A Ranma 1/2 alternate universe mini-series. Genma and Ranma go to China after Ukyo's father files charges against Genma for running off with his yatai. A PG rating for language and situations.

This story and a few others can be found on my web page at
http://www.geocities.com/jlfenton65/
[email protected]

Ranma 1/2 is a trademark of Viz Communications, Inc. and was created by Rumiko Takahashi.
This story is of my own derivation and is not intended for commercial purposes, so please don't sue me.

Author's Notes: Ranma is always referred to in the masculine because he believes himself to be male regardless of his body. You'll just have to keep an eye out for all the references to which form he is currently in. Anyone else in the story that has a gender curse will be referred to according to the current gender until people find out which gender they truly are, then they will refer to them that way just the same as they do Ranma. The only exception will be when people are around who think Ranma is a girl; then, everyone will refer to him as a girl to maintain that idea. My thanks to Josh Temple for pre-reading this chapter; he is the author of the bizarre but very good Ranma fanfic, "Generation Lost."

Last Chapter: In chapter two, Ranma and Genma came to Nerima. Ranma believed they were just visiting, but soon learned of the arranged marriage. After a demonstration of his abilities, Nabiki and Akane were in shock. Nabiki was initially attracted to the handsome and powerful boy, but decided to pass the buck when she found out about his curse. Akane learned more about her fiancé on the way to school the next day. Nabiki told Kuno about the engagement before school, so he was waiting to challenge Ranma. After a brief fight, Kuno was thoroughly beaten. At lunch, Ranma demonstrated a ki attack (on Kuno) to Akane and her friends. He promised to teach it to her.

Growing Up the Half Way

Chapter 3: Leaping to Conclusions

by Joe Fenton

Akane sat cross-legged in the middle of the dojo. She had her hands held slightly apart in front of her, a look of fierce concentration was on her face, and sweat drenched her gi. A light aura surrounded her. She'd have felt better about her progress if it hadn't taken her a week to get this far. Ranma had her sit and concentrate on her ki for hours at a time; it hadn't taken her long to manifest her aura, but controlling her ki was considerably more difficult than she initially expected. Slowly, a point of light flickered between her hands.

Ranma looked on as Akane finally channeled enough ki to generate an external manifestation between her outstretched hands. "Wow! That's great! You're really getting there! Now, keep it up! Keep channeling your power!"

A frown started to form on Akane's face.

Ranma was too intent on the glowing ki to notice. "Yeah! That's it! Just like that!"

A small growl came from the concentrating girl.

Ranma never noticed. "Yeah! Yeah! Keep going!"

The ball of ki expanded from a pinpoint, to marble size. Her aura slowly changed from near white to red.

"Wow! That's great! Keep going! Keep going!"

The growl became a roar as the ball expanded to the size of a softball.

Ranma finally noticed that Akane was enraged. He further noticed that her hands were now pointed in his direction. He was now looking right into a sphere of ki about the size of a bowling ball. "AAAHHH!!! Point that some other way!!!" He dove to the side as the ball sputtered, then slowly dispersed.

Akane turned an angry glare on the boy. "How can I concentrate with you yelling like that!"

Ranma slowly got up, rubbing the back of his head. "Oops! Sorry 'bout that." He gave her an apologetic look. "I was just tryin' to be encouraging. Lucky for me, you can't project that ki just yet." He laughed sheepishly.

Akane growled a little more. "Yes. Lucky is definitely the key term here."

"I really am sorry. I never taught anyone before and I guess I got carried away by how well you were doin'."

Akane brightened as she thought about it. "I guess I did do pretty good there, didn't I?"

Ranma nodded. "Yeah, but don't use your emotions like that. I know it makes it easier, but you can't always depend on a particular emotion bein' available all the time." Akane's smile dropped a bit as she listened to the lecture. "If you depend on your anger to develop your ki, what'll you do if you're not angry? Just do it the way I showed and work on buildin' your ki reserves. It'll also be more helpful in other areas, like your speed."

Akane flopped onto her back as he finished, too tired to continue sitting upright. "Man! I am wiped out!"

"You pretty much drained your reserves. We'll rest a bit, then I want you to start on those exercises again."

Akane gave him an irritated glare. "We'll rest? All you've done is sit there and try to break my concentration!" She shook her head. "I swear! With as much ki as you have, you should be able to fly!"

Ranma gave a snort. "Yeah right! Like people can fly... I'd love to see that!"

Akane gave him a serious look. "No. I'm serious about this. You can move so fast you can cause sonic booms, and make balls of ki like they were soap bubbles. Why can't you fly?"

Ranma was struck dumb. "Uh..."

Akane smiled again. "So, the Great Ranma Saotome didn't think of that himself, huh?" She gestured from where she lay on the dojo floor. "Go ahead. Give it a try."

Ranma looked thoughtful for a moment, then moved to the side a little. He closed his eyes and summoned his ki. As his aura flared around him, he concentrated on projecting his ki. The floor beneath him exploded in a flash, debris flying as the boy dropped with a yell into the storage space beneath the dojo.

Akane stared for a second, then burst into laughter. Ranma jumped through the hole and watched his fiancée laugh for awhile.

"Okay, okay! It wasn't that funny!" He huffed and crossed his arms.

Akane's laughter slowly trailed off. She stood as she wiped her eyes. "Yes, it was." She smirked at the boy. "Tell me, Ranma. Did you just try projecting your ki downward?"

Ranma frowned. "Yes!" He threw his arms up. "How else am I supposed to fly?"

Akane smiled. "Well, as I understand my lessons, when doing a ki attack, you center yourself in your ki, then push a portion of it away using the rest to hold yourself in place." Ranma nodded at her, so she continued. "So, it seems to me that what you should be doing is holding your ki in place, and pushing yourself away."

Ranma thought about for almost a full minute. His face lit up. "Ah! I see! You might be right about it!" He closed his eyes and summoned his ki once again. This time, the explosion came from the roof as Ranma punched right through. Debris rained down as he disappeared from sight.

Akane stood with her mouth hanging open. She quickly ran to the yard and scanned the sky. A few seconds later, a sound could be heard. It increased in pitch and volume as the source came closer.

"aaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Water splashed over the roof of the house as Ranma hit the koi pond. A couple koi flopped on the ground near Akane's feet. She looked at the fish, then back at the water running down the roof of the house. She fell to the ground as laughter once more robbed her of any ability to stand.

Ranma slowly walked around the side of the house with a bucket of water. He stopped by the laughing girl, watching her for a moment, then snorted. The pig-tailed girl picked up the koi and tossed them in the bucket. He left Akane still rolling on the ground as he made his way around the rest of the house, retrieving the fish as he came to them.

****

Nabiki frowned at Ranma across the table. The boy sat eating rapidly, but politely. Amazingly, Akane was keeping pace with him. As she increased her ki training, her appetite also increased. Ranma explained how her body was compensating for the drain, converting food to energy. Akane didn't mind as long as that was the only place the food was going.

Nabiki brought up the first item on her agenda. "You should get a job, Ranma. The repairs on the dojo won't pay for themselves."

Ranma just waved off her suggestion. "I'll make the repairs myself." He looked at Nabiki's shocked face. "What? How do you think we paid for lessons while on our trainin' trip? You don't think he," he hooked a thumb at the elder Saotome, "ever did a lick a work?"

Genma frowned. "It was training, boy! You had to be able to repair the dojo when you took it over."

Soun nodded sagely from where he sat. "Yes. As I learned to repair it from my father, so it is now up to Ranma and Akane." He turned to the pair of teens. "We'll go out to the dojo later and make a list of what needs to be done."

Nabiki moved on the next item. "So, you can fly now?"

Soun and Genma looked expectantly at Ranma.

Ranma laughed sheepishly. "More like barrel uncontrollably through the air." He shook his head. "I gotta long way to go before it can be even remotely considered flyin'."

Kasumi gave him a comforting smile. "We know you'll get it Ranma. In the meantime, why don't you just try hopping? I know how much you enjoy hopping around the rooftops; well, it'd be just like that, but without the roofs." She smiled disingenuously.

Everyone stared at the eldest girl. Ranma was the first to overcome shock. He gave her a wide smile.

"That's a great idea Kasumi! Thanks!"

Kasumi blushed modestly. "You're welcome, Ranma."

Akane looked up from her dinner briefly. "Well, that gives you something to do. What about my training?"

Ranma didn't bat an eye. "You'll start sparrin' with Pop."

Akane lost the mouthful of rice she was chewing. "What?!"

"You're doin' good on the ground, but it's too limiting. Suppose someone attacks you from a roof? Or a tree? Now that you have some control over your ki, you need to start usin' it, and this is a good way to start."

"Well, I suppose." She gestured at Genma. "But, why him?!"

Ranma smirked at her. "I've gotta couple a reasons. Mainly, I'll be busy workin' on this hoppin' technique Kasumi suggested." He turned his attention back to his dinner.

Nabiki couldn't resist. "You said you had a couple of reasons. What's the other one?"

Ranma reddened, then mumbled something under his breath.

Nabiki smiled. "What was that, Ranma-chan?"

"I said, Akane can get a little angry while sparrin'. I'd rather she was angry at Pop instead a me." He concentrated on his meal.

Akane choked on her rice again, then blushed from embarrassment.

Nabiki noticed Akane's discomfiture and decided a little teasing was in order. "Awww. Isn't that cuuuute? Sounds like True Love!"

Akane started to bristle.

Genma went from scowling to laughing in an instant. He elbowed Soun. "Sounds that way to me, right Tendo?"

Soun laughed as well. "Definitely, Saotome. Perhaps now would be a good time to hold the wedding!"

Ranma started to cough raggedly as his dinner went down the wrong pipe.

Akane started to glow red as Soun and Genma hopped up and danced around crowing about the houses being joined. She stood and pulled back her mallet to flatten the pair. She completed the back-swing, but the mallet refused to move forward. She glared at Ranma who was holding the hammer firmly in place.

Before she could retort, he explained. "Now Akane, I told you earlier 'bout usin' your anger to drive your ki."

She grinned sheepishly. "Sorry." Her aura slowly changed from red to an almost pure white.

Ranma nodded and removed his hand from the mallet. "Much better!"

Akane grinned as she swung at their oblivious fathers.

****

Soun smiled as he watched Akane train with his old friend. Genma was introducing Akane to the basics of aerial combat; this consisted of leaping into the air and either launching an offensive strike, or twisting in mid-air to avoid one. He had Akane alternate between the two; after she gained some experience, they would move on to doing both. With all the ki training Ranma had put Akane through in the last week, she was getting some impressive height in her leaps.

Soun turned his attention to the girl - er, boy. He shook his head as he reminded himself that Ranma preferred people refer to him as a guy regardless of his current gender. The boy was leaping into the air much like his father and fiancée, but at the apex of his leap, he would use his ki to leap again, and yet again when he fell back down to the level of the rooftop. Every once and a while, he would lose his concentration and bounce off in an unintended direction; hence, his current gender. The curse seemed to draw him to the koi pond; no matter where in the yard he was currently, if he misjudged a hop, he landed in the small pond. Ranma couldn't spare the ki to return to his male form until he was done with his practice. A thud and soft curse brought his attention back to his little girl.

Akane sat up slowly. "I need to rest a moment."

Genma frowned. "You're soft, girl! Why, we've only been at it for an hour! I'd spar like this with Ranma all day -"

Akane cut him off before he could really get started. She hated being compared to Ranma. Ranma this - Ranma that. "So spar with him for an hour or two while I recover." She stood and stretched to work the knots out of her back. "It looks like he's ready to try working his new technique into your workouts."

Genma watched Ranma bounce around for moment, noting that Ranma had started adding a kata to his practice. "She's right, boy! Let's see what this new technique of yours can do against a Master."

Ranma smirked and launched a preemptive strike against his father. "Let's go, old man!"

Akane sat on the porch next to her father. They watched the Saotomes fight across the yard. For once, Ranma wasn't trouncing his father; Ranma was still working his ki-bounce into his fighting style, and Genma was taking full advantage. He hadn't been this close to beating his boy in years and was savoring the moment. Moments like this would be fewer and further between in the years to come.

Akane smiled as she watched the pair. Not that she wished Ranma any ill, but she had just spent the last hour being compared to him while being beaten soundly. Watching Ranma take the same beating made her feel just a little better.

****

Ryoga growled as he turned down yet another street. He was thoroughly lost. The twisted and haphazard arrangement of houses in the suburbs of Tokyo was enough to throw off someone with a good sense of direction; for someone like Ryoga... he had passed this same sign thirty-six times in the last twenty minutes.

It was time to swallow his pride and request some help. He grabbed the first person to pass by, hoisting the poor boy off the ground by his collar. "Where is the Tendo Dojo?!"

The boy swallowed nervously and pointed over Ryoga's shoulder. He looked at where the boy pointed; on the boundary wall of a decent size compound was a sign reading, 'Tendo's Martial Arts. School of Indiscriminate Grappling.' He let the boy drop to the ground as he considered his good fortune. A familiar pig-tailed girl appeared briefly over the boundary wall. "Ranma!" Ryoga jumped onto the wall. The sight before him made his blood boil; Ranma's beast of a father was beating his daughter while the girl fled around the compound... at least, that was how it appeared to Ryoga.

Ranma was maneuvering his pop into position for a vicious pounding when a familiar voice distracted him.

"Don't worry Ranma! I'll save you!" Ryoga sprang from the wall and drove Genma over the wall on the other side of the compound with a kick to the chest.

Ranma sighed as he landed lightly. "Hey Ryoga. What are you doin' in this part a Tokyo?"

Ryoga shuffled nervously. "Uh, nothing much. How was your trip to China?"

"Interesting... I suppose you'll want to stay for dinner and hear all about it."

Ryoga turned bright red and nodded. "Um, uh, if it's not, uh, any trouble that is."

Ranma blew a stray strand of hair from his face. "I gotta clean up. Just wait here and try not to get lost." Ranma motioned to the Tendos as he passed into the house. They followed him inside to the living room.

Akane gave Ranma a penetrating stare. "Okay, Ranma. Fess up. Who's that boy, and what's going on between you two? I've seen that look he has before."

Ranma glared at her. "It's nothin' like that! Ryoga lived near where me and Pop stayed while I was in Jr. High. I think he has a bit of a crush on me; he thinks I'm a girl."

Soun turned to go outside. "Well, we'll put an end to that right now."

Ranma restrained him. "No!"

Akane looked shocked, then growled at him. "Ranmaaaa!"

Ranma rolled his eyes. "I told you, it's nothin' like that!" He gave them a level gaze. "Look, the guy has a bad life. He has this problem of always getting lost." He noticed the disbelieving looks. "Really! It runs in his family. In the year I knew him, I never once managed to meet his folks. The guy lives on instant ramen and handouts. Pop once took me to a shrine in Okayama, and there he was, asking folks which way to Tokyo." The disbelief had mostly faded. Ranma gave them a hard stare. "Pop turns into a Panda and I change into a girl, and you have trouble believing that someone just has a bad sense a direction?"

Akane finally relented. "Okay, I believe you. But what does that have to do with not telling him you're a really a boy?"

"How would you feel if you found out the person you had a crush on was not who you thought they were?"

Akane tried to picture Dr. Tofu as really being a women. "Okay... I can see you not wanting to hurt his feelings, but isn't he going to find out eventually? The longer you put it off, the more it will hurt him in the end."

Soun turned back to Ranma. This was much more interesting than the evening programming on TV.

Ranma sighed. "Yes. I know all that - now. I didn't understand that until it was a real problem. My hope is that while he's lost one time, he'll run into someone he can have a real relationship with. After he's over me, I can safely let him know who I really am. I'm afraid that if I tell him before then that he'll do something - rash."

Akane nodded slowly. "Okay. We'll do it this way for now. I'll tell Nabiki and Kasumi so they don't blow your cover; Daddy can handle your father."

Ranma gave her a warm smile. "Thanks Akane. I owe you one."

Akane smiled back. "Well, you can start by letting me have the bath first." She headed off to speak with her sisters before cleaning up.

****

"So the elder started dropping hints about guys she'd like me to marry." Ranma wove his story as they ate dinner. Ryoga hadn't taken his eyes from him the whole evening; he looked appropriately shocked at this point. Actually, Ranma's tale was poignant and heart-grabbing; it would have had most people crying if it wasn't for Nabiki and Akane snickering through the whole thing. He couldn't blame them; knowing that Ranma was actually a guy made the whole story a farce of epic proportions, but Ryoga didn't know that.

He frowned as Akane couldn't hold her laughter any longer. He leaned towards Kasumi. "I can't believe how heartless your sister is."

Kasumi gave him a placating look. "She has her own troubles with boys. Hearing Ranma's story simply reminds her that her situation isn't nearly as bad as she sometimes fears. She's not being mean, she's happy."

Ryoga thought it over. He nodded as he turned his attention back to Ranma.

"A few days later, I had the opportunity to bust loose Pop. We high-tailed it back to Japan and made our way here," Ranma said wrapped it up. He looked over at Ryoga. "So, whatta you been up to the last few months?"

Ryoga turned red and laughed nervously. "Well, I sorta followed you to China."

Ranma groaned. "Sorta?"

"Well, I heard you were at some village in the area, so I thought I'd maybe visit. I was walking through this valley with all these pools, when I saw a monkey attacking someone." He puffed a little. "Being a martial artist, I naturally stopped to help. I scared off the monkey, but the lady kinda got knocked into one of the pools." He rubbed the back of his head. "She climbed out of the pool yelling something in Chinese. I couldn't understand her or nothing, when I happen to notice this bucket and ladle. I figure she was down at the pool getting some water to cook with or something when the monkey attacked. So I pick the bucket and she flips out and attacks me. We're struggling over the bucket when she's gets splashed and runs off shrieking." Ryoga shook his head. "I got lost after that. Eventually, I found myself back in Tokyo. I asked around and found you were staying at the Tendo Dojo..." He trailed off.

Ranma sighed in relief. It didn't sound like Ryoga had run into the Amazons. If he had, he'd probably have a couple chasing him to give him the Kiss of Marriage. He started - maybe that was the solution to his problem with the boy. He'd talk about it later with Nabiki; he could afford her advice at the moment and wanted to make sure he wasn't overlooking something.

He looked outside, checking the position of the sun, then turned to Ryoga. "It's getting late. It'll be dark before we reach your place."

Nabiki gave him a querying look. "We?"

Ranma put it succinctly. "If I don't lead him home, it'll probably take him a week to get there. It's how we met in Jr. High."

The three Tendo girls spoke as one. "Ahhhhhh." That explained Ryoga's fixation on Ranma.

Kasumi gave Ryoga a smile. "It wouldn't be proper to make Ranma walk home alone after dark. Perhaps you should stay here tonight and Ranma can show you home tomorrow."

Ryoga paled and stuttered, "Y-y-you r-really don't need to... I - I - I mean, if it's not a problem..."

Nabiki snickered at the boy. "You can share the guest room with Ranma."

Ryoga's eyes rolled up in his head as he passed out.

Kasumi gave Nabiki a disapproving look. "That wasn't very nice, little sister." She looked at Ranma. "I'll get out the spare futon while you carry him out to the practice hall."

****

Nabiki sunk to the cushion by the table, a cup of coffee clutched in one hand. She stifled a yawn as she looked out into the yard. Same old, same old - the pig-tailed girl was sparring with the panda again. They were better than an alarm clock; now if she could just set the time at which they woke her.

"I'll save you Ranma!"

Nabiki spit out a mouthful of coffee as Ryoga side-kicked the panda out of the compound. Well, that was new.

Ranma glared at Ryoga. "What part of yesterday's story did you not understand? The panda is my old man, and we were sparring."

Ryoga laughed and rubbed the back of his head. "Oh, yeah. Sorry about that."

Ranma rolled his eyes. "Come on. Kasumi's probably got breakfast ready." Ryoga followed the girl into the house.

Everyone sat around the table, Ryoga eying the panda where it sat opposite him. Kasumi handed over the kettle. Ryoga just blinked as it poured the water over its head, changing back to human.

"I thought I had seen everything." He shook his head.

Akane mumbled into her breakfast. "You have no idea."

Nabiki gave Ryoga a patently fake smile. "You should be heading home soon. Mind if I tag along?"

Ryoga was a little intimidated; the looks he kept getting told him it was best just to go along with her. "Uh, no. I don't mind."

Akane frowned at her sister. She had something planned for the poor boy; he needed someone who knew Nabiki to watch out for him. "I'm coming along too." It wasn't a request.

Ryoga looked back and forth at the three pretty girls and started trembling. Being lost all the time was hell on his social life. He wasn't sure he could take all the female attention. He took a deep breath - they were just walking him home... coming with him to his house where his parents were most likely out and they would be all alone together with no supervision. His nose started to bleed as he fell over sideways, unconscious.

Akane frowned. The boy was obviously a pervert. She'd better bring the large mallet - just in case.

****

The figure stalked the streets of Tokyo in ornate armor almost completely covered by the oversized cloak. It was trailed by two boys, also dressed strangely: one was small, wearing part of a wolf skin as a cap, and had a sword nearly as long as he was tall strapped to his back; the other was large and had a tiger skin headdress, shoulder pads, leggings, and waist wrap.

The larger boy addressed the cloaked figure. "We have a map. Why are we wandering around here?"

The cloaked figure's tone left no doubt that they were addressing an idiot. "Because we need the bucket and ladle if we wish to find the Open Water Kettle."

The larger boy thought about it. "But, if we need the bucket and ladle, why'd you give them to that guy at Jusenkyo?"

The cloaked figure held a hand towards the boy. The other adroitly sidled out of the way as a flash preceded the larger boy's flight into a nearby wall. "I didn't give them to him! The oaf stole them!"

The larger boy rubbed his sore head as he fell back into place behind the other two. "Sheesh! I was just asking, Herb!"

"Just keep watch for him. The moment we have the bucket and ladle back, we are heading for Horaisan."

Around the corner, Ryoga followed Ranma, and was in turn followed by Akane and Nabiki. Akane looked dubiously at the map Ryoga had supplied when asked where he lived. To call it a map was stretching the imagination. It was a crude drawing of a house with Mt. Fuji to one side, a mail box and a couple arrows.

Ranma smirked back at her. "Don't bother with that. I remember where it is. It's in another district, so it'd be faster to catch the train." He turned the corner and ran into someone covered by a cloak. He took a step back. "Sorry 'bout that. Should watch where I'm going."

The figure ignored Ranma completely. It held up an arm to point at Ryoga. "YOU!!" The pointing hand flattened and a flash of ki launched Ryoga across the street. "Return what you have stolen or die!"

"Ryoga!" Ranma dropped into a defensive stance and drew her ki to it's maximum. Behind her, Akane did the same while Nabiki slipped back around the corner.

The boy in question grabbed what appeared to be a bamboo umbrella from the top of his pack. He leapt high in the air and swung in an overhand blow at the cloaked figure. "NOBODY ATTACKS RYOGA HIBIKI LIKE THAT!" The figure dodged at the last second. Ryoga's strike left a small crater in the ground.

Ranma idly noticed that Ryoga was making conscious use of his ki. If he judged the ki flows correctly, that umbrella weighed nearly fifty kilos. He turned his attention back to the figure, trying to gauge his ki levels.

The figure leapt upwards, the leap smoothly turning into a glide towards Ryoga. "Dragon Spirit Flight!"

Ranma's eyes widened as he clearly made out the burst of ki that supported the figure's glide, and the surge of ki that preceded another blast. "Ryoga! Roll left!"

Ryoga dove to the left in a roll as the ki blast soared through the space he had just vacated.

The figure growled. Ki surrounded his arm as he darted towards Ryoga. "Try dodging my Dragon Energy Sword!"

Ryoga tried to parry with his umbrella. The glowing arm sliced through it, leaving Ryoga holding the handle. He tossed it to the side as leapt back to get some space. He pulled off a bandana, spun it, and released it at the figure.

Off to the side, Akane watched the altercation in worry. The larger boy appeared beside her. She spun to face him.

"Are you a woman?" The boy had a strange expression on his face.

Akane was puzzled, but kept her defense up. "Of course. What else could I be?"

The boy looked ecstatic. "My first time talking with a woman! I will now try touching a woman."

That was all Akane needed to hear. The boy was reaching for her as she brought out the mallet; good thing she brought it along. She channeled her ki like in practice; she wanted to make sure this pervert knew what happened when you messed with Akane Tendo. A near-white aura surrounded her as she swung the mallet. The blow left the boy embedded in the ground at the center of a crater, unconscious. She nodded and looked for the other one. Odds were, he was a pervert too.

Around the corner, Nabiki watched as Akane flattened the large boy in the tiger suit. A voice drew her attention upwards.

"You are a woman!" The smaller boy stood on the top of the wall. "This is the first time I have spoken with a woman." He hopped off the wall, landing next to her.

Nabiki blinked as the boy brandished a mallet nearly as large as Akane's.

"Umm, if it's all right with you, please go on a date with me."

Nabiki looked nonplussed. "First of all, you're a little young for me. Second, that isn't how you ask out a girl."

The boy blinked. "I am? It's not?"

Nabiki smirked. "No. Now if you some money, I might be able to find you just the right girl for a date."

The boy held out a handful of gold coins. "We've been using these. Is it enough?"

Nabiki fought hard and controlled her expression. "It'll do." She thought over the girls who owed her a favor. She waved to a bench a little ways down the street. "Let's sit down and discuss the matter. We don't want to disturb the guys while they're playing."

The boy looked at where the cloaked figure was dodging a flurry of spinning bandanas. He looked torn just for a second, then turned and followed Nabiki.

The cloaked figure leapt over another round of the cloth projectiles. "Enough of this! Dragon Spirit Flight!" He once again glided over Ryoga.

This time, it was the figure who was forced to dodge a ball of ki as Ranma interrupted the attack.

"You fight my friends and you fight with me!" Ranma created a ball of ki at each hand and leapt forward tossing twin strikes at Ryoga's attacker. The figure was blasted across the street. Ryoga followed Ranma's attack with another round of ki charged bandanas. The cloak was shredded as several finally struck home. Ranma stared. "You're a girl!"

Ryoga gawked at the figure. "It's that crazy girl from China!"

The larger boy was up again. "This is the first time I've seen Herb's body. I didn't know it was a woman's."

The figure was revealed as a young woman with white and black hair, and delicately pointed ears. She growled at the amazed onlookers. She pointed at Ryoga. "You have stolen our sacred relic and exposed my shame. You will pay for this, insect."

Ranma yelled to get their attention. "Wait a minute! Ryoga's no thief!"

Akane protested what she felt was the greater insult. "And what's so shameful about being a woman?!"

Herb looked at the two girls. "I am a Musk Warrior! You would not understand."

Nabiki had followed the smaller boy over when Herb had been revealed. "Well, maybe we should sit down somewhere and discuss it like civilized people."

Herb gave her an inscrutable look. "Why should I bother?"

Ranma flared his aura. Flames seemed to lick around his body, reaching up to a height of almost ten feet. The black-haired girl spoke in a sweet voice at odds to the aura she was producing. "Because we're asking so nicely."

Herb seemed to lose her train of thought. She nodded absently.

****

Kasumi was working on lunch when Nabiki called out from the entryway.

"We're home! And we brought some guests."

Kasumi turned down a pot and stuck her head out the kitchen. "How many places do we need to set?"

Nabiki lead the small crowd through the living room. "Four more."

Kasumi saw Ryoga walking next to Ranma. "Welcome back Ryoga. You didn't make it home I take it?"

Ryoga shook his head. "No. We ran into some trouble." He growled at Herb on the other side of Ranma.

Herb had been stealing glances at Ranma all the way to the Tendo home. Ranma was getting slightly nervous over the attention.

Kasumi smiled at the other guests. "Welcome to our home."

The larger boy elbowed the smaller. "She spoke to me! A woman has welcomed me to her home!"

The smaller boy slapped him on the back of the head. "She was speaking to me!"

Herb gestured with a hand. There was a flash and the squabbling pair flew through the open sliding doors into the yard.

Kasumi managed to keep smiling. "My! What interesting people you met!"

Akane frowned at the pair of perverts. "Interesting is not the word I would use." She had kept her mallet in hand and at the ready the entire walk back. One false move and she'd make them into pervert pancakes.

Nabiki sat at the table and waved at the other spots. "Have a seat and let's get this all hashed out."

The other took places at the table. Kasumi brought in bowls of rice and pickles, and a tray of fish slices.

The smaller boy nearly fainted as Kasumi set a bowl before him. "A woman has served me a meal! It is the first time ever!"

Kasumi gave him a questioning look. "Hasn't your mother served you meals before?"

Herb held up a hand, forestalling any reply. He waited as the others were served before he started their story. "A Musk Warrior is taken from his mother right after weaning. He is kept from any female contact and knows nothing but training until the day he marries."

Nabiki couldn't help but break in here. "Wow! Sounds just like Ranma!"

Herb raised an eyebrow at the girl.

Nabiki elaborated. "Ranma's father took her from her mother when she was only five. She spent the next ten years doing nothing but training in martial arts." Nabiki smirked as Ranma growled over her use of the feminine pronouns, but couldn't say anything due to the presence of Ryoga.

Herb gave Ranma another appraising look. "Really?"

Akane snickered. "Yeah. She acts more like a boy than a girl sometimes." Ranma glared at his fiancée.

The fathers were getting rather irritated at this line of conversation. Soun tried to get it back on track. "What does this have to do with the Hibiki boy?"

Herb continued. "I had an interview coming up where I would have to meet a girl. Rather than embarrass myself in front of a woman as Mint and Lime have done so non-stop since we left our homeland," she gestured at the smaller boy, then the larger one, "I decided I would use the Pools of Jusenkyo to make a girl so I could get accustomed to their presence."

Akane bristled. "Make a girl?!" This bordered on the perverted.

Ranma and Genma found their attention fully engaged.

Herb ignored Akane's anger and just nodded. "Yes. The Pools of Jusenkyo curse who or whatever is thrown in them to take the form of whatever drowned there when splashed with cold water. I brought a monkey to the pools to toss into the Spring of Drowned Girl to make a girl. I also had a sacred relic that would lock the monkey in its cursed form." Herb turned a murderous glare on Ryoga. "Before I could toss in the monkey, this oaf knocked me into the spring. He then tried to steal the relic. While I fought with him for it, he splashed me, sealing me in this accursed form, and ran off."

Akane still looked angry. "That's not the way Ryoga told it!"

Ranma finally made the connection. "So you're really a guy!"

Nabiki looked thoughtful. "I suspect the truth is somewhere between the two stories." She addressed Herb. "Ryoga believed the monkey to be attacking you, and was unaware of the properties of the springs. Tell me, does the cursed individual change back with hot water?"

Herb nodded. "Unless locked by the magic of the bucket and ladle. You are familiar with the pools?"

Nabiki tapped a finger absently. "Not the pools, no. A cursed individual."

Genma spoke up for the first time. "So the bucket and ladle prevent a cursed person from changing forms?"

Herb nodded. "Yes, although it had not been used for such in many centuries."

Genma had that greedy look Ranma knew well. "Where is it?"

Herb looked at Ryoga again. "You would have to ask the thief here."

Ryoga shot up. "I'm no thief! I held onto it when you ran off so I could return it if I ran into you again. It's in my pack."

Nabiki rose and went to Ryoga's pack. She almost fell over when she tried to lift it.

Ryoga pushed her gently aside. "Here. Let me." He easily hoisted it in the air and brought it over to the table. He opened the top flap and dug around in it for a minute. He moved a grail to the side; it was stained from all the tea he drank. "No, that's not it." He shuffled a lamp out of the way; he wasn't sure why he kept it as it failed to light, no matter how much oil he filled it with. "Nope." He moved a mirror; he really should get rid of it - what good was a mirror that showed someone else's reflection? "Ah! Here it is!" He pulled out a thin, tall bucket and ladle. He handed it to Herb.

Herb took it eagerly, a look that changed to shock. He turned the bucket towards Ryoga as he spoke in a voice full of outrage. "You cooked rice in the our sacred relic?!"

Ryoga was getting tired of the girl - er, guy constantly bad-mouthing him. "I didn't have a pot! Okay?!"

Genma grabbed it from Herb. "I'll clean it out for you!" He rushed to the koi pond. A moment later, he was pouring water from the ladle over his head. The next moment found the panda fainted by the pool.

Ranma walked over and nudged his bulk with a foot. "You are such an idiot, Pop!" He took the kettle Kasumi brought out and dumped it on him, idly noting that he didn't change back.

The panda looked at the steaming water running off him and held up a sign. 'I thought this thing was supposed to lock the curse?'

Herb snorted at the fool. "It did. You are locked in your cursed form. Only the Open Water Kettle can unlock your curse... and mine." He took the bucket and ladle and handed them to Mint.

Ranma shook his head as his pop fainted again. "So where is this Open Water Kettle?"

Herb gave the pig-tailed girl an appraising look. "An Amazon Elder gave me a map. It's here in Japan. Perhaps you would accompany us? While I don't care whether the fool unlocks his curse or not, I would relish the chance to fight you again."

Ranma grinned. "It was a pretty good fight at that. Sure. I ain't doin' much right now. How about we spar a bit?"

Herb smiled evilly. "Do not expect me to hold back because you are a woman."

Ranma bristled, then smiled himself. "I wouldn't dream of it." He focused his ki and practically vanished, only to reappear right in front of Herb. "Anytime you're ready."

Herb flicked his cloak to the side and blurred as well. Hand strikes that were almost indistinguishable to everyone else lashed out at Ranma, who avoided them all easily.

"You'll have to be quicker than that." He lashed out with a few hundred punches of his own, then leapt and added kicks to the mix. Herb almost missed a few in shock at how fast the girl was.

Herb charged both arms with ki. "Let's see how well you handle my Dragon Energy Sword technique."

Ranma smirked and duplicated the technique. "I saw that earlier. Pretty simply if you ask me."

The pair flashed around the yard, trading ki charged blows. Herb smiled as he started his ultimate move.

"Dragon Spirit Flight!" As the girl glided toward Ranma, he leapt into the air. Herb smirked; it was just what he expected the pig-tailed girl to do. He directed the ki blast off the ground and toward the airborne girl. Herb's smirk died as Ranma bounced in mid-air via a burst of ki.

Ranma gloated. "You aren't the only one who can use their ki that way." He directed his own blast down toward Herb as he passed overhead.

The Musk Prince cursed and used a ki charged arm to split Ranma's attack, which exploded on either side of him.

The other residents and guests could only watch in awe of the fight they were witnessing.

Ranma flared his aura brightly and charged after Herb. Herb led Ranma around in a spiral, smirking as it drew to completion. He threw the final uppercut that sent cold ki into the spiral, creating a whirlwind. Then boggled as Ranma laughed aloud from inside the funnel.

"You ain't the only one who knows Amazon techniques." Ranma created a hot aura about one arm, a cold aura about the other, then wove his arms in interlocking circles. The resultant whirlwind completely canceled Herb's. Ranma laughed brightly as he landed lightly. "That was great! I haven't had a fight like that since Ko Lon!"

Herb boggled again. "You know the Amazon Elder Ko Lon?"

Ranma looked smug. "Studied there for a month or so earlier this year."

Kasumi started. "Oh my! That reminds me." She rushed inside, then reappeared shortly with a letter. "You received a letter from China earlier today, Ranma." She handed him the letter.

Ranma tore it open and removed the letter. Nabiki tried to read over his shoulder as he unfolded the document.

"What in the world?" Nabiki was completely baffled as she looked at the missive.

Ranma smirked at her. "It's in Chinese."

Nabiki eyed the shorter girl. "You can read Chinese?"

Ranma snorted. "Of course! Me and Pop lived there nearly three years, after all."

Akane moved next to Nabiki and looked at the letter.

Ranma scanned the letter muttering under his breath. "Dear Ranma, yadda, yadda, yadda. Keep an eye out for Prince Herb of the Musk, yadda, yadda, yadda." His eyes bugged out and he quit speaking aloud as he quickly scanned the rest of the letter. Looking for a wife?! Interviewing female martial artists?! Don't under any circumstances reveal your skills to him?! "AH CRAP!!"

Nabiki gave him a look of disgust. "Good news, Saotome?"

Akane started giggling and whispered in her ear. Nabiki joined her in giggling.

Ranma fumed at the giggling girls, then stomped into the house, the letter crushed in his hand. "I'm goin' inside to clean up. Anyone who tries to disturb me dies horribly!"

****

Ranma stared out the window as the train wound its way through the Japanese countryside. Akane sat beside him. She had her mallet and the family spear, with instructions to use both as the need arose. Genma sat opposite them, asleep in the afternoon heat. It had taken some persuasion to get them to allow the panda on the train; Genma mainly bared his teeth and brandished a full set of inch long claws. Prince Herb and the his two lackeys sat in the next car forward. Ryoga would have been with them, but had gotten lost finding a seat in the car.

Ranma noticed Akane's puzzled glances. "What?"

Akane looked hesitant about speaking, but finally decided to broach the subject. "Your roots are showing."

It was Ranma's turn to look puzzled. "Huh?"

Akane gestured at his head. "Your hair. It's turning red at the roots."

Comprehension finally dawned on Ranma. "Oh! I forgot to use my hair dye the last few weeks. Guess I've been too busy, what with the engagement, goin' back to school, and everything else."

Akane looked surprised. "You dye your hair? Why?"

"Pop used to get mad, saying I was tryin' to provoke him by dyeing my hair red, so I got some black hair dye to keep it black like Pop was used to seein'."

Akane thought about it a moment. "Is your hair red in your boy-form?"

Ranma sat in silence so long that Akane thought he wasn't going to respond. "I - I don't think so. Maybe my hair changin' color was due to the curse."

Akane nodded. "Sounds like a good possibility. We should check it out later." She looked thoughtful. "How long ago was it that you started dyeing your hair?"

Ranma snorted. "A long time ago! I guess I couldn't have been more than eight, or maybe nine..." He trailed off as he thought about it. "I - I don't understand. I got tired of gettin' beat for screwin' with my hair, so I got some lady to help me pick out the dye to keep my hair black. But it had been changin' for more than a year before that. So how did I get cursed? And when?"

Akane sighed. "Well, I can see why you're so comfortable with it. If you got cursed at around seven, you probably can't remember ever being any different."

"It ain't that bad. I remain human at least. I can sorta understand Pop's wantin' to get cured. Not sure how I'd take being an animal mosta the time."

Akane looked thoughtful. "You think there is something to Herb's story? Maybe those pools have something to do with your curse. His curse sounds the same as yours."

Ranma nodded. "Yeah. That's one a the reasons I'm goin' along with them to get this Open Water Kettle. I gotta verify that part a his story."

Akane got a mischievous glint in her eyes. "So - how do you feel about becoming a Princess?"

Ranma growled. "I ain't no girl! I'm not gonna marry any guy, Prince or no Prince!"

Akane smiled widely. "Sorry. I'm just playing around." Her smile dropped. "Besides, our fathers are dead set on us marrying to carry on the Family Legacy and Schools."

Ranma reddened slightly. "Well, I coulda done worse..."

Akane stared in shock. "I - uh - what do you mean?

Ranma slouched in the seat and looked out the window. "When me and Pop first arrived, you always seemed to be so mad, and takin' everything the wrong way. But lately..."

"But lately?"

Ranma reddened this time. "You seem so much nicer now. We seem to get along better, especially when trainin'. I can't remember the last time either of us insulted the other. Well, directly I mean. Somewhere in the last week, it went from insults to just teasin'. I like how it's goin'." He looked a little scared. "Not that I'm ready to get married! It's just that -"

Akane nodded her head. "It's just that it doesn't seem as far-fetched as when you first arrived?" She noticed the girl nodding. She sighed. "I know how you feel. It's a little scary, and I don't care for our fathers pushing so hard," she glared at the panda, who kept on snoring, "but it's not so bad. This last week has been the best I can remember in years." She stopped as the panda snorted, then resumed snoring. She frowned. "Is it okay to talk around him?"

Ranma nodded. "I could tell from the ki levels if he were fakin' it. We're okay for now." He smiled as the scenery rolled past. "I know what you mean. I ain't never really had a place I could think of as home. Now, when I think of goin' home once we get the kettle, it's your place I'm thinkin' of."

Akane blushed. "Well, I'm glad you feel that way. I'd really hate for you to go." She panicked a little. "Because of the training! Yeah, that's it."

Ranma smiled. "Yeah. The trainin'." Had anyone been listening, they wouldn't have been fooled in the least.

****

Ranma ducked back out of the restroom at the train station, hair once more solid black. "You were right. My hair is black in my guy-form and red when I'm this way."

Akane stared. "You just dyed your hair? How? You were in there less than a minute."

Ranma smirked. "Ancient Amazon Hair Stylin' Secret Technique. You wouldn't believe some of the things the Amazons have made into martial arts."

Akane gave him a straight look. "Back home, we got Martial Arts Gymnastics and Ice Skating. I'd believe just about anything after this last week." She frowned. "Except maybe Martial Arts Tea Ceremony." She laughed. "Now that would be hard to buy."

Ranma laughed with her.

Genma stuck a sign up. 'It's so great to see my boy getting along with his fiancée!'

The larger boy, Lime, came up to their group. "What's the sign say?"

Genma flipped the sign around. 'Nothing! I'm just a cute little panda!'

Ranma rolled his eyes. "He can't read that either, Pop!"

Lime looked between the two. "Herb sent Mint for some food. We'll eat something before heading for the mountain. She's waiting out by the road."

Akane shook her head. "Herb is a guy, remember? He's stuck in his cursed form."

Lime looked at her with tears running down his face. "I'm talking with a girl!" He grabbed her and slung her over his shoulder. "Next I'll try eating with a girl!"

Akane was pinned rather effectively. She knew she should have had her mallet out. "Ranma! Do something!"

Ranma tapped Lime on the arm. "If you put her down right now, it won't hurt as much."

Lime looked confused as he placed Akane on her feet. "What won't hurt?"

A glowing Akane flattened him with her mallet.

Ranma looked at his prone form. "That won't." He shrugged, grabbed his pack in one hand and scooped up Lime, tossing him over his shoulder as they all proceeded out of the station.

Herb stood next to the road winding off toward the mountain. He scowled as Ranma dropped Lime. "What happened?"

Ranma shrugged. "He's still embarrassing himself around girls."

Mint returned with some bread and milk. "I bought food from a girl!"

Lime smiled from the ground. "I got to touch a girl!"

Mint scowled. "No fair! I want to touch a girl too!"

Herb held out a palm. Ki flared and the pair were blasted down the road. "Perhaps we should just go."

The Nerima residents all nodded.

****

It was getting late as they reached the end of the suspension bridge. Ranma craned her neck to look up the near vertical cliff at the end.

The panda looked up and held out a sign. 'Perhaps I'll wait down here.'

Ranma rolled his eyes, then glanced over at Akane.

Akane shook her head. "I can handle it."

Ranma nodded his head and smiled. "Good, 'cause I'm taking the fast way up, and the landin' ain't gonna be pretty."

Before Genma could react, Ranma grabbed a handful of fur and focused his ki. The Musk stared in shock as the pair rocketed up the mountain slope.

Herb was the first to shake of the shock. "She - she can fly?"

Akane laughed. "As Ranma put it - it's more like 'barrel uncontrollably through the air.' The landing will be pretty rough."

Ranma cut out his ki as he shot past the top edge of the cliff. The girl and panda overshot the top and then fell as gravity reasserted itself. Ranma twisted to put his father between him and the ground. The landing knocked all the air from the panda's lungs. It lay where it landed, straining to draw a breath.

Ranma picked himself up and slung his pack over his shoulder. "Thanks Pop! Not that a fall like that would hurt or nothin'." He shrugged and examined the forest ahead. He could sense an approaching danger.

The panda staggered up next to him and held out a sign. 'That hurt you know!'

Ranma held out a hand. "Somethin's comin'!"

From the descending gloom of the edge of the forest, dozens of eyes peered at the pair. Seeing a young girl and a panda, they felt their attack would be an easy victory. Shrieking wildly, they charged.

The panda tried to run. Ranma stuck out a leg to trip him as he turned to run.

Ranma flared his aura and focused on both heat and cold. "Hiryu Shoten Ha!" The whirlwind drew in all the attacking forms and tossed them out into the forest.

Ranma looked disgusted. "You were running from a bunch a monkeys, Pop!"

The panda held out a sign. 'I wasn't running!' He flipped it around. 'I was giving you room to fight.'

Ranma nodded. "Uh-huh, sure. Whatever you say, Pop."

Herb, Mint, and Lime came bounding over the edge. Herb approached as the others moved to the sides, looking for the danger.

"We saw the whirlwind! What happened?"

"Just some monkeys." He shrugged. "No big deal."

Akane dragged herself over the edge and collapsed, panting. "Don't - don't mind - me. I - just need - a minute."

Herb looked around as darkness fell. "We should set up camp here and start first thing in the morning." He gestured at Mint and Lime, who flinched back. "And before you say anything, no, you are not going to share a tent with a girl!" He gestured to one side. "You two can share a tent over there."

The pair reluctantly set up their tent, but refrained from saying anything as they noticed the other two girls glowing in anger.

The panda held up a sign. 'You girls should share a tent.' He flipped it around. 'For protection.'

Akane growled from where she sat, while Ranma frowned.

"I know what you're thinkin', Pop." He turned to Akane. "Uh - it's probably a good idea, though. There's no tellin' what else is out here."

Akane looked ready to protest, then blew out her breath. "Fine! It's no big deal. I mean, we're both girls after all."

This time, it was Ranma who looked ready to protest. He finally just started on the tent.

****

Everyone gathered at the top of the mountain. Mint held the bucket and ladle.

Herb looked around. "This will take some time. The ladle acts as a compass, pointing out the location of the Open Water Kettle, but only if within a kilometer of it."

Akane looked thoughtful. "Maybe -"

Lime cut her off. "Mint is the fastest. He should do it."

Herb nodded.

Mint protested. "You just want to goof off! We should take turns!"

Akane looked irritated. "I think-"

Ranma broke in. "We should all take turns. This is a group effort after all."

The panda held out a sign. 'I won't be able to call anyone if I find it.'

Ranma punched him in the side of the head. "You could always just growl!"

Akane tried again. "I really think -"

Herb interrupted. "It doesn't really matter. The kettle has been here for centuries. Another hour or so won't hurt."

A boulder exploded as Akane fired a ki blast into it. She looked a little shocked herself, then noticed she finally had their attention. "I think we should probably start by that kettle-shaped rock formation." She pointed over their shoulders.

The assembled group turned to look, then face-faulted.

Herb tried to look dignified as he stood and brushed his cloak. "That was going to be my next suggestion."

They were already within the required distance, so Mint quickly set the kettle and ladle down. The ladle started to spin, then stopped, pointing straight toward the rock formation, a light-beam intersecting the portion of it corresponding to the spout.

Akane rolled her eyes. "Well, I'm sure glad we had the bucket and ladle to tell us where to look. We might have spent minutes figuring it out otherwise."

The panda held out a sign. 'No one likes a smart-ass, girl!'

Ranma took the sign and whacked him over the head with it. "You of all people should be appreciative!" He tossed the sign to the side and took off. "Let's go!" Everyone scrambled to catch up.

Breaking through the forest, they stood below a small hillock; the kettle shaped rock formation was atop the mass of stone, with two gnarled trees forming what appeared to be the handle of the kettle. The tip of the spout glowed in the light-beam given off by the ladle.

Herb raised an arm glowing with ki. The blast sheared through the tip of the spout revealing the kettle. As they stood staring, water flowed forth from behind the kettle, boiling as it came in contact with the kettle.

Lime looked surprised. "Hot water is pouring from it!"

Herb just started forward. "There must be an underground spring behind it. The Open Water Kettle causes it to boil."

The panda held up a sign. 'So this water will unlock the curse?'

Herb ignored him as he strode forward under the downpour of water. His figure was obscured by the water. The person exiting the water was as clearly masculine as the figure entering had been feminine.

The panda ran for the steaming waterfall. Just short of the water, Herb caught him and held him firm.

Ranma growled. "What are you doin', Herb?"

Herb smirked a moment, then tossed the panda over his shoulder into the water.

Genma emerged from the waterfall, adjusting the bandana to cover his bald head. "That wasn't very nice, boy! Maybe I should teach you some manners!"

Herb released a blast that carved through the rock around Genma. "My ki powers are far greater in my natural form!" He looked at Ranma. "Perhaps you would like to spar with me now?"

Ranma shrugged. "Maybe once more, before we all go our separate ways." The pig-tailed girl gave him a firm look. "But this is over between us. You just go home and leave me and mine alone."

Herb just smiled. "As you wish. But remember, there are other pools at Jusenkyo. Even one that can take care of your father's little problem for good. Come visit me in China and I may show it to you."

****

Ranma sat quietly as the train sped towards Tokyo. Akane noticed how quiet the boy had been the entire trip. Ranma had changed back to his male form almost the instant Herb was out of sight.

"I thought you really didn't care which form you were in?"

Ranma looked up at his fiancée. "I thought I didn't either. I guess on some level, I still do."

"So what do you think about what he said?" Akane was hesitant to ask, but thought Ranma needed to talk about it.

Ranma was slow to respond, indicating he was thinking before he answered. "I know Pop can't stand our curses. These Pools of Jusenkyo as Herb called them are probably the source of our curses. It's possible they might also be the cure." He shook his head. "It seems too easy. You know he'll be waitin' for us to come. It's a fairly obvious trap that he's not botherin' to conceal." He smiled now. "Besides, I don't feel like swimmin' to China again."

Akane laughed, glad to hear the humor in his voice. It would be good to be home again - the both of them.

End Chapter 3

Next chapter, Genma remembers a training ground they visited ten years ago, a certain pervert visits, and more visitors from China.

More Author's Notes: There were two main complaints about the first two chapters. First, that Ranma's language was too coarse; well, that's a matter of preference. I made changes to tone it down, but it's hardly important from a story-telling point of view. The second one was that people thought that I was making it too easy for Akane to learn ki techniques. In the story, I wrote that Ranma thought he could teach Akane to be able to do a simple (for him) ki attack in a rather short period of time. I never said he actually could. Ranma will find that it is harder than he thinks. However, it won't take as much time as some people would probably like it to. I do this for a couple of reasons: the first is impatience - I don't want to wait for chapter 73 before Akane finally picks it up. Second, this isn't real life - it's a fantasy story. It can take as much or little time as I feel like. If you need a little more justification, try this: in Dragonball Z, Gohan teaches Videl how to manifest her ki, control it, and fly in one day! From reading the manga and watching all available video, I think Akane has at least as much ability as Videl, but I won't have her flying in two days. So try to restrain your anger over how quickly people in this story learn ki techniques. Just for clarification, I draw some of my inspiration in the training sequences from Dragonball Z. You probably noticed it in the lunch scene where Ranma demonstrated his most simple ki attack. I also draw inspiration and terminology from my book on Shaolin White Crane techniques; it is called "The Essence of Shaolin White Crane - Martial Power and Qigong" by Dr. Jwing-Ming Yang. It's really interesting reading on actual qi training, with medical descriptions and justification for what the Shaolin have known for the last fifteen hundred years.

Even More Author's Notes: If you're wondering about Akane reading Chinese, go check out the Pink and Link story. A few questions were posed by my pre-reader, so I'll deal with a few here. The simplest was the question of Ranma's hair color. In the anime, Ranma's hair changes from black to red; in the manga, being as it is black and white, no definitive answer can be made as no one ever says what color it is. However, it is almost certainly black as male, and has a glint when female. The anime colors are used as everyone is comfortable with them. Herb's hair doesn't change color, and that was where the question arose. The answer is, it's genetic; the pool Ranma fell in doesn't turn him into a particular girl, just into who he would have been had he been born a girl. Herb looks nothing like Ranma as a girl, even though they both fell in the same pool; this proves the point. Ranma's hair is related to his mother's hair; in the manga, she has the same glint that Ranma does. In the anime, her hair is a dark auburn; you'd expect Ranma's hair to be lighter colored as he is outside more. It is common as people get older for their hair to become darker as they tend to spend less time out in the sun. The next was a question of whether there was a space under the dojo. I seem to remember there being space under it in one of the OVAs. If not, well, this is an alternate universe, so I'll just say there is space under this dojo. Lastly, yes, those extra items of Ryoga's will factor into the story at some point. I know you were probably expecting a no-holds-barred fight at the end that shatters the mountain. I didn't feel like it. That and Herb was trying to be solicitous towards Ranma to get the girl to come to China. They will at some point, maybe chapter five. We will see more of Herb.

SPOILER WARNING: The following section gives a summary of the Herb story from the Ranma manga. If you don't wish to spoil the surprise, don't read the following!

Yet More Author's Notes: This story involves Herb. For those not familiar with the Herb saga, it goes like this. In ancient times, the Musk would toss animals like wolves and tigers into the Spring of Drowned Girl, then lock their form with a magic bucket and ladle. They would take the newly created girls as wives to get the traits of the animals into their bloodlines. In modern times, they no longer do that: they would interview female martial artists in surrounding villages; when they found a girl they thought suitable, they would take her for a wife. A Musk warrior was taken from his mother right after they were weaned, and spent all their time training. They never saw a woman again until they married. The time came for Prince Herb to interview prospective female martial artists to find a suitable wife, but he was nervous, having never met a girl before. To make himself more comfortable during the interviews, he took a female monkey to the Spring of Drowned Girl along with the bucket. He figured he could make a girl so that he could get familiar with them before his interviews. Unfortunately, when he tossed the monkey in, the girl that came out knocked him into the pool, then splashed him with the ladle. There is a magic kettle that would unlock the curse, but it had gotten lost over time. He went to the Amazons, who sent him to Cologne. He brought two other Musk with him, Mint and Lime. Mint has wolf's blood and is super-fast; Lime has tiger's blood and is super-strong; Prince Herb has Dragon's blood and has awesome ki powers. Cologne gave Herb a map to the kettle. While he was speaking with Cologne, Mint and Lime caused trouble with Shampoo and Akane, so Ranma, Ryoga, and Mousse all went to the Cat-Cafe to confront them. A fight ensued and Ranma got locked in his girl-form by Herb for exposing that Herb was now female, and for being rude. Ranma was not really being rude, but reacting to how Herb mistreated Akane while trying to leave. The Musk left to find the kettle. Ranma got a map from Cologne so he could unlock the curse; Ryoga and Mousse went with him since they thought the ladle could lock them in their normal forms so they no longer changed. Mousse lost the map and their money, so they worked for some money at a hot-spring. The Musk stopped there for the night and another fight ensued. The Musk left for Horaisan (Treasure Mountain), with the others following them since they no longer had a map. On the mountain, Ryoga and Mousse knocked out Ranma, then fought Lime and Mint for the bucket and ladle. They won and took the bucket and ladle, but it locked them in cursed form. The bucket and ladle acted like a compass to point to the kettle. Everyone scrambled to retrieve it. Herb got to it first and unlocked his curse. He challenged Ranma; if Ranma won, he would get his curse unlocked. While Ranma and Herb fought, Ranma told Ryoga and Mousse to use the distraction to grab the kettle and change back. Mint and Lime got loose and came to join the fun, but Ryoga and Mousse finally unlocked their curses. Ranma used Herb's own ki energy and a variation of the Hiryu Shoten Ha (the Hiryu Korin Dan) to defeat Herb and change back. Herb's attacks were so powerful, they caused the mountain to finally collapse. Ranma saved the unconscious Herb and everyone went home.