*** Earth 0.000, 0.000 (-21.65135 Years)

Genma drew back his meaty fist and buried it into the guts of the lanky Tendo boy. He watched with grim satisfaction as Soun stumbled back from him and only avoided falling by grabbing the railing of the stairs behind him. The other boy then promptly heaved up the remains of his lunch, painting one side of the garbage bin behind the Imperial Academy greenish-yellow with the contents of his stomach.

"Let's go, Saotome-kun," said Genma's best friend from behind him, the youthful heir to the Kuno name, his hair done up in a truly impressive pompadour. "You can beat up Tendo again some more next week. What'd the punk do this time?"

Walking over to his motorcycle kept parked behind the school, the stocky Saotome youth shrugged and put his gray jacket back on. "Just more of the same, Kuno-kun. He hasn't changed one bit since last year. The martinet was mouthing off to me again about his precious rules and regulations that he says I'm not following to his satisfaction. I'm just putting him in his place. That's all."

"Well, let's get going then. There are a couple of lovely St. Hebereke gals waiting for us to show them a night out on the town, and I'm sure they're both raring for some hot action with a couple of manly men, if you know what I mean. We really shouldn't keep them waiting." The other boy gunned his bike's engine and grinned broadly at the throaty sounds as the motorcycle emitted faint bursts of smoke from its tailpipe as it revved up.

Genma smirked. The Kuno heir had a knack for finding gorgeous young ladies to date, and he always tried to pick out ones with equally cute friends. Not that Genma ever had any difficulties finding girls on his own, often returning the favor to his friend. The Saotome boy swung a leg over his own bike.

However, despite his outward bravado, he was feeling a little uneasy that they would be heading into St. Hebereke's turf today. It was just going to be the two of them, with no one else backing them up in case there was trouble. The girls there brutally maintained a fearsome reputation as being about the meanest, toughest bunch of she-devils in all of Nerima, rivaled only by the mannish Valkyries that attended Furinkan, and students of the two schools would violently clash with each other.

As an arranged marriage was the norm in the Empire, Genma felt sorry for any man who had to marry a Furinkan or St. Hebereke girl. They were often manlier than most men were in the Empire. However, if he had to choose one, at least one from St. Hebereke knew how to have fun.

For over a year now, starting when he turned sixteen, his own parents had been pushing him hard to agree to an arranged marriage, especially his mother. She really wanted him to get married before he graduated, so he could start giving her grandchildren as soon as possible. Her latest attempt at a bridal candidate for him was a solemn-looking girl named Nodoka Himura.

How could he even think about getting married at his age? There were just too many young lovelies around to pursue and have fun with. He'd happily go out with this Nodoka chick under most other circumstances, as she was an attractive redhead in her pictures despite her unsmiling expression in all of them, but not with an arranged marriage hanging over their heads. He would also need to conceal his rowdy side from her, since her file described her as a refined sort of girl who would be a good homemaker for the right boy, so that would be an additional burden he wasn't very interested in shouldering right now.

Why am I even thinking about this Nodoka chick right now? Come on, Saotome. Get your head in the game. You've got a hottie waiting for you, expecting you to show her a good time tonight. So, man up and be ready for anything. But keep a watch out for that monster you've been warned about while you're in her territory.

For over a year now, Genma had been hearing stories about some fierce delinquent girl attending St. Hebereke nicknamed 'The Demon Blade'. He could only imagine what that one must be like to stand out amidst such a daunting group of female hoodlums. She was probably some hideous, borderline feminine beast of a girl.

Kuno had shared with him a rumor he heard from some haughty gymnast lass he was getting forced into dating over at Blackhall by their parents. It seemed 'The Demon Blade' only sated herself with the flesh of other girls and had no interest in boys at all, except for abusing them and breaking their bones. Genma had heard from other sources that her skill with a bokken was so great that she could cleave right through solid concrete with a single strike. While he had fun taking part in the occasional street brawls against any punks invading the territory that his and Kuno's group of friends claimed as their own, he had zero interest in ever encountering such a terror, let alone battling her.

That reminded him that he still had a couple of personal grudge matches to take care of this week. He hoped they wouldn't take too long. Duels cut into his precious dating time, and there were just so many young lovelies around that needed his manly attentions.

Gosunkugi was once again accusing him of trying to steal his girlfriend away from him, like it was Genma's fault that the ladies would swoon around him when he wasn't even trying. Even after knowing the brute for well over a year now, it still amazed the Saotome boy that the loutish third-year security cadet could manage to generate enough wattage in his brain to attend the Imperial Academy. While Gosunkugi was forever at the bottom of his class when it came to academics, his physical abilities kept him from failing. Fortunately, all he had going for him was muscle and stamina, a lot of it, but Genma was a skilled enough fighter to put the behemoth down every time.

There was also the direction-challenged Hibiki punk from Furinkan to deal with again, but at least that one had some skill that made him interesting to fight with. However, he could be annoying for other reasons. For example, in their last duel, Genma had wasted an entire weekend he could have spent chasing girls waiting at the agreed upon spot, in the park right across the street from Furinkan, only for the other boy to later accuse him of chickening out for not waiting one more day. How could it take the dumbass three days to find his way across the street from his own school?

Genma was certain the dimwitted officer cadet would get lost and wander off into a minefield on his first combat drop. The only way he even made it to his classes each day was due to the tireless efforts of a hatchet-faced, lean girl he was friends with who had the last name of Kenzan. The Saotome youth had barely ever spoken with her and wasn't interested in dating a girl with an ugly face and almost nonexistent breasts like hers, especially since her personality was probably typical of the sort of humorless, mannish females that attended Furinkan.

"Is your old man still giving you grief about going to his old alma mater, instead of here? You don't normally smack Tendo around quite so vigorously. Something bothering you today?"

Genma frowned at the questions, distracting him from his musings about marriage, The Demon Blade, Gosunkugi and Hibiki. The arguments with his father were becoming a much more regular occurrence lately, ever since the various insurgent movements began making some headway in southern Asia over the past six months, establishing new strongholds in Laos and Vietnam that were so far managing to defy the Imperial Army. There were rumors that the fabled Musk might even be involved, crawling out of whatever dank holes they had been hiding in for the past century.

It was becoming more difficult for him to hide the bruises and other injuries that his father would inflict upon him for his continuing resistance to changing schools. With his mother currently sick in the hospital again, it gave the man one less target and allowed him to focus more on his son and the legacy he wanted to leave behind, whether Genma liked it or not. If he could, the Saotome youth would leave home and never look back, and immediately change his major to science instead of security. But his father would only send a few of his more brutish soldier buddies after him to bring him back if he ever tried it.

The man was only allowing him to attend the Imperial Academy instead of Furinkan if he did it as a security cadet, disdaining the notion that studying science was any kind of a career for a real man. A few of their ancestors had left behind distinguished records of past service to the Empire at the Directorate, although the valiant exploits of the military men in the family had greatly outnumbered theirs, providing the family with grand tales of valor and conquest in foreign lands. For Genma, to be around those wearing blue uniforms and overhear their discussions about their studies while being forbidden to participate in them had been like a sublime form of torture.

Soun Tendo became Genma's preferred outlet for his frustrations at his miserable life. Both were now second-year cadets and in the same class. Ever since meeting the lanky teacher's pet last year, the other boy had constantly given Genma the distinct impression that he must have had a Security Directorate manual surgically installed up his rectum at some point in his life, as he was almost constantly quoting from the rule books at him and other cadets. Fortunately, the Saotome youth quickly discovered that beating up Soun helped ease his anguish quite a lot.

"See ya around, Tendo-san." Genma threw Soun a mocking salute then roared off after the Kuno heir.

Staggering back to his feet, wiping bile from his lips on his sleeve, the recipient of the Saotome youth's latest bout of mistreatment glared sullenly after the departing pair of miscreants. Someday they would get their comeuppance from him. Those two ruffians would utterly rue the day they ever dared to cross Soun Tendo, and that was especially true for Genma Saotome. He would have his revenge on that hooligan someday, feeling his hatred for the other boy like an ache within his soul.

Hovering invisibly over the scene, Bernkastel considered the three boys. It was going to require some intricate revisions on her part to steer things into the path she needed. As things stood, the Saotome lad was heading for an extraordinarily bad end. She had seen the gruesome death coming for him and the Kuno heir in just a few months, if she didn't take steps to prevent it.

Fortunately for young Genma and his pompadour-tressed, nobleman friend, she was going to see to it that the Saotome boy's monstrous father and the current Lord Kuno would soon be meeting their respective ends instead. That would divert events into a far better configuration and redirect Genma away from this self-destructive path he was currently careening down. She needed him to survive to manhood, become the scientist he so yearned to be, marry Nodoka, sire Ranma upon her in a few years and someday become a far better parent than his own loathsome tyrant of a father could ever be.

The contest with the Shogun was entering its final phases, only a little over two decades remaining before endgame arrived, and she was so looking forward to watching Nabiki or Ukyo as her champion. The pieces were now almost in place for the narrative she was crafting, and she was looking forward to sitting back and enjoying the coming show, confident that there would be no surprises this time. She was secretly hoping that Nabiki would be the one chosen by the Destiny Protocols, having stacked the deck in the Tendo girl's favor a bit, but Ukyo would work out almost as well as her unwitting champion.

Grinning, the witch vanished, off to arrange the deaths of the two men she had targeted for destruction.


Quantum Destinies

A Ranma 1/2 Fanfic

By S. Thesken aka Jurai Knight

Ranma 1/2 and its characters are owned by Rumiko Takahashi. This story is inspired by her works and the stories from some of my fellow fanfic authors. Among these are D.B. Sommer's "Shampoo 1/2", Jim Bader's "A Very Scary Thought -aka- Nabiki 1/2", and John Biles' Elseworlds series. All C&C is welcome.

The list of worlds reoccurring in this chapter:

Earth 0.000, 0.000 - The world of Scholar Ranma (Baseline cluster)

What has gone before in this story (or at least what will help you understand what is going on):

On a parallel Earth that diverged from the standard Ranma timeline over five hundred years ago, the Empire of Japan rules almost half the world and has done so for almost a century. Theorizing that one could travel to alternate timelines by possessing counterparts in them, a young scientist named Ranma Saotome, through use of a device of his own invention, accidentally obtained the skills and memories of a martial artist version of himself.

During a meeting between Fuyutsuki, Jun Fan Lee, Sakura Sakuranbo and Yumi Kuonji, Bernkastel appeared before they could reveal what they knew about Ranma to others. The witch restored Yumi to a younger form and altered her mind, removing memories of Nodoka and Kenseiko and awakening her buried feelings for Ranma, causing her to later break up with Sakura. Ryoga goes to school with Nabiki and Yohko, earning him some of Ukyo's wrath at the Tendo girl. The Ranma Saotome Fan Club was viciously attacked by Revy and Roberta. The two delinquent girls watched a video of Ranma with Tiger, but they're interrupted by Balalaika. Chun-Li, a reporter and former Arena champion, interviewed Genma. Ranma continued coming to terms with his liminal nature, realizing that having his female analog's memories and drives are causing him to feel attracted to boys, and he wanted to explore that part of himself. He visited with Yumi, and the two talked a bit, the ninja agreeing to have her male form be Ranma-chan's boyfriend, revising Yu and Ranko's background story so that Ranko was adopted. Ranma learned of Ukyo's engagement to Ryoga and agreed to let Yumi attempt to solve the issue.


Chapter 36 – Fate, Love and Vengeance

Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don't find

out til too late that he's been playing with two queens all along.

-Terry Pratchett


*** Earth 0.000, 0.000

Kasumi sighed as Godai knelt behind her on the bed, feeling his warm hands caressing and slowly exploring her body, his lips bestowing soft kisses upon her shoulders, cheeks and neck. She felt her breathing deepening. His gentle touches upon her skin were both comforting and arousing, beginning to slowly build her passions.

Her lips parted slightly as she sighed, relishing what he was doing to her. She had never felt such romantic love for a man before, not even her faithless spouse, the tender, sweet emotions the young soldier aroused within her gently healing her wounded soul from the gall and bitterness of her husband's painful betrayal. Godai was a kind man who loved her, and she was oddly certain she could trust him.

It felt so safe to be here, to finally indulge her repressed desires for the young soldier and be embraced so lovingly by him. His soothing touches and gentle kisses continued seducing her, not that she was resisting, and the last of her remaining hesitations at giving herself to him faded away. Her breathing began intermixing with soft sighs.

She felt his hands caressing her torso, his kisses and gentle strokes upon her skin continuing, and she sensed his hand moving down to her leg, leaving the other gently grasping her breast and massaging it. His fingers began slowly tracing up along her inner thigh, and she felt her lust rising within her. She nibbled her lower lip as he kept teasing her, unhurriedly moving his hand ever higher on her thigh.

Moaning softly, Kasumi felt her burgeoning desires for him and reveled in them. When his touch finally reached up between her legs, it was almost like an electric shock. He began caressing her lovingly down there with his fingers.

Looking at him with an amorous gaze, she watched as he gently grasped her knees and slowly spread her legs apart before moving to kneel between her thighs. One of her hands rose to caress his chest and the other slowly slid down along his side, returning his soft touches upon her, her right hand gradually moving lower. His skin felt smooth and warm to her touch, and she remained very aware of his hands as they went back to caressing her thighs and down between her legs, continuing to arouse her.

When she could endure it no longer, Kasumi gently reached down in front of him and lightly grasped him there and tugged, letting the man she loved know she was ready to finally become one with him. Their eyes met, and he smiled at her reassuringly, nodding. She quivered at the libidinous sensations he aroused within her as their bodies moved together slowly, feeling his hands holding her hips steady, and she marveled at how much she wanted him.

Godai rested himself atop her, supporting some of his weight with his arms and knees, pinning her to the bed. They began kissing deeply, and Kasumi felt her ardors for him continue building as they began making love. She sighed into their kiss, her legs wrapping comfortably around his waist as she enjoyed just being with him like this and giving herself to him.

Gazing up at Godai lovingly when their lips finally parted, Kasumi then closed her eyes and began moaning, her soft cries synchronized with his slow tempo against her. It felt so good, she didn't want it to ever end. Her inner heat continued rising as their pace gradually increased, her body approaching the boiling point. Joyful tears began leaking from her eyes at the pleasurable sensations he gave her, intermixing with the increasingly passionate desires she was experiencing.

She felt her body begin tensing as she approached the peak, and her back arched, her moans becoming louder. He was now moving relentlessly against her, their ardent pace bringing her ever closer and closer to the release her body now craved. Eventually, she couldn't contain herself any longer.

"Ohhh... oh yes... OH YES, GODAI-KUN!"

An orgasmic explosion shook Kasumi's entire body, and she snapped awake from her erotic dream. The abrupt transition from fantasy to reality left her utterly bewildered, her mind blank as the overwhelming release of her accumulated passionate tension drowned her awareness, her hips bucking uncontrollably. When it was finally over, she panted, and her eyes looked a bit glazed.

Blinking as she gradually came back to her senses, Kasumi felt her breathing slowly return to normal. Her nightgown and hair were askew, and the sheets beneath her were dampened with sweat. She swallowed, her throat dry, as she looked around, still a bit confused, wondering where Godai was.

Finding herself alone in her bedroom, she listened but heard no sounds from elsewhere in the house. She then remembered that her husband had not returned home again last night after leaving her a message about needing to work late. The sun was just beginning to peep over the horizon, a few of its rays reaching into her room. Her mind clearing now, she finally realized that everything she had just experienced was not real.

Kasumi felt tears streaking her cheeks, and she reached up one hand to wipe them away with her palm. Touching them reminded her again of the illusory happiness she had experienced during her dream. Realizing it was only a fantasy conjured up by her subconscious, loneliness and heartbreak suddenly welled up within her. She began weeping, softly at first. Feeling forsaken and forlorn, she slowly rolled over and pressed her face into her clutched pillow, her body curling up into a fetal position as sobs started wracking her more and more strongly.

While she wept, the morning sunlight slowly filled more of the room. Eventually, her sobbing came to an end, and Kasumi was left feeling empty, drained of emotion for now. Still sniffling a bit, she slowly sat up, rubbing lightly at her stuffy, reddened nose with the back of one hand. She knew her mother would have never approved of her acting like this, sniveling like a child, and that stray thought helped her regain some of her usual poise.

Lifting her chin up, her gaze further calmed as she focused her mind on the memories she had of her mother's indomitable strength. Kasumi left her bed and began padding barefoot to the bathroom. She knew a good soak would enable her to face another day, the hot water soothing her jumbled emotions and refreshing her spirit. Dealing with the vile, perfidious woman who had seduced her faithless husband while she maintained a facade of calmness, acting ignorant of their affair would then be possible. She was confident that Hinako remained unaware of her foul duplicity's discovery by the woman she had betrayed so horribly.

Her father would be assuming control of the Security Directorate today, Kasumi mused, assuming all went well with his loyalty test at the Mobius Institute this morning. She wasn't worried about that though, certain of his fidelity to the Empire. After her mother died, his work became his means of coping with her loss, and she understood that, as she had found a similar solace in her studies. But she knew she could count on him to be there for her or her sisters should any of them ever need his help.

As she started removing her clothing, Kasumi suddenly realized she could not remember getting home last night and going to bed. Her last clear recollection was deciding to get a drink in a small bar to calm her nerves after leaving Hinako's apartment. There was a fragment of memory concerning a woman in a blue kimono joining her as she started on her second cup of sake, and they had talked for a brief while about something or other. After that, there was nothing. Perhaps the strange woman had helped her home.

After tugging her nightgown off, she dropped it into the dirty clothes hamper, absently realizing she was falling behind on doing the laundry. She entered the bathing area, sat down on the small stool and began the process of cleaning herself, wincing slightly at some of her remaining injuries from the fight she had with Hinako when she pressed a bit too hard on them with the washcloth. Finding a new master to study with was another priority she had to work on, her struggles to defeat the older woman as well as her surprising loss to Nabiki a while back showing that her combat skills were in dire need of improvement. Fortunately, her face had been left unmarked by the scuffle with Hinako, the bruises in locations normally hidden by clothing.

Although she had not yet informed her family of what was going on, she knew she needed to apprise them soon, especially her father. He would most likely be apoplectic when he learned of Tofu's affair with Hinako. Not that she cared one whit what might happen to the horrid adulteress, but it did worry Kasumi somewhat that her father might order someone in the Directorate to execute Tofu. After all, widowhood was not shameful or dishonorable in the Empire, unlike divorce.

Her father's housekeeper was a widow, and she was an honorable woman. Kyoko Otonashi had recently started dating a young officer, one of Godai's co-workers, in fact. Kasumi had seen the two of them together once, and they seemed to make a good couple. She hoped the man was being good to her and treating Kyoko well.

After going through her own bitter experiences with a worthless man like her cheating, neglectful husband had proven himself to be, Kasumi was becoming worried about Nabiki's recently changed situation with Ranma. She had heard about what was going on with him on the TV news while she was enjoying her first drink of sake. Her little sister's fiancé had imprudently thrust himself into the public eye when he conquered a previously undefeated icon of the Arena, a Chinese girl that Akane idolized named Shampoo. This action had caused Ranma's name to become widely known across the Empire over the weekend, and it looked like his victory over the Amazon was going to force Nabiki into sharing him with another girl, if he defeated Shampoo a second time in a rematch that was requested by the Emperor himself.

Kasumi was aware of one family on her block involved in a polygamous marriage, but the practice was uncommon in the Empire. The Kimidori's had one man married to three wives, and the family also included several young children, the eldest of them a shy girl named Emiri. The women seemed to get along well, almost like sisters, sharing the duties of the household among themselves, and their mutual husband seemed content with the arrangement.

Seeing how well that family functioned made Kasumi wonder, could having another woman or two around be a good thing? Would a husband be less likely to stray if there were several wives available to satisfy any need he might have for variety? Kasumi didn't feel comfortable speaking to Ranma or his parents about the situation with Shampoo, but she knew she should at least talk with Nabiki and see how her little sister was coping with all this, and probably Akane too. While the situation with Shampoo was a rather shocking development, it was possible that her youngest sister was thrilled by the notion of having the Amazon as her sister-in-law, since she idolized the girl so much.

Shampoo was an immensely popular Arena fighter, undefeated before going up against Ranma. While it was a brutal occupation for a young woman to pursue, Shampoo was always quite personable during interviews, with an adorable way of speaking Japanese. It was possible that she and Nabiki could end up getting along very well, perhaps even becoming very close friends with each other over time.

That said, Kasumi didn't think it likely it would ever become anything closer than that though. While Nabiki had experimented a bit with such activities a few years ago with a female friend of hers at the time, neither of her sisters had shown any sort of sexual interest in other girls more recently. Still, it was possible that Nabiki and Shampoo could become close like that, she supposed. The risqué notion of Nabiki or Akane doing any sort of intimate interactions with another girl made Kasumi blush.

She sincerely hoped that things could be peacefully resolved between Nabiki and Shampoo, but Kasumi feared that wouldn't be the case. Her little sister was acting differently of late, reverting to being more like how she had been back when their mother was still alive. Nabiki used to get into a lot of fights then, winning every one of them as she strived to be just like their mother. If things had kept on like that, her little sister might have ended up attending Furinkan or becoming one of the delinquent girls going to St. Hebereke instead of being the promising, young security cadet at the Imperial Academy she was now.

After emptying a bucket of warm water over her head, Kasumi set it down and looked at herself in the mirror, already beginning to feel a little better after her wash. She was not yet twenty years old, and endless possibilities for her life still lay spread out before her despite her current problems. The thought soothed her, further restoring her to her usual equanimity.

Kasumi found herself looking forward to spending more time with Lt. Godai, going out with him as frequently as their schedules allowed and enjoying the warmth of his friendship. He was a kind and gentle man, and she needed him in her life right now for the emotional support he provided. And once her divorce was behind her and her betraying husband was forever removed from her life, perhaps her dream this morning would become reality.

Blushing a bit, she really hoped it would.


Minami came awake with a grumble when her clock's snooze alarm went off again, and she emerged from her futon realizing that it was already a bit past dawn. Her body ached fiercely in several places, mostly from muscle strain caused by her new training regimen, the exercises and stretches working numerous parts of her body that didn't enjoy such activities one bit, but some of it was due to the fierce battle she and Frost had engaged in after dinner last night. While she had managed to get in a few solid punches into the other girl's face and body, and unintentionally torn out a clump of the Chinese sorceress's hair during their fight, last night had been Frost's victory, winning her the chance to sleep alongside their shared fiancé.

As she glared balefully across the room at Frost lying snuggled up against Gosunkugi, Minami noticed a light glow beginning to sparkle across the skin of her arm. Muttering a brief curse under her breath, she tossed her covers off and sprinted for the privacy of the bathroom. The previous day's spell of cosmetic sorcery was wearing off with the dawn, and she had overslept.

The young Ghost Sweeper needed to recast it quickly before anyone saw her in her natural form, having grown to detest the sight of her normal pudginess when magic was able to so easily give her a sexier physique. Her pale-skinned Chinese nemesis was blessed with natural slenderness, which was another thing that Minami loathed her for. Fortunately, the collar around her neck didn't prohibit her using this spell, just as it did not inhibit the use of healing magics.

In the privacy of the apartment's small bathroom, she locked the door, murmuring the incantation and performing the gestures from memory as she gazed into the mirror. She felt the magic take hold of her body, the spell of cosmetic sorcery transforming her back into the much shapelier form she far preferred having. When it was finally completed and locked into place for another day, she stretched out her arms and yawned, spending just a few moments admiring her altered physique before she left the bathroom.

The house was still quiet as the hour was early, so the Ghost Sweeper thought it would be an excellent opportunity to quickly conjure up something for her fiancé's lunch in the kitchen. That would show him how much she loved him. Ever since her disastrous attempt at cooking the other day, Minami had been studying grimoires on culinary magic instead, and she was certain she now had the gestures and incantations down pat to whip up a delicious, dare she say enchanting, lunch for him in no time.

She should have realized there was a better way before letting that albino freak get one up on her in the kitchen the other night. After all, she was a sorceress, not a chef. Why bother trying to cook like some mundane girl when she had access to arcane powers that gave her a far easier alternative? Who would do such a stupid thing?


As was her usual routine, Belldandy awoke shortly after dawn. She heard birds trilling to each other outside and smiled at their sweet sounds. It was looking to be another wonderful day, the smell of summer rain in the air.

After dressing in some of the human clothing that Achika had kindly provided her when she began staying here, the young goddess headed off to the kitchen to prepare a nourishing breakfast for everyone, passing by the elderly Katsuhito Masaki's room. While she could sense that there was something about the man that belied his feeble appearance, as she was able to perceive his great spiritual power, there was nothing about his hidden nature that was troubling to her. His room was already vacant, as he usually arose even earlier than she did to begin caring for the shrine and doing the other chores he performed.

Ryoko's younger brother Tenchi had finally returned home late last night from his survival training in the Australian Outback, having spent several grueling weeks there. Exhausted, a bit malnourished and his skin darkened and even sunburnt in some place from his ordeals in the wilderness, he had taken a bath, eaten and drunk his fill and then collapsed into his bed. Belldandy was not expecting him to arise until noon at the earliest. She was certain he would be getting attended to quite well by his fiancée, Rei Hino, when she learned of his return. The girl had been a morose shadow of herself without him around, grimly doing her duties at the shrine and learning from her mentor, Sakura Sakuranbo.

"Sorry!" Ryoko called out to her as she and her duplicate ran past, one of the girls having bumped into her. The original was dressed in a snug, casual outfit that showed off quite a bit of her skin while the copy wore a St. Hebereke uniform. Belldandy smiled at the pair as they hurried off, leaping easily over the high wall that surrounded the shrine's grounds.

It was nice to see the Masaki girl acting livelier again. Ryoko had been murderously furious after learning of Nabiki's engagement to Ranma Saotome. She was now training with manic intensity each day with her grandfather after school, expanding her knowledge of the Masaki family's martial arts style from him, and the two were growing a bit closer together as a result. Belldandy sometimes noticed the elderly Katsuhito contemplating Ryoko reflectively as she trained hard late into the night, his time with the girl likely causing him to remember something from his youth.

Belldandy was considering joining in on the training as well, since it would give her something more to do around the shrine other than helping to keep it clean and doing chores. After all, she was a licensed Valkyrie and capable of taking on almost anyone in Heaven or Hell barehanded and winning, although she didn't like to brag about such things. She hoped that Ryoko would be willing to learn from her, and she contemplated what techniques would be best for her to start teaching the girl.

The one that worried the young goddess the most right now was Achika. If anything, Ryoko's mother seemed angrier over Ranma's engagements than even Ryoko was. She had started consuming far more alcohol lately, drinking innumerable bottles of sake by herself on the shrine's rear porch and muttering darkly about someone named Kimiko now and then. The young goddess could tell that Katsuhito and Achika's husband were both very concerned about her as well.

Arriving at the kitchen, Belldandy put on an apron and began preparing breakfast for the household. She set aside her concerns for now about Ryoko and the girl's mother. Things would be resolved eventually, she was certain of that.


Kyosuke waited outside the Yu-chan for Ukyo to appear. As the shortest route from his apartment to the Imperial Academy went past the popular eatery, he and Ukyo had started walking together in the mornings to school recently. He felt exultant today, no surprise to him after the amorous activities he had enjoyed in Yohko's embrace over the weekend.

He was a man now. The past couple of days (nights, to be more precise) spent with his beautiful girlfriend had made sure of that, leaving behind lingering feelings of euphoria that still affected him a bit even now. However, the experience had also left him feeling anxious over certain things. Questions kept popping up in him mind.

What would their relationship be like now?

Did Yohko really love him?

Were his feelings towards her what love really felt like?

Should he act any differently towards her now, after being so intimate with her?

What was expected of him now that he was her lover, not just her boyfriend?

It was times like this that he really missed having a father around to talk about such things. His own had died before he was born, so his mother raised him by herself, never marrying. His grandfather, Director Kasuga, tried to fulfill a fatherly sort of role as often as he could, but it was very uncomfortable speaking with the man about certain things. Talking to his grandfather about something as personal as his sexual activities with the pretty Devil Hunter was most definitely out of the question.

The only person he knew who might be able to understand what he was going through was Ranma, since the other boy was currently dealing with a surfeit of attractive young ladies who were enthusiastically pursuing him, their mutual friend Ukyo being one of them. Talk around school was that the Saotome boy must have bedded one or two of them by now, with Utena Tenjou still the frontrunner for such salacious speculation, the girl having stayed overnight at his house several weeks ago.

However, Kyosuke had his doubts that Ranma was really the womanizer that rumors made him out to be. When the young esper considered what he knew about the pigtailed scholar, Ranma didn't really seem like the type. For one thing, he didn't even appear to be enjoying his amazing good fortune with women, not that Kyosuke was envious of him, unlike the other boys in their school.

Truthfully, the young esper knew it was about as much as he could do to manage one relationship, not that Yohko was very difficult to get along with or could be considered a 'high maintenance' kind of girl at all. The thought of being involved with two or more young women was an intimidating prospect, especially after hearing about some of the hijinks going on with Nabiki, Ranma and his other female suitors that Yohko kept him apprised of. Kyosuke knew he would never do something like that to the Devil Hunter, even if she was someone who had started out as an assignment for him to romance.

Because of his mission regarding Yohko, he had broken off all contact with his previous girlfriend, Minako Aino, cutting ties as best he could before his transfer over to the Imperial Academy. Since they had been dating for almost a year by then, he had felt she deserved an explanation as to why it was suddenly over between them, trying to reassure her that it wasn't because of anything she had done. He was now under orders to pursue Yohko Mano, to bring her family into the fold of the Mobius Institute. Sadly, Minako had not taken it well, slapping him hard enough to knock him to the ground before running off crying, but what else could he do?

As gorgeous and vivacious as she was, he was certain Minako had found someone else and forgotten all about him by now. The thought pained him a little, and he had missed her a lot in the beginning, and still did sometimes even now. While his feelings for Minako had faded with time, they refused to go away completely. This troubled him a bit. He was trying his best to be a loyal boyfriend to Yohko now, so he knew he shouldn't think about any other girls that way anymore.

Ever since starting to date the Devil Hunter, the closest he had ever gotten to the sort of 'two-timing' that Nabiki kept grumbling to Yohko about Ranma doing was his making the acquaintance of a beautiful girl named Madoka Ayukawa. However, they weren't close friends, not like how it was with his counterpart in another world he once visited recently. An accident with his powers weeks ago had caused him to briefly travel to an alternate world, exchanging places with another Kyosuke Kasuga, and that version of him was dating that world's Madoka.

Here, they were more like casual friends, since she remained somewhat leery of being around any espers. Fortunately, her opinion of his kind was beginning to shift in a positive direction as they spent more time together, and that felt good. Despite that hindrance to anything more serious happening between them, he could admit there was something extremely compelling about Madoka, not only her beauty but also her strength of spirit.

He could also admit there were times he felt very strongly drawn to Madoka, wanting to spend even more time with her for reasons he could not explain. If he wasn't so committed to maintaining his close relationship with Yohko, especially now that they were starting to sleep together, asking Madoka out on a date would have been a tempting proposition. While he accepted that his fate was to be with Yohko, not Madoka or Minako, he sometimes wondered if he could make it work to have all three of them in his life, as intimidating as the notion was.

Probably not, he eventually decided.

Unfortunately, Ranma wasn't around to talk with concerning such things lately, currently busy dealing with his own challenging situation, this time involving a Chinese beauty named Shampoo, the latest misadventure with a girl to befall the pigtailed scholar. Kyosuke reminded himself that he still needed to buy a ticket for their upcoming rematch this weekend. Hopefully there were a few still available as he had heard they were selling out quickly. He wanted to be there to cheer his friend on against the gorgeous Arena fighter.

Kyosuke wasn't sure if he should invite Yohko to come with him though, since she and Nabiki were best friends and quite close. While she liked going with him to watch the occasional Arena bout, in this case the Devil Hunter would probably prefer to see Ranma get painfully trounced, out of a sense of solidarity with her best friend. It was thus a little confusing to him as to what he should do as her boyfriend.

A sudden tap on his shoulder almost gave him heart failure, since he was so deep in thought. He whirled around, expecting to see Ukyo playing one of her ninja tricks on him. But there was another girl standing there. A very cute one, he briefly noted.

"G'morning, Kasuga-senpai," the girl said in a friendly tone before giving him a quick bow.

Kyosuke quickly recovered from his startled state. "G-good morning, Miss. You surprised me. Um, have we been introduced?" He struggled to recall her name. Her face was very familiar to him, someone he had seen a few times in Ukyo and Ranma's classroom.

"It's Tsubasa, Kasuga-senpai. Tsubasa Kurenai."

The young Goju grinned. While she didn't need to practice her stealth skills as intensely as Ukyo did, since her natural abilities let her conceal herself quite well, she did enjoy occasionally sneaking up and surprising people like this. Casually brushing her long hair back over one ear while shifting her posture, she straightened her shoulders and held her bookbag with both hands behind her now, adopting a coquettish pose as she waited with him for Ukyo. The action called her companion's attention to the nubile curves of her figure contained within her uniform as well as her shapely legs.

Tsubasa's mother often told her to take every opportunity she could find to practice different sorts of girlish mannerisms to use with her various female guises. She had created a few alternate identities she could quickly transform into without much thought and hold for a few hours before needing to revert. Her current form was the one she preferred using to hide her true, male identity from discovery by any of Shadowlaw's Tainted Goju that might have survived the pogrom by the Hibikis and Kuonjis and be hunting her family, and she rarely changed from it.

Casually flirting with the upperclassman was proving to be an amusing way to pass the time until Ukyo finally arrived to walk with them. While she loved the Kuonji girl and valued their nascent friendship, the young Goju was discovering it was a lot of fun flirting with someone like this, and she found the experience rather stimulating. It was also causing her mind to wander off into strange paths.

As she knew what boys liked looking at from hearing them talking around her whenever she would occasionally adopt one of her few masculine forms for variety, her primary girl shape was carefully crafted to be enticing to the male eye. While she could have made it look most any way she wanted: taller, shorter, thinner, etcetera, she preferred this one to have a cute, trimly feminine appearance instead of a more buxom shape like another girl in her class, Ghost Sweeper Minami, although she did have a prepared form that was built much like the redhead in her repertoire that she sometimes used when she felt like it.

She had gone through the same crafting process with the two male forms in her repertoire, listening to other girls talking about what they found attractive in a boy's appearance. One was a slim, 'pretty boy' sort and the other design was a rugged, 'bad boy' kind of guy. While she was still field testing them in different venues, she had quickly determined that the pretty boy and the bad boy forms seemed to attract rather different sorts of girls.

"Uh, it's nice to meet you, Kurenai-san." Kyosuke bowed. The girl reminded him a bit of Hikaru Hiyama, one of Madoka's close friends.

Tsubasa smiled even more adorably, ratcheting up the level of charm she was radiating until the air seemed to glimmer around her. "Well, since we're both friends of Ukyo-chan, I hope that means that we can be good friends too, Kasuga-senpai."

Glancing at his watch to cover pulling his gaze away from gawking at her as he swallowed nervously, the young esper fretted about what could be keeping the ninja. He was starting to feel panicky just being around the pretty Kurenai girl, worried about what Yohko might think if she ever saw the two of them standing together like this, because Tsubasa was an undeniably alluring young woman. When he glanced over at her, he saw her casually shift her stance again in such a way as to draw his attention to her shapely legs once more.

He snapped his gaze away as soon as he realized he was staring at her again, and he could have sworn he heard Tsubasa giggle a little at his discomfiture. However, when he looked back, she was just standing there looking quite innocent and demure. He eventually decided he must have been imagining things.

Tsubasa grinned impishly when Kyosuke looked away again after looking at her lingeringly for a second time. She never knew how much fun it could be playing with a boy like this, flirting with him to see just how much she could get away with, and she wondered if flirting with girls using one of her male forms would be as much fun. A very quiet and shy sort before meeting Ukyo, the young Goju didn't used to have any friends, but now she was friends with Ukyo and Kyosuke and finding she liked it. Her successful flirting with the upperclassman just now was also making her curious to see if talking like this with other boys and girls would be as much fun.

All the time she had spent in crafting her small repertoire of feminine guises over the past few years had left her feeling quite comfortable being a girl. She rarely reverted to her natural shape as a boy anymore, even sleeping in her current form to understand it better, since it was the only one she could maintain that long. Fortunately, her mother was very understanding of this sort of experimentation, having explained to Tsubasa a while back that it was a phase that all young Goju went through during their adolescence years, trying out each gender and even exploring their sexual preferences to see what they preferred. Her mother would often take on a male guise and go out on a date or visit a club like that.

Her only sibling, Futami, was going through the same thing. Barely a year older than Tsubasa, she used a male form as her main disguise but would sometimes be female. She was much more outgoing than Tsubasa, seducing both girls and boys around their age, and even going after a few younger adults that caught her eye, dating them all just long enough to sleep with them before moving on to a new conquest.

Tsubasa was very glad now that she had made the effort to break out of her self-imposed shell and introduced herself to Ukyo. Having friends to talk with was easing her loneliness and feelings of isolation from other people, but it also left her sad that she couldn't really trust any of them with her secret. Kyosuke was part of the Mobius Institute, and Ukyo might try to kill her, if the ninja ever learned she was one of the Goju, since the girl likely didn't know there was a difference between those that were under Shadowlaw's control and the Untainted. While Tsubasa had been trained in combat by her mother, she didn't want to ever have to battle the Kuonji girl. Sparring would be fun, but not a fight to the death with her newfound friend.

Her mother and sibling were Untainted Goju, who had managed to remain free from Shadowlaw's dominion over most of their kith and kin, and there weren't any others like them in the entire city. The only person sort of like their kind was Yumi Kuonji, who had a weird shapeshifting ability that was something like a Goju's, only limited to a single alternate form and triggered by hot and cold water for some reason. Tsubasa had recently learned from Ukyo that Yumi had a daughter named Ranko, which the young Goju's mother had not known about. As 'Yu' was really Yumi's alternate form, it stood to reason that Ranko likely knew her mother's secret and helped maintain the ruse. However, since Ukyo didn't know about her aunt's shapeshifting ability, Tsubasa couldn't ask her if Ranko had inherited the same sort of ability, not without exposing Yumi's secret.

Thinking about friends, Tsubasa mused that Ranko might make for another good friend to have, since she could be someone the young Goju might share her own secret with. Ranko's mother Yumi must have told the girl all about the existence of the Goju, since they were common knowledge among the various ninja clans. However, she would check with the Kuonji woman on this before talking with Ranko and offering to be friends, just to make sure.

While she loved Ukyo and enjoyed being around her, the Kuonji girl was rather starkly unfeminine at times due to her bizarre upbringing, so hanging around Ranko would be an excellent opportunity to closely observe a girl who was likely more feminine in her mannerisms. Also, since Tsubasa was a bit scared to try going out to a club or arcade and try flirting with boys on her own, she hoped Ranko might be interested in keeping her company. It certainly didn't seem to be the sort of thing Ukyo would ever want to do, since she was all hung up on this Ranma guy she was engaged to.

Tsubasa was still formulating plans on how to remove Ranma from Ukyo's life, but it was proving difficult since she didn't want to kill him. While the young Goju was confident she could defeat the pigtailed boy with a little bit of luck, as she occasionally participated in street fights in the area using different guises for such activities, she knew that employing her combat skills to outright murder someone just because they were in her way was deeply wrong. The current plan she was considering was to use one of her alternate female guises to seduce Ranma and make Ukyo want to break up with him over it.

"What are you grinning about?"

Now it was Tsubasa's turn to be startled, feeling her heart lurch with surprise. She whirled around to see Ukyo standing there as if she had just materialized from thin air, so silently she arrived. The young ninja was looking at her in amusement, one eyebrow raised.

"N-nothing, Ukyo-chan," the young Goju said, wondering how much her new friend had observed. She felt her heart stutter back to life from its sudden shock. "We were just waiting for you and getting to know each other."

"Uh huh." Ukyo started walking to school. "We should get to class, you two."

"Right," Kyosuke replied. He quickly caught up with the ninja and so did Tsubasa, the three of them ending up walking abreast, the Kuonji girl in the middle. "Have you heard anything from Ranma, Ukyo?"

The young ninja looked more pensive. "My aunt has been keeping tabs on him. She says he's been busy with his training after recovering from the fight with Shampoo, but he's doing fine otherwise."

Kyosuke nodded.

As they walked, Kyosuke and Tsubasa began chatting, making small talk as they continued getting to know each other. Ukyo was left to ponder her situation with Ranma, something she was doing a lot of the last few days. Her parents engaging her to him weeks ago was something she hadn't minded until recently, finding there was so much she could talk about with him since they got along extremely well. They had even gone out on a date together shortly after their first meeting and frequently spent time together after school.

The recent letter sent by her great-grandfather had upended all that, leaving her feeling unsettled about her future and her relationship with Ranma. In it, her great-grandfather explained how he and Ryoga's great-grandfather had conspired together in secret for a marriage to occur between their two families, so she was engaged to the Hibiki boy while they were both still toddlers. Even more annoying, the pair of meddlesome old coots never thought to inform her parents, or Ryoga's mother, of this situation, leading to the present dilemma. And then the sauce on the okonomiyaki, her great-grandfather had made it impossible for her to refuse this engagement to the Hibiki boy by telling her it was a matter of honor between their two clans, so she must go through with the wedding.

Based on her last few extremely combative encounters with Ryoga, Ukyo was very certain her childhood friend had no idea anything like this was going on. After all, he never even realized she was really a girl until the end of their most recent meeting. And that took the actions of another party to intervene and forcibly reveal the truth to him.

Remembering what Nabiki Tendo had put her through that day still galled Ukyo, beyond the sheer humiliation of it all. Cutting her top wide open and exposing her real gender to the entire school was bad enough, but the Tendo girl's oh-so-smug expression after doing so had seared the entire experience into her mind. Poor Ryoga had been so traumatized by it, he ran away before they could talk about it.

She hated Nabiki Tendo now, with a fury burning inside her like nothing she had ever experienced before. Never in her life had such rage filled her, an abiding and profound ache to deal out a brutal revenge, to even the score with spilled blood and broken bones. The more she reflected upon what had happened that day, the deeper and more passionate that need grew. Lurid fantasies of thrashing the arrogant Tendo girl and stomping her gory remains into the pavement kept occupying her idle thoughts lately as she worked at her aunt's restaurant and attended classes, training herself with increased intensity in her free time, determined to destroy Nabiki when they finally had it out.

Of course, that would only happen once she got the other girl to drop her guard first, and Nabiki would not be an easy person to fool, given her background. So, until then, Ukyo planned to delay her revenge and continue her training in secret, biding her time and feigning her forgiveness, pretending that all was well. Then, when Nabiki least expected it, the wrath of a Kuonji ninja would descend upon her like a bolt of divine retribution from the heavens. Ukyo savored the thought of paying the Tendo girl back with interest, when the ache for revenge within her would finally be soothed by breaking a few of Nabiki's bones and spilling her blood across the ground.

However, even that miserable experience wasn't her main concern now. Just what was she was going to do in the meantime about having two engagements: one to Ryoga and another to Ranma? In the Empire, while a boy could legally marry multiple girls, a woman couldn't wed more than one husband, as intriguing as that notion was to her whenever she paused to consider it. As she walked in silence, Ukyo began blushing at the salacious thoughts that suddenly started popping into her mind again, briefly dispelling her ongoing ire at Nabiki, a torrid fantasy of having a threesome with the two boys.

After reveling in her lecherous imaginings for several rather pleasant moments, she coughed once into her fist to break out of the tempting daydream. Her face reddened a bit in shame at her depraved musings. It wasn't the first time she had caught herself imagining things like that about boys she knew. Such fantasies had plagued her ever since puberty began.

When she once asked her mother about having such thoughts, she had been firmly told that proper ladies weren't supposed to imagine such lewd and sleazy things. Apparently, only men normally had such fantasies, so, after hearing this, Ukyo then promptly laid the blame for her recurring erotic reveries on her great-grandfather. Since he kept encouraging her to act like a boy, he had apparently turned her into a perverted girl in the process, so it wasn't her fault she was like this.

Ukyo was certain that Ryoga would be shocked and dismayed to learn about the many, _many_ erotic fantasies he had starred in over the past several years. When puberty began for them, fighting with him became her secret outlet for her sexual longings regarding him, giving her a meager bit of catharsis from her raging hormones. It was a large part of the reason why she was always so eager to see him, wanting to get close to him, even if it was for a fight. But there were times, like when they would be grappling together, and she would feel his hands grabbing certain regions of her body, that she had almost revealed herself to him and let Ryoga know she was really a girl.

She knew it was her fault that her best friend had showed up in Tokyo in the tormented state he was in. Ryoga had been so enraged at her, driven to pursue her such a long way away from their mountain home to obtain his revenge. He had accused her of confusing his feelings and making him believe he was sexually attracted to boys. However, after thinking about it, she could see his point and reluctantly agreed with him that she was responsible.

Even though she had been striving to imitate a boy in every way, eliminating every trace of her feminine nature even in her speech and mannerisms, she must have somehow revealed her true nature, showing him unconscious cues that she was a girl who liked him _that_ way. Combined with her tightly maintained masculine façade, she couldn't blame Ryoga one bit for being so confused by her mixed signals and getting furious with her. He responded to those unconscious cues, but, since she kept acting like a boy all the time, somehow got it into his head that he must like boys instead of girls because he liked her.

Then there was Ranma. Although she had known him for a relatively short time, his acceptance of her masculine mannerisms and speech patterns had quickly charmed her heart, and it helped a lot that he awoke such wonderful feelings of desire within her. It amazed her how quickly and easily they had slipped into a friendship with each other, as if Ranma had somehow practiced for the role and knew exactly how to treat her. It wasn't very long at all before he too began entering her fantasies, her mind conjuring up lurid imaginings of the sorts of pleasurable, sweaty things the two of them would start doing to each other once their relationship developed a bit more.

Of course, she could never admit to him the things she daydreamed about doing together with him. She was trying hard to be more girlish and properly demure now like how her mother told her she should act, and she was certain that a guy wouldn't like it if a girl behaved with masculine aggressiveness towards him in any intimate situations, like boys were expected to be with girls. Even so, the next time they went out to the movies or just had some privacy, she planned to take full advantage of the situation, to try to be more obvious to him that she was a loving, passionate girl underneath the tattered remnants of her masculine façade. At the very least, she really wanted to see what kissing a boy on the lips was like, and she was also looking forward to feeling his hands on her body.

Although, now that she no longer had to hide her true nature from him anymore, she also wanted to try doing such things with Ryoga too, if he was still interested in her that way that is. But maybe he hated her now. After all, she had tricked him for years and ended up hurting him badly, even if that was never her intention.

Even her cousin Yu was now appearing in her fantasies, which she knew was a very perverted thing for her to imagine, but he was so tempting to think about like that. He had a handsome face, a trimly muscular, well-defined physique and was a little bit older than she was. She could still clearly remember the thrilling sight of him coming out of the bathroom one day, with only a towel wrapped around his waist. If he wasn't her cousin, she knew she would be very tempted to do far more than just fantasize about him.

She suspected she wasn't alone in thinking such things about Yu. Girls their age would whisper conspiratorially to each other about him and smile shyly whenever he was working in the restaurant. Her cousin had a few admirers among their customers that Ukyo was aware of, but she had never seen him taking advantage of that and try to pick one of them up. His restraint from indulging in such temptations was a definite mark in his favor, but it also added to her regret that they were cousins.

In fact, the only two females she ever saw him spending any time with other than herself was his sister and Sakura Sakuranbo. The older woman was clearly very interested in Yu, but she was past her expiration date and coming up fast on thirty. Ukyo thought her pursuit of him kind of sad, since it made the woman look desperate to be chasing after someone so much younger than she was. It was clear to the Kuonji girl from Sakura's body language whenever she was around Yu that she wanted him, having seen other girls acting that way towards her while she was maintaining her male guise.

Thoughts of performing ardent activities with the three boys she cared about brought her back to her current dilemma. While her personal honor would be sullied if she ever willingly forsook either engagement, there was also no way to legally satisfy them both. She was engaged to Ranma via signed contract, a binding obligation for her to wed him. However, there was also another, equally valid agreement existing between the Hibiki and Kuonji families, one intended to unite their two clans together.

While coming to know Ranma better over the past weeks since her arrival, she wasn't sure how he would respond to hearing that she was engaged to another boy. Would he understand her dilemma and have sympathy? She didn't know, and she was deeply afraid of taking the chance and telling him outright. Coming all the way here to Tokyo and becoming engaged to him when she was already engaged, even though she and her parents had been unaware of that agreement, it felt like she had deceived him somehow.

When it came to Ryoga, she was even more worried about how he might respond to news of the conflicting engagements. He put up a very macho front, but they had been close friends for a long time before their rivalry overshadowed their friendship. She knew very well just how emotionally delicate he could be sometimes. Something like this might cause him to snap and attempt doing something very unpleasant to Ranma.

It was obvious to her that the two boys didn't like each other very much, their animosity quite clear whenever they were together, so a brutal fistfight breaking out between them over her seemed to be the likeliest outcome. She had witnessed other boys fighting over girls at her old school, and she really didn't want that to happen between them. But, how could she solve this and get them to peacefully coexist?

While they walked along, Ukyo kept turning the matter over in her mind, ruminating about it, pondering each page of the two contracts and comparing them, grateful at her eidetic memory that allowed her to do such things, which had always been a massive help in school. She knew there must be something she was missing. As she walked on autopilot with her friends, she carefully considered each phrase and clause of legalese.

The solution finally struck her like a thunderbolt just as the trio was about to cross the street near the Imperial Academy. It was a buried codicil contained within both contracts that she had previously missed even after several passes, one almost unnoticeable amidst all the thick, boilerplate legalese that surrounded it. It stated that if one of the two parties to the contract was challenged and beaten by another prospective suitor in a duel, that person would have to surrender their claim to the other party, substituting the victor in their place.

If it was invoked, that phrasing allowed for two possible outcomes that she could see. In the first, Ranma and Ryoga could fight, and the winner of their duel would then get to marry her, as the other's claim would be extinguished. The second option involved another girl doing battle with her. If she lost, she would have to surrender one of the two boys to the victor as the prize. Fortunately, since a girl was not allowed to legally marry two boys, she would get to keep one of her engagements. As she was engaged to two boys, the challenger had the option to choose which one to take.

As viscerally thrilling as the notion was of having the two boys she was engaged to fighting each other over the chance to be married to her, she hated the idea of having her two best male friends beating each other to a pulp. There had to be a better way to resolve this dilemma of honor. One of them could wind up getting badly hurt, and she didn't want that for either of them. The loser would come away with nothing but aches and bruises to show for his troubles, and that didn't seem right to Ukyo at all.

While she didn't have any competition for Ryoga that she was aware of, Ranma was a different story, since there were numerous harpies waiting to pounce on him who would be quite glad to have him freed of his obligation to marry her. The thought of Nabiki swooping in to claim Ranma once she was out of the way set Ukyo's teeth on edge, but the thought of another girl doing it was little better. Ranma deserved a far better fate than to be seized by one of the floozies currently circling him like starving vultures.

There was also Shampoo to consider, but she was a side issue until her rematch with Ranma was concluded in a few days. It was possible that he could lose to the Amazon, which would end that threat. But until then, Ukyo preferred to avoid considering Shampoo as any sort of potential rival to her, deciding to put off dealing with it until things became clear. That reminded her that she still needed to buy a ticket to watch Ranma's rematch against the Chinese girl.

Another very concerning notion to the young ninja was the thought of someone learning about the challenge clause and spreading word of it around. If that happened, Ukyo knew she would have to start fending off any number of hussies challenging her to duels, each of them intent on putting her down and stealing Ranma away for themselves. While she was not at all worried about the pathetic members of his little fan club on campus, as none of them were anywhere near strong enough to beat her, there were other, far more capable fighters lurking about who might take advantage of the situation.

Despite the appeal of knocking out a few of Nabiki's teeth in a duel between them, Ukyo preferred to not give the older girl the slightest opportunity to claim a prize like Ranma. The same could be said for the snobbish Kuno girl who kept hanging around Ranma for some reason. There was also Utena Tenjou to consider and someone named Akane Tendo she had heard about at school, Nabiki's younger sister.

In thinking further about the matter, there was only one girl she knew that she would feel somewhat comfortable losing to in this situation: her female cousin, Ranko. After having several intense sparring matches together since they first met, the redhead had demonstrated to her an immense talent at martial arts, easily on a par with her own abilities and arguably even better. It was difficult for Ukyo to say who might win between them, since a real fight to the finish would have so many variables that it could go either way.

Losing to Ranko in a duel would simultaneously preserve her honor and allow both engagements to be fulfilled, albeit with one of them being satisfied by Ranko as a substitute. While it would still be a bit emotionally distressing to surrender either of the boys, it neatly solved the honor problem and allowed her to hand over one of them to a girl she respected and trusted like a sister. The Hibikis and Kuonjis would become united through marriage, and the engagement contract with the Saotomes would also be fulfilled. It seemed a perfect solution to Ukyo, especially since her cousin was not currently engaged to anyone, or even dating for that matter.

When Ukyo next saw Ranko, she would have to come up with some pretext, so they would fight each other for real. Then, after it was all over, presuming she lost to the redhead, her cousin would then have the choice as to which boy she would take on as her fiancé. Honor would be satisfied, and everyone could walk away happy. Hopefully.

However, in thinking about that outcome, Ukyo wasn't totally sure which boy she would find easier to hand over to her cousin. While she had known Ryoga since childhood and been close friends with him in their early years, before their rivalry took over their relationship, her male disguise had apparently been altogether too successful, totally fooling Ryoga into thinking she was really a boy. Thanks to Nabiki Tendo (that bitch!), he had only recently learned that she was really a girl. Despite that difficulty, she knew she cared about him deeply, in the way girls had liked boys since the beginning of time.

Her relationship with Ranma, despite being formed far more recently, gave her amazing feelings of attraction towards him, rivaling the loving emotions she felt towards Ryoga. Every time she was around the pigtailed boy, her body tingled pleasantly, her hormones surging with longing for him. He also had no problems with her lack of femininity, for which she was very grateful.

Whichever way it all finally ended, it was not going to be easy for her emotionally, but something needed to be done. She was certain that either of the two boys would take good care of Ranko and be a good husband to her, whichever one of them she ended up with. Her only fear was that her cousin might hate her for tricking her into an engagement.


Trailing along solemnly behind the elderly nun with an eyepatch known as Sister Yolanda was St. Hebereke's newest, albeit unwilling, addition to its student body: Rokuro Okajima. As she grimly led the new fish... first-year pupil through the school's corridors, the youth behind her was fervently hoping to just get through the day and avoid getting beaten up by one or more of the many delinquents that infested this place while he figured out his next move. If he could somehow manage to keep his grades up and survive this hellhole for the next three years, an internship position at Genom or another zaibatsu might still await him after he graduated, since they were always on the lookout to hire promising young people.

It was still surreal to him how he ended up here, to be condemned to this reform school filled with brutal thugs and future criminals of both genders. Only a week ago, he had been the rising star in Asahi Academy's business program. Everyone there had wanted to be his friend, and the teachers all liked him. There was even some chatter that he should consider joining the student council, and the teachers might even make him the chairman next year.

Then it all came crashing down when Dean Kageyama sternly informed him he had been implicated in several academic offenses by the current student council chairman, Katushiko Jinnai, and later found guilty of them all. Somehow, evidence supporting all the bogus charges against him was presented at his hearing, and he had no idea how that could even be possible, since he was truly innocent of them. But all of his arguments were greeted with grim disbelief and his impassioned pleas for a rehearing were denied. So now here he was, sentenced to finish out his remaining years of required schooling at St. Hebereke among the dregs of Japanese youth.

Why did that bastard Jinnai do this to him? Rokuro had been asking himself that question and others over and over. Was he that afraid of someone taking away his precious chairmanship that he'd stoop this low to eliminate a potential rival? What a gutless, miserable coward.

Before his expulsion from Asahi, Rokuro had heard others talking about another student who once ran afoul of the Jinnai boy last year. His name was Makoto Mizuhara. No one really knew what happened to him, only that he had disappeared sometime after school one night. While there was no evidence connecting his suspicious disappearance to Jinnai, Rokuro now wondered about that, adding it to the list of things he planned to 'discuss' with Katsuhiko Jinnai someday.

His supposed friends had quickly abandoned him once his guilt was announced, and no one would even return his calls anymore. Not even his own parents believed him when he proclaimed his innocence to them in private. They just looked at him sadly, which made him even angrier at the Jinnai boy for doing this, for damaging his relationship with them so badly.

If this was to be his fate, so be it.

Rokuro recalled once reading a philosopher named Nietzsche who said something relevant to his current situation: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." He would survive this place and find a way to thrive here. They wouldn't break him. And someday he would attain his revenge on Katsuhiko Jinnai. He would find a way to pay him back with interest.

The pair finally reached his new classroom, and Sister Yolanda paused to look back at Rokuro, her expression enigmatic. "Here's some free advice to you that I give every new arrival, kid. If you aren't that good in a fight, you'd better make friends with someone who is, and do it fast. Since you don't look much like the kind of boys we usually get, you should know that the girls attending here can get kind of rough with weaker sorts, if you know what I mean. A lot of them don't much like this being a co-ed campus, and you're going to be heavily outnumbered by a lot of pretty tough girls."

With that terrifying warning still ringing in his ears, Rokuro took a deep breath and let it out to quell his panic a bit, then slid open the door and walked with as much boldness as he could muster into his new classroom. The teacher, an imposing, blonde Russian woman that would have been rather attractive if half her face wasn't scarred with old burns, gestured for him to go to the board and do his introduction. He hastened to obey, not wishing to upset someone as scary-looking as she was on his very first day here, signing his name with an economy of movement.

Turning back to regard his new peers, he was a bit dismayed to see only three other boys in the classroom. They were seated in one corner of the back as if they were under siege by the girls filling the rest of it. Which they might very well be, he supposed. Aside from the extreme gender imbalance, another surprising aspect of his new class was that many of them were foreigners.

The three boys all appeared to be Japanese, but one had bleached his hair blond. They were all scowling at him, which didn't strike him as an optimistic sign that he could become friends with any of them. He only saw a few empty seats, but none were by the trio of boys.

Everyone was staring at him. No one was smiling, which made the whole experience even more unnerving. They were also all sitting in their seats in various slouching poses rather than seated with their backs straight like proper students would be.

"Uh, good morning," Rokuro began, attempting a smile. "My name is Rokuro Okajima, and I've just transferred here. I, uh, look forward to studying with you."

He then bowed stiffly and proceeded to his assigned desk at the rear of the class after Balalaika-sensei pointed it out to him. His classmates kept scrutinizing him as he walked to his seat in a way that reminded him disturbingly of a pack of wolves studying prey and deciding how best to kill it. The three boys were seated dismayingly far from him, an oasis of masculinity, leaving him surrounded by a bunch of debutante delinquents who kept eyeing him coldly when he sat down.

The one right in front of him, a foreign girl sporting a goth look, seemed like she might be the most approachable of the lot around him, since she hadn't looked at him like he was prey, and he debated trying to make friends with her during lunch. She had only glanced up at him briefly then looked away with apparent disinterest. When the roll was called later, he found out her name was Frederica Sawyer.

His assigned desk was between two empty seats, and he wondered who sat in them. Maybe they were both out sick today? Perhaps he would be a bit lucky, and no one was assigned to them at all.

Once he was seated, Balalaika called the roll in the most threatening manner he had ever heard a teacher address a class. He learned that the three boys were named Eikichi Onizuka, Takeshi Sendou and Masahiko Umezawa. Only two girls were missing from their class that morning: Roberta Cisneros and Rebecca Lee. He wondered what they were like and hoped he could get along with them, especially if they ended up being his neighbors.


After clicking his stopwatch to end the accumulation of seconds and minutes it was doing and dropping it into his pants pocket, Miki Kaoru took a deep breath and let it out to quell his nervousness, then slid open the door and strode into his new classroom. He tried to ignore the slight scratchiness of the collar of his new blue uniform, one bought off the rack due to the suddenness of his changing schools instead of being more like the tailored Ohtori uniforms of fine fabrics he was used to. The teacher gestured for him to approach the board and introduce himself, and he quickly signed his name with an economy of movement. Turning back to regard his new peers, he beheld a mixture of both gray and blue-uniformed cadets staring back at him.

Numerous girls felt their hearts suddenly flutter in their chests when they beheld the handsome new boy in their class. Many quickly glanced down, overcome with shyness. While they were experiencing that, others of their ranks were being bolder in their regard of Miki.

The boys, on the other hand, were studying their new classmate with rather cool looks. A few of them glanced around at the girls in the room, not liking the reactions they were seeing one bit. There was already too much competition for female attention lately. Ranma Saotome's increase in popularity since the school year began was bad enough.

At her seat, Kodachi was smiling sensuously at the sight of her beloved childhood friend standing there. He had not informed her he would be joining her class, so it was a very pleasant surprise to see him this morning. While she would prefer he took a desk next to her, so they could chat more easily during breaks, the nearest empty one was two rows over and a few seats behind her. She leaned forward, interested to hear his introduction, folding her hands beneath her nose and resting her chin on her thumbs.

Her ongoing bitter musings about the tawdry Chinese strumpet named Shampoo, a girl blessed with a body even more distressingly enticing than the middle Tendo sister possessed (and who was likely trying to lure the fickle Saotome boy into committing sinful acts of lustful depravity with her), faded from her thoughts. The self-introduction she planned to give the helot harlot promised to be pleasingly violent, since she knew she could not trust her other primary rivals for the pigtailed scholar's attention to properly drive off this new interloper with sufficient viciousness. She glanced around the classroom briefly as her childhood friend stood there, noting the hungry reactions of many of her female peers towards him with great disapproval, her gaze narrowing dangerously at the sight.

She would have to watch over him too, it seemed.

Her closest acquaintances in class, Ami Mizuno and Nanami Jinnai, were strangely absent this morning. Before Miki's arrival distracted her, she had been wondering where they could be. It wasn't like either girl to ever miss a day of class, especially Nanami, since she was their class representative. A couple of other girls were absent from class as well.

While turning her gaze back to regarding her childhood friend, the Black Rose contemplated her peers and their lustful looks at him, finding their obvious interest in him irritating. The Kaoru boy clearly needed to be protected from such unworthy girls seeking after his manly attentions. As his childhood friend, she knew it fell to her to do this until she could find him a suitable girlfriend.

Her smile turned a bit more predatory as she continued regarding his handsome features, recalling the plans she had made over the weekend concerning him. He was looking very appealing to her eyes today, standing there wearing a science cadet's uniform, and she sighed girlishly at the sight of him, much like numerous other females were doing in her class. While her primary rivals for her fiancé's attention at school, the Tendo gangster and the cross-dressing pervert girl, should have no interest in a sweet boy like Miki, seeing as they were already so emotionally invested in pursuing the pigtailed scholar, she could not rely on that.

Unconsciously licking her lips, Kodachi continued studying her friend intently. To head off some contemptible girl from attempting to ensnare him with her plebeian charms, she knew it was up to her to provide him with a safe outlet for indulging in the recurring lusts adolescent males were so prone to. While she was certain he wasn't a thrall to them like a certain sleazy Sanzenin scumbag she could name, having been a perfect gentleman to her at Ohtori's Spring Formal for the entire evening, he _was_ a boy, and she knew all boys suffered the same sorts of physical cravings, even her beloved Ranma. Fortunately, the two boys she cared about so much controlled their lust well, which she found to be quite admirable of them.

If only her brother Tatewaki could restrain himself so. She blamed his weakness for female flesh on his ongoing association with the sleazy Sanzenin scumbag, who had clearly been a bad influence on him, the two of them having been friends since childhood. Her brother's fascination with the two Tendo thugs derived from Tatewaki's weird fascination with strong girls, so his developing relationship with Juri Arisugawa might end up being his salvation, giving him a more acceptable target for his penchants.

Kodachi's eyes narrowed even more lethally as she suddenly recalled the many lustful looks the Sanzenin boy had given her over the past several years, ever since puberty began for them, undressing her body with his gaze. Her right hand began clenching tightly into a fist beneath her desk at the memories of seeing his licentious regard of her whenever her brother wasn't looking. She felt her loathing for the sleazy Sanzenin scumbag swelling within her, and bile rose in her throat.

Taking a calming breath, she forced herself to relax and think of more pleasant things, and a brief fantasy of pounding her unwanted admirer into mulch for her mother's gardens began easing her tensions. The thought of driving her fists into Mikado's smug face again and again until nothing was left but a mangled, bloody mess was soothing. The memory of Ranma beating him unconscious at Ohtori was enjoyable as well, and she would dearly love to see her fiancé do it again soon. She was certain she could watch him thrashing the sleazy Sanzenin scumbag all day long and never grow bored of it.

As she was aware that she too was frequently afflicted by such carnal longings, having Miki nearby would also allow her an outlet to safely satiate herself and tide her over until Ranma finally came to his senses about her and cast aside the other girls foolishly pursuing him. It would be a mutually beneficial arrangement between her and Miki, as they both needed a discrete means to satisfy such desires. Her skills at osculation also required honing for when she finally began engaging in such tender activities with her fiancé. Since she needed a reliable practice partner who was both trustworthy and dependable, the Kaoru boy seemed a perfect choice to her for that role. The notion of kissing deeply with her childhood friend began arousing her, and Kodachi slowly licked her lips once more.

To welcome him to his new school, she decided it would only be polite to invite him over to her home some night soon for dinner. Then, after eating, they could retire to watch a movie together in the manor's private theater. Nothing too romantic, of course, not wanting to give him the wrong sort of impression about what she wanted from their relationship going forward.

Then, while they were alone in the dark, she would slowly sidle closer to him. Nothing too brazen, as she was a lady of refined breeding. No, she would subtly make her proposition to him, perhaps by holding his hand and resting her head on his shoulder as they watched the movie, maybe licking her lips a little for good measure, signals to let him know that she was available to take care of his manly needs, as a good female friend should.

Kodachi's eyes glazed a bit as her fantasy briefly took hold of her mind. Kissing with Miki would likely lead to his hands eventually moving to touch her body, maybe even fondling her breasts. His gentle caresses would feel their softness and warmth through her clothing, which she would of course allow him to do as they were such close friends, only making the mildest of protests to show she possessed proper female decorum in such a situation. After all, she was not some brazen slut like the Saginomiya girl, who likely allowed any man interested to grab her wherever he pleased.

The two of them could then begin gently exploring each other's bodies a bit, at least as much as could be done while their clothes remained on. Yes, that would make for a most pleasant end to the evening indeed. As tempting a thought as it was for her, she knew she dared not let him go any further than that.

If she did not firmly maintain that boundary, she realized it would be far too tempting to her to let him go all the way with her and make her his woman. Even though they were just childhood friends, not an actual dating couple or engaged to be wed, she was quite certain she would not be able to resist his advances if their clothes ever came off. But she knew that would be going too far.

No, this would just be some innocent osculating and fondling between two very close friends who happened to be of the opposite sex, practice she would need to perfect her techniques for her fiancé while also providing Miki with a safe outlet for his recurring male lusts until she could find him an acceptable girlfriend. That she would allow, selflessly denying her yearnings to do so much more with the Kaoru boy out of respect for her beloved fiancé and not wanting to lead on her treasured childhood friend and have him think they were dating or something. After all, she had pledged a solemn vow to herself that Ranma would be the one who made her a woman, and a Kuno never broke their word, not even to themselves.

No, when Ranma made her _his_ woman, she amended. Until her fiancé finally came to his senses and realized that she was the one who loved him best and was clearly the superior choice to become his bride, she and Miki would just have to keep helping each other out in this way, daily if necessary. She was certain that her kissing techniques would eventually become flawless with his assistance. Not only would she show Miki how good a friend she was, he would also see that she cared a great deal about his physical well-being.

Having decided that, she belatedly recalled that a certain region of his male anatomy would probably not be able to handle hours and hours of fondling and kissing with her, and she could not bear the thought of causing her childhood friend any sort of physical distress. The corners of her lips quirked up, recalling the obvious solution she had already come up with and included in her plans. While her virginity was pledged to Ranma alone, she did know other methods she could employ to relieve Miki should be become distressed like that.

Kodachi was aware that performing such activities with her childhood friend would also be good bridal training to prepare herself for when she eventually used them upon her fiancé. The overbuilt Chinese helot, the two Tendo thugs, the aberrant 'Prince of Ohtori' and the other cross-dressing pervert girl would never be able to match her abilities at pleasing Ranma in this fashion. Once she demonstrated to him her amatory techniques, honed and ready to pleasure him, she was confident she would win his love, and the crude, unworthy girls vainly seeking after him could then go off and find themselves other, lesser men. She and the pigtailed scholar could then explore the multiverse together using his technology and have romantic, wondrous adventures in exotic worlds.

"Good morning," Miki began, smiling when he saw Kodachi seated in the classroom, her gaze regarding him warmly, if a bit oddly intent. "My name is Miki Kaoru, and I've just transferred here from Ohtori Academy. My interests include martial arts, especially Kendo, and the piano. I look forward to studying with you." He then bowed politely and quickly proceeded to his new desk after the teacher pointed it out to him, wondering if Kodachi had any plans for lunch, hoping she was free since the wretched Ranma Saotome was currently stuck in the Battledome with a bunch of rather violent and unsavory people to keep him company.

Miki hoped the Kuno girl would allow him to spend time with her, so he could continue his efforts at rekindling their friendship, yearning to turn it into something much more romantic. She had grown into such a beautiful, pure maiden, unlike so many of her decadent peers, it caused his heart to ache fiercely every time he saw her. The beautiful memory of beholding her feminine charms displayed in the enticing dress she had worn to Ohtori's Spring Formal was seared into his mind. How he longed to woo her, to win her heart, seemingly more and more each day.

His changing schools to this plebeian place was solely because of her presence here. Utena was actually the one to suggest the idea to him the other day, and he was surprised he had not thought of it first. By placing himself into much closer proximity like this, he could remind Kodachi that there were far superior choices out there to become her husband than someone like Ranma Saotome.

Miki knew that the Tenjou girl liked the pigtailed boy, and they seemed a far better match as Ranma was utterly undeserving to even gaze upon Kodachi's magnificent splendor. He was a mere yeoman who would do far better picking out some commoner girl like Utena to make his babies with. Someone like that helot wench he was currently contending with in the Battledome would also work, but not a noble lady who possessed the refinement, pristinely pure heart and immaculate breeding that Kodachi Kuno did.

After he sat down, glancing briefly across the room at her and nodding his greeting, he was rewarded with the sight of Kodachi smiling back at him as she tucked a stray lock of her hair that had come loose from her ponytail behind one ear. He smiled at his neighbors politely. The teacher then needed a couple of minutes to restore order in the classroom as a great many questions began being rapid-fired at Miki by the girls, since he was currently lacking the able assistance of their class representative, Nanami Jinnai.

Catching her breath after her fantasy dispelled, feeling a bit warm, Kodachi's thoughts shifted a bit. Now that she had such a wonderful man like Ranma as her fiancé, despite his irritating inability to recognize her as being superior to the contemptable rabble vainly seeking to make him theirs, she needed to show him off to her arch-enemy, the White Lily. After all, that miserable harpy would never obtain a fiancé as handsome and manly as the pigtailed scholar, so rubbing the other girl's nose in her woeful predicament would feel simply wonderful.

She hoped Miki was free to accept her invitation to dinner this week. His presence and her plans for him would be a wonderful salve for her troubled emotions. It would also be quite enjoyable when she pummeled the helot harlot into a bloody pulp sometime in the next few days and warned her to stay far away from Ranma Saotome, if the Chinese wench knew what was good for her.

It was promising to be a delightful week.


Soun inhaled another long puff from his cigarette and tried to relax as he deposited its stub in a nearby ashtray, struggling to control his rage. It didn't help his mood one bit that he was still experiencing a headache and tinnitus from the telepathic probe done to him earlier that morning, a faint, high-pitched tone ringing in his ears. Before undergoing the examination assessing his loyalty to the Empire, he had been warned that he could experience such side-effects due to jangled nerves in his brain.

As of ten o'clock, after experiencing someone else poking around in his brain for over an hour, telepathically rummaging through his memories like they were searching a house for any incriminating evidence, he was finally confirmed as being worthy to become the new Acting Director of the Ministry of Security (aka the Security Directorate). He received warm congratulations from his friend, the Mobius Institute's elderly Director Kasuga, then he left to come here.

Special Agents Kei and Yuri, two dangerous-looking, unsmiling young women in black Directorate uniforms, each wearing earpieces, mirrored sunglasses and shoulder-holstered firearms, had accompanied him as he departed the Institute. They sat on either side of him during the short drive from there to the Directorate's headquarters. The humorless duo was part of his retinue of bodyguards and elite agents, each answerable only to the Director, to him now, one of the perks of his new station. He realized he would eventually get used to having them and their peers around, but he was unaccustomed to being protected like this by others.

The dour pair took up positions outside his office, standing at parade rest at his door as he carried his one personal item in and set it on his new desk, a picture of his family taken back when his wife was still alive. The office was austere and cavernous, designed to convey the fearsome authority of the position to visitors. He had only been in here a handful of times before this.

Gazing at the picture, Soun was briefly distracted from his more serious concerns, beginning to muse about Nabiki and her engagement to Ranma to calm himself. However, thinking of the couple triggered his mind to begin reversion, undoing the changes the witch had made to his mind to get him past the Empire's telepathic loyalty review. Vertigo assailed him as a kaleidoscope of suppressed memories from his old life on that other world flooded his awareness. He shook his head when it was finally done, leaning heavily on the desk, feeling nauseous and confused before his thoughts steadied. A deep frown appeared on his face as he considered his daughter Nabiki's fiancé again.

The little punk had arrogantly declared himself to be the heir to the Anything-Goes School of Martial Arts, announcing it boldly to the world on television without having any actual right to make such a claim. Something would have to be done about this, to show that conceited boy that there was someone else with a better entitlement to it, a member of the Tendo family. While at first it had felt wrong to Soun that the one who knew of the Anything-Goes School here wasn't his youngest child, he soon realized this version of Nabiki was a more talented fighter than his original world's Akane, and might even be as good as that world's Ranma.

Nabiki thought him ignorant of her expertise in the Anything-Goes School, but that was fine. He would let her keep on believing that for the time being. Manipulating her would be far easier if she assumed she was still successfully fooling him. Eventually he would have to reveal the truth to her, but that could wait until later, when she was ready.

As a courtesy, Dean Fuyutsuki had been regularly sending him recordings of Nabiki's sparring matches against Kodachi and Professor Saotome's son, likely due to his position in the Security Directorate since Genma wasn't receiving them. After his friend had brought him here, switching his mind with this world's version of himself, he had watched one of the videos and recognized in his daughter's movements those taught by the Anything-Goes School. Her knowledge of it was undoubtedly gained through using the boy's device and visiting another world, one somewhat different from his own.

After witnessing how skilled she was in other such videos, he held no qualms that Nabiki should be named the heir here, not Ranma. However, she would need to face stronger opponents like the boy was now doing to secure her place as the superior fighter before he managed to advance past her and create a gap in their abilities she could not overcome. Soun pondered how he might procure some suitable foes for Nabiki to sharpen her skills upon while concealing his involvement in the matter.

His friend Genma would no doubt object to making her the heir instead of Ranma, since Soun was certain that the man was quite pleased at the boy's boastful announcement. Through fighting against this world's version of Shampoo, Ranma had even earned the Emperor's favor, as the man was one of her biggest fans. However, the true heir should be its strongest disciple, and there was no reason that it could not be Nabiki here.

He would see to it that she was, working from the shadows for now to aid her, locating powerful foes for his daughter to strengthen herself upon. Once she became mighty enough, he would reveal his knowledge of her fighting skills. He could then begin guiding her, encouraging her to challenge Ranma for the heirship, taking him down and proving to the boy that she was the one worthier of it, not him.

Ryoga would be a useful weapon in his arsenal, keeping Ranma busy while Nabiki improved herself. As the lad seemed to be much like the one he was more familiar with, it should not be too difficult to get him hating the young scholar and pit the two against each other as rivals, or maybe even bitter enemies. When Ryoga started looking to him as his new father figure after he wed his mother and adopted him, poisoning the boy's mind against the pigtailed youth would be even easier. As both would grow into stronger martial artists through this process, Soun felt absolutely no guilt at using Ryoga in his schemes like this.

His control of the Mobius Institute would also be helpful in his plans for Nabiki and Ranma. They held significant quantities of Jusenkyo's various waters in storage, since one of the main purposes for the organization was warehousing all such curiosities. The Institute kept them all locked away within its many innocuous repositories around Tokyo and other cities, safeguarding the public from their effects and even the very knowledge of their existence. Before the 'Warehouse Initiative' began decades ago, the Empire had been practically littered with such oddities.

It was better this way, much more secure, to keep these strange and potentially terrifying things far away from the public eye. Soun knew very well just how weird the world would be if such oddness was more prominent in it, with people randomly stumbling across various cursed items, bizarre plants, potions, magic mirrors and a myriad of other such strange phenomena. However, having such items practically at his fingertips allowed for a great many possibilities for humbling the boy as well as improving Nabiki.

Controlling Ranma could be done by simply cursing him in the same manner as his analog was and then dangling the cure before him with vague promises to give it to him once he surrendered. It might take months to wear the boy down, but Soun was confident Ranma would submit to him eventually. He also considered utilizing Jusenkyo's power on Nabiki as well, cursing her to turn male. While everyone in his old world thought Genma to be an absolute idiot for getting his son cursed like that, Ranma's innovative solutions to the problems it caused him had demonstrated to Soun the value of the boy's curse, forcing that version of Ranma to constantly adapt to events and grow stronger than he ever would have without it.

Could he do any less for his own child? After all, the Shampoo of that world had also increased in her combat abilities from dealing with her own Jusenkyo curse. Soun was sure that Nabiki would learn innumerable lessons from having the same curse as that Chinese girl and spending part of her life as a male. The two children could even grow much closer from the experience, like that other world's Ranma and Shampoo had. It would not be harmful or even permanent, since he was certain he could cure Nabiki's curse at any time. He made a mental note to acquire the two varieties of water he would need for his scheme.

While the new Director stood gazing out the windows of his new offices through the thick panes of bulletproof glass, the intercom suddenly buzzed. He heard Jun Washio, a pleasant, dark-haired woman in her thirties who was a former elite operative before injury ended her career in the field, and who was now his secretary, come on the line.

"Sir? Assistant Director Ninomiya is here, per your orders."

"Have her shown in, please," Soun replied, idly recalling his plans for eliminating the troublesome woman after discovering the sordid sorts of activities she was involved in, plans discarded for now. He learned during his review of her personnel file that morning that Hinako was an expert in several martial arts styles. Since his daughter needed strong opponents to hone her abilities upon, pitting Hinako against her would be his initial test of his daughter's skills, and he hoped that Nabiki crushed the wearisome woman. "I don't wish us to be disturbed, unless it's a matter of vital urgency, of course."

"Yes, sir."

Kei opened the door and stood aside, allowing Hinako to stride past her. The redhead then shut the door and went back to her guarding pose. Now that they were indoors, she and her dark-haired cohort had removed their sunglasses, revealing steely gazes that showed they were two women prepared to commit violence whenever called upon for it. The dark-haired one, Yuri, reminded Soun of his dead wife Kimiko a bit.

Pacing over to stop in front of one of the two chairs placed before Soun's new desk, Hinako stood tautly at attention, waiting for her nemesis to acknowledge her presence. She took the time to consider him, wondering what he had in mind for her now that he was in command of the Security Directorate and all its subsidiary operations, some of them openly acknowledged like the Mobius Institute and the Blade Runners, and others more hidden and cloistered. Some of those even lacked official names, in the best cloak and dagger traditions.

Perhaps I'm getting a posting to Antarctica to watch penguins, looking for any subversive activities among them? The carpet is new, so I don't think he means to kill me right here in his office, not when it would mess it up. I should probably recheck my car again later for explosive devices though, just in case.

"How it must eat you up inside, Hinako-chan, knowing that you answer to me now," Soun remarked thoughtfully, not turning around yet. He was observing her obliquely, using her reflection in the window glass, finding he enjoyed his newfound power over the bothersome woman more than he probably should. As he stood there at parade rest, his hands remained folded behind his back.

Hinako's jaw clenched a bit, her back teeth grinding as she remained at attention. So, he was going to twist the knife in her after all. It didn't really matter to Hinako. The game between them had simply moved to a new level, and, despite his new position, she still had cards to play.

"Please, have a seat and look over the file I left out for you," he said, turning a little, still regarding her obliquely. "I think you'll find its contents very illuminating."

Puzzled but unwilling to show it, Hinako sat dawn and crossed her legs. She then opened the folder in front of her and went a little pale as she began perusing it, a transcript of an interrogation. A single, soft swallow went quietly down her throat as she finished the first page.

It was a detailed recounting of her past conquests, one made in her own words, as she recognized her manner of phrasing at a few points in it. There were several pages, the confession going back to her days at the Imperial Academy when she seduced one of her instructors for a better grade. She took a deep breath and softly let it out when she was done before closing the report.

"If you believe you have any moves left to play in our little game, you might wish to rethink your position now," commented Soun as he turned around. He then lit up a cigarette and savored a puff from it, daring her to say anything about it. His gaze at her was cold, belying his next words to her.

"I'm actually a bit impressed by what you've accomplished. It's quite a list of contacts and allies you've managed to accumulate over the past few years." He then frowned. "So many of them with families that would be torn apart should their wives learn about you and their husbands' infidelities. I could even imagine something unfortunate happening to you, perhaps caused by one of those betrayed women."

Hinako did not respond to his jibe and veiled threat. One of the names on the list was Dr. Tofu Ono, the husband of Soun's eldest daughter, Kasumi. Such a horrendous betrayal of someone in his family would no doubt incur a high price, for both the doctor and his mistress. While Soun's eldest daughter maintained a placid, rather unassuming façade, Hinako knew it would be unwise to dismiss her as a potential danger should she ever learn of the affair. The girl was a highly-trained operative despite her relative youth, her specialty interrogation...

I am such an idiot! Why was I looking so hard at Nabiki, when Kasumi had the ability to do this, not to mention a motive? She interrogated me and then wiped me! That miserable, treacherous little bitch!

Soun sat down at his desk and regarded Hinako stonily as she struggled to restrain her sudden outrage, taking another slow drag from his cigarette and then blowing a thin stream of smoke out his nostrils like a dragon. "Before you grow too concerned about the fates of those on that list, rest assured that I'm not a monster. I've simply taken the appropriate steps to deal with each of them, now that I know who they are."

"How did you even get this?" Hinako demanded angrily, unable to contain her fury any longer. "It was your daughter, Kasumi, wasn't it? You sent her after me, didn't you?"

Soun placed his fingertips on the folder and slid it away from her before picking it up and putting it away in a drawer of his desk. The truth was that he was as much in the dark as Hinako as to its source, not that he would ever admit such a thing to her. Despite Hinako's accusation, he was certain that it did not come from Kasumi. He knew his daughter, that she was the gentlest of his three children in two worlds. She could never have done something like this, something so far out of her character.

The file had been waiting for him when he arrived, just sitting out in the open on his desk in a plain manila envelope. After reading through it, he had been grateful to whoever his unknown benefactor was. Several of the names on the list could have caused him quite a bit of trouble while he established himself as the new Director, but now they would no longer be of any concern.

The horrifying discovery that his son-in-law was having an affair with Hinako had been a dreadful shock to him when he read it. Fortunately, he had been able to quickly recover his emotional balance and not break down like he would have done in his old life, thanks to his analog's iron control over his feelings. Still, it had been a very close thing for a minute or two, the temptation to pick up the phone and order them both killed and then have their bodies disposed of where no one would ever find them. While he was still considering such a grisly fate for the doctor, his female nemesis remained too useful to him to waste like that.

"As if I would ever tell you, Hinako-chan," Soun taunted her with a cool smirk. "Come now, we've played this little game against each other for a while. How do you think this is going to proceed from this point? I'm honestly quite interested in hearing what your thoughts are."

Hinako sat silently, meeting his stony gaze, taking a moment to compose herself before answering. "Well, I would suppose your first action to be my removal from any position where I might be a threat to you." His reptilian stare at her reply chilled her.

"You're absolutely correct, Hinako-chan," Soun finally answered her, nodding. "And I've already put through the paperwork to reassign you. I think you'll find your new posting to be a challenging one."

She swallowed softly. "And where might that be?" Hinako wondered again about what sorts of seditious activities the penguins of Antarctica were getting up to, since she would probably be reporting on them soon.

"Things are becoming a bit too rambunctious at the Imperial Academy lately," Soun said and then took another puff of his cigarette. "I received a report shortly before you arrived of trouble caused by some juvenile delinquents, and there were a number of cadets injured. From the sounds of it, I believe there's one student to blame for all the commotion there, a young punk that I know you're familiar with who could use some disciplining."

He paused and looked at her. "Do you remember once asking me about Ranma Saotome a few months ago?"

Hinako studied him for a moment before replying. "I do."

"Well, he's your new assignment," said Soun with another stony smile. "Not just him though, I'm putting you on site to deal with any other young hooligans you might come across as its newest instructor and chief disciplinarian. I expect to receive regular reports from you on your reform efforts as you clean things up and restore order."

What he did not inform her of was that he had also put into place an additional deterrent against any such future conflicts occurring. He had replaced much of the grounds keeping staff at the Imperial Academy with men from the Yamainu (Mountain Hounds) counter-intelligence unit, led by a capable officer named Tetsuro Okonogi, to be used should Dean Fuyutsuki require additional assistance in maintaining order. If any trouble arose, those highly-trained men should be able to handle a bunch of delinquent, unruly children, even someone as capable as Ranma or Nabiki.

Hinako blinked. "Wait a damn minute! You want _me_ to be a teacher?" She narrowed her gaze suspiciously. "I assume your daughter is off limits?"

"Not if she attempts to interfere with your corrections of the Saotome boy's attitudes, or you find her violating the Academy's rules in a significant way," Soun replied before blowing another long trail of smoke from his nostrils. "As her father, I worry that she's becoming a bit wayward as well, no doubt due to Ranma's influence on her. However, I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, unless she sides with the punk against you or you catch her doing something illicit. If that should happen, you have my express permission to deal with Nabiki on your own, just as I expect you to do with the Saotome boy."

Hinako smiled slightly, intrigued. "Really? That's uncharacteristic of you, sir. I would have expected you to be more protective of her."

"Oh, I'm quite certain Nabiki can take care of herself very well, Hinako-chan," Soun replied, setting down his cigarette in an ashtray. "She's strong-willed and extremely capable, much like her mother was. Part of the reason I'm sending you there is that I'm confident my daughter's going to be observing you very closely and reporting to me on all your activities. I'm sure she'll let me know about anything nefarious you might be plotting, since she's put together her own network of operatives on campus." Fatherly pride could be heard resonating in his voice.

He then said more warningly, "The boy won't be any pushover either. Truthfully, I think you'll have an extremely difficult time dealing with just one of them, so I wouldn't recommend getting both against you. If that happens, I expect you will lose. You'll certainly be a good training opportunity for Nabiki though, if you two come into conflict, and I'm interested in seeing how my little girl deals with you."

Hinako sneered at the notion of the middle Tendo daughter being any kind of a threat to her, now that she was on her guard against her. As if she had anything to fear going head-on against a teenaged girl. She would crush the miserable child like an insect.

Soun smirked at her haughty look and said, "Then again, perhaps the Saotome boy will be able to tame you all by himself, Hinako-chan. He's become quite adept at handling women since his return to Japan. Perhaps he will conquer your heart like he has with other young women."

Hearing that, Hinako scoffed at the notion of Ranma Saotome ever doing such a thing to her. There wasn't a teenaged boy on Earth that she couldn't wrap around her little finger once she set her mind to it. She would have the young scholar panting after her, enthralled by her sex appeal and doing her bidding in no time at all. Perhaps she would even utilize him as her weapon against Nabiki. That would be wonderfully ironic.

There was a momentary pause before she spoke again, more hesitantly now. "What about your son-in-law, sir?"

"You will have no further contact with him, of course," Soun replied sharply, his expression sterner than before. "Do I make myself clear on that?"

Hinako met his gaze, refusing to be cowed. "Yes, sir."

"Excellent." His expression thawed slightly. "Oh, there's one other thing I wished to discuss with you, Hinako-chan. I've been thinking about getting married again."

Hinako blinked at that one, her thoughts stuttering, caught off-guard by the sudden change in subject matter to such an unexpected thing. "I-I'm flattered-"

"Not to _you_," he disdainfully interrupted her, shaking his head. "No, I'm telling you this because I have need of someone to practice my amatory skills with before I become a husband again, and you've clearly shown yourself to be an excellent mistress, judging by your past exploits. If you please me, perhaps you and I could even explore something longer term after I'm married."

Glaring at him, her fury seething within her again, both of Hinako's hands closed into tight fists as she growled, "Pardon me?"

"You heard me," Soun replied dismissively, picking up his cigarette again and tapping off a bit of ash from the end. "I originally had someone else in mind for this, but she departed for Hawaii unexpectedly with an old acquaintance of mine. However, I'm quite sure you'll be more than adequate for this role." He smiled coldly at her once again. "Just act like you're trying to add me to your list, and I'm sure you'll perform quite well for my needs."

"You bastard," Hinako snarled. "You're enjoying this."

Soun shrugged. "Maybe a bit. Now, if you're a good girl and do exactly as instructed in your new assignments, reinstatement here at your former rank is on the table." He watched as she ruminated over his offer, allowing her a few moments to consider her options, not that he had left her with many.

"All right," Hinako finally replied, her tone subdued, knowing that she was beaten for the moment. "I'll do as you say... Director Tendo."

"Oh, don't look so dour, Hinako-chan," Soun said as he stood up, a bit more jovial now. "Doing that will give you wrinkles, and I want you always looking your best as my new mistress."

Hinako scowled, repressing her urges to attack him, not wishing to deal with his two new bodyguards stopping her before she could finish him off. Through gritted teeth, she said, "So, when am I to begin my new assignments, sir?"

"Your teaching duties will start next week, when the boy returns from the Battledome," he answered calmly. "But you've been relieved of your position here effective immediately. I want you to take a few days to sort yourself out and get ready. Perhaps you might do a bit of shopping and assemble a wardrobe suitable for a young teacher to wear. As for that other matter we discussed, I plan to come over and visit your apartment sometime later this week, and we can discuss then how we'll conduct things between us in more detail."

The most aggravating thing about his indecent proposal was that there was a part of her responding quite favorably to it. Being with powerful men had always secretly thrilled her, and Soun Tendo was demonstrating to her quite clearly that he was a man to be reckoned with. Her body taut with tension, she gave him a curt bow and proudly strode out of his office, her head held high.

Since she could not vent her wrath on him and get away with it, Ranma and Nabiki would have to suffer in Soun's place instead. She would also have to do something about Kasumi too, it seemed. That innocent-looking girl had played her for a fool, acting all sweet and kind around her, when she was truly quite devious and just as underhanded as her father.

So, that bastard wants Ranma Saotome to be disciplined? Brought under control? Nabiki, his little bitch of a daughter, too?

That she would do, with great relish. Oh yes, Hinako planned to teach the two young miscreants the true meaning of discipline and bring them to heel on her leash like pet dogs. The ludicrous notions that Nabiki Tendo could ever overcome her, or that Ranma Saotome would somehow manage to conquer her heart instead of him succumbing to her charms and becoming her faithful thrall, amused her.

As Hinako made her way out of the Security Directorate to her car, she was already making plans, quite certain she would soon have her two targets firmly under her control. She chuckled wickedly at Soun's silly notions that she could ever lose to two children, let alone just one of them. And as for the man's indecent proposal to her, she was certain she would eventually be able to turn his sordid plans for her to her advantage and gain the upper hand over him.

She was already beginning to look forward to her new assignments.


Akane ran a towel through her hair to wipe off some of her sweat as she rested against a wall and sipped some water. Her advanced hand-to-hand combat training class at Furinkan was almost over, and today had been a good workout, leaving her hungry for lunch. A few first and second-year boys currently lying in battered heaps on the far side of the room would no doubt disagree, but they were the ones who had challenged her. She had even let them attack as a group today to make things a bit more interesting for her, and the teacher gave her high marks after watching her performance, taking them all down quickly and efficiently.

Other than Ryoga Hibiki, the boy who would become her step-brother when her father married his mother, she had yet to find anyone else who came anywhere close to Ranma Saotome's amazing prowess in the martial arts. Even the toughest boys attending Furinkan, the members of its vaunted Combat Club, had proven to be a severe disappointment to her. None of them could manage to defeat her, and so her ranking had steadily risen since her transfer here. She was now at third place, with only the Kasugano girl and the absent Ryu Kumon still exceeding her abilities for the moment.

With her reputation as a combatant firmly established, her morning routine now included getting met at the gate by an almost flatteringly large group of male cadets attacking her. Somehow, these idiots had gotten the idea into their heads that defeating her would win them a date with her, like she was her idol Shampoo or something. While it was a decent workout grinding them all into the pavement each morning, it wasn't nearly as much fun for her as her few fights with Ranma had been. Ryoga might end up being an enjoyable opponent too, but she would need to spend more time with him to be sure.

Thinking of the Hibiki boy brought a smile to her face. While he wasn't quite as skilled as Ranma, Ryoga's immense strength and durability made up the difference. He could take her heaviest punches and kicks without immediately dropping unconscious like most boys would, forcing her to work harder against him, much like she now needed to do when fighting Ranma. She was quite pleased by this, discovering another boy with such impressive combat abilities, but it also troubled her in some ways. Her heart now started fluttering whenever she thought of Ryoga, making her wonder if she was becoming interested in him or something.

Maybe she was, at least a little, she admitted to herself, but Ryoga would only be a stand-in for Ranma until she could once again face off against the one she truly loved. The Hibiki boy was going to become her stepbrother, not her boyfriend or fiancé. It was only Ranma whom she wanted, the man she adored, and she couldn't let herself get distracted from her pursuit of him, not with all the competition around her for his attention.

Sakura plopped down next to her and cracked her neck and back a little before drinking deeply from her bottle of water. She eyed the twitching pile of defeated male foes that belonged to her, noting it was smaller than Akane's, which irritated her slightly for some reason. Shrugging, she looked at her friend and leaned closer to speak conspiratorially with her. "So, you figured out who you're going to take down first among Ranma's three fiancées yet?"

"Kodachi," Akane answered back quickly, her expression becoming grim. Despite how much she resented her sister for betraying her, letting the Kuno girl be with Ranma was far more unacceptable. "That pampered, little debutante bitch has just been asking for me to pound her into the ground since the very first day we met, flouncing around Ranma like she does, the dreamy-eyed little floozie." She gulped some more water and growled a bit. "It just makes me so mad that she's connived her way into being his fiancée, but she won't be for much longer. I'll be taking her place soon, and then I'll go after Ukyo, that cross-dressing pervert girl, next."

"Aren't you at all worried about her being a ninja?" Sakura took a deep drink from her water bottle. "I've heard ninjas are pretty tough, not that I've ever fought one."

Akane snorted derisively. "Oh, please. I'm sure ninjas aren't all that much of a threat in real life. I'll bet they can only win when they surprise someone or stab them in their sleep. In a straight-up fight, one-on-one, Ukyo Kuonji won't be any problem for me to beat at all. Two or three hits, maybe four at the outside, and I'll have her down on the ground, my foot planted on her head."

"Then you go after your sister?" Sakura looked at her friend with concern. "Are you really sure you want to do that, Akane? She's family, after all."

"Nabiki forfeited that consideration when she betrayed me," the Tendo girl growled back, scowling. "She stabbed me right in the back with a smile on her face. That's partly my fault though. I stupidly trusted her when I should have known better. She's not known as 'The Iron Bitch' at the Academy for nothing, after all. I just never expected her to turn on me and steal Ranma like that, not when she knew how much I wanted him. How much I love him." The deep hurt Akane was feeling was palpable underneath her angry tones.

"Yeah, but there's a problem, Akane." Sakura swallowed some more water.

"What do you mean?" The Tendo girl looked at her friend. "You and I studied the contract terms very carefully. Once I beat those three into submission, Ranma is all mine." She didn't mention Shampoo at all, since she knew Sakura was still sensitive about the Chinese girl trouncing her upperclassmen friend, Ryu Kumon. Whenever the Amazon's name was ever mentioned around them, Akane could see intense hatred of the girl igniting within her friend's eyes.

"Well, I did some more reading on the laws about duels like this," Sakura replied. "Siblings aren't eligible. Yeah, you can take down Kodachi and Ukyo, seize Ranma's engagements from them and make him your fiancé instead, no problem. But Nabiki's claim to him is untouchable by you."

"WHAT?!" Akane shrieked. Several heads turned in their direction, wondering if the two girls were about to fight each other. They quickly turned away again when both glared back. The Tendo girl then looked at Sakura and lowered her voice. "What do you mean, she's untouchable?"

Sakura rubbed a towel through her sweaty hair. "It goes back to feudal days. The laws I read are apparently meant to cut down on bloodshed between siblings in situations like this." She then grinned. "But you missed part of what I said, she's untouchable _by you_."

Akane looked mystified for a few moments, then she blinked in sudden understanding. "Oh! I just need to find someone else to take Nabiki down first, then get him from her." She thought a moment. "I guess I could ask Ranko-"

"Or, you could ask me," Sakura interrupted, looking irritated. "I mean, yeah, I admit Ranko's, well, really good. She beat me, after all. But I've been aching to take a run at your sister ever since you started telling me all about how great she is in a fight. I'm sure I can take her down for you, Akane."

"And then you'll just peacefully surrender Ranma to me?" The Tendo girl looked at Sakura tartly. "You know I can't beat you. Not yet, anyway."

"Hey! it's not as if I like the guy that way or something," Sakura protested, her cheeks reddening a bit. "But, to answer your question, no, I'm not going to just surrender him to you. Besides, the laws are clear that you have to beat me in a fair fight to get him, so just consider me to be a placeholder until then."

What Sakura left unspoken was the other way that Akane could win Ranma from her. In her readings, she had come across cases where a suitor was unable to become one of the engaged parties using their own abilities, so a champion acted in their stead. There were several caveats to doing that though.

Sakura gave Akane a teasing grin. "If you ever get strong enough to take him from me, that is. Maybe I'll just have to keep him for myself, if you never get there."

Akane harrumphed, then she nodded. "Okay, you're on, Sakura." She held out her hand to her friend, and they shook on it. "Show Nabiki just what you can do, but I want you to hurt her, hurt her a lot before you put her down, okay?"


To be continued...