Late morning at the Jump Megamall found three well dressed and very attractive individuals making their way into the food court. Nodoka Saotome led the way in a full and ornate kimono, her auburn hair styled into a classic bun. Following her were her son and his fiancée.
Ranma looked rather dashing in a Chinese silk tunic and pants. They were new and the tunic was embroidered with a famous Japanese seascape, a play on his hero name. Nabiki was severe and elegant in her tailored, midnight blue suit that complimented her pale complexion perfectly.
As the threesome arrived, the door to the café slid open. Cologne, garbed in an embroidered robe, bowed. "Welcome, please come in. You honor my home and establishment."
"Thank you Elder," Nodoka replied, returning the bow. "We are honored to be here." Cologne led the way to a low table in the back of the restaurant. Shampoo and Mousse rose and bowed, both attired in Chinese finery. The Chinese and Japanese groups settled down sitting across from each other.
"Thank you for agreeing to this meeting, Elder Cologne. I hope you agree with me that the situation surrounding my son- my child's marriage has gone on far too long. I understand that three families had valid claims to my child's hand. The Kounji claim was settled by the principals in an honor duel. After speaking with Nabiki Tendo, I am also given to understand that Shampoo's claim is rather tenuous."
"By the normal reading of the law, I would have to agree," Cologne said solemnly. "However, the Council of Elders has ruled that the marriage laws apply in full towards Shampoo and Ranma."
"I see," Nodoka said glancing at Mousse. "And how does this young man enter into the picture, Elder?"
"I'm here to make sure the Old Mummy does right by Shampoo," the Hidden Weapons Master responded woodenly, before casting a longing glance at the girl in question. Nodoka studied the boy as he rubbed the newly acquired bump on his head.
"I think I understand Mousse-san," the Saotome matriarch said. "Certainly doing right by Shampoo is what this marriage meeting is all about. As I understand the situation, Shampoo will be severely punished if she does not marry my child. May I assume the plan is to take him back to China?"
"Theoretically, as long as the children were raised as Amazons and Ranma and Shampoo would come to the assistance of the village when needed, they could live where Shampoo chose."
"But in reality, the Council would want their Champion and Ranma in the village," Nabiki said. Cologne nodded.
"And how do you feel about all this, my son? I know you've dated Shampoo."
"Yeah, Nabs thought it was a good idea and I owed Shamps something," Ranma replied, rubbing the back of his neck. "We've had some fun, but I don't think I want to marry Shamps. I lo- I mean I really care for Nabiki. Not to mention, I'm a Titan."
"Of course there's another problem aside from the fact that Saotome loves the half-demon," Mousse interjected levelly, hiding his glee. "The Council may think it wants Saotome in the village, but they'll come to regret it if he goes."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Ranma asked hotly.
"Just this Saotome. With your powers and ability to turn into a woman, a real woman, how long would it be before you became the Matriarch? And once you did, how many laws would you change?" Mousse asked rhetorically.
"Don't be absurd, Mr. Part Time. Only women can become Elders, let alone Matriarch," Cologne said, uncertainty creeping into her voice.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, Nabiki Tendo, but Saotome is both genders now, right? When he changes, he becomes a woman, not a man in a woman's body." Mousse was making no effort to hide his triumph now. "Given his strength now, what will he be like in ten years?"
"It's worse for the Amazons then you know, Mousse-baby," Nabiki drawled. "Aside from having the backing of the Teen Titans, Ranma is going to live a long time. A long time."
"Airen say horse no talk?" Shampoo asked, trying to hide her misery behind a cheery mask. Ranma made no such pretense.
"I'm sorry Shamps. If I had gotten to know you, the real you, before all this… you're a great girl when you're not trying to 'remove obstacles' but I ain't going to string you along anymore. You deserve better than that." Mousse nodded emphatically.
"So the real problem is what's going to happen to Shampoo," Nabiki stated. "Even if Ranma agreed to marry her, things don't look like they would turn out too well."
"Shampoo willing to take risk," the purple haired girl murmured.
"But I'm not," Cologne said flatly. "Mr. Part Time raises a very good point. No offence intended Son-in-Law, but you would destroy the Amazon culture if you were to become Matriarch. And you could, so easily, now that you are a true woman." The old woman held up a hand forestalling Nabiki's comment. "I know you don't think that would be much of a tragedy, Ms. Tendo, but it would cause a lot of death and destruction."
"How long do we have before Shampoo is judged a failure Elder?" Nodoka asked, defusing the conversation.
"Shampoo becomes a senior warrior in something more than a year," Cologne replied. "Of course the Council could recall her before then. They certainly won't wait any longer."
"So we have time," the older Saotome stated.
"Yeah, all we have to do is square the circle. Shampoo has to marry Ranma, but she can't force him and he doesn't want to marry her," Nabiki said, the last with a bit of purr in her voice. "And even if she does convince him, it's still trouble." Mousse laughed mirthlessly.
"Now if you can just convince Saotome to let me kill him, all of our problems are solved."
"I love you too, Mousse," Ranma said drily.
"I will think on this Elder," Nodoka interrupted before the two boys could escalate the conflict. "Perhaps there is some compromise or understanding we can reach in this matter."
"I hope you are right Saotome-san. Before you leave, please let me offer you the hospitality of the Cat Café."
"That would be an honor."
'Everything was going according to plan,' Ryoga thought whimsically. 'I am completely and hopelessly lost. I wonder if I'm even in Jump City'. Shaking these thoughts out of his head, Ryoga took stock of his surroundings. He was in near total darkness in a cramped, enclosed space. Most likely a closet, the fanged boy reasoned, wondering how he managed to enter it without noticing.
The months since his banishment from the Tendo dojo had not only calmed Ryoga but allowed the fanged boy to regain a certain sense of humor. Finding the door, he knocked. Waiting a few moments, he knocked again. The door flew open and Ryoga was face to face with Kasumi Tendo.
"Oh my, Ryoga-kun! This- this is most unexpected." The eldest Tendo girl began to giggle. "It does make me a little homesick though. Please, come out of there."
"Thanks Kasumi-san. Um, are we in Tokyo?"
"Oh no, Ryogo-kun, we're in Jump City and this is my dorm room. I'm going to college here."
"Huh, maybe Blood is right and I do have some kind of power. Anyway, have you talked to Ranma or Nabiki lately, can you get a hold of them? I've come across something really important and I'd kind of like to make peace with Ranma."
"That's wonderful, Ryoga-kun," Kasumi gushed, impulsively hugging the burly boy. ""I know that would make Ranma very happy. As for getting a hold of Ranma, I think I might just be able to help you out," the brunette said with a mischievous expression as she held out her Titan communicator.
Ryoga silently followed Cyborg and Kasumi into the reception hall on the first floor of Titan Tower. The stark modernism was impressive and the fanged boy didn't notice the small group assembled to meet him until Ranma stepped forward.
"Hey Ryoga," the pigtailed boy greeted his rival. "I figured it was just a matter of time before you showed up. How're you doing?"
"Better than I thought I would, Ranma. Nice place you have here." Ryoga rubbed the back of his neck. "Look, I didn't get lost this time, I was looking for you. I figured it was time to end my feud with you." Ranma's face lit up with happiness. "I mean what were we really fighting over? Akane, like she was a prize from a festival? The fact that I was too proud to admit I couldn't find an empty lot in four days?"
"I always thought it was because I got you cursed and never even apologized," Ranma said softly. "It's late, but I really am sorry about that, man."
"It was a stupid accident. I can't blame you for losing control when you got cursed. I sure did," Ryoga chuckled mirthlessly. "And after all that, neither one of us ended up with Akane. Um, no offense, Nabiki."
"None taken, Ryoga-kun. Her loss was my gain," the pale girl said with a smirk, cuddling Ranma's arm.
"Anyway, Kasumi said you had another reason to talk to us aside from making up with Ranma?" Robin said.
"Oh yeah! Nabiki explained all about the Titans back in Nerima. I kind of need your help and maybe I can help you guys in return," Ryoga said, smacking a fist into his palm. "Have you heard of a group called the H.I.V.E?" The Titans all looked at each other.
"They're the leading criminal organization in the city now that Slade is gone," Robin said intently. "Where did you hear about them?"
"It was the bank wasn't it Ryoga," Nabiki laughed. "We have your pack by the way."
"Yeah, it was that bank. I found out I don't get lost nearly as much when I'm calm, but I was nervous about talking to Ranma. Anyway, these three kids were robbing the bank and I had to stop it."
"And you ran into Jinx," Cyborg guessed. "With a curse like yours, her bad luck must have hit you right where you live." The big man paused in thought. "I might be able to help you a bit with that, let me think about it."
"So what happened in the bank, friend Ryoga?" Starfire asked eagerly.
"Well, as you probably guessed, I got turned into a pig after I trashed the snotty little bald kid's stuff and they took me to their base and I met their boss Brother Blood. They want to recruit me I guess."
"Brother Blood, eh?" Robin mused. "At least that gives us the name of the new headmaster of the H.I.V.E. Does he have any powers?"
"Actually, he kind of reminds me a little of Cologne. Do you know her? Remember what she was like, Ranma, how sometimes you just did what she said? Blood's like that," Ryoga explained.
"We need to know more about their organization," Robin declared. "Maybe we can infiltrate the H.I.V.E. with the information Ryoga has brought us."
"Um, well, I'm already kind of a member," Ryoga said. "I could pass on information from them, especially since I seem to be getting some control on the whole bad direction thing."
"I don't want to put you in danger, Ryoga," Robin worried. Ryoga just grinned.
"When you turn into a pig in a world full of hungry people, there ain't much else that worries you," Ranma quipped. Ryoga nodded. "But it ain't just helping us out, is it Ryoga?"
"Er, well, I guess I would like to help Jinx out, you know? I mean she's really nice and I'd really like to see her out of that place."
"Jinx," Nabiki said flatly.
"Uh, yeah," Ryoga replied, eyes downcast and twiddling his fingers.
"I'm crazier than a Kuno and twice as nasty, that Jinx," the pale girl continued in the same monotone.
"Hey!" objected Ryoga.
"People can change you know," Beast Boy said tightly. "They can reform." Nabiki stared at the green Titan before relaxing.
"I suppose they can, Gar. Ryoga promise me one thing. Make sure she wants to be saved before you try to save her, okay? For all our sakes," Nabiki demanded.
"And I have an idea that can build up Ryoga's credibility with the H.I.V.E." All seven teens stared at the Titan leader. "If it's good enough for Slade, it's good enough for us."
"Oh, hell, Robin-baby you're not going to pull the old 'fake-fight him to make him look good' routine, are you?" Nabiki protested, "That thing's older than Cologne."
"Sure it is, because it works," Robin retorted. "Besides, we're going to put a spin on it that will give us an edge. I got the idea from Ranma's stories…"
Ryoga dodged the green starbolt before rubbing his chin. 'Starfire is a lot stronger than she looks', he mused just before ducking several black glowing boxes aimed at his head. The displaced air was all the warning he got as Typhoon appeared behind him and punched the fanged boy several dozen times in the kidneys. Ryoga grinned sheepishly.
"Look, I'm really sorry, it was an accident," Ryoga informed the redhead as he tried to block her assault.
"Accident!" Typhoon shrieked, in a perfect imitation of Akane Tendo. "You pervert, you stepped out of a locker in our changing room! And asked for directions!"
"Well, I was kind of lost," the fanged boy admitted. This did nothing to calm down the three human women trying to turn him into a fine paste. Starfire just seem bemused by it all.
"Who the hell gets 'lost' in a girls' locker room?!" Tara yelled, swinging for the fences and Ryoga's stomach with her baseball bat. "Get him Ty!"
"Sorry tall, dark and perverted but steps must be taken," Raven intoned, levitating more boxes.
"I am not completely sure why we must punish you, but if Raven, Typhoon and Tara all agree, I am afraid I must trust them," Starfire said as she started a strafing run against the fanged boy. Ryoga managed to dodge the starbolts by rolling underneath them, coming up in time to grab the alien girl's ankle. Before Starfire could kick her way free, Ryoga sent her spinning into Raven.
"Look, I didn't mean to be there," the fanged boy desperately explained. "I just get lost really easily and I swear I didn't see anything!"
"Yeah, right, your nose bleed hit the ceiling," Typhoon snarled, unleashing another barrage of punches. Ryoga couldn't really defend himself, but it seemed he could soak up the punishment the redhead was dishing out for a long time. The fanged boy barely noticed when Tara broke her bat over his head.
"Damn it!" the blonde shrieked. "That's the third bat he's broken!" Tara dashed off towards a distant sports store, leaving Typhoon as the only Titan girl still in the fight.
The H.I.V.E. Alpha team watched from the cover of a dark alley. Gizmo was the first to break the silence. "Well, there's your new boy toy. Aren't we going to help him out?"
"Why? He's seems to be doing all right on his own and I want to see what he can do," Jinx replied warmly. "The redhead's the new Titan, the shape changer. She's faster than I thought." The pink-haired girl looked at her tech expert. "Superspeed?"
"Yeah, maybe, at least at a low level," Gizmo replied, studying his sensors. The two H.I.V.E. Members fell silent as Raven drifted up behind the redheaded speedster. Neither noticed the pale girl's change in appearance with her hood up.
"Okay Typhoon, play time's over. I just got a message from Robin that there's been a break-in at S.T.A.R. Labs. Finish up with Mr. Lost here and let's move," Raven ordered. Typhoon nodded and unleashed a tremendous spin kick that sent the fanged boy sprawling.
"You're a pervert, but you're not bad in a fight," the petite redhead declared. "Just stay out of our locker room from now on and we'll call it even."
"I'll try," Ryoga said, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs. "When did Ranma get this fast?" he muttered softly. Without further ado, Raven scooped up her teammate and headed towards Titan Tower. Starfire accelerated down the street towards the now distant Tara.
After a few minutes to make certain the Titans had left, Jinx led Gizmo and Mammoth out of their hiding place. Ryoga had stood and began stretching the kinks out, cracking his neck. "So, that's where you disappeared to," Jinx said ignoring any preliminaries. "You just show up in the girl Titans' locker room."
"I didn't even know they had a girls' locker room," Mammoth rumbled.
"I didn't mean to," Ryoga protested. "I told you, I get lost when I'm not concentrating and I was thinking about Blood-san's offer. Next thing you know I'm busting out of a locker." The fanged boy and Jinx exchanged smiles, to the former's surprise. He wondered why he wasn't losing it.
"So why didn't you call for back up or ditch the nose picking bimbos and head back to the H.I.V.E.?" Gismo inquired suspiciously.
"Well I don't have a phone number or anything for you guys and I don't know where your base is. Being a piglet carried in a sack really limits how much you can see and I left by getting lost," Ryoga explained with exaggerated patience. "I have less of an idea on where the H.I.V.E. is then I do most places, and that's saying something. I mean it was years before I finally found out Japan had more than one island."
Giving Gizmo a venomous look, Jinx took Ryoga by the arm, who against all expectation did not stammer, babble or faint. "Well it looked like you were holding your own against the Titan girls and they're way stronger than the boys. So what's up with the blonde?"
"I think the blonde girl is just a friend or something," Ryoga said. "I don't think she has any powers or anything. The other three are pretty powerful. The Tai-Fun girl is a heck of a martial artist."
"Yeah, thanks bacon brain," Gizmo sneered as he typed on his PDA. "I have a little more info than that. The blond is probably Terra, a high-level earth kinetic. She was on the Titans for a few weeks before dropping out of sight." Seeing the blank expressions on the other two boys, the tiny tech master groaned. "She can move earth and rock with her mind. Did she hit you with any boulders, Pork Boy?"
"Nope, just a baseball bat, but I think the other girls were calling her Terra," Ryoga reported cheerfully.
"Huh. Anyway like the other white meat said, she may be a friend, but something big went down a while ago, so something might have happened to this Terra chick. There were reports of volcanic activity below the city, which an earth mover would be just the one to be involved."
"The redhead, Typhoon. Everybody says she's a girl who turns into a boy or he's a boy who turns into a girl," Jinx said thoughtfully. "Hey Ryoga, any chance this Typhoon is that Ranma guy you were going after?" The fanged boy blanched, but quickly recovered.
"Man, I sure hope not!" Ryoga exclaimed fervently. "I mean look how she was acting, just like a girl and the Ranma I knew would cut off his left arm then act all girly." Unless there was something in it for him, he amended silently. "So how does this Typhoon change, does she use water?" Jinx stared at Gizmo, who shrugged. Mammoth chose that moment to come online.
"Wait a minute, now what about this girl?" the hirsute boy rumbled. Ryoga grinned, glad not to be the most clueless one in the group.
"We'll explain it later, Mammoth," Jinx said sweetly. "So if this Typhoon is your old rival, who you want to bury the hatchet with, you might be able to spy on the Titans, Ryoga."
"You think it would be okay to spy on a friend?" Ryoga asked carefully.
"Sure, if it's in a good cause and I- we're the best cause," Jinx said cheerfully. "Anyway, let's get you back to the H.I.V.E. The Headmaster will want to hear about this."
The four Titan girls reached the Tower about the same time Cyborg did. He waved to them as they all raced for the Top Room. Robin, Beast Boy and Kasumi were there waiting, the latter busy on the Titan main frame. Robin looked up as they entered the Room.
"Everything go smoothly?" The Titan leader asked Cyborg.
"Yeah, the H.I.V.E. group took the bait. The girls did a great job, it looked totally convincing," the big man replied.
"Well, Ty and I have the advantage of experience," Raven said. "I thought Tara was the best, you were really in-character."
"Thanks. I can't believe how tough your friend is, Ty. I mean, wow!"
"Hey! Hibiki may be tough, but is he hilarious?" Beast Boy asked desperately. Tara grinned.
"Come on Gar. Sure Ryoga may be good looking and those muscles!" Somehow this did little to relieve the green Titan's panic. "But why settle for a guy who turns into a pig when your boyfriend is a whole zoo?"
"B-b-b-b-" Beast Boy stammered.
"Great, Tara, you broke him," Typhoon muttered.
"You break it, you buy it," Raven added with a slight smile.
"I didn't think I'd ever meet a boy shyer than Ryoga," Kasumi said thoughtfully. "In any case, do we have time for this? There is a break-in at the north S.T.A.R. Labs high tech storage facility."
"Kasumi's right, we need to move," Robin said. "You and Tara can stay here. Kasumi, you'll coordinate?"
"Of course Robin, Tower is on the air."
"All right, Titans go!"
As the super-powered teens raced for the elevator, Tara grabbed Raven's arm. The pale girl looked back at the blonde in inquiry. "Rae, I need to talk with you when you get back. It's really important. I need to ask you for a favor." After a significant pause, Raven nodded.
"Sure Tara, we'll talk as soon as we have time. But I have to go now." The blonde nodded and released Raven's arm. She watched the Titans disappear into the elevator before turning to look at Kasumi.
"Do you think she'll help?" the blonde asked quietly.
"I'm sure she will, Tara-chan. I know my sister."
Cyborg, Starfire and Beast Boy paused in their dash through the darkened complex when the other three Titans stopped to examine the first heavy duty electronic lock they passed. The first three exchanged puzzled glances as Robin, Raven and Typhoon clustered around the lock.
"What do you two think?" Robin finally muttered.
"Professional job," Raven replied. "No tool marks on the lock, so he was either high tech or had inside info."
"Knew right where to go, too," Typhoon added. "Like Rae said, either inside job or he cased the joint really well."
"I think he's just that good. With inside help he shouldn't have triggered any alarms," Robin said. The other two Titans nodded. Beast Boy exploded.
"How the heck do you guys know that? You sound like you approve!"
"Comes with the teacher," Robin said.
"Having a pro thief for a father helps," Typhoon replied with a grimace.
"Occupational requirement of being a blackmailer," Raven shrugged. The other three Titans stared at Raven, until Robin slammed a fist into his palm.
"We found out what we needed, Titans go!"
The team coursed through the complex, following the trail of open security doors. "He may not be as good as we think. He should have opened all the doors to delay pursuit and let him choose different escape routes," Typhoon remarked.
"Probably figured speed was more important once the alarms went off," Robin replied. Touching a finger to the side on his mask, Robin said, "Tower, do you copy? Over."
"Robin, this is the Tower. I copy, over," came the immediate reply.
"What's the situation outside the storage facility, have the police arrived? Any signal that the intruder has escaped? Over."
"The police have thrown a cordon around the building and are confident nothing has gotten by them. Wait." Robin held up a hand, stopping his team. "Robin, there has been a short in the electrical system at the facility, something was just smashed. Over."
"Thanks Tower, Robin out. Titans he may be on to us. Move out!" Robin ordered.
The six teen heroes entered a storage room, a shadowed figure made them halt and Starfire gasp. Four of the Titans stared at Robin as Red X stood at bay in front of them.
"Red X!" exclaimed Beast Boy. "I thought Robin was Red X!"
"Think again," Red X said calmly, voice buzzing slightly with electronic distortion. Aiming both palms at the superhero team, the battle-suited figure released a barrage of X-shaped projectiles. The Titans scattered except for Raven, who sheltered behind her energy dome.
As Red X charged her, Raven created a shield that her adversary flipped over and attempted to sweep the pale girl's legs. A maroon-clad leg blocked the attack. Typhoon grinned down at the battle-suited figure. "Sorry, man, can't let you rough up my fiancée."
"You're a lucky man," Red X said, immediately backflipping away as Starfire began a strafing run. Thrusting away from the nearby wall, the battle-suited thief reversed his course, using Starfire's back as a vaulting horse, sending him up into the rafters. Recovering, the alien girl sped after Red X, still firing starbolts, which he evaded without difficulty.
Flipping around, the cocky criminal fired two energy beams of his own that rebounded off the girders supporting the roof, catching Starfire in a crossfire. As the alien girl collapsed in pain, Beast Boy made his move, flying up towards Red X, morphing in mid-air into an orangutan and landing on the same girder. The shapechanger made the mistake of trying an intimidating roar. The battle-suited thief seemed amused as he jammed a large X into Beast Boy's mouth.
Dropping lightly to the floor, Red X squared off against the charging Cyborg. Firing an X into Cyborg's face, the missile stretched and expanded, adhering to the boxes on either side on the metal-clad Titan before contracting and smashing the boxes into the surprised teen.
Quickly recovering, the three roughed up Titans and Raven surrounded the thief. Looking around, Red X tapped his chest. "Come on kids, X marks the spot." The Titans let loose a volley of cannon blasts, starbolts and crates, all of which Red X deftly dodged, ending up next to a green yeti. Beast Boy's two-fisted slam met with the same lack of success. Red X re-appeared on a nearby crate.
"You're pretty slick, ain't you," Typhoon asked in admiration, standing beside the thief. "That's the kind of stuff I used to do- before I got serious."
"Not bad kid, most people can't sneak up on me like that," Red X said, turning to face pig-tailed Titan. "I wonder if you can keep up with me."
"Let's dance, skull boy," Typhoon said with a smile. The two blurred into motion, exchanging blows the other Titans couldn't follow. After a minute of this high-speed action, the two reappeared, Typhoon panting and female, in a crane stance, while Red X appeared unruffled casually facing his opponent.
"Weren't you a guy?" the battle-suited thief asked mildly. "You must be fun at parties."
"You have no idea," Raven quipped. As Red X looked at her, it provided the distraction needed as Robin tackled the thief from the side. Recovering, the high tech thief slid into an acrobatic fight with the Titan leader. As the two separated, Robin threw a birdarang, which Red X dodged at superspeed and reappeared behind the spiky-haired boy.
The two acrobatic fighters exchanged blows until Robin managed to catch his foe's foot during a leaping kick attack and slam him into a crate. Gripping the skull-like face plate, Robin demanded, "Who are you?"
"If I wanted you to know that, would I be wearing a mask?" Grabbing Robin by the wrist, Red X sent electricity coursing through the connection, freeing the thief. A right hook sent the Boy Wonder tumbling away.
As the other Titans charged, Raven was helping Typhoon to stand. "You got anything left?" the pale girl inquired coolly. The pigtailed girl grinned.
"Enough for one more shot at him," she gasped. A burst of energy stunned Starfire and Cyborg as Red X sauntered over to the fallen Robin.
"Looks like you-" A small fist interrupted the thief's jibe, slamming into his kidney. "Okay, you aren't bad, beautiful," Red X acknowledged, bouncing away. "But can you keep it up?" Another high speed clash resulted in Red X slamming into a wall, with Typhoon standing over him.
"R- Typhoon don't lose, hotshot," the slender redhead declared. Her eyes rolled up and she fainted dead away.
"Typhoon!" came the general cry. Red X moved back to Robin, flipping his body over with a foot and grapping the pistol-like device the thief had been carrying when intercepted by the Titans.
"Too bad, Red. You're pretty good, but no staying power," Red X critiqued. As Robin stirred, the battle-suited thief started running for an open skylight, the Titan leader bound up to stay hot on his heels.
"I won't let you get away!" Robin yelled even an X wrapped itself around his lower legs, tripping him up.
"Better luck next time, kid," Red X mocked, jauntily stowing his theft on his belt. "Oh, and thanks for the suit." The thief looked down as nothing happened. He jabbed at his belt buckle, muttering "Come on, come on." Looking up, he saw Robin snap his bonds. "Great."
Leaping through the skylight, the high-tech thief dashed across the roof, Robin hot on his heels. One final punch to the belt buckle did the trick and Red X jumped into the air as Robin dove for him. With a salute, the thief vanished from sight, saying, "Catch you later." Robin stared at the point from which Red X vanished. He didn't stir as Starfire came up beside him.
The red-haired alien began poking Robin repeatedly. This drew a reaction. "Ahh, ow, hey, Star. That hurts!"
"Then you are not a hologram?' Starfire asked.
"The last time we faced the Red X, it was you in disguise and you were not really there," Starfire said as she resumed poking the Titan leader. Beyond irritated, Robin pushed the alien girl away.
"Starfire, cut it out!" the Titan leader bellowed,
"He is not a hologram," the tall redhead reported proudly.
"He could still be a robot," Beast Boy warned. "Check him for batteries," he ordered Cyborg.
"If you're done playing around, maybe we could see to Typhoon?" Raven said in ice cold tones from behind the Titans. She was carrying the unconscious redhead. The rest of the team immediately clustered around their fallen friend, Red X temporarily forgotten.
"What happened to her?" Robin asked, worry in his voice. Raven scowled.
"She pushed past her limits to fight whoever's in the Red X suit. Way past her limits. Spent all of her energy matching him move for move, speed for speed," Raven explained, fondness creeping into her voice.
"Then we better get her back to the Tower and get some food in her," Beast Boy said. Raven looked at the green Titan.
"More like a supermarket, BB," Raven corrected. "Unlike us, Typhoon's power is all internal. When she exhausts herself, she has nothing left to tap. Come on, let's go."
Raven, Starfire and Tara watched as Cyborg studied the montage of stills of Red X on the big monitor. Kasumi and Ranma were in the kitchen area, Kasumi gleefully cooking and Ranma gleefully inhaling food as he recharged his batteries.
"Okay, if Robin is the ex-Red X then who is this new guy?" Cyborg wondered. Beast Boy neatly cut in.
"If he isn't a clone, an evil twin or from an alternate dimension, he must be a super monkey infused with Robin's DNA!" The youngest Titan enthused. He was thoroughly ignored by the other Titans, including Tara.
"Whoever he is, he's good enough to fight Typhoon into a coma and the rest of us can't touch him," observed Raven.
"That's because when I built the suit, I geared it to counter all of the Titan's powers." Robin said, entering the Top Room. "Red X has enough fighting skill to take me and Typhoon, the only Titans the suit isn't specifically designed to defeat. I designed that suit to defeat the Titans. It's my responsibility."
"Perhaps, Richard, but the Titans are a team," Kasumi said calmly as she entered behind him. "You should solve this problem as a team."
"Is Ranma okay?" Robin asked anxiously.
"He ate seven plates of food and I put him to bed. If past experience means anything, he'll sleep through until tomorrow morning and then be fine," Kasumi reassured the Titan leader, fond amusement coloring her voice. Cyborg looked worried.
"So we're going to be down our speedster for the next day or so? That's not good, not good at all," the big man lamented.
"I know we've come to depend on Typhoon a little for easy wins against some of our foes, but we were the Titans before he came and we still are," Robin declared. The three remaining girls and Cyborg nodded, while Beast Boy looked anxious.
"Friend Ranma is a potent force to lose, but we can prevail, even against the Red X!" Starfire affirmed.
"Just remember he's not around and plan accordingly," Raven said flatly, but not enough to fool her sister. Kasumi gave the indigo-haired girl a comforting hug.
"Well, if we're going to catch Red X, we at least need to know what he's after," Cyborg declared.
"I already know," Robin said grimly. "Zynothium, the fuel that powers the suit." Starfire and Raven gasped in horror as Tara and Beast Boy exchanged puzzled looks.
"Zynothium!? You powered that suit with Zynothiun?" Cyborg yelled. He quieted when Kasumi put a hand on his arm.
"I believe that is a powerful, but dangerous and unstable mineral Richard?" Kasumi asked gently.
"It was a mistake, that whole suit was a mistake," Robin replied. Kasumi gave the Titan leader a gentle hug.
"It is so easy to lose sight of tomorrow when today's needs are so pressing. I know that better than most," Kasumi said quietly. She looked at the Titans. "What's done is done. What do we need to do?"
"The scanner Red X stole will locate any Zynothium in a ten mile radius," Robin said.
"So we must locate it first," Starfire declared.
"X ain't the only with a scanner," Cyborg said, plugging a cable into the Titan main frame. "I'll download its molecular signature to your communicators."
"Thanks, but I won't need it," Robin said as he stalked towards the elevator door.
"How are you going to find it without a scanner?" Cyborg protested.
"The same way I found it the first time," Robin replied.
"You have a supplier," Raven said evenly, her eyes flashing white as she held the elevator doors shut.
"Look, Robin, I know how you feel, nobody better, but don't shut them- us out," Tara said, coming up behind the spiky-haired boy and giving him a hug from behind. "That's what I did and it nearly killed me and destroyed the city with a mega-volcano. I still have the t-shirt. You have friends, friends who will always help you."
"Tara is right, Richard. You don't have to do this by yourself and you shouldn't. Assigning blame is pointless, solving the problem is the important thing." Kasumi said. Robin visibly relaxed.
"That attitude would have made life a lot easier in Nerima," Raven observed. "But big sis is right, Richard. At times like this, it's important to remember we're a team. We backed up Ranma when his troubles, some of his own causing, came to roost and we'll back you up." Starfire floated up next to the Boy Wonder, silently giving her support.
"The girls are right, Robin," Cyborg affirmed. "We need to handle this together."
"Thanks everyone," the Titan leader said sincerely. "While the Red X suit is my responsibility, I have to remember that we do things best as a team. I obtained the Zynothium through a black market dealer here in Jump City, a guy named Professor Chang. Cyborg, Beast Boy and I will check out Chang to see where the Zynothium comes from. In the mean time, Raven and Starfire should start scanning the city for Zynothium."
"What about us?" Tara asked eagerly, pointing to Kasumi and herself.
"You two should stay in the Tower. Kasumi, if you could coordinate for us?" The Japanese girl nodded. "Tara, I want you to take care of Typhoon and make sure he doesn't try and rejoin us before he's recovered. All of Raven's stories indicate that's a real problem." The blonde looked disappointed but nodded as well.
"If that isn't the pot calling the kettle black," Raven observed. Robin blushed slightly.
"All right Titans, lets move out."
In late winter it was bitterly cold in the abandoned observatory and both Titans' breath steamed as they entered. Cyborg looked around with interest. "Strange place for an arms dealer to set up shop," the big man observed.
"I think Chang used to be a scientist before becoming a dealer. This may give him a sense that he's still an academic and the black market weapons are only temporary," Robin said. Both boys dove to the side as a red energy blast struck where they had been standing. Cyborg rolled to a kneeling position and returned fire. Robin used the covering fire to quickly close with the figure wearing a radiation suit.
"Remember me, Professor Chang?" Robin ground out, pinning the older man up against the wall.
"Ah, the good little boy who likes dangerous toys," Chang chuckled nervously. "How could I forget?"
"Zynothium. Where do you get it?"
"Nowhere," the older man said sadly, eyeing Cyborg looming silently behind the Titan leader. "The supplier skipped town months ago. There no way to get that stuff. Unless…"
"Talk," commanded Robin, slamming Chang against the wall again.
"Supposedly, there's a tech company on the south side, Future Solutions, that has a supply of Zynothium ore in their vault." The older man waggled a finger. "But it's not for sale and it's locked up tight. You'd have to steal it," he finished gleefully. Robin let Chang slump to the floor and took out his communicator.
"Tower, this is Robin, do you copy?" The response was instantaneous.
"This is the Tower, Robin, I copy. Over."
"I need a search on a company here in the city, Future Solutions. Have they filed any permits for work with Zynothium? Also call in our patrols. Over."
"Roger, Robin, I will start a search on Future Solutions. The girls are inbound. Over."
"Thanks Tower. Robin out." The Titan leader looked at his companion. "What do you think, Cy?"
"If Mr. Smarm here knows about the Zynothium, they might be experimenting on it illegally," Cyborg said. "We'll know more once Ka- Tower runs a search."
"All right. Keep your nose clean Chang," Robin ordered as the two Titans left. The boys went down to the base of the hill and waited for twenty minutes. Robin was talking quietly with Kasumi when Beast Boy resumed human form in front of them.
"The creepy old guy started organizing for a raid on that Future whatever almost as soon as you guys left. He said something about being tired of selling to bad guys, he was ready to be one," Beast Boy reported.
"Good work, Gar. I thought Chang was a little too cooperative," Robin said. "He thinks we're going to go after Future Solutions and use the distraction to try and grab the Zynothium himself."
"It's scary how you figure this stuff out," remarked Cyborg. "For everybody's sake, don't become a supervillain, okay?"
"Oh, I don't know," chimed in Beast Boy. "I think now that Raven is all Nabikized, she'd be a lot nastier." Robin rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"Neither one of us is going to become a supervillian," the Titan leader declared and then paused. "Though if Typhoon became her henchman…" he shook his head. "Let's get back to the Tower and see what Kasumi's turned up."
The Titans were clustered around Kasumi's work station as she gave them a briefing on what she had found. "It took some searching but Future Solutions has a government permit to conduct experiments with Zynothium. The company has a blanket hazardous materials license and does not publicize what materials they currently have in house."
"How's their security?" Raven asked. The older Tendo girl shrugged.
"They don't make any details public. Do you think a simple warning would be enough?" Kasumi wondered, looking towards Robin.
"I doubt it, Kasumi," the Boy Wonder replied. "Red X alone could probably beat any regular security force by himself and I know Chang has some high-tech muscle."
"Then you're going to need me Boss," a soprano voice declared from the elevator. A haggard Ranma staggered slightly as she entered the Top Room. An exasperated Tara trailed her, still tugging at the redhead's sleeve.
"I'm sorry Robin, but this mule-headed terror won't take no leaving bed for an answer," the blonde complained.
"I'm okay," Ranma said, casually holding onto to the back of the sofa. She tried to give them her cocky grin but it came out strained instead. "You're going to need me."
"Ranma-" Robin began.
"Saotome, no stupidity today," Raven said firmly. She ignored the redhead's startled squawk as she was levitated by her clothing. "You're going back to bed and not giving Tara any more trouble. We need you at a 100%, not playing macho games and getting hurt and put out of action for a long time."
"But Nabs, what if you get hurt 'cause I ain't there," protested the now supine and struggling redhead.
"What if you get hurt because you are there and not at 100%?" Raven countered as she began to shepherd her well endowed cargo back to the elevator.
"Wait, Raven," Robin ordered. He walked around so Ranma could see him. "I won't lie, Ranma, we'll miss you, but we have enough Titans now we can let one recover. You gave it you all against Red X and you couldn't quite beat him. Could you take him now?" The redhead turned her head away.
"No," she muttered.
"Look Ran-man, you get fit and we'll handle Red X," Cyborg reassured his teammate. "We don't have to beat him, we just have to stop him from getting the Zynothium. We'll catch him another time."
"You'll rest up? I have your word?" Raven demanded. Ranma sighed.
"Yeah," she mumbled, drifting off. "Ma'be it woundna been su' a goo' 'dea." The redhead's snores were gentle but filled the room.
"Okay, one problem taken care of," Robin said with a sigh of relief. "Now how are we going to manage Red X and Chang?"
"I think we should be… sneaky," Raven purred.
Robin low crawled to the military crest of the low rise north of the Future Solutions complex. Few of his fans would have recognized him in the charcoal grey version of his normal outfit. Scanning with the low light binoculars in his left hand, he activated his communicator in his right. "Tower, this is Robin," he said quietly. "Status, over?"
"Robin, this is the Tower. Cyborg and Starfire are on standby. Beast Boy just checked in via Morse and has not detected any sign of break-in. Raven has not reported- wait one, over."
The Titan leader patiently waited, still scanning. "Robin, this is the Tower. Raven reports movement to your south and east. Several figures in white suits. Over."
"All right, tell the others to keep sharp. Raven and I will engage. Robin out." He touched a button on his communicator. "Raven? Robin here."
"You got the message?"
"Yes. I want you to start taking out the ones to my south as quietly as you can. Don't let them know you're there. I'll work my way south. If you alert them, comm me and cut loose. I'll do the same if I mess up. If they start fighting, comm the others and get them moving. You copy?"
"Yeah," Raven said coolly. "I wish Typhoon were here, this is his kind of fight."
"Yeah, me too. Be on the look out for Red X. Robin out."
Keeping to the deeper shadows, Robin quickly and stealthily made his way south and east. The white radiation suits of the intruders made them stand out in the dark but they seem to be having little difficulty disabling Future Solution's security precautions with what appeared to be high-tech staves.
The intruders did not seem to be working in smaller teams and were quite spread out. Robin began creeping up and dropping them one by one. The Boy Wonder's luck ran out on his fifth victim. He dropped the white-suited raider, but his two-pronged weapon staff discharged. Suppressing a curse, the Titan leader took cover as red energy blasts began lighting up the night. Grabbing his communicator, he hit the all call. "I screwed up, they know we're here, come running. Beast Boy, stay under cover unless they break into the facility." Raven and Cyborg both acknowledged.
As far as Robin could tell, there were at least a dozen radiation suit clad attackers still out there. It was obvious they didn't know his exact location but were spraying the general area and keeping him pinned down. Their energy staves far out-ranged any weapons he had, so a plan was in order. The Titan leader was still trying to come up with something when a blue energy beam knocked half of his opponents off their feet. Starfire was carrying Cyborg and the big man was laying down a covering fire for their entrance.
Robin dashed forward, taking advantage of the Chang's men's surprise and confusion. Once Cyborg was on the ground and Starfire could maneuver freely, the three Titans made short work of the would-be raiders. As the last of Chang's men fell, an explosion from the complex's south wall reverberated through the woods. Robin activated his communicator. "Raven, Beast Boy, report!"
There were several moments of agonizing static before Beast Boy's image appeared. "Some guys in suits from an SF movie broke in. The main vault with the Zynothium looks like it's safe, but they had some out for testing and the bad guys grabbed it. I tried to stop them, but their blasters are a lot better than Slade's."
"Have you seen Raven, she should be there," Robin demanded.
"Uh no, I haven't seen her at all."
"Okay, sit tight, we're on our way. Tower, did you copy? Has Raven checked in with you?"
"No, Robin," responded a very worried Kasumi. "Not since you gave the order to attack once they found you."
"Okay, let me know if you hear anything from her. Robin out." He turned to his two teammates. "You heard? Can you carry both of us Star?"
"I can and I shall!" declared the alien girl. "I am sure Raven is all right. She is the strongest of us."
"Anyone can make a mistake," Robin informed her grimly. Without further conversation, Starfire grabbed both boys' hands and flew southwest.
"You got a plan, Robin?" Cyborg asked.
"Can't say until we see the situation," Robin replied through gritted teeth. Even carrying both male Titans, Starfire made good speed and the battlefield quickly came into view. Perhaps fifteen of the attackers were drawn in a rough circle. The white-clad men were firing periodically at something moving fast. Beast Boy in wild dog form was dodging and sprinting, trying to work his way to come to grips with his foes.
As the other three Titans landed, Chang's remaining men drew away from the center of the circle to reveal three of their fellows, one carrying four metal cylinders and the other two carrying an unconscious Raven between them. One of the men set a small two-way TV in front of them. Chang appeared on the screen.
"So, good little boy didn't take the bait and steal the Zynothium for me, so I could steal it from him," Chang said in mock sorrow. "Lucky for me the fools ignored any warnings you gave and went ahead with their normal schedule. Even luckier for me, your darkling girl zigged when she should have zagged and now I have her," he gloated. "You will go into the company's vaults and bring me all of the Zynothium. Then maybe I will let her go, hmm?" The older man cackled.
Robin took a step forward, balling his fists. "If you do anything to her, you'll wish you were never born Chang!"
"Ahh, ah, that is far enough," chided Chang. "Now you should be a good boy and bring me what I want. You wouldn't want me to get impatient, would you?" Two of thugs activated their staves and brought the cracking forks close to Raven's head. "Well, what are you waiting for? Go!" commanded the older man. The ground around Raven and her captors exploded in a plume of dust. "What?" Chang cried, turning his head and trying to see through the back of the receiver.
As the dust settled, a battle-suited figure jumped forty feet onto a tree limb, carrying Raven. "You!" shouted Robin. Red X gave the Titans a jaunty little salute.
"Hey kid, glad you could recognize me. Where's Red?" Raven's savior asked.
"She is resting after her fight with you," Starfire confessed. "Thank you for rescuing Raven."
"Talk later, fight now," Robin growled. "Titan's go!" The fight was short and sharp, but Chang's men hadn't recovered from Red X's sneak attack and the Titans were outraged at the threats against Raven. Within a few minutes, the remaining raiders were sprawled about around the grounds, unconscious or wishing they were. The four mobile Titans clustered under Red X's tree. The high-tech thief had not moved from his perch and still held Raven.
"So, why did you save Raven?" Robin began.
"She's Red's fiancée, which is a mind blowing concept in and of itself. Red's pretty good so I thought I'd do her a favor," Red X answered amiably. "Might come in handy some day and besides she and Sunshine here are a cute couple." Both Robin and Red X noticed Raven begin to stir.
"So are you going to try to hold Raven hostage like Chang?" Cyborg demanded.
"Why would I do that? Just because I'm not a hero doesn't mean I don't know how to be one." The battle-suited man gently lowered Raven to the turf. "There you go. Besides," he continued, a smirk in his voice. "I already got what I came for." Red X held up a foot long cylinder that resembled a short nuclear fuel rod. "This will power the suit for a good long time."
"X!" Robin yelled. "Titans, go!" As the group surged forward, Red X blurred and reappeared a hundred feet away."
"You really need to loosen up, kid, you're going to give yourself a coronary before you're thirty. See you later and give my best to Red." The thief flickered and was gone.
Raven sat wrapped in a blanket sipping hot chocolate as Kasumi fussed over her and Robin debriefed her. The other Titans had long since gone to bed. "At least we got Chang," the pale girl said.
"Yes, but Red X got away with a rod of Zynothium that will keep the suit going for at least a year," Robin said grimly. "If Future Solutions had listened to us…"
"Yeah," Raven agreed. "Listen, big sis, its late and you have classes tomorrow. I'm fine. You don't have to stay with me, you get some sleep."
"Well if you're sure," Kasumi said uncertainly, stifling a yawn. "I'll leave you in the best of hands. Good night Richard, Nabiki."
"Good night Kasumi," Robin replied. "Good work today." Kasumi nodded and staggered towards the elevator. Once she was gone, Robin turned back to the pale girl. "So what happened?"
"What do you think happened?" snapped Raven. "I got careless and they got in a lucky shot."
"I figured that much out, "Robin said drily. "The real question is why?" Raven turned away.
"Could be any number of reasons," she evaded and then sighed. "But the most likely is that I was worried about Ranma. And maybe I was missing Typhoon on the battlefield. Of all the Titans, we work together the most and maybe I didn't compensate for him missing."
"Okay fair enough," Robin allowed. "As long as you aware of the problem, you can handle it." He hugged the pale girl before getting up. "I'm heading off to bed. Don't stay up too late."
"Good night Richard."
Raven sat in the dimly lit Top Room for several minutes before staring at the darkest corner. "Okay Saotome, come on out."
"How did you know I was there?" Ranma sulked as he stalked out. Raven gave the pigtailed boy a knowing smirk.
"I didn't, but knowing you, I figured you had to come up here and say you told me so." Ranma stalked right up to her, his eyes dark with emotion. After a short staring match, he hugged her.
"Just be careful, okay?" he told her in a broken whisper. Raven watched stunned as Ranma retreated to the elevator and left without another word.
The next day, Ranma seemed back to normal, although Nabiki was surreptitiously keeping a sharp eye on the pigtailed boy. Kasumi had gone off to class while Robin was obsessing about Red X. Around noon, Cyborg had had enough, and dragged the Titan leader and Beast Boy into a marathon session of video games to get Robin's mind off their latest nemesis. Tara decided it was time to make her move.
As the girls plus Ranma sat down for a Kasumi leftover lunch, Tara began her opening gambit. "Your sister is pretty cool, Raven." The middle Tendo arched her eyebrows as Tara hemmed and hawed, refusing to meet her eyes. "I just wanted to say that. She's really been helping me out."
"Yes she is. Is this going somewhere? And it's Nabiki when I'm in civvies."
"Right, right," the blonde chuckled nervously. "Well, see the thing is…"
"You're sleeping with my sister?" Nabiki guessed, timing her comment so that Ranma did a spit take.
"Hey, warn a guy will you?"
"Oh that is glorious news! I know Kasumi gets so tired."
"What?! No, of course not!" Tara shouted indignantly.
"What, my sister isn't good enough for you?" Nabiki said in mock anger.
"Sure, I mean no, I, what?" the blonde sputtered. By this time Ranma had recovered.
"Nabs is just messing with you, Tara," the pigtailed boy assured her. Tara peered at Nabiki's perfectly straight face.
"Now that I have seemed to have cured you of whatever mindless nervousness you were suffering, maybe you can ask your question," Nabiki remarked.
"Okay, you know I lost my powers, but Robin still has me on the team, and I can't even do the Tower as much good as Kasumi, but I really want to help and maybe you can get my powers back?" Tara managed all in one breath. The indigo-haired girl gave the blonde a sidelong look and shrugged.
"'Cause you know it would really help- sure?"
"Yeah," Nabiki drawled. "Why wouldn't I help you?"
"Well, I was kind of afraid you hated me after all the things I said in our fight and, you know, insulting Ranma and the whole betrayal thing…" Tara nattered. Nabiki put a hand on her shoulder.
"Tara, you know that stuff didn't get me mad, we're cool. As for betraying us, you made a mistake. In my book risking your life to stop a volcano and taking out Slade more than balances the books," the pale girl assured her. "I'll even get Ranma to help since the power burn out is probably Ki related."
"Sure, no problem, be glad to. I'd be okay furthering your training in the Art too," Ranma said, managing to not talk with his mouth full.
"Thank you, both of you," Tara said, hugging the two Japanese teens.
"So does this mean Tara is not sleeping with Kasumi?" Starfire wondered. Nabiki spent the next five minutes explaining the euphemism. Punishment enough, one would think.
Four girls floated cross-legged in the air, eyes closed and chanting "Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos" in unison. Three of the girls were calm and relaxed, the peace of the meditation flowing through them. The fourth girl was considerably less serene, with an anxious look on her face and random twitches. After another couple of minutes, Nabiki opened her eyes.
"Okay, that's enough for today," the pale girl said softly. "Good first session, Tara."
"Did you find anything out?" the blonde asked anxiously. Starfire hugged her as Nabiki shook her head.
"No, but I didn't expect to. Even Ranma, who's meditated off and on for years took a few weeks before I could feel his power," Nabiki explained. She hesitated. "I'm not even sure I'll ever be able to feel your power that way I did Ranma's. We're both magic-based, in some fundamental way our powers are alike. Your earth powers seem more like the result of the standard metahuman gene complex."
"Metahuman gene?" the other three girls asked in tandem.
"Yeah, I did some research when Tara asked for help. It's been established that a sizable percentage of the human population carries the potential for super-powers. Usually some trauma that would otherwise kill or injure a gene carrier triggers super-powers in response."
"How many people?" Tara wondered.
Maybe as many as five percent," Nabiki replied. "You know, it's funny. You and Beast Boy are probably the only meta-humans in the Titans. Ranma and I are magic based, Victor is tech, Robin is training and Starfire is natural, although given the difference between her and a normal Tamaran, she may have the equivalent gene complex."
"Is that why there are so many powered heroes on your planet?" Starfire asked.
"Yeah. More than twenty years ago there was a big invasion by an alliance of eight or nine alien races determined to eradicate the Meta-human gene from humanity. They were driven back but one of the alliance set off a bomb that killed or crippled a lot of the meta-humans at the time. That's why so many powered types are so young. The previous generation had been wiped out."
"It sounds like something my people have gone through," Starfire said. "So because of this gene, it will be harder to help Tara?"
"We're just getting started. I still have a lot of capitol to spend." Raven assured them. "Come on, let's grab breakfast."
To no one's surprise, Robin was AWOL for breakfast as he obsessed about Red X. None of the other Titans were worried. Sooner or later one of them would break him out of his gloom and now they had the power of a Kasumi lecture. Best of all, with great power came great cookies.
The morning was devoted to taking care of fan mail. Luckily the volume wasn't too extreme, only about half a mail bag, but if allowed to build up, it became a tedious chore. Ranma was still getting more than his share, but the volume was starting to ebb. Starfire and Robin were trading second and third place from week to week and promised to regain their one-two status soon.
As they sorted though the mail, one letter grabbed Beast Boy's eye. "Hey, Rimi, looks like something from the Old Country," the green Titan said as he flipped an envelope over to Ranma. The Kanji was plainly visible. Nabiki snuggled next to her fiancé.
"Who's it from?" she asked. They both froze as the faint but unmistakable scent of okonomiyaki reached their noses. "Damn it, I beat her fair and square! If Kuonji is trying to pull something, I'll stick that baker's peel where the sun don't shine!"
"Come on, Nabs, she's still my friend," Ranma protested. "Maybe she just wants to know how I'm doing."
"Ranma, while the naiveté is charmingly refreshing, take a yen and buy a clue. You can't be just friends with girls like Kuonji. She wants to marry you and she isn't going to settle for a hearty handshake and being told how she's one of the guys," Nabiki ranted. "Let's see what she wants."
Ranma slit open the envelope and grabbed the letter. Nabiki read over his shoulder, and being a much faster reader, had ample time to glower before Ranma finished, his face getting whiter as he read.
"What does it say?" Cyborg and Beast Boy asked together. Nabiki plucked the missive from Ranma's limp fingers. She began reading out loud.
"Dear Ran-chan. I hope you're okay and not letting that mercenary woman take advantage of you too much. I can't believe I lost to her! Anyway, I found out where you were when I saw you on the news, which is a good thing, since it looks like the mercenary has caused me a lot of trouble."
"It seems my father doesn't except the results of duel," Nabiki paused. "Now there's a surprise," she commented sarcastically before continuing. "Since she has super powers, it was dishonorable for her to trick me into a duel and therefore, my father holds that the honor arrangement, to either marry you or kill both you and the panda still holds."
"I have to agree with my father and I know that you want your cute fiancée back. Don't worry Ran-chan, I'm coming to Jump City to save you from that woman. With all my love, Ukyo Kuonji." A brittle silence engulfed the Top Room.
"At least she warned you she was coming," Cyborg offered. His mouth clicked shut as Nabiki gave him a Look.
"Perhaps we can get the Kuonji and the Purple One to fight each other," Starfire said hopefully.
"Been there, watched that, Ranma's got the bruises," Nabiki replied. "No, I think it's time to unveil the big guns for this one. It's time to call in an expert." She waved the letter around. "I wonder how Nodoka will react to this?"