It took a while to get from Furinkan High to the Ucchan's by foot, but Ukyo preferred to walk the distance rather than taking a bus. She had to keep herself in shape to retain her title as the cute fiance, and remaining fit was one element in that.
Besides, it didn't take all that long to get there. Although she had been astounded by the number of times she had recently almost gotten doused in rain, sprinkler water, splashes from puddles as cars passed her, drinks arguing couples threw at their dates' faces only to miss them and so on. And to keep the track record clean for today as well, as soon as she entered the restaurant a sudden rainstorm broke out. It was uncanny. If she didn't know better, whereas Ranma had become a water magnet with his curse, she had now become a near miss water magnet... if there could be such a thing.
Nah, what a ridiculous idea that was.
Speaking of Ranma... Ranma had begun behaving strangely a few days back. He wasn't running away from her, but wasn't all that eager to talk about anything with her either.
Was he seeing someone new now? Her hand absently caressed the spatula bandolier she had on before focusing on to play with the handle of the the topmost throwing spatula. What could she do about it? On the other hand, this provided an excellent opportunity to try playing hard to get. Of course the apparent fact that he wasn't even trying to get her was a major problem. Or was he just trying to get a stranglehold on his love to her before it overpowered him?
Outside the Ucchan's on the opposite side of the street a pigtailed girl grumbled quietly to herself. Every time when she had been trailing Ukyo, trying to see how she had become the green-skirted cheerleader the curse would be triggered one way or the other. And Ukyo herself would not get even one drop on her.
Ranma did acknowledge some of his faults, and inability to tell a lie with a straight face was one of them. Acting in the way of deception was another. After the two Gambling King incidents, Ukyo in particular was quite well aware of the fact. The means of covering it up were not really all that suitable either... Ukyo would connect the dots as soon as she turned up her head covered in bandages and dark sunglasses hiding her eyes.
No, first she'd try to trail Ukyo and see if she were able to figure out the secret behind her attacks. The greenskirt and her friends had beaten that one tree in Juuban, which was something Ranma had failed to do. But she would learn that attack and show she could do it as well. After all, she was the best.
Obviously Ukyo had gone to great lengths to keep her secret identity exactly that: secret. Ranma had little reason to expect Ukyo would just agree to teach him the lightning technique if she asked her. Well, unless she gave in return something... say, her hand for instance, and that was asking a bit too much. And she wouldn't ask a girl to teach her in the first place, her ego made sure of that.
The sudden downpour had already ended as soon as it had picked up. Ranma sighed before jumping off to get some hot water at the Tendos. The mystery behind Sailor Ucchan, the warrior with the shock spatula, would have to wait for now.
Watching the grass grow can get boring. In that respect, trees aren't all that different... except for certain cases.
If Bloma hadn't been in her tree form, she would've sighed long and had that faraway gaze in her eyes usually reserved to those in love.
Yet another couple came to her. This had been a frequent occurrence lately; the heart-shaped leaves of hers and the early and long time of blooming were turning her into a new sight for lovers. Of course, her reputation hadn't carried quite all that far yet, but it would. Oh, it would indeed.
"Oh, what wondrous leaves," they'd say. "And blossoming so long before the Cherry Blossom Front arrives in Tokyo."
"But it is not half as beautiful and amazing as you," the other would reply. Sometimes, if only rarely, the line was laden with even more syrup, nearly making Bloma gag on it.
"Aw, you always say the sweetest things..."
And in the process, Bloma would keep on feasting upon the emotion of love within the two. The lovers would only feel like they were losing themselves in the presence of their beloved. Ah, the sweet love of hers for the pigtailed boy...
She might not have realized it, but the emotion ki she had absorbed from the people was affecting her greatly. Every shred of ki filled with the emotion of love she drained would strengthen that emotion within her. Had Cologne been aware of her, she would have seen this coming. Like the Lion Roar Shot and the Pride of the Fierce Tiger, the use of emotion ki would bolster that emotion. Every time she sampled the emotions of the lovers that approached her, her crystal would start sparkling faster and brighter, and she would remember the boy with ever deeper longing.
In Nerima, Ranma had a bad feeling things were going to get even more complicated. "Feh, whatever it is, I can handle it," he decided and went to pick up his backpack. It was time for a brief training trip with Pops.
Soon after the two martial artists left the house, the daytime soap opera on television ended. Kasumi, who had been the only one watching it, turned the age-old apparatus off. She had to go shopping for groceries; maybe today she might try a bit different teriyaki sauce with the chicken.
Had she remained there to watch the following programme, a report on the cherry tree that they claimed to have gained the name "Lover's Cherry Tree" in Juuban. The video signal changed to show a video clip of the tree itself from a distance. "Even if art often imitates nature, then now nature imitates art. Or is it nature imitating nature?"
"As surprising as it is, this is indeed a cherry tree, even if the most unusual shape of the leaves would suggest otherwise," the narrator rambled. The overly enthusiastic voice fit well in the rest of the sensationalist style of the programme, not really falling short of the shows claiming that the Mt. Horai collapsed because a giant llama spat at the so-called "Breaking Point" of the mountain.
"These leaves are what have given the tree this particular nickname. Furthermore, the tree has been blooming full for over a month now. The other nearby cherry trees are expected to begin their blooming within one week. Botanists from a number of gardens have been inquiring the city garden for a permission to clone the tree and breed it into a commercial product, but this reveals another mystery."
"The ward gardeners deny ever planting such a tree. What is the mystery behind this tree? Two months ago, a fight in which the so-called Sailor Scouts were involved in a disturbance that was reported by a number of locals. Is there a connection between these events and this most unusual cherry tree?" The signal had now changed from the narrator walking near the park to a fuzzy still shot of what the caption claimed to represent Sailors Moon and Mars... apparently with Mars pulling on Moon's hair.
"Don't go away; right after these commercials we will be interviewing a geneticist who claims to have developed means to transform men into free lunches."
Once again Ryoga had been wandering again for days trying to find Nerima and the Tendo house. He had gotten lost as he attempted to make his way to the park where he was supposed to meet Akari for a date, but ended up in another park instead. And wherever he looked, he saw Ranma ridiculing him.
Take for instance the tree before him. The branches of the said tree were growing into a shape of a bust. Complete with a pigtail and that same insufferable grin. Even worse were the heart-shaped leaves of the tree, mocking how he was so loved, unlike him.
This was no natural phenomenon, he knew that much. Saotome-that cad-must have been gallivanting here, too! Wherever 'here' was, anyway.
His aura of depression flared, enough to singe some of the leaves on the tree. Bloma couldn't help it but sample some of the aura, and immediately afterwards wished she didn't as the effects made themselves known. "I'll never see the pigtailed boy again," she cried within her mind.
The depression and desperation she felt was deep enough for her to lose the lock on her tree form and revert to her humanoid form. She hadn't yet recovered even half of her lost height as a tree after the big fight. Even if she grew much faster than a normal tree, this was still too soon after the battle for her to even dream of being of normal size.
To her luck, the bandanna-clad boy before the tree was too deeply delved in his depressed thoughts and didn't notice how the tree morphed into a form of a girl only a bit over a metre tall. She could've easily be mistaken for a preteen if it weren't for the proportion of her head to her body, which was that of an adult and not an adolescent. Naturally her curves also helped to reach this conclusion. The clothing that had appeared all too skimpy on her when she had been in her full size now appeared as a loose skirt that reached her knees and a baggy top. Her skin had also, for some unknown reason, become smoother and lighter than it had been in the previous fight. That escaped her attention, though, as only one thought hammered itself firmly into her mind.
"I'll never see him again," she cried aloud, breaking Ryoga from his less pleasant thoughts. "I'll never feel the love of the pigtailed boy again!"
That clinched it for Ryoga. "Curse you, Ranma Saotome, for making a girl cry!" he shouted, flaring out his aura of anger and depression once more.
Fighting the urge to bawl her eyes out and only barely succeeding, Bloma looked up at him, sap trickling down her cheeks in twin streams. Maybe she could use this fool to her own ends and get to him... Ranma Saotome without having to really look for him. And even if she certainly didn't want to feast on this boy's ki any more, she believed she had a fair amount more than necessary energy to follow him until they found Ranma. The desperation gave way to reason as she started the play on her part.
"You know him?"
In Ryoga's head, gears creaked and turned. If he showed both Akane and this girl the sins Saotome had committed, maybe the both of them would leave Ranma wallowing in the dust like the girl he was and come running to his side. He didn't have the chance to stay in his dreams all that long before the depression gave way to a nosebleed. When he remembered Akari, the nosebleed only intensified.
The subtle change in the ki aura of his didn't go unnoticed. "Pervert," Bloma thought with disdain directed at the boy. Still, he was her best chance to find this Ranma.
A few days from that Makoto had again come to her lessons at the Ucchan's. The last time she had been there she had only barely managed to avoid a cultural clash of great magnitude. For some, being called an Amazon was something to be proud of, unlike her. At least the great-grandmother of the offended party had explained things before challenges were issued.
Makoto shivered. Soon after that incident Ukyo had given a quick summary of Ranma's history with the Chinese Amazons. She wanted little of the baggage Ranma was carrying with him. Still, the Amazon elder had given her a stare that made her quite uncomfortable. It was as if she was being appraised like a chunk of meat, only much deeper than a pedantic health care inspector would do in a sleazy pub.
She came to a stop as she saw Ukyo standing at the corner of the street, still dressed in her boy's school uniform. Before her on the street bounced a short and busty redhead, dressed to kill in a deep red miniskirt and a bit lighter red sleeveless top, and practically molesting men of various ages. Most of the men let out indignant shouts, where as the perverts did the same but only if they had been left untouched.
"Ranchan," Ukyo growled. This caught the attention of the pigtailed girl. Glimmer, glitter and sparkles filled the air around the redhead as she clasped her hands below her chin, her eyes tearing up. Makoto could've sworn she heard two cherubs singing arias as well before the girl launched herself at Ukyo.
As Ukyo got a bundle of hyperactive redhead jump onto her lap she had to take a step backwards to stay upright. "Hey, what're you doing?"
The only response Ukyo got to that question was a wide grin fit for a cat that ate the canary and a kiss straight on the lips.
Makoto turned her head aside and raised her hands to her eyes, her cheeks glowing bright pink. "I'm as bad as Ami!" she admonished herself. On the other hand, she guessed Ami would've just fainted at that display of unilateral tongue techniques. Was this a sort of Martial Arts skill as well?
Wait a second, how did she know what was going on in there? Oh... she had turned her head back and was peeking between her fingers at the show. And was she really considering asking the girl to teach her?
Her senpai was still shell-shocked and practically frozen as a statue as the shorter girl hung on her neck. Soon, though, the passion in the kiss ground to a halt as understanding dawned on the pigtailed girl.
"You're... a girl."
Ukyo and Makoto both stared at the redhead whose expression quickly changed into a grimace.
"Ewww!" the girl uttered and made gagging sounds that stopped as suddenly as the flat of a battle spatula struck the top of her head, courtesy of Ukyo.
"Oy, Ucchan, Makoto, have ya seen... her?" Ranma called as she came running at the three girls, dressed in nearly identical fashion to the another redhead, but only with creamy white colouring to the skirt and the top.
Makoto and Ukyo counted the toll. One Ranma, skidding into a stop before them. Another Ranma, knocked out at their feet.
"Who are you and who is she?" Ukyo and Makoto both demanded from Ranma.
Ranma walked up to the girl lying on the ground and picked her up on her shoulders.
"She, well, she's not given her name to us yet. Me, I'm Ranma, of course."
The two girls didn't quite seem to believe Ranma just like that. Also, she was still planning on finding out more about Ukyo's secret. "You guys going to the Ucchan's? I'll tell ya on the way there."
Bloma silently cursed as she was lying on Ryoga's back. She had no idea where she was or if she was any closer to finding Ranma. At least they were no longer in the desert. She had already given up trying to figure out where they were and had buried her face in Ryoga's backpack.
The trip had really worn Bloma out. Even if the boy that had been carrying her for a good while now, she had grown weak as she couldn't drain his ki because, well, it tasted simply awful and made her feel even worse, as if her insides were convulsing and being corroded away. With no other exterior energy sources available, she had had to use her already small Dark Kingdom energy reserves in larger proportion to the drained ki she still had left.
Transforming back into a tree and taking a breather was also out of the question because she couldn't follow the boy-the boy bearing the umbrella was now her best way of finding her hero, especially now that she had no clue where she was. The height of the sun on the sky seemed to change quite liberally as well; one moment it was midnight and the other it was either late afternoon or early morning.
The boy had kept talking about her crush and where he could be found. Nerima, Furinkan High and the Tendo dojo were apparently the places where Ranma spent most of his time, and as soon as she got close to any of these, she'd ditch her ride. "Let your darling child travel," the byword said. She was already quite willing to amend the saying with "but not with this boy."
Bloma felt a chilly wind blow against her skin. Chilly? She looked up to find Ryoga and her standing atop a icy wasteland.
"Where the Moon are we now?" she cursed in a language the boy carrying her didn't understand.
"- and then she jumped out of the mirror," Ranma said as she shook the still unconscious redhead on her shoulder to point out exactly to whom she was referring.
The four girls had just reached Ukyo's restaurant as Ranma's tale was winding up to a close. The story of a European mansion in the middle of a forest and a magical mirror inside was not really all that hard to believe.
Ranma left the mirror clone in the restaurant's front room and made certain to stay out of the back when Ukyo and Makoto were changing into their uniforms.
Ukyo came back to the restaurant side before Makoto did, headed for the kettle and filled it with tap water. "I'll put the kettle on," she commented.
"Don't bother, I got no change of clothes with me anyway. She, on the other hand..." Ranma finished by taking the kettle of cold water and splashing it onto the unconscious redhead.
"What did you do that for?" the now drenched girl began, but then she saw Ukyo. "Oh, it's the tomboy."
This time the mirror clone didn't wake up until she had been dragged back to the Tendo house.
Ryoga had once again stopped to ask for directions from a bypasser. The last three times no one had understood what he was asking, no matter the language he used. The intense language course known as wandering across the world often helped, but he had now had just bad luck. At least the surroundings looked like they might've been in a Japanese suburb.
"Can you tell me the way to Nerima?"
"Uh, you are in Nerima, boy."
Counter to the norm, Ryoga felt nearly elated. That was much more than the usual state of depression he was in. His passenger also felt prudent to perk up at this piece of news. Were they finally close to their destination?
"What direction is Tendo dojo or Furinkan High then?"
The man raised his left hand and pointed sideways at a large building.
Bloma took this as her cue to get off the ride. She barely managed to jump over the stone fence to the schoolyard and ran over to a small patch of trees. A quick glance around her confirmed she was alone and no one was watching her, as the boy had gotten lost again and the man had continued on his way away from the school. A quick thrust of her feet buried her toes into the soil where they transformed into roots. Her skin was again becoming again more like tree bark, losing the light tone and taking a darker, rougher texture. The feeling of nutrients flowing through her roots brought her immense relief.
It would take some time to recover, but if she had properly understood what the boy with no sense of direction had told her, she'd see Ranma soon enough. And if he really was as evil as her ride had claimed... their future together looked particularly promising.
Maybe they'd even get to see Hell together!
Extra: Fanon Clichés? Are They Tasty?
Ranma and his significant other sat on a bench near the place where they had first met and had their first fight. Ranma was looking all around them, just waiting for something to happen. The girl beside him sensed the change in his ki and leveled a concerned look at his eyes.
"Who are you looking for," she asked with a frown. Wasn't she enough?
"It's been too quiet for too long. Someone from Nerima is bound to appear," Ranma said and finished with a sigh and a weary smile at her.
"Stop worrying-it's not like you can expect that to happen," she admonished Ranma.
Crickets chirped in the background. The two of them looked around a few times before she repeated, "I said, it's not like you can expect that to happen."
Someplace else, wrapped in a red robe on top of a big rack a small potbellied black pig slept and dreamt about why he felt like he was supposed to be preparing to do something.
Extra: Fanon Clichs? Are They Tasty? The Sequel!
"Where am I?" Ranma's mirror clone asked as she stepped out of the mirror.
At another time in a place out of time where a gate was showing that particular time and place Sailor Pluto gasped.
"By Serenity, there's two of them."
She picked up a pack of prescription level painkillers. Sometimes, it paid to have an MD.
The mirror clone spoke again in the image projected by the Gates of Time. "... call me Princess Garnet."
"Well, better Garnet than Beryl... but what was it about her..." Pluto mused, trying to recall why Prince Endymion's little sister gave her shivers. The answer was soon forthcoming, too soon.
"Where's Endy-oniichan?" The words alone revealed little. No, it was the tone in the voice. To complete the image, only a talking black cat with huge ears and a certain gothic look to her would've been required.
Genma, for his part, had already connected the dots aptly named "princess", "his child" and "money".
"Daughter!" said the sign the panda was now waving.
Pluto stared at the Gates, then at the pills on her hand before tossing them away. No, this time her headache would need something stronger. Sometimes, it was better to be a veterinarian than a doctor, she thought, as she picked up a tranquilizer dart with drug potent enough to knock out an elephant.
AN: This story is now on hold until I get enough interest to continue it and manage to keep it from turning any more serious than it has already become. Once again this was previewed on Fukufic forums. DCG and Akuma-sama gave me feedback on my plans for the story. Blame no one but me for the shortcomings in this chapter, as I wanted this out of my hands and mind ASAP.
Anyway, the key players are now all in Nerima and the stage is set. The story how the mirror clone came to be is in manga vol 35; read it from there if you're so inclined. In case you have such fears, this story won't follow the manga story arcs after this except for one place. So, Konatsu won't be coming to Nerima.