Oyu no Ranma
A Ranma 1/2 fanfic by Zorknot
Chapter 20: Grudge

Disclaimer: þes léasspell dríhþ befón háda and sceadu sé Rumiko Takahashi behealdan.

~~~~~Oyu no Ranma Chapter 20: Grudge ~~~~

~~~~~?~~~~~

You are making long strides down the street, eager to see what mischief you can wreak at the skating rink. Then a breeze from the East brings a strange, yet familiar scent. The scent of blood and lilies. You look up.

Silhouetted by the early afternoon sun, a tall, feminine figure stands on the roof of a nearby building. Who…?

The figure jumps down, swinging something sharp at your head. You back up instinctively, the blade whiffing past your nose. Seeing the figure prepare for another swing, you perform a couple of back flips. Soon, you are at a wall, but still, the figure, a young woman despite her height and obvious skill, is pressing you back.

Using the toe of your right foot and your advanced knowledge of Amazon martial arts techniques, you perform a Bakusai Tenketsu on the wall behind you touching the pressure point of the wall, and causing it to explode violently outward. Using the force from the blast, you launch yourself into the woman, your shoulder hitting her solar plexus.

The woman hits the asphalt with you on top of her. She skids for two meters before coming to a rest. Her intense copper eyes hold your gaze for a moment before she lifts you both in the air with her legs so you are inverted over the pavement. You hold your hands to keep from hitting your head as you descend down and you manage to convert your momentum into another backflip as the woman does the same.

It is then that you recognize her face. She has shaved her head, she's wearing tight, dark clothing. But she still has a small cross dangling around her neck. "Kasumi?" You ask.

She glares at you in response. Blades protrude from her cheekbones, her chin, her brow, her elbows, the knuckles of her hands. In the grip of her hands, two long katana extend, and you can tell that they too are part of her body. She rushes at you, and you raise your hand with your index and middle fingers together. You deflect the first blade that comes near you and transfer the momentum back to Kasumi throwing her away like a rag doll.

"I knew...you weren't Ranma." Kasumi says as she struggles up to a kneeling position.

"No, I'm not." You say, smiling. "I'm going by Megumi now." You have always enjoyed the delicious thrill of obfuscating with the truth.

"You killed my mother!" Kasumi half screams, fully standing now, her finger pointed with a long, barbed blade extending out.

"I saved your mother, you vapid cow!" you snap back. "I found her in this body and I took steps to make her come to the surface. In time she would have taken over completely, if it hadn't been for your idiot sister Akane."

"So you admit it," Kasumi growls, raising her blades. "You're not the spirit of a Jusenkyo spring. Or at least not only that. That's why Ranma disturbed my harmony so much. And when Mom spoke through Akane...She acted like Mom...but I just felt you. All this time, I've been interrogating people that have your psychic stench, and to feel it come off my own sister...to feel it when my mother is speaking through her..." Kasumi shook her head and shivered. "You're not just Nyannichuan. You're him."

"Listen, girl. I'm not a 'him.' I'm not any kind of 'him.' I was torturing Oka Kosuke. Punishing him for his misogynistic ways. He accosted your mother out of desperation, trying to save his male ego."

"Then why did you try to save her? Why did you do what you did to my mother, if you did not love her?"

"Because…" You start. Kosuke wanted to save Kirika. Kosuke was the one that loved her. But he didn't know how. Only you knew how to use the magic of Jusenkyo to protect her spirit. Was it you or was it Kosuke?

"It tore you apart, didn't it? You loved her almost as much as we did. You couldn't bear the guilt of causing her death, could you?" Kasumi is within reach now, but her words are sharper than any blade she could create.

Was it your husband that Akane killed or was it Kosuke's? Whose son daughter was left in China among the Amazons? Why are there tears coming out of your eyes? Why do you feel so much pain?"

Kasumi swings her sword and the flat side of it connects with your head, stunning you. She kicks you to the ground and bends over you. The black metal of her sword bends slowly, and wraps around your wrists. The metal feels warm, almost hot, but solid, there is no getting out of these make-shift manacles. The sword from Kasumi's other hand wraps around your ankles. Kasumi's eyes flutter and she staggers slightly, but she recovers and remains bent over you, her head less than half a meter from yours. "You think you have lived a thousand years, but you're wrong. You and I were both born in the same moment."

No. That isn't who you are. You could never do what Oka Kosuke did. You aren't that cruel. You aren't that arrogant, you aren't a…

You close your eyes. The lies seem hollow now, but the truth isn't something you can ever face.

Can you escape from this? Surely you can think of something. You have over a thousand years of knowledge; you just need to access it. On the other hand, while you know the Bakusai Tenketsu training, this body does not. That blast you caused hurt, and you are beginning to feel it now that the adrenaline is wearing off. Your stolen legs feel like one big bruise riddled with cuts and abrasions. You are pretty certain several bones in the right foot are broken from the maneuver too.

Kasumi smiles serenely. "You could have been such a good friend, Kosuke-kun. My mother and father would have helped you. You would have been an uncle to me. But now… "

"I am not Oka Kosuke!" You protest.

Kasumi closes her eyes. "But do you remember being anybody else?"

Do you?

~~~~~Ranma~~~~~

The monstrous amalgamation towers before her. An ox's head, an eel for a tail, wings of a crane on its back. It roars at the ceiling that doesn't exist.

Ranma takes a fighting stance halfheartedly. Mao thought this would cheer her up. He said that it was important to keep her strength up too, but she doesn't feel any urgency. What's at stake here? Why does she need to fight this creature?

The monster lunges at her, trying to punch her with a giant fist. The thing is big, but slow, and she easily jumps out of the way. The tail is less slow, however, and whips around to hit Ranma on her shoulder. There's a jolt of electricity and while she is stunned in place, a giant backhand slaps her almost out of the ring. Blinking she gets onto her hands and knees. Looking at her hands, they look less real than they did before. She can almost see the grain in the wood beneath them.

The monster on the other hand seems more solid somehow, even though it seemed real enough before. It was a Jusenkyo curse. It had a host it was getting energy from. What does she have? For almost all her life she has been protecting a boy that doesn't exist, that never existed. What does she have to fight for now?

The monster launches itself in the air. It flaps its wings once, twice, then drops, hurtling toward Ranma.

She rolls out of the way just in time. She doesn't want to fade away. She wants to live. So that's something. She doesn't want to hurt anybody either, though.

"Hey," she calls out to the monster. "Ain't there some other way we could do this? Play shogi or something maybe?"

In response, the monster charges toward her, forcing her to dodge. Wise to the eel tail now, she jumps up just as it whips through the area she once occupied.

"Ranma!" Mao calls out suddenly. "Something is happening on your monitor!" The long-haired, robed man is pointing to one of the displays about the ring.

Ranma looks up the Nyannichuan display to see…Kasumi? Leaning over her body, struggling to keep it from escaping.

The creature laughs deeply, its ox head deforming into a human head for a moment as it says. "Such a weak form! I would eat that little girl for breakfast!"

So this creature Ranma is fighting would apparently eat a little girl given the chance? It would kill and destroy someone who couldn't defend themselves?

Ranma is suddenly on the offensive. She tries to punch the creature, but it's like hitting a brick wall. Kicks have no effect either. The creature is just too massive. One good swipe with its hand and it could knock her out, and then there's that pesky eel tail to contend with. How did Mao say Akane defeated it?

Oh right. She hit it with her giant hammer. Not really helpful.

"Win the fight or concede, Ranma," Mao warns. "I don't think this is something you can ignore."

The boy would say something like "Ranma Saotome never loses!" and go on full tilt. But she is not a Saotome anymore. She is just Ranma and she has lost. A lot. She is not the boy.

She is stronger.

She releases her claws. They are no mere sharpened packets of vacuum. Now they are filled with blue fire. The room seems brighter. Sounds are more distinct. She can't just defeat this creature she realizes. She will have to kill the wicked thing.

When next the monster throws a punch,
She dodges lightning quick.
Her claws raise to meet the limb,
And then… snicker snick!
The dismembered arm goes sailing past,
Tumbling to the ground,
A spray of blood so thick and vast
Spreading all around.

And then comes the tail on the attack,
And this too she evades
Ranma flips and strikes, and when she lands
The creature serenades
With screams of pain
As the eel's remains
Wriggle bloody below Ranma's hands.

The monster, lurching from loss of life force
Flies up out of the fray,
But Ranma's not relenting and not without recourse;
She has lost, but she'll not lose this day.

She launches into the creature from below.
Claws stick through muscle and hide
She rises with it, eyes with rage a-glow,
Taking the monster for a ride.

Ranma next climbs onto its back
The creature dives toward the earth
But even as it tumbles… like in wind, a plastic sack,
Ranma's legs hold fast around its girth.
The claws descend upon the creature's wings
And soon, they too, are lifeless, bloody things.

With a crash, the creature falls
As Ranma lands unto dainty, cat-like feet.
"I concede!" the creature calls.
But Ranma grew up on the street.
Something that would kill for fun
Is not something that you can allow to run.

With claws, she tears into the neck.
She separates the creature's head.
She pauses…

as she makes a mental check…

She feels pleasure knowing that the creature's dead.

And as she stands there, grim and gory, she knows there is no honor in her story.

She is a killer. Adding this to everything else in her life, there really is no evil she hasn't committed to some degree. And yet she must live. Because there are still people she must protect. And because she might not ever be the best. But she has to at least try to be good.

She looks at the ethereal claws protruding from her fist. She feels the terror and the pain of the pit. The cruelty. The evil. It's still horrible and disgusting. Still something she would rather not know. But it's also…music.

It's music she has learned to dance to.

It takes effort to pull all of it back inside her.

"Holy shit!" Mao exclaimed. "You didn't just knock them out you… you killed them! You killed them all! How is that even possible?"

"Maybe because I don't belong here. Now tell me," Ranma points at the display that shows Ranma's body breaking free of its bindings and attacking Kasumi, "How do I stop this?"

"One second," Mao says as he rushes into the ring and digs through the rapidly dissolving flesh of the monster for something. "Ha! I got it!" He says, holding something spherical, glowing a strange dark green.

~~~~~Taro~~~~

Pantyhose Taro was in his cursed form, flying toward Tokyo over the Sea of Japan, when something impossible happened.

One second he was a winged ox with an eel for a tail. The next he was a teenage boy falling toward the water at an alarming rate.

He had barely enough time to register what had happened before he hit the water with a slam that probably would have broken every bone in his body, except at that very moment he transformed.

Sputtering and pulling at the water desperately with his limbs, he still managed to wonder what the heck had just happened. As features of his anatomy became more and more apparent, he soon came to a rather distressing realization.

There are many things that depend on context and history. One man's ordeal may be another's adventure, after all. However, there is something approaching a universal truth in the statement that a cat stranded in the middle of the Sea of Japan, is not, by any stretch, a happy cat.

~~~~~?~~~~~

Yes, you remember Ranma, and you remember Nabiki. With a little more effort you find the memories of the others. All the little girls drowned. All the animals turned into girls by rapacious men. You are connected to all of Jusenkyo. You are the prime curse. More powerful than any of them, for no other has claimed near as many victims. Kasumi's metal can't hold you!

You break free and the metal collapses into blood, splashing thickly on the asphalt. Kasumi gasps staggering backward.

"I am legion, you little shit!" You scream and you grab Kasumi by the collar of her black silk blouse, and because in Ranma's body you are too short to lift her up, you throw her into the wall. "I am not just one soul; I am thousands!"

Kasumi's eyes are closed "How many," she wheezes, "of those thousands…knew love?"

"Shut up!" You kick Kasumi in the stomach. "Shut up!" You kick again.

Kasumi retches. Vomit splattering by her head. It looks like there might be blood in it. "I can't… kill you," she says in a weak,hoarse whisper. "I thought I could, but I… can't. Not while… Ranma might still be in there. That poor girl tried… so hard… I can't kill you. But can you kill me? Can you… kill the daughter… of the woman you loved?"

You wrap your fingers around Kasumi's throat. You try to squeeze, but the strength doesn't come. You try to squeeze, but the tears come out of your eyes instead. You scream, trying to fight this hesitation you're feeling when suddenly you feel pushed out of Ranma's body.

"No!" You scramble to maintain your hold. Ranma's hands fall away from Kasumi's neck. You start to lose your connection to them. "This is mine! Mine! I earned this, damnit!"

"You earned this?" Ranma asks from within. "How exactly did you earn this body? Did you go through ten years of training? Did you make it through the nekoken? Did you have to get abandoned and used by your father again and again? You didn't earn anything. You just picked up something I dropped. It doesn't belong to you, and I'm taking it back."

"I have all those memories!" You protest, "And I've suffered more. I've died, countless times!"

"Well, good for you," Ranma says with dark sarcasm. "But maybe you should have figured out how to live."

There's another push, and like a cork leaving a bottle, suddenly you're expelled from Ranma's body. "That doesn't even make sense. That's not even the body you were born in!" But Ranma doesn't hear you now. And really does anyone ever really stay in the bodies they were born in? You can see the sanctity of Ranma's name as clear as day. She has become the girl, just as the baby had become the boy, and just as the girl will one day become the woman.

And you…

You're just a ghost. A disembodied grudge.

~~~~~Ranma~~~~~

"Damnit, Kasumi, Didja have to hit so hard?" Ranma rubbed the side of her head. It throbbed with every heartbeat and the beats were coming fast and heavy. Her legs were both wobbly and painful too. And her right foot…"Gah!" Ranma made a note NOT to put weight on that again.

Kasumi only wheezed in response.

"Welp. I guess I got something else to feel crappy about now. I'll just add it to the list." Ranma looked around for some inspiration on how to deal with a wounded Kasumi. "I could try to carry you, but that'll be kind of tough. You're a big girl, you know. I don't suppose you can stand up?"

Kasumi grunted and slowly, with Ranma's help, she got up to her feet.

"Okay! Now then. We have to get you to a doctor. There's Dr. Tofu, but…ah…" Ranma wasn't sure how to broach the subject of Tofu's unintentional Kasumi-triggered torture spasms.

"Tofu," Kasumi wheezed.

"Okay…but I'm not sure it's a good idea." Ranma put Kasumi's arm around her shoulder and staggered her toward Tofu's clinic. "So, you shaved your head? That's… pretty intense. You looked so pretty before." A twinge there. It was something the boy would never say. But she is not the boy.

Kasumi turned her head, a slight frown of confusion crossing her brow.

"Yeah, I don't think I could ever do that to my hair. Pops wanted me to several times. But it's one of the few things that's definitely me, you know?"

"Hmm?"

"Yeah, I mean, a girl's hair is her life."

Kasumi stopped and gave Ranma a scrutinizing look.

Ranma smiled sadly. "That's something my mother said to me once when I was very young." She remembered that now. She was five. It was a few months before…She gave a nervous chuckle breaking her reverie before it got too weird. "I think she was scolding me for putting gum in a girl's hair."

Kasumi nodded and took a few steps. "I needed a new life." She said in a whisper. "New life. New hair."

Ranma frowned. "I didn't catch all of the fight. How did you know it wasn't me?"

"Been watching from a distance since Akane…" Kasumi crumpled in a spasm of pain. "Never connected it before. But...I was trying to track Oka for years. Tried everything. Magic included. I developed a...sensitivity. I interrogated everyone with Oka's...feel? It wasn't Oka though."

"It was Jusenkyo," Ranma said, putting it together. "So wait a minute, how many cursed people are there around here?"

"Hundreds. That I know about. Most of them are elderly, though."

"Shiratori," Ranma nodded.

"Yes. She was one of the first I found. She always felt...wrong. I don't know how. Water doesn't work on them, but I'm sure. AH! I'm sure now they're cursed."

"We just have another five blocks or so to go," Ranma said in encouragement. She needed it for herself as much for Kasumi, even if five blocks seemed like an impossible distance right now.

"Ranma, your mother…"

"I don't have a mother." Ranma said quickly.

Kasumi glared down at her, but was too preoccupied with pain to speak.

"I don't deserve one." Ranma clarified wincing herself as she accidently put too much weight on her foot. "I'm not a Saotome anymore. I'm just a girl with no family. I'd say I was a ronin, but I don't know if women can be ronin." To Kasumi's questioning look she said, "I kind of raped your sister. So I'm just going to help get you to the hospital and then I'll be on my way. "

Kasumi stopped abruptly, which was painful for both of them. "Explain," she said through clenched teeth.

Ranma filled Kasumi in on what had been going on with Akane, about her changes in behavior, about her saying she was a boy, about their plans to restore her soul back in Jusenkyo, and finally about the stupid thing Akane asked her to do that she never should have agreed to. "I probably should still take her to China. But I don't know if I can. I…" tears started welling up in Ranma's eyes. She closed them and used her free hand to wipe them quickly away.

"It wasn't your fault," Kasumi said, softly.

"I could have been more strong! I was the man. I could have…"

"It. Wasn't. Your. Fault." Kasumi repeated more forcibly.

"Well, thank you, Kasumi. I guess I'm exonerated now. I'll just skip on back to my happy-go-lucky existence then, shall I?" Ranma said acidly. "Why aren't you more upset?"

Kasumi's face was grim. "Akane is a sweet girl...but she's also a violent maniac."

Ranma's heart thudded as she considered which part of her one-time friend might have gotten torn off and stolen by Jusenkyo. Wordlessly, she accepted Kasumi's weight again and started trudge-limping in the direction of Tofu's.

They had made it to an alley three blocks away from the clinic when someone fell from the heavens, landing in, or rather, on a nearby dumpster with a violent "fwoomp" noise.

Ranma gave Kasumi a look and then, with her help, hobbled over to the dumpster to investigate.

A feminine groan emitted from the dumpster. The girl seemed to be about Ranma's age, but taller and more muscular with dark skin and green hair. She was also wearing a yellow and black bandana and…an ice skating outfit.

"Oh my!" Kasumi croaked.

Ranma grabbed one hand and Kasumi grabbed the other, and together they pulled the girl off of the dumpster. Thankfully she had landed on the lid, which was made of a rubbery plastic material and was now heavily indented. Otherwise pulling the girl out of the dumpster would have been more of a challenge for the two wounded girls.

"Hey, uh… are you okay?" Ranma asked.

The green-haired girl leaned back on the dumpster wide-eyed and breathing heavily. "I…I'm just… Yeah. More or less. Hate ice skating though. Never want to do it again." She flashed a nervous grin, revealing enlarged canines.

"Ryoga?" Ranma asked.

The girl blinked, seeing Ranma for the first time. "It's you! Saotome Megumi Ranma, prepare to die!"

Ranma backed away from Ryoga. It really wasn't fair. Ryoga's girl form was just as tall as his guy form and if the dent in the dumpster lid was any indication, just as resilient.

Ranma was not ready to fight anyone right now. Calling forth her ki reserves she used the kazesenken…

~~~~~ryoga~~~~~

"Please stop," Ranma asked in a sort of sexy whisper. The words seemed to echo in Ryoga's mind though. Please…stop…

"What the…" Ryoga blinked. She tried to punch the smaller red head but…please…stop. "Cut that out! How am I supposed to fight you if you keep…asking me not to?"

The taller girl with the shaved head seemed to find this amusing. "What's so funny?"

"She only asked once, Ryoga-chan," the girl said in a hoarse whisper.

"It's a new technique I learned," Ranma said. "Developed really. It should wear off in a minute or so. I really don't want to fight you right now, though. I think my foot's broken and I could really use some help taking Kasumi to Tofu's clinic."

"You're…Kasumi?" Ryoga asked.

Kasumi nodded.

"What the heck happened to your hair?"

"Look, Ryoga, we've both been through a lot lately, maybe take it easy with the questions?" Ranma asked.

Please…stop…please.

"Arggh!" Ryoga shook her head. "I'm stopping already! I have to get back though. Got to save Nabiki."

"Nabiki's…" Kasumi coughed a bit before recovering. "Nabiki's in trouble?" The older girl didn't look too good. Pale in the face. Sweating. No obvious wounds, but it looked like she was barely holding it together.

"Uh, yeah, but… I guess it's relative? Are you okay?" Of the two Tendo sisters, Kasumi looked like the one in the most immediate danger. And Nabiki would kill him if he didn't help her sister, even if they weren't getting along right now.

"I figure she's probably got some cracked ribs and some other internal stuff. She also lost a bunch of blood from that sword thing she does," Ranma said.

Please
… Ryoga squeezed her eyes shut. "I'll help! I'll help! Seven hells that's an annoying technique! It's like you're right in my ear…whispering to me. Gah! But we're going to have words, Ranma. Mark my words we're…going to have words."

Ranma smiled. It was that annoying Ranma smile. Not the smirk. The smirk was annoying enough, but it wasn't as bad as the other smile. The smile that said "you know what? You're pretty cool." When Ranma was a guy it was bad enough, but as a girl? Devastating.
"Man, I wish I wasn't a lesbian right now," Ryoga muttered.

"What?" Ranma asked.

"None of your damn business, Saotome," Ryoga snapped. The ice skates she was wearing weren't that great on solid ground. Pulling them off her feet was a nice momentary distraction.

"So…ice skating? I'm surprised you could even stand in those things." Ranma commented.

The concrete was rough on her sensitive girl feet, but it was still better than the shoes. "Shut up, Ranma. I'm a skating god. They call me Skatemaster 5000." She tied the laces together and hung the shoes around her neck.

Ranma smirked. "Right. Probably more like skate disaster zero."

"You two…" Kasumi said smiling. "Are such good friends."

Ryoga managed to catch the older girl before she fell onto the asphalt, passed out.

"Maybe it was worse than I thought," Ranma said dismayed.

Ryoga glared at her. "What did you do?"

"I beat her up, what do you think I did, pig brain?" Ranma spoke in a low monotone.

Ryoga frowned, picking up Kasumi and holding her in front of her. The older girl was surprisingly light and bony. Her muscles had the tautness of training, but she still seemed a little too thin. Like she hadn't been eating well. "Do I have to add this to my reasons for killing you, Saotome? This is my sister…in law. She's going to be my sister-in-law."

"I'm not Saotome." Ranma's voice was cold. "I'm not Megumi either. I'm just Ranma." She folded her arms in front of her and looked down. "I have no honor, and I've been a shitty friend to you. Or whatever it is we are."

Ryoga frowned. "Yeah. You're absolutely the shittiest friend I've got." Also the best, Ryoga didn't say. Best and only. Nabiki, being her master and lover, didn't really count. "We've got to get going though, to make sure Kasumi's okay."

"Right," Ranma lifted her head. "Do you need me to watch out for water sources or…"

"No," Ryoga said, readjusting Kasumi's weight, "I'm alright. If it rains or I get splashed or something I'll just turn male. Nabiki's in pig form now. Maybe she'll find some water and escape, but I don't see that happening anytime soon."

"Well, good. 'Cause I can barely walk myself." Ranma staggered over to Ryoga's side and put an arm around her shoulder. She was warm to the touch and smelled of sweat and ozone. It was not entirely unpleasant however, having two attractive girls hanging off of her. It was weird feeling so manly while being technically a woman. It was weird also, that Ranma would ask for help so readily. Ryoga wasn't going to question it, though. This was an odd little soap bubble of pleasantness; she wasn't going to poke at it too rigorously.

Ranma guided Ryoga toward the clinic and Ryoga forced herself to allow the guidance, even if the direction felt completely wrong. Nabiki was in almost the opposite direction. She wasn't in immediate danger though.

"So what's been going on for you, Ryoga?" Ranma asked as they walked forward. "You look like you have a few stories to tell."

"Since when do you care?" Ryoga asked.

"Since I decided to stop being a dick," Ranma said sharply. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. But, well, you're handling being a girl pretty well. And you landed on that dumpster from a pretty good distance up. And you're dressed like a figure skater. You want to connect any of these dots for me?"

"Being a girl is a heck of a lot better than being a pig, Ranma. Not everyone needs to be such a drama queen about it."

Ranma was silent for a while as they kept plodding down the road.

Ryoga sighed. "I don't know how much you know about it, but I'm Nabiki's familiar. It means we kind of share each other's souls a bit. Like we overlap a little. So that made me kind of used to being a girl already. That and she's smoking hot and loves me so it's not like I got anything to worry about." Ryoga let an image of her fiancee's naked body linger a while in her mind's eye before shaking her head free of it. "Really I kind of like being a girl every once in a while."

"Yeah? What do you like about it?"

Ryoga grimaced. It wasn't something she wanted to share with Ranma. And how could she really explain it? It was mainly when Nabiki was male that she liked being a girl. And it was because Nabiki was more vulnerable as a boy. How could she explain the bizarre logic there? Somehow male Nabiki didn't feel he needed all the walls female Nabiki had. And Nabiki had mommy issues. And Ryoga liked being motherly. What issues did that mean she had? None of it was worth saying out loud.

"What's with the green hair and the…uh…" Ranma asked in the silence.

"I don't know about the green hair," Ryoga said, "But my grandmother was Indian. Really dark skin. Only have one good picture of her since most cameras made her too dark to see her features. She was a cool lady. Weird sense of humor. She babysat me a few times. She died when I was seven or so."

Ranma nodded. "So the figure skating?"

Ryoga adjusted Kasumi's weight again. The Tendo girl was starting to feel heavy and Ryoga's back was starting to ache from landing on the dumpster. "Nabiki and I were…ah… babysitting some girl named Shiratori Asuka. Asuka wanted to go to the skating rink to practice with her partner Sanzenin Mikado. Apparently she and Mikado are kind of a big deal? Or maybe they just think they are? I don't know. Anyway there was some water, Nabiki turned into a pig, Asuka grabbed her and started calling her 'Charlotte' and eventually I had to find someone to skate with in a skating competition against Asuka and Mikado so I could win 'Charlotte' back."

"Wow." Ranma said. "That's pretty crazy."

"Yeah. As soon as Kasumi's safe I need to get back there. Not sure what I'm going to do though. The skating partner I found was pretty useless. He was supposed to hold on to me through this spinning maneuver, and he let go almost immediately. I got sent through the roof and onto that dumpster."

"Who was your partner?"

Ryoga gave a pained expression."Kuno Tatewake."

"Oh?" Ranma said, her eye twitching a little. "Well, I would offer to help, but I'm pretty sure this foot's taken me out of commission skating wise. Maybe Akane could help you? She's really strong. She'd probably insist on being the dude though."

Ryoga thought about it, but then she shook her head. "Nah. It's not just skill. I need someone I can trust and there's only one person I can do that with. Just got to get some water to Nabiki somehow."

"Huh. That's the clinic right over there." Ranma pointed at the smallish building at the corner ahead of them. "So you think you'll fight them again, or are you going to let Nabiki clever her way out of it somehow?"

"Hadn't thought that far ahead. I think we need to do fight them at some point though. Otherwise Asuza will just grab one of us the next time we turn into a pig. That and Sanzenin seems to have a crush on me, and I need to shut that down."

"Shut it down?" Ranma asked as they entered the building

"Yeah. I mean, I punched him in the face before he could kiss me, but he tried again about five times. So I got to make it so he doesn't try ever again."

"Right. Because you're a guy."

"Well, yeah, but mostly because he's an asshole and I'm with Nabiki?" Ryoga frowned at Ranma.

The smaller girl seemed to be blushing rather fiercely.

"But wasn't it nice? For someone to say they liked you?"

"No, Ranma. The dude didn't say shit. He just tried to kiss me. I never ran into it as a guy, but apparently some guys think they can just kiss girls and that it's okay. It's sick."

"I guess if it was their first kiss or something…"

Ryoga put Kasumi down in one of the waiting room chairs. "No, Ranma. It's sick no matter what. Look, I was never that good around girls before Nabiki, but one thing my mother taught me was to always be respectful toward a lady. A true man doesn't force himself on a girl. It doesn't matter what the circumstances are."

"Oh," Ranma said, looking down at the ground. "My mother never taught me that."

"Well, you might be an asshole, Ranma, but I never saw you treat a girl badly or anything."

"I just…I just didn't want to. I wanted my first time…I wanted it to be special." Ranma was sobbing now and her eyes were leaking fluid even though she seemed to be trying to cram the tears back into her eyes.

Before she realized it, Ryoga was patting Ranma on the shoulder. She hated seeing people hurting. That was always true, but comforting people seemed so much easier as a girl. "I don't know what's going on, Ranma. But you'll get through it. You can get through anything right?"

Ranma fell apart in Ryoga's arms, sobbing uncontrollably. Ryoga guided her to a chair and she sat beside her waiting it out. "It's alright," she said, "It's alright."

"It's not alright." Ranma said quietly, sucking in air. "It's not been alright for a while. I just… I just have to make it better. I just have to try to make it better."

"Okay. Well, do you want to clue me in? As long as you're blubbering all over me, I mean."

Ranma straightened. She wiped her eyes free of moisture, and took a few shuddering breaths. "No. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have…I don't even…You're supposed to hate me. You deserve to hate me. You're being awesome, but I can't…I can't talk about it. Not with you. It's too...I don't know." Ranma put a hand on Ryoga's chest pushing her away. She turned around in her chair. "We're here for Kasumi." Ranma's head nodded up and down. "Yes. I'll go get Doctor Tofu. You try to see if you can wake her up. I think she has a way to stop him, but Tofu's got this thing…"

Ranma got up and went to the main office walking awkwardly on the heel of her foot, leaving Ryoga to wonder what the heck was going on.

~~~~~Ranma~~~~~

She wasn't sure what she expected to happen, but it wasn't this.

Ranma was in the passenger seat of a compact sedan. Tofu was driving, frantic, wide-eyed, hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel. Ryoga, still in female form, was in the back with Kasumi.

Kasumi was, apparently, dying.

They stopped at a red light. Tofu winced at the slight jolt the stop caused. "Ranma," he said in a low tone. "This has got to stop."

She looked down at the large boot around her broken foot. It wasn't as good as a cast, but it was all Tofu had time to do for Ranma's foot in the time it took for Tofu to ask to borrow a neighbor's car.

"You are a martial artist, but you aren't invincible. And the people you fight aren't always as strong as you."

Ranma grit her teeth. A martial artist protected the weak. She was no martial artist. Kasumi was strong though. She was…

"Her breathing is getting shallow," Ryoga said, worry rising in her voice.

Tofu checked the side streets, then gunned the car through the red light. "Why didn't you take her to the hospital? You could have found somebody to take you. Called 119. I'm a chiropractor, Ranma. I don't even have an X-ray machine. You know that. You know that from when you almost killed Nabiki."

"I…I'm sorry," Ranma said. It wasn't worth bringing up that she wasn't the one fighting Kasumi. Or even that Kasumi herself requested Ranma take her to Tofu. It would just sound like an excuse, and really that's all it would be. Kasumi was losing consciousness, Ranma should have used her own judgment.

Although…Why wasn't Tofu losing it right now? He was worried, but he wasn't insane. Did Kasumi cure him somehow when she was alone with Tofu? How would she have even managed to be conscious, much less able to cure anybody of anything? No, it was probably just some version of shock. Tofu loved Kasumi. It was so obvious. And seeing her like that must have just cut through all the silliness.

"I'll forgive you if she lives." Tofu said, making a severe right turn. The hospital building was in front of them now, but there were a distressing number of stoplights before the entrance. "This is too much, though, Ranma. I don't care what you've gone through. I don't care that you're so young. This isn't a fucking game, okay? People can die. People have died...You don't get to be as powerful as you are and not take some responsibility."

Ranma's eyes stung with tears. Her hands balled into fists. The claws extended glowing eerily blue. She tried to retract them but she couldn't do that any more than she could keep the tears from escaping her eyes.

"Stop crying. You don't get to cry. You aren't a little girl, Ranma."

Ranma looked up at Tofu as they stopped at another light.

Tofu glared back at her, his face contorted in barely held in rage. "You're a demon," he said. He turned back to the road and sped through the light as soon as it turned green. There were cars in front of him now, and he grimaced at having to match their speed.

I'm a demon? Ranma thought to herself. Tofu was upset, and it may have just been some sort of pejorative term. But with her claws glowing blue in front of her, and feeling like she was suffocating in some cloud of darkness, the term seemed to fit a little too well.

Ranma took a breath. Let it out. She swallowed. Tofu was driving in front of the entrance to the ER. Ranma turned back to see Ryoga adjusting Kasumi, preparing to exit the car as soon as it stopped.

Yes, she thought. She was a demon. But maybe a demon could still do some good. She remembered where the hospital kept the wheelchairs. As soon as the car stopped, she rushed out and limped rapidly toward them, grabbing one and taking it to where Ryoga was struggling with an unresponsive Kasumi.

Even getting her into the wheelchair was an ordeal. Her head kept lolling to one side. Ranma held it with her hand while holding one of the handles of the wheelchair with the other. Ryoga held the other handle and they pushed her through the doors of the hospital.

Kasumi's forehead was cold and sweaty. Ranma wondered if she needed to worry about her waking up and having a blade go through her hand, but that didn't seem likely at the moment. Kasumi had Tofu torture people. It wasn't as incomprehensible as before. They knew about her mother's killer, about Nyannichuan and Kosuke. Ranma knew something of the rage Kasumi must have felt. The wrath. Tofu's madness wasn't like Ranma's had been. It wasn't born out of some phobia. It wasn't natural. Kasumi had put it there.

She was a demon too.

Ranma held the back of Kasumi's head against her stomach as she and Ryoga rolled the wheelchair over the slight lip of the base of the doorway.

There would have had to be a safety mechanism in place. Ranma realized. Something to keep Tofu from hurting the wrong person, from hurting Kasumi. It would have to be something that didn't need to be said. It would have to be something like Kasumi laying in front of Tofu, passed out.

Kasumi didn't want to go to Tofu's for his expert care or anything like that. She wanted to go there to break Tofu's condition, even if it killed her.

Ranma kissed the top of Kasumi's shaved head. "I'll forgive you if she lives," Tofu had said.

If she lives, thought Ranma, maybe I can forgive myself.

~~~~~Iyeka~~~~~

She wasn't a nurse. She wasn't even a receptionist. She came to Japan along with the others, but she was never able to adapt as her sisters had. She found the human world too confusing. Speech she could grasp, that much the Jusenkyo curse provided for her. It was all the social cues, the personal politics, the concept of money and how not having enough of it meant you weren't allowed to do some things.

Things were getting better for her. If she had come to Japan now instead of during the forties, she would have had a much easier time. Credit cards she understood. She even understood the printer that kept getting jammed in the ICU. She knew which patients were doing well and which weren't from the readouts. But it was bad when she said someone was going to die, so she didn't say anything. And that time when she tried to help a doctor with the printer, he got angry with her, and then she had a small seizure, and she was connected to a machine herself for a while. And although it was nice to just be able to hand a person a card and get food or whatever else she wanted, she couldn't do that with someone else's card.

Her name was Taamurikku Iyeka. She was a mistake.

Her sisters, they were all dragons, tigers, gorillas, oxen. Powerful creatures.

She was a bird. Not a falcon or an eagle or anything like that. Certainly nothing like a phoenix. No, she was just a little parakeet that fell into Nyannichuan accidently. There was a bug on the water, struggling. She was so lost and hungry. She had flown away from her cage and had flown for many miles. She was almost too small for the magic to influence. Not much more than the bug.

She crawled sputtering out of the spring not knowing who or what she was, and somehow she found herself in the kingdom of the Musk. She was taken to the palace and to the inner sanctum of the royal harem. It was there that she met her sisters. They named her Taamurikku. She lived there for two years.

She used to have such bright yellow-orange hair, such piercing green eyes. She was a prize even without a strong natural form. Her sisters found her simple. They ridiculed her. Tore her favorite garments. Cut her hands with razors so she couldn't sew, which was one of the few things she had a talent for. She was lower than them. They spat upon her, but they needed her to feel better about themselves. They hated her, but they loved her enough to take her with them.

There was a fire in the palace. The fighters were away in some other conflict and Japanese soldiers had come with guns and explosives. There was so much fire. Her sisters grabbed her hand and took her down the secret tunnel. Kept her safe on the long journey to the ocean, and beyond. They would go to Japan. They all looked exotic enough that their origins were difficult to place and Jusenkyo granted them all an aptitude with language that allowed them to speak Japanese like natives. They would go to Japan, Taamu's sisters said, they would infiltrate their society, and they would prepare for the Musk to come for them, giving them the means to destroy the Japanese from within.

There were many bombings. A lot of fire. Taamu couldn't handle it. She wanted to fly, but she couldn't fly. She was stuck as a human since they had doused her with the Chisuiton ladle. The authorities found her huddled in a ball. "Fire, no…" she said… "No!...fire!" She was so hysterical she barely realized someone had asked her her name. All she could say was "Iye! Kasai!" So they thought her name was Iyeka. And it became her name.

She lost track of her sisters for a while. She got small jobs cleaning up. She liked to help people who were suffering, but she wasn't bright enough to learn anything other than basic first aid. Spoken language was one thing, but reading and writing was another. There was a man who married her and had sex with her. There were two children that were born and then died in their cribs. The man left. Iyeka kept cleaning and helping people when she could. Her orange hair faded to gray. Her green eyes darkened to brown. No one knew she was once beautiful. No one knew she was once something other than human.

Even now she would pause by the large window of the hospital. She would put her mop in her bucket and stare up at the sky.

It wasn't even a particularly tasty bug.

She saw the girls with red and green hair and knew right away what they were. Victims like her. But unlike her, they were born human. She recognized the man, older than the girls but still young. Dr. Tofu. He was the Twister. And the older girl in the wheelchair…she was the Sword. They were not supposed to be together. It was a bad thing.

Her sisters and the other Jusenkyo cursed that had been drawn here, they said that when the Twister and the Sword were together, they could make the demons come out. They would wear your body and speak with foreign knowledge. You would do things beyond your control. Tell them secrets that you would pay for later.

There was a man named Kosuke that had killed the Sword's mother. The demons wanted to protect him. But the Twister and the Sword… they could wrest the truth from you even when you didn't know it.

It was a shame, because aside from that, Tofu was really a fine, young doctor.

As inconspicuously as she could manage, Iyeka pushed her squeaky-wheeled mop cart down the hall toward the janitor's closet.

Stop. You need to kill her.

Iyeka stopped. She turned back toward the Sword.

Yes. Her. Kill her and I will set you free. I can do that. I am the spirit of Nyannichuan. I can feel your suffering.

Iyeka thought about this. It really wouldn't be that difficult to kill the young woman. She knew which drugs to give to kill a person. And she knew how to dress as a nurse to avoid suspicion. Her ID card marked her as a janitor, but she could alter that part of it.

Yes, as long as no one asked her any questions, she could do it.

Iyeka turned back around and resumed wheeling the mop cart in the other direction.

What are you doing?

She was doing the best she could do. She wasn't a doctor. She was an old woman with no education, no family, no social skills. She knew where the AEDs were in the building. She had used them twice, stabilizing people with heart attacks before nurses or a doctor could get to them. She sat with unruly patients, singing to them until they went to sleep. And yes, there were one or two patients on the edge of death, writhing in pain that wasn't eased by medication, that she may have helped with an extra pillow placed just so. She wasn't going to do this thing, though. She was going to put her cleaning supplies away and go on a nice, long break. And when her boss yelled for her, she would be very apologetic and she would start mopping again.

Why?

Because she liked this cage. She'd been in a lot of cages, and this was one of the nicest she'd known.

She could feel pressure. An ineffable force trying to oust her from her body. I will MAKE you do it!

Taamaariku Iyeka smiled. She opened the janitor's closet and wheeled her cart in, closing the door after her. She sat on an upturned bucket, leaning her back against the cool, cinderblock wall. She pulled out some sunflower seeds and started chewing on them. She started to hum a little tune.

Yes, this was a nice little cage. And really, if it was so wonderful out there, why was the spirit screaming at her to let her in?

I will have my revenge!

But strangely the voice was getting fainter. The force was no longer finding any purchase.

Iyeka spat the shells of the seeds she ate into the palm of her hand. It was something small she was holding on to. An ugly little mess.

She dropped it in the trash.

~~~~~End of Chapter 20~~~~~

~
~~~~~Author's note~~~~~

I almost put this out after ten pages, but it just felt incomplete. Now I'm kind of glad I kept going even if it does still feel like it should end about halfway through.

I didn't want Ranma to be in limbo for too long, and as much as I thought that I wanted to write a version of the Golden Pair arc with Nabiki and Ryoga, I just couldn't find a way to make it interesting for me. If I'm not establishing some weird supernatural back story to superficially normal events I'm just not happy, darn it!

I might be able to focus on Asuza more in the next chapter. It's looking like Nabiki may have to find a way out of that situation on her own after all. That might be fun to write.

There were a few versions of this that just went too crazy, and as much as it would be fun to see what mayhem a demon in Ranma's body could create…well again, it sounds fun, but my imagination engine kept seizing up. It turns out preparing for world domination is a lot of work, and it takes time to do it right. I would rather eat seeds in a janitor's closet.

So if you've read these notes before, you might be aware that I tend to get a little slap happy with revelations. In the first released version of this chapter Kasumi said some things during her confrontation with Nyanni/Kosuke that just couldn't be true, but that seemed obvious and awesomely game changing at four in the morning when I was doing last minute edits. I posted the chapter, went to sleep and then woke up with a start realizing that I made a mistake. I think I fixed the problem now. But anyone who saw the chapter when it first came out might be confused, so I'm sorry for that. I usually let the "final" draft sit in the document manager for a day or two before I post, but I was anxious to get it out before I had to go back to work.

Also I forgot to mention in my initial release of this chapter that I inserted a fairly significant scene back in Chapter 16: Threads that went over why Kasumi left. Here is the added scene:

~~~~~###~~~~~

"M-Megumi! You're back!"

"What are you doing here?" Ranma asked the bandana-clad lad reasonably.

"That's kind of a long story," Nabiki said, still sitting down eyeing the food she held in her chopsticks.

"Nabiki and Ryoga are now engaged. Nabiki lost her sense of direction as a result. Your dad had to escort them back here," Akane explained with a slight smile.

"We're not engaged!" Ryoga protested.

"Eh, tomato tomahto," Nabiki allowed. "We're spiritually bonded to each other. He's my familiar. Ryoga's convinced you are a girl by the way. And I can sort of feel what he's feeling so, no pressure, but if you're ever interested in a three way?"

"You think she's a girl too," Ryoga pointed out.

"Yes, well, that's because I've never seen her as a boy. Different thing."

Ranma yawned. "Where's Kasumi?"

Everyone looked at Nabiki.

"She and I had a fight," she said, all the playfulness leaving her voice.

"What about?" Ranma asked.

"About mom. She spoke with her today. Through Akane."

"Yeah?" Ranma frowned looking at Akane who seemed to be finding the floor positively enthralling.

Soun spoke up. "My wife..." he took a breath. "Is dead. We buried her. We mourned. As much as I want her back. As much as I sometimes feel as though I need her back...Kasumi is right I think. She needs to move on, keeping her here with us..."

"I don't get it," Ranma said fighting the cobwebs in her brain. "If she's still here, isn't that a good thing?"

"That's what I'm saying!" Nabiki said. "And we don't know what an exorcist would do to her! I have a plan on how we can let her live again. We can have her back!"

"No, Nabiki." Soun said somberly. "I'm sorry, Ranma. I knew this was happening, but I hadn't observed it directly. I...chose to ignore it because it's something...I miss her so much. I miss her, but...to see her speak from my daughter's mouth. There is something profane to this business. I am glad to have spoken with her once more. To say goodbye one last time. But we must say goodbye. We can't keep her here. Not in my daughter's body. Not in some other daughter's body. I don't think Kasumi should have run as she did, but I understand why. I... I don't know what's right here. Akane, Nabiki, and even you Ranma, you all have a say in this as well. Part of me wants to agree with you, to try to make her live again. I can't forbid it. But I will not condone it either." Soun stood up. "I hope you all make the right decision." Soun turned and left, heading to his room.

Ranma blinked. "Wha...Nabiki, you have a way to let her live again?"

"Yes!" Nabiki said. "Yes! All the pieces are in place now. If you and Akane hadn't munged things up it would have been perfect."

"How did we mung things up?" Ranma asked.

Nabiki grimaced. "It was spooky, okay? Seeing her in Akane. With you...I didn't know you before so I didn't see the differences so much, but... Kasumi went nuts. I think she was only holding on by a thread anyway, but seeing Akane like that. All her blades started coming out and she just started screaming."

"But...why?" Ranma asked.

"Don't look at me, I don't remember any of it," Akane said.

Nabiki folded her arms. She looked down. "Akane...she's a little shorter, but...she looks so much like her…" When Nabiki looked back up her visible eye was bright and intense. "Mom is alive. We need to save her. She can't stay in Akane's body, though. That's not going to work."

"Okay…so... what's the plan?" Ranma asked.

Nabiki took a breath. "We need to find her a new body."

Ranma blinked, trying to take in this information. A furious yawn that she had been suppressing broke out on her face. "Is this something that can wait till tomorrow?"

Nabiki fell over in exaggerated disbelief at Ranma's lack of excitement. "Yeah, Ranma. It can wait until after your beauty sleep. Are you in though? You're kind of the deciding vote."

"Help her live or let her die? Well, that's a no-brainer right?" Ranma said squinting.

"Yeah?" Nabiki said pressing.

Ranma realized her answer wasn't obvious yet. "Live! We gotta do it! Whatever it is. Gods! Is it settled now? 'Cause...Sleep!"

~~~~~####~~~~~

I had thought for three chapters that I had included a scene in "Threads" with Kasumi leaving in a dramatic tumult. Then I wrote this chapter of Kasumi returning and I thought it was mostly good, but I just wanted to look back on how she left just to double check that I wasn't missing something...only to discover that the scene of her leaving was something in my head that never actually made it to the posted fic. Furthermore, the scene I thought happened didn't actually fit anywhere. So I spent about a year trying to figure out how to fix the problem until finally I came up with the above scene to sort of patch things up a bit. It's not exactly a fix and it breaks, or at least severely bends, my rule of not significantly changing plot points of already posted chapters. All I can say is sorry for the confusion.

Hope you enjoyed this chapter. Thanks for reading, and as always a special thank you to all who leave reviews.

-Zorknot