Chapter 8

Between the principal, Ranma, and the many people associated with both, those who attended and worked at Furinkan high school had seen and experienced many an odd thing. However, that still didn't prepare them for the sight of Akane riding on a small, flying unicorn to class, with said flying unicorn bearing an appearance that seemed better suited to being associated with sultry temptresses rather than pure maidens.

Those in the classroom of 1-F paused with stupefication as they watched Akane and her ride land on the balcony outside, in front of the open, sliding glass door. Their classmate, Akane, seemed to be rather disgruntled as she picked leaves and twigs out of her hair, and when she adjusted her uniform, while the flying, unicorn-looking creature appeared to be irritated and slightly out of breath, but otherwise immaculate in appearance.

"You should have told me that you weren't all that great at flying, yet," they heard Akane gripe.

Most were surprised when they heard the ill-humored response that quickly followed. "I can fly just fine, thank you very much. It's you who should have told me that you weren't ready for it."

Before Akane could make a retort to that, both she and Ranma were made aware of their audience when one of their female classmates suddenly squealed and excitedly exclaimed, "It can talk, too!?"

That seemed to end the tableau in the classroom, because there was a sudden resumption of activity and Akane and Ranma soon found themselves surrounded by many of their female classmates. Between being so tightly packed together, because of the limited amount of space afforded by the balcony, and the deluge of questions being directed at both of them, they found themselves overwhelmed as they tried to get a word in edgewise.

While that was happening, some of the boys had gathered to watch the display, who were just as curious about what was going on but too reserved to really show it. That was especially true of those who had taken a certain... "unmanly" interest in the flying unicorn, who did not wish to attract the unwanted attention and opinion of their peers.

When one of the girls could clearly by heard asking if she could ride the flying unicorn, Daisuke leaned toward his friend and whispered, "I don't wanna sound like a pervert or nothin', but I wouldn't mind riding her, either."

"Yeah," Hiroshi agreed quietly, "unicorns kick ass."

They shared a knowing look and bumped their fists together.

By that time, Akane was just about ready to explode, while Ranma was seriously considering trampling over a few girls to get away from their increasingly adventurous hands. Fortunately for them, since they had flown to beat the clock, they soon heard a voice that they usually felt ambivalent about hearing, but now sounded quite welcome to their ears.

"Alright, everyone!" Their homeroom teacher, Ninomiya, called out as she entered the classroom. "Be good and—" Before she could tell everyone to get into their seats, because the bell was soon going to sound, she noticed the congregation on and around the balcony. "What are you all doing over there?"

Since not many of the girls among the crowd had noticed her initially, or cared enough to move out of the way even if they had, she ended up pushing her way through them to reach the focus of their attention. By the time that she had reached said focus, her students had gotten the hint and had — however reluctantly — given her more space.

What she came face-to-face with came as quite a surprise to her, because pegasi and unicorns were creatures that were seen in fiction and a young girl's imagination, not in the real world. Yet, not only did she see them, but she saw them in the same package, which made it all the more fantastical.

When Ranma saw her teacher's eyes widen and acquire a sparkly cast to them, even as her inhalation of breath continued after the initial surprise, she knew — without a doubt — that she wasn't going to like what was going to happen next. She managed to retreat a step as she said, "Now, let's not—"

"Pony!" Hinako cried out excitedly before she leapt forward and wrapped her arms around said pony's neck, giggling gleefully as she did so.

"Urk!" Came Ranma's final "articulation," as her air was cut off for the second time in nearly as many minutes. She tried to implore Akane's aid with a look, which wasn't easy to do while her head was being jostled around by her teacher's excited movements, or with her eyes bulging out of their sockets and her tongue lolling out of her mouth, but her former fiancée seemed to understand because the expression on her face seemed to ask, "You want me to get in between that?"

Which was understandable, considering how their teacher was far from being an ordinary young girl. Case in point: sometimes she wasn't a young girl at all. Add on to that the fact that she could drain someone dry of energy, which could render them weak and immobile for a lengthy period of time, and there was little wonder as to why most people would rather not tempt being put into such a prone and irksome condition.

So, despite what kind of opportunity most of the girls — and even some of the boys — were currently missing out on, they did little more than quietly express their jealousy, resentment or resignation while they stood by and watched their teacher have her merry way with a creature once thought to be beyond their corporeal enjoyment. Well, it actually concerned two separate creatures, but since they seemed to be a part of the same package...

Either way, the bell soon rung, which signified the start of homeroom. Unsurprisingly, Hinako — who was known for getting distracted if something appealed enough to the childish side of her personality — failed to react accordingly, as a homeroom teacher should. With that being the case, some of her students exchanged looks, with a shrug or two of the shoulders shortly following, before they assumed that they had a free period and began to act upon the idea.

They didn't get a chance to fulfill that desire, however, because Ranma's threshold of tolerance — for her teacher's behavior — had finally been crossed, and she regained their attention when she had the presence of mind to use her telekinesis, in order to expel the arms about her neck. Upon doing so, she found enough room to spread out her wings and take to the air, where she felt relatively safe and a lot less smothered.

"Do you guys mind!?" She huffed, as she glared down upon everyone on the balcony. "For crying out—" She paused, and reconsidered whatever she might have said next, before deciding on, "I don't have to put up with this!"

It was with a mixture of shame and disappointment that most of those in and around the vicinity of the balcony, who had crowded around the flying unicorn, silently watched as she flew up and over the building, out of sight. It was a bad end to what had seemed like such a good beginning, but not many of them could really fault themselves for their overeagerness, and thought that the excuse for their behavior was rather self-explanatory: the object of their interest had — after all — been a talking, flying unicorn. How else were they supposed to react to something like that!?

As for Hinako, she felt especially guilty for upsetting the flying unicorn, and feared that she wouldn't ever see her again. Thus, it was with a slouched posture, leaden steps and a heavy heart that she re-entered the classroom. When she got behind the lectern, her usual spirit for teaching was noticeably absent, so much so that some of her students actually felt sorry for her despite her own role during the affair.

Still, despite her lack of enthusiasm, she began one of her duties as a homeroom teacher once all of her students had been seated: the roll call. It wasn't until she got to "Saotome Ranma" that there was any notable change in her mood, because Akane had vouched for his presence even though she could not see him anywhere in the classroom.

Feeling that her suspicion was justified, she asked, "Where is he, then?"

"I don't know," Akane replied, with a shrug of her shoulders, before nonchalantly adding, "I wasn't the one who chased him off."

The silence that followed was deafening, until it was broken by a very sudden and collective cry of, "What!?"

After retreating to the school's roof, Ranma had begun to pace around, muttering, "This isn't going to work," over and over again for a good portion of a minute. Once she had gotten tired of doing that, she had sat heavily upon her haunches and half-heartedly cursed things that she couldn't seem to help, like her attractiveness and awesomeness. It was only a half-hearted effort because they were things that she took pride in, after all.

Eventually, she sighed and hung her head, wondering what she was supposed to do. It had been bad enough when she'd had a handful of girls interested in her, while most of the others were pretty much of the opinion that she was a perverted jerk, but now their attention may effectively be reversed. Well, they were bound to find out the identity of their fairy tale creature, and that might very well be enough to return things to how they had been before, but...

"As if I'd be that lucky," she grumbled.

She had thought that her joke, about being mobbed by girls, had mostly been just that — a joke. Not only that, but she had envisioned the girls in question as being a bit younger in general, rather than around her own age. If high school girls were capable of doing the mobbing, then what did that say about her chances with their younger counterparts? Was she even safe from the adults?

"At least I can fly," she tried to console herself.

Flight had given her a sense of freedom that she had never felt before, and it would certainly help her to avoid public places where she could get mobbed. The problem with that, however, was that she didn't want to avoid the public. Flying might be fun and all, but not so much when there was little else to do, and she had no idea when — or if — she would ever be human again.

She didn't like the idea of being stuck in her current form, but she had to admit the possibility. An arranged marriage with a stranger — at the time — had been problematic enough, especially since she hadn't expected it, but being engaged to Akane had been pretty straightforward. If it hadn't been for the circumstances, between her upbringing and how the neko-ken training had come into play, she may very well have been married to Akane by now. However, even though she no longer had a sub-conscious part of herself working against her, marrying Kasumi was far from being as straightforward of an undertaking as it had been with Akane.

Akane may not have liked boys all that much, which was quite understandable considering some of her experiences with them, but she nonetheless had no romantic interest in the members of her own sex as far as she was aware. Kasumi, on the other hand, was a girl who favored her own kind. She may have once had a curse that could accommodate such a disposition, while sharing said disposition, but the favored body on her end of the equation did not add up between them: she saw herself in the body that she had been born with, while Kasumi desired the one that had come into being because of a curse.

And that was just the start of their problems. Even if she were to accept having a female body, to the extent that she would be willing to be intimate with one, she and Kasumi were expected to have children as husband and wife, with Kasumi being the mother. That would require Kasumi, a lesbian, to have sex with her — as a him — however many times that it would take to conceive a child. Technically being a "lesbian" herself, born as a man and desiring to live as one, having intercourse with a man and bearing children was no less of a problem on her end, assuming that her pledge to be manly would even allow her the choice.

Then there was the issue of even getting that far, because she didn't like the idea of pursuing a future with Kasumi for the sake of having a human body again, nor did she like the idea of her being burdened by the fear of such an agenda being a reality. Despite their past circumstances, and their mutual — but not-quite-equal — lack of romantic interest toward one another, Kasumi had been one of the nicest people that she'd ever known, more so than any who had ever shown an interest in marrying her. So, there was no way that she was going to make the restoration of her humanity her primary concern, rather than it being a natural consequence as their relationship evolved.

That was easier said than done, of course. She wasn't sure if she could pursue a closer relationship with Kasumi without at least some of her motive being driven by the chance to become human again. And that was all before taking anyone else into account, as there were bound to be problems and complications on that front as well, with the expectations of their parents certainly being among them.

Since it wasn't really helping her to think about it, and she had more pressing concerns that needed to be addressed anyway, she returned her thoughts to what had happened a few minutes ago, which had driven her to the roof in the first place. She began to wonder if she should return before the first period class started, to see if attending school would really be feasible or not.

By the time that she had decided to give it another shot, she noticed that a strange presence had suddenly appeared behind her, as if from thin air, instead of coming to her attention by crossing at least some of the distance between herself and the limit of her "personal space." In response, she hopped into the air and spun herself about, in order to face her uninvited guest when she landed.

Which — unexpectedly — turned out to be a white-furred fox. It was only half of her own size, with a slim and sleek build that made it look quite graceful. It sat before her, on its haunches, with the stillness of a statue, doing nothing except stare at her with its piercing eyes.

She knew what kind of fox it was, even though she had never seen one for herself until that moment: it was one of the kitsune that served Inari, one of the most prominent kami of the Shinto pantheon. However, since that knowledge wasn't enough to tell her why she might have encountered one, she kept her guard up and decided to do what came naturally when one wanted an answer.

"What do you want?" She calmly inquired.

The kitsune bowed its head respectfully, upon having its presence acknowledged, and formally said, "I bear a message from Inari-sama."

"Really?" Ranma replied with some surprise, wondering why a kami like Inari — or any kami at all, for that matter — would want to send her a message. Was it because she was a kami herself, now?

"Indeed," the kitsune affirmed. "Inari-sama wishes to meet with you, with the intention of providing you with aid."

Nonplussed by that, Ranma asked, "Inari wants to help me?" Upon receiving verbal confirmation from the kitsune, she added, "Why?"

"I know not," came the kitsune's matter-of-fact reply. "I only know what I have been told, and what remains of it is this: Inari-sama can be reached at any one of her shrines, whenever you are ready. At such a time, she will show you a place where your own kind live. It is recommended that you have an idea of how long you might intend to stay there before your arrival."

"My own kind?" Ranma questioned, with a mixture of surprise, confusion and intrigue. "What do you mean?"

The kitsune said, "I do not know, and have nothing more to convey," before it simply winked out of sight.

Ranma blinked her eyes a few times, in response to the kitsune's sudden disappearing act, and wondered how it had been done and why she couldn't sense its presence anywhere. After trying and failing to figure it out, she frowned when it finally occurred to her that the kitsune's departure had been rather rude.

"You could have said, 'goodbye,' at least," she muttered crossly.