#Panda sign#

A special thanks to Bree R aka frice2000 for prereading this and many other stories.

Ranma rolled his eyes and rocked back on his heels briefly as Ryoga boasted about his recent training and how he would be soundly defeated by his new skills. Around him eighteen other fighters were milling about, most of which looked like novices, waiting as numbers were assigned for the martial arts tournament. A big board was placed on the wall showing the single elimination bracket.

The man with a megaphone reading off the numbers finally got to him. "Saotome Ranma, number nine."

After a quick glance at the board, Ranma smirked at his good fortune. He got a first round bye so he just needed to beat three opponents to win the trip to China. That was the big reason he was participating in this. An all expense paid trip to a hot spring resort near the Bayankala mountain range in China. Ryoga had ended up wandering in as he always did and butted his nose into Ranma's shot at a cure. Akane had wanted to enter but another girl had taken the last spot shortly before her.

"Hibiki Ryoga, number fourteen."

It took Ryoga far longer to figure out that he was on the opposite side of the bracket and would have an extra fight. "It makes no difference how many I have to fight Ranma, I'll overcome any obstacle to get cured!" The fanged teen boasted proudly.

"Like finding the ring?" He asked innocently and skipped out of reach of Ryoga's angry punch. "I'm going to go grab something to eat, I wonder if they have something with bacon." Turning his back on Ryoga, he headed out into the courtyard from a large shrine building.

"Shut up Ranma!" Ryoga called after him. "You red eyed bastard!"

His shoulders stiffened imperceptibly to the remark about his strange eye color. Glancing back, he was going to mock Ryoga again for his terrible sense of direction, having expected the lost boy to follow after him like a belligerent puppy but the other teen was nowhere to be seen. 'Guess he got lost already.' Shrugging at the expected result of his pseudo-friend moving more than three feet, he avoided a group of girls talking animatedly as they passed by.

A local temple to Inari was holding a martial arts tournament and festival. Booths were set up in a ring around the far outside of the main courtyard to sell food and for games. In the center was a decently sized size square platform raised up a meter above the stone courtyard. Cheap bench stands were placed on the west and east side with a judges table on the north end.

Quickly finding some abura-age to munch on and making a note of what stands he wanted to hit up later, he met up with his father and the rest of the Tendos to catch the first fight. "Hey, Ryoga actually made it." He pointed out, earning a punch to his arm by his fiancee Akane. "Even Ryoga beat you to the registration table."

"Shut up Ranma and don't pick on him." She chastised.

'Well this is going to be interesting.' Ranma popped the last bit of food into his waiting maw and considered Ryoga's opponent.

Standing as tall as his female form, she had bright blonde hair that bordered on orange tied up in a high ponytail that draped down to her shoulderblades. She had a slim dancers build hidden beneath a simple white gi tied shut by a white belt. Bright green eyes looked over Ryoga before finding Ranma sitting on the sidelines for a brief moment.

"The first match is between Hibiki Ryoga and Shirokawa Kaede." Announced a man sitting near the judges table and paused for a brief round of applause as well as to let more people find their seats.

"That's the girl who got my spot!" Akane fumed, arms crossed angrily across her chest.

'This can't be right.' Ryoga scoffed, trying not to laugh in the girl's face. No one but Ranma had looked capable of giving him a decent workout, and now he had drawn the easiest opponent. Although if she did have some moves then he would have to actually fight a girl, one of his weaknesses.

"Don't worry, I'll go easy on you." He whispered to the poor girl who had the bad luck to face him.

"You may not want to be such a patronizing pig." She said in a deceptively polite tone, green eyes twinkling with amusement, and a brief sniff of her nose. "They often end up as dinner." She ended, sounding a lot like Ranma did when mocking him. Kaede was even standing with the same haughty air of indifference Ranma always had, completely relaxed without any hint of a stance.

"I tried to be nice." He looked away dismissively and cracked his knuckles for show.

A tiny old man acting as referee stepped between them. "Just so you understand, this is a friendly martial arts tournament. To win, your opponent must forfeit, be unable to continue, or touch the courtyard. Attempting to purposely injure your opponent will result in forfeit. Do you understand?"

Ryoga nodded along with the girl, Kaede. He was eager to get the distasteful act of fighting a girl out of the way. 'I'll show Akane how good I am by not hurting her. Unlike Ranma who would knock her around for a bit.'

"Begin!" The man announced and stepped back rapidly.

"You should just give up so I don't have to hurt you." He explained, stepping towards the girl, and trying to imagine her as Ranma so he could work up the courage to push her from the platform.

"Why? Are you afraid to fight me, pig?" She asked, not moving a muscle as he reached out to grab her gi.

"Stop calling me pig!" He yelled and tried to grab her gi top. His hand passed completely through where she had been standing as she vanished. Stumbling forward, he stared down at his right hand in confusion.

"A swine is a swine." She mocked from behind him.

Spinning around, his eyes focused on the annoying female who was now standing on the far side of the platform from him, arms clasped behind her back, and a pleasant smile spread across her face. "Hold still!" Rushing towards her, he stumbled to a stop as a duplicate of the girl appeared just to the side. "Wha?"

He saw her move this time, both versions of the girl acting in sync with surprising speed. Trying to block both attacks, the Kaede on his left was able to connect with her fingertips to his side just below his ribs. Gritting his teeth as the strike somehow hurt him, he noticed that the other girl's attack passed through him harmlessly. 'So it's that one!' Focusing on the left, he tried to take advantage of her momentum for a throw but his hand went through her arm.

His mistake cost him as the real Kaede kicked him in the side of his thigh, twisting his leg inwards awkwardly. 'Damn she hits harder than Ranma!' His outstretched arm was caught by one of them and he was instantly flying high above the ring to land flat on his back near the opposite edge with his head nearly hanging over the edge.

"Psst." Ranma's voice cut into his disorientation. The pigtailed boy was kneeling down to be at Ryoga's head height. "You may want to try harder, you're getting your ass kicked, P-chan."

"Shut up Ranma!" He yelled and spun around to take a swing at his most hated rival over the edge of the platform. The other teen easily avoided his blow and Ryoga nearly found himself falling over the edge.

"What did I say?!" Ranma called out from a new location.

Ryoga blinked several times before looking over to where the Saotome teen was sitting calmly next to Akane on the bleachers. "But." He looked back to where Ranma had been kneeling and found only empty space.

"Don't worry, I'll go easy on you." Kaede's lilting voice drew his eyes back to the middle of the ring where the girl stood as though she hadn't moved the entire time. "Unless you want to just give up?"

"I'll never give up!" He boasted, struggling to explain her strange abilities.

"You can beat her Ryoga-kun!" Akane yelled to him.

"Now I definitely can't lose, Akane-san is cheering for me!" He had tricks of his own. All he needed to do was to figure out how she was creating an illusion of herself or at least when so he could go after the right one.

Seeing that she was going to obnoxiously stand there waiting like Ranma always did, Ryoga charged, and pulled back his right hand in preparation to use the bakusai tenketsu to shower the area with fragments from the platform. Watching her without blinking, he plunged his finger into the tile. 'There!' He caught the subtle shifting of her body and the movement to his side of something white and blonde. Without waiting for the explosion of tiny razor sharp shards to bite into him, he was up and moving towards this new Kaede.

"I got you now!" He yelled triumphantly, performing another bakusai tenketsu without considering that there were spectators behind the girl. "Wait— where'd they go?" Ryoga stopped to stare dumbfounded at the empty bleachers. Shaking his head, he finally found Kaede smirking at him from the center of the ring again.

'This is actually— kind of scary.' He admitted. She was fast, strong, and could make him see things. "There's gotta be a limit to how many of those things you can make." He guessed, figuring that it must take a lot out of her to do these illusions. He had the stamina to outlast her. She couldn't hit him hard enough. It was only a matter of time before he got the small girl and then he won.

"There is a limit— to my attention span." She joked.

"Two! I bet two is the most you can make!" He tried to engage her but instead of making any more clones, she merely slipped out of the way. "You're all talk! I bet you can't even make anymore!" He laughed as he was pushed her towards the edge. "Victory is mine!" Throwing both hands forwards to shove her from the platform, she vanished once again.

"A premature pronouncement." Kaede's voice echoed behind him. Freezing at the strange auditory effect, Ryoga slowly turned his head to see that the platform was now completely filled by smirking Kaedes.

Ranma cocked his head to one side curiously as Ryoga made a loud eep and fell backwards off the raised platform to defeat himself. 'What is wrong with that moron?' He wondered. This Kaede girl had been moving almost as fast as he could but Ryoga had acted like he was fighting multiple opponents and seeing things that weren't there.

"Don't underestimate that one, boy." Genma commented while stuffing his face with food.

"She's not much." He commented, certain that he was superior to whatever trick she had been using to distract Ryoga. But he could see why a buffoon like Ryoga lost to her.

Seeing as there was no more food he could steal from his father and Akane was already rushing over to check to see if Ryoga was alright, he followed after his fiance in order to poke at the pig boy for losing in such an embarrassing way.

"Ryoga-kun are you alright?" Akane asked worriedly, shooting a brief glare at Kaede who was being announced the winner. The blonde haired girl ignored her to give Ryoga a tiny bow of her head.

"Akane-san you saw right? Right?" Ryoga asked desperately on his knees. "She's a monster, there were dozens of her!"

"When did you take a blow to the head?" Ranma asked, visually inspecting the lost boy's head to add to his joke. Ryoga's fist finding it's way into his stomach had not been in the plan. Doubling over in pain, he stumbled back to sit on the edge of the platform.

"Ryoga-kun, it was just you and her, there was no one else." Akane explained.

"But— but— but— that— it can't." Ryoga fumbled over some reason to justify his loss.

"Well that's too bad Ryoga, guess you don't win a trip to China." He jabbed, skipping off before Ryoga could blow his top, and leaving him to try and explain his interest in the prize to Akane.

Ranma barely registered that something cool had soaked the shoulder of his shirt, activating his curse and changing him to a red haired girl with similarly colored red eyes as she rushed after Kaede.

"Sorry about that!" Some girl yelled at her. Ranma ignored the exclamation, not realizing that the girl had splashed her with a drink after celebrating for winning a prize.

Even though most of the people attending the festival were watching the competition, Ranma kept losing the girl in the few people still playing the games. It took nearly twenty minutes before she could finally pin down Kaede to one location.

"Hey, wait up!" Ranma called out to Kaede and skidded to a stop next to the girl. "I'm Saotome Ranma, you were pretty good out there against Ryoga." She remarked casually, being about the same height as Kaede she could look her directly in the eye.

The girl hesitated as though she was searching for a response before settling on a polite thank you. "I look forward to seeing your matches as well."

"He likes to think he's my rival, sure would be nice if I had a technique like yours to psyche him out." She explained, trying to sound a bit desperate for help with the lost boy. "Do you think you could give me a few tips?"

"I would be happy to." Kaede gave her a big smile that shifted from friendly to condescending. "If you could learn."

"Ranma!" Akane's yell interrupted Ranma asking more about Kaede's strange technique, her unwanted fiance approaching. "Sheesh, can't you pick a body and stick with it for five minutes?" The girl berated half heartedly.

Glancing down, Ranma finally noticed that her curse had been activated. "Oops."

"Oops." The short haired girl rolled her eyes. "Hurry up and find some hot water, your match is next."

"Ya ya." She waved a hand dismissively. "I got plenty of time." Turning to Kaede to tell her that she would be right back, Ranma found that the blonde had vanished once again.

Ryoga really did hate his curse, completely, utterly, totally, and without reservation. Trapped in the weak form of a small piglet all because some innocent kid decided to shoot him with a water pistol he had won at a game. So now he not only had to live with shamefully defeating himself but being lost as a pig.

His far more sensitive nose twitched and he looked around nervously. Over the strong smell of humans and all the food he could smell multiple predators. He had purposely neglected his porcine nose and learning to differentiate a wide variety of smells. But he knew without a doubt the scent of a predator.

Deciding that he would be better off getting lost somewhere else, he hurriedly rushed through the forest of legs to try and get away from the shrine as fast as possible. After a brief lapse in his attention, he found himself next to a nice little stream in a pleasant clearing in a forest. Stopping to get a drink from the stream, he sat back on his haunches and stared down at the water to see his reflection.

'I will get a cure!' He resolved, it didn't matter that he had lost, and was not going to win trip to China. He would find a way to do it on his own and then rub it in Ranma's face when that insufferable red eyed gaijin could no longer hold the curse over his head.

In his wavering reflection he found another figure suddenly appear, one that was a bright reddish orange. Slowly looking away from the water, he found a young red fox looking at him inquisitively with it's vulpine head cocked to one side. In an almostly deliberately slow move, the fox licked its lips. Ryoga's snout twitched as he took in the fox's scent, a completely neglected portion of his porcine brain immediately indicated that he should panic.

Ryoga was rational enough to curse his luck with a disgusted bwee before running away, the fox hot on his tail.

Standing with his arms crossed, Ranma regarded his opponent warily but kept it from showing on his face by plastering a confident smirk there instead. Kaede was in a relaxed stance across from him, a small smile on her face. He had plowed through his opponents with no trouble and Kaede had done the same. Ranma was no closer to figuring out the mind trick she was using because her other opponents had all been low level martial artists. He had watched Kaede play with them but Ryoga was the only one who she had taken seriously.

It didn't matter what kind of technique she was using because he was going to win this. He was faster and infinitely smarter than anyone else she had faced. And with his special training he had an ace up his sleeve that only Happosai or Cologne could counter.

"This is the final match!" The announcer exclaimed excitedly. "Shirokawa Kaede is facing Saotome Ranma."

Ranma ignored the moderate amount of applause that came from their names. Breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth in deep controlled breaths, he focused on what he had dubbed heavy ki. Happosai had unwittingly brought it to his attention after applying the ultimate weakness moxibustion. A pressure point that cut off the part of his aura giving him his physical strength. He had always unconsciously used it in conjunction with his ki and if it hadn't been for losing it that may never have changed.

He didn't need to hear the referee tell them the added rule not to damage the platform or to begin, his attention never leaving Kaede. Getting caught in her mental manipulation would only complicate his victory.

"It's really too bad I had such an easy run." Ranma remarked casually. "You had a much harder time of it than me."

"If you consider them to be difficult opponents than I have nothing to worry about." She answered his comment calmly.

"Just so you know, I am going to win." He boasted with complete confidence. "I promise you that."

"You shouldn't throw around promises so frivolously." She responded with dead seriousness and narrowed her eyes.

"I don't." He stepped forward into a stance, waiting for her to make the first move. Ranma felt something from her as she assumed an aggressive stance. It was like the heavy ki he was developing but something about it felt different.

The first time he blinked he was suddenly facing five Kaede's arranged in a half circle around him. Stiffening in surprise, they all rushed him at once. 'That's what beat Ryoga.' He smirked and waited for them to attack. Using his speed, he intercepted every punch and kick in a blur of movement too fast for the spectators to see. Finally he found the right Kaede who was about to hit him square in the chest with a side kick. Attempting to catch her foot with both hands, his arms buckled, and he felt the full force of the blow.

Ranma couldn't recall anyone hitting him as hard in his life. She was small, slim, and wasn't moving that fast, yet he was nearly thrown over the edge before he landed. Laying in a daze and hoping he didn't have broken ribs, he slowly got to his feet. 'Defense is not going to work.' He concluded.

Kaede had lost her clones and was now thrusting both hands towards him palm first. A spout of water exploded upwards from the platform in front of her towards him. Ranma's eyes widened in alarm and he sidestepped the stream that bypassed him to crash harmlessly into the courtyard. Launching himself towards Kaede, he was just able to reach her as she retracted her hands.

His kick passed through her throwing him off balance. As the fake Kaede vanished, he could feel the real one behind him. Spinning in time to set his feet, he caught her knife hand strike by grabbing her wrist. Unlike her kick, he had no trouble stopping her but felt the heavy ki from her hand.

'That's how she hits so hard.' He realized, gripping her wrist with far more force to keep her from moving. Unfortunately that meant her control of it was well beyond his. "My turn." He smirked at her grimace and spun in place to throw her with enough force to send her over the edge.

Kaede hadn't been thrown very high so after briefly flailing her arms and legs in panic, she was able to reach down to grab the platform. Without even digging into the material with her fingers or feet she stopped after barely a meter.

'More heavy ki.' He guessed while moving towards her before she could recover.

Genma crossed his arms and glared forward sternly as the fight between his son and the blonde haired girl rapidly escalated. Ranma was moving as though he was fighting at least six opponents, his limbs a blur as they rapidly hit invisible bodies surrounding him. The blonde was sometimes in the fray other times she remained outside catching her breath. Even with Ranma's impressive stamina he would be worn down from this soon.

"What are you thinking, Saotome?" Soun asked him, equally as interested in the fight.

Watching as Ranma and Kaede traded blows again, he noticed that his child was being exceptionally careful with how he blocked her. Genma remembered the first blow and how it had thrown Ranma like a ragdoll. 'The boy is actually afraid to be hit by her.'

"He can't win." He finally answered. Ranma was breathing heavily while Kaede looked barely winded. The unknown girl was clearly a master of some kind of mental technique to overwhelm her opponent and Ranma had no counter to such a thing.

Trying not to show how tired he was getting, Ranma kept his eyes firmly locked on Kaede. She had stopped with the copies for now but he was beginning to see through that. Not by much but it was enough to narrow down which one was real. His mind was rapidly rolling through possibilities on how best to knock her out of the ring or to incapacitate her. If it came down to holds he had the strength advantage but even the lightest tap of her hand had to be avoided as far as he knew.

"I apologize for not taking your promise more seriously." Kaede called to him from across the platform.

"That was your first mistake." He decided to switch tactics, trying to exude a cool aura with the soul of ice technique. His response made her cute face scrunch up in anger. "No that's not right, your first was entering. Second was thinking you were hot stuff when you beat Ryoga. Your worst was thinking your illusion trick was going to keep fooling me."

"Your worst mistake is to think all I can do are illusions." She growled, raising both hands up in front of her chest to make a complicated hand sign. Directly in front of her a small circular pool of water formed, a ring around the edge bubbling upwards. Ranma tried to close the distance between them but was too late, a water dragon shoot upwards from the pool to coil around Kaede before rushing towards him.

He barely heard the gasps from the crowd, too busy diving to the side to let the dragon pass him by. Reaching out to confirm that the liquid was real, his eyes widened at the confirmation that this was no illusion. A bubbling roar heralded the dragon turning around to make another pass. After another sidestep, he was going to try and attack Kaede but the dragon's head curled and hovered between them. Ranma nearly missed the water still floating next to him moving to hit him from the side.

Leaping straight up, he realized his mistake immediately when the water dragon rocketed towards him. With no way to twist out of the way, he felt like he was hit by a freight train when the dragon's jaws closed around him. Crying out in pain as it squeezed, he was dimly aware of a sudden shift of momentum, and that it was now going to drive him down into the ring.

Ranma came back to his senses enough to notice that the groan exiting his mouth was the wrong pitch and his clothing was soaked. She didn't immediately try to move, looking upwards at the soft fluffy clouds floating by overhead, the sky slowly turning orange as the sun started to set.

"He's a girl now—." The referee commented, not knowing about her curse.

"I apologize for the ring." She heard Kaede say. "I know that disqualifies me."

"Like hell it does." Ranma spat and started to pull herself out of the indentation she had been laying in. "We're not done yet." She told the referee, a thinly veiled threat hidden in her tone. The little old man nodded and quickly vacated the area.

"That was foolish." Kaede said sadly. "You would have won."

"I'm not going to win like that." She sneered, her pride was more injured than her body at being pitied.

Trudging forward slowly, Kaede met her on the side of the impact point. The blonde hit her several times but each blow didn't carry the same weight from earlier so she could shrug them off. Ranma's face twisted into a scowl, Kaede was pulling her punches now. Through with any pretense of chivalry, she weaved around one of Kaede's strikes and planted a kick underneath her jaw.

Kaede was knocked upwards, her limp body twisting in mid air so that she would land dangerously on her head on the stone outside the ring. Without thinking Ranma jumped to intercept, catching Kaede's unconscious body, and landing safely. 'Why do I always have to be so manly that I have to save the girl?' She sighed, hearing a loud round of applause from the forgotten audience.

"Saotome Ranma is disqualified! Shirokawa Kaede is the winner!" The announcer screamed excitedly.

"What?!" She screeched, turning with a look promising unending pain and death at the man.

"Ring out." The referee explained helpfully from a spot far away. Ranma looked down to see that she had landed outside of the platform before Kaede, the blonde now stirring in her arms.

"Thank you for saving me— Ranma-dono." Kaede delicately left her arms and bowed deeply to her.

'Wait— she wasn't out of it?' Ranma's shoulders slumped. "You're welcome." She answered Kaede's show of gratitude before falling flat on her back. "I lost." She said in a daze.

Two days later

Akane propped her head up with one hand and looked out the window with a sigh. It had been raining all morning and didn't look like it would be letting up anytime soon. Shifting her eyes to glance at Ranma's usual spot she once again found his chair empty. 'That idiot.' She snorted and went back to paying attention to the English lecture.

Yuka was first to her desk when the class ended. "No Ranma today, Akane?"

"No." She answered, waiting to make sure all the busy bodies in the class were close enough to hear her. "He's still pouting that he lost." Akane explained further.

Ranma had already missed yesterday and the tale of how he had lost to an unknown girl had made it's way around the school. Kuno had heard and was now planning parties along with being an intolerable ass. She had pounded him into the ground yesterday and he had been quiet since. But she knew that it was only a matter of time before he popped up again to declare his undying love.

"I know! We're making cookies today, those will cheer him up." She suggested to her friends who suddenly looked queasy.

"Ranma will love that." Sayuri laughed nervously.

"Oh— he will." Akane couldn't stop a slightly manic smile from spreading over face. A chance to rub a failure in Ranma's face as well as show how good her cooking was becoming at the same time? How could she miss this glorious opportunity?

Ryoga struggled for every step, his muscles burning, and his mind degraded from two days without sleep. With a pained snort, his front legs gave out, and his tiny body fell to the ground. To think that he, Hibiki Ryoga, would meet his end at the underdeveloped jaws of a young fox. Should he meet Ranma in the afterlife he would never live his demise down. Perhaps his ancestors wouldn't judge him too harshly for such a pathetic death.

Any moment now, the fiend would tear into his body, and he hoped that it would be a quick end.

"That was fun!" An androgynous young child's voice exclaimed excitedly, bopping him on the shoulder. "Now you chase me!"

Ryoga heard the rapid patter of paws on grass now moving away from him. Popping one eye open, he watched the fox bound away before coming back after Ryoga failed to follow. Yipping at him, the fox darted forward before running away again excitedly.

'A talking fox?' Ryoga struggled to sit up, two days of near constant running had drained him of all his stamina. 'A real kitsune?'

"What? You're tired? Okay, let's rest." Finding a nice sunny spot the fox laid down and seemed to fall asleep instantly.

'A nap does sound good.' Ryoga's piglet body finally gave out and he crashed snout first into the grass.

Kasumi's hands froze at the dejected sigh of her sister's betrothed. Relaxing, she tried to start up her knitting again when a pitiful groan interrupted her concentration. Finally giving Ranma her attention, she watched him slink across the floor until he was fully stretched out face down before sighing again.

"Would you stop that?" Genma reprimanded and threw several shogi pieces to bounce harmlessly off Ranma's head.

"I lost!" Ranma bemoaned dramatically into the floor. "My trip to China." He whined. "My cure!"

"Don't be down, son. You'll find another." Soun added as he moved a piece.

"Not having a cure doesn't stop you from going to school, does it?" Kasumi asked, struggling to get back into the rhythm of knitting. 'Knit one purl two, knit one purl two, knit one purl two.' She repeated in her head to drown out the boy.

"It's raining." Ranma groused.

"You could always borrow a spare uniform from Akane." Kasumi suggested, causing Ranma to blanch. Happy that her joke had the intended effect, Kasumi excused herself to go check on lunch, deciding to put an unpleasantly spicy pepper on Ranma's portion.

The doorbell pleasantly chiming was one more distraction to add to her plate. Making sure nothing would burn, she answered the front door. Kasumi recognized Kaede from the tournament immediately, the blonde girl was standing underneath a red Japanese umbrella to keep the rain away. She was wearing a modest light green dress with embroidered pink cherry blossoms around the bottom, ending beneath her knees. A high quality leather purse was slung over her left shoulder. Her long hair was unbound with her bangs held to the side by an ornate gold clip with a large white pearl embedded in the metal.

"Good morning." Kaede greeted with a polite bow. "I'm Shirokawa Kaede, I was told that Saotome Ranma lives here."

She politely smiled and bowed back to the girl. "Good morning, I'm Tendo Kasumi. Ranma is inside right now, would you like to see him?"

"Please." Kaede bowed her head again. "I have something to share with him."

"Please come in." She backed away from the door allowing Kaede to come in and remove her green flats, and place her red umbrella next to the door.

Leading the girl inside, she considered asking why Kaede wasn't in school as well but decided not to pry. Most of her house guests friends appeared to be rowdy delinquents unconcerned with normal activities like school. Although Kaede did carry herself as a polite and well groomed young woman. "Ranma-kun, your friend from the tournament is here to see you." She announced, smiling vapidly.

Ranma looked up from where he lay on the floor and gave Kaede a disinterested look before settings his head back down. "Hey." He mumbled into the floor.

"You were very impressive, young lady." Soun greeted.

"Not often that the boy gets put in his place." Genma added.

"Thank you for your praise." Kaede bowed deeply to both men. "But I was defeated, Ranma-dono lost because of a technicality."

"Nonsense, he knew the rules." Soun slammed a shogi piece down in a new position. "Take pride in your accomplishment."

"Would you like anything to drink?" Kasumi offered, wanting to be a polite hostess. "Oh— we were just about to have lunch and I don't think I have enough for another."

"She can have Ranma's." Genma sacrificed his son's share. "To the victor goes the spoils."

"Give up your own food, you fat idiot!" Ranma bounced up from the floor to kick his father out into the rain who rapidly turned into a giant panda.

"That's perfect." Kasumi beamed. "We still have some left over bamboo." She celebrated the small victory of being able to serve everyone. "And what would you like to drink?"

"Water is fine, but if you're making tea then I would enjoy it." The blond answered.

"Tea then." She gestured towards the table. "Please make yourself comfortable."

Ranma kept himself alert so he wouldn't be taken by surprise by his father's inevitable retaliation. His curiosity was on overdrive as he tried to figure out why the girl had tracked him down. She had been nearly impossible to find at the festival but was now calmly kneeling next to the table. She also hadn't responded in the slightest to Genma changing forms. Now that he thought about it, she hadn't reacted at all to his own curse.

Kaede noticed his intense look and looked away shyly for a moment and patted her right ear. "Ranma-dono—." She looked back at him with a pleasant smile adorning her face. "I didn't feel right in accepting the prize. I should have been disqualified for destroying the ring and for falling off the platform. So I—."

Ranma interrupted her. "So you're giving me the ticket to China?!" He asked excitedly, sliding across the floor to be right in her face. Any qualms he may have had about accepting a prize he didn't technically win flew right out the window.

The blonde recoiled and shifted uncomfortably. "Sorry but no." She shook her head and shifted again. "The ones sponsoring the trip wouldn't accept that. But they did offer me an alternative. Since the match was so close, they were willing to accept that we both— technically won."

"And?" Ranma's enthusiasm was dashed but he did still want to know what they offered.

"And they offered two tickets for a trip to Kyoto to visit their Inari shrine." She answered as though it was an extravagant and highly desirable prize.

"A trip to another Inari shrine?" His face fell completely. Ranma had been to that place a long time ago but he had mostly forgot about it because he was seven.

"Not just a Inari shrine, it's the Inari shrine." She amended.

"Thanks but no thanks." He sat back in a huff. "I'm sure you got a boyfriend, go take him. I needed that trip to China."

Kaede gained a faint blush to her cheeks and she looked down demurely. "I don't have a boyfriend, but I thought I could try to teach you some of my techniques. I did say I would give you some tips."

Ranma froze up completely in indecision. A trip to another boring shrine that he really didn't care about. But he would be able to learn more martial arts techniques. Just learning how to control his heavy ki like she could to augment his strength would be worth it. But maybe he could learn her illusion abilities or how to create that cool water dragon.

"What are your intentions towards my son-in-law." Soun suddenly demanded and Ranma could see the beginnings of his demon head technique.

"I don't have any intentions towards him." Kaede answered after a moments hesitation.

"I think it sounds pretty good." He ignored Soun to try and get the conversation back on track. "When's the trip?"

"Really?" Kaede's mood brightened considerably. "Wonderful! Oh— uh the trip is set for this Friday, Saturday, and then returning on Sunday.

"Kay, so you want to get started? How'd you make those copies of yourself?" He asked without enough force to be demanding.

"Here's lunch." Kasumi interrupted him this time, sweetly announcing as she brought in a tray with food.

Kaede seemed to ignore his question to focus on Kasumi and the food. Ranma grudgingly decided that food was the most important consideration at the moment. As he ate his strangely overly spicy lunch, he noticed that his father had yet to change back into a human and was just sitting on the porch watching Kaede intently while munching on a stalk of bamboo.

He was about to try asking again after shoving everything in his mouth as quickly as possible but a cell phone started to ring from Kaede's purse. "Excuse me." The blonde girl hit a few places on the touchscreen phone before listening to someone on the other end for only a second before hitting more buttons, and returning the phone to her purse. "I'm very sorry but I need to leave. I have— work I need to return to for an emergency."

Kaede took one last sip of tea before standing and bowing deeply to Kasumi. "I thank you for your hospitality Kasumi-san and I will not forget it."

"It was my pleasure." Kasumi replied and started to get up.

"Please, no need to get up, I can see myself out." The blonde looked back over to him. "Ranma-dono, I'm sorry I won't be able to offer any tips until Friday. But I'll see you here at four."

"I'll be ready." He crossed his arms, considering ways he might be able to train in the meantime.

Ryoga turned his pig head to look at the kitsune following him warily. After waking up, he had attempted to get away from the still sleeping kit but it had popped up as soon as he had gotten out of sight. Now it was following him, occasionally running off to view something it found interesting before rushing back to shadow him.

"Are you ready to play again?" The fox kit asked for the hundredth time.

Ryoga gave a disgusted snort in response, not deviating from his current path. So long as he moved in a straight line he would get to his destination.

"Okay I'll wait till you're ready. I've never been to this place before" The fox remarked happily, bounding off in chase of a butterfly.

Ryoga simmered in silence at the latest annoyance in his life. Hopefully when he found hot water it would leave him alone.

"Hey! Are you hungry too?" The kitsune asked while sitting down to scratch at its neck with a hind leg.

Later that day

"What do you mean you're going a trip?! With— with— THAT girl?!"

"It's pretty self explanatory." Ranma answered Akane's angry screech by digging at his ear with a pinky. He had been meditating, attempting to trace how his heavy ki moved through his body. If it had weight then that meant it had to exist somewhere in someway. Camped out in the dojo because it had been quiet, he was surprised that Akane had taken so long to track him down to berate him.

"So why don't you ever want to go training with me? Hmm?" She planted both hands on her hips and glared down at him.

"Well—." He drawled. "When do you ever ask to train with me?"

Akane froze up briefly in realization that she did never ask him for training. "That's not the point. You're running off with a total stranger."

"Do you want to train with me or not?" He offered his fiance.

"With you?" Her anger fizzled.

"No with Kasumi." Stretching out his arms as he rose to his feet, Ranma watched Akane's mouth open and close like a fish out of water.

"I— I guess— yes." Akane finally answered. "But don't think you're going to distract me. Are you going to try— four timing me with that girl? Or do you just want to learn all her secrets so she can't beat you again?"

"She didn't beat me." He corrected, irked that technically he had lost. "I stopped her from a bad fall and they didn't overlook that stupid out of bounds rule. That's it."

"Oh please Ranma, she had you fighting things that weren't there just like Ryoga and then she could have thrown you halfway across Nerima by that water dragon she just summoned!" Akane paused to take a deep breath.

"Wait— were you worried about me?" He asked teasingly before she could start speaking again.

"No!" Akane vehemently denied and crossed her arms. "Don't be stupid."

"And people think I'm a bad liar." Ranma chuckled to himself and avoided a punch by Akane. "You're overreaching." He pointed out.

"Don't change the subject!" She fumed. "Why aren't you ever concerned about these things?" Akane asked, her anger slowly draining away into concern.

"So you are worried about me." He confirmed to himself.

"Of course I am, idiot!" This time Akane was able to punch him on the side of the head.

"You hit your head today or something?" Waving off her concern he didn't know what her problem was. Leaping up and over Akane's angry kick, he landed and ducked under a follow up punch. "You really should change out of that uniform if you want to spar." He taunted before realizing that Akane had stopped.

"You're such an ass." She stated and spun on her heel to charge out of the dojo.

The next morning

"Ranchan you jackass!" Ukyo yelled as she smashed him over the head with her giant spatula. Flattened into the courtyard of Furinkan high school, he caught sight of several other students chuckling at his plight.

"What did I do?" He whined, picking himself off the ground to face whatever verbal tirade she was about to launch into.

"What did you do?" Ukyo snapped sarcastically. "Getting yourself engaged!"

"What?! Who told you that?" He demanded.

"Nabiki told me— for a hefty price, that you had gotten another fiancee like that bimbo Shampoo!" The chef hefted her spatula, preparing to hit him with it again.

"She's not my fiancee!" He protested, waving his hands in front of his body in warding.

"Oh yea? Then why are going on a trip with her?" She asked impatiently while tapping her left foot.

"Because she has a lot of things to teach me. She can do all these cool illusions and actually hit me with a dragon made out of water!" He finished excitedly, imagining just what he might be able to do with those techniques.

"So you think she's amazing?" Ukyo asked with a strange edge to her voice.

"I wouldn't say that— but what she's going to teach me is really cool."

"If you wanted to learn cool skills, why didn't you just ask me?" She suddenly turned cheery. "I could show you how to use the yakisoba rope, or how to throw mini-spatulas, maybe even how to prepare flour bombs."

"No thanks Ucchan, I'm looking for useful skills." Ranma turned to finally head into the school to avoid being late and never saw the giant spatula come down on his head for a second time.

"Ranma, I can put up with you stringing along Akane and Shampoo, but until you get rid of this new girl, don't talk to me." She snarled at his downed form before delicately setting a round object directly in front of his face, a small fuse slowly burning down. "And don't call my special techniques useless."

"Crap." He whimpered just as the bomb exploded.

Two days later

Ranma gave his father a curious look as their spar after school had ended with neither of them being thrown into the koi pond. Sure he was immeasurably better than his father now, but the sneaky old man was still able to pull out a trick everyday to send him into the cool water. He could guess what was throwing Genma off.

"Seriously old man, are you that upset that I'm leaving for a couple days?" He taunted.

"Show some respect for your long suffering father, boy." He crossed his arms in an effort to appear as a respectable sensei. "And you should know by now that it's too good to be true when someone offers you techniques for free."

"Yea I should try to steal 'em first." Rolling his eyes, he didn't know what his father found so distasteful about Kaede. She wasn't out to kill him for some petty slight. She was polite and friendly towards him. Was an excellent martial artist like himself, who seemed to have no interest in becoming another unwanted love interest. So just what was everyone getting so upset about?

"Do you have anymore words of wisdom before I get cleaned up?" He asked sarcastically.

Genma closed his eyes and snorted. "How dumb can you be not to see that she wants something from you?" Snorting again, the elder Saotome headed for the home. "Do whatever you want. Experience can only be earned from bad choices."

"Then why are you so useless?" He called to his father, smirking at his verbal, and physical victory. Although without Genma putting up more of a fight there wasn't any real fun in it.

Realizing the time, he rushed through a bath by simply getting himself clean, and avoiding the tub. On the way out with just a pair of pants on and a towel draped over his shoulder, he was nearly bowled over by a glomp by Shampoo.

"Nihao airen." She greeted enthusiastically, nuzzling her head against his cheek.

"Shampoo? What are you doing here?" He tried to disengage from the affectionate girl.

"Here you go on training trip, wife want to wish good luck." Shampoo explained, finally allowing him some personal space.

"Wait—." He looked at his unwanted fiancee skeptically. "You're not mad?"

"What be mad about?" She asked in confusion.

"Nothing! Nothing at all!" He quickly laughed nervously to himself. "Lemme guess, Nabiki sold you the information."

Shampoo's face darkened. "Sneaky girl charge much, must think Shampoo like simple Japanese girl. But no need get angry that Airen learn get stronger."

"Oh— okay." He nodded after deciphering her broken Japanese, not wanting to ruin this moment of good luck.

"But Shampoo warn Airen not let eyes wander." She warned gravely, pulling a sword from somewhere, and pointing it towards his crotch. "Else Airen suffer wife's wrath."

"Sure, sure." He sweated while trying to disregard her threat. Having done that once when first meeting her, he didn't need Shampoo to be out for him once again. The hard point of a cane being jabbed into his lower back made him shriek in surprise and leap into Shampoo's arms.

"Jumpy Son-in-law?" Cologne asked with amusement.

"Damn it, Old Ghoul! Don't do that!" He left Shampoo's arms to glare at the shriveled old woman.

"When you're better at sensing your surroundings, you'll be able to stop me." The elderly woman teased. "We're just here to wish you luck. When you return you'll have to show me what you learned from this girl."

'Fat chance of that.' He thought to himself. "Why not? You helped me out with Happosai— and haven't asked for much in return."

"I also wanted to mention that I have need of a waitress for the dinner shift if you're interested." Cologne motioned for Shampoo to follow her as she hopped out of the changing area. "Don't be a stranger."

"Have fun." Shampoo glomped onto him one more time. "But not too too much fun." She warned before skipping off after Cologne.

Watching the pair depart, Ranma scratched at his head in mild confusion. He had expected to see the Amazons a lot sooner and for them to push themselves more forcefully into his business. But having finally caught a break, he didn't want to jinx it by trying to find out why both the old and young female from China were leaving him be.

Dressed and with a small bag packed with clothes for the weekend, Ranma froze when descending the steps at the sight of Kaede standing next to the entrance. Wearing a blue dress this time down to just above her knees, it was tightened around her waist by a gold belt with several white pearls decorating the buckle.

"Kasumi-san let me in." The blonde bowed her head slightly in greeting. "Are you ready to go?" She asked cheerfully, hands clasped in front of her hips.

Ranma accepted the explanation and nodded quickly. "Lemme just say goodbye first."

"Will it take long? If we don't hurry we'll miss the train. That puts us really behind the schedule I had planned." She pointed out. "It'll cut into our training time if we have to catch the next train."

"Then what are we waiting for?" He chuckled and rushed out the door. He was only going to be gone for a few days so who cares if he didn't say goodbye?

Forty five minutes later

"Hey— Kaede." Ranma tried to draw the blonde's attention up from the game system that had consumed her time since they had sat down on the bullet train. The majority of the seats were all taken up and he was very glad none of his fiancees were around to see him sitting right next to Kaede.

"Huh?" She asked absently, not looking up or really acknowledging his presence, her fingers moving over the buttons in a blur.

"Is there anything you could be teaching me right now?"

"Can't explain it here." The blonde suddenly jerked her hands to the side and held the game at a strange angle as she rapidly pressed the same button repeatedly. "I need to beat this anyways."

Ranma's face fell, considering reaching over and trying to turn off her video game.

"By the way, do you know a girl with long purple hair, and a very old woman in the shape of a shriveled old monkey?" Kaede suddenly asked.

"Did the non-monkey have a short Chinese dress on?" He asked just to be sure and Kaede nodded. "I do."

"Forgot to mention that they were trying to follow us." She paused her game briefly to turn and give him a sly smile. "I let them think we ran into that love hotel we passed by."

"You what?!" He yelled at her, causing all nearby eyes to turn to him. Laughing nervously he continued in a much lower voice. "Why would you do that?" He hissed.

"Just kidding." She went back to playing her game. "They never saw us leave."

Ranma didn't immediately respond, glaring at the blonde for embarrassing him. "You mind teaching me that? Cause it would be really useful." He asked slowly, his voice completely without inflection.

"I wouldn't mind." She answered enigmatically. "If you can pick it up."

Cologne, Amazon matriarch could wait no longer. She had been watching the Tendo estate along with her great granddaughter Shampoo for an hour now. It was long past the time that Ranma was supposed to leave, and neither her great daughters husband or the unknown girl had been seen. Gripping her long staff, she dropped down from the rooftop she had been on, to bounce towards a shoji that was usually open next to the living room.

Immediately she noticed the lack of her son-in-law. All of the Tendos were sitting at the table along with the Saotome patriarch eating dinner. "Is Ranma still in?" She asked, hopping into the room.

"I believe he's still upstairs." The eldest Tendo daughter Kasumi answered helpfully.

"Airen not here." Shampoo announced running into the room.

"He left already?" The youngest Akane asked, her left eye developing an angry tic.

While she was also upset, Cologne was intrigued as to how both Ranma and the unknown girl were able to get by without her notice. "Come Shampoo, we're already too far behind."

'I guess this isn't too bad.' Ranma thought, letting his eyes roam over the small hotel room without a window. It certainly beat being out in a tent and since he didn't expect to spend much time here the size wasn't an issue. The building was a mix of traditional and modern amenities, with a small attached bath area, and a large outdoor onsen just for soaking. The only thing he found troublesome about the whole place was that there was a single queen sized bed tucked back in the corner.

"Ready to get started?" Kaede asked cheerfully, having finished her game on the train while he had slept.

'Floor for me.' He lamented, tapping his foot against the surprisingly hard carpet. "It's about time." He answered the blonde, watching her place a small duffel bag on the bed. 'She packed less than me.'

"First things first, meditation!" She announced.

"Really?" He deadpanned, glaring at the girl in annoyance. All the hours spent on the train doing nothing and he could have been that much further in her training?

"Unfortunately, if you can't gather the proper energy in the right way then it's impossible for me to teach you anything." Kaede smoothed her dress as she knelt down in the largest open area of the floor. "Well?" She asked noticing that he was still glaring at her.

"So special it had to wait? Two and a half hours?" He asked in growing agitation even as he took a seat.

"Not special, but you'll need a calm and stable place to focus properly." She explained. "Obviously you know about ki and from how you reacted during the competition you should know I don't use that."

"Yea, I've been calling it heavy ki."

"Most people call it chakra and it's a combination of spiritual and physical energy." She placed both hands over her stomach. "Both start and mix together here before circulating out to the rest of your body."

"And that makes those illusions how?" He raised an eyebrow, nothing she had said was all that different from what he had figured out. "Or water dragons?"

"By molding chakra in specific ways, that's how you make the water dragon, and how you can make illusions. Currently you're just using it subconsciously and uncontrollably to make yourself stronger. So to start, you need to be able to consciously manipulate the chakra within your body while maintaining a balance between the two energies. So for your first task, close your eyes and try to block out everything around you. Then focus it to one point on your body." She instructed. "You already have and can use it so this should be easy."

"'Kay." Closing his eyes, he tried to focus on what she had said, having already spent a significant amount of time this week attempting this very exercise. "Wait— where am I supposed to focus it?"

"Wherever you want." She answered and he heard her stand up.

"Where are you going?" He asked, peaking open one of his eyes.

"To take a bath, this is probably going to take you some time." She answered, taking her entire duffel bag with her towards the attached bath. "You'll know it when you get it right."

'Shows what you know.' He chuckled to himself. No technique took him significant amounts of time to learn, let alone now that he had a much better understanding to start with.

Ignoring the sound of running water, he slowly breathed in and out while trying to grasp this chakra to focus into one spot. It was harder than he thought, his ki naturally enveloped his body like a cloud with no way to control it. Trying to focus this chakra to even an arm or leg was proving to be incredibly difficult, doubly so when attempting to maintain a balance between energies he barely knew anything about. But if Kaede wanted him to force it to one point then her techniques must require a high degree of skill, so he had to learn how to do it.

He barely noticed how long he was taking until Kaede slid open the door from the bath area. Unconsciously he glanced over to see her exiting wearing a simple white yukata. 'Wow she's cute.' He thought before catching himself and looking away, hoping that she hadn't seen him checking her out.

"Did you get it yet?" She asked teasingly, padding over to walk behind him. Her still damp blonde hair brushed back behind her shoulders.

"Almost." He answered, closing his eyes once again, and trying not to think about what that yukata was hiding. Nope, he certainly wasn't thinking of her lithe form in that way. He had several fiancees back home he was supposed to be thinking those thoughts about.

"That's too bad." Kaede dropped down behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist.

"Wha— what are you doing?" He stuttered, feeling her press her body against his back.

"Maybe you need something more hands on." She whispered into his ear, her right hand tracing a spiral across his stomach. "Just to help you focus?" The spiral she was tracing grew dangerously close to a very private area.

Ranma eeped and swapped places with the beds mattress before Kaede realized his movement. Glancing back he saw the girl's surprised face next to the vertically rolled up mattress a moment before the springs kicked in to resume its normal shape. Kaede squawked in surprise before it collapsed on top of her.

"Um— Kaede?" He asked, petrified over the girl's reaction. He could play tricks on Akane, Ukyo, or Shampoo without worry over their response, Kaede on the other hand was strong enough to make a serious attempt at his life.

"I'm fine." She responded in a strained voice. "Please— um— I can handle it— give me a second."

"Huh? It's not like it's heavy." Shrugging, he figured the danger had passed if she wasn't immediately trying to brain him, he hopped over to pull it off of her. "What's the issue?" He asked after he removed the mattress to find her laying on the floor.

"Nothing." She quickly patted her ears before rising to her feet and straightened her belt. "I was just surprised that you used chakra." She quickly changed the subject.

"That? I just moved really quickly." That had been just one of the many techniques he had picked up from Genma. A lot of them were intended to be used while stealing or escaping if caught. Much like the Saotome cling to the ceiling and pray they don't look up technique.

"Listen, you go get changed so we can go down to the restaurant and I'll explain it over dinner, deal?" She pointed towards a small two drawer cupboard for storing guest yukata.

Ranma scratched at his chin and considered the proposal. On one hand he wanted to know right now how chakra had played a part in his replacement technique, but on the other he was really hungry. "Deal."

Softly slurping up a mouthful of noodles, Kaede glanced across the small table to where Ranma was eating his food with far more enthusiasm. 'He cleans up kind of nice.' She thought, now that he was wearing the hotel supplied light gray yukata. Personally she prefered a more modern western style but that didn't mean traditional didn't have its appeal.

The restaurant was in the back of the building with a small area outside surrounded by trees and designed with ornaments and landscape traditionally associated with a Japanese home. Because the weather was warm and pleasant, they had taken a seat in the open area outside at one of the many low tables. The stars were almost completely hidden by the city lights but she could still make out a crescent moon starting to rise.

With a contented burp, Ranma switched to a cross legged sitting position and leaned back to prop himself up with his hands. "Good stuff." He happily mumbled.

"You eat like a wild animal." She pointed out, having had etiquette drilled into her head since she was a little kid.

"Ah—." He chuckled in embarassment. "It's habit, my old man always stole my food. So I had to get what I could when I could, stupid panda."

"Speaking of pandas, how did you acquire your shape changing? If you don't mind me asking?" She asked feigning ignorance on the subject.

"I think a better question is how you knew about that." Ranma grabbed a hold of his drink and raised it to his mouth. "You ignored it completely." He pointed out before finishing the glass.

Kaede's eyes widened and she almost lost her composure after being called out on her slip up from the tournament. Regaining herself, she took a sip of her own drink to give herself some more time to think.

"The truth is— I was there for your duel with Happosai at Furinkan." She told the partial truth before going into a lie. "I saw some of those pictures you used to distract him and asked around. It wasn't hard to find out that you change genders."

"It's a curse." He tried to correct her quickly. "Wait— why were you at Furinkan?"

His question stopped her from wondering why such an ability was a curse. "Well— I graduated several years ago and was stopping by to visit one of my old teachers. The timing just worked out."

"Oh— alright." He nodded uncertainly. "So what'd you think of the fight?"

"There wasn't much of a fight." She answered, happy to be moving away from questions she could not or would not answer. "Your finishing move has a glaring weakness though. Without your opponent generating heat it's useless."

"Yea, can't believe I had to show those pictures to get the old freak to fight." He mumbled and scratched at the back of his head in embarrassment.

"When you master chakra, you'll be able to create tornados like that at will." She motioned for the waitress to come over and whispered a special order to her. At her statement a big goofy grin spread over Ranma's face. "Although if you choose to seriously explore the use of chakra, your life will be in danger." She said seriously, drawing his attention back away from whatever fantasy he had been enjoying.

"My life's dangerous enough right now, what's a little more?" He boasted and laughed loudly as though he had just told a good joke.

"And will you act like you did when you got your strength back? Destroying everything around you if it suits your fancy?" She asked in disgust after witnessing the destruction he had caused just to celebrate how strong he was.

"It wasn't that bad." He protested weakly and bowed his head.

"But that is what you would do. Hold your abilities over the heads of everyone around you and abuse them for your own personal gain or enjoyment." She looked down sadly as the waitress returned with her order and quickly left.

"I'm sure you've never used that illusion trick of yours just to get one over on someone." Ranma scoffed at her suggestion and crossed his arms. "I saw you toying with Ryoga, he's a pushover you could have beaten in an instant."

"That was different." She tried to interject that it was a competition, that boy had volunteered to be put in that position.

Ranma snorted and continued on. "Sure I've destroyed some property. Who hasn't? But I don't hurt people who can't take it, a martial artist protects the weak. You've got a long way to go if you really want to pull the wise old sensei route if you ask me something so hypocritical."

'He's different from the rumors.' Sitting in silence after being stunned by his sudden shift in temperament, she finally answered him. "Protect the weak is a good code to have."

"It is isn't it." He dropped the serious tone and laughed to himself. "Funny that I picked it up after the old man beat it into me one day."

"How did that happen?" Kaede asked, pouring some of the sake she had just ordered into a saucer.

"Well—." Ranma rolled his head to one side. "When I was real little, there'd always be somebody who wanted to make fun of me for having red eyes. So I'd beat 'em up."

"Just for having red eyes?" She poured a second saucer and pushed it over to his side of the table.

"You know Japanese schools, anything different gets singled out." He shrugged. "Pop got word of it one day and kicked me around to show me that I wasn't so tough. Hi stupid way to teach me not to pick on the weak. After that I got pretty good at insulting them back instead. I didn't want to be a bully— like my Pop."

'Maybe he is different.' She thought, watching as he realized what she had placed in front of him. 'A little bit.'

"Sake?" He asked dubiously.

"We're celebrating, right?" Smirking, she raised her saucer. "You can't tell me you've never drank before."

"I can drink anyone under the table." He boasted before gulping audibly. "I just don't like what happens after."

"Drink to enjoy, Ranma-dono." She quickly drank her small saucer of sake and looked towards him expectantly.

"Just one." He answered her and downed his own saucer. "And no need to be so formal, just call me Ranma, putting dono on it is just weird."

"Drink me under the table and I will." She challenged.

"I'll pass." The red eyed teen grimaced as she poured him some more.

The next morning

It was a beautiful and warm summer day with a pleasant breeze and just a few puffy clouds high in the sky. But Ranma paid very little attention to those details. He knew that Kaede had noticed his attention and he hadn't made a real attempt to hide it. But as they arrived at the shrine by train, he couldn't help but keep his eyes on the blonde girl.

Last night, his low tolerance for alcohol had been proven once again. He had woken up with Kaede in the lone bed of their hotel room with no memory of the prior evening's activities but still fully clothed. Waking up with a girl at his side was honestly not that strange of an occurrence and they had woken up at nearly the same time. He had been about to stutter an apology just to try and avoid any Akane-like reaction when he had noticed her shocked expression. As well as a large pair of blonde furred triangular ears on the top of her head that flicked once. They appeared for only an instant and in the next she looked completely normal.

While he was confident that had not been seeing things, he had no clue how to discuss the oddity. So that left him impotently trying to figure out what was going on. A byproduct of how they had woken up was that Kaede had gone completely silent and gave him the cold shoulder. So on top of the mystery, his reason for the trip wasn't happening.

The trip company or whoever organized this had supplied them with matching yukatas to wear for the activities they had planned for the day. His was a slightly darker shade of blue but they were both decorated with the same two tomoe symbol spattered randomly on the fabric. Ranma found the use of a symbol so much like a yin-yang taijitu to be a little too convenient but the sooner they got through this boring trip to the shrine the sooner they could get back to training. (1)

"Kaede." He finally decided to ask the girl and maybe clear the air.

"What is it?" She asked, turning to look in his direction but not directly at him.

"Did you have—." He scratched at his chin before putting both hands up to the top of his head. "Ears this morning?" He finished.

Ranma noticed her eyes widened imperceptibly in response and she quickly reached up to pat her ears. "What kind of question is that? You must have vastly overrated your tolerance if you were still seeing things in the morning. Aren't you more worried about how we ended up in the same bed?" She quickly changed the subject.

"Well no not really." He dropped his hands to his side.

"Well I am! My family is very traditional and if anything happened then it could mean big trouble!"

"But nothing happened!" He protested loudly, earning a few looks from the small amount of people on the way to visit the shrine this early in the morning. "And your parents and definitely not my fiancees need to ever know it happened." He said much quieter.

"Agreed." She nodded quickly and sighed. "Let's hurry, so we can beat the crowd." She suggested more cheerfully.

"Same." He agreed in time to be hit in the face with water by an old woman dousing the walkway.

"Oh— I'm sorry dear." The short elderly woman apologized slowly, head and body shaking slightly as she dipped her ladle down into a bucket to retrieve more water. "My eyes aren't what they used to be."

Ranma just stared down at the old woman, unconsciously adjusting her clothing to try and lift the bottom off the ground and retie her obi. "Maybe aim lower next time." She said slowly.

"Maybe." The old woman answered absently, splashing even more water on the stone. "You two seem a good pair."

Giving up on the senile old woman, she turned back to Kaede. "You see anyplace around here where I could get some hot water to change back?"

The blonde was analyzing her closely enough that she didn't immediately respond. "If you stayed like that it would stop comments about us being a couple." She pointed out.

"I guess it wouldn't hurt— for a little while." Ranma had heard a few remarks like that and she knew that eventually Shampoo, Ukyo, and maybe Akane or Kodachi could be tracking her down at any moment. This would look less incriminating when that finally happened. And if she remembered correctly there were a lot of fountains around the shrine so this would preempt another activation of the curse.

"Come on, we're supposed to meet up at the first shrine down the path." Kaede left her to head towards the two rows of red torii that headed up the hill. Ranma followed, briefly wondering who they were supposed to meet and why they would want to so far away from the entrance.

"What's the rush?" She asked, catching up as Kaede slowed to a stop upon entering the right path. Glancing at the company names engraved on the hundreds of torii in just her field of view, she felt like she was going down a tunnel with how many of the red arches lined the path. Ranma nearly bumped into Kaede's back as the blonde stopped suddenly to stare forward. "Is being weird normal for you?" She asked curiously.

"Ranma-dono, if this was your last day alive, what would you want to do?" Kaede asked seriously, turning to stare directly into her eyes.

"Not get asked dumb questions." She replied flippantly.

"Tell me." Kaede demanded, shoulders stiffening.

"Well—." Ranma scratched at the side of her head. "Guess I would have liked to have slept in to start, breakfast could have been better, and more of it."

"I'm serious." The girl before her looked ready to deliver a slap for her response.

"Me too." Shrugging she didn't see anything wrong with what she had said. "If it really was my last day alive— I'd rather not know it. So what would be so wrong with enjoying things that I enjoy doing?"

"You're not different— you're just dumb." She snorted and resumed her quick pace down the path.

"Dumb?" Ranma asked herself. "Dumb?!" She yelled and ran after the blonde. "If you think you're so smart than what would you do if this was your last day alive? Huh?" Ranma ran in front of Kaede with a burst of speed. "You ask me that kind of stupid question out of nowhere and insult me over it!" She yelled into the other females passive face.

"I apologize Ranma-dono, it was not my place to ask such a thing." Kaede apologized and slowly raised a hand to lightly tap Ranma in the center of her chest.

Ranma barely realized what was going on before the blonde's hand touched her. The chakra enhanced touched sent her flying several meters down the line of torii. Sliding to a stop she groaned and quickly rose back to her feet. "What did you do that for?" She yelled.

Kaede didn't answer other than to clasp her hands together in a strange sign. Ranma felt the air around her explode in power, her vision distorting as she collapsed to her knees. Her ears rang and she clutched at her head, trying desperately to keep out the heavy thrumming that shook her entire body.

Attempting to crawl away from the area, the last thing Ranma saw was Kaede changing hand signs, and watching impassively as the world appeared to melt away.

Ranma stirred, her mind foggy as she tried to get her bearings. Her memory was hazy, the last thing she remembered was Kaede watching impassively as the world vanished around her. There was something else that came after it but it was escaping her grasp. Laying on a cold hard surface, she struggled against a strange pressure weighing on her mind to come out of her stupor.

"Wake up." A deep masculine voice pleaded.

Her red eyes fluttered open, feeling a warm and powerful presence overwhelming the cold of the floor. "Bwa?" She rose to a sitting position and stared at the massive gilded barred door before her. Ranma couldn't make anything out past the bars the small amount of light in the room was being swallowed up by an impenetrable darkness.

"Oh good you're awake." The man's voice reached her again.

"Who's there?" She asked, rising to her feet unsteadily before looking around the room. The roof was nearly twenty meters high and the width was about the same. The only way out was a normal sized door directly across the room from the bars.

"I am." He called out and Ranma finally saw the man standing between two of the bars, a wall of black behind him.

"Where am I?" She asked, cautiously moving towards him. There was something about him that was incredibly familiar.

Standing nearly two meters in height, he had a slim build, and his facial features reminded her a little of herself. Save the two dark markings around his red vertically slitted eyes that extended slightly towards his pointed ears. Long orange hair draped down past his shoulders in a wild spiky mane. Wearing only a black vest and matching pants, it was easy to lose his body in the background.

"There isn't much time." He said impatiently, noticing her scrutiny. "Please, remove this seal." He pointed upwards to a piece of paper pressed against the lock of the bars with the kanji for seal on it.

"Who are you?" Ranma's curiosity was getting the better of her. His appearance looked so familiar that she swore she had seen him somewhere.

"Now isn't the time for such questions. If you don't free me soon then he'll come." He explained with far more urgency in his voice and a little anger.

"Who will come?" She asked and his face twisted into a scowl.

Out of nowhere an intense feeling of hatred hit her like a physical blow. "I said remove the seal!" He yelled, his body vanishing in a large puff of smoke before she had to leap backwards to avoid claws larger than her body shooting out between the bars.

"What the hell is that?" She asked herself, running nearly back to the center of the room, and watching the giant pair of red eyes that now glared out at her, unable to see anything else.

"I will have my freedom!" A thick red mist rolling through the bars to head towards her like a living river.

"I'm not helping you now!" Ranma didn't stick around to play with the mist that was moving towards her. But as soon as she started towards the one way out, the liquid like mist moved with startling speed to cut off her escape. "Well— shit." She commented, having nowhere to go to avoid whatever the monster was doing.

The creature chuckled deeply, the mist swirling around her, clearly toying with her. "I know you can feel it too."

A hand clasped her on the shoulder, nearly making her jump into the air from the shock. Turning around, she only caught a glimpse of blonde hair framing calm blue eyes before everything went black again. A frighteningly loud roar of anger chasing her into unconsciousness.

Naruto woke up in bed and everything was normal. Except for the impossible thing that was laying next to him in bed. Squinting at the figure to see if the form would waver and vanish, it remained as though it was an actual physical being. Shrugging and deciding not to worry about the impossible thing, he went to make himself a nice hot breakfast of instant ramen noodles.

His hunger sated, he returned to his room, and surveyed that impossible thing that was now partially entwined with his blankets. Rubbing at the side of his head, he wondered what he should do about the thing that should not be. The thing that was snoring and laying in his bed.

"Oi." He reached out a hand to touch the woman with wild unbound red hair after she turned onto her side. His hand never made it as he froze up at the view now afforded to him. The sleeveless green gi top had opened up enough to show off her generous breasts. Moaning cutely, she shifted one of her long toned legs up towards her body.

'So— so hot!' He quickly ran out of the room and back in. 'Okay just calm down, there is an incredibly hot red head in your bed and you have no clue how she got there. What now?' Cursing that he didn't have a camera he paced back and forth in frustration.

Taking in a deep breath, Naruto firmed his resolve, and reached out to shake her shoulder. "Oi, wake up." He was not expecting for a dainty hand to snag him by the wrist and throw him face first into the wall.

"What did you do that for?" He demanded, jumping back from the surprisingly forceful impact. The only answer he got was a unfeminine snort and the woman rolling over to wrap herself up further in his blankets.

"Wake up!" He shouted and slammed both hands down on the bed, bouncing her upwards nearly a meter in the air. Two wild red eyes snapped open and found his own blue ones immediately.

"What are you—." He never got to finish his question as one of her bare legs snapped out to kick him square in the face.

"What the hell am I wearing?!" Ranma cried out, looking down at the highly modified gi she had been dressed in. "It's so—." She picked at some of the silken fabric that instead of folding over to completely cover her chest only partially closed, emphasizing her bust.

"Ugh it's like some kind of fetish cosplay." The bottom barely went past her crotch but it was a small mercy to her very underdeveloped sense of feminine modesty that she had tight black shorts on underneath. Angrily brushing her unbound hair back as some of it fell forward and into her way, she ignored a nagging part of her mind that became hyper focused on that detail.

Pausing after a few creative curses for the one who decided to play dress up while she had been out, Ranma finally paid attention to the small blond kid she had knocked out. Halfway embedded in the wall, one leg occasionally twitching, it reminded Ranma of something Akane might do.

"You alright kid?" She asked worriedly, hoping she hadn't crippled someone from an instinctive reaction. Hearing a pained groan, she carefully pulled him free of the wall. "You good?" She asked the young boy who looked to be about eleven with a set of three whisker like marks on each cheek.

"Mo wamen pwease." He whimpered before collapsing to the floor in a heap.

"Yea you'll be fine." She nodded and patted him on the head before inspecting her surroundings. Just a small apartment filled with cheap knick knacks and littered with clothing, scrolls, and a handful of used instant ramen cups.

Looking out a set of windows, she blinked several times in confusion at the strange mix of building styles that filled her view. It was like someone took a style from a bunch of different cultures and just threw them together then put some vaguely Japanese touches to try and tie everything together.

"Hey Kaede! This joke isn't funny anymore. Get rid of this stupid illusion already!" She called out, feeling uncomfortable with the unfamiliar city. "Kaede?" She asked with much less force when there was no response.

Two men wearing white animal masks dropped down to a nearby roof, both brandishing several short knives in each hand. Waving one of her hands at the pair and chuckling nervously, her well honed sense that told her when bad things were about to happen was informing her that this might not be her day.

"Yipe!" Grabbing the blond kid, she ducked through the bedrooms doorway moments before the window exploded from dozens of bladed weapons plowing through it. Her bare feet skidded on the wooden floor upon finding another masked man preparing to throw a very large shuriken at her.

"Release him!" The masked man shouted as he threw the weapon.

"Sure thing, but can't we talk about this?" She asked, dodging the weapon, and sliding the boy into a small washroom to the side. The answer she received was the masked man attempting to stab her in the face. Flowing around his attack to get behind him, she jumped up, and planted a kick to his back that sent him flying through the doorway to tumble into the window frame.

"See ya kid!" She called out upon seeing even more masked men leaping up to land on a small ledge outside the window. "Now which way is the exit out of this nuthouse?" She added before rushing through the door, several throwing knives and shuriken slamming into the wall behind her as she rounded the corner.

Fifteen minutes later

Ranma carelessly dispatched one of the masked guys as he attempted to stab her with one of the small throwing knives they all seemed to carry. His mask shattered and blood splattered over her outstretched fist that deftly caught the knife by the handle. Hearing someone yell out an attack, she caught a man on top of a nearby building wearing a green flack jacket and no mask finish up with a hand sign. Large stone spikes were formed from the building beneath him to shoot out at her position.

"Shit!" She jumped up to plant both feet on the masked guys shoulders before he could fall and pushed. Ranma rocketed one way while he was pushed another a moment before the stone spikes smashed through the building they had been on. Twisting in mid air, she landed on stone shingles before running between two buildings.

At first she had tried to avoid causing severe injuries or death but these guys were not interested in showing her the same courtesy. She had already taken hits from small chakra created techniques like Kaede could do, and even with her speed occasionally some blade would cut her. There was no time to question any of the animal masked soldiers before more appeared. The ones who wore green flack jackets without masks kept their distance so she was forced to just avoid their attacks.

Bouncing between the buildings, she overshot the rooftop, and tried to use the extra height to see a way out of this crazy city. She saw one side was framed by a tall mountain with four faces carved into the rock. But the rest was just surrounded by a tall outer wall and a vast forest of trees.

Before she could even land, Ranma had to deflect or avoid a dozen more thrown weapons. Hissing in pain as several caught her exposed flesh to create long gashes across her legs and arms she landed on the roof next to them. Losing herself for a moment, and only after the four men were laying in heaps on the ground did she come back to rationality.

"These guys just don't know when to quit." She wheezed, partially out of breath. Snagging a couple more of the throwing knives just for her own defense, she really wished she knew what was going on. She vaguely remembered something with Kaede at the shrine, could the blonde be behind this?

Having caught her breath, she decided to ignore everything to try and get out of the city as fast as possible. That simple plan ended as three people appeared in puffs of smoke in the direction she needed to travel. All men wearing the green flack jackets, blue pants and sandals, and lacking masks with silver forehead protectors were tied in place around their heads. One of the men, who had a feral look to his face, had a very large wolf-like dog growling at her from his side.

"Uh— you guys mind telling me why you're trying to kill me?" She chuckled nervously and scratched at the back of her head, not liking the look of that dog.

"Stuck inside Naruto for twelve years must have made the Kyuubi an idiot." One of the men joked with the others.

"Kyuubi?" She asked in confusion. Why would anyone call her nine tails?

"Too much talking!" The feral one clasped his hands together. "Let's go Kiromaru!"

'Fast!' Ranma barely avoided the lunging jaws of the giant dog and a follow up snap as she side stepped. The feral man joined in the attack with equal speed, but she deflected his punch then redirected his momentum to throw him into the dog who was coming around for another attack. Glancing at the other two, she saw them putting their hands together in different series of signs. Assuming that they weren't going to endanger their partner, she was running towards the man and dog duo before they had even collided.

"That bitch!" The human half of the dog duo cursed her as he bowled over his companion.

"Leave your mutt out of this." She taunted as she bounced off the top of his head, knocking him back down on top of the canine who protested the treatment with a loud whine.

Ranma's somewhat jovial moment was ended by a sharp stabbing pain in her right shoulder blade. Hissing in pain, she continued over the edge of the roof, and looked back long enough to see one of the throwing knives digging deeply into her flesh. Reaching back to pull it out, a small note attached to it suddenly started to burn.

Her next moment of conscious thought were laying sprawled on the ground, ears ringing, and body numb. Struggling to raise herself up to a sitting position, the knives she had pilfered having been lost, she slowly looked back to see the devastated area where she had been standing. An explosion having destroyed most of the three story wall. Four more of the knives with small notes attached landed around her and Ranma's eyes widened in alarm. She had barely made it out of the semicircle before the notes started to burn.

This time she felt the explosions, her body tumbling uncontrollably through the air before going through several wooden walls. "Not fair." She groaned, blood trickling down between her eyes. Her vision was clear enough to see another of the green vest wearing men land in a crouch through the holes she had made.

Weakly rising to her feet and running out of his line of sight, she stumbled over household items, and broke through a doorway to get back outside. Her right arm refused to move properly as she tried to avoid being spotted by moving through the empty alleyways. Barely hiding behind some trash cans as one of the animal masked men inspected the area, she wiped some blood out of her eyes.

As soon as he left, she was on the move again while constantly searching the rooftops for anyone who would alert the city to her position once again. It seemed like hours before she finally got to the edge of the city. Flattening herself against a wall, she carefully scanned the open area she would have to cross in order to reach the tree line on the far side.

Ranma conceded that these guys were good at evacuation because she had only encountered fighters. Carefully leaning out of her hiding spot to check the rooftops as best she could, Ranma decided there wouldn't be a better time to make the crossing. Hampered by her injuries, she was sure that she had been spotted by the time she reached cover again. Glancing back, there were no shouts to raise the alarm, and no masked men watching from the rooftops.

Releasing the breath she had been holding and thanking every god for her good luck, she continued on her way through the trees towards the large wall surrounding the city. Her body began to protest more and more at the treatment it was currently enduring. Her feet hurt due to rocks buried in her skin, everyone of the cuts decorating her body stung, her right shoulder felt like it was dislocated, and blood would not stop dripping into her eyes from the cut on her forehead.

But things were looking up, that big wall was looking closer, and if she could get out of this crazy city then she could start trying to find her way back home. After cleaning herself up and taking care of her injuries of course. Maybe even finding that asshole who threw those explosives and knock him around with them.

"Oh come on!" She exclaimed in frustration, the trees stopping abruptly to plunge into a vertical cliff down to a quarry far below. Time was a factor and this was going to eat up a lot of it just to walk around to the other side.

"Doton Dosekiryuu!" Someone shouted from behind her and the ground under Ranma's feet gave way. (2)

Letting out a brief shriek in surprise, she had no way to jump away as the entire cliff collapsed. Mud, rocks, and other debri pelted her as thousands of kilos of liquified earth struck the bottom of the quarry fifty meters below. Tossed and turned, the mudslide finally came to a stop leaving her half buried with a few tree branches brushing against her face.

Ranma stared at the offending branch with a bored look before with a scream of frustration she grabbed it and broke it into as many pieces as she could. Pulling her lower half free, she flopped tiredly on to her back. Above she could see several dozen men and a few women waiting around the remaining edge of the quarry.

Trying to push herself back up to her feet, her right arm gave out making her fall back on her face. Groaning, she tried again, and stumbled with loose footing before finally gaining a vertical base. 'Nowhere to go.' She thought sadly, her body ready to give out just from standing. "Hey! I give up! You caught me! I'm sorry for whatever I did!" She called up to them.

At some unspoken signal, her attackers above each threw various kinds of throwing weapon down towards her. Ranma was going to try and avoid them up until the air was filled with tiny pops and puffs of smoke filled up the sky as the weapons multiplied into hundreds to blanket the entire area in steel. Her face fell, realizing that she would never be able to dodge fast enough.

Her one good arm flashed out to catch the first throwing knife that entered her reach. With all the remaining speed she had, Ranma deflected every blade she could. As the wave of throwing knives, shuriken, and other oddly shaped metal finally ended, her left arm dropped lifelessly to her side. Around her, the deflected weapons finally hit the ground to embed in the loose soil.

Ranma's breath came in and out in deep gasps, the single throwing knife in her hand slipped from her limp fingers. Her head drooped and she fell to her knees. "Guess that's it." She remarked in a mumble before falling over on her side.

A Fox Among the Leaves

Far from the woods with the great trees, dug into the side of a gently rolling hill, was the home of the young fox. Stocked with all the pleasurable amenities that made his life easy, he spent his days innocently frollicking with his neighbors, and enjoying any activity without a care.

One day, after a time of causing mischief, the fox was approached by an elder who always appeared and vanished with the wind. Inviting himself into the fox's home, he sat smoking a long pipe, and occasionally scratching at his long silver beard as he explained why he had come.

Across the gentle hills in the woods with the great trees so big and tall that they could hide the sun. A cruel and evil monster had appeared. The young fox, who was strong and brave, was the only one who could put a stop to it.

But the young fox was also lazy. He had a great deal of pranks planned for the next day and the woods with the great trees was several days travel away. If he went, all his preparations would be wasted. He made a great show of complaining, begging the elder to find someone better, offering an endless amount of favors if he could remain. The elder would hear none of it, directing him to make haste for the wood with the great trees.

Finally he relented, agreeing to make the journey, and fight this evil. But he made no promises, planning that within a few days he could return without having to do a thing.

Author Notes

Use of fox versus kitsune. Kitsune will be used to denote the spiritual being while fox will be used for the normal animal, or as an insult.

1 - The chinese symbol for the concept of yin and yang. Futatsudomoe would be the name for the style on their clothing.

2 - Earth Release Mudslide