frowned. She'd learned to trust Kasumi's sensitive and empathic abilities. Where did the extra mass come from? What about the genetic structure? How far down on that level did the change go? A full examination needed to be done.

Genma launched into an explanation of Jusenkyo, punctuated by throwing Akane out into the pond, followed by Genma getting splashed by a bucket of water, followed by recriminations all around.

"Well, now, that isn't so bad," Soun said with a laugh, not noticing the way the temperature had continued to drop. Very deliberately not noticing the way his wife was looking at him. "So we can go ahead and plan the union of the two families through the marriage of Akane and Ranma!"

"Yes, that's true," agreed Genma.

"I object!" Nabiki raised her hand.

"I must disagree as well, Father."

"I also disagree!" Makoto frowned.

"Whattaya mean 'marriage'?!" Akane growled, still in boy form.

"What witnesses were there? Was this legalized at all?" Ami started searching her database for possible ways to derail this matrimonial miscarriage.

"What about dowries? What about _my_ claim?" Ukyou objected.

"I ain't into yaoi, especially with no pervert, so just stop right there."

Akane paused. "What did you call me?"

"A pervert, pervert. You didn't even put up the occupied sign!" Ranma was more than tired of girls popping up in his bath.

"You're the pervert! Besides, it's no big deal for me to see a male body. I see myself all the time. AND I'm better hung, to boot."

WHAM!

Makoto bowed a little apology as she realized that she'd just slammed the dining room table into Akane.

Genma frowned. "Now THAT she had coming."

--------------------------------

At the exact moment that the Akane+Ranma marriage was mentioned, several things happened.

Every chopstick and rice bowl at I Ching's Chinese Takeout suddenly broke. Actually this was due to Kasumi's telekinesis reacting to her shock at the announcement.

A priest named Cherry looked at the broken pair of chopsticks in his hands and pronounced this omen "most ominous."

Two hundred ravens suddenly took off from the Cherry Hill temple, only to come crashing down all together during one massive midair pile-up.

Ayaka Kisaragi felt a chill, and the ghost sweeper erected a particularly strong spirit ward just in case.

Minako Aino lost the trail of that ruggedly handsome guy she'd been pursuing and decided to join the others at the Tendo Dojo. Actually, she'd lost it some time ago, but was just now admitting it to herself.

The small shrine at the back of the Tendo's dojo collapsed for no discernable reason.

Lightning struck the great Kuno mansion. Unfortunately, Kodachi was on the roof at the time. It took her a few days to get the roast pork smell off.

A little black cat got lost again and meowed at the gathering stormclouds. If anyone nearby had understood catspeak, they would have heard: "Akane Tendo, THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!"

Shampoo found the trail of her airen, just ask for tall and handsome martial artist who was fighting with a panda. Worked every time.

The cast came off of the leg of one Mikado Sanzennin, who promptly vowed that he WOULD kiss that ponytailed girl from Azabu Juuban! How dare that Ranma person have a bigger fanclub than he did! How dare they mock Mikado Sanzennin? How dare his partner exclaim "Jean Luc!" and become glued to a television showing that American program "Star Trek The Next Generation?" He would claim the lips of the skater, and the bookworm, the spatula girl, AND that blonde girl with the red bow in her hair! "I'll show you, I'LL SHOW ALL OF YOU!" (Cue maniacal laughter.)

A battledroid named Cutey Honey sighed and watched Chokkei and his new girlfriend, wishing that she could get Ranma to stick around after a fight and cuddle like that.

Ares high-fived Eiris. "Discord, hatred, people beating on other people, I LOVE IT!"

Mousse checked around. Shampoo had come this way. He would slay her husband and then Shampoo would be his again. No outsider male would steal HIS bride!

--------------

"RANMA! Today is the day that you and your sorcerous ways fall before the fabled Blue Thunder!"

"Sorry, Kuno, gotta run." Ranma flipped past the kendoist, not slowing down in the slightest. Not even a scuff on his Furinkan uniform to show from today's meeting.

"Ukyou Kuonji, come to me, my goddess of okonomiyaki!"

"In your dreams, sugar. And ONLY then." Ukyou slid low under grasping arms, leapt up on the other side, and was up the stairs before Tatewaki Kuno could turn around.

Kuno sighed and turned from the entry to behold a vision of loveliness! A girl with short hair wearing Chinese clothing.

"Ah, a new and comely young lass. No doubt here to greet the great Tatewaki Kuno."

"Who?" Akane looked at this guy blocking her path.

"Kuno, that's my sister Akane, don't bother her." Nabiki raced by on her motorized skateboard, flipping it up at the stairs so she could carry it in.

"You are Nabiki's sister? How strange that such a strange girl should have a goddess like yourself as a relative."

"Would yah mind getting outta my way? I don't see why I've got to go to school, but if I do, I shouldn't be late!"

The bell began to chime. "Oh, get outta my way!" Akane went for a legsweep. The Blue Thunder leapt over it.

"Challenge accepted! I, the Blue Thunder, crackle,boom will allow you to date with me if you should defeat me!"

"Who the hell wants to date you?" Akane noticed the rain beginning to fall. She had to hurry!

---------------

Nabiki watched from her window as Kuno tried a few more attacks, all of which were dodged, until what was now a large man in Chinese clothing did a rising uppercut that put the kendoist into Dreamland.(17)

"Poor Akane, Kuno's gotten a lot better from fighting Ranma lately."

"Nabiki? You know that guy?"

Nabiki noted Ryonami's presence. "Yeah, kind of. What, you want the inside scoop so that you can set odds? Or are you going to put this out on the Ranma newsletter?"(18)

"Who me? Ahahahaha. Don't be silly, I'm just curious."

"500 yen." It was not a coincidence that she needed exactly that amount to add the booster pack to her hardsuit's sonic cannon.

"Done."

"His name's Akuma. He's trained in the martial arts since he was five. He's my half-brother." Nabiki added silently that he was half-brother and half-sister. "Staying at our place with my younger sister Akane."

"Younger sister? I didn't know you had one." The Ranma fans would just love this scoop. For a price.

Nabiki debated for a moment whether to give the next bit out, but figured that it would come out eventually anyway. "Well... er. Ranma's kind of engaged to Akane."

Ryonami's eyes got large. The RFC would pay major yen for this. "Engaged to Ranma? The Incredible Hunk?" She knew Ranma hated that nickname, but it had stuck for over a year now. "You're kidding. How could this happen?"

"Oh some stupid thing agreed by the parents. Both of 'em are hung up on this strong fighter ideal. Like strength is the only thing that matters in a fight. They were suggesting that Ranma had to marry Akane because she was such a strong fighter." Nabiki was aware of the sudden breeze and absence of Ryonami. Nabiki frowned, wondering what she had said.

---------------------

"Well, class this is a new student, Akuma Tendo, who has just arrived from China. That still doesn't excuse that you were late. Stand in the hall."

Akane-kun glared at Ranma before heading for the hallway. Leaving messes behind for HER to clean up like that jerk outside. How DARE he! And now she'd be registered as a boy!

"Excuse me, sensei," Ranma held up his hand. "It is entirely my fault that Akane is late. I should have warned him about Kuno before arriving."

"Akane?" The teacher frowned. Odd name for a girl. He'd be looking down on any OTHER student for interrupting class, but he still owed Ranma for rescuing him from that giant Elvis impersonator.

"Akuma's just a nickname."

"I see. That explains the paperwork." The teacher adjusted his glasses. And if the boy had a girl's name, no wonder he was such a brawler- and went by the name of "Devil." Made perfect sense to him after working at Furinkan for the past three years. "Coming from YOU, Mister Saotome, this isn't unusual. You can't take the burdens of the world on yourself, however much you may try. Mister Tendo has a responsibility to be here on time. I'll overlook it this once since you vouch for him."

Akane stopped at the doorway, unable to believe what had just happened.

"Take a seat, Mister Tendo."

"Yes, sensei!"

---------------------

"Pssst! Yuka!" Sayuri leaned towards her friend while the teacher was busy scratching something out on the blackboard.

"Sayuri?"

"Didja see how Akuma was staring at Ranma all through class?"

"Yeah, come to think of it... NO! It can't be!"

"Poor Ranma. Now he's got BOYS after him too."

"That's sick." Yuka shook her head. "Still, if ANY boy was going to have that effect, you KNOW it would be Ranma."

"At least we know Ranma isn't into that," Sayuri sighed, little hearts floating briefly around her.

"AHEM!"

"Sorry, sensei!"

---------------------

"Airen?" Shampoo scratched her head and contemplated the large building. Had her airen gone into this edifice? Certainly all the signs were good. "Fu-Ri-N-Ke-N Ga-ku-en?" A school? Surely such a man as her airen didn't need additional schooling!

On the other side of the school, a cat meowed and wondered where the heck he was now.

---------------------

"WHAT?!"

"Miss Kino. Miss Aino. Hallway."

Makoto stood with her buckets for a moment without speaking.

"So they made it official, huh?" Minako held up the note in one hand.

"According to the Ranma Fanclub, yeah," Makoto wasn't sure how accurate this news was. At least some of their information tended to be... loose with the facts.

"Ranma given such an unhappy ultimatum. He has to marry whoever can defeat his current iinazuke in combat." Minako's voice sounded speculative. "Oh, gee, Makoto. I just remembered some... stuff I got to do right after school."

"Oh. Haha. Funny about that, Mina, I was just thinking the same thing."

--------------

Ranma watched Hiroshi going up to the plate. Feeling the glare on him from one of his teammates, and as they were as alone as they were likely to get for awhile, Ranma decided to try to "soothe the troubled waters."

"Akuma, I'm sorry I called you a pervert. It's a curse, and it's not your fault."

"I'll get you for that, you know. You just got lucky. NEXT time, I'll know better than to let you tag me with that lightning stuff." Akane's glare softened somewhat despite her words. It wasn't HER fault, it was Ranma's fault! If he hadn't been that arrogant little smirking kid, she'd never have gone with Uncle Genma on that trip and gotten cursed!

Ranma shrugged and frowned. (Well, so much for the olive branch...)

*Not everyone loves you, Ranma. i know you'd prefer it that way, but you're not. Just look at the editorials from that J. Jami-san guy in Asahi Mainichi Shimbun. According to him, you're damn near all four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.*

(Yeah, but this certainly disturbs the wa of the household. Geez. How hostile can you get.) Ranma watched Hiroshi strike out and get replaced by Daisuke. As it was a girls vs guys game, this would be the second strike out. (Besides, you know I promised Mrs Tendo I'd at least try to square things with Akane.)

*Well, face it, all those girls approaching "Akuma" are really freaking her out. She actually _yelled_ at Takako to leave her alone, that she wasn't interested in girls, for crying out loud. Akane's probably just really tense about all the crap that's been hitting her.*

(Where is Takako anyway? I don't see her.) Ranma's eyes swept the field. The shy tiny girl with the throaty voice was nowhere to be seen. (Or for that matter, Gosunkugi?)

*Gosunkugi is trying to find that girl that was at the school gates earlier. You know how shy and easily flustered Takako is. Hmmm. Scanning. Got her. Turn your eyes thirty degrees left, twenty degrees up. She's hiding in that tree. Radiating embarrassment, shame, the usual.*

"Hey, idiot! You're holding up the game. It's YOUR turn!" Akane was smug at having caught Ranma napping.

Ranma went out onto the plate, still deep in thought. His presence had the usual effect on the opposing team.

"Ball one!"

"Ball two!"

"Ball three!"

"Batter - walk! Ball four. Replace the pitcher."

"Oh my, Yuka's beaned herself with the ball again." Sayuri couldn't honestly blame her friend. They'd conspired to have his gym clothes shrunk in the wash. Resulting in some VERY tight clothing on someone who actually looked good in tight clothing. In the case of the gym shorts, this was quite noticeable. It was tight enough that it tended to give Ranma a peculiar walk.

Ranma, of course, still hadn't figured out exactly why every time he got a new gym uniform consisting of the shorts and T-shirt, that they would end up at nearly half size within a few days. Usually he just attributed it to that damn Eiris.

Akane watched Ranma strut out to the bases. (How DARE he call me a pervert when he wears such tight clothing and walks around in such a lewd manner!) Her gaze focussed entirely in on that taut musculature walking to a position at first base. (What a pervert! What a... tight butt. Firm waist. Strong arms. Powerful looking legs. Err. That PERVERT!)

"Akane! It's your turn!"

------------------

"Hey Hiro, is just me or is Akuma blushing and staring at Ranma taking his shower???"

Hiroshi made a hacking noise. ".... you are right Daisuke... do you think that he's..."

"Well he seems to dislike the attention of the girls who talk to him..." Daisuke adjusted his towel for maximum coverage.

"You're right... Man, I feel so violated."

--------------

Akane noticed being given the cold shoulder during lunch but didn't think much of it.

Then came a distant boom. Followed by another. Followed by another. Each boom seemed to get ever closer. Then one of the cafeteria walls collapsed.

"AIREN!" A purple haired bombshell leapt a remarkable distance to do a flying tackle on Akane.

"AHHH! SHAMPOO! LAY OFF ME! I AIN'T INTA THAT STUFF!"

Upon seeing the boy tackled by a curvaceous girl, and make THAT statement, most of those present found the rumors to be confirmed. A fair number of students immediately left the cafeteria, after all, the "wa" of the school had been seriously compromised.

Ranma buried his face in his hands after watching the struggling pair for a few moments. "I can't believe they're going to make me marry him."

Nabiki touched his shoulder sympathetically. "You know how stubborn Daddy gets."

"So, Ranma," Yuka spoke up. "What about Ukyou?"

"Yeah, I thought you two were an Item." Sayuri chimed in a moment later, trying not to look eager for this information. She was supposed to be a NICE girl, after all.

"GET OFF OF ME! I AM A GIRL!"

More students left. This time, Ranma, Yuka, Sayuri, and Nabiki were among them.

----------------------

Ami munched on her sandwich, her eyes on her book. Her mind, however, was quite far away.

There had been that time the Dark Kingdom had decided to kidnap Ranma. THAT had been somewhat nasty. ESPECIALLY for the Dark Kingdom. They'd spent a lot of time planning how to neutralize his abilities with chi and martial arts and had succeeded. What they apparently had zoned on was the resulting Avenging Force that had come after them.

The Senshi had picked up a few new allies during that scuffle. Nabiki had been wanting to show off some ideas and her telemechanics abilities. Kasumi had erected telekinetic shields. Mars and Venus throwing blasts left and right. Yohko and her soulsword, Honey with rapier and her "Honey Boomerang," and all the others storming the enemy citadel.

Nabiki had nudged her as the fighting had started and said "C'mon Ami, looks like the brains need to bail out the brawn again."

Mrs Saotome had tagged along so neither Ami nor Makoto had been able to duck out and use their henshin pens. Makoto had just switched to using that magic bo staff that converted to the nunchakus. Ami had found herself in her usual role of tactical analysis, and with the unfamiliar use of one of Nabiki's gadgets. At least it hadn't blown up in her face.

During that incident she had become a heroic figure that audiences (from the everpresent TV crew filming Ranma) could identify with. Not the warrior, not the frontline fighter, merely a loyal friend who'd brave dangers and think her way through a crisis. Fortunately the love letters had tapered off after a few months.

She'd spent the past couple of years getting to know this Ranma and had become quite fond of him as a friend and ally. When that tentacled slimy demon had drenched them and they had been pressed together in its tentacles, Ami had become aware of the male-female factor as well.

Now there was a problem. Ranma, the person that she had come to genuinely like and feel affection for, was to be raffled off like some commodity to an arrangement that neither of the involved mothers had made and was not wanted by either of the parties involved.

Ami knew this because her OWN mother was still making plans to meet with "that nice boy's mother and discuss a few things." (Ami sometimes wondered if among the sacred duties of mothers everywhere, there was a "mortally embarass your daughter" rule.)

It had to be stopped. But how? Ami tentatively put together a plan. If she started out with making it look like she was attacking Akane, in keeping with this ridiculous trial of strength thing, she might help keep things off base enough for her research to turn up a few legal angles.

Ami rationalized this as Ranma being important to the Moon Kingdom. Every time that they'd gotten in touch with him during some major fight, he'd dropped almost everything to come to their defense. Yes, he was too important to her, uhm, the Moon Kingdom's future to force him into this marriage.

------Elsewhere-------

"Haven't you killed that brat yet?" Eiris knew that the two of them were having entirely too much fun to try for a quick kill, this was merely another aspect of their play.

"No, nor am I willing to expend much more effort in the doing for something so inconsequential. So far, the 'Monster of the Week' club choices have been disappointing..."

Eiris leaned against a pillar and sneered at her brother/cousin. "Ares, when are you going to just strike the boy down? The gauntlet only has a few minor abilities. The only thing it can truly do is access files through the Yggdrasil system, information only. Surely you can do better than this."

"Don't call me Shirley. Oh sure. I could manipulate a few nuclears to arm, launch, and turn the city of Tokyo into a glass desert." Ares made a dismissing gesture. "Likewise I could just lash out with godsfire, aggravate the earthquake beetle, open the gates of Tartarus, or a number of other things. No, don't use a grenade to swat a fly. This is just something I spend a few minutes a week doing, and devoting more time and energy to destroying the boy just has NOT been in my budget."

Eiris nodded absently. She'd been surprised that there actually was such a thing as a "Monster Of The Week Club" and that such things had a moderate power cost. Also a "Minion Of The Month Club", "Mad Scientist Chatroom", or the "Powermad Villainous Overlord Mailing List." Among other things. "You are spending WAY too much time on the Internet, Ares."

"Hmmm. 'Spells R Us' has a website? No, I doubt they'd have anything suitable..."

"Well, if you don't mind, brother dear? I'll go ahead and manipulate the mass media and rumor mill. It's so much easier to stir up discontent, hatred, and despair now than it was in the old days. And I've got just the champion to use in this. Ta!"

Ares hummed absently in reply. "Ooooh. Noriko Sakai pictures..."

After a few minutes, Ares paused. Eiris had a point. But it was just so much FUN to continually challenge the boy that at this point simply killing him wouldn't do. He knew Eiris felt the same way, there was too much Chaos in that Ranma's life not to intrigue his sister/cousin. Still, it was time to bring in the final piece that would form the doom for this hero and the failure of the Test. He channelled a brief burst of power into a not-quite-deserted cave. "Awaken, and listen well, for your freedom has a price..."

--------------

Kimiko noted that Kasumi, perpetually shy, studious, Kasumi was attempting to tie her apron in knots. "Yes, dear?" She closed her current document and shut the laptop down. She'd been having trouble with the current problem anyway. Besides, she'd have to upload the equations to a mainframe as attempting to run quantum mechanics and calculate out the Unified Field Theory on a laptop was laughable. Even with the add-ons that Nabiki had come up with.

Which reminded her, Nabiki had wanted her to pick up some more duct tape.

"Uhm, mother, I..."

Kimiko Tendo guided her daughter to the table and had her sit down. "Tell me what it is, child. It isn't about school, is it?"

"N-n-no, mother..."

"Your studies in the Art? Not everyone ever masters the naginata. It'll come in time." Kimiko had a hunch what Kasumi was trying to say, but wanted Kasumi to come out with it.

Kasumi blushed and shook her head. The apron in her hands was beginning to resemble origami.

"Well, I know that you're good friends with that Kino girl, Hotaru-chan, and Honey-chan, is there something going on there that I should know about?" Kimiko felt this was likely it, as Kasumi had shown favoritism towards Makoto Kino recently. Even going so far as to remind her "little brother" of her birthday and favorite colors.

"Uhm, not quite, er, Mother, can you speak to Father. Maybe you could, er, switch the engagement to, ah, me..."

Kimiko blinked. Kasumi's voice had gotten fainter and fainter and Kimiko wasn't completely sure what that last had been. "Pardon me?"

"Er, well, family honor! I mean, it's just. Little brother, but not, I mean. I just..."

Kimiko sat back, quantum mechanics and the underlying secrets of particle interaction seeming suddenly straightforward compared to the interaction between man and woman. "You want me to approach your father about switching the engagement to you?"

Kasumi nodded and continued to blush.

"This might cause some friction between you and Kino-san," Kimiko said after a pause. "No, scratch that. This WILL cause friction between you and Kino-san. Still..." Kimiko smiled a little. If it made Kasumi happy, she might have to find a way to pull it off.

Kasumi looked a little saddened, but nodded again.

Kimiko noted that small objects were tending to slide around as Kasumi's mental state grew agitated and her daughter's telekinetic abilities began manifesting. "I'll mention it to him. I thought you both regarded him as a little brother, though."

Kasumi nodded again. "I did, Mother. It's just that..."

"What about Doctor Tofu, I thought that you two..."

"He acts so silly, Mother." Kasumi completly failed to notice that various spices were dancing around in midair in a manner QUITE similar to Doctor Tofu's antics.

Kimiko nodded again. Yes, Ranma _was_ quite the heroic figure. And if that e-mail from Nabiki was any indication, it looked like both daughters were actually rethinking their feelings about Ranma now.

Forget superstring theory, this was far more complicated.

--------------

Akane grumbled but at last classes were over. She was still being stared at by the crowd, though.

"Seeyaathome,sis," the blur that was Nabiki yelled over the buzz of her motorized skateboard as it sped out the gates of the school.

"Sis?!" Hiroshi had been close enough to hear that. Well, everyone knew Nabiki was weird.

Akane glared at the peasant who had spoken, who decided he had better things to do.

"See ya, Akane!" Ranma leapt from the second story window, rolled, landed on the perimeter wall, then sped off into the distance.

Akane watched him go, a little impressed in spite of himself.

Ukyou sped past her a moment later, heading in a different direction. Her restaurant had to be opened, quite a few students gathered there for study sessions and quick snacks.

"AKUMA TENDO! I challenge you!"

"Huh?!" It took Akane a moment to remember the Akuma name. "Do I know you?"

The leatherclad woman in the spike heels cracked her whip. "I have heard that in order to win your heart, you must first be defeated in battle! Have at thee!"

Akane stared for a moment. "How can you move in an outfit that tight? It almost looks sprayed on..."

"Enough, Akuma Tendo, let Dominatrix Akami lead you back to the correct path!"

Akane grabbed one end of the whip as it came closer. "I have no idea what you're going on about tug but I do NOT forearm smash appreciate this!"

The girl in leathers fell a moment later.

"Dominatrix Akami. Didn't have much, did she?" Akane wondered if maybe this display of skill would impress any of the gossipers. Noting that it had, Akane held his head up high for the walk home. He'd proven himself. Now as soon as he could get some decent training in, he could teach that Ranma a lesson!

"Did you hear that?" Daisuke inquired of his friend.

"Indeed, Daisuke. So we know her first name is Akane." Hiroshi looked at the girl lying knocked out in the school courtyard. "Shall we deliver her to the nurse's office?"

"Maybe we can get her phone number?"

"A distinct possibility as well."

"Wonder what she looks like under the mask."

"There are a *vast* number of intriguing possibilities. Shall we?"

"Surely!"

"Don't call me Shirley."

-----------------

Akane made it out as far as the street before the next challenger arrived.

"Akane Tendo, I challenge you!"

"Makoto?! Why?"

"For the hand of Ranma Saotome!"

"I don't WANT Ranma!"

"Then lose," advised Makoto, beginning the hurricane kick that Ranma had taught her.

"I grab have had throw ENOUGH! body slam" Akane watched Makoto bounce off the wall and go down. (She's good, nowhere near MY class, though.)

-------------------

"Sounds like that's one rumor confirmed," Yuka said with a grin. "Defeating the Tendo Heir to Anything Goes Martial Arts gets you your choice of engagements. Either the tough and outdoorsy Akuma or the Incredible Hunk Ranma Saotome."

Sayuri frowned. "Why couldn't it be a bakeoff or something? I haven't got a chance against Kuonji-san or Kino-san. You KNOW how well Kino-san did in the Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics meet in January! Besides, you heard the rumors. Akuma's gay."

"What do you expect with Ranma as a sensei," Yuka frowned. "Think she was expecting Akuma to throw the fight?"

"Or wasn't expecting such a big boy to move that quickly." Sayuri sighed. "Well, let's get her out of here. You wouldn't want that Daisuke or Hiroshi to find her."

Yuka shuddered at the thought of those two perverts with an unconscious woman.

--------------------

Akane smiled, one cup of hot water from a noodle vendor, and she could be a 'she' again for longer than a few minutes! She wasn't sure why, but every time she'd managed to switch at school- she'd get turned back within minutes. Now that the teacher had turned in the "corrected" gender information, she'd have a tough time switching it all back.

Well, being a guy wasn't all bad. You didn't have a bunch of perverted boys staring at your chest, for one thing. People got out of your way when you looked like a big bruiser. You certainly didn't get groped on the train...

"SHABON SPRAY"

"AAAAaa!" Akane saw cold water heading her way and went straight to evasive action. dodge,weave,parry,thrust,kick, run-like-blazes

"VENUS LOVE ME CHAIN!"

"What is it with all you PERVERTS!" Akane was a girl and wanted to STAY a girl for awhile. Sooner or later she'd get splashed again and Akuma would return. ESPECIALLY if she continued fighting like this. dodge, weave, duck, backflip, roll, run-even-faster

"HONEY BOOMERANG!"

"THIS AIN'T HOW YOU DO IT!" parry, spin, dodge, thrust, leap

There was a pause.

"It isn't?"

"NO! Yer supposed ta make a formal letter of challenge!" Akane breathed heavily. This wasn't her style. Pounding something, outlasting an opponent, yes. Dodging around, no.

"You're sure about that?" Rei Hino frowned. She hadn't even gotten HER shot.

"Yeah!"

"Oh, sorry." The strangely dressed girls started dispersing.

Akane sighed in relief. They'd bought it. Mob battles weren't fun. Keep it on a smaller basis though, and it would be good training.

Eiris, dressed as a Japanese newscaster, smiled at the camera as the film continued to roll. "So if YOU want to marry the infamous monster hunter, Emperor decorated Hero Of Japan, Ranma Saotome - send YOUR challenge letter to the Tendo Dojo, Furinkan Ward, Tokyo Japan. Then all you have to do is defeat Akuma OR Akane Tendo. Back to you, Wataru!"

-----------------------

Akane limped up the final few meters to her house. Not everyone had gotten the word, it seemed. The Ranma Fan Club (That pervert! How dare he lead all those girls on?!) had set up two more ambushes before they'd heard about the formal challenges requirement.

Akane closed the door behind her and let out a noise that managed to combine aspects of a sigh and a moan. (Well, at least it's good training.)

"Hey, Akane, how's it going?" Ranma looked up from the dining room, finishing off a riceball. "Uhm, is everything OK?"

Akane's hair was sticking up in disarray, parts of her clothing were scorched, other parts still had bits of ice sticking to them, there were slashes in the sleeves, twigs and leaves in her hair, and what looked like the beginnings of a black eye.

Akane raised her tired head and saw Ranma looking at her. "YOU! THIS IS ALL _YOUR_ FAULT!"

Ranma had no idea why Akane was attacking him, other than she seemed to have gone completely berserk. Still, he figured that it would be easy enough to dodge her until she collapsed from exhaustion. As it was, he only had to wait for the power armored fist coming down on the back of her head. "Thanks, Nabiki. Looks like you got your suit working."

"I call it a 'hardsuit' and it was no problem, Ranma." Nabiki snickered. Not only would she be able to go into battle alongside Ranma next time the Senshi or one of the Ghost Sweepers needed help, she had just defeated Akane. Now all she had to do was defeat Akane in a one-on-one, and then *she'd* be the one to marry Ranma! Nabiki frowned, realizing she was going to have to add a defogger to the faceplate or stop fantasizing about that...

Behind them, Kasumi walked up the stairs, Akane floating behind her.

----------------

Akane woke up, to find Kasumi waiting patiently for her. "Oh, Kasumi. Where?"

"This is your old room. I put everything back the way it was, just like when you left it."

"Oh, thanks, Kasumi."

"Akane, how do you feel about challenge letters?"

"As the Heir to the Tendo Anything Goes style, I must accept any challenge!" Akane answered with obvious pride.

"Ah," said Kasumi, leaving the room briefly. To return, bringing in a double handful of letters, a moment later. "These arrived."

"Geez, what is it about that Ranma, anyway?"

"Ranma?" Kasumi paused at the door. "On the positive side, he's: kind, nice, brave, strong, quite good looking, famous, and has friends in high places. As far as negatives go, he: also tends to be a little thoughtless at times, sometimes can be so dense that you want to scream at him, has a list of enemies of the size of the yellow pages (Tokyo- not just Furinkan), he's faced his own death so often that he usually won't make longterm plans and doesn't seem to regard his own life as particularly valuable, he often speaks now and apologizes later, and he can't say no to a crying girl. Why, is there something wrong?"

"Yeah, somehow the idea's out there that if someone can defeat me, they can be engaged to that arrogant little twerp." Akane chuckled. "It's not as if _I_ want him, so maybe I _should_ lose."

"Ah." Kasumi looked thoughtful for a moment, then left.

"Let's see," Akane mumbled as she went through the stack. "Heck, half of 'em aren't even signed. You'd think they'd never written challenge letters before."

Kasumi entered the room. "Here you go, Akane, one more."

Akane scanned the last one. Typical of the rest of them, this one failed to name a time or place. This one even had a little smiley face, "the furo's hot, I saved you some dinner and it's in the oven." Akane shook her head. What did they teach in schools nowadays? Not one decent challenge letter in the bunch...

Akane went back to that last challenge letter, frowning more. Yes, that was indeed what it said, and down at the bottom was a name she didn't expect to see.

Akane blinked. "Kasumi?!"

----------------------

The dimness of pre-dawn, when the sarariman and the OL bestir themselves for another day pitted in meaningless detail attempting to keep even with their debts for the rather sad privledge of going through it all again the next morning. Many construction workers are already about, trying to get as much as they can done before the full heat of the day bears down on them. Into this busy silence, a gentle voice breaks.

"RANMA!"

"What is it, old man? People are tryin' to sleep you know!"

"Ranma, living here has made you weak and soft. LIKE A GIRL!"

"Huh?! Where in the world did you get THAT line of reasoning?" Ranma wondered how long his father would last if he met Artemis. Raideen had told him about Artemis. He didn't want to come anywhere NEAR the Huntress.

Genma paused. Ranma had changed. An insult like that would have gotten Ranma into a fine fettle and the fight would already be occurring. Instead Ranma looked only mildly annoyed.

"Never mind that! As the Heir to the Anything Goes" WHAM! Genma's speech was abruptly cut off as Ukyou brought the spatula down upon Genma's head.

"Jackass! I've got to work until 9pm, then I've got homework, and YOU want to start yelling at 4:45am?!"

Ranma looked at where his father was sprawled out on the floor. "At least this wasn't one of the nights I was out with Ayaka, Miyami, or one of the other Ghost Sweepers."

"Go to bed, Ranchan," said Ukyou in between yawns.

"Nah, might as well get a jog in this morning, practice my teleport."

"Be handy when you get that down," admitted Ukyou. "Well, _I_ am going to try getting another hour's sleep. Night, Ranchan."

"Sleep well, Ucchan."

Genma waited until they both left before prying himself up off the floor. "Teleport?!"

--------------------

Akane couldn't concentrate on breakfast. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, she wasn't used to sleeping in a bed. She wasn't used to regular meals, which caused her to scarf her meals down as if she were ravenous. She wasn't used to seeing a flash and hearing the crackle of thunder as someone tried to get the hang of teleporting.

She wasn't used to having both her sisters eye her as if trying to figure out how best to attack her.

Kasumi smiled, set a plate in front of Akane, and asked if after school would be OK. For the duel, Akane assumed.

Nabiki frowned at first, then smiled and wanted to know if Akane wanted to have a friendly little spar later.

Then Akane nearly tripped over ANOTHER pile of challenge letters that had accumulated during the night. She shuddered at one that was written on "Hello Kitty" stationary.

It was on the walk to school that the next disaster occurred. First some little old lady threw a ladle of cold water on Akane, changing her into a him, then...

"Airen!" GLOMP! "Shampoo love airen!"

Akane struggled, trying to free himself from the glomp. "Urgh, help!"

Ranma gave a disgusted noise. "And you complain about the way some girls act around me? I'll see you at school, Akane! C'mon, Ucchan."

"Shampoo, let go of me!"

"Akane no go to school! Take Shampoo to date!" There was a momentary frown, Shampoo realizing the boy's voice sounded familiar. Pity she couldn't get a look at his face.

Nabiki smirked, and got three shots of the "happy couple" before a mischievous impulse took over. "You two ought to get a room if you're going to do that."

"You're *not* helping, Nabiki!"

"Shampoo think Nabiki have right idea. Is only proper for husband and wife!"

"LET ME GO!" Akane struggled, then realized that in order to free himself, he'd have to push THERE. Well, he was really a girl, Shampoo was a girl. It was all right then, wasn't it?

Shampoo's eyes nearly popped open as Akane shifted around, reached out, and pushed on one of her breasts. "Aiyaaa! Airen finally return Shampoo's affections."

"Hmmm. What do you mean, Shampoo?" Nabiki asked, only being moderately surprised when Shampoo thrust a book at her. At the first bookmark was "Should an outsider woman defeat an Amazon, she shall give her the Kiss Of Death and kill her. Should the outsider be a man, she must make him her husband." Flipping it open to the second bookmark, she read "should a prospective husband fondle an Amazon during an Amazon Glomp(tm), then the husband has just signalled the marriage is to be consummated within 24 hours."

"AAAHHHHH!" Akane fled, an amorous Amazon in hot pursuit.

"Akane so enthusiastic!"

Nabiki blinked as the two fled, then shrugged. She'd gotten some good photos. Maybe some of the girls would stop hitting on Akane's male half (or at least the rumors about Akuma being gay) if she circulated those and the news about Akuma being engaged to Shampoo.

--------------------

"Ah sir, what you do there?" The Jusenkyo Guide was a little surprised to see the little old man using a long handled dipper to fill casks.

"Are these the Springs Of Jusenkyo?"

"Yes, sir, these are terrible tragic cursed springs. You no want to touch!"

"And this is the 'Spring Of Drowned Girl' is it not?" The old man continued to fill the casks, moving very carefully indeed.

"Yes, sir has it right. You come away now? Very bad you fall in Spring!"

"And that one over there is 'Spring Of Bishoujo Bride' isn't it?"

"Yes, sir! Terrible tragic story there about beautiful young girl, newly married, who flee into springs to avoid bandits who just kill husband. Terrible tragic story, sir. Now whoever fall in spring take body of young bride!"

"It's perfect!" Happosai began laughing.

-----------------

A quick splash of hot water from the noodle shop, and Akane Tendo was ready to try attending school in her uncursed form! Maybe it wasn't too late to try registering as a girl.

An explosion was sufficient clue that she wasn't safe in girl form either.

"AKANE TENDO! PREPARE TO DIE!"

"Who're you?!" Akane ran, not sure who this guy in the yellow shirt was, but he looked quite miffed. "Never mind, I'm gonna be late!"

"ATTACK OF A THOUSAND SHURIKEN!"

Akane dodged and vaulted the school wall, hearing the rapid thunk of throwing stars impacting the masonry behind her. Who THAT girl was, she had no idea. Some kunoichi from the style of dress. From the argument she heard, the girl and the guy weren't working together.

"Don't interfere in my quest for vengeance!" The boy's voice was familiar somehow.

"My quest for justice takes precedence!" The girl's voice was also familiar.

"Ah, the mysterious short haired girl! Come embrace destiny!" Kuno knew this magic sword was supposed to bring luck to the wielder. He, of course, hadn't asked what kind of luck.

"Mind if I borrow this?" Akane kicked the man in the face, pulled the katana from his grasp, and used it to block another mass of shuriken. One on one she could handle with this level of skill. Two, though, she could use a hand if she was going to get to class on time. This jerk with the sword didn't seem like much. "Ukyou! Can you give me a hand here!"

Ukyou looked up, still lost in thought for a moment when the scene before her clicked into focus. Here was Akane, running towards her, wild eyed, a katana in her hands. Ukyou's reaction to this event was not what Akane was hoping for. It wasn't what anyone who knew Ukyou would have expected from such a nice young businesswoman.

"AAAAAHHHHHH!" faint

"NOW WHAT?!" Akane yelled and leapt to Ukyou's side. What was this about?

---------------

"AAAAAHHHH!" Nabiki looked out the window to see Akane, drawn katana, fallen Ukyou. faint

Ryonami looked out, saw the scene, and came to a similar conclusion. "Oh my kami! That girl just killed Ukyou!"

"Wow!"

"Let me see!"

"Must have been a sneak attack, Ukyou's WAY too tough to be taken down that quick."

"You'd expect something like this in an AMERICAN High School!"

"Hey, does this mean we're gonna have to eat _cafeteria_ food?!"

Tatsuyuki suddenly found himself being repeatedly hit by various thrown school supplies.

------------------------

"AHHHH! Some girl with a sword just killed Ukyou!"

Ranma leapt up to look out the window. There was Ukyou, a boneless heap in her okonomiyaki selling outfit. Akane leaning over her with drawn steel.

His best friend. Dead?

snap

Suddenly the window area was clear as people cleared Ranma a space. A nice wide space.

crackle

pop

*Ranma, two things. One, Ukyou doesn't have any sword wounds. She's alive. Two, you just teleported. Uhm, make that three things. Akane would probably like to be able to breathe.*

"Oops."

"AKANE TENDO, PREPARE TO DIE!"

"Hey, Ryouga, can you help me get these two to the Nurse's office?"

*Add a fourth thing. Don't touch the sword. It's cursed up the wazzu. Bad luck.*

"Ranma? Then I'm in Nerima?"

"Saotome! Stand away from my short haired goddess!"

ZZZZZzzzzappp!

*Feel better?*

"Yeah, actually. Come on, Ryouga, gimee a hand here." Ranma scooped Ucchan up.

Ryouga blinked at the person he was to lift. "Oh, it's a girl. Funny, I thought it was some guy named Akane."

"Quest for vengeance?" Ranma stopped at the door.

"Yeah," Ryouga lifted the girl, trying not to notice how cute she was. "What about the guy you just zapped?"

"Oh, that's just Kuno, he gets zapped or blown up on a daily basis. Recovers really fast. Besides, I really needed to zap something."

"Actually, I know _exactly_ how you feel."

-----------------------

Akane blinked and tried to remember. She was in the Nurse's Office? On a bed, a cold damp cloth on her head. Ukyou was laid out on a similar bed a few feet away.

Voices brought her attention the rest of the way out.

"...you're kidding. She never showed?"

"You mean Akane's really a girl?! Then... she isn't gay?!"

Akane realized that she'd just crushed the bedpost in her hand. Gay? No, she realized, she hadn't spent a lot of time being happy. She also hadn't been carefree. Almost a decade of a vengeance quest could not be denied and she WOULD get even with Ranma for all the suffering she'd undergone.

"As far as I know, she's not. Maybe sexually repressed, and _certainly_ she isn't much concerned by traditional gender roles. What happened that got you declaring the need for vengeance, anyway?"

"I... it's too horrible to speak of. Thanks to him, er, her - I've seen the Gates Of Hell."

"The Gates Of Hel? Aw man, you didn't... no, you wouldn't nosebleed at the sight of cleavage if you'd done that."

"Huh?"

Akane tried to figure out what Ranma had meant too and drew a blank. (16)

"Anyway, man, watch yourself. Don't fight in the house or nothing, if you're gonna challenge her, make it outside. Though you may need to get in line. Looks like Akane decided she needed more training and has gotten a lot of people trying to clobber her or her male side. Least I think it's training, can't see why she'd be accepting all those challenges if not."

"This is a question of vengeance and honor, it cannot be put off!" The boy's voice grew impassioned. "I, Ryouga Hibiki, swear VENGEANCE!"

Akane blinked. Oh, so THAT who the odd boy was that she'd seen earlier.

"Well, if it's a matter of honor, I won't get in your way. Like I said, keep it outside and the property damage to a minimum if you would. Hey, is that another black band signature I see? Did you pick up another curse?"

"Uhm, I don't want to talk about it. Too embarassing. Promise me you won't mention it to anyone?"

"Hmmph. Sure, I got your promise about the property damage?"

"I promise not to unleash any major attacks or go full out against Akane while we're in the house. On my word."

"Good enough. Now, if you can show up for dinner, I'll try to have Kasumi set out an extra plate. We're having sukiyaki tonight."

"Kasumi's sukiyaki?! Mrs Tendo going in for another checkup, eh? All right!"

"Hey, they want to monitor her once a year in case the cancer shows back up. They still don't understand how it just vanished, OR the burned tissue. Besides, she's pregnant and they want to check for any complications."

Akane managed to break her fall and avoid making any noise that would betray her. Her mother? Pregnant? What was all this stuff about cancer?!

"Well, with another baby on the way, I understand why they'd want to check things out more thoroughly than usual." Ryouga's voice turned thoughtful. Akane was a girl?

------Mimir's Well------------

"Ah, see how well my Champion does." Hestia smiled, bright eyed. "Her Gift, awakened by the Weapon, serves her well!"

"Kinda like a Japanese Mary Poppins, I guess," said Toltiir with a yawn. He'd seen four versions of Kasumi The Psychic Girl, and other than the Phoenix version he'd not been much impressed.

"Well look at MY apprentice and Champion," said Hephaestus with a wink and a nod. "Nabiki's natural intelligence and inquisitiveness were channelled into mechanical engineering by _her_ Gift of Telemechanics(15). At seventeen, she already has a fair understanding and talent with electrical and mechanical systems. She's even being 'scoped out' by some of the major Japanese firms as a rising talent!"

"Yes, Hephaestus, and what are you going to do if she's recruited by those agencies- only to find that her various inventions are copyrighted and then shelved? This is Japan, after all, and the 'nail that sticks out gets pounded down' as they say." Athena pulled an oriental fan out of nowhere and started fanning herself. "MY Champion in this little drama, on the other hand, is doing without such blatant favoritism as you two have shown."

"Oh my, what a big wolf!" Kasumi9 was a little curious about her other self, but movement in the timestream had caught her attention.

"Ares has sent Fenris to devour the Tendos?" Thor growled at the sight. "How did he motivate the Twilight Wolf for such a thing? And why go after THEM?"

"Cutting off Ranma's support base, no doubt, thereby making him an easier target for a later attack." Athena frowned. It had taken thousands of years but Ares was beginning to understand strategy?

A tree nymph had finally unravelled some of the odd tangle of enchantments on Ranma. "OK, whose idea was it to hit Ranma with a 'Godlike Sex Appeal' spell?"

Everyone pointed at Eros who merely smiled and tried to look innocent. As this didn't work, he shrugged. "Actually, I didn't need to do that. If you'll look closer the effect was mainly developed through good diet, constant exercise, and enough women in his life that he picked up on proper grooming habits. He wasn't exclusively raised by Genma here, you know."

"You just tweaked it as far as a few individuals were concerned?"

"Guided their vision a bit deeper than it would normally go." Eros nodded. "For _this_ Ranma, that was all that was needed."

"Hmmm. The Wolf has almost reached the Tendo place."

------Ares' House-------

Ares smirked and cut the view away before anyone detected him.

The Plan was working. Everyone noticed the big bad Fenris wolf, and therefore the tiny but heavily loaded figure of Happosai was overlooked.

Until it would be too late, that was.

------Nerima-----------

Shampoo paused as she saw the figure walking out of the school. That wasn't her airen, but she recognized him!

Ranma was a little taken aback by some Chinese girl popping up out of nowhere. Then he noticed one of his old photo "mooks" in her hands. An autograph hound?

"You is Ranma Saotome?!" Shampoo all but squealed. "Just like on television show Shampoo see once!" Shampoo bounced a little bit, happy that her airen had come to this place. Maybe a monster would show up and she'd get a chance to help kick its butt! A thought caused her smile to turn up a notch. Since her airen was here, maybe he KNEW Ranma personally! Ah, the chance to be with her handsome strong airen, stay here and fight evil despicable monsters/magic princes/dojo destroyers/martial artists on a regular basis. Life was good!

"Well, yes, I..."

A siren began to wail.

Shampoo's eyes got huge. She recognized that! Everyone who had seen an episode of "Neo Heroic Legend Ranma" (done in the same manner as the American program "Cops") recognized THAT siren. It was the... "Monster alert!" Shampoo bounced, giggled, clapped hands with glee. Maybe they'd televise this and she could show off to all her friends back home. Yes!

Ranma pulled his celphone out and touched the speed dial. "Ranma here. Where? Figures. Yeah, I'm on my way."

He realized that the Chinese girl was keeping up with him as he leapt from rooftop to rooftop and hoped this wasn't yet another martial artist/magical princess/etc out to kidnap him as some part of a marriage attempt. He was getting tired of those.

------Tendo Dojo---------

Kasumi looked up from her studies to note that the "cloud" eclipsing the sun had proven to have really bad breath. "Oh my."

------Elsewhere----------

Happosai bounded across a landscape in China, carrying an enormous waterproof sack in which three large barrels rested. A promise to keep, and fun to be had.

A few blocks from Furinken Senior High School, Nabiki raced across the streets and intersections, heading for her home. More particularly, she was heading for her little workshop and her suit of powerarmor. No longer would Nabiki Tendo be relegated to the sidelines, kidnapped by magical princes whose swords were smarter than they were, or menaced by monsters from some Ray Harryhausen epic! No, once within the confines of her "hardsuit" she would be Mecha - genius adventuring girl!

More than a few blocks from Furinken, three young girls from Azabu Juuban were lamenting the enormous load of homework dropped in their laps. Two of which wanted to head to Nerima and deal with this latest menace. The third was also lamenting the absence of her "Mamo-chan" and that the current homework assignment would prevent her from visiting the Arcade. Ami Mizuno, on the other hand, wasn't lamenting anything and was completing the assignments on the train ride to Nerima. Proving that she was smarter than your average, uhm, Senshi.

Of course, once they'd realized this, Makoto and Minako would be heading for Nerima with their textbooks as well.

Ryouga got lost, splashed, and then found himself exactly where he wanted to go. Cats can do that. When they want to, that is. One of the reasons they usually look so insufferably smug.

One Azusa Shiratori raided a business called Manga No Mori, promptly gave cute European names to most of the items found within, and attempted to run off with the manager.

A rather sluggish panda named Genma Saotome was still in shock after his good buddy Soun had described exactly how much money Ranma brought in. And Nabiki with her odd mechanical skills. Not to mention that Soun's classes at his dojo attracted some really top-notch students due to the publicity. Then Soun started going on about Ranma's treasure and Genma started planning on how to get HIS hands on some of those riches.

Tatewaki Kuno recovered his katana from the school nurse's office. He then proceeded to vow vengeance upon Ranma Saotome for his spells upon the fair Ukyou Kuonji and the beauteous short-haired girl. Unfortunately, the mighty Blue Thunder didn't notice that the nurse filling in for the usual school nurse was behind him. Sakura, knowing that Tomobiki wasn't the only center of weirdness in the world, decided that this boy was possessed and reacted accordingly. Kuno escaped, but it was a near thing.

Mikado Sanzennin attempted to "steal the lips" of some foreign girl named Morrigan. This turned out to be Not A Good Idea. There was talk about making that hospital bed reserved for his private use.

A small incomprehensible alien device out past the orbit of Pluto continued to do something completely incomprehensible. Which had nothing to do with this story, but might with a completely different story.

A young college student named Keiichi Morisato decided to try to have lunch delivered, but dialed a wrong number somehow.

A certain Kimiko Tendo wondered if her husband was a complete imbecile, since he'd promised Ranma years ago not to tell Ranma's father about the odd gauntlet. Yet, of course, that was exactly what Soun Tendo was doing. While ignoring all her attempts to nudge him and get his attention, of course.

A certain battledroid named Cutey Honey decided that since nothing was happening here, she'd take the day off and go to the beach with her new friend Atsuko. This set off a series of disasters that also has nothing to do with this story but certainly made things difficult for three patrol cars, four surfer boys, a small attack helicopter, the Lost Tanuki Bar & Grill, a boy named Ataru Moroboshi, and a small group of mechanically inclined Japanese bikers.

The "Ranma Fan Club" or RFC continued to mutilate, spindle, and fold the story about Ranma's engagement. It was now an epic story of two fathers getting drunk and engaging their first sons to be married. To each other. The only way out of this horrible situation was for someone to defeat Akuma Tendo. This also made the fifth version of this story to be circulated widely.

Someone stole the plastic Colonel Sanders statue from in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Kasuga-Dori Avenue near Shinjuku. Either that, or it had become possessed by a demon. Since it was spotted on a truck heading for Nerima, most people assumed the latter.

Mousse briefly attempted to attack Ranma for associating with "his" Shampoo. He also learned that attacking someone who can throw lightning when one's own body was loaded down with metal weapons was bad. Using chain weapons in such a circumstance was particularly bad. Standing in a puddle while doing so propelled the incident from ouch to the status of "This is such a rotten day that I think maybe I ought to go home and start over." Which he did after regaining control over his spasming muscles.

Tatewaki Kuno considered the door to a shop marked "Spells R Us", went inside, and got a really good deal on a magic sword. That it was in a bin marked "All Cursed Swords Are 1/2 Off" was largely ignored by Kuno other than to note that he could finally get even with Saotome for showing him up over the past two years. He also picked up an odd little item called a koi rod for his convalescing sister.

----------------

Fenris snapped his jaws down, only the succulent morsel was no longer there. He blinked in confusion until he noticed the girl floating in midair. Humans weren't supposed to do that.

"Poor thing, you're hurting."

Fenris snarled at the floating girl but hesitated. (She knows of my pain?)

"Alone. Unloved. Bereft of your pack. Betrayed. Poor child."

Fenris stopped growling, though his snarl remained. How could a human, a child by his standards, understand HIS pain?

"You long to belong, but also the hunt calls you. You are a wolf, and therefore a spirit that runs unfettered and free. You seek to be one with the pack, but also to be apart from it as the predator and hunter that you are."

The snarl relaxed slightly.

"You are Wolf, therefore you are the Hunter that stalks prey. Yet you are also the trustworthy member of your Pack. You are not the destroyer of nature, as some believe, you are a part of nature. The Wyld beats within your heart, and you glory in your freedom. Poor thing, to have those who fear you seek to betray and bind you."

The snarl relaxed. (She understands? A mere mortal woman with a lifespan measured in mere decades understands?!) Fenris sniffed deeply. There was no fear from this woman. The only thing he could sense coming from her was... compassion? Not pity, but a respectful sympathy.

Sniffle... Sob... "WAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!"

"There, there, let it all out."

-----Ares' Temple------

Ares stared for a moment as his "diversion" fell apart. Sighing as yet ANOTHER plan went awry, he closed the viewing window and set up the program he'd had devised some time ago.

A series of bottle-shaped icons appeared on one side, with a larger icon shaped like a kettle on the other. The mouse pointer passed over [Natural Disasters] and [Calamities], hovered for a brief moment over the [Hentai Tentacled Demon] jar, and briefly touched upon the [Elvis Impersonator] bottle. He fondly remembered mixing up the Elvis Impersonating Martial Arts Tentacled Dark Kingdom Demon, but didn't want to repeat himself and have it become cliche.

Thinking for a moment, Ares clicked on four of the bottles, then pressed the [Mix] button. A wireframe drew the monster and a text window opened with the special attacks and defenses listed. After a few more moments, Ares decided it would have to do.

Finally he clicked the [Download To Mortal Plane] button. It wasn't perfect, but it would have to do. For now.

-------------------------

Ranma stared at the boo-hooing 50ft wolf and decided he didn't want to ask. It was a relief to go off to battle a REAL monster.

Shampoo and Nabiki seconded the emotion.

-------------------------

"Elder! Please hurry to the plaza!"

Cologne grumbled as she pogoed along. Always had to be there to judiciate some dispute or fix some injuries or referee some fight. Always had to be there for the everpresent burden of duty. It was NEVER "Hey, Cologne, can you come by later we need a judge for the Chili Cookoff?" or "Oh, Cologne, we've got some leftover Kung Pao Chicken, would you like some?."

"Elder! Please hurry!"

Cologne continued to grumble. Azure was such a chirpy little twit. No, there was no "Oh, Cologne, could you just show me that secret Amazon technique of sewing?" (My goodness, it's been thirty five years since anyone's even asked me to show them a secret MARTIAL ARTS technique. Or act as a marriage go-between. It's been nearly ten years since I was just invited over for dinner, and THAT was trying to butter me up to approve a building permit!)

Cologne entered the plaza and noted that they had the television out again, and it was hooked up to the satellite dish. "Well what foolishness did you... have..." Cologne's voice trailed off.

There, fighting some impossibly huge fire-breathing penguin, was Shampoo. The theme music from "Neo Heroic Legend Ranma" was playing (Chain Lightning) in the background, and the commentator (in Japanese) was asking who this new ally of Ranma was.

Cologne blinked. Twice. That was Shampoo. Shampoo on an internationally televised docudrama program. Shampoo assisting that Ranma fellow, two of those Senshi girls, and some figure in powerarmor that resembled something out of Starship Troopers (anime not the live action). That was Shampoo bouncing off a building with her sword poised to slice through the things neck.

That was Shampoo being knocked through the third story window of a building by a massive flipper swatting her away.

That was Shampoo jumping back out of the same window to attack again as her allies brought down the giant penguin.

That was Shampoo posing triumphantly and bouncing up and down on the monster's corpse. That was Shampoo holding a sign up that said "Hi Great Grandmama".

Cologne's eyes swam with tears, and she sniffled. She was so proud.

-----------------

Akane grumbled that yet again, she couldn't get past the damn little old ladies using the dipper method to splash their sidewalks. Resulting, of course, in "Akuma's" return.

The sound of a fight brought Akane's attention off his own problems. (Beats just spending time worrying about all this junk. Maybe I can vent some.)

There was a girl in a school uniform, standing on a fence, and getting ready to attack a whole bunch of other girls using what appeared to be gymnastic equipment. Akane paused for a moment. She recognized all of the girl's foes, and was inclined at this point to support the lone fighter.

"We are *NOT* from Furinkan!" That Makoto girl was glaring at the gymnast.

"Clearly you are the replacement team, and judging from your scandalous clothing, not only mercenary but mercenary tramps."

"I take it you never watch television," commented the short haired girl that resembled a weak version of Akane's uncursed form.

The gymnast's ribbon snaked out.

"Hey! I've heard of you!" Ukyou grabbed the ribbon as it shot out. "You're that Kodachi that ambushed the Gymnastics team! HADOKEN!"

Akane leapt, grabbed the gymnast, and leapt again. Behind him the explosions consumed the fence that the girl had been standing on. (Can't just let this girl get clobbered. Besides, this'll zark off those bimbos who keep attacking me.) Akane smiled tightly as he considered the possibility of getting them to actually fight him FOR REAL!

------------------

Kodachi spent a moment staring at the flaming wreckage that had once been a fence. Then turned her gaze to her savior. (Oh! He's... gorgeous!)

"I, I, I was so frightened!" GLOMP!

"Huh?!"

Kodachi silently spent a few moments exulting in finding such a handsome and muscular young man. "Please sir, may I ask your name?"

"Er, Aka- I mean Akuma Tendo..."

Kodachi blushed, wondering at what secret vices a man named Akuma might have. (How naughtily wonderful.)"For you, my dear Akuma."

"Roses, for me?!" Akane took the roses, a slight blush coming over his features. He'd never gotten roses in EITHER form before.

FWOOOSH!

"What?!"

Kodachi smiled. "Just a bit of paralysis gas. Now, my dear Akuma, take these lips of mine!"

"Excuse me, coming through! C'mon, AKUMA, you've got homework!"

Kodachi blinked. Some other boy had come running through, grabbing her love as he passed. "Where are you going with my Akuma?! Oh, Akuma is the studious and responsible type? How lucky that I should find a boyfriend who combines brains and brawn!"

With her trademarked Crazed Noblewoman Laugh, Kodachi sped home. She would have other opportunities.

----------------------

"Urgle gurk!"

"Put a sock in it, AKUMA." Ranma adjusted the huge boy. "Good thing for you I saw that going down. Look, it's up to you if you like girls that way..."

"UNGH! UNGH!"

"...but at least get your girlfriend to lay off the paralysis powders and stuff."

"NGGGGH! NGH!"

Ranma finished another leap to land in the backyard.

"Oh my!"

"Hey Kasumi. Where's the wolf?"

"He went home, apparently he had unresolved issues." Kasumi smiled at Ranma, wondering why she was picking up such feelings of anger and frustration from Akane.

"Imagine so. Akane's paralyzed. Try to keep her from getting challenged until after she can move again."

------------------

Soun paused on the phone as Ranma carried "Akuma" into the kitchen for a moment, then emerged with the transformed Akane.

"Thought you'd want to be in your natural form while you recover." Ranma addressed his fiancee as nodded to Mr Tendo before ascending the stairs..

"Ungh!" Akane twitched slightly.

"No, I don't agree. It most definitely is NOT my fault."

Soun frowned before continuing with his call. "Saotome, we must redouble our efforts or our stubborn children will disrupt our plans!"

"Too true, Tendo. As soon as I can get away from Nodoka, I shall be there and we can force our children to tread the path we have chosen for them."

"Exactly, Saotome. Akane and Ranma will marry, take over the Dojo, and the Legacy will be assured!"

"And our retirement!" Genma smiled at the thought. No more suffering, no more camping, no more work.

"Yes, our retirement! Ah, uhm, Saotome. I'll speak to you later." Soun carefully put the receiver down. "You're right behind me, aren't you dearest?"

"Husband? I will speak to you. Now." Kimiko Tendo had long practiced Martial Arts Voice. She did not so much as raise a syllable. She didn't need to.

"Uhm," began Soun. No, he was the Head of the Family, he would put his foot down. He would stand firm.

"Now, husband." Kimiko gestured towards the kitchen.

"Uh oh." Soun winced. She had sung that last bit.

In Juuban, Genma was undergoing a similar confrontation with Nodoka. Nodoka was a bit more physical.

The results, however, were the same.

"Yes, dear."

------------------

"Umf!" Akane twitched a little more. Having Ranma, RANMA of all people, tuck her into bed was humiliating. Then he'd thoughtfully turned on the radio to give her something to listen to. Unfortunately, the signal had drifted so that the paralyzed Akane was now being forced to listen to what sounded like a farm commentator speaking over some syrupy girl singing.

Akane stared up at the ceiling, waiting for the paralysis to fade, and grew alternately angry and thoughtful. (Why? Why couldn't he be like I thought he would be?) Ranma had proven to be a strange combination of thoughtfulness and impulsiveness. Not the evil little arrogant pipsqueak she'd been planning her revenge against for years. Nor was he as weak as she had hoped.

(And those friends of his, what do they see in that jerk?) On the other hand, Akane acknowledged there were SOME good things about this Ranma. He didn't stare at her chest the way a lot of boys his age seemed to. He hadn't so much as copped a feel on her when he'd tucked her into the covers.

She was engaged to him, unwillingly, but the boy was quick to confess that he didn't want to marry her either. That, in and of itself, was aggravating. The only boy she'd gotten to like previously had been Ryouga, and she'd dismissed him later when he started getting angry with her. He didn't need to overreact like that! It was just a friendly little peck on the cheek!

Whenever she (and Uncle Genma) had allowed herself to act and dress femininely, she'd been swamped with male admirers. She had a few women interested while she crossdressed, and that number had clearly increased since getting the Jusenkyo curse. It was irritating, but it was normal and expected. To be largely ignored was NOT.

She was the best fighter. She HAD to be the best fighter. Otherwise everything she had suffered through was meaningless. Even with the extra training from the girls chasing Ranma and challenging her, Akane felt that she was somehow behind Ranma and that chef's ability level.(Those weird dressed ones were holding back- which was Another Insult to be added to the pile!)The only ki attack she had was woefully inadequate to compete here.

Akane's eyes tracked movement as the door opened. Kasumi entered the room, and put the radio back on station. Akane felt her sister's fingers pressing cool against her forehead as Kasumi looked concernedly into her eyes.

"It's fine Akane, you'll be able to move in a few minutes, I think. Just rest. I'll let Makoto know you can't be challenged right now."

"MMMM'ko,tttt?" Akane forced her mouth to move.

"That's the tall girl with the brown ponytail. You remember her? Well, she wants a rematch. I'll tell her to come back some other time. She's really quite fond of Ranma, you know."

"Jjjjerkkk."

"See, Akane, you should be up and about shortly!" Kasumi frowned slightly. "Actually, Makoto's a very nice girl, she's just frustrated. So is Ami, I think. They normally don't act like this, I think this engagement is just sort of stirring everyone up. Everyone's getting quite stressed, and they see the friction between you and Ranma as further evidence that someone they care about is going to be forced into a relationship that will just make everyone miserable."

"Mmmmennt Rrranmva."

"Oh, well, I disagree. He's got a few problems, to be sure, such as his tendency to draw unwanted attention. He's also known to go into fits of pure angst, probably brought on by all the monster attacks and magical beings that seem drawn to him."

"Pfeh."

"Don't spit, Akane, it's not ladylike. Or very wise when you can barely move." Kasumi wiped the trail of spittle off Akane's face. "Anyway, I've spoken to Mother. I'm relatively sure that we can find a happier outcome than you and Ranma marrying."

Akane grumbled wordlessly.

"Don't worry, Akane," Kasumi said, turning her smile up and broadcasting peace and love on an empathic level. "Everything will work out."

------------------

Makoto dropped into her stance, snapping her nunchakus together which caused them to merge and lengthen into her bo staff. Ranma's gift to her on her sixteenth birthday. Something that had been given him by someone mysterious years prior. Makoto cleared her mind of all the questions, settling down to focus on the battle in front of her.

Akane just grinned and waved her in, settling into her own ready stance.

This time Makoto Kino was not taken unawares by an opponent she expected would only make half an effort. She began spinning the bo through a set of arcs that her opponent dodged without apparent effort.

"Clumsy as a cow. Kino, you're yesterday's news." Akane baited the tall girl, waiting for anger to cause Makoto to leave more openings. It was a major tenet of the Saotome Anything Goes School, using insults and anger both to motivate and unnerve your opponents. "No wonder you can't get a boyfriend, you're too tall, too slow, ugly as a snake, and you're more boyish than I am- and I'm the one cursed. Oh wait, with a face like that you are too."

Makoto's eyes narrowed as she continued her assault. It wasn't fair, damn it! She wasn't bad looking, she was intelligent, she was nice, she was a good cook. But she was also the one who got dumped, the one who just never seemed to be good enough, the one who never quite made the cut except in sports and the like. Why couldn't SHE win? Why couldn't she find someone? Someone to hold her tight when the unfairness of the world seemed to tighten around her. Someone to reassure her when the going got tough, instead of everyone depending on Makoto Kino to be the tough one. Someone besides the other Senshi that she could confide in, and could confide in her. Someone to drive the darkness away...

Akane saw her opening. An axe kick swept in past Makoto's defenses. A moment later and Akane's opponent was disarmed.

--------------------

Ryouga turned to Ranma, noting that the other boy kept clenching his fists. "You could just call a halt to it, you know."

Ranma flinched again as Makoto staggered back from a particularly hard punch. "I don't and never have approved of this whole 'challenge letter' thing. Now that it's started, I can't interfere. Mako-chan's got some pride too, she can take losing a lot more than me getting involved."

"But she's getting trashed!" Ryouga's gaze swiveled back and forth as Akane flipped Makoto into a pile of trash. "Literally!"

"I'll heal her afterwards. How do you think she'd feel if I interrupted an honor fight? If I indicated that I didn't think she was capable?" Ranma sighed and forced himself to watch. "Forget for a moment that she's a girl, as difficult as that is. She has her own pride and insecurities, her own strengths and failings. If Akane gets too overexuberant, I'll step in. If I don't show any confidence in her, though- that'll hurt her worse than anything Akane's throwing at her."

Makoto dodged, jumped, and leapt as Akane tossed a kitchen sink, a toilet, and a refrigerator at her in quick succession.

----------------

Akane spun again and lashed out, this time laying her opponent out flat in the mud.

"Hmmph, and THAT is the end of THAT!" Akane dusted her hands off, glad that it hadn't lasted too long. Still, this girl hadn't been this difficult the first time.

"...not yet..."

Akane stared down at the hand gripping her ankle, then at the girl struggling to get up. "Hey, why don't you take a nap? You're gonna need your beauty rest with that shiner there."

"Not yet," gasped Makoto, coming up and swinging.

Akane dodged, blocked, and counterpunched. Two more strikes and the taller girl went down again. Upon seeing Makoto struggling to get up yet again, Akane swore and pulled the refrigerator over on top of her opponent. "There now, that's one annoyance down. Give her points for hanging in there."

Ranma waited until Akane had left before pulling Makoto out of the garbage.

Ryouga looked in the direction that Akane had stalked off in. "She'll do anything to win, won't she?"

"That's part of the Anything Goes style," agreed Ranma. One of the reasons he'd given up on the style. Ranma tenderly brushed some clinging garbage off Makoto's cheek. "Mako-chan..."

"You really like her, don't you?" Ryouga shook his head. Ranma, getting involved with these weird and secretive girls, when the _perfect_ girl for him was clearly Nabiki!

"Yeah," Ranma confessed. "Come on, let's get her over to the dojo. Kasumi and Nabiki can keep an eye on her, maybe get her a change of clothes."

"So, is she the one?" Ryouga decided to follow Ranma, no point in wandering off when things were obviously coming to a head.

"Ryouga, I wish I knew." Ranma gave his friend a sad grin. "I like Mako-chan. She's cute and talented, a strong woman. She's got that agenda and her friends, and I've got serious reservations about this whole 'bring back the Moon Kingdom' stuff. Ami's cute and intelligent. She's got a boyfriend named Urawa, however. Minor esper, mainly precog. There's also some guy named Mercurius, according to Minako. Minako's flighty, but she can be a lot of fun. Ucchan, Kasumi, and Nabiki are all more my sisters than a legitimate girlfriend. Honey's got a lot going for her, but she's an android and can't have kids- and you know how my mother feels about that aspect of any marriage."

Ryouga grinned. "Yeah, everytime she mentions prospective girls she manages to bring up grandkids within a few minutes."

"Yuka and Sayuri are nice, but essentially clueless. Rei's got that cousin or whatever he is. Kotono's OK but thinks she's a LOT more competent than she is. Yohko's a bit too enthusiastic and ecchi for me. Morrigan's just plain scary, and Lillith is even more scary."

"What about that girl your father wants you to marry?"

"Akane?! Are you nuts? She's cute, in her own way, but violent! She refuses to accept that there isn't anything she can't do, she turns into a guy, and she spends most of her time insulting me or beating on my friends!"

"So you _do_ like her." Ryouga was teasing. He knew better.

"Both Father and Mister Tendo are set on this marriage between the two Heirs," Ranma looked disgusted and shifted the limp girl in his arms. "She could use a friend, with Father she'd have to have gone through all kinds of Hell in her training. I try to be nice to her, but anything she can take wrong, she does."

"Still, family honor."

"Yeah, I know. 'Death is lighter than a feather, duty is heavier than a mountain.' But what about what's best for me? Or for that matter, what about what's best for Akane? I got a fair temper, but one of these days she'll push me a little too far. And then?"

"You know, she might get off on that kinda thing."

Ranma made a face. "Eeeeeeeewwww."

"Aw, c'mon, Ranma. Maybe it won't be that bad."

"If she finds out I've been going easy on her, I think it'll be worse..."

----------------------

Nabiki lowered the parabolic dish. "I could have done without knowing that."

"Oh dear." Kasumi looked off at the distant Ranma with a frown. "A sister?"

"But I haven't heard from Urawa-kun in months!" Ami frowned slightly. "And Mercurius turned out to be a youma."

"I don't suppose his mother would settle for adopting?" Honey seemed to be asking the heavens as opposed to anyone who was actually present.

"What does he mean 'clueless'?!" Yuka frowned and regarded the group.

There was no immediate answer.

-------------------

Makoto woke up, sore but not as sore as she had been. Her eyes tracked around until she placed the location- Ranma's bed?! And there was Ranma asleep in a chair next to her.

"He healed you, so he's going to be out of it for awhile," Mrs Tendo said, setting down a blouse she had been mending. "Kino-san, can I speak to you for a moment?"

Makoto nodded, realizing that this boded poorly. Back to being "Kino-san" instead of "Makoto" or "Mako-chan." Also realizing from past incidents that Ranma depleted himself quickly attempting healing techniques.

Kimiko Tendo paused at the doorway, frowning at the tender look the tall girl gave Ranma before following her. She'd become quite fond of many of Ranma's friends, going off to rescue her daughters on several occasions had forged a bond between them of danger shared and troubles endured together.

The often shy and studious Ami, the plucky and kindhearted Makoto, the aggressive and spiritually inclined Rei, and the nice (though largely inept) Usagi. The mature and courageous Honey, the somewhat weird Yohko, the likewise odd Minako, and the shrine maiden/biker Kotono. Kimiko had gotten to know all of them over the past two years, with related monster attacks and magical princes. Makoto and her friends had been one of those who'd refused having the TV crew doing a "Special Profile" on them. Kimiko Tendo regreted that she would have to do this.

When Makoto had followed her into the hall, Kimiko slid the door to Ranma's room shut. "Kino-san, there is a difficulty."

-------------------

Ranma noted the subdued atmosphere and decided to try Ucchan's. Ucchan didn't always have the answers, but her restaurant was usually a haven. (Last month's attack of the vampire lord Dimitri being one of the notable exceptions.)

While there, the talk turned to the future of the dojo, and the bracer/gauntlet began to remember.

Rune stared at the scene from memory. There was the dojo again. There was the redhaired girl again. This time, though, the view was as if he were there. There was Kasumi, collapsed near the door to the dojo. Rune could see for the first time, his arms, as he checked on Kasumi.

On second thought, make that _her_ arms. Rune recognized the striped top. She'd seen Nabiki wearing it often enough. Which meant.

*I'm Nabiki?!*

"Huh? Nabiki's over there." Ranma gestured to a table where Shampoo, Ami, and Nabiki were chatting about the latest monster attack and sipping on their lemonades.

*Or should I say, I'm _A_ Nabiki. Hang on, Ranma, I'm trying to remember this. I think that's the key, in which case I can get the scene I've been trying to remember for years now.*

"The actual mission? Hey, Ucchan, over here. Sounds like Rune's about to remember something." Ranma smirked, as the bracer's memory was so scattershot they needed to hear it as soon as it surfaced.

---------------------------

There was a brief flash and Rune remembered. A number of beings in the gallery watching as the assembled Beings took their seats. Behind her was Grey, reluctant incubus, waiting his turn.

"Nabiki Tendo of timeline Zen-Alpha-Serra 344691. Application pending for status upgrade, from gofer third class to Earth Assistance Hotline probationary worker." The golden haired being at the center of the judges raised an eyebrow and considered her. "I'm unfamiliar with your history, how is it that a mortal is currently working as a gofer with the EAH?"

"I came from a timeline in which my sister Akane killed her husband and his best friend," Nabiki began. "With all the magic that had surrounded Ranma's life, however, I knew that there was a chance to fix this somehow. To end the nightmares, get Akane out of that mental institution, and maybe get things better. So I spent years trying to fix the Nanban mirror, and contacted Cologne regarding all their cat references as I was trying to find some clue as to how to fix the spells upon it.

"What I got was a scroll that allowed me to contact a being named Toltiir."

There was a look of disgust among many of the Beings, who were quite familiar with the frequently feline Elder God of Trickery & Mischief.

Nabiki continued. "I tried a couple of entries in the Bet, mainly dealing with that Masaki kid over in Okayama. I hoped that if I could win, I could reshape a timeline so that Akane wasn't subject to rages. Where Ranma wouldn't push her buttons so often. A happier time. Instead, I lost on both occasions, and as payment ended up working for the various agencies as a courier and gofer."

"You wanted to manipulate events so that your sister would have a happier life?" This from a battlescarred individual in iron armor.

"That and Ranma too. I checked out the timelines. Over 95% of the timelines that have Akane marry Ranma end badly. A lot of those that feature Ranma and someone else end badly too. There's a few where he *and* Akane are happy, but I didn't see any where they were together and happy for more than a few years. As both Ranma and Akane had protested from the beginning, they were too young. And chronological age isn't what I mean. They also had gotten to the point where they really didn't like each other that much."

"You can love someone, but if you don't like them, that tends to diminish the longterm relationship," Apollo agreed. "Eventually strong personalities and pride will clash. Well, then, that wasn't so bad. How about a test where you have the chance to make that difference?"

----------------

*Ares came up with the Rune Weapon concept. Rune Weapons are supposed to be eternal and indestructible, but Hephaestus set it up so that there's a time delay. At twelve years exactly, there will be a crack in the outer casing and I'll be free again. If I pass, I become a probationary minor goddess in the realm of Finance. Nabiki Tendo, goddess of the Quick Yen. The rest of that stuff was remembering Grey's trial. He was that demon behind me.*

"Wow, sugar, so you're actually Nabiki, but not OUR Nabiki."

Ranma blinked a couple of times as he thought. "So, do you know what your mission was? It wasn't that hero thing, was it?"

*Uhm, actually, I think it was. But you're not THE hero, you're A hero, and I'm not sure how that's going to skew my score.*

---------------------

Ares sighed and sat back in his chair. "Prediction programs are indicating a 98% chance of success."

"So what are you going to do?" Eiris raised an eyebrow.

"Let's be honest. I like this. You like this. It satisfies my love of conflict and battle, and your love of discord and chaos. I'll just continue to play with this timeline and have fun. You'll continue to manipulate the fiancee brigade and you'll have fun."

"Actually, I'm dropping Ranma to concentrate on Ryouga and Akane." Eiris flipped her golden apple briefly in the air. "Let Ranma's problems resolve for once, and let Akane be the center of attention. The Champion Of Chaos for a change."

"When do you think they'll realize that it's Kasumi who is supposed to become the hero?"

Eiris smirked at her brother/cousin. "Let *that* be a surprise."

gregg

omake after the definitions.
was told i needed to define stuff. as it isn't normal in a fic or real life to spend a lot of time talking about how your car works before startup, i'm using footnotes for clarification. Besides, this'll eventually appear on some sites that aren't specific to anime.

(1) Psychometry n. dowsing, object reading, and psychic tracking. A form of clairsentience seperate from clairvoyance, clairaudience, or remote viewing. -Venkmann's Guide To The Spirit Plane, 1929, Miskatonic Press

(2) Edema, Grey, and Kasumi9 have appeared in other stories by me. Edema is a drow elf follower of Eilistraee who runs the "Heart Of Darkest Chocolate" ice cream parlor in an unfashionable section of Asgard. Grey is a mortal turned into a reluctant incubus due to a wish to be healthy. Kasumi9 is the Kasumi of a Wishing Sword arc where she ended up as the probationary goddess of Renewal and Springtime. This Nabiki was also in a couple of Bet stories (Early Warning was one, Children Of An Alien God the other). (No, i can't send you the stories. Check the Ranma 1/2 Superhighway.) Raideen, Thor, Athena, Toltiir, Bast, and Hephaestus are all deities. Chinese, Norse, Greek, Elder, Egyptian, and Greek, respectively. Einherjar are the spirits of fallen warriors collected by the valkyries in the Norse mythos.

(3) Glamour, aka Glamourie. n. Indicates a spell or effect that alters perceptions. Glamouries are frequently encountered in the Faerie Plane or similarly mystically oriented realms. See also Horror Factor, Presence, and Aura Of Power. - Nabiki's Guide to The Faerie Realm, 1995, Shogokukan

(4) In this case, a nice blended green tea from Yamatoyama. Kasumi never got the hang of coffee. Hot chocolate on the other hand...

(5) Okonomiyaki. n. Sort of a Japanese pizza. Often topped with things you wouldn't normally put on a pizza, such as noodles, bonito flakes, squid, etc. A quick-and-easy food that is apparently a favorite of college students along with ramen and rice bowls. Ukyou practices a form of martial arts based around the preparation and delivery of okonomiyaki.

(6) Yattai. n. A pushcart used for preparing and selling food. Usually has a small gas grill or something similar. Sorry about having to explain this stuff, folks, but i'm told i needed to be more obvious.

(7) A Very Scary Bet, massive crossover continuing fic that is currently on hiatus while i concentrate on other things. Mirrors Multiplied, Skysaber's epic pandimensional crossover fic. They can be found at the RAAC archives.

(8) "Oh My Goddess" is by Kosuke Fujishima, is my fav manga series, and deals with a nice guy engineering student who makes the absolutely right wish by mistake. "Urusei Yatsura" is the work that gave Rumiko Takahashi the option of not becoming an Office Lady by her own admission. UY deals with an alien version of Akane, a young version of Happosai, and other variants that eventually became her next series - "Ranma 1/2." "Gold Digger" is an American comic book, dealing with the gadget oriented boy-hungry treasure-seeker Gina Diggers; her mallrat werecheetah adopted sister Brittany; and various and sundry other characters. "Patarillo" deals with an SD yaoi James Bond meets Richey Rich and is not recommended for the easily offended. i gave all my episodes of this to Lee Dunning who adores the series, so don't ask me for copies.

(9) Well, they _did_ say that they'd interfere, didn't they?

(10) As far as i have been made aware, there is *no* canon evidence that Mrs Saotome and Mrs Tendo knew each other. It's all fanfic convention. Therefore, in this story, they don't know each other. Likewise, i've never heard any evidence of Nodoka knowing Happosai. So here, she doesn't. Neither does Kimiko. Even more astounding, Mrs Tendo's name is never revealed. i've used Kimiko, foolish consistency if you must. SKJAM has used Hanabi Tendou. i don't make any claims to have used "remote viewing" on Takahashi-san, so i'm just postulating a possibility and running with it until Takahashi herself makes a ruling. (Any story not written by Takahashi is an alterniverse as individual interpretations vary.)

(11) Seifuku n. aka fuku, aka sailorsuit. JHS (Junior High School) or SHS (Senior High School) girl's uniform of a sailor or navy style. An important cultural icon of the Japanese. Sailor Moon and company wear miniskirted versions of these while fighting demonic invaders. No, i am not making this up.

(12) Scorecard if you want to keep track of this. Kasumi Tendo favors Makoto Kino(SM), or herself. Nabiki Tendo favors Ami Mizuno (SM), or herself. Ukyou favors Ukyou. Kimiko Tendo favors Cutey Honey (CH), or Makoto Kino, or Nabiki. Soun and Genma both insist it's gotta be Akane. Nodoka favors Ukyou, Makoto, or Kasumi. Ayaka Kisaragi and Ghost Sweeper both just want Ranma to continue to be available for work. Currently Ukyou isn't happy with Ranma, due to the attack of Dimitri at the Ucchan's. Massive property devaluation.

(13) While the concept of an arranged marriage has both Western and Eastern roots, it is not a universally loved idea. Besides, _this_ Ranma isn't falling for Akane as the first person of the female gender to smile and act nice to him. That would be Ukyou if that was the case here.

(14) What, you thought he had a peaceful homelife without any of the insanities that usually plague Ranma? Due to the "monster of the week" showing up regularly, he's been followed by film crews for years. Publicity has died down over a while, and the Japanese are not quite so obnoxious to their celebrities as many Western paparazzi. However, that doesn't mean that lovestarved magical princes/martial artist/common joes/etc don't fixate on that cute Japanese girl who's Ranma's "sister or something." Or even a lovestarved magical princess out to kidnap Ranma who then has to be rescued by Nabiki, Kasumi, Ukyou, Makoto, Ami, etc. And, of course, these televised exploits then get a bad dubbing and strange additional footage added when being shown in America or some other country...

(15) Kasumi's abilities are mainly sensory plus telekinesis. Nabiki's got Telemechanics (a psychic talent for understanding machines and devices.)

(16) Old legends about Hel (Norse goddess of the Dead, not a terribly nice individual) taking paramours to her couch. Not a pleasant experience by any account i've read.

(17) Not Parumf and Area 51, a section of Nevada also known as Dreamland. Though that might be a possibility in a different fic.

(18) Membership in the RFC (Ranma Fan Club) gets you a nifty laminated membership card, two phone cards (choose from six styles), a year's subscription to the Ranma newsletter (monthly - full of pictures and articles, some issues dealing specifically with various allies (sometimes the data here is apocryphal at best) and info on the various events), and a special service where your pager gets beeped by the Ranma Gossip Hotline (ranging from vaguely true to insanely inaccurate) when special bulletins are available.Only 2500Y. N.Tendo, Chairperson/Treasurer.

OMAKE OMAKE OMAKE OMAKE
the real Self Insert.

Grey swallowed and tried not to look nervous before the assembled Beings. He was a lousy actor, however, and no one was fooled.

Ares grinned and leaned forward. "Well, now, you've seen how that Nabiki did. Any last words...I mean anything you want to say before we give you your Test?"

"Yeah, who rigged this?" Grey shrugged, deciding he was doomed anyway. Might as well be shot as a wolf as hanged like a dog. "i mean, Apollo's okay, but everyone else on this panel has shown active prejudice against me previously."

"Objection overruled." Eiris toyed with her golden apple. "Do you want Contempt of Court added?"

Loki smirked. "Demons should reside in Hell, as I've often said."

Apollo cleared his throat. "You have a choice, Grey, reluctant incubus formerly working for the Rival Relief Office."

"i've been canned?!"

"Yes," Apollo frowned at the interruption. "You will be forced into a Self Insert similar to the one Nabiki did, however most of the cliches will be used. Superhuman abilities, for example?"

"i'm going as my Champions character, Kestral?" Grey asked, hopefully. This would at least give him the chance to fly and fire off telekinetic blasts.

"No..."

"Stormshadow?" Grey thought that the tricksy elven mage/thief qualified as superhuman. No? "Thud?" The gentle giant also had possibilities. Not him either? "Yusef?" The Al-Qadim halfling barber could out-Nabiki Nabiki, and had on several occasions.

"No, merely a generic martial artist in a 'Ranma' temporary timeline." Apollo looked over the papers and frowned a little more. "Martial Arts Baseball."

"Shimata!"

Apollo rapped a gavel.

"Sorry."

"Ahem, you will also fulfill one of the worst and most hated cliches of all such tales. You will become the love interest of a major character. Period of stay is five years minimum."

"Oh dear." Grey frowned at having to go *with* a cliche instead of merrily inverting it or producing other twists in the flow. The demon brightened at a thought. "Kasumi?!" As long it wasn't the "Lizzie Borden" version in some stories...

"No," Ares grinned and held a hand up to request silence from everyone else.

A little less hopefully. "Nabiki?" She could be OK if you could get through the control freak, intellectualist snob, exterior.

"Not quite."

"Shampoo?" Grey felt that he could handle Shampoo. Not easily, and you had to make allowances for a really different cultural background, but it could be do-able.

"No, not at all."

"Ukyou?" If she wasn't the cannibal Ukyou or evil Ucchan of some of the True Knight's fics, this could also be something that could be lived with.

"Definitely not."

"Kodachi?" This was less than ideal, but still preferable to others. "Azusa Shiratori?" This could be bad, but not her either? "Yuka? Sayuri? Mariko? Ryonami? That fortune teller girl? Kiima? Asuka the White Lily?"

At each name Ares' grin seemed to increase a little, and he indicated a negative.

"Not... gakkk! Cologne," Grey said with a shudder. That would be bad. Very bad. Get her some fountain of youth water and it could be bearable, but a 300 year old Amazon Elder was not a good choice.

"Nope."

"Neither Ranma nor i are going yaoi, and you know it. Toltiir's binding on me will have me remain male or return to it, no matter what you do, and i don't go that way!"

"That's only mentally. Besides, that's not it either," countered Ares in an oily voice.

"Well, then, who?" Grey stopped, turning green and managing to look even more disgusted than when considering that he'd be paired up with Cologne. "You're despicable. No, even YOU have more class than that!"

Ares shrugged. He didn't, and he didn't care who knew it.

Apollo spoke up. "Considering your well known opinion on this matter, I insisted that you have an alternative, and the one put up was that you spend 10 years on Tarterus III as a slave-miner."

Grey shuddered, having seen that world, and held up a hand. "So my choices are to spend ten years as a slave in a mining colony where there's a 20% cumulative chance each year that i'll contract a flayworm infestation and be devoured by inches from within. Where the nerves are kept alive and stimulated while the flesh around them is devoured. Or i've got to be Akane Tendo's love interest for roughly half that time?"

"That's pretty much it," said Apollo with an apologetic shrug.

"Well, i suppose there's a longshot that i can avoid the flayworms..."
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