I do not own anything written by Rumiko Takahashi or Kosuke Fujishima.
Ku Lon hummed contentedly to herself as she leaned over the large pot on the stove in the Tendo kitchen, maintaining her balance on the high stool without thinking as she scooped up a spoonful of the broth and gently blew on it, then sipped. "Hmmm, I think a touch more spice," she murmured, then glanced around as her great-granddaughter came through the doorway behind her. "Aren't you supposed to be keeping an eye on the fathers?" she asked in Japanese.
Xian Pu shrugged. "Pa Fum watching," she replied in the same language, grimacing. "They not know we there, too too ... focused? ... focused on silly game. And cheat all the time."
Ku Lon chuckled. "Well, that is the nature of their style," she said, "Anything Goes. However useful that might be in a real fight, it is a good thing Ranma hasn't let that bleed over into other things."
"Too too true!" Xian Pu agreed fervently, shuddering at the thought of what Ranma could get up to in succubus form, if he had his father's sense of ... or more like lack of ... honor. "But fathers no leave, they smell ramen — noses ... twitch. Can Xian Pu help?"
Ku Lon considered the request. All Amazon elder had hobbies to hold their interest in life as the decades rolled by, and she had been thoroughly enjoying her first opportunity to practice hers since leaving the village. Still, Xian Pu had been bored much of the time during the past week — her husband had had to focus on training Ranma and Akane, and reviewing the Rhythmic Gymnastics training manuals and training himself in the differences between what they taught and his own family's style when they were in school. True, Xian Pu had watched, but that was as much an exercise in frustration as pleasure. (The elder hid a smile as she thought of the progress ... or rather lack of the same ... in the 'physical' side newlyweds' relationship — they were going to have to do something about that, but for now it was helping keep the rest of the Amazons entertained. And when the Wanderer returned, of course, as soon as the training was over Ryoga had promptly gotten lost.) And none of the warriors that had come along on the husband hunt were good enough give her a decent challenge when sparring. And now they were using the excuse of cooking a victory meal so they could housesit the fathers for Ranma and Akane. Yes, Xian Pu must be very bored if she was actually expressing a new interest in her great-grandmother's hobby instead of just the results. Which meant that she didn't have much practice cooking.
For a moment Ku Lon allowed her hidden smile to slip free as she remembered how torn Kasumi had been between supporting her sister at the competition or staying and learning from Ku Lon — now there was a young woman with promise! The elder suspected that she'd have no trouble getting permission to use the kitchen again. Kasumi was likely to beg for lessons.
Shaking off the thoughts, she refocused on Xian Pu. True, she had neither practice nor innate talent at her great-grandmother's second Art. Still, there was more than enough food, Ku Lon would be able to correct any mishaps...
"Of course, there's vegetables in the bag beside the counter, they need to be diced..."
Akane strode through the locker room door into the gymnasium, grinning widely as she rode a wave of pure confidence so intense she wasn't even bothered by being seen in public in a skin-tight leotard. She had trained hard over the past week, Ranma had trained alongside her and as a part of her the past several afternoons, and Kodachi had been so certain of failure that she had tried to drug Akane by sending booby-trapped roses to the locker room. Akane was ready!
She was so ready, in fact, that she wasn't even disturbed by the now all-too-familiar sexual attraction she felt for everyone she saw, thanks to the succubus riding along inside her. Not by seeing her friends, not by seeing Tatewaki, she wasn't even shaken by her attraction to her sisters — Kasumi in the front row sitting next to Nodoka; Nabiki with Peach Fuzz sitting on her shoulder, standing inside the wire cage beside the square, rope- and post-bordered ring where she would provide the props as Akane needed them and regather those props when Akane threw them. I'm going to have to do something nice for Kasumi, she really wanted to stay and cook with Cologne but she's here, instead. And Nabiki, too, now that she thought about it — it had been her sister and Ku Lon that had come up with a way to keep the fathers at home, after all, and being sexually attracted to her father would be a bit much.
Then her gaze reached the top rows of the bleachers and her steps faltered. There weren't many students up that high, at least not on the St. Hebereke side (Kodachi's support from her school was surprisingly light, maybe her 'winning' personality had actually overcome their normal loyalty to their school?). But above the students there were sprites everywhere — sprites on the bleachers wherever breaks between the people below allowed the tiny beings to see, sprites sitting in the windows, sprites flying around above the crowd and the ring, even a few of the more daring sprites sitting on the heads of oblivious students!
"Whoa!" Ranma whispered inside her mind. "Where'd they all come from? I didn't know there's that many sprites in all Nerima!
"I didn't, either," Akane replied. (The two had figured out the trick of not bombarding the other with every stray thought that crossed their minds while they were merged.) "We'll have to ask Peach Fuzz when this is all over."
"Yeah." Then the attention of both girls (or girl and a half, sort of) were drawn back to the ring as Kodachi, who had been approaching from the opposite side, reached her own helpers and leaped up to spin through the air, flipping over the ropes to land in her corner. Akane felt Ranma 'grimace'. The succubus added, "Time ta teach this show-off who the real boss is."
Akane was just about to agree when Kodachi turned in place, her gaze sweeping across the audience — and she stumbled, gyrating wildly with arms windmilling to keep on her feet.
Ranma giggled. "She just saw the sprites."
Akane caught sight of the choker that Nabiki had described around the gyrating girl's neck, and her eyes widened — since her awakening the night she bonded with Ranma, she had caught a vague hint of what she'd been told were Nabiki's wards around their home, had caught the taste of power soaked into Nodoka's sword, and covering the members of her family like so many cloaks, but the dark crystal seemed to literally glow with power. She thought, "Looks like big sis was right." (She had found that referring to her family as family helped reduce the attraction ... slightly.)
"Yeah," Ranma agreed. "You'll hafta be careful, who knows what she can do with it."
"It doesn't matter what she does, we can take her!" Akane retorted as she strode through the doorway in the surrounding wire cage and approached the ring, once again riding the wave of confidence now that the shock from the multiple surprises was fading. Deciding she wasn't going to be shown up by her competitor's entrance, as soon as she reached Nabiki she crouched and sprang straight up, twisting and catching the top rope around the ring for a perfectly vertical handstand with her back to the ring. She held it for a long moment, bent her arms to lower her head to the rope, then thrust herself up, twisted around, flipped one, twice, and crouched on both feet facing Kodachi across the ring ... and swallowed a gasp, keeping a grimace off her face as pain spiked through one foot and up her leg as she pushed herself upright. It was worth it to see the anger sweeping across Kodachi's face.
Kodachi strode across the ring, ignoring the referee standing in the middle and droning on about the rules (basically no bare-handed blows, the contestants judged by how well they performed their various attacks, the match ending when one contestant was knocked completely down, any contestant knocked from the ring would be declared the loser regardless of how well she'd performed during the match, all simple enough in general).
As soon as she got close, Kodachi hissed, "You peasant! How dare you seek to make your pitiful skills look superior to my own finely honed talent!"
"Hey, ya can't go first an' not expect yer opponents ta take advantage of it," Akane replied, smirking. "But then, you've never actually had a real match, have ya? You'd rather ambush an' beat 'em up, first."
Nabiki jumped up and grabbed the top rope to hold herself up as she stood on the edge of the ring. Out of the corner of her eye, Akane caught sight of Nabiki's upraised eyebrow and her questioning glance before the apprentice Initiate refocused her attention on Kodachi as the other ranted, "I will not be upstaged by a crude nobody!"
Nabiki drawled, "Is that why you have that gaudy piece of glass around your neck? Another way to cheat?"
"I have no need of false enhancements," Kodachi replied airily. Oddly, the accusation coming from Nabiki actually settled her down, returning her to her usual smug arrogance. She waved toward the sprites covering the upper bleachers and flying about. "I merely need the gift of sight so that your invisible servants may not steal my victory. And where is that vulgar red-haired spirit?"
Nabiki's face tightened. "They aren't my servants," she said. "They're here to support Akane, they like our big sister's flowers. And Ranko'll be around. Is that ref ever going to stop bloviating?"
Now it was Kodachi's turn to smirk. "She knows better than to rush one of my stature, she will continue to 'bloviate', as you so crudely put it, until I return to my corner." Shifting her focus to Akane, she continued, "But there is no point in drawing this out, prepare to receive the humiliation fit for one of your station." Not giving Akane a chance to reply, she turned on her heels and stalked back toward her own corner.
"Yeah, right," Akane snorted as the referee finally wound down her introduction.
Nabiki gripped her arm and leaned over to whisper, "You be careful, you aren't yourself." She dropped back down beside the collection of clubs, rings, balls and ribbons.
Before Akane had a chance to react to her odd final statement, the referee announced the beginning of the match and sprang back against the ropes. Akane grinned viciously as Nabiki tossed up her ribbon. After all the pain and fear, frustration, embarrassment and humiliation of the past week it was her turn!