Notes: Wow, two years, huh? It's mostly Weebee's fault, as he went into hibernation for about a year, being Canadian and all. We would have had a chapter of Council's Ace out a month ago, but a hard drive crash ate it.
For this fic in particular, this chapter is a... bit more serious than you're probably used to. We have no idea how that happened, and apologize profusely. Still, we find the chapter pretty good, and hope you enjoy it. Also, Jonak would like to interject that we should really stop determining major plot events using coin flips and the maxim, "Osaka is odd." No, that will never be explained.
"I just think it's kinda dumb for you to charge head first into a situation you've got no idea about, that's all," Ranma grumbled, as he and Akane entered the Dojo.
"Your mom was panicking and yelling for me, what was I supposed to do?" she shot back.
"Well, yeah, but you're always..." he trailed off, seeing the look on her face. "Fine, let's just do this."
"Could you follow any of that?" Toma, the large, turtle-like Youma asked, as she and her fellow stood near the door.
"I think they're preparing to fight, but he doesn't want her to," Veela, the shorter, purple skinned one replied.
"But why..." Toma was cut off as the two humans moved on some unseen signal, Akane charging towards Ranma with a hard punch that he nearly effortlessly leaned out of the way of, leaping into the air to avoid her followup sweep kick. The next several minutes were basically the same, as Akane launched attack after attack, Ranma nimbly dancing out of the way.
"Why isn't he fighting back?" Veela asked, turning to the more martial Youma.
"Maybe he's trying to create a large enough opening to put her down in one attack?" Toma guessed, rather confused herself.
"Ranma, why don't you ever fight me for real?!" Akane demanded, as she jumped away from her opponent.
Ranma simply rocked back on his heels, his hands clasped behind his back. "You keep askin' me that, and you can't figure out why I'm so worried about you chargin' into stupid situations?" This got an immediate response, as he rolled forward and to the left, avoiding an overhead smash. "And you've really gotta do better than that," he mocked, Akane pulling her hands from a hole they'd left in the wooden floor. "I mean, that Senshi I fought could have blasted you three times by now with all the holes you're leaving."
"He's trying to... provoke her?" Toma asked, confused.
Veela winced as Akane let out a bellow of rage and charged. "Well, it seems to be working."
Several seconds later, Akane had stopped again, this time with one of her fists rammed through a wall. She was panting for breath due to her exertion, and Ranma was once again standing, looking as casual as humanly possible. The female martial artist carefully extracted her hand from the wall, turning slowly and glaring at the male. For a second, it looked as though she was going to charge again, but instead, she began approaching slowly. He let himself slide into a defensive stance, as she began attacking, though the strikes seemed halfhearted.
"Akane, you wanna stop this?" he asked, looking rather uncertain.
"No," she replied, flatly, before her next attack, a straight punch, was thrown. It seemed almost to blur in the air, a nearly imperceptible red aura coating it, and slammed into Ranma's chest before he could bring up his arms to block. He flew backwards from the impact, but managed to recover in time to land on his feet approximately six meters away from her.
"I finally hit you!" she said, pumping her fist in the air.
Ranma smiled. "Yeah, about damned time," he grumbled.
What?" Akane demanded, obviously confused.
"I've been waitin' for you to figure out a way to land a solid hit on me in a spar for over a year," he explained, obviously seeming to think he shouldn't have to.
"So, what, you'll actually fight me for real now?" Akane asked, hopeful.
Ranma winced. "You really don't get it, huh?" he sighed, and slumped down on the floor, gesturing for Akane to sit down with him. "I really wanted ya to figure this out on your own, but I got a feeling that this Senshi thing is gunna be another big problem, and the last one of those almost got you killed..."
"Ranma, I..." Akane started, but was stopped by an upraised hand.
For her part, Toma felt vaguely uncomfortable, and wondered if she should start sidling for the door, but as she began to do so, Veela grasped her forearm. "I want to hear this," she whispered, gesturing at the two humans.
Toma just shook her head, but was stopped from saying anything as Ranma continued. "Akane, if I fought you for real, you'd die, and yeah, I know, you're a martial artist, but I was a martial artist when I was six. Should my old man have fought me all out?"
"Are... are you comparing me to... to a SIX YEAR OLD?" Akane's eyebrow was twitching.
"Actually, you're about at the level I was at when I was twelve," he responded, and then winced when a vein started to throb on Akane's forehead. Suddenly, he got up, and started pacing around, his hands clenching into fists. "You still don't get it... I'm crap at explaining things, I know that, but..."
Akane shot to her feet as well, glaring. "You keep saying I don't get it, what don't I get?!"
"You don't get that it was a compliment, you stupid tomboy!" He yelled. "I spent over a decade goin' through my old man's training. Barely any friends, barely any school, a broken bone every month or so... Let's not even talk about the damned c... things!" He continued to pace, and Akane, taken aback, let him do so. "You managed to have a life, a family! You got that good in about twice the time it took me, and you got all that! But you keep on ignoring every time I try and teach ya anything, thinking I'm insulting you."
"That's because you are!"
"Not all the time, and when I do, it's training..."
"No, it isn't!" Akane thundered. "Before he... stopped training us, Dad never insulted any of us. All of my training until you got here was based off of what he taught me, trying to put it to use. Your dad might have insulted you all the time to motivate you, but that doesn't work for everybody! You just kept ridiculing the Art I'd spent so long desperately trying to learn, despite the fact that no one was willing to teach me! How the heck am I supposed to know when you're telling me I'm doing a good job? You just compared me to a twelve year old without giving me any other explanation! You told me you wanted me to manage to hit you, but all you ever did was dodge, and call me... slow."
"Yeah, I guess I coulda been clearer," Ranma mumbled, looking down at the floor. He laughed, though it seemed to contain no humor. "I guess I'd'a been pretty useless at teaching in the Dojo, huh?"
"Well, um..." Akane said, uncertain how to respond.
"If you still wanna spar, I'll try and tell you what's wrong without the insults from now on," Ranma offered.
"Then I guess I'll try and tell you when you're doing it," Akane replied. "After all, if we do end up taking over the Dojo..." She trailed off yet again. They seemed to be doing a lot of that.
"Yeah, well... I guess we're done for now," Ranma said.
"So does that mean I won't be able to have a match against one of you?" Toma asked, and both humans turned, looking strangely at the two Youma near the door.
"You were here for all of that?" Akane asked, weakly.
"Were we supposed to leave? I thought we were going to be sparring." Toma replied.
"Yeah, well..." Ranma said, looking around the Dojo and back to Akane. "I don't think we'll be doing that tonight, sorry."
Both Youma nodded, and headed for the door as the two martial artists began to clean up the Dojo. "I thought we should have left," the turtle-like one said, irritably.
"Why? That was really interesting," Veela countered, as she reached out to open the sliding door.
"To you, maybe," Toma grumbled, as several thumps were heard from beyond the opening door. Cautiously, she took up a combat stance, but blinked as she caught sight of the rest of the Tendo family sprawled on the ground outside in a tangle of limbs.
"What..." she started, but was stopped by a rapid shushing motion from the long haired older man. Shrugging, the two Youma decided that it was none of their business and proceeded towards the house.
"A jealous snit..." No matter how many times he repeated it to himself, it didn't make sense. When he'd been working for queen Beryl, with the other generals, her goals had seemed to be something worth striving for. Now that he thought about it, however, he couldn't recall what he'd thought those goals were. Of course, lately, a disturbingly large amount of things hadn't been adding up. In particular, it had seemed rather odd to him that the middle Tendo daughter had been so capable of poking holes in his energy draining schemes. On further reflection, though, he'd realized that he'd originally thought of those plans while working for Beryl and dismissed them for similar reasons to those that had been pointed out.
He didn't like to think about it, but the possibility existed that something had gone wrong during his imprisonment in crystal. After all, Veela had told him that Beryl had never intended for him to ever wake up. Frowning, he made a decision, looking up from the patterned tablecloth he'd been staring at, only to see that the table was completely empty, and he was even missing his plate and chopsticks. Sighing, he headed upstairs.
"I can't believe I got caught," Nabiki grumbled to herself as she headed upstairs, ignoring her sister and father talking in the living room. Granted, Ranma and Akane's little soap opera was interesting to watch, but she shouldn't have gotten so distracted. Opening her bedroom door, she was jolted out of her thoughts of rummaging through her photo albums by the blond man casually sitting in her office chair.
"You know, this is kind of creepy," she observed, closing the door behind her.
"When everyone disappeared, I thought they had come up here," Jadeite explained. "I wasn't sure where you were so I decided to wait."
"And you wanted to speak to me because..."
"I learned some things about the Dark Kingdom today that I regret knowing," he answered. "I can't tell you most of them, but one thing I learned was that our queen was attempting to take over the solar system for some very... petty reasons."
"Well, she was an evil overlord, that kind of goes without saying," Nabiki responded.
"She destroyed the Moon kingdom in order to kill a love rival," he said, deadpan.
"Yeah, that's pretty petty," she agreed with a nod. "But what does this have to do with you ambushing me in my room?"
"Did you have to say it like that?" Jadeite grumbled, only to get her ever present smirk in return. "The reason I came here is because I don't want the same thing to happen to me. I'm not sure what I'm going to be doing, but it will definitely have to do with keeping the Dark Kingdom running, if for no other reason than that I need dark energy to stay alive. This will make me the King, and I would prefer at least one adviser who would be capable of telling me if I'm doing something monumentally stupid."
Nabiki's eyebrow rose. "You're actually putting in a contingency for that?"
"I've seen power corrupt, and I don't want to do something like imprisoning one of my generals when they've got key information I would need."
"Oddly specific example," Nabiki noted. "So what you're saying is that you want me to sign up to be an adviser to an evil overlord who doesn't even know what his goal is, strictly so I can tell him when his plans are stupid?"
"Yes," Jadeite nodded. "Exactly. Though I wish you would stop calling me an evil overlord."
"How much does it pay?"
The dark general only reached inside of his jacket and produced a small velvet bag. She reached out, taking it and looking inside. "This is..." she started, her eyes wide.
"This is a small portion of what you will make over your 'career.'"
"But, where did you get it? Did you rob a bank or something?" she asked, nervously.
"In a manner of speaking," Jadeite nodded. "The Dark Kingdom seized many valuables from the Earth and Moon Kingdoms when we invaded. That's how we paid for our previous operations."
Nabiki looked into the bag again, and gulped. "All right, then. I guess I'm yours."
Jadeite smiled, standing up and shaking her free hand. It felt weird, making a business deal in her bedroom with a guy wearing some demented military uniform, but she supposed she would have to dive back into the insanity at some point."So, is there anything you want to ask me about now?" she asked, taking the opportunity to swipe her desk chair back.
He shook his head. "Now that the Dark Kingdom is active again, I planned to leave the Dojo, taking Nodoka with me in order to get any information she has on how the world's changed while I was gone."
"Well, there's your first mistake," Nabiki interrupted, raising her right hand. Jadeite looked at her, confused, so she decided to elaborate. "Given how she reacted when you first showed up, Nodoka's going to go with you if you ask her to. But if she goes, Ranma's going to go to protect her. If Ranma goes, Akane is going to go also, to 'keep that idiot from getting in trouble.'" Nabiki lowered her hands from where she had used them to draw the quotations in the air. She then fixed him with an even look. "And if she goes, Kasumi and I go.""
"So you're saying, if I want to have Nodoka back, I'll end up taking the rest of you," he summarized.
She nodded. "And I'd work out a good, non-evil sounding explanation for what you're doing, too. Ranma and Akane have a habit of destroying evil plans... even if by accident."
"And you wouldn't have a problem with it if I, say, decided to take over the world?" the blond asked, somewhat incredulously.
"That never works. I'd just be sure to be far enough out of the way that the inevitable heroes don't get me when they get you."
Jadeite winced. "Well... that was... blunt." He seemed to think for a moment. "I will have to consider this." He then turned, leaving the room. Nabiki quickly stuck the pouch of gems she'd been given into a desk drawer, and started up her computer.
Ukyo made a concerted effort to ignore several factors as she worked at the Okonomiyaki on the grill. First was the fact that she was making breakfast so late. She'd already missed first period, and had pretty much resolved to skip for the day, given what had happened. Of course, what had happened was the other thing she was trying to ignore.
"U-Ukyo-sama, I brought the extra flour." Konatsu's voice intruded on her cooking, and she slipped, sending a few slices of tomato directly onto the grill.
"Damn it..." She grumbled, scooping them up with her spatula and dropping them to the side before turning to the male kunoichi. "Thanks, Konatsu." She said nothing else, taking the flour from his hands and placing it on the shelf nearby.
"Ukyo-sama," he continued, obviously uncertain.
"I don't want to talk about it," she snapped back.
"I'm sorry, Ukyo-sama, but this is something we really should talk about," Konatsu gently insisted.
"I said I don't want to talk about it!" she responded, turning and drawing her giant spatula. Konatsu just stood in front of her, waiting as her hands trembled. After a moment, she sighed, the overly large cooking implement clattering to the floor. "But yeah... I guess this is a pretty big deal."
"You regret it." Konatsu said, simply.
Ukyo stepped out from behind the counter and sat heavily on one of the stools surrounding the outside. "Of course, I regret it. Ranchan, I..." She seemed to choke for a moment. "I'm supposed to be the cute fiancee, damn it!"
"I don't understand," Konatsu said, sounding hurt. "You were the one who..."
"I know!" she screamed, and Konatsu had to duck out of the way of a throwing spatula that flew past his head. "I mean, it's not like I never thought about it," Ukyo continued. "You're pretty attractive, but... I have to marry Ranchan! He loves me... and... owes me... and... and it's a matter of honor!"
"Yes, Ranma loves you," Konatsu returned. "He's worried about you." He gave a humorless laugh. "Didn't you tell me he's tried to set you up with Ryoga-san a few times?"
"No, Ranchan does love me," she denied. "But it doesn't matter, because I..."
Konatsu sighed. He considered trying to walk up to her and comfort her, but looking at the gouge in the wall where her previously thrown spatula had landed, he reconsidered.
"Ukyo, this happened for one of two reasons. Either you love me - I really want this to be true, I won't deny it, and Ranma will be happy for you about it - or something was done to you to make last night happen, in which case Ranma won't hold it against you and neither of us will stop until we figure out who did it. You just need to decide which happened... or which you want to have happened."
"I'll think about it," Ukyo said hesitantly. "I think I'll need some time alone."
"I could open the restaurant..."
"No, that's fine," Ukyo couldn't help but laugh despite the situation. "The restaurant can stay closed for a day or two."
"...in case of cat or pseudo-cat mauling, ghost attack, or ghost cat attack? What?" Makoto Kino had just finished reading through a rather large list of conditions and situations that the real estate agency refused to be held responsible for, and at this point was rather surprised that it had no listing for alien abduction. "You seriously want me to sign this?"
"Yes, Ma'am." the real estate agent replied, looking about as nervous as he'd sounded the day before. "We've had... incidents... before."
"Involving ghost cats?" Makoto asked, pointing her pen at the line in question.
"Well, none involving him directly, but since he's a danger we felt we should include the warning. Just don't accept any gifts of bells and you should be fine," he said.
"So you're... referring to a specific ghost cat, then." Makoto's tone was now getting rather incredulous. Granted, as a Senshi she'd fought a lot of strange things, but some of the things listed seemed to be very bad jokes.
The man sighed, and rubbed the bridge of his glasses. "Yes, Ma'am. If you don't believe the warnings, I would advise against renting a storefront in the Nerima shopping district."
"No, that's fine," she said, looking for the signature line at the bottom of the form. If these people wanted to play some weird publicity stunt amplifying the weirdness of the area, that was fine with her. The place would become truly strange, and probably dangerous, if an evil force of some sort were to set up shop there. Scratching her name in the space provided, she handed the several page long document back to the agent, who put it in his desk and produced the rent agreement.
"All right, Ma'am, all you've got to do now is sign here."
"Nihao!" Makoto almost dropped the crock pot she was holding as a bubbly voice intruded on her attempts to get her new kitchen set up in time for opening the next morning. Turning, she saw three figures standing in the middle of the main room of her newly rented little shop. Her attention immediately focused on the one in the middle, a wrinkled, tiny figure who was balancing on some form of staff. "Gah! Youma!" she yelped, backing up and wondering if she could get away to transform.
The thing blinked at her for a moment, apparently surprised by the outburst. "I've never been called that before," it grumbled, in a female sounding yet scratchy voice, before its staff seemed to blur and Makoto felt a stinging pain in the side of her head. "Don't do it again."
"Great-Grandmother, you not supposed to scare, remember?" the purple haired girl reminded, irritably.
"Just who are you, and why are you here?" Makoto asked, politeness being overtaken by confusion and the pain in the side of her head.
"My name is Ku-Lon," the old... thing... on the staff said. "My great-granddaughter, Mr. Part-time and I are here to welcome you to Nerima on behalf of the Neriman Restaurant Association. Mr. Part-time, if you would?"
The boy with the glasses nodded, and then produced a basket twice the size of his head from his right sleeve.
"Huh?" Makoto muttered, approaching the basket where it'd been put on a table. Gingerly, she reached out to flip open the top to see several rolls of ofuda, a large pamphlet labeled 'Takana-Sensei's Martial Arts Construction Dojo, rates enclosed,' and a giant bowl of still steaming ramen.
"The wards help with spiritual intrusions, and you're going to need the construction company information at some point," the thing on the staff explained. "The Ramen's just because setting up a restaurant is hungry work."
Curious, Makoto picked up a roll of wards, flipping through them. They gave her the same strange, slight tingling sensation that holding the ones Rei made did, though the characters on them were different. "Why are you giving me all of this?"
"We just want to help out a fellow restauranteur," the thing said, smiling broadly. "We'd be glad to help you set the place up."
"Oh. Well that's nice of you," Makoto replied, smiling back, even if the expression on the other's face gave her a slight case of the creeps.
"Glad to help," the wrinkled figure said, before grabbing one of the rolls of wards and beginning to lay them out. "So, why did you decide to come to Nerima?"
"You no know boy named Ranma, yes?" the purple haired girl interjected, only to get a harsh glare from her great-grandmother.
"No," Makoto said, confused. "Should I?"
"No, my great-granddaughter just has a bit of a crush on one of the local trouble makers, that's all."
"Troublemaker, she says," the boy in the white robes said, as he walked past the three of them carrying a chair. "The fiend Saotome is a violator of women!"
"Shampoo think Mousse hang round stick boy too too much," the purple haired girl said, before turning to Makoto again. "You know girl with same name?"
For some reason, the old woman on the staff began rubbing her forehead and muttering about idiot children.