Crystal Memories
A Ranma 1/2 Fanfiction
Author: Konsaki

The black haired martial artist looked over his reflection one more time, a roguish young man looking back at him with the bare hint of a smirk. 'Kinda hard to believe she got all this for less than five thousand,' he thought to himself as he looked over the clothes he wore. Almost every piece was either black or a charcoal grey, which suited him fine. From the black backless top covered by a grey canvas vest to the similarly colored long cargo pants held up by a black leather belt; they looked dashing on his frame, if he had any say about it.

Turning sideways to get a profile look, Ranma just shook his head ruefully as the last piece of the outfit came into view. Sticking out of his shorts, right at the tailbone, was a long black tail with a white tip. Ranma had to admire the craftsmanship involved, as the connection point of tail to shorts was covered by a flap of cloth, making it look like the tail was sticking through and not just attached.

"Are you almost done?"

Glancing towards the door and adjusting the vest once more, Ranma called out, "Yeah, I'm done."

A moment later, a smiling young woman walked through the bedroom door. "Does everything fit alright?"

"Yeah, everything fits pretty good, Kasumi," Ranma replied with a nod. Pulling the long tail forward to show the eldest Tendo sister, he stated, "Though, this is an odd color for the tail if I'm going as a Saiya-jin."

Putting a hand over her mouth to cover a small laugh, while keeping the other still hidden behind her, Kasumi stepped forward while saying, "Don't be silly, Ranma. That's not a Saiya-jin tail."

"It's not," he asked, as Kasumi walked around him. Feeling her put a hand on his shoulder, keeping him from turning his body to follow her, he watched the elder teen stop behind him via the mirror. Seeing the mischievous smile quirking its way on her lips, Ranma finally realized what it was. "You're kidding," he groused out.

The brown haired woman just giggled with a nod before placing a pair of white cat ears attached to a black band on his head. The black band made it seem to disappear into his hair, making it look like he really had a set of white cat ears on his head, causing an eye to twitch. "You planned this out," the martial artist stated more than asked, as Kasumi messed with his hair to hide his real ears somewhat.

"Oh, what made you think that, Ranma-kun," Kasumi innocently replied as she finished teasing his hair.

Ranma just grinned and snorted lightly in humor, "The fact that you're grinning like a loon… might be a big tip off." Adjusting the ears for a better fit on his head, he turned around and looked at her with a raised brow, "Anything else you hiding or that it?"

Kasumi just held her hands before her with a smile, "Other than your shoes downstairs, that's all."

"And here I thought I could get out of doing my laundry for a week," an amused voice from the hallway chimed in, "I didn't think you could do it, Sis."

Turning towards the door and raising a finger up before her, Kasumi intoned, "Well, maybe a week of washing dishes will teach you not to doubt your big sister again." Seeing Nabiki wince at that, Kasumi's seriousness broke down into light giggles, a moment later she blinked in recognition. "Is that from the attic?"

Looking down at her costume, Nabiki raised a brow before responding, "Yes, it is. Why, were you going to wear it anytime soon?"

"No," Kasumi replied with a shake to her head, a slightly wistful tone in her voice, "No, I guess I'm not. It's probably too small for me now anyways."

"Yeah," the short haired teen agreed with a nod, "It's a little tight, but it still fits, if barely. Don't you think so, Saotome-kun?" She ended her question by pushing her constrained breasts out towards the indicated target with a knowing leer.

Ranma just jerked his gaze away back to Kasumi, asking incredulously, "You wore that thing?"

"Oh, yes," she stated as she stepped over to Nabiki to straighten the brilliant pink bow on her sister's chest, "My friends and I all dressed up as the Senshi a couple years ago and, since I was the tallest, I got to be Sailor Jupiter." Seeing her sister's smirk at the martial artist's expression behind her, Kasumi spun around and struck a pose, "I, Sailor Jupiter, made this costume for Love and Justice!"

The two sisters broke into laughter a moment later as Ranma just shook his head at the antics. "Okay, whatever," he dismissed, still grinning himself before glancing towards Nabiki, "but ain't you gonna to get cold in that getup?"

"They have these things they call 'coats', Saotome," Nabiki dryly replied as she turned and started down the stairs to the first floor. "Now, hurry up. I don't want to be more late than fashionable."

"Yeah, yeah," Ranma called out, making his way towards the door before looking over his shoulder, "Thanks for the help, Kasumi."

The eldest sister just smiled, "It's no problem, little brother. Just have a good time and keep my sisters safe."

"Count on it," he answered, flashing a grin and a thumbs up before heading down the stairs.

Now alone in the guest room, the long brunette haired woman tapped a finger to her chin, "Maybe I should call Hitomi and see if she knows of any parties…" Nodding her head once, she smiled and decided to do just that.

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"I did warn you, little sister," Nabiki smugly stated as she preened her warm coat to rub salt into the metaphorical wound. The evening setting sun causing her white jacket to take a yellow/orange hue.

Akane just shot her sister a glare as she rubbed at the goose-bumps covering her arms. "It wasn't this chilly when we left the house," the younger girl complained before she grumbled mostly to herself, "I'll just borrow one from Yuka when we get to her place."

A moment later, Ranma found his fiancée shooting him a similar cold glare, causing him to scrunch his eyebrows and tersely inquire, "What?"

"Where's 'your' jacket," the short haired martial artist asked irritably, stressing the middle word for emphasis.

Ranma just shrugged as he kept his hands in the pockets of the grey shorts he wore. "Don't need one for this. Had to deal with a lot worse on the road."

Akane just sent another cold look at him before turning her head away, still rubbing her exposed arms. Ranma just continued to look at her through the corner of his eye, taking in the costume she wore. The Tendo had dressed herself up like the older version Sakura Haruno from Naruto 'Shippuden'; with red sleeveless shirt/dress and black biker shorts underneath. What surprised him was the fact that she went far enough to dye her hair a bubblegum pink to match the character's color.

He'd be lying if he said she didn't look cute in that outfit, but with the way she was acting; he wasn't about to say a damn thing.

Making a quick decision at the next intersection, the pigtailed teen continued going straight even when the two girls turned to continue to Yuka's house. This caused Nabiki to ask, "Where are you headed, Saotome?"

"I'm headed to Dai's place," Ranma responded with a wave of a hand, "I'll see you guys at the party."

"What happened to 'escorting us', Ranma," Akane demanded irritably, arms crossed before her.

Ranma just stopped for a moment to look over his shoulder with a quirked brow, "You saying you need my protection?"

"'Need your protection'? As if," Akane tersely cried back, turning away to continue to her friend's house. Ranma just shrugged and continued on his own path while Nabiki stood there watching the byplay for a moment before catching up to her little sister.

After comfortably walking in silence for a couple minutes, Ranma finally broke from his inner thoughts with a grin as he waved to a recognized figure. "Heya, Dai! Nice costume," he called out.

"What's up, Ranma," Daisuke happily returned with a wide smile, trading a quick high-five with Ranma as they changed direction, now headed to Hiroshi's. "What about you, man? Wouldn't have thought to see you in a catboy outfit. You know, with the whole…"

The martial artist just waved it off, "It's no big deal. It doesn't trigger 'that'. Anyways, I didn't choose it; Kasumi put it together for me and surprised me with it today." Looking his friend over, Ranma asked, "Okay, I know where your uncle got you the hat, but where'd you get the gun?"

Daisuke just grinned at the question; pride in his cowboy costume showing as his friend mentioned the six-shooter he wore. "It's a prop my dad borrowed from work. Figured, since Uncle Jiro got me this on his last trip to America," he said, indicating the oiled rawhide cowboy hat, "I'd see if Dad couldn't help me out."

Ranma just nodded, knowing Daisuke's father worked at a TV Tokyo studio. "Can I look at it," he asked, not having looked at any guns up close before.

The black haired cowboy just shook his head with a grimace, "Sorry, man. My dad basically ordered me on 'pain of death' not to mess with it on the streets. Hell, I have to have a letter from his work in my wallet in case anyone asks why I have a pistol."

"No problem," Ranma replied with a shrug, not really concerned, "Me and Hiro can check it out at the party, right?"

"Sure," the brown eyed teen answered with a grin, eager to show the six-shooter off. The grin slid off his face a moment later as he asked, "Speaking of Hiroshi, did he call you earlier?"

Quirking his brow, the blue eyed fighter shook his head in the negative. "No, why?"

"He was supposed to meet up at my place around fifteen minutes ago. Finally got tired of waiting and decided to head to his place."

Ranma just shrugged and the pair continued on, the conversation drifting to one of the new Jump manga that released the day before.

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The door opened, revealing a middle aged woman with curly brown hair running down her back in a pink blouse and white slacks. Looking at the two costumed teens just outside her house, her lips twitched into some combination of a smile and smirk. "Good evening, boys. I'm assuming you're here to pick up Hiroshi?"

After both teens responded a greeting, Daisuke answered, "Yeah, he was supposed to meet me at my place almost half an hour ago."

Hearing that, the woman's expression slipped even more towards a solid smirk before calling back into the house, "Hotaru-chan! Go tell your sister to hurry up! Her friends are here!" The confused looks the two boys were giving to her and each other caused the woman to break up into giggling behind a hand. The confusion stemmed from one major issue; Hotaru didn't have a sister, only her brother Hiroshi.

"Big Brother, hurry up," a young girl's voice floated out through the open door couple seconds later. "Come on!"

"Fine! Alright already," Hiroshi's annoyed voice flowed out a moment after. "I'm comin' already, quit pulling!"

The two outside didn't put much thought into the brother/sister interactions they were hearing, having heard it before. Their confusion and interest peaked, though, when they heard Hiroshi almost whine from just out of sight, "Come on, Mom. Do I have to?"

Hiroshi's mother just turned to the unseen teen, crossing her arms across her chest with a quirked brow, "You made your bed; now it's time to face the music." Smirk returning to her face, she waved an arm towards the main entrance, "Now, don't keep your friends waiting. Go and have some fun." Reaching out, she pulled Hiroshi into view and pushed him out the front door while laughingly saying, "You two take good care of my 'daughter' and remember your curfew, young lady."

The door closed, greatly muffling the mother's laughter while the three teens stood silently outside. Hiroshi stood there with an atomic blush and standing ramrod straight while Ranma and Daisuke stared with wide eyes and gaping mouths. The silence hung for what seemed like eternity, up until the cowboy cried out, "What the hell, man!?"

With that, Hiroshi broke between his friend to start walking down the street, saying a quick, "Let's just go."

"No, seriously," Daisuke continued as he quickly caught up to his retreating friend, "why are you in that getup!?"

Said getup consisted of a rather complete Lina Inverse costume; yellow shirt, tight red pants, gloves, long black cape with pink interior and stuffed cloth pauldrons with colored gems. Hiroshi was even wearing a long coppery colored wig and simple jewelry consisting of a blue stone necklace and some dangling earrings.

"It's my sister's fault, alright," Hiroshi tersely replied as he kept up his pace, continuing to look forward with a scowl on his face.

"Your sister's fault," Ranma parroted in confusion, glancing over to Dai who just shrugged.

The currently copper haired teen sighed and stopped under a nearby overhang, the evening sunset causing the shadows to darken over time. "A couple months back, I kinda agreed that if she made a costume I'd wear it." Seeing the grins forming on his friends' faces, he scowled, "I thought she would just forget about it or something. I didn't know she'd go this far…"

"You mean like making you wear make-up and a stuffed bra," Ranma commented with no small amount of humor.

Hiro just coughed into a gloved hand and averted his gaze as he blushed once more. "That was my mom," he muttered under his breath.

"Your mom," Daisuke exclaimed in surprise, pushing his hat up from where it had fallen forward on his head. The pigtailed martial artist had the same surprised expression; trying to picture, and failing to imagine, his mother pushing make-up and bra onto his male half. 'Ranko' didn't count.

"Yeah," the crossdressing boy replied, crossing his arms over his 'breasts' before dropping them under, "said it was a penalty for trying to back out when Hotaru finally showed me what she made."

In the ensuing silence, the three teens sorting through their thoughts, Ranma's face went from confusion to humor. "Well, at least I'm not the girl of the group for a change," he comment with a grin before continuing towards the costume party.

Daisuke just let out a laugh as he and Hiroshi followed along; Hiroshi unable to keep a small grin off his pink lips at the situation.

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By the time the trio had arrived to the party at the Kuno estate, dusk had fallen across the sky; only a slight glow left on the west edge of the horizon. After gaining admittance through the main gate by the diminutive Kuno family ninja, Sasuke, the trio made their way through the rather large front yard. Small lanterns along the grounds cast clear the darkness enough for the partygoers to enjoy both the night and see each other's costumes. Light music played in the background, drifting out from inside the manor, loud enough to hear but not enough to impede conversation.

As the three walked along the illuminated path towards the main party, the trio responded to greetings from fellow partygoers in the yard. Hiroshi had to endure some good natured ribbing about his costume once people realized who 'Lina' was, but he took it in stride.

Once they got inside, the teens found the moderately crowded room dominated by a large refreshment table in the center. There was a good selection of finger foods, ranging from sliced fruits to sandwich wedges, along with a couple of different drink bowls to choose from. The center of the table was crowned by a large elaborately cut ice sculpture of a rose laying beside a ice katana stuck in the ice.

"Check out the spread," Diasuke commented in awe, moving up to the table to grab a plate.

Filling up his plate with snacks, Ranma asked, "Kuno always go all out like this for these parties?"

"This is the first time they've had one," Hiroshi answered, filling up a glass with some red punch, "at least one we've been invited to."

"That is because I spare nothing when it comes towards my two loves," Tatewaki Kuno's voice explained haughtily from behind the trio. As Ranma and Daisuke turned to look at the Kuno male, Hiroshi stayed with his back to the kendo enthusiast between his friends. "Though I made it a point not to invite you, Saotome," Tatewaki stated with scorn.

"Blame your sister," Ranma easily replied with a shrug, recognizing why his invitation had black roses on it while Akane and Nabiki's didn't. Of course, the invitations to Akane and 'the pigtailed girl' were hand written with so much prose, it was easy to tell who wrote them out. "I made sure 'the pigtailed girl' got your invite, Kuno. She declined," Ranma stated with a smirk, placing his full plate back on the table, just in case.

"So you admit to using your vile techniques to warp my love's desires," the Kuno teen accused as he pulled forward a clear sword, turning it on to glow a deep red before pointing it at the Saotome heir. Flicking his eyes towards the figure still not turned towards him, Kuno declared, "You cad! Not is it enough to enspell the fierce Akane Tendo and the pigtailed tigress; you use your vile magics to control yet another woman of beauty, in my own abode no less!"

The Kuno obviously expected a different response from his target, falling into a confused funk when Ranma and Daisuke broke out with laughter while the 'woman' seemed to facepalm with her still turned. Quickly shifting back to anger, the robed swordsman demanded, "You dare to mock me, miscreant!?"

Looking over to Hiroshi with a grin, Ranma saw the put upon look on his made-up face. Deciding the potential payoff was worth it, the martial artist grabbed hold of the pauldroned shoulders and twisted the caped figure around to face Kuno. "Here you go, Kuno. Say hello to 'Lina-chan'," Ranma cheerfully stated as he released his friend's shoulders.

The trio and surrounding partygoers were then privy to a rare sight, that of Tatewaki puffing up only to stutter and fall speechless an instant later. Then, in a moment of brilliance or grand idiocy depending who you asked, Daisuke stepped behind 'Lina' and started to fondle 'her' breasts while commenting to a still stunned Kuno, "Check out her rack, Kuno! Just as big as the pigtailed girl, you think?"

Just as the kendoist recognized the implications of the situation, his face turning a shade of green, Hiroshi broke out of his owned shocked state. Twisting out of his friend's grasp, he slugged the black haired cowboy in the shoulder, yelling in an obviously male voice, "Quit mauling my chest, you jerk!"

The area descended into silence, only the background music providing ambience, as the situation took one step over the line into surreal. Then, someone snickered once, causing the room to explode in laughter. This laughter continued even as Kuno put a hand to his mouth and vacated post haste, causing Daisuke to state confidently while rubbing his sore shoulder, "Completely worth it!"

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"Stupify!"

Feeling something poking him in the back through his grey vest and hearing the familiar voice, Ranma looked over his shoulder. Raising a black brow, he asked wryly, "Ambushing outside the toilet?"

Flushing lightly, Ukyo retracted the wooden rod she had just poked her fiancé with. "At least I didn't walk in on you," Ukyo replied with her lips quirked downward. Her expression changing towards the more positive, she continued, "Anyways, I just arrived; had to close up the shop. Have I missed anything?"

At that, Ranma grew a mischievous grin. "Have you seen Tatewaki or Hiroshi yet?"

Smiling in a knowing way, Ukyo nodded. "About how the True Blunder was hitting on 'Lina'?" Seeing Ranma's face fall a bit about not having a story to tell, Ukyo giggled behind a hand before tucking a stray strand of brown hair behind an ear. "Sayuri told me about it when I arrived. I really wish I was here to see it when it happened," she stated with a mock pout before giggling some more.

Grinning again at the recent memory, Ranma just shook his head as he started walking down the hall, Ukyo falling in step. "You should have been there when me and Dai first saw Hiro at his house. That… was an interesting… event."

"I can imagine," Ukyo agreed with a smile. "Speaking of costumes, I'm surprised to see you in that."

Ranma just shrugged as he opened the doorway to the backyard, letting the brunette girl pass through before him. "Kasumi made it for me," he responded, as if it explained everything. "What are you dressed up as," he asked his childhood friend, diverting the topic.

"I'm a witch," she replied with a twirl, causing the dark cloak to flare slightly. As she came to a stop, her long hair curled around before settling back as she held her hands clasped before her. Ranma could see a sharp looking sweater vest hiding a tie and button up shirt under the cloak.

"You look cute, Ucchan," Ranma replied, causing his fiancée to smile and flush. Scratching the side of his head, he asked with light confusion, "But aren't witches supposed to have pointy hats and be… well, ugly?"

"I guess…," she hedged, thinking about the western witch stereotype, "but I'm a playing a modern witch." Not seeing signs of recognition from the black haired martial artist, she elaborated, "You know, from that Harry Potter book."

Still not completely understanding, Ranma nodded his head and answered, "Oh, sure."

"Have you seen Suzuhara? It's almost as if Rei jumped out of Evangelion," Ukyo said with a bit of envy and awe.

"Suzuhara… She from Kuno's class," Ranma asked, not familiar with the name.

"That's right. She lives near me and is a frequent customer," Ukyo replied in explanation, tucking her wand into a hidden pocket.

"So, she looks exactly like Rei, huh," Ranma wondered before shaking his head , "Nah, haven't seen her." Returning a quick wave to Daisuke, who stood next to Hiroshi, Yuka, Sayuri and Akane, he added, "I did see a good Kamen Rider, though." Ranma noticed that the girls were wearing coats in the night air.

Tapping her chin with a finger as she looked towards the group across the yard, Ukyo nodded after a moment. "I think I saw him, too. Jiro, maybe… At least I think so, because of the people he was with," the chef mused before shrugging, "Couldn't tell for sure because of the mask."

"Yeah, there are a couple of really cool costumes, where people went all out," Ranma commented, "but most are like mine; pretty much generACK!"

"Ni hao, Ranma!"

Hearing her fiancé's squawk of distress and the accompanying reason, Ukyo jerked her body to face him. Growling, her arm unconsciously reached across her shoulder to grasp at a handle which wasn't there, causing her growl to deepen. "Get off him, Shampoo," the combat chef demanded hotly, even as Ranma started his careful struggling.

"If Airen wanted Shampoo to stop, Airen would force Shampoo to stop," she smugly replied to the brunette, snuggling up to the male more, causing him to halt all struggling and standing ridged due to the contact.

Ranma's mind went from trying to figure out a way out of this growing situation to just hanging his head in defeat once he heard fiancée number three's voice yell out, "Get off of him, you bimbo!"

Shampoo's expression flashed to annoyance for a moment, seeing Akane stomping towards them, before shifting back to her smug smirk. Rubbing her cheek against the now non-resisting male, she repeated, "Shampoo already say, he make me let go if he really want to." Seeing Akane's eye twitch at that, Shampoo decided to step it up a notch by licking the raven haired martial artist's cheek slowly before cooing, "Airen even match costume with Shampoo. Show how he wants Shampoo…"

There was a slight truth to the Chinese teen's statement, they both had fake cat ears and tails. Other than that, though, was up to interpretation, as Shampoo wore one of her usual outfits compared to Ranma's custom made. This fact was overlooked by the youngest Tendo.

"Ranma…"

Seeing the Tendo girl glaring daggers at him while growling out his name, Ranma cried out, "It's not true! Kasumi…"

"Leave my sister out of your perversions," Akane angrily yelled before jerking her gaze back towards her foreigner rival, "And quit molesting him right in front of me, you bimbo!" Ukyo yelled out her agreement with the last statement, reaching into her cloak while eying both rival fiancée's warily.

Once again, Shampoo's face flashed annoyance before shifting back to a catty grin, "Fine! Shampoo take Ranma to private place, then!"

A split instant later the two embraced teens leaped apart, barely dodging a cracking whip strike, as a haughty female voice intoned, "Vile foreign hussy! Cease your debasement of my abode with your despoilment of my Ranma-sama!"

All three fiancée's and Ranma spun towards the openly hostile attack, each landing in a ready defensive stance. Just as quickly, their jaws fell wide open as they beheld the sight before them. They weren't alone, as the other party goers fell into shock and whispered comments at the… costume of Kodachi Kuno.

"What on earth are you wearing," the brown haired chef called out in surprise.

Kodachi merely sniffed in contempt, recoiling her leather whip to keep it from tangling up. "Why am I not surprised that you plebeians cannot recognize style and beauty even if it whips you across the face," she stated in distain as she looked down her nose at the trio of females. A knowing smile grew on her lips as she looked towards the lone male, "My Ranma-sama, though, notices and appreciates the poise and grace I display."

"Crazy girl look like Zhipeiyuhenqiang… er…," Shampoo struggled to figure out the correct translation before jabbing her finger out once more, "Dominatrix! You is Dominatrix, Crazy Girl!"

Everyone watching and hearing the declaration could hardly disagree; the Kuno female dressed in a skin hugging black leather leotard/corset which left the tops of her rather generous breasts displayed. She also wore matching thigh high black leather boots and shoulder length gloves.

Rubbing the coiled whip lightly against her cheek, like cuddling a small puppy, Kodachi sent a sultry gaze towards Ranma. "You are quite correct, you filthy foreigner. Like the great Tira Misu-sama I received this idea from, I shall tame my Wild Stallion and we shall live in euphoria till the end of our days!"

Realizing exactly what Kodachi was implying, both by word and choice of clothing, Ranma loudly declared with horror on his face, "No way! Nothing doing!" The fierce jerky nods of his gathered fiancée's joined their exclaimed agreement with his sentiments.

Kodachi paid her rivals no heed and simply smiled at her target of affection, snapping a small length of leather taut between her gloved hands. Continuing to eye the raven haired martial artist with a smoky gaze, she purred, "Please, do resist, Ranma-sama. It will be more fun once you finally accept that you want this," she stated with a waved hand over her body.

"You're going to have to go through us, you crazy psycho," Akane yelled out, preparing herself for a fight. Ukyo and Shampoo followed suit; the former pulling out a few spatula shuriken while the latter sidestepped to a more advantageous position.

Ranma, for his part, rolled out of the way as Kodachi snapped her whip out towards him, spurring the stare down to full on melee. Pushing off with his hands out of the roll, Ranma leapt six feet away from the fight and kept on retreating. Hearing the growing battle behind him and smashing of thrown objects, Ranma bolted towards the nearest gate, along with the other party guests, to escape from the Kuno estate.

Leaping up to the top of the perimeter wall, avoiding the congestion at the gate below him, Ranma turned to look at the bedlam inside the estate. Shampoo was currently taunting and avoiding the youngest Tendo who was tossing and using anything nearby as improvised weaponry. Kodachi was currently lashing out at a dodging okonomiyaki chef with a bright red ribbon; the whip previously wielded laying in three pieces on the ground amongst discarded spatula shuriken. Off to the side, Tatewaki was rubbing his ribs as he picked himself up from the dirt, his tan robes showing grass stains from his impact with the ground.

"What's it look like," Ranma heard from the outside, causing him to glance down to see Daisuke looking up at him. Hirosihi, Sayuri and Yuka stood nearby with similarly interested looks on their faces.

Letting out a breath while running a hand through his hair, the martial artist dropped down next to his classmates. "Looks like this party's done for," he stated with a shake of his head.

"Oh well," Yuka tried to state nonchalantly, though her disappointment showed through, "I still need to study for that math test on Tuesday, anyways."

Putting her hand on the pixie costumed girl, Sayuri stated, "I'll go with you, we can study together some."

The three guys just watched the girls walk off together towards Yuka's home before looking towards each other. Knowing they were really going to just gossip about the party, but deeming it not important, they listened to the continuing discord rolling over the wall.

"So…," Daisuke started up, "Want to head back to my place? I just got Ultra Getter Combat V a couple days ago."

"Sure, but we should head by Hiroshi's on the way, so he can get out of his costume," Ranma pointed out, jerking a thumb towards the currently copper haired transvestite amongst the trio.

"Don't bother. My mom said she won't let me take this off until I'm prepping for bed," Hiroshi countered with a wave of a gloved hand.

Daisuke and Ranma just looked at each other and shrugged, not really caring either way. "Okay, then. Let's head to my place," the cowboy stated with a jerk of his head, leading the trio away from the continued fight happening behind them.

They walked in comfortable silence for about a block before Hiroshi chuckled, drawing the attention of his friends. Grinning, he jerked his thumb at Ranma, "Just thinking about the look on your face when Kodachi…" He didn't continue but motioned a whip crack while making the sound effect.

The Saotome heir grimaced at the reminder, "How'd you like it if she was coming after you?"

"Whoa," the Lina cosplayer verbally back stepped, raising his gloved hands up in a surrendering gesture, "I'd do the same thing, but…"

"But did you see how smoking she was in that getup," Daisuke butted in, almost drooling out of his mouth. "Say what you want, but that leather was Hot, with a capital 'H'!"

"You really want to have all the rest of the baggage that comes with the package," Ranma inquired with a quirked brow.

Deflating noticeably, the short haired cowboy just shook his head, "No way, man. She's too jacked up in the head." His expression quickly ramped back up with a leering grin, as he stated, "But that doesn't mean I can't look and what a sight she was tonight! Admit it!"

"I'm not saying nothing," Ranma flatly stated with finality, continuing his forward trek. Both his friends laughed a bit at his response, but it was good natured and he knew it.

A little while later, Hiroshi blinked as he realized something. Pointing towards a shop sitting on their side of the street, he asked, "Hey, either of you guys ever see this place before?"

Their attention drawn to it, the trio looked at the displayed sign, 'Mystic Misc. Inc.', hanging above the entrance and dimly lit display window.

Taking off his cowboy hat to scratch at his head, Daisuke responded first, "Nope… What about you, Ranma?"

"Same, though I'm not sure I like the name," the long haired costumed catboy hedged, looking from the sign to his friends. "Besides, the lights are off," Ranma added, jerking his thumb towards the dimly lit interior.

Pointing to the 'We're Open' sign hanging in the entrance's small window, Hiroshi moved towards the shop. "The sign say's they're open," the cloaked youth countered, reaching and opening the door. "And the door's unlocked," the shortest of the three grinned as he pointed out the obvious.

"I don't know, man," Daisuke hedged, moving up to look through the now opened door, "You'd think we'd have seen this place before. It looks pretty old."

"All I know is this place makes my teeth itch," Ranma stated, hanging back from his two friends who were near the open entrance.

Hiroshi just grinned, "Come on, guys. You scared to take just take a look?" Passing through the open portal, his voice drifted back, "I mean, what's the worst that could happen? We find something we want to buy and don't have the money?"

Seeing Daisuke shrug and follow his friend into the store, Ranma grumbled under his breath as he, too, advanced through the doorway, "'What's the worst that can happen', he says. Knowing my luck, we're about to find out…"

As he made his way inside, Ranma found the interior illuminated by a hanging chandelier fitted with fake candle bulbs, which flickered and caused interesting shadows to dance in the room. The store itself was bigger than he expected; a few cramped isles of wares stocked to the brim but somewhat ordered and clean. Directly on the other side of the room from the entrance, he saw a counter with a curtained doorway leading to what could be a storage room. Stepping inside, the door closed behind him with a gentle chiming ring.

"Check this place out," Daisuke exclaimed with awe, "It's like every thrift store in Tokyo dumped their weird stuff in here." As he stated this, the costumed teen was making his way towards the far wall covered in random bits of clothes, masks and toy armor parts and weapons.

Making his way up to the counter and it's display case, passing Hiroshi who was looking at a display of rather odd knick-knacks and boxes, Ranma saw a sign displayed on it and called out, "Sign over here says the owner'll be back in ten."

"Cool," Hiroshi responded, putting an ornate box back onto the shelf, "None of these things have prices on them, so I guess we have to ask him if we find something."

Ranma just nodded with the statement, looking into the glass display case to the assorted gems, jewelry, dice and small books with flowing script on their covers stored inside. Off to the side, he heard Daisuke call out, "Hey, check it out. The eyes on this head are tracking me. Wonder how it's doing it…" Glancing over, he saw his friend bobbing back and forth before what looked to be a disembodied head in a glass jar.

"Probably an optical illusion or tracking motors for the eyes," Hiroshi responded to the cowboy, holding yet another box up to examine it.

"Don't know, man, it's kind of creepy," the black haired cowboy said back after a moment of thought, deciding to move to a different area of the store with one last glance at the head, "Sorta looks like it's glaring at me or something."

"You're just imagining things," the cloaked teen replied, dismissing his friend's concern.

"I don't know, Hiro, some of this stuff is pretty messed up. There's even a mummified monkey hand back behind the counter," Ranma countered, pointing at said withered hand inside a glass jar. "I think we should leave."

Holding the latest box before his face, Hiroshi spoke under his breath, "Polly Morph™ 'Become the New You!'" Beside the words on the box was a happy teen girl in a pink witch's outfit leaning against the brand name, her stylish star wand shooting sparks. "Just a sec, guys," he stated, finding the small latch holding the box closed, "I want to check this out first."

Looking up from where he was trying on an ammo belt prop, Daisuke said, "Wait till the owner gets back, man. You don't even know how much it is!"

"I'm just checking it out," Hiroshi defended his actions, slight annoyance entering his voice as he undid the latch with a noticeable pinging sound.

The next moment, Ranma and Daisuke saw an explosion of pink smoke jet out to fill the entire room just as Hiroshi let out a curse and start coughing. The smoke covered everything, filling their own lungs with a burning itch, which caused them to also cough and gasp. Trying to move his way to the exit, Ranma found himself barely enough breath to yell, "Out!"

Reaching Hiroshi, whose breathing seemed the worse of the three by being at ground zero, Ranma pushed him towards the door while steadying his friend. As he fumbled to find the door handle through stinging eyes, the martial artist found himself supporting most of Hiroshi's weight and hearing Daisuke stumble up behind them. Finally twisting the knob, Ranma pushed out and brought Hiroshi into the outdoors, the last of the trio quickly on their heels.

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Staggering to a stop a few meters outside the shop, Ranma forced his lungs empty before taking a deep breath. The cool night air filling his chest felt like a healing balm on a fresh burn; fiery sting just before the sweet soothing feel of healing. As he continued to support a flagging Hiroshi with one arm, he wiped his eyes clear of tears while Daisuke stood nearby still trying to catch his own breath.

Once the raven haired martial artist dropped his hand, he blinked to make sure he wasn't seeing things. The scene not changing, Ranma blinked his blue eyes once more; Daisuke finally calming down to the side. A moment later, his fears were confirmed when he heard his friend exclaim, "What the hell?! Where are we?!"

Looking out at the expansive moonlit lake before them, Ranma could only shake his head. Glancing over his shoulder, where he expected to see the mysterious shop they had just escaped from, the teen found a dilapidated one room wood and stone cabin backed against a rock cliff wall. Turning his gaze back, Ranma looked at the surrounding area lit by the near full moon, finding nothing but the lake surrounded either by cliff on their side and hints of trees on the other side of the lake.

Before he could look any further, Hiroshi stirred in his grasp, his strangled voice choking out, "I don't feel good…"

That turned out to be Ranma's split second warning to turn his buddy slightly; Hiroshi's dinner splashing harmlessly into the grass at their feet instead of on them. "You okay, Hiro," Ranma lamely asked as he felt more weight on his shoulder.

A few weak coughs were his only reply before Hiroshi's form went fully limp, Ranma swiftly changing his hold to keep from dropping the unconscious teen. "Shit," he cursed, looking towards Daisuke, "Help me get him inside."

"Yeah… Sure," the short haired teen replied dazedly, supporting Hiroshi's other arm and shoulder. Lifting the insensate cosplayer, Ranma and Daisuke hauled Hiroshi into the cabin, dead feet dragging across the grass and dirt. Ranma giving direction, they laid out their friend and covered him with the cloak from his own costume.

"Crap, he doesn't look good," Ranma cursed as he examined Hiro's pale face.

Moving back to the doorway, Dai strained his eyes, "How can you tell? It's freaking dark in here."

Seeing his downed friend shivering slightly, Ranma stood up and made his way outside. "Keep watch over him, Dai. I'm going to grab some stuff to make a fire," he stated, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder while looking him directly in the eyes. "I'll be back in a few. Okay?"

Taking his hat off to run a hand through his hair while letting out a deep breath, Dai nodded, "Sure…"

True to his word, Ranma returned a few minutes later with the materials required for him to start up a fire in the cabin's crude stone fireplace. As the embers caught and he added some thicker branches and a cut log he found nearby, Ranma felt the heat radiating onto his face. Looking over to Hiroshi's form, Ranma swore he saw less shivers and a more steady rise and fall of his chest.

Sitting against a wall of the cabin, Daisuke had his knees pulled to his chest and head cradled in both hands. Rocking back and forth slightly, he whispered out, "What happened? Where are we? What the fuck?!"

"Dai, calm down," Ranma lowly responded, trying not to disturb Hiroshi.

"Calm down? Calm down," the short haired male parroted back in a distraught but low voice, "How the hell am I supposed to be calm right now?! We're… this is crazy! We don't even know where the hell we are and Hiro's jacked the hell up!"

"I know," Ranma hissed back, checking on Hiro once more before looking at Dai's form, "Look, I know it's bad… but we're okay. Hiro's lookin' better." Rubbing his eyes, the pigtailed martial artist let out a beleaguered breath, betraying the stress he too felt. "Look, just try and get some sleep, alright. I'm going to watch over Hiro for a while longer before grabbing some shut-eye, too."

Seeing the high school student run his hands through his hair once more, Ranma reached out to pat him on the shoulder, "Dai, just get some sleep. We'll figure this out in the morning and work from there." Daisuke finally gave a slight nod before letting out another sigh; sliding around to where he could lay out on the hard dirt floor.

Silence reigned in the abandoned cabin; save the snaps and pops of the fire. Ranma couldn't really tell how long it took, but eventually he could sense his friend settling into a sleep of some sort. Rubbing the bridge of his nose while letting out a breath, Ranma whispered under his breath, "What the hell have I gotten into this time?"

The flames just crackled and shot a spurt of sparks into the night gloom in response.

Looking over one last time towards Hiroshi, Ranma saw his other friend in what looked like as best of a comfortable resting sleep to be expected. Throwing one last piece of wood into the fireplace, the martial artist found his own spot on the floor to spread out; the last visage of dancing lights on the patched roof fading to black as he closed his eyes and tried to catch some sleep.

Mercifully, it came quickly to the young man.

o0O0o

End of Chapter