Actions

Work Header

Nodoka 2/1

Chapter Text

Nodoka 2/1
The Chroma Series

Act 00, Part 01

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

DISCLAIMER:
Welcome to my world, a blend of a great many things, almost none of which are owned by me. It is a crummy world of plot holes, spoilers, gratuitous Japanese and spelling errors, poorly written, then poured into a blender, set to liquefy, spread on a cookie sheet and baked at three hundred and fifty degrees for half an hour. As my horrible metaphor proves, don't expect great art. I've never written a 'story' before. So, apologies to all of the creators who's creations are about to be abused.

This story is also likely to (eventually) contain references to things like sex, substance abuse (like Rice Wine), and other 'evils' of the world. None of that will likely be portrayed in neither a serious nor a respectful manner. ...Or maybe it will, who knows what I will do when I actually get to that part of the story... I sure don't (nor even if I 'will' get to that part of the story).
Either way, you have been warned!!!

~ This Fic is a Free Fan Sub, if you paid for it, then we all got ripped off~

"Speech"
'Thought'
{Author's Notes & *Translations* Feel free to skip these}

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

PROLOGUE

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mikuru Asahina was returning to her assignment after making her latest 'in person' report to her superiors when her Temporal Plane Destruction Device (TPDD) startled her with an error alarm and she felt herself drawn into a strange dimension. She opened her eyes and stopped screaming when she felt herself gently resting on something firm, what she saw reminded her of a witch's tower from old stories, complete with what looked like a cauldron. Not noticing the sparks coming out of her TPDD she looked into the cauldron to see what looked like a movie about a small boy with a short braid, learning the Martial Arts. She turned quickly when she heard someone cough, "Yes, yes, my favorite 'program'. Oh my, your device seems to be broken, let me see that... And don't touch that!"

"What, you mean this? Whoops!"

"Oh dear, you pushed the Cat-Fist training up a few years. That was not supposed to happen on this time line! Here, take your primitive device and go home, I think you have done enough damage here already!" The man tosses the TPDD toward the girl who has a hard time catching it before she continues her return trip, glad to be away from the scary man, who quickly pulls out a bucket of popcorn as his form shimmers back into that of a black cat, and says (with a full mouth), "This could be interesting... No sense letting a show go to waste." And he settles in to watch this new 'movie'.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

CHAPTER 01
The Art of Timing

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Somewhere outside of Tokyo, standing in a field, there was a man in his mid twenties wearing a dirty white gi, glasses, and a bandanna that is trying to hide the beginnings of his thinning hairline. This man was shouting what he thought of as 'words of encouragement' into a pit that he had dug. He was also doing his best to ignore the inhuman sounds and terrified screams of a child coming from the pit.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Several hours later Genma Saotome strolls into his wife's beautiful home, carrying his still sobbing son by the collar of his tattered gi. He was about to toss him toward the bath to tell him to clean up when he felt the heat now directly in front of him as his wife, on the verge of a conniption fit, lost all of her anger the moment she heard her son sob out a tear-filled "'KAAA-TAAAN!!"
{*'Kaa-tan = cutesy kids way of screaming Okaa-Chan, or 'mommy'*}

She comforted her son as she looked him over, seeing all of the cuts, bites, and bruises through his tattered and blood soaked gi. Shooting Genma a look that will give him nightmares for years to come, she takes her son to treat his wounds. After he was cleaned up and calmed down, she asked him to explain how he had gotten hurt so badly, only to hear the horrors of the Neko-Ken training from a firsthand participant fresh from the experience.
{*Neko-Ken = Cat-Fist*}

After taking some time to comfort her son and calm down, she promises Ranma "This will never happen to you again, I will make sure of it!" She gets him some dinner and then sends him off to bed.

Finding her husband sitting in his favorite place, at the dining room table, with an expectant look on his face, she once again had to stop and calm herself for a moment. "Husband, depending on how you answer the following questions I may find myself a widow, and you will not have a need to find food ever again. So, why is it that my four year old son looks like he was mauled by a pack of 'starving cats'?"

"Secret training technique. Supposed to make the user an invincible warrior."

"And you felt that was appropriate to do to a four year old, why? Where did you learn this technique? Do you even 'know' it?"

Genma pulls out the book of advanced combat, containing the secret, ancient technique, which is then snatched out of his hand before he can utter a word. "Let me see that!" *Flip*Flip*Flip* "Note: This training method is too stupid for real life. Anyone who would teach this to someone should have their head examined." Handing the book back to Genma with that page open, "So, you are telling me that you read this and thought, 'This is the perfect thing to do to my son'?"

"Well, I didn't read THAT part of it!"

"NANI-O?!?!?! You didn't read the whole thing before subjecting our son to this?" 'Kami-Sama, Onegai, don't let my son take after my husband! I beg you!'
{*Nani-o = polite way of saying 'what'*} {*Kami = God/Gods/Goddess/Goddesses, usually followed by a -sama*} {*Onegai = Please*}

"Well, um, it fooled me completely!"

"Dear husband, I do not, at this point, believe that would take overly much."

"Damn it woman, this is exactly why I need to take him on a training journey, away from your smothering, feminine ways, you dote on him so much he will end up soft!"

"The only things 'soft' around here are your head, your gut and ...THAT, husband of mine. I could call my father, I am sure he would let you off with a simple act of seppuku, I on the other hand, am not feeling so lenient, yet. You WILL live, but you will not only NOT be taking my son on this training journey, but you will no longer be his instructor in the art!"

"Nani? Then who will? YOU?"
{*Nani = Not the polite way of saying 'what'*}

"You think I can't? I happen to come from a long line of Samurai, and you will do well to remember that fact."

Genma could not manage to do anything other than stare at her and stammer.

"Apparently it's decided then, I will contact my lawyer to set up a post box so it can be forwarded when I am in one place long enough to receive it, and arrange payments to maintain the house. You like 'roughing it' so much, you will fend for yourself. I am feeling generous so I will tell them to give you an allowance of one thousand yen a week for your 'fun' money." The look on her face allowing no protest. "Assuming I return, I expect you to have done something constructive while I am gone, and if I am not happy with the results, I may well be in the market for a new husband."

Nodoka heads toward the phone to start making arrangements leaving her husband at the table to wonder why food hasn't been magically placed in front of him yet, "Something seems wrong somehow, I wonder what it is..."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice...
Wendy and Marvin were playing fetch with Wonder Dog, and generally being useless.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The next morning...

Ranma awakens to the sound of packing. Ever the curious boy, he runs off to investigate. What he finds is his mother running around packing gear and making phone calls, and his father standing around looking confused. 'Oh, 'Kaa-tan looks busy, and 'in-trup-et-ting' is bad manners, so guess should ask Oyaji!' Looking proud of himself, Ranma walks over to Genma and asks, "'Sup, Oyaji?"
{*Oyaji = impolite way of saying father, 'Pops' or 'Old Man', can also refer to one's boss*}

"Ranma, my boy, you are about to go on a long, and arduous training journey. There will be many hardships. But never forget, you are a man among men, and remember Oyaji."

"You not going?"

"No son, your mother will be training you now."

"But, Oyaji, thought you said 'women are weak!'"

"This might well be the last advice you get from me, so heed it well, boy,"

"But you said I was 'man among men'."

"That you are son, that you are, now listen to my advice," he bends down to whisper into his ear, "never let your mother hear you say that!"

"Say 'what', dear?"

"Nothing, nothing at all..." Genma tries (and fails) to smile honestly.

"OK dear, I have one thing left to do before we are ready to go. Ranma, we will not be back for a long time, say good bye to your father, we will be leaving soon, so grab anything you want to take with you."

"KAY!" Ranma waves at Genma and runs off to his bedroom to grab his 'treasures', while Nodoka walks back into the kitchen to call the maid service once again. "Yes, this is Saotome Nodoka, I spoke with you about service for my house until further notice. Yes, I would like to add some special instructions. While they are free to cook whatever they like for themselves, and wash their own clothing, they are specifically instructed to NOT do those things for my 'husband'. He is to take care of his own needs, and clean up after himself. Hai. Arigato-gozaimasu, I appreciate your understanding in this matter." A grin creeps across Nodoka's lovely features as she double checks to make sure she has packed all of the supplies and training materials she could find.
{*Hai. Arigato-gozaimasu = Yes. Thank you VERY much*}

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ranma is just returning to the entryway shoving a Voltron figure, a rubber ball, some Kinkeshi figures and a deck of cards into his backpack, as his mother returns from going down her checklist. As Nodoka and Ranma gather up their belongings and head for the door, Genma 'thinks' aloud "What am I going to do with only thousand yen a week?"

"How about, 'Getting a Job'!" and with that Nodoka and Ranma head out front where a taxi cab is waiting for them with Ranma happily singing an old American song he had heard by a Doo Wop group named, The Silhouettes.

Looking out the window seeing the cab pull away Genma mutters to himself, "See what I mean, Soft! Tendo old friend, it looks like I may have failed you!" Deciding that he might as well get drunk, he beings to work on that.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Genma was elated the next day when he found out that his wife had thought of hiring a maid for while she was away. The elation was just as quickly dashed to pieces when he discovered that her instructions specifically included making him pick up after himself, cook his own meals, making his own bed and doing his own laundry! He relaxed a bit when he thought, 'Well, after all, what is she going to do, make me? She would be just a woman! Besides, I am the boss, she is the maid!' Satisfied with his logic he went back to relaxing. It wouldn't be long before Genma was to realize that in fact he was NOT the boss, Nodoka was, ...and she wanted him to learn some responsibility.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

After checking into their hotel room, Nodoka decides Ranma could use a few days to recover from the mental and physical traumas of the previous day even if his body had already mostly done so. She begins pouring over the various scrolls and tomes she had brought with them, employing the amazing learning skills that have helped her family for generations, to be very successful, at whatever it is they do.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Genma is awoken by the sound of the doorbell, or from his perspective gongs being beaten by his ears. Dragging himself off of what is, at least technically, partly his couch and lumbering over, he answers the door. After a moment to recover from being blinded by morning light piercing holes through his eyes and into his brain, he is able to focus on the person who woke him from his drunken stupor. To his considerable surprise, before him stood what appeared to be a young girl, dressed in a maid's uniform, her dirty blond hair had been trimmed into a bowl cut that curled in just above her large blue eyes.

'This will be easier than I thought.'

The small girl bows formally with a bright smile on her face, "Hajimemashite, Goshujin-sama. Hausu Maido, Fubuki desu."
{*= 'Nice to meet you, Master. I am the house maid, Fubuki.'*}

"Girl, you hardly look 8 years old, are you really the maid?"

Briefly, she loses her smile as she sniffles. Looking at the ground with her hands behind her she whispers, "I am 6, my mommy and daddy died 2 years ago and my grandmother helped train me as a maid and get me this job."

In his hungover state, Genma actually feels a twinge of sympathy for this poor girl's story, but it fades almost as quickly as he thinks, 'Kami-sama, I need more sake.', but aloud he says, "OK, come on in, kitchen is over there, the laundry room is back there, and if you need me, I will be in there." Pointing back toward his wife's comfy couch.

Fubuki finds it strange that the large man didn't really show her around or where she should be putting her things. Being the generally cheerful girl that she was, she took it in stride and began to familiarize herself with her new home and to see what needed the most attention. For his part, Genma did his best to resume his drunken slumber.

- - - - - - - - - -

"Goshujin-sama?"

"Goshujin-Sama?" *Poke*Poke* "Are you awake? I am supposed to make sure you eat now."

At the mention of food, Genma's stomach forces his brain to come around. "Ah, you brought me food, such a good girl." Smiling, Genma sits up, looking around for his plate. "Where is it?"

"Sumimasen Goshujin-sama, I was instructed to make sure you prepare your own food yourself. I will assist you if needed though."
{*Sumimasen = Pardon me, excuse me, sorry*}

"Well then, why don't you just make it then and bring it to me, I am sure that would be much easier."

"Demo Goshujin-sama, my instructions are quite clear on this point, I really need to keep this job."
{*Demo = But, even so, nevertheless, however, etc.*}

"Then I guess you really ought to do what I say then."

"But sir, it is the duty of a good maid to follow her instructions to the letter."

"No one will know."

"Goshujin-sama, I must insist..."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Thirty minutes later passersby witness Fubuki running out of the Saotome home, tears streaming from her eyes. None of them aware that she had left her belongings behind, herself included.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Nodoka finished reviewing her materials, and felt she had the basics down pat. 'Tomorrow the real workout will begin. Taking care of her house has kept me in pretty good shape, if I do say so myself.' Admiring herself in the mirror, Nodoka realizes she will need some better clothing for the adventure ahead. "Ranma-kun, I believe we should be prepared, so let's go shopping!"

"OK! Do I get a toy?"

"If you behave like a man, my son." Ranma smiles at this, dropping what he was doing, only to go back and put his toy away first and then following his mother as calmly as he could manage.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Later that evening, after a nice meal out, they return to their hotel room, Nodoka with bags in hand and Ranma playing with his new UFO Robo Grendizer.
{Other names include Mazinger Z, Tranzor Z, and several other things}

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE NEXT DAY...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Nodoka and Ranma awaken bright and early the next morning, donning their matching black silk dogi and warrior's braids. Ranma's was sleeveless, with a bright red lining and matching red sash, while Nodoka's had sleeves with pink accents and sash. With spirits high, they head out for the first day of training.
{*Keikogi or Dogi - Do/Keiko=Practice / Gi=Martial Arts Outfit*}

"Ranma, show me your normal morning warm-up exercises." Nodoka quickly picks up the pattern and begins trying to make her body match what her mind knows to do. They continue this until Nodoka feels her body is performing well enough and move on to the next exercise, as Nodoka gets used to the new movements and quickly begins to catch up to her four year old son.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Genma once again is awoken from a drunken sleep by what seemed to be an earth shattering clanging sound in a pattern that seemed to him to resemble his doorbell. Also, once again, he lumbers over to be blinded by unforgiving morning rays as he opens his door, and is, again, surprised by what awaited him.As his eyes slowly adjusted, the sight that slowly came into focus for him practically startling him sober, more shocking than even Happosai coming to take him on another 'training trip'. Instead of that demon, what stood before him was a monster of a man, with long black hair, a maid-like mask covering the top portion of his face with glowing yellow eyes, wristbands with chains wrapped around them, and his massive frame was stuffed into an ankle-length maid's dress, similar to Fubuki's except the sleeves were torn off and he didn't look near as cute in his. On his face was a wide grin filled with big, pointy, shark-like teeth that, if Genma wasn't mistaken (and he usually was), were metallic! So startled he was, Genma failed to notice that he had taken a few steps back, as well as failing to notice little Fubuki-chan hiding behind the figure.

"Kukukukuku, what a troublesome Goshujin you are! You who likes to make cute little girls cry. Well, there is a reason your wife selected our company, and you are about to find out what that reason is. So, enjoy it, my perfect service! That's me, Maid Guy!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

After long hours of what could loosely be called 'debate', a deal was reached. Kogarashi would take care of Genma's personal needs, in exchange, Genma would provide Fubuki with training in The Art so that she would no longer have to be afraid of 'human garbage, such as himself'.

"Maid Guy's plan to deepen our friendship... IS ABOUT TO BEGIN!!!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In order to fill in the large gaps in her training Nodoka felt the best place to start was to find a ki specialist so she could augment her physical abilities and to help her catch up to her son's level more quickly. She had read the books on the subject, and understood it in theory, but putting it into practice was proving harder than she had hoped, it had seemed like second nature when she was a child, the rest of her family made it seem so easy.

She had her contacts scouring the nation looking for who would be the best ki trainer for them and where they were located, and it seemed as though her search has paid off. Descended from the legendary warrior, artist and Ki Master Toshimasu Maeda. Kyoshi Maeda had not only an outstanding pedigree, but also decades of experience teaching her skills to a very select few. But Nodoka's story had been conveyed and Kyoshi had agreed to meet with them and render her verdict. And here they were, approaching her home, clinic and dojo.

After receiving her guests and inviting them inside Kyoshi motions for them to have a seat, "Come, come, have a seat, let me take a 'look' at you." Her eyes seemed to twinkle a bit as they lose focus momentarily and then just as quickly return. "Oh my! Your letter understated the case here considerably. I didn't really believe it was true, I had assumed that technique had been lost to the ages where it belongs, as a bad joke in the footnote of time."

"Unfortunately at least one tome survived, and my mostly useless and neglectful husband not only found it, but used it on my four year old son!"

"I see, well I don't train men in my techniques, but he definitely could use the healing, at least I get to undo the damage done by a man. The mental trauma is clear in his aura, the longer it goes without treatment the more likely it is he could end up with a permanent, possibly debilitating disorder. This happened, what, 6 months ago?"

"Two weeks."

"Oh dear, it's worse than I thought, luckily you got him to me while it was still recent and he is still young." While Kyoshi is explaining, she begins absently rubbing the back of Ranma's head while he visibly relaxed. Those who could see auras were treated to a rare sight as her aura shifted from one color of the spectrum to another as it flowed through her hand and into Ranma's head and blended into his own. Unfortunately for those present the only one of them who could see it well enough was Kyoshi herself. "By using my ki, I can heal the damage done to his aura and in turn heal his mind and body. It will take quite a few treatments, but if your ki control progresses far enough I may be able to show you how to do it as well. Now, why don't you sit next to your son, and I can help strengthen your aura as well."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

CHARACTERS USED

Here I will list all of the non-Ranma character's used in the Chapter and where they are from.

Mikuru Asahina - a time traveler from the distant future of Haruhi Suzumiya
Kogarashi the "Maid Guy" - the Title character from Kamen no Maid Guy
Fubuki - Also from Maid Guy
Kyoshi - Original character
The "unnamed" cat god - who has a name, and most of you should know it, from the Bet Series, by Gregg Sharp. Like all other characters, used w/o permission.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

End. Act 00, Part 01.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

MORE AUTHOR'S NOTES

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Well, that's it for Chapter One of my first fanfic, and as I thought, I still need a lot of improvement, hopefully I will get better as I go. Thank you for getting this far, all comments and criticisms are appreciated. I hope to hear from you! ;) Unlike most fics, it will be a while (several chapters) before I get to them arriving back in Tokyo. If this follows the plan, then maybe five or six chapters for Act 0, before they get 'home'. I do not know who Ranma will end up with, if anyone, all I can say for sure is that the way it is laid out in my head, it will not be Akane. I just can't see Nodoka forcing the two of them together, especially when she is so against it to start with. The up side is, she won't get a forceful haircut. So if you are looking for a Ranma x Akane story, this isn't it. Other than that, almost 'anything goes'.

I DID warn you the Japanese would be gratuitous, but I forgot to also mention 'random' it will also be pretty random. But I will try to always use honorifics where needed, and explain each one at least once... I will also continue to use 'Goshujin' for master when it's used (though I might use 'master' in other situations) due to the fact that Maid Guy uses Goshujin with out an honorific, and even if saying 'master-sama' sounded less weird to me, him just saying 'master' didn't imply the same level of rudeness, so I am going to try to stick with it.

Also, Yes, I am aware that Japan has child labor laws to prevent children from working full time until after the end of the school year (March Thirty-First) of their fifteenth year, after which, school is no longer compulsory and they are free to drop out and work full time. Someone thirteen or older is allowed to work, but only when the work is light and safe for the child. Children under thirteen are only allowed to work in the entertainment industry and only with permission from the Labor Standards Administration. AND in case you were curious, 'An employer cannot employ a person under eighteen years old for extended-hour or night-time work. An employer also cannot assign a person under eighteen years old to dangerous work, e.g., maintenance or repair of machinery during its operation and mining. A parent or a guardian cannot make a labor contract for a minor, in this case a person under twenty years old. This provision aims to prohibit a parent or guardian from forcing a minor to work for the parent or guardian's economic benefit. The parent or guardian cannot receive the wages earned by the minor in place of the minor.'

But on the other hand, child maids are not exactly uncommon in manga and anime, so that's what we are going with here. Fubuki was able to get permission due her grandmother and Zenjuro Fujiwara's help. The man has the money and power to have a public school remodeled or even closed down for a day for his own amusement or other personal reasons (without even prior notice, the school closing one the students all showed up to a locked gate).

And No, Kyoshi was not based on The Avatar Kyoshi, that was a happy coincidence, I took the characters from the historical figure's name and chose an alternate way to say them and didn't realize it until after the fact. So technically she is a mostly original character, loosely based on history and a bit of Samurai Girls.

Thank you again for reading, I hope you have enjoyed my intro story. C&C, R&R, B&B(Bed and Breakfast), all appreciated....

Chapter Text

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nodoka 2/1
The Chroma Series
Act 00, Part 02

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

DISCLAIMER:
Welcome to my world, a blend of a great many things, almost none of which are owned by me. It is a crummy world of plot holes, spoilers, gratuitous Japanese, and spelling errors, poorly written, then poured into a blender, set to liquefy, spread on a cookie sheet and baked at three hundred and fifty degrees for half an hour. As my horrible metaphor proves, don't expect great art. I've never written a 'story' before. So, apologies to all of the creators who's creations are about to be abused. {Speaking of, this one chapter will also include bad accents, but don't worry, she grows out of it soon after, it won't last long}...

This story is also likely to (eventually) contain references to things like sex, substance abuse (like Rice Wine), and other 'evils' of the world. None of that will likely be portrayed in a neither serious nor respectful manner. ...Or maybe it will, who knows what I will do when I actually get to that part of the story... I sure don't (nor even if I 'will' get to that part of the story).
Either way, you have been warned!

This story has been rated 'M'[ature] by, me. It may contain mature subject matter, and if it does, it will deal with them in a very immature way.

I need to apologize for the formatting, everything I do gets removed, even the things that worked in the prior chapter, and even if I do it in html. So, I have been reduced to this... Sumimasen.

"Speech"
'Thought'
{Author's Notes & *Translations* Feel free to skip these}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

CHAPTER ONE JAPANESE GLOSSARY:

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Arigato-gozaimasu = Thank you VERY much

Demo = But, even so, nevertheless, however, etc.

Hai = Yes, OK, Sure, Alright, etc.

"Hajimemashite, Goshujin-sama. Hausu Maido, Fubuki desu." = 'Nice to meet you, Master. I am the house maid, Fubuki.'

Kami = God/Gods/Goddess/Goddesses, usually followed by a -sama, especially if referring to the head of the pantheon.

Keikogi or Dogi - Do/Keiko=Practice / Gi=Martial Arts Outfit

Nani-o = polite way of saying 'what'
Nani = Not the polite way of saying 'what'

Neko-Ken = Cat-Fist

O-kaa - mother, kaa is mother, the 'o' is 'polite'

Onegai = Please

Oyaji = impolite way of saying father, 'Pops' or 'Old Man'; can also refer to one's boss

Sumimasen = Pardon me, excuse me, sorry

-tan = -tan is a cutesy kids way of saying -chan, like -chuwan etc.
-chama = (mix of -chan & -sama)

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

PROLOGUE

Two years have passed, and ...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

CHAPTER 02
The Art of Making Friends

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Deep in the woods, in the southern part of Japan, near Osaka, on top of Mount Katsuragi, there sat a clearing. Returning to their small campsite in this clearing were Ranma and his mother, Nodoka, fresh from soaking in a nearby hot spring after a long day of pushing themselves to their limits and beyond. Over the last two years, Nodoka had trained diligently along side her son and had advanced quickly so that she was able to be a sparring partner for her son when he was not training with another master. He was still better than she was, but she could hold her own, mostly owing to her longer reach. First, there was the year or so they spent with Kyoshi-sensei strengthening, amplifying and training their ki. Ever the apt pupil, once Ranma understood the concept he started 'absorbing' techniques like a sponge, even faster than Nodoka could, and she was the one being trained. Eventually Kyoshi-sensei was so impressed by how quickly he could recreate skills just by seeing them that she made an exception to her rule about never training men, and started teaching him in earnest. Almost every master dreams of having so apt a pupil, who can so rapidly master almost any technique, so it was then that she was disappointed to see her first male student leave. On the other hand, she did invite them to come back for more training anytime they felt up to it, saying 'there is always more to learn'.

After that they had a much easier time carrying the large packs of supplies they needed for training and camping and started hiking to their destination more often and taking transportation less while having their larger belongings stored until they planned to be in one place for longer periods. They began in earnest working on mastering any techniques they could from the books and scrolls they had with them as well as from any dojo or martial artist they happened to run across in their travels. And now here they were, having climbed Mount Katsuragi carrying enough camping gear to last for weeks, hunting and foraging for food supplies when they needed to devoting their very lives to the art her husband was so proud of. And pride was something that Nodoka now felt, not only in the son she was privileged enough to be raising, but also in herself and how far she had progressed in her two years of training. Everything they did together, all of their accomplishments, it brought such joy to the woman that she could barely contain it. She felt like a kid again, taking such pleasure in each new thing. There was no more humdrum of each day being a repeat of the day before, every day was something new. Going to new places, learning new things, the wonder and beauty to be found in The Art, and the world at large, it never ceased to amaze her. She almost never thought about her errant husband any more, as a matter of fact on the rare occasions she thought about him at all it was with gratitude. Because it was thanks to him, and his stupidity that (thankfully her son did not inherit) she was getting to experience this joyful life, something she would not take back for anything in the world.

"Ranma-kun, let's get cleaned up so we can prepare dinner. You did an excellent job today, I can see you are progressing quite well."

"Hai, Okaa-chan!"

Ranma helps his mother prepare their dinner, his cooking skills have been coming along as nicely as Nodoka's skills in The Art. As has his schoolwork...

"After dinner, I will handle cleaning up, but since we can't practice your kanji while we are sparring, as we do with your other subjects, I want you to show me you have the Year One kanji memorized so we can move on to Year Two soon. Afterward, we can play a game, what would you like to play?"
{*Kanji = The first writing system in Japan, made up of characters borrowed from the Chinese. Because there are literally thousands of these characters, children learn a certain set of characters each year through middle school, called Joyo Kanji, or the most commonly used ones. There are currently 2,136 characters in this set, this was raised to this around the time period of this chapter actually.*}

Ranma pulls out his trusty deck of cards, "How about 'Old Fool'?"
{You might know this game as 'Old Maid', but long ago Nodoka decided to rename it in honor of her husband when she taught it to Ranma, since they use the Joker instead of a queen. *Bakojiin = Stupid Old Man* a portmanteau word I just made up.}

Nodoka smiles inwardly at her little joke, "Sure Ranma-kun, you are getting much better at it, you almost beat me last time. Now, let's get started."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

For the last two years, Genma has not had an easy time of it. Many times, he has regretted the deal he made to train Fubuki-chan in exchange for the services of the self proclaimed 'Maid Guy'. It's not that the girl was a bad student, in fact, she was quite apt. She has gotten quite skilled with throwing knives and other projectiles and her fitness had improved considerably. No, she was not the problem at all. He actually, rather enjoyed having a student to teach, even if it was not his son. The problem lay with what he got in exchange for his teaching services...

"Kukuku, such a lazy goshujin you are!" Kogarashi's eyes begin to glow, "Even with Maid Guy: Recipes, Maid Guy: Power Drinks and Maid Guy: Fitness Training slimming you down, you are still two point eight kilograms over what is a healthy weight for your size and build. Kukuku, maybe training the Clumsy Maid isn't enough for you," He pauses to dislodge a shuriken that had suddenly found itself protruding from his forehead, "Other families have been hearing about your successful training of the Clumsy Maid here," he feels a small bat hitting the back of his head, while he ignores the small girl fuming behind him, "...and you did tell me your wife had told you to get a job. Maybe Maid Guy should arrange for you to get more students! At least once you get back from your trip, kukuku. Speaking of which, here is a letter that arrived for you. It looks important, you might want to read it now."

"A letter? I wonder who it's from... OSHOU-SAMA! Kuso! I gotta get out of here for a while..."
{*Oshou = (4) master (of one's art, trade, etc.) -This is what Soun and Genma call Happosai, Oshou-sama*}
{*Kuso = Expletive word for fecal matter; AKA Crap*}

A hand on his shoulder prevents Genma's forward progress. "What is this about, Goshujin? You don't want more training? According to 'Maid Guy: Scan' you could certainly use it."

"Oh, you just don't understand, he's a demon! He tortures us for fun. He runs out on the check and leaves us to work off his debt. He makes us steal lady's unmentionables. He makes us bring him booze that we had to 'acquire' from local villages. He is a demon of lust, who's appetite can not be sated! He makes you look almost human!"

"Maid Guy IS human, but either way it seems that you learned a lot from him then."

"Yes, yes, the Master's training was arduous, but effective."

"Especially the parts where you get others to do your work for you, avoid your problems and run out on the check. You mastered his lessons well."

Genma felt an arrow pierce his chest with each point his demonic 'servant' made, but he recovered quickly since guilt doesn't work well on those without a conscience. "Well, that being said, I believe it's time to use the Saotome Final Attack! RUN AWAY!" Once again, an iron-like claw on his shoulder halts Genma's forward progress. "Look, what part of 'I gotta get outa here' do you not understand?"

"Kukuku. You prove my point. Don't worry Goshujin, I will sort out all of your problems. Just relax and let me deal with it. Now, tell me about this demon."

And so Genma begins to relate to Maid Guy the history of The Evil Master!

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The mother and son pair were competing to see who could make it down the mountain first, and despite the advantage of her much longer legs, Nodoka was still having trouble keeping up with her energetic son, but, nonetheless, they were having so much fun they decided to keep racing until they reached the nearby town of Chihayaakasaka. They were laughing and talking about history so much so that they didn't notice the sounds of the hustle and bustle of the town until they were almost in the market district.

When they stopped, all of the sounds of the market hit them at once, the people moving goods, those who were haggling for better prices, bells ringing, and loudest of all, the 'barkers' attracting people to their shops and stands. "...nomiyaki, get yer fresh okonomiyaki here!"

"Oh, mom! Something smells good!"

Nodoka gives Ranma some money, "Well hon, why don't you go get some lunch and play for a while, and I will see if I can find the master we heard was in the area. I will meet you back here in a few hours. Have fun, maybe you can find a girlfriend while we are here." Nodoka smiled a bit as she walked away.

Blushing a bit at the 'girlfriend' jibe, "'Kay, mom! See you in a while!" Ranma runs off following his nose, trying as many different foods as he can, savoring the flavors and watching how they are made as he goes. 'Gotta show mom some new recipes when we have a kitchen again, some of these are good, but not what I am smelling, I wonder what it is.' Ranma moves on to the next food cart in the area and sees a child similar to him in age.

"Kuonji Okonomiyaki! Git yer okonomiyaki here! Best okonomiyaki in Osaka, maybe even all a Japan!"

"Okonomiyaki, what's that? It smells good!"

"WHAT'S OKONOMIYAKI?! Only tha best food in tha world, maybe even tha whole universe!"
{*Okonomiyaki = long story short, Japanese Style Pancake or Pizza-like food, a specialty of the Kansai and Hiroshima regions of Japan. Short story long, visit wiki* wiki/Okonomiyaki}

"Oh, really? Well I gotta try that then! What kind do you recommend?"

Pointing to a large, older man wearing a similar outfit, who was behind the cart, "That's mah dad, tell him Ah said ta ask fer th' house special. Ifin y'all don't like it, Ah'll pay fer it maself!"

"Sounds like you have a deal!" Ranma walks over to the man, and after a short wait in a fast moving line, "Your kid over there said ta ask you for the "House Special" and if I don't like it, they would pay for it."

"That so? Well, Ah'll have ta do muh best ta make yah a satisfied customer, then." The large man's hands moved at surprising speeds, Ranma had trouble following his movements. Within moments, a fresh, crisp okonomiyaki was flying toward Ranma's head. He snatched it out of the air and after studying it's composition for a moment he started eating, savoring every bite as he walked back over to the other kid. "Mmm, that IS good."

"Might be best in Japan, Ah've been learning ta make them my whole life!" The child proudly remarks.

"Mom's only been teaching me to cook the last couple years, but she says I have a real knack for desserts. I'll have to make something for you next time. So, what else do you do, besides make these okonomiyaki things?"

"Well, that's a part a th' family art."

"Oh? You are a martial artist too? I thought you moved with some skill, we should spar some time. Hey, lemme ask you a question?" The other child nodded. "Now don't go gettin' all mad at me, but 'Are you a girl'?"

"Uh'Course Ah'm a GIRL! What's-it matter ta ya?"

"Sumimasen!" Ranma bows, "It's just the boy's clothes... and you DID use 'boku'."
{*Boku = one of many ways to say "I/me" and is considered a 'masculine' form*}

"Well, Mah pop DOES sorta treat meh like Ah'z a boy."

"Oh, that's great! Well the 'you bein' a girl' part, not the 'he treats you like a boy' part. My mom says that girls are the best thing ever and they should be treated like they are special, and that I'll understand better when I'm older. She wants me to make a girl, friend while I am staying here. So, uh, you wanna be friends?"

The, uh, 'girl' was stunned for a moment. 'Was this boy asking meh out? ON A DATE?!' She blushed, 'No one'z evah asked meh out before.' "Yah mean, yah wanna be mah boyfriend?"

"Sure!" A smiling Ranma sticks his hand out to shake. "I'm Ranma Saotome."

Taking his hand in hers she says, "Ukyo Kuonji's the name, okonomiyaki's the game." and pulls him into a hug, kissing him on the cheek.

"You any good at cards?" She shakes her head. "Let's spar then." A grin creeps across his face. "And later I can cook ya dinner."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Maid Guy looks at an exhausted-looking Genma with his shark-like grin. "I see, so you have tried so many things, reporting him to the police, poison, exploding lingerie (I like that one), and so on, and you have failed each time because you are not man enough stop a demon. (I'll bet you can't even interface with a printer!)"

"What does that have to do with anything? But, you don't understand, if you think you're so tough, you stop him!"

"Kukuku, it is the job of the student to beat his master! Taking the job of Goshujin, is something outside of the maid's professional duties!"

"So why did I waste all of this time here when I should have been running? I thought you were gonna help!"

"Impossible! It is far beyond any human ability to help! A miracle is the domain of the Gods!"

Genma turns once again to, "RUN AWAY!", and for a third time the iron grip of the Maid Guy's clawed hand on his trembling shoulder prevents his forward progress. "Yet, however! There is one possibility left open to us here! I will reveal my secret plan!"

Genma stops trying to run and perks up. He wanted to hear this plan, he especially liked the 'secret' part, it made it sound important to him, like it might work. His hope started to rise, but then again, we have already proven that Genma is an idiot. "A plan? Why didn't you say so?"

"I just did. If I told you sooner, it wouldn't have been a secret! Learn from past mistakes! Thus say the teachings left behind by our ancestors: 'When in trouble, pray to the Kami'!"

"Kami?! That's not much of a plan..."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Walking back to meet back up with Nodoka, Ranma and Ukyo are holding hands. "Sure am glad your pop let you come have dinner with us, Ucchan."

"Meh too, Ranchan. Though Ah cain't believe ya beat meh evah time, Ah'm one of th' best mah age in th' area, can e'en beat th' boys 'round these parts."

The young martial artist beamed with pride, "Well, that's what I've been trainin' MY whole life to do, first oyaji taught me, but then he tried some stupid technique that hurt me really bad, and now mom teaches me!" A smile replacing the momentary frown from the painful memory, brightly covering half of his small face.

"Wow, Ah'm sorry ta hear 'bout that, but yer ma, she must be really good."

"Well, I'm better!" Ranma states quite mater-of-factually, "She didn't do martial arts much b'fore, so we're learnin' together, from books and scrolls from the family style, and whatever we can pick up from random fights and various masters that let us train under them, like Kyoshi-sensei. I learned lots from her." Somehow, his smile got even wider at that.

"Just amazin'!"

Spotting the woman in question, he points and pulls Ukyo over to her, "And there she is now. Oi! 'Ka-chan! Jus' like you asked, I found a girl friend." Ukyo blushes a bit at this.

At the sight of the two children heading her way Nodoka practically gushes at the pure 'moe' of the scene, the two children laughing, smiling and holding hands, it was just too cute. "Hello Ranma-kun, I hope you had fun. Who is your little friend?"
{*Moe - pronounced Mow-ay - a manga and anime term meaning something like cute*}

"Kon'nichiwa, Saotome-han. Mah name is Ukyo Kuonji, okonomiyaki chef, ...in training. Yer son asked meh ta be his girlfriend, an' then invited meh ta dinnah." Ukyo bows formally, "Ah'm in yer care."
{*Konichiwa = Good Afternoon*}
{*-han = Kansai-ben form of -san*}
{'I am in your care', or 'Please take care of me' "Yoroshiku onegai-shimasu" is said at the end of sentences when meeting someone or when making a request of them}

"Oh my, how polite! A bit of a tom-boy it seems, but I am sure she will become a fine young lady, and she is off to such a good start too, picking such a manly boyfriend." Nodoka winks at them, "Well, I rented us a house, but our other things will not arrive until tomorrow, I figured we could camp out again tonight, so I hope your cute little girlfriend doesn't mind dinner cooked over an open fire."

Her blush deepening even further at being called cute again, not being used to such things, but increasing her 'moe' factor by a few points in Nodoka's eyes. "Naw, Ah don't mind, campin's fun."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After setting up their campsite outside of town Nodoka puts her hand on Ukyo's shoulder, "Ranma-kun, since you invited her to dinner, I will let you prepare the meal while I spend some time getting to know your new girlfriend..." Nodoka practically drags poor little Ukyo into her tent to 'chat', "Come dear, you must tell me everything."

Ranma sighs as he starts unpacking their cooking supplies, 'At least it's not me this time, maybe having a girlfriend won't be so bad!' Finding what he was looking for, he begins his preparations for dinner, doing his best to ignore the strange (to him) sounds coming from within the tent.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Finishing setting the table Ranma begins serving the food as he calls the others to eat. "Dinner is ready!"

Nodoka exits the tent smiling like a cat, "Ranma-kun?"

"Hai." Getting Ranma's attention Nodoka pulls back the tent flaps to reveal Ukyo, dressed in a fancy yukata, with ribbons in her hair and even a flower, a slight touch of make-up, and even a purse. Where she had gotten the yukata, Ranma had no idea, he was sure he didn't own one with flowers on it, and his mother's would be way to big. But none the less, the overall effect left Ukyo looking rather feminine for a six-year old, and caught Ranma momentarily surprised, assuming his slack-jawed expression was any indication. Speaking softly Nodoka prompts her son, "Ranma-kun, what do you say?"
{*Yukata = A light cotton robe like outfit, like a less formal kimono, mostly worn for festivals and when coming out of the bath, especially at a public bath/hot spring, there will be more on this later, you WILL be tested!*}

Recovering slightly Ranma blurts out, "Wow Ucchan, you look extra cute in that!" Ukyo's blush at this point is coming close to rivaling the campfire's heat and luminosity, but she looks rather pleased with the reaction she received anyway.

After a moment Ranma remembered that he was serving food, looking down he was glad to find that he hadn't spilled the soup in his brief lapse. "Um, well, since we are camping, and I don't have a stocked kitchen, I kept it pretty simple. For the first course, miso soup with tofu cubes and crab, for the main dish miso glazed cod with sauteed broccoli, and for dessert, yuzu creme brulee. Douzo meshiagare."
{*Douzo meshiagare = Enjoy your meal; said by the cook.* *Itadakimasu = Said before you start eating, lit. 'I humbly receive'* *gochisosama (deshita - added when being formal) - said after you finish eating*}

Ukyo is quite shocked at the dishes her new boyfriend served, to be honest she wouldn't have been surprised if it had been boiled cabbage with mayonnaise and rice, mind you she's really glad that's not what it is, but this is almost too much, especially for camping food. 'Ah wonder ifin it tastes as good as it looks, sure smells good. His ma's right, he IS a good boyfriend!'

They all call out, "Itadakimasu!" and begin slurping their soup.

Ukyo is quite impressed with the meal as they work their way through the dishes. Knowing full well that there is no way she could do the same under the same conditions, even with the recipe! Never mind making it taste this good too. "It's no okonomiyaki, but it's still pretty good." When they finally get to dessert Ukyo feels like she has died and gone to heaven to be in the arms of her dear departed mother. But since she couldn't bring any of it with her, she had to go back for another bite 'Sorry ma, Ah love you'. Forcing herself to descend back into her body where heaven on earth was awaiting her spoon.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Darkness. Ukyo can sense nothing else. She can not see the red light of the sun sinking below the horizon. She can not feel the light shaking of her shoulder. She can not hear the shouts of her two companions trying to wake her.

Slowly she begins to register her surroundings, "...I think she might be dead!"

"...Well, at least she looks happy..."

Slowly Ukyo pulls herself up to a sitting position as the previous few moments filter back into her brain.

"Ucchan! You're OK!"

"Are you diabetic? I'm sorry, we didn't know."

Weakly, Ukyo shakes her head and is slowly able to sit up, "Gochisosama deshita... so, good. Sweetness. never had. nuthin'. like that. Sooo good."

Ranma helps Ukyo remain sitting upright, while Nodoka gets her a glass of water and a damp cloth for her forehead. "Ucchan, you gonna be OK? Do you need us to get you anything?"

"More, ...'dessert'."

Both Saotomes turn to look at each other and promptly facefault.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Dinnertime at the Saotome estate was a solemn affair, since both Maid Guy and Fubuki refused to dine with him. Genma wasn't even sure if Maid Guy ate at all, not that Genma would think anyone would go without food, but he had not seen it happen so he couldn't be sure. The only time he had seen him put anything into his mouth was when he was shredding documents! Fubuki on the other hand was not fond of his 'Food-Fu' training method. It only took so many throwing stars and kunai in the head for even Genma rethink his actions. Truth be told, even without him trying to steal her food, his table manners were atrocious and she preferred not to witness the horrors first hand. One of these days, when she gets stronger, she was going to try to 'correct' that bad habit of his... or so she plans.
{*Actually it would have been Gohan-Ryu (Meal-Style) but I liked the alliteration of Food-Fu. Of course, you could have had Gohan Genma's Style!*}

As Genma finishes devouring the latest of Maid Guy's culinary masterpieces, utterly wasted on a man who barely tastes his food as he inhales it,
"Tomorrow we will go to see a colleague of mine, the Diabolical Priestess, the woman who corresponds with god. Her supernatural power is terrifying, but it is in good working condition. Here, read the guidebook for yourself."

Genma catches the pamphlet out of the air and looks it over, "Okay, 'Dragon Sphere Shrine. Located at the base of Mount Fuji, encircled by deep green and standing in a secluded area. Its main purpose is to grant every possible wish ranging from local affairs to world peace! However! Due to countless pilgrims seeking divine favor, the shrine's special products and wish-fulfillment charms are scarce, and it is extremely difficult to get them.' So, what's the catch?"

"Kukuku, you will see goshujin, you will see. We head there after breakfast, be ready."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo is surprised by the 'yellowness' of her surroundings, she sat on a large yellow spiral (that strangely had a lemony sent) that was 'floating' in yellow not-quite liquid, almost golden brown on the surface. Wherever she looked it appeared as if everything had a light dusting of snow, but yet, she was comfortably warm. She caught one of the 'snowflakes' on her tongue, and IT WAS SWEET! All of a sudden, her 'boat' rolled over and she found herself stuck in the yellow 'goop'. Not expecting this, she got a huge mouthful and was forced to swallow it, and again, it was really good! It felt like fireworks of flavor were going off in her mouth.

Ukyo begins eating her way out of her predicament, and starts to swim through the substance, eating as she goes. Not caring in the slightest that she currently looks like she has a beach ball for a body, and a smaller one for a head. She just kept eating and swimming and eating... But when she rolled over to do the backstroke her had seemed to hit something and she her someone say "OW!" Thinking she was alone, this startled the girl. So startled was she, that she jumped up and turned around almost hitting her head on the table. And behind her was Ranma, catching her as she stumbled. Behind him, Nodoka, hiding a camera, and then the rest of the campsite...

"Are you okay, Ucchan?"

"RANCHAN! Oh, Ah had a wonderful dream," about this time she notices a small hand shaped bruise on his cheek, "Did I hit you?"

Ranma's hand goes to the back of his head as he rubs it absently, "Yeah, well, mom said I should hold your head in my lap so you don't hurt yourself, but all of a sudden you rolled over and your hands started waving around... hard t' dodge without dropping you." He pouted a little.

Despite not having been trained in the technique, nor Ranma recognizing it, she performs a perfectly executed 'Crouch of the Wild Tiger' "OH Ranchan! Ah'm so sorry! Ah didn't mean to do it! Please forgive me."

"Aw, don't worry 'bout it none. Was my fault for not being fast enough. You're the one I'm worried about, are you sure you're OK?" Concern clearly written on his little face, ...next to the hand print that's already starting to fade. Neither of them paying the least attention to the faint 'clicking' sound coming from nearby.

Ukyo grabs a hold of Ranma, squeezing him for all she was worth, "Ranchan, sukkya nen!" The 'clicking' sound intensified at this point along with a faint squealing sound.
{*suki ya nen or sukkya nen = Kansai-ben for 'I love you'*}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"Thanks for having meh over, but it's gittin' late. Ah should prob'ly git back home." Looking a bit disappointed she adds, "Could you halp me get changed back, Saotome-han? Would you like me to wash it and bring it back to you?"

"No dear, since you look so cute in it, why don't you just keep it, maybe there will be a festival soon you can wear it to. Here are your things." Nodoka hands over a small bundle.

"Maido ookini!" Bowing so much she almost gives herself whiplash. "Ah've never had such nice clothes before! Pop thinks work clothes are good enough for us all the time."
{*maido ookini = Kansai-ben form of Arigato or Thank You. Maido (in this case, it's also how they say 'maid') means 'every time' and 'Ookini' means 'Thanks'. Side note, this form of 'maido' is also used by shopkeepers, 'maido arigato gozaimasu' or 'thank you very much, every time'*}

"Maybe I will have a talk with him about that, girls need to feel feminine once in a while. Ranma-kun, remember, 'a gentleman always walks his lady-friend home'."

"Hai, 'kaa-chan!"

"And Ucchan, be sure to invite your father to our house for dinner one night, once we have it set up."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The next morning Genma found himself climbing a steep set of stairs leading up to the shrine perched high atop one of the hills leading up Mount Fuji. "Why do these temples always have to be at the top of a steep set of stairs?"

"Kukuku, because, you lazy goshujin, man must always strive to prove himself worthy of the gods' attention."

"And I thought you said we were going to make this trip 'after' breakfast."

"I had breakfast, I told YOU to 'be prepared'."

Upon arriving at the top, they see a huge shrine, surrounded by huge wooden walls, the doors of which were at least three times Genma's height, as if they were made for giants to use. So amazed craftsmanship, and wondering if there was anything of value he could 'borrow', he failed to notice that they had been approached.

"Are you here to pray at our shrine?" Before them stood a girl who appeared to be in her mid teens, dressed in a miko's uniform with long straight plum colored hair and green eyes. Flanking her were two other miko, one of whom was carrying a clipboard. Before either of them were able to respond, not that Maid Guy was planning to attempt it, the miko who spoke began to glow with a green aura, her hair and outfit began to blow in the 'wind' that it generated. With it her pupil-less green eyes shined with a rainbow-like light. As her aura fades, she turned to the demonic-looking manservant, "Guy, you have returned."

"Kukuku. This goshujin can't solve his own problems, so I brought him to you."

The 'Diabolical Priestess' takes the clipboard and ink brush offered to her by her assistant, "Cold as always." Her eyes close, and her face loses all expression. Loosely holding the brush she begins to write on the paper held by the clipboard in her other hand, and after a moment, the brush stops moving and her eyes snap open! "Well then, Genma Saotome, you are a lazy, thoughtless, greedy, and selfish person, who lies, cheats and steals at the slightest provocation, who is plagued a perverted old master."

Genma is so shocked at the accuracy of her reading that he forgets to be offended, 'Maybe this could work out after all. Oh, Tendo, lend me your strength!'

"Normally we would not grant the wishes of one such as you, your kind typically find it easier to work with another sort of entity. But since your request IS in the public's interest, we will hear you. Wait until you are called, then follow me."

Watching the young priestess and her colleagues walk away Genma turns to his frightening companion and asks, "You seem to know your way around here, how's this supposed to work anyway?"

"Kukuku, you've never been to a shrine before? You go in, make your offering and hope that Kami will grant your request, and if so, you fulfill the requirement. Such an ignorant goshujin you are."

Not realizing the truth in those words, Genma is, once again, indignant and offended, though even he realizes this is not the place to be getting upset at the large manservant, not that it ever did him any good anyway... "But, what kind of offering? You didn't mention that before, I didn't really bring anything..."

"Genma Saotome!"

"Not that kind of 'offering'. You will face a challenge! Now, go, goshujin! Go and have your wish granted!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

{Please pause for this station identification and the following PSA}

{*PSA = Public Service Announcement*}
{*Miko = Shrine Maiden*}
{*Kimono = A traditional article of Japanese clothing, similar to a robe, worn mostly these days for formal situations and special occasions, or more traditional people. Depending on the material, the decoration and how you wear it, a kimono can be very, very masculine or extremely feminine. Both the Kimono and the Yukata are complicated to put on 'properly' and many people require help or get it wrong. The Yukata, for example, aside from the yukata itself and the Obi (outer belt) there are nine other parts to it, including two small towels.*}
{*Hakama = Another piece of traditional clothing. Worn even less than the kimono these days, they are worn over top of a kimono, from the waist down, and are usually of a contrasting color. Typically worn more by men than women now as it was once a 'men's only' item. Miko wear them often.*}
{*Zori = traditional sandals, similar to flip-flops. They can be word by men or women, formal or informal, and made of many materials, in this case, woven straw.*}
{We now return you to your regularly scheduled fan fic, already in progress}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Genma follows the miko who called for him, wondering just what it was he was in for. Always one to let curiosity get the best of him, he asked, "So, how does this work exactly?"

"We bare the duty of conveying your wishes to Kami-sama. However, since the population boom started a couple of hundred years or so ago, Kami-sama has become very busy. He has no time to listen to everyone's prayer. So only those who can earn his attention will have their wish heard." Rounding the back corner, they entered a flat level area behind the temple where the head priestess was waiting, along with a couple who did not appear affiliated with the temple in any way. Exasperated by the wait the man in a lime green yukata blurts out, "Finally! Now we get to find out what this contest is all about." Seeing the look in the woman's eye he adds, "Sorry, I'm Sankichi Urakishi, and this is my assistant, Koharu. Nice to meet you."

"Genma, Genma Saotome, it's a pleasure. Why are you wearing a yukata?"

"That's none of your business!"

"True, true."

The head priestess stood in the center of the clearing where she still held her clipboard and brush. "Now that you both are here we will see what is the day's contest, consecrated by Kami-sama, that will be your offering." Holding out her pad and brush, she closed her eyes as her aura began to glow again as she wrote on her pad. Her aura faded again, "Well then, I will announce it now. Today's contest will be," She turned the clipboard around so that everyone could read it, "Battle Shogi!" She slowly walked off to the side of the clearing as sixteen miko, with their faces covered, held chalk dusters and they began running around drawing lines on the ground, not one of them touching the head priestess as they pass by her, as she walked off of the 'board'.

"Battle Shogi, huh? This will be interesting." Pushing up his glasses Genma began making a mental list of all of his usual cheating techniques that would be ineffective in this over sized version.

"Battle Shogi? I never would have thought of such a thing. I like this." Sankichi grined as he thought to himself, 'this is going to be fun!'

After the board is drawn, the high priestess climbed up into a tall chair overseeing the 'battleground', "These are the rules, You will each be your 'King', the rest of the pieces will be filled in by these girls." pointing toward the door to the temple building, thirty-eight young ladies came out in double file lines, each breaking off as they exit filing into their starting places on this oversized game board. Each of these women were dressed in their usual zori, a red miniskirt and white top that appeared as if each of the short-sleeved shirts' shoulders had the seam separated about half way, exposing their shoulders, but leaving their upper arms covered. In many ways, it looked as if their usual miko outfits had been shrunk, a lot. They also each had a hat, on each of these hats was a large shogi piece to represent which piece they were playing the part of today.

{Some of you may know Koharu better by her dub name, Clarabell}
-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"Well Soun old boy, it looks like your old training partner wised up a little and got away this time, you should have left sooner too, ya know. I thought I taught you better than that. Oh well, you can't train a stone."

"I'm sorry Oshou-sama!" Soun groveled.

"Nyeh heh heh heh, not to worry, you can do double the training in his place! Now let's get a move on..." The old lecher froze for a moment. He turned and sniffed the air and within moments, he was moving, bounding at top speed up the mountain. "SWEEET-OOooooo!" Soun was left with a choice, either he could do his best to follow the evil master, or to go home to his family while Happosai was distracted. For what was most certainly not the first time in his life, Soun made the wrong choice.

And so it was, that Soun also started making his way up the mountain.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Genma was not having a particularly easy time of it, his first distraction technique worked like a charm, but when he went to move his 'piece' she refused to move, telling him, "but, it's not my turn to move!" He had tried to push her into place but he slipped in his haste and his hand went to her posterior, where she put all of her power of her indignation into a slap to Genma's face for his trouble. Confetti rained down on his head showing he earned some bonus points as a small consolation prize. He attempted to repeat the process a second time, but Kami-sama said he knew Genma would do that and 'that it's not funny if he expected it'. And after that, none of his tricks had gone off as expected. At least none of Sankichi's tricks had worked either.

"That's it folks, it seems as though the opponents are equally matched in stupidity!"

He had come up with another technique to try, "The Gamble of the Desperate Martial Artist", it needed a better name. It was risky and he hadn't been able to use it yet, but if he could just get a distraction off, he was planning to run around and switch the girls' hats. This way he wouldn't need their 'cooperation' to use his 'crafty techniques', his 'ingenious strategies', his, well, let's face it, cheats. The problem was, he was having no luck getting a distraction to work long enough to pull it off. He had tried 'look it's a penguin', 'look it's a dog', 'look it's a plane', 'look it's a frog', none of his usual tricks were working anymore, not even the most dreaded one in his arsenal, the 'Look, a hundred yen coin!' Technique, that used a REAL coin!

Genma was really starting to sweat his options, when he heard a familiar sound that chilled his blood. Assuming it was his desperate mind hallucinating, after all, what are the odds? But it did remind him of a move he hadn't thought to try yet...

"Look! It's a PERVERT!" Just as the words left his mouth a twig breaking was heard, and like a shot the perverted old man, who assumed he had been spotted, was racing around the field, flipping up skirts as he went. Genma started running around the field doing his best to swap out as many hats as he could during the distraction.

From the moment the first skirt was flipped the weather had gotten really, quite nice, the sky was a perfect shade of blue, the clouds couldn't be any fluffier, the temperature was perfect, rainbows were everywhere you looked, as were women who were trying their best to keep their panties from showing, effectively preventing Genma from executing his 'technique'. Everything was beautiful, and everyone was happy, except for the girl's whose panties were showing, the man in the lime green yukata, and the woman next to him who was beating him with her purse yelling something at him about 'not staring', but everyone else in the world, for that one shining instant, were happy. Up until that fateful moment, when Happosai started to make his first move to molest one of the women present, that's when everything changed. The sky instantly grew dark, for the briefest of moments, and then lightning seemed to come from every direction all focused on one evil gnome.

Unfortunately for Soun, this was the exact moment he too had come out from the trees and into the clearing, unintentionally blocking one of the lightning strikes, preventing it from hitting his master. Also shocking him as he has never been shocked before, leaving him bald and naked, in a smoldering heap.

As the lightning dissipates, the almost molested girls all grabbed rubber gripped instruments of destruction, donned rubber-soled shoes and proceeded to do their best to cause as much damage to the runt as was humanly possible.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After all had calmed down to more manageable levels, Soun was being treated for his injuries, Happosai's still breathing corpse was sealed away as tightly as they were able to, buried, and then sealed again for good measure. Buried close enough to the shrine that the miko could keep replenishing the seal, but far enough away that his evil power wouldn't damage nor infect the shrine. Genma was doing his best to refrain from celebrating until his friend could enjoy it with him. While the rest of the miko were cleaning up the mess left behind.

The main miko returned to the group after her long communion with Kami-sama, "There are NO winners today. Genma Saotome, all of your problems will not be fixed, and Sankichi Urakishi, you will not be given the courage to propose to your partner, Koharu."

Sankichi was not fast enough to cover his partner's ears and for the first time she hears what his request had been. Koharu blushed, turned to her 'partner' and with tears streaming down her face, she said, "I accept! Now, can we get out of here?"

"Also! Men are no longer allowed on the temple grounds! I suggest you all leave, NOW!"

Not really sure what to do with his friend, he called for Maid Guy's assistance. Who ran in, picked up the prone martial artist and followed Genma back to the estate.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Returning to the estate, Maid Guy took his charge to one of the unused bedrooms to be tended to. While a somber Genma went over and picked up the phone.

"Moshi-Moshi, Tendo-san?"
{*Moshi-Moshi = "Hello" on the phone (and to get someone's attention in other places)*}

"There's been a training accident."

"I'm sorry."

"No, he's going to be fine. He just needs plenty of rest, salve and bandages. I have him in one of the rooms here being tended to."

"No, of course you are more than welcome to come. I'm sure he would like that."

"If you plan to bring them, you might want to give him a few days, it looks pretty bad right now, you wouldn't want to upset them needlessly."

"Of course."

"See you then."

[CLICK]

'You know? He talks about her all the time, and yet I don't think he has ever once mentioned her name. Oh well, I can ask when she arrives.'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

THE NEXT DAY

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Soun still hadn't awoken, but his breathing was steady and his skin was starting to show signs of improvement. Maid Guy had been regularly applying more of the salve they had received from the temple and changing his bandages.

Genma had kind of expected to see Soun's wife arrive last night the way she had been talking, but he supposed she decided to wait and bring the girls later. 'It would have been hard to get transportation at that time of night anyway. I suppose I should call and give her an update on how he is doing either way.' That decided he headed back down to the phone to call his friend's home.

On the other end of the phone, loud noises could be heard, "Moshi-Moshi?"

"Moshi-Moshi, this is a friend of your daddy, is your mommy home?"

"No, she isn't, we haven't seen her since last night, she told us she was going to see father and would be back in the morning." Screams are heard in the background. "GIRLS! Stop pulling each other's hair! Akane, go get the bath ready. Nabiki, talk to father's friend, I will go try to keep lunch from burning!"

'KUSO! This is NOT good! This is not good at all. What to do? What'll I do? First, gotta keep the kids from panicking and safe.'

"Moshi-moshi?"

"Ah, yes, Nabiki was it?"

"Yeeeeees...?"

"After you eat, pack up some of your things, all of you. I will send a cab to be there to pick you up in an hour to bring you here, to where your daddy is."

"Oi, 'nee-chan, you sure this guy is a friend of daddy's? He seems kind of suspicious to me."

"I think that was the name mother said last night, Saotome. And I think I have heard father talk about them before."

"He says he is going to send a car for us to take us to daddy."

"Okay, go tell Akane-chan, we'll start getting ready after our bath."

"Okay!"

[CLICK]

Genma shakes his head, 'Kids. Well as long as they aren't upset.' And begins making phone calls, first to the cab company, then to the police... and surprising even himself he only just barely considers picking his friend's pocket for cab fare. Sadly that was all the motivation he needed to do so, but still, he almost didn't think of it, and let's face it, for Genma, that's improvement!

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Genma was feeling rather low. He never did like delivering bad news, primarily because he got the blame and hit a lot when he did, on most occasions, and it only made it worse that he felt some responsibility for the situation, something he wasn't used to. If he hadn't made that phone call, at that exact time... If he had just waited until morning to let her know. Or waited until Soun could tell her himself. Genma's head sank even lower. Should he try to keep the girls distracted and wait until Soun is awake to tell him first and let him decide what to tell his children? It could be days before Soun wakes up, is it fair to keep the girls in the dark that whole time? Well, it wasn't fair that their mother was taken from them, it wasn't fair that their father was in a coma, and it certainly wasn't fair that Genma was the only caretaker they had. It also wasn't fair that what was supposed to be a happy occasion, ridding themselves of the dreaded Happosai, has become so somber and grim. Genma needed time to think, not one of his more practiced skills. Calling on Maid Guy and Fubuki to keep an eye on the sleeping girls, he informed them he was going out for a walk. If nothing else, he should pick up a large bottle of sake. Anyway you looked at it, Soun was going to need it when he woke up, one way, or another.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Luckily, since they had planned to be in one place for a while, their mail was being directly forwarded and Nodoka received the letter containing the news of the tragedy that had befallen her husband's friend, his family and the situation surrounding it rather quickly. 'Oh, those poor girls! What a tragic story! Although it is interesting to hear that my husband is being reliable, even taking his version of the story with a grain of salt. It just goes to show, "in every bad situation there is an element of good". I suppose I also should contact the executor of the estate to allow for a bigger food and utility budget. It might be nice to give the maid a bit of extra discretionary spending money for the girls, for clothes and fun to distribute as she felt was needed. Those girls will need all of the fun they can get for awhile... Hopefully my husband will do better helping to care for these children than he did for his own child. Since my husband seems less worthless now, I really ought to increase his personal allowance too.'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Little did Nodoka realize that the maid in question was, herself but a girl of eight years, yet aside from a bit of help from the Maid Guy (mostly to reach the high places), she was managing quite well. Her throwing skills had also improved remarkably well. So much so, she was now focusing primarily on her melee, practicing with whatever she found lying around, a staff, a bamboo practice sword, a baseball bat... She was particularly fond of the baseball bat, it just felt natural, like it belonged there. And she had just recently begun practicing hiding useful items in her uniform, she felt as though she were carrying an extra five kilograms.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

A week had passed since the tragedy, and the occupants of the Saotome estate had slowly begun to perk up a bit. Soun had awoken the next morning, and the pain added to the news, hit him hard. He did not take it well, fainting back into the darkness almost immediately. He was now able to walk around on his own with the help of a walker, and he needed less of the salve and sake to face each day than he had needed the day before. His muscles were stiff and sore, his skin felt way too tight and his heart ached. The one bright spot in this tragedy was that his little girls were safe, and his best friend had taken care of them in this time of need. He might not be too sure what happened, but he was sure that he was glad to have a friend like Genma Saotome.

Genma had taken to training all four of the girls together, to give them something to help them keep from dwelling on the tragic events and let's face it, Genma doesn't know much else. But, surprisingly, one of his strategies bore fruit. Having to work together, the girls really started to bond, Kasumi and Fubuki grew especially close. Never one to let someone else do all of the work, even if they are being paid to do so, Kasumi would help around the house, Fubuki would teach her things, Kasumi would show her 'secret recipes' from her mother's notebook.

Nabiki spent almost as much time reading as she did playing with the other girls, luckily since Genma lived there, many of the books were written at a child's level, without kanji. Nabiki was good with her kanji, better than most girls her age, she helped both of her sisters with their homework after all, but there were just too many kanji she didn't know yet for her to be able to read adult books yet. The others were not aware of this, but she also liked to explore, Nabiki loved mysteries, but she hated leaving them unsolved, and this house was large and old. Who knows what one could find by poking around.

Akane on the other hand was having troubles of her own, while she enjoyed having other girls to train with, and having her sisters start training again was nice, why did SHE have to be the one being looked after by that pervert?! The maid who was the same age as her sisters would be looking after them, and as the youngest, it was decided she needed the extra attention and protection because mommy isn't coming back. She didn't want this new mommy, she wanted her old mommy back! This new mommy was scary, and strange. He would com into her room to wake her up in the mornings, he would wash her underwear, and she didn't like that (she didn't 'not like that' enough to want to do her own laundry, but still, she didn't like that). Wherever she went, he was there, watching. Waiting to jump out of the shadows and help her at a moments notice. As if, she wanted HIS help! She didn't want help from any boy, let alone big scary boys in dresses! Uncle Genma said she would get used to it, but she didn't WANT to get used to it, she wouldn't let herself get used to it! She wanted her mommy!

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

When Genma wasn't training the girls or playing games and getting drunk with Soun, he was spending his time studying Fubuki and Maid Guy (and now Kasumi, too), as they went about their daily routine of tending to the home. He studied every movement, every use of force, every position they twisted their bodies into to get their work done. He also noted there was a heck of a lot more to it than he had ever expected! Using these notes, he started designing techniques that utilize those same movements, muscle groups and occasionally, tools. Like Maid Dusts Ceiling, Butler Opens Door, Flipping the Cushion, Rugbeater, and many more.

Feeling as though he had a respectable list of techniques, Genma called a 'family' meeting and gathered everyone together in the dining hall. "I'm sure all of you are wondering why I have called you all together this evening."

"Don't care."

"Get on with it."

"Yes, well, I have been developing a new set of techniques..." Akane's ears perk up a bit at this point, losing some of her annoyance at being there until he says, "to work with already trained muscle groups of maids and butlers. Using hand-to-hand techniques combined with regular household items that should be ingrained already due to their everyday work. This will not only make them more effective for people with these skills, but should also make them relatively easy for them to learn. Kogarashi gave me an idea last week, but then all sorts of things happened, which reminds me, we need to have a talk later Tendo, there is one piece of good news I wanted to wait until you were feeling better to tell you about, remind me after dinner. But back to the matter at hand. Once we work the kinks out of the system, I will be ready to take you up on your offer of finding us more students, Kogarashi. Fubuki and anyone else who would like to join her will begin learning these techniques and helping me refine them."

Kasumi, wanting to help and encourage her friend, raises her hand. Nabiki seeing that both of the older girls were learning this new system, and ever one to prove how smart and mature she is, chose to join them as well. Akane felt it sounded sexist, she wasn't sure what that meant, but she was sure it fit here somehow. "I'll stick to breaking boards, thank you!"

"OK, now that we have that decided, we come to the most important, critical part of our meeting, and the main reason I called all of you here. I need your help picking a name for this style, does anyone have any suggestions?"

"How about Baka Ryu!"
{*Akane suggested it be called the 'Stupid Style', but then she's six, and not pleased*}

After the little outburst and Nabiki's giggles calm down they see Kasumi has raised her hand, looking away shyly. "Yes dear, did you have a suggestion?"

"Yes Uncle, I think it should be called the Kaji Ken, or The Household Fist. Symbolizing protection of the household, as well as having the whole household behind them supporting them. They are never alone, and are always there to protect and care for those special to them."
{*Kaji = (1) housework; domestic chores; (2) family affairs; household matters;*} {*Ken = Fist*}

After a tearful moment from Soun, blubbering about various things ranging to how sweet and wonderful his daughter was, to how much he misses his wife and the hair that turned to ash during the lightning strike, a new style is born. ...and there was much rejoicing.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Later that evening Soun catches Genma away from the others, after the girls had gone to bed, and in a hushed tone, "So, what is this all about Saotome?"

"Meet me in the garden, Tendo, and steel yourself for a shock, this is big news, I will meet you there in a few moments." Waiting until Soun had started hobbling out of the door and runs off to get a bottle of expensive sake he had been saving for special occasion and a 'go' board (having been unable to bring himself to play shogi since that day), and follows Soun out to the garden table.
{*'Go' is a board game, with some similarities to Checkers*}

"Well friend, what is this news?"

"First a toast, I have been saving this bottle for this day for years now. To friends and family, to those near, and those far away, may they always be in our hearts and with us in spirit. Kampai!"
{*Kampai = Cheers*}

"Kampai!"

"Now, Tendo, I was really hopin' to cheer you up so, what would you say if I told you that the lightning strike that you caught was actually a very small fraction of one that struck 'He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named'?"

"REALLY?! How is he? Did he survive?"

"I believe so, but those priestesses have him sealed, locked and buried up there by that temple of theirs, with any luck we won't being seeing him again for a long time, if ever! It's better than anything we could have come up with, that's for sure."

"Well then, if not for the aftermath, I would have said it was all worth it, but in light of the cost..."

"I know Tendo, I know... The most solemn celebration we have ever had." Genma puts his arm around his old friend's shoulder and pours them each another drink, "May she live on, in those three lovely daughters of yours."

They both take their drink and yell, "Kampai!"

"We knew ridding ourselves of that great evil would come at a heavy price, I just wish I had been the one who paid that price, not..."

"You almost paid that price too, then where would your girls be? You're gonna have to be strong, for their sakes, they are going to need you, now more than ever before."

"You're right, Saotome. For them!"

"Kampai!"

"Well, you know what they say Tendo, 'You don't get drunk on sake which you do not drink.' So let's drink!"

"KAMPAI!"

"Without wine, even
beautiful cherry blossoms,
have small attraction!"

"Good one, Tendo!"

"Kampai!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma was heading home from the day's training with his latest instructor, reviewing in his mind what he learned that day, not really paying much attention to his surroundings, until he thought a near-by bush rustled. Years of training kicking in he tenses up and sends out his aura to 'feel out' the area when he heard a whispered tone, "Pssst! Oi! Ranchan!"

"Ucchan, Is that you? What's up? Why are you hiding? Is it a game? Why are you naked? Is it fun? Can I play?"

Ukyo's curiosity got the better of her for a moment, and she almost played along, but then she remembered there was a bigger problem, 'Later!' "Naw, not a game, it's because Ah lost a game, an' lots of um... Oh Ranchan! He took mah clothes, an' th' deed ta th' food cart! Dad's gonna kill meh!"

Ranma is able to wrap his shirt around Ukyo before she throws her arms around him, sobbing into his chest. "Here Ucchan, wear this, and tell me jus' what happened. I promise you, I will take care of it, and MY mom would kill me if I broke my word to a cute girl."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo, wearing Ranma's shirt like a short dress, and clutching his arm, leads him to where the Gambling King had set up his 'shop'. A shirtless six-year-old Ranma gently pulled free from Ukyo's grasp and strode through the crowd of children, sternly staring holes into the large man's head. Ukyo, for her part, swooned at how heroic her 'boyfriend' looked, and with her hands on her cheeks, she dropped to her knees, sitting on her feet, having a hard time keeping herself from 'squeeing'.

Ranma gets to the front of the makeshift 'stage' and still not breaking eye contact with this so-called king, though Ranma did have to admit, the man did look like one of the 'kings' on his cards. "So, you're the guy who's been taking money and clothes from little kids? How dare you make a cute girl cry!" Cracking his knuckles, aura blazing he calmly asks, "So how do you want to do this?"

"Old Maid?"

"You mean, Bakojin?"

"What did you call me?"

Ukyo whispers something into Ranma ear. "OK, Old Maid it is! First things first, if I win, you give her back her clothes, and if you win, I don't kick your butt. What? You thought I would offer you something expensive, like a building?" Ranma's aura was flaring into the visible spectrum even for people who can't normally see them, and the heat from it combining with his cold stare was almost enough to kick off a Hiryo Shoten Ha, if only he knew enough to do the spiral.

Now there's something you should know about the Gambling King, there are reasons why he only plays children, and it's not only because of his poor playing skill, it's also because he is an abject coward. He had seen enough anime to know that if someone was glowing like that and looking to hurt you, it was probably best to avoid combat if at all possible. And so, while these were not the most favorable stakes he could have hoped for, he felt it was the best course of action, after all, he always had more jokers up his sleeve, and in various other locations...

Ranma didn't even need his budding aura reading skills to tell the strange man was cheating, he was as easy to read as a child's manga. So he didn't even react when the old man slipped the joker into his hand as he was drawing his card. 'So that's the game he wants to play, fine then. Take this, Bakojin!' Utilizing one of the few techniques he still remembered from his father, "Look, it's a tengu!" Using the distraction, Ranma swaps out the Joker he was handed, for the rest of the cards in the 'King's' hand, laying all of his cards on the table, "You loose!" The look of shock on the 'King's' face when he saw that the only card he was holding was the joker was priceless, he would have to ask his mother later for a copy of one of the pictures she was sure to have taken. Strange he seemed to be the only one who could hear the rapid fire clicking of her camera somewhere near by, she is getting better at hiding her presence. She did love to think she is taking candid photos of him, not realizing he was just ignoring her. Grabbing Ukyo's clothing he tosses it to her so it lands in a neat pile on her lap. Turning back to the older man, "You might want to watch that cheating, or I'll report you for being a pervert, taking clothes from little kids... now, for their cart!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma had won back Ukyo's family cart, the rest of the kids' money, and most of the king's money and clothes. The King himself was rather worried, he had nothing left but his crown and boxers, and this game was for his boxers, and he was not doing well, he had few hidden cards left, and boy would just catch him every time he tried to use one anyway. He was out of options, he knew it, better to quit while he retained some shred of dignity left, so unknowingly taking a page from Genma's play book, The King expertly pulls of the Saotome Final Attack, "RUN AWAY!" Dropping everything he ran, ran as fast as his chubby legs would carry him.

"Hey! Come back here with our property! STOP! Underwear Thief!" Ranma looked around for something to throw, but having already distributed the money back out to the other kids, the only thing left on the stage were the King's clothing, and they stunk, and the deck of cards they had been playing with (including a full deck's worth of Jokers). Not expecting the cards to make a good throwing weapon, but he takes them anyway and ran off after the king. Figuring it couldn't hurt to try anyway, he tried to throw a card at the king. The first card just fluttered all over the place, doing nobody any good. 'Didn't figure...' The next couple cards flew, but went wide. The fourth Joker flew straight and true, hitting the king square in the back, ...and bouncing off of his padded shoulder blades, harmlessly. 'Damn! This is harder than I expected!' He was already gaining on the man easily, but throwing these cards was fun! Ranma focused his ki into the card and threw one last Joker at the man. This time it cut through two of the curls in the man's hair and stuck in a passing tree.

With one last leap, Ranma closed the remaining gap between them, kicking him in the back of the head. As the King crashed to the ground the small boy, who landed on top on him, pulled a ball of twine out of his pocket and used another of the skills he learned from Kyoshi-sensei, Hojojutsu. Ranma began by tying the King's hands behind his back. "Not only are you a scam artist who targets children, a pervert who takes their clothing and a cheater, but on top of all that, you would also weasel out without paying your debts?" After tying the man's hands together, he took the man's boxers and tied his feet together leaving about a half a meter length of twine between each foot. Shoving the man's boxers into his mouth, he uses his handkerchief to blindfold the man and keep his underwear from coming out of his mouth.

He pulled out a brush and on the large man's back he writes, 'I swindle children out of their clothes!'. Flipping the large man over, he writes 'Look at my junk!' on the man's chest and belly. He then woke the 'King' back up, helped him to his feet, and proceeded to kick him in the general direction of town yelling, "EEEEEEK! IT'S A PERVERT!" All of the kids joined in the fun yelling and screaming about perverts as they scatter toward home or hiding places to watch the fun.

Ukyo would be joining in on the yelling but she can't stop laughing, "Serves, ...y'all, ...right!" Ranma scooped her and her clothes up in his arms and headed into the treetops, leaping toward his home, making sure they are not mixed up in the trouble today's villain would soon be in. "So, Ucchan, why haven't you gotten dressed yet?"

Not wanting to mention she was really liking wearing his shirt, almost as much as she was liking being carried like this, she skiped to the other reason, "Well, Ah was wearin' th' yukata y'all gave me, an' it's too hard ta do by mahself, especially out in the open, with people starin' at meh!"

"Well, mom says 'only ugly people should be afraid of being seen', like the King!" They both broke into giggle fits. "But, don't worry, mom will be waiting for us when we get home, she'll help you."

"But, seriously Ranchan, you really saved meh back there, not only from the embarrassment of havin' ta go home nakid, but my dad woulda killed me for losing the food cart!" She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "Ranma Saotome, yer mah hero!"

They both blush, and Ranma almost faltered a little at the surprise 'attack', "Aw, ain't no problem Ucchan, that's what friends are for, and you're not just a friend, not even just my best friend, but also my girlfriend!" His goofy grin only getting wider as he says the word 'girlfriend'. Ranma didn't want to mention the fact that she was also his 'only' friend, ...so, he didn't.

{*Hojojutsu or Nawajutsu = The traditional Japanese martial art of restraining a person using cord or rope. You also have Kinbaku = Rope bondage, [lit. tight binding] and Kinbaku-bi = lit. The beauty of Tight Binding.*}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Arriving back at the house, Nodoka goes to put away all of the rolls of film she filled up in her attempts to emulate a stalker or a tabloid reporter as the children hip over the wall and into the back yard. Seeing Ranma carrying a barely dressed Ukyo, Nodoka gushed, saying the only thing she can, "My son is becoming soooo manly!"

"Tadaima! Look who came for a visit!"
{*Tadaima = equivalent to "I'm Home", said sometimes even when alone.*}

"Konichiwa, Saotome-han!"

"Kaa-chan, will you help Ucchan back into her yukata? She was having trouble with it."

"Of course," her smile turning into a devilish grin, "but Ranma-kun, as manly as that is, those kinds of games are better left to when you are older! Now Ukyo-chan, are you staying for lunch?"

"If y'all don't mind..."

"Ukyo-chan, you are ALWAYS welcome here, with us."

"I'd love to!"

"Good then, you two go get a bath and I will start lunch, then we can get you dressed properly."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"Ranma-kun, go finish making lunch so I can help your girlfriend get dressed."

Ranma runs off happily yelling, "HAAAAAIIII!"

Nodoka turns back toward a blushing Ukyo, "Well, I hate to break it to you, but your clothes were dirty, and smelled of old man. I can't let you put them back on like that, so I threw them in the wash..."

"Well, ifin it's jus' y'all, I guess Ah don' mind..."

"SO, I am going to have you put this on instead! I picked it up yesterday. It's going to look so cute on you!" Nodoka starts pulling out the parts of a real kimono, and all twelve of the layers that go with it. Ukyo feints.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

When Ukyo came to, she saw that she was already wearing most of the twelve layers of the kimono. "Ah, good, you are awake. This will go much faster now." Nodoka returns to humming as her hands deftly arrange the pieces of the girl's new outfit. "I got it big, so you will be able to wear it for years to come, even as you grow into a young lady."

"But, Saotome-han, wha y'all doin' this fer? Ah've never had such nice things afore."

"Well, my dear, that is precisely why. You are a very special little girl, and you deserve to have nice things, you deserve to look like the pretty girl that you are, and don't let anyone convince you otherwise. Also, it's a lot of fun to play dress-up, ne?! I always wanted to have a daughter to raise beside my son, but my husband didn't think I was worth touching after he had a son... But that's not important, what IS important is that you are my son's precious little girlfriend and I am going to dote on you as if you were my own. Let an old lady have her fun."

"But mah daddy's been teachin' meh 'bout 'Th' Value uh Money', and I know sumffin' like this costs an awful lot."

"Oh fuuu, I got it on sale, twenty-five percent off! Only seven hundred and fifty thousand Yen. But that's not something you need to worry yourself about. Now sit back and let Auntie Nodoka take care of yooof!" Before she could finish, she was cut off as the miniature chef's arms went around her neck as tears poured down her cheeks.

"Ah nevah knew mah mom, she died when Ah was born. But Ah always dreamed it'd feel like this. Sukkya nen!" Nodoka held the crying girl, crying along with her, thinking how nice it would be to have a daughter.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After lunch Nodoka gathers the children in the living room, "Sit over here children, we need to have a little talk."

"Sure, mom/auntie!" They take a seat in the center of the couch across from her.

"Ranma-kun, I was hoping to wait a few years to have this conversation, but it seems I have little choice. considering your state of dress when you both returned. Before I jump to any conclusions and so I know exactly 'what' conversation we need to be having, please explain to me what happened exactly." Even though she had been hiding, watching and taking pictures of the event, she wanted to hear it from their perspective and make sure she has the whole story.

Ukyo had explained how she had tried to stand up for the kids being cheated out of their allowances, but lost everything too. She then explained how she went looking for Ranma. Ranma took over at this point, explaining how he had come to find Ukyo hiding in the bushes, who promptly started blushing bright crimson again. He explained how he had given her his shirt, she took his hand in response to this. He went on to explain how he had challenged the 'king', caught him cheating, beat him anyway, and how he ran away. Nodoka was swooning over her son's 'manly' actions until he got to the part where he had 'punished' the 'king' for running out on his 'wager', where she was having a hard time stifling a laugh. She had seen most of that, but had not been close enough to be able to hear most of what was being said.

Regaining her composure, Nodoka reassures the children, "Don't worry, you're not in trouble, you both were trying to protect your friends, and I am proud of you both, although getting an adult might have been a good idea, you both showed initiative by being responsible and taking care of your own problems. Now, back to the topic at hand. I understand you both might be curious, and it's fun to be naked, but you should never play these stripping games with adults, and they will be more fun, if you wait to play them until you are older. When you are older, they will be fun things you can do with a 'special someone', (...or when you are really drunk at a party), but it's never a good idea to play games like that with unmanly perverts, like that guy. Many older people will try to take advantage of you adorable children, so you must be careful."

Noticing that their 'talk' was over, they both yell, "HAI!" as they run off to play.

{The moral of this story: Teach your kids about stripping games, before they learn about them on the street, ...from some pervert dressed as a playing card.
Or if you prefer, 'Fool who play with Card Men soon have cardboard box for wardrobe...'}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Entering her house after Ranma had dropped her off, literally, Ukyo called out to her father, "Tadaima!"

"Ukyo, yer back... Wat th' blazes?! Whutter ya wearin'?"

Ukyo looked sheepishly at the floor, "A kimono..."

"Ah kin SEE that, gurl! Whur'd ja git it?!"

"Saotome-han. She said 'don't worry, it was only seven hundred n' fifty thous..."

"ONLY?! Only?! Do ya have any idea how long it takes us ta make that much money? Months! Ifin ya saved yer allowance fer a hundred years ya still wouldn't have enough!"

Ukyo cowered a bit at that. "Well, go git ready fer bed. Daddy's got thinkin' ta do. ...if ya kin e'en git outa that thing on yer own."

Ukyo headed to her room thinking loudly to her self, 'Ah swear, Ah'm gonna learn ta wear these fancy clothes ifin it kill meh! An' Ah'm gonna be beautiful! Take that stupid old man!'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Fubuki and Kasumi were sparring in the back yard, Akane had gone with their father to buy more boards for her to break, Maid Guy was probably following Akane protecting her from the shadows and Genma was no where to be found, leaving Nabiki to enjoy the weather. Sitting on a nearby hill she alternated between watching her older sister and older sister-like friend dueling over who gets to cook dinner or some such nonsense, Nabiki did not care, and reading a fantasy novel. Fantasy was not her favorite genera, but since most of the non-fiction in the house was far above her reading level and the Saotome's library was a science fiction free zone, she took what she could get. Apparently, their son was just barely learning to read when he left, so all of the books written only in hiragana or katakana were either far below her level, or belonged to uncle Genma. She once made the mistake of opening one of those books, and that was an experience she did NOT wish to repeat. She saw things, large women, doing ...things, things she wished she could unsee. Things she would not understand completely for many years, things she did not WANT to understand! Things she would hope to be able to forget for many years after that. Thankfully, her karma was good enough that there were no photos of uncle Genma himself! She swore then and there that she never wanted to let her karma drop that low, ever!
{*Hiragana (feminine) and Katakana (masculine) are the two main 'alphabets' in Japanese. Each character represents a vowel or consonant and vowel combination.*}

Things were rough at first, especially on that first day, when they didn't know if their father would wake up, nor where their mother was. Akane was panicking about 'The Maid Guy' being a pervert, and in walks a girl only a bit older than herself who throws a few darts into her fellow 'maid', calming Akane down some. She looked so cool in her pose and so cute in her little outfit that Nabiki and Kasumi were instantly fascinated with sparkles in their eyes and hands clasped together.

"It's a pleasure to meet you all, I am Fubuki, the house maid. Don't mind Kogarashi, he can be a bit overzealous, but he means well."

Kasumi was the first to speak up, "I'm Kasumi, this is my younger sister Nabiki, and that is our youngest sister, Akane. It's a pleasure to meet you as well, and thank you for calming them down. Things are trying enough without all of the screaming."

"I lost both of my parents about four years ago, so I understand. If there is anything at all you ladies need while you are here, I am at your disposal." Fubuki curtsies gracefully and elegantly.

"Maybe we could impose upon you for a tour? This is a big house and I would hate to get lost trying to find the bathroom or something." The girls had a good giggle at that thought.

"Certainly Goshujin-sama. I went through that exact situation my first few days here, since I wasn't shown around. Follow me please." Fubuki turned to leave the room, and Kasumi turned to her sisters.

"Coming Akane?"

"No!"

"Well, if you'd rather stay in here with him, alone, that's fine with me, but don't come to us when you can't find the potty." Giggling, Nabiki and Kasumi followed the young maid who was waiting for them out in the hallway, with Akane quickly running after them.

"That was the study, and as you ca see, it doesn't get used a lot, at least not anymore, anyway." More giggles followed the subtle joke at Genma's expense.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Akane got bored with the tour, and left after she saw what she felt were the important rooms. She knew where the bathrooms were, the kitchen, the dining room, the TV, all of the rooms that mattered to a six-year-old Akane, if they wanted to go look at rooms filled with statues, paintings and books, let them. She was much more interested in this trophy room, full of weapons, armors, and other interesting artifacts. "Oooo, shiny!"

"Kukuku! Troublesome Goshujin-chan. Little girls should be careful playing with weapons." The scary man(?) suddenly appeared in front of Akane, who promptly screamed.

"I know what I'm doing! I'm a martial artist, you know!"

"Really? Would you like Maid Guy to train you?" He turned to pose and point at himself, trying to look cool.

"NO! I don't wanna learn from a pervert like you! If I want to learn how to put on a dress and look scary, I'll be sure to call you, until then, LEAVE ME ALONE!"

Akane turned to leave, having completely forgotten about the sharp looking weapon she was planning to pick up, determined to find something fun to play with.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Fubuki was finishing up the grand tour, returning to the study in which they began, Nabiki was impressed at how expensive everything looked, and Kasumi was amazed at how long it must take to keep it all clean, when they heard a scream. Fubuki turned to run toward the sound, when she was stopped by Kasumi's hand on her arm, her head shaking. Nabiki explained, "That was just 'Kane, she's always like that. You'll run yourself ragged if you run every time she screams."

Kasumi added, "She's a big girl, she can come find us if she needs us, not like she would accept our help with anything anyway. She's a bit, ...high spirited."

"Are you sure?" They both nodded. "If you insist." Shrugging, Fubuki lead them back into the now empty study, and quickly turned to the other two girls with a devilish grin on her face. "Alright, you two ladies ready to see something fun?" They both nodded vigorously. Fubuki turned to a large portrait hanging on the wall and pressed on the side of it, which opened a secret passage. Pulling a lantern out of 'somewhere', she entered the passage, beckoning for the other girls to follow her. In a whispered tone she continued the tour, "I don't think anyone else knows about these passages, this house is very old." Pausing along the way to point out various 'peep' holes and places arrows could be fired from, "The main use of these passages would have been for the estate's servants to come and go unnoticed by the masters and guests. Special guards could also hide in here to watch for problems and take them out with darts and arrows. These tunnels could also be used as an escape route." She opened a door that lead out to the garden, closing the door again she continued down the passage. "Or as a place to hide, and/or store valuables." She stopped again and this time opened a 'trap door' in the floorboards revealing stairs to an almost empty, underground room. "After you, Ladies."

Following the Tendo girls down the stairs, Fubuki stoped once she reached the bottom, pointing out two levers. "This one closes and opens the passage," She closed said passage, "And this one," flipping the lever, opened several panels along the tops of each wall, filling the room with natural light. "Using glass and reflective surfaces, these panels will let in enough light to see by during the day, and they will even collect enough moon and starlight on many nights to let you see down here without an artificial light source." The girls ran around the room, examining the glass tubes and whatever few items were remained from ages past. Most notable of which were the large wooden table, that seemed to be hand-carved, the matching chairs and several, mostly empty crates.

The girls were positively excited, they never dreamed to see something like this in real life, it was right out of one of the mystery stories they were both so fond of. Almost bouncing with excitement, Nabiki suggested, "We should make this our secret clubhouse! No boys allowed!"

Kasumi tacks on to the end of that, "...no boys, for now."

{Of course Nabiki shortens Akane's name to 'Kane as a nickname, since it can mean money! Or 'O-kane' if you want to be polite about it.}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo was running across town, looking for her 'boyfriend'. She was hoping to catch him before he left his training session for the day. She wanted to try something today, and she needed his help to do it.

As she walked up to the training hall she heard Ranma fighting someone, when she got to the main room she saw Ranma doing a back flip, kicking an older man across the room into the far wall. Ranma hoped over to the man and helped him get up. "Well Ranma-kun, I don't believe there is much else we can teach you here. In your six months here you have mastered what takes many a lifetime. I wish you the best in your future studies, I know you will do amazing things."

Ranma bowed to the older man, "Thank you, Kazama-sensei. It was fun, I learned a lot."

Cracking a grin, Kazama-sensei joked, "I believe I just said that. Remember the most important aspect of the art my boy, always have fun. 'One who smiles rather than rages is always the stronger.' Come back and see us again someday, Ranma-kun. I'd love to see what you've learned."

"Hai, sensei, I'd like that."

"Now, it seems as though you have an admirer waiting for you, I won't keep you. Take care my boy."

"You too, sensei." He hopped across the room to stand directly in front of Ukyo, surprising her, "Ucchan! Hi!"

"Ah! Ranchan! Hiya, ya got plans for th' afternoon?"

"Well, I just 'graduated' from another school, so I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that means we will be leaving soon." Ukyo looked as though she was about to cry upon hearing that, "But the good news is that after we do one thing, I am free to spend every moment hanging out with you, doing whatever you want until we leave." Ranma tried to force a smile to cheer his friend up. 'Only a heel makes a girl cry' after all.

"Aaawww, that sucks! Wut am Ah gonna do without cha? You guys are th' best family Ah ever had." Ukyo's cheeks puff out as she pouted.

"Well, we can write letters, talk on the phone, and it's not like we won't see each other again, we can stop in for a visit every time we pass by, or when we get free time. And maybe next time we rent a house you can come stay with us for a while." Ranma pasted a broad, reassuring smile across his face, "Now, come with me, I wanna show you something." At which point he scooped Ukyo up in his arms again and starts jumping from roof to roof toward the mountains and out of town.

"Ah'm REALLY gonna miss this part."

"Well, I have opened up your chakra and other ki pathways, and I have been strengthening your ki every time I carry you like this, so with a bit of practice you will be able to do it on your own."

Ukyo tried to look cross at him, and with little venom in her voice, "Ranma no aho! That's not the point! But thank you." She kissed him on the cheek, "So, what did you want to show me?" Ranma landed in a small clearing well away from town, letting his passenger get her feet back under her so she could stand on her own, eliciting small sigh of disappointment from her.

"Okay, so you remember when we were chasing that pervert a while back, and I was tryin' ta throw his cards at him?"

She noded, "Ya jus' LOVE bringin' up meh being nakid in public, Ah'm startin' ta think y'all got a complex." she spun around sticking her tongue out at her friend.

"Your the one who keeps brining up that part of it, I'm startin' to think you just like to be embarrassed!" Sticking his tongue out at her, he gave her the raspberry.

She blushed again, "Maaaybe, but since ya leavin' me, Ah guess ya'll never find out." And stuck her tongue back out again, completely ignoring that clicking sound that had been around so often lately.

"Well, like I was sayin', I threw cards at Bakojin, but the last one, it cut his hair, and stuck in a tree. I've been practicing in secret for a while now, and at first I was able to get good at throwing them, but nuthin' fancy. But then I figured out what I did, differently that last time, and..." Pulling out a card, he charged it with ki and let it fly, slicing a branch off of a nearby tree. "And depending on how I charge it, I can make it do different things. Like this." He threw another, this time at the fallen branch, when the card hit this time there was a small explosion, splitting the branch into so much kindling. "Or this." His third card went about ten meters out and then curved back toward Ukyo, who prepared to dodge when it curves again doing several loops before gently landing back in Ranma's outstretched hand.

Ukyo picked herself up off of the ground where she had fallen due to the imbalance left from her attempted dodge and her lack of needing to do so. "Ayaaaa, Sugoi! Do ya think Ah kin do that with mah kote?"
{*Kote = the small utensils used to flip Okonomiyaki, or Japanese 'turners'* No, they are NOT spatulas, no matter what anyone says.}
{*Aya = wow; whoa*}
{*sugoi = terrible; dreadful; (2) amazing (e.g. of strength); great (e.g. of skills); wonderful; terrific;*}

"I don't see why not, you are already good at throwin' 'um. Both that and the jumping are through manipulating your ki, you have to learn to focus it. Push it out through your focal points, in this case, hands and feet."

"That'd be fun! But first there's somethin' Ah need yer help with. Pa's been mean lately, an' Ah wanted ta try ta make his secret recipe fer sauce, but Ah wanna show him Ah kin do good things without him, Ah wanna do it with Ranchan instead. Let's make a dessert okonomiyaki! Ah nevah git ta eat anythin' sweet at home, before you came Ah nevah had anythin' sweet. Ah jus' want him ta be proud a meh again!"

Ranma reached down and taking her wrist he helped her to her feet from where she had unknowingly been on the ground bowing, begging for his help. "Ucchan, I told ya before, now that I have shown you what I wanted, until mom decides it's time for us to leave, we can do anything you wanna do. Besides, cookin' with you is fun!" Ranma winked at the flustered girl, picked her up in his arms and leaped off into the trees again heading back to his temporary home.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

On the way back to his rented home, Ranma had been thinking about options, so when they walked into the kitchen, "Well, first we need to decide what kind of 'sweet' you want, there are a lot of ways we could make them sweet. We could use different types of fruits, honey, caramel," Ticking off his fingers as he lists items.

"Well, fruit reminds meh uh those crape guys Ah see around, an' papa don't like them, so let's skip that fer now."

"OK, then how about caramel, it's easy to make, and it's a rich flavor. Brown sugar and butter are the main things. So we will leave out the savory items, like cabbage, and meat, then substitute something sweet. We don't want to put too many sweet things in there or it will be too much, and distract from the richness of the caramel. Maybe keep it simple, mix brown sugar into the batter and then drizzle caramel sauce on top and sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar?"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Summer was coming to a close, and Soun Tendo was not feeling up to returing to his home. Instead he chose to have his girls enroll in the same school Fubuki had been attending, Futaba Elementary School. So it was that Fubuki and the Tendos three were returning from registering, and picking up the uniforms, for their new school. They had planned to stop at the local shopping mall to get more things to decorate their new 'secret clubhouse' when Fubuki insisted they stop and get some ice cream. She told them, "It's important for growing girls to get their daily requirement of chocolate!" Giggling their agreement, they headed into the nearby shop that had caught her eye.

Sitting down with their sundaes, they discussed what else they need to make the room perfect. "Well, Nabiki-chan has been steadily filling the bookshelves we picked up last time we were out, we have some training dummies, our 'cleaning supplies', a TV and VCR, the ice shaver, and those pretty pink balloons and ribbons that Akane made us get."

"DID NOT! That was all your idea, Kasumi!"

"We know Akane-chan, lighten up. We were just teasing you."

"Humph!"

"Alright, so who has suggestions for what else we should get? I want some plushies!"

"We should get some manga too!"

"I want an Easy Bake Oven!"

"I want some videos!"

"Akane raises a good point, what good does the TV and VCR do us if we don't have videos to watch? Let's all go pick some movies and shows! (and a nice pretty cupboard to keep them in)."

Plan in hand, they leave the ice cream shop, all looking forward to the anime they would get to watch during their last days of summer vacation."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo was proud of herself, not only was she able to jump a bit higher now thanks to the practice they did after cooking, but she had helped design a new kind of okonomiyaki, and it was GOOD! She was really hoping her daddy would be proud of her, he had been in such a bad mood for the last year, she wanted to see him smile at her again. It had been so long.

So she was in a good mood when she entered the house, carrying the box containing her new creation. She was just about to shout out 'Tadaima!' when she saw Nodoka's shoes by the door making her even happier. She headed off for the living room to show off what she had made. She was just about to enter the room and run into Nodoka's arms and give her gift to her father, when she heard him say, "Ah jus' can't care fo' her anymore, I offer you our food cart as her dowry... Please take her with you when you leave, as your son's bride!"

Ukyo was shocked, 'Daddy wants ta git rid uh meh!'

"Well Kuonji-san, I can't promise his hand in marriage, as he has a potential iinazuke, several in fact, and I won't force his decision. It's up to him to choose his future bride. But if nothing else she could always be his concubine!" Nodoka gets a bit of a grin thinking about it.

Ukyo drops her package in shock and ranout of the house and into the night. 'Ah cain't believe him! Payin' someone ta take me away! Am Ah not good enough? Doesn't he care? How could he?! Papa no Aho! Well, at least it was Auntie Nodoka, and Ranchan, he was sellin' meh to, but still! Pa wanted meh ta be Ranchan's wife. Auntie Nodoka said I should be his 'con-cue-pine', well then, since auntie is nice and papa is mean, Ah will be th' best concupine ta' Ranchan Ah kin be! N' Ah will come back when I am good at it, and stick him with all my concupine quills! Mean old papa!' Satisfied with her logic, Ukyo looked around trying to figure out where she was, she hadn't been paying attention to where she was going and was now pretty lost.
{*Aho = Kansai-ben form of 'baka' - idiot/stupid/fool/etc.*}
{*Concupine = cross between a concubine and a porcupine that Ukyo's mind came up with since she has no idea what a 'concubine' is, she did the best she could. is this foreshadowing? or just a one-off joke? The world may never know...*}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nodoka was surprised, to say the least, she knew her son was manly but this is a bit unusual given the situation. "You do realize that we live on the road, we only stop in towns long enough to train at a school, then we wander and train whereever we can, this isn't an easy life."

The older chef looked serious at that for a moment, but was not deterred, "Ah understand, but ya seem ta truly care fo' her, an' ya are so good with kids, an' there is one more factor. She may have told ya about her mother, she died givin' birth ta Ukyo, and th' only other family Ah got left is estranged, we ain't talked in generations. We kept th' family art, our very history, alive, while they forsook it fo' money and business. Our side uh th' family did everything we could ta' keep our traditions alive, an' now my little Ukyo is th' last one. Ah have little time left, an' Ah need someone ta' care uh meh legacy, and y'all seem like people who honor tradition! Ah've seen th' way she looks comin' home after visiting yer house, an' she's nevah been happier. Ah won't be able ta' care fo' mahself fo' much longer, let alone a child. Ah need ta' check muhself inta a hospital, but Ah couldn't do that before Ah found someone ta' look after mah girl! PLEASE! Ah'm beggin' ya, look after my daughter! Encourage her ta' keep our traditions alive, Ah'll give ya anything Ah have!" He doesn't even look up from where he was prostrating himself, tears flowing down his cheeks. "Ah don't want mah girl to grow up an orphan, please give her a family!"

Reaching down to take his hand, "Raise yourself, your feelings have reached me, there is no way I can refuse such a request. I can't leave such a sweet girl to be left alone. I promise you, I will look after her as if she were my own!"

"OH THANK YA, Saotome-Sama! Th' gods will surely grace ya' fer honorin' this dyin' man's last request, as I said, take anything you want, all that I own is yours!"

"I will make arrangements to have her things moved along with ours when the movers come to pack up our house. Let them know what belongs to her. We will be leaving tomorrow."

"Ah jus' hope she kin forgive me. Please, don' tell her Ah am dying. Wait 'til she is old enough ta understand better. Better she be mad at me so she leaves, than sad an' refusin' ta go."

"I think she would understand better than you think, but I will honor your request."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo was not doing well, she felt her father had kicked her to the curb, and now she was lost. Collapsing to the ground she couldn't stop the tears from flowing, but it didn't matter, none of it mattered, the only thing that mattered now was Ranma, the one who was always there to save her, she felt like she could even feel his presence there comforting her, protecting her even now. "Hey Ucchan! What happened? You ran right by me."

"Oh Ranchan! Yer always there when Ah need ja!" She grabed Ranma in a bear hug, cried into his chest again and spilled her guts as he carried her back to his house.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nodoka was feeling a bit guilty as she returned home. On the one hand, should couldn't be happier about having Ukyo along on their trip, Ranma needed friends his own age, and her being the sweet, obedient, and adorable 'daughter' she had always wanted certainly made it easier. 'We will need to work on her dialect though, I don't want Ranma picking that up.' On the other hand, she hated that it was due to such a tragic event. Feeling joy as a result of other's misfortune just tore her up in side, even if only indirectly. 'So many children losing their parents, ...no one that young should have to feel that kind of misery.'

So caught up in her inner turmoil she failed to even notice the children enter the house, let alone have any thoughts of how manly her son looked carrying a disheveled Ukyo. "Hi kaa-chan." *poke*

Nodoka jumped at the sudden stimuli, almost knocking over the table, "AH! Oh, children, come, sit down, we have some things we need to talk about." The two youths took their places across from her and waited for her to continue, "First off, Ukyo's father is no longer able to take care of her," she winced at the hurt look that flashed across Ukyo's tiny face, "So we will be adopting her into our family, and she will be coming with us. Second, we will be leaving in the morning, so get a good night's rest. Ranma-kun, be a dear and get the bath ready, we will be along momentarily."

"Hai, kaa-chan!" The boy ran off to do what was requested of him.

"So, he paid y'all ta take me away, did he?"

"No, he didn't pay me. I didn't accept anything for myself, the only things we will take from there will be for you. I made arrangements to have the movers pick up your things in the morning, and they will be waiting for you in our next place."

Ukyo could not hold back her angry tears any longer, "AH DON'T WANT ANYTHIN' FROM HIM!"

"Now don't be like that, Ukyo-chan, he is doing this because he loves you, and he wants you to be happy. By the way, we found your dessert. We both thought it was wonderful!"

*Sniff* "Really?"

"Truly. Now, let's go get a bath, and get you two ready for bed. I promise you, you will never be alone for long."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After their bath, Nodoka was helping Ukyo dry off when she asked, "Auntie Nodoka, is 'concupine' better than 'girlfriend'?"

"Oh yes dear, it's even better than a wife in many ways, a wife is chosen out of duty, a concubine is taken out of love." She then muttered under her breath, "At least they aren't neglected like a wife!"

"Then THAT'S what AH wanna be then!" pride and determination plainly written on her face, "Auntie Nodoka?" Getting very shy, she waited for a nod before asking, "Can Ah call ya, 'mom', too?"

"OH, HAPPY DAY!" Nodoka dropped down to her knees and hugged the girl, joyful tears coming from her eyes.

"So, is that a 'yes' then?"

Nodoka nodded vigorously. "Yes dear, I would be honored! You have made one of my dreams come true."

Returning the hug, little Ukyo sputtered out between her sobs, "Thank you, Okaa-sama!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

EPILOGUE

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The Legend of Ranma began early that summer, evolving and changing with each telling (and blending with popular manga of the time), growing for decades to come. The story of the shirtless boy with seven wounds, who strolled in, covered in flames that didn't burn, surrounded by naked girls clutching him! Who saved the village children from 'The Curse of the Evil Demon King'! After shaking off his 'groupies' he first humiliated the Demon King, making him look like a fool, and then he beat him so badly he exploded all over. Kids would continue to claim to have artifacts from the legend for decades, some keeping them to show off, others trying to trade them for toys and other prizes.

"This is a piece of the king's crown!"
"That's just a rock!"

"I have a piece of his shirt!"
"He didn't wear a shirt! It's not called the 'Legend of the Shirtless Boy' ironically, you know!"
"It was from his pants then!"

"All the girls want him, and all the boys want to be him (even some of the boys wanted him)!"

"I got a lock of his hair!"
"That's from your brother! It's not even the right color!"

"He was on a quest to learn every martial art in the world!"

"He had to defeat his brother, to save his girlfriend!"
"But, didn't he have a whole bunch of naked girls following him?"
"Those weren't his true loves."
"True love? His 'true love' was adventure! He was an adventuring space pirate!"
"Space Pirate?! Don't be ridicules! How is that even possible?"

"He was the manliest boy in the world!"
{...apparently Nodoka helped spread a few of these rumors herself}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

EPILOGUE NUMBER TWO

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

A few months later, the two children were leaving their campsite to collect water one evening, when Ukyo turned to Ranma and wondered aloud, "Ranchama, Ah er, I am startin' ta think I need ta git mu-MY hearin' checked. Evah since we met, Ah - I keep hearin' a clickin' noise, an' it's getting' worse."

"Oh? I barely even notice it anymore, don't worry about it, there's nuthin' wrong with you, that's just mom, and her 'hobby'. She's always takin' pictures of me. Ever since I was born, she has been using dozens of rolls of film a day. I'll bet she has a whole warehouse full of pictures by now."

Ukyo's hands slapped her face as her mouth became a large 'O' shape, doing her best impression of a child from a movie that will not be made for many years to come. "Oh my! So all those times? And some of them we waz bathin' an' that time with th' king, and those times Ah kissed you... Oh, Ah'm SO embarrassed!"

"Well, since you always seem so happy when you are embarrassed, I will just say, 'I'm happy for you'." Sticking his tongue out he turned to face his companion, making silly gestures at her.

"Oh, stop, you silly." she embarrassingly stammered.

Putting his arm around her shoulder he lead her off toward the spring.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

End. Act 00, Part 02.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

MORE AUTHOR'S NOTES

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

First off, thank you for reading! I hope you have enjoyed Chapter 2.

Some of you may be wondering why I chose to give Ukyo and her father somewhat 'southern' drawls. They are from the region around Osaka, called Kansai. The people of this area speak a somewhat different dialect of Japanese called Kansai-ben (-ben means dialect) or sometimes referred to as Osaka-ben. The accent pitch is different, the vowels are stronger and many words are different, for example for 'idiot', instead of 'baka' they say 'aho', or another in Tokyo-ben "cho" is a slang term for "very" but in Kansai-ben it is a shortened form of Chotto (a little), so 'Chotto Matte' (wait a little) would be 'Cho Matte' which sounds strange to someone from Tokyo (Very Wait!). There are a lot of changes including more use of honorific speech (polite language). So, many people, when translating, give people who speak with a Kansai-ben a southern accent due to the dialects having similar traits. For those of you who don't care for it, or for my way of doing it (I don't blame you, it can be hard to read, and I am not that good at it), have no fear, it won't last long, the more time she spends away from there to more it will fade. Although for some people, it comes back when they get upset/stressed.

This chapter ended up a lot longer than the first one, and I hope it is 'better'. Each chapter will be as long as it needs to be to tell the story of the time period it is to cover in Act 0, though I am hoping to stay closer to this length rather than the first one, which was more of an intro. Each one intending to cover the more important events in this twelve year span of time. Chapters one to two had a two year gap, and chapters two to three will have a four or six year gap, I think.

I don't want to ask for C&C etc. because it feels like I am begging, so I won't... But it IS appreciated none-the-less. ;)

Now, stay tuned for my first Omake, based loosely on the 'S.P.E.C.I.A.L.' system of FallOut fame.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

OMAKE
The Art of Perks

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

A six year old Ranma and his mother are hiking though the woods, each carrying large, well organized packs on their backs.

"Life sure has gotten easier since we took the Pack Rat and Strong Back perks."

"Yes, it is nice to have more camping gear, and more manly outfits for you to wear for the ladies."

"Yeah, yeah, I just wish you have let me take them sooner, and not made me take the Kamasutra Master and Lady Killer perks first, besides, I wanted Action Boy first!"

"It's because you need to practice it, I mean I never see you with a girl your own age."

"Oh mom! We are always traveling, and, you know, I'm six!"

"That's no excuse! All of the ladies I talk to think you are the most adorable little man they have ever seen. Well, we will reach the Osaka region soon where we will search for the Kazama School, I want you to play with at least one girl while we are there."

Tired of this line of talk, Ranma sighs, "Yes, Mother."

A village slowly comes into view, and they hear the hustle and bustle of the market district and shouts from soon to be nearby vendors. Ranma is, of course, attracted to the food stalls.

"OKONOMIYAKI! Get your fresh okonomiyaki here! Best in Osaka, possibly all of Japan!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

END OMAKE

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

*CHARACTERS USED*

{Here I will list all of the non-Ranma characters used in the chapter and where they are from.}

Kogarashi the "Maid Guy" - the Title character from Kamen no Maid Guy
Fubuki - The future 'Maid Guy Tamer' from Kamen no Maid Guy
The 'Diabolical Priestess' (as well as the other miko and Kami-sama from that temple) - Maid Guy, as well.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Chapter Text


Nodoka 2/1
The Chroma Series

Act 0 Part 03

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

DISCLAIMER

Most of the characters and other elements are owned by people who are not me, though I did make up a few here and there... but none of the main ones. Many talented people, and a few faceless corporations, such as Rumiko Takahashi and Sega respectively, own the rest

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AUTHOR'S NOTES

First off, thanks for reading; I hope you have enjoyed it so far. This chapter is going to have a slightly different format, where I intended to have a time skip and then do a chapter and have another time skip, but for this chapter instead of one giant leap through time, we will be having one chapter full of smaller skips, covering a bit larger period of time.

I just learned I had major issues with the last chapter, and sometimes only half of it was loaded, and other times it got halfway and started over... I am sorry, I believe I have it fixed now... I will attempt to pay more attention when I post from now on. That is what I get for assuming it will work correctly... Again, sorry.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

GLOSSARY (from the last chapter)


Kanji = The first writing system in Japan, made up of characters borrowed from the Chinese
Hiragana (feminine) and Katakana (masculine) are the two main 'alphabets' in Japanese. Each character represents a vowel or consonant and vowel combination

Baka = stupid/idiot/fool/etc
Aho = Kansai-ben form of 'baka'
Bakojiin = Stupid Old Man - a portmanteau word Nodoka made up for the game of 'Old Maid'

Boku = one of many ways to say "I/me" and is considered a 'masculine' form

Oshou = (4) master (of one's art, trade, etc.)

Kuso = Expletive word for fecal matter; AKA 'Crap'

Okonomiyaki = long story short, Japanese Style Pancake/Pizza-like food

Moe - pronounced [moh-ay] - a manga and anime slang term meaning something like cute, wiki "Moe_(slang)" if you want to know more

Konichiwa = Good 'Afternoon', said from about 10am until evening

Yoroshiku onegai-shimasu = 'I am in your care', or 'Please take care of me' - is said at the end of sentences when meeting someone or making a request

Douzo meshiagare = Enjoy your meal; said by the cook
Itadakimasu = Said before you start eating, lit. 'I humbly receive'
Gochisosama (deshita <- added when being formal) - said after you finish eating

Suki ya nen or sukkya nen = Kansai-ben for 'I love you'

Maido Ookini = Kansai-ben form of Arigato or Thank You. Maido (here) means 'every time' and 'Ookini' means 'Thanks'

Miko = Shrine Maiden/Priestess

Kimono = A traditional article of Japanese clothing, similar to a robe
Yukata = A light cotton robe like outfit, like a less formal kimono
Hakama = Another piece of traditional clothing. They are worn over top of a kimono, from the waist down
Zori = traditional sandals, similar to flip-flops

Moshi-Moshi = "Hello" on the phone (and to get someone's attention in other places)

Kaji = housework; domestic chores; family affairs; household matters;

Ken = Fist

Ryu = Style, particularly a martial arts style

Kajiken (or Kaji-ken) = Named by Kasumi, Genma's new housework related style, for training maids and butlers, the Household Fist

Go = is a board game, with some similarities to Checkers (many other uses for this term too, like the #5)

Kampai = Cheers!

Hojojutsu or Nawajutsu = The traditional Japanese martial art of restraining a person using cord or rope
Kinbaku = Rope bondage, [lit. tight binding] and
Kinbaku-bi = lit. The beauty of Tight Binding

Tadaima = equivalent to "I'm Home", said sometimes even when alone

Kote = Okonomiyaki Turner, the small baker's peels. (what most people incorrectly call a 'spatula')

Aya = wow; whoa
Sugoi = terrible; dreadful; (2) amazing (e.g. of strength); great (e.g. of skills); wonderful; terrific;

-Han = Kansai-ben form of -San
-chama = a combination of the honorifics -chan and -sama
-tama = childlike, cutesy way of saying -sama

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

CHAPTER 03
The Art of Getting Lost

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 After having left the only home she had ever known, Ukyo's emotions were twirling around, most of them conflicting with the others. She was hurt yet thrilled, angry yet happy, nervous yet excited, proud yet humiliated, resentful yet thankful, comfortable yet awkward, unlucky yet fortunate... And she was having a very difficult time trying to wrap her young mind around it all. So much had happened over the last few days since she left her home and everything she had ever known. It was not like she did not enjoy her new traveling companions, far from it, and if this was how the old man wanted it, then FINE! She did not want anything to do with him anyway! She was going to do everything she could, to be as unlike him as she was able. He wanted to treat her like a boy, she would be as girlie as she could, she did not even want to sound like him! A real man would not abandon his child! If she were going to emulate anyone it would be Ranchama and okaa-sama, they were just so incredible, about everything. They were so nice, and Ranchama had saved her so many times. They gave her nice clothes, and even took her in when she had 'been abandoned' by her so-called 'father'. And despite living the lives of wanderers, they were always so happy and full of life. It was a joy simply to be around them, she could not help but to smile whenever she saw either of them. The only time she could really stew on her misery was when she was alone, and luckily for her, she had not had much alone time since they had left.

 --- Ukyo had awoken to a woman's voice shouting "Ohaio-gozaimasu!", it was still dark and she was not sure where she was, and all of a sudden her pillow started to move...

 "Whatcha doin' on this side of the tent, Ucchan?"

 "Oh, uh, Ranchama! I guess you were warm." A sly grin crept across her face as she hoped to cover her embarrassment to avoid the ribbing that usually accompanied it.

 "-Chama? what's that about?"

 Looking at the floor, she clasped her hands behind her back, "Well, Ah owe ya everythin'! Ya deserve th' respect uh -sama, but yer too cute not to use -chan, so Ah'm usin' both! Ah could call ya 'Rantama' ifin ya prefer..." Seeing that she had gotten him embarrassed as well, she adds, "Or do ya think Ah should always be completely formal with ya, Ranma Saotome-sama? 'Cause fer ya, Ah will."

 Blushing a bit at that, "Well, whatever makes you happy, but I told you before, that you don't owe me, or us even, anything at all, Ucchan. We are friends, and friends take care of each other. I will always be there to look out for you, whenever possible. Now let's go get cleaned up and make breakfast. We got a long hike to go to get to Iga from here."

 "HAI, Ranchama!"

 Ranma rolls his eyes as they exit the tent to prepare for the coming day.

 Outside of the tent, Nodoka was preparing breakfast, enjoying the sound of children.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 They ate together, they trained together, they bathed together and on cold nights, they even slept together. For Ukyo it was truly indescribable, the feeling of being around such a warm and loving family. Her father had never been like that, always so cold and distant. She had always assumed that he was worried about money and sad about her mom dying, but apparently she had been mistaken, he just didn't want her around! 'But Ranchama and okaa-sama want meh around, they're happy ta take care of meh, an' LIKE bein' 'round meh! Ah swear Ah will dedicate mah life ta takin' care uh them! Ah will repay their kindness if it costs meh mah life!'

 Returning to camp after her bit of 'alone time' behind a tree, resolve firmly set in place, she quietly walked over to Nodoka, and gave it her best attempt at making sad puppy dog eyes, her eyes got large enough to almost be an anime character, "Kaaaa-saamaaa, could juh he'p meh, pleeease?"

 "Certainly child, what do you need?"

 "Ah don' wanna sound like Ah'm from Osaka anymore. Please, he'p m-mE ta speak with a Tokyo-ben. Ya said a concupine should be uh elegant lady, so ta be th' best Ah-I can't sound like a hick!"

 "I see, well, of course I will help you, we can work on it during sparing, along with our other subjects. Now that we are in Iga, we begin sparing again tomorrow."

 "Ah was kinda hopin' we could work on it in private, it's embarrassin' ta work on in front of Ranchama." She blushes and looked away.

 "Well, we don't exactly have much privacy like this, but I will help you as discretely as I can, and when we leave here, we will head to Kyoto, where we can enroll you for training in an okiya, where you can get training as a Maiko to become a Geisha. They will train you in all of the traditional arts, conversation, singing, dancing, dress, make-up, games, serving, tea ceremony, and more. I have heard of a muay thai master there, maybe Ranma-kun can train with him while you are there."
{*Okiya = Lodging for Meiko and Geisha, during their contracted period, or 'nenki'. This is the first step toward becoming a geisha, where they begin training as a Meiko. Kyoto is the only place left children under eighteen can still train, and even then typically don't start until age fifteen in modern age*}
{*Geisha/Geiko = literally 'Art Person/Girl or Artist', entertainers, and hostesses, much like Bards. Geisha do NOT perform sex acts for money, see Joro*}
{*Maiko = Geisha in training, literally 'dance child/girl', also called 'hangyoku' [half-jewel] because they would get half the pay of a geisha, or even O-Shaku, which means 'one who pours [booze]'; early Maiko are called Minarai, lit. 'learning by watching'*}
{*Joro = Prostitute, many called themselves 'geisha girls' to soldiers in WWII*}

 "But aren't geisha, bad ladies of the evening?" Little Ukyo looked confused and a little scared at the implications in her head, was she going to be abandoned to an even worse fate?

 "No dear, you are thinking of joro, geisha are artists, musicians, dancers, hostesses, entertainers of all kinds, they don't do the same kind of 'entertaining' at all. They are like sophisticated pop idols, with many more skills."

 Ukyo's eyes had lit up a little bit at this, "So yer not tryin' ta sell meh off too? Ya won't jus' leave meh theyur?"

 Nodoka would have laughed if she didn't know that would only hurt the child further, instead, she went for a warm smile, "As if you could get rid of us that easily! I won't even let them keep you overnight, we can't let your standard education fall behind while you are studying 'extracurriculars'." Nodoka pulls her into an embrace, "I will never 'abandon' you, not even long after you are tired of me. You will always be a part of this family, and we will always be here for you. Even if you choose to leave us, you will always be welcomed back."

 Ukyo returned the embrace, "Thank ya, Okaa-sama! Ah think Ah'd like that."

 "We can start now, repeat after me, 'Thank you, I think that I would like that'."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The next morning found the trio preparing for their first morning training session as a 'family'. "This afternoon we will try to find the legendary ninjutsu training ground here in Iga, but first, let's work the kinks out of our bodies from the hike. Ranma-kun, are you ready, would you be so kind as to lead us in our morning workout?"

 "Hai, kaa-chan!" Ranma took his position facing the two women in his life and began leading them through their pre-breakfast workout. It started with some simple stretches, and moved up to some simple kata.

 Whispering back and forth, "Okaa-sama, do ya-you, really train under Ranchama? Is he your instructor?"

 "Not exactly, we learn from each other, I study the books and scrolls we brought with us, and train with some masters, and I teach that to Ranma-kun, while he has trained with my husband, and under different masters, and he teaches that to me. But he has always lead our morning warm-ups, since he has the most experience with it, and he is good at coming up with ways to work things into the routine. And of course I teach him the fundamentals of a formal education, it would not do to have my son, nor my 'daughter', growing-up ignorant of the world."

 Blushing a bit at being called her 'daughter', Ukyo was amazed, "Wow, he really teaches ya-you? Ah-I always figured he was jus' tryin' ta-to, impress me when he said he was better than y-you in th' art."

 "Well, he's not better at everything, yet, but my biggest advantage is my reach, and yet, he still makes that not matter most of the time. Once he gets older, I will lose that advantage too, so I am sure it won't be long before he is better than me at everything. And truly, shouldn't that be every parent's goal?"

 "You two here to train, or gossip?"

 "Well, we are about done with the warm-ups, so I imagine you are about to find out."

 As if to emphasize this point, Ranma finished the light kata that they had been attempting to mimic, and turned to them with a bow, "Okay, I feel pretty loose, how about you two?" He waited for their nods of ascension before continuing, "I think we have time for some light sparring before the breakfast rice is ready, so I want to try something different today, since we have this opportunity. I would like the both of you to attack me, this will do two things, the first will be to give me a tougher sparring practice and it will also help us develop teamwork."

 "It looks like we might have a chance today, Ukyo-chan, let's teach my son not to take us 'girls' too lightly!"

 "Damn right!"

 "Good attitude, but young ladies shouldn't use that kind of language. Now let's go!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Nabiki had recently discovered a new (to her) genre of entertainment, Mysteries! And to a lesser extent, detective stories. While she enjoyed the time she spent playing and training with her sisters, reading was special. It let her tune out the world around her and focus on the world that existed only inside of her head. And mysteries were the best, they were like a puzzle in story form, and she just loved to try and figure out where the pieces fit.

 She longed to find mysteries of her own to solve. To be the hero who uses her observation skills and intellect to solve problems, save people and stop the 'bad guys'. She wanted ...the right tools! She ran off to find Fubuki, time to plan a trip to the mall!

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Deep in the heart of the Iga Provence, Nodoka and her charges located what they had been looking for, a ninjutsu master, the woman known as the Silent Stalker of the Fuma Clan, Shinoko Kotaro. Well, truth be told, she had located them. They had been asking around for an instructor all over the Iga Provence, the birthplace of Haiku and Ninjutsu. Returning to their camp Ranma started a fire, Nodoka prepared the teakettle and Ukyo started washing the vegetables.

 "So, you have been looking for a ninjutsu instructor. I have been watching you for some time." The feminine voice came from nowhere, yet everywhere. The trio tensed, awaiting an attack.

 "She's good!"

 "So, to whom do we have the 'honor'?"
 
 "I have come to test you."

 Shuriken began flying in every direction, seemingly coming from nowhere, and everywhere. As the three began dodging and snatching shuriken out of the air and pocketing them, an amused laugh permeated the area.

 Ranma extended his battle aura, 'feeling out' his surroundings, sensing the ki of every living thing within his limited range. Ranma noticed there was an area with a distinct lack of ki. Ranma snatched another handful of shuriken out of the air, charged them with his own ki, and unleashed them toward the 'dead zone'.

 The shuriken sliced through the tree, causing it to fall over, away from the camp. A motion is seen from the tree as it falls, and then, as if by magic, the laughing woman was standing before them, with long black hair, tied back in a beaded ponytail, thigh-high boots, a woven metallic bodysuit, fingerless gloves, and a deep purple top exposing a lot of cleavage with a VERY large Fuma Shuriken on her back. "Good job! You pass. Nodoka and Ranma Saotome, and Ukyo Kuonji, I am your new instructor, Shinoko Kotaro, of the Fuma Clan. Normally we would not train anyone outside of our clan, but I am willing for two reasons, the main one being, that you intrigue me. The other is our clan has fallen on hard times, the political peace of late has limited their need of us, you said you were paying well, and I would rather train someone who is honorable than to kill for those who are without."
{*Fuma Shuriken = a fictional weapon, supposedly used by the Fuma Clan Ninja, that can range from a basketball in size to a large person, they are used for melee, shields, and throwing weapons, and can be thrown like a boomerang. Many have a handle in the center to grip them, which allowed them to be used like a staff.*}

 "Willingness to do without, rather than compromise your principals, it sounds like we have a deal. It would be an honor for me to help you maintain your ideals. Train us well and I would be happy to help 'sponsor' your clan, you can work for my family. In fact, I believe, if his letters are to be believed, my husband is training 'Ninja Maids', perhaps one of your people could get some firsthand information for me for a bonus. If true, maybe one of you can help him with his lesson plans for another. I am not asking you to give him any of your clan secrets, just that you may give him pointers in whatever he is creating."

 Yen signs flashed in the woman's eyes for a moment before she continued, "Yes, I do believe that can be arranged, we wouldn't want my clan to get rusty after all."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Sitting in her recently acquired 'office' (really it was not unlike a homemade lemon-aid stand, sitting on a corner of the Saotome's yard) Nabiki read her latest light novel, a ghost story about a rich girl being haunted by her grandmother, who wants her necklace back. Nabiki assumed it was the girl's boyfriend, who will run off with the necklace and leave her. "Boys! Who needs them?" Being all of eight years old, Nabiki did not think she would ever have much use for boys, at least beyond clients or subjects. Speak of a devil and they will appear. About that same time, up walked a tall boy, a bit older than her, with a mop of dirty blond hair, a long green t-shirt, and brown bell-bottom pants.

 "Like, you're the detective, right?" She nodded calmly, "You gotta help me, my manga was stolen!"

 "Why don't you buy another one?"

 "I can't, it was a January nineteen sixty nine 'Big Comic', with the first chapter of Golgo thirteen! I can't afford to get another one, and I haven't even read it yet!"

 "Okay, tell me exactly what happened."

 "I went to 'Comiket' with my life savings, ten thousand yen! Looking through the displays, I saw it there, locked in its case, and I just had to have it. There are only three left in the world, you know! Like, as I was leaving to get sandwiches when a giant frog in a doctor's outfit jumped out and tried to take my manga. I was able to get away, and hide in the food area, but it found me again. I was able to escape a second time, when I saw Takao Saito giving autographs! So I got in line to have my book signed! After getting it signed I was leaving, glad to be heading home. Like, as soon as I got to the exit, Doctor Frog opened the door from the other side, snarling, growling and grabbing for my manga again! It backed me into a corner, and its tongue shot out and grabbed my comic and it ate it!"

 "It ate it? How am I supposed to get it back if it ate it?"

 "Well, it was like, wrapped in plastic, it pulled it out of its mouth, and ran off."

 "Ewww! So it didn't really eat it at least." Shaking her head for a moment, she recovered, "Have no fear, The Nabiki Tendo Detective Agency is on the case! I get five hundred yen a day, plus expenses, including extra for anything disgusting I have to touch. Now let's return to the scene of the crime and look for clues!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 While they had been looking for clues at Comikit, a second copy of the first printing was also stolen, leaving only one left, owned by one of the vendors, and people had begun to offer more and more for it, the current bid was over one million yen. Nabiki felt she was ready to solve the case, she pulled the scruffy boy aside and began to make her plan.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The taller boy came rolling in on a wagon full of comic books, while Nabiki turned to those who were bidding, and said, "Worry not people, we found another copy!" Turning to the vendor she added, "Now you won't have to sell yours, we know you didn't want to. This boy remembered his father had given him a copy as a child and it's been in the attic until today."

 "Like, let's start the bidding over here, do I hear twenty thousand? I have twenty, do I hear thirty? ..."

 The boy held up the 'newly discovered' manga, quickly raising the price in the bidding war. The 'Doctor Frog' swung in over his head, grabbing the manga, and making a run for it. As the giant frog-man was escaping, Nabiki pressed a button on a remote she was holding, and the 'manga' exploded, trapping the culprit in used chewing gum.

 "How could you? How could you blow up a first printing?!?!?!?"

 "Like, we didn't, it was a fake, with a bubble gum bomb inside, and you fell for it, Doctor Croaked!"

 "Now, let's see if I was right about who you really are..." Nabiki removed his mask, revealing the manga vendor, "I knew it, you took the other copies so yours would be worth more, and then you were going to make a small fortune."

 "...and I'd have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids! ...wait, shouldn't you have a pet of some kind?"

 "Like, he's home sick today."

 Nabiki searched through the costume and found the two missing manga. She returned the signed copy to her 'client'. "Here you go. What was your name again?"

 "Oh, it's like, Shagi, see ya, and thanks!"

 "You're welcome; I'll be sending you my bill." Then Nabiki headed off to find the vendor who had been robbed, to return their formerly missing manga. 'Maybe I'll get a reward for returning it.' Nabiki grinned at the thought.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 After a few days in Kyoto, mostly sightseeing, Nodoka found an Okiya that was willing to accept Ukyo as a trainee, even though she would not be becoming a geisha for them. Some were afraid she was being groomed to be a prostitute, while others refused due to her young age, and others still refused because Nodoka didn't want them to keep her overnight, but this one had been willing, assuming she would be able to pass the interview. "Ukyo-chan, are you sure this is what you want to train in while we are here?"

 "Hai, Okaa-sama! If this'll help me- ta-to be a more elegant lady, an' a better concupine fer Ranchama, then there is very little in this world that I want more. Ah-I want to be the best concupine for Ranchama I kin be!"

 "Okay then, They are going to take you in here and ask you some questions, be honest, and I am sure they will accept you. We will be waiting for you, right here." They both pulled the girl into a group hug, and kiss one of her cheeks.

 "I'll be rooting for you Ucchan, I know you can do it!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Entering the building, Ukyo met the headmistress, who asked her to sit down.

 "So, why is it you want training here?"

 "Well, Ah-I don't wanna be a geisha, Ah-I wanna broaden mah education and Ah-I jus' wanna be better able ta take care uh Ranchama, Ah-I'm gonna be his concupine in th' future, and he's gonna give meh a big smooch, an' tell meh Ah'm th most important person in th whole wide world! And we're gonna live happily ever after!"

 "So you are not going to be a Joro are you?"

 "Okaa-sama'd nevah allow that, an' either way, there's only one boy Ah-I will ever want, an' Ah-I will follow him fer th' rest uh ma-MY life." she declares proudly, pride leaking from every word.

 "You're not planning to call yourself a geisha are you?"

 "Oh no, Ah-I'm gonna be a Concupine! But when ya think elegance, geisha are the first thing that comes to mind, and I want ta be elegant."

 The woman chuckles a bit at that. "Normally we wouldn't take someone who wasn't planning to work for us, but I will make an exception for you, because you are just so darn cute, and the Saotomes used to be really good clients of ours some time ago. This training will not be easy for you, there is a lot to cover, and we have little time to get to it all, especially if you are to return to your family each night. Be back here first thing in the morning, and be prepared for hell. Oh, and don't ever tell anyone where you learned this."

 "-I don' care how hard it'll be, if it's for Ranchama, I will do anything! -I Promise!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Akane was not happy, not that that was anything new these days, but this day had been worse than usual. She was on a 'vacation' with her newly extended 'family', to some place called Ryugenzawa. 'Training' they said, "HA!" 'What kind of training can you do in a foggy swamp? This place is the pits,' it reminded her more of the swamp planet from that American space movie, about that warrior monk with the fancy glowing katana, when he trained with the old green master. 'And if that wasn't bad enough, they brought that perverted monstrosity in a maid's dress to 'watch out for me'. Well, I showed them! I made a mess for him to clean up, and got away when he was busy! But, where am I? Oh well, it doesn't matter, as long as I am away from That Thing!' Akane wanders off, looking for something to play with, or beat up, or both...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Fubuki and the two eldest Tendo girls were diligently training, swinging their cleaning instruments of destruction at each other while thigh deep in marsh.

 "While I get the idea of training using the resistance of the water, I don't like it, it feels yucky. Couldn't we have gotten the same workout at the beach instead?"

 "Our clothes and tools will never come clean after this! I only hope we brought spare shoes."

 "Don't worry; I made sure to pack extra, although I do believe you are right, these are probably ruined. But, you know what that means..."

 They all looked at each other, smiled and said together as they struck, "SHOPPING!"

 On the other side of the camp, Soun was looking around the camp, "Akane-chan! Has anyone seen Akane-chan?" At that moment Maid Guy, who had been busy making lunch, perked up, a lock of hair pointed straight up on his head, like an antenna, and he took off like a shot in what seemed like a random direction.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma was training hard in his Muay Thai class, when one of the other students kneed his 'sparring partner' in the jaw, knocking him cold. When the first student continued to press his attack once his 'opponent' was unable to do anything about it, and no one else did anything but watch, Ranma looked at his instructor with a flash of anger, and jumped in between the two, blocking the larger boy's attacks, "Enough! He's out cold, the only thing you will accomplish like this is his death, and your dishonor!"
 
 The head of the gym, came over to Ranma, and looked at him sternly, "Muay Thai is used for killing!"

 "Killing is unmanly! Especially in a 'class'! Dead people don't learn from their mistakes."

 Annoyed at the insult to his 'manhood', "Boy, in a pit fight, a street fight, or just about anywhere else, there are no rules, it's kill or be killed. The 'winner' is decided by who can walk away and who is drowning in a pool of their own blood!" He rose up to his more than two full meters in height, crossed his arms, and looking rather intimidating to emphasize his point. "Martial Arts were created for killing."

 Not in the least bit phased Ranma looks him in the eye, "That's where you are wrong, 'Honor' is gained or lost, not whether you win or lose, but how you fight, and 'The Art' was designed to protect. Killing might be unavoidable on occasion, but it's never the honorable way, and should only be a last resort, in defense, and never for 'entertainment' or 'training'! If this is what you teach here, then I am done, and we will be expecting a full refund!" Ranma turned to go.

 "If you wanna puss out and leave, that's on you, but if you wanna refund, you will have to beat it out of me!" As he said this he started throwing strikes at the seven year-old child, who halfway expected such an honorless move from the man, so was prepared to start dodging.

 "Fine! I hadn't gotten a good workout yet today anyway." He began flowing around the man's attacks, preventing him from landing a single strike. Using the last elbow strike to launch himself into the air, Ranma narrowly avoided being nailed by a rising knee strike, and on his way down, he lightly kicked the much larger man in the back of the head.

 "I barely felt that! Is that the best you can do?"

 "Hardly, I'm just playing with you, we wouldn't want this to end too quickly and not have you learn anything, now would we? This is supposed to be a class after all, ne?" Ranma's battle aura began to flare up as his moves became faster and more precise. Ranma countered and returned a few glowing strikes to the man's large chest, staggering him back a bit.

 "Cocky little fellow aren't you?" Retaking his stance, he lunged at the boy, who spun and kicked him in the back with a glowing foot, knocking him across the room.

 "No, just honest. This is training time, and I want the practice."

 "Do you now? Well then," turning to the rest of his students he yelled, "GET HIM!"

 Surprised at how low the tall man would sink, Ranma used the head of one of the students rushing at him to vault across the gym, and behind the group. As they turn around to face him again he pulled out his ever-present deck of cards, and tosses one out in front of him, where it explodes, which caused a cloud of dust and shrapnel to obscure the visibility in the room. He threw a few more, which circled the group of students at high speeds, slicing through the clothing of any who got too close.

 One of them tried to jump over the 'wall' of cards, only got one more card in his face, knocking him back for his trouble, causing even some of the more devout students lose interest in fighting the boy.

 Annoyed that his students were unable to provide more 'support' for him, he launched a barrage of strikes at Ranma, his own fists, feet and eyes glowing, few of them striking anything but air, and half of the others were blocked, and none of the remaining attacks hit the vital points he was aiming for.

 Ranma pulled out his cord and ensnared the man's right hand, twisting it around behind him, waiting for him to make a grab for him. He did not have long to wait as the large man's backward kicks and thrashing about was not freeing his right arm, nor dislodging his 'passenger'. The mountain of muscles reached back for the boy and his arm was snagged, Ranma proceeded to 'hog-tie' the man in such a way as to allow him no leverage to use any of his monstrous strength.

 "Well now, I am not one to beat on someone who cannot defend themselves, but since you DID request it of me, I suppose I will make an exception this one time." he turned to the students, "Oi, any of you want to join me in earning a refund?" About half of the students had been bothered, or tormented enough to have joined in the beating.

 Nodoka, for her part, was just really glad she had sprung for the video recorder this week. This was a good day to have video and audio of her son being manly.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Akane was strolling through the forest, picking flowers, and looking for animals to pet, when she heard a loud rumble and felt the ground begin to shake. Thinking it was an earthquake she looked for a safe place in case things started to fall around her. As the rumbling got closer, she thought she heard 'background music' coming from an indeterminable location, 'doobie-doobie-doo-bah' when she saw a brown monotreme that looked big enough for it to be fighting with Gojira! As it passed, it tipped its nineteen-forty's fedora to her, chittered and proceeded on its way. It IS a platypus, they don't do much.
{*Gojira = Godzilla*}

 A huge shadow covered her, and she looked up to see a gigantic flying squirrel soaring overhead. Starting to freak out a little bit, she felt a 'tapping' on her shoulder, she jumped, turning around in the process. Behind her was the largest lizard she had ever seen in her life. A pattern seemed to be forming here. When she jumped, she had startled the lizard as much as it had startled her, so it hissed and flared out its neck frills, scaring the heck out of Akane, which caused her to scream, which, of course, caused the lizard to panic even further. The lizard looked like it was about to lunge when a boy, about her age, jumped in front of her, holding the lizard off with a long-handled scrub brush.

 Just as the boy seemed like he was about to be overpowered, a demoniac aura enveloped the lizard, who immediately passed out. "Kukukukuku, there is my troublesome goshujin. Everyone was worried about you back at the camp."

 "Yes, you should go, this place is full of monsters and monster traps!" As he said this last part, he obligingly fell into one to prove his point. First, the wooden planks he was standing on broke and he fell into the hole below, and then a large pile of small boulders fell on top of him.

 "Tough little guy, all he got for that were some scrapes and bruises, but he shouldn't be walking around like that."

 Akane looked down at the boy, and her heart went out to him, how she wished he had been the one to save her rather than the 'Hentai Housekeeper'. "We should take him home. Hey! Boy! Wake up, can you tell us where you live?"
{*Hentai = literally, 'strange'; used to mean pervert much of the time*}

 "Have no fear, 'Maid Guy: Scan' can take care of the problem." 'Maid Guy: Scan' first scanned the boy, and then the area. "His memories are full of holes, but it seems his home is that way." Maid Guy picked up the boy with one hand and pointed with the other. "Let's go."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Bringing the boy to his home, Maid Guy tended his wounds and left him in bed. Akane felt badly that he was hurt while trying to help her, and vowed to return.

 She went back to visit several times while they were still at their 'training camp', sadly he did not remember her once.

 She had asked his grandfather once why his memory was so bad, but he just mumbled under his breath something about him getting into his mother's 'cursed brownies', and refused to say anything more on the subject.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma and Nodoka went to Ukyo's okiya, so that the group could have an impromptu family meeting.

 "Well, since that instructor turned out to be a jerk, we will need to find a new one. At least a lot less people will be having their heads filled with his dishonorable teachings."

 "What are you going to do, Ranchama? I still have lots of training I need to do here..."

 "I think we will try Jujutsu this time."

 "Ukyo, do you want to come with us, or do you feel comfortable enough here for a few months? We won't leave you if you are not comfortable with it."

 "Well, I want to be with you guys, but I will stick it out, and give this my all until you return for me! For you, I will be the best I can be, I hope the results will be worth it."

 "I can tell, you are already becoming more of a lady with every passing day. We'll send you letters each week, and we will try to visit when we can."

 "Pictures too! 'A picture is worth a thousand words' after all."

 "Of course child, once you get used to it, it will be over and we will be back before you know it. Here is a photo I had framed for your room, in case you stayed, the two of you are just adorable with you holding his arm like that!"

 "Thank you very much, Okaa-sama. I will work hard until your return."

 "I'm sure you will." A smiling Nodoka went inside to make the arrangements, leaving the children a few moments of relative privacy.

 "Ucchan, I'll miss you. We'll be back soon, I promise. Soon as I learn jujutsu, and you know me, I learn fast!" Ranma's pride leaked from his every pore. "So, you have ta learn fast too! I can't wait ta see what you can do when I get back."

 "Same here, Ranchama. I'll miss you while yer gone, but I'll not be waiting idly." Gripping her picture frame in her arms, she leaned in to kiss Ranma on his cheek causing them both to blush.

 "I'll be sure to add it to our training sessions when I'm done with it, same with what little of value I got out of that Muay Thai class."

 Looking as shy and cute as she could manage she replies, "And your little Ucchan will be sure to teach Rantama all the dances and games she's been learning."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Strolling to the market, Kasumi and Fubuki passed by arcade. Attracted by the sounds of the machines, they decided to stop and have some fun. "Ara, why don't we go in here for a bit, Fukibuki?"

 She giggled a bit at the nickname Akane had given her when they had first arrived, though while the youngest Tendo had grown out of using it, Kasumi found it to be adorable and has used it ever since, "Hai, hai! Whatever you wish, Kasumi-sama."

 Kasumi sighed a bit at sill being called '-sama', but was glad the girl had stopped calling her 'Kasumi-goshujin-sama' at least, this was a definite improvement. She quickly regained her cheer, "Let's go then, I think they have Pac-Man!"

 After playing games for a while and even winning some prizes from pachinko and the crane game, they heard a commotion coming from the back of the arcade. Moving to investigate, they hear, "You may have bested me at pong using your magics, but I will show you a real man doesn't need to play games to win!"

 "But I'm not a real man yet, and neither are you! We're just kids! Hey! Stop swinging that thing around, will you? That's dangerous!"

 Turning the corner, the two girls saw two boys, one in shorts and a tee-shirt, who sat on the floor, leaning back on his arms where he had apparently fallen, and the other, taller boy, who wore a blue kimono with a black hakama, and held a shinai, looking as if he were about to strike (again?) at any moment.
{*Shinai = a bamboo practice 'sword' for kempo beginners. Not to be confused with a Bokken or Bokuto, a wooden sword for more advanced trainees*}

 "Give me a moment, and then make sure that boy isn't hurt. Okay Fukibuki?"

 "Hai, Kasumi-sama, it will be as you wish."

 Running over, Kasumi put herself between the two boys, facing with the taller one who was holding the 'weapon', "What do you think you are doing?!? This is an arcade, a place for fun, not fighting."

 "This knave bested me in the art of Pong using trickery, and as his better, it is my duty to show him the error of his ways! Now, unblock my path girl, so that I may dispense justice!"

 "It sounds to me, more like you are just a sore loser who thinks too highly of themselves. If you are going to fight, you should do so with someone who can defend them self and do so in a place where you will not damage other's property. Did your family teach you no manners at all?"

 No longer seeing the boy he was initially upset with, he turns his full wrath toward the taller girl, blocking his path, and preventing his righteous scapegoating, "How DARE you insult the house of Kuno!" With all of his might and skill, he swung his shinai forward to strike the impetuous girl, only to find that his attack had been blocked by, 'wait, was that a dust pan?!?!'

 So confused he was, a state one would think he would have been used to by now, he failed to see Kasumi spin around his arm, ending up behind him, where she grabbed his ear in the process. Pulling his ear, she hauled him outside with one hand, blocking his attempted strikes with the dustpan in the other. "It was not I who insulted your family, but rather you, you who insult their honor with your behavior this day." Not realizing that he was actually likely the most sane member of that particular family. Even his (still living) mother, who married (and stayed married to) his father after all, was also quite batty, and cruel to her children. What she did to him paled in comparison to what she put his sister through, his poor sister was becoming more twisted by the day. "If you are so insistent to fight someone, then I will be your opponent. Maybe after you work out your frustrations you will see how badly you behaved." Not letting his ear go until they reached the empty part of the lot behind the building, where she finally released him. Still holding her dustpan, she whipped out a plunger in her other hand. ...Wait, really? Well, that's what it says...

 Okay then, well, taking her 'weapons' in hand, she took up a fighting stance as the Kuno boy charged her. Once again, she deflected the strike with her dustpan, and spun around his attack, hitting him in the face with the suction end of the plunger. She let go of her 'make-shift?' weapon, as it had attached itself to his face as if they were in a cartoon. She whips out a second dustpan, and took up a war fan fighting posture, awaiting his recovery.

 Kuno tried in earnest to dislodge the plunger from his person, while trying to suck air into his lungs, not realizing that was part of why it was still stuck there, until he falls over, slightly knocking the air out of his lungs lessening the suction, wherein it fell right off. "I am going to pretend that this has never been used."

 "That is probably for the best, and I won't dissuade your optimism, poorly placed as it is." Spinning out of the way of another strike, she lashed out with both 'pans' striking his weapon from the side, slicing it cleanly into three pieces. "Your weapon is no more; do you still wish to continue? I have no desire to harm you."

 "Sasuke! A Weapon!" Seeing that no one appeared to hand him another weapon, he attacks with the stub of the shinai, "I fight on!" 'The little ninja trainee will hear about this when I return!'

 Holding both pans in her left hand to ward off his sad attempts at attack, she poked him in the forehead with the fingers on her other hand, saying, "Me!" She then smacked his right hand with the back of her dustpans, causing him to lose his grip on his hilt and almost falling to the ground once again.
{*Me = pronounced 'may' or 'meh', meaning 'no!; don't!; tsk!; used to scold small children and pets'*}

 Putting her dustpans away, she taped the boy attempting to stand once again on the head, repeating her "Me!" causing him to fall back down, looking admonished.

 Prostrating himself, he bows, face to the ground, "I'm sorry, I won't do it again."

 "See that you do not, now be a good boy and run along. Fukibuki, I believe we are done here, let's go finish our shopping, I believe I want a new plunger after that."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 After returning to Kyoto, Nodoka and Ranma were hiking up to the okiya. It had barely more than come into view when a blue and brown blur came streaking out of the building, bowling Ranma over. "Ranchama, you're back!"

 "..hurts now, yes. Hi Ucchan, it's good to see you again too! I've missed you too." He squeezed her in a tight embrace.

 "I knew you wouldn't leave me here for long! How ya been? I missed you too!"

 "Well children, in honor of Ukyo's return, making our little family whole once more, I think we should celebrate, ...by training," the smiles on their little faces dropped just a bit before Nodoka could finish, "...at the Gion Festival!" ...and their faces lit up again as they were glowing in anticipation. "Now let's go put our yukata on."
{The Gion Festival (Gion Matsuri) takes place annually in Kyoto and is one of the most famous festivals in Japan. It goes for the entire month of July.}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Arriving at the festival, the three martial artists stared in open amazement at all of the food, games and fun to be had. "Okaa-chan, how long are we going to stay here? This is a long festival isn't it?"

 "As long as you want, kids. You have both been working hard, and you have earned a break, consider this your summer vacation." Nodoka grinned broadly, as she enjoyed the way their faces lit up at the excitement, "Wait here a moment, I will be right back." With that, she ran off to one of the nearby stands.

 "So, Ucchan, were you as bored without us as we were without you?."

 "Yeah, but it doesn't matter now that you are back with me." She hung onto his arm, resting her head on his shoulder, as a strange light flashed nearby, "Let's not do that again for a very long time."

 "Yeah, it's not as fun when you're not around."

 A woman in a pink yukata, with black highlights and matching bag, wearing a tengu mask, walked up to them and handed a mask to each of them, "Here I got these for you." Nodoka lifted her mask by the overly large nose and tilted it off to the side. "Ukyo-chan, this one is for you, to symbolize you coming out of your 'shell'tered life, and joining us on the road," And she hands her a cute kappa mask. "And for you Ranma-kun, here is the manliest mask they had, Lupin the third!" She gushed a bit as she handed it over, "I used to read that manga in high school, the dashing rogue, toying with the women's hearts, he was sooooo manly." Ranma sighs a bit, as he takes his mask, while his mother drifted off in an imagination spot, staring her being seduced by Lupin, before she snapped out of it moments later, "Here is some money, your training assignment is to see which one of you can win the most prizes playing the games! Now go play, mommy is going to go make, I mean, watch a movie..."

 "So, what do you wanna do first, Ranchama?"

 "Eat!" His grin took up almost half of his face as he practically drug Ukyo over to the takoyaki stand.

 After stuffing their faces with takoyaki, they each got a cotton candy, with Ukyo practically melting like the candy itself in her mouth as she eats it, "So Ranchama, what game do you want me to beat you at first?"

 "You really think you can beat me?"

 "I have been studying, among other things, games for months, I won't go down easily, ...unless you want me to." she looked up at him expectantly.

 Shocked, Ranma stiffened up, "NO! I want you to compete honestly; it's no fun if you let me win! You gotta promise me, you'll always give it your best! Not that you can beat me anyway."

 "Okay, Ranchama, you've never looked that serious, not even facing down the Gambling King..."

 Taking her hands in his, he looked deep into her eyes. "I am serious, I couldn't be more serious, promise me, you will never, ever 'LET me win'. On top of being my best friend, and me wanting to see you do well, you are also my training partner, and I am counting on you to always be there to give me a good challenge. So, please, always give me your best effort, even if I look frustrated, especially then, that's when I need to push myself the most. Promise me, you will always give me at least a hundred percent, I want you to always be trying to win!"

 Hugging him tightly, in a rough approximation of a trademark 'Amazon Glomp', with tears in her eyes, she insisted, "Oh Ranchama! I swear to you, 'I will always be by your side, giving you my all and more'. You can count on me! I'll always assist you in anything, even if it costs me my life!"

 "Hey, hey, there's no need to go that far! You can't be by my side if you die!"

 "If it means keeping you safe, then it's a small price to pay!"

 "No! It isn't! It's a huge price, and one I'm not willing to pay! I am the one who is supposed to be protecting you after all, and don't you forget it!" he crossed his arms over his chest in a huff.

 She thought to herself, 'He's just so cute when he gets like that, I wonder if he realizes that just makes me all the more willing to die for him...' She smiled up at him with a wink and a bow, "As you command, Goshujin-sama."

 Ranma tried to look stern, "Hey, now, knock that off!" But he could not keep it up as he started to sputter and they both broke down laughing.

 She stuck out her tongue, "Well, now that the drama is over, shall, we, play, a, game?" That last part was said in English and in a mechanical voice.

 "That IS what we are supposed to be doing after all," he grinned at his companion. "What test of skill would you like to start with, ring toss? Goldfish scooping? How about katanuki?"
{*Katanuki - shape poking (lit. die cutting) or katanukigashi (lit. Die-cut Candy) Sometimes it is shortened to just 'nuki', there is a shape outlined on a piece of barely edible candy, usually wrapped in paper, where the 'player' tries to break off the outside of the candy, usually with a pin or toothpick (but can even be done by hand), leaving only the shape behind, if you do so without breaking the shape you can win a prize based on the complexity of the design*}

 "Well since we have no real way to keep a goldfish, let alone as many as we would be sure to win," she gives him a wink, "let's skip that. There's a dart throwing booth with a short line at the moment, how do you feel about that?"

 "Well, if no one has 'Global Thermal Nuclear War', I guess it will have to do." Running over to the booth, they waited in the short line as they examined the set-up. The players were getting three darts to throw at the several moving targets in the back, but due to the speed of the targets nobody had even gotten close, so the line moved quickly.

 "Step right up! Aren't you two adorable? We have four levels of difficulty, but the greater the challenge, the greater the rewards! Would you like to try Easy, Normal, Hard or Impossible?"

 Turning to see no one else had lined up behind them yet, Ranma asked, "What were those people doing?"

 "Easy." The carny said with a flourish and a broad grin.

 He turned to Ukyo, "Well Ucchan, it's training, so let's try them all! Ladies first."

 "Thank you, Ranchama." Bowing to him, she took her spot and the man handed her three darts, "I played a lot of darts while you were gone, it was one of the games we practiced in the evenings, watch my skills Ranchama." She took a moment to get the feel of the targets movements, she tossed one dart after the other, each of them finding a home in one of the bull's-eyes. Beaming with pride she turned to her companion in his black and red, silk yukata. "Beat that!" The shady fellow behind the counter was too shocked to even 'say' anything. No one had ever hit one of his targets before!

 "If you insist." Taking his projectiles, Ranma stepped up to the line and closed his eyes. Pausing for just a moment, he felt out his targets and fired off all three in rapid succession. The first hitting the dead center of the middle target, the other two embedding themselves in the one before it.

 Picking his jaw up off the ground, he started to worry. Because no one had ever beaten his game, he had accumulated some pretty expensive prizes, if things didn't go well here, it would take him months to make up his losses. Thinking quickly he remember they had said they were going to try all four levels, he could make this work... "We have a couple of winners here! That means you can each pick a prize from the second shelf on this wall." Ranma chooses a light blue unicorn, and Ukyo chose a Kamen Rider doll, oh, sorry, 'action figure'. Adding confusion to his already addled state, he handed over their requested toys, only to have understanding set in, as they each hand their prize to the other as a gift. "On to level two! This time, the targets are not only faster, but they move side to side as well as up and down! ...and if you can't hit a target all three times, you have to give back the prizes you have already won!"

 Round two went much the same as the first, with both of them getting a bull's-eye on each of their targets and with Ranma having been a bit flashier in his showmanship. After they had each picked out a prize for the other, "So, you have passed round two, do you wish to continue to round three, where the prizes get better, the targets get faster, and the challenge is greater?"

 "You know it, this is easy so far, ne Ucchan?"

 "Hai, Ranchama!"

 "This time, you must use these!" Instead of the usual throwing darts, he handed them each three Kunai. "You can aim for any of the targets, but you must hit with all three 'darts' or give up your prizes so far!" Ukyo stepped up to the line, and after a moment of concentration, fired off all three of her kunai, hitting three of the targets, two of them bull's-eyes, winning a third prize for her tally. Our less than friendly game master was really panicking as Ranma stepped up to take his turn. He paused for a moment to adjust to the faster moving targets, which were moving so rapidly that most of the crowd that had gathered to see someone actually winning at this particular stand could not see them at all. Holding all three of the kunai in his right hand, he threw them straight up in the air, surprising everyone present. The three kunai each reached the apex of their arcs one right after the other, and then began their descent toward their point of origin. As they began to get close, Ranma reached up with his right hand and batted each of the accelerating kunai out of the air, embedding them deeply into the same target, all touching each other at the center of the target. Applause broke out among those gathered to watch.
{*Kunai - is a Japanese tool possibly derived from the masonry trowel, in the hands of a martial arts expert, it could be used as a multi-functional weapon. It is commonly associated with the ninja, who used it to gouge holes in walls. In the mythology of ninja, the kunai has been commonly portrayed to be a Japanese knife that is used for throwing as well as stabbing.*}

 While our sleazy little friend had to fight a rather intense fainting spell, Ranma bowed to his growing fan base, whispering to Ukyo, "Mom's rule number twelve, 'Always do everything with style, it's always a good idea to impress the ladies.' Are you taking notes? There'll be a test later." Throwing her a sly grin, they turned back to the both.

 Before sticking out her tongue, she whispers back, "You just like to show off, ...and I just like watching you do it."

 After he regained his senses, "Time for round four, the final and most difficult trial! You must use these shuriken, and hit the center of the same target with all three 'darts', or like in the other rounds, you will forfeit your other prizes!" He was interrupted by boos and jeers from a, still growing, audience, but continued anyway, doing his best to hide the confidence he was now feeling, "Are you ready to begin?"

 "Hai!" Stepping up to the line, Ukyo took the stars in hand, feeling them out, testing how sharp and strong they might be. Gauging the new speed and erratic movements of the targets, she threw the first shuriken. Flying true, it came as quite a shock to those watching when the administrator of the test of skill pressed an unseen button, as the shuriken got close, causing the target to spin around, knocking the star into the wall off to the side. Annoyed by the 'trap', Ukyo fired off the remaining two shuriken, so quickly he was not able to press the button quickly enough, and they embedded themselves more than two centimeters into the target. Frustrated, she turned in a huff, looking at the prizes she had 'won' for Ranma, that she would have to give back.

 "Well that's just too bad," More booing and hisses were coming from the gathering of onlookers, "You seem to have missed with your first toss, so your prizes are forfeit." As he reached for the prizes, he was stopped by Ranma.

 "One moment, my good man, we are having a contest to see who can win the most prizes, and I do not feel it is fair is she loses hers, and I do not, so I raise your challenge. Instead of the shuriken, I will use these normal playing cards, giving you an easier time with your spinning trick. If I hit the same target, with all three cards, you will not only give me the best prize on your shelves for the lady here, but you will also not take the prizes she has won so far, and if I miss, you get all of the prizes back. So how about it, do we have a deal?"

 Thinking the kid had some kind of special cards, he thought quickly (for him), and pulled out a deck of his own cards, knowing them to be normal. "On one condition, you use these cards, so I know you are not cheating with special cards." Thinking he had one upped the boy, he maintained his air of confidence, which dissipated a bit as Ranma's smile only got bigger.

 "Funny coming from you, but sure, mind if I do a test throw first to make sure you are not giving me 'funny' cards?"

 He got a bit more nervous again, "Sure, knock yourself out. ...please?" Pulling one of the cards out, he flexed it a bit, and threw it to the ground about a meter away. Penetrating the dirt, the card stuck out about half way. He almost fainted again but managed to position himself near his button, and prepared to press it as Ranma took aim. Just as the card leaves Ranma's fingers, he presses the button, in order to build up more wind, instead of knocking the 'dart' out of the air, he intended to blow it off course. Unfortunately, for him, the now glowing card seemed unaffected by the breeze. Before the rapidly moving card even got close to the target, the other two cards were also sent on their high velocity paths, glowing brightly with ki (for those who are able to see such things). As the first card sunk into the target, he began to lose his grip on consciousness, the third fainting spell being the charm. His eyes remained open just long enough to see the second and third cards also hit home, the third even sticking out of the back of the target, as it had slid all of the way through.

 Cheers erupted from those gathered, prompting Ranma to turn and bow. He tossed four more of the man's cards into the air, after he charged them with his ki, causing them to explode like fireworks above his head in the shape of his name, Ranma Saotome! "Thank you, Thank you everyone. We'll be here all week." Sounds from the exploding cards jolted someone, whose name will go unmentioned, awake from his comfortable spot on the hard ground. Seeing the hundreds of witnesses, he gave up any ideas of trying to weasel out of the deal he had struck. Even going as far as to give Ukyo a consolation prize for having hit two out of three targets on her last attempt.

 "Thank you, Ranchama!" Throwing her arms around him, she kissed him on the cheek, showing everyone present how manly she thought her Ranma was, "Once again, you have saved me from a bad man. You know, we might want to get a cart or something to haul this stuff around, it's not like we want to set them on the ground while we play other games."

 "That's a good idea. While carrying them is good balance training, we don't want them to get dirty. And pulling the cart can be a bit of strength training at least."

 "You guard the prizes and I'll go get the carts. Be right back, Ranchama!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Entering the enormous skyscraper that was the home of Kuki Industries, Genma Saotome's mind boggled as he tried to figure out just how rich the family that built and maintained this building had to be. Outside it looked like any other building in downtown Tokyo, if you ignored the fact that it was also the largest of said buildings by a large margin, but upon entering it felt like you walked into one of the fanciest mansions Genma had ever seen in his life (including movies, not that he had seen many). It made the Chardin mansion look positively shabby. 'Maid-Guy wasn't kidding about this place, these people are loaded!' Walking up to the desk in the center of the oversized entryway, with three story vaulted ceilings, he turned to the receptionist, "I have an appointment with Kuki-san."

 "Saotome?" Seeing him nod, she continued, "Please take the private elevator in the center of the wall behind me, not the ones on the second level, at the top of the staircases off to the sides." Seeing him move toward the elevators, she returned to her switchboard, directing calls.

 Exiting the elevator, Genma almost facefaulted seeing this 'office'. It made the lobby seem almost drab, books and expensive-looking artifacts lined the walls, with marble statues creating a path leading to the desk located in the rear of the room. Behind said desk sat a man about the same age as Genma himself, only looking younger and healthier, despite his silver hair. What stood out the most was an "X" shaped scar on his forehead. "Genma Saotome-dono, sit. We have much to discuss."
{*-dono = an archaic honorific, used between nobility and the upper class, to show respect, without showing deference. Meaning he is treating Genma as an equal.*}

 Taking the offered seat, Genma discussed his plans for expanding his school, and what he was willing to offer in exchange for help from the Kuki family.

 As Genma turns to leave, their discussion concluded, Kuki Industries' leader spoke once more, "So, Saotome-dono, I hear from the maids, your tales of your son's adventures and skills. Perhaps we could discuss a second, arrangement..."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Arriving home, Genma entered his house with a loud, "Tadaima!" where he met up with Soun in the study, reading his paper. Soun's sharp senses instantly noticed that something was amiss, but couldn't put his finger on it, assuming it was unimportant, he asked how the meeting went.

 "Well Tendo-kun, I have some good news, in exchange for training their family's servants, they will not only move your house and dojo to the lot behind our house, but they will also purchase the other two adjacent lots and build for us a larger dojo so we can hold different classes at the same time, and enough room to hold an outdoor class as well."

 "That IS good news, Saotome-kun old friend. How do you feel about a game of Go?" Nodding his ascent, they set up the board and began cheating, er, playing. After several games, Genma brushed the hair out of his face and scratched his head. Soun remembered his strange feeling from earlier, and did a double take. A few stunned looks and just as many of Soun's pieces gone missing later, Soun realized something.

 "Why Saotome-kun, I had always thought that you wore that bandanna to cover up the fact that you were losing your hair."

 "Um, nope, I, uh, just think they are, stylish, yeah, I had uh, full head of hair this entire time, yeah, that's the ticket! Yeah..." Luckily, for him, Nabiki was not home at the time to learn of this 'mystery' needing to be solved. The consequences of which would not show its head for many years to come.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Nodoka had just returned to their meeting spot after a long day of filming, while trying to stay out of sight. A thing she did not do quite as well as she thought, having not realized that the children were mostly ignoring her rather than her getting that much better at hiding her presence from them. Not that it had not improved greatly during and since their ninjutsu training, but her children were, not only good at detecting ki, but they also knew her signature anywhere and were quite used being followed by her. Looking up she saw her children returning, holding hands and each of them pulling a three by two meter cart, piled high with prizes. Ukyo's pile seemed a bit higher at first glance, so she turned to her son, "You didn't let her win did you? That is not very good for your training, though it is sweet. ...and I will enjoy whatever you make for breakfast tomorrow as your punishment." She added with a smile.

 "No Kaa-chan, she has the prizes I won for her, and I have the prizes she won for me."

 "That was also, very sweet. So then it is Ukyo-chan who will be cooking in the morning?"

 He turned to wink at his partner, "No Okaa-san, it looks like the person who won the least prizes today is you! I hope you make my favorite, and Ucchan wants something sweet!"

 "Thanks in advance, Okaa-sama!"

 Appraising her son, 'The way he protected his girlfriend ...and abused his mother was ...sooo manly!' "Well, I guess you got me there, just wait until next time."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 After dinner, a few days later, the Tendo patriarch called his daughters together for a family meeting. "Well girls, in a few days, we will be moving back to our house."

 Akane was thrilled, and it showed, she was practically bouncing off the walls. "No more perverts, no more kooks, no more of auntie's dirty books!" Some had the decency to look shocked, most ignored her, and somewhere, very far away, a woman sneezed.

 Nabiki and Kasumi looked crushed. "But father, we don't want to go. What about our friend, Fukibuki? What about our training? Who's going to cook?"

 "Well then I suppose you will be happy to know that we will not be going far from here then."

 "But, you said, we were going home..." Akane looked dejected, and all of them looked confused.

 "Well kids, we are not going far, because the house is coming here!"

 "But, who will cook...?"

 "I will!"

 Everyone else responded as one, "NO!!!" Akane might only have been seven years old, but no one in the family will ever forget the horrors of the last time she attempted to make their mother breakfast in bed... It was a wonder she even pulled through. Dejected as could be, Akane pouted, while she did remember the event, her memories of it were slightly different from the rest of them. 'Why's everybody always picking on me? I thought making breakfast in bed was a nice thing to do!'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Coming out of the Haunted House, laughing, our trio of heroes thanked the man who ran the candied apple stand for having watched their three carts, piled high with prizes. They bought apples and gave him a large tip for his 'extra service'. Happily, they ate their apples and pulled their carts as they headed off to find another game they had yet to try.

 "Boy, it's sure amazing how easy some of these games are now that we have gone through that ninjutsu training, especially the blow darts!"

 "You know it, that last guy didn't know what he was getting into!"

 "Here is an idea, we could use our ki, and try to super charge the popguns, and see how hard we can knock down the hard to get targets."

 They saw a pop gun stand, headed over and found that instead of having prizes to knock down, they had wooden, painted ducks, which strangely appeared to be wearing glasses... "Step right up, test your aim. Each row up from the bottom moves faster, and is harder to knock down, but worth more points. The more points you earn, the better your prize! Some prizes require more than one game. Any questions?"

 "Why do you have glasses on the ducks?"

 "Well to be honest, I was hoping less people would hit them if they were wearing glasses, but it seems to have backfired, for some reason I can't imagine, they seem to annoy more people than they deter. I am thinking about changing them actually."

 "I can see that, it won't work on us either, will it ladies?"

 "Not a chance!"

 "You see, we are in training, and we are competing to see who can win the most prizes." Just then, the booth owner noticed the carts piled high with prizes and knew he was in trouble. "So you said it was three points for the top row, and three corks per play, and how many points for that huge panda?"

 "Fifteen."

 "All right then, Rule number eleven, Ladies First (all the better to impress them with)."

 "After you, Okaa-sama." Bowing, Ukyo steps out of Nodoka's way.

 "Don't you dare, say age before beauty!" Stepping up to the line, she took the cork gun, and began pumping it up, with both air and ki.

 "I wouldn't dream of it, Okaa-sama. You turn heads wherever you go."

 Firing the first cork, she hit one of the top row ducks, knocking it over with a loud 'BANG'! "Thank you, Ukyo-chan, but it isn't nice to tease your elders." She prepared the 'gun' to be fired again.

 "Honest, what do you say mister?"

 "Oh, yeah, definitely. I couldn't believe it when they called you 'mom', surely that's 'step'-mom. You couldn't possibly be old enough to have children this old, never mind giving birth to twins, they are too close in age otherwise."

 "I was adopted," Ukyo interjected proudly, "and I couldn't be happier about it!" she hugged Nodoka from behind.

 "If I were to guess, I would have said you were their older sister."

 "Oh stop it you two, you're just trying to make me miss." As if to prove her point, she just barely nicked the duck for which she was aiming, but thanks to her ki powered speed and power, it was enough to send it spinning off of the shelf, as well as disturbing other things in the back of the booth as it bounced around in the background. "See, look at that, I almost missed! Now let go, there will be plenty of time for hugs later," prepping her next shot she finished, "...after I knock down this third duck."

 "No, really mam, I mean it, You are stunning, and that yukata really suits you."

 Blushing slightly, but not letting the complements distract her further, she fired, hitting her third top row duck right between the eyes, or rather in the glasses, as it were. "There we go, nine points. Your turn Ukyo-chan, be careful I don't tickle you while you are aiming, to return the favor."

 While she waited for the man to reset the targets, Ukyo prepared her air-powered firearm, as Nodoka loomed behind her, making her slightly nervous. Doing her best to brace herself for any unexpected surprise, as much as she loved and respected Nodoka, the only person she would be happy being beaten by, was be Ranma. She was trying her best to anticipate any surprise as she aimed for the top of the duck, knowing that will provide the best leverage, and fired, almost missing her spot due to being jumpy. While reloading, she turned to glance back at Nodoka, who was looking down at her with an evil grin. Smiling back, she prepared for her next shot, twice as nervous as before. She willed her hands to steady as she focused her ki and fired again and relaxed a bit thinking Nodoka was toying with her. Trying her best to tune her out, she readied her third shot.

 Those onlookers who had either gathered or were among those who had been following the trio around for the last several days, saw Nodoka shift her position, and knew she was about to do something. Ranma was torn between wanting to warn his friend and not wanting to break her concentration himself and thereby doing more harm than not. Were it anyone other than his mother, he might have taken them out before they had a chance to act, but this was training after all, and Nodoka would not harm her, so he decided to error on the side of discretion and kept his trap shut.

 As Ukyo pulled the trigger on her final attempt, Nodoka lightly poked her side, sending her shot wild. Ukyo "EEEEP!"ed as her cork bounced off the wall and ricocheted hitting, not the duck for which she had been aiming, but the one on the far right, luckily for her, also on the top row. "Ha, HA! YES! Ranchama, you need a perfect score just to tie. Do you still think you can beat the ladies?"

 "What do YOU think? I am not even sure I will need all three shots, one should be enough." Confidently, Ranma takes his place; he prepped his gun as his targets were being reset. Turning sideways, he took a loose, one-handed stance, not even appearing to aim at the targets themselves. He closed his eyes to focus his ki senses, expanding his awareness and thinking about geometry far beyond most people twice his age. His eyes were still closed, in fact his head was even turned more toward the people who had been watching, rather than the targets themselves.

 He fired.

 His cork bounced off the walls, the ceiling, the targets and quite a few other things inside the stand, including the owner's head once. The small stand shook with slight tremors with each 'bounce' of the cork, making it feel like a very slight earthquake from within. Once the cork came to rest, and the dust had settled, everyone was stunned. Of the twenty-four ducks that had been set up as targets, more than half of them had been knocked over, including all six of the ones on the top row. "Well, might as well get the rest." The top row being down, eliminating some of the easier angles, it took both of his remaining shots to knock down the rest of the ducks, leaving the game operator too stunned for words. "Forty-two points, I will take the panda, that large horse for nine points, another nine for that big Neko-Chan, and the last 9 for that large pig. Kaa-chan, I know we were going to give most of the toys we won to that orphanage we found the other day, but can we send these four to the house?"
{*Neko-Chan = Hello Kitty*}

 "Sure Ranma-kun, whatever you would like to do with them."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

...After the festival, the man who was running the shooting gallery replaced his ducks. The next festival they would be shooting at targets shaped like the head of a young boy, with black hair, tied into a ponytail. Surprisingly, this model became quite popular among the festival game operators, and the even patrons themselves.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The girls were all very impressed with how quickly and completely the 'movers' had transported their home to the adjacent lot behind the Saotome home. Everything was exactly the way they had left it, the dojo, the koi pond, even their rooms, all perfect, the only difference was everything was spotlessly clean and fresh. On closer inspection, there was one other change they had not noticed at first, many of the appliances had been updated to the latest models. The television was newer, and bigger. There were two game consoles, an Atari twenty-six hundred, and an Intellivision, they immediately hid one from their father before he figured out what it was, so that they could sneak it to their club house, unseen. In each of their rooms was an Apple IIe, complete with not only educational software, but games as well. And if all of that wasn't impressive enough, within days they had not only expanded their dojo, but had build a second, larger one next door, expanded the wall around their now, much larger property and fixed up a large open area where they could play all kinds of games, when it wasn't being used for training or sparing.

 The older girls were thrilled that they would still get to stay with their friend, and still eat all of their meals together. Nabiki was also glad to return to her own room, she really enjoyed the extra privacy it afforded her. She loved her 'three' sisters dearly, but she needed her solitude sometimes as well, something that could occasionally require a bit of effort to find in the Saotome home, with the room she had been sharing with her younger sister. She loved her sister, but few people could get on her nerves as easily, such is the nature of sibling rivalry. But now that time in her life was over, and things had truly started to look up for the girls.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 A few days later, Ranma's huge package had arrived addressed to the girls of the household. It was more than a cubic meter in volume, but was strangely light for its size. Nabiki was having trouble figuring out what was inside as other members of her household came into the room. Unless the tag was a lie, the package was from Genma's son, and if it was a lie, maybe it was cake! After a short discussion, they decided to get into the box and see what was inside, none of them realizing exactly how bad the puns they had been involved in were.

 Upon opening their box, on top they find a short note, saying...
    'We stopped at a festival for training, competing for prizes, we donated most of them to an orphanage, but I saved these four for you girls, I hope you like them.
    ~Ranma Saotome'.

 Reaching inside she found four, very large, stuffed animals, each almost bigger than the girls to which they belong, with a tag on each of their right ears to indicate that it belonged to one of the female members of the house, with a short note. 'The penmanship on the letter and cards seemed too neat to be written by someone of Akane's age,' the girls thought, 'but it was written in katakana, not hiragana as Nodoka (and almost all Japanese women) normally used, so either this boy has incredible penmanship for his age and not having spent much time in regular school, they got someone else to write the cards or Nodoka was trying to make it look like he wrote them.'

 Genma was a bit dejected, since he did not get a present. "He's never sent ME anything."

 Nabiki mumbled under her breath, "Well, you weren't much of a father. You'd just want him to send you sake anyway, and you shouldn't have kids buying that for you!" She shot a glare at both of the 'fathers'. Months ago, she had lost most of the respect she had had for the man for helping her family, which was only made worse when she learned that it was his wife who had actually done most of the 'helping'. While she did not blame him for his involvement in her mother's death, as her sister did (adding more fuel to her fiery hatred of almost all things male), she had poked around enough to know what kind of man he was and the things he and her father had done in their so-called training, and she was not impressed. Her talks with the self described 'Maid Guy' had told her that he was improving, and given that he never tried any of the less reputable training methods with them, she was hoping that was true, but she was not going to let him drag her father down to his level, he was in bad enough shape as it was these days.

 Glancing at Fubuki for a second, he has the decency to look guilty for a brief moment, "But he's never even met the four of you! He only knows what his mother has shared from my letters!"

 "Exactly, 'do no harm', as it were, and I guess that means we won't have to hurt you for spreading lies about us." Little did Genma and the others know that Fubuki had also been in correspondence with his wife, sharing, details on his behavior and their situation. "So old man, is this your son's writing, or your wife's?"

 "I haven't seen my son's writing since he was four, but I've never seen Nodoka use katakana, ever."

 "...and the mystery deepens. Well, let's see what he sent us!" Pulling the first one out, they saw a very large panda, with a tag reading...
    'To: Kasumi Tendo; As the eldest, you get the biggest one.'

 Squealing a bit, Kasumi squeezed her new 'friend' in a 'bear' hug.

 Next, they pulled a large stuffed pig out, reading the tag,
    'To: Akane Tendo; I have heard you really like pigs and were eyeing one at a fair that you weren't able win, I hope this is a close second.'

 "Kawaii!!!" Also hugging her toy, she thinks to herself, 'Well, maybe not ALL boys are awful!'
{*Kawaii = cute; adorable; charming; lovely; pretty; (2) dear; precious; darling; pet; (3) cute little; tiny;* obviously not that last one in this case.}

 Next Nabiki reached into their box to pull out a giant Kitty-Chan, in a blue and white maid's uniform.
    'To: Fubuki; I hear you are doing an incredible job, taking care of our house, I know it must be hard on you with my lazy father (sorry 'bout that) and the others around. So, thank you for all of your hard work.' Blushing at the compliment, she started playing with her kitty.

 Genma was not happy with the apparent tales of his past deeds, though he couldn't deny their truth. He silently vowed that he will not only win back the trust of his wife, but the respect of his son!

 Last but not least, Nabiki pulled Ranma's horse out of her box, it is a white horse with black hair and the kanji symbol for 'chaos' on its forehead, standing almost a meter tall. Reading the tag to herself,
    'To: Nabiki Tendo; "I hope you will grow up gentle and good, and never learn bad ways; do your work with a good will, lift your feet up well when you trot, and never bite or kick even in play." "Oh! if people knew what a comfort to a horse a light hand is..." ~Anna Sewell, Black Beauty. I also hope you like my pony, Ucchan made me embroider that character on his head, turning him into a "Ran-ma", she thought it was funny, sorry about that.'

 'It seems he is a fan of literature, which is surprising, considering his time on the road, interesting...' "All right then, 'Chaos Pony' it is. How about you girls, do you have names for yours yet?"

 "Well, mine came with a name too, Neko-chan, it wouldn't be right to call her something else."

 "Kawainoshishi, Shishi-chan for short." Akane hugged her pig again.
{*kawainoshishi = bush pig*}

 "I think you will be called, Kawaikochan." Kasumi had not stopped hugging hers; she was squeezing it so tightly she could 'almost' touch her hands behind it. "We should take a family picture to send to him as a thank you to show how much we appreciate his thoughtful gifts. It was very nice of him to think of us like that when he dosen't even know us."
{*kawaikochan = popsy; cutie; sweetie*}

 "You're right Kasumi-nee-chan, we've all seen his pictures from the letters and all around the house, it's only fair he see what we look like too."
{*Nee/Onee = Older sister.*}

 "Especially you and Akane-chan, since you two were sleeping in his room!" Kasumi added with a sly grin.

 "That was a BOY'S room?!?!? Now I am glad I wet the bed!"

 "You WHAT?!?! Is THAT what that was?!?!"

 "Yes, yes it was. I would know, since I had to clean it up." Fubuki said flatly.

 "I'm sorry Fukibuki, I would have helped if I had known."

 "No, Kasumi-sama, it IS my job after all, don't feel bad."

 "I thought you said you spilled tea!"

 "I DID! ...sort of."

 "Well, never-the-less, I think you should apologize to us."

 "Why should I?"

 "YOU PEED ON ME! And she had to clean it up! Or would you rather I tell Ranma and his mother that you peed on his bed?"

 "You wouldn't?!?! Oh who cares, go ahead! See if I care! He probably deserves it anyway."

 "Akane! How can you say that after the kindness they have shown us?"

 "But Kasumi, he's a boy! They all do icky things! And his note said he thinks he's better than me!"

 "Oh Akane-chan, you won't always feel that way." Kasumi shakes her head in dismay at her little sister, knowing she will change her mind about that, one of these days, Nabiki was already starting to. It just goes to show that even Kasumi is not perfect. "Okay girls, let go get ourselves fixed up for a nice picture, and we will meet back here when we are done."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Returning to the study, the three older girls were chatting about clothes, and about how long their hair had grown over the last two years. Fubuki was wearing a fresh version of her traditional maid's outfit with matching blue ribbons in her hair, Kasumi was wearing a light blue yukata with a floral print, her hair done up in a bun, and Nabiki was wearing her nicest summer dress, light green, with flowers along the edges, with her hair in matching green ribbons. She was not really all that interested in boys yet, but it was a photo opportunity, and she certainly wanted to look good! All three of them were clutching their presents as tightly as they could. They joined Akane and the fathers, who had not changed, though Akane did look cleaner, and her clothes had been straightened. Whether she had done this herself or Maid Guy had done it, was anyone's guess. Maid Guy himself was setting up the tripod and camera.

 Kasumi and Fubuki had set their dolls up in a sitting position with their arms around their toy's necks pretending to kiss the toy's cheeks. Nabiki set her horse in the center where she sat atop it, laying forward with her arms around its neck and her face next to that of Chaos Pony's. Genma was behind and between them, with Soun to his right. Akane in front and to the right of her father, holding her pig tightly in front of her, trying to hide behind it. Soun spoke up at this point, "You get in this picture too Maid Guy, you are a part of this family as well. Stand over here behind Akane-chan. You two are always so close." Maid Guy attaches the remote to the camera and moves into place as Akane turns to her right to face away from the rest of them with a huff on her face, puffing her cheeks out just as the picture is taken.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 While they had given away most of the prizes they had won, they each kept a small collection of things, one such item Ukyo was using now to show Ranma one of the other skills she had learned in her geisha training. She was painting his portrait while he meditated, and had been doing pretty well if she did say so herself, so that is exactly what she did. "Not bad." Signing her latest work, 'Ucchan', she called out, "Ranchama, you can move now."

 Getting up from his meditative trance, Ranma walked over to see what Ukyo had been working on. "Wow, Ucchan, that's really good, that looks way better than I really do."

 "But Ranchama, it doesn't look even half as good as the real thing. Compared to the real you, this is trash, but I am getting better, I was awful when I first started. Do you want to try? I can show you some of what I learned."

 "That sounds like fun, and if we compete we will get better faster, like with everything else, ne?"
{*Ne = 'isn't it?'; 'wouldn't it?'; no?; yes? used to end a sentence when you assume the listener agrees with you.*}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Soon after arriving in the next town they were to stay in, the group had gone to pick up their mail, and there was an envelope addressed to Ranma, something that rarely happened. Nobody ever sent him anything directly. Inside the envelope was a photo. "Well, it seems at least three of them liked their gifts, I'm not so sure about the one on the left, she doesn't look too happy." Frowning, he examined it more critically.

 Looking over his shoulder, Nodoka interjected, "No son, see how tightly she is squeezing it, she likes the pig, just like Fubuki told me, who looks much younger than I had figured... amazing. Well if she can handle the job... and she seems to be doing quite well. But back to the photo, maybe she is a tsundere, see how she turned her butt toward the camera, maybe she thinks she is showing off her best feature."

 "Or she is just shy or mad about something else... Not everyone fits into a trope, Okaa-sama."

 "No, occasionally it's 'averted'... just call it 'Mother's Intuition', the only real question is which type?"

 Turning the picture over, Ranma sees there is writing on the back.

    'Ranma-san, we hope things are going well with you and your training. Thank you for the thoughtful gifts, we all love them very much. Since we have all seen the pictures of you that your mother sends to us, we thought it only fair for us to send a picture to you as well.' How Ranma could tell she was blushing when she wrote that part, he will never know, but he DID know he might well have to have words with his mother about what kinds of pictures she was sending of him. 'Please take care of yourself. We look forward to hearing from you again. Yours sincerely, Kasumi Tendo.'

 Also written in various places, and in different handwriting, were,
    'Thank you very, very much, Goshujin-sama. Sincerely, Fubuki, the House Maid',
    'Don't think you're better than me. Akane', and
    'Thanks Ranma-chan, I'll think about you whenever I ride him. Nabiki Tendo. P.S. Akane wet your bed! I thought you should know.'

 "Well, I hope she cleaned it up! I think I will want a new bed when we get home." They all share a good laugh over that one.

 "I would guess that you will need a bigger one by the time we get back anyway, so don't you worry, my manly son."

 "Huh? What brought that on?"

 "Don't you worry about that either." Which only made Ranma worry even more, his mother could get some strange ideas in her head occasionally. Nodoka, on the other hand, was thanking her lucky stars, every kami, and anyone else who could listen to her thoughts, for having had the will to force her husband to let her take this trip. Being able to be a part of her son and his friends' lives, filled her with so much joy that she felt like she could fly. Never could she have imagined having so much fun in her life, let alone as a wandering martial artist. Her parents had been very strict and old fashioned with her upbringing and she had had little say in her life. Not in what hobbies she pursued, not what classes she took, not even who she married (she never even figured out why they chose him, of all people, they sure had acted strangely about it now that she thought about it). But now, after having experienced this complete and total freedom, she knew, not only would she let her son make most of the major decisions in his life (even if she might make a few, 'suggestions' along the way), she would probably never be happy, living as a 'normal' housewife, ever again.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma's first painting was no great work of art, but even someone with no artistic training at all, could see dramatic improvement from where he had started the work, and where he finished. It did not take many sessions before they were on about equal terms with their artistic skills, and soon after they started taking time out, every Sunday to practice. Some days they would paint landscapes, other days they would paint each other, painting each other. All the while, building not only their skill, but their speed, eventually getting to where they could turn out two to three beautiful pieces in a thirty minute time slot.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Two Years Later

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 "Ranma-Kun! I need you to run to the store to get some things, here is a list and some money. Please sweetheart, take your time. Play some games or something first." Waiting until he had left, she calls Ukyo over. "Ukyo-chan, I got this letter a while ago, I'm sorry, he wanted me to wait until you were even older, I would have told you sooner, but, I just didn't know how. I did not want to see you unhappy. But it is your right to know the truth, and I am not going to keep you from making your own decisions.

 "Your father, the reason he sent you with us, was because he was dying, he needed to check himself into a hospital and knew he would not be able to care for you himself any longer. When he had finally asked it of me, I was shocked, and it seems you had overheard part of that conversation, but not the reasons behind it. He made me swear that I would not tell you the truth until this letter arrived, and the letter itself wanted me to keep waiting." Handing the letter over, Nodoka prostrates herself before her 'adopted' daughter, tears streaming down her face, apologizing profusely for keeping this secret from her as long as she had.

 Reading the letter, Ukyo was too stunned to notice Nodoka's actions, "He, didn't hate me. He didn't hate me... All these years, he let me think I was useless to him, and now he is gone." Unable to prevent her own tears, Ukyo falls to her knees, sobbing. "Oh, Okaa-sama, what should I do? I can't really forgive him, and now I can't even kick his butt for crushing my heart, but now I can't hate him either."

 "You don't hate me for keeping this from you?" Not moving Nodoka glances up at the girl.

 "Okaa-sama! I could never hate you, you and Ranchama are my whole world, if not for you, I would have probably let my anger consume me. You two have shown me a love, caring and understanding like I have never known in my life. Nothing will ever change that, not even if you were to strike me down on the spot. I will always respect and care for you, and I swear I will serve your son until my dying breath."

 Holding each other, they cry into each other's arms for quite a while, until Ukyo finally calmed down enough to speak again, "Okaa-sama, the letter mentioned an 'inheritance' including all of the artifacts, books and scrolls for my family style, the location seems to be near here, can we go see it? I would like to study it if I can."

 "Oh darling, why do you think we are here?"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Leaving the house Ranma was sure of two things. The first being that he could complete his 'errands' in no time at all, and the second being that he had been 'gotten rid of'. His mother did not exactly make a secret of it. Ranma was a curious child, and did not like it when he was left out of the loop. 'Well, she DID say to play a game, and was not specific about what 'game' I play, so I will play 'spies'.' That decided, he waited until he was out of range, and slowly drew his ki inside himself, slowly enough that it would appear to anyone paying attention that he was getting further away, going the opposite direction from them, no matter where they were. Once his ki had been hidden, he snuck back as silently as he could, using more of the skills he had gained in his ninjutsu training.

 Sneaking back into the house, he listened in for a short time, wanting to know what problem could have been so important. What he heard had shocked him a bit, so much so he had almost lost his ki control. Over all the news was both bad and good, it was nice to learn Ukyo's father had not hated her, and had not been 'kicking her out' as she had thought, but that also made the news of his passing all the more sad. He knew his friend was going to need his support.

 Running off to complete his task, Ranma made plans for how he would try to make his friend feel better, starting with making her favorite dessert to go with that night's dinner.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 "Moshi-moshi."

 "HiiiIIIIii! Is this Saotome-san?" The jubilant voice on the other end of the phone inquired.

 "Yes, this is Saotome Genma. Might I ask who is calling?"

 Getting a bit more serious, the other voice continued, "Oh, right, sorry, I am Kaede Tenjoji, from Hakureiryo Academy, and I would like to offer you a business proposal."

 Cautiously, Genma responded, people offering him deals rarely worked out in his favor, "Proposal?"

 "Yes, I have recently taken over this school as principal and its chief executive officer, and I have been hearing stories about your school, and I think that we could come to an arrangement that would help us both greatly. You see, the school I run is one of the most elite in the nation, all of the highest class children go to school here, but our main goal here is to train their servants, maids mostly. Our rich students pay outrageous tuition fees to provide them with the best of the best, and in return we use some of that money to provide free tuition to any who want to take the servant curriculum, complete with room and board, so any poor student in Japan can afford to go to a good high school. We also train the servants for almost all of the richest families in the world, we teach them to be the absolute best there is. This is where you come in, one of the main duties of a good servant is always to be able to protect their masters, and the stories I have heard of your school makes it sound perfect, just like in this anime I am trying to sponsor! I would be willing to pay you for each of the students taking classes, and you would train all of our servant class students. Let me ask you this Saotome-san, do you have children?"

 "Yes, I have a son, but he is on a twelve-year training journey with his mother." A quiet 'Eep' escaped the phone, "My partner has three daughters and we are looking after another child who is acting as a maid for our family." Genma had to pull the phone away from his ear as he heard a squealing sound coming from the phone. 'Is this thing broken?' "Oh, and my wife seems to have adopted another girl that she is training as well." Again the squealing sound exploded from the receiver.

 Sounding even more excited than she had at first, Kaede continued, a bit too quickly for Genma's tastes, "Well, I am also prepared to offer you automatic acceptance and free tuition for all of them in whichever program they choose, once they reach middle school age. So all of your children could go to the most prestigious middle and high schools in Japan ...for free. We were a girls' school, but now that I am in charge, I am going to see it turn coed. I can't wait to meet your son and maid!"

 Genma did like 'free', and this would really be good for the children, almost surprising himself that he even cared about that aspect, and he found that he actually DID care about it, more than he ever would have expected. "Well, I would need to expand a bit more, and hire more staff..."

 "I can offer you funds to help with that, since we are the cause of your need, and would be happy to provide any other help I can." Not that Genma can tell, but she was practically salivating at the prospect of battle and ninja maids, and combat butlers, just like in another manga she had been reading recently.

 "Well, that sounds like it could work... once the construction is complete you will have to come by and have a toast with us to celebrate our new partnership."

 "I would loooove to! I admit I am curious to see this school, and I can't wait to meet your families. Now, how old are the children, should we begin the procedure for their transfers?"

 "Well the eldest girl is thirteen, and our maid is twelve, they are both in middle school, the rest are elementary school age, ten to eleven. My son and, I guess, adopted 'daughter' are not enrolled in a school, my wife is tutoring them for most subjects, but they only attend formal schools occasionally, but I can assure you, their education is not suffering for it. My wife, it seems, is an apt tutor. They will not be returning for some time yet."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Finally making their way into the inner sanctum of Ukyo's family shrine, our exhausted adventurers got a chance to rest. "Well now, that was a bit more 'complicated' than I expected, I guess that's what I get being the last remaining member of a ninja family." Ukyo got a grim look on her face that, to Ranma, looked out of place on the usually happy girl, "Remembering where the traps are won't be so bad, but we really should reset them before we leave, I would hate to see someone defile the thing, even if we take everything important with us when we leave. It may not be much, but it's my family history. And you never know, we may need a place to hide out or something one day."

 "Very good ideas, but we can stay here as long as you want, Ukyo-chan. We are in no real hurry to be anywhere right now. Or we could camp outside if you prefer, whatever makes you the most comfortable."

 "Thank you, Okaa-sama, it might take a while to collect and decipher all of this, some of it we can't take with us without dismantling the place. I could take tracings of the wall carvings but we would need large paper, and time... Oh well, let's start looking around, just be careful, anything worth finding is likely to have another okonomiyaki themed trap."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 "Oi! Look at this!"

 Coming over to look at what Ranma was indicating. Behind a portrait, Ranma had found what seemed to be a safe, but instead of a dial, there were metal buttons, each with a symbol on it. "I don't recognize any of these characters, are they some kind of code?"

 "Sort of, Ranchama, it's Okonomiyaki Shorthand, or Okosho. It's a special writing system for okonomiyaki ingredients. We use it for written orders, and secret recipes. So, yes, I guess it IS a code. Let me see, it's been a while, I am a bit rusty, and I hadn't learned all of it before we left."
{*Okosho = Another word I made up, 'Oko' taken from Okonomiyaki, and 'sho' meaning 'handwriting'*}

 "You'll have to teach me that someday."

 "You got it, Ranchama!" She studied the buttons for a few minutes, consulting a scroll she had unlocked earlier, "I am not sure that I have this right, either I am more rusty than I thought, or some of these symbols do not belong. Most of them are okonomiyaki ingredients, but some of them, if I have this right, are, well ...this one is a poison!"

 "Why would you even HAVE a code for stuff like that, if this is for recipes?"

 "Well, we were a clan of ninja, the okonomiyaki was our cover, it helped us get close to the people were targeting. Though, it's still strange, because we never poisoned our okonomiyaki to take out a target, too easy to trace back. Strange, there are a couple of other poisons. This one is fire, and a couple of others I can't even figure out."

 "If that code was for recipes, then there might be some inside, and it might be the key, maybe the way to unlock it is with a recipe...?"

 "RANCHAMA! You're a genius! With that in mind, let's see what we have, flour, dashi stock, eggs, cabbage, green onion, tempura flakes, meat, green sea weed, sauce, and mayonnaise!" Upon pressing the tenth button, a louder click was heard as the door slid open. Inside, as Ranma guessed, were recipe scrolls, and two books, one on the Okosho code language and the other about the workings of the safe itself. "Oh, great! Now that we have it open, they tell us how to open it!"

 "Maybe it was a test?"

 "Or maybe the last person here figured they didn't need it and that would keep thieves out of it."

 "Or maybe the last person here was a 'smart aleck', and liked toying with people..." After packing up the scrolls, she looked over the books. While studying the codebook, "It says here that the other two buttons were electricity and the other was ...spikes? I really can't see what that has to do with a recipe!" but after looking through the other book, "Oh, THAT'S what they are all about, those are traps, press the poison ones and you get poisoned, press the fire one and fire shoots out, and so on. Well, once again, thank you Ranchama for figuring it out and likely saving me some pain. I read in one of the other books I found, that dating back to even before our family swore loyalty to the Daimyo. We had a tradition of giving our 'Token of Loyalty' to whomever we acknowledge as our master." She got down on her knees. "Ranma Saotome-sama, my lord," Took his left hand in hers, "I give this to you." She brought his hand up, and gently kissed the back of his fingers. "I swear my loyalty from now until the end of days."
{*Daimyo = a powerful lord, working under the Shogun.*}

 "You know you really over do this stuff sometimes, Ucchan. You have been my friend for years; you are always there when I need you..."

 "...But?"

 "But nothing, as long as you want me around, I will be there for you. I hope we will be friends forever."

 Mumbling under her breath, "...One day, I hope more than friends."

 "Did you say something, Ucchan?"

 "Nope, nothing at all, Ranchama."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 "You really want us to learn your family's style with you?"

 "Well, you guys have taught me some of your family's style, and since you guys are my only remaining 'family', I want you to learn with me so you can help me to pass it on to the next generation of our family. I may never open a restaurant, but maybe one of my children will (assuming I have any)."

 "Well then gang, for the next few months we will be Okonomiyaki Chefs! We will study together until we can make them in our sleep."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

A thirteen-year-old Kasumi, twelve-year-old Fubuki, and an eleven-year-old Nabiki were all laughing together as they swung their 'weapons' at each other. Kasumi had a broom, Fubuki had a mop and Nabiki had two feather dusters hooked together with a metal clasp that she was using like nunchaku. They were not only sparring, but also cleaning the room as they went, not disturbing a single item as they went from room to room. Each room sparkling as they left.

 Having finished their cleaning spar, the girls look out and see Akane pulverizing concrete blocks.

 "I can't believe she has switched to cement already, it seems just like last week she was getting splinters from the boards."

 "Fukibuki, that WAS last week." The three girls giggled together.

 "Well, there is one thing you can say, with her and Uncle Genma around, we always have plenty of places to 'practice our art'."

 Putting their cleaning equipment away, they spied Genma entering the room, "Well, speak of the devil and he appears."

 "You don't know what you're talking about!!!" Genma interjected in a panic. "Be careful what you wish for girls. 'He' might come back, making all of our sacrifices in vain."

 "Who is 'He'?"
 
 "Believe me, you don't want to know! But that's not why I was looking for you two, and Nabiki-san, this will concern you as well next April, so you might as well hear this as well." Gathering around the table, they waited to hear what their foolish 'Uncle' has done to, er FOR them this time. "We have made a partnership to teach our new art to the servant class at Hakureiryo Academy." Genma had tried addressing Nabiki with the '-chan' honorific once. Once. It was NOT a pleasant day for Genma, and he never tried it again. 'Hell hath no fury, like Nabiki pissed.' Genma had thought boys were a lot to handle, but he did not have the slightest clue, though he had started to get the idea that he was in way over his head. ...and it only took him four years to get there!

 The girls were stunned; Nabiki had been the first to recover, "What? You mean it's GOOD news? Will miracles never cease?"

 "Quite so, though your sarcasm wounds me, girl."

 "Yeah, right."

 "This will mean several things to you three. The first being, as my most advanced students, you will be helping to teach some of the classes, at least until some of the other graduates are able to return to help us. We will also be expanding the dojo once again to make room for the new students."

 "Hakureiryo Academy. Wow, that's one of the most prestigious schools in the world! Graduating from there means you will be able to get into any college in the nation! I wish we could go there."

 "Well then you are going to love my next bit of news, Kasumi-chan, Fubuki-chan, you two will be enrolling in their middle school, effective immediately, and Nabiki-san, you will begin classes there when you enter middle school next spring." 'Fangirl-like' squees of joy came from the three girls, which took several minutes to subside. "You will each be given the option to enter as High Class Ladies, or in the Servant Classes, it will be left up to you which you choose. The principal will be paying us a visit to celebrate our merger as soon as the expansion is done, and since Japan has the fastest builders in the world, that should be in the next day or two."

 "Wow, Thank you Uncle, while we know that isn't why you made that deal, we appreciate it none-the-less."

 A hurt look flashed across Genma's face for a split second, but knowing it was true, there was little he could say in his defense, "The next thing we need to do, is hire an onsite doctor for class time."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 "Tenjoji-san, I would like you to meet Tofu-sensei, one of the best specialty doctors in Japan."

 "It's an honor."

 "The pleasure is all mine, Tenjoji-san."

 "If you are as good as they say, maybe I could talk you into helping at the school too, since most of the students will be the same anyway."

 "Maybe you could, maybe you could..."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma was working on his mother's shoulders and back, practicing his own massage technique, as she had insisted, having made him take a class even after what he had learned from Kyoshi-sensei. 'Not only will it help us tremendously during our training, but your girlfriends will love you for it later.' she had told him. As usual, she was right of course, what he learned and was able to share with them, had made recovery after strenuous workouts much easier, especially when combined with a good soak in a hot bath, which they had just gotten out of. Using his ki, he would search out knots of tension, blocked pathways and any other abnormality he could find and try to 'work out' whatever the problem was. It was also doing wonders for his ki sense and aura reading. "Kaa-chan, I would really like to find a better doctor to study under soon, the better I get at using my ki to heal, the more I see that I need to learn."

 Admiring her son's mature attitude for a boy his age, and his eagerness to learn, she could not help but ascede to his wishes, but due to the treatment of her back as he worked his way down her spine all she could manage was a groan of ascent. "Besides, it will give Ukyo some time to study more of her family's style." Again, for her part, all Nodoka could get out was a groan in response to her son's statement. Working his way to her lower back, he found a strange 'blockage', that he had never noticed before, very deep inside. Using his ki, he reached in and tried to work out the problem area. After a few moments he was able to find the 'keystone' of the block, and it came loose with a rush of energy, unlike anything he had ever seen before.

 Nodoka's eyes shot wide open as she arched her back, curled her toes, and bit her lower lip, trying not to let out a moan, ...and failing.

 "KAA-CHAN! What's wrong? Are you all right?"

 Panting heavily, she tried hard to regain her senses, "Ranma-kun, my son, you must listen to your mother very carefully, this is very important. First, you must never forget how you just did that, and second, you must never use it on me again, ever! Please!" 'I am not sure I could resist if he did that to me again... A mother should never have such thoughts.'

 "Sure mom, but what did I do?"

 "You'll figure it out later, but please, just don't do it for me again... Any other woman will greatly appreciate that particular technique, but I cannot, that is something that can never happen. Now, go play, mother needs to go take another bath..."

 Ranma ran off to find his other 'willing victim'...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma found Ukyo studying one of the scrolls she received as part of her inheritance, "Ucchan, I need your help with a new technique."

 Looking slightly torn for the briefest of moments, she jumped up, "Sure Ranchama, what do you need me to do?"

 "Not much more than you were doing, you can keep reading while I give you your 'after workout massage'. I saw something different when I was giving mom hers, and when I worked out the spot, she freaked out and told me I had to learn the technique, but wouldn't tell me anything else about it, other than I can't practice it on her anymore. So, I was hoping my faithful little Ucchan would be willing to assist her Ran'nii-chan..."
{*Nii and Onii = Older Brother*}

 "Of course! You know I would help you with anything, Ranchama! What do you need me to do?"

 "Just lay face-down here and try to relax as much as you can, just like with any other massage." Laying back down, she removed her shirt and goes back to studying the scroll she had been reading.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Nodoka was just getting back out of the bath, feeling much better now that she had cleaned herself up after her little 'accident', working out the remainder of 'tension' on her own. Heading back toward the camp they shared, she was taken a bit aback when she heard Ukyo's voice far sooner than she would have expected considering the distance left to camp. "OH, RANMA-SAMA! WOW, I don't know what you just did, but DO it Again!!!"

 "That's my boy!" Nodoka continued back to camp, hoping she will be able to sleep with the noise she would be hearing tonight, and that her dreams this night would NOT include her son...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AFTERWARD

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 A ten-year-old Ryoga is wandering around, somewhere snowy... "Where the hell am I now?!?! Shimatta! I am three days late for school again! I knew I should have brought the dog!" Getting mad at himself again, a feeling he was quite used to, he took off running in a random direction, because, hey, it's Ryoga, and let's face it, and it does not really matter, all directions are the same to him.
{*Shimatta = damn it! damn! oops! oh dear! oh no!*}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AUTHOR'S NOTES

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Historically, geisha often began the earliest stages of their training at a very young age, sometimes as early as 3 or 5 years old. The early shikomi (servant) and minarai (watching apprentice) stages of geisha training lasted years, which was significantly longer than in contemporary times.

 To this day, it is still said that geisha inhabit a separate reality, which they call the karyukai or "the flower and willow world." Before they disappeared, the courtesans were the colorful "flowers" and the geisha the "willows" because of their subtlety, strength and grace. I cannot stress enough, that the idea of geisha as sex workers is all due to prostitutes during WWII telling American Soldiers that they were "Geisha Girls" figuring they wouldn't know any better, and many of us still don't. Even when prostitution was legal, most geisha were not allowed to sell sex for money. If they wanted to have sex, they would have to do so in their private lives and not in their professional ones.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

OMAKE 2 {To the tune of the Underdog Theme Song}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"There's no need to fear, Maido Gai is here!"

Dun dun dun, dun dun dun,
Dun dun dun, dun dun dun,
Aoo, aoo, aoo, aoo, aoo, aoo
When males in this world appear,
And hurt the girl that they should fear,
And think they are all in the clear,
The cry goes up both far and near for
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai.

Hoard of hentai, Blue Thunder,
Fighting all who steal under ...(wear)
Maido Gai, ...Maido Gai!

When Akane has a pressing need
Or Genma's heart is filled with greed
And when the bathroom should be cleaned,
To right this wrong with blinding speed goes
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai.

Hoard of Hentai, Blue Thunder,
Fighting all who get under, ...(foot)
Maido Gai, ...Maido Gai!


"When Akane's in trouble, I am not slow. It's Kukuku, and away I go!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

END OMAKE 2

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

OMAKE 3

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Maid Guy returned to their campsite in Ryugenzawa carrying Akane by her collar. Akane was not happy about this. Doing her best to get away from her strange 'protector', she ran over to where her sisters were training with a strange little man. When she got closer she heard them talking.

 "Okay, let's try again, everyone, go!"

 All three of them raised their right hands toward the large boxes in front of them, as they concentrated, the boxes began to glow and float in the air.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

END OMAKE 3

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

*CHARACTERS USED*

{Here I will list all of the non-Ranma, characters used in the chapter and where they are from.}

Kogarashi the "Maid Guy" - the title character from Kamen no Maid Guy
Fubuki - The future 'Maid Guy Tamer' from Kamen no Maid Guy
Kaede Tenjoji - The headmaster of Hakureiryo Academy from Ladies vs. Butlers
Mikan is her 'assistant' and the Head Instructor
Ranma's Muay Thai instructor was VERY loosely based on Appachai's from Kenichi, mostly I just wanted to use his line, so think of his as one of his old students or something. ;)
Shagi & Kuro-sensei (the frog guy) - were ripped and twisted from Scooby Doo
The ninjutsu trainer was pretty much just made up too...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nodoka 2/1
The Chroma Series

Act 0 Part 03

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

DISCLAIMER

Most of the characters and other elements are owned by people who are not me, though I did make up a few here and there... but none of the main ones. Many talented people, and a few faceless corporations, such as Rumiko Takahashi and Sega respectively, own the rest

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AUTHOR'S NOTES

First off, thanks for reading; I hope you have enjoyed it so far. This chapter is going to have a slightly different format, where I intended to have a time skip and then do a chapter and have another time skip, but for this chapter instead of one giant leap through time, we will be having one chapter full of smaller skips, covering a bit larger period of time.

I just learned I had major issues with the last chapter, and sometimes only half of it was loaded, and other times it got halfway and started over... I am sorry, I believe I have it fixed now... I will attempt to pay more attention when I post from now on. That is what I get for assuming it will work correctly... Again, sorry.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

GLOSSARY (from the last chapter)


Kanji = The first writing system in Japan, made up of characters borrowed from the Chinese
Hiragana (feminine) and Katakana (masculine) are the two main 'alphabets' in Japanese. Each character represents a vowel or consonant and vowel combination

Baka = stupid/idiot/fool/etc
Aho = Kansai-ben form of 'baka'
Bakojiin = Stupid Old Man - a portmanteau word Nodoka made up for the game of 'Old Maid'

Boku = one of many ways to say "I/me" and is considered a 'masculine' form

Oshou = (4) master (of one's art, trade, etc.)

Kuso = Expletive word for fecal matter; AKA 'Crap'

Okonomiyaki = long story short, Japanese Style Pancake/Pizza-like food

Moe - pronounced [moh-ay] - a manga and anime slang term meaning something like cute, wiki "Moe_(slang)" if you want to know more

Konichiwa = Good 'Afternoon', said from about 10am until evening

Yoroshiku onegai-shimasu = 'I am in your care', or 'Please take care of me' - is said at the end of sentences when meeting someone or making a request

Douzo meshiagare = Enjoy your meal; said by the cook
Itadakimasu = Said before you start eating, lit. 'I humbly receive'
Gochisosama (deshita <- added when being formal) - said after you finish eating

Suki ya nen or sukkya nen = Kansai-ben for 'I love you'

Maido Ookini = Kansai-ben form of Arigato or Thank You. Maido (here) means 'every time' and 'Ookini' means 'Thanks'

Miko = Shrine Maiden/Priestess

Kimono = A traditional article of Japanese clothing, similar to a robe
Yukata = A light cotton robe like outfit, like a less formal kimono
Hakama = Another piece of traditional clothing. They are worn over top of a kimono, from the waist down
Zori = traditional sandals, similar to flip-flops

Moshi-Moshi = "Hello" on the phone (and to get someone's attention in other places)

Kaji = housework; domestic chores; family affairs; household matters;

Ken = Fist

Ryu = Style, particularly a martial arts style

Kajiken (or Kaji-ken) = Named by Kasumi, Genma's new housework related style, for training maids and butlers, the Household Fist

Go = is a board game, with some similarities to Checkers (many other uses for this term too, like the #5)

Kampai = Cheers!

Hojojutsu or Nawajutsu = The traditional Japanese martial art of restraining a person using cord or rope
Kinbaku = Rope bondage, [lit. tight binding] and
Kinbaku-bi = lit. The beauty of Tight Binding

Tadaima = equivalent to "I'm Home", said sometimes even when alone

Kote = Okonomiyaki Turner, the small baker's peels. (what most people incorrectly call a 'spatula')

Aya = wow; whoa
Sugoi = terrible; dreadful; (2) amazing (e.g. of strength); great (e.g. of skills); wonderful; terrific;

-Han = Kansai-ben form of -San
-chama = a combination of the honorifics -chan and -sama
-tama = childlike, cutesy way of saying -sama

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

CHAPTER 03
The Art of Getting Lost

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 After having left the only home she had ever known, Ukyo's emotions were twirling around, most of them conflicting with the others. She was hurt yet thrilled, angry yet happy, nervous yet excited, proud yet humiliated, resentful yet thankful, comfortable yet awkward, unlucky yet fortunate... And she was having a very difficult time trying to wrap her young mind around it all. So much had happened over the last few days since she left her home and everything she had ever known. It was not like she did not enjoy her new traveling companions, far from it, and if this was how the old man wanted it, then FINE! She did not want anything to do with him anyway! She was going to do everything she could, to be as unlike him as she was able. He wanted to treat her like a boy, she would be as girlie as she could, she did not even want to sound like him! A real man would not abandon his child! If she were going to emulate anyone it would be Ranchama and okaa-sama, they were just so incredible, about everything. They were so nice, and Ranchama had saved her so many times. They gave her nice clothes, and even took her in when she had 'been abandoned' by her so-called 'father'. And despite living the lives of wanderers, they were always so happy and full of life. It was a joy simply to be around them, she could not help but to smile whenever she saw either of them. The only time she could really stew on her misery was when she was alone, and luckily for her, she had not had much alone time since they had left.

 --- Ukyo had awoken to a woman's voice shouting "Ohaio-gozaimasu!", it was still dark and she was not sure where she was, and all of a sudden her pillow started to move...

 "Whatcha doin' on this side of the tent, Ucchan?"

 "Oh, uh, Ranchama! I guess you were warm." A sly grin crept across her face as she hoped to cover her embarrassment to avoid the ribbing that usually accompanied it.

 "-Chama? what's that about?"

 Looking at the floor, she clasped her hands behind her back, "Well, Ah owe ya everythin'! Ya deserve th' respect uh -sama, but yer too cute not to use -chan, so Ah'm usin' both! Ah could call ya 'Rantama' ifin ya prefer..." Seeing that she had gotten him embarrassed as well, she adds, "Or do ya think Ah should always be completely formal with ya, Ranma Saotome-sama? 'Cause fer ya, Ah will."

 Blushing a bit at that, "Well, whatever makes you happy, but I told you before, that you don't owe me, or us even, anything at all, Ucchan. We are friends, and friends take care of each other. I will always be there to look out for you, whenever possible. Now let's go get cleaned up and make breakfast. We got a long hike to go to get to Iga from here."

 "HAI, Ranchama!"

 Ranma rolls his eyes as they exit the tent to prepare for the coming day.

 Outside of the tent, Nodoka was preparing breakfast, enjoying the sound of children.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 They ate together, they trained together, they bathed together and on cold nights, they even slept together. For Ukyo it was truly indescribable, the feeling of being around such a warm and loving family. Her father had never been like that, always so cold and distant. She had always assumed that he was worried about money and sad about her mom dying, but apparently she had been mistaken, he just didn't want her around! 'But Ranchama and okaa-sama want meh around, they're happy ta take care of meh, an' LIKE bein' 'round meh! Ah swear Ah will dedicate mah life ta takin' care uh them! Ah will repay their kindness if it costs meh mah life!'

 Returning to camp after her bit of 'alone time' behind a tree, resolve firmly set in place, she quietly walked over to Nodoka, and gave it her best attempt at making sad puppy dog eyes, her eyes got large enough to almost be an anime character, "Kaaaa-saamaaa, could juh he'p meh, pleeease?"

 "Certainly child, what do you need?"

 "Ah don' wanna sound like Ah'm from Osaka anymore. Please, he'p m-mE ta speak with a Tokyo-ben. Ya said a concupine should be uh elegant lady, so ta be th' best Ah-I can't sound like a hick!"

 "I see, well, of course I will help you, we can work on it during sparing, along with our other subjects. Now that we are in Iga, we begin sparing again tomorrow."

 "Ah was kinda hopin' we could work on it in private, it's embarrassin' ta work on in front of Ranchama." She blushes and looked away.

 "Well, we don't exactly have much privacy like this, but I will help you as discretely as I can, and when we leave here, we will head to Kyoto, where we can enroll you for training in an okiya, where you can get training as a Maiko to become a Geisha. They will train you in all of the traditional arts, conversation, singing, dancing, dress, make-up, games, serving, tea ceremony, and more. I have heard of a muay thai master there, maybe Ranma-kun can train with him while you are there."
{*Okiya = Lodging for Meiko and Geisha, during their contracted period, or 'nenki'. This is the first step toward becoming a geisha, where they begin training as a Meiko. Kyoto is the only place left children under eighteen can still train, and even then typically don't start until age fifteen in modern age*}
{*Geisha/Geiko = literally 'Art Person/Girl or Artist', entertainers, and hostesses, much like Bards. Geisha do NOT perform sex acts for money, see Joro*}
{*Maiko = Geisha in training, literally 'dance child/girl', also called 'hangyoku' [half-jewel] because they would get half the pay of a geisha, or even O-Shaku, which means 'one who pours [booze]'; early Maiko are called Minarai, lit. 'learning by watching'*}
{*Joro = Prostitute, many called themselves 'geisha girls' to soldiers in WWII*}

 "But aren't geisha, bad ladies of the evening?" Little Ukyo looked confused and a little scared at the implications in her head, was she going to be abandoned to an even worse fate?

 "No dear, you are thinking of joro, geisha are artists, musicians, dancers, hostesses, entertainers of all kinds, they don't do the same kind of 'entertaining' at all. They are like sophisticated pop idols, with many more skills."

 Ukyo's eyes had lit up a little bit at this, "So yer not tryin' ta sell meh off too? Ya won't jus' leave meh theyur?"

 Nodoka would have laughed if she didn't know that would only hurt the child further, instead, she went for a warm smile, "As if you could get rid of us that easily! I won't even let them keep you overnight, we can't let your standard education fall behind while you are studying 'extracurriculars'." Nodoka pulls her into an embrace, "I will never 'abandon' you, not even long after you are tired of me. You will always be a part of this family, and we will always be here for you. Even if you choose to leave us, you will always be welcomed back."

 Ukyo returned the embrace, "Thank ya, Okaa-sama! Ah think Ah'd like that."

 "We can start now, repeat after me, 'Thank you, I think that I would like that'."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The next morning found the trio preparing for their first morning training session as a 'family'. "This afternoon we will try to find the legendary ninjutsu training ground here in Iga, but first, let's work the kinks out of our bodies from the hike. Ranma-kun, are you ready, would you be so kind as to lead us in our morning workout?"

 "Hai, kaa-chan!" Ranma took his position facing the two women in his life and began leading them through their pre-breakfast workout. It started with some simple stretches, and moved up to some simple kata.

 Whispering back and forth, "Okaa-sama, do ya-you, really train under Ranchama? Is he your instructor?"

 "Not exactly, we learn from each other, I study the books and scrolls we brought with us, and train with some masters, and I teach that to Ranma-kun, while he has trained with my husband, and under different masters, and he teaches that to me. But he has always lead our morning warm-ups, since he has the most experience with it, and he is good at coming up with ways to work things into the routine. And of course I teach him the fundamentals of a formal education, it would not do to have my son, nor my 'daughter', growing-up ignorant of the world."

 Blushing a bit at being called her 'daughter', Ukyo was amazed, "Wow, he really teaches ya-you? Ah-I always figured he was jus' tryin' ta-to, impress me when he said he was better than y-you in th' art."

 "Well, he's not better at everything, yet, but my biggest advantage is my reach, and yet, he still makes that not matter most of the time. Once he gets older, I will lose that advantage too, so I am sure it won't be long before he is better than me at everything. And truly, shouldn't that be every parent's goal?"

 "You two here to train, or gossip?"

 "Well, we are about done with the warm-ups, so I imagine you are about to find out."

 As if to emphasize this point, Ranma finished the light kata that they had been attempting to mimic, and turned to them with a bow, "Okay, I feel pretty loose, how about you two?" He waited for their nods of ascension before continuing, "I think we have time for some light sparring before the breakfast rice is ready, so I want to try something different today, since we have this opportunity. I would like the both of you to attack me, this will do two things, the first will be to give me a tougher sparring practice and it will also help us develop teamwork."

 "It looks like we might have a chance today, Ukyo-chan, let's teach my son not to take us 'girls' too lightly!"

 "Damn right!"

 "Good attitude, but young ladies shouldn't use that kind of language. Now let's go!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Nabiki had recently discovered a new (to her) genre of entertainment, Mysteries! And to a lesser extent, detective stories. While she enjoyed the time she spent playing and training with her sisters, reading was special. It let her tune out the world around her and focus on the world that existed only inside of her head. And mysteries were the best, they were like a puzzle in story form, and she just loved to try and figure out where the pieces fit.

 She longed to find mysteries of her own to solve. To be the hero who uses her observation skills and intellect to solve problems, save people and stop the 'bad guys'. She wanted ...the right tools! She ran off to find Fubuki, time to plan a trip to the mall!

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Deep in the heart of the Iga Provence, Nodoka and her charges located what they had been looking for, a ninjutsu master, the woman known as the Silent Stalker of the Fuma Clan, Shinoko Kotaro. Well, truth be told, she had located them. They had been asking around for an instructor all over the Iga Provence, the birthplace of Haiku and Ninjutsu. Returning to their camp Ranma started a fire, Nodoka prepared the teakettle and Ukyo started washing the vegetables.

 "So, you have been looking for a ninjutsu instructor. I have been watching you for some time." The feminine voice came from nowhere, yet everywhere. The trio tensed, awaiting an attack.

 "She's good!"

 "So, to whom do we have the 'honor'?"
 
 "I have come to test you."

 Shuriken began flying in every direction, seemingly coming from nowhere, and everywhere. As the three began dodging and snatching shuriken out of the air and pocketing them, an amused laugh permeated the area.

 Ranma extended his battle aura, 'feeling out' his surroundings, sensing the ki of every living thing within his limited range. Ranma noticed there was an area with a distinct lack of ki. Ranma snatched another handful of shuriken out of the air, charged them with his own ki, and unleashed them toward the 'dead zone'.

 The shuriken sliced through the tree, causing it to fall over, away from the camp. A motion is seen from the tree as it falls, and then, as if by magic, the laughing woman was standing before them, with long black hair, tied back in a beaded ponytail, thigh-high boots, a woven metallic bodysuit, fingerless gloves, and a deep purple top exposing a lot of cleavage with a VERY large Fuma Shuriken on her back. "Good job! You pass. Nodoka and Ranma Saotome, and Ukyo Kuonji, I am your new instructor, Shinoko Kotaro, of the Fuma Clan. Normally we would not train anyone outside of our clan, but I am willing for two reasons, the main one being, that you intrigue me. The other is our clan has fallen on hard times, the political peace of late has limited their need of us, you said you were paying well, and I would rather train someone who is honorable than to kill for those who are without."
{*Fuma Shuriken = a fictional weapon, supposedly used by the Fuma Clan Ninja, that can range from a basketball in size to a large person, they are used for melee, shields, and throwing weapons, and can be thrown like a boomerang. Many have a handle in the center to grip them, which allowed them to be used like a staff.*}

 "Willingness to do without, rather than compromise your principals, it sounds like we have a deal. It would be an honor for me to help you maintain your ideals. Train us well and I would be happy to help 'sponsor' your clan, you can work for my family. In fact, I believe, if his letters are to be believed, my husband is training 'Ninja Maids', perhaps one of your people could get some firsthand information for me for a bonus. If true, maybe one of you can help him with his lesson plans for another. I am not asking you to give him any of your clan secrets, just that you may give him pointers in whatever he is creating."

 Yen signs flashed in the woman's eyes for a moment before she continued, "Yes, I do believe that can be arranged, we wouldn't want my clan to get rusty after all."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Sitting in her recently acquired 'office' (really it was not unlike a homemade lemon-aid stand, sitting on a corner of the Saotome's yard) Nabiki read her latest light novel, a ghost story about a rich girl being haunted by her grandmother, who wants her necklace back. Nabiki assumed it was the girl's boyfriend, who will run off with the necklace and leave her. "Boys! Who needs them?" Being all of eight years old, Nabiki did not think she would ever have much use for boys, at least beyond clients or subjects. Speak of a devil and they will appear. About that same time, up walked a tall boy, a bit older than her, with a mop of dirty blond hair, a long green t-shirt, and brown bell-bottom pants.

 "Like, you're the detective, right?" She nodded calmly, "You gotta help me, my manga was stolen!"

 "Why don't you buy another one?"

 "I can't, it was a January nineteen sixty nine 'Big Comic', with the first chapter of Golgo thirteen! I can't afford to get another one, and I haven't even read it yet!"

 "Okay, tell me exactly what happened."

 "I went to 'Comiket' with my life savings, ten thousand yen! Looking through the displays, I saw it there, locked in its case, and I just had to have it. There are only three left in the world, you know! Like, as I was leaving to get sandwiches when a giant frog in a doctor's outfit jumped out and tried to take my manga. I was able to get away, and hide in the food area, but it found me again. I was able to escape a second time, when I saw Takao Saito giving autographs! So I got in line to have my book signed! After getting it signed I was leaving, glad to be heading home. Like, as soon as I got to the exit, Doctor Frog opened the door from the other side, snarling, growling and grabbing for my manga again! It backed me into a corner, and its tongue shot out and grabbed my comic and it ate it!"

 "It ate it? How am I supposed to get it back if it ate it?"

 "Well, it was like, wrapped in plastic, it pulled it out of its mouth, and ran off."

 "Ewww! So it didn't really eat it at least." Shaking her head for a moment, she recovered, "Have no fear, The Nabiki Tendo Detective Agency is on the case! I get five hundred yen a day, plus expenses, including extra for anything disgusting I have to touch. Now let's return to the scene of the crime and look for clues!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 While they had been looking for clues at Comikit, a second copy of the first printing was also stolen, leaving only one left, owned by one of the vendors, and people had begun to offer more and more for it, the current bid was over one million yen. Nabiki felt she was ready to solve the case, she pulled the scruffy boy aside and began to make her plan.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The taller boy came rolling in on a wagon full of comic books, while Nabiki turned to those who were bidding, and said, "Worry not people, we found another copy!" Turning to the vendor she added, "Now you won't have to sell yours, we know you didn't want to. This boy remembered his father had given him a copy as a child and it's been in the attic until today."

 "Like, let's start the bidding over here, do I hear twenty thousand? I have twenty, do I hear thirty? ..."

 The boy held up the 'newly discovered' manga, quickly raising the price in the bidding war. The 'Doctor Frog' swung in over his head, grabbing the manga, and making a run for it. As the giant frog-man was escaping, Nabiki pressed a button on a remote she was holding, and the 'manga' exploded, trapping the culprit in used chewing gum.

 "How could you? How could you blow up a first printing?!?!?!?"

 "Like, we didn't, it was a fake, with a bubble gum bomb inside, and you fell for it, Doctor Croaked!"

 "Now, let's see if I was right about who you really are..." Nabiki removed his mask, revealing the manga vendor, "I knew it, you took the other copies so yours would be worth more, and then you were going to make a small fortune."

 "...and I'd have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids! ...wait, shouldn't you have a pet of some kind?"

 "Like, he's home sick today."

 Nabiki searched through the costume and found the two missing manga. She returned the signed copy to her 'client'. "Here you go. What was your name again?"

 "Oh, it's like, Shagi, see ya, and thanks!"

 "You're welcome; I'll be sending you my bill." Then Nabiki headed off to find the vendor who had been robbed, to return their formerly missing manga. 'Maybe I'll get a reward for returning it.' Nabiki grinned at the thought.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 After a few days in Kyoto, mostly sightseeing, Nodoka found an Okiya that was willing to accept Ukyo as a trainee, even though she would not be becoming a geisha for them. Some were afraid she was being groomed to be a prostitute, while others refused due to her young age, and others still refused because Nodoka didn't want them to keep her overnight, but this one had been willing, assuming she would be able to pass the interview. "Ukyo-chan, are you sure this is what you want to train in while we are here?"

 "Hai, Okaa-sama! If this'll help me- ta-to be a more elegant lady, an' a better concupine fer Ranchama, then there is very little in this world that I want more. Ah-I want to be the best concupine for Ranchama I kin be!"

 "Okay then, They are going to take you in here and ask you some questions, be honest, and I am sure they will accept you. We will be waiting for you, right here." They both pulled the girl into a group hug, and kiss one of her cheeks.

 "I'll be rooting for you Ucchan, I know you can do it!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Entering the building, Ukyo met the headmistress, who asked her to sit down.

 "So, why is it you want training here?"

 "Well, Ah-I don't wanna be a geisha, Ah-I wanna broaden mah education and Ah-I jus' wanna be better able ta take care uh Ranchama, Ah-I'm gonna be his concupine in th' future, and he's gonna give meh a big smooch, an' tell meh Ah'm th most important person in th whole wide world! And we're gonna live happily ever after!"

 "So you are not going to be a Joro are you?"

 "Okaa-sama'd nevah allow that, an' either way, there's only one boy Ah-I will ever want, an' Ah-I will follow him fer th' rest uh ma-MY life." she declares proudly, pride leaking from every word.

 "You're not planning to call yourself a geisha are you?"

 "Oh no, Ah-I'm gonna be a Concupine! But when ya think elegance, geisha are the first thing that comes to mind, and I want ta be elegant."

 The woman chuckles a bit at that. "Normally we wouldn't take someone who wasn't planning to work for us, but I will make an exception for you, because you are just so darn cute, and the Saotomes used to be really good clients of ours some time ago. This training will not be easy for you, there is a lot to cover, and we have little time to get to it all, especially if you are to return to your family each night. Be back here first thing in the morning, and be prepared for hell. Oh, and don't ever tell anyone where you learned this."

 "-I don' care how hard it'll be, if it's for Ranchama, I will do anything! -I Promise!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Akane was not happy, not that that was anything new these days, but this day had been worse than usual. She was on a 'vacation' with her newly extended 'family', to some place called Ryugenzawa. 'Training' they said, "HA!" 'What kind of training can you do in a foggy swamp? This place is the pits,' it reminded her more of the swamp planet from that American space movie, about that warrior monk with the fancy glowing katana, when he trained with the old green master. 'And if that wasn't bad enough, they brought that perverted monstrosity in a maid's dress to 'watch out for me'. Well, I showed them! I made a mess for him to clean up, and got away when he was busy! But, where am I? Oh well, it doesn't matter, as long as I am away from That Thing!' Akane wanders off, looking for something to play with, or beat up, or both...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Fubuki and the two eldest Tendo girls were diligently training, swinging their cleaning instruments of destruction at each other while thigh deep in marsh.

 "While I get the idea of training using the resistance of the water, I don't like it, it feels yucky. Couldn't we have gotten the same workout at the beach instead?"

 "Our clothes and tools will never come clean after this! I only hope we brought spare shoes."

 "Don't worry; I made sure to pack extra, although I do believe you are right, these are probably ruined. But, you know what that means..."

 They all looked at each other, smiled and said together as they struck, "SHOPPING!"

 On the other side of the camp, Soun was looking around the camp, "Akane-chan! Has anyone seen Akane-chan?" At that moment Maid Guy, who had been busy making lunch, perked up, a lock of hair pointed straight up on his head, like an antenna, and he took off like a shot in what seemed like a random direction.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma was training hard in his Muay Thai class, when one of the other students kneed his 'sparring partner' in the jaw, knocking him cold. When the first student continued to press his attack once his 'opponent' was unable to do anything about it, and no one else did anything but watch, Ranma looked at his instructor with a flash of anger, and jumped in between the two, blocking the larger boy's attacks, "Enough! He's out cold, the only thing you will accomplish like this is his death, and your dishonor!"
 
 The head of the gym, came over to Ranma, and looked at him sternly, "Muay Thai is used for killing!"

 "Killing is unmanly! Especially in a 'class'! Dead people don't learn from their mistakes."

 Annoyed at the insult to his 'manhood', "Boy, in a pit fight, a street fight, or just about anywhere else, there are no rules, it's kill or be killed. The 'winner' is decided by who can walk away and who is drowning in a pool of their own blood!" He rose up to his more than two full meters in height, crossed his arms, and looking rather intimidating to emphasize his point. "Martial Arts were created for killing."

 Not in the least bit phased Ranma looks him in the eye, "That's where you are wrong, 'Honor' is gained or lost, not whether you win or lose, but how you fight, and 'The Art' was designed to protect. Killing might be unavoidable on occasion, but it's never the honorable way, and should only be a last resort, in defense, and never for 'entertainment' or 'training'! If this is what you teach here, then I am done, and we will be expecting a full refund!" Ranma turned to go.

 "If you wanna puss out and leave, that's on you, but if you wanna refund, you will have to beat it out of me!" As he said this he started throwing strikes at the seven year-old child, who halfway expected such an honorless move from the man, so was prepared to start dodging.

 "Fine! I hadn't gotten a good workout yet today anyway." He began flowing around the man's attacks, preventing him from landing a single strike. Using the last elbow strike to launch himself into the air, Ranma narrowly avoided being nailed by a rising knee strike, and on his way down, he lightly kicked the much larger man in the back of the head.

 "I barely felt that! Is that the best you can do?"

 "Hardly, I'm just playing with you, we wouldn't want this to end too quickly and not have you learn anything, now would we? This is supposed to be a class after all, ne?" Ranma's battle aura began to flare up as his moves became faster and more precise. Ranma countered and returned a few glowing strikes to the man's large chest, staggering him back a bit.

 "Cocky little fellow aren't you?" Retaking his stance, he lunged at the boy, who spun and kicked him in the back with a glowing foot, knocking him across the room.

 "No, just honest. This is training time, and I want the practice."

 "Do you now? Well then," turning to the rest of his students he yelled, "GET HIM!"

 Surprised at how low the tall man would sink, Ranma used the head of one of the students rushing at him to vault across the gym, and behind the group. As they turn around to face him again he pulled out his ever-present deck of cards, and tosses one out in front of him, where it explodes, which caused a cloud of dust and shrapnel to obscure the visibility in the room. He threw a few more, which circled the group of students at high speeds, slicing through the clothing of any who got too close.

 One of them tried to jump over the 'wall' of cards, only got one more card in his face, knocking him back for his trouble, causing even some of the more devout students lose interest in fighting the boy.

 Annoyed that his students were unable to provide more 'support' for him, he launched a barrage of strikes at Ranma, his own fists, feet and eyes glowing, few of them striking anything but air, and half of the others were blocked, and none of the remaining attacks hit the vital points he was aiming for.

 Ranma pulled out his cord and ensnared the man's right hand, twisting it around behind him, waiting for him to make a grab for him. He did not have long to wait as the large man's backward kicks and thrashing about was not freeing his right arm, nor dislodging his 'passenger'. The mountain of muscles reached back for the boy and his arm was snagged, Ranma proceeded to 'hog-tie' the man in such a way as to allow him no leverage to use any of his monstrous strength.

 "Well now, I am not one to beat on someone who cannot defend themselves, but since you DID request it of me, I suppose I will make an exception this one time." he turned to the students, "Oi, any of you want to join me in earning a refund?" About half of the students had been bothered, or tormented enough to have joined in the beating.

 Nodoka, for her part, was just really glad she had sprung for the video recorder this week. This was a good day to have video and audio of her son being manly.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Akane was strolling through the forest, picking flowers, and looking for animals to pet, when she heard a loud rumble and felt the ground begin to shake. Thinking it was an earthquake she looked for a safe place in case things started to fall around her. As the rumbling got closer, she thought she heard 'background music' coming from an indeterminable location, 'doobie-doobie-doo-bah' when she saw a brown monotreme that looked big enough for it to be fighting with Gojira! As it passed, it tipped its nineteen-forty's fedora to her, chittered and proceeded on its way. It IS a platypus, they don't do much.
{*Gojira = Godzilla*}

 A huge shadow covered her, and she looked up to see a gigantic flying squirrel soaring overhead. Starting to freak out a little bit, she felt a 'tapping' on her shoulder, she jumped, turning around in the process. Behind her was the largest lizard she had ever seen in her life. A pattern seemed to be forming here. When she jumped, she had startled the lizard as much as it had startled her, so it hissed and flared out its neck frills, scaring the heck out of Akane, which caused her to scream, which, of course, caused the lizard to panic even further. The lizard looked like it was about to lunge when a boy, about her age, jumped in front of her, holding the lizard off with a long-handled scrub brush.

 Just as the boy seemed like he was about to be overpowered, a demoniac aura enveloped the lizard, who immediately passed out. "Kukukukuku, there is my troublesome goshujin. Everyone was worried about you back at the camp."

 "Yes, you should go, this place is full of monsters and monster traps!" As he said this last part, he obligingly fell into one to prove his point. First, the wooden planks he was standing on broke and he fell into the hole below, and then a large pile of small boulders fell on top of him.

 "Tough little guy, all he got for that were some scrapes and bruises, but he shouldn't be walking around like that."

 Akane looked down at the boy, and her heart went out to him, how she wished he had been the one to save her rather than the 'Hentai Housekeeper'. "We should take him home. Hey! Boy! Wake up, can you tell us where you live?"
{*Hentai = literally, 'strange'; used to mean pervert much of the time*}

 "Have no fear, 'Maid Guy: Scan' can take care of the problem." 'Maid Guy: Scan' first scanned the boy, and then the area. "His memories are full of holes, but it seems his home is that way." Maid Guy picked up the boy with one hand and pointed with the other. "Let's go."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Bringing the boy to his home, Maid Guy tended his wounds and left him in bed. Akane felt badly that he was hurt while trying to help her, and vowed to return.

 She went back to visit several times while they were still at their 'training camp', sadly he did not remember her once.

 She had asked his grandfather once why his memory was so bad, but he just mumbled under his breath something about him getting into his mother's 'cursed brownies', and refused to say anything more on the subject.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma and Nodoka went to Ukyo's okiya, so that the group could have an impromptu family meeting.

 "Well, since that instructor turned out to be a jerk, we will need to find a new one. At least a lot less people will be having their heads filled with his dishonorable teachings."

 "What are you going to do, Ranchama? I still have lots of training I need to do here..."

 "I think we will try Jujutsu this time."

 "Ukyo, do you want to come with us, or do you feel comfortable enough here for a few months? We won't leave you if you are not comfortable with it."

 "Well, I want to be with you guys, but I will stick it out, and give this my all until you return for me! For you, I will be the best I can be, I hope the results will be worth it."

 "I can tell, you are already becoming more of a lady with every passing day. We'll send you letters each week, and we will try to visit when we can."

 "Pictures too! 'A picture is worth a thousand words' after all."

 "Of course child, once you get used to it, it will be over and we will be back before you know it. Here is a photo I had framed for your room, in case you stayed, the two of you are just adorable with you holding his arm like that!"

 "Thank you very much, Okaa-sama. I will work hard until your return."

 "I'm sure you will." A smiling Nodoka went inside to make the arrangements, leaving the children a few moments of relative privacy.

 "Ucchan, I'll miss you. We'll be back soon, I promise. Soon as I learn jujutsu, and you know me, I learn fast!" Ranma's pride leaked from his every pore. "So, you have ta learn fast too! I can't wait ta see what you can do when I get back."

 "Same here, Ranchama. I'll miss you while yer gone, but I'll not be waiting idly." Gripping her picture frame in her arms, she leaned in to kiss Ranma on his cheek causing them both to blush.

 "I'll be sure to add it to our training sessions when I'm done with it, same with what little of value I got out of that Muay Thai class."

 Looking as shy and cute as she could manage she replies, "And your little Ucchan will be sure to teach Rantama all the dances and games she's been learning."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Strolling to the market, Kasumi and Fubuki passed by arcade. Attracted by the sounds of the machines, they decided to stop and have some fun. "Ara, why don't we go in here for a bit, Fukibuki?"

 She giggled a bit at the nickname Akane had given her when they had first arrived, though while the youngest Tendo had grown out of using it, Kasumi found it to be adorable and has used it ever since, "Hai, hai! Whatever you wish, Kasumi-sama."

 Kasumi sighed a bit at sill being called '-sama', but was glad the girl had stopped calling her 'Kasumi-goshujin-sama' at least, this was a definite improvement. She quickly regained her cheer, "Let's go then, I think they have Pac-Man!"

 After playing games for a while and even winning some prizes from pachinko and the crane game, they heard a commotion coming from the back of the arcade. Moving to investigate, they hear, "You may have bested me at pong using your magics, but I will show you a real man doesn't need to play games to win!"

 "But I'm not a real man yet, and neither are you! We're just kids! Hey! Stop swinging that thing around, will you? That's dangerous!"

 Turning the corner, the two girls saw two boys, one in shorts and a tee-shirt, who sat on the floor, leaning back on his arms where he had apparently fallen, and the other, taller boy, who wore a blue kimono with a black hakama, and held a shinai, looking as if he were about to strike (again?) at any moment.
{*Shinai = a bamboo practice 'sword' for kempo beginners. Not to be confused with a Bokken or Bokuto, a wooden sword for more advanced trainees*}

 "Give me a moment, and then make sure that boy isn't hurt. Okay Fukibuki?"

 "Hai, Kasumi-sama, it will be as you wish."

 Running over, Kasumi put herself between the two boys, facing with the taller one who was holding the 'weapon', "What do you think you are doing?!? This is an arcade, a place for fun, not fighting."

 "This knave bested me in the art of Pong using trickery, and as his better, it is my duty to show him the error of his ways! Now, unblock my path girl, so that I may dispense justice!"

 "It sounds to me, more like you are just a sore loser who thinks too highly of themselves. If you are going to fight, you should do so with someone who can defend them self and do so in a place where you will not damage other's property. Did your family teach you no manners at all?"

 No longer seeing the boy he was initially upset with, he turns his full wrath toward the taller girl, blocking his path, and preventing his righteous scapegoating, "How DARE you insult the house of Kuno!" With all of his might and skill, he swung his shinai forward to strike the impetuous girl, only to find that his attack had been blocked by, 'wait, was that a dust pan?!?!'

 So confused he was, a state one would think he would have been used to by now, he failed to see Kasumi spin around his arm, ending up behind him, where she grabbed his ear in the process. Pulling his ear, she hauled him outside with one hand, blocking his attempted strikes with the dustpan in the other. "It was not I who insulted your family, but rather you, you who insult their honor with your behavior this day." Not realizing that he was actually likely the most sane member of that particular family. Even his (still living) mother, who married (and stayed married to) his father after all, was also quite batty, and cruel to her children. What she did to him paled in comparison to what she put his sister through, his poor sister was becoming more twisted by the day. "If you are so insistent to fight someone, then I will be your opponent. Maybe after you work out your frustrations you will see how badly you behaved." Not letting his ear go until they reached the empty part of the lot behind the building, where she finally released him. Still holding her dustpan, she whipped out a plunger in her other hand. ...Wait, really? Well, that's what it says...

 Okay then, well, taking her 'weapons' in hand, she took up a fighting stance as the Kuno boy charged her. Once again, she deflected the strike with her dustpan, and spun around his attack, hitting him in the face with the suction end of the plunger. She let go of her 'make-shift?' weapon, as it had attached itself to his face as if they were in a cartoon. She whips out a second dustpan, and took up a war fan fighting posture, awaiting his recovery.

 Kuno tried in earnest to dislodge the plunger from his person, while trying to suck air into his lungs, not realizing that was part of why it was still stuck there, until he falls over, slightly knocking the air out of his lungs lessening the suction, wherein it fell right off. "I am going to pretend that this has never been used."

 "That is probably for the best, and I won't dissuade your optimism, poorly placed as it is." Spinning out of the way of another strike, she lashed out with both 'pans' striking his weapon from the side, slicing it cleanly into three pieces. "Your weapon is no more; do you still wish to continue? I have no desire to harm you."

 "Sasuke! A Weapon!" Seeing that no one appeared to hand him another weapon, he attacks with the stub of the shinai, "I fight on!" 'The little ninja trainee will hear about this when I return!'

 Holding both pans in her left hand to ward off his sad attempts at attack, she poked him in the forehead with the fingers on her other hand, saying, "Me!" She then smacked his right hand with the back of her dustpans, causing him to lose his grip on his hilt and almost falling to the ground once again.
{*Me = pronounced 'may' or 'meh', meaning 'no!; don't!; tsk!; used to scold small children and pets'*}

 Putting her dustpans away, she taped the boy attempting to stand once again on the head, repeating her "Me!" causing him to fall back down, looking admonished.

 Prostrating himself, he bows, face to the ground, "I'm sorry, I won't do it again."

 "See that you do not, now be a good boy and run along. Fukibuki, I believe we are done here, let's go finish our shopping, I believe I want a new plunger after that."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 After returning to Kyoto, Nodoka and Ranma were hiking up to the okiya. It had barely more than come into view when a blue and brown blur came streaking out of the building, bowling Ranma over. "Ranchama, you're back!"

 "..hurts now, yes. Hi Ucchan, it's good to see you again too! I've missed you too." He squeezed her in a tight embrace.

 "I knew you wouldn't leave me here for long! How ya been? I missed you too!"

 "Well children, in honor of Ukyo's return, making our little family whole once more, I think we should celebrate, ...by training," the smiles on their little faces dropped just a bit before Nodoka could finish, "...at the Gion Festival!" ...and their faces lit up again as they were glowing in anticipation. "Now let's go put our yukata on."
{The Gion Festival (Gion Matsuri) takes place annually in Kyoto and is one of the most famous festivals in Japan. It goes for the entire month of July.}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Arriving at the festival, the three martial artists stared in open amazement at all of the food, games and fun to be had. "Okaa-chan, how long are we going to stay here? This is a long festival isn't it?"

 "As long as you want, kids. You have both been working hard, and you have earned a break, consider this your summer vacation." Nodoka grinned broadly, as she enjoyed the way their faces lit up at the excitement, "Wait here a moment, I will be right back." With that, she ran off to one of the nearby stands.

 "So, Ucchan, were you as bored without us as we were without you?."

 "Yeah, but it doesn't matter now that you are back with me." She hung onto his arm, resting her head on his shoulder, as a strange light flashed nearby, "Let's not do that again for a very long time."

 "Yeah, it's not as fun when you're not around."

 A woman in a pink yukata, with black highlights and matching bag, wearing a tengu mask, walked up to them and handed a mask to each of them, "Here I got these for you." Nodoka lifted her mask by the overly large nose and tilted it off to the side. "Ukyo-chan, this one is for you, to symbolize you coming out of your 'shell'tered life, and joining us on the road," And she hands her a cute kappa mask. "And for you Ranma-kun, here is the manliest mask they had, Lupin the third!" She gushed a bit as she handed it over, "I used to read that manga in high school, the dashing rogue, toying with the women's hearts, he was sooooo manly." Ranma sighs a bit, as he takes his mask, while his mother drifted off in an imagination spot, staring her being seduced by Lupin, before she snapped out of it moments later, "Here is some money, your training assignment is to see which one of you can win the most prizes playing the games! Now go play, mommy is going to go make, I mean, watch a movie..."

 "So, what do you wanna do first, Ranchama?"

 "Eat!" His grin took up almost half of his face as he practically drug Ukyo over to the takoyaki stand.

 After stuffing their faces with takoyaki, they each got a cotton candy, with Ukyo practically melting like the candy itself in her mouth as she eats it, "So Ranchama, what game do you want me to beat you at first?"

 "You really think you can beat me?"

 "I have been studying, among other things, games for months, I won't go down easily, ...unless you want me to." she looked up at him expectantly.

 Shocked, Ranma stiffened up, "NO! I want you to compete honestly; it's no fun if you let me win! You gotta promise me, you'll always give it your best! Not that you can beat me anyway."

 "Okay, Ranchama, you've never looked that serious, not even facing down the Gambling King..."

 Taking her hands in his, he looked deep into her eyes. "I am serious, I couldn't be more serious, promise me, you will never, ever 'LET me win'. On top of being my best friend, and me wanting to see you do well, you are also my training partner, and I am counting on you to always be there to give me a good challenge. So, please, always give me your best effort, even if I look frustrated, especially then, that's when I need to push myself the most. Promise me, you will always give me at least a hundred percent, I want you to always be trying to win!"

 Hugging him tightly, in a rough approximation of a trademark 'Amazon Glomp', with tears in her eyes, she insisted, "Oh Ranchama! I swear to you, 'I will always be by your side, giving you my all and more'. You can count on me! I'll always assist you in anything, even if it costs me my life!"

 "Hey, hey, there's no need to go that far! You can't be by my side if you die!"

 "If it means keeping you safe, then it's a small price to pay!"

 "No! It isn't! It's a huge price, and one I'm not willing to pay! I am the one who is supposed to be protecting you after all, and don't you forget it!" he crossed his arms over his chest in a huff.

 She thought to herself, 'He's just so cute when he gets like that, I wonder if he realizes that just makes me all the more willing to die for him...' She smiled up at him with a wink and a bow, "As you command, Goshujin-sama."

 Ranma tried to look stern, "Hey, now, knock that off!" But he could not keep it up as he started to sputter and they both broke down laughing.

 She stuck out her tongue, "Well, now that the drama is over, shall, we, play, a, game?" That last part was said in English and in a mechanical voice.

 "That IS what we are supposed to be doing after all," he grinned at his companion. "What test of skill would you like to start with, ring toss? Goldfish scooping? How about katanuki?"
{*Katanuki - shape poking (lit. die cutting) or katanukigashi (lit. Die-cut Candy) Sometimes it is shortened to just 'nuki', there is a shape outlined on a piece of barely edible candy, usually wrapped in paper, where the 'player' tries to break off the outside of the candy, usually with a pin or toothpick (but can even be done by hand), leaving only the shape behind, if you do so without breaking the shape you can win a prize based on the complexity of the design*}

 "Well since we have no real way to keep a goldfish, let alone as many as we would be sure to win," she gives him a wink, "let's skip that. There's a dart throwing booth with a short line at the moment, how do you feel about that?"

 "Well, if no one has 'Global Thermal Nuclear War', I guess it will have to do." Running over to the booth, they waited in the short line as they examined the set-up. The players were getting three darts to throw at the several moving targets in the back, but due to the speed of the targets nobody had even gotten close, so the line moved quickly.

 "Step right up! Aren't you two adorable? We have four levels of difficulty, but the greater the challenge, the greater the rewards! Would you like to try Easy, Normal, Hard or Impossible?"

 Turning to see no one else had lined up behind them yet, Ranma asked, "What were those people doing?"

 "Easy." The carny said with a flourish and a broad grin.

 He turned to Ukyo, "Well Ucchan, it's training, so let's try them all! Ladies first."

 "Thank you, Ranchama." Bowing to him, she took her spot and the man handed her three darts, "I played a lot of darts while you were gone, it was one of the games we practiced in the evenings, watch my skills Ranchama." She took a moment to get the feel of the targets movements, she tossed one dart after the other, each of them finding a home in one of the bull's-eyes. Beaming with pride she turned to her companion in his black and red, silk yukata. "Beat that!" The shady fellow behind the counter was too shocked to even 'say' anything. No one had ever hit one of his targets before!

 "If you insist." Taking his projectiles, Ranma stepped up to the line and closed his eyes. Pausing for just a moment, he felt out his targets and fired off all three in rapid succession. The first hitting the dead center of the middle target, the other two embedding themselves in the one before it.

 Picking his jaw up off the ground, he started to worry. Because no one had ever beaten his game, he had accumulated some pretty expensive prizes, if things didn't go well here, it would take him months to make up his losses. Thinking quickly he remember they had said they were going to try all four levels, he could make this work... "We have a couple of winners here! That means you can each pick a prize from the second shelf on this wall." Ranma chooses a light blue unicorn, and Ukyo chose a Kamen Rider doll, oh, sorry, 'action figure'. Adding confusion to his already addled state, he handed over their requested toys, only to have understanding set in, as they each hand their prize to the other as a gift. "On to level two! This time, the targets are not only faster, but they move side to side as well as up and down! ...and if you can't hit a target all three times, you have to give back the prizes you have already won!"

 Round two went much the same as the first, with both of them getting a bull's-eye on each of their targets and with Ranma having been a bit flashier in his showmanship. After they had each picked out a prize for the other, "So, you have passed round two, do you wish to continue to round three, where the prizes get better, the targets get faster, and the challenge is greater?"

 "You know it, this is easy so far, ne Ucchan?"

 "Hai, Ranchama!"

 "This time, you must use these!" Instead of the usual throwing darts, he handed them each three Kunai. "You can aim for any of the targets, but you must hit with all three 'darts' or give up your prizes so far!" Ukyo stepped up to the line, and after a moment of concentration, fired off all three of her kunai, hitting three of the targets, two of them bull's-eyes, winning a third prize for her tally. Our less than friendly game master was really panicking as Ranma stepped up to take his turn. He paused for a moment to adjust to the faster moving targets, which were moving so rapidly that most of the crowd that had gathered to see someone actually winning at this particular stand could not see them at all. Holding all three of the kunai in his right hand, he threw them straight up in the air, surprising everyone present. The three kunai each reached the apex of their arcs one right after the other, and then began their descent toward their point of origin. As they began to get close, Ranma reached up with his right hand and batted each of the accelerating kunai out of the air, embedding them deeply into the same target, all touching each other at the center of the target. Applause broke out among those gathered to watch.
{*Kunai - is a Japanese tool possibly derived from the masonry trowel, in the hands of a martial arts expert, it could be used as a multi-functional weapon. It is commonly associated with the ninja, who used it to gouge holes in walls. In the mythology of ninja, the kunai has been commonly portrayed to be a Japanese knife that is used for throwing as well as stabbing.*}

 While our sleazy little friend had to fight a rather intense fainting spell, Ranma bowed to his growing fan base, whispering to Ukyo, "Mom's rule number twelve, 'Always do everything with style, it's always a good idea to impress the ladies.' Are you taking notes? There'll be a test later." Throwing her a sly grin, they turned back to the both.

 Before sticking out her tongue, she whispers back, "You just like to show off, ...and I just like watching you do it."

 After he regained his senses, "Time for round four, the final and most difficult trial! You must use these shuriken, and hit the center of the same target with all three 'darts', or like in the other rounds, you will forfeit your other prizes!" He was interrupted by boos and jeers from a, still growing, audience, but continued anyway, doing his best to hide the confidence he was now feeling, "Are you ready to begin?"

 "Hai!" Stepping up to the line, Ukyo took the stars in hand, feeling them out, testing how sharp and strong they might be. Gauging the new speed and erratic movements of the targets, she threw the first shuriken. Flying true, it came as quite a shock to those watching when the administrator of the test of skill pressed an unseen button, as the shuriken got close, causing the target to spin around, knocking the star into the wall off to the side. Annoyed by the 'trap', Ukyo fired off the remaining two shuriken, so quickly he was not able to press the button quickly enough, and they embedded themselves more than two centimeters into the target. Frustrated, she turned in a huff, looking at the prizes she had 'won' for Ranma, that she would have to give back.

 "Well that's just too bad," More booing and hisses were coming from the gathering of onlookers, "You seem to have missed with your first toss, so your prizes are forfeit." As he reached for the prizes, he was stopped by Ranma.

 "One moment, my good man, we are having a contest to see who can win the most prizes, and I do not feel it is fair is she loses hers, and I do not, so I raise your challenge. Instead of the shuriken, I will use these normal playing cards, giving you an easier time with your spinning trick. If I hit the same target, with all three cards, you will not only give me the best prize on your shelves for the lady here, but you will also not take the prizes she has won so far, and if I miss, you get all of the prizes back. So how about it, do we have a deal?"

 Thinking the kid had some kind of special cards, he thought quickly (for him), and pulled out a deck of his own cards, knowing them to be normal. "On one condition, you use these cards, so I know you are not cheating with special cards." Thinking he had one upped the boy, he maintained his air of confidence, which dissipated a bit as Ranma's smile only got bigger.

 "Funny coming from you, but sure, mind if I do a test throw first to make sure you are not giving me 'funny' cards?"

 He got a bit more nervous again, "Sure, knock yourself out. ...please?" Pulling one of the cards out, he flexed it a bit, and threw it to the ground about a meter away. Penetrating the dirt, the card stuck out about half way. He almost fainted again but managed to position himself near his button, and prepared to press it as Ranma took aim. Just as the card leaves Ranma's fingers, he presses the button, in order to build up more wind, instead of knocking the 'dart' out of the air, he intended to blow it off course. Unfortunately, for him, the now glowing card seemed unaffected by the breeze. Before the rapidly moving card even got close to the target, the other two cards were also sent on their high velocity paths, glowing brightly with ki (for those who are able to see such things). As the first card sunk into the target, he began to lose his grip on consciousness, the third fainting spell being the charm. His eyes remained open just long enough to see the second and third cards also hit home, the third even sticking out of the back of the target, as it had slid all of the way through.

 Cheers erupted from those gathered, prompting Ranma to turn and bow. He tossed four more of the man's cards into the air, after he charged them with his ki, causing them to explode like fireworks above his head in the shape of his name, Ranma Saotome! "Thank you, Thank you everyone. We'll be here all week." Sounds from the exploding cards jolted someone, whose name will go unmentioned, awake from his comfortable spot on the hard ground. Seeing the hundreds of witnesses, he gave up any ideas of trying to weasel out of the deal he had struck. Even going as far as to give Ukyo a consolation prize for having hit two out of three targets on her last attempt.

 "Thank you, Ranchama!" Throwing her arms around him, she kissed him on the cheek, showing everyone present how manly she thought her Ranma was, "Once again, you have saved me from a bad man. You know, we might want to get a cart or something to haul this stuff around, it's not like we want to set them on the ground while we play other games."

 "That's a good idea. While carrying them is good balance training, we don't want them to get dirty. And pulling the cart can be a bit of strength training at least."

 "You guard the prizes and I'll go get the carts. Be right back, Ranchama!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Entering the enormous skyscraper that was the home of Kuki Industries, Genma Saotome's mind boggled as he tried to figure out just how rich the family that built and maintained this building had to be. Outside it looked like any other building in downtown Tokyo, if you ignored the fact that it was also the largest of said buildings by a large margin, but upon entering it felt like you walked into one of the fanciest mansions Genma had ever seen in his life (including movies, not that he had seen many). It made the Chardin mansion look positively shabby. 'Maid-Guy wasn't kidding about this place, these people are loaded!' Walking up to the desk in the center of the oversized entryway, with three story vaulted ceilings, he turned to the receptionist, "I have an appointment with Kuki-san."

 "Saotome?" Seeing him nod, she continued, "Please take the private elevator in the center of the wall behind me, not the ones on the second level, at the top of the staircases off to the sides." Seeing him move toward the elevators, she returned to her switchboard, directing calls.

 Exiting the elevator, Genma almost facefaulted seeing this 'office'. It made the lobby seem almost drab, books and expensive-looking artifacts lined the walls, with marble statues creating a path leading to the desk located in the rear of the room. Behind said desk sat a man about the same age as Genma himself, only looking younger and healthier, despite his silver hair. What stood out the most was an "X" shaped scar on his forehead. "Genma Saotome-dono, sit. We have much to discuss."
{*-dono = an archaic honorific, used between nobility and the upper class, to show respect, without showing deference. Meaning he is treating Genma as an equal.*}

 Taking the offered seat, Genma discussed his plans for expanding his school, and what he was willing to offer in exchange for help from the Kuki family.

 As Genma turns to leave, their discussion concluded, Kuki Industries' leader spoke once more, "So, Saotome-dono, I hear from the maids, your tales of your son's adventures and skills. Perhaps we could discuss a second, arrangement..."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Arriving home, Genma entered his house with a loud, "Tadaima!" where he met up with Soun in the study, reading his paper. Soun's sharp senses instantly noticed that something was amiss, but couldn't put his finger on it, assuming it was unimportant, he asked how the meeting went.

 "Well Tendo-kun, I have some good news, in exchange for training their family's servants, they will not only move your house and dojo to the lot behind our house, but they will also purchase the other two adjacent lots and build for us a larger dojo so we can hold different classes at the same time, and enough room to hold an outdoor class as well."

 "That IS good news, Saotome-kun old friend. How do you feel about a game of Go?" Nodding his ascent, they set up the board and began cheating, er, playing. After several games, Genma brushed the hair out of his face and scratched his head. Soun remembered his strange feeling from earlier, and did a double take. A few stunned looks and just as many of Soun's pieces gone missing later, Soun realized something.

 "Why Saotome-kun, I had always thought that you wore that bandanna to cover up the fact that you were losing your hair."

 "Um, nope, I, uh, just think they are, stylish, yeah, I had uh, full head of hair this entire time, yeah, that's the ticket! Yeah..." Luckily, for him, Nabiki was not home at the time to learn of this 'mystery' needing to be solved. The consequences of which would not show its head for many years to come.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Nodoka had just returned to their meeting spot after a long day of filming, while trying to stay out of sight. A thing she did not do quite as well as she thought, having not realized that the children were mostly ignoring her rather than her getting that much better at hiding her presence from them. Not that it had not improved greatly during and since their ninjutsu training, but her children were, not only good at detecting ki, but they also knew her signature anywhere and were quite used being followed by her. Looking up she saw her children returning, holding hands and each of them pulling a three by two meter cart, piled high with prizes. Ukyo's pile seemed a bit higher at first glance, so she turned to her son, "You didn't let her win did you? That is not very good for your training, though it is sweet. ...and I will enjoy whatever you make for breakfast tomorrow as your punishment." She added with a smile.

 "No Kaa-chan, she has the prizes I won for her, and I have the prizes she won for me."

 "That was also, very sweet. So then it is Ukyo-chan who will be cooking in the morning?"

 He turned to wink at his partner, "No Okaa-san, it looks like the person who won the least prizes today is you! I hope you make my favorite, and Ucchan wants something sweet!"

 "Thanks in advance, Okaa-sama!"

 Appraising her son, 'The way he protected his girlfriend ...and abused his mother was ...sooo manly!' "Well, I guess you got me there, just wait until next time."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 After dinner, a few days later, the Tendo patriarch called his daughters together for a family meeting. "Well girls, in a few days, we will be moving back to our house."

 Akane was thrilled, and it showed, she was practically bouncing off the walls. "No more perverts, no more kooks, no more of auntie's dirty books!" Some had the decency to look shocked, most ignored her, and somewhere, very far away, a woman sneezed.

 Nabiki and Kasumi looked crushed. "But father, we don't want to go. What about our friend, Fukibuki? What about our training? Who's going to cook?"

 "Well then I suppose you will be happy to know that we will not be going far from here then."

 "But, you said, we were going home..." Akane looked dejected, and all of them looked confused.

 "Well kids, we are not going far, because the house is coming here!"

 "But, who will cook...?"

 "I will!"

 Everyone else responded as one, "NO!!!" Akane might only have been seven years old, but no one in the family will ever forget the horrors of the last time she attempted to make their mother breakfast in bed... It was a wonder she even pulled through. Dejected as could be, Akane pouted, while she did remember the event, her memories of it were slightly different from the rest of them. 'Why's everybody always picking on me? I thought making breakfast in bed was a nice thing to do!'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Coming out of the Haunted House, laughing, our trio of heroes thanked the man who ran the candied apple stand for having watched their three carts, piled high with prizes. They bought apples and gave him a large tip for his 'extra service'. Happily, they ate their apples and pulled their carts as they headed off to find another game they had yet to try.

 "Boy, it's sure amazing how easy some of these games are now that we have gone through that ninjutsu training, especially the blow darts!"

 "You know it, that last guy didn't know what he was getting into!"

 "Here is an idea, we could use our ki, and try to super charge the popguns, and see how hard we can knock down the hard to get targets."

 They saw a pop gun stand, headed over and found that instead of having prizes to knock down, they had wooden, painted ducks, which strangely appeared to be wearing glasses... "Step right up, test your aim. Each row up from the bottom moves faster, and is harder to knock down, but worth more points. The more points you earn, the better your prize! Some prizes require more than one game. Any questions?"

 "Why do you have glasses on the ducks?"

 "Well to be honest, I was hoping less people would hit them if they were wearing glasses, but it seems to have backfired, for some reason I can't imagine, they seem to annoy more people than they deter. I am thinking about changing them actually."

 "I can see that, it won't work on us either, will it ladies?"

 "Not a chance!"

 "You see, we are in training, and we are competing to see who can win the most prizes." Just then, the booth owner noticed the carts piled high with prizes and knew he was in trouble. "So you said it was three points for the top row, and three corks per play, and how many points for that huge panda?"

 "Fifteen."

 "All right then, Rule number eleven, Ladies First (all the better to impress them with)."

 "After you, Okaa-sama." Bowing, Ukyo steps out of Nodoka's way.

 "Don't you dare, say age before beauty!" Stepping up to the line, she took the cork gun, and began pumping it up, with both air and ki.

 "I wouldn't dream of it, Okaa-sama. You turn heads wherever you go."

 Firing the first cork, she hit one of the top row ducks, knocking it over with a loud 'BANG'! "Thank you, Ukyo-chan, but it isn't nice to tease your elders." She prepared the 'gun' to be fired again.

 "Honest, what do you say mister?"

 "Oh, yeah, definitely. I couldn't believe it when they called you 'mom', surely that's 'step'-mom. You couldn't possibly be old enough to have children this old, never mind giving birth to twins, they are too close in age otherwise."

 "I was adopted," Ukyo interjected proudly, "and I couldn't be happier about it!" she hugged Nodoka from behind.

 "If I were to guess, I would have said you were their older sister."

 "Oh stop it you two, you're just trying to make me miss." As if to prove her point, she just barely nicked the duck for which she was aiming, but thanks to her ki powered speed and power, it was enough to send it spinning off of the shelf, as well as disturbing other things in the back of the booth as it bounced around in the background. "See, look at that, I almost missed! Now let go, there will be plenty of time for hugs later," prepping her next shot she finished, "...after I knock down this third duck."

 "No, really mam, I mean it, You are stunning, and that yukata really suits you."

 Blushing slightly, but not letting the complements distract her further, she fired, hitting her third top row duck right between the eyes, or rather in the glasses, as it were. "There we go, nine points. Your turn Ukyo-chan, be careful I don't tickle you while you are aiming, to return the favor."

 While she waited for the man to reset the targets, Ukyo prepared her air-powered firearm, as Nodoka loomed behind her, making her slightly nervous. Doing her best to brace herself for any unexpected surprise, as much as she loved and respected Nodoka, the only person she would be happy being beaten by, was be Ranma. She was trying her best to anticipate any surprise as she aimed for the top of the duck, knowing that will provide the best leverage, and fired, almost missing her spot due to being jumpy. While reloading, she turned to glance back at Nodoka, who was looking down at her with an evil grin. Smiling back, she prepared for her next shot, twice as nervous as before. She willed her hands to steady as she focused her ki and fired again and relaxed a bit thinking Nodoka was toying with her. Trying her best to tune her out, she readied her third shot.

 Those onlookers who had either gathered or were among those who had been following the trio around for the last several days, saw Nodoka shift her position, and knew she was about to do something. Ranma was torn between wanting to warn his friend and not wanting to break her concentration himself and thereby doing more harm than not. Were it anyone other than his mother, he might have taken them out before they had a chance to act, but this was training after all, and Nodoka would not harm her, so he decided to error on the side of discretion and kept his trap shut.

 As Ukyo pulled the trigger on her final attempt, Nodoka lightly poked her side, sending her shot wild. Ukyo "EEEEP!"ed as her cork bounced off the wall and ricocheted hitting, not the duck for which she had been aiming, but the one on the far right, luckily for her, also on the top row. "Ha, HA! YES! Ranchama, you need a perfect score just to tie. Do you still think you can beat the ladies?"

 "What do YOU think? I am not even sure I will need all three shots, one should be enough." Confidently, Ranma takes his place; he prepped his gun as his targets were being reset. Turning sideways, he took a loose, one-handed stance, not even appearing to aim at the targets themselves. He closed his eyes to focus his ki senses, expanding his awareness and thinking about geometry far beyond most people twice his age. His eyes were still closed, in fact his head was even turned more toward the people who had been watching, rather than the targets themselves.

 He fired.

 His cork bounced off the walls, the ceiling, the targets and quite a few other things inside the stand, including the owner's head once. The small stand shook with slight tremors with each 'bounce' of the cork, making it feel like a very slight earthquake from within. Once the cork came to rest, and the dust had settled, everyone was stunned. Of the twenty-four ducks that had been set up as targets, more than half of them had been knocked over, including all six of the ones on the top row. "Well, might as well get the rest." The top row being down, eliminating some of the easier angles, it took both of his remaining shots to knock down the rest of the ducks, leaving the game operator too stunned for words. "Forty-two points, I will take the panda, that large horse for nine points, another nine for that big Neko-Chan, and the last 9 for that large pig. Kaa-chan, I know we were going to give most of the toys we won to that orphanage we found the other day, but can we send these four to the house?"
{*Neko-Chan = Hello Kitty*}

 "Sure Ranma-kun, whatever you would like to do with them."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

...After the festival, the man who was running the shooting gallery replaced his ducks. The next festival they would be shooting at targets shaped like the head of a young boy, with black hair, tied into a ponytail. Surprisingly, this model became quite popular among the festival game operators, and the even patrons themselves.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The girls were all very impressed with how quickly and completely the 'movers' had transported their home to the adjacent lot behind the Saotome home. Everything was exactly the way they had left it, the dojo, the koi pond, even their rooms, all perfect, the only difference was everything was spotlessly clean and fresh. On closer inspection, there was one other change they had not noticed at first, many of the appliances had been updated to the latest models. The television was newer, and bigger. There were two game consoles, an Atari twenty-six hundred, and an Intellivision, they immediately hid one from their father before he figured out what it was, so that they could sneak it to their club house, unseen. In each of their rooms was an Apple IIe, complete with not only educational software, but games as well. And if all of that wasn't impressive enough, within days they had not only expanded their dojo, but had build a second, larger one next door, expanded the wall around their now, much larger property and fixed up a large open area where they could play all kinds of games, when it wasn't being used for training or sparing.

 The older girls were thrilled that they would still get to stay with their friend, and still eat all of their meals together. Nabiki was also glad to return to her own room, she really enjoyed the extra privacy it afforded her. She loved her 'three' sisters dearly, but she needed her solitude sometimes as well, something that could occasionally require a bit of effort to find in the Saotome home, with the room she had been sharing with her younger sister. She loved her sister, but few people could get on her nerves as easily, such is the nature of sibling rivalry. But now that time in her life was over, and things had truly started to look up for the girls.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 A few days later, Ranma's huge package had arrived addressed to the girls of the household. It was more than a cubic meter in volume, but was strangely light for its size. Nabiki was having trouble figuring out what was inside as other members of her household came into the room. Unless the tag was a lie, the package was from Genma's son, and if it was a lie, maybe it was cake! After a short discussion, they decided to get into the box and see what was inside, none of them realizing exactly how bad the puns they had been involved in were.

 Upon opening their box, on top they find a short note, saying...
    'We stopped at a festival for training, competing for prizes, we donated most of them to an orphanage, but I saved these four for you girls, I hope you like them.
    ~Ranma Saotome'.

 Reaching inside she found four, very large, stuffed animals, each almost bigger than the girls to which they belong, with a tag on each of their right ears to indicate that it belonged to one of the female members of the house, with a short note. 'The penmanship on the letter and cards seemed too neat to be written by someone of Akane's age,' the girls thought, 'but it was written in katakana, not hiragana as Nodoka (and almost all Japanese women) normally used, so either this boy has incredible penmanship for his age and not having spent much time in regular school, they got someone else to write the cards or Nodoka was trying to make it look like he wrote them.'

 Genma was a bit dejected, since he did not get a present. "He's never sent ME anything."

 Nabiki mumbled under her breath, "Well, you weren't much of a father. You'd just want him to send you sake anyway, and you shouldn't have kids buying that for you!" She shot a glare at both of the 'fathers'. Months ago, she had lost most of the respect she had had for the man for helping her family, which was only made worse when she learned that it was his wife who had actually done most of the 'helping'. While she did not blame him for his involvement in her mother's death, as her sister did (adding more fuel to her fiery hatred of almost all things male), she had poked around enough to know what kind of man he was and the things he and her father had done in their so-called training, and she was not impressed. Her talks with the self described 'Maid Guy' had told her that he was improving, and given that he never tried any of the less reputable training methods with them, she was hoping that was true, but she was not going to let him drag her father down to his level, he was in bad enough shape as it was these days.

 Glancing at Fubuki for a second, he has the decency to look guilty for a brief moment, "But he's never even met the four of you! He only knows what his mother has shared from my letters!"

 "Exactly, 'do no harm', as it were, and I guess that means we won't have to hurt you for spreading lies about us." Little did Genma and the others know that Fubuki had also been in correspondence with his wife, sharing, details on his behavior and their situation. "So old man, is this your son's writing, or your wife's?"

 "I haven't seen my son's writing since he was four, but I've never seen Nodoka use katakana, ever."

 "...and the mystery deepens. Well, let's see what he sent us!" Pulling the first one out, they saw a very large panda, with a tag reading...
    'To: Kasumi Tendo; As the eldest, you get the biggest one.'

 Squealing a bit, Kasumi squeezed her new 'friend' in a 'bear' hug.

 Next, they pulled a large stuffed pig out, reading the tag,
    'To: Akane Tendo; I have heard you really like pigs and were eyeing one at a fair that you weren't able win, I hope this is a close second.'

 "Kawaii!!!" Also hugging her toy, she thinks to herself, 'Well, maybe not ALL boys are awful!'
{*Kawaii = cute; adorable; charming; lovely; pretty; (2) dear; precious; darling; pet; (3) cute little; tiny;* obviously not that last one in this case.}

 Next Nabiki reached into their box to pull out a giant Kitty-Chan, in a blue and white maid's uniform.
    'To: Fubuki; I hear you are doing an incredible job, taking care of our house, I know it must be hard on you with my lazy father (sorry 'bout that) and the others around. So, thank you for all of your hard work.' Blushing at the compliment, she started playing with her kitty.

 Genma was not happy with the apparent tales of his past deeds, though he couldn't deny their truth. He silently vowed that he will not only win back the trust of his wife, but the respect of his son!

 Last but not least, Nabiki pulled Ranma's horse out of her box, it is a white horse with black hair and the kanji symbol for 'chaos' on its forehead, standing almost a meter tall. Reading the tag to herself,
    'To: Nabiki Tendo; "I hope you will grow up gentle and good, and never learn bad ways; do your work with a good will, lift your feet up well when you trot, and never bite or kick even in play." "Oh! if people knew what a comfort to a horse a light hand is..." ~Anna Sewell, Black Beauty. I also hope you like my pony, Ucchan made me embroider that character on his head, turning him into a "Ran-ma", she thought it was funny, sorry about that.'

 'It seems he is a fan of literature, which is surprising, considering his time on the road, interesting...' "All right then, 'Chaos Pony' it is. How about you girls, do you have names for yours yet?"

 "Well, mine came with a name too, Neko-chan, it wouldn't be right to call her something else."

 "Kawainoshishi, Shishi-chan for short." Akane hugged her pig again.
{*kawainoshishi = bush pig*}

 "I think you will be called, Kawaikochan." Kasumi had not stopped hugging hers; she was squeezing it so tightly she could 'almost' touch her hands behind it. "We should take a family picture to send to him as a thank you to show how much we appreciate his thoughtful gifts. It was very nice of him to think of us like that when he dosen't even know us."
{*kawaikochan = popsy; cutie; sweetie*}

 "You're right Kasumi-nee-chan, we've all seen his pictures from the letters and all around the house, it's only fair he see what we look like too."
{*Nee/Onee = Older sister.*}

 "Especially you and Akane-chan, since you two were sleeping in his room!" Kasumi added with a sly grin.

 "That was a BOY'S room?!?!? Now I am glad I wet the bed!"

 "You WHAT?!?! Is THAT what that was?!?!"

 "Yes, yes it was. I would know, since I had to clean it up." Fubuki said flatly.

 "I'm sorry Fukibuki, I would have helped if I had known."

 "No, Kasumi-sama, it IS my job after all, don't feel bad."

 "I thought you said you spilled tea!"

 "I DID! ...sort of."

 "Well, never-the-less, I think you should apologize to us."

 "Why should I?"

 "YOU PEED ON ME! And she had to clean it up! Or would you rather I tell Ranma and his mother that you peed on his bed?"

 "You wouldn't?!?! Oh who cares, go ahead! See if I care! He probably deserves it anyway."

 "Akane! How can you say that after the kindness they have shown us?"

 "But Kasumi, he's a boy! They all do icky things! And his note said he thinks he's better than me!"

 "Oh Akane-chan, you won't always feel that way." Kasumi shakes her head in dismay at her little sister, knowing she will change her mind about that, one of these days, Nabiki was already starting to. It just goes to show that even Kasumi is not perfect. "Okay girls, let go get ourselves fixed up for a nice picture, and we will meet back here when we are done."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Returning to the study, the three older girls were chatting about clothes, and about how long their hair had grown over the last two years. Fubuki was wearing a fresh version of her traditional maid's outfit with matching blue ribbons in her hair, Kasumi was wearing a light blue yukata with a floral print, her hair done up in a bun, and Nabiki was wearing her nicest summer dress, light green, with flowers along the edges, with her hair in matching green ribbons. She was not really all that interested in boys yet, but it was a photo opportunity, and she certainly wanted to look good! All three of them were clutching their presents as tightly as they could. They joined Akane and the fathers, who had not changed, though Akane did look cleaner, and her clothes had been straightened. Whether she had done this herself or Maid Guy had done it, was anyone's guess. Maid Guy himself was setting up the tripod and camera.

 Kasumi and Fubuki had set their dolls up in a sitting position with their arms around their toy's necks pretending to kiss the toy's cheeks. Nabiki set her horse in the center where she sat atop it, laying forward with her arms around its neck and her face next to that of Chaos Pony's. Genma was behind and between them, with Soun to his right. Akane in front and to the right of her father, holding her pig tightly in front of her, trying to hide behind it. Soun spoke up at this point, "You get in this picture too Maid Guy, you are a part of this family as well. Stand over here behind Akane-chan. You two are always so close." Maid Guy attaches the remote to the camera and moves into place as Akane turns to her right to face away from the rest of them with a huff on her face, puffing her cheeks out just as the picture is taken.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 While they had given away most of the prizes they had won, they each kept a small collection of things, one such item Ukyo was using now to show Ranma one of the other skills she had learned in her geisha training. She was painting his portrait while he meditated, and had been doing pretty well if she did say so herself, so that is exactly what she did. "Not bad." Signing her latest work, 'Ucchan', she called out, "Ranchama, you can move now."

 Getting up from his meditative trance, Ranma walked over to see what Ukyo had been working on. "Wow, Ucchan, that's really good, that looks way better than I really do."

 "But Ranchama, it doesn't look even half as good as the real thing. Compared to the real you, this is trash, but I am getting better, I was awful when I first started. Do you want to try? I can show you some of what I learned."

 "That sounds like fun, and if we compete we will get better faster, like with everything else, ne?"
{*Ne = 'isn't it?'; 'wouldn't it?'; no?; yes? used to end a sentence when you assume the listener agrees with you.*}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Soon after arriving in the next town they were to stay in, the group had gone to pick up their mail, and there was an envelope addressed to Ranma, something that rarely happened. Nobody ever sent him anything directly. Inside the envelope was a photo. "Well, it seems at least three of them liked their gifts, I'm not so sure about the one on the left, she doesn't look too happy." Frowning, he examined it more critically.

 Looking over his shoulder, Nodoka interjected, "No son, see how tightly she is squeezing it, she likes the pig, just like Fubuki told me, who looks much younger than I had figured... amazing. Well if she can handle the job... and she seems to be doing quite well. But back to the photo, maybe she is a tsundere, see how she turned her butt toward the camera, maybe she thinks she is showing off her best feature."

 "Or she is just shy or mad about something else... Not everyone fits into a trope, Okaa-sama."

 "No, occasionally it's 'averted'... just call it 'Mother's Intuition', the only real question is which type?"

 Turning the picture over, Ranma sees there is writing on the back.

    'Ranma-san, we hope things are going well with you and your training. Thank you for the thoughtful gifts, we all love them very much. Since we have all seen the pictures of you that your mother sends to us, we thought it only fair for us to send a picture to you as well.' How Ranma could tell she was blushing when she wrote that part, he will never know, but he DID know he might well have to have words with his mother about what kinds of pictures she was sending of him. 'Please take care of yourself. We look forward to hearing from you again. Yours sincerely, Kasumi Tendo.'

 Also written in various places, and in different handwriting, were,
    'Thank you very, very much, Goshujin-sama. Sincerely, Fubuki, the House Maid',
    'Don't think you're better than me. Akane', and
    'Thanks Ranma-chan, I'll think about you whenever I ride him. Nabiki Tendo. P.S. Akane wet your bed! I thought you should know.'

 "Well, I hope she cleaned it up! I think I will want a new bed when we get home." They all share a good laugh over that one.

 "I would guess that you will need a bigger one by the time we get back anyway, so don't you worry, my manly son."

 "Huh? What brought that on?"

 "Don't you worry about that either." Which only made Ranma worry even more, his mother could get some strange ideas in her head occasionally. Nodoka, on the other hand, was thanking her lucky stars, every kami, and anyone else who could listen to her thoughts, for having had the will to force her husband to let her take this trip. Being able to be a part of her son and his friends' lives, filled her with so much joy that she felt like she could fly. Never could she have imagined having so much fun in her life, let alone as a wandering martial artist. Her parents had been very strict and old fashioned with her upbringing and she had had little say in her life. Not in what hobbies she pursued, not what classes she took, not even who she married (she never even figured out why they chose him, of all people, they sure had acted strangely about it now that she thought about it). But now, after having experienced this complete and total freedom, she knew, not only would she let her son make most of the major decisions in his life (even if she might make a few, 'suggestions' along the way), she would probably never be happy, living as a 'normal' housewife, ever again.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma's first painting was no great work of art, but even someone with no artistic training at all, could see dramatic improvement from where he had started the work, and where he finished. It did not take many sessions before they were on about equal terms with their artistic skills, and soon after they started taking time out, every Sunday to practice. Some days they would paint landscapes, other days they would paint each other, painting each other. All the while, building not only their skill, but their speed, eventually getting to where they could turn out two to three beautiful pieces in a thirty minute time slot.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Two Years Later

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 "Ranma-Kun! I need you to run to the store to get some things, here is a list and some money. Please sweetheart, take your time. Play some games or something first." Waiting until he had left, she calls Ukyo over. "Ukyo-chan, I got this letter a while ago, I'm sorry, he wanted me to wait until you were even older, I would have told you sooner, but, I just didn't know how. I did not want to see you unhappy. But it is your right to know the truth, and I am not going to keep you from making your own decisions.

 "Your father, the reason he sent you with us, was because he was dying, he needed to check himself into a hospital and knew he would not be able to care for you himself any longer. When he had finally asked it of me, I was shocked, and it seems you had overheard part of that conversation, but not the reasons behind it. He made me swear that I would not tell you the truth until this letter arrived, and the letter itself wanted me to keep waiting." Handing the letter over, Nodoka prostrates herself before her 'adopted' daughter, tears streaming down her face, apologizing profusely for keeping this secret from her as long as she had.

 Reading the letter, Ukyo was too stunned to notice Nodoka's actions, "He, didn't hate me. He didn't hate me... All these years, he let me think I was useless to him, and now he is gone." Unable to prevent her own tears, Ukyo falls to her knees, sobbing. "Oh, Okaa-sama, what should I do? I can't really forgive him, and now I can't even kick his butt for crushing my heart, but now I can't hate him either."

 "You don't hate me for keeping this from you?" Not moving Nodoka glances up at the girl.

 "Okaa-sama! I could never hate you, you and Ranchama are my whole world, if not for you, I would have probably let my anger consume me. You two have shown me a love, caring and understanding like I have never known in my life. Nothing will ever change that, not even if you were to strike me down on the spot. I will always respect and care for you, and I swear I will serve your son until my dying breath."

 Holding each other, they cry into each other's arms for quite a while, until Ukyo finally calmed down enough to speak again, "Okaa-sama, the letter mentioned an 'inheritance' including all of the artifacts, books and scrolls for my family style, the location seems to be near here, can we go see it? I would like to study it if I can."

 "Oh darling, why do you think we are here?"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Leaving the house Ranma was sure of two things. The first being that he could complete his 'errands' in no time at all, and the second being that he had been 'gotten rid of'. His mother did not exactly make a secret of it. Ranma was a curious child, and did not like it when he was left out of the loop. 'Well, she DID say to play a game, and was not specific about what 'game' I play, so I will play 'spies'.' That decided, he waited until he was out of range, and slowly drew his ki inside himself, slowly enough that it would appear to anyone paying attention that he was getting further away, going the opposite direction from them, no matter where they were. Once his ki had been hidden, he snuck back as silently as he could, using more of the skills he had gained in his ninjutsu training.

 Sneaking back into the house, he listened in for a short time, wanting to know what problem could have been so important. What he heard had shocked him a bit, so much so he had almost lost his ki control. Over all the news was both bad and good, it was nice to learn Ukyo's father had not hated her, and had not been 'kicking her out' as she had thought, but that also made the news of his passing all the more sad. He knew his friend was going to need his support.

 Running off to complete his task, Ranma made plans for how he would try to make his friend feel better, starting with making her favorite dessert to go with that night's dinner.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 "Moshi-moshi."

 "HiiiIIIIii! Is this Saotome-san?" The jubilant voice on the other end of the phone inquired.

 "Yes, this is Saotome Genma. Might I ask who is calling?"

 Getting a bit more serious, the other voice continued, "Oh, right, sorry, I am Kaede Tenjoji, from Hakureiryo Academy, and I would like to offer you a business proposal."

 Cautiously, Genma responded, people offering him deals rarely worked out in his favor, "Proposal?"

 "Yes, I have recently taken over this school as principal and its chief executive officer, and I have been hearing stories about your school, and I think that we could come to an arrangement that would help us both greatly. You see, the school I run is one of the most elite in the nation, all of the highest class children go to school here, but our main goal here is to train their servants, maids mostly. Our rich students pay outrageous tuition fees to provide them with the best of the best, and in return we use some of that money to provide free tuition to any who want to take the servant curriculum, complete with room and board, so any poor student in Japan can afford to go to a good high school. We also train the servants for almost all of the richest families in the world, we teach them to be the absolute best there is. This is where you come in, one of the main duties of a good servant is always to be able to protect their masters, and the stories I have heard of your school makes it sound perfect, just like in this anime I am trying to sponsor! I would be willing to pay you for each of the students taking classes, and you would train all of our servant class students. Let me ask you this Saotome-san, do you have children?"

 "Yes, I have a son, but he is on a twelve-year training journey with his mother." A quiet 'Eep' escaped the phone, "My partner has three daughters and we are looking after another child who is acting as a maid for our family." Genma had to pull the phone away from his ear as he heard a squealing sound coming from the phone. 'Is this thing broken?' "Oh, and my wife seems to have adopted another girl that she is training as well." Again the squealing sound exploded from the receiver.

 Sounding even more excited than she had at first, Kaede continued, a bit too quickly for Genma's tastes, "Well, I am also prepared to offer you automatic acceptance and free tuition for all of them in whichever program they choose, once they reach middle school age. So all of your children could go to the most prestigious middle and high schools in Japan ...for free. We were a girls' school, but now that I am in charge, I am going to see it turn coed. I can't wait to meet your son and maid!"

 Genma did like 'free', and this would really be good for the children, almost surprising himself that he even cared about that aspect, and he found that he actually DID care about it, more than he ever would have expected. "Well, I would need to expand a bit more, and hire more staff..."

 "I can offer you funds to help with that, since we are the cause of your need, and would be happy to provide any other help I can." Not that Genma can tell, but she was practically salivating at the prospect of battle and ninja maids, and combat butlers, just like in another manga she had been reading recently.

 "Well, that sounds like it could work... once the construction is complete you will have to come by and have a toast with us to celebrate our new partnership."

 "I would loooove to! I admit I am curious to see this school, and I can't wait to meet your families. Now, how old are the children, should we begin the procedure for their transfers?"

 "Well the eldest girl is thirteen, and our maid is twelve, they are both in middle school, the rest are elementary school age, ten to eleven. My son and, I guess, adopted 'daughter' are not enrolled in a school, my wife is tutoring them for most subjects, but they only attend formal schools occasionally, but I can assure you, their education is not suffering for it. My wife, it seems, is an apt tutor. They will not be returning for some time yet."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Finally making their way into the inner sanctum of Ukyo's family shrine, our exhausted adventurers got a chance to rest. "Well now, that was a bit more 'complicated' than I expected, I guess that's what I get being the last remaining member of a ninja family." Ukyo got a grim look on her face that, to Ranma, looked out of place on the usually happy girl, "Remembering where the traps are won't be so bad, but we really should reset them before we leave, I would hate to see someone defile the thing, even if we take everything important with us when we leave. It may not be much, but it's my family history. And you never know, we may need a place to hide out or something one day."

 "Very good ideas, but we can stay here as long as you want, Ukyo-chan. We are in no real hurry to be anywhere right now. Or we could camp outside if you prefer, whatever makes you the most comfortable."

 "Thank you, Okaa-sama, it might take a while to collect and decipher all of this, some of it we can't take with us without dismantling the place. I could take tracings of the wall carvings but we would need large paper, and time... Oh well, let's start looking around, just be careful, anything worth finding is likely to have another okonomiyaki themed trap."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 "Oi! Look at this!"

 Coming over to look at what Ranma was indicating. Behind a portrait, Ranma had found what seemed to be a safe, but instead of a dial, there were metal buttons, each with a symbol on it. "I don't recognize any of these characters, are they some kind of code?"

 "Sort of, Ranchama, it's Okonomiyaki Shorthand, or Okosho. It's a special writing system for okonomiyaki ingredients. We use it for written orders, and secret recipes. So, yes, I guess it IS a code. Let me see, it's been a while, I am a bit rusty, and I hadn't learned all of it before we left."
{*Okosho = Another word I made up, 'Oko' taken from Okonomiyaki, and 'sho' meaning 'handwriting'*}

 "You'll have to teach me that someday."

 "You got it, Ranchama!" She studied the buttons for a few minutes, consulting a scroll she had unlocked earlier, "I am not sure that I have this right, either I am more rusty than I thought, or some of these symbols do not belong. Most of them are okonomiyaki ingredients, but some of them, if I have this right, are, well ...this one is a poison!"

 "Why would you even HAVE a code for stuff like that, if this is for recipes?"

 "Well, we were a clan of ninja, the okonomiyaki was our cover, it helped us get close to the people were targeting. Though, it's still strange, because we never poisoned our okonomiyaki to take out a target, too easy to trace back. Strange, there are a couple of other poisons. This one is fire, and a couple of others I can't even figure out."

 "If that code was for recipes, then there might be some inside, and it might be the key, maybe the way to unlock it is with a recipe...?"

 "RANCHAMA! You're a genius! With that in mind, let's see what we have, flour, dashi stock, eggs, cabbage, green onion, tempura flakes, meat, green sea weed, sauce, and mayonnaise!" Upon pressing the tenth button, a louder click was heard as the door slid open. Inside, as Ranma guessed, were recipe scrolls, and two books, one on the Okosho code language and the other about the workings of the safe itself. "Oh, great! Now that we have it open, they tell us how to open it!"

 "Maybe it was a test?"

 "Or maybe the last person here figured they didn't need it and that would keep thieves out of it."

 "Or maybe the last person here was a 'smart aleck', and liked toying with people..." After packing up the scrolls, she looked over the books. While studying the codebook, "It says here that the other two buttons were electricity and the other was ...spikes? I really can't see what that has to do with a recipe!" but after looking through the other book, "Oh, THAT'S what they are all about, those are traps, press the poison ones and you get poisoned, press the fire one and fire shoots out, and so on. Well, once again, thank you Ranchama for figuring it out and likely saving me some pain. I read in one of the other books I found, that dating back to even before our family swore loyalty to the Daimyo. We had a tradition of giving our 'Token of Loyalty' to whomever we acknowledge as our master." She got down on her knees. "Ranma Saotome-sama, my lord," Took his left hand in hers, "I give this to you." She brought his hand up, and gently kissed the back of his fingers. "I swear my loyalty from now until the end of days."
{*Daimyo = a powerful lord, working under the Shogun.*}

 "You know you really over do this stuff sometimes, Ucchan. You have been my friend for years; you are always there when I need you..."

 "...But?"

 "But nothing, as long as you want me around, I will be there for you. I hope we will be friends forever."

 Mumbling under her breath, "...One day, I hope more than friends."

 "Did you say something, Ucchan?"

 "Nope, nothing at all, Ranchama."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 "You really want us to learn your family's style with you?"

 "Well, you guys have taught me some of your family's style, and since you guys are my only remaining 'family', I want you to learn with me so you can help me to pass it on to the next generation of our family. I may never open a restaurant, but maybe one of my children will (assuming I have any)."

 "Well then gang, for the next few months we will be Okonomiyaki Chefs! We will study together until we can make them in our sleep."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

A thirteen-year-old Kasumi, twelve-year-old Fubuki, and an eleven-year-old Nabiki were all laughing together as they swung their 'weapons' at each other. Kasumi had a broom, Fubuki had a mop and Nabiki had two feather dusters hooked together with a metal clasp that she was using like nunchaku. They were not only sparring, but also cleaning the room as they went, not disturbing a single item as they went from room to room. Each room sparkling as they left.

 Having finished their cleaning spar, the girls look out and see Akane pulverizing concrete blocks.

 "I can't believe she has switched to cement already, it seems just like last week she was getting splinters from the boards."

 "Fukibuki, that WAS last week." The three girls giggled together.

 "Well, there is one thing you can say, with her and Uncle Genma around, we always have plenty of places to 'practice our art'."

 Putting their cleaning equipment away, they spied Genma entering the room, "Well, speak of the devil and he appears."

 "You don't know what you're talking about!!!" Genma interjected in a panic. "Be careful what you wish for girls. 'He' might come back, making all of our sacrifices in vain."

 "Who is 'He'?"
 
 "Believe me, you don't want to know! But that's not why I was looking for you two, and Nabiki-san, this will concern you as well next April, so you might as well hear this as well." Gathering around the table, they waited to hear what their foolish 'Uncle' has done to, er FOR them this time. "We have made a partnership to teach our new art to the servant class at Hakureiryo Academy." Genma had tried addressing Nabiki with the '-chan' honorific once. Once. It was NOT a pleasant day for Genma, and he never tried it again. 'Hell hath no fury, like Nabiki pissed.' Genma had thought boys were a lot to handle, but he did not have the slightest clue, though he had started to get the idea that he was in way over his head. ...and it only took him four years to get there!

 The girls were stunned; Nabiki had been the first to recover, "What? You mean it's GOOD news? Will miracles never cease?"

 "Quite so, though your sarcasm wounds me, girl."

 "Yeah, right."

 "This will mean several things to you three. The first being, as my most advanced students, you will be helping to teach some of the classes, at least until some of the other graduates are able to return to help us. We will also be expanding the dojo once again to make room for the new students."

 "Hakureiryo Academy. Wow, that's one of the most prestigious schools in the world! Graduating from there means you will be able to get into any college in the nation! I wish we could go there."

 "Well then you are going to love my next bit of news, Kasumi-chan, Fubuki-chan, you two will be enrolling in their middle school, effective immediately, and Nabiki-san, you will begin classes there when you enter middle school next spring." 'Fangirl-like' squees of joy came from the three girls, which took several minutes to subside. "You will each be given the option to enter as High Class Ladies, or in the Servant Classes, it will be left up to you which you choose. The principal will be paying us a visit to celebrate our merger as soon as the expansion is done, and since Japan has the fastest builders in the world, that should be in the next day or two."

 "Wow, Thank you Uncle, while we know that isn't why you made that deal, we appreciate it none-the-less."

 A hurt look flashed across Genma's face for a split second, but knowing it was true, there was little he could say in his defense, "The next thing we need to do, is hire an onsite doctor for class time."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 "Tenjoji-san, I would like you to meet Tofu-sensei, one of the best specialty doctors in Japan."

 "It's an honor."

 "The pleasure is all mine, Tenjoji-san."

 "If you are as good as they say, maybe I could talk you into helping at the school too, since most of the students will be the same anyway."

 "Maybe you could, maybe you could..."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma was working on his mother's shoulders and back, practicing his own massage technique, as she had insisted, having made him take a class even after what he had learned from Kyoshi-sensei. 'Not only will it help us tremendously during our training, but your girlfriends will love you for it later.' she had told him. As usual, she was right of course, what he learned and was able to share with them, had made recovery after strenuous workouts much easier, especially when combined with a good soak in a hot bath, which they had just gotten out of. Using his ki, he would search out knots of tension, blocked pathways and any other abnormality he could find and try to 'work out' whatever the problem was. It was also doing wonders for his ki sense and aura reading. "Kaa-chan, I would really like to find a better doctor to study under soon, the better I get at using my ki to heal, the more I see that I need to learn."

 Admiring her son's mature attitude for a boy his age, and his eagerness to learn, she could not help but ascede to his wishes, but due to the treatment of her back as he worked his way down her spine all she could manage was a groan of ascent. "Besides, it will give Ukyo some time to study more of her family's style." Again, for her part, all Nodoka could get out was a groan in response to her son's statement. Working his way to her lower back, he found a strange 'blockage', that he had never noticed before, very deep inside. Using his ki, he reached in and tried to work out the problem area. After a few moments he was able to find the 'keystone' of the block, and it came loose with a rush of energy, unlike anything he had ever seen before.

 Nodoka's eyes shot wide open as she arched her back, curled her toes, and bit her lower lip, trying not to let out a moan, ...and failing.

 "KAA-CHAN! What's wrong? Are you all right?"

 Panting heavily, she tried hard to regain her senses, "Ranma-kun, my son, you must listen to your mother very carefully, this is very important. First, you must never forget how you just did that, and second, you must never use it on me again, ever! Please!" 'I am not sure I could resist if he did that to me again... A mother should never have such thoughts.'

 "Sure mom, but what did I do?"

 "You'll figure it out later, but please, just don't do it for me again... Any other woman will greatly appreciate that particular technique, but I cannot, that is something that can never happen. Now, go play, mother needs to go take another bath..."

 Ranma ran off to find his other 'willing victim'...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma found Ukyo studying one of the scrolls she received as part of her inheritance, "Ucchan, I need your help with a new technique."

 Looking slightly torn for the briefest of moments, she jumped up, "Sure Ranchama, what do you need me to do?"

 "Not much more than you were doing, you can keep reading while I give you your 'after workout massage'. I saw something different when I was giving mom hers, and when I worked out the spot, she freaked out and told me I had to learn the technique, but wouldn't tell me anything else about it, other than I can't practice it on her anymore. So, I was hoping my faithful little Ucchan would be willing to assist her Ran'nii-chan..."
{*Nii and Onii = Older Brother*}

 "Of course! You know I would help you with anything, Ranchama! What do you need me to do?"

 "Just lay face-down here and try to relax as much as you can, just like with any other massage." Laying back down, she removed her shirt and goes back to studying the scroll she had been reading.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Nodoka was just getting back out of the bath, feeling much better now that she had cleaned herself up after her little 'accident', working out the remainder of 'tension' on her own. Heading back toward the camp they shared, she was taken a bit aback when she heard Ukyo's voice far sooner than she would have expected considering the distance left to camp. "OH, RANMA-SAMA! WOW, I don't know what you just did, but DO it Again!!!"

 "That's my boy!" Nodoka continued back to camp, hoping she will be able to sleep with the noise she would be hearing tonight, and that her dreams this night would NOT include her son...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AFTERWARD

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 A ten-year-old Ryoga is wandering around, somewhere snowy... "Where the hell am I now?!?! Shimatta! I am three days late for school again! I knew I should have brought the dog!" Getting mad at himself again, a feeling he was quite used to, he took off running in a random direction, because, hey, it's Ryoga, and let's face it, and it does not really matter, all directions are the same to him.
{*Shimatta = damn it! damn! oops! oh dear! oh no!*}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AUTHOR'S NOTES

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Historically, geisha often began the earliest stages of their training at a very young age, sometimes as early as 3 or 5 years old. The early shikomi (servant) and minarai (watching apprentice) stages of geisha training lasted years, which was significantly longer than in contemporary times.

 To this day, it is still said that geisha inhabit a separate reality, which they call the karyukai or "the flower and willow world." Before they disappeared, the courtesans were the colorful "flowers" and the geisha the "willows" because of their subtlety, strength and grace. I cannot stress enough, that the idea of geisha as sex workers is all due to prostitutes during WWII telling American Soldiers that they were "Geisha Girls" figuring they wouldn't know any better, and many of us still don't. Even when prostitution was legal, most geisha were not allowed to sell sex for money. If they wanted to have sex, they would have to do so in their private lives and not in their professional ones.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

OMAKE 2 {To the tune of the Underdog Theme Song}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"There's no need to fear, Maido Gai is here!"

Dun dun dun, dun dun dun,
Dun dun dun, dun dun dun,
Aoo, aoo, aoo, aoo, aoo, aoo
When males in this world appear,
And hurt the girl that they should fear,
And think they are all in the clear,
The cry goes up both far and near for
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai.

Hoard of hentai, Blue Thunder,
Fighting all who steal under ...(wear)
Maido Gai, ...Maido Gai!

When Akane has a pressing need
Or Genma's heart is filled with greed
And when the bathroom should be cleaned,
To right this wrong with blinding speed goes
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai,
Maido Gai.

Hoard of Hentai, Blue Thunder,
Fighting all who get under, ...(foot)
Maido Gai, ...Maido Gai!


"When Akane's in trouble, I am not slow. It's Kukuku, and away I go!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

END OMAKE 2

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

OMAKE 3

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Maid Guy returned to their campsite in Ryugenzawa carrying Akane by her collar. Akane was not happy about this. Doing her best to get away from her strange 'protector', she ran over to where her sisters were training with a strange little man. When she got closer she heard them talking.

 "Okay, let's try again, everyone, go!"

 All three of them raised their right hands toward the large boxes in front of them, as they concentrated, the boxes began to glow and float in the air.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

END OMAKE 3

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

*CHARACTERS USED*

{Here I will list all of the non-Ranma, characters used in the chapter and where they are from.}

Kogarashi the "Maid Guy" - the title character from Kamen no Maid Guy
Fubuki - The future 'Maid Guy Tamer' from Kamen no Maid Guy
Kaede Tenjoji - The headmaster of Hakureiryo Academy from Ladies vs. Butlers
Mikan is her 'assistant' and the Head Instructor
Ranma's Muay Thai instructor was VERY loosely based on Appachai's from Kenichi, mostly I just wanted to use his line, so think of his as one of his old students or something. ;)
Shagi & Kuro-sensei (the frog guy) - were ripped and twisted from Scooby Doo
The ninjutsu trainer was pretty much just made up too...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-


Chapter Text

Nodoka 2/1
The Chroma Series
Act 0 Part 04

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

DISCLAIMER
Most of the characters and other elements are owned by people who are not me, though I did make up a few here and there... but none of the main ones. The rest are owned by many talented people, and a few faceless corporations, such as Rumiko Takahashi and Sega respectively.

 

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AUTHOR'S NOTES

First off, thanks for reading; I hope you are enjoying it so far. This chapter was originally going to be part of the last chapter, but it got too long, so this is kind of Chapter 3b.

Special thanks to my "Agent" and "Publicist" Hiryo, for proofreading, prodding, posting advice and so much more.

 

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

GLOSSARY (from the last chapter)

 

Okiya = Lodging for Meiko and Geisha, during their contracted period, or 'nenki'. This is the first step toward becoming a geisha, where they begin training as a Meiko. Kyoto is the only place left children under eighteen can still train, and even then typically don't start until age fifteen in modern age

Geisha/Geiko = literally 'Art Person/Girl or Artist', entertainers, and hostesses, much like Bards. Geisha do NOT perform sex acts for money, see Joro

Maiko = Geisha in training, literally 'dance child/girl', also called 'hangyoku' [half-jewel] because they would get half the pay of a geisha, or even O-Shaku, which means 'one who pours [booze]'; early Maiko are called Minarai, lit. 'learning by watching'

Joro = Prostitute, many called themselves 'geisha girls' to soldiers in WWII

Fuma Shuriken = a fictional weapon, supposedly used by the Fuma Clan ninja, that can range from a basketball in size to a large person, they are used for melee, shields, and throwing weapons, and can be thrown like a boomerang. Many have a handle in the center to grip them, and allow them to be used like a staff.

Gojira = Godzilla

Hentai = literally, 'abnormality', can also mean 'pervert'

Shinai = a bamboo practice 'sword' for kempo beginners. Not to be confused with a Bokken or Bokuto, a wooden sword for more advanced trainees

Me = pronounced 'mae' or 'meh', meaning 'no!; don't!; tsk!; used to scold small children and pets

Katanuki - shape poking (lit. die cutting) or katanukigashi (lit. Die-cut Candy) Sometimes it is shortened to just 'nuki', there is a shape outlined on a piece of barely edible candy, usually wrapped in paper, where the 'player' tries to break off the outside of the candy, usually with a pin or toothpick (but can even be done by hand), leaving only the shape behind, if you do so without breaking the shape you can win a prize based on the complexity of the design

Kunai - is a Japanese tool possibly derived from the masonry trowel, in the hands of a martial arts expert, it could be used as a multi-functional weapon. It is commonly associated with the ninja, who used it to gouge holes in walls. In the mythology of ninja, the kunai is commonly portrayed to be a Japanese knife that is used for throwing as well as stabbing.

-dono = an archaic honorific, used between nobility and the upper-class, to show respect, without showing deference.

Neko-Chan = Hello Kitty

Kawaii = cute; adorable; charming; lovely; pretty; (2) dear; precious; darling; pet; (3) cute little; tiny;* obviously not that last one in this case

kawainoshishi = bush pig

kawaikochan = popsy; cutie; sweetie

Nee/Onee = Older sister.
Nii/Onii = Older Brother

Ne = 'isn't it?'; 'wouldn't it?'; no?; yes? Used to end a sentence when you assume the listener agrees with you. "I know, huh?"

Daimyo = a powerful lord, working under the Shogun.

Shimatta = damn it! damn! oops! oh dear! oh no!

...and I am going to repeat this one, because it is such a common mistake
Kote = Okonomiyaki 'Turner', the small baker's peels. (what most people incorrectly call a 'spatula').

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

CHAPTER 04
The Art of Getting Further Lost

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Flipping though a food magazine, Ryoga came to a picture of a steak. Beginning to drool, he tore out the page, cut the picture out and placed it on his plate. Using a knife and fork, which, strangely enough, were around, he cut off a piece of the picture and shoved it in his mouth.

"Oh, I can't wait until lunch at school tomorrow, I hope I make it in time to get real food."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Having arrived at the fishing village the innkeeper had indicated, the trio of adventurers set off in search of clues about this 'demon' they had been told about. A water spirit, who had been troubling the people of this small town.

They decided that the best place to start their search would be the waterfront, so they headed off in that direction. When they started to get close, they saw a man crawling onto shore. At first glance, he seemed rather old, but as they ran closer, they saw that it was actually a younger man, who was looking rather pruney and gaunt. "Are you alright man? Do you need anything, water perhaps?" Ranma offered the man a bottle of water from his pack.

Taking the bottle, he guzzled it down in one long drink, looking slightly better for having done so. In between ragged breaths, he gasped out, "Thank you! Thought I was gonna die... Only one, to get away... Monster, in the water..."

"You're welcome sir, could you tell us what happened? We are here to help if we can."

His breathing started getting better, as the drained man related his story. "We were out, fishing on our boat, when one of the boys noticed something odd in one of the nets. First there seemed to be what looked like green hair tangled in the net, we originally thought it was seaweed. Now movement in the net is not unusual, the fish do a lot of flopping, but there was blood leaking out of the net, and that had never happened before, so we were all a bit unnerved. We had all heard th' stories of about people being attacked, but none of us believed them. We just assumed people were trying to scare us off, and keep the good fishing spots for themselves.

"That's when the inhuman screams began coming from under the pile, as claws tore their way free of the net. Covered in the blood and guts of the fish that it tore through to get out of the net, the fish person with glowing red eyes, set to work dismembering and sucking the life out of my fellow crewmembers. Many of us jumped into the water and tried to make it to shore, while those who looked directly at it froze, dead in their tracks. I tried to jump, but my leg was caught, and I could feel my life fading, I kicked at the hand holding my ankle, broke free and started for shore. When I finally looked back, all I could see was blood and body parts, floating in the water. I made straight for the shore and didn't look back again until I hit land."

While listening to the man's story, Ranma had been examining his ki, and noticed it was very weak. He began feeding some of his own into the man, so that by the time he was done, the man looked much healthier and the only wrinkles remaining were from being in the water for too long.

They gave their sympathies to the man and Ranma planed their course of action. "Kaa-san, see if you can find the owner of this rental boat, and buy it or something, it might not make it back, Ucchan and I will take it out and try to find and lure this demon back toward the shore, where you can provide ranged support with your bow, since your aim is better than any of us."

As the three of them moved into action, the man looked worried, "WAIT! You can't go out there! Weren't ya listening to my tragic story? It's dangerous! That thing killed everyone!"

"Well, I am not willing to write off everyone just yet, others may have also gotten away, and 'protecting the weak' is what a martial artist does. Come on, Ucchan, let's go."

"Hai, Ranchama!"

Not wanting to ruin their moment of looking cool before they head off to their deaths, the fisherman just watched them go. "I tried to warn them, where is a Magical Girl when you need one?"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Rowing out to the area that the fisherman had indicated, they found remnants of the boat and its crew. "Ewww! I think he may have been right about 'no other survivors', Ranchama. Do you sense anything?"

Extending his senses as far as he could, he picked up something after a few moments. "There's something down there, with a LOT of ki ...and it's coming this way, FAST!" He grabbed the oars, and started to row toward the shore as fast as he could.

Just as they started to move, the surface of the water broke, right where their boat had been moments before, causing waves that helped propel the boat even faster. Using her fins, the mermaid directed her descent toward the small craft, barely missing it thanks to Ranma's last burst of speed.

Moments later the Mermaid's head broke the surface again, "Ranchama, it's gaining on us, maybe this will slow it down. Take this, Flour Bomb!" Hitting the mermaid in the face with her bag of flour had the desired effect, as the mermaid had to slow down and clean the, now dough, thanks to mixing with the salt water, off of her face. As the mermaid went below the water's surface again, Ukyo grabbed one of the oars and helped Ranma row them back to shore where Nodoka was waiting for them with an arrow nocked in her bow.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Having just arrived as the chase began, Nodoka readied her bow, and waited for the perfect moment to fire, not wanting to hit one of the children by accident.

The mermaid broke the surface of the water again, and gave chase, her speed in the water practically unmatched, she was gaining 'ground' rapidly. When she had almost caught up to them, she leaped into the air to attack again. 'The female will die for her annoyance, but the male, looks so tasty, his life energy would last me for months, and the young ones are just so much more tasty!' Her thoughts were interrupted when, just before landing, she felt a sharp pain in her left shoulder, and was knocked back into the water. Looking down, she noticed an arrow protruding from her shoulder, and yanked it out. 'Another who will have to die for their effrontery!'

The small craft reached the shore, where the children joined their mother, preparing for an attack. The mermaid stayed under the water as long as she could, trying to avoid getting hit with another arrow. As she got closer, she started to sense a feeling of power, her people had legends about such a power. Something thought to be lost to the ages, not having been seen in many generations.

"I sense something, something old, something powerful... Something ...over there!" At breakneck speed, she made a B-line straight for the trio, able to quickly dodge the ranged attacks, now that she had been expecting them. Not having the best mental faculties, and being a creature of instinct, she leaped toward what she hoped would be her next few meals only to have him pushed out of the way of her webbed claw, and ended up grabbing the screaming girl instead.

"NO! I won't let you have him! Take ME instead!"

"I don't eat girls, but don't worry, you will die anyway for what you did earlier. Your boyfriend, on the other hand, will make for a fine meal, several in fact!" As her hand tightened around the girl's neck, the mermaid once again felt a pain, this time in her tail, which had been pierced by another arrow. The pain caused her just enough distraction that she had also failed to notice that another hand had gone around her own neck, and that hand was getting uncomfortably warm for her. As a matter of fact, her meal now appeared to be on fire, from his blazing aura. This worried the woman, for more reasons than just the fact that she preferred her food raw.

"LET! UCCHAN! GO! NOW!" Each word had been emphasized by the boy's flaming fist pounding into her face, something she did not enjoy, not in the slightest. It did not help matters that when he struck her it caused her grip to lessen just enough for the girl to escape. Not only did her insides feel as though they were being cooked by his aura, and several more arrows were poking out of her hide, making her feel like a pin cushion, but to make it worse, her furious flaming food stuff was beating her so badly that she was starting to get the idea that she was not going to get to enjoy her meal after all (no one had ever accused her of being bright).

Seeing that Ukyo was safe, and the mermaid was starting to look like a grilled fish, Ranma's anger started to subside. "So, are you going to quit terrorizing the people here, or do I gotta get rough with you?"

She morphed her face from its shark-like form, to a more human, yet still badly beaten appearance, the look of defiance still shown in her eyes, yet she remained silent.

Nudging him in the side, Ukyo interjected, "Ranchama, this reminds me of a legend I heard while studying at the okiya. They say that anyone who eats the flesh of a mermaid gains immortality."

Looking down at their foe, the three got a glint in their eyes as Ranma said, "Reeeeeeallly? That sounds interesting, maybe we should try it out, it's a rare opportunity after all."

The mermaid stiffened in fear for the first time she could recall in recent memory (the stupid do not scare easily after all), the hungry look in their eyes chilled her overheated body to the bone. "NO! That's just a myth! I taste awful! I won't bother anyone again! I swear!" With that, she bolted for the water, moving almost faster than the eye could see, even for their well-trained eyes, causing waves to kick up as she cut through the water, and was out of sight within seconds, hoping to find a place to nurse her wounds and partially cooked organs. She would need another meal again quickly, but she would not be stopping here again for food anytime soon. "I prefer Chinese anyway!"

The three martial artists fell down laughing at the sight they had seen, Nodoka almost wished she'd had her camera readied instead of her bow.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Earlier that day, on the other side of Tokyo...

Nabiki was having a good first week in her new school. The classes were going well, her teachers were nice, most of the other students were pleasant, the food was GREAT, and she had even been chosen as the freshman representative to give a speech during the welcoming ceremonies (meaning she had the highest score on her entrance exam). The only real problem was that there just was not a club that she wanted to join, and as an 'upper class' student, she was required to join one. At least until her senior year in high school (third year high school students were not required to be in a club, so that they could use the time to study for college entrance exams, if they needed it). She was starting to think her only option would be to start her own club. Which is what brought her to where she was now, sitting in the front office, waiting to speak with Tenjoji-kouchou. Nabiki knocked on the door and announced her presence. "I am first year, middle school student, Nabiki Tendo."

A stern voice came from within, "Please, enter."

"Thank you, I'm coming in." She entered the back office, and bowed to the two women inside as she did so.

Kaede Tenjoji was sitting behind her desk, on which there was a computer, that Nabiki could tell was running, but the monitor was powered off for some reason. "Good afternoon, Nabiki-kun, you've met my assistant Mikan-chan, the head instructor?"

"Hai, and Kasumi-nee-chan and Fubuki-chan have told me all about her." She said with an unreadable expression on her face. "Aren't the two of you a bit too young to be running a school?" It was true, the two women did 'look' more as though they should be attending high school, or at least college classes, rather than being in charge of them.

"Yes, yes we are. My father owned this school before he passed, and I took over after I graduated, but rest assured, that Mikan is one of the best instructors in the nation, even if she does need to loosen up a bit..." That last part was mumbled under her breath.

A steely glint in the other woman's eye indicated that she not only heard, but was not thrilled with the commentary, "What was that, Chairman?"

"Oh, no, I didn't say anything. Ahahaha! Don't break my keyboard again, please!" With this last part, she bowed her head, and put her hands together above her head, asking for forgiveness.

Turning back toward Nabiki, Mikan continued, "Now, what can we do for you, Nabiki-kun."

"I am not particularly interested in any of the clubs you have available here, and I would like permission to start my own club, since participation in a club is required of all 'Uppers'."

"Yes, club activities provide one of the primary opportunities for young ladies to learn peer socialization, learn useful skills and how to pass those skills on to your kohai."
{*Kohai = 'underclassman' or 'junior' at work or school; see notes for more*}

"So would a co-ed school."

Kaede's face lit up, she was instantly in front of Nabiki, grabbing both of her hands, "I know, right? I have been trying to convince the board of directors to allow it ever since I took over!"

Freeing her hands, she reached into her pocket, "Well, I run a detective agency, here is my card." Holding the top two corners, each in one hand, she presented the card facing them in the customary, professional way. Taking it, Kaede's eyes lit up even further, it was quite a professional card too, yet with a cute, child-like flair. It even had a cute drawing of a pony in the top left corner, 'Chaos Pony Investigations (CPI), Nabiki Tendo, Detective', then it gave an address and a phone and pager number. "I would like to start the 'Kai Bu', or Mystery and Wonder Club! We would research mystery fiction, study real cases and investigate strange events. Personally, I specialize in debunking paranormal phenomenon."

"We prefer ladies to join more useful clubs, like Tea Ceremony, Flower Arranging, Music, Art, things which a Lady of High Society is expected to know." Sensing the briefest of flashes of killing intent from the child, and seeing the stars in the eyes of her 'superior', she knew she would need another angle.

"While I'm not so sure how 'useful' any of those skills are, wouldn't that be what the 'servants' are for? Besides, starting my own club, will give me far more opportunities for training others in the skills I have learned, as well as help me better learn how to organize and run a group. Which is something I WILL need to know." To herself, she started thinking, 'Maybe she has a reason she doesn't want an investigation club investigating, I should investigate that!'

"Right! Right! You've got quite a head on your shoulders! Doesn't she, Mikan-chan?"

Mikan knew she lost, and needed another tactic to have any hope of salvaging this situation. 'Young ladies should behave as such, after all.' "Well then, in order to become an official club, you need at least three other members to qualify, and while servant class students are allowed to join club activities, they do not count as official members for things like budgets and minimum memberships."

"Well, it could have been worse, I could have asked to start a different kind of 'Kai Bu' like the 'Underwear Club', or the 'Pleasure Club'."

"Mystery Club: Denied! Underwear Club: APPROVED!!!" Nabiki was actually quite taken aback, that was NOT the reaction she expected, she had started to worry for a moment that she would end up in the 'Underwear Club' after all...

Mikan was NOT about to let that stand. She threw one of her trademark fountain pens (yes, she throws fountain pens) into the floor in front of Kaede, which stopped her dead in her 'tracks'. "Did you say something chairman?"

"No, I don't believe I did..."

"Now, as I was saying, find three more upper-class students to join your club, and your 'Mystery and Wonder' club, will be approved. Have them fill out these forms."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

As they left the elder's house, they started looking for an inn where they could get a meal and a bed for the night.

"What an odd little man he was, strange how he didn't want to take 'No, we don't need a reward' for an answer, what part of 'It's a martial artist's duty to protect the weak' is so hard to understand?"

"Well Ranma-kun, not everyone is as honorable as you are, some only do good deeds for rewards, and not because it is the right thing to do."

"Is there a way to tell, something in the aura maybe?"

"Well, according to Kyoshi-sensei, as we get better, we will be able to read it, in their aura, in the way they move, the way the ki flows through their bodies, everything about them."

"Maybe it's about time we took her up on her offer of more training then. Ucchan never got to meet her, and she can check to make sure I did her ki modifications correctly. I wanted to learn more healing techniques anyway, and maybe SHE will be willing to tell me more about this massage thing I am doing, since neither one of you will tell me."

Nodoka was not able to contain her mirth, almost falling over she was laughing so hard. "You do that son, you do that."

Ukyo on the other hand looked a bit unhappy, "If I knew how to explain it to you, I would Ranchama. I just don't understand it myself."

"I know, Ucchan, I know. You, I am not holding it against."

Before they could find an inn, they were startled by a yell that came from near by, "WHERE THE HELL AM I NOW?!?!?!?!" They turned toward the sound to see a boy, about the same age as Ranma and Ukyo, with black, unkempt hair, wearing a dirty school uniform, a yellow and black bandanna and carrying a very large backpack. He was staring at the ocean in disgust and frustration, looking quite miserable.

They decided to see if they could help the poor lad out, and walked up to him, "Oi! Do you need a hand, you seem lost, are you hungry?"

The boy looked up, noticing them for the first time, looking sheepish, he replied, "Can you tell me where Takanawadai Elementary School is located, please?"

"We're not actually from around here, do you know any landmarks that might help find it?"

"Well, it's in Takanawa, near Tokai University."

"Takanawa? But, that's, Tokyo!?!"

"OF COURSE!"

"But, this is, Aomori Prefecture, that's more than seven hundred kilometers away!"

"Of course, it would be, sorry to bother you." Dejected, he turns to walk away, the wrong direction of course.

Nodoka would have said something at this point, but she was to busy getting this strange boy, and her son's manly actions on tape. Ukyo was too dumfounded that anyone could be THAT lost, to even be able to find words to respond. So once again, it fell to Ranma to be the spokesperson of the group. "Oi, Kid!"

"Hibiki."

"What?"

"Hibiki, Ryoga Hibiki, that's my name."

"Ranma Saotome, that's my mother over there, and this is my 'concupine', Ukyo Kuonji."

"Concupine? What's that? Some kinda pet?"

"WHAT?!? NO! I don't know, she's like my helper, or something."

"I'll help him do anything!"

"Whatever, it's nice to meet you, now if you don't mind, I have a long walk ahead of me..."

"Hibiki-kun, why don't you come have dinner with us, and we will get you on the train in the morning, that has to be faster, and you look like you could use a meal, and a rest."

Ryoga was pretty sure there had been an insult in there somewhere, and would have voiced a complaint about it, but his stomach beat him to it, with the obligatory well-timed growl. "See man, we're all hungry, and the trains don't make stops this late way out here anyway*." Turning to his mother, "Oi, kaa-chan, isn't Takanawa near where Kyoshi-sensei, lives?"
{*-I really do not know if this is true or not.}

"How serendipitous."

Having taken too long to get a meal at a roadside inn, they had to find another option. Luckily they found one restaurant that was just locking its doors, but once they found out that they had stopped the mermaid attacks, they were welcomed in with open arms, treated to huge portions of food that they refused to take money for (mostly because they were closing for the day, and much of what they had eaten would have been wasted anyway).

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

'Who knew recruiting was such hard work?' Nabiki had figured that even amid all of these rich girls there would be a few mystery buffs. Some seemed to misunderstand what kind of club it was, others seemed scared of her. 'In hindsight, maybe writing the 'Kai Bu' in English characters wasn't the best plan, but why would they be scared? That just does not make sense... Disdain or disinterest I could understand, but fear? That just doesn't fit.' While Nabiki enjoyed solving the puzzles of a mystery, 'pieces that did not fit' bothered her. She had a hard time letting them go until she figured out their place in the big picture. She needed more information, but she was starting to think something funny was going on with this whole thing.

She had not wanted to get her sister involved in this. While Kasumi did seem to enjoy mysteries, she seemed to prefer to be a bystander rather than a participant, even if she did like to figure it out before the story ended. While her onee-chan was always willing to help, whenever asked, she had always just seemed to find other activities more fulfilling, and she really did seem to enjoy the tea club. However, it was starting to look like she may have to do just that. If nothing else, the tea and other treats her sister and Fubuki could make would be an asset in trying to recruit others. She was not a bad cook herself, but they way the two of them could turn the simplest of things into a heavenly treat, was well beyond her skills. Having a third-year student in her club, even if it was her onee-chan, would certainly not hurt her credibility either.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After Ryoga had gotten lost in the room's closet while trying to find the bathroom (that was down the hall), more than once, they concluded that his sense of direction was well beyond abysmal. Moreover, even if they put him on a train, it would have been a waste of money, since he would still not likely reach his destination. Luckily, for Ryoga they had decided to go to the same general place. Unluckily for our heroes, as they had to (literally) drag Ryoga along, to keep him from getting lost, even while on the train. The boy could barely even manage to follow them, he was that easily sidetracked.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma had sensed the hostile intent, and immediately pinpointed where it was coming from, he leapt straight up, grabbing the hand straps, and used them to crawl across the ceiling of the train car, over to where the 'offender' was 'offending'. The hostile vibes were coming from a man who seemed to be grappling a teenaged girl, who was screaming, and trying to push him off. Ranma was not exactly sure what a 'pervert' was, but that was what the girl had been calling her attacker when Ranma dropped down, planting both feet in the man's face. In response to this, the 'pervert' felt obligated to crumple to the ground. Unfortunately, for the girl, his hands were still in her skirt, which came down with him. Ranma felt obligated to tie the man up and toss him into the baggage compartment. After the girl pulled her skirt back up, she thanked Ranma, over the cheers and applause from the rest of the people nearby (none of whom bothered to help the girl, not even the few who had seen and were close enough to do something). Ranma decided not to call them on it, and just enjoyed the praise. Needless to say, there was not another 'incident' during the remaining eight hours of the trip, on that particular train car.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Early that morning, Nabiki had set up a table in front of the school, where almost every student would have to pass by when they arrived. With the help of her elder 'sisters', she had made a sign. This time she wrote the 'Kai-Bu' in Kanji, Hiragana and English. She had started learning English early on, because so many good mystery novels were written in English, and translations always lack the nuances of the original language. She may not have developed the verbal skills, having no one to practice with, but her skills with the written language were quite good, especially for her age.

Soon after she had set up her table, with her poster, her stacks of flyers (and business cards), Kasumi and Fubuki arrived, followed by Maid Guy, who was carrying several vary large boxes. Nabiki thanked her 'sisters' as they opened the first box, pulling out a large rack of onigiri made into various shapes, question marks, magnifying glasses, ghosts, and various other 'mystery' themed shapes, all with Kasumi and Fubuki's magic teamwork touch.
{*Onigiri - Rice 'balls', usually wrapped in seaweed. They can be made into various shapes, usually balls or triangles.*}

On any other campus, a child-maid, helping a student with their activities at school, would be a strange sight, but not so on this one. Maid Guy, on the other hand, WAS an unusual sight, and not necessarily a welcome one in the eyes of most of the high-strung girls, some of whom fainted at the sight of him. The girls wound up having to send him away. Akane might well be upset with them and how they had been able to accomplish such a feat. They sacrificed their cute imouto-chan, and suggested that she might be more in need of his assistance than they had been. No, she would not be happy at all.

Once the Maid Guy had been removed, and the unconscious girls revived, things started to look up. They began to attract some interest, mostly in the onigiri. Nevertheless, they handed one out with a flyer and a card, to each student who would take one. Even if some of them felt they were too good for a 'simple rice ball', many were amazed at how cute they were. Sadly, most were too 'lady-like' to eat theirs out in the open, in such a place. Nonetheless, in part, thanks to her 'assistants', and their hard work, she was not getting quite the negative response she had gotten the day before. Thus, word began to spread, slowly, sometimes still inaccurately, about the 'Kai-Bu'.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Arriving in Takanawa, the quartet disembarked the train, glad to be off of the crowded public transportation system, where they could stretch their legs.

"Well, let's see if we can find this school of yours, do you know what the address is?"

"If I knew that, I wouldn't have been lost!"

"Really? I don't think that's how that works... I don't know why I was asking you anyway, really." Ranma pointed out a nearby police box, and the group walked over to it. The officer, seeing Ryoga in the group, slaps himself on the forehead and reaches over to grab a piece of paper from a large stack in the corner. When the group got to the box, the officer hands the paper to Nodoka, who is just as surprised as her children, at this, and looks at the paper in her hand. On the paper is a small map, with three stars on it. One star had been scribbled out, the second said 'Takanawadai Elementary School', and the third said 'Hibiki House'.

The officer let out a big sigh, "At least with someone helping him, he may make it. Good luck, you'll need it."

Sweatdropping, Nodoka asked, "So this is a common occurrence?"

"Someone helping him? No, but the Hibiki's have 'lived' around here for quite some time now, and they are always lost."

"That's awful, why does no one help them?"

"Oh we've tried, we even had a patrol officer assigned to just that purpose. They have been known to break walls when they are lost, it's in the public's interest to keep them, 'not lost', but you know, government cutbacks... We used to have two people assigned to each booth too, one to stay with the booth, the other to help people, but now it's just one person per booth, and we can't leave unless it's an emergency, and frankly, a Hibiki being lost is just Tuesday."

"Didn't you just say it's in the public interest to keep them 'not lost'?"

"Yes, yes I did, and yes, yes it is. But we are only allowed to do so much. The boys and I printed these things up ourselves, but it's about all we can manage these days."

This time it was Nodoka who let out a large 'sigh', while she rubbed her temples. "Oh, my." She looked up again, "Well, I have to ask, why is this star crossed out?"

"That was where his mother worked, but, since she hasn't shown up in close to a year, they said she no longer needed to bother."
sou
Ryoga stops his fuming at that, "What? Mom's been fired again?"

"Well, when was the last time YOU'VE seen her?"

"Um, I'm not sure... I just thought we were missing each other. She's been home a few times... I keep finding the food she'd made for me, even if it is spoiled."

"Oh you poor boy! Well, it is too late for school today. We will take you to your house and figure out what to do next. We need to find a place to stay near here for a while anyway."

"The school is just up that street, if you turn right there, his house is a few blocks up."

"Thank you officer, could you also point out a good restaurant close by?"

"It depends on what price range you are looking for, Chardin's is right over there if you are into that fancy food, or if you prefer something more simple, there is a really good beef bowl around the corner there, well priced as well."

"While there are many French things I like," She said with a bit of a grin, "their entrees are not among them. Are beef bowls sound good to the rest of you? How about you officer, would you like us to bring one back to you?" '

"Oh, no you don't have to do that."

"It would be our pleasure, you were quite helpful."

"Well, I'm only doing my job, ma'am. Helping people is why we are here ...when we are able." He got a distant look on his face as he reminisced about the old days when he was allowed to do more than give directions and take reports.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

They arrived at the Hibiki home quite easily, once they had left the beef bowl with the helpful officer, after they had eaten their own dinners, triple portions each. Ryoga was himself, stunned at how easily they had arrived, he couldn't manage it if his life had depended upon it. It probably would have taken him a few days at best, had he been on his own. After undoing the various locks on the door, he invited them in, and only after falling victim to one, did he remember to warn them of the various traps. Little did he realize that his warning was too late, since his houseguests had not only noticed them, but were deftly avoiding each one.

Ryoga showed Nodoka where their phone was located, checked to see that they still had a dial tone before handing it over to her. Then he went to clean out the refrigerator and throw away the dinner his mother had made for him ...the last time she had been there, which, it turns out, was about a week and a half ago, not long after he had left the last time, and thankfully, was not still in the oven, 'cooking', again. After throwing away a lot of spoiled food, he wrote a reply note, telling her about her job, in case she still hadn't found it, and telling her about his recent 'adventures' and the family that had helped him.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nodoka was surprised to learn that not only was the empty lot behind the Hibiki house available, both houses next door had been abandoned as well and were for sale, cheap. Apparently no one wanted to live next door to a family that shouted at the top of their lungs 'WHERE THE HELL AM I NOW?!?!?!' every time they walked into the wrong room, or closet, which happened a LOT. Never one to let a 'good' investment opportunity go by (everybody makes mistakes), she scooped up all three, figuring she could rent them out, or sell them later if she needed to. It never hurt to own more property, and with any luck, maybe she could give it to Ranma when he gets married. If the way things had been going were any indication, her manly son might need a really large first home (although it might need some sound proofing, due to her son's skills). Visions of grandbabies danced in her head briefly before she regained her composure, and asked her contacts to get her an interview with the best art and Mandarin language instructors available at Todai.
{Todai is one of the top Universities in Japan, and located very near Ryoga's elementary school}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Akane was in her last year of elementary school, and she had gathered quite a following. She was not just the best female athlete in the school (and maybe even the district), but she was also likely the best over-all athlete, of either gender (especially since her sisters were now going to school in another district). With the exception of certain events (like swimming, or gymnastics, where she had no skill at all), few in her age range could even come close to her prowess.

She really loved being at school, it was when she got the fewest interruptions from the meddling Maid Guy, and she got a lot more respect. At home, she was the 'baby', always needing to be 'looked after', while at school, she was the top dog. The problem was that this was her last year of it. With the coming of the next year she would have to transfer to that rich girls' school, and while the thought of an 'all girls' school DID appeal to her, none of her friends' families could afford to send them there, and she didn't want to leave her friends behind again. 'That stupid principal said she was trying to make them let boys in anyway someday. Not to mention that most 'rich girls' she had met, were rude and haughty.' They tended to snub her, and insult her and her hobbies. If that was the way they wanted to be, then they were no better than boys!'

{Right! If anyone was going to be a snob, it was going to be her!}

"Hey, watch it! Don't think, just because you are the author, that I can't come pound you, Baka!"

{Shaking in his 'boots', the bias author returns to the story, already in progress...}

...they were no better than boys! She didn't think that she could take six years of being around them, being in the servant classes would probably be better than that!

Her family had been very insistent about her going to this school, saying it would help her out in the long run, but these were the same people who said she needed the Maid Guy to help her. She really was not sure, if she wanted to go there or if she wanted to make her father pay to send her to a normal school. She had a lot of thinking to do in the very near future.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma was meditating, having gotten up earlier than his training partners, as was usual these days. He was really becoming a morning person, the peace and tranquility of early mornings did wonders for his peace of mind. The only thing that could top it was watching the stars on a clear evening. He had started water for tea, and prepped the tools for the day's training. The only thing left was to meditate on his ki training. He was working on expanding his awareness with his ki sight, sending it out in all directions, reading the auras of all things in his ever-growing range. Due to which he was completely unsurprised when Ukyo walked up and said...

"There you are Ranchama. What'cha doooin'?"

With a wink he replied, "Practicing watching you from afar."

Blushing a bright pink, she shyly looked away, "Aw, Ranchama, you know how I feel about the thought of being watched."

"Yeah, it makes you excited, why do you think I do it?" Smiling, he gets up from his lotus position, "Well, most of the morning prep is done, and we have some time before mom gets up, you want to do a quick spar before we take our bath?"

"Sure Ranchama!"

"After breakfast I have a new technique I have been practicing that I want to show you guys. When you get good at it, we can make it into a game."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After breakfast, and dropping Ryoga at his school, Ranma, Ukyo and Nodoka gathered in their practice area, "Okay, today we are going to try something new. I have been trying to work on ki projections. This one is based on Jan Ken Pon, I call it 'Jan Kenpo'." Taking up a Janken stance, he shouted, "Jan! Ken! Po!" As he shouted this, and his fist struck his open hand for the third time, he gave the sign for 'rock'. When he did this, a huge rock shaped ball of ki formed in the air in front of him, and slammed into the ground, leaving a large dent. Repeating the steps, a large pair of scissors appeared, cutting a practice dummy in half. On his third attempt, a large creation appeared that looked like a cloth, with net-like cables on one side. Bringing the 'net' down over Ukyo's head, it soon covered her completely. It lifted her into the air, flipping her over as it did so. Floating back toward its creator, it slowly dissolved, depositing a startled Ukyo into Ranma's outstretched arms.
{*Janken = the game that is the origin of Rock, Paper, Scissors.*}

Leaning into his chest, she held him tightly, too amazed to do anything other than enjoying Ranma holding her. Nodoka was busy picking her jaw up off of the ground, and dusting it off.

Once they had sufficiently recovered, Ranma began showing them how he was able to solidify his ki, and walks them through the steps needed to project it.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

So far, Nabiki had gotten some return on their investment. Unfortunately, much of the response had been from girls who wanted to join the cooking club, or at least get the recipe for the onigiri, especially from the servant class girls.

Nabiki had been starting to get frazzled, if only some of her 'information network' had been able to gain admission to this school as well. It would take a lot of work to build a new one. She would really need to start spending some time with the servant class students, the so-called 'ladies' tended to ignore their maids, as if they were a part of the furnishings. She could use that fact in a number of ways, the first being that is a good way to get information, the other being that by treating them nicely, like fellow human beings, she might be able to win their trust, and service. She was certainly not above exchanging favors either, and many of them were from poor families, and could use the help.

Nabiki decided she would do just that, and decided that the easiest place to begin would be the lunchroom, and headed that direction. Now they may call this a 'lunch room', but it looked more like one of the fanciest dining halls you could ever hope to see in your life. It had huge vaulted ceilings, with plate glass windows running from the floor to the ceiling along two of the walls. One side, giving a beautiful view of the campus below, and the other had glass doors that opened up onto a lovely patio that overlooked the garden. There were fancy tables, spaciously located all around the room, instead of the elongated, bench-like tables you find in a more normal school.

Each of these tables were 'looked after' by one of the girls from the servant classes. Where each maid would take care of any girls who 'sat at their table' as if they were her 'master', like a 'Maid Cafe' where each table had its own personal waitress. It would be a good place to get a 'captive audience', and let her begin to build up a rapport.

As she went to sit at one of the empty tables, a young girl, with short black hair and a beauty mark beside each of her large, beautiful, grey eyes, that seemed to smile at her as she came twirling over to greet Nabiki, and hold her chair, blushing as she did so. So cute was she, in her black and white maid's uniform, that when she spun, it seemed as if shiny bubbles sparkled all around her. "Welcome, goshujin-sama." Standing on Nabiki's left, she handed her a menu. "Today's 'recommended dish' is Italian, chicken pasta, with an Alfredo sauce. Would you like me to get you a drink while you decide?"

"Whatever tea you recommend would be lovely. The name's Nabiki Tendo and you are?" Nabiki looked up at her expectantly.

"Your humble maid, Mori. I shall return with your tea in a moment." She twirled to leave, as she hurried off to make Nabiki's tea.

Thinking to herself, 'Wow, could she get any more perfect? I really wish I knew how she sparkled like that, need to ask about it later.' She started taking notes while she waited for Mori's return.

Moments later, the maid returned with a steaming cup of tea. She bowed deeply, after she placed the cup on the table, in front of Nabiki. "Your tea, goshujin-sama."

"Thank you, but call me, 'Nabiki', please. I would rather be your friend than your 'master'." Nabiki gave the girl her warmest smile.

"Thank you for your kindness, Nabiki-sama, though I am not sure if that is allowed. We must keep up appearances after all. Would you like something to eat?"

"I will take the 'recommended dish', thank you." Once again, Mori sparkled as she twirled and hurried off to place Nabiki's order.

While she was waiting, Nabiki studied the other 'maids' in the room, looking to see if any of them looked to be receptive to a deal. She had one advantage in this, unlike most of the 'ladies', she could relate to them a bit, thanks to her 'training'. It would take her a while, but 'every web is built, one strand at a time'.

Before long, the effervescent maid returned with Nabiki's meal. Everything was quite fancy, and the presentation was beautiful, everything was perfect. It had not taken Nabiki long to get used to the strange utensils, and she found that she was really enjoying all of this rich, foreign food. Nothing could top Kasumi and Fubuki's cooking, but then, they never tried anything like this.

As Nabiki enjoyed her meal, she attempted to hold a conversation with Mori, and considering the girl, never moved, other than to refill her tea, and her lips never moved, said conversation went rather well. When Nabiki would ask a question, a tiny voice would sound from just behind her ear, so low she was sure that she was the only one who could hear it. Nabiki had asked about it and she had replied,

"In addition to being graded on our performance, and rest assured, we are always being watched, the perfect maid is seen but not heard, and a Japanese lady, should never be seen speaking."

Nabiki had been amazed at how old fashioned her ideals were. She also figured that was at least part of why the girl, who had to be about her age, seemed so mature. The fancy uniform did not hurt either.

When she had finished eating and Mori was about to clear her dished, she asked her to pick a dessert. Soon after, she returned with a slice of "turtle" cheesecake. Chocolate, caramel and pecans, combined into such a fluffy texture that just melted in her mouth. "Oh, this is just divine!"

Nabiki slowly savored every bite as she inquired is Mori had any 'special needs' that she was having trouble filling. Mori was not 'poor' by any stretch of the imagination, her mother worked for a, very, rich family after all, but she was not allowed to leave the campus under most circumstances, and so she had trouble getting items from the outside world, like manga, junk food and toys. And thus, Nabiki's 'network of informants' began to grow.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

For the second day, Ranma and Ukyo were walking Ryoga to school, but unlike the day before, Nodoka was with them was well. Ryoga was in a strangely good mood, for the second day in a row, he was going to make it to school, on time. Nodoka had been making sure he ate regularly, and stayed clean, and they had even helped him with his homework. It was nice to have a mother who looked after him, even if it was not HIS mother, still, he could really get used to this.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After dropping Ryoga off at his school, our heroes arrived at Kyoshi's home. Kyoshi herself was going through an exercise after having hung her laundry out to dry. Seeing that she had company, she immediately stopped and walked over to greet her new arrivals. "Nodoka-chan! Ranma-chan! Welcome back, I hope life is treating you both well. And who is this cute young lady you have with you today, you didn't mention you had a daughter."

"I didn't have one then, but I do now. Kyoshi-sensei, I'd like you to meet, Ukyo Kuonji. We picked her up near Osaka, her father was too sick to care for her, so we are taking care of her now."

"I'm gonna be Rachama's concupine!!!"

Kyoshi gives Nodoka a strange look, "I don't know WHERE she gets these ideas from..."

"But, Okaa-sama, you said that... ow!" Ukyo stopped talking as Nodoka's hand quickly shot out and lightly pinched her side.

Looking a bit on the sheepish side, Nodoka tried to cover with, "From the mouth of babes...."

Making a mental note to ask the kids about this later, after all 'From the mouths of babes and drunkards, you will learn the truth.', Kyoshi gave Nodoka a strange look for a moment, but decided not to 'sweat the small stuff' for now, and moved on, "And Ranma-kun, what a handsome young man you are growing into, I hope you are using what I taught you to protect girls in trouble, and not abuse them, or treat them badly, like so many other men."

Ranma blushed at the compliment and said, "Thank you Sensei, and of course! It's a martial artist's duty to protect the weak! ...not that girls are weak, I mean the ones who can't take care of themselves, er, I mean, ...It's a martial artist's duty to protect those who need it! Yeah, that's what I mean!"

Always one to jump to Ranma's defense, even after he stuck his foot in his mouth and unintentionally insulted her whole gender. Besides, he was so cute when he got all flustered like that. "That's right Sensei-sama, Ranchama has saved me more times than I can remember! That's partly why I swore my oath of loyalty to him, and why I will follow and serve him for the rest of my life!" Pride and determination emanated from her very being.

One did not need to be able to read auras to see her loyalty. Added to what she had already gathered from their auras, Kyoshi was quite pleased. She was quite glad that she had made an exception and trained the boy, and that his lovely mother had kept her word, he truly was becoming a fine lad. Deciding to ignore Nodoka, who was trying not to draw attention to herself, she focused on the two children before her. "So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company again, did you come for more training, or is this just a social call?"

"Well, both really, but as for training, we had several things we wanted to check with you about. First the technique you did on us when we first got here, I tried to do it on Ucchan and I wanted you to check and make sure I did it correctly."

Examining the girl's aura again, paying extra attention to her ki pathways and reserves. "Considering I never actually showed you how to do that technique, you did an amazing job, but you see here, and here there are still a few partially blocked paths, and I think we can give her more of a boost if we do this. Do you see how that works?"

"Hai Sensei!"

"How do you feel, Ukyo was it?"

"Great! Thank you, and yes, Ukyo Kuonji's the name, and serving Ranchama and okonomiyaki's my game! Well, actually, I know a lot of other games too, part of the geisha training, but those are the main two, and Ranchama comes first!"

Turning back to her prodigy student, she says with a wink, "Well, Ranma-kun, you must be doing something right. Her aura has some of the most loyal blues I have ever seen. She may not pick things up as quickly as you, which is nothing to be ashamed of, I can't even learn new techniques as quickly as he can, but in most other ways, her ki should almost equal yours, with some practice. We will get to why you are here, but first, let me see how far you have progressed. Start with the basics, charge up your auras and let's see what you can do."

The three 'students' did as instructed, flaring up their battle auras and used it to enhance their abilities. Gauging the size, intensity and speed of their build-up, Kyoshi turned to them and said, "Okay, now Jump!" All three of them were instantly in the air, soaring as high as they could go.

Ukyo was impressed with herself, this was the first time she had almost matched Ranma's jump, he had always been able to get about five meters higher and at least a good ten meters further than her, but not this time. She only started her descent a fraction of a second before him, she felt as if they almost cleared four stories. She made a mental note to make sure and thank Kyoshi-sensei again for the help she had given her, as the ground quickly approached. Preparing herself for the landing, she braced her legs, ready to absorb the impact as she pushed ki out through her feet to cushion her landing.

"Using only your auras, deflect or absorb these attacks!" Kyoshi began slowly tossing pebbles at her favorite pupils. At first, the pebbles got through, hitting them, but not hard enough to do any damage. However, as their battle auras got stronger, the pebbles got bigger, and were thrown harder and faster, less of them were able to hit their intended targets, being pushed to the side, or in a few cases, completely consumed in the blaze of power and his aura continued to grow in intensity. He powered it up with not only his own internal ki, but he took some from the ground and air around him as well, it grew to the point that it more than completely enveloped all three of them. Nodoka and Ukyo were almost distracted enough to let theirs drop, as feelings of warmth and safety washed over them. Realizing that they were no longer 'protecting themselves, they started focusing their ki into Ranma, essentially combining their auras, and causing it to flare up once again, almost tripling in size, disintegrating any projectile that got close. Or rather it did, until Kyoshi threw her last, and smallest, pebble, which she also charged with her ki. This pebble completely ignored their combined aura, and hit Ranma's forehead, leaving a small bump.

"Very good, very good. You can charge your auras, you can charge yourselves, can you charge objects, like weapons?"

In response, each of them pulled out their preferred ranged weapon. Nodoka picked up her bow, Ukyo pulled out some of her kote from a bandoleer hidden somewhere inside her training outfit, and Ranma pulled out his deck of cards. Kyoshi looked at them for a moment, "Alright, you said earlier that okonomiyaki was a passion in your life, so I get that, themed weapons, and the bow, while it is an uncommon weapon for a martial artist, it IS a weapon, but cards? Really? Cards? That's the weapon you picked? There has to be a story as to why you are using that?"

"Well, the story was, a guy was running away after cheating at cards, I needed something to throw and they were close by. It took me a few tries to get the hang of it, but I got it, busted him and was able to return all of the money and stuff he took from Ucchan and the other kids. As for why I still use them, why not? They are cheap, easy to come by, easy to carry, inconspicuous, and most of all, fun!" He grinned broadly at that, he held up the queen of clubs and said, "Watch this."

Ranma threw the card he had charged, and it sped straight away. Once it had gotten about ten meters it made a ninety degree turn, and shot straight up only to curve back toward them, where it circled around Kyoshi a few times before it embedded itself into the ground behind her.

"Fun is all the reason you really need, and that, Ranma-chan, was quite impressive. I knew training you was the right thing to do." She always used the '-chan' honorific when she was especially pleased with him. It helped her forget she was not training a girl, and he was so adorable when he was embarrassed. Ranma was not exactly thrilled about the fact, but if that was the price for what she could teach him, it was well worth it, and this horse was not going to look gift training in the mouth!

"Alright, who's next?" Nodoka stepped up with her bow, readied her arrow, and let it fly. It was difficult for even them to track the arrow, but after a moment, it was easy to see the branch of a large tree split down the middle, upsetting a squirrel and several birds in the process. "Simple, direct but effective, Ukyo-chan, you're up."

Ukyo, rather quickly, set up her gas grill, and whipped up an okonomiyaki, tossing it into the air. As it spun in the air, without losing a single topping, she threw four kote into the air with her other hand. They sliced through the okonomiyaki, cutting it into four equal 'slices'. Each piece of the okonomiyaki landed in the mouth of one of the four people present, she then caught the four kote, two in each hand with a flourish.

"Delicious!"

This inspection went on for several hours, first with demonstrations of skills, working up to the most recent special moves they developed, the Jan Kenpo. Kyoshi was pretty impressed that he had come up with this on his own, and it didn't take long before she was playing along with them. After that, they moved onto sparring, first with Ranma and Ukyo, and later Nodoka joined in, using her bow as a bo-staff, helping Ukyo double team Ranma.

After they had finished sparring, Kyoshi felt she had a good read on their current abilities, and what they were ready to learn, while Ukyo and Ranma helped each other to make each of them, several okonomiyaki for lunch. It was precisely moments like this, when Ranma tried to help her, that Ukyo was the most torn, she wanted to insist that she should be the one taking care of it for him, but at the same time, she wanted to spend every moment she could with him, and it was fun to work together, so she almost always gave in and let him help, and then felt guilty about it afterward.

After they had finished eating, Kyoshi looked slyly at Nodoka, "Sooo, Nodoka-chan, after such a workout, I was thinking we should all soak in the hot spring, it has good restorative powers, and we all certainly need a bath after all that sweating." She finished up with a bit of a leer.

"OH! You'll love it, Ucchan, she has her own private, open-air hot spring!" The children were noticeably excited at the prospect, there was nothing quite like a good soak, in a natural hot spring.

Nodoka, on the other hand, was decidedly less thrilled about the prospect of a hot bath, an unusual thing to be sure. In fact, she had stiffened a bit remembering what happened the last time. She had needed to be quite the gatekeeper around the amorous ki master. "Um, that's okay. We'll, um just have ours when we get home..."

"But, kaa-chan, her bath is sooo nice!"

Matching Ranma's 'whining' tones, "Yeah, kaa-chan, my bath is sooo nice! It will do wonders for your skin, and help ki flow. Come on, I'll wash your back!" Kyoshi and the two children dragged and/or pushed Nodoka along to the bathing area. Nodoka had been planning to give the children a sexual education soon, since they were getting close to that age, but this was certainly not the way she had wanted to go about it, she did NOT want to be the example. Especially after last time, she didn't want to feel anything like that again, at least not, like that.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nodoka had been quite surprised that Kyoshi had not done much more than a little harmless skinship, after what happened last time, she had expected the 'worst'. It is not that she is opposed to the idea, exactly, but she had taken an oath of faithfulness, and while the oaf she married saw little reason to fulfill his marital duties once she had begot him a son, her honor would not allow her to break that vow. Children learn by example, after all, and she wanted to make sure her son knew that his mother kept to her word. She did get a chuckle when Ranma started to inquire about his 'massage' technique, it took everything she had to keep herself from laughing at the thought of her salacious sensei, getting her just desserts. She was only disappointed that they had taken so long in the bath that they didn't have time for a 'demonstration' today, they were already running late.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

They ran as fast as they could, hoping against hope that they would make it to the school before Ryoga 'accidentally wandered off'. Not seeing him by the gate as they ran up, they started to assume the worst when they heard the sound of a commotion. Turning toward the noise, they are relieved to see Ryoga, only to be a bit concerned to see he was fighting, and even more concerned to see what he was fighting with!

"Wait here, on the off chance I need back-up." Chuckling a bit, he strolled over to see if his friend of a few days needed help. "Oi, Ryoga! What did you do to that vending machine, kick it to get free food?"

Both of them turned to 'look' at the source of the interruption. The vending machine remained silent, not really surprising anyone present. Ryoga, not wanting anything to think he was a thief, defended himself, "This is all your fault Saotome!"

"How do you figure?"

"If you had been here on time, I wouldn't have had to put money into this vending machine, only to have it not give me a sandwich! I reached inside to get my food and grabbed something I shouldn't have, and it's been attacking me ever since! It should at least give me my money back if it's not going to give me a sandwich!"

"Don't worry about it Hibiki-kun, I can make you a better sandwich than you could ever get out of a worn out old vending machine like this!"

Said vending machine was not exactly thrilled about being insulted, and decided to make that fact known to the general public. "Hey! Never in my life, have I been this insulted! Been made to suffer such indignation! Char, Charge I say!!!"

Quickly dodging out of the way of the oncoming vending machine, Ranma watched as it smacked into the wall surrounding the school, crumpling to the ground. Ranma walked over to the fallen snack dispenser, poking it a few times, "Oi! You okay?"

"Just wait, I'll get you both! ...as soon as I get up."

Not really wanting to get involved, but not having learned the paralysis pressure point yet, Ranma did the closes technique he knew. Using his ki, he penetrated the back of the 'costume' and hit the spot he had been practicing on Ukyo so much lately, finding it easily despite it not being in the spot he expected. The moment his ki unraveled the 'knot', the 'machine' started convulsing on the ground.

"Well, that's done. Let's get back home and make some dinner. You going to join us, Hibiki-kun?"

"Will it be okay?"

"Sure, you can join us for meals as long as we are here. No problem!" Ranma gives him a friendly grin, and pats him on the shoulder.

"No, I meant that 'it'." He pointed to the convulsing costumed creep.

"It should be." He pointed toward Ukyo, "She is always happy when I practice on her. It's a massage technique."

"Maybe I should get you to do it on me, my shoulders get kind of stiff from that backpack I carry when I am not trying to find the school."

"Well, there is a side effect, which is why I used it here, it turns the person's legs to rubber for a short time and besides, I am not all that comfortable massaging guys... I'm not really sure why, but it feels weird."

"You just did!"

"That was a guy? The voice was so high pitched... Well, it IS hard to tell inside a vending machine..."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

EARLIER THAT DAY

Nabiki, Kasumi and Fubuki had gathered to discuss strategies in the back of an empty classroom. Nabiki had been poking around, and Fubuki trying to listen in to see if she could hear anything related to why their club was being snubbed so hard before it had even formed, since both of them were able to maintain a 'low profile'. Kasumi did not have that option, she had a difficult time finding any time where she was 'unnoticed'. In her short time going to this school, she had gathered quite a following, which only grew once again with this year's influx of new first year students. Popular among both the upper classes and the servant classes, she was considered the school's 'idol', every girl wanted to be near her, hoping some of her perfection would rub off on them.

This thought gave Nabiki an idea. However no sooner had had they each given their 'report' on their 'findings' thus far, when a cute girl with long black hair, short bangs and a large 'ahoge', strolled in and 'apparently' not noticing the other girls, began to change out of her maroon school uniform, and into something that looked like it could be from a manga. She stashed her other clothing somewhere in the costume she was now wearing, and left quickly, not having paid attention to the other three girls in the slightest.
{*Ahoge = cowlick, (lit. 'Stupid Hair')*}

This completely derailed their trains of thought, crashing them into a smoking pile of rubbish. It took several minutes for them to 'reboot' and get back on track and return to the topic at hand.

"Well, I did have one idea before we were so entertainingly interrupted. I was thinking, with Kasumi-onee-chan being as popular as she is, we could make chibi-plushie versions of her, and have two of them for 'prizes' for the first two people who become fully fledged members of the club, or three, and then Kasumi could go back to her tea club, if you want to. I can talk to Tenjoji-kouchou, I think she is on our side, and might approve of our idea."
{*Chibi = small*}

Kasumi was rather embarrassed at the idea. "I cannot imagine anyone would want such a thing, let alone be enough motivation to switch clubs, especially if you are right and people are afraid of it. I am nobody special." Kasumi did not care to be the center of attention, she was generally a shy girl, and only really truly 'opened up' to a very select few people. Most of whom, were in this room with her. "I really don't think that would work at all."

"I disagree, Kasumi-sama, I think it would be very effective, the question is, do you want people in your club whose sole motivation to join is the prize?"

"I admit, it's not an ideal situation, but I am getting desperate, if I do not find enough members soon, I will have to join another club. Well, let's try making one tonight, and I will present it, and our idea to the principal in the morning ...assuming you do not object, my cute onee-chan."

"Ara, I do not think it will work, and it is embarrassing, but if you two think it will help, I guess it will be okay."
{*Ara = 'Oh my!' etc.*}
-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The next day found Ranma and company once again, training with Master Kyoshi. She had shown Nodoka a training exercise for her and Ukyo to practice, mostly to keep them busy, and took Ranma inside to her medical 'office' to work on his message and other healing arts.

First, they reviewed what he remembered from their training and what he has learned since then. After that, she started showing him new techniques for healing not only himself, but now others as well. When she had started to show him pressure points, for deadening pain and other healing practices, Ranma relayed what happened the day before with the strange person in the vending machine, and asked if she would PLEASE help him to understand what it was he was doing.

Kyoshi had asked his mother about it, in private, yet she had still refused to speak about it, and she could not help but admit to herself that she was quite curious to find out. "Well, might as well do it right then, give me the 'full treatment' and I will see what I can tell you about it." Never the shy one, she stripped and laid down upon one of her padded examining tables, relaxing as much as she could, sparing just enough of her senses to 'watch' what he was doing.

Ranma, being used to mixed bathing, was unperturbed. "Thank you Sensei." Bowing, he waited for her to lie on the table and relax at which point he began. He started with her extremities and worked his way toward her heart. First, her feet and legs, next her hands and arms. Then he started on her scalp, working his way down her neck to her shoulders, slowly moving down her back. By the time he had gotten to her lower back she already felt like her body had been turned into pudding, but when he got to a point near her tail bone an ache set in, one unrelated to soreness. Her body began to twitch and spasm as waves of pleasure radiated from within her. Unlike Nodoka, who had tried to stifle hers, Kyoshi made no such attempt, and began to moan as she felt a release, unlike any she had ever felt before. And also unlike with his mother, he was more practiced, and not too concerned about hurting her with it, so he poured more effort into it, instead of stopping right as he had hit it, as he had the first time.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Previously...

Nodoka and Ukyo were very curious, partially about what Ranma would be learning, but mostly because they expected him to give her a demonstration of his new 'massage technique'. Their curiosity each stemmed from a different place, though neither of which were any less intense. Ukyo wanted to know what she had been feeling these past weeks, and from somewhere she was not used to getting instructions, a desire to watch Ranma giving this woman a massage sprung forth, and it was quite overwhelming to her. Nodoka on the other hand, was eager to watch the woman, who had tormented her with offers of pleasure that Nodoka could not bring herself to accept, squirm, even if it was in pleasure.

They each took turns, going back and forth between practicing and peeping, as they waited for the massage to begin. Once it had, they knew she would be distracted, and they could watch in earnest, both of them enjoyed it for altogether different reasons. Nodoka had to bite back a laugh, and Ukyo a mild wave of jealousy for not being included, as they saw Kyoshi almost pass out from the sheer bliss she was feeling.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

It took some time before Kyoshi had been able to regain her faculties enough to control her movements, or even speak, almost grateful that she had been unable to move, for fear of what she might have done with the underage boy. Two things did not really sit well with her ...Oh, if only he were a few years older, and a girl! She was still panting heavily and her eyes were finding it difficult to focus completely, but she was able to sit up now, thanks to Ranma's help. "Sensei, are you all right?"

"I couldn't be better. Thank you Ranma-chan, I needed that, it has been far too long. And you two Peeping Toms can come in if you are not going to practice."

Ukyo was almost instantly, by Ranma's side, but a reluctant voice from outside came in through the window, "No, thank you though, considering the situation, I think I will stay out here and practice for this part... It's going to be hard enough to give 'the talk' after this as it is."

'So you are going to leave me to do it... fine. The boy certainly needs to know what he is doing.' She looked down at the two children, who looked up at her expectantly. Shaking her head, she steadied herself again, and thought about how to go about this. "Where to start? Well, first off, the pressure point you hit is commonly referred to as the Grafenberg Spot, or the 'G-Spot'. Not all women have one, or rather the skin in that area isn't thick enough to have many nerve clusters and therefore it's not as 'receptive'." She pulled a yukata on loosely, and pulled out a diagram, pointing to the 'spot' in question. "What is amazing, and almost scary, is how you hit it. Normally you have to, come at it, in a, different way. Somehow, the way you did it, was far more effective than any physical touch has been. You will want to learn to adjust your ki, and come at it with different waves and patterns. After all, you don't want to be a 'one trick pony'."

"But, what about that guy yesterday? That was, apparently, a guy."

She pulled out another diagram, this time a cross section of the male organs. "The Prostate Gland, also sometimes known as the 'Male G-Spot', it is located around here." She said pointing to her chart. "Now mind you that everyone is different and it won't be in the exact came place for everyone, but you seem to have a knack for figuring that out on your own."

He looked a bit sheepish, "Well, Ukyo has let me practice a lot, so I have gotten pretty good at finding it now." Ukyo blushed a bit at this, though she was not really sure why, but she felt like she should. "But, I know how to find it, that's not the question, what we want to know is, what does it do?"

Now it was Kyoshi's turn to blush a bit. As unabashed as she was about sex in general, talking about it with children was more embarrassing then she thought. "Well, you SAW what it did, it makes someone feel REALLY good." A goofy smile, plastered itself across her face. The inquisitive looks on the children's faces told her that would not be enough of an explanation, "Well, I suppose we should start at the beginning then. Before too much longer, your bodies will begin to go through some changes, not just getting taller, but you will begin to develop in lots of other ways, both physically and emotionally." She went on to have one of the most difficult conversations of her life. Finishing up with, "...and while you will both be at the age of consent very soon, as a doctor, I recommend you wait a bit longer than that, your bodies are just not ready yet at that age. But if you do, be sure to use protection, like a condom, you will not be either physically, nor emotionally ready to have a child for a very long time."

Glad to have finally finished 'The Talk', Kyoshi began to put her charts and books away, only to have her heart sink as one of the children asked, "What's a 'condom'?"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Kasumi had not stopped blushing the entire time they had been working on her chibi-self, she was so adorable, that Fubuki and Nabiki worked it into their design. They had made two, about fifteen centimeters tall, one in her normal clothes, and the other in Kasumi's 'battle gear', her maid's outfit holding a small broom.

Nabiki had waited until she had a free period, when she knew that Mikan-sensei was teaching a class, so that she could get Kaede-kouchou alone. Kaede seemed to be receptive to her ideas, and was a fanatic about anything cute, or that reminded her of an anime. The hard part was to catch her when she was not being 'restrained' by her 'assistant'. Mikan had a way of putting a damper on anything 'fun'.

The meeting itself went quite well, as Nabiki had hoped, Kaede had not only given her permission for her plan, but had even offered to show their dolls to a contact of hers, who offered to produce as many as they wanted (for another 'donation' from Kaede, who sponsored a lot of their work). The downside to that was they would have to wait to put said plan into motion, since she had to give her the dolls so they could be copied. Kaede had also given her an extension on her deadline for needing to join a club (Mikan would not be pleased when she learned of it). If she did fail, maybe she could go into the Crafts Club, making those dolls HAD been pretty fun.

When she returned to the 'empty' room they had been using for their meeting place, Nabiki ran into the same girl from the day before, once again, changing into some silly costume in the room.

"Oh, hello again."

The strange girl looked up as Nabiki entered the room and addressed her. "Have we met?"

"Not formally, but we started using this room for our meeting place yesterday. You, apparently, didn't see us, but we saw you."

Said girl had the decency to look embarrassed, for a moment, then shrugged, "Oh well, we're all girls anyway. Hey, I know you, you're the one looking to start the 'underwear club'! I want to join!"

Nabiki grimaced at being mistaken for the underwear club again, but stayed calm as she explained, "No, we are starting the mystery and wonder club, where we plan to study mysteries and investigate strange occurrences."

"Ooo, That sounds fun! Not as fun as the underwear club, but still, fun. Can I wear detective cosplay?"

Now normally Nabiki would have turned the strange girl down flatly, but she was getting desperate. She could not be positive that her plan would work, and even with her extension, time was running out. She needed all the help she could get ...even if it was strange help. This girl seemed more like the type who should have been on the other end of an investigation, but, beggars could not be choosers, after all. "I don't see why not. Nabiki Tendo, it's nice to meet you."

"Great, then I guess I will still join. It's nice to meet you too, my name is Sakura Nankyoku but my friends call me 'Penguin'." She grinned broadly, as she bowed to Nabiki. "I guess I'll go tell Kaede-oba-chan that I am going to join."

"Aunt Kaede?!?!? Your aunt is the headmaster?" 'Penguin' nodded. "I guess I can see that, you two DO look a lot alike, and you both have similar personalities..."

Chuckling, she replied, "People say I take more after her than my mom. But she doesn't like it when I call her aunt, says it makes her feel old, but she's almost twenty! That IS old! But she's still fun, more fun than my mom anyway!"

"Well, let's get your forms filled out, so Mikan-sensei doesn't get mad at me. Welcome to the club. Well, assuming we get one more member..."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Before long, Ryoga had all but moved in with them. He stayed with them until it was time to go to bed, when someone would lead him to his room. Then one of them would pick him up in the morning, where they would usually find him in a closet or someplace where he had gotten lost while trying to find the bathroom, or kitchen, one time he was even in the, mostly empty, refrigerator! They would then take him to school when he needed to go, and pick him up when his school day was through. The rest of the time, he would follow Nodoka around like the proverbial 'lost puppy'.

During the days, the gang would train with Kyoshi-sensei, and Ryoga would go with them on days when he did not have school. Even if she was not willing to teach him directly, he wanted to be near Nodoka, and he did manage to pick a few things up by watching and listing in. She was willing to look him over to see what she could tell about his directional difficulties. Unfortunately for him, she had said that it was a magical curse, and not something in his ki or in the way his brain was wired, so anything she could try to do to alleviate the symptoms would likely cause the magic to compensate for it and remove any benefit. In addition, it was not worth the potential harm she could do trying. The slightest complication could, worst case scenario, fry his brain, or damage his ki, and with magic, there were 'always' complications. The only person who could remove such a curse would be an extremely powerful mage, the likes of which she had not heard of existing for a great many years, but if anyone could happen to run across such a person, it was a Hibiki!

Three evenings a week Ukyo and Ranma would study art with their tutor. They studied color theory, composition and blending. After a while, they would practice by competing for time while painting only by mixing the basic colors, red, blue, yellow, white and black to get the colors they needed. Ranma had blended this with his aura reading and ki manipulation and had begun to identify colors by their emotional spectrum counterpart (angry red, loyal blue, dynamic purple, and so on). Their ki training, especially his healing, would require them to keep a tight control of their emotions, and only feed the ones they needed into their ki for the effects they desired, and learning how each color could be blended and made was helping him considerably with that.

On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, all four of them would study Mandarin with another tutor. The Saotomes both picked up the language quickly, adapting to it like any other new style. Ukyo was no slouch either, she had already learned several dialects of Japanese, so with some hard study, she was able to do a passable job. Ryoga did not do quite so well, despite the help they had given him, studying was not something he had much practice with, since he rarely ever made it to school. At least he was able to learn some useful phrases, like 'Where the hell am I now?', 'Where is the bathroom?', 'Do you speak Japanese?' and 'Point me toward Japan, please.'

One of the few things he had ever really shown a talent for were the martial arts, but even then, he was mostly self-taught. His parents had shown him what they could when they were able, but they were around so rarely they were unable to do much. And it seemed to him, that the older they got, the worse their direction sense would get. He noticed that before the arrival of his helpful new friends that he had been spending more time lost than not lately, his parents were almost never home, and when they did manage to show up, they could never stick around for long. His father was the worst, he was not sure how many years it had been since the last time he had even seen his father. The only reason he even knew that he was still out there were the phone calls he would occasionally get from him, asking how he was doing, and if he had any recent news of his mother ...and then 'she' came into his life. Ryoga had long ago given up any thoughts of having a normal family life, but ever since they had arrived, his life had been closer to perfect than he had ever thought possible. He made it to school every day, he ate three meals a day, because she would also send him a lunch so he didn't have to try to find the lunchroom. Even the occasional ambushes by pieces of the scenery were not enough to put a damper on his, over all, 'better' moods.

The day he had found himself more than 700 kilometers from home, was the luckiest day of his young life.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Once Mikan found out that Nabiki had both the headmaster and her niece on her side, she gave up, and pulled Nabiki aside to speak to her in private.

"Tendo-kun, let's make a deal."

Nabiki perked up at that, this was not the attitude she expected.

"I will not stop your club, even if you are the only member, but you will do something for me."

"And what would that be?"

"As it turns out, you still need a club advisor, and I happen to know that your teachers all help out a cub already. This being the case, it would likely be difficult for you to find one on your own. I will find you an advisor as well. In exchange, you will help me to keep an eye on the chairman. Help me make sure she does not shirk her duties, nor do anything too crazy, especially if it will harm the students!"

"You have a deal, now who is going to be our advisor?"

"Isn't it obvious, Detective-san?"

'Oh no! Not...'

"The Chairman, of course." It was everything Nabiki could do to keep from facefaulting as Mikan walked away chuckling.

From there things started to look up for the club. Kasumi and Fubuki decided to stay. They started to gain many new members, most of whom were from the servant class, including Mori, who was one of the earliest recruits. To offset their low number of upper class members, they sold 'Chibi-Kasumi' dolls to give themselves a workable budget, and their 'advisor' was always willing to help out with anything else they needed as long as she got to join in the 'fun'.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

One day, after arriving home from their day's activity, Ranma found he had received mail. A small package had arrived for him. Opening the package, he found two 'dolls' and a letter. The two dolls seemed to be of the same blushing girl, who looked a bit familiar to him, but he could not quite place it. One wore a fancy school uniform, and the other was in a maid's uniform. Cute as they were, he was having a hard time figuring out why someone would send him girl's dolls.

"Why don't you read the letter and find out, Ranchama?"

"Oh, right, heh." He opened the letter, and began to read aloud.

"Dear Ranma-kun,
I hope this letter finds you well, wherever you are now training.
We are training hard as well, your father's school has been gaining many students, and we are helping to teach there. Our houses have grown, as well as the schools. Due to this, Kasumi-onee-chan, Fubuki-chan and I are going to the most prestigious school in Japan, and Akane-chan should join us next year. We want to thank you both, your family has helped ours out in so many ways, and a Tendo never forgets a debt (or was that forgives? I can never remember). The point is, none of this would be happening if not for your family. Our family will always be in your family's debt, thank you. Please thank your mother for us again, as well.

Now, I will bet you are wondering why I sent you these dolls, and what that has to do with me thanking you. Long story short, these are the prototypes of the two dolls Fubuki-chan and I made of Kasumi-onee-chan, for a club project. The headmaster likes us, and has a lot of connections in the manga and anime industry, made a deal with one of them, and we are now selling these dolls for club funds (another long story). Kasumi-onee-chan is very popular, most of the campus idolizes her, and so they sell really well. The first one, that I made, was her school uniform. Fubuki-chan made the second one, and that is her 'battle outfit', when she is practicing the style your father developed for the maids and butlers, and Onee-chan named, Kaji-ken. There is even talk of them selling them in stores! As I said before, these are the first two, the ones from which all of the others were copied, and we wanted you to have them as a token of our appreciation.

Sincerely, Nabiki, Kasumi and Fubuki."

Ranma turned over the letter to find two pictures of Kasumi, one of each outfit, to match the dolls. Ukyo, seeing Ranma's reaction to the cute girl in the pictures, vows to herself to be even more feminine, since he seemed to like that. Ranma and Ukyo had thought that was a nice thing for them to do, and decided to tell them so.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Soon after, Nabiki was returning home, and found that she had received a package. It was fairly large and flat, and had an envelope on the front. Nabiki decided to go for the envelope first, and opened up the letter.

'Dear Nabiki, Kasumi and Fubuki,

We would like to thank you for your kind words and cute gifts. Please know that we will not accept that you owe us a debt. As old friends of the family and as martial artists, it is our duty to help and we couldn't possibly ask anything in return for it. If you want to thank us, then grow up happy, healthy and helpful people. 'Kindness, like rice, increases by sowing', as the proverb states.

We have spent months studying with Master Kyoshi, learning better ki control, pressure points and the like. It's really been exciting for us, we have learned so much.

We met this strange boy named Ryoga Hibiki. The poor boy's whole family is suffering under a magical curse, which affects his sense of direction so badly that he can get lost in a closet and not be able to find his way out! It is truly unbelievable. We found him over seven hundred kilometers away from his home, lost, trying to find his school! We have been helping him get to school and back while we have been here. I shudder to think what will happen to him when we leave. His parents are never around, they suffer from the same curse as well, it seems. In the months we have been here, we have not seen either of them. His father has called a couple of time, and his mother has apparently been there while we were gone, notes were left, and food was cooked... (not a bad cook, when the food is fresh).

Oh well, I am sure you don't want to hear about my boring life, yours sounds much more interesting.

To thank you for your gift, Ucchan and I wanted to give you something in return. These are not our best work, but they were done for speed. Ten minutes each, using only primary colors with white and black and we mixed all of the colors ourselves (soon I want to try one, using only the three primary colors). We tend to paint each other more often than not, and this time we were doing just that. We hope you like them.

Sincerely, Ranma, Ukyo and Nodoka.

'P.S. Ranchama thought the pictures were cute. -Ukyo'

Setting aside the letter, she opened the package. Inside, were two framed paintings. Each one of them showing a child painting behind an easel. The first one she saw was of a girl. This girl was wearing a dark blue yukata with white trim and had long brown hair, tied up in a bun. She had a look of intense concentration on her face, as she painted her own work. The painting was so well done, Nabiki could have sworn she saw it move. Despite the letter's assurances that this was painted using only 5 'colors', it contained a wide spectrum of colors, all mixed expertly. She felt like she could reach out and feel the silkiness of the girl's clothes and hair, dip her fingers in her paints or pluck the brush from the girl's hand. While Nabiki could not judge if the colors matched the originals, she could tell that they all looked quite realistic. She was very impressed. Setting this painting aside, she picked up the other one. The second painting was of a boy, which to Nabiki looked just as good at its counterpart. He was wearing black silk pants, a matching black top, with red trim, that was unbuttoned, and showed off his bare chest underneath. His long, black hair had been tied back into a long braid, his bangs hung in his face and his bright blue eyes seemed to sparkle in the light. His face was a mask of calm serenity, as he seemed to barely be paying attention to what he was doing, his arm a blur with a brush. While his chest was beautifully sculpted, it was his eyes that drew her in. There was something about those eyes, which she had never noticed in the photographs, that made her want to keep looking at it.

It took Nabiki a while to come out of the 'trance' she had been in, and when she looked at a clock, she had found that more than an hour had passed since she had arrived home. She put the letter in a scrapbook they had been keeping, with all of the letters, pictures and many other things they had received from the boy and his mother (well, the things that would fit, obviously not the large items such as toys and clothes). She called the others to see them, to decide where they would hang the paintings, and show the other girls the letter where he complimented Kasumi and their work. Kasumi blushed profusely, squealing a bit, upon reading the postscript, being the first time she had ever been called cute by a boy, even if it was indirectly. The other girls could almost see the steam rising from her head. This caused Nabiki to pull out her trusty camera and fire off a few shots of her sister blushing.

Thus, Nabiki and Ranma became 'pen pals', sending letters back and forth whenever they could. It started slowly, with a letter every month or two, and eventually got to where Nabiki would write her thoughts every day, like a diary, and sent it to him once a week. The other girls would also write him notes and letters occasionally as well. Ranma would answer each one as he had been able, always apologizing when he was unable to get the letters and they would build up. He got to where he would look forward to them, especially after they had been traveling for a while. Ranma found the stories of living a 'normal' life and going to school, fascinating, like reading a 'slice of life' manga. In return, he would tell them of his adventures, his training, and so on. Many of the more fantastical elements, Nabiki chalked up to him being superstitious and not having a formal education, but she found them fascinating none-the-less, like reading a martial arts, adventure manga.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ryoga had just gotten the worst news of his life. The Saotomes were planning to leave, not just the neighborhood, but also the whole country! He had known that they had been planning this trip for some time, but had always just hoped they would change their minds, they bought houses here after all!

'If they leave, then my life will go back to how miserable it was before! I was even starting to do better at school, now I won't even be able to find it much anymore.' Ryoga's 'ideal' life (for him) was falling apart around him. There had to be something he could do. Fighting them was not an option, Ryoga did not like fighting girls, and nothing could get him to raise a hand against Nodoka, she had always been to kind to him. The times he had sparred with Ranma, showed him that he would still need a lot of work to even be a challenge to the boy. The worst part was that he knew quite well, from watching him sparring with the others that Ranma was holding back in all of the fights, matching his skills to his opponent's. It was only when all three of them grouped up on him that he even looked like he was trying, that infuriatingly calm look never leaving his face otherwise. Of the three of them, only Ukyo could really hold a candle to him on their own, the girl's motivation was just incredible to Ryoga, the way she pushed herself despite the fact that she never won (without a good distraction). Ryoga could tell it was not just stubbornness either, if there was one feeling other than depression he understood, it was being stubborn, but that girl had a drive unlike any he had seen before. The others had drive too, but things just seemed to come naturally to them, they didn't appear (at least to Ryoga) to have to put forth much effort at all, but no matter how drained or hurt the girl was, she would always get back up and keep pushing, trying to reach an unreachable goal.

Thinking about the difference in abilities between them always made Ryoga depressed a bit, and he was in a bad enough mood already, so he focused on the task at hand, maintaining his happiness, and what options he had available to him.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"Well, Ranma-chan, as always, you are the best student I have ever had. You and your nakama are always welcome back here. I hope to see you again soon."
{*Nakama = (n) company; fellow; colleague; associate; comrade; mate; group; circle of friends; partner;*)

Bowing, Ranma says, "Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher. Thank you sensei. I'll look forward to it."

Ukyo also bowed saying, "Thank you for everything, Sensei-sama. I hope to be able to learn from you again."

"So formal!" Laughing, she pulled two children into a warm hug, who surprised her by each kissing her on a cheek. "Such adorable children you are. You two be careful, and take care of your 'concupine' and your mother. I don't want any of you to be missing any pieces when I next see you." She winked at Ukyo as she had said 'concupine', remembering the girl's story about how that 'title' came to be, and how cute she had been in telling it.

"Hai, sensei(-sama)!! We promise!"

She let them go and added, "Now run along, I am sure your mother is waiting on you." She watched them as they ran off, heading back toward town, and wiped a tear from her cheek. 'I'm going to miss those kids.'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nodoka had just gotten back to the house after making her arrangements, and looking back through the house, searching for things they may have missed. When she finished searching the house the kids were staying in, she moved on to search hers, and found something she had not expected. Sitting on the floor in one of the rooms, she had found Ryoga, deep in thought.

"Ryoga-kun, I did not expect to find you here, I thought you would be playing with the kids, you know we are leaving today, ne?"

"Hai, Oba-san, but they went to say good bye to Kyoshi-sensei, and she wasn't my teacher. So I had them show me here so I could wait to talk to you."

Nodoka raises an eyebrow at that, not sure where the boy was going with this, she started to think of ways to turn down the boy if he was about to confess... "You were?"

Ryoga looked embarrassed and uncertain, partially confirming some ideas Nodoka had been having. "Hai. Well, you know how my life was before you got here?"

She nodded. 'What do these young men see in an old woman, like myself?'

"I don't want to go back to that again. I love..."

Ryoga was interrupted, "Ryoga-kun, I know sometimes we have certain feelings, I once had a crush on an older man. One of my teachers, he was so manly, always helping us girls with whatever we needed..." Nodoka lost focus in her eyes as she thought back to her days as a schoolgirl for a moment.

Ryoga was confused, he could not figure out where this topic had come from, so he continued when she paused. "...So, I love..."

"Now, Ryoga-kun, I'm a married woman."

"I know, but, I love being with y..."

"But, ..."

Dropping to his knees, he prostrates himself on the floor, he started speaking quickly, and loudly. "Please, hear me out! I love being with you and your family. I never thought life could be this good. I almost never see my mother, and I haven't seen my father in many years! I basically live alone and can't even find the bathroom on my own! I am begging you, if you have to leave, PLEASE take me with you!!!!! I can't go back to that life!"

It took Nodoka a few moments to register what the boy had said, and visibly relaxed when she figured out it was not another 'love confession' this time. 'Oh, what a relief!' "But, what would your mother think?"

"Well, I would hope that she would be happy that her son was not just wandering around lost, and that he found someone who is taking care of him."

"Well, go write your mother a note, and I will put my contact information on it, but I have one condition you will have to agree with first, I do not want a repeat of what we went through the last time we took you on a train..."

"I'll do ANYTHING!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma and Ukyo were finally arrived home, ready to gather their things and head to the airport for the next leg of their adventure when they saw a sight that left them rolling around on the concrete sidewalk, unable to stop laughing.

In between laughing and trying to draw breath, Ranma sputters out, "Always said, acted like, lost puppy, but, didn't know a 'lap dog', needed a leash! BuahHAhahaha!!!"

Sure enough, a fuming Ryoga was standing there wearing a metallic woven 'child's leash', continually telling himself over and over again, "This is worth it, this is worth it..."

Nodoka was holding the other end of the leash. "Now Ranma-kun, it is not very manly to make fun of someone when you know they can't help it. Just for that, you can hold this end of it until we get to China." Ranma and Ryoga were both unhappy at this decision.

"WHAT?!!?!?!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Omake 04, by Hiryo

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Starring Ryoga and his special guests, from all over the world.

(It's recommended to hear the following song on YouTube, while reading the Omake:
"Discovery Channel Commercial - I love the whole world")

//Start//

Two farmers seeing a familiar sight, Ryoga walking with an upturned map into their shed.

Farmer A, "It never gets old, huh?"

Farmer B, "Nope."

Farmer A, "It kinda makes you wanna--"

Farmer B, "-break into the song?"

Farmer A, "...Yup."

Farmer A seeing his wife coming in with a tray with milk glasses, "I love the mountains..."

Farmer A's wife setting the tray down, doing so revealing her blue panties. Farmer B, "I love the clear blue skies." Getting him a confused look by Farmer A.

Ryoga looking up, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and smiles, "I love big bridges."

Not caring that he was with his next step at another location on Greenland seeing a whale doing a high flip, "I love great whites fly."

Holding up his map of the world. "I love the whole world..."

There, the song of the iceman comes to his ears, "...and all its sights and sounds."

"Boom-de-yah-da, boom-de-ya-da. BOOMdeyahda BOOMDEYAHDA." Surprised, Ryoga stuck the whole ice cone into his mouth, then grins at the African tribe members. Letting them laugh at Ryoga's face, thinking the scene funny himself.

"I love the oceans." Ryoga steps from one fish to the other, then stops on top of a giant turtle, while totally concentrating on his map.

"I love real dirty things." Nodoka is leaving an "adult shop" with a large bag of items, she passes by a prostitute on her way out who sings...

"I love to come fast." Flashing to a pyramid.

"I love Egyptian kings." Picking up the bandages of the Egyptian king and keeps on laughing with the bandages in his hand, while the mummy chases after him.

For the first time, Ryoga sees all of his district, or so his new family told him. "I love the whole world..."

"...and all its craziness." Ranma leads Ryoga, via his new metallic woven child's leash, to school.

Ryoga comes into a festival... "Boom-de-yah-da, boom-de-ya-da. Boom-de-ya-da, boom-de-ya-da." ...only to end up with a children circle singing around him.

"I love tornadoes." Ryoga grins as the tornado brought him back to his better home with his new family.

"I love arachnids." Ryoga pulls out a deck of cards the headsized arachnids only nodded at him, and then begun to play in earnest for gold.

A whole city is destroyed by Vulcan magma. "I love hot magma." Thus sent Ryoga onto the right way home.

Grinning at his friend Toriko. "I love the giant squids." Then taking a huge bite out of the good roasted squid.

Overlooking from the mountains. "I love the whole world..." Seeing in the sun the image of his new family.

After turning around "...it's such a brilliant place." At night, Ryoga ended up in a have crossroad in New York totally blinding him.

Giving a cigarette user some fire. "Boom-de-ya-da, boom-de-ya-da. Boom-de-ya-da, boom-de-ya-da." Not noticing that the man caught fire, wandering to his next destination.

Banpai looks his sight on him "Boom.. de.. ya.. da." A 6-pack missile launcher pops out of Banpai's head.

"Booooooooooooooooom-de-yaaaaaaaa-daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa......" Ryoga quite crispy grins with the thought that he flies into the right direction.

//END//

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

End Omake

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

*AUTHOR'S NOTES*

The terms such as Kohai/Kouhai (Junior), Imoto/Imouto (Younger Sister), Oto/Ototo (Younger Brother) are words used to describe people in these positions, but not used to address them. Unlike the the opposite words used to describe elders (Sempai, (O)nee, (O)nii, etc.), which can be used, not only as a form of address, but also as a title, honorific, or combined with an honorific, such as 'Kasumi-nee-chan'. But if she were to turn around and say back, 'Akane-imoto-chan' to her, which would be considered rude, and insulting. It is OK to say 'Kasumi's imouto, Akane-chan' however. Also, the older brother/sister terms can be used to describe/address 'any' older 'brother/sister' aged person, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are related, it's just a show of respect. All of the 'older person' family terms (mother, father, uncle, aunt, etc.) can be used the same way, to address anyone of the appropriate age group. Pretty much all 'titles' can be used either in place of, or in conjunction with, an honorific.

Japanese letters are not written in this way, they actually have the addressee named at the end, along with the sender's name, and other issues, but I wrote these in the western style, to make it easier.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

*CHARACTERS USED*

{Here I will list all of the non-Ranma characters, used in the chapter and where they are from (not counting the omake).}

Kyoshi - I made her up, based loosely on a historical figure (her ancestor) with a light touch of Samurai Girls.
Kogarashi the "Maid Guy" - the title character from Kamen no Maid Guy
Fubuki - The future 'Maid Guy Tamer' from Kamen no Maid Guy
Kaede Tenjoji - The headmaster of Hakureiryo Academy from Ladies vs. Butlers.
Mikan is her 'assistant' and the Head Instructor.
Mori - A maid, who will later, like her mother, to whom she bares an uncanny resemblance, work for the Amatsuka family, in GJ-Bu.
Sakura 'Penguin/Pengi' Nankyoku - The title character of Penguin Musume (lit. Penguin Girl). She is a total Otaku, she comes from a VERY rich family, and can gain the abilities of whatever she is cosplaying as (to some degree). In this story, her mother is Kaede's oldest half sister (she also has one other).

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Chapter Text

Nodoka 2/1
The Chroma Series
Act 0 Part 05

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

DISCLAIMER
Most of the characters and other elements are owned by people who are not me, though I did make up a few here and there... but none of the main ones. The rest are owned by many talented people, and a few faceless corporations, such as Rumiko Takahashi and Sega respectively.

 

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AUTHOR'S NOTES

Special thanks to my "Agent" and "Publicist" Hiryo, for proofreading, prodding, posting advice and so much more.

I normally do not have much to say here, but this struck me as odd. The day I posted this chapter, I recieved my first real hate mail here, and while that in itself isn't such a big deal (I mean I expected to be getting a lot of flames for this, and my, lack of, writing skills, as it was), it did bother me a bit that not only was there no reason given for calling me a terrible human being, and telling me to die, but then I was blocked so that I couldn't even open the massage on the site (let alone reply to ask what brought that on), if it had not gone to my email box (and stayed brief), I wouldn't have even known what 'he' said. It was all very odd. So I ask, that if anyone knows anything about this person, 'tuatara', maybe you could enlighten me as to what might have offended them so much that I would recieve a death wish. At least I know I am doing SOMETHING right, lol.

To everyone else, thank you for your support of my work. The kind words I have received from the rest of you, mean a lot to me. Now, on to the story.

"Speech"
'Thought'
/Mandarin/
\Cantonese\
{Author's Notes & *Translations* Feel free to skip these}

 

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

GLOSSARY (from the last chapter)

Janken/Jan Ken Pon - Rock, Paper, Scissors

Sempai - Senior/Upperclassman
Kohai/Kouhai - Junior/Underclassman
Onee/Nee - Older Sister (also 'Ane/Aneki' and many others)
Imoto/Imouto - Younger Sister
Onii/Nii - Older Brother (also 'Ani/Aniki' and many others)
Oto/ototo - Younger Brother
Oba = Aunt (or other woman of the parent's age). Not to be confused with
Obaa = Grandmother, or other old woman.

Kouchou - Principal (well, that's one meaning)

Kai - in this case, Mystery or Wonder. [there are a lot of possible meanings, depending on the kanji used, like pleasure; delight; enjoyment; (n) (1) undergarment; underwear; (2) lower garment (e.g. trousers) or (1) meeting; assembly; party; (2) association; club] {http://rut.org/cgi-bin/j-e/FG=r/inline/dosearch?sDict=on&H=PW&L=J&T=kai}

Bu - in this case, 'Club'

Ahoge = cowlick, (lit. 'Stupid Hair')

Chibi = (n) (1) small child; pipsqueak; small fry; small, cute versions of manga, anime, etc. characters, typically with oversized heads; (2) (sens) (uk) short person; midget; dwarf; (3) small animal; runt; (4) worn down (pencil, etc.)

Ara = Oh My!, Oh!, Ah!, etc.

Nakama = comrade(s); partner(s); good friend(s); colleague(s); associate(s); (more than friends, sometimes more than family; *See One Piece)

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

CHAPTER 05
The Art of Peeping

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

No sooner had they left the insanity that was the Beijing airport, than Nodoka herded them into another type of insanity, the local shopping center. She grabbed the children, and ran for the clothing stores, yelling out a battle cry, "Cha-cha-cha-Chaaaaaaarge-it!" Despite which, she paid cash like most Japanese people would.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nabiki had been researching local legends when she ran across a common one. One she had heard about from other schools as well. It was such a common legend, that the odds of the rumors floating around being true were very slim, and it seemed like it would be a good first event in which her new club could participate. She began her preparations for what she would do in the club meeting the next day.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

They exited the shop several hours later and several thousand yuan poorer. Each of them wearing one of their new outfits and were loaded down with bags, as they began to ponder what to do next.
{*Yuan = Chinese unit of currency*}

Nodoka was wearing a sleeveless, black, silk pien fu. Trimmed in red, it had several pink and red flowers embroidered on the front, she spoke first, "Well children, now that is done, and I know we are all tired after that trip through the airport, so let us go get a hotel room, store our stuff and go get some Chinese food!" The prospect of food put a grin on all of their faces as they started searching for a hotel and restaurant.
{*Pien Fu = A fancy Chinese dress*}

Ranma wore a solid black changshan, which went all the way to his ankles, and was split to his waist, revealing his black silk pants, cinched at the waist, and a bit of his usual red sarashi underneath. He pointed toward a building with girls out front handing out fliers, and said, "The smell of good food is coming from that building, we should go there later for dinner." His hair had been tied back in the same style of braid he had been wearing ever since Ukyo finished her geisha training. His mother had seen Ukyo braiding his hair and insisted he start practicing proper brushing techniques for a girl's hair. From then on, he had been in charge of brushing and fixing their hair every day and Ukyo dutifully took care of his. As his massage skills had improved, he also began to incorporate a scalp massage into his treatment.
{*Changshan or Dagua = lit. 'long shirt', male equivalent of a qipao or cheongsam*}
{*Sarashi = a 'wrap' that goes around the waist or chest*}

Ukyo, who was wearing a knee-length, light-blue qipao, with a slightly darker floral embroidery along the edges, and her hair was done up in a bun in the back that had a ponytail that came out of the center, quipped, "You just want to go there because of the beautiful girls outside." She giggled and stuck her tongue out at him.
{*Cheongsam or Qipao = body-hugging one-piece Chinese dress for women*}

"Well, while I hope there are beautiful girls inside as well, I know there will be at least two, once we get there anyway." He replied with a wink. "But the food DOES smell good." Ranma ran over to one of the girls, after talking to her for a moment, she stuffed one of her coupons into his front pocket before he ran back to the group. "Now we will get a discount, and yes, she said that the girls inside WERE at least as pretty as she was, they all take turns out front."

Nodoka contemplated her son's 'manly' actions, Ukyo was trying to figure out a way to use that trick herself and Ryoga could not figure out why she did not just put the paper into one of his bags, it was sure to be crumpled now.

They continued to drag Ryoga along, in his new black silk pants, that matched Ranma's, and short version of the changshan that hung just passed where his belt gathered , which matched his bandannas in color (that he seemed to refuse to remove), and headed toward a vary large hotel.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Akane was on her way home from school with a couple of her friends, happy that she had been able to avoid the Maid Guy for most of the day, or at the very least, he had not interrupted her activities. She knew perfectly well that odds were, he was somewhere, nearby, watching, waiting for her to appear to need even the slightest assistance, it was something she could not avoid after all. She wanted to go to the mall, get some ice cream and look at some clothes to celebrate.

After enjoying their ice cream, they headed over to the clothing stores and began to browse. They looked at many things, from underclothes to accessories and everything in between, chatting all the while. They talked about various topics, but both Yuri and Sayuka might not have known Akane for long, but they both knew her well enough not to broach the topic of 'boys', not that Yuri much cared, she would rather talk about Sayuka or her current favorite Idol anyway. She did not have a problem with boys in general, but they certainly did not appeal to her. Yuri had gotten a few looks of death when they had gotten to the bra department, due to the taller girl beginning to develop before her friends, but it did not last long, and they were back to normal in moments.

They had gathered several items each to try on and headed off to the changing rooms. No sooner than Akane had removed her skirt, when she heard a child's screams getting closer. She ignored the disruption, hoping that the child's parent would handle the problem, and began to remove her shirt in order to try on the dress she had picked out. The screams had gotten quite loud by the time she had undone about half of her shirt's buttons. All of a sudden, a boy, at least a few years her junior, popped his head into the booth, grabbed her skirt and ran off screaming. Luckily, she was not planning to try on underwear, like Yuri.

Akane 'calmly' took a moment to process this, being too shocked even to move for a moment. Within seconds, she was in motion, wrapping the dress around herself sideways, and bolting after the kid, now screaming things of her own. The spoiled child saw, or rather heard, he was being chased by someone with a less than friendly expression in their voice, and he could feel the blazing battle aura approaching him. He began to bob and weave through the display racks, heading toward the main exit back into the main mall.

Somewhere along the way, the dress Akane had been using to cover her lower half had gotten snagged on one of the nearby display racks, but she was well beyond noticing at this particular moment, thanks to the taunts from the obnoxious brat and her righteous indignation. So focused she was, that she also failed to notice the child throwing her uniform to the side as he ran out into the mall proper.

Akane had just run out of the store herself, unknowingly drawing even more attention upon herself as she fumed aloud, "Where did that pervert go? I'll kill him!"

Luckily for Akane, before she had gotten much further, she had been picked up by the shirt collar and carried back into the store, and toward the changing rooms, by one Maid Guy, who handed her discarded dress to her, while holding the child in his other massive hand. "Kukuku, running around half dressed, you sure are a troublesome goshujin. You could have waited in the booth for Maid Guy's perfect service!"

Noticing the boy in his other hand, she started to build up her ki to throw a devastating punch, only to have maid guy move his hand. "Maid Guy will turn this miniature mugger over to the authorities, while you get dressed, unless you plan to walk home like that." Maid Guy chuckled as he walked away with the boy, as Akane, finally realized her state of dress, and dove back into the changing stall.

After a moment of peace, a small voice from the next booth came over the wall, "Is it safe yet?"

"Yeah, the coast is clear."

"Man, that was crazy, you'd think this was Nerima or someplace like that."

"Have you heard? They say there is a half-dressed alien oni flying around there these days, shooting people with lightning."

"What won't they think of next?"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Before they left the restaurant, Ranma tracked down the girl he had spoken with before. "/Excuse me, miss. I need to lodge a complaint, you told me the girls inside were at least as pretty as you, and while they are indeed pretty, you are by far, the prettiest among them./"

She blushed as she responded, "/Oh, honored customer, you flatter me./" She was used to flattery, but the sincerity in the boy's voice, and the honest look in his entrancingly blue eyes, made her wish he was a few years (or more) older.

Ranma held his hand over his heart, "/Honest truth, I mean every word. Thank you for helping us today, it made for a lovely first day in your fair homeland./" Before he turned to leave, he slipped a bill into the diamond-shaped opening, cut out of the cleavage portion of her dress. She had been surprised enough that a Japanese person, on their first day out of the country, would even know to tip, never mind the way he went about it, apparently his language lessons included cultural differences as well, but she could not complain about the size of Ranma's tip.

Still blushing as she watched the boy and his family leave, she thought to herself, '/That boy is going to be a real heartthrob in a few years./'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The Kai Bu had gathered for the day's meeting. The club was still small, but slowing growing. Nabiki was sitting at the head of the table, in front of a chalkboard. Kaede was sitting off to the side, torn between excitement about the club, and disappointment in being taken away from her games, manga, and anime. Mori was standing beside Nabiki, waiting for a chance to be helpful. Fubuki was standing near Kasumi, who had just sat down, after they had served tea to the rest of the girls. 'Penguin' was sitting at the foot of the table, wearing an old fashioned, British styled outfit, modeled after Sherlock Holmes, complete with a pipe that blew bubbles, as she was demonstrating for them all to see, trying and failing to look stoic. A few other maids also stood around, waiting for the meeting to begin.

"First, thank you all for joining the Kai Bu. I hope we all will have a lot of fun together. Please, all of you have a seat. While in this club, we will not have a distinction between servant and upper class students, no matter what the school itself (and our budget) have to say about it. We are all members of the Kai Bu!" They all looked over at their headmaster, waiting.

Sparkles started forming in her eyes as Nabiki had spoken. "No, no, I don't mind at all." Having been given their leave, all but Fubuki and Mori, sat down, undoing bindings and collars, making themselves more comfortable.

"You too 'Fukibuki'." Nabiki added using her sister's pet name for her friend, who blushed as she quickly sat beside Kasumi. Fubuki had a difficult time breaking out of the 'maid' role she had been living twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, since she was a small child, though the Tendo girls were slowly chipping away at her shell, maybe they could even get her to wear normal clothes for once...

Mori, on the other hand, had been given the distinct position of vice president of the club. She was preparing to write on the chalkboard as Nabiki started to speak again. "Today we will begin our first official 'club event'. Have any of you hear about the 'Toire no Hanako-san'?" Mori wrote the words 'Toire no Hanako-san' on the board as some of the girls began to nod, looking a bit frightened. For those of you who have not heard the stories. According to the legend, a person who goes to the third stall in the girls' bathroom on the third floor and knocks three times before asking 'Are you there, Hanako-san', will hear a voice answer 'I'm here'. If the person enters the stall there will be a girl with short hair, in a very old uniform, waiting." Even more of the girl began to look a bit frightened as she continued. "The stories vary as to what she will do if you find her, ranging from attacking or playing tricks, to being helpful or just floating there, staring at you." Nabiki let that hang in the air for a moment, for suspense, with a blank look on her face, as they stared into her unblinking eyes.

Quickly changing her expression from creepy, to grinning broadly, in the blink of an eye, she finished by saying, in a cutesy tone of voice, "And we will be looking into it!" A couple of the girls fainted.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

There was only one girl's lavatory on the third floor, being the smallest of the floors in the building, making it easy to figure out where to go. When they arrived at the door, Nabiki started barking out orders. "You two, guard the door and watch for anything strange, the rest of you follow me."

Nabiki opened the door and went inside with Mori hot on her heels as the rest of the girls, followed her in a huddle, looking quite frightened. The rumors had been circulating in the school for some time and the walk up had been filled with them scaring each other with stories they had heard. By the time they had reached their destination, most of them were quaking, including Kaede, who was huddled with the other four scared girls.

Nabiki stood by the door with Mori directly behind her and to the left. The other girls huddled as close to the exit as they could be. Standing there confidently, Nabiki knocked on the door to the stall, and said, "Are you there, Hanako-san?" in a singsong voice. Turning back to the other girls, she began, "See, nothi..."

Nabiki's calm rebuttal was interrupted, by a wispy voice that came from inside the stall. "I'm heeeeeere..."

Many of the girls started shaking at this point. However, not to be detoured, Nabiki opened the door. Inside the stall, was a translucent girl, with a pageboy style haircut, in a red school uniform, floating above the toilet, staring at them.

Never had any of the girls moved so fast in their lives, many of them screaming as they ran. They had made it back to the clubroom in seconds flat, dragging a curious Nabiki by the collar. Not one of them noticing the puddle that one of them left behind. But someone did, and they were not exactly happy about it.

"There has to be a logical explanation for this."

"What is it?"

"The place is haunted, that's what!"

"Couldn't be, there's no such thing as ghosts!"

"Go back and tell her that!"

After they had all calmed down, Nabiki pulled Kaede aside to ask her if she could acquire a few things for the club.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The next day, as the club gathered, Nabiki was happy to see that she had not lost any members with yesterday's activities. Once everyone had gathered and settled down, and had their tea and snacks, Nabiki addressed the group.

"Girls, are you ready to continue our investigation?" There were a few looks of surprise and a couple of fear.

"Now girls, I am sure Nabiki-chan has a plan." Kasumi interjected, trying to calm everyone down, and reassure them that all would be well.

"Yes, thank you Onee-chan. Now, as I was saying, did anyone learn anything from our activity yesterday?"

One girl rose her hand, and said, "Yes, I learned that I am scared of ghosts!"

A couple of others joined in with a resounding "Me too!" Several of the other girls had a good laugh.

"Oooookay, did anyone observe anything that might, say, help us solve the case?" Nabiki asked, having a hard time keeping the grin off of her face.

When no answers came forth, Nabiki continued. "First, we heard the voice, which responded to our knock and call. Next we saw a girl that we could see through."

"Yeah, thanks for that." One of the girls interrupted.

"So, knowing there is no such thing as ghosts, what can we conclude?"

"There's something funny going on here."

"Then why aren't we laughing?" Everyone laughs. "I retract the question."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After calming back down, the girls headed back up to the lavatory, for further investigation. Nabiki calmly took the lead again and said, "This time, we will not knock, nor say the phrase, we will just open the door, and look around." This time, there was no noise and no 'ghost', just a normal looking stall, with a mirror on the back wall.

Looking closely, some of them see something strange in the mirror. "Kaede-rijichou, is there a room behind this wall?"
{*Rijichou = board chairman (this is what Mikan calls Kaede)*}

"Not that I am aware of." She replied, a bit nervously.

"Hummm..." Nabiki climbed on top of the western style toilet, but was not tall enough to reach the ceiling. "We need a ladder."

The group went into the hall, to look for the nearby janitor's room to get a ladder. Said janitor helped them get the ladder and carried it back to the lavatory for them. Nabiki set it up so that she could climb up and examine the ceiling. She had not gotten even half way up the ladder, when they heard a muffled scream. So intent on the ladder and examining the room, none of the noticed that the janitor had grabbed their principal, covered her mouth, and was running off with her until they heard her try to scream.

They had all run out into the hall to pursue, luckily, her kicking and thrashing was slowing him down. Nabiki pulled out one of her non-linking feather dusters, and threw it with all of her power, pinning the leg of the man's jumpsuit to the floor.

He almost dropped Kaede when his forward momentum was halted. Still holding his prize, he tried to free his leg.

Nabiki and her 'sisters' were not idle during this time, they had all run forwards, Kasumi and Fubuki each pulling out their much longer weapons, while Nabiki dove and slid between the man's legs. Fubuki's bat and Kasumi's broom both collided with the back of the man's head at the same time Nabiki's fist landed in a very sensitive place, knocking him out cold. Nabiki helped to keep Kaede from falling on the floor. She wasn't strong enough to catch her, but was able to catch her hands and keep her from hitting her head on the floor, unlike a certain janitor.

Some of the other girls ran over with rope, and Mori tied him up, while many of the girls were asking Kaede if she was all right.

"Well, it seems as though we have caught a bad guy. The question is, was he the one responsible, and if so, why?" Nabiki said while rubbing her temples. "You three, go back to his room, and get something heavy. When you come back, guard him, if he tries to move, hit him with whatever you found. Kasumi-nee-chan, Fubuki-chan, you two help guard him too, just in case please, he has proven to be somewhat dangerous. You, go call the police. I am going to go get our evidence."

When the three girls returned with heavy objects, Nabiki left for the restroom. Before following her, Kaede took a moment to deliver a swift kick to her former employee. Nabiki climbed the ladder and started poking around until she found a loose tile. Removing the tile, she found a crawl space that lead to a secret room behind the stalls. The room itself was rather lavish, and it turns out the mirrors were two way, each with a camera with a motion sensor on them. The exception was the third stall, which had a projector, and tape recorder set up to sound and motion detectors. Playing with it a moment, she turned it on, and sure enough, it projected the images of the girl, through the two-way mirror. A few screams from in the lavatory and apologies from Nabiki later, she turned it off, and began to look around again. She found a passage leading to stairs and other similar rooms behind all of the bathrooms.

Looking through the books she is horrified, and rather disgusted, by what she found.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

A few days north by north-west of Beijing, our intrepid wanderers wandered. Or they did until they got close to the small town of Chongli, where Nodoka called a halt. "Okay children, let us stop for the night. We can train here for a few days and restock in that town over there." They tended to stay outside of towns when they were not training with a school, so they could let loose and not cause anyone any problems, so this was not unusual, they were not planning to stay here for long anyway.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Later that night, Nodoka was going through the scrolls that her husband had 'obtained' from his miniature master, when she found one that she had put aside a long time ago, waiting for Ranma to be old enough for the 'training'. While stealing lady's underthings certainly was 'manly training' in her opinion, the idea of stealing did not sit well with her. Another one, on the other hand, while also being manly, did not require taking things that did not belong to them, it was perfect!

Nodoka began working out the details of how this 'game' would work.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The next evening, found Ukyo, Ranma, and Ryoga 'training' near a spa in the town near where they were camping. All three of them were wearing the traditional headgear, despite how silly they all thought it looked. Ranma thought it would be smarter not to wear them, but his mother insisted, she did so love to stick to tradition in so many ways. So there they were, trying to remain unseen, while hunting down their mutual goal.

The lost boy had already made a hindrance of himself several times, and they had not even made it there yet, let alone begun their 'training'. Ranma decided that if his mother insisted on making him drag Ryoga along on stealth training again, he would tie his leash to a tree and go back for him when they were done. He was just not suited for it. It was hard enough just to get him to his destination, never mind doing so with stealth. This feat was difficult at the best of times, and now Ryoga was barely able to concentrate at all.

Ranma turned to Ryoga and in a harsh whisper, said, "Come on Lap Dog, keep your head in the game. We are starting to get close. If you don't pay attention, you are going to get us all caught!"

Ryoga grimaced at the nickname they had given him, but kept his cool enough to follow suit and keep his voice low. "Well, it's not like I can help it!"

Ukyo also followed suit, and kept her voice to a whisper. "I don't know what you're embarrassed about, puppy, you bathe with us all the time."

"I know, but this just feels so dirty."

"It couldn't be dirty, mom told us to do it. She said it was 'manly training'. Are you a man or are you a dog?"

"I'm a man!"

"All right then, let's get over to that hot spring and start training! Now, maximum stealth, move out." Yanking on the leash, as Ryoga started off in the wrong direction. "This way, puppy."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Finally having escaped their pursuers, Ranma yanked on Ryoga's 'chain', pulling him closer so he could smack the back of his head. "Damn you Lap Dog, we lost all of our points thanks to you! As if your fidgeting wasn't bad enough, you tried to run away, forgetting I had a hold of the leash! And leave it to you run try to run away and end up running back toward the hot spring, making enough noise to alert everyone in the area to our presence. And just where DID that monster come from anyway?"

"You can't blame me for that one! I don't know where it came from either!"

"I'm not, I honestly want to know where the hell it came from, was it in the hot spring the whole time?"

"It did look that way, Ranchama. At least it won't be hurting anyone again anytime soon."

"You would think they would have been thanking us, not chasing us, but I guess those are the rules of the game. We are wearing the uniform." He spared one last dirty look over at the sheepish Ryoga, and said, "Well, let's get back to mom and let her know, today's training ...failed! Don't be surprised if she has you cooking breakfast, Lap Dog. However, if you hadn't started that commotion, we might not have found that thing and it would still be preying on girls in the spring, so, good work, Ryoga! Even if those women never do, we thank you." They headed back to camp, dragging Ryoga, with his 'tail' between his legs, a bit less bummed than he had been before.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Kasumi and Fubuki were on their way home from shopping and their after school activities when they spotted a group of people who seemed to be living under a bridge, and not just camping out, like wandering martial artists. Being the thoughtful girls they were, they walked over to talk to them and learned that they did in fact live there, not having anywhere else they could go. Some of them were clearly out of their mind, one even though he was from another planet, but many were just unable to find work that paid well enough to support themselves, and their families. After a bit of time chatting, they asked if there was a place they could safely build a fire, or if anyone had any cooking implements. They found a safe place, hidden, under the bridge so no one would be able to spot it from the road, and began to cook the food they had been bringing home, intending to stop and buy more when they left, and they served dinner to all of the people they could feed with what they had bought.

After heading back, much later than they had intended they decided to get take-out and placed two orders. One order for them to take with them, the other to be delivered to the people they hadn't been able to feed under the bridge.

They walked home, feeling sad that they hadn't been able to do more, and began discussing what they had the power to do.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The next day found the girls and Maid Guy back at the bridge, this time, on top of it, holding a 'bake sale', and taking donations (as well as giving free food to the people living below the bridge).

The cute girls, all dressed in their 'battle gear' (read 'maid's uniform'), and Akane in her street clothes, were able to attract a lot of attention. Their treats had been selling well, and they had even taken in a few larger donations, while Maid Guy had kept anyone from harassing them, and even intimidated one group of thugs, who had attempted to threaten the girls, into making a sizable donation themselves.

Soon after they had stopped for lunch to share their oversized bento with anyone who wanted some, a news reporter arrived from one of the local television stations.

"Which one of you is the spokesperson of your group?"

The other girls pushed Kasumi forward, since it had been her idea. "Oh my, I guess that would be me."

The reporter had a hard time not gushing at how cute the girls looked, but she was a professional, and was able to retain her composure. "Someone called and told us what you are doing here, and we would like to do a story on you, would that be all right?"

Blushing, Kasumi nodded.

The other girls went back to work as they set up the equipment and began the interview. "This is Tarisha Takanawa with J.N.N. and today we have with us, a very special girl. Tell us who you are and what you are doing."

"Oh my, well, I am Kasumi Tendo, and these are my sisters, Akane and Nabiki and our friends Fubuki and Maid Guy. We found out that there were people living under the bridge here, without real homes, who had nowhere else to go, and we wanted to do something to help those poor people. So we are giving these cakes that we made, to anyone who donates to help build them a proper shelter, instead of those sad little shanties they have now." Kasumi frowned, her heart reached out to these people, and she let it show on her face, the effect being both heartbreaking and adorable.

Nabiki poked her head around from behind her sister and added, "So please, if you can, join us in helping some of the people who need it most, and get a cake from one of our cute maids." She smiled cutely. "And if you cannot make it down here today, send your donations to the Saotome-Tendo Dojo, care of Kasumi Tendo." Nabiki had signaled Akane and Fubuki to come over from behind her back while she had been talking. They ran over to line up together, where they all bowed deeply, and said, in 'almost' perfect unison, "Thank you very much!"

"There you have it folks, four girls doing their part, to help people in their community. I know I will be having cake this evening, I hope you will too. This has been Tarisha Takanawa, Daian, back to you." She paused, not moving until the red light went out on the camera, when she turned back to the girls. "So, how much of a donation do I need to make to get one of your cakes?"

"Anything you can spare would be helpful, we don't have a minimum donation."

"Well then, here is ten thousand yen, I would like to try your cake." Tarisha said with a smile.

Kasumi returned the smile, along with her cake, "Thank you very much, for your donation, and for helping us to get the word out. We, and they," she said pointing toward the river bank, "really appreciate it." She bowed again, as she handed the small cake box to the reporter.

Not waiting to get home, she pulled a small spoon out of her purse and took a bite of the cake. " Mmmm, oh that is good, and you said you girls made these?"

"Thank you for your compliment, they are nothing special, just something Fukibuki, Nabiki, and I whipped up last night, with the help of Kogarashi-san, we needed to make as many as we could after all." She thought to herself, 'It was hard enough to keep Akane-chan from 'helping'.'

"Well, I have to say, they are wonderful, and the camera loves you." Kasumi blushed again at that, not really knowing what to say to that. "We are always looking for cute girls to do 'spots' on our programs. They come in, look cute, and occasionally read a few lines or a commercial spot occasionally. You could be famous."

Kasumi looked shyly at the ground for a moment, "Well, I don't really care about that, I just like helping people."

"Well then, think about all of the people you could help with the money you would make, and the power of being a celebrity." She handed over her card. "Take this, call me anytime, if you want a tryout, I will talk to some people I know for you. I am sure I can get you some starting work, and if you can sing and dance, there is no telling how far you could go."

"I will think about it, with school, club, this, and practice, I don't have a lot of free time."

"Well, it doesn't take much time, maybe an hour or two a week, and we can even prerecord your spots, so we can set up times that work with your schedule. It's something we do for many of the minors who work with us for these spots. We can't have them missing school after all." She smiled again. "Well, I don't want to pressure you, it sounds like you have a lot going on in your life, but I hope to hear from you, I think you would be great!"

Pocketing the card, Kasumi watched the woman leave before she ran over to get back to work.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

In part, thanks to the news report, the girls had made far more money than they could have expected, and it did not take long before they were able to get the right permission for the construction. With the help of the Maid Guy, they began buying building materials, and Maid Guy did most of the construction himself with some help from the soon to be residents.

Within a few days, the construction was nearly complete, and donations began to arrive in the mail. Luckily, Genma was too lazy to get the mail himself if he did not have to, so no one had to worry that some of the funds might turn up missing. They set up an account to store the funds and earn interest to use to pay for upkeep and so on. They had built a water wheel and windmill to power the few electrical devices present. They built a collection and filtration system to get cleaned water from the river, for cooking, drinking, and baths. Each of the many bedrooms came equipped with a refrigeration and a cooking unit. They were even able to hire a councilor to help watch over the place, and offer assistance to anyone who needed it.

Kasumi, Fubuki and Nabiki vowed to stop by there at least once a week and 'spar', to provide entertainment, and clean the building. Fubuki and Nabiki insisted they name the place 'Kasumi's Cottage' in honor of the girl who got them all working on the project and Akane agreed. Kasumi tried to get them to name it 'Kogarashi's Cottage' instead, since he did the most work, but he flat out refused, stating that "A Maid Guy can not take credit for the master's work."

Within a week's time, the 'cottage' was up and running, quite a feat, even by local building standards, and they welcomed everyone there with a party.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

A few weeks later, as Ranma and company were traveling (somewhat) toward the coast, near Qinglong, when they spotted a very strange sight. Out of the wooded area nearby, came a lion. "Aaah, this guy's a long way from home, didn't you say lions were only native to Africa in this age?"

"Yes son, that is correct."

"Someone should tell that to this guy then."

"Go ahead, wise-guy, I'll be rootin' for you ...or was that 'hoping it eats you'? I forget which."

"Laugh it up Lap Dog, it's coming this way."

Sure enough, the lion had turned toward their party, and was slowly strolling over to them. The lion came closer and that was when they noticed that what they thought had been a mane, was in fact, blond, human-like hair. The closer it got, the more the face seemed to change into that of a human woman, and then slowly, the rest of her form began to shift as well, forming into that of a well-built, human woman, covered in a soft layer of blond fur. Nodoka pulled out her camera, wishing her video camera had a better battery life, while the others took up a defensive stance.

"/Yes, I sense it, just like that fish woman said. So you are the ones with the power./" The almost nude woman said. Well, technically she was completely nude, but for the fine layer of velvet-like fur.

"/What power?/"

Finally addressing the four defensive martial artists directly, "/The power of voodoo.... No, wait, don't get me started... You four have entered my domain, and if you wish to pass, you must each answer a riddle, otherwise you will be my next meal./"

"/What are you?/"

"/I am a Sphinx!/"

"/Then how is this your domain? Shouldn't you be in Egypt or something?/"

"/Actually, my ancestors came from an area near Greece, but that was a long time ago, we have lived here for many generations./"

"/Didn't the Greek Sphinxes have wings and a snake for a tail?/"

"/I can have wings! Who says I can't? But they stand out, so I don't use them unless I want to fly./"

"/Ooookaay, so then what fish woman said what?/"

"/I am the one who asks the questions here, boy!/"

"/Fine, fine, ask your riddle bridge keeper, I am not afraid./"

"/What bridge?!?!?!? There is no bridge here! What are you talking about?/"

"/The answer to your riddle is, 'a line from a movie'. Who's next?/" Ranma and the others were giggling at her frustration.

"/THAT WASN'T THE RIDDLE!!!/" The cat-woman tried to calm herself down, her people were known for being mysterious, stoic, and enigmatic, and she was quickly blowing that image out of the water.

"/Fine then Kitty, once again, I say to you, 'ask your riddle'./"

The Sphinx still looked frustrated and stared daggers at vexing lad, "/Yes, back to the matter at hand. You boy, 'What is it that you can keep after giving it to someone else'?/"

Ranma looked confident, "/Well, for a martial artist who follows the code, that is an easy one, the answer is, 'Your Word'./"

This frustrated the female feline further and it showed on her face. "/You are correct. You may pass. You girl, it is your turn./"

Ukyo figured she would continue to keep the strange woman off balance and, as usual, followed Ranma's lead. So, trying to look as cute as she could, which was quite cute indeed, she inquired, "/Who me?/"

"/Yes, you!/"

"/Couldn't be!/"

"/Then who?/"

"/Nodoka took the cookies from the cookie jar./"

"/WHAT COOKIES? Who asked about cookies?/"

"/Well, there aren't any cookies, she ate them./"

"/Who cares about cookies?!?!?/"

"/I do, they are really good, you should try some, you know, if there were any left./"

"/ENOUGH! Your riddle is, 'If you break me, I do not stop working. If you touch me, I may be snared. If you lose me, nothing will matter. What am I?'/"

After but a moment's thought, "/Oh, that's an easy for one for me, I have gone through all of those, though not necessarily in that order. The answer is, 'a heart'./"

The Sphinx almost felt sorry for the girl to have gone through so much as such a young age, but continued, "/You are correct. You may also pass. Now, which of you should I ask next?/" '/I guess I will save the stupid looking one for last. The older one doesn't seem to be paying much attention, even if the younger ones did look more tasty./' "/Okay, how about you in the back, it's your turn./"

Nodoka was quickly changing the film in her camera when the sphinx got to her, she did not even pause in her actions to respond. "/Fine, ask away./" She stood back up as she resumed taking pictures.

"/Give me food, and I will live; give me water, and I will die. What am I?/"

Still not pausing in her photography, she calmly replied, "/As any camper could tell you, the answer is 'fire'./"

Not liking being made a fool of, our frustrated feline was quite annoyed. No one had been able to answer her riddles like this since she was a kitten. She would just attack them outright at this point, but she had rules she had to follow, too much red tape with her elders if she broke them now, not that being bested by three children and their guardian was going to make her shine in their eyes as it was. '/I really didn't want to have rabbit for dinner again tonight!/' "/FINE! You may pass as well. Now for your ...slave?/"

"/He's no slave, he just has this problem with getting lost, actually he is really good at getting lost, and that's the problem, but I hate to break it to you, he doesn't really speak much Mandarin. It's not really fair to ask him a riddle like that./"

"/I DON'T CARE AT THIS POINT! I have rules I have to follow! I have to ask him a riddle, and if he can't answer it, he is my dinner!/"

"/Can I at least translate it for him, so he at least has a chance?/"

"/Fine!/" Ranma explained to Ryoga what he had missed with his minor grasp of the language. "/His riddle is, 'I can run but not walk. Wherever I go, thought follows close behind. What am I?'/" Ranma translated for him.

Ryoga looked confused, and not the least bit happy about this. He wasn't good at riddles, or much of anything else that required much thought. "She picked this one on purpose! Um, a fly? No they don't run. A wheel? No. A marathon runner followed by a librarian? That's stupid..." So lost in thought was he, that he did not grasp the significance of Ranma pointing to his own face.

"Come on Lap Dog, it's plain as the nose on your face!" Ukyo chimed in.

"/HEY! You had better not be helping him, that's against the rules! You both will forfeit your answers./"

"/We aren't, we are just trying to explain what is happening. He's a bit 'slow'./"

"/On your honor?/"

'Oh, she just HAD to bring honor into this!' He repeated his mother's rule over in his head, 'Rule number nine: 'A real man is honorable, and always keeps his word once given, especially to a lady'.' "/Yes, I promise I am not giving him the answer./ Well, Puppy? Do you have an answer? The 'lady' is getting impatient."

"I don't know Ranma! Can't you give her the right answer?"

"No, she made me swear on my honor I would not."

"/Your time is up! What is his answer?/"

Ranma translated for him. /"Hey! You never said there was a time limit!/"

/"Well, I don't want to die of starvation or old age here, I have a life you know!/"

"Come on Ryoga, can't you pick up the 'scent'?"

"Hey! Lay off the dog jokes, this is important!" Ranma just smacked his own forehead, barely able to believe how dense his friend could be about some things.

"That wasn't a joke, and we are out of time, she is probably going to attack us all if you don't give an answer now."

"Blue! I don't know, what was the question?"

"Oh for the love of... /No, no he can't figure out that the answer is 'nose'. However, just because he can be stupid about some things, doesn't mean I can let you eat him, he is our friend after all, and we stand by our friends!/" Ukyo quickly translated for Ryoga while Ranma was speaking as they each took up a fighting stance.

"/You promised!/"

"/No, I said I wouldn't tell him the answer, and I didn't, but I am NOT about to let you eat him! He probably tastes bad anyway, you might get worms. Really, I am doing this for your own good./"

Ryoga might be easily confused about many things, but if there was one thing he did understand, it was a fight. Before any of the others could react, Ryoga was charging in, umbrella first. Unfortunately for him, her cat-like grace easily allowed her to get out of the way, unfortunately for her, she chose to jump over him, and got a ki charged kote and playing card in the face for her trouble. Ryoga removed several of his bandannas and started spinning them, charging them with his ki, and threw them, clipping her in the back as well, before he jumped himself. He had had a lot of practice in mid-air combat lately, and it showed, as he landed kicks and umbrella strikes on the surprised sphinx.

The sphinx curled up into a ball as she changed into her larger, winged-lion form, and dove at Ranma, too quickly for him to react, knocking him into the river a bit away. Her attention momentarily focused on this, she left herself open to simultaneous kicks to her back from Ryoga and a now enraged Ukyo. She tucked and rolled with the blows, and came up with her claws extended, charging in to swipe at the angered youths who took turns exchanging blows with her. The sphinx shifted to a mostly human form for more speed, keeping her claws, but leaving her better able to dodge. Her Lion form was stronger, but not as fast.

Ranma dragged himself out of the river, annoyed more than anything at his cards having gotten wet, they would not fly well like that. Seeing that his friends were still engaged and his mother was still taking pictures, rather than helping, Ranma took off, running as fast as he could to close the gap. When he saw Ryoga dive to take a clawed blow in Ukyo's stead, he was feeling a bit desperate. He was too far away for his Jan Kenpo, and with his cards wet, he was not sure what he could do to help in time. His hands began to glow, and without really thinking about it, he threw a card made entirely of ki. Much larger than any normal playing card, it flew, his aim true, hitting the sphinx's wing, clipping some feathers before it exploded sending her flailing the other direction. Luckily, his friends saw the attack coming and though surprised, were able to dodge out of the blast range. Seeing his chance, Ryoga threw his umbrella, hitting the sphinx right between the eyes with the pointy end, knocking her out cold, as she shifted back to her 'original' sphinx form, with her lion's body, human head, and eagle's wings.

Ranma finished his sprint to where his friends had been fighting, checking to make sure they were okay. Ukyo was a little bruised, but otherwise fine, but Ryoga had taken some deep cuts to his chest. Ukyo began to unpack the medical supplies, while Ranma told him to hold still and began working his ki healing techniques on him.

"Why didn't you just let her take me? I know I am a pain in the ass, you guys would be better off without me."

"Baaaaka! For the same reason we didn't just leave you back in Japan, and the same reason you took that hit for Ucchan, thanks for that by the way, we are nakama, you are practically family!"

"It was my fault we got attacked, I couldn't let Ukyo-san get hurt because I am not good with puzzles!" Ranma's hand on his shoulder was the only thing that prevented Ryoga from jumping to his feet in his declaration.

Ranma finished his healing the best he could, and left dressing the wounds and applying the salve to Ukyo while he rested to regain the ki he used with those last two moves. Once she had finished dressing Ryoga's wounds, she gave him a hug, and kissed him on the cheek, "Thank you, Ryoga. Now I don't ever want to hear you talk like that again. If there is one thing they have taught me, it is what it means to be a family. Family sticks up for one another, they put up with your faults, they help you when you are down, and they also celebrate your successes. No matter where you go, or what you do, family is there to support you, even if they are hard on you sometimes."

Tears of joy began to roll down the lost boy's cheeks, as welcome as he had felt with the Saotomes, he had still felt like a dead weight, an outsider, someone they had just taken pity on, and pity only went so far. Nevertheless, they said he was family! He was part of a family, that would stay by him, and help him, no matter what.

After a bit of rest, Ranma made sure the Sphinx was tied up so well that they would be able to get enough distance between them that following them would be more trouble than it was worth. Maybe next time, she would think twice before targeting random humans. Little did they realize, that this was no random targeting.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nabiki came home from school once again to find a package addressed to her with a letter attached to the outside from Ranma. It had been more than a month since she had last heard from him, and she was so excited that she tore open the letter, completely ignoring the package.

'Dear Nabiki-chan,
{Yes, Ranma is one of two people who can get away with calling her 'Nabiki-chan', the other is Kasumi. Fubuki could probably get away with it, but never tried, and her father stopped using it before her mother died.}
Sorry I have not gotten to a place where we can get mail yet, so I haven't been able to read any of your letters since we have arrived in China, but that doesn't mean I can't send one in the meantime.

Nihao, I hope you are all doing well, and enjoy the presents we picked up for you in Beijing. They are adjustable, so should fit for some time. If you keep me up to date on your sizes, I will try to do better next time. I picked the colors based on the photo you sent of yourselves a while back, I really hope you like them.

We are having a lot of fun, learning a lot, and seeing all sorts of strange things, we included some of the pictures mom took so you can see for yourself. The airport here was awful, and the city was packed, but once we got out into the countryside, the place was beautiful. The city was nice, but it was hard to enjoy it, with so many people. It was like being on the train at rush hour, just trying to walk down the street.

I told you about the 'lost boy', Ryoga, a while back. Well, as it turned out, he begged mom to take him with us, and she agreed! So now it is the four of us traveling together.'

(Nabiki felt a twinge of jealousy at not being one of those on the trip, if she had known it would be that easy to get to go too, she might have done some begging of her own.)

'She made him wear a child's leash-harness to keep from getting lost, I think we included a picture with that in there, prepare for a good laugh if you haven't looked at them yet.

Sorry this letter is so short, but I have not had a lot of chances to write, I promise I will send another one soon.

Your friend,
-Ranma Saotome.'

Nabiki debated for a moment whether or not to wait to open the package until the rest of her extended family were around, but before long her curiosity got the better of her and she tore into it, eager to see what she had been given. Opening the package, she found four Chinese silk dresses, one yellow, one green, and two in different shades of blue, each with various flower designs and a nametag. Wrapped inside the dresses was a bottle of Chinese rice wine for the fathers and Maid Guy.

She had a bit of time left before the others would get done with their training for the day, so she decided to take hers, and try it on, maybe after dinner they could all do each other's hair and take more pictures. Too bad, it would take a fight and some well-placed guilt to get Fubuki and Akane to wear theirs. Akane didn't like fancy dresses that much as it was, and being a gift from a boy would only make it worse, and Fubuki refused to let anyone see her wearing anything other than her maid's uniform. At least with her, Nabiki felt sure she would be able to convince her of how rude it would be not show him that she liked his gift, her sister, on the other hand, she was not so sure. Akane was just as likely to thank him, as she was to call him a pervert for sending her a fancy dress. 'Oh well, you just never know with that girl. If she doesn't want it, maybe I can 'borrow' it, too bad I am not really a fan of yellow.' She giggled a bit. 'Maybe I should tell him she likes red, like her name, and get some variety. No, that is likely to bite me, or him, later on. If nothing else he would likely be mad when he figured out I lied to him, and telling him our sizes were identical would be a bit of a giveaway!' She giggled again. 'Or at least I HOPE he would figure that out...'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma and his extended 'family' were stopping to buy supplies in a small town in northern China, when they heard a commotion. Sprinting toward the sounds, they saw an old man, who appeared to be overwhelmed by what seemed to be a gang of thugs. The old man seemed to be having trouble even standing, as he was falling over and stumbling around even when he had not been struck. Reading the man's ki, Ranma could tell that they were intentionally performed, and not as uncontrolled as it seemed to the casual viewer. They assessed what they could of the fighters auras, and saw the aggression in the 'gang' and the bliss of the older man, and almost immediately jumped in to assist the 'drunken' old man.

Ranma had been trying to teach the others how to throw ki 'blasts' since he had figured out how to do so while fighting the sphinx, but none of them had completely mastered it, including Ranma. When they had the time to concentrate and be calm, they could pull it off, but it was difficult under stressful situations, so they fell back on their usual ki charged ranged weapons, pinning as many of the 'thugs' to walls and the ground as they could, until the authorities could arrive and take them in, as they charged into the fight.

Ranma had been distracted a few times, so intently was he paying attention to the old man's style, and quite enjoying what he saw. Luckily, for him, Ukyo was always right there, to help guard him. Once the aggressors had all been knocked out, Ukyo was about to ask Ranma why he had been so distracted during a fight, when he walked over to the old man and began to speak, completely ignoring her. Ukyo vowed to herself that he would make that up to her later.

"/That's an interesting style you have there sir, I enjoyed watching your moves. I hope you do not mind our intrusion, at first we were not sure if you needed the help or not./"

Taking a drink from his flask, he chuckled. "/You're not too bad yourself, kid. What are you all doing way up here? You are certainly not natives./"

"/No sir, we are traveling martial artists, from Japan. We are going all over, studying any form of the art we can find, and I would LOVE to learn yours, where did you learn it?/"

Chuckling again, the old man replied, "/Well, I learned from my grandfather, but he isn't much of a teacher anymore. Let's see what you can do in hand to hand./"

Ranma took up a loose stance, one that did not look like he was ready to fight at all, while the old man continued to sway, while Ukyo began shouting from the sidelines, "May I have your attention, please? We are having an exhibition match! Please stand back so no one gets accidentally hurt! Give them a lot of room! Thank you!"

"/Name's Ranma Saotome, of the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts Diligence, and I accept your terms./"

Slurring a bit, he responded, "/I am Shun Di, and I practice Zui Quan,/ *hic* or the Drunken Fist, in your Japanese tongue."

Ukyo stepped between them holding a handkerchief in one hand, "/Round one, FIGHT!/" She then raised the 'flag' as she quickly got out of the way. They each sized the other up with their auras for a few moments. For most of the people present, it was not very exciting, but for those who could see Ranma's golden aura playing off of Shun's gray one, well, it still was not very exciting. Luckily for them, it was not long before the real battle began in earnest.

Ranma knew that making the first attack was a good way to give your opponent an edge, if not the upper hand, but this was just for fun, and he wanted to watch the old man work, so he lunged forward with a feint, preparing to jump back, wanting to see what Shun would do. As Ranma's fist got closer, Shun dropped low with a sweeping kick that Ranma, being prepared, was able to jump back and avoid, wishing he had jumped forward instead. Shun came up, twisting as he almost landed a double reverse palm strike to Ranma's chest. Ranma, for his part, tried to imitate Shun's sweeping kick, leaning back and dropping low to avoid the palm strike that nearly clipped his shoulder.

Shun did a backward cartwheel that would have kicked Ranma in the jaw if he had been standing, thus avoiding the sweep kick. He took a drink from his flask as Ranma came at him, attempting his own version of Shun's twisting palm strike. Shun stumbled out of Ranma's way to his right, spinning around him with a series of elbow strikes to his chest and head. He had been ill prepared for the attack and it knocked him back. He rolled with the fall, copying the old man's backward cartwheel kick.

This caught him by surprise and he was barely able to stagger away from this attack. "/So, you think to beat an old man, with his own style, do you?/" He took another swig from his gourd, grinning broadly.

Smiling himself, he quipped, "/Not really, but I learn best by example./" Since Shun had commented on him copying his style, he figured he would change it up, to throw him off, and jumped at him with a flying kick.

Shun plopped down into a sitting position, allowing Ranma to sail over his head, while he took another drink. Ranma was barely able to twist his body to avoid hitting someone's cart. Taking a brief moment to straighten himself out again, he looked over and saw Shun, who sat there, laughing at his in between drinks. "/You know kid, you're never going to win the fight like that./"

"/That's all right, this isn't a real fight, we are just having fun./" He grinned back at the old man. "/As long as I learn something and we put on a good show for the people, then what does it matter? It's not like there is anything at stake./" Ranma jumped up into a forward flip, that would have done any gymnast proud, landing on his hands and sprung forward, feet first, hoping to catch his opponent napping.

Shun rolled to the side, kicking up as he did so. His foot tapped Ranma's leg in passing, which changed his trajectory, causing Ranma to do another handspring flip to avoid an unpleasant landing. Shun rushed forward and did a triple version of his spinning leg sweep, catching Ranma as he was landing, knocking him off his feet.

Ukyo ran over to make sure Ranma was okay, but he was all ready getting back to his feet before she could reach him. Once he showed he was ready to continue, she shouted, "/Round two, FIGHT!/"

They started exchanging and blocking blows, neither of them landing a solid hit, "/So, you want to learn so badly that you don't mind losing the fight, huh?/" He caught Ranma in a bear hug, poking pressure points in his shoulder blades, causing his arms to go numb. Ranma tried to kick, but his leg was blocked, then immobilized, and then kicked, at the same time Ranma used a head butt. Both attacks hit home, Ranma was sent skidding back, hitting a wall, and Shun was staggered for real.

"/To lose is to win. What is more important in life than learning, besides love?/" Ranma charged in, swinging a kick at Shun's head.

In response, Shun started hopping back on one leg, kicking out with his other, knocking Ranma back. "/Well, it just so happens, I run a school, that is decidedly short on students, it seems most of them find my training methods too harsh./"

Ranma hopped up, and flipped over in a forward cartwheel, aiming his kick for the same place he head butted earlier. "/That won't be a problem for me, unless you killed them all./"

Not wanting to be hit in the head again, Shun spun to the right, arms flailing around like a windmill, and aimed for the back of Ranma's head. "/No, they just quit./"

Ranma was able to duck under the blow aimed for his head, to get a glancing one in his shoulder. He did a sweep in exchange, knocking Shun back more than a meter. "/Then I think we have a deal./"

Shun dropped to the ground, rolling over to Ranma and sprang up at the last moment with a double handed punch to Ranma's face, knocking him flat on his back, hitting his head. "/All students with style, must learn how to fall. That was only your first lesson./"

Ukyo ran over to Ranma, first making sure there was no blood, before helping him to his feet, despite his protests of not needing the help. Applause rang out from the audience that had gathered.

Shun threw his gourd over to Ranma who caught it out of the air and said, "/Here, Have a drink./"

Ranma looked confused, "/But, I'm underage.../"

"/Underage for what?/"

"/Drinking./"

Shun laughed again, "/There is no minimum drinking age here!/"

Ranma looked over at his mother expectantly, who nodded and said, "/Well, as the proverb says/, 'Entering the village, obey the village', /so, go ahead. Drinking is so very manly./"

"/Besides, that is just herbal tea. A special energy drink I brew. The drunkenness is fake. The fist is real./"

As soon as he took a swig from the gourd, Ranma began to feel better as his ki reserves started to fill back up.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma was thrilled that they were finally staying in one place for a while, so that he was able to get his mail again. He had missed his window into the 'normal' life of his friend. As much as he loved traveling around with his growing 'family', there was just something exotic to him about her stories of going to school, her family and friends, and even the occasional bits of news about his father.

He had quite a few letters waiting for him when they had finally been able to pick them up, and he had a hard time waiting until he could read them in peace. They were dating back to before he left Japan, and he had a lot to catch up on.

When he got 'home', he sat down to read, while Ryoga and Ukyo were sparring. Ranma could tell she was holding back, a lot, but the lost boy was showing signs of improvement, he was starting to pick up on the animal styles, some of them anyway. Ranma had already mastered today's lesson, and figured he had time to read his mail. He read about Nabiki's club, her troubles starting it up, and the strange and interesting people who joined. He read about them catching the perverted janitor Isaku, and how she had been instructed by the police on how NOT to tamper with evidence. This reminded Ranma of the many molesters he had the pleasure of mangling, which brought a smile to his face. "Good for them."

She wrote about their studies in their art, and her classes at school. She wrote about her worries and about her joys, about her sisters and her friends. He looked at pictures they sent of the eldest three wearing the dresses he sent them, still holding their stuffed animals too. Fubuki's picture stood out the most, as she was blushing so much that the picture practically felt warm to the touch. Turning the picture over it had her name, her measurements, birthday, and a brief note. 'Fubuki-chan doesn't like to be seen by others in anything but her uniform, not even us, but we talked her into posing for this to thank you. Kasumi-nee-chan and I tried to tell her how cute she looked. Maybe if you tell her, she will believe us. -Nabiki'

The second picture was of Kasumi, who was also blushing, though not nearly as much as Fubuki. Ranma was amazed at how much she had grown, she was much taller than in the last picture he had seen.

Ukyo noticed the look on his unmoving face and vowed to herself to see what was causing it, when she could, but for now, she had to master their lessons. She did not want to fall any further behind her fast learning friend. Being second best was okay, as long as it was a close second.

Moments later, Ranma stopped staring and turned the photo over to read the back. Like the other, it had her name, measurements, and birthday, as well as a few other things, like her sign and blood type, followed by the note. 'Kasumi-nee-chan loved her dress, but was a bit embarrassed by how revealing it was, but we think she looks amazing in it, how about you? She wanted to make sure I thanked you for her, even though she wrote you a note as well. That's our Onee-chan, -Nabiki'

Sure enough, there was another note, written very formally.

'Dearest Ranma-sama,
Thank you so very much for the dress, it is lovely. It makes me feel pretty to wear it. You are too kind, you and your family have already done so much for us, and yet you keep giving us gifts as well. I do not deserve it, I am no one special. Please, you do not need to give me anything. I will never be able to repay your kindness as it is. The other girls are far more deserving than I. You do not need to worry about me, I am happy just knowing that you are well.
Thank you for everything.
-Kasumi Tendo'

The third picture was of Nabiki, who was turned sideways, with her head facing and winking at the camera, looking adorable, and blowing a kiss. He turned the picture over and again, found her measurements and many other 'vital statistics', favorite foods, colors, and so on, along with another note. 'Thank you from all of us, even Akane-chan likes hers I am sure, she just isn't big on getting things from boys, so she wouldn't join us in playing dress-up or in the photo-shoot (said she had more fun breaking bricks). The rest of us had a lot of fun, and we want you to know how much we appreciate what you do for us. We all have your photos up in our rooms, and your paintings are hanging in our clubroom at school. All of the girls love them. Don't ever stop painting, you are both really good.
XOXOX
-Nabiki'

Ranma put that aside, and started reading the most recent letter in the bunch.

'Dear Ranma-kun,
I hope you are doing well in your training, and are having fun all over China, we are doing well here. Kasumi-nee-chan came up with an idea to help some homeless people, who were living under a bridge. We raised money to build them a shelter, you should see it, it's huge! I set up an account with the remaining donations we collected and the interest from it should maintain the place, and pay the councilor for a long time to come). Which is good enough news really, but if that wasn't good enough, we got on the news, and Kasumi was offered a job reading things on TV! She didn't think she would be good at it, and that no one would want to see her, but we convinced her to give it a try, you never know if you don't try after all. The best part is, she seems to be really enjoying it.

Ever since we caught that pervert, our club has gotten more respect, and I have even gotten to study actual police detectives, I even got some pointers from them. It was all very educational ...and fun! Mikan-sensei treats us better, and no longer calls our club 'useless' or a 'waste of time', though we do still have to provide most of our own funds, rules are rules I guess, but our Kasumi-chibis are selling well, and we should have the new one out soon, I will send you the original when it is done. Fubuki-chan out did herself this time. I can't wait for you to see it. What kind of outfit would you like to see our fourth one to be wearing?

I know it has been a while since you were able to get these, so I will keep this short, I hope you are able to read them soon, please let me know when you do.
<3 <3 -Nabiki- <3 <3'

Ranma immediately got to work penning letters to the three girls before he rejoined his friends in their training.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo snuck into the room they all shared, and found Ranma's letter to Nabiki. Using the skills she had learned in geisha and ninja training, she opened the envelope without tearing the paper, slipped in some of her favorite photos of Ranma, and resealed the envelope before she crept into bed with Ranma, who was sound asleep. She curled up next to him and went to sleep herself, a habit she had formed early on in their travels. In the early days, she would go to sleep in her own bedroll, and wake up in his after rolling over to him in her sleep. So eventually, after he had stopped protesting waking up in her arms every morning, she started waiting until he was asleep and just got into his bed instead, to save the time. Ranma had gotten used to it, and did not really mind, but he did find it odd that if just about anyone else would get that close he would wake up, or at least dodge, but for some reason, Ukyo never seemed to trigger his 'alarm'.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Soun was returning to the Saotome study, where the two fathers spent most of their free time, playing Go and drinking sake. He had dropped off the mail where the girls could find it, bringing Genma's magazines to him. "Here you go, Saotome-kun. You know, my girls got another letter from your son again today, it seems they write more than you and your wife." he commented absently. "It wasn't a large one, so no presents for us it seems."

Annoyance flashed over Genma's features for a moment, but he pondered that and said, "Well, at least with all of that communication they are doing, maybe at least one of them will develop an interest in him, and our plan to merge the schools and the families will still come to pass. If my wife thinks it is their idea, then she won't prevent it. As you know, she isn't going to let us force the issue."

"Yes, that is good news indeed. We should celebrate our luck!"

"Good idea Tendo-kun, good idea."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After their club meeting, the three eldest girls arrived home together and saw that they had mail! Seeing that it was addressed to all three of them, Nabiki whispered to the others, "Let's take this downstairs and open it in private." Nodding they changed shoes and quietly crept into one of the secret passages.

Opening the envelope Nabiki saw that there were three more envelopes inside, as well as a handful of pictures. She withdrew the contents, and their eyes bugged out at the photos they had in their hands. They laid them out on the table and gawked at the various photographs of Ranma, most without a shirt on, and even one from the bath. Many of them had Ranma working out, in posed that seemed impossible to them, even as highly skilled martial artists themselves. It took them quite some time before any of them realized that there was writing on the backs of these pictures, and even longer to see that each of the three envelopes had one of their names on them.

Kasumi had picked one of them up to examine it more closely, when Nabiki noticed, out of the corner of her eye, barely, writing on the back of that picture, and she checked the others. Each one had a number, and a short description, and one had a note that read, 'Dear girls, Isn't Ranchama dreamy? Oh, sorry, I lost myself there for a moment. I liked your Kasumi-chibis so much, that I wanted to make one of Ranchama too, and I wanted to see what outfit you liked best for it (not counting the bath one, since the clothes will come off anyway). PLEASE don' tell 'im Ah sent these ta yah, or about th' doll, Ah wanna surprise him with th' doll, and Ah wanted to do y'all a favor too. Ah hope yah enjoy them as much as Ah do, an' please let meh know what'cha think. Of course, Ah will send yah one as well, when Ah get more than one made.
Ever Ranchama's,
-Ukyo'

Thus began the great debate, each of them having a favorite, but eventually a consensus was reached, and they took a moment to each write a short note to Ukyo telling her. Then they turned to the envelopes, and Nabiki handed each one to its owner.

Fubuki opened her letter first, blushing before he even read it.

'Dear Fubuki-chan,
You looked very good in the dress, I am glad it fit you so well. You should dress up more often, you look really cute when you do.
We can't thank you enough for all that you do for us, from taking care of the house to the girls. I hope you remain with us for a very long time. You are the best.
Thank you.
-Ranma Saotome'

Her blush intensified, and she began cleaning things out of nervous habit.

Kasumi was rather surprised to be getting a letter, and it took her a few moments to work up the courage to open and read it.

'Dear Kasumi-onee-san,'

'Oh my, he called me 'onee-san'!' Kasumi blushed at that. 'I have always wanted a little brother, Akane-chan seems to try, but that is just not the same.'

'You are very welcome, for everything. I am so glad you like the dress, though I am sure you do not need it to look pretty. You are what made that dress look so good, not the other way around. You are growing into a fine young lady.
You most certainly DO deserve it, at least as much as anyone I know, if not more so (your sister has told me all about you, I feel as though I know you, sorry if that is presumptuous). You are a very special person. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise, including yourself. What you did for those people, for example, was one of the nicest things I have ever heard. The last thing I want is for you to feel obligated, you and your sisters will never be asked to 'repay' anything to us, ever, as future head of the house, I promise you that. I do these things because I want to, not because I want you to owe me anything. I just like doing nice things for nice people. Is it not normal for someone to send a friend a souvenir when they are on a trip? I am only sorry you girls did not come with us, so the least I can do is to send you pictures of the sights, and interesting things we find along the way.
And congratulations on your new job, I hope you will enjoy it, I know the people will love you.
Ever your friend,
-Ranma Saotome
P.S. If there is anything specific you desire, ask, and I will find it for you.'

"Oh my, oh my, he does seem very mature, ne?" 'For a boy more than two years younger, he was really well built, if all boys his age were built like him, I could almost become a Shotacon.' Kasumi didn't realize she was almost salivating at the prospect.

"That's what I have been telling you, Nee-chan. You should start writing him letters too, I am sure he would love to hear from you more often. It IS the polite thing to do, ne?" A devilish grin crossed her face for a brief instant.

Nabiki had finished adding the pictures to their scrapbook, while her 'sisters' were reading their letters. She wanted to be alone when she read her letter, so she had waited until her 'sisters' had put their things away and left to begin dinner preparations.

'Dear Nabiki-chan,
Wow, you hair is really getting long! Those braids look really cute on you. I am glad you girls liked your gifts, I am sorry Akane didn't, I guess you could try to tell her they were from Ukyo.' [There was a picture of a smiling face] 'If there is anything specifically you would like as a souvenir, then please let me know.

That is amazing about Kasumi's job, I know the people will love her. I am also really impressed about the shelter you built, I have never tried to build anything, only break things, I guess I should branch out soon...

I look forward to seeing your new work, and I like the idea of making one of them wearing a dress like the silk Chinese one. I also think it would be fun to have dolls for the rest of you, and your club. Kasumi-chibi needs her sisters and friends as well, to help her in her adventures. You could form a team, like in your club, and they could go out and fight crime together. Don't sell yourself short, even if you other girls are not 'the idols of the school', as you put it, I am sure they would sell well as a team. If that club photo you sent me is any indication, you are all very cute. With different people identifying with your different personalities, you are sure to sell to more people over all, even if some of the others don't sell as well individually.

The training has been hard, especially on Ryoga, who just doesn't pick up on techniques as quickly but he is doing well with the strength training, and he is tough, so he can take it. At first we were just doing hard exercises, a thousand wrist switch push-ups, moving water from one barrel to another with a cup for hours at a time, upside-down sit-ups, balance training, you know, the usual sorts of things. Then he started teaching us the five original animal styles of wuxia, or 'Wu Xing'. He says we have to be able to master them before he will consider us strong enough to be able to handle the training for his style.

I like the footwork and kicks from the Black Tiger Fist. Crane isn't really my favorite, but it is good balance training. Dragon style is great for ki use, and power, Ryoga does well with this one. However, the quick strikes and odd angles of Snake and Leopard styles really call to me, they fit well with my style. I considered asking if he would teach me Monkey style while the others are working on their basics, because the tumbling seemed like fun, but they have a tendency to favor striking certain vitals that I just can't get behind, like groin, eyes, and throat, but that doesn't mean I can't work on the other parts of it. It reminds me of Capoeira in some ways, which was a blast. You should check it out. Some people called it 'Battle Dancing', if you learn it too, then maybe when I get home, we can dance together. Not that I don't know other dances too, I mean we could do that instead if you prefer, I just thought it would be fun, sorry, forget I said anything. I would erase it, if this wasn't ink.

It's so nice to be able to read your letters again, and it looks like we will be in this one place for a while, so I won't have to miss out again anytime soon. It felt kind of lonely without them. I am not looking forward to the next time I have to wait.
Until next time,
-Ranma Saotome'

Nabiki was glad he liked her hair, she had been letting it grow for a couple of years now, and it was getting rather long. She was also happy that her letters had such an effect on him, his letters always excited her, his stories of the strange and exotic places were as interesting to her as any of the novels she had read (the gifts didn't hurt either). Though she did have to admit, she was rather surprised that someone she thought of as being so intelligent, would be inclined to believe in silly things like ghosts, and monsters. She knew they didn't exist, she proved that over and over again with her investigations, but she supposed that life on the road made superstitions more believable.

However, that was not important, what WAS important was that he was able to get her mail and communicate with her again, and that he would not be moving on again for some time. She pulled out her ink and brush set to began to excitedly write a return letter, and package up the doll she was going to send him. She did need to make sure the other girls wrote him a letter soon too, so she could include them when she mailed it, no sense in wasting postage after all.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nabiki was on her way back to her room, after getting a drink, when she heard her sister's voice. Being the curious type, she quietly crept to her door to listen in. She could not hear much, other than her sister, softly repeating, "Oh my." over and over. They started to get a bit faster, and then came the last one, much louder, though it sounded muffled, as if it had been shouted into a pillow. Thinking that this was rather strange, she almost did not hear the footsteps from the other side. Not wanting to get caught eavesdropping, she quickly hid and saw her sister quietly tiptoe out of her room, and down the stairs, carrying a book, their scrapbook. 'What is she doing with our scrapbook? THIS, is a mystery!'

She quickly followed her older sister as quietly as she could, doing her best to mask her presence as Genma had instructed them. Kasumi was racing over to the Saotome house, or more specifically, to the secret entrance to their underground clubhouse. 'It looks like she is returning the book, I wonder why she had it, why hide it? This is very strange.'

She raced back to the house, deciding to pretend as if she was just now getting a drink, and 'catch' her coming back in. Refilling her glass, she slowly sipped at it as she waited. She did not have to wait long, as she heard the door quietly open and close, and Kasumi whisper, "Tadaima." she poked her head into the hallway. "Ohaio gozaimasu, Onee-chan. What have you been doing?"

Kasumi looked up in shock from where she had been changing into her slippers, uttered an "Oh my!", and promptly feinted of embarrassment. ...Nabiki never did get any answers out of her.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma had received another package, one he expected to contain another 'Kasumi-chibi' doll. He was right of course, but what he had not expected was there were also four letters inside of it. Three of them were addressed to him, the fourth was the most surprising, being addressed to Ukyo!

"Oi, Ucchan! You've got mail!"

Ukyo ran over to him, and quickly snatched the letter out of his hand, startling Ranma even more. "Ucchan, is there something you want to tell me? Have you been sending letters I don't know about?" He asked her with a sly grin.

Tucking the letter into her shirt, "Nope, nothing you need to worry about. Girl stuff, you know."

"But if you haven't been writing them, how do you know what it's about?"

"Urk! Um, well, hey, isn't that, Ryoga running off in the wrong direction?" She pointed to nothing in particular.

"No, he is with Mom getting food for tonight's dinner. What's this about Ucchan, if I can help..."

"No, it's nothing bad, I just can't tell you right now, don't you trust me?"

"OF COURSE! I trust you even more than mom. I would trust you with my life, my secrets, or anything else. I'm just curious. I thought you trusted me, I didn't think we had secrets from each other... But fine, if you don't want to tell me, I will obey rule number fifteen. You can tell me when and if you are ready."

Ranma had a sad look on his face as he turned away, which hurt Ukyo badly, "I will Ranchama, I promise, just not now. Please don't be upset."

Hearing the hurt in her voice, Ranma turned back to his friend, and took her into a hug, kissing her on the cheek, "I trust you, I know you are not doing this to hurt me. I can't help that it does hurt, but I DO trust you, more than anyone else on the planet." Giving his friend another squeeze, he let her go, to return to what she was doing, and went to read his own mail. "But maybe I won't let you read mine this time." He winked at her, smiling, and stuck out his tongue. 'And that doesn't mean I can't play 'the game' with her as the target on my own... She is harder to sneak up on, so it's better practice.'

{Nodoka's Rule: Number Fifteen - If a woman is keeping a secret, there is probably a reason for it, and she will let you know when she is ready.}
-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The first letter he opened was from Fubuki, it was short, sweet, and to the point.

'Dear Goshujin-sama,
While I did not think so at first, I am so glad that I stuck with this job in the face of the adversity that it presented. Your father was a bit hard to handle at first, but thanks to Kogarashi, he has become manageable. If I had quit that first day, I never would have learned as much as I have here, nor would I have been able to meet you and the Tendos. Well, technically, we have not met yet, but I look forward to that day, I know much about you, and I could not have asked for a better master. I too, hope to be able to work for you and your family for as long as I am able. The days I have spent here, taking care of your family and friends, have been the happiest of my life. If you are willing, I would gladly serve you for the rest of my life.
Ever your housemaid,
-Fubuki'

Ranma did not notice at first, until the first tear landed not no his chin and shirt, but on the paper instead, he quickly put it aside and dried his face, the sincerity and dedication in the girl's words, touched his heart. It took him several minutes before he was able to move on to the next letter.

Once Ranma felt that he had regained control over his emotions, he moved on to the next letter, this one from Kasumi.

'Dear Ranma-sama,
You really are too kind, I do not deserve your praise.
Would it be all right if I wrote you as well? I hear a lot about you from Nabiki-chan, but that is not the same thing as us having our own conversations, and I think I would like that very much. I hope you will not mind.

The 'job' seems to be going well, they seem to like me, and it is fun to dress up in the costume they want me to wear, it matches the one on the doll that we sent with this. I still do not understand why anyone would want to watch me, or own dolls that look like me, but if it makes people happy, then I will not complain.

Oh, this is harder than I thought. I never knew that being a pen pal required talking about myself so much... I have never been good at that. I prefer it when I fade into the background, and take care of others. Other than Fukibuki and Nabiki-chan, no one ever seemed to care what I thought anyway, especially after mother died. You are so lucky to have your mother with you, I look forward to getting to meet her myself, she has been so kind to us, and I want to thank you both in person, no written words could ever portray what I feel. So please, take care of yourselves, and come home safely.

Eternally grateful,
-Kasumi Tendo
P.S. If you insist on getting me something, maybe some nice Oolong Tea, there is something about the imported blends that are just much better.'

Ranma made a mental note to ask his instructor for some advice on the best herbal teas, including Oolong. The herbal doctor certainly knew his way around teas (and other things).

Ranma pulled out the last letter in his package, and began to read,

'Dear Ranma-kun,
I missed hearing from you too, I am so glad you have found a school to train with that you will be staying at for a while, so we can 'talk' more frequently, I only wish we had a faster way to send massages, but since calling would not be easy or cheap, we do what we have to do. Though I do admit, it would be nice to hear your voice. Well, maybe we can figure something out, I have an idea that might work, but I will need to get a few things. I will keep this one short as well, so I can get it in the mail today, and get to the stores before they close.

I hope you like the new Kasumi-chibi, in television idol fashion! We will be starting to sell them in a week or two. I will let you know how they do.

Your new styles sound like fun, as does the 'battle dancing', I will, in fact, look into taking a class, I am kind of bored with the maid style, it never really suited me anyway, it would be good to expand my range further. After all, you have trained in so many styles, and you are still doing it, so it must be a good plan. Some of the moves I have seen you doing in the pictures you have sent look almost impossible to us, and we thought we were pretty good.

As for what I would want as a gift, the only things I can think of I can either buy myself, like new brushes, because these are getting worn out, or jewelry, which is too expensive for a gift. So it doesn't matter, you have excellent taste, I am sure whatever you pick out would be lovely.

I am sorry, but if I am going to get this out and make it to the store, I need to cut myself off before I lose all track of time.
<3-Nabiki-<3'

Ranma made another mental note, to look for a nice ink and brush set, as well as jewelry.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo was having a hard time, keeping a secret from Ranma. In fact, it was the hardest thing she had ever had to do in her life. The look of hurt and surprise on his face had cut her to the bone, worse than any blade. For some reason the subtle bastard had always found a way to surprise her with something on her birthday, but he had always found out what she had planned for his every year, and he was so spontaneous that he did not even have to keep a secret. He would just come up with something on the spot. He was so good at reading body language that he always knew exactly what she wanted. However, this year would be different. She was going to surprise him with an unexpected gift if it killed her. The way she felt at that moment, it almost might as well have. 'This had better be worth it!'

She had been working on it in secret whenever she had been able to sneak away. However, with how close they all were that was not an easy feat. Ryoga was of no help at all, the lost boy could not keep a secret if his life depended on it. Oh, he would try, but it took someone who was at least as dense as he was to not be able to read him like a book. Luckily, Nodoka was not only willing to help her, but also good at keeping secrets. She did not care for lying, but she had understood what Ukyo wanted to do, and would cover for her. Distracting him by asking for his help, sending him on errands, and also 'sending' her of pointless ones so she could get away and work on her project.

She had been making six of dolls, and now that she had the letter, she could begin working on the clothing for them. They had each picked a different one, but had agreed on one. Ukyo considered this for a moment, partly due to the fact that she had expected four responses, but it seemed as if they did not ask for the youngest's opinion. She decided that she would make them each the outfit they had chosen, and use the consensus one for the gift to Ranma. She knew she would need an outfit for each one, so the basics were mostly done, it would just take a bit of adjustments and alterations to fit what she needed to do. Then all she had to do was sneak off and mail the ones for the girls without Ranma catching her, and be back in time for the party that Nodoka was having the unwitting Ryoga helping her set up.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Since everyone else was busy, Ranma decided to go to the nearby town, and do some shopping for more gifts. He would have liked to have asked Ukyo for help, but with the way she was acting, he wasn't sure he wanted to. He really did not want to admit it, but he really was hurt that she was keeping a secret from him, he never thought it would bother him so much. He did not particularly like secrets, even though his mother insisted he make sure to keep some. Special things that he only shared with special people. Nevertheless, to him, Ukyo was one of those special people, and the only person from whom he did not keep any secrets. Until recently, they had always been together, almost nothing could keep his best friend from his side. She would fight tooth and nail to not be separated from him for any reason. Lately though, it seemed as if his best friend had been avoiding him. He would ask him mom about it, but she had not been around as often lately either. This was also something he found strange, since they were here for the sole purpose of training. Even Ryoga had been gone a lot lately, which, if not for the leash, would not have been unusual, but with it, meant someone was keeping an eye on him.

He walked around town lost in thought for a while, not really paying a lot of attention to his surroundings. All of a sudden, he felt aggressive ki, instantly he was in the air, zeroing in on the aggressors, who were heading into a ceramics shop (cannot really call it a china shop in China), that looked to be filled with expensive and very fragile items. Not wanting to call attention to himself and accidentally break something he would have to pay for, he pulled his ki into himself, and followed them as quietly as possible. When he saw that they were in fact trying to rob the place, he snuck behind them, and the moment they demanded money from the shopkeeper he touched a pressure point near their shoulders, knocking them out cold. The shopkeeper was so surprised that he stated to hand all of his money to Ranma.

"/You are welcome sir, but I do not need a reward. Protecting people is what a martial artist does./" He tied the three men up with the twine he always carried, and turned back toward the man and said, "/But I would like to see the nicest tea set you have in stock./"

"/Of course sir, right this way./" Before leading Ranma to the back of the store, he called out, "/Hey wife, it's safe now, quit hiding back there and call the police!/"

They discussed the finer points of the tea sets, and the differences between them. Ranma selected a ceramic set, with gold inlays, and beautiful flowers painted on it, with eight matching cups. Ranma offered to pay extra to have them pack the fragile items for shipping, but the man would not hear of it. In fact, if Ranma had not picked out one of the most expensive items in the shop, he would have been inclined not to charge him at all, since he had saved him a lot by stopping those men, but not enough to cover that much of a loss. He asked the man not to seal the box, and told him that he needed to buy a few more things to stick in there, so he would be back to pick them up soon. Ranma paid for the items, and wandered off, looking for a jewelry shop.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After mailing his package to the girls, Ranma headed back to Shun's school and clinic, glad that not all of his day was depressing, having partially forgotten his troubles from earlier.

As Ranma opened the door, he heard several people shout, "O tanjo-bi omedetogozaimasu!!!"
{*O tanjo-bi omedetogozaimasu = Happy Birthday*}

Ranma looked around, trying to figure out whose birthday it was. His own was not something he paid all that much attention to, so he had once again, forgotten all about it. To Ranma, getting older was not really a big deal, everyone did it, it was no real accomplishment, not like learning a new style, or even a special move. Though he knew other people put great stock in birthdays, so he made sure to always remember to do something special for the other people in his life, but his own, he could not really care less about, but seeing the joy on their faces, he could not help but to feel it as well. Then everything clicked in his head, why no one had been around, why Ukyo had been avoiding him, all of it. He suddenly felt really bad about his hurt feelings, and the pain he likely caused his best friend, and was rather ashamed of himself. Seeing Ukyo as she knelt before him, offering up a wrapped box, with a look of worry on her face, what was left of his heart almost burst. He knelt down in front of her, and apologized, almost in tears, "I am sorry Ucchan, I knew better than to doubt you, but my heart ached anyway. I thought you were tired of being my friend. Please forgive me!"

Ukyo grabbed his hand, and pulled him into a hug, "There is nothing to forgive, it hurt me as well, I am sorry too. I never wanted to hurt you, but I was determined to be able to surprise you for your birthday at least once! Now open your present!"

Still holding Ukyo in one arm, Ranma did as he had been instructed, to find a 'Ranma plushy' inside, wearing the long shirt outfit that he had bought when they had first arrived in China.

"There, now your Kasumi-chibi dolls have a boyfriend."

"Is that where you got the idea?"

"Well, I was going to make you a life-sized pillow doll, shaped like me, but you don't need that, because you have the real thing, and we will never be apart that long again!"

"We should send them a picture of this, it's really well made."

Ukyo blushed at that, then said, "Thank you, but I did you one better, I actually made six of them, and sent them each one." She pointed to her cheek, twisting her finger and sticking her tongue out just a bit. Considering the look on his face, and how tightly he was holding her, she thought to herself, 'Yup, it was totally worth it.'

"That's five..."

"If yah think Ah'm goin' ta that much trouble, an' not keepin' a 'Ranchibi' fer muhself, yer crazy! Ah made one uh th' hardest sacrifices Ah coulda ever made ta make these. Ah kept a secret, and hurt yah, something Ah neva wana have ta do again!" Ukyo pulled out the sixth doll, a shirtless one, and despite the fact that Ukyo never wore lipstick, the doll was covered in pink lip prints, which caused Ranma to blush a bit as he thought about the implications of that. Having only gotten the basics from Kyoshi, he did not fully understand most of those implications.

"Well, actually, I have a present for each of you as well. For you Ucchan, a silver necklace, with a jade horse medallion, for the year of our birth."

"Oooo, and it also matches your name! I love it! Thank you Ranchama!" She hopped once, and then kissed him, not on the cheek as she usually would, but on his lips! Ranma was stunned for a moment, and was not able to move until after she had retreated to try on her gift.

After recovering himself, he walked over to his mother, and handed her a small box containing a pair of small jade rat shaped earrings. "We won't say which year of the rat you are but, for you Okaa-sama." Ranma bowed as he handed over the box.

Once he was again upright, his mother also leaned over and kissed him on the mouth. "Thank you my son, they are lovely."

Ranma then tossed a small bag to Ryoga, and said, "Here man, but don't you even think about kissing me too!"

Catching the box, a look of disgust crossed his face. "Like I would ever! Eeew!"

Had everyone not been lost in their own actions, they might have heard a voice outside say, "I would!" However, thanks to the commotion Ryoga and Ranma were making, no one noticed.

"/And for you Shifu, a hand carved gourd, with a sheep on it, for your sign./"
{*Shifu = Chinese term, meaning martial arts instructor*}

"But Ranchama, you haven't even opened the rest of YOUR presents! You are not supposed to give presents on your birthday, you are supposed to receive them!"

"You celebrate your birthday your way, and I will celebrate my birthday, my way." He laughed at his embarrassment for forgetting his own birthday.

"We are not talking about my lowly birthday. We are talking about the great Ranchama's birthday. Besides, we worked hard on this, and you are not going to spoil it!" Ukyo said with a grin.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

When the girls arrived home there were two packages, one addressed to all of them, and the bigger one addressed to Nabiki, Kasumi, and Fubuki. They carried their packages down to their secret room. They opened the larger one first. It said it was from Ranma. Opening the box, they found a lot of packing material.

"Oh my, whatever is in here, must be very breakable."

As they dug around they started to find many things, four small boxes, each with a note, a bottle of sake and a box of cigarettes, several boxes of tea of assorted flavors, a box of ink, and matching brushes, and under all of that, the nicest tea set any of them had ever seen.

Akane looked on curiously, and the rest of the said a collective, "OH MY!"

Reading the first note, Nabiki said, "Dear Nabiki, Kasumi, and Fubuki, I stopped a robbery in a tea shop, and got a really good deal on this, and I hope you like it, it is for your 'clubhouse'. There is also an assortment of teas that I got from my sensei, he is an herbal doctor, and many of them have special properties, like helping your ki recharge faster. I noted on each package what they do. There are some normal ones like a few blends of Oolong, and some other teas as well. The wine and smokes are for the old men, if you feel they deserve it. I will leave that up to you. There are also brushes and an ink set, that I thought were really nice, since you said yours were wearing out, we wouldn't want anything to prevent our ability to communicate, now would we?."

Nabiki blushed a bit at that before she continued, "There is also something small for each of you, I put a note on each one to let you know who they are for, and one for Kogarashi. I really hope you all enjoy them. -Ranma"

Fubuki read her note before opening the box, 'Fubuki, You can stay with us for as long as you like. This is for you birth year, the year of the Dragon.' She opened the box to find a small jade dragon on a long silver necklace.

Kasumi read hers next, 'Kasumi, I haven't even met you yet, and I can tell you why people want to buy those dolls and watch you on television, you are a beautiful person inside and out, and I would feel honored if you found me worthy of writing. Here is a hare, for you, the year of the Rabbit.' Kasumi blushed, glad that she did not read that aloud. She opened the box to find a jade bunny, on a similar chain to Fubuki's.

Nabiki took her turn. 'Nabiki, I look forward to whatever you come up with, I am sure it will be great. For your birth year, the year of the Snake.' As with the other two, she found a similar necklace with a jade snake.

"But wait, if the fourth one is for that perverted maid guy, then that means I didn't get a present! Why didn't I get anything?!?!"

"Oh my, Akane-chan, did you thank him for the last present he sent you?"

Akane's face turned a bit redder, it was hard to tell if it was from embarrassment, anger, or both.

Nabiki turned to her and added, "No, no you didn't, not only that, you called him names for trying to do something nice for you. Why would he bother to get you another present if you didn't appreciate the last one?"

"ME? Thank that pervert? NEVER!"

"And that, my dear sister, is why you did not get a present."

"Whatever! Why are you all on his side, you sure got bought off cheaply!"

"Well there are two things about that, the first, is that we were not bought off, he is a genuinely nice boy, and we honestly like him, not because of what he bought us. Second, if it had been the presents that did it, they were most certainly NOT cheap!"

Ignoring her, they opened the other box, they found a short note, and four 'Ranchibis', each in a different outfit, one that matched the ones each of them picked, and one for the group consensus. Nabiki read the note aloud. "'Dear girls, Thank you for your help, I made one for each of the outfits you liked individually, and gave the one you all agreed on to Ranchama, for his birthday. Thank you for all of your help. Love, Ukyo.'

"...Oh Kuso! We missed his birthday! It was HIS birthday, and he got US presents! Oh, I feel like such a heel."

"Oh my, he must be rather disappointed with us. We should do something to make it up to him."

"Well, it's not like he ever told us when his birthday was, I guess we should have asked Uncle Genma..."

"Goshujin-sama may well have forgotten, he's not exactly responsible."

"Well if he never told you, he can't expect you to know when it is. I mean really, who cares anyway?"

"I do, you might not have been able to figure it out, but I am supposed to be the detective, I should have been able to figure it out!"

"Whatever, I don't care! I am going to practice!"

"Well, unless you plan to be a demolitionist, breaking bricks is not 'practice', but whatever. I think one of these dolls is for you."

"Don't want it!" Akane yelled as she stormed out into the backyard.

"Nabiki turned back to her sisters and smiled, "I have an idea of what we can do for this. It works into a plan I was already working on."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

About a week later, Ranma received a small package. He opened it up to find no letter, causing a hint if disappointment, but it did have a stack of pictures of the girls, and an even smaller box. He took a while to look through the pictures noting that only a few of them had notes on the back, but they were just telling about the clothes they were wearing, or the pose, the background, minor details.

"Well, 'a picture is worth a thousand words' after all."

Ranma reached in, opened the other box, and found a micro-cassette recorder, with a tape in it. "Well, that was certainly unexpected."

Not seeing anything else in the box, he checked to see that the tape was rewound, he pressed play.

It crackled for a moment, and then he heard a girl's voice say "Three, two, one." and several girls started singing the English version of 'Happy Birthday to You'.

After the singing had stopped, the first girl started to speak again, "Hi there Ranma-kun, this is Nabiki."

"Oh, I am Kasumi."

"And I am Fubuki."

Together, all of them said, "And we are very sorry we missed your birthday!!!"

Nabiki continued alone, "To make it up to you we wanted to sing to you. So we got you this toy, so we can send massages back and forth, you can listen to our voices, and we can hear yours."

They sang several more songs, and then took turns talking, thanking him for the gifts, and singing some more. Ranma listened to both sides of the full tape. Once he had finished it, he ran straight back to town, to search high and low for a store that sold more tapes.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Six months had passed, and even Ryoga had just about mastered all five of the animal styles, and Ranma had also learned a few of the others while he had been waiting, including Monkey and Praying Mantis. Shun had offered to also teach him Panda style, but Ranma had refused, it seemed too silly.

"Well students, I do believe you are ready to start learning Zui Quan. To learn my style, it helps to have a few drinks first." As he pulled out the jug of wine, everyone gathered around and took up a cup.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

They had kind of lost track of time. Several hours later...

"/Remember, 'boats kin float in water, but they kin shink in it too'./" Shun slurred, as he took another drink.

Ranma looked at him, looking confused for a moment and asked, "/What's that mean, Shifu?/"

"/I don't know, it wazsh shomething my grandfather told me, here, haves anozer drink./"

They did not get much training done that night, but Nodoka did get some embarrassing pictures of her son's 'manly' first time being drunk. She had been surprised that Ryoga had proven to be more of a 'light weight' than she had expected, and passed out early. She had been fairly entertained with Ukyo's shift in personality though, she had become so belligerent to everyone, except Ranma of course, to whom she had been giving goo-goo eyes at all evening. It was probably a good thing she had already passed out as well, as manly as it would be, they are still a bit too young for what she might have tried to do.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

OMAKE 05

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

'Kai-bu' the Recruitment Song
{To the tune of the Scooby Doo Theme Song}
Sung by the Kai-bu girls.

-!-

Join the Kai-bu, we need you
We've got some fun for you now
Join the Kai-bu, we need you
We need some help from you now
I'm in Kai-bu, I am too
Nabiki is our leader
Penguin and Mori, and Fubuki
Kasumi-chan's a giver

You know we got a mystery to solve
So Kai-bu get ready for your act
(Don't hold back),
'Cause in kai-bu when you come through
You're gonna get one of Kasumi's snacks
(That's a fact!)

Join the Kai-bu, we want you
If you're ready and you're willin'
If we can count on you in the Kai-bu
I know we'll catch that villain
I know we'll catch that villain...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

END OMAKE

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

*AUTHOR'S NOTES*

Yuri and Sayuka
- Yes, I know her friend's names at Furinkan were Yuka and Sayuri, these are her friends in her new school, I just switched the last characters for an easy way to identify her (current) new friends. Surprisingly, they look really similar too... Go figure.

Drinking Age
China did not have a 'minimum legal drinking age' prior to the law that was introduced in January of 2006, which made it eighteen.

Clothing
-Changshan is the male equivalent of the women's cheongsam (qipao). It is also known as a changpao or dagua.
Changshan, along with qipao, were introduced to China during the Qing Dynasty (17th-20th centuries). The Manchus in 1636 ordered that all Han Chinese should adopt the changshan style of dress or face harsh punishment. However, after the 1644 fall of the Ming Dynasty, the Manchu stopped this order, and only required the court and government officials to wear Manchu clothes. Commoners were actually still allowed to wear the hanfu. However, over time, given the fact that the commoners still had to adopt Manchurian hairstyles or face execution, the commoners adopted the changshan and qipao as their own dress. Thus, the traditional Chinese Hanfu style of clothing was gradually replaced. Over time, the Manchu style gained popularity.
-The cheongsam is a body-hugging one-piece Chinese dress for women; the male version is the changshan. It is known in Mandarin Chinese as the qipao and is also known in English as a mandarin gown. The stylish and often tight-fitting cheongsam or qipao that is most often associated with today was created in the 1920s in Shanghai and was made fashionable by socialites and upper class women.
-Pien Fu is a traditional Chinese outfit consisting of a knee-length tunic over a skirt or pair of pants. This two-piece costume was considered to be a ceremonial dress. The tunic for a top that extended all the way to the knees. This was worn on top of a skirt that reached the length of the ankles. The skirt under the tunic was worn only during formal occasions. The pien was a cylinder-shaped hat that accommodated the outfit.
For more, see Wikipedia. ;)

Chinese Zodiac
-The years that these fall on in this world are slightly off from ours. If I had thought about it a head of time, I would have pushed their date of birth forward to match it, but I didn't and so this is how it will be, I will keep the signs in the right order, because they fit the people so well the way I have it planned, starting with Ranma as being born in the obvious Year of the Horse. Which makes Nabiki the year of the Snake, Fubuki the year of the Dragon, and Kasumi the year of the Rabbit. But if I had gone with the actual year, Ranma would have had to be born in either '66 or '78, which doesn't work for the manga timetable. Not that the story had to necessarily take place the year the manga started. Point is, for this story, go with the order of the signs, and the meanings of them, but ignore the year they are supposed to be.

Sneaked/Snuck
-Yes, the 'correct' past tense of sneak is sneaked, but snuck is quickly growing in use, and is listed as 'correct' in the dictionary. While normally I prefer to use the correct form, whenever possible in the narrative, 'sneaked' sounds really wrong to me in most uses, and I just can not bring myself to use it, to all of the grammar nazis out there, I am sorry. I just can't do it, it sounds too dumb to me. I have heard 'snuck' my whole life, as has my mother before me, and she reads way more than I do. She can get through at least thirty books in the time it takes me to read one. {Dyslexia sucks}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

*CHARACTERS USED*

{Here I will list all of the non-Ranma characters used in the chapter and where they are from.}

Kyoshi - I made her up, based loosely on a historical figure (her ancestor) with a light touch of Samurai Girls.
Kogarashi the "Maid Guy" - the title character from Kamen no Maid Guy
Fubuki - The future 'Maid Guy Tamer' from Kamen no Maid Guy
Kaede Tenjoji - The headmaster of Hakureiryo Academy from Ladies vs. Butlers.
Mikan is her 'assistant' and the Head Instructor.
Mori - A maid, who will later, like her mother, to whom she bears an uncanny resemblance, work for the Amatsuka family, in GJ-Bu.
Sakura 'Penguin/Pengi' Nankyoku - The title character of Penguin Musume (lit. Penguin Girl). She is a total Otaku, she comes from a VERY rich family, and can gain the abilities of whatever she is cosplaying as (to some degree). In this story, her mother is Kaede's oldest half-sister (who also has one other).
Shun Di - The drunken master and herbal doctor from the Virtua Fighter series. Some versions say he also taught Lao Chan.
Tarisha Takanawa - a parody of Asian Correspondent, Tricia Takanawa, from The Family Guy.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Chapter Text

Nodoka 2/1
The Chroma Series
Act 0 Part 06

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

DISCLAIMER
Most of the characters and other elements are owned by people who are not me, though I did make up a few here and there... but none of the main ones. The rest are owned by many talented people, and a few faceless corporations, such as Rumiko Takahashi and Sega respectively (and many others). Bla bla bla, don't sue me, it's a waste of your time, and resources, I have nothing.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AUTHOR'S NOTES

This chapter gets a bit more limey, fair warning.
Special thanks to my "Agent" and "Publicist" Hiryo, for proofreading, prodding, posting advice and so much more.
Please remember that the Omake are not part of the main story, and are mostly not real, they are just for fun.
I did not really have much to say at first, but apparntally I need to point this out, most of the stuff in this story are not my views, but rather, what I (and others) felt would happen in this situation, so, The views presented are those of the characters, and no one else. I do not really mind hate mail, but if you are going to wish me dead, at least have the courtesy to tell me why, thank you very much. ;)
Now I will just say, 'thank you for reading'! I hope many of you are still enjoying this work of fiction.

"Speech"
'Thought'
/Mandarin/
\Cantonese\
{Author's Notes & *Translations* Feel free to skip these}

 

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

GLOSSARY (from the last chapter)

Yuan - Chinese unit of currency

Sarashi - a 'wrap' that goes around the waist or chest

Pien Fu - A fancy Chinese dress
Changshan or Dagua - lit. 'long shirt', male equivalent of a qipao or cheongsam
Cheongsam or Qipao - body-hugging one-piece Chinese dress for women, can range from ankle to hip length, long sleeve or none, and come in many styles and colors

Rijichou - board chairman

Zui Quan - the Drunken Fist; Drunken Boxing; Drunken Kung Fu; Etc.

O tanjo-bi omedetogozaimasu - Happy Birthday (tanjo-bi - birthday)

 

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

CHAPTER 06
The Art of Making Love

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

'Dear Nabiki-chan, Kasumi-nee-chan and Fubuki-chan,
The more than a year we have spent training with Shun-sensei is over. Even Ryoga was able to pass, barely. His balance has really come along. Sensei gave us calabashes or 'bottle gourds', each marked with a virtue that 'matched us'. My mother received Li for 'Propriety' or 'Etiquette', Ukyo received Zhong for Loyalty, and Ryoga received Yi for his sense of 'Justice'.'

Nabiki stopped reading at this point, and they all looked surprised, wondering why he left his own out. "What the hell, what 'value' did he get?"

"Maybe he was too embarrassed to say, Nabiki-chan."

"We could ask Ukyo-sama, but that would mean waiting until they stop somewhere again."

"That's a good idea, Ukyo-chan is sure to tell us, she loves to talk about her 'Ranchama' after all." All three of them giggle at her impression of Ukyo. Nabiki once again thought that the micro-cassette recorder was well worth it. Her collection of tapes had grown tremendously. She couldn't bring herself to tape over any of them. "Well, unless it says later on, we are in for a long wait. Let's see what else it says."

'Shun-sensei was quite pleased with the variation of his style I improvised, Drunken Capoeira, or Drunken Dance, as I prefer to call it. It was a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, that we are leaving, of course, means I will not be able to get my mail again for a while. We have heard of a temple we may try, and we keep hearing stories of a group of 'warrior women' far to the south, I think we will he trying to track them down and hope we can learn from them as well. Rumors have it, that if outsiders can prove themselves, they may be allowed to train with them. We hope so anyway, their techniques are legendary in some places around here.

Congratulations on the singing competition, you deserve it, and Happy Birthday, Kasumi-onee-chan! How does it feel to be fifteen? I don't know when the concert is/was, but I hope you enjoy/enjoyed it, and that Nabiki-chan has been able to get the tickets for you by now.

I am surprised you chose to market the mini-me as the Kasumi-chibi's boyfriend, but if it helps you girls out, I supposed I am happy about it. I am glad they are selling well. I am glad to help you girls in any way I can.

-Ranma

P.S. Are one of you sending me 'love letters' in 'pretty pink envelopes'? Ucchan's not doing it, and they are in Japanese, so it's not likely to be local. I don't really figure you are, but I had to ask, I don't know too many other people. Mom just keeps saying how manly I am to be getting anonymous love letters, but that doesn't help me figure out who this 'Secret Admirer' is... It feels like someone is playing a joke on me, because they are not coming in the normal mail, it's really weird. Oh well, maybe now that we are moving on it will stop, take care.'

Kasumi was blushing at the complement and the thought of her doll dating, but wasn't thrilled with the idea of someone else sending love letters to him, not that she could think of any good reason for those thoughts. Maybe she was getting ahead of herself because of her toy dating his. 'That must be it.' Then the picture Ukyo had sent them of Ranma in the bath flashed in her mind again, and she was so embarrassed at the things she had done while thinking of that image, she ran out of the room to hide her embarrassment. With the other girls running after her, thinking she might be crying, wanting to make sure she was all right. Which, of course, made her run even harder to get away.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The sky was darkening as our adventurers stopped to set up camp in the northern mountains of China. The tents were popped, the fire was blazing, and the tea was brewing. When all of a sudden, they heard Ukyo's scream, which was getting further away. Ranma was immediately in the air. With a shout of "UCCHAN!", he was bounding from tree to tree in the direction of the scream.

Knowing it would be too difficult to keep Ryoga from getting lost in a high speed chase, and not wanting tie him to something to keep him from wandering off, Nodoka reluctantly stayed to 'help him guard the camp'. Ranma would have been slightly annoyed with this, but he had more important things on his mind, such as the safety of his best friend who had only gone off to relieve herself a few moments before.

After a few moments of chase, Ranma saw his friend, who appeared to be in a princess carry with no one holding her, as she flew through the air, rather low to the ground. Ranma built up his ki, preparing to use his Jan Kenpo Net as soon as he could get into range. Not an easy feat, as she was moving almost as fast as he. He spared more of his ki to pour into his legs, and really cranked up the speed. With one last burst, he closed enough of the distance that he felt they would not get out of range before he could perform his technique. He planted his feet firmly on the ground, took up his stance, and yelled, "Jan, Ken, PO!", as he slapped his open hand into his other and pulled. The energy net wrapped around Ukyo and halted her progress, but the content of his 'net' was bulkier than he expected, and was resisting him. Aura blazing, Ranma pulled with all of his might on the ki rope that connected him to his construct, when it finally gave way to his efforts.

Ranma jumped to intercept his 'net' so as to protect the contents from a nasty spill as he released his hold on the 'net', caring only for what was inside. As Ranma caught Ukyo, he felt something grab his ankle, trying to slam him into the ground. He twisted his body, so that he took the impact, cushioning the blow for Ukyo, saving her from even getting a bruise.

Ukyo took a moment to pull her panties and pants back up, as they were still around her ankles, and said, "Be careful Ranchama, there are several of them!" Before Ranma could react, he was sent flying as he was struck with a double fisted attack to the chest.

"What the hell hit me? /Who's out there?/"

"/Oh, so you DO speak a proper language and not just that gutter speak. Either way, you will not take our 'ding'. If you try to stop us, you will die!/" With that, the disembodied voice struck again, with what was intended as a foot to the jaw.

Luckily, for Ranma, he was able to block, as he was ready for the attack this time. "Stay back Ucchan! /I don't know what the hell you mean by 'ding', but if you intend to take my friend, you will find we are not such easy targets./" Ranma closed his eyes as his battle aura grew, feeling out as much of the area as he could. As soon as he felt his attacker's presence, he launched into his own attacks, hoping that if his foe was used to attacking people who could not see them, their defenses would be weak.

This assumption proved correct, as it went down fairly easily. Unfortunately, before it hit the ground, Ranma sensed two more attacks coming his way. Not knowing what kind of attacks they were, or if they could be blocked, and knowing that if he just jumped out of the way, Ukyo would be in danger, he ran straight for her, took her up in his arms, and jumped as far as he could. He avoided the attacks, and deposited his friend gently to the ground, saying, "Ready?" She nodded as they turned toward their foes, auras blazing, and unleashed a volley of ki cards and kote in that general direction, several of which hit home. Not sensing the first one he had knocked out, Ranma rushed over to the two nearby, and began to treat them like a piece of meat that needed tenderizing as he tied them up like a roast with his twine.

"/So what the hell do you think you are doing, and what is a 'ding'?/"

"/You will learn nothing from us!/"

"/Really? Because, I happen to know several pressure points that will make you feel pain as you have never known, as though every nerve ending you have is on fire, for the rest of your life, or until the counter is done. Or, if you prefer, I know at least two others that can cause permanent impotence, another that can make you go blind, .../" The ground under the twine that appeared to be wrapped around air, seemed to get rather wet...

"/OKAY! I'll talk! We are Daoists, following the teachings of Zhang Sanfeng./" As the man spoke, he and his compatriot slowly faded into view.

"/Your other 'partner' said 'I would not take your 'ding' from you', seemingly referring to my friend here. The only word I can think of that sounds like that is for a cauldron, so what the hell are you talking about?/"

"/Vessel, it is what we call a female sexual partner, and she is of the highest rank!/" As the man spoke this time, their other partner tried to sneak up on the group, to either help, or silence his 'partners', when the pre-teens noticed his presence. Ukyo, not happy with the whole affair, took up her own Jan Kenpo stance shouting, "Jan, Ken, Po!" This caused a large ki 'Rock' to crash down upon the invisible man, creating a deep, round depression in the ground, with a man shaped impression below it, returning the man to sweet oblivion's embrace.

Ranma quickly tied the third one up as well and turned back toward the talkative member of their group. "/Well, go on.../"

"/It is our path to immortality, by having sex with virgins, the younger the better. The highest rank are those who have not yet begun their 'cycle'./" Before the outrage could even begin to show on their faces, the other conscious member's mumbling had paid off, his spell completed. His body shrunk, as he changed into a snake, and began to slither away. Ukyo started throwing her ki kote after the snake, until it slithered into a hole, missing part of its tail, as Ranma had been hitting the 'sleep spot' in the chatty man's shoulders, knocking him out.

"Kuso! He got away!"

"I would have knocked him out sooner, if I had known they could do that. Well, what do you think we should do? They were after you after all. We obviously can't camp here now, there have to be more of them, somewhere."

"Well, I don't exactly want to just let these guys go, but we are not exactly close to a town."

"Despite the fact that I believe the punishment for raping a girl under thirteen here is life in prison, I am not sure a normal jail would hold them."

"Yeah, and what would the cops think if we try to warn them? 'Oh, and hey, these guys can turn invisible, and change into snakes and stuff.' They would think we were nuts and not believe our accusations either."

They both laughed a bit, at the thought, "Well, let's drag them back to camp, maybe mom will know what to do. No need to be gentle."

"Anything you say Ranchama!" Before he could pick one of them up, Ukyo leaned in to stop him, kissing him on the lips, before saying, "Thank you Ranchama, they caught me off guard, I was so ...'busy', I wasn't able to do anything. As always, Ranma-sama, you are my hero! That is why this 'ding', will always belong to you!"

Ranma blushed as he hugged his friend, before they lifted their burdens to roughly drag them back to camp, where they explained what happened to Nodoka. The look on her face was one of which none of them ever wanted to be on the receiving end, they occasionally had nightmares about it for years after.

"Ryoga-kun, do NOT leave camp, start packing things up, we will not being staying the night. Ranma-kun, take Ukyo-chan to the river to wash up. I am going to wake these fellows up and have a nice little 'talk' with them about how to treat a lady." She grabbed each one by the ankle and began to drag them out of earshot before waking them up.

The children all did EXACTLY as instructed. Ryoga began to pack up the camp and refill their bottle gourds, and Ranma and Ukyo went to the river to get cleaned up. None of them wanted to incur the wrath of Nodoka. She was scary.

On the way to the river, Ukyo asked, "Ranchama, Why didn't you use that pressure point you talked about, the pain one, that lasts forever?"

"It was a bluff, they don't really last that long, usually long enough to get someone to beg you to stop though, and I hate using it. I don't like the idea of hurting someone like that. Even if they deserve it, like those guys. I did do the other one though..." Ukyo smiled a bit at that, as they continued toward the river.

When Ranma and Ukyo arrived at the river to wash up, who did they see, but their sphinx 'friend' from just over a year before. Who, upon seeing them, started to back away, slowly. Ranma spoke up quickly, "/Hey, look, if you won't attack us, I promise we will not attack you. As a matter of fact, I might have a way to make up for before./"

Cautiously, she asked, "/Oh? Really? What did you have in mind? I'll have you know, I got into a lot of trouble because of what you did!/"

"/Hey, I am sorry, but it's not like I could let you eat my friend. So, look, do you have a way to see things that are invisible?/"

"/I don't, no. Maybe one of the elders might. I am only a few hundred years old. I just barely got my own place! Maybe you would like to come visit some time? No, of course you wouldn't.../"

"/You will have to forgive me for being a bit leery of that offer.../"

"/Yeah, yeah, of course I would have to... It's been three years, I still haven't had a guest!/"

"/Um, well we were attacked by these guys, who wanted to do bad things to Ukyo here, but because they can use magic, and turn invisible, and into animals and stuff, we can't exactly turn them over to the police. Well, we thought maybe, just maybe, you might have an idea of something we could do. If you and your people would like to handle it, I have two of them, that mother is 'talking to' right now, who might be willing to give you directions to their home base which should be around here, somewhere. As you know, I do not like it when people threaten my friends, and the thought of what they were doing to young girls against their will, really makes me angry. Not so angry I want to kill, but enough that I really don't care what happens to them. Don't tell me what it is you plan to do, and guard Ukyo here for a minute, and I will get mom to hand over our two captives to your custody. Do we have a deal?/"

Looking a bit stunned, she asked, "/What are they doing to young girls?/"

"/What do you think? They are taking something precious, long before they are ready to give it away, and not to someone of their choosing./" Ranma whispered into her ear. "/And they said, 'The younger the better.'/"

"/I'LL KILL THEM!!!/"

"/Hey, I said not to tell me!/"

"/Sorry, it was just an expression./"

"/Just be careful, and don't go alone. I know you can handle yourself, but I don't know how many of them there are, and while their defenses are not very good, they have a lot of tricks up their sleeves./"

"/Okay, I will take them to the council. Let them decide./"

Ranma turned to run back to camp, but stopped, and said, "/I don't have to tell you what will happen if I return in a few moments and Ucchan has even a scratch from a thistle, do I? I am much better than I was when we last met, and I wasn't mad then./"

"/NO! It's no problem! She will be perfectly safe!/"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

From that day forward, they never answered 'nature's call', without someone to 'watch their back', while in that part of the country. They were also much more rigorous about using their ki to 'feel out' danger. Even going so far as to walk around with their eyes closed as they hiked for training. This had an added bonus of helping Ryoga go off course a bit less often.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

It was several months later before Ranma had received a response to his inquiry to the Tendo girls. Not until they had taken up in a temple with some Confucianists monks, were they able to get their mail forwarded, and even then, it was a few days journey to pick up by messenger. Once again, Ukyo also got a letter from the girls, even Ryoga got another one from his mother. Ranma was happy that his friends liked each other and got along, and that Ryoga was still keeping about as close of contact with his mother as he was before. Eventually, Ranma finally was able to listen to their response, as they chose to send a tape.

"Konichiwa Ranma-kun(-sama)!!!" The three girls all said at once (Fubuki, of course, added -sama instead of -kun).

Nabiki started off, "No, it was not any of us who sent you the 'love letters', were you waaaAAAnting us to send you some?" She asked in a playful tone, then her voice got a bit colder, "If that is the kind of 'thank you' you want from us, then I suppose," her voice regained his cute, happy tones, "We could do that ...if that's what you WANT us to do. Kasumi-nee-chan might be willing to do it anyway." She giggled.

"NABIKI-CHAN!!!!" Several giggles are heard in the background.

"Sorry Nee-chan, you just look so cute when you are embarrassed. It's just too bad Ranma-kun can't see it." *CLICK* "Oh, I guess he WILL be able to see it."

"Nabiki-chan!" More giggles were heard. Ranma paused the tape to look in the box for pictures.

"We noticed that you failed to mention what 'virtue' you were given, was that because you were embarrassed? Did you get something bad? You realize that by not telling us, our brains automatically jump to the worse conclusions. We don't want to, we have to. It's in the bylaws. Was it, 'Ill-tempered'?"

"Flawed?"

"Vise?"

"Defective?"

"Shortcoming?"

"Abusive?"

"How bad could it be, that you wouldn't tell us? We are your friends, and we will support you."

"We are going to find out one way or another, it's better to confess and get it over with, than to have us find out later."

"I am just curious, I would NEVER force you to tell ME Ranma-sama."

"HEY! That's not fair! Maybe Kasumi-nee-chan was right, maybe we SHOULD be sending our own tapes."

"But, Nabiki-sama, I thought you said THAT wouldn't be fair." Ranma could almost hear the sly grin on her face.

"Come now, let us not waste the tape, or Ranma-kin's time with arguing over this." *Click* This time it was a different kind of click, not a noise in the background. Then it picked back up, with Kasumi's voice again. "Sorry about that, Ranma-kun. Girl stuff. Yes, the concert was lovely, thank you very much. Between you and Nabiki-chan we all got to go, and it was wonderful.

"I am sorry they did that to your doll without asking, but I am glad you do not mind. The girls at the school all seem to love it. It is one of the fastest selling ones, we can barely keep them 'in stock', and it is making so many people happy. I am not sure which one of the four is selling the best, you will have to talk to Nabiki-chan for the details of that.

"Have the letters stopped yet? Or were you able to figure out who was sending them at least? If she likes you, then she must be a nice girl, so treat her well." There was a dip in her tone that point, but it was not easy to detect, and even harder for Ranma to fathom.

"I am sure that whatever virtue you received, if it fit you, was something nice. Such as kindness, generosity, integrity, (attractive)," said slightly under her breath, "or Brilliance."

Ranma had to pause the tape. He was blushing so hard that he could not concentrate. Despite the constant compliments he received from his mother and Ukyo, he was not used to getting them from other girls, and it took him by surprise, especially in light of the talk of love letters. He did not really know how to react. It was a good thing his mother was busy doing something, and not watching him.

Ranma relaxed a bit, and restarted the tape, "I cannot imagine him giving you anything less."

"All right Nee-chan, you want to give someone else a turn?"

"I suppose, if I must."

Ranma listened to the girls taking turns, chatting about whatever came to mind, for the rest of the ninety minute tape while he worked out.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

'Dear girls,
I know you will be disappointed that I am writing this letter, instead of recording a tape, but from where we are, tapes are hard to come by, and I just can't bring myself to tape over your massages. I have saved all of the tapes you have sent me, and since you never send me the same one back, I can only assume you are doing the same, so I hope you understand. We have come to a temple of monks, where we will be staying for a few months learning Tai Chi. Luckily this is not an order of silent monks, and some of the monks are teaching me more about Confucianism. Shun-sensei taught me some stuff about it, but I wanted to learn more, I find it very interesting.

Yes, Kasumi, it was "Integrity", and yes, I WAS embarrassed. Sorry, I just didn't think it was that important. There are a lot of things I don't always mention, like the sphinx, who stopped us and made us answer riddles, or be her dinner. They were easy riddles, but Ryoga couldn't get his. We had to fight her because her laws say if someone can't answer her, they are her dinner. But, she wasn't really a bad sort, she did help us later with a group of bad guys, who tried to do bad things to Ucchan (Don't worry, nothing happened). I really think she is just lonely, but it is not like we can risk paying her a visit, and it is not like we plan to be back in that area again anyway, but I feel bad for her. I would have gotten her address to send her letters, but it might have just gotten some poor messenger eaten if they were not careful.

O tanjo-bi omedetogozaimasu, Nabiki-chan! I have included a small carving of a small fox spirit, or Huli jing, that I got in the temple here, I hope you like it, and that your day is filled with joy. They assured me that it is not a magical statue, so I imbued it with my ki, in hopes that it would bring you luck.'

Ranma's letter went on for several pages, describing his adventures, his worries, and his hopes and dreams. The package included not only the statue he mentioned, but also new paintings of them, one for each of the four adventurers, with the stone temple as the backdrop. The two youths had a time deciding which of them would paint Ryoga, and which would paint his mother, with both of them preferring to paint Nodoka. Eventually Ranma gave in and painted Ryoga.

The girls were very impressed with the works, they were practically salivating at the painting of a shirtless thirteen year old Ranma standing on one hand, in lotus position, his eyes closed, and a peaceful look on his features.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The next package Ranma received included a pack of blank cassettes and a small box of batteries.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"Ranma-kun, I need to you to go get us some red beans and rice for dinner, and take Ryoga-kun with you. Ukyo-chan and I need to have some 'girl talk'."

She pulled Ukyo into the tent behind her as the boys left on their errand. "Congratulations, Ukyo-chan! Today you are a woman!" She took Ukyo into a bear hug, smiling broadly. "There are some things I need to explain to you."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma and Ryoga were returning to camp with their requested items, when they heard voices from his mother's tent. Not wanting to interrupt, they were as silent as they could be.

"...But Okaa-sama, if I do this, it makes me feel funny, like when Ranchama is giving me one of his special massages." Ranma blushed upon hearing that.

"That is a very good thing. Here, try doing it like this. Good. ...And put your other hand like this. Good?"

"Oh my!" Luckily, for Ryoga, he had not been with them when they received 'The Talk' from Kyoshi-sensei, and not having the required background information, he was not able to understand what was going on. That being the case, he was saved from a massive nose-bleed.

"There you go, as a lady, you will need to remember that. It is a skill you will need for the rest of your life. Now feel free to practice, I am going to see if the boys are back, so I can begin to make your celebratory dinner."

Ranma quickly straightened up and, before his mother emerged, said, "Tadaima!", not wanting anyone to know they had been listening.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Akane was in tears, she had never failed a class before, and now, she was the first person in the history of the school to be expelled from the servant class program! Oh sure, unlike most people, she had the option to go to the upper class, but how could she show her face there again? Her normal response would have been to find someone else to blame it on, but she was having a hard time finding a scapegoat that even she could believe. She had gotten Maid Guy to promise that he would not interfere, and as far as she could tell, he had kept to his word. She had a bit of luck blaming the teachers for a little while, but it rang hollow to even her ears.

No one did anything to her. It had been all her and her alone. She tasted it herself, only after Mikan had fallen unconscious, and it was awful. It took every bit of her will to not join her teacher on the floor. No matter how she had tried to 'improve' on her assignments, they always failed her. Moreover, now she was not even allowed to go back! She was not allowed within fifteen meters of the kitchen, nor the home economics classroom. She was basically forbidden from entering that entire wing of the school!

Akane walked home with a virtual cloud of depression hanging over her head. Kogarashi saw Akane's mood, and thought to himself, 'It's worse than Maid Guy thought.' "Kukuku, Maid Guy will help you overcome your shortcomings, goshujin. It is only a little setback. In the future you'll show them what you really can do!"

"No one can help me, I am hopeless!!!"

"If goshujin follows Maid Guy's Rules of Cooking, you will surely succeed! This is Maid Guy's perfect service!!"

"You really think so?"

"Maid Guy knows so! However, you MUST follow the rules, EXACTLY! If goshujin can do that simple thing, I guarantee you will be able to prepare food that makes people happy!"

"Could it be that easy? I have been trying for years."

"Goshujin needs to learn, that working harder is not always better, you must work smarter!"

Akane was annoyed at what she interpreted as being called 'stupid', but she was so desperate, that she bit her tongue and agreed. "Okay, I promise!"

"You have no classes tomorrow, so after breakfast, prepare yourself, and meet Maid Guy in the Saotome kitchen when you are ready."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After breakfast, Akane changed into her old school uniform, a maid's dress, with a frilly apron, and headed for the Saotome kitchen.

Upon entering the kitchen, she saw a large, laminated sign hanging on the wall. On this sign, were ten rules listed in very large letters.

'Ten Rules for Cooking Success.
RULE Number One, Always taste everything as you go!
RULE Number Two, Always stay calm, do not rush, and make sure to prepare your ingredients before you begin.
RULE Number Three, Always taste everything before you let others try it!
RULE Number Four, Never deviate from the recipe, until you know what flavors mix well with others.
RULE Number Five, Taste your food early, taste your food often.
RULE Number Six, Focus on your work, do not let anything distract you from your goal, but accept criticism when offered.
RULE Number Seven, Taste everything before you serve it.
RULE Number Eight, Cook with love, not anger.
RULE Number Nine, Do not serve food you have not tasted first.
RULE Number Ten, If it tastes bad, do NOT serve it.'

Akane was starting to get a bad feeling about her current predicament. She really hated having to be her own 'gunny pig'.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Three days later, Akane had been released from intensive care. The buildup of 'food poisoning' had been so severe, that Doctor Tofu had to rush her to the hospital to have her stomach pumped, and it had taken her a while to overcome the effects of both the poisoning and the pumping.

Returning to the kitchen, she was ready to begin again, a bit more cautiously this time.

"Kukuku. If only you had an invincible steel body, like me, you wouldn't need to be afraid of any illness."

"Then why don't YOU be my taste-tester?!?"

"Because then you would learn nothing! Good goshujin should learn from their mistakes, failure is just an excuse to pick yourself up and try again. Remember, you are not ready to try to make up your own recipes. Follow Rule Number Four. Do not change anything from the recipe! You may be in distress, but Maid Guy, who looks in on your day-to-day life, is with you!"

Akane began again, this time far more cautiously, trying really hard to overcome her 'cooklexia', and use the correct amounts of the correct ingredients, so she would not have to repeat her recent experience with the .

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Before the end of the day, Maid Guy emerged from the kitchen, with black smoke billowing from the open doorway behind him. Akane followed soon after, carrying a tray of cookies, 'fresh' from the oven. Her skin was a faint shade of green, but she was holding in there. Her cookies were not at all round, and most of them were burnt in spots, the worst of which they had thrown away, but she had a slight grin on her face as she took them into the study.

She located her father and his best (only) friend, and plopped her tray of cookies right on top of their game board. Akane spoke in a cute voice that did not match the sickly look on her smiling face. "Otoooo-chan, Ojiiii-chan," They looked from the tray of cookies, then at her face, which quickly lost the smile is wore moments before, as she finished, "Eat!"

Both of the fathers were in shock, terrified at the prospects before them, desperately trying to find a path to freedom.

Always the quicker on the uptake, especially when it comes to saving his own skin, Genma spoke up first, "Well, Tendo-kun, old friend of mine, after you."

"Oh, no, I couldn't deprive you of that honor, it is your house after all, and I know how much you love treats!"

"Both of you, NOW!"

"Kukuku, Maid Guy assures you, you will be pleasantly surprised."

Both men looked up, seeing Maid Guy for the first time. They swallowed hard, and picked up a cookie. Breathing deeply, they tried to prolong the moment for as long as they could, but they could sense that Akane was losing her patience, quickly, and resigned themselves to their fates. They each took a bite of their cookie, chewed for a moment and swallowed. The cookies were not awful, they were not great, but they were edible. The men finished their cookie.

Soun was in tears, hugging Maid Guy's legs, bawling. "YOU SAVED MY DAUGHTER!!!! HOW CAN I EVER REPAY YOU! YOU HAVE LIFTED HER CURSE! OH, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!" While Genma was eating, a SECOND COOKIE!

"OTOO-SAN!"

"The road of serving is, FILLED WITH DIFFICULTIES!!!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Akane was so proud of the 'Maid Guy Badge' she had been given for making barely edible food, that she wore it on her upper-class uniform, from then on, and Maid Guy continued to give her cooking lessons once a week.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma and company were traveling south, zigzagging slowly toward Hong Kong, when they got close to the city of Wuhan and heard a young sounding girl's scream. As usual, they were instantly in motion, running toward the sound, when they found a girl who was being attacked by several larger men, who had various weapons in hand. Not wanting to see the girl harmed further, they immediately jump to the girl's defense. Ukyo jumped in to protect the girl, as Ranma and the others made short work of the would-be hunters, with their very shiny swords, pitchforks, torches, and other strange-looking weapons.

"/Thank you so much, those men were trying to kill me!/"

Ranma jumped over to the girl, and picked her up. "/Do you need healing? Where is your home? We will make sure you get there safely. A girl your age shouldn't be out this late alone, there are many dangers about./"

"/My home isn't far, I was trying to collect berries for dinner./"

"/That is so sad, we will make you some food, please, just tell us where your home is, and we will take you there."

The girl gave them directions as Ranma carried her and used his healing technique to help speed her recovery.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

They arrived at the shack in the woods, it was a rather run down affair, that didn't really look very lived in. "/This is where you live?/"

"/Yes, thank you for helping, I am starting to feel much better, now that we are away from those bad men. Can you bring me inside?/"

Ranma turned to his companions, and asked, "Would you guys gather some food while I get her into bed, and start the cooking preparations?"

His 'family' agreed, and started foraging for ingredients, as he carried the girl into her 'home'.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo was the first to return, carrying a bunny and some fruits and nuts she had found. When she approached the hut, she heard a commotion. She opened the door and saw Ranma, aura blazing, but in the embrace of very large serpent, with a pearl in its forehead.

Ukyo shouted, "RANCHAMA!!!!" and dropped her foodstuff at the sight, her own aura flaring up, as she started tossing her super-charged kote into its hide, well below where Ranma was being partly swallowed whole. The pain from being sliced by the powerful pancake turners caused the weresnake to drop her prey, a mistake if there ever was one, and turn toward the new danger. Said new danger, looked as though she was on fire, the moment Ranma was no longer in her mouth, however, she began beating on her with blazing fists of rage.

Ranma had come too from the surprise blow to the back of his head, to see his friend's righteous fury, as she beat down the bleeding serpent. Her fists were breaking bones wherever they struck, crushing its skull, and knocking it back into the fire, Ranma had made for cooking in the fireplace. The screeching sounds filled the area, unnerving almost everything in a ten kilometer range.

As soon as the charred body of the serpent was no longer making noise or moving, Ukyo began to calm down, and ran over to Ranma as they both began inspecting the other for any wounds. "Oh Ranchama, I was so scared! She didn't bite you or anything did she?"

"Thank you, Ucchan. No, I don't think so, how about you?"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Moments later, the door burst open, reveling Nodoka who was dragging Ryoga by his leash, looking panicked, until she saw the two youths, on the floor, hugging each other amid the wreckage.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After the latest audio letter from Ranma, Nabiki was really starting to doubt the sanity of her pen pal. While the other girls listened on in horror as he described one of his more recent 'encounters', she had really started to wonder what could make the boy tell such outlandish tales. Did he think they were that gullible? Looking over to her 'sister's expressions as they absorbed every word, she amended, 'Does he think that I am that gullible? Or did they seriously not find the opening for the suit, or pull off the mask? They might be great martial artists, but detectives they are not! Are they that gullible then? That doesn't speak well for him.' She had many things to consider, and wandered off in the middle of the 'listening party'.

Ranma was somewhat disappointed by the fact that her voice was strangely absent from the tape he received in reply to that one when he was finally able to retrieve them. She did return on the next tape, and apologized for her absence, but never said why she had not recorded a reply that week. Ranma, while hurt, did not feel it was polite to ask, if she wanted him to know, she would tell him.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Several months later, while traveling through the Hunan province, when Ranma spotted a sign for a 'horse stance' contest, the prize being free lessons from the Ma School of Wushu. "Look at that, their name uses the same 'horse' character for 'Ma' that is in my name!"

"And a 'horse' competition. Oh, we HAVE to join this, Ranchama. How about you Puppy-chan, do you want to join too?"

"I guess so, if Okaa-san is joining too."

"Certainly."

"And look, the longer the contest lasts, the more advanced the lessons will be! I'm in."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Several hours later, the four martial artists had gotten a room, and prepared themselves for the contest. They were lined up with many other potential students, many of whom looked unstable already. A short, middle-aged man in a green changshan, black pants and a black wide brimmed hat presided over the contest.

Within the first thirty minutes, more than half of the contestants had either dropped out, or fallen over, only a dozen or so remained.

Ranma looked up at the 'judge', and asked, "/Is this an 'anything-goes' competition?/"

The man laughed, "/If there is something you think you can do, that will not disrupt your stance, than I don't see why not, but if you lose it, you lose the competition./"

Ranma looked over at Ukyo and asked, "Are you ready to show them our Chaotic Horse stance?"

"Hai, Ranchama!" With that their auras flared up, which alone was enough to surprise a couple of the contestants into falling, and giving the judge a good laugh.

"/Well, it looks as if this contest just went up a notch! Very good, however, endurance and concentration are the most important aspects, not just being flashy./" He laughed again as he continued to take pictures, especially of the women.

Ryoga and Nodoka had to exert their own auras to keep from being pushed over by the pressure from the couple in the center, and a few others were able to do likewise, though not to the same extent. Ranma and Ukyo saw they were getting the desired result, and poured more effort into their auras, quickly expanding and retracting them, pushing out, and then drawing it back, creating a vacuum that pulled on the contestants, causing even more to drop out.

Before an hour had passed, the only contestants that remained were our four heroes, and calm returned to the air. Their auras remaining out just enough to prevent the small rocks being hurled by a few of the, literally, sore losers from hitting them.

After another hour had passed, our judge was growing bored. He had already taken as many panty shot pictures as he could manage. Ukyo was a bit young for his tastes still, and Nodoka was a bit too covered to get a good shot. "/Okay folks, it looks like we have a four-way tie! Everyone else, thank you for participating, and or watching, refreshments are being served in the main training hall, and be sure to wish my lovely daughter a happy birthday!/" Turning to the four remaining participants, he continues, "/Well now, what should I do with you four? I have to say, 'I am impressed', few people can pull off what you did. Oh, you can stand now, by the way. So, are you just interested in the free lesson, or were you looking for something else?/"

Ranma, used to being the spokesperson for the group, since his mother thought it was good 'manly' training, spoke up for them once again. "/Well shifu, we would be glad to learn anything you are willing to teach. We are traveling all over your lovely nation, learning anything we can, from anyone willing to teach their art to us. We are in no real hurry, although if you have any information on where we might find the village of Nujie Zu, we would be appreciative./"
{*Nujie Zu - The Mandarin pronunciation of the 'Amazons'. The Japanese pronunciation is Joketsuzoku. Literal translation is Female Hero Tribe.*}

"/Are you kidding? I've spent years trying to find that place! (Uh, don't tell my wife.) Either it is a legend, a myth, or they just do not want to be found. All I can tell you is that the legend says that they are located in the Bayankala Mountains, they say, near Qinghai, but no one has ever seen it. Well, no one who has ever returned, anyway./" The man gets a gleam in his eyes, and a sly grin on his face. "/They say, the village is full of beautiful women, who run around almost naked, with nary a man in sight ...oh, and their wushu is really good too. Assuming they exist outside of the fantasies of men (and a few women, for various reasons). So, um, I am Kensei Ma, and this is my family's school, and you are?/"

"/My name is Ranma Saotome, of the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts Diligence, and this is my mother, Nodoka, my future concubine, Ukyo Kuonji, and this fellow on the leash is our friend Ryoga Hibiki. My mother and I have been on a training journey for almost ten years, and we picked these two up along the way, Ucchan is an orphan, and Ryoga might as well be with how often he was able to see his parents, family curse./"

"/Your 'MOTHER'?!?!? If you don't mind me saying, and even if you do mind, you do NOT look like you could possibly have a child his age! You look a lot alike, so I just figured you were his cousin, older sister perhaps, but not mother. You look like if you had a child, it would have to be an infant, or maybe a toddler, considering how well you regained your figure. And you, Ranma was it? How old are you?/" Nodoka was blushing at the complements.

"/Fourteen next month./"

"/And you already have one concubine lined up, well done my boy, you remind me a lot of myself when I was your age./" He pulled out a small photo to show them.

"/He's right. You DO look an awful lot alike, Ranchama. You were quite cute, um, sir!/"

"/He looked like a girl.../"

"/I'll let you in on a little secret, Ryoga, was it?/" Seeing the boy nod, he continued, "/The ladies love it!/" He turned back to the group as a whole, and said, "/Well, if you are going to take classes with us, and we cannot have students like you taking the basic classes, you will train with my children, under my wife and I. I hope you will be staying a while, and if so, you might as well come in, have some food, and meet the family!/" The man bowed with his arm extended, pointing the way, before he lead them into the main hall.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma had quite a few 'letters on tape' waiting for him when they made arrangement to pick up their mail again.

Nabiki's club had been going rather well, and had grown, but this was her last year, and she would have to pick a new president soon. She had a few problems with one of the new transfer students, and her crazy laugh, which really was not all that uncommon in this school. One Kodachi Kuno, she was the cousin of one of her club mates, Penguin, but she was a pain. Nabiki felt sorry for the girl, having lost her mother recently, but from what she heard about the woman, that was actually a blessing in disguise.

Kasumi's job, working for the television station, had been going so well, they had expanded her roll, and she was doing a lot of spots, and even getting to sing occasionally. They even used her likeness for advertising spots. She had also been elected student body president, but to her own dismay, since she had not actually run for the seat, and to the annoyance of a few of her sempai.

Fubuki started working as her assistant as soon as she had entered high school, and was enjoying it a lot. They had done much to improve the relations between the classes, though she had to protect Kasumi from various attacks on her character from a few of the third year students.

His father's school was doing amazingly well, not only did they teach the many servant class students, but they also had most of the 'well to do' families in Japan wanting to have all of their servants trained by them. Their training was such a draw for the school that so many of the rich families pushed to have their butlers trained there as well. Thanks to which, Kaede had finally been allowed to make the school coeducational. At first they only wanted to allow males in the servant classes, but in the next year, males would finally be allowed to join the upper classes.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma was enjoying the sun and music as he laid with his head in Ukyo's lap, while she hummed and played music on her violin, when Renka and her siblings came over to see what they were doing. "/Hiya guys, what are you up to? Mind of we join you?/"

"/Of course, Renka. Ucchan, how do you feel about playing with Ma Dingling?/"

"/Ranchama, your ding-a-ling can play with me anytime. How do feel about Ma Kuchi?/"

"/Oh sure, I will play with your coochy anytime you want./" They, and Renka, all giggled.

The other two children both grimaced a bit at a variation of a joke they have heard from foreigners (especially the ones who spoke English), many times before, both thinking, 'Just let them get it out of their system...' It wasn't like they could blame them, it was funny, if anyone were to blame, it was their father, the pervert!

Knowing what her siblings were thinking, having been through this before, she explained, "/Mom named me, dad got to name them./"

"/Ranchama, I do hope you will take greater care in choosing our children's names./"

"/I will do my best, but I am not sure I can come up with anything funnier than that.../" If Ukyo had not been playing, she might have given him a light smack, one way or another, the others, not being sure if he was serious or not, gave him various looks themselves, ranging from surprise to incredulity.

"/We are just relaxing, did you have anything in mind?/"

"/You're both pretty good, we could spar, or you could show us one of your fancy techniques, and we could show you one of ours?/"

"/Sounds good, but I am rather comfortable, so, how about you guys go first?/"

The twins began, showing off some of the more advanced moves from the Shaolin styles, they didn't have much in the way of qi use, but they helped train the Shaolin, who come to their school to learn, so they were confident of their skills with it. It was an impressive display for ones their age. When they had finished, Ranma applauded, Ukyo would have as well, but her hands were busy with providing the background music.

"/Very nice, I love how you ended that with such flair. You two work very well together./"

Dingling spoke up first, "/Thank you Ranma./"

"/We are twins after all./" His sister added with a smile.

"/I guess that means it's my turn./" Renka got up, and placed a practice target out in the field, a good ways away from the others. "/I have only recently begun to master this one, but I am rather proud of it./" She built up her qi in her body, to power her attack, and reinforce her body as she shouted, "/Bake Renkangeki Suijin!!!/" Her body and fists blurred so fast it was hard to watch, as she pummeled the target from every direction. It was all over in a flash, as the target exploded into shrapnel. It was quite remarkable, until she yelled in pain, grabbing her arm.

Ranma was instantly on his feet, and ran over to check on her. He helped her over to where they were, and instructed her to lie down, as he focused his ki sight, looking for the problem. "/Dislocated elbow, but I do not see too much else damaged, give me a moment./" Ranma began to pump his ki into the affected area, to lessen the pain as much as he could.

Ukyo had stopped playing for a moment, and set her violin down, and held Renka's other hand, and said, "/This is going to hurt for a moment, squeeze my hand, it will help./" Renka did as instructed, preparing for the worst.

"/Are you ready?/" Renka nodded, and Ranma popped her arm back into place, soothing it as much as he could. "/There you go, it should begin to feel better soon. Don't do much with that arm for a while./" Renka let go of Ukyo's hand and began to relax as she realized that her pain was fading, and lightly flexed her arm a bit. Ukyo was shaking her hand, trying to get the feeling back into her digits. "/That was an amazing move, I hope when you recover you would be willing to show us how you learned it, but first, rest, I believe it is our turn. There are several moves I would like to show you, including our favorite game, but I am not sure that your qi is up to the task./"

"/Ranchama, can't you do that thing that you did to me, to boost their qi?/"

The Ma children all looked excited at this prospect, their family knew almost every Chinese martial art, so the prospect of learning something new, let alone better qi use, was something that they were eager to learn. ...Until Ranma said, "/Well, I could do some, but if you remember Ucchan, it took me months to get yours done as well as I did, and even then it wasn't perfect. I know more than I did then, but it would still take a long time, but I would be happy to begin treatments. Do you feel like you could do one yourself?/"

"/Oh, no, I am not as precise as you are, I would not be comfortable with the risk on something that important!/"

"/Then it will take longer. All right then, no problem. But first, we own you a demonstration, to show you one of the things you will be able to do once the treatments progress. Ucchan?/" He held his hand out, to help her to her feet, and they went passed the remains of Renka's target, and stood several meters away from each other. They turned to face one another, bowed, and took up their stances, as their auras flared to life. They played a few rounds of Jan Kenpo, shocking their audience, who had never seen qi made solid before.

The three children sat stunned, their mouths hanging agape, ad Ranma and Ukyo came back over, and sat down. Ukyo picked her violin back up, and began to play it once more, while Ranma began his treatments, starting with the twins. "/This will slowly build up your qi reserves, and help it flow and regenerate more quickly. This treatment must be done very slowly, and very carefully. It is very dangerous if done improperly, it can cause permanent damage, especially if done too quickly, you must gradually get used to it. You all have pretty good qi systems, and you do exercise them, so this will not be as hard as someone who is untrained, but the more treatments you get, the better the effect. I want you each to come to me, at different times, for about half an hour each day, as long as we are here. I still do these treatments almost every day on myself and the rest of us, to help us continue to improve./"

Ukyo was stunned, so much so that she had stopped playing. She had been completely unaware of this. "/You do?!?!?/"

"/Of course, Ucchan, you don't think the rate of progress we have made is natural, do you?/"

"/Well, I never noticed you doing it, is it while I am asleep?/"

"/Well, I do some during your after workout massage, and some more while I am brushing your hair, or sometimes when I carry you, though not as often these days, since most of those times tend to be when we are running from monsters.../"

"/Do the others know about this?/"

"/I had always assumed so, but then I figured you knew too, can't you feel me doing it to you?/"

"/Ranchama, when you are giving me a massage, or brushing my hair, I can't concentrate on anything! It feels so good my brain shuts down!/"

Renka looked over to where her sister was getting 'the treatment', and 'offhandedly' said, "/Boy, I sure could use a massage after that workout I just had... and you can brush MY hair anytime!/" She looked a bit hopeful.

Kuchi looked up from her place on the ground, and interjected, "/Me too! Will you brush my hair too?/"

Ranma gave them a warm smile. "/Sure, anytime you want./"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

After finishing the first treatment on the twins, he told them to go do a light spar, taking it easy, and see how they feel, adding that if she wanted to come back in a hour and brought a brush, he would fix her hair. They had decided to keep this a secret from their parents until they could show off the fruits of their labor.

As they ran off, Ranma told Renka that if she really wanted a good massage, she would either need looser clothing than her tight qipao, as the material would get in the way, and he could not get his hand under it, especially without him touching anything she probably did not want him to touch. She thought about this for a moment, and quickly disrobed to her 'skivvies'.

Seeing her choice, and how quickly she made it, Ukyo leaned over, and whispered into Ranma's ear, "You really ought to give her the special massage, the one that you practice on me all of the time. I guarantee that she will be really happy if you do."

Ranma whispered back, "Do you think so?"

"I know so."

"/What are you two whispering about in Japanese back there? You know my Japanese isn't very good./"

"/I was just convincing Ranchama to give you a very special treat, you are going to love it, I promise you. On the off chance that you do not, blame me, not Ranchama./"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo did not know how right she was. Long before Ranma had reached the 'high point' of his massage, Renka was in complete bliss, she felt as if she were floating on a cloud, without a care in the world. She had had many massages in her young life, she was a member of a family of martial artists after all, and her father was an accomplished healer, but never had she felt like this. It was magical. Ranma seemed to know where she had tension better than she did, it was as if he could read like a book written in braille. His touch was firm, yet gentle, he did not need to use any strength to get the deep tissues, it was as if he could massage her to the bone. Her body felt like putty in his hand, that he could have molded into any shape he wanted, she would have done anything he asked, she would have agreed to sell her whole family, including herself, into slavery if it had meant he would let her enjoy this for just a while longer.

He did, in fact, let her, and the only thing he asked was that she relaxed. Just as she felt like she could die happily, with no fight at all, he finally had worked out all but one spot, the one spot that she had never had worked out before.

She was no longer liquefied, suddenly her whole body went rigid and she began to quiver, her toes and fingers began to curl. Her eyes, no longer closed, began to flutter and cross, and her moaning quickly became a scream as she shouted, using words that neither of the Japanese youths had ever heard before, but felt as if they would have been embarrassed if they had understood them.

Ranma, used to similar reactions by now, continued to work, bouncing his ki into her lower back with his fingers until the 'knot' had been completely 'worked out'.

Renka was awash with emotion. She did not know what to say, she wanted to hug them both, but she could not move. She was feeling so many things that she had never felt before. It was exciting, and a little bit scary. So she just laid there, unblinking, once again feeling like thirty-five kilograms of pudding.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nodoka was drinking and chatting with Kensei Ma. They talked about many things, from photography, to martial arts, to their children. Nodoka had gotten a good read on the man, and considered his to be of good and 'manly' character, and she figured he would be the best person to ask. "/Shifu Kensei, My son turns fourteen in a few weeks, I would have done this last year, but your laws are a bit different here. In Japan, it is tradition, dating back to the Edo period, for men of station to, um, have 'their first time' with a 'pleasure woman', of high standing. A high ranking courtesan, who only services those of breeding./" Kensei had begun to blush and drool at the thoughts that were popping into his head. "/So, Shifu, I do not know of anyone better to ask this question of, do you know where I might find one of these instructors in the ways of pleasure, or do I need to fly one in from Japan?/"

"/So, just so we are clear, you want a high class courtesan, to take the virginity of your fourteen year old son, and teach him the ways of pleasuring a woman?/"

"/Well, not a common woman of the evening, that anyone with funds can hire, but one who only services the best. One who will teach him, and I suppose Ukyo should go as well, to learn anyway, as she will not turn fourteen for some time yet. He has learned some things, mostly pressure points, however, he needs to learn the best, from the best./"

Kensei's jaw dropped, but quickly recovered. "/A woman after my own heart! It is far too bad we are both already married. I do believe I can help you, though, we will need to keep this a secret from my wife, if she finds out I am doing this, she will assume I am doing it for myself. She already thinks I sleep around on her, just because of my past, I was quite the ladies man in my day, but when Jiang became with child, we were married, and I never slept with another woman, no matter how much I wanted to.../" It is not like he did not love his wife, he did, very much so, it was just that she never let him have any F. U. N.

"/That is too bad, a real man needs variety, unlike my husband, who does not seem to need any woman./"

"/My wife would kill me! Tell me, are all women in Japan as kind, and beautiful, and understanding as you are?/"

"/Oh my! I am nothing special. There are many women, far better than I. I suppose women of breeding in Japan are just more accepting of men, and their manly ways. I do not know./" Kensei decided right then and there, that he was going to have to pay Japan a visit, VERY soon. '/But first, I should make sure to teach her son, some of my extra special techniques, as a thank you, and make sure her request gets filled, before I go. If Jiang finds out about helping her with this, I might have to leave even sooner than had expected./'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo has been insistent lately about running all of the errands for the family, unbeknownst to the rest of them. She was once again gathering materials to try to surprise Ranma with a birthday present. This year was even harder than the last. It was easier, in that Ranma had more things to distract him, but harder because she needed to get measurements from Ranma. She worked diligently in every free moment she had, without making it obvious that she was taking these extra 'free moments'. She did not want to make the same mistakes she had made two years before, and make him worry. She had even convinced him to take Renka out on a 'date' of sorts one day, to allow her to work in private. Renka was thrilled, her mother less so. However, Ukyo did not mind, the two of them looked so cute together, and Renka looked so pleased, she just had to approve. The cute Chinese girl acted so much like a cat when she was pleased it was adorable. Ukyo could not be sure, but she could swear that she even saw her chasing a mouse once... One day she wanted to see how she reacted to catnip.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma thought Ukyo had been acting strange lately, but then recalled a similar situation not that long ago, and realized that it was once again, that time of year, and decided not to worry about it. She had gone to great lengths to arranged this outing with he and Renka, and he figured that was a present of sorts as well, and he figured that he might as well enjoy himself. Renka seemed to feel the same way, since she had attached herself to his arm, and was not letting go, her head laying on his shoulder as they walked.

"/So, Renka, what fun things do you guys have to do around here, we can do whatever you want./"

"/Anything?/" She looked up into his deep blue eyes, with a hopeful look on her face.

"/Sure, what do you have in mind?/"

Looking shy, she tried to sound as cute as she could, which was quite, and said in a small voice, "/Little Renka wants another massage./"

"/Well, okay, but shouldn't we get some food, or see a movie first? Spar perhaps?/"

"/Well, yeah, we COULD do that too.../"

They ended up compromising. Ranma bought them dinner, and then they spent the rest of the afternoon giving her the longest massage he had ever given anyone in his life. Renka was not able to walk again for a while, but she enjoyed being carried, even if traveling over the trees unnerved her at first.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Two weeks, and several 'dates' later, Ranma was blindfolded, not that he needed his eyes to get around, but he was led anyway, to the main training hall. The two girls, who had led him by the arms, leaned in, kissed him on the cheeks, and then removed the blindfold. As soon as his eyes were uncovered, the room full of people all shouted, "/SURPRISE!!!/"

Ranma greeted and thanked everyone there, especially the few outside of his 'family' who were in attendance. He slurped one lengthy 'longevity noodle' for long life and good luck. They had food, played games, ate cake and they all enjoyed themselves. After a while, Renka and Ukyo teamed up on Ranma, each grabbing an arm as they led him away, to a quiet place, where they could get him along. Once they had him where they wanted him, they began to sing the birthday song, in Chinese.

"Sheng ri kuai le "/Happy Birthday
"Zhu ni sheng ri kuai le "/Wish to you happy birthday
"Zhu ni sheng ri kuai le "/Wish to you happy birthday
"Zhu ni sheng ri kuai le "/Wish to you happy birthday
"Zhu ni yongyuan kuai le" "/Wish to you happiness forever/"

Renka had helped to coach Ukyo, so that she would get the song just right, she had helped her obtain materials, as well as distracting Ranma, without making it look obvious, so Ukyo let her go first. "Sheng ri kuai le, Ranma. /I got you something./" She blushed as she handed him a small box. Ranma opened the box and found a thick necklace with a yin-yang shaped locket. The locket opened from the center, with the push of a small button, revealing four picture compartments. Two of the compartments were filled with pictures of Ukyo and Renka hugging in a photo booth. Well, actually it was one picture, that had been cut to fit into the two center compartments.

Ranma smiled, "/Aw, aren't you two just adorable? Thank you Renka, it was very kind of you to get me a gift, and I am glad to see that you and Ucchan get along so well. It's very nice./" He leaned over and hugged her as he kissed her on the cheek. Renka blushed brightly, looking quite shy. While this was incredibly cute, it looked a bit strange on the usually extroverted girl.

Ukyo was beaming with pride as she handed over her much larger box saying, "O tanjo-bi omedetogozaimasu, Ranchama! Ah hope yah like it!"

Ranma opened the box and found a long coat, which hung almost to his ankles. The outside was made of a sturdy, black material, with the kanji 'aikyou' on the back, trimmed in red. The trim on the coat itself was also red silk, to match the inside. It had many pockets with fasteners, to keep them sealed during Ranma's many erratic movements. Ranma got a strange look on his face as he looked the coat over, tried it on, and faced its designer. "/No, Ucchan, I don't like it, I love it! You guys are the best!/"
{*Aikyou = charm; attractiveness; amiability; winsomeness; courtesy; entertainment; amusement; fun.*}

After Ranma had taken Ukyo into his arms and kissed her on the cheek as well, she grabbed his face with both hands, turned his head, and said, "/Not good enough, Ranchama./", and she kissed him on the mouth, causing his braid to stick straight out, and Renka to protest.

"/Hey, that's not fair, I want to do that too!/"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The girls had held him down, and covered him in kisses, each trying to out-do the other, eventually Ranma had to use his 'special massage technique' to get away, so he could relieve himself and find some food. Most everyone had gone off to do their own thing, only his mother remained.

"/There you are my son, I have prepared a special meal for you this evening to help keep your strength up for my gift to you, which I will give you after you are done 'playing' with the girls. Enjoy it my adorable, manly son, for tonight, you become a real man among men. Be prepared, for you will need all of your strength to endure the trial./"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"This will be the most expensive, and yet, briefest, lesson you have received under my care, but it will be one of the most useful to you in the future. Well worth the bond that I cashed in to pay for it. Pay attention, and learn well my son, for tonight, you become a real man. Ukyo-chan, you have been approved to go with him and watch, but you may not join in directly (not yet anyway), you too must learn these lessons well, for they will serve you both in the future. Now, forget about your dear mother, and go enjoy yourselves. I expect you to fight well!"

"HAI, Okaa-chan(-sama)!!!"

They walked up to the very nice home, which had been lavishly decorated, and knocked. A beautiful woman, in an elegant dress, and accessories, answered the door and led them inside. She was an older woman, by the youths' perspective, looking almost as old as his mother, meaning that she looked to be in her mid-twenties.

"/Greetings shifu, my name is Ranma, I am supposed to be here for a training session, and this is Ucchan, she is supposed to watch and learn as much as she can too./"

She ran her fingers down his arm, and whispered heavily into his ear, "/Ha ha ha, I have never been called THAT before! Yes, Ranma, your mother told me all about you two./", and blew on his neck, causing him to stiffen a bit. "/Welcome honorable guests, I am Meixiu, and I will be instructing you in the arts of pleasure. Now, if you will follow me, we will begin the 'lesson'./" This caught Ranma off guard, he had not expected fighting in such a nice hose, but he had expected some kind of ki training, or other special technique. Well, pleasure was the opposite of pain, maybe he misheard, or did not translate the word correctly, 'Maybe it was a healing technique! That had to be it.'

The two young teens followed their 'instructor' as she led them up the stairs and into one of the back rooms. This room was also lavishly furnished, though in a slightly different style, and it contained many items that neither of them recognized, and Ukyo's eyes boggled, because unlike Ranma, she knew why they were there.

Meixiu turned and requested, "/Strip, if you would./" They began to take their clothing off, a bit stunned, Ranma at the request, and Ukyo still at the number and uniqueness of the 'toys' displayed around the room. "/I just meant him, but, whatever./" She began to take her clothes off as well. "/I shall be the one to attend to him tonight. I will show you the required etiquette of the pleasurable arts. I shall perform a 'body inspection' to make sure everything works correctly, and to teach you how to make it work even more 'correctly'. Here is a spot, that only the high class gentlemen get to enjoy./" She reached around Ranma and pressed a special pressure point, waking him out of his stupor and causing him to instantly get hard.

She showed them many techniques, positions, and styles, and they consumed them as if they had been starving and were served a gourmet meal. She taught him how to have multiple male orgasms, the best erogenous zones, pressure points, and every other trick she knew. They studied every move in the kind of detail that only one who has spent their entire life studying techniques can.

Ukyo had been there solely in an observational capacity, and even she was exhausted when they were done. Thanks to some of her skills, they had 'worked' nonstop for hours on end. It was actually quite early in the morning by the time they left to return home. She had offered to let them sleep there, but they wanted to make sure they did not miss their training the next morning, and if not for some of the special tea they had gotten from Shun, they would not have been of any use, to anyone.

Unfortunately, despite how quietly they came in, Ma Jiang noticed their arrival, and the time, and figured she had some questions that needed to be asked. Maybe her husband knew what was going on, she would ask him first.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The next morning, before most of the residence of the compound had awoken, Jiang poked her husband. "/Do you know what those kids were doing out last night, my husband?/" She knew, the best time to get truthful information out of her husband was to wake him and ask, he was never fully aware, and would answer honestly.

"/Was boy's birthday, so I sent him to a courtesan, to become a man. He's just like me, as a boy./" Three, Two, One, Click! "/Oh, crap!/"

"/What was that husband of mine? Did you say you got that boy a prostitute? So you know what could happen, what if the police found out?/"

Kensei had not had time to learn much from the Saotome heir, but he had mastered one technique that was about to prove useful. "Saotome final attack, RUN AWAY!!!!" He yelled in Japanese, as he dove out of the window.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Jiang found Nodoka cleaning up for the morning, and preparing for the day. "/Mrs. Saotome, I would like to apologize for my husband's behavior, he did something inappropriate for him, and I cannot apologize enough./" She bowed deeply.

"/Oh my, there is no need, I asked for his help. If my son is to become a true man among men, he must learn all of the arts, and those are some of the most important!/" She beamed with pride.

Jiang's expression went from apologetic to cold. "/I think you should go. I do not wish my children to be around yours any longer. Please be out by the end of the day./" She turned and left.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma wrote a letter to the Tendo girls, explaining that they were moving on again, and apologized for the short notice and short letter. He was in such a hurry to get it done, that he had forgotten even to mention his birthday party or any of the things he had been up to lately. He just told them that the master of the school, who had been teaching them, suddenly ran off, and they had to leave, continuing their goal of trying to find the Nujie Zu. They had a lead on an exile that was supposed to be in Hong Kong, who they were hoping could be persuaded to give them directions. Ukyo had been able to slip in a picture of a shirtless Ranma in his new coat into the letter before he sealed it.

After a long, tearful goodbye with Renka, and a quick stop at the local post office, they were back on the proverbial road, meandering slowly toward Hong Kong. They hired a guild for this leg of the trip, more to help them learn a bit of Cantonese on the way, than to show them around. They DID let the guide do his job, by helping to lead Ryoga part time.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Renka was not happy, first her father left, and now her new friends were leaving too! She ran to find her mother, to try to do something about it. This was as close to a 'boyfriend' as she had ever been allowed to have before, and she had rather enjoyed it. She did not want these feelings to end.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"/NO! you may certainly NOT go with them! They are almost as weird as your father, it's bad enough he left, I can't lose you too!/"

Renka ran out of the room in tears. She was heartbroken for a third time that day. She was torn, she did not want to lose her friends, but she did not want to hurt her mother either. Not to mention the strain that would put on the twins, they could only handle so much of the burden of the school ...for now.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Still not happy, especially when she learned why her friends left, Renka began to study Japanese in earnest, swearing that she would go to Japan one day, and track down either her errant father (at least if the information she had gotten around town, from people who had seen, or rather, heard, his departure, proved to be correct), or her friends, and no one, or no thing, would stand in her way, ...once her mommy let her go, that is.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Genma was having a good day, not only had their school been doing amazingly well, and taking in students from all of the 'best' families, his hair had been growing in well (better than Soun's was after his 'accident' anyway), he was fit and trim, and if that wasn't enough, today he was beating Soun at Go without cheating! Oh, sorry, resorting to 'special moves'. What a glorious day!

Akane's cooking was slowly and steadily making improvements, assuming you do not count her last attempt at baking, where she had gotten a bit overzealous and mixed up baking soda with sugar, and vinegar for ...something, water, oil? Genma did not know, not that it would have changed anything if he did, all that mattered was the fact that their kitchen had been completely covered in white foam, and it had taken the girls and Maid Guy a while to get it all cleaned up. Aside from that, most of what she made was at least edible. This was good, in Genma's opinion, because the other girls, who usually cooked, were not around as often these days. Between their club and student council activities, and looking after 'some bums' or something (Genma had not bothered to learn the details of that), they were out several nights a week.

He had gotten another postcard from his wife, which said they were following up a lead to find what they hoped would be one of the last training stops on their trip, if things when well, it could be a long one, if they were able to find it. Well, and of course, several paragraphs about how manly 'her' son was becoming, and how well his training had been coming along in spite of all of her 'smothering ways'. Minor jabs aside, it was good to hear from them again, he was glad that they were doing well, and they would return home before too much longer, depending on how this training goes. Genma would never have admitted it to anyone, but he was actually looking forward to that day.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

One fine Sunday morning, Nabiki was snooping around in the secret passages in the Saotome house, as she was want to do on occasion, when she literally stumbled into another secret passage that she didn't know about before. It was quite a surprise, she considered herself a very observant person, and she was sure that she had given these passages a thorough examination before, several times when they were younger, they used to play in here a lot as kids after all.

Nabiki briefly considered going and getting the other girls, but they were all doing extra 'training', so she figured she could show them after she had looked it over. So, pulling out a flashlight she kept for just such occasions, she followed the tunnel and found that it when under a large portion of the property, with several rooms, both large and small, all furnished, and looked recently used! Everything was spotless, there was not even a speck of dust anywhere. Since dusting was one of her specialties in 'the art', she was mildly impressed.

Nabiki was most surprised when she entered the largest room, that, if she figured correctly, was right under their house! So surprised was she, that she failed to notice someone sneak up behind her and tap her 'knock-out' pressure point. She really did not expect it, which just goes to show how far she had yet to go before she would become a real detective.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Some time later, Nabiki came to and found she was faced with two people, dressed all in dark, navy blue, covered from head to toe, with only their eyes showing, as if they were some kind of ninja. The second thing she noticed, was that she was restrained, tied to a chair, bound with very soft cord. She began trying to work her hands free when on of them spoke, a woman.

"We are sorry, Nabiki-sama, my companion got a bit, 'enthusiastic' with his work. We mean you no harm, but we can not have you telling anyone about this place, Genma-dono is not to know we are here. I am afraid that I am going to have to make you forget you ever found this place though. I am deeply sorry."

"NO, WAIT! I won't tell him, I promise! But, why are you here? ...and how do you know my name?"

"Um, we live here... Saotome-sama hired our clan, and we were sent to ensure the safety of the home, help with the school's training techniques, and make sure that nothing bad happens to you girls."

"Wouldn't making my lose my memories count as 'bad'?!?!"

"Well, the security of the mission must come first, it is for your safety, especially if you let it slip to Genma-dono, that could prove quite hazardous."

"I swear, I won't tell him! Hey, have any of us found you before? Have you already wiped any of our memories?"

"No, the only person who has found us before you was Kogarashi-san, but our techniques did not work on him."

"So if he knows, why can't I? I can keep a secret too.

"Are you sure you want to take that risk? This is really a breach in protocols. Maybe we should wait for orders..."

"But, I have to go to school tomorrow! And we won't be able to get a hold of auntie for a while now!"

"Oh, no, we just have to call our boss, or if you prefer, I can send a messenger bird, or something more traditional..."

"No, no, the phone call is fine..."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma entered the tent he shared with Ukyo and sat beside her, handing her a small box. "Happy birthday Ucchan, I got this for you. I wore it for a while, so that I could say this, 'My heart now belongs to you'." Ranma looked embarrassed, and more than a bit nervous. She opened the box to find a silver necklace with a small heart-shaped pendant that was made of jade. "Mom said that I was supposed to give you another 'present' as well." Both of their blushes intensified tenfold. "At least the chain is not a dog collar, like some people I won't mention." He chuckled nervously at that.

"Oh, it's lovely! I love it, and I would happily wear a dog collar for you, if that is your desire, Ranma-sama. Okaa-sama also instructed me to wear the gift that she bought for me for this evening. She also gave me something to make sure that you wear as well, and showed me the 'proper' way to put it on you." Ukyo blushed as she handed Ranma a box of condoms before she removed the yukata she had been wearing to reveal a short qipao that barely hung below her hips, though it was split on the sides to reveal said hips. The red qipao, trimmed in black, was made of a sheer material that Ranma could almost see through as if it were not there. It was so sheer that it almost left something to the imagination. "Tonight, I officially become your concubine, Ranma-sama. Please take good care of me." Ranma stammered for a moment, stunned by how amazing she looked, his mother did good work. As cute as she normally was, tonight she was literally stunning.

They were both nervous, and it showed. However, years of training kicked in, and, as always, he said the first thing that came to his mind, "Ucchan, you look almost too cute!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Short Omake 6a

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Genma received a postcard from his wife, detailing some of the adventures they had been having, turning the postcard over showed Nodoka, Ranma, Ukyo, and Ryoga in front of a temple, all flipping the bird, and the words, 'Glad you're NOT here!'...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Short Omake 6b

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Moments later, the door burst open, reveling Nodoka who was dragging Ryoga by his leash, looking panicked, until she saw the two youths, on the floor, hugging each other amid the wreckage, eating something. "Oh my, something smells good."

Before long, four new weresnakes replaced the old one, terrorizing the locals... Oooops.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Short Omake 6c

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo was playing her violin while Ranma and Renka were chatting.

"/So, Ranma, you know about the difference between Dou and Sei fighting philosophies, right?/" He nodded. "/So which do you prefer?/"

"/Well, I use both Dou and Sei, but I prefer Sei, but my partner over there, she prefers Dou Sei Dou./" He got up, and started clapping his hands and stomping one foot, while Ukyo switched her playing style. "/Grab yer partner, swing 'um 'round, spin and spin 'till you fall down! Allemande left with your left hand, Follow through with a right-left grand. Now lead your partner, the dirty ol' thing, follow through with an elbow swing./"

Ukyo picked up the song where Ranma left off still playing her violin in a manner completely unlike her usual grace and elegance, "/Grab a fence post, hold it tight, womp your partner with all your might. Hit him in the shin, hit him in the head, hit him again, the critter ain't dead. Wop him low and wop him high, stick your finger in his eye. Pretty little rhythm, pretty little sound, bang your heads against the ground.../"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Short Omake 6d

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Today was Penguin's last day in this school, and in the Kai-bu, so she was saying her good byes.

"I am going to miss you all, but they have given me my own show, it's a great opportunity. Besides, I wasn't getting too many scenes here anyway. My only regret is that I never got to meet that cute boy! But I am glad I don't have Boneitus! I have heard there is no cure." She ran around hugging the other girls, and saying her individual good-byes.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

And, Last but not least,
Short Omake 6e - by Hiryo

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-
Kogarashi went into the kitchen where Akane had been training her cooking skills.

The poisonous fumes from Akane's cooking alone, were so strong that the paint was peeling itself off of the walls. The kitchen looked as if it had been covered in a layer of dark grey arsenic powder and ash. Bent equipment was strewn about and many other mini-disasters filled the room.

Humming a catchy tune Kogarashi read an old letter from Akane addressed to 'Whomever it Concerns'.

-!-!-

'I wanna someone who can curb uncle Genma and help me to be strong enough to do finish things by myself.

-Akane'

-!-!-

Still humming Kogarashi neared the most tragic place in the kitchen, where even cockroaches gave a wide berth... the oven.

Then he began to sing in his deep tenor.

-!-!-

"Just a..."
*SNAP*
"Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down "
The charred remains of the oven disappeared into a rainbow that was black on the ground then bit-by-bit began to get back to the natural rainbow colors.
"The medicine go down-wown "
*SNAP*
"The medicine go down"
The bent ladle straightened out and 'untwisted' itself, as Maid Guy twirled around the room, cleaning as he danced.
"Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down "
*SNAP*
"In a most delightful way."
Now the rest of the kitchen utensil dance to their places while miraculously all the dirt flies into the garbage.

Kogarashi continued with this festival until the kitchen appears to be in a brand new condition again.

-!-!-

At last, Kogarashi held the metal lid to his face. He looked into the now mirror like reflection of the lid where Marry Poppins looked back as she arranged her hat. Kogarashi righted his mask, and continued with his daily tasks, exiting the room saying, "This is Maid Guy's Perfect Service!!!"

Akane needed much help after all.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

End Omake

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Author's Notes

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Thank you to all who comment and review, all input is appreciated.

Taoist/Daoist immortality theories.
-Two of the three theories on this involved similar practices to what I hinted at, the third was by a man named Ge Hong, an alchemist, who said that you needed the 'sexual arts' (the male had to refrain from ejaculation during sex) alongside alchemy to achieve longevity. The 'ding' and the 'younger the better' aspects seem to stem from Zhao Liangpi and Zhang Sanfeng, but I can't say for sure, my research on the topic has been limited.
Please do not think I am trying to paint all Daoists as 'bad guys', it was just this one small group, in this story. I am sorry if that offended anyone, it is just a story. There are good and bad people in just about every group.

The Ma Family
-Renka and Kensei's names were not even remotely close to being pronounced/'phonetically spelled' correctly, apparently the author did not want to do the slightest bit of research and just pronounce them in Japanese without the slightest bit of consideration to how they should be said in one of the many Chinese languages, let alone pick one. None of which are even remotely similar. Kensei's given name would likely be Jianxing (the first character is a simplified Japanese version of the character, which isn't even found in Chinese that I can tell), and his daughter would be something like Lanhua or Lienhua. As much as I want to be accurate, if I do so in this case I will confuse the hell out of just about everyone, including myself. So, my apologies to anyone who speaks Chinese (or like me, is OCD about being accurate), if you want to blame anyone, please direct your comments to Syun Matsuena, the author of Kenichi, who did less than no research on his Chinese characters at all. His wife and two other children were never named, so, obviously, I made those up, using actual Mandarin characters (even if they are probably not real name characters, they were intended to just be funny).
There is also no such thing as 'Chinese Kempo' either, Kempo is a purely Japanese word, it would be Wushu/Kung Fu (or Quan Fa if you prefer), the generic term for martial arts in Chinese.
I suppose I should also mention the location of their school and many of the other things in China I have used are just my best guess, and are in no way accurate portrayals. I just picked something that worked in the story based on what I do know, like Shun Di lives in 'Northern China', and the Ma School has taught many Shao Lin, so I put them kind of central so they were located between the northern and southern temples, this is likely wrong.

Ki/Chi/Qi
-These are all the same thing, just in different languages, or different ways to spell it. Ki is Japanese, while Khi, Chi, Ch'i, Hei, and Qi are some of the variations from the Chinese languages, depending on which form of transcription you prefer to use. Qi is the main one in Mandarin and others, and I prefer it because most of us English speakers can't help but pronounce 'chi' with a 'ch-' sound, instead of the 'k-' sound it actually is. Just look at almost all dubbed media about it. The 'Chi/Ch'i' transcription is only used by the Wade-Giles form, and frankly, a lot of theirs are weird. But in all of those languages, they spell it with the same character. 氣 (or the 'simplified' form, 气, but that adds even more ways to say it).

A special thanks to Grizzmon, for inspiration behind one of the encounters in this chapter.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

*CHARACTERS USED*

{Here I will list all of the non-Ranma characters, used in the chapter and where they are from.}

Kogarashi the "Maid Guy" - the title character from Kamen no Maid Guy
Fubuki - The future 'Maid Guy Tamer' from Kamen no Maid Guy
Kaede Tenjoji - The headmaster of Hakureiryo Academy from Ladies vs. Butlers.
Mikan is her 'assistant' and the Head Instructor.
Mori - A maid, who will later, like her mother, to whom she bears an uncanny resemblance, work for the Amatsuka family, in GJ-Bu.
Sakura 'Penguin/Pengi' Nankyoku - The title character of Penguin Musume (lit. Penguin Girl). She is a total Otaku, she comes from a VERY rich family, and can gain the abilities of whatever she is cosplaying as (to some degree). In this story, her mother is Kaede's oldest half-sister (who also has one other).
Shun Di - The drunken master and herbal doctor from the Virtua Fighter series. Some versions say he also taught Lao Chan.
Renka Ma - From Kenichi, History's Strongest Disciple.
Kensei Ma - Her Father.
Jiang Ma - Her Mother. (Ma Jiang, or as we spell it, Mahjongg)
Dingling Ma - Her younger brother. (Ma Dingling)
Kuchi Ma - Her younger sister (Ma Kuchi)

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Chapter Text

Nodoka 2/1
The Chroma Series
Act 0 Part 07

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

DISCLAIMER
Most of the characters and other elements are owned by people who are not me, though I did make up a few here and there... but none of the main ones. The rest are owned by many talented people, and a few faceless corporations, such as Rumiko Takahashi and Sega respectively (and many others). Bla bla bla, don't sue me, it's a waste of your time, and resources, I have nothing.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AUTHOR'S NOTES

-WARNING-
Once again, this chapter is getting a bit more 'limey', something that will be happening more often as the kids get older. You have been warned!!
Special thanks to my "Agent" and "Publicist" Hiryo, for proofreading, prodding, posting advice and so much more, and thank you to all of you who have commented.
I do not have much to say here this time, so once again, I will just say, 'thank you for reading and commenting'! I hope you all enjoy.
-I told several of you that Chapter 8 was the plan for the introduction of the Amazons, but this chapter got too detailed and ran WAY over, and I had to split it into two, again. I apologize to everyone who is excited to see what happens with Shampoo, the curses, and the rest, and I hope you feel that the ecchi wait was worth it.

A minor note on Nabiki asking for proof. During the monster fights, they are usually a bit busy to be taking photos, not that she would believe that either and would asssume they are faked as well (even if Ranma and company are not the ones doing the faking), but asking for proof, would be tantamount to calling him a liar, and at least in Japan, would be considered incredibly rude, so that won't happen. Even if she thinks he is lying, she would not accuse him of it directly without proof of her own. Mostly, she believes that they are being gullible, more than they are lying to her intentionally. However, she won't believe it herself until she sees it with her own eyes. Fake photographs have been around as long as photography after all.

"Speech"
'Thought'
/Mandarin/
\Cantonese\
{Author's Notes & *Translations* Feel free to skip these}

 

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

GLOSSARY (from the last chapter)

Nujie Zu - The Mandarin pronunciation of the 'Amazons'. The Japanese pronunciation is Joketsuzoku. Literal translation is Female Hero Tribe.

Ding - Mandarin for 'Vessel', A group of Daoists used it to describe a female sexual partner. (I didn't make that stuff up).

Aikyou - charm; attractiveness; amiability; winsomeness; courtesy; entertainment; amusement; fun. This is what is on the back of Ranma's Jacket.

Bake Renkangeki Suijin - 'Renka' strikes the opponent with a powerful and fast onslaught of strikes in every direction.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

CHAPTER 07
The Art of Pi

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Hong Kong was not as picturesque a city as they had been led to believe, easily making it a low point in their travels. The odor was not pleasant, the crime rate was high, somehow it seemed even more crowded than Beijing and as tourists, they felt like they were almost in the majority. Luckily, sightseeing was not their goal, if they had not been there for a reason, they never would have stayed.

"Kaa-chan, I hope we do not plan to come back here when we go home."

"It certainly would not be MY first choice."

"Even the souvenirs are all cheap, tacky, and overpriced."

"Well, of course, they wouldn't be souvenirs otherwise."

"Yeah, but this seems worse than most, by far, and look at that Buddha statue, it seems to be moving, let's do the same!"

"Hai, Ranchama, I think it is following us, and giving me the evil eye!"

As they were arguing about souvenirs, and whether or not there were any worth buying, they voted 'no', they heard the sounds of someone being attacked, again.

Ranma located the ally it was taking place in, and jumped into the midst of the battle, with Ukyo right behind him, shocking all of the participants into momentary inaction. Ranma had read the auras on the way in, and saw that they were all angry, but the gang had the most killing intent. However, after his encounter with the weresnake, he was a bit gun-shy, and did not want to make the same mistake again, so he asked, "\Girl no monster, yes?\"

So confused by Ranma's bad grammar, the thug did not even think to lie. "\Huh? No, we are kidnapping the girl for the boss, as the intended bride!\"

"\I am NOT gonna marry that bastard, no matter what you do! Liu's too old for me anyway!\"

Ranma and Ukyo had heard enough, and went into their usual 'damsel in distress' procedures. Ukyo ran over to help the girl out of the line of fire, ready to back Ranma up if needed. As she grabbed the girl to get her to safety, she heard Ranma shout, "Jan Kenpo!" and heard a loud crash. Her charge, however, did not exactly take well to being rescued.

"\I am not helpless you know. Put me down!\"

"\Sorry, bad for Cantonese, no speaking well.\"

"Really? I hadn't noticed. You are Japanese, ne? Can you put me down now? Your boyfriend might need help. Those guys are Koenkan! They are really tough!"

Ukyo was relieved that the girl had stopped fighting her, and that she spoke Japanese as well, it made things easier. "So is my Ranchama, most of the time, but just in case, we should keep an eye on him. Miomo-sama and Puppy will be there to help too, so don't do anything rash. We do this sort of thing all the time. You are quite safe with us." As they crept back to check on Ranma and what was left of the thugs, Ukyo added, "Oh, and Ranchama isn't my 'boyfriend', and can date whomever."
{*Miomo = polite form of 'mother'*}

"Sorry."

"Don't be, Ranchama was my 'boyfriend' at one time, but that was a long time ago. It's complicated. Were you wanting to try for the position?"

"NO! I didn't mean THAT! I just ...oh never mind. Let's go kick some butt!" As they turned the corner, they saw a slightly bruised Ranma, as he knocked down the last of the thugs.

"Told you." Ukyo stuck her tongue out with a wink.

Ranma began tying up the 'gang members', "These guys were a bit tougher than the usual thugs. Thanks for the help Ryoga."

"Of course Ranma! As a martial artist, thugs who pick on the weak deserve no mercy!"

"Hey! Who are you calling 'weak'?!?!" The ox-horn tressed girl in the blue silk qipao with matching pants, got up in Ryoga's face.

"Uh, sorry, I didn't mean it like that!"

"So what DID ya mean?"

Ryoga started to stammer, so Ranma tried to defuse the situation with the somewhat volatile girl they had just 'saved'. "So, you speak Japanese? That sure makes this a lot easier. Who were those guys trying to kidnap you? Do you know them?"

"They are the Koenkan, a 'martial arts' organization that has almost total control over the city. I was trying to escape to America, where they don't have control."

"They don't sound like real martial artists to me, they sound more like thugs, or yakuza."

"That's pretty close to the truth, they actually ran the Tang out of town, and took over most of their operations. I swore I would take them down, with my own two hands, but I am not ready yet, I need more time to train. I probably could have beaten those low level guys, but with how many men they have under their control, they would eventually overpower me." She looked depressed.
{*Tang = Chinese Mafia, it literally means 'hall' or 'gathering place' (we also spell it 'Tong' in English)*}

"Well, that's what we are doing, traveling around, training wherever we can find someone to teach us something new. You can come with us, but I would not really feel right leaving if they are as bad as you are implying. What do you guys think? Should we take down another 'evil dojo'?"

"My son is so manly! I am so proud of you!"

"You know it, Playboy! People like that, give martial arts a bad name!"

"Ranchama, you know I would follow you to the depths of hell itself. Whatever you decide, I am with you."

The girl thought to herself, '\They sure have a lot of confidence in him, I wonder if they are as reliable as they seem. It would be nice to not have to run away, but I did not want to have to ask for help, and that one in the yellow shirt is rude. I would rather fight than run away any day though, so I guess I should give them a chance.\' Aloud she said, "My name is, Pai Chan, and you were called, Ranchama?"

Ranma laughed, "Only by Ucchan, over there." He pointed toward Ukyo. "My name is Ranma Saotome, and these are my friends, Ukyo and Ryoga, and my mother, Nodoka. We probably shouldn't be standing around talking about this out in the open though, their friends are sure to come looking for them, eventually. Do you have somewhere we could all talk in private?"

She looked sheepish for a moment, blushing, "Um, not really, no. I was running away, after all."

"Well, do you know where we could rent a nice, large room, maybe one with good food?"

"I know a few that aren't owned by the Koenkan, at least not yet. Follow me."

"Great! You can tell us what you know there, and after we eat, we can make a plan."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nabiki was glad she had been able to work a deal with their previously unknown 'house guests', the idea of losing her memories terrified her, and the way the underling had been eyeing that metal bat, had not been instilling her with a lot of confidence in their 'memory erasing technique'. She would keep their secret from Genma, and help them implement their 'suggestions' into the Kaji Ken curriculum. In exchange, they would let her keep her memories. Not the best deal, but she was not in a strong bargaining position. At least she could talk to Ranma about them, since he knew them, even if he did not know they were in the house. That is, once he finally got to a place where he could receive her mail again. On the other hand, they might prove useful, and these new tunnels were nice. In addition, the senior ninja promised to give her stealth lessons! She was looking forward to that. That was a type of training they could really use in their school, a good servant was discreet, after all.

Now normally, the 'Memory Blast' technique, would have made her think that they were not very good at their jobs, but the fact that they had built all of this, and lived here for years, without her finding out about them, said something for the rest of their skills.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma and Ukyo had been critiquing the food, pointing out what they liked about it, but not being overly impressed with the meal overall, but it was filling, and not poisoned, so, it could have been worse. Ryoga emphasized this point, by reminiscing about the days before they had 'adopted' him, when he would be reduced to eating pictures of food out of magazines.

"You really ought to let us teach you to cook more than instant noodles, Lap Dog. It isn't that hard."

Ryoga grumbled a definite 'maybe'. Knowing better than to mention how he did not agree that cooking was a manly thing to do. He did not want to relive that experience, nor hear about the male chefs of the world, and who knows how Pai would take it... She already did not seem to like him, and he did not want to make it worse. He was a bit jealous that all of the girls seemed to gravitate toward his friend. The best he usually got was indifference, the Ma girls, practically ignored him completely. It was not as if he wanted hoards of girls to throw themselves at his feet, but everyone wants some positive attention occasionally. Although, he had to admit, the fact that he was usually being led around by Nodoka, wearing his 'leash' was probably NOT helping his 'image'. Nodoka had told him that she would get him a similar present for his birthday, as she had gotten Ranma, but that he would be better off waiting until they were in a nicer town. He was not quite sure what that meant, other than he did not get much of a present for his birthday last week. Ryoga continued to grumble to himself about relative luck, while the others began talking about the situation, completely missing most of what was said.

"Koenkan started as a martial arts school, teaching the art of Koen-ken, the \Tiger Swallow Fist\. It is a style that combines the strength of the Tiger style, and the speed of the Swallow style. It is fast, powerful, and gets straight to the point. It is a very strong wushu. Luckily, there are few real masters of the style right now. In addition, many of them that did exist had left for other countries to start their own branches. It was bad enough when that bastard of a founder was in charge, but now, no longer takes an active role, and it has just gone downhill ever since. The acting head of Koenkan, Liu Kowloon, is the one trying to marry me." She paused, her anger boiling to the surface, as she fought to keep it under control.

"Yeah, why exactly is that, no offence, I mean, you are quite cute and all, but you don't look any older than us. Aren't you too young to get married?"

Her anger faded as the complement caused her to blush. "Well, yeah, I just turned fourteen, they were planning to keep me locked-up until I turned sixteen, and could legally be married, 'with parental consent'."

"How could your parents 'consent' to such a thing?!?!?" Ranma was outraged! Little did he realize how close he had come to being able to relate to that problem.

Her anger returning, Pai replied, "My mother is dead, worked to death, trying to support us, while my bastard of a father was off 'perfecting the art'!"

The sympathy was clear on all of their faces, as each one of them could relate to certain aspects of her sad story. Nodoka put her arm around the girl, trying to offer what comfort she could. "I swore, I would make that bastard suffer for abandoning my mother to die like that! Oh yes, father will pay!"

"You aren't planning to...?"

"Oh, no, I don't want to kill the bastard! I just want to beat the Koen-ken, with my own Ensei-ken, the \Lost Track Fist\. Well, and not be forced to be a prisoner, and not have to marry some jerk, who is way older than me, let alone one I don't even like!"

"Yeah, you never explained what the connection was there, how did they get parental consent?"

"Oh, didn't I tell you? My father is the founder of Koenkan."

Our heroes picked themselves up off the floor from where they had fallen, as Pai continued. "Maybe if father learns that Koen-ken is not the strongest kung-fu, this abuse can stop!"

"Well, that's an easy one, because there is only one 'Strongest Martial Art' out there, and it is Anything-Goes!"

Pai looked at the boy with incredulity, he did seem pretty strong, but few could stand against her father, as she had seen, repeatedly. "Perhaps you would like to test that theory."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Pai was disappointed, she had known that she needed more training, but to be that outclassed, really bothered her, especially when it came to aerial combat, a specialty of her style. As if only being able to land a couple of blows wasn't bad enough, the boy had been holding back so much that he had not even had to hit her once! He only used restraining moves, and before it was over, he had her bound-up so tightly, she could not move even a millimeter. It was humiliating. "Why did you hold back so much, I really wanted to see what you can do."

"To be honest, I do not like hurting pretty girls ...unless, of course, they enjoy it. Do you?"

"Well, not particularly..."

Ukyo was a bit jealous at that point, not because he called Pai 'pretty', she was, but because he didn't hold back with her much at all. She was not exactly sure how to take that. "But, Ranchama, you hit me, am I not pretty?"

"Ucchan, you are indeed, very pretty, cute as a button and sweet as pie, but if I hold back too much with you, you would clean my clock! Besides, you always seemed to enjoy it a bit..." He grinned evilly at her, and she blushed in response.

Pai was torn between blushing at being called 'sweet', and being annoyed at the assumed familiarity. This time, annoyance won out. "How do you know how 'sweet' I am?"

"Well, you probably are, you are willing to stand up to injustice, maybe we will find out for sure one day but, I didn't actually mean you, I meant the dessert pie, cherry perhaps? Let's get a pie, anyone else want pie? I wanna eat pie..." Embarrassed at the misunderstanding, he stammered along until Pai slapped him for the way his babbling came out.

"I didn't mean it like that! I just said I didn't mean you! ...unless you WANTED me to mean it like that... no? Okay then. I am sorry, I just like baked goods. Ucchan and I have studied desserts from around the world, and pie is one of our favorites, especially cherry. Although, I am sure if you hang around us long enough, you will become a favorite too." Pai slapped him again, but not near as hard this time. "...or not, whatever you want."

Ryoga grinned at all of this, enjoying watching his friend twist in the wind. "You really stuck your foot in your mouth this time, Playboy!" Ryoga could not hold it in any longer and started laughing.

"Hey Puppy, at least I have HAD girlfriends. On the other hand, I really DID stick my foot in my mouth. Sorry Pai, that all came out wrong, but seriously, would you like some ...dessert?"

Pai had raised her hand as if to strike, just waiting for him to say 'her name' like that again. She was a bit sensitive to certain references after being engaged against her will and more recently, being tied up in a slightly kinky way. For not the first time in her life, she was quite glad to be wearing pants under her qipao.

Ukyo tensed at the way Pai started to react, not wanting to see Ranma struck again, but relaxed as Pai dropped her hand and they all started laughing at Ranma's 'joke'. She was relieved that she did not have to interfere, she was starting to like Pai, but she would not stand for that type of abuse to her Ranchama. She was going to have to take steps to ensure this type of thing did not persist. Ranma needed girls he could count on, not ones who would abuse him because they did not know how to deal with their own emotions. After all, 'Nodoka's Rule number thirty-nine: Abuse is not to be tolerated, from anyone'. While rule number seventeen said, 'forget injuries, never forget kindnesses', it did not say anything about not trying to prevent those injuries in the first place!

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Akane, who was now wearing two 'Maid Guy Badges', was walking with Maid Guy to replace what had been damaged in Akane's latest attempt at 'getting creative' in the kitchen.

"Kukuku. Goshujin, you should not rush when cooking. Cooking is to be done with love, and you cannot rush love."

"I know, but I just get so excited!"

"As an old philosopher once said, 'the faster you work, the longer it takes you to get done'."

"Oh, who said that?"

Suddenly, they were interrupted by what sounded like the wail of a banshee. Looking toward the noise, they saw what appeared to be a young girl, about Akane's age, hopping from roof to roof, trying to escape from what appeared to be three monsters, fish-people, or something, they could not tell what, exactly.

"Oh, that poor girl, we have to help her!"

"If that is goshujin's command." Maid Guy's 'skirt' began to spin, letting him take off into the air. He flew over to intercept the three deformed creatures. Interposing himself between them and the fleeing figure, and said, "Maid Guy: Freeze Voice!" Visible sound waves emanated from his mouth, enveloping the three monstrous figures. All three of whom instantly stopped moving on their own. Unfortunately, for them, they were in mid-leap, when they were hit by Kogarashi's hypnotic attack, and while they were unable to move on their own, momentum and gravity continued to have an effect. They landed, very painfully, in a broken heap, after they had slid down the wall that they had just crashed into.

Akane had continued after the figure clad in a medium-red shinobi dogi, with a long, black ponytail, shouting, "Wait! It's Okay! You're Safe!"

After a few moments, said figure, noticed that the pursuers were no longer pursuing, and slowly came to a halt, and leapt to the ground. Maid Guy caught up with them within seconds, saying, "Just as you ordered goshujin, they have been stopped."

"What WERE those things?"

The shy acting 'kunoichi' responded using very feminine language and tones, "Oh my no, they were my step-mother, and step-sisters."

"What? Should we not have stopped them? I am sorry!"

"Oh, no, thank you for that." the 'kunoichi' bowed deeply in gratitude. "They really are quite troublesome."

"What happened to them? Are they possessed, or cursed or something?"

"Cursed by bad genetics perhaps, and a bad temperament to boot. I suppose I should go and tend to them. We would not want their corpses to stink up the place."

"Kukuku, they are not dead, but they will not be able to move for a total of one thousand, eight hundred seconds. The person who hears Maid Guy: Freeze Voice can see, hear, and even move their lips, but they cannot move their fingers, their eyes, nor even blink! Although, judging by how they landed, if they are normal humans, and not monsters, they will probably need medical attention."

"Drat! Oh well, at least I do not have to avenge their deaths now. ...assuming I could figure out who could have done such a dreadful thing!" The 'kunoichi' was on one knee, arm extended, in a very dramatic pose. Returning to a standing position, "They are monsters, but not the supernatural kind. You know, I really should go bury them, it would probably be for the best."

"Why do you stay with them?"

"Well, I do not really have anywhere else to go. My mother died when I was young. After some time, my father remarried, and died soon after that. All I have in this world, are my evil step-mother and evil step-sisters!!!"

"If they aren't possessed or cursed or anything, then why were they chasing you?"

"Oh my, it was because I made more tips than they did at our club today. The fact that I was not even working, but rather just cleaning up, might have played a factor..." The 'kunoichi' pulled out a microphone, and began to speak more melodramatically. "Could it be? Could it be that they are jealous? Yes, that must be it! They are jealous of my beauty!"

"Do you need a place to stay? We will help you stay safe. My sisters run a very nice homeless-shelter, and I am sure they would let you stay, or I can talk to my dad, he might let you stay in our dojo. Do you want some ice cream? It will make you feel better." Akane smiled. "My name is Akane Tendo, of the Saotome-Tendo Training Hall. Do you wanna be friends?"

The 'kunoichi' accepted Akane's handshake, and replied, "My name is Konatsu, and I think that I would like that. Thank you very much, Akane-sama. You and your, um, maid, are too kind."

"This is me, Maid Guy, at your service."

"Don't worry about this guy, Kogarashi-san is weird, but means well, most of the time!" She gave him a dirty look for a moment, and then went back to talking with Konatsu. Konatsu gave Maid Guy a look Akane did not quite catch, admiration perhaps, but she figured she had misread the look, and ignored it.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Later that evening, Ukyo and Pai had been sneaking along the main Koenkan building, looking for a stealthy way in. Ukyo was not thrilled about being away from Ranma for that long, but when Ranma had to admit that her stealth skills even surpassed his own, she was beside herself, beaming with pride, literally, as she had used a doppelganger technique. In addition, Ukyo was ecstatic to have been given such an important mission, two of them in fact. The first was to gather any intelligence she was able to find, but had to bring Pai along because Ukyo did not speak the language, nor know her way around. The second was to make extra sure to keep Pai safe, while the girl was very stealthy when compared to the lumbering Ryoga she was no ninja...

They had chatted a bit about all sorts of things on the way over, but grew silent as they neared their location. For the moment they found themselves hiding in a tree across the street, watching, waiting for the right time to enter the building.

They continued their conversation as they waited, so quietly that they could barely hear one another, never mind anyone outside of the tree. "So, what is the deal with Ryoga, and why do you guys use the nicknames, 'Puppy' and 'Lap Dog'?"

"Well, you see, Ryoga has this problem, several in fact. The worst one is that guy's sense of direction is worse than abysmal, I mean think of the worst person you know with directions, and multiply it by a thousand and you might start to get close to an idea of how bad it is, and then picture that the whole family has this curse. We first found Ryoga more than seven-hundred and fifty kilometers from home, looking for school. So you see, at this point, Puppy had not seen its own mother in months, and had not seen Hibiki-san in years. So when we started to help, and miomo-sama began to act 'motherly', Ryoga started to follow us around like a lost puppy, and the name just stuck. Then when we got home one day, and saw the child's leash, nothing could erase the nickname."

Pai had trouble containing her laughter, and had to hold her hands over her mouth to avoid making a loud noise. After calming down, Pai then asked the next question on her list. "Ranma is then called 'Playboy', is that accurate?"

"Well, my Ranchama is becoming quite a man, but while you could count Renka, I suppose, and there are a few girls back home in Japan, who might be interested in the job, officially speaking, I have been the only real 'girlfriend', and that was when we were six. As nice as that time was, I am much happier the ways things are now."

"...and 'how are things now'?"

"Hold that thought, do you see that open window on the fourth floor?" Pai nodded. "That looks like an office, and the last person just left the room, I think we can get in there, can you make the jump from here, or will you need a hand?"

"Jump? From here?? Are you crazy???"

"I will take that as the latter, hold on tight, and don't make a sound." Ukyo scooped Pai into her arms, and leapt from their position in the tree, to the ledge on the building across the street, without making a sound. Pai was a bit less discreet, not expecting such a thing was even possible, let alone carrying someone. She could leap a story or so, but that was pushing it. Luckily, her 'eep' went unnoticed by the residents, as far as they could tell anyway, and they climbed into the open window, and began to snoop around.

They found many things that might be useful, some more helpful than others. Unfortunately for Ukyo, Pai was needed to figure out exactly what each thing was, and if it was useful. Pai's curiosity got the better of her though, and she tried to continue their earlier conversation.

"But, back to what we were talking about. You call Ranma 'yours' but you say you are not a 'girlfriend', why do you say that? What does that mean?"

"I say that because Ranchama is my world, my everything. Ranchama does not belong to me, if anything it is the other way round. I am, after all, proud to call myself, 'Ranchama's concubine', it is the best 'position' anyone could ask for."

"WHAT?!?!?!?!?"

Pai's scream brought with it the sounds of many heavy feet, getting louder. Ukyo quickly returned the ledger she was examining, threw one hand over Pai's mouth, and the other grabbed her by the waist, as she leapt back out of the window, and began roof-hopping away, almost faster than Pai could react to what was happening.

Pai did not like being 'manhandled' in such a way, but it only took her a moment to realize that Ukyo was doing what she had to do to keep them safe.

As soon as they had gotten far enough away that Ukyo was sure they were not being followed, she set Pai back down, and reacted rather harshly, something Ranma would not have believed his friend capable, even if he had seen it with his own eyes. "What the hell, Pai? That was a stealth mission, incase you've forgotten! You could have gotten us captured, or killed! And now they are going to be on guard for a while, and that we were not able to put everything back as it was, just makes it worse!"

Pai looked appropriately sheepish over her actions, "I am sorry, I really am, I didn't mean to, but it's just what you said, you are what?"

"I am Ranchama's concubine! Is that so hard to grasp? Didn't most great men in history have them? Many women did too. You couldn't ask for a better deal in life. I am being raised and supported by a rich loving family ...which they would have done anyway. I am treated like a queen. I can do anything I want to do. On top of all of that, I get to keep my family name. As the last member of my family line, that is important to me. If I have children, at least one of them will be a Kuonji, and carry on my family's art.

"My father requested that I become Ranchama's bride, but I turned that 'job' down, a wife is chosen out of duty, and has many responsibilities, whereas as the head concubine, my only requirement is to love, and be loved by, the man of my dreams... What part of that sounds like a bad deal?"

"Well, when you put it that way, but ...wait-a-minute, did you say 'head concubine'?"

"Well, of course! A gentleman (or lady) should have as many concubines as they can 'take care of', in more ways than one, and my Ranma-sama can make you climax with a touch of a finger, even getting your hair brushed is an orgasmic experience! You have no idea. Ranma-sama is so skilled, that I doubt any woman could handle it alone!"

"Are you sure it's not just you?"

"Oh no! I have seen many girls fall victim to the skill of those fingers. Even miomo-sama fell victim to it, when the skill was first developed, before we knew what it was doing."

"Ewww!"

"Yeah, that's what we said when we figured it out. I feel for both of them, especially miomo-sama, who cannot enjoy it, it's just so sad. Miomo-sama wouldn't explain what happened, just said never to do it again, but to become a man, that technique needed to be mastered, so I became the 'test dummy'. I can't recommend it enough, really, even a scalp massage would change your life. ...it's way better than anything I can do to myself, that's for sure. See for yourself. Look at the faces these girls made in these pictures I took." Ukyo held out a small handful of pictures, showing women and girls, from Renka to Kyoshi, all with looks of extreme ecstasy, unable to resist the pleasure they were feeling. "This is just from a massage, and Ranma-sama just keeps getting better all the time."

Shocked at the fact that the girl even had pictures, let alone what was in those pictures, some of the most beautiful girls she had ever seen in her life, making faces, she had never seen on anyone before. One of them had to be at least as old as Nodoka. "How long have you two been ...intimate? And, were you the only one Ranma has been with? Or have all of these girls done it too?"

"Well, that depends on what you mean by the word 'intimate'. We have been very close friends ever since we were children, long before they unofficially adopted me, and Ranchama has been making me feel wonderful for years, but did not 'turn me into a woman' until my last birthday. Outside of Hong Kong, that is the age of consent here in China. If we had been back home, miomo-sama would probably have had us do it a year sooner, since that is the legal age there. But we haven't really done it that many times, we both felt like we were too young yet and wanted to wait, it was more of a cumming of age, ceremonial thing, like red beans and rice. I have been the only one so far, unless you count the 'instructor' Miomo-sama sent us to, before I was old enough to join in. Ranma-sama needed to learn from the best, after all.

"However, I am the one who judges who is worthy of the master's touch, and I was given only two tasks tonight, and now I have to go back and, for the first time, say I have failed at the lesser of the two tasks! Since any helpful information, other than floor plans, that we collected is most likely useless now, since they were alerted to our presence by SOMEONE I won't mention."

"I am really sorry, I am, I was just so shocked. You talk about that, like it is normal, but really, it's not. Most women I know would not want to share their man, and most men I have known are rather possessive of their woman. Jealousy is a very common trait out in the real world. You are more accepting than I am. I don't think I would be willing to share my man with another woman, no matter who it was. I can't imagine..."

"What, you never learned to share? Jealousy is one of the worst emotions our species has, it's something we should be ashamed of, not proud! Jealousy and greed are 'vices', not 'virtues'. If giving up on jealousy is the 'price' I paid for the happiness I have in my life, then it was a very small price to pay indeed, one I would gladly pay a hundred times over. I have been saved by Ranchama more times than I can keep track of, I owe them my life and happiness many times over. That is why I have sworn my oath of loyalty, and why I will follow, and take care of Ranma-sama's every need. Until the day I die, I will do everything in my power to get between anyone or anything that tries to do harm to my Ranchama. Kami-sama saw fit to drop them into my life when I needed them most, and I will do ANYTHING to keep them safe, do you get me, girl?"

"What? Are you trying to say I am not good enough for your 'Ranma-sama'? Is that it? Because of one simple mistake? Who said I even wanted that? I wasn't trying to come between you."

"I say you want that. I saw that look in your eyes. It is a look I have seen in many eyes, especially those I see in the mirror. For that matter, I am willing to overlook what happened tonight, because only we were in danger, and not even mention why we failed in our task, though, careless mistakes as a martial artist cost people their lives, but hey, we all make mistakes, ne? But let me ask you this, What have you done so far, that makes you feel that you are worthy of Ranma-sama's attention? I will grant you that you are very pretty, but there are a lot of girls out there that are just as pretty, if not prettier. Why should I allow my precious family to continue to put themselves into harm's way for you? You who would strike that beautiful face simply because your name happens to sound similar to our favorite dessert? Give me one good reason not to tie you up, hand deliver you back to these Koenkan guys, and tell my family that 'the problem was solved, the guy was easier to handle than we thought'."

"You wouldn't!?!?!" Pai was slowly trying to back away, looking panicked.

"Try me! I know how outclassed you were in the spar, and I am almost as good, it would be a simple matter, and I would still succeed at my second task. Since you would be 'safe' in the hands of your 'future husband'."

"What exactly was your second task anyway? I only knew about sneaking in there, what are you not telling me?"

"Isn't it obvious? The same as it was when we first met, Ranma-sama ordered me to keep you safe, and by the Kami, THAT is what I will do! Now as I was saying, give me one good reason not to change the definition of 'safe'. That is all I am asking for, one reason, and we can go back to happy land. Hell, I might even help you, if I like your reason."

"So let me get this straight, this is mostly about the fact that I slapped him, because of my misunderstanding? Is that the real issue you have with me?"

Ukyo nodded. "You got it, sister. Although, obviously, if we train together, I won't have a problem with you trying to land a blow, as long as it doesn't go overboard. But I will NOT stand by and let anyone harm that man for no good reason! Even if our healing techniques work really well. Ranma-sama will not be abused nor taken advantage of if I can prevent it!"

"Look, I am really sorry about that, I wasn't thinking, I have a bit of a temper, I know. I react without thinking, it's part of my style. It's based on speed, and quick reaction time. Well, that and I have always been kind of ...high strung. It's a flaw, in myself and in my training. I am trying to work on it, but it's just that most of the men I have known were jerks, and well, that didn't help. I am just so used to most men, starting with my father on up, treating me badly because I was a girl, or because I was young, or whatever, I just expect the worst. I really didn't mean to. Please, can't we start over?"

"Sure, Sugar. I guarantee that Ranma-sama is not like that. You could not ask for a kinder, more gentle man. Sometimes, too kind for his own good, that's why he needs people to look out for him." Ukyo wrapped her arm around Pai's shoulders, with a big smile on her face and in her eyes, and a sweet tone in her voice. "So, let's be friends." She scooped her legs up in her other arm, and started hopping from roof to roof, on the way back toward their hotel. Her voice got even sweeter, as she continued, "I will even help you train, we will be sure to break that bad habit. Because if I find out it happened again, I will accidentally break one of your fingers."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Pai was a bit unnerved as they returned. Even though the 'scary Ukyo' was gone, and the 'friendly Ukyo' was back, chitchatting all the way back to their room. Studying English in her preparations to leave for the United States, she had heard about their 'scared straight' program, but she did not think it was supposed to work like this! What she said was true, she did want to change, and if what Ukyo had said about Ranma was true, he might be good therapy for her. Worst-case scenario, if she really needed to hit someone, she could always hit Ryoga, the scary girl didn't seem to mind that too much. Although, that made Pai feel bad, considering what the lost boy had been through in his life. While she was lost in thought, concern written on her face, Ranma began to inquire how their mission went.

"So, how did it go? Learn anything useful? I hope you girls had fun, and got along without me." Ranma grinned at his friend.

"Of course, Ranma-sama, we got along swimmingly. Pai is a wonderful girl. Make sure you treat her well. That girl really needs your care and understanding." Ukyo instantly lost her previous cheer, and was down on her knees almost instantly, begging for forgiveness. "I am so very sorry Ranma-sama, we did get a bit of information, but we were noticed, so it is likely that anything we learned about scheduling will no longer hold true. We did get a good look at the area, and found what looked like their boss' office. We also learned some disturbing information on one 'Project D'. If at all possible, we really should put a stop to that. We did not have time to learn much about it, but from what we did learn, the implications are ...unpleasant. Brainwashing, copying people's skills, implanting memories, some evil stuff out of science fiction nightmares."

"That IS bad. You are right. We need to see if we can find a way to stop that. More importantly, are you two okay? You didn't get hurt during that did you?"

"No, Ranma-sama, as you ordered, keeping Pai safe was the top priority! On the other hand, I do have one more thing to add Ranchama. I got four points while we were out!"

Ranma pulled Ukyo to her feet, and took her into his arms, giving her a hug. "You know keeping yourself safe, is just as important to me, I figured that went without saying. Even if you are trying to rack up points while I am not playing'..." He kissed her on the cheek and said, "I kept the bath warm for you, so why don't you two go get cleaned up. I brewed the ki tea we got from master Shun and filled our gourds, and set up a few other tricks for us, but in light of what happened it might be best for us to lay low for a while. Ofukuro-chan and Puppy went out to call her contacts, and pick up a few supplies, so save them some hot water."

Ranma started to let go, but Ukyo leaned in and whispered into his ear, "Would you please brush and fix our hair when we get out? It would help us relax after the stressful night." A bit louder she added, "You know, you could come and wash my back too, I know I would find that especially relaxing. How about you, Pai? Would you like this big strong man to wash your delicate back? Ranchama is really good at it, I am sure you would enjoy it." She giggled as Pai stiffened up.

"You guys bathe together?!?"

"Ever since we were kids. Mixed bathing was pretty common around much of Asia, Japan, Korea, Cambodia, and so on. It's starting to fade out now, due to western influence, but we are an old-fashioned family. If you are against it, it's okay. I have had my bath already, so you two can wash each other's backs. I understand. I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

Not wanting cause any more problems with Ukyo, especially since the girl had kept the reason for their failure to herself, but still not wanting to spend that much time alone with her, not after the evening they had. She had been so scared for a moment there, that she had almost lost control of her bladder. She certainly did not want to do anything that might set her off again. Therefore, as weird as it seemed to her, the prospect of bathing with Ranma in the room seemed better than without. However, she wanted to try one last attempt at getting out of it, and maybe score some points with Ukyo for helping her get some alone time with Ranma. "It's not so much that I am against it, per say, it's just odd to me. Why don't you two go first, and I will wait until..."

Ukyo cut her off by grabbing her arm and pulling toward the bathroom. "Oh no you don't, Sugar. You are not getting out of this that easily! You too Ranma-sama, we need you."

"...wait... I'm not ready! I am not mentally prepared for this...!"

"Ranma-sama will just be washing your back, it's no big deal! Trust me, you'll love it. It will be well worth any embarrassment you might feel."

"How many times do I have to tell you Ucchan? You just like being embarrassed. Not everyone is like that. If she doesn't want to, it's fine."

"No, it's okay, I don't really mind, exactly. I would actually kind of prefer if you were there. It will make me feel 'safer' ...you know, incase someone attacks us, or something." She quickly amended, not wanting to let on that it was Ukyo she was more afraid of than anything. Pai knew that if Ukyo wanted to try something, there would not be anything she could do to stop it. Much more training would be needed.

Ukyo, knowing the rest of the story, was able to deduce Pai's reasoning, and gave a sly smile. She was quite happy with the way her plan was working out, even if it meant she had to be the 'bad guy' momentarily. It was for the girl's own good after all. Pai had had a hard life, and she deserved some happiness. Not to mention, she felt Ranma needed more pretty girls following him around, it was hard to take any satisfaction in being the 'head concubine', if you were the only one after all, besides, she was tired of being the only girl in their group. Nodoka was great, but it was not the same as having another girl around the same age with them. Getting Renka to follow seemed to have failed, but maybe better luck will be had with Pai...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The bath went much better than Pai had hoped, the last time she had bathed with anyone else, was with her mom, and that was long before she had died. Oh sure, she was extremely embarrassed at first, but Ranma had been a perfect gentleman (and specimen), never leering, and almost always looked her in the eye, as far as she could tell anyway, not that she could say the same thing. She assumed that her theory was true, that Ukyo would not do anything mean as long as Ranma were present. In fact, the self-proclaimed 'concubine' had been incredibly nice and helpful, as if none of the day's events had occurred and they had been friends for a long time. It was all very strange to Pai, she was not sure what to think.

However, when Ranma started to wash her back, she had lost all interest in thinking or anything else. Pai had never felt anything like it before, it was as if little sparks of electricity were entering her body as his fingers scrubbed her back, which, being wet, would not have been good, if accurate, so it had to have been something else. Pai tried to resist the feelings at first, by reciting, '\Three point one four, three point one four, three point one four...\' but her resistance did not last long, partially because, ironically, Pai didn't know 'pi' very well. She could not even remember getting into the tub. They must have helped. When Ranma started to wash her hair, she lost what had remained of her awareness of the surroundings. She could have been anywhere and did not care. The sensations of the fingers scrubbing and caressing her scalp traveled down her spine and to the rest of her body. She did not notice her toes curling, nor her body convulsing as she had her very first orgasm, let alone one from a scalp massage. She failed to notice the other teens help her out of the tub, and over to a stool, where they began to dry her off. Nor did she notice Ranma drying and brushing her hair, nor Ukyo cleaning her up after her second climax squirted across the room. She did not notice Nodoka's camera peeking into the room, recording all of this to 'embarrass Ranma with' later, nor the other teens dressing her and carrying her to a bed. She did not even hear Ranma say to Ukyo, "The ki treatment went well, I am surprised how well. When Pai wakes up, we will need to explain it. We wouldn't want anyone to get hurt, due to lack of control."

Having never felt so relaxed, Pai slept like a baby, which was not to say she woke up every couple of hours, but rather, did not wake until hearing Ranma's voice, and feeling his hand lightly touching her shoulder. "Konichiwa, sleepy-head. You slept through breakfast, so I figured you would be starving. I brought you 'lunch in bed'. I hope you like it. I made it myself. You will need your energy, so eat up."

Pai's eyes fluttered open, and looked right into Ranma's steel-blue eyes, filled with concern. "Jousahn Ranma." The look of slight confusion on the boy's face, quickly brought her out of her stupor, and helped her to realize she was speaking her native Cantonese. "Sorry Ranma, I thought I was still dreaming, I never could have expected something like this," she said indicating the food, "to really happen. Ukyo was right, you really are a kind man."
{*Jousahn = 'Good Morning' in Cantonese*}

"We need to talk, Pai. Go ahead and eat, and especially drink the tea, it will help you feel much better. I need to explain to you something I did last night."

The mention of the prior evening brought with it, her incomplete memories of what they had done, and she instantly got embarrassed, the blush lighting up the room, in more ways than one. Ranma was momentarily distracted by how cute she looked when blushing like that. "What exactly DID happen last night?" Mentally she added, 'and why can't I remember much of it?' "I can't remember much after you started washing my back and hair."

"Well, that happens sometimes," It was Ranma's turn to look embarrassed, "it does get a bit easier to 'stay aware', the more you get used to it, or so Ucchan tells me."

"Are you saying you are going to do that to me again?" Pai was not sure how she felt about that, she had never felt so good before, and it kind of scared her. Her life had been so focused on revenge, that she was not sure how to deal with it. Since her mother died, the only time she had been able to put her anger and mistrust aside was when she danced. Dancing was her only joy in life, and even that was more of a neutral state, rather than actual joy. Nonetheless, she enjoyed dancing. It let her tune out all of her problems, unlike the art, which helped to focus them. The prior evening had blown all of that out of the water, making her realize how sad her life had really been.

"If you want, I am used to it, ofukuro used to have me practice on both of them, but one day told me I had gotten too good at it, and had to stop. So now, I only get to practice on Ucchan most of the time. It was nice to have someone else to practice on, and your hair is beautiful, you must take good care of it."

"You really think so? I do use a special herbal shampoo that I got from one of my father's teachers. Did I hear you right? That you said you trained under a Shun? Was that Shun Di, the herbal doctor?"

"Hai! So you know Shifu? I learned a lot, shifu Shun was one of the best teachers I have had. The training was hard, but worth it!" Ranma always got excited when talking about training, this was no exception.

"That's great! We haven't seen each other in a long time, but I used to love when we would go visit. Such a wise and kind old man."

"Isn't that the truth? I learned far more than the art while we stayed there. Truly a wise man indeed."

"Look Ranma, last night felt really good, I mean REALLY good, but I am not sure how I feel about it. I am not used to being naked around others, I normally bathe alone, and I am kind of shy." Pai's voice got quiet as she finished, "But if I am going to bathe with anyone else, I want you to be there to protect me."

"Pai, if you ever need help with anything, I will always be willing to do what I can, but why would you need 'protection' in the bath?"

"Oh, no reason, just call me paranoid." Pai laughed uncomfortably. "It's just that you are the first person I have felt I could really trust." Pai tended to trust her instincts, they tended to be pretty accurate, most of the time.

Ranma's face darkened at that, "Well, what I have to tell you might change your mind."

Pai looked concerned at that, her mind quickly tried to fill in the blanks in her memories of the night before.

"I did something to you last night, which apparently you haven't noticed yet. Something that I probably shouldn't have done without your permission. Ucchan was persistent, and you really DID seem to need it, but that does not change the fact that I took liberties with you that I should not have done, and we need to talk about it. I deserve one hundred percent of the blame, it was completely my fault!"

Pai was in a panic. 'That Bitch! I was not ready for that, at the very least, I wanted to remember it! It's NOT FAIR!' She DID want to hit the handsome boy. It was only that promise and fear of fingers being broken that kept the instinctive reaction in check. "You didn't!?!?! You mean you RAPED ME?!?!?" As it was, she had almost knocked over her half empty tray of delicious food in the process anyway. Luckily, Ranma was quick to react, and kept it from spilling a drop.

"HELL NO! I would NEVER! No, no, no. I would hurt anyone who even tried to do that!!! Just ask Ucchan what happened to the last guys who tried that! Those guys will never rape anyone again! A real man would never have sex with someone who is not a willing participant! Wait, wait..." Ranma took a moment for them both to calm down. Ranma's reaction was certainly not what Pai had expected, the hurt and anger in those eyes scared her, but, strangely, at the same time, put her mind a bit more at ease before Ranma continued. "I do owe you an explanation, and an apology, let me explain fully first, then you can hit me, or whatever, if you want. I did do something bad, but not THAT bad. Let me ask you this first, how much do you know about ki use?"

"Not a lot I guess, mostly from movies."

"Okay, I guess I need to start at the beginning, do you want the long or short version?"

"Um, short I guess, if I need more, I will ask you to explain, is that okay?"

"Sure, no problem." Ranma smiled, as warmly as possible, after being accused of rape. "Ki, qi, or chi, as you guys say here, is life energy, mana, your battle aura, and more. Every living thing has it, even the planet (or so I was taught). True martial artists train to use it, and can employ it to do amazing things. The way you are able to jump almost a story in the air and land safely, being able to sense an attack without seeing it, being able to heal faster than most people, all ki use. You have it and use it every day, whether you realize it or not. I started training in its specific use when I was four years old. Kiyoshi-sensei is a ki master. Just don't make jokes about my mom being the gate-keeper."

"What?"

"Um, never mind. Kyoshi-sensei taught us some amazing things, some things that many people would consider 'magical'. Like this." Ranma held out a hand, and created a ball of golden ki, that looked as if it were 'flaming'.

Pai was amazed. It was even more amazing than in the movies. "Isn't that hot?"

"Nope. Here, touch it." Ranma held out that hand and Pai passed her hand through the 'flames'. "It can be hot, but I am not using 'angry ki'. If I use different emotions to 'power' it, I can make it cold to the touch, or even warm and comforting."

"Wow... and you are saying that I can learn how to do that?"

"Oh sure. It would take some time, but I can teach you if you want. You would have to put up with us for a while though." Ranma started to regain his humor, and grinned at the cute girl who was listening eagerly to every word. Concentrating, the ball formed into the shape of a pink card, which Ranma tossed into Pai. The girl jumped at first, but was almost instantly filled with feelings of comfort and joy. Pai relaxed, feeling more content than anytime the girl could ever remember in her life.

"As cool as that is, what does it have to do with what you were talking about, and why am I supposed to get mad? You are not trying to force me to love you are you?"

"NO! I would NEVER! That is SO wrong! I only want you to be happy, to succeed. You deserve all of the joy and happiness you can find in life. It's none of my business who you love! Now, as I was saying. You have and use ki every day, even if you were not aware of it. You use it to make yourself stronger, tougher, faster, and more. We all have a bit of subconscious control over it. Each of us can only hold so much, and it takes a while to 'recharge' when used. We can also channel it from our surroundings, but that is harder, slower, and you need to be careful not to take too much, too quickly, or you can kill the things that are 'loaning' you their life force. The point is, that the more you use it, and the better control you have over it, the more you can 'hold' and the faster it will regenerate. I learned a technique, a long time ago, that can slowly boost a person's ki abilities."

"And THAT was what you did to me? THAT is what this is all about?"

"Well, yes, yes it is. But there was also a slight problem." Ranma got rather embarrassed, his hands behind his back, as he shuffled his feet a bit.

Pai was feeling a bit worried at that. "So, what was this 'problem'?"

"Well, it can be dangerous, and you see, um, you were in such a 'receptive state' that, um, well, it was far more effective that I had intended. I need to train you carefully for a while, and you MUST take it easy, if you are not careful you can seriously damage your ki system, and maybe never fight again, or even die, worst case scenario. So, I am begging you, even if you cannot forgive me, please let me train you for a few days, at least, so you can get used to what you can do now. I just want to make sure you do not hurt yourself or anyone else accidentally." Ranma was on his knees, hands pressed together, and his head was bowed. "I am really sorry Pai, I went too far. I have no excuse for what I have done, and I swear I will make it up to you, anyway I can!"

"Ranma, between what I have seen of you guys capable of, and what you have told, and shown me this, um, morning? You have impressed upon me the need for this training, and you were only trying to help me. I don't know why, but when I am near you, I just feel like I can trust you. It's the strangest thing, most people give me the opposite feeling, if anything."

Ranma stood up, clasped Pai's hand in both of his, and said, "Thank you, I promise you will not regret it, if you stick through the training. It won't be easy at first, but I swear to you, that it is worth it. To answer your question, you may not be able to see them yet, but we will work on that, but you can feel mine, and other's auras when you are near them, as I said, you are using it, even if you are not aware of it."

Pai blushed a bit when Ranma took her hand, enjoying the touch and the 'electricity' she felt with that contact. "So, you mean to tell me, that you can 'see' auras?"

"Certainly, I have gotten into the habit of 'reading' almost everyone I meet, it keeps me from repeating a mistake I make a while back. Point is, I read yours when we met, it is how we knew we could trust you, why we are helping you, and why we are letting you stay with us. I wouldn't do this for just anyone, no matter how cute they are."

"So, I have to ask then, you think I am cute? Er, I mean, what does my aura look like?"

"Oh yes, very much so, quite beautiful in fact, but, to really explain the other thing, I need to tell you about the different kinds of auras. There are several levels of aura reading. The most basic ability lets someone see another's battle aura, when it is active. The battle aura is purely based on emotion, whatever you are feeling will influence the colors of your battle aura. If you advance beyond that, you can learn to see auras that are not being actively used. This aura is the 'outer aura'. It is a mixture of your emotions, health, and personality. Few users ever get to this level, and fewer still ever get beyond that. The most advanced users can see the 'true' or 'inner' aura. This requires a lot of skill, and is not something you can 'see' with your eyes, you must 'look' with your aura itself. It requires you 'separate' your aura from your physical self. Kind of like what they call 'astral projection'. At the lower levels of this, you leave your body vulnerable, and it is dangerous to use when you are not in a safe place. Recently I have been able to only extend my aural senses part way out, so I can still maintain control of my body, but it feels weird, like I am controlling a puppet underwater. But, time seems to slow down in 'spirit form', so it is hard to say, that might be why it feels that way, I have only just started to get the hang of it." Ranma's eyes lost focus, and he slumped for a moment, when he spoke again, his voice sounded a bit hollow and far away.

"But back to your original question. Your true aura, the one that matters most, is a mixture of shades of blues, meaning that you are a loving, caring, and truthful. There are shades of pink swirling around in there, that indicate that you are innocent, healthy, kind, gentle, and intuitive. But there are also flecks of other, darker colors, some sadness, pain, loss, and desperation." Ranma's posture improved, as his eyes regained focus. "This is why I am willing to trust you, and why I want to help you. Anyone with an aura that nice deserves to be happy, and I want to help you rid yourself of that darkness. You have the potential for greatness, to be a shining beacon to others, and spread joy, wherever you go, you just need to see it for yourself, and strive for the stars."

Pai was almost in tears, not even her own parents, had ever been so supportive and encouraging. Her father was too self-absorbed, and her mother had always been too busy, working several jobs to support them. She was completely at a loss for words, and was afraid that if she did try to speak, it would come out as sobs. She wanted to tell Ranma that he was full of it, and that she wasn't going to fall for his flattery. The problem was, she was 'falling for it', from the look on his face, the emotion in his voice and eyes, and the feelings she got when he was close, all screamed at her that this was no trick. After all, if he had wanted to do anything to her, he could have already, and she would never have even been aware of it. These people, whom she had just met the day before, had shown her more trust, caring, and respect than she could remember. Her father cared more about his art, her mother had never had time for her (for which she blamed her father), and the Koenkan only wanted her as a trophy, a tool to use for Liu's ambition for power. If he married her, and officially became a member of the family, her father might name him the successor to Koenkan, instead of just the acting head. Something he wanted badly.

While Pai was lost in her thoughts, Ranma turned to her and put his finger to his mouth in a 'shushing' gesture, and winked. He slowly crept over to the door of the room, and gave the door a hard thump, not enough to damage it in any way, but hard enough to make a loud noise and send vibrations through it. He then opened the door, sending Nodoka and Ukyo into a frantic attempt to look busy, and certainly not in any way eavesdropping or anything. Ranma gave them both a dirty look, as he closed the door and returned to Pai's side.

Pai was stifling a laugh at the reaction she had just witnessed. Seeing 'the dreaded Ukyo' getting caught by Ranma and panicking so comically, had gone a long way toward helping her switch from a crying sort of happy, to a laughing sort of happy. Pai's day just kept getting better. She was not thrilled about being spied on, but the looks on their faces were priceless. It made it worth being overheard, it's not like they had really talked about anything the others didn't know about anyway. Besides, it seemed like the training she could get here would go a long way toward her goal, even if slightly adjusted. America could wait. "Let me ask you one question first. If I accept this training, would I need to join your school? Stop practicing my style? Or anything like that?"

"I would make sure you were accepted if you wanted to join, but there would be some requirements, we can discuss later, if you decide to do so, but no, I owe you this for what my carelessness caused. It would not be right to force you into anything because of my mistake. We are the Saotome branch of Anything-Goes, Martial Arts Study. Our philosophy is 'anything-goes', we study every style we can, and adapt as much of it as we need into our personal styles. Every student has their own unique variation of the style, and the Saotome branch specializes in aerial combat, and now ki use. Your style would actually fit right in with ours." Ranma gave her a broad grin, which made her want to both giggle at how silly it looked, and melt at how dashing it make him look, in a wild sort of way.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The girls sporadically received mail from Ranma, Ukyo or both these days, but it had been a while, and since they had not spent any time in one place for long since the month they trained with the Ma school, they had not been able to receive any of the mail the girls had sent. It had been a long several months without 'proper communication'. They were a bit surprised when they had gotten a separate letter from each of them, that usually only happened when the girl was trying to hide something from Ranma, and it was a long way until his next birthday, so they were a bit confused.

Curiosity got the better of them, and they put Ranma's tape aside, and opened Ukyo's letter first.

'Dear girls,

As you know from listening to Ranchama's sexy voice on the tape, we finally made it to Hong Kong, trying to find the exile, and as you should also know (because I know you would choose to listen to that, before reading any of my pathetic words, I know I would), that he stopped to help another girl named Pai, who was being kidnapped by people who wanted to force her to marry against her will, and that she is staying with us, while we stay here and take down the criminal organization that was targeting her (isn't he just awesome?), and find the exile that we hope will lead us to the Nujie Zu. But I am sure he explained it better than I ever could, and you would enjoy hearing him talk more than reading my humble words. We are not planning to be here long, and probably will not be able to get the mail forwarded yet.

BUT, I didn't write this to tell you about that stuff, this is time for some 'girl talk'. As you know, it is difficult for me to find private time to write this, but since Ranchama is helping that girl train, I have had a bit of free time. Ranchama's massage techniques are getting much better, I hope we do find the Nujie Zu, it will grant many more opportunities to refine the technique. I can't wait for you girls to get to experience it, you will just die, well, not literally, in fact, I will bet heaven itself pales by comparison. Even the desserts that man makes are not as good, and they are heavenly.

I included some more pictures for your collection. There are some in the coat I made, many without a shirt on, a habit I am enjoying a lot. There are also quite a few from 'family bath time'. You will notice that Pai has joined us, for now at least. I hope the girl stays. It would be nice to not be the only girl in our group. Ranchama deserves only the best, ne? Like you three. At first the girl was a bit rude to Ranchama, but after a short talk, Pai is taking to the rules quite well.

She is a cute girl, and speaks Japanese quite well. I am sure you will get along nicely, assuming I can get the girl to come... with us that is. I will end this letter now, and let you go to what I know you would rather be doing, staring at sexy pictures of Ranchama!

Love,
~Ukyo.'

The three girls went straight for the pictures, quickly flipping through, until they came to the bath time pictures. Most of the 'bath' pictures were only of Ranma, and the three drooling girls enjoyed them quite a bit, but when they got to one that had Pai in it, the reactions were mixed.

Nabiki scowled, she was not sure why she was unhappy, it could be that she did not like the idea of this incredibly cute girl that close to Ranma, or if she was jealous of not being the one making that face, but either way, she was jealous. 'That's not fair, I want Ranma-kun to wash my back too!'

"Oh my, that girl certainly is pretty, ne?"

Fubuki nodded, "Hai, Kasumi-sama, he looks quite skilled too, if the look on Pai-sama's face is anything to judge by." Fubuki got lost in thought, imagining herself in the bath, with her 'master' behind her, scrubbing her back like that. She might have to 'borrow' that scrapbook later in the night... What she did not know, was that the other girls were having the same idea.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Kasumi was sneaking into the clubhouse from the garden entrance, doing her best not to wake anyone. She moved quietly down the secret passage toward their main room. When she opened the hidden panel in the hidden passage, she saw that someone had beaten her there.

"Fukibuki? What are you doing here at this hour?"

"Um, er, I, uh, I mean... getting a cookie?"

Kasumi looked Fubuki up and down, tracked where she was heading and said, "From the bookshelf? ...Fukibuki, are you here for the scrapbook too?"

Fubuki blushes, looking down at the floor, then looks straight at Kasumi. "...too? You mean..."

Now it was Kasumi's turn to blush as she nodded. Kasumi's voice got ever quieter than the whispered tones they were already using, and said, "Well, we could BOTH 'borrow' it..." She did not want to deprive her friend of her entertainment for the evening, but she didn't want to do without her own either. They were blushing so brightly, that if the room had windows, a pink light would have been emanating from them, lighting up the yard. Luckily, the lighting tubes for the room were closed.

The two girls ran off to find a place where they could have some privacy, to 'read'.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Unknown to her, Nabiki arrived in the clubhouse shortly after the others left, to find that the scrapbook, that she had wanted to 'study', was missing. She gave this some thought, it seemed familiar somehow, as if this had happened before, or something very like it. Now why is that?

After pondering the mystery for a short time, she remembered her onee-chan sneaking the book from her room, to the clubhouse one night, a couple of years ago. She never did solve that mystery. Maybe she has it again, and if so, maybe she could figure out what she was doing with it. Mystery in hand, Nabiki forgot all about her original plans of drooling over the naked pictures.

Nabiki snuck off to check Kasumi's room. She listened at the door, and didn't hear anything, so she peeked inside, and saw nothing, no one was in the room.

The mystery deepened. Nabiki then checked their bathroom, the kitchen, the living room, she ignored the guest room, where that 'kunoichi' was staying, but went on to check both dojo buildings, and still found nothing. That left the obvious deduction that she was in the Saotome house. Since she started in the clubhouse, she skipped that, and used the passages to peep into the rooms on the first floor, and still, found nothing other than Maid Guy in his room, and Genma snoring away on his bed. Nabiki was glad Genma was not sleeping in the nude, and that he was under the covers, but kicking herself for having forgotten which room was his from inside the passages in the first place. She decided to skip the new area in the new subbasement area, because as far as she knew, they were unaware of them. Can always check them later.

Unfortunately, the only passages she knew about for the rooms upstairs, were under the floorboards, and not between the walls, making that difficult to check, so she elected to just sneak around up there the old fashioned way. She checked Fubuki's room, very carefully, expecting her to be in the room, and not wanting to disturb the hard working girl, but had to check anyway. The fact that she was not in her room either, mean they were likely together, curiouser and curiouser. Next she moved to the Saotome-furo and looked in each area, and still no Kasumi, nor apparently Fubuki, who is also missing.

There was only one room left, 'They can't be!' Nabiki almost ran for the last, unchecked room, unable to believe it. She quickly opened the door to Ranma's room, honestly expecting it to be empty. Nabiki was not wrong very often, but this was one of those times.

There, in the middle of the floor, surrounded by naked pictures of Ranma, were a nude Kasumi and Fubuki, making out and playing with each other. Nabiki's usual eloquence, and grasp of this and other languages, left her completely, as she sputtered out, "Wh... Wha... What are you doing?!?!?"

"Well we started off just looking at the pictures, enjoying ourselves, then we tried pretending to wash each other's backs, and, well, one thing led to another..."

Nabiki's voice cracked badly, and her words began to slur, "Chaos Pony Investigations solved another mystery!" Then she promptly feinted as her voice trailed off, "I never get to have any F. U..." *THUMP*

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Over the next week, Ranma trained Pai, in addition to their 'normal' training, which she had been allowed to join. Pai progressed well, and after the first day and a half of training, Ranma resumed her ki modifications, being careful not to do them during 'family bath time' again. A concept, to which, she was beginning to grow accustomed. At first, she had been nervous about Ryoga, but it turned out that she did not have to worry at all, since the lost boy spent most of this time staring at the ceiling or a wall. She had felt more stares from the other women than either of the men. Whenever she would get close to Ranma, they would stare at her, with evil grins, which caused her to shrink behind Ranma for 'protection', which only caused them to grin harder. It really confused her, and made her really glad that Ranma was there, being near him was a comfort when she started to get uncomfortable.

After their workouts, Pai had been watching the other two women being massaged by Ranma, and she was a bit jealous of the fact that she was being left out. However, Ukyo had insisted on being the one to give them to Pai. Pai did not want to argue the point, and they were really good massages, so she could not really complain either. Even though in the back of her mind, she longed to be touched by the boy any time she could get him to do so, but she could not say it aloud, especially not to Ukyo. She was not even willing to admit to herself that she liked Ranma like that, never mind admitting she wanted to let the boy play with her body like a toy. On the other hand, she WAS willing to ask him to help with her hair, and wash her back every time they bathed as a 'family' (even if she did have to 'wait her turn'). There was nothing wrong with that after all, right? Since she felt the safest with him, Pai had been spending every moment she could, enjoying his calming aura.

Little did Pai realize that Ukyo had two reasons for the semi-torture. The first wanting to practice her own massage technique, and the second being that she was training Pai to fight her jealous tendencies, and instinctive violent reactions. Pai was actually doing well at this training she was not aware of doing, in part because even if she wanted to strike anyone, her body felt like rubber and could not really move well anyway. Ukyo knew that if Pai were to be accepted into their group, she would need to be willing and able to see Ranma with other girls, a good concubine should not be selfish.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Near the end of the week, Pai had accidentally overheard Nodoka and Ranma talking about an exile from the Nujie Zu, someone named 'Facial' or something. While not completely sure, Pai did recall one of her old friends mentioning someone moving in a while back, someone who had a really strange name. While they were busy, Pai snuck out to pay a visit to an old friend, to see what could be found out about this person. She wanted to help her friends, but did not want to tell them yet, incase it was a false lead, did not want to get their hopes up until she knew for sure.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Success!!! The plan worked out even better than Pai could have hoped. Not only was that the right name, but her friend had been able to direct her to where the strange woman lived. In addition to finding the woman, Pai had been able to get her to agree to meet with Ranma. The woman said something about needing to warn them if nothing else. Nonetheless, she was thrilled that she had been able to help Ranma and his family in return for all they were doing to help her. Now all she had to do was return and tell them.

Walking back to the hotel, Pai was lost in thought, so much so that she did not notice that the van approaching her was unusual until the men inside had thrown a net over her and pulled her inside, pummeling her until she stopped resisting.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ryoga was alone in the hotel room, they had been training him not to open locked doors, so they could leave him in the room and not worry about him wandering off, without having to tie him to a post like an animal, for which Ryoga was grateful. It came as a surprise when there was a knock on the one locked door in the rental, the front door, not that he could tell one door from another. Ryoga was not sure what to do, he knew the others would not expect him to answer it, but they were searching for Pai, who had been missing since the day before, and maybe it was someone with information. After an internal debate, Ryoga finally decided that opening the door would be okay, as long as he did not pass through it, and relocked it when he was done.

On the other side of said door was a tall and very beautiful woman with long pink hair. The woman spoke in Cantonese, and Ryoga did not understand a word, his Mandarin was bad, but his Cantonese was much worse. Even the rest of the family, whom Ryoga felt must have a 'knack' for languages, had not picked up a lot of it yet. However, he DID recognize one word, 'Pai'.

"You know where Pai is? Please, tell me what you know!"

The woman looked just as confused as Ryoga had a moment before and said, "/How about Mandarin, do you speak that?/"

"/No well./" Ryoga's words were slow, and painfully spoken to the woman's ears.

"/That's still better than nothing, sorry about that./" The woman's responses were also slow, due to having to think about what the boy was saying, and decipher his horrible pronunciation and grammar.

"/Me sorry too. Others speak more good, be back soon, this one hopes. We looking for Pai, you see it?/"

"/The girl came to my place yesterday, and asked me to come speak to a Ranma Saotome, are you Ranma?/"

"/Ranma gone, hope be back soon. When you see Pai?/"

"/At my place, early afternoon, but the girl left, and was to return here to tell you about me./"

Ryoga pointed to himself, "/Ryoga. Who you?/"

The tall woman smiled at the boy, "/My name is Fei Sha. I have heard you were looking for me. May I come in?/"

"Facial? /Oh, yes. Please, come. Tea want?/"

"/Close enough, and no, I am fine./" Ryoga let the woman in, and locked the door behind him. This caused the woman to raise an eyebrow, but she said nothing. It wasn't as if she could not unlock it, or even make a new 'door' if it became necessary.

"/You know Pai well?/"

"/No, we had not met before, but one of the girl's friends helped me, when I first arrived in this city, so I wanted to help Pai in return for the favor. Besides, if you people are going to look for my ex-people, than there are things you will need to know. It's not safe for you./"

Luckily, for the both of them, Nodoka entered the room, from the same locked door. "Ah, Ryoga-kun, did you leave without us? Is this the type of woman you like? Your girlfriend is very pretty, though a bit older than I would have expected."

"No, Okaa-san, this is Facial, Someone Pai met yesterday ...I think, but doesn't speak Japanese."

Nodoka turned to the pink-haired beauty, "/I heard you speaking Mandarin, I hope that is okay, none of us speak Cantonese well. My name is Nodoka Saotome. Ryoga said you spoke with Pai?/"

"/Yes, we spoke yesterday, the girl asked me to speak with you. My name is Fei Sha, or it was, before my exile from the Nujie Zu, technically now, I have no name. I had assumed you would have been informed of my visit./"

"/Oh my, that IS wonderful news. Unfortunately, Pai has not returned from the excursion. We were unaware of this outing, so you were the last one to have seen the girl. We have been searching since yesterday./"

"/Oh dear, that is not good, many bad things happen to pretty, young girls in this city. Do you have any leads?/"

"/Only one, and my son and concubine are investigating it as we speak./"

Just as she was finishing the sentence, Ranma entered the room, by way of an open window, quickly followed by a disheveled Ukyo.

"Ranma-kun, /You should refrain from doing things like that to Ukyo-chan while we are out looking for your other girlfriend!/"

Noticing the new woman in the room, and the fact that his mother was speaking Mandarin, Ranma followed suit. "/Um no, It wasn't me who did that, Ucchan's dress got caught on a branch of a tree, while we were hunting down a lead. But, as I was saying, we found where Pai is being held! But, um, who's our beautiful friend?/"

Not waiting to be introduced, the woman winked at Ranma for the compliment, and spoke up. "/You are Ranma?/" Upon seeing the nod, continued, "/My name was Fei Sha, I used to be a member of the Nujie Zu, before I was exiled. Your friend Pai came to ask me to see you, but it seems as if you have more pressing matters, may I offer my assistance?/"

"/Oh, that's great! Well, not the part about you being exiled, but the fact that Pai found you, and that you are willing to help us, but that is just all the more reason we need to go get Pai back!/"

"/Don't worry about it, considering the alternatives, exile was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Though I suppose I could have ended up in a nicer place, but hey, it could be worse, at least here, they mostly don't mind a nameless exile here. I get work, I have a place to live, and no one bothers me. Best of all I don't have to listen to those old women who try to enforce their archaic laws on anyone who passes by. But that's a story for another time, you said you learned what happened to the poor girl?/"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Pai was not having a good time. She was strapped to a chair, with a helmet on her head, which was covered in wires and electrodes. This helmet was doing something to her head, pulling out her memories of Ranma, and replacing them with images of Liu. Not only was this process quite painful, but particularly distressing to Pai. They were replacing the best memories of her life with those of the one man she hated more than even her father.

Needless to say, she was screaming, "\Ranma! Wait! No, I don't want this! I don't want to forget you Ranma! Don't want to forget! Not about Raaaaaaanmaaaaaa! Noooooooooo!\"

Aside from the woman who was controlling the machine, who seemed to enjoy torturing the girl, the few other people in the room were having to cover their ears, the longer it progressed, the louder and higher pitched her voice would get. At this point it was reaching a pitch that would shatter eardrums as it reverberated off of the metal walls of the room.

"\Is this going to take long?\"

"\Well, our equipment is severely lacking, and the procedure is experimental, so it is hard to say. It could be hours or days, we have no way of knowing at this point. But unless they want to get a fake ID card, take the girl to another country, or get the laws changed, we have almost two years, so what is the hurry?\"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma and Ukyo explained what they had learned from witnesses, that several men take Pai off of the street, and into Koenkan. They quickly came up with a plan. This new woman knew exactly where the large building was, and agreed to guide Ryoga and Nodoka there as back-up, knowing they would never be able to keep up with Ryoga in tow. As soon as the plans were formed, Ranma and Ukyo were once again, jumping from the window and across the rooftops, moving as fast as their ki enhanced legs could carry them (which was really fast).

As they approached the building, they slowed down and looked for the safest path to climb the building unnoticed. "Let's try to get as high as we can, she is bound to be near the top, and the higher we get before we enter, the less resistance we will have to face, they won't expect us coming in from above!"

"Hai, Ransama!"

Using all of the stealth they had learned from their ninjutsu lessons, and a couple of years playing 'The Game', they made their way over the outer wall, and began their climb. They quickly made their way up the side of the wall, being careful not to be seen from inside, and doing their best to stay hidden from view below, making great use of the fact that most people never look up.

As they began to near the top, Ukyo paused, "Ransama, I think I can hear her screaming! Let's hurry!"

"Right!" Another floor up and Ranma heard it as well. They were getting close. "Poor Pai! I will make sure they pay for this!"

A few more floors up, and they were even able to make out some of the words being screamed, most notably, Ranma's name. "We're going in, now!" Ranma hardened his fingernails into claws with his red-hot ki, and cut through the thick glass as if it was paper and he held razors in his hands. They jumped through the newly made opening and knocked out the few guards in the room.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nodoka was keeping an eye on the trail of ki left behind by Ranma and Ukyo as they ran, noticing that it was even then, beginning to fade, giving her a hit of how rapidly they were moving. Deciding that haste was in order, she made a decision, and quickly barked out an order. "Ryoga, get on my back. Time is of the essence! /We need to go faster, try to keep up, please. I am sorry about this./" Once Ryoga was holding on tightly, Nodoka poured ki into her long legs, and began 'running'. What looked like impossibly long strides, were actually jumps, not unlike the ones they use to jump over buildings, yet all directed into forward motion for maximum speed. Fei Sha, unburdened by a passenger, was barely able to keep up.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma and Ukyo followed their ears, moving as quickly as they could without drawing any more attention than was necessary, knocking out any guard unfortunate enough to get in the way. As they got closer to the room they needed, they had to try to tune out Pai's screams, instead of listening closely or their ears would have started bleeding. Opening doors and knocking out guards as they went, they opened one set of doors, and saw a man in a very expensive suit, clapping.

"Welcome to Koenkan. I am Liu Kowloon, and you must be that boy for whom Pai was yelling. Honestly, I did not think you would come at all, never mind getting this close. I suppose if you are going to do this much damage to my building, I owe you a beating. You and me, Let's go!"

"With what you are doing to Pai? You don't even have to ask!" Ranma's aura raged as he cracked his knuckles and started moving slowly toward the man in the English suit.

"I am not going to ask you a second time. Where is Pai?"

"You don't get to know that, until you defeat me."

Ranma started to prepare an attack, "Consider it done!"

As Ranma said this, Ukyo yelled out, "JAN KENPO!" and a huge hammer crashed down on top of Liu, embedding him in the floor.

"Ucchan!"

"Sorry, Ransama, you were taking too long, and her voice got louder when you opened the door, so we know she is this way."

They took off into the room, following the voice through several more doors, into a secret-looking lab. As they ran, Ranma asked, "A hammer?"

"I have been working on variations, so sue me!" Ukyo stuck her tongue out at Ranma. "Every Japanese girl needs a mallet."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Nodoka followed the trail, and saw it leading up the building. This worried her a bit, even though she know she would be able to make the climb, she was not so sure about the others, and did not really want to take that risk. The alternative however, was to fight their way through the building. She was not sure about Fei Sha, but knew Ryoga's skill in stealth was sub-par at best.

Fei Sha was breathing heavily, "/Out of shape, shouldn't have, stopped training.../"

"/I have an idea. We need to look professional though./" Nodoka repeated herself for Ryoga's benefit, and straightened their hair and attire, and wiped off any perspiration. "/Follow my lead, you are my assistant and translator./ Ryoga-kun, you are my bodyguard." Handing the leash to Fei Sha, she added, "/Oh, please hold this as discreetly as you can./"

They entered the building, heads held high, as if they belonged there. Heading over to the front desk, Nodoka spoke in Mandarin, while Fei Sha translated into Cantonese for the receptionist.

"\This is Nodoka Saotome, an investor from Tokyo. We have an appointment to see Liu Kowloon this afternoon.\" '/Oh, this is SO not going to work!/"

The woman was looking through her book, trying to see if there was such an appointment, and wondered why she had not been aware of it, when another person entered the building, a man in dark green, silk pants and matching shirt, with black slippers, a mustache, and a very long braid, that went passed his waist. The woman behind the desk was visibly shocked. "\Master Chan?\" The man looked over at her. "\Shall I alert Master Kowloon?\"

"\No, that will be all right, I will find Liu myself. I have learned a few things lately, and I wish to speak in private. In fact, will you please tell everyone, quietly, that the workday is over, please? Then you may take the rest of the day off as well.\"

"\Of course Master Chan!\"

"\Chan? As in Lau Chan?\"

Lau turned to the trio, as if just noticing them, "/I speak Mandarin too, and who might you be?/"

"/I am Nodoka Saotome, and we need to have a nice, long talk about your daughter./" The glint in her eye, contrasted with her calm demeanor, and left no room for the older martial artist to refuse. No matter how important his plans were, the look on her face made him unable to say 'no' to this woman.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

As Ranma and Ukyo entered the room, the shocked woman in the white lab coat started pressing buttons frantically. She finished as the two teens were still taking in the scene, and spoke into a small device. "\Stop the intruders!\"

Several things, that looked like female, chrome, robots, came out of a side room, and moved toward Ranma and Ukyo, who looked at each other, nodded, and both said, in unison, "Bake Renkangeki Suijin!!!!"

Their bodies and fists started flying in every direction, making quick work of the robots, leaving them dented and unable to move.

The woman looked scared as Ranma said, "\Free Pai, NOW!\"

"\Sure, no problem, just as you ask.\" The woman started undoing the restraints and removed the helmet. She pulled another small device out of her pocket, and said, "\Pai, get them!\"

Pai started toward Ranma, with a blank look in her eyes. "Pai, it's me, Ranma, remember! I know we haven't known each other long, but this isn't you! Fight it!"

Seeing that Ranma was not about to defend himself, Ukyo yelled at the brainwashed girl. "PAI! You know what I will do to you if you hurt Ranma-sama!!!" Ukyo rushed forward to get between them.

Pai's fingers started to twitch, and she stopped moving, rubbing her knuckles.

Ukyo turned to Ranma, keeping her body between them, and said, "Ranchama! Now, do the thing now!"

"Huh? Oh right." Ranma, picked up on Ukyo's unspoken cue and flipped over their heads to land behind Pai, and pressed a few places on her lower back.

Pai's brainwashed state had even less defense to pleasure than she normally did, and she started to convulse. Ranma caught her in his arms, and held her tightly, to keep her from lashing out, or hurting herself. They looked around the room and realized that the woman had escaped in the confusion, and decided they had more important things to worry about for now.

As Pai's fits were slowly calming down, her eyes fluttered open, and looked up at the other two teens. "Ranma? Ukyo? What? Why are you holding me like this? I barely know you!" As soon as he had set her down, she started to slap him and could not, though she did not know why, her body was not obeying her. Failing that, she opted for asking questions, "Why are we in this place? What is going on?"

"We are in that Koenkan, they kidnapped you, and were brainwashing you, but you remember us, as least, so we seem to have snapped you out of it, but..."

"I DO remember you guys, but it hurts when I try to remember anything in detail."

Ranma's eyes lost focus as he looked deeply at her aura. "Something really doesn't look right. Please Pai, I need you to trust me, and sit here and try to relax as much as you can. I am going to try and see if my healing technique will help."

"I guess, that seems a bit intimate. Do I really know you that well?"

Ukyo interjected, "Yes, yes you do! Please trust us Pai, we only want to help you."

"I guess, do you know what you are doing?"

"Mostly, I mean I haven't tried to heal brain damage before, but there shouldn't be any way for it to do any harm, I am just speeding up your body's natural healing process."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Omake 7a - by Hiryo (Not recommended for the kind hearted.)
Your last warning!

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

(It is recommended to hear the following song on YouTube, while reading the Omake. Look for: "1, 2, Freddys Coming for You - xYGRxSH" First entry.)
Not recommended for the kindhearted. Your last warning! If you're easily scared skip to //END//

What if the scrapbook scene went differently?

//Start//

A cleaver was slammed into the table.
-
"One, two, Nabiki's comin' for you."
The cleaver was ripped from the table
with chunks of wood raining onto the floor.
-
"Three, four, better lock your door."
Bloodshot eyes searched for their target.
-
"Five, six, grab your cookie mix."
Heavy footsteps followed the cookie crumbs.
-
"Seven and eight, gonna stay up late."
Fubuki munched on her cookies in her room,
sharing some with Kasumi.
-
"Nine, ten... "
The door opened up revealing the contours in silhouette,
resembling Akane holding a cleaver, with red gleaming eyes.
"...never sleep again."
-
Nabiki jumped at the thieves... "COOOOOOOOOOKIEEEEEEES!!!"

//End//

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Omake 7b {This was my reply}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

One, two, Akane's commin' for you...
Three, four, she'll break down your door...
Five, six, she'll beat those with dicks...
Seven, eight, horror on a plate...
Nine, ten, never eat again.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

End Omake

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Author's Notes

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Pai Chan
-As with the Ma family, there were some discrepancies with her name, since Cantonese is her native language, her name should be Pui Chan, but for the same reasons as the Ma family, I have decided to stick with the 'official' spelling, to avoid confusion. Apologies to the linguaphiles out there. I have taken liberties with the plots of both the anime and the game,

Liu Kowloon
-His given name spelled Ryu in Japanese, but since they are in China, I will use the Chinese spelling.

Mother
-There are many forms of this word in Japanese. Some are used to describe a mother, other are used to address them. Ranma and Ukyo use Okaa to address Nodoka directly, but when talking about her they use other words. Ukyo is using a polite form, Miomo, and Ranma is using the one he used in the cannon, Ofukuro.

He/She/Him/Her
-These words to not exist in Japanese (the closest they have are words that actually mean boy/girlfriend, used only when translating the pronouns into Japanese), I am doing my best to refrain from using them as much as I can, especially in conversations, since the characters would not be using them. However, it is a difficult thing in English. Therefore, I am having to use them more in the narration than I would like due to the gender confusion of many of the characters. I will use them more when a paragraph is from the perspective of a character and I am referring to them. In addition, occasionally I just miss it or cannot think of another way to word it. But if something seems strangely worded, that is likely the reason.
The same can be said for Chinese, at least in Cantonese, there is one word for all three, he, she and it.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

*CHARACTERS USED*

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

{Here I will list all of the important, non-Ranma characters, used in the chapter, and where they are from.}

Kogarashi the "Maid Guy" - the title character from Kamen no Maid Guy
Fubuki - The future 'Maid Guy Tamer' from Kamen no Maid Guy
Kaede Tenjoji - The headmaster of Hakureiryo Academy from Ladies vs. Butlers.
Mikan is her 'assistant' and the Head Instructor.
Mori - A maid, who will later, like her mother, to whom she bears an uncanny resemblance, work for the Amatsuka family, in GJ-Bu.
Shun Di - The drunken master and herbal doctor from the Virtua Fighter series. Some versions, including this one, say he also taught Lao Chan.
Renka Ma - From Kenichi, History's Strongest Disciple.
Pai Chan - Taken from Virtua Fighter.
Lao Chan - Pai's father.
Liu (Ryu) Kowloon - A character from the Virtua Fighter anime.
Fei Sha (Facial) - A exiled member of the Nujie Zu, that I made up. (Fei is said Fay, in case you can't figure that out).

Chapter Text



Nodoka 2/1
The Chroma Series
Act 0 Part 08

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

DISCLAIMER
Most of the characters and other elements are owned by people who are not me, though I did make up a few here and there... but none of the main ones. The rest are owned by many talented people, and a few faceless corporations, such as Rumiko Takahashi and Sega respectively (and many others). There is no point in suing me, I have nothing.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AUTHOR'S NOTES

 -WARNING- Once again, this chapter is getting a bit more 'limey', something that will be happening more often as the kids get older. You have been warned!!
 -Special thanks to my "Agent" and "Publicist" Hiryo, for proofreading, prodding, posting advice and so much more, and thank you to all of you have commented.
 -Act One will be starting before long, I tend to work on a few chapters at a time, I am scatterbrained, so I jump around and write whatever part comes to mind, sometimes I am working on up to three chapters at a time (not to mention what is off with my proof readers being corrected). However, if anyone wants to think ahead and offer up ideas I am quite open. I won't be able to use all of the ideas, and may not be able to use them as suggested, but I am interested to hear what you all want out of this story. I still have other people to work in once they get home, and several plot lines lined up, but Act One and beyond are far less planned out than the intro arc. Feel free to PM me or whatever, I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

"Speech"
'Thought' {And other emphasized items}
/Mandarin/
\Cantonese\
{Author's Notes & *Translations* Feel free to skip these}


-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

GLOSSARY (from the last chapter)

Miomo - Polite form of Mother
Ofukuro - Mother, the form Ranma uses in cannon

Jousahn = Good Morning in Cantonese

Tang (Tong) - Chinese Mafia, it literally means 'hall' or 'gathering place'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

CHAPTER 08
The Art of Film

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Akane was in the kitchen, using a meat cleaver on a fish that needed a filet knife. She was making quite a mess, cutting the skin, bones, entrails, and all, into one pile. She was completely ignoring the large signs with Maid Guy's Ten Commandments for Cooking, thinking that she no longer needed them.

 She was working with a fury at speeds in which professionals would balk. It would be impressive if it were not so disgusting.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Genma was having a particularly good day, his classes had been going well, this crop of students were progressing nicely, and the new moves his star pupils had been designing were impressive. Even heading back toward the house where he saw the aura coming from the window of the kitchen was not enough for put a damper on his good mood. Discretion being the better part of valor, not that he particularly knew much about either, he decided that his day was going so well, that he would go out to dinner to celebrate, and snuck off of the property.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Walking into the Saotome kitchen, Konatsu saw Akane 'working hard'. "There you are Akane-sa... Oh my word! What on earth are you doing to those ...fish?"

 "Isn't it obvious? I'm cooking, duh!"

 "No, what you are doing is an insult to your ingredients, and most likely many other things as well. Why are you 'cooking' with such an angry aura?"

 "I am NOT angry!"

 "Well, you were certainly ...enthusiastic. You could have been cooking using your battle aura alone. Cooking is about love. Isn't that on your sign?"

 "I don't need those anymore. See, look at my badges."

 Konatsu looked at the three badges she wore proudly on her apron. "I believe Kogarashi-sama said that you needed to earn ten of them to 'pass'."

 "Kukuku! Such a troublesome goshujin you are. Maid Guy has never done this before, but goshujin must return two Maid Guy Badges."

 "WHAT?!?! WHY?!?!"

 "You have clearly forgotten many of the lessons. Too bad, goshujin was making such progress too."

 Akane sulked over and handed two of her hard won badges to the massive Maid Guy. "Now clean up this mess, and then you will follow along and do everything Mini Maid Guy does. Mini Maid Guy, I would like you to show goshujin how to make Karei no Nitsuke. Go very slowly, and be very precise. Depending on how the troublesome goshujin does, Maid Guy may return a badge or two. You too must ...COOK WITH LOVE!"
{*Karei no Nitsuke = Simmered halibut*}

 Kogarashi went back to his duties, as Akane cleaned. Akane was not happy with the treatment she got from Maid Guy, and she still did not like the pervert, but there was no denying that the freak could cook. Better than anyone Akane had ever seen. Even her sisters were no match. It did not help matters that she felt as though she had just been told that she was not worth his time, the way she was being taught by his 'new assistant'. Even if she could not figure out why they called the 'kunoichi' 'Mini Maid GUY', she just figured that was Kogarashi's way, the man was very strange after all. However, Akane was not going to let that stop her, she had finally started showing progress, and was not about to let that setback deter her from learning to cook!

 The 'Mini Maid Guy' waited until Akane had finished cleaning, and after adjusting the apron on the maid's uniform, began preparing the ingredients for the meal. Akane did her best to copy everything that Konatsu did, using the same tools, trying to make the same motions, with the same ingredients. Akane had nowhere near the grace or skill of the ex-kunoichi, but she did her best to copy Konatsu exactly. She was, at least, a bit relieved that Maid Guy did not make her eat the mess she had made, instead of just cleaning it up ...this time.

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Genma had not been present for dinner that evening, and once the others saw Akane bringing food to the table, they instantly knew why that had been. They started to panic, especially when they saw that Akane was only wearing two of the three Maid Guy Badges she normally wore. The Mini Maid Guy, Konatsu, followed behind her carrying another tray of food.

 The two of them began to serve food from their trays to each person present, and the family stared open mouthed at the result. Akane's portion, while not looking near as nice as Konatsu's, did, in fact, look like food, unlike her usual 'culinary abortions'. She had improved greatly and it showed. They thanked them both for their hard work, and began to eat, each taking a bite of Akane's food, before washing it down with a bite of Konatsu's to 'cleanse their pallet'. Akane's food, while looking a bit off, did not taste too bad, and they all told her so, some more politely than others. She had made food for her family, and they did not complain about it. Akane could not have been more proud, and as much as she hated to admit it, she had Maid Guy and his assistant to thank for it. She swore to herself that she would do just that, after they had cleaned up from the meal.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 After the glowing faded from between Ranma's hands, he looked exhausted, having poured almost everything he had into it. He started taking drinks from his gourd, and asked, "Do you feel any better, Pai? I can't look for myself, used too much ki."

 "Well, I DO feel refreshed, but I, I cannot remember you any more clearly." '\Why is this boy, I barely know, going so far to help me?\" "And why is it you came here to get me, even if they were doing something like that, it's not like I didn't expect it, ...I thought I would be in America by now though, what happened exactly?"

 "We were training you, but you vanished on us yesterday. We have been scouring the city for you. You found the woman we were here to find to help us in return, but it seems you were captured when returning. Why didn't you ask one of us to go with you? Do you even remember any of that?"

 "I'm sorry, I don't know? Nor do I know why I would ask you, but whatever. We should probably not be here, this place is probably crawling with Koenkan."

 "True, the question is, should we smash this machine first, or do we need it to help return Pai's memories?"

 "Well, Ucchan, I hate to say it, but if all she has forgotten is us, then I do not think the risk of them using it again is worth the chance we can use it to help..., what about you two?"

 "It hurts, but I think you are right Ranchama, besides, if we do not smash it, they can always try again!"

 "We can't let them do this to someone else. I will smash it, if you do not!"

 "Ranchama, you guard Pai. I will smash it, you overtaxed yourself with that healing already, I can tell. The tea only does so much." Ukyo moved to the other side of the room, yelling out another, "Bake Renkangeki Suijin!!!!" as she smashed everything on that side of the room, leaving nothing functional. Ukyo went into the room the 'robots' had come out of, and the same smashing is heard once again. The smashing sounds went on for several minutes, then Ukyo returned and knelt before Ranma.

 "Ranma-sama, they have more kids locked up in there, but I can't figure out how to open the holding cells. It's all in Cantonese, I just cannot read it well enough to operate the controls. I am so sorry, Ransama, I am inadequate to do your service. I swear I will study harder for you."

 "I know Ucchan, you are the best friend and partner I could ever ask for, and it's not like I could do any better." Ranma smiled at his friend. "How about you Pai, do you think you are up to opening these cages? Or telling us how anyway?"

 "If there are people being held by Koenkan, I will do whatever I have to." Pai tried to get up, but Ranma held her tight.

 "No need to try to walk yet, I will carry you."

 "You don't need to carry me! I am not that bad off."

 "Don't worry about it. I understand that your legs can be wobbly for a while after the technique I used to bring you out of your mind controlled state. Sorry about that."

 Pai tried to protest, but Ranma held fast, and headed for the room Ukyo came out of. "Ucchan, please show us where those controls are located." Ukyo jumped up and ran to lead the way.

 They entered the back room and saw several electronically locked doors, and a computer console. "Here we are Ranma-sama, they are in this room."

 Ranma set Pai down near the console, yet held on to her for support, to make sure she did not fall. Pai wanted to protest, but was still feeling wobbly and Ranma's touch was having a calming effect. Pai started examining the controls, and luckily, being able to read the language, they were easy to figure out.

 Once the doors were opened, several children hobbled out of the cells. They looked terrible. "Ucchan, support Pai please." Ukyo took Pai's arm, as Ranma turned toward the children. "\Kids, please sit, be calm, me help.\ Pai, would you mind explaining that I want to heal them?"

 Pai took over communicating with the children as Ranma healed them as much as he was able. They had the children stay behind them and slowly led them out of the building. Needless to say, they were all quite amazed at the lack of resistance they were receiving on the way out. It had them quite concerned. They were worried something was plotted to destroy the building, like a bomb, so they began to hurry.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The young people made it out of the building safely, without finding anyone else. "Ucchan, can you two make sure these kids get home safely, and then head back to the room? I am going to keep looking for ofukuro-chan and the others."

 They both nodded, and Ukyo said, "Hai Ranchama! As you wish.", and Pai began talking to the children to explain that they would take them home and to ask where they lived. Ranma began to search the perimeter before heading back inside. "Be careful, Ranchama, you had better come back in one piece!"

 "You too, Ucchan, you too. I will see you soon."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma and the others returned to the room after a long discussion with them about the current situation. They explained what they had learned from Lau, who Ranma had to restrain himself from pouncing on. Ranma then explained what happened to Pai, and the other children. Lau and the others were visibly shocked at what Ranma had revealed, Lau most of all.

 When they entered the room, they found that Pai and Ukyo had just returned from dropping the children off at their homes with their relieved families. Upon seeing their return, Ukyo jumped into Ranma's arms yelling, "RANCHAMA! You made it back! We have some exciting news."

 "As do we Ucchan, you go first."

 "If you insist, Ranchama, but shouldn't we speak Mandarin, so more of us can understand?" He nodded. "/One of the children we rescued was the child of a movie director, as a reward we have been offered a role in the next movie!/" Her face was lit up with excitement. Nodoka translated for Ryoga and Pai when needed.

 Ranma had not seen her look that excited in a long time, and wanted to make sure she stayed that way. "/That sounds like fun, if that is what you want to do, then that is what we should do, The Nujie Zu can wait. Now, for our news, the warrior Fei Sha and the people who exiled the poor woman, are experts at memory manipulation, and she can likely help with Pai's memory loss. There is a catch though. To do so we need a special memory restoring shampoo, blend One One Nine, which normally can only be gotten from the Nujie Zu themselves. We can send a messenger to a nearby guide, who might be willing to trade for it for us, but it will likely take a few weeks to do so. The only other option we can think of, is to try and contact shifu Shun, and see if we can make it. We cannot leave without doing what we can, and we cannot make Pai follow us all the way to the village if we plan to spend a lot of time there. So, we will be here for a while, and depending on how long this movie part will take, we should have time. I mean what kind of part could they be offering us? An extra? A walk on?/"

 "/Well, Ranchama, they said they would have an audition, and how well we do will determine what part we get, but that we will all get something if we want it. They also said they would pay us for the work!/"

 By the looks on everyone's faces, it looked like they were unanimous. Pai looked happy for the first time since the kidnapping, and even Ryoga had starry eyes. Ranma was glad they had this opportunity for some fun, they could certainly use it.

 They began making their plans, Fei Sha contacted a trusted messenger, and Ranma talked to Pai about continuing her ki training. Nodoka began the preparations to rent a more 'permanent' residence for while they were there, and to get their mail forwarded to this new address.

 At one point Ranma tried to talk to Ryoga to find out exactly what his mother said to Pai's father, but Ryoga got a horrified look on his face, and refused to talk about it. All he would say was that Ranma was better off not knowing. Ryoga had nightmares for some time after about 'the look' Nodoka had given the man.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma had quite a few letters waiting on him, having not been able to pick them for some time. The oldest one stood out to him the most.

 'Dear Ranma-kun,
 I am writing this because I do not want to be overheard with this message.

 I know you won't get this for a while, but I hope things are going well for you and the others. We are doing well here, although, did you know we had ninja? We sure didn't! It came as quite a surprise to me when I found them in rooms under the house that had not existed before. It turns out that your mother had hired them to help out around here, mostly with your father's school. I offered to help them implement new techniques into the school, and in exchange, they don't mess with my head... I don't want to forget ...anything. Memories are precious to me, it's the only thing we really have that's ours. They are too important to lose.'

 The letter went on to describe several of the 'cases' her club had solved, and other day-to-day things that, while important to the two teens involved, Ranma had trouble paying a lot of attention to the rest of it. He was mad. A state Ranma did not experience very often, he may well have been upset about this before, but after what had happened to Pai, he was livid. Ranma left the letters and tapes on the table, and ran off to find his mother, they needed to have a very long talk.

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma found his mother meditating on the roof, as she liked to do so in the highest place she could find, when she had the option. Ranma understood this, he would rather spend his time on just any surface other than the ground. Ranma jumped to the roof to join her momentarily. "Okaa-san. We need to talk. Alone!" He added for anyone who might have been listening in, or thinking about joining them on the roof.

 As if the heat of her son's aura, look on his face, and tone of voice were not enough to alert the woman of Ranma's mood, the fact that he used the 'san' honorific and polite 'O' for her, let her know that he might even be directing that emotion her way. She wondered what could have caused that. "Yes son, what is bothering you today?"

 "I need ask you a few things, this is VERY important."

 "Yes son?"

 "Do you recall the ninja we trained with? I believe you asked them to keep an eye on the house, and help kafu-san with his new school."
{*Kafu = one's father*}

 "Yes son."

 "They are keeping themselves a secret, which I suppose isn't exactly surprising, and they built a whole new area under the house it seems." Nodoka knew this was not yet the question part, and stayed silent. "Nabiki-chan found it some time ago." Nodoka raised an eyebrow at this. Ranma's voice stayed even and as calm as he could. "Did you know, that when they found out that Nabiki-chan found them, they threatened to use an memory erasing technique?"

 "WHAT?!?!"

 "Yes, you heard me correctly. When they found out that Nabiki-chan knew about them, they threatened to use that technique! I need you to contact that woman, and those assigned to the house, and make sure that such a thing does NOT happen again! I swear that, if I find out that this happened again, I will head straight there, training be damned, and kick them out personally, with prejudice! Even if I have to SWIM there! I know it is not 'manly' to get mad at your mother, but honestly, if you were involved in that decision, I am not sure I want to call you that anymore."

 Nodoka was shocked, she had been unaware they would take anything that far, and was almost as upset as Ranma, but, being the traditional Japanese woman that she was, held her composure better. "I swear to you Ranma-kun, I had no knowledge of this, and I will be leaving now to contact them." Before jumping off of the roof, Nodoka turned back to Ranma and said, "And son, that was, indeed, VERY manly." So 'manly' in fact, that if Ranma had not been her son, and if she had been just a bit younger, she might have had to change her panties. Luckily, for her self-image, she had been able to resist her instincts, but she was going to need some 'alone time' later.

 Ranma jumped down from the roof, and was about to just take off, and run and jump, as far, and fast as he could, when a hand on his arm stopped him. In a meek voice, Ukyo asked, "Ranchama, do you want to talk about it?"

 Turning to his friend, he softened a little when their eyes met. "Not really, how much did you hear?"

 "Well, it was kind of hard to miss you threatening to leave, and no matter the reason, you know I will follow you ...anywhere. Even if it means swimming back to Japan, or living on our own, with nothing more than the clothes on our backs. No matter what, I know we could make it work." She put her arms around her primary reason for living, and held him tightly, trying to let her aura calm him.

 "I know Ucchan. I would never ask it of you, but it would be easier to do with good company." He tried to smile, but it came out weakly. He relaxed a bit, and explained briefly about what 'their' ninja had done.

 Now it was Ukyo's turn to be angry. "I can't believe it! What is the deal with all of these people messing around in people's heads!"

 Ukyo was just as angry as Ranma had been moments before, and it was his turn to calm her down. "I think I need a really long, and hard workout. What do you say we go tear something up?"

 Ukyo looked him over and said, "I have just the thing." She grabbed him by the waistband, and pulled him toward the house. Seeing Ryoga nearby, she added. "Ryoga, we are going to 'workout', don't leave the yard ...and DON'T interrupt!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Not being chased by the Koenkan any longer, Pai felt safe going for a walk. She had wanted to thank her friend for the help for the other day, and was just returning to the rental home she was sharing with her Japanese friends. When she had returned, she saw Ryoga working out in the yard, but did not see anyone else in the house. She figured it would be good to spend a little extra time studying the script they had been given for the audition.

 She had gone into the living room to read, she started hearing loud noises coming from one of the bedrooms. She listened in for a while, trying to figure out what was going on in the other room, she could not tell if the noises were good or bad. Some of the sounds were like moans, not unlike those of someone getting a really good massage, and others, were angry, and pained. She did not want to bother them if Ranma was giving Ukyo one of his 'special massages', as Ukyo liked to put it, but if someone was being attacked, she wanted to help.

 Pai snuck over to the door, and tried to peep through the key hole, but could not see anything. She carefully cracked open the door and peeped in.

 What she saw took her completely by surprise. Ukyo and Ranma were on the bed, Ukyo had her face planted in the bed, and her rear was in the air. Ranma was mounting her from behind, slapping her on the rump, grunting, while Ukyo moaned in pleasure.

 Despite how much noise they were making, and how quietly Pai had opened the door, Ranma looked over as the door opened, and said "Oh, hi Pai ...sorry about this."

 Ukyo looked up and added, "Wanna join us?"

 "No!" and the door slammed shut.

 "I told you we should have locked the door, Ucchan."

 "But, I told Ryoga we didn't want to be disturbed, and nobody else was here, so..."

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Pai ran out of the house, completely embarrassed and strangely excited. Ryoga saw the blushing girl run from the house, and said, "Yeah that's why I am out here, they make too much noise when they 'workout' like that." Ryoga made 'air quotes' with the euphemism.

 "I, I've never seen anything like that before..."

 "Oh hell, I should have warned you! I am sorry, and they said they didn't want to be disturbed... damn!"

 "That's alright, they didn't seem to mind... Uh, I, ...gotta go. See ya later, Ryoga."

 Ryoga was a bit distressed about look of panic on the girl's face, hating himself for not thinking to warn her on the way in. He wanted to run after her, but didn't want to leave the yard and get lost.

 Little did Ryoga realize that he could have both chased after her, and stayed in the yard if he could have simply walked into the backyard. However, as anyone who knew the lost boy could tell you, the odds of that were three to one ...against. That was exactly where Pai had decided to run. She had seen that their bedroom window had been open, and crept back there to continue to peep. Nodoka would have been proud. It was hard for the girl to tell, but it seemed to her that when she poked her face into the window to look, Ukyo's voice had gotten louder and more intense, and her head was thrashing about. Normally Pai would have chalked this up to the sound not being blocked by the walls, but strangely Ranma's voice stayed about the same.

 Pai continued to watch in shock and silence, for more than half an hour, Ukyo was looking rather worn-out, and she started yelling and thrashing about again. Ranma turned to the window, and said, "Hey Pai, I really don't mind you watching, and Ukyo seems to really enjoy it, but you are welcome to come in here. You can join us or not, you don't have to sit in the dirt. Or do you enjoy the peeping aspect more? If so, maybe we should show you 'the game'..."

 Pai was once again shocked, this time because they had known she had been there the whole time, even more than the offer. "No, that's not it! It's not like that!"

 Ranma's lip curled into a sly grin. "Then what is it like? If you are going to watch anyway, you ought to just come in here where you can see well, and be more comfortable. Just hop through the window, no one will know. Pull up a chair, sit a spell, just please, take your shoes off."

 Pai, too flustered to come up with any kind of reply, just did as she had been told, the muscular lad had been training her for just over a week, and she had been getting used to following his orders, too embarrassed to protest, or even think of an alternative.

 "OH Ranma-sama, there is only one place you haven't gone yet, and I feel so good I want you to do that now. I want to become completely yours!"

 "With Pai watching?"

 "Because Pai is watching! As long as I am with Ranma-sama, I don't care who is watching! It's not like our 'special friend' here hasn't seen us naked before." Ranma filled Ukyo's ...request, and she arched, leaning back until she was pressed against Ranma's chest. "Get a good look Pai, you could have all this too, if you play your cards right. You just have to want it bad enough."

 "What?" The voice did not come from Pai, as she had passed out with a bit of a nosebleed, her brain having had a mild short-circuit due to the remnants of the brainwashing and stimuli.

 "Don't worry about it Ranma-sama, but, more than that, please, don't stop!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The audition went very well, far better than they ever expected. It being a martial arts film, their skills easily gave them all large, if not leading, roles. The director thought that Pai's cool attitude toward Ranma made for 'good chemistry', especially the way the girl had kept giving him looks when she thought no one was looking, so he cast Ranma as the hero and Pai as the villain. Ryoga's lack of linguistic skills in either Mandarin or Cantonese got him cast as one of Pai's henchmen. The director saw Ukyo's devotion, so cast the concubine as Ranma's loyal retainer, which was probably for the best, as she would have had trouble going against him, even in a movie. While Nodoka and Fei Sha were cast as Pai's extra sexy bodyguards.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma wrote a return letter, not feeling that he could speak aloud with some of the subject matter, without getting angry again, and he did not want them to have to listen to him ranting. He explained that the 'problem' with the ninja ought to be resolved soon, perhaps even by the time they received his letter. He explained what they had gone through with Pai, and why they needed to stay to help her regain her memories. He went on to tell them about the parts they had gotten in the movie, and told them that they would send them their advanced copy when they got it.

 Ukyo also sent a letter, telling them about how Ranma had reacted to the news, and what he had said to his mother in response. She knew Ranma would not have mentioned it himself, and wanted the girls to know how much he cared about their feelings and their well-being. She conveniently left out how well he treated her later that night, so as not to scare them off too soon, and just told them that they had a rigorous workout to work off his anger over the situation, and that she was still feeling it days later. She also included some more 'not safe for school' photos for them to drool over and more.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Some of the rich families who send their servants to be trained at his school had invited Genma to a fancy dinner party. He did not want to make a fool of himself, so he asked Kogarashi for special training... Genma knew he would regret it, but could not think of another option, this was an important meeting after all. It could mean many more students for their school, and a lot more money. He needed to make a good impression.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma received another package of letters and tapes. Nabiki had spoken to the ninja, and had been informed that they would never again be subjected to any kind of threats of any kind from that ninja clan. Their goal was to protect them, and now that included their memories as well. Due to the letters from Ranma and Ukyo, she knew they had him to thank for that, and was more grateful than she could express in words. She had been pretty scared by the thought, and relief now filled her being. It had been the first time Nabiki had been able to truly relax in weeks. They still needed to keep the secret from Genma, but that meant that other than Akane and their father, the rest could know. Her father and younger sister were just no good at keeping secrets, when she would get angry, she would say anything that came to mind, and their father was even worse when he got upset. Nabiki went on to thank Ranma many more times in that tape, and even he had started to get tired of listening to it, so moved on the next one.

 Kasumi talked mostly about their work with the homeless shelter, and how well it was doing, and how many people they have been able to help. Many of whom had been able to get jobs and move out on their own, thanks to the counseling they provided. Their counselor was quite good at helping the people figure out what they were good at doing and what jobs would suit them best, and was even able to help them find one most of the time. She was quite proud of the work they were doing. She also had to thank Ranma for helping her sister, and because without him and his family, they would not have been able to set up this shelter, and being able to help these people made her happier than anything else she had ever done. Ranma was glad that they had been able to help them. That was something the two of them shared, helping others was something that brought them both great joy in life.

 Fubuki bragged and bragged about Kasumi and her job. They had taken her from doing commercials, and news spots, to having her run a 'talent' show ...or rather, a 'lack of talent' show. People would go on and show off what they thought they could do, and Kasumi would get to dress up in pretty costumes, and they even let the three of them sing the theme song for the show together! Fubuki was not on the show herself, but she helped Kasumi with anything she could off stage.

 Fubuki went on to explain how Kasumi and her had gone to a fancy dinner party with Genma, to do a demonstration of their skills as the 'star pupils' of the school, as Genma had called them, something that embarrassed the two of them. Nonetheless, the party had been a lot of fun, and they enjoyed themselves a lot more than Genma himself, who had to be on his best behavior and cram for the event. Kogarashi had taken some time to almost literally beat the proper use of western utensils, high-class manners, and other etiquette lessons into his head, by his own request. While entertaining to watch, participating did not look fun. It had been grueling training, and she had been glad that they had learned such things in school.

 She also thanked him for the present he had sent for her sixteenth birthday, it was very sweet of him to 'remember such a thing' for 'someone so unimportant'.

 Ranma made a mental note to get her another gift, for the sole purpose of reminding her of how important she was to his family. After all, without her, those three girls would have only had the fathers to look after them, and he did not want to know how such a thing would have turned out, not to mention they would be lucky to have a house to come back to, had she not been there to help keep it in shape. Without the young maid's presence, Ranma was sure that things there would have turned out much differently, and not in a good way. Ranma, had no idea how right he had been with that assumption.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The movie shoot had been going well for a while now, and the gang had been having a blast doing it. During one of the scenes that day though, a strange, yet beautiful woman crashed the set, interrupting the action they had been filming. She yelled out, "\What is that strange power I feel? It's here somewhere!\", as she began attacking the actors at random.

 The director yelled to his cameramen to "\Keep Filming!\"

 Ranma and the others jumped into the fray as soon as it started, trying to distract the woman, and get her away from the non-fighters of the cast, to allow them to be treated by the medical personal on hand. The 'battle' had been going reasonably well, the woman was not overly strong, but she was merciless, and did her best to kill anyone who got too close. Luckily for the others, Ranma did not allow that to happen when he could prevent it.

 Just as they thought they had the situation was coming under control, and Ranma had begun to tie the woman up with his ever-present twine, the woman's body began to grow, and change. Her body morphed, her limbs grew, and her clothing shredded, as she grew fangs from both of her 'mouths'. She was not happy about how things were going, and shot 'webbing' out of her 'lower mouth', at the boy who had been trying to tie her up, and started climbing the nearby wall.

 Ranma was disgusted, and tried, at least, to clean his face of the sticky 'gunk'. Ukyo was not so complacent, she began firing off her 'ki kote' at the spider woman, cutting through some of her webbing and slicing off two of her legs at the first joint.

 The spider woman screeched in pain as green blood came from her two severed legs. She turned toward Ukyo and jumped, spooging more of her 'webbing' toward the 'actress'.

 Unlike Ranma, Ukyo had been prepared for that attack, having seen it being used on her lover just moments before, so she was quick to jump out of the way. Sadly, some of the extras were not so lucky, or skilled, the spider woman's jiggling breasts proving to be too much of a distraction for some of them.

 Ranma had cleared his eyes, enough to see. He mostly trusted his 'ki sight' but there were a lot of innocent people, and expensive and fragile equipment in the studio, and he did not want to damage more than the quick moving spider. He started toward the monster woman, throwing his own 'ki cards' at her, trying to pacify her, more than kill her. Quite a few of the monsters that had attacked them lately had mentioned something to the effect of them searching for something, and he got the feeling that they were the targets. Ranma really wanted to know why!

 They had little time to think though, as the creature was bouncing after Ukyo. Ranma slid under the thing at the apex of its leap, as she took a few arrows and bandannas to the head and back. Once he was between the creature and his friend, Ranma jumped up, landing a tremendous uppercut to its chest, just missing her bouncing breasts. Ranma had not had time to judge his angle, and regretted it. The, now unconscious monster, flew through the air, and connected, head first, into one of the live tracks of lighting, breaking the bulbs, and sending a large amount of electricity pulsing through her body. When some of her flailing arms also connected with the broken bulbs a fuse blew, and the lifeless spider's limp body fell to the ground, crushing a few props in doing so. The strange thing was one of those props seemed to say "Ow!" But, no one really noticed.

 Ranma ran over to see if she had a pulse, but the body turned to ash when he touched it. Failing that, he began to search the remains of her shredded clothing to see if she had any kind of identification or anything that might give them a lead on why they were being targeted.

 Ranma was worried they would be blamed for the attack, and subsequent damage, but the director was thrilled, yelling about needing to check the film, do rewrites to work that scene into the script, and that none if his 'stars' died in the attack, that would have taken major rewrites! They were told that they were done shooting until they got someone to clean up the mess anyway. The gang decided to go have a big meal to replenish their energy and relax after the excitement of the day. Some of them were used to such things by now, but others were still in shock.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma received another package from the girls. The tape was long, and covered many topics, from the food they ate, the clothes they thought were cute, how their school was going and more. One part stood out to Ranma a bit, as he did not know either of the people involved. Apparently, the headmaster of their school had been dating the doctor that worked at the family dojo, it had been going well for some time, but they finally broke up. They both thought the other had hobbies that were too immature. Kaede with her anime, manga and video games, and Tofu and his dancing with his skeleton, Betty-chan. Nabiki said she thought that the way he looked at Kasumi might have been a factor as well. Nabiki laughed as she added that Tofu was wasting his time though, there is only one guy Kasumi had pictures of on her bedroom walls, and Dr. Tofu was not that man.

 Ranma wrote back saying, among other things, that whomever it was that Kasumi liked, was a very lucky man indeed, and that he wished her luck in winning that guy's heart. Not that he thought that she would need luck. A sweet, beautiful, and kind girl as herself, should be able to get any man she wanted, and deserved all the happiness life could offer.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Just over a few weeks later, the movie project was coming to an end, with only one scene left to film. However, long before they left for the studio, Fei Sha had arrived with a huge grin on her face. "/Good news everyone! The messenger returned this morning! I should be able to restore Pai's memories, it should only take a few moments. We should even make it to the shoot on time!/" Then she translated for Pai, who was thrilled. "\Just sit right here dear.\" The woman's hands blurred, moving at speeds that others could not believe. Within seconds, she completed her work. "\How do you feel? Can you remember without pain now?\"

 "\YES! Oh, thank you Fei Sha! I remember everything, with no problems, and I feel so refreshed!\" Switching to Japanese, Pai turned to Ranma, "It worked! Ranma, I'm sorry, I treated you so coldly. Whenever I tried to remember any of the kind things you had done for me, I could only think of Liu, and it made me mad. Now, though, it is all clear as a bell. I am so glad. Now I can thank you for all you have done for me." Pai began to kneel, but Ranma stopped her.

 "Hey, Pai, it's not a problem. We are martial artists, helping people is what we do. Besides, a pretty girl like you, I would go out of my way to help anytime." Ranma grinned at Pai as she blushed.

 "Well, be that as it may, thank you Ranma. I am just so glad that I got to meet you. Glad that you and your family stopped in that ally that day to help me. I don't know what I would have ever done without you, and I had forgotten it all." Pai put her arms around Ranma. "I know we need to leave kind of soon, but please, let me stay like this for a little while longer..."

 "Anything you want Pai, anything you want." Ranma turned his head toward their exiled friend, and added, "/And Fei Sha, I cannot thank you enough for this, you will always be a 'heroic woman' in my book. Even if you are not a member of that tribe, you will always be welcomed as a member of our clan./"

 The pink-haired beauty blushed so that her face matched her hair color and said, "/You are welcome Ranma, and thank you. This old exile never thought to be accepted anywhere again. I had given up on most people, but I just couldn't stand by and let those men do what they wanted with this young woman./"

 "/I don't know how old you are, and it would be rude of me to ask, but I will say that you certainly do NOT look old. Do not be hard on yourself, you are really quite beautiful and kind, and do not let anyone tell you otherwise! Anyone who would not accept you is a fool!/" The blush on the woman's face grew, as did the smile on her lips.

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Pai had still not wanted to let go of Ranma by the time they needed to leave, so he chose to carry her all of the way to the studio, a fact she enjoyed immensely.

 The fight with the spider woman a few weeks before, was to be edited in as part of the final battle that they were shooting the rest of today. They began the day shooting scenes with Ryoga's character being 'sicked' on Ranma, but Ukyo's character intercepted him and urged her 'master' forward to stop the villain! Ukyo fought with Ryoga using Ranma's drunken dance style, both to show off and for its evasion techniques, while Ryoga attacked with his dragon style.

 Ranma ran into the building to confront the evil martial arts mage. On the way up the stairs, Fei Sha and Nodoka slinked into the passage from either side, each using a war fan style, wearing matching skimpy costumes and hairstyles. They stood back to back, held their fans out and blocked the way.

 "/Yet another 'hero'./"

 "/Tries to stop the mistress./"

 "/You will not get./"

 "/Passed Pi and Xi!/"

 Ranma as 'Luan', came to a stop, where his eye bugged out at the costumes they were wearing, and his jaw dropped. The two women began to move in unison. Seeing this, 'Luan' shook his head, slapped his face, and made a show of NOT looking at their bouncing breasts, or the way they jiggled as they moved while barely being restrained by the loose fitting strips of cloth that passed for the tops of their 'dresses'. Seeing the reacting of 'Luan', the women began to move in an even more sultry manner, hoping to maximize the advantage their near nudity provided.

 'Luan' flipped backward to give himself more room, and pretended to almost lose his footing on the stairs. He stumbled around on the stairs while he dodged their fan attacks, and looked quite convincing thanks to his drunken boxing training. The air strikes from their fans were bouncing off of the walls, sending them in every direction in the narrow hallway, making them difficult to avoid. Ranma's character needed to get closer, but was having trouble doing so. He feinted with a low attack, and jumped over their heads to land behind them and attempted to sweep their legs out from under them, but they jumped back as he had done before. Except when they did so, their revealing outfits, revealed oh so much more...

 'Pi and Xi' placed their hands, from the arms furthest away together, causing them to turn toward each other a bit, as a glow formed in each hand, one blue and one pink. The glow expanded out into a heart shaped outline for just a moment before the energy became a whip-like tendril, which they began to use as the description implied. They used their 'whips', which took chunks out of the stone stairs and the metal walls where they struck, and both yelled out in unison. ""/Pi and Xi's Attack of Love!!!/""

 Ranma's character jumped and dodged as he tried to 'retreat' up the stairs, trying to get out of the range of the tendrils of energy. Pi and Xi followed, having to dodge the damage they had done to the stairwell as they went.

 "/Luan, only seems to want to run away./"

 "/Some hero, not even man enough to handle our sex appeal and attack of love!/"

 Their talking gave 'Luan' a chance to build up his own ki attack, a large ball of golden ki formed in his hands. The blast shot forward with a shout of, "/Qi Yuan Qiu!/"
{*Qi Yuan Qiu = Qi (spirit energy/Ki); Yuan Qiu (Sphere/Ball) cheesy name but it's a B-movie*}

 The ki blast blew out a chunk of the stairs and knocked the 'twins' back, sending them tumbling down the stair well, to land in a heap on top of each other, with what remained of their now even skimpier outfits.

 Seeing that his foes were unable to continue, Luan ran up the stairs toward the top, where his final opponent was sure to be located.

 Fei Sha was no longer bound by the laws of the Nujie Zu, and even though she knew this fight was scripted, for a moment, she seriously considered invoking a certain law, in regards to the handsome young man who 'defeated' her. She quickly dropped this line of thought after considering the age and likely inexperience, of the young man. Not to mention that she did not want to have to fight over him with the other two girls who clearly had their eye on the lad, even if he claimed not to think she looked 'old', and said she looked 'beautiful'. She was so lost in thought that she did not even hear the director as he yelled "\CUT\". It was not until Nodoka started trying to move that Fei Sha noticed the position she was in, with her face lodged in the other woman's bust and her butt in the air.

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 After they stopped for lunch, the director explained to them that he had decided on one more change to the ending of the movie. He had seen the way Pai was acting when they had arrived that morning, and it had given him a new idea. He handed them the revised scripts and gave them some time for the new scene.

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 'Luan' made it to the top of the stairs, and just as our hero was about to open the door, footsteps were heard from behind.

 "/Are you alright, master?/" 'Shen' came happily bounding up the stairs behind her master. "/You sure made short work of those two, master./" The loyal retainer had a big grin on her face. "/Are we going after the evil mage, Ming Wuqing now?/"

 "/I am glad you caught up, Shen, but remember, Ming is not evil, but is possessed by an evil spirit. We must find a way to drive that beast out!/"

 "/Yes, master!/"

 The director thought to himself, '\That girl is a natural, I have never seen anyone play a loyal retainer so well, and at such a young age too!\'

 "/Now, let's go crash a party!/" 'Luan' opened the door into a large room, set up to resemble a modeling photo shoot, complete with 'Ming' being made up in a fancy dress.

 'Ming' heard them enter and told her make-up artists and other assistants to stop. "\So, Luan, you've made it passed my minions. Now you will pay!\" 'Ming' jumped across the room trying to catch 'Luan' with a kick, but he dodged out of the way, deflecting her leg and sending her off course. They both jumped into the air and exchanged kicks and punches as they seemed to hang in the air, before both landed, facing each other once again.

 Several exchanges later, 'Luan' was concentrating his attacks near her chest, trying to retrieve the medallion around her neck. He had nearly grabbed it a few times, but only came away with pieces of the fancy costume. Pai was glad that her costume didn't tear in any overly 'revealing' places.

 The fight had raged on for several minutes when the doors opened once again. ""/MASTER!?!/""
 
 'Ming' turned to order her minions to attack as well, but in the moment of distraction, 'Luan' grabbed the jade medallion, and threw it to the ground and stomped on it, smashing it to bits.

 Everyone acted as if there was a huge explosion, and flew back, 'Ming' was too stunned to move.

 The director yelled "\CUT!\"

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The spirit of the Spider Woman that had been possessing the fair 'Ming', was now vanquished, thanks to our heroes and a little help from the 'minions'. The room was a wreck, and the 'players' were exhausted. 'Luan' leaped to the other side of the room to check on 'Ming'.

 'Luan' carried the non-possessed young woman to find her somewhere more comfortable to rest, when she started to awaken, and saw who held her. "\Luan! What happened?\"

 "/Do not fear. The spirit has been driven out and defeated. With rest, you should be back to full strength before long./"

 "\Thank you, my love!\" 'Ming' threw her arms around 'Luan', and after only a moment's hesitation, kissed him on the mouth, as they held their position for what seemed like an eternity to the young woman. The camera cut away to Ukyo and the others shedding tears over the beauty of the scene before them, and then back to the 'loving couple'.

 By the time the director yelled "\CUT!\" again, Pai was blushing so hard her whole face was lit up. She was not given any time to think about it before Ukyo ran over to throw her arms around them both.

 "That was GREAT! You were both wonderful! That was such a passionate kiss!"

 Pai's fingers touched her lips, "It was my FIRST kiss! ...and in front of so many people no less..." Though her words and the smile on her face did not entirely match.

 "Then you couldn't have asked for a better man to give it to you, and now you have it on film, so you can always remember it, and the world can share it with you! It was beautiful!" Ukyo wiped a tear from her eye. "And now, here is your second kiss!" Ukyo added as she leaned in to kiss both of them. Pai almost feinted.

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Wanting his friends to be able to enjoy the movie, Ranma talked the director into letting him translate the script into Japanese for an additional set of subtitles for the laser disk release. It would take a few more days work, but he felt it was worth it, and even offered to do it for free. The director promised to make sure he had a copy before it was even in the theaters. Since they did not have to add too many special effects, or remove wires, or any of the other usual stuff, all that remained was some editing and the rest of the dubbing.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The girls received another letter from Ukyo,

 'Dear girls,
 I hope you are doing well. We just finished the movie shoot, and Ranchama was SO manly! Almost all of the actresses wanted to take our man home! Even some of the adults were hitting on our Ranchama! None of those girls were good enough for more than a distraction though, and certainly not good enough to invite to come with us. It was really fun to watch though, and those poor girls will be ruined for other men from now on. No man can compare if Ranchama is the measuring stick used to judge! I feel sorry for them, but there is only so much Ranchama to go around and only the best girls will do. Pai might work out nicely though, we will have to see how it goes. It really is a shame that Renka didn't come along, that girl was adorable, and so full of joy. You girls would have loved that one, I am sure.

 Speaking of 'adorable', I have noticed that you three have not sent us any pictures of yourselves in a while, despite all of the sexy pictures I send you of Ranchama. It's only fair. Did you want me to send pictures of myself as well? Is that the problem? I will include that this time then, like this one of me washing Ranchama's back, and here is one of the reverse. How sexy do you want the pictures to be? I could do one where I am washing Ranchama's front, or maybe you would prefer to see me washing Ranchama with my body, I want to try that anyway! I will do whatever it takes to get you to return the favors I do for you. With all of the photos I have sent you, Ranchama deserves to see you all as well. It's only fair after all.
 Love from us all,
 ~Ucchan'

 The annoyance the girls had felt about Ranma 'going out' with the actresses from the movie, was quickly forgotten in their embarrassment at Ukyo's request, and that was quickly forgotten in their lust at seeing the other pictures the girl had seen fit to include with the letter! On top of the photos she described, there were also pictures from the movie set, more from the bath, several with Ranma asleep, and others during their actual workouts.

 It was some time before any of the three girls had another coherent thought as they stared at the enticing photos, drooling quietly to themselves.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Leaving the studio one day, a girl came up to the young woman, asking for an autograph. Pai instantly recognized the girl as one of the kids they had rescued from the Koenkan not long before. "\How have you been doing child? Well I hope.\"

 "\Oh, yes! Thanks to you and your friends! And I can't thank you enough for getting us in to watch the movie being filmed! You and your boyfriend are so cool, I want to be just like you when I grow up!\"

 Pai blushed at that. "\You are welcome, Ranma is not my boyfriend, but thank you. Who should I make this out to, what was your name again?\"

 "\Is he seeing that other girl then? You really should try to go for it, I can tell you like the guy, who wouldn't, just so handsome! My name is Eileen, by the way.\"

 Blushing even further, Pai tried to ignore those feelings. "\Eileen, that is a strange name, but cute, like you are.\"

 It was the girl's turn to blush. "\Well, I was born in America, but when my parents died, I moved here to live with my grandfather.\"

 "\Aw, I am sorry to hear that. I do hope your grandfather treats you well?\"

 "\Oh yes! Gramps is great! He cares for me, and is teaching me to fight, I hope to be as good as you one day!\"

 "\There are lots of people better than I am, I still have a long way to go. Some days it feels like everyone I know is better than I am.\" Pai let out a small laugh.

 "\Don't give up your dream, and I will keep mine too! We can both train for our goals. Even if other people can beat you up, I think you are the best! You are my hero! If I keep training, will you fight me one day, so I can test my training?\"

 "\Sure child, look me up when you get older, after you have trained hard, we can spar. We all need a goal, even if that goal changes as we get older...\" Pai was thinking of Ranma as she said this, and blushed again...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The three girls were embarrassed to their very core, especially Fubuki and Kasumi. They were all in Ranma's bedroom, debating what they should do about their current dilemma. It had been a little while since they had gotten the recent letter from Ukyo, and while they all agreed with the devoted girl, it had taken them this long to even talk about it. Doing something about it was proving far more difficult. They did not think that Ranma had known about the photos Ukyo was sending them, but if so, then it would be especially rude not to return the favor considering how much they 'enjoyed' them. They were far too embarrassed to take pictures of themselves in the bath, like the ones they had been sent. However, they DID want to do something to repay the boy's kindness, especially after they had heard what he had done in regards to the ninja, and if this was what Ukyo thought was a good way to do so ...well, that girl did know Ranma better than anyone.

 Fubuki had surprised them when the maid suggested they have a sleep-over in Ranma's room, even more so when the girl told them that she had been doing it frequently, ever since replacing his mattress on her own some time ago.

 "I thought it seemed bigger, but I have grown a lot since I slept in here, so it was hard to tell. Well, I have been thinking about this, and I read somewhere that some men like sexy costumes more than just looking at naked girls, so I am thinking that might be less embarrassing. So, considering Kasumi-nee-chan's shyness and Fubuki-chan not wanting to be seen outside of her uniform, I was thinking the most fitting, and least revealing, would be the hadaka apron, using the one from your uniform."
{*Hadaka = Nude, Naked, Bare*}

 "Oh my, oh my, oh my!"

 "Well, I suppose that could be worse, at least I would still feel like a maid, but, what about you Nabiki-sama? Will you wear yours as well?"

 "Maaaaybe." Nabiki began to remove her clothing, revealing some skimpy, black lingerie. Handing her camera over to Fubuki, Nabiki put her apron on and struck a sexy pose. After a couple of pictures Nabiki removed her apron again and had Fubuki take a few shots in her underwear. Taking the camera back, Nabiki said, "Your turns!"

 Both girls blushed again and began to strip, Kasumi left her white panties on, but Fubuki did not. Nabiki took several pictures of each of them and a few of them together in various poses, and then set the camera on a timer and took a few with all three of them together.

 When they had used up the small roll of film, Nabiki ran down to the darkroom the Ninja had let her set up in the new 'basement' to develop the pictures as quickly as she had been able.

 By the time she finished and returned to the room, Nabiki almost facefaulted when she saw her sister and friend, still in their aprons, making out while she was gone. "Once again you started without me! Why do I have to suffer because neither of you knows how to develop film?"

 The other two girls pulled her into the fold, apologizing and kissing her. They did not get to sleep for a long time.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Pai had been watching Nodoka and Ukyo being massaged by Ranma after the workouts, but Ukyo had insisted on being the one to give them to Pai. Pai could not argue the point, and they were really good massages, so she could not really complain either. However, now that the movie shoot was over, Ukyo had told her that it was about time for her to get one of Ranma's 'special' massages. She tried to deny the need for a moment, but Ukyo made it a difficult thing to do.

 "Let me put it this way, do you remember anything about how you felt while Ranchama was washing your back, and washing and brushing your hair?"

 "A bit, but not much of it after it started..."

 "Did you like it?"

 "Well, yeah..."

 "His 'massage technique' blows that out of the water!" Switching to a whispered tone, Ukyo leaned into Pai's ear. "And sex is even better than that!"

 "B-b-better?!?! How, I mean, is that even possible? I don't think I would survive anything 'better'..."

 "Oh, it IS possible, you WILL survive, and you will never want to do without it again! This, I promise you. It is one of the best feelings in the world! I wouldn't let just anyone in on this you know, it takes a very special person. We cannot have just any random girls chasing after Ranma-sama, who deserves only the best! Besides, you really seemed interested in it when you spied on us a while back..."

 "It wasn't like that!"

 "Really? Then what WAS it like?"

 "Uh ...Look, I am honored, I really am. It's just that this is so strange, and it's happening so fast. I just don't know what to do!!!"

 "It's really simple, you just have to relax and enjoy it. All women deserve to enjoy these feelings. I feel like you are one of the few who deserve the best, and I would consider it a favor if you allow Ranma-sama to practice on you. Every woman is different, so Ranchama needs as much variety in training as can be gotten. But if you would rather not be involved..."

 "I didn't say THAT! I want to, it's just, I don't know how I should be reacting. It feels weird."

 "Oh no, Sugar, it's not weird at all. It is perfectly natural and normal, just do, whatever your body tells you to do. There is no need to worry, nothing to be scared of, and nothing you do will be wrong (as long as you don't hurt Ranchama on purpose). It will all be okay. If you would rather, I will even help you. I will stay by your side, and make sure you enjoy yourself to the fullest. I told you that I would support you, and I meant it! I should warn you of one thing though, once you have had Ranma-sama's special touch, nothing else will do."

 That threw Pai for a loop, she was normally less scared of Ranma's attention than Ukyo's, especially since her memories returned, but while Ukyo made her nervous in one way, the idea of something 'better' than how she felt during the back-washing and hair brushing, scared her to death. Even if Ranma's touch made her feel comfort, like floating on a cloud, whereas Ukyo's made her feel like prey, especially the way Ukyo's hands were massaging her legs at that moment. She felt a shiver run up her spine, that, when combined with her thoughts of Ranma's fingers playing over her sweaty body, like he had done when washing her back, had almost brought her to the point of climaxing again. She was still new to those feelings, but had been starting to get the hang of recognizing them at least.

 Ukyo saw the look on the girl's face, and recognized it right away from their first night in the bath, among other things. She knew she was not anywhere near Ranma's skill, but she had been practicing a lot, but most of that had been on Ranma, and girls were different. She did not let up for a moment, not until Pai's body had stopped convulsing and relaxed. Once again, she leaned in close to Pai's ear, and whispered, which by itself was enough to send more shivers down the girl's spine. "Just remember, Ranma-sama makes me look like a rank amateur."

 "Fine. Okay, I will, I promise. Just, please," *GROAN* "don't, stop..." Pai did not know what to think, it was strange enough to be getting feelings like this with Ranma, a boy, but to be feeling like this because of another girl was really freaking her out. The last few days had made Pai rethink everything she thought she knew about life and herself, and she was not sure how to feel about it. However, there was no denying that this felt REALLY good, and was starting to hope that this life could go on forever, even if it meant being Ukyo's plaything, something she would not admit, to anyone, even herself, was starting to feel like something she would not mind as much as she would have expected.

 Uyko's smile and eyes took on a sinister glint, as her hands went back to work, working out what little tension remained in the girl. Ukyo was quite proud of the work being done, not only was Pai taking well to Ranma's training, but her own as well. Ukyo was also proud that her own technique was having such an effect on the girl, she had never massaged another girl before Pai. Well, other than Nodoka, and she certainly couldn't practice this technique on her. Not that the woman did not deserve it, but she had been so adamant about refusing the 'treatment' from either of them. She really felt sorry for her 'mother', who always did so many things to make sure that they were as happy as could be. Ukyo had snuck in one day and 'borrowed' one of the 'toys' Nodoka used for 'stress relief', that Ukyo had run across when helping to pack one day. However, no matter what she tried, or how well she used it, it was a pale shadow of how it felt when Ranma was even just brushing her hair, never mind how it felt the few times they had actually had sex. This had given her an idea though, she really wanted Nodoka to feel as good as she did, and wanted to help her as much as she could. So, as Pai was recovering from her first massage, and prepared herself for her second that day, Ukyo snuck into Nodoka's room, and used a variation of one of the tricks they had been practicing lately, charging objects with ki of varying emotions. She charged all of Nodoka's 'toys', using the memories of how she felt when Ranma made her feel the best she had ever felt. Ukyo was not sure how this would work, not having tried it on herself, but was hoping that her hypothesis held true, and when Nodoka next used them, she would get a jolt of Ukyo's own emotions, and amplify her pleasure... Only time will tell.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Nodoka returned to the room after checking in with her contacts again. She wanted to make sure they were not aware of any emergencies that required her attention and the other upkeep she maintained, something she did frequently. Getting a negative response on the emergencies, Nodoka decided to do some shopping. She was feeling badly about making Ryoga wait for his birthday present, and wanted to do something nice for the boy, who should be a man by now.

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Nodoka found Ryoga in the main room cleaning up, now that the dishes had been washed. "Konichiwa, Ryoga-kun, thank you for cleaning up. You are such a good boy. I feel bad about us being here in Hong Kong where the laws are different, for so long after you turned fourteen, and should be becoming a man by the standards of mainland China, but I wanted to get you something to hold you over until we leave. I do not know what you like, since you are always so shy, so I got you a random sampling of things that were recommended by the shopkeeper. Here you go." Nodoka handed Ryoga a large brown paper bag. "You may watch these in your room this evening. There are also a few other things in there for you to 'play' with. One of these days we will get you over this terminal shyness of yours, it is certainly not very manly."

 Ryoga was already blushing from the complement, and it only got worse. He wanted to make Nodoka proud of him, but his shyness was deeply ingrained. He had, after all, spent most of his life alone. Even the more than year and a half he had spent with the Saotomes had not been enough break his, as Nodoka would call it, 'bad habit'. If nothing else, he wanted to be able to take a bath without having to fight a nosebleed. Nodoka assured him that looking at naked girls was an important part of growing up, and something he would need to be able to handle, or he would never be an adult. One cannot get married if one cannot see a naked girl without passing out from lack of blood!

 Ryoga's introspection was interrupted when Nodoka asked, "Do you know where the others are?"

 Bothered a bit by the progression of his friends' relationships, he was a bit annoyed by the answer to that, but tried not to show it, despite how his face darkened. "They are in the furo, giving Pai a 'massage'. They will likely be in there a while..." 'All of the girls want Ranma, even all of the actresses were making goo-goo eyes! It wasn't fair!'

 Nodoka's reaction, on the other hand, was one of elation, "It is about time. I suppose I should not interrupt them." She was beaming with pride. Nodoka wrote 'To: Ranma and Ukyo' on the other bag, and tossed it onto their bed, and went to find her camera after taking Ryoga to his room, and telling him, "I will come get you, when dinner is ready. Enjoy your gifts, my boy."

 Once alone, Ryoga opened the large bag he had been given. Upon looking inside and seeing the types of movies and other objects he did not understand the use of, he got a nosebleed, and promptly passed out.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Back in the furo, Pai was naked, laying on the changing table, being tended to by both a naked Ukyo and an almost so Ranma (he was trying to remain 'professional', to him this was 'normal' for a massage. After all, since all of the women reacted much the same way, and no one other than his mother discouraged him, and she even encouraged him to do it to every girl other than herself). Each of the Japanese youths were at opposite ends of the table, Ukyo was massaging Pai's shoulders, and Ranma was working on her legs. The relaxed girl had not been able to say an intelligible word since the two teens had started working on her, the best she had managed were groans and moans of pleasure. Pai had already climaxed three times, and Ranma had not gotten anywhere near 'the spot' yet, she looked to be enjoying herself so much, that Ukyo had almost done so as well, just from watching and the emotional aura the girl was giving off. Not to mention, the cute look on Pai's face, as she writhed in ecstasy was really getting Ukyo excited.

 Ukyo leaned in to rub Pai's lower shoulder blades when one of her breasts accidentally brushed across the other girl's face. It came as quite a welcome surprise to her when Pai took said breast into her mouth and began to lick and suck on it. Ukyo was again surprised when she learned that due to how turned on she was, that was all she had needed to climax and began to moan herself. This progressed for a while until Ukyo finally laid down next to Pai, and began to 'return the favor'.

 As if rubbing his hands all over a beautiful naked girl was not enough of a turn-on, seeing the two of them making out was making it hard on the young man. Ukyo noticed this and turned around the other way to face Ranma, and then pulled down Ranma's boxers and took him into her mouth. Before long Ranma had to ask Pai to roll over onto her stomach. Pai did as asked and rolled over, right on top of Ukyo, and began to go down on her. Ukyo's oration slowly got much more intense, as she built to another climax.

 Before long Ranma had worked his way up to Pai's lower back, and hit the magic spot. Pai's body was wracked with the most intense orgasm she had ever felt, and since that was at least her sixth one of the day, it said a lot. She completely lost all awareness of her surroundings, including the girl she was laying on top of as her body convulsed. Ukyo had to stop her ministrations on Ranma for fear of biting him or her tongue, and settled for just kissing it as Pai came on top of her. Ukyo was doubly glad she had turned around when the other girl began to scream, as she thrashed about.

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Nodoka heard the sounds die down and peeped in to see the three teens kissing and fondling each other. A warm feeling of pride filled her being as she closed the door, not even bothering to get her camera this time.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The next day, Nodoka found Ukyo cleaning while Ranma was giving Pai her ki treatment, and requested the girl follow her for a 'talk'...

 "SO, I assume you were the person who tampered with my 'toys'..." Ukyo blushed shyly. "I know I said you could borrow some occasionally when Ranma-kun was busy with other girls, but what did you do to it?"

 Being bashful, Ukyo said, "Well, I know you don't feel right about gettin' that special technique from Ranchama's massages, but I feel bad for you, not bein' able to feel that good, so I wanted ta share those emotions with yah. Other th'n Ranchama, you are the most important person in mah life, and I wanted yah ta feel the joy that every woman deserves. So, I took all of the joy I feel, and charged those feelin's inta the toy, so when yah used it next, it would give you mah feelings, mah love for you and Ranchama. I love yah Okaa-sama, I just want yah ta be happy too!"

 Nodoka took the girl into her arms. "Oh dear, I am not sure how I feel about what you did, but I cannot fault your motives. I love you too, Ukyo-chan. You kids make me the happiest woman on earth every day I get to spend with you. The joy of watching you grow up and becoming loving, caring people. You all make me so proud, I feel like I am going to burst. You do not need to do anything for me, except to grow up happy, and healthy." The two of them stayed in the embrace for a while, Nodoka shedding tears of joy, while Ukyo was concluding that to be 'happy', she would have to use that 'trick' again, and often.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Pai had just finished asking Ukyo for a favor, and ran off to find Ranma. Pai found Ranma on the roof, meditating. Jumping to join him, she requested that he join herself and Ukyo in the woods, some ways away from the house.

 By the time Pai had brought Ranma to the agreed upon place, Ukyo had chopped down a tree, created a clearing, and built a simple stage out of that tree. Ukyo welcomed them, "Pai, Ranchama, we are ready for you here."

 "I have never told anyone about my hobby before, but I want to show you now. Ukyo, if you would please."

 Ukyo pulled out her violin and began to play as Pai climbed upon the stage and began to dance. The teen poured everything she had into her dance, completely losing herself in the melody. On and on she danced until Ukyo ended her song. Ranma applauded. "Pai-Pai, that was beautiful!"

 "Many of the dances I want to do require a partner, not that I have ever had one before, but this is one I can show you now." Pai pulled out two fans and began a traditional fan dance.

 After finishing a few more, the girl reached out for Ranma's hand and blushed, "Would you care to be my dancing partner tonight Ranma?"

 Ranma took her hand and the two of them danced on into the evening.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The family was preparing to leave, and Nodoka had just returned from having picked up the last of the mail and having it stopped and other arrangements that needed to be made. Pai had been helping them pack and was waiting for her return. The girl ran over to Nodoka and asked to talk.

 "Ranma promised to keep training me, and I need to continue that, and I was hoping you guys would let me follow you. I will try not to be a burden to you in any way. I will work really hard, and do anything you tell me, I promise! Please, I really have nowhere else to go, it's not like I can stay at Koenkan, no matter how much my father might change, I cannot forgive what that bastard did! Please Saotome-sama, I want to stay with you for as long as I can!"

 "I have heard enough! You clearly love my son who also seems to like you, and that is enough for me, but you need to at least go tell your father, it is only right."

 Pai blushed and tried to protest 'being in love', but could not find the words to deny it, so settled for just saying, "Yes ma'am, Thank you!" Turning toward Ranma, Pai asked, "Will you go with me? I do not think I can do this on my own..."

 "Of course Pai-Pai, as I said before, I will always be there to help you if I can."

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Pai and Ranma entered the Koenkan building and strolled over to the front desk. The receptionist greeted them in Cantonese.

 Pai replied in kind, "\We are here to speak with Lau Chan.\"

 "\Do you have an appointment?\"

 "\No, but I think he will see us anyway.\"

 "\Who might you be then?\"

 "\You must be new, I am Lau's daughter, Pai Chan, for now.\"

 After a few moments they were led back to a large private room where Lau was waiting for them.

 "\Greetings daughter,\ and you are that boy, the one who stopped Liu, the son of 'that woman'." Lau shivered, recalling the tongue-lashing and look that he had received from the boy's mother. That woman was terrifying!

 Ranma stayed silent, but Pai did not. "You no longer have a right to call me that! In the time Ranma and his family have been here, they have been far more of a family to me than you were for most of the last fourteen years! I have come here for only one reason, to tell you that I am leaving Hong Kong, leaving you, and leaving your family, so I give you this." Pai tossed a small box, wrapped in black paper with a yellow ribbon. "Open it now."

 Lau looked grimly at the box as he opened it. Inside of the small box was a paper hand fan. Lau got an appraising look on his face, as he looked the two of them up and down. "What? You intend to marry this boy then?"
{See 'Gifts in China' notes at the end for more}

 "NO! Well, maybe, later, but we will decide that on our own, when we are old enough to choose for ourselves, and know what we want to do. However, YOU will NOT have any say in who I marry, or when! By giving you this fan, I am saying that I am leaving your family, and do not wish to see you again until I can prove you have wasted your life with your art. That you let your wife, my mother, die and still do not have the 'strongest art'! You are a fool, and you are no longer my father! Stay here with your ill-gotten gains, I no longer want anything to do with you."

 "Pai-Pai? Would you like me to prove that to him right now? I know you want to do it yourself, and I respect that, I do, but if you would rather not wait, I would be happy to prove your point for you. It's completely your call, but I really don't like the way that man treated you, your mother, nor let this group he created hurt so many people. I am not sure I would feel right just walking away, but I want you to be happy, that is the most important thing here."

 "Are you sure you can? It would be counterproductive if not..."

 "What do you think? I can tell by the aura that the ki use of that man is at the intermediate levels at best. There is no way I would lose!" Ranma added confidently.

 "Well, I can't say that I wouldn't enjoy watching that, and I wouldn't want to deny you the satisfaction ...if you feel that strongly about it."

 "For what that man did to you, I do feel that strongly about it! So, thank you, Pai-Pai, It would be my pleasure to be your stand-in." After bowing to his companion, Ranma turned toward Lau and continued. "You sir, were an even worse father than my own, and that says a lot. My father may have been stupid and abusive, but at least the man tried to be there for me, until my mother prevented that. You, however, took off to train, something I DO understand, but left your family, with no means of support! Which I cannot forgive! You sir, are no man! You are no father! You barely qualify as a human being! At least MY father is making improvements in life! You just left it to someone else, so you didn't have to take responsibility! THAT is VERY unmanly!"

 "Nothing you say can sting more than your mother's look, and that was nothing compared to the look Pai gives me now. All of you are right, I was a selfish fool. If you want to beat me up, go ahead, I will not stop you."

 "Beating you up is not my goal! This is to prove a point! Now, show me that all of the pain you have caused your family, and the rest of the city, was worth it, FIGHT ME WITH EVERYTHING YOU HAVE!"

 Seeing he had no choice, Lau took a fighting stance, Ranma did not move, other than to soften his tone and turn his head toward Pai. "Would you do the honors, Pai-Pai?"

 "Round one, FIGHT!"

 Lau jumped at the boy, laying into him with everything he had. Ranma did not even try to dodge, just soaking it up with his aura and self-healing techniques.

 Pai could not see that Ranma was not taking much damage, just saw that he was being beaten on, and was getting worried. "Ranma!"

 "Don't worry Pai-Pai, I just wanted to give the man a chance to feel it was going well." Turning back to his 'foe', Ranma continued, "This is pathetic, is this really the best you can do after all of that suffering? I can't even say, you hit like a girl, because I know girls who hit way harder than that. It would be an insult to girls everywhere."

 Lau's aura flared up again, he did not really want to fight the lad, but Ranma had a way of bringing out the frustration in people. Lau's punches and kicks began to speed up and as he attempted a back-flip kick, Ranma felt it was time to start moving. Having learned that Lau was once a student of Shun Di, Ranma felt that was the best style to beat him with, and stumbled back into a drunken posture, avoiding the kick.

 Lau recognized the stance, but his old master Shun, had never been willing to teach it to him, he still had trouble predicting the moves.

 "You seem to have forgotten an important aspect of the art."

 Lau spun in close, pivoting on one foot, kicking out with the other. "Forgotten? What would that be, what do you think you can teach me about the art?"

 Ranma simply sat down, letting the leg pass over his head. "More than I care to, not that I would waste my time like that." Ranma looked closer at the man's aura as he rolled forward, raising up with a double palm strike. "You have no compassion."

 Pai beamed with pride as she thought to herself, 'Ranma said teaching my father was a waste of time, but is happy to be teaching me!" The girl swooned for a moment.

 Lau staggered back, before recovering and did a cartwheel forward, kicking downward at the boy's head. "Compassion? It's a little late for that! Fighting is about life and death, nothing more. Compassion only gets in the way."

 Ranma sidestepped the attack, and circled around the man, landing several elbow strikes to the older man's head, knocking him down. "Is that what you think? If so, then you are truly weak." Ranma had waited for the man to get back up, and continue.

 "Weak? What are you talking about?" Lau was so surprised he was not able to dodge Ranma's 'Crazy Corkscrew' attack, and was nailed in the chest.

 "Compassion doesn't 'get in the way', compassion IS the way! The way of a martial artist is to protect those who need it, not for taking life! What good is being strong, if you have no one to protect? It makes you nothing more than a common thug!" Ranma did his own forward cartwheel kick, knocking the man down. "Your kung-fu is weak, old man!" Not giving the man a moment to recover, Ranma jumped back and did a summersault roll, standing up at the end, and used the momentum to fall on top of Lau, landing with an elbow strike to the solar plexus, knocking the wind out of the man, ending the fight.

 "I hope you learned something!" Ranma turned toward Pai, and smiled, a glint of light sparkling as he did. "I think we are all done here, Pai-Pai, unless you want to add anything?"

 "No Ranma, you did, and said, everything I wanted to, and more. Ukyo was right, you really are the best!" Pai jumped over and threw her arms around Ranma, giving him a long, passionate kiss to show her gratitude.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ranma opened the last package he would receive until they established another residence. To say the boy was surprised by what he found inside was an understatement. Ranma had received many things from the girls in the years they had been pen pals, but he never expected anything like this. There were no letters, no tapes, the only thing in the package were twenty pictures, with no writing on them. What WAS on the photos however, was the most surprising part.

 Ukyo saw the look on Ranma's face and a huge smile formed on her own. Ukyo did not really expect her words to have been enough of a push, but it seemed as if she laid on just enough guilt to do the trick. She couldn't wait to see the pictures for herself, to stun Ranma like that, they must be pretty amazing.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Fei Sha gathered to talk to the ever-growing Saotome clan. "/I know what you wish to do, and if you cannot be talked out of it, I need to give you a warning. As with why I was exiled, the Nujie Zu has many laws, which you would consider strange. You must be forewarned or it could lead to disaster. My former people are quite strict about their laws, and will enforce them even if it means your deaths./" Ukyo and Nodoka translated for Pai and Ryoga respectively, leaving Ranma to ask the question on all of their minds.

 "/If it isn't asking too much, would you be willing to tell us then, why you were exiled? I do not want to pry if it is too personal, or hard to talk about./"

 "/It's okay, it's been years, and you do need to know. So, yes, I will tell you. About seven or eight years ago, I was a messenger for my village, I was one of the fastest of my generation. I ran messages and other deliveries between villages, and occasionally to other outsider towns. On one such trip, in which I was to purchase supplies, I met a girl. While waiting for the shopkeeper to ready the supplies, we talked. We had a lot in common considering, and started to become friends. Whenever I had the opportunity, I would stop to visit, and occasionally, Mei would meet me outside of the village, and we would camp out and just enjoy each other's company, or train together. Over the next two years, the two of us became great friends, we were as close as sisters.

 "/One day, on one of our camping trips, we were sparring, and I lost. This normally by itself wouldn't have been a big deal, but we were seen by one of the other messengers, one who bore a grudge against me for always winning our races. Dai Pa had reported me to a family elder, and had me put on trial for breaking the law. This law states that any woman in the tribe, who is beaten by an outsider, who is also a woman, must give them the Kiss of Death, and hunt them to the ends of the earth, and kill them! This is only supposed to affect official challenges, and not friendly sparring, but my 'rival' claimed that Mei had challenged me to a dual. Tan Pan, the elder of Dai Pa's family, and member of the council, supported the claim, and wanted me executed for not giving the Kiss of Death to my friend. I stated my case, but few on the council would take the word of a simple messenger over an elder. If not for the matriarch, I would be dead now. Ke Lun, the oldest among them, had been one of those who believed me, and had pushed for the lightest sentence possible. My exile. It is normally not even invoked very often anymore, usually only when a warrior's pride is hurt, and even then, it isn't enforced all that often. If not for Dai Pa and the elder making a big stink about it, no one would have likely done anything./" Fei Sha looked exhausted from reliving the story. "/I should also warn you not to mention me, this is also why I was not able to teach you those techniques before. Fraternizing with me, an exile, could also get you exiled. Had I taught you those techniques, they would be sure to recognize them, and someone would figure out that you either learned them from me, or another exile, most likely, and you would be in trouble. I have since learned that Dai Pa got a bit too close to Musk territory and was killed for being a spy anyway. Karma always finds a way, or maybe it was the matriarch, I wouldn't put anything passed that old biddy!/"

 "/I am sorry Fei Sha, that's terrible. Did you find your friend, Mei, again?/"

 "/Of course! We were friends after all. I went there first. Who do you think I sent to get the guide to buy the shampoo for you? And don't be sorry, I couldn't be happier to be out of there, it was one of the best things to happen in my life. Hong Kong might not be the best place in the world, but I would rather be here than that backwoods village any day. Don't get me wrong, the village is quaint, and has its charms, but I much prefer the big city./"

 "/So, if a female beats one of these 'heroic women' they get the 'Kiss of Death', but what about a male?/"

 "/That brings us to the next law you must be careful of, the other side of that coin is if one of them is beaten by an outsider male, they must give the Kiss of Life, which is the quick form of a Nujie Zu wedding./" Everyone who understood that facefaulted.

 After they recovered, Fei Sha continued. "/The law began as a way to bring strong blood and techniques into the tribe. Moreover, you fellows would be exactly what they are looking for. In this day and age, this side of the law is invoked/enforced far more often and fervently than the Kiss of Death. They will do almost anything to bring strong blood into the tribe. You, Ranma, will be the most in danger, being the strongest fighter I have ever seen, not counting the elders, and incredibly handsome on top of it. All of the warriors will be trying to get you to beat them off with a stick, just to have an excuse to invoke the law. You will need to be careful./"

 Ranma blushed a bit at the compliment. "/Thank you again Fei Sha, it looks as though we owe you again. Is there any way to avoid this? We really do want to learn anything we can from them, but we are too young to get married, and certainly do not want anyone to be forced into it, and I will not let anyone hurt my friends!/"

 "/Well, the easiest and least effective is to not fight anyone while you are there. However, be assured, if the girl likes you well enough, they will use any excuse they can, even an accident, anything they can technically call a 'defeat'./" Fei Sha let that sink in for a moment before continuing. "/The more effective, yet far more difficult, is to become an honorary member of the tribe, an elder would have to test your worth, or if you do something heroic to help the tribe. The real problem is that those are about the only ways they will be willing to train you. Exceptions can be made, but they are very secretive with their special techniques. No outsiders are allowed to learn them without a very good reason./"

 "/It looks as if we only have one real option then. Thanks again, is there anything else we need to know?/"

 Fei Sha went on to explain the most important laws and customs they would need to know, so as not to offend or otherwise get them into trouble.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Only two days out of Hong Kong, and Fei Sha was sore. She was starting to think she might not be able to even take them as close as she had planned. She really needed to get back into the habit of working out.

 Ukyo noticed her discomfort as they were setting up the campsite. "/If you are that sore, you should just rest until we are done. We are used to it after all./"

 "/Thank you, but I can at least help set-up camp first. I am just a little out of shape, it's been years since I have hiked like this./"

 "/Would you like a massage, to help work out those sore muscles?/"

 "/Are you that good?/"

 "/I am not very good myself, but my Ranchama is the best there is! There is almost nothing those fingers can't do./"

 The exile looked over at Nodoka only to see the woman nod and wink. "/Oh yes, you will not regret it. You will feel like a whole new woman when my manly son is through with you./"

 "/You ARE talking about just a massage, right?/"

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Sometime later, thrashing was heard cumming from one of the tents, and a soprano voice was heard singing a song of joy.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Ukyo had been getting the distinct impression that Ranma had been avoiding her, a difficult feat considering they were hiking across China together. Almost every time the girl had caught her love's attention Ranma looked away. It had been going on for a long time at this point, and it was only getting worse. She was starting to take it personally. Ukyo gave Ranma a look and a signal. The two of them dropped to the back of the group as they let the rest of them get a bit ahead so they would have a bit more privacy for their talk.

 In a semi-whispered tone, she asked, "Ranma-sama? Are you mad at me?"

 "Of course not! Why would you think such a thing? I love you!"

 That did help her mood a bit, but did not completely remove her fears. "But then, why are you avoiding me? It's like you don't even want to look at me anymore!"

 "No! It's not that at all! It's just, well, your..." He voice got a bit too quiet for Ukyo to hear.

 "What is it Ranma-sama? Please, you can tell me anything, even if you think Pai is prettier than I am and you want me to leave, I will do whatever you ask of me."

 "No, Ucchan, I never want to have to do without your company! I want you to be by my side forever! That will never change, no matter how much you do..."

 "What? It's me? What did I do? Please, tell me, Ah will do anythin' ta make it up ta ya, please tell meh what Ah did wrong!" Ukyo's accent coming back the more panicked the girl got.

 "Nothing! You didn't do anything wrong, it's just your breasts, they have really been getting bigger lately, and I, just was trying not to stare is all, but it's not easy, I can't help it! I am sorry, Ucchan, I never wanted to offend you!"

 "Oh Ranchama! Don't you know?" He shook his head, so she opened her shirt to show off her chest. "Every part of me belongs to Ranchama, I WANT you to stare at me! Why do you think I wear all of these skimpy Chinese dresses?"

 Ranma blushed. He once again, wanted to protest her 'belonging' to him, but had long ago gotten tired of the same discussion. He would try to tell her that she were her own person, and could do anything she wanted to do, and that she did not 'belong' to anyone! Her reply would always end with something to the effect of, if he really meant that, why was he trying to prevent her from doing what she really wanted to do? It always made him feel like a heel, so eventually he stopped trying to argue the point.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 A few days later our adventuring warriors were trekking through the woods, nearing the foothills of the Bayankala Mountains when a chittering was heard, followed by the sounds of crashing. Looking toward the sounds, our heroes saw that nearby trees were falling, being knocked over by a dung beetle, rapidly growing in size. Luckily the ball of dung it had been pushing did not also grow in size to match.

 Nodoka drew her bow as the others began tossing their preferred ranged weapons. However, most of the weapons bounced off of the hard outer carapace. Ukyo shifted her ki kote to 'sharpen' them, and Nodoka tried to do the same with her arrows. Ranma and the others ran into try to get into melee range, bouncing around to avoid making a straight line. They ran in, tested a few attacks, and bounded away, to try again from another angle.

 "The underside is soft! Aim for the joints and belly!" As Ranma called this out, Ukyo and Nodoka aimed for the leg joints and the others ran in to hit the underside.

 They started to make progress, half of the legs had fallen, and the underside was bruised and cracking. Ranma was about to create a large card to slice the belly open, when they heard Nodoka scream, and a chittering voice say, "It's mine!" Everyone turned and saw another scarab who grabbed Nodoka. Ukyo started throwing her ki kote at the new addition, and the others ran toward it. Ranma, card half formed, jumped straight up, and through the beetle and landed on the other one. His half-formed, over-sized ki card split, half of it remaining in each hand, and began punching the neck of the youkai-bug. Ranma's aura and ki cards were bright red, as he used them as punching daggers, and yelled with each blow, "Let, Kaa-chan, GO!"

 Ranma's anger and their combined efforts made short work of this new, slightly smaller bug. Its head rolled off like a ball of dung as the body collapsed. Ranma jumped down as they all ran over to check on Nodoka. "Kaa-chan! Are you all right?"

 Nodoka nodded. "Hai, thank you all. I do not know how that one snuck up on us. That big, with that much of an aura, we should have seen them several kilometers away."

 "Very strange indeed. I didn't feel them until right before they attacked, and was it just me, or did the thing speak?"

 "It sure seemed that way, Ranchama."

 "It seemed like kaa-chan was the target. "/Do you know anything about these things, Fei Sha?/"

 "/Well, there are monsters all over the countryside, but I can't say I have seen any like them before. It is strange that they were able to speak, most of the low-class monsters like them, do not have that ability, and to be so stealthy, it's odd.../"

 They took some time to feel the area out more carefully, and get cleaned up before they continued on their travels. They wanted to get as far from that place as they could before they set up camp for the night, making sure they took turns standing guard every night after that. Although, not before three of the four women got Ranma to give them a massage, especially that first night after that battle.

 "/Oh, I am SO sore after that terrible battle.../"

 "Oh yes, Ranma-sama, that was such a HARD battle, I am SO stiff!"

 "Me too, me too!" Pai jumped up and down in excitement.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 After a couple of weeks of slow travel, the group stopped again for the night. After setting up the camp, and preparing their dinner, Fei Sha called them together for a 'meeting'.

 "/Everyone, the time has come for me to say my good-byes. Come morning, I will have to head home. We are getting to close to the village, and if I am spotted by the guards, it will not be pretty, and will ruin your chances of getting what you want. I have one last warning for you. 'Beware the cursed springs of Jusenkyo!' If you fall in, your life will be forever changed. I only know a bit about it, but it is a scary place. Listen to what the guide has to say, the silly little man is knowledgeable about the curses. Beware the springs, and remember, do not let them know that you know anything about them or their laws. If you can get in good with the matriarch, you will have a big advantage./" Looking Ranma over one more time, Fei Sha thought to herself, '/Yup, those girls are going to be all over that boy ...and I don't blame them! ...if only that lad was just a bit older...'

 "/Thank you again Fei Sha, we owe you a lot! If there is anything we can do to thank you, let us know./"

 "/Well ...I DO have a long run back in the morning, I could use ...another massage./" The pink-haired woman blushed and smiled cutely.

 The reactions to this were varied, the women all laughed, Ranma agreed to the task, and Ryoga was again depressed that he did not have the aptitude to learn that technique. The one time Ranma had tried to teach him, Ukyo had gotten seriously hurt. Had it not been for Ranma's quick use of his healing technique, she may not have walked again. It required a firm, but gentle touch, and 'gentle' was not a trait Ryoga had in abundance. Ryoga had a tendency to overdo everything, and pushed way too hard with his ki, it scared him so badly he never wanted to try it again. Unknown to Ryoga and the others, had it not been for Ranma's quick healing, Ukyo may not have ever been able to 'enjoy' that spot ever again either, almost losing the ability to climax permanently.

 -!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The next morning, after they had packed up their campsite, Fei Sha said, "/Follow that path, and in a day or two, you should run across Jusenkyo, do NOT enter, just ask the guide for directions to the village. It's safer./" She turned to the girls and said, once in Mandarin and again in Cantonese, "/\Please girls, I hope you can forgive me./\" With that, the woman wrapped her arms around Ranma, and passionately kissed the lad before running off in the direction from which they had come, yelling, "/That's what a 'Kiss of Life' is like! Don't worry, it doesn't count coming from an exile!/".

 Ranma and Pai were both too surprised to move for a moment, while Nodoka and Ukyo both got big grins on their faces, with Nodoka saying, "My son is so MANLY!" and Ryoga kicked a rock.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 CHAPTER EPILOGUE

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Fei Sha returned to her home and found a note on her door. The letter was marked from a construction crew. Now she was concerned. The exile tore open the letter and began to read.

 '\We have completed the work on rebuilding your home as we were instructed. Please contact us when you return to collect the rest of the payment that was over the amount we needed for the job. It should at least cover some movers to clean out the shack you have been forced to live in. Thank you for your business.\'

 '\Well that IS strange, maybe there is a mix-up, I need to call them and see what went wrong.\' Fei Sha entered her house, and went for the phone. On the phone was another letter that was not there when she left. "\Oh now this just keeps getting weirder. I hope the elders didn't find out I have been skirting the village. This could be a trap. If I have to run...\" She began to open the letter, and thought, '\If I DO have to run, I will have to make sure to thank that Ranma boy again, since I started getting those massages, I feel like I could almost run forever, just like the old days!\'

 Opening the letter, the former Nujie Zu member saw a short note.

 '/Thank you so much for all of your help. I hope you enjoy your new home. It is outside of town so you will have more peace. I got a really good deal on the land, and when I explained that 'your old home had been destroyed, by those horrible Koenkan men', that you helped to stop, they gave us a very nice discount. It should be enough to hire some movers. Surprise! No more rent for you. If you ever need anything, look us up./' The letter then was signed by Nodoka Saotome and the four teens. It also had their contact information, and her new address.

 Fei Sha feinted.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Omake 8a

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 The following is a VERY offensive parody song that a friend and I sang while watching 'Wicked City' many, many years ago. That friend died several years ago, and since this spider woman monster was loosely based on that movie, among others, I decided to dedicate this chapter and omake to him. So if you are easily offended, you probably wouldn't have made it this far... But, I apologize for the language involved anyway, we were young, and still need the money.

This is to the tune of the old Spiderman theme song.

 ~For my friend Mark! The man who gave me my screen/nickname. You are still missed, not that you can read this, but ...whatever.~

 Spider clam, spider clam,
 Spooges on whatever a spider can,
 Takes a dick, any size,
 Catches men, just like flies,
 Watch out!
 Here cums the spider clam,
 Here cums the spider CLAAAAAM!!!!!!!!!!

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Omake 8b

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Pai was dancing on stage and began to sing,
"It's a beautiful day to dance in the woods,
a beautiful day for a partner,
would you be mine?
Could you be mind?

I have always wanted to have a partner just like you.
I've always wanted to dance with a handsome boy like you.
So, let's make the most of this beautiful place,
since we're together, we might as well say...

'Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be, my partner?

Won't you please?
Won't you please?
Please, won't you be, my partner?"

{I am sorry Mr. Rogers}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 Omake 8c

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

{Alternate version of scene above.}

 "Nothing! You didn't do anything wrong, it's just your breasts, they have really been getting bigger lately, and I, just was trying not to stare is all, but it's not easy, I can't help it! I am sorry, Ucchan, I never wanted to offend you!"

 "Well Ranchama, you rub them every day, so of course they would be growing!" Ukyo beamed with pride. "Please Ranchama, keep rubbing them, I want them to grow nice and big for you!"

 Looking back, Ranma noticed a trail of empty milk cartons behind Ukyo...

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

 End Omake

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Author's Notes

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Movie Dubbing
-In the final movie scene, someone of you may have noticed that Ranma and Ukyo were speaking in Mandarin, and Pai was speaking Cantonese. Most Hong Kong movies were dubbed into both when they were released in China, and so, since Ranma and Ukyo do not speak Cantonese well, and Pai doesn't speak Mandarin well, those will have to be dubbed by someone else before the move comes out. That wasn't a typo, it was planned. That is also why those scenes went more into the narrative style, sorry about that. I am also having them each get a Mandarin copy of the movie on laser disk, with Japanese subtitles, except for Pai, who's was in Cantonese. DVDs do not exist yet, so no multi-language versions.

Movie Names
-Just made up, although Pai's character had a bit of inspiration, when I thought 'Ming' all I could think of was Flash Gordon, so wú qíng means, 'merciless; pitiless; ruthless; heartless'. Oh, and Ranma's, Luan Ma, was how they spelled his name in the Nujie Zu newspaper in cannon during the Link and Pink arc.

Hadaka (Naked) Apron
-In case you did not know, is a fanservice trope involving wearing an apron over skimpy clothing or, obviously, nothing at all.

Gifts in China
-A few things about gifts, before we get to the point. There are many gifts that should be avoided, like green hats (wearing a green hat means your wife is unfaithful), or a clock (counting the seconds to their death, 'to give a clock' also sounds like 'attend a funeral'). Gifts tend to be refused the first time or three offered, the giver is expected to keep offering. Red wrapping paper is preferred, lucky color, yellow and black are only used for gifts for the dead, so should be avoided. The point of this though is to explain fans. Giving a fan symbolizes 'splitting up/scattering apart', so giving a fan at a wedding for example would mean you want them to split up, or to a friend means you never want to see them again. Although, traditionally, a new bride will give one to her parents to symbolize that she is leaving them for her new husband.
This is why Lau jumped to the conclusion that Pai was saying she was going to marry Ranma, but her intention was to leave his family, and join another. Almost the same thing, but not quite. She also doesn't want to see him again, until she is ready to beat him herself.
-Also, in most Asian customs, it is considered impolite to open a gift in the presence of the person who gave it to you.

More Names
-Ke Lun (Cologne) This is the correct transcription if her name from Mandarin. The 'e' has a dip, and is pronounced like the 'u' in 'cup', where the 'u' has an accent, and is said like 'oo' in 'too'. So this is pronounced 'Kuh Loon' {or 'kUuUh' to show the dip}.
-Shan Pu is the correct spelling for Shampoo, and San Pu is the Japanese way. We will still call her Shampoo when not speaking Chinese by most people.
-Mu Ssu is Mousse, in Mandarin.
-Bayankala is more commonly known as the Byan Har Mountains. though from what I can find on Wiki, that is Mongolian, so we will stick to Bayankala.
-Pai's new nickname from Ranma, Pai-Pai, in Japanese Pai can be short for 'oppai', or 'breast(s)' and pai-pai is a 'cute' way of saying it. So, basically he is calling her something to the effect of 'tits', in a cute child-like way.

Kiss of Death/Marriage/Life
-I say it is not enforced very often, because not counting Ranma, who's was adjusted from one to the other, Shampoo has given it to at least two others (Akane and Hinako) and no one has died, and nothing seems to have been done about it, it was quickly forgotten. The punishment she received was for failing to marry him, not for failing to kill 'her', or so I am working with. I am also working under the assumption that these laws only apply to the female members of the tribe, since the law specifically says if the outside is a male/female for marriage/death respectively, but we have also never seen Mousse have to give either of them. Although I can't say for sure how many fights, not counting Ranma, he lost off the top of my head...
I plan to go with the 'Kiss of Life' for the reverse of the 'Kiss of Death' for several reasons, the obvious for the opposites, and the fact that a marriage in this case is to bring strong children into the tribe, so it 'creates life'.

 Sorry it ran long. Now, on to the Nujie Zu and Jusenkyo.

 Thank you for all of the continuing positive feedback, it means a lot to me.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

*CHARACTERS USED*

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

{Here I will list all of the important, non-Ranma characters, used in the chapter and where they are from.}

Kogarashi the "Maid Guy" - the title character from Kamen no Maid Guy.
Fubuki - The future 'Maid Guy Tamer' from Kamen no Maid Guy.
Kaede Tenjoji - The headmaster of Hakureiryo Academy from Ladies vs. Butlers.
Shun Di - The drunken master and herbal doctor from the Virtua Fighter series. Some versions, including this one, say he also taught Lao Chan.
Renka Ma - From Kenichi, History's Strongest Disciple.
Pai Chan - Taken from Virtua Fighter.
Lao Chan - Pai's father.
Liu (Ryu) Kowloon - A character from the Virtua Fighter anime.
Fei Sha (Facial) - A exiled member of the Nujie Zu, that I made up.
Dai Pa (Diaper) - The rival who got her exiled.
Tan Pan - (Tampon) Dai Pa's family elder, and member of the council.
Mei - Fei Sha's friend, and the 'messenger' who helped acquire the 119 shampoo.


Chapter Text

Nodoka 2/1
The Chroma Series
Act 0 Part 09

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

DISCLAIMER
I only made-up a handful of the characters and pretty much everything else is owned by people who are not me, but rather many talented people, and a few faceless corporations, such as Rumiko Takahashi and Sega respectively (and many others). Bla bla bla, do not sue me, it is a waste of your time, and resources. I have nothing, NOTHING!

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

AUTHOR'S NOTES

-As always, a special thanks to my "Agent" and "Publicist" Hiryo, for proofreading, prodding, posting advice and so much more, and thank you to all of you who have read and commented.
-First, I need to apologize for the delay, my main helper^ and myself were both having issues with real life, causing a delay, including things like broken computers, and waiting for parts. In addition, I need to make a correction, I said Shampoo's name was 'Shan Puu' and that was a mistake in my notes, and while I like that better myself, I will be sticking with "Shan Pu" for the Chinese pronunciation. The 'Puu' was taken from the Japanese phonetic spelling, and not the proper Chinese Pinyin. With Mousse, I want to explain why I used what I did. There are two primary ways to transcribe Chinese, Pinyin, and Wade-Giles, normally I use Pinyin, which for Mousse would have been 'Mu Su', but I used the W-G spelling of Ssu, because it was about the same, and looked better. Sorry about the discrepancy.
-To the 'guest' reviewers, thank you. I just want to say that everything in here happens for a reason, especially if it seems like 'bashing'. With very few exceptions, I didn't see it as bashing when I wrote it anyway, I am just writing the characters the way I feel they would act in the situations.
-As for Akane, I have tried to show how she is improving over her canon appearance, though not as much as the others are in some ways, but that is partly due to still being trained mostly by Soun, and partly because, being Akane, she cannot make steady progress. It is three steps forward, two steps back. She was an angry child when her mother died, and thanks to having had Maid Guy assigned to her, never really got over it. Hopefully, she will have a breakthrough or something soon. Since I am cramming so much into so little for this part of the story, I am mostly just trying to show the more important/cute moments. As I have said before, from chapter two on, everything I had planned for the Tendos went right out the window, and I had to rework everything I had planned there, to fit that event in. The main problem with her, is that when I go to write an Akane scene, I get a real bad writer's block, and have to force myself to proceed (since I stopped liking her about half way through the first episode (and none of my editors/helpers care for her either, especially Hiryo, my main assistant), so I have not been able to show as much of her progress as I wanted to (and I am trying not to be mean). I am trying to get better, I am sorry. Now that the time skips are almost over, that will get easier? Just keep in mind, most things happen for a reason (outside of the rule of funny), even if you do not always see it for a while. We also do not know all of the 'original' factors involved, nor how much of a factor was Kuno (or in this case, Maid Guy)? How much was nature verses nurture? And so on. I am sorry that I failed to show it well enough.
-As for Ryoga, I (er, well, Nodoka) really did WANT to 'make him a man' sooner, but pesky things like local laws were preventing it, the age of consent in Hong Kong is a good bit higher than in the rest of the country (though Ukyo and Ranma broke that law once). Part of why Ranma gets most of the girls, aside from the obvious 'main character in a harem show thing', Ranma looks like even more of a better choice when you compare to Ryoga ...on a leash, held by what could appear to be his 'mommy' (or older sister). I can only think of a certain type of girl who would go for that, and she would probably think he is 'taken', since his leash is being held. While it seems longer, due to the shorter time skips and longer arcs, Ryoga has only been fourteen for about six months or so at this point in the story, at most. Well, you know the old saying, ...so I will not make you read it again.
-Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoy.
-There will be spoilers in this chapter!!! Skip the section after Jusenkyo if you do not want to read them. I will remind you again and say what they are for when you get there. (As if it won't be obvious by then...).

"Speech"
'Thought' {And other emphasized items}
/Mandarin/
\Cantonese\
-English-
{Author's Notes & *Translations* Feel free to skip these}

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

GLOSSARY (from the last chapter)

Karei no Nitsuke - Simmered halibut

Kafu - one's father

Qi Yuan Qiu - Qi (spirit energy/Ki); Yuan Qiu (Sphere/Ball)

Hadaka - Nude, Naked, Bare

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

CHAPTER 09
The Art of Getting Wet

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The latest package from Ranma included a laser disk copy of the movie he had been in, signed by almost everyone in the movie, including the director and other staff members. Interestingly, not one female member of the cast and crew turned down Ranma's request for a signature (though some of the men did. He had to ask one of the women in his group to get it), they also offered up other things, like phone numbers, addresses, bra sizes, and so on, not that the three girls were aware of any of that. They were, on the other hand, aware of the fact that they did not own a laser disk player! After a brief deliberation, they began to prepare for a trip to the store.

After changing clothes, and getting ready, the three young ladies headed out, only to be stopped by a deliveryman walking up to the house, with a package from Nodoka's lawyer. The large package was rather heavy and strangely, it was addressed to the three of them, and not Genma, as was the norm. Strange as it was, they figured they should see what it was. After signing for it, they used their stealth training to take the box into the nearest entrance to the secret passage unseen. After all, if it was addressed to them, it might be something auntie Nodoka did not want uncle Genma to know about.

Once they were down in their clubhouse, the girls opened the box to find just what they needed, a brand new laser disk player! It did not take Nabiki long to get the thing hooked up to their television, while Fubuki and Kasumi made snacks and tea. The young women, once again, changed clothes, this time into yukata, to be more comfortable.

Once ready, they popped in their copy of 'Dynasty of Jade', got comfortable, and started sharing their popcorn as the movie started.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"Oh my, what a beautiful story, so romantic..."

"Do you think if we pretend to be evil, Ranma-sama would kiss us like that?" The three ladies giggled and squeed in delight at the thought of being in 'Ming's' place for the last scene.

"It was fun, but the special effects were pretty cheesy, especially that woman in the spider costume. I thought I even saw a zipper, and it moved after being 'dead'! And it said 'ow', but then, what do you expect from a Hong Kong movie?"

"I thought the spider-monster looked good, especially pretty before it changed too."

"I wonder why they had to make it naked though, but at least they did do a good job on the way it shot webbing from between its legs. Speaking of 'naked', I can't believe that Nodoka-ba-chan wore that outfit!"

"Oh yeah, I would have been SO embarrassed in that, so much so, that I don't think I could have even moved!"

"Whoever did the make-up must be amazing though, ba-chan and that other woman who showed her butt, looked like they were in their early twenties! Barely older than you nee-chan!"

"Oh my, do you think Ranma-sama takes after Nodoka-sama then? Make-up can only do so much, and I doubt they spent the money on a body double. If you consider how old your fathers are, it's pretty amazing to have a figure that nice! Nodoka-sama certainly did not LOOK like a woman old enough to have a child our age, never mind looking like having had a child at all!"

"Ara, I doubt I will ever look that good..."

"Nee-chan! Out of all of us, you are the one who matches that figure the closest. You ARE that pretty! I will even bet that Ranma-kun would say so, and you know I don't bet money unless it is a sure thing!"

"I suppose we may find out soon, I would guess Ranma-sama should have gotten our pictures by now..."

They all blushed, and Kasumi fainted. It was only Fubuki's maid training, that kept her from following the other girl's lead.

"The real question is will any of us look that good in fifteen to twenty years!" Nabiki, being proud of her figure, was less embarrassed than the other girls were, and was more concerned about another issue. "However, if we want to stand a chance against that 'Pai' girl, I think we really need to practice kissing, so we are at least that good when Ranma-kun arrives. What do you say Fubuki-chan?"

Fubuki could only blush harder at that.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Being a matriarchal society, Nodoka agreed that it would be best for her to take the lead as the head of their clan. Rather than what she usually did, letting Ranma practice, as de facto head, while she faded into the background. They had discussed it the night before and she had to agree with Ranma's thought process. Once again, the boy had proven his worth as a leader. Their clan would be in good hands.

The guards had led them into the village where they were receiving many stares and odd looks, most of which were directed at Ranma and Ryoga's leash being held by the Saotome matriarch. Nodoka once again felt her pride well up inside as she considered how manly her son had become over the last eleven years of training and travel. There were many days when she would wish to be someone else, so that she could enjoy the fruits of her labors. However, today was not a day she could allow herself such distractions, this was one of the most important negotiations she had been involved with, their lives could literally be hanging in the balance.

It did not take long before a short, old woman came hopping over on her gnarled staff. The woman's silver hair was more than double her less than one meter in height, yet somehow stayed clean and shiny, despite obviously dragging the ground, even with the boost of being on the taller staff. A much younger girl, around the same age as the other teens, came bounding behind her elder. The buxom teen was dressed in a skimpy dress, and had long purple hair, with ox-horn buns on either side of her head.

"/Welcome outsiders. I am the matriarch of this tribe of heroic woman, and this is my great granddaughter, Shan Pu./"

Ranma was surprised, and despite the plan of letting his mother do the talking, he blurted out, "/Really? Please, forgive my interruption, but if so, you must have been quite a beauty in your day./" The lad turned toward the lavender-haired princess, and continued. "/I could have sworn you were a descendent of Xi Shi! Chen yu luo yan, bi yue xiu hua./" Ranma took the girl's hand, bowing as he kissed the back of it.

Shampoo blushed, and turned away bashfully, something those who knew her, would have been shocked to see. One of those people in particular was not please about it at all as he watched from a distance.

Pai whispered to Ukyo. "What did he say?"

Whispering back, Ukyo replied, "You will probably be happier if you do not know. If you 'really' want to know, I will tell you later."
{Long story short, he called her VERY pretty, for more, see end notes.}

Cologne looked on with amusement. "/It seems as if not all of you speak Mandarin./ Would you prefer Japanese?"

"Thank you honored elder. If you do not mind, that would save us a bit of explaining."

"It is no problem, when you get as old as I am, you tend to pick up a few things."

Shampoo giggled. "/No one gets as old as you are Great Grandmother./"

Cologne gave Shampoo a look that sobered her right up. "Speak Japanese child, this is a good chance for you to practice. You certainly need it. I have been trying to cram it into your head for years, maybe this will give you the motivation to learn." The ancient woman then addressed the newcomers. "So what is it that had you seek us out?"

"I have been helping to train my son, for most of the last eleven years, but I had no skill in the art, so we are learning together. Between the books that I had to take from my brainless husband, and the training from other masters we have found, we have learned a few things. For the last three, we have been traveling all over China learning what we can here. We have heard legends of skills of your people, and we were hoping you would honor us by allowing us to stay here for a while to train with you. We, of course would help you out in any way we can."

Cologne gave the group another appraising look. '/They do seem interesting, let us see how badly they want this./' "No."

Everyone else, including Shampoo, gave her a disappointed look, she may not have understood all of what had been said, but she certainly understood the word 'no'.

"Thank you honored elder, we understand. I do not suppose there would be anything we could do to change your mind?"

"Teaching outsiders is strictly forbidden, few exceptions can be made, and only under the most extreme conditions. Only members of the tribe can learn the techniques that three thousand years of Nujie Zu history created! It simply cannot be done."

"Would there, perhaps, be any way someone could temporarily join your tribe then?"

"Temporary? No. Honorary, perhaps."

"What, exactly, would one have to do, if they were wanting such a thing?"

"Well, there are three ways. The easiest would be for at least one of you to marry into the tribe. We always have a need for good strong men to provide us with strong babies." Cologne's wicked grin unnerved the group a bit.

Shampoo got a hopeful look on her face, since the handsome one seemed to like her, she thought she had a chance. '/That would show those other girls! Few of them even had a boyfriend, never mind one as cute as the shirtless boy here. I just hope that one is strong enough to not be scared off by a certain stalker, who had better not get involved!/' Before Shampoo could work out what to say to volunteer to 'make that sacrifice', the elder of their group spoke up.

"I do believe they are a bit young for that, and I would like my son to live a bit more before getting married. We also need to return home at some point. What would the other two options be?"

Shampoo saw the woman shaking her head and looked noticeably disappointed to anyone who was paying her any attention. Unfortunately for her self-esteem, few of them were, least of all the boy she was hoping to entice with her flirtations. However, most of their attention was focused on her elder. If her great Grandmother had not been there, Shampoo would have already challenged the boy and thrown the match. Things being what they were, the buxom beauty settled for sending coy looks, standing in ways that emphasized her best features, and tossing her long hair back with a wink.

"One way is to do a 'great service' for the tribe, and thankfully, other than our dwindling population, we have no great emergencies pressing on us for the time being. The other way is to pass a test of worth, in the traditional way. So, unless you would like to marry a selection of our fine warriors, or at least first provide many of them with young..." Cologne let that thought hang in the air for a moment.

Ukyo thought about how long that could take, and how unlikely it would be that she would get her fair share in the meantime, and said, "That could take forever, what is this test? That might be easier, and faster. If we are here a while, some girls can try their luck, but I get to cum first!"

Pai interjected next, glad they had given her the opportunity to do so by speaking Japanese. "Me second!" '\I will be damned if I let one of these backwoods hicks ride that stallion before I do! It seems I will have to make a move really soon though, if the look that one is giving is any indication...\'

"Yes, as manly as my son is, we are on a bit of a time table here. We only have about a year or so."

"Well, if they look anything like Shan Pu here, then I guess I wouldn't mind 'helping a few of them out' while we are here." Ranma said slyly.

Nodoka got a broad smile on her face and 'swooned' a bit.

Struggling to follow the conversation, Shampoo knew she needed to say something, and finally got out, "Shampoo three, yes? Is okay?" '/I will show that boy that I would make a great wife, and if I play it right, the other girls won't get time for a 'turn'!/'

Cologne laughed, while the others looked at the girl with varying degrees of awkwardness and interest. "Oh youth, what it would be like to be a couple of hundred years younger, but back to the matter at hand. The test ...is a trial by combat, in the traditional manor of our people."

"We will be able to leave when we want, is that correct?"

"Yes, as long as you agree to stand with us if ever there is a need, help any tribe member if the need arises, and follow our laws."

"Well, as long as I don't have to kill anyone or anything. The art is for protecting people, not taking life!"

"That's only for 'official' members of the tribe, and rarely comes up all that often, and almost never for men. Those who marry in, or become honorary members, are not held to that law. Don't worry about it."

"Well, okay, then I suppose I should ask what this 'trial by combat' is about?"

"Yes, yes you should."

"Um, okay." Ranma bowed formally. "Oh honored elder, what may I ask, is this 'trial by combat'? What would you require of us?" The boy's eyes twinkled, and his smile sparkled as he righted himself.

Shampoo swooned as Cologne turned to Nodoka and commented. "That boy is good."

"That's my 'manly' son!"

Cologne chuckled. "So good of you to ask, you will all spar with me at the legendary cursed springs of Jusenkyo!" The old woman paused for dramatic effect. "Be forewarned, it is not called the 'Cursed Springs' for nothing, the risks are quite real, and life changing. Do you still wish to continue?"

"I will risk anything for the art!"

"My son is SO Manly!"

"I go wherever Ranchama goes!"

"I guess, I will go too then. It doesn't sound like a really good idea though." Remembering what they had been told, Pai was getting nervous.

Ryoga considered his usual luck, and decided firmly, "I'll wait right here."

"Will you really? Or do we need to tie you to a post again or something?"

"Damn you, Playboy! I was trying to make a good impression!"

"Even if you did, the first time you get lost going to the can, it would be out the window... but, if that is the way you want it, just be careful. I don't want to have to search the continent for you."

Nodoka thought to herself. 'Well, Ryoga is starting to show a bit more backbone, maybe one of the girls here will finally make a man out of the lad. Hopefully then we can stop cleaning blood out of the bathtub.'

Ranma turned to Cologne and asked in a hushed tone, "/The guy has literally been cursed with the worst direction sense in the world, could you get someone to keep watch. I would hate to never see my friend again because we lost track of him./'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Soun and Genma were gathered in their usual spot in the game room, playing 'Go' and chatting.

"So, Tendo-kun, those girls are really advancing well, I can't believe all of the techniques they have been developing. It's almost as if they had ninja training!"

"Don't be silly Saotome-kun. Where would they learn such a thing? ...Unless your son is helping."

"Well, they are in contact a lot, so anything is possible... So how is your other girl doing?"

"Akane-chan is doing well. The girl still loves smashing bricks, but we are working on some of the more advanced techniques of the family style. As a matter of fact, the girl chose to go on a training trip with friends this weekend!"

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Akane and her friends Yuri and Sayuka were at the beach, playing an aggressive game of volleyball. It was a three on three game, and the other three girls, while being older and better built to boot, were not doing well. Few people could beat Akane in a sports related activity, and her friends knew her well enough to stay out of her way when it was necessary. Unfortunately, her last serve bounced off the face of one of the other girls, and then out into the water. One of the other girls was tending her friend's face, and the other was complaining about a foul and that Akane needed to go get their ball.

Akane was not happy about that, but was so worked up that she was not really thinking. Her friends had never born witness to her amazing swimming 'skills' before, so didn't think anything about it either, and tried to help the injured girl.

Akane was wading in after the ball, but every time she would get close to it, and reach out, it would move further away, frustrating the easily excitable girl. She had finally gotten a hold of the ball, when the water was shoulder deep on her, but in doing so her feet left the bottom, and she was floating, using the ball for support. As fate would have it, that was the same moment a small current came along and moved her further from shore.

Akane was attempting to kick toward the shoreline, but was trying to kick as if she were 'attacking' the water. Between that and the current, she was still getting further away from shore, not closer. Beginning to panic, Akane started thrashing about and yelling for help.

Yuri and Sayuka heard the cries for help and spotted Akane. They jumped up from where they were looking after the other girl, and ran for the water. However, by the time they had reached the water, they had been passed by a black and white blur, hopping right by them. Not knowing who the blur was, they kept going, swimming out to help their friend.

Konatsu had landed right next to the two friends, and leaped out as far as the former kunoichi had been able to, landing as close to Akane as possible. Before long, Konatsu had kicked the ball back to shore, had looped Akane's arms, and was pulling her back toward the shore. About halfway back they met up with other two girls who helped them to land.

"Jeez Akane, you never told us you were a hammer!"
{Being called a 'hammer' in Japan, means you can't swim.}

"Yeah, you gave us a good scare. We would have gone for the ball if you had told us."

Akane blushed. "Well, it's embarrassing, and I didn't think it would go out that far... Thank you guys."

"You're welcome! ...So, are you going to introduce us to your cute friend?"

"Oh, sorry, this is Konatsu, the 'Mini Maid Guy', Kogarashi's assistant. Konatsu-chan, these are my friends, Sayuka and Yuri."

Konatsu bowed, and still using the polite, feminine mode of speech replied, "Yuri-sama, Sayuka-sama, I am very pleased to meet Akane-sama's friends. Thank you for helping."

Sayuka turned to Akane and asked, "Are you feeling better?" Knowing better than to joke, 'I'll bet Yuri would be happy to give you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, if you need it.', as she would have to some of their other friends. Akane tended to react badly to such jokes, and Sayuka didn't want to ruin the day any further.

"Yes, thank you."

"How about we play a nice safe game of Boccia, or watermelon splitting next?"

"Sounds like fun."

"But first," Yuri turned to Konatsu and asked, "How can you stand to be in that full maid's uniform at the beach? Don't you have a swimsuit?"

"Well, Kogarashi-sama says, 'A maid without a maid's uniform is just a normal person.', and I am currently Akane-sama's personal 'Maid Guy'." Konatsu gave a slow spin, smiling cutely for the girls.

Yuri blushed, looking away from the cute maid for a moment before saying, "But you are soaked, we need to get you out of those wet things... Get you something skimp-, I mean drier to put on!" She hastily corrected.

"No need to worry, just give me a moment." Konatsu hopped a short ways away, kicking out a battle aura. After landing, the 'Mini Maid Guy' began 'twirling' at an incredible speed, small droplets of water flying in every direction. "Mini Maid Guy Drier Technique: Spin Cycle!" After finishing, Konatsu hopped back over to the three girls.

"Wow! That was cool! Can I feel?" Konatsu nodded. In response, Yuri rubbed up against the maid's uniform, amazed at how dry it was. "Just amazing, that is a handy trick! If we are forming teams, I want to be on your team!" Konatsu blushed cutely.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

A couple of hours passed, and the two 'teams' were pretty even. Konatsu being more skilled than Akane in many ways was made up for by the fact that Yuri paid more attention to Konatsu than to the games.

After some shaved ice, Yuri asked Akane, "I need a bit of help with something, would you mind terribly if I borrowed your maid for a short while?"

"Nah, go ahead."

Bowing, Konatsu said, "If that is your command, Akane-sama."

"Great! Thanks Akane!" Turning to the maid, Yuri got a sultry look on her face and said, "Follow me Konatsu-chan, I need to show you something." Yuri grabbed Konatsu's hand and ran off, dragging the maid behind.

Sayuka laughed, "Oh, that girl."

"What? Is something wrong?"

"Nah, I am sure they will be back soon. Let's go play some more games..."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"Bye bye Akane-chan, Konatsu-chan. Thanks for spending the day with us, it was fun." Sayuka smiled warmly.

"You too guys, thanks for helping me too..." Akane's face darkened for a moment, before returning to her cheerful self.

"Yes, thank you for helping me save Akane-sama, and letting me join you. I hope to see you again, Sayuka-sama, Yuri-sama." Konatsu bowed deeply to the two girls. "I do not know what I would have done if you had not been there. Kogarashi would never forgive me if anything happened to Akane-sama."

"Well, Akane-chan is our friend too." Yuri smiled back.

Konatsu bowed again and said, "Thank you for the fun day! I will never forget it!", before following Akane toward their home.

Yuri mumbled to herself, "Neither will I, that's for sure..."

After they had gone well out of earshot, Sayuka giggled before turning to her old friend and asking, "Soooo, how did your 'date' go? Or did you lose interest already, you fickle girl?"

"Let's just say I found out why Konatsu is called 'Mini Maid Guy', and leave it at that... Honestly, I just thought it was a joke, due to being 'Maid Guy's' assistant! Besides, you know you are the only girl I really want, but since you like boys better, I have to do something!"

"WHAT?!?!? No one that cute could be a guy, what are you talking about? This, I have GOT to hear..."

"Well, okay, but if I tell, then you owe me a kiss! I need to get the taste of boy outta my mouth..."

"Okay, fine. It sounds like it will be worth it this time, not like the last time you tried that. Just don't stick your tongue in my mouth again!"

"Aaaawwww!" Yuri looked sheepish for a moment and said, "Well, it was worth it to ME!" 'Can't blame a girl for trying to get a little action...' They both giggled.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Cologne led the group into a clearing, where they saw Ryoga waiting for them.

"Back so soon guys?"

"We just got here, how did YOU get here?"

"I don't know, I just went to find a bathroom... Wait, where the hell am I this time then?"

"Ah, sirs, welcome to Cursed Springs, Jusenkyo."

"Shimatta! Okay, I am just going to wait over here, where it is safe."

"NO! NOT THAT WAY PUPPY!"

All of them ended up in a pile, trying to grab for the end of the leash.

*SPLASH*

"How you know that one fall in Xiaogounniquan, spring of drowned puppy?"

"But, I didn't... what? Do you mean...?"

"Yes, very tragic story of tourists who lose pet mixed breed puppy, oh, about fifteen year ago. Now, whoever fall in that spring, take body of puppy." The guide chuckled to himself.

Nodoka had been the one who first got to the leash and pulled Ryoga out, while the teenagers joined together in uncontrolled guffaws.

"I am sorry Ryoga, I know it's not funny, but it is REALLY funny! BUWAHAHAHA!!!!!"

Nodoka was petting the lost dog's head after drying him with a towel, trying to comfort him. Thankfully, he was too shocked to 'shake' off the water. "I think I will name you, 'P-Chan'. 'P' for the English word 'puppy', and you are just so adorable like this!"

The guide used a long pole to fish Ryoga's clothes out of the pool, all except for the bandannas that were strangely still on his head. "Best to let these dry first. These wet with curse water, veeery dangerous. No touching until dry. Hot water reverse curse. Cold water activates it again."

Finally calming down, Ranma asked, "Is there any way to cure it permanently?"

"That very good question, with no very good answer. Magic of Jusenkyo very mysterious. No one really understand how work. Sometime curse mix, sometime curse overwrite. For sure, longer you wait, better chance cure work. No one really know, in two thousand year, no one try. At least no one in book of records."

"So there is a cure?"

"Maybe. Toss dog in spring of drowned man, might mix, might cure. Best wait until magic stabilizes."

"Okay, you all heard that gang! Let's learn from our fallen nakama, above all else, do NOT fall in the pools!"

Ryoga barked, "Wan!" trying to say, 'I'm not dead!'
{*Wan = Woof/Arf*}

"Yes, very bad you fall in spring!"

Cologne hopped over on her gnarled staff, looking serious. "Now that you all know the risks, are you still willing to take this test of bravery?"

Ranma turned to the group. "Anyone want to back out now?" Everyone declined, though some more hesitantly than others. "What would you have us do then elder?"

Cologne took a long hop, and landed on one of the bamboo poles. "We fight, all of you, come at me at once!"

The four others each jumped onto one of the poles while Shampoo stayed off to the side, keeping an eye on 'P-chan', while they were waiting on his clothes to not be completely sopping wet. The guide used long-practiced skill to prop up Ryoga's clothing over the fire-pit using poles, so they would dry faster, though not being able to wring them out did make it take longer. Ryoga was still not comfortable being nude around others and knowing that he could change back helped his modesty win out over his panic. There was one thing he was sure of, this girl smelled nice.

The three teens and one adult took turns bouncing around on the poles and attacking the ancient elder, trying to keep her on the defensive, and hopefully, off-guard. It wasn't exactly working, but they had not resorted to ki attacks, and Cologne was not really trying too hard. This was only a test of courage and skill, not a punishment, or advanced training after all. She did not want anyone to get cursed, she had only wanted to use the threat to see if they would be scared off. It was a shame about the dog-boy though.

Shampoo was deeply engrossed in the action, thoroughly enjoying, not only the show of skill, but also the fact that it was not her that her Great Grandmother was testing. Suddenly, she was pulled out of her 'trance' by the sound of 'P-chan' barking. She had been paying too much attention to the action, and the way Ranma's long coat flapped as he jumped, revealing his bare chest and the way his muscles rippled with each movement. It took Shampoo a moment to realize that the puppy was not even watching the 'fight', but looking the other way entirely. By the time her brain had processed this information it was too late, another teen, with long black hair, white robes, and large, round glasses on top of his head came barreling out of the trees at breakneck speed. The boy was also yelling, "/I will save you, Shan Pu!/" The young man was so focused on the target of his wrath that he did not even notice that he had hit anyone and sent them flying, nor where they landed with a big *SPLASH!*. However, not noticing something, and not being affected by it, are two completely different things. Therefore, when the lad threw the large metal ball from the long sleeves of his robes, his aim was a bit off. Instead of hitting just Ranma, he also clipped Nodoka and Pai, sending them all flying in different directions.

The boy's cry of "/You will not take my Shan Pu!/" did give those furthest away time to react. Cologne had been able to catch Pai with her staff, and prevent the girl from falling into one spring, but the others had been out of her reach. Ukyo swung on her pole to land next to where Ranma was headed, to try to help him in any way she could. However, Ukyo was a bit too slow to prevent his landing in the pool, and was still in the air as Ranma and the others all landed in their pools.

Four different splashes were heard. Shampoo tumbled into one of the springs, where she had been thrown by the far-sighted fool. The large metal ball on a chain landed in a spring before it disappeared, but not before creating a large splash. Nodoka landed in yet another, where there was a bright, violet explosion of light. Ranma landed face first in still another pool, sending a wave out behind him. Ukyo was caught by the twin splashes of Ranma and the metal ball, the change throwing off her weight distribution and causing her to land on her newly protected back, where she skidded across the ground.

"So many fall in at once, oh so very tragic. Is going to be big update to logbook tonight..." With a sigh, the round man pointed toward Ukyo with his thumb. "You get hit with two curse at same time! Very tragic! Hit with guiniquan, spring of drowned tortoise, and Niangniquan, spring of drowned girl!" Ukyo was having trouble getting up with her new body, as the others began to break the surface of the water.

Shampoo was the first to climb out. She was hissing, and looking for Mousse, to pay him back for getting her cursed. "Oh too bad, you fall in Rentoushishenniquan, spring of drowned sphinx, very tragic story of sphinx what drowned there two thousand, one hundred, thirty four year ago. Now whoever fall into spring take body of sphinx." Shampoo heard none of this. The rage she felt toward her long-time stalker over-riding her higher brain functions, her pink and purple fur, blurring as she leaped. The, now Cat-Girl, completely ignored her instincts to ask the boy riddles and started attacking with her new claws.

Cologne jumped down, setting Pai near the guide, and tried to calm Shampoo, promising that the boy would pay for his crimes.

Ranma was the next to surface. Opening his jacket, he yelled in surprise after looking at his chest. The guide explained the spring of drowned girl again, while Ranma considered for a moment adjusting his sarashi to cover his newfound breasts, but was far more concerned with the condition of his comrades. Taking in the situation, he saw that despite the changes, everyone else seemed all right, other than the boy who caused the mess, so they all turned toward where his mother had fallen. After a long couple of seconds, the bright violet light faded and a woman wearing his mother's clothing crawled out of the pool. She had flawless alabaster-white skin, her hair had changed from its normal reddish-brown to rich black, and her face looked even younger and ...different. Nodoka had always looked younger than her age would suggest, and since they finished their training with Kyoshi she had hardly seemed to have aged physically at all, but now she looked barely older than Ranma himself. Even her aura was different!

The guide saw this and gaped. "What? That no happen before. Very strange."

Ranma was starting to worry even more, and turned to the guide to ask, "What isn't normal? What happened?"

"Well, that one spring of drowned priest. Normally whoever fall in spring take body of young priest, but not usually girl, and that light, very strange..."

'Nodoka' looked confused as she climbed out of the pool. "What? Where am I? Why am I wet? Did I miss something fun? And why do I feel...? Oh no..." Even her voice was different.

"Kaa-chan! Are you okay?" The teens ran over to check on her after handing her a dry towel. After all, Nodoka's rule number forty-two, was to always carry a towel.

"Why do you address me as such? I am a miko, I am no one's mother. I've never even..."
{*Miko = Shrine Maiden or Priestess*}

"Well, you were until a moment ago."

"No, until a moment ago, there was nothing, darkness, no light, no sound, no time, nothing. However, now, I am here, wet, and it is back... Where IS here anyway and who are you ...people?"

The guide mumbles further, "Very unusual indeed..."

Ranma took charge, as usual, though his bare breasts did little to show authority. "My name is Ranma Saotome, these are my companions, and you are, or rather, were my mother, Nodoka Saotome."

"You have a surname, are you a lord, or a samurai, or something?"

"Well, sort of, but that is not why. All Japanese people are required to take a surname, it has been that way for more than a hundred years. What era are you from?"

"It was the Muromachi period, I believe."

"Muromachi? That ended more than four hundred years ago!"

"That is troublesome. Let me ask you this then, are you friends with this kappa?"

"I am NOT a kappa!"

"Then what ARE you? You look like a kappa to me... though not as ugly as most of the ones I have seen..."

"Ucchan is much cuter than any kappa."

"Well, normally I am a teen-age girl, but I just got hit with two curses at once, and they seem to have mixed... And I am getting the urge to make more okonomiyaki ...with cucumber..."

"See, I told you. Kappa LOVE cucumber!"

"I AM NOT A KAPPA!" At that moment, the guide came over with a kettle, pouring a bit of the warm water over the girl's head. Unfortunately, depending on your point of view, when the curse activated, Ukyo's tight dress had shredded with the expansion of her shell, leaving her almost completely naked. Not that Ukyo minded overly much, but she did notice that Ranma's breasts were larger than her own. That made perfect sense to the girl, who figured the handsome boy should make for a beautiful girl. However, Ukyo also noticed the way their former 'mother' was looking at them. Ranma noticed it as well, and handed Ukyo his coat, after wringing it out. It took Ranma a moment to realize he still had breasts and probably ought to cover them, so rewrapped his sarashi.

"Sorry sir, hot water gone. I go get more for you." With that, the portly man was heading back to his hut.

The priestess was surprised, she had seen transformation magic many times, but normally is was due to the youkai power and she did not sense anything like that nearby, and never had she seen magic activated by water of a certain temperature. There was a lot of magic though, including what she sense at first, but also from all around her. The whole area was infused with magic, but it was not a malicious magic, chaotic, yes, but not inherently evil. Seeing the change for herself did make for a convincing argument though. She looked at her reflection in the water, and saw that she looked like she remembered. "So you say that moments ago, I was your mother. Did your mother look like I?" 'Or is the water showing my spirit's reflection?'

"Oh no, you look completely different. Still beautiful, but in a different way, and you look closer to our age. So then, if you are NOT my mother, who are you now?"

"As I said, I was a priestess, my name is Kikyo. I died from wounds I obtained in the line of my duty. A duty that will never end, it seems... I had hoped that when my reincarnation wished it out of existence that my soul could rest, and the cycle would end. However, it has returned once again, and so have I... What do you know about the Sacred Jewel of Four Souls?"

"Nothing, never heard of any such thing. How about you, Ucchan?"

"Only legends."

Now that the Ukyo had changed back into her normal form, Kikyo gave her another hard look. To Ukyo it felt as if the other woman was looking straight through her. It was similar to when Ranma would read her true aura. It made her want to pull Ranma's coat around her even more tightly, not that she felt that would do any good.

"You seem familiar to me girl, are you a monster hunter?"

"We HAVE hunted a few in our time, but I was from a clan of ninja, not monster hunters."

"I almost expected you to pull out a big boomerang." Kikyo chuckled a bit.

"A what? I use my okonomiyaki kote as my main weapons of choice and occasionally, my war fans, but I can use a lot of weapons."

"That is somehow ...appropriate, and you, you are supposed to be 'my daughter'?"

"Your son! I am a man!"

"What? With a body like that? You claim to be a man?"

At that moment the guide had returned to pour the hot water onto Ranma's head, changing him back to his male form.

"Told you."

Kikyo's jaw dropped. "It's you! You found a way to become human and you forgot all about me? Inuyasha, my love?" Kikyo jumped up and threw her arms around the freshly restored young man.

"Ranchama?"

Ranma, using all of his reasoning, and linguistic skills (he was a cunning linguist after all), and came back with the most eloquently stated response he could muster, "But, er, um, ack, but, who, why, what, how, hamanahamanahamana... Wait? I have always been human, and we have never met before, have we? I am sure I would remember one as lovely as you... and, um, Inu-what? If you want a dog, you would be better off talking to that guy over there..."

"No, not the same, but so very like that man ...and a bit like that other one, but no matter. All that matters is that we have been reunited!"

The guide was about to pour the hot water on 'Kikyo's' head, hoping to change her back into Nodoka, when he was stopped by Ranma. "Wait! That will change Kikyo-san back into Ofukuro-chan?"

"Yes, should. Hard to say though, this one very strange. No is like normal curse. Normally only noise splash, and that light very strange, no?"

"You would know better than we... Well, wait a moment then, we need to figure this out first." Turning back to the cursed priestess, Ranma said, "Who, exactly, are you, and why do you say I should know you?"

"As I told you, I am Kikyo, a priestess in charge of protecting the Shikon no Tama, or Sacred Jewel of Four Souls. Twice we have erased the jewel from existence, and yet it has returned once again, and for a third time, it has brought us together. You who are so like, yet not like that man. You can only be the reincarnation of my love. It seems as though the sacred jewel has granted my wish to be reunited with Inuyasha, or rather, the fully human reincarnation of the half man I loved. It is not good that the jewel has returned, but I cannot say I am unhappy. I, it is good to see you again, you are just as handsome as a full human, as I had always imagined." Kikyo snuggled into Ranma's chest even further, enjoying the feeling until the guide poured the hot water over her head.

"What? Too soon?"

"A bit, but..."

Nodoka was returned control and form, and realized the position she was in, snuggling up to her son. She had been aware of everything 'she' had been doing, but it had been like watching a movie, and had been unable to feel or do anything. However, now she was aware, in control, and felt every bit of it ...and it felt very good. After a few moments, it all sunk in, panicking the embarrassed woman, caused her to yell, "Ack! Ranma-kun!", and jumped back, almost falling into another spring. If not for the quick actions of the two nearby teens, she would have done just that. Ranma and Ukyo each grabbed one of her arms, and helped her away from the springs.

Over by the hut, Cologne was trying to calm her descendant down after hitting a sleep pressure point on the stalker, as much to prevent the boy from feeling the pain from the damage Shampoo had done, as it was to keep the fool from running away. Shampoo had been returned to human form before Ukyo had been, to stop the carnage if nothing else. Ryoga, not wanting to be naked, so still in puppy form, pretended their attacker was a fire hydrant, and finally relieved himself.

When Ranma and Ukyo led Nodoka over to them, Cologne gave them an apologetic look. "I am afraid we owe you an apology. One of our soon to be former tribe members interfered with the test, and caused you this curse. All of you who took the test passed, and you are all welcome to stay with us for as long as you like. For not only causing you all this trouble, but also for cursing my granddaughter, this fool will be put on trial before the council. I doubt they will be lenient, especially in light of past transgressions. This is not the first time this one has brought shame to their family. If any of you would like to speak at the trial, I will see it is allowed. You may even be allowed the right of execution, if you so desire..."

"NO! I mean, I am sorry honored elder, but I do not wish to see anyone killed. As troublesome as this is, we all knew the risks. We will find a way to deal with it. Ofukuro-chan here has it the worst, being possessed by the spirit of a long dead priestess, the rest of us just look different, we don't change into someone else!" Ranma hugged his mother again.

Cologne's impression of the boy just kept going up. Though many who knew her might be surprised by the fact, but she did not particularly care for killing people either, and only did so when absolutely necessary. Sadly, it had been necessary far too many times in her long life, and it always brought with it a heavy heart. However, as the leader of her people, it was her responsibility to do whatever she had to do to keep her people safe and uphold their traditions to the best of her ability, and she would do anything to ensure their future.

"So, how DO you feel, kaa-chan? What do you remember?"

"I believe, I remember all of it. It was like I was a passenger in the body of another, unable to do or say anything."

"That almost exactly what was. Many spring change body, some even change personality, but never seen one do like that! Seen many people fall in that spring, never act like this before. Another tragic story for annals of Jusenkyo!"

"So, kaa-chan, did you hear that miko's story?" Seeing his mother nod, the boy continued. "Do you know anything about this Shikon no Tama thing?"

"You could say that. It is a bit of a long story though, maybe we should make some tea..."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-
{Inuyasha Spoilers Ahead - Skip to next line break if you do not want to read}

"So let me get this straight, you are saying that one of our cousins, who is still in elementary school, is going to go back in time in the future, and destroy this jewel and become one of our ancient ancestors?!?"

"That is correct. According to the family legends, this girl was, or is, the reincarnation of this very miko. They were able to purify the evil taint within the jewel, and wish it out of existence, thereupon the girl was returned to the proper time. However, after spending some time in our future, little Kagome-chan will wish to go back in time once again, to be with the lover that the priestess mentioned. When that wish is made, the jewel will be brought back into this world, and follow our cousin into the past. Our ancestors found the sacred jewel again, and we have been its protectors from then on.

"I had planned on telling you all of this when you got married, and the duty fell to you, but it seems as though you need to know sooner. I had hoped to spare you this burden until you had lived a little first. I wanted you to have a life of fun before you had to take over. The jewel can only be protected by one who is free from evil. This is why you must be a man among men, an honorable man, to prepare you for the day this duty falls to you."

"If this is what is needed of me, then of course, I will accept. Just tell me what you need me to do, kaa-chan."

"What I need, is for you to not worry about any of this for now. Just be happy and honorable, my son. I will continue to do my duty until the day you are ready. There is no hurry for you to take over, whenever you feel that you are ready, this duty will await you."

"Whenever you feel it is time, I will be ready! So, I am the reincarnation of this half-youkai, Inuyasha? And this miko, Kikyo, was in love with me or rather, my past life? Do you know more about that? I noted you did not mention that in your story."

"Well, our family legends did not go into that part of the story, so I cannot really say. However, as romantic as that story is, I do hope that you will remember that this Kikyo, is in my body, and that I am watching what happens from behind those eyes. Anything you do to that miko, you are also doing to me."

"I wasn't planning to DO anything, I just want to know what I am dealing with."

"For that, you may well have to go to the source."

Ranma, Ukyo, and Nodoka were feeling a bit 'squicky' thinking about the subject, but Pai was coming to the conclusion that she would need to hurry if she did not want to be left behind... Every time she turned around it seemed like some other girl was after Ranma, and she wanted to solidify her position.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to Ranma, one that did not exactly make him overly happy. "Okaa-san, does that mean, that all of these monsters, that have been attacking us over the years, have been after that jewel thing, that you have known about this the whole time, and are just now thinking it is important enough to tell us about? How were you supposed to protect this thing from monsters before you could fight? What would you have done if kafu-san had taken me on this trip and something happened?"

"Whoa, my son, slow down. Yes, it does seem that they might have been after it. However, I was not aware of that before. I only started to get the idea the other day, when we were attacked by those bugs. I had assumed that the jewel's power was still sealed, it has been many generations since any member of the family had been attacked for it. I suppose all of the traveling we have done with it, might have made the trace of power that may no longer be contained by the seal is more likely to be noticed than if I had stayed at home. However, there was no way I could have left it with your father, even if that man were not ineligible to guard it. There is just no telling what would have happened."

"No, I understand, that would have been worse than leaving it unattended. I am kind of glad it worked out this way then, I would hate to think what might have happened if youkai has shown up at the house and you were there, alone and untrained. I do wish you had told us about it sooner though. I think it might be a good idea to get Kikyo-san to look at that seal too, maybe something is wrong with it. If anyone can tell, I would think that particular miko would be the most knowledgeable. Of course I do not want to make you change back if we do not have to, when even the guide does not even seem to know what is going on with this curse..."

"No son, as usual, you are right. Let me get it for you, so you can ask me when I change. As for why, it has been tradition that future caretakers are not told until it is time for them to take over. It had been so long since there had been any trouble, no one really thought much about it any longer. I did want to make sure you were better prepared for the role than I had been." Turning to the guide, she inquired, "/Would you be so kind as to prepare the water needed for this please?/"

Bowing, the guide said, "/Certainly, honored customer./" and got right to work.

Nodoka started digging in her outfit, pulled out a cloth, and placed it on the table before Ranma. Ranma unwrapped the cloth and inside found a small cloth bag. Opening the bag, he found a small wooden box, with a white strip of paper with black ink dripping off of it. "Oh no. I think it is safe to say, that this seal is useless now."

"They told me it was waterproof ink! I mean, it has gotten wet before..."

"Jusenkyo magic spring, you ink proof for magic water?"

"Uhhh..."

"I am going to go out on a limb here, and say 'no, no it wasn't'."

An "Urk!" was heard as the guide splashed Nodoka with a glass of cold water before a wet Kikyo jumped up to embrace Ranma. "My Love! You freed me!"

Another "Urk!" was heard as Kikyo started kissing Ranma's neck.

He stiffened up for a moment before pushing the girl back. "I am sorry Kikyo-san, I must ask you to refrain from doing that please. We have more important things to discuss."

"Why do you treat me so poorly, my love?"

"I am not trying to treat you poorly, but I am not 'your love'. You do not even know me ...and, you know, are in ofukuro-chan's body, it's kind of creepy."

"Of course I know you! I know you better than I know anyone else, Inu..."

"See! You see? You do not even know my name! You don't know me, you know almost nothing about me..."

Dejected, Kikyo turned away. "You ...are correct. However, I DO know a lot about you, and even more about the man that you used to be. I know that you are honest, caring, and handsome. I know that you would do anything to help someone for whom you care. I know that you would risk your life to protect others... I do not sense the slightest bit of evil from you at all. You seem even more kind and loving than you were before. I do not need to know more than that. You have been all that I have wanted for so long... Even when I thought you had betrayed me, I still wanted you..."

"That's our Ranchama!"

"I know this must be hard for you, and the last thing I want is to cause you more pain. It sounds to me, as if you have had more than enough of that in your lifetime, and beyond. I am more than sorry that you have had to endure what you have. No one should have to go through what you have been made to suffer. It's not right. Know that I will do anything in my power to help you..."

"Don't! No, this is hard enough! I do not want your pity. I should have known better anyway. No wish made on the Shikon no Tama will ever be granted in a way that will make the wish maker happy. I have been put by your side, only to be rejected, and trapped inside your mother of all things... So close, yet so far. My love is ever in vain. To never be mine... Plaything of the gods. Torment is all I have known. Why can't I just stay dead..."

"Don't say that, you deserve a chance at happiness!" Ranma placed his hand on Kikyo's shoulder sending out a calming aura. He fully expected to be brushed aside, when that did not happen, he pulled her closer and saw the tears streaming down her face. Not being able to help himself, Ranma took the taller girl into a hug, doing his best to comfort and soothe. "I swear to you that I will help you. Somehow we will find a way to free you."

"When you talk like that, you sound just like you used to. It just makes me want to be with you all the more. Be that as it may, you were unable to keep me safe the other times, and I have little hope for the future. ...This is nice though."

"I am not that man! I, Ranma Saotome always keep my word, especially to a beautiful lady..." Ranma held her more tightly with his declaration, his determination was apparent to everyone present.

Kikyo's tears slowed as she blushed at the complement. 'Even Inuyasha never called me beautiful, this version is much more affectionate too! We may have technically only just met, yet my feelings only get stronger. I am sure this is the one I want. Kagome can be selfish, this man is a better catch anyway!'

Pai did not want to be rude, but felt the need to say something. "It's true, Ranma has saved me on more than one occasion. I have never met anyone more honorable."

"I have been traveling with them for more than eight years now, and Ranchama has never broken a promise that I know of!"

Even Ryoga had to say something, even if it was only to make the woman feel better. "It's true, honor is very important to them. They go around saving people all of the time. They saved me a few times as well, I don't know what I would have done without them. Nodoka is a very kind and honorable woman, and raised Ranma well." Ryoga was blushing at having to talk that way. 'Even if the guy gets on my nerves!'

"Aw, I didn't know you felt that way ...'P-chan'."

"SHUTUP, you ...half-man!"

Ranma laughed at the supposed insult. Kikyo thought about the coincidence of this incarnation also being 'half-man'. However, Ukyo, Shampoo, and Pai all stared daggers at the lost boy.

Shampoo pointed at Ryoga and said, "This one here half man, half dog, you sure this not what you look for?"

"No, I am quite sure."

Most of the other people in the room thought much the same thing at that point. 'Figures.'

"Kikyo-san, are you, like ofukuro-chan, aware of what is going on when you are not in control?"

"I can see and hear everything, my love."

"Then you saw the seal that was on the box? I hate to get you involved in this, but you know more about the gem than any of us."

"Yes, yes I did. Do not feel sorry for me. From the moment I was given that jewel, my fate has been inextricably linked to it. I feel fairly certain that I have been inside of it this whole time. However, I must be the bearer of bad news. O-fuda are not one of my areas of expertise. If I had seen it, I might have been able to do something, though it would not be guaranteed. I specialized more in eliminating youkai."
{*Fuda = Talismans/Charms/Amulets - The 'O' is a polite honorific.*}

Cologne felt it was a good time to interject. "I believe I might be able to help you here."

"You can make seals?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that. However, I know someone who might. One of our villagers has some training in similar talismans. I will introduce you. Maybe Te Rou can help you."

"Thank you, elder." Ranma bowed.

"No need, this is the least I can do, since we helped cause this mess. Besides, you are now honorary members of our tribe, and we help our own."

"Speaking of helping, what happened to the person who was supposed to be watching Ryoga?"

Finally back in human form, Ryoga replied sheepishly, "Well, I asked where I could relieve myself. The girl told me to go behind a tree, and when I tried to find the tree, I ended up here..."

Slapping himself on the forehead, Ranma said in mild shock, "P-chan, you were in the woods! There were trees all over the place! Do you know how many trees you had to have passed to get here?"

"Then I suppose I need to apologize again, even I wouldn't have thought it could have been that bad. I am sorry."

"Yeah, you pretty much have to take that guy to a spot, and tie the leash to something until you come back. Oh well, it's not like there is anything we can do about it now. Thanks for trying." 'Well, that is one girl who will not be trying to marry the Lap Dog...'

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma had asked Ukyo and the others to help put their things away in the room they would be sharing until they built a house of their own. With the help of some of the villagers, it was unlikely to take long. Meanwhile, Cologne had introduced Ranma and Kikyo to Te Rou, the village expert on all things spiritual. The young woman was quite attractive. Her skin was darker than the rest, and she had long, wavy black hair, bright green eyes, and unlike most of the village, she was not wearing Chinese clothing, but something more western. An outfit of European design, if Ranma was any judge. A long layered skirt, made of cotton, a tight wrap barely covering her breasts, and shoulderless, ruffled sleeves that matched her skirt. Her outfit exposed a lot of cleavage and her belly. She was also wearing a lot of jewelry, and a bandanna. The whole package was very exotic to the Saotomes, it kind of reminded them of a belly dancer, even if Nodoka could not comment.

After Ranma explained their situation, Te Rou said, "It hard say. Never sealed thing like this. Must research seal. This Shinto, me is Buddhist."

"Thank you Te Rou, just let us know if there is anything we can do to help you, with this or anything else."

"Anything?"

"/Anything you desire, I or one of my companions would be happy to do what we can./"

"/I am sure we think of something.../"

"Oh, sure, you will flirt with HER! Why am I the only one not good enough to flirt with?"

"I do not flirt with every girl, only the really pretty ones."

"Am I not pretty then?"

"Oh no, you are very beautiful, and were you not in the body of my mother, I probably would be happy to take you up on your offer. However, the way things are now, it just feels ...wrong, I am very sorry."

"/Sorry about that, and thank you for whatever help you can give. Just let us know if there is anything you need./" Ranma and Kikyo turned to go. Ranma felt glad that they were making progress, but bothered by the fact that he had hurt this woman, once again. Kikyo was dejected, she had a bit of a complex about being passed over for other girls already, and this was not helping that.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

The three girls had received a new tape from Ranma, for the first time since he left Hong Kong. They were so excited about it they decided to make it into an event, and all listen to it in the privacy of his bedroom, during another 'sleep over'. Once the household started calming down, and the fathers were good and drunk, the three of them grabbed their bedding and snuck into the boy's room to set up for their evening. After setting up their drinks and snacks, the three girls huddled together and pressed play on the tape player...

"Hello girls, I hope you are all doing well. I have no idea what inspired your last gift to me, but they were stunning..."

"Ranchama was speechless!"

"Ucchan!"

"Fine, I will just go back to what I was doing..." A kissing noise was heard, followed by some slurping.

"Um, okay, that's NOT what you were doing, but whatever. Sorry about that. It's been a while since you have sent us pictures, and you three just keep getting cuter as you grow up. You are even cuter than the actresses we worked with. I wish you had been here for that, it was a lot of fun. With how beautiful you three are, I am sure I could have gotten you parts as well. The director said we would be contacted for another one soon, but we said we would not be able to take the time to do it again for a while. If you want to be in it, I will refuse anything if they do not give you a chance to try out as well, but that will not be for a while. We have a lot of training to do before we can take more time off, and between that and studying we get precious little free time."

When Ranma paused, other voices were faintly heard arguing in the background.

"NO! I am next! I have been waiting the longest!"

"No, Shampoo next! You had you chance! Shampoo no need months be ready, no like indecisive girl!"

"I didn't expect to have this much competition!"

"How can not? Ranma too too much good man! Is only natural have many womans..."

Ranma's voice was muffled a bit, as if his hand were over the microphone, as he interrupted the argument. "No fighting ladies, please? Do you want me to have to spank you? I am in the middle of recording a letter to my pen pals, so if you would keep your voices down, I would be grateful. Thank you. I will deal with both of you later."

The girls paused the tape, they were not sure what to think about the sounds they were hearing, and being just called 'pen palls'. The reactions varied from "Oh my!" to a sly grin, laced with a bit of disappointment. They came to a couple of conclusions. The first being that despite the photos and hints they had sent, none of them had expressed any desire to the boy about being anything other than 'friends'. The second being that they were going to have a lot of competition in trying to win the boy's heart, if they wanted to do that. Some of them were wanting that more than others. Knowing that one cannot win a contest that one does not enter, they all decided they could not sit back and wait for the boy to arrive before making a move, they were going to need to be more 'proactive' and direct. That decision made, they restarted the tape.

Ranma's voice returned to normal. "Sorry about that, sometimes these girls are a handful, but the training here is really good, well worth the trouble. That reminds me, you are probably not going to believe me, I am not sure I believe it myself and I am living it. But, in the spirit of openness and honesty, I need to tell you anyway. You will find out eventually, but it is only fair that you have some warning. We got cursed, well most of us, Pai made it out unscathed at least. It's a strange curse, and each of us got a different one, but they all work about the same. Cold water activates them, and hot water turns us back. I turn into a girl, Ryoga now turns into an actual puppy, Ucchan turns into a kappa-like turtle girl..."

"AH'M NOT A KAPPA!"

"Right, right, sorry, some kind of teenage, cursed, ninja turtle-girl. And ofukuro-chan got the weirdest one. Changing bodies is bad enough, but to change personalities too... The guide said it was even weird for what passes as normal in that place. That one is normally one that changes the personality, but you are still you, you just act differently, but this one, it's like a split personality with both of them inside all the time, and the curse determines which personality is in charge. The other personality claims to be a priestess who died, not once but twice! Once close to five hundred years ago, and again fifty years later after being resurrected! Oh, and if that is not weird enough, the miko, claims that I am the reincarnation of some half-youkai prince or something that the girl had fallen for. It just gets weirder from there, I could go on, but you probably don't believe me anyway, you will just have to see it for yourselves when we get home in a year or two. I just don't know what to think, it's almost too weird to be something someone made up, and yet, I can't believe it for myself. Even with all of the weird things we have seen, this one really takes the cake. We are trying to find cures, but, so far, it isn't looking good."

"But Ranchama, you make such a CUTE girl!"

The both of them laugh. "Well, compared to the rest of you, I don't have anything to complain about. After all, except for Ryoga, my best friends are all girls, and they are all amazing people. I see nothing wrong with being a girl, what matters is our honor!"

"Well, I know there are a lot of us girls out there that are really glad you are still a real man, most of the time..."

"Speaking of amazingly cute girls, I can't believe you girls would send me such sexy pictures, what was it that inspired that anyway?" A 'gulping' sound was heard. "Not that I am complaining, it was a really, um ...pleasant surprise, I was just curious. You three are so cute, you have to be three most popular girls in Japan. I would bet you have to beat the men off with sticks! Well, whatever the reason was, thank you for considering me worthy of such a precious gift. I would love to paint your portraits one day, I hope you will be willing to model for me."

The three girls were blushing at the compliment, and slowly came to realize that Ranma had NOT, in fact, been aware of the photos of himself that Ukyo had been sending them, so they probably could have gotten away with not sending those without causing offence, and blushed again. Then they considered how many pictures they sent him, compared to how many Ukyo had sent to them over the years, and figured it was a bargain at ten times the price.

"Ranma-kun is right, those claims ARE hard to believe."

"As if monsters existing aren't unbelievable enough. I do not want to think that Ranma-kun would lie to us, but it is just SO unbelievable. I mean how many times have we proven supernatural claims false? I guess we can do it again when they get here..."

"Ranma-sama can tell me anything, I do not mind." Fubuki blushed again.

"I do not think Ranma-kun would lie to us. It certainly did not sound like he was lying."

"Well, I do not want to think that either, and the other claims could have been someone tricking them, but this, you can't be fooled about something changing your body into something else."

"Hypnotism?"

"I supposed that could be possible, but why would anyone go to that much trouble? So many different events and in so many different places... It just doesn't make sense!"

"Maybe there are more things out there than we thought... As your hero, Doyle-sensei wrote, 'When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth'."

"I suppose anything is possible, but it's just so unlikely... It just seems so much more likely that they are making it up, and if that is the case, do any of us want to be with someone who would make up such a story and present it as a fact?"

"If it is Ranma-sama, then yes, yes I do. I will serve that goshujin-sama until I die, no matter what!"

"I do believe I would be willing to put up with it. Ranma-kun is so kind, in so many ways, just think about all of the nice things they have done for us, all of the other people they have helped and allowed us to help. Remember how mad Ranma-kun got when you told them about what those ninja had tried to do. I do not think telling stories is such a big deal when compared to the rest of what they have done. What about you Nabiki-chan? Would it change the way you feel, if you found out Ranma-kun was making up some stories about their trip? We got to watch the movie they were in, so it can not all be made up, there must be some truth to it at least..."

"Yes, yes it would! I do not know by how much, but I do not like being lied to, I do not like being made a fool of, and it hurts to think that someone I trusted would do that to me. I just don't know what to think. ...I, I was, ...I, lo..." Kasumi and Fubuki took the younger girl in their arms to comfort her. Nabiki accepted the embrace, and lightly sobbed for a few moments. "Thank you, I do not want to think badly about Ranma-kun and the rest, not after all they have done for us, and how we all feel about them, but it just hurts to think of being lied to. I want to believe them, but it is just so unbelievable. We have never lied to them, we have always been honest..."

"Have we? Have we really? I can think of a few secrets we are keeping."

"Keeping a secret and lying are two different things!"

"Are they?"

After a few moments, Nabiki nodded. "Maybe you are right, nee-chan. Maybe we should just confess and get it over with..."

The girls sat there holding each other for a while, waiting for Nabiki to calm down, and dry her eyes before they listened to the rest of Ranma's tape intently, enjoying the sound of his voice if nothing else. Afterward, they opened the other package, this one being from Ukyo. Inside they found more pictures, as they had expected, this time they included some new girls, including two especially cute ones, a redhead and a girl with long bluish-purple hair! The writing on the back claimed that the redhead was, in fact, Ranma himself! The lavender-haired beauty was called Shan Pu, they all assumed that must have been the heavily accented girl they heard arguing with Pai on the last tape. The three girls were jealous of the Chinese girl's figure, especially considering the girl was younger than all three of them.

"Ranma-kun certainly does have good taste. I guess that body is the benefit of not relying on all of the modern conveniences. We need to take more training trips ourselves..."

"It's strange, wherever Ranma-kun goes, the boy seems to find the cutest girls around."

"Goshujin-sama did say that we were some of the cutest girls in Japan, so must consider us, at least, on par with those girls." After a moment's hesitation, Fubuki blushed and said, "Maybe we should send him even sexier pictures... we do not want to lose out, do we?"

This gave Nabiki an idea, so the girl fiddled with a few things while the others were busy drooling over the new photos, before popping in the tape from Ukyo's package.

The girls had to rewind and turn the volume up all of the way to hear well, since the girl was whispering. At first, they thought Ukyo had accidentally sent them a blank tape. "Hi hi! Sorry about whispering, but I don't want to be overheard. Ranchama was really impressed with those photos you girls sent, they were great! I want to try that apron thing myself, one of these days soon. I envy how sexy you girls looked!

"I have sent you girls pictures of the faces we make when getting Ranchama's 'special massage', but I don't think that is good enough, so I would like, if you are interested in a more complete experience, to share the sounds to go along with the pictures. I am going to sneak this tape recorder into the room while it is going on, and you can listen to it while you are looking at the photos."

Still cuddled together, the girls did as they were instructed. They adjusted the volume for the new level of sounds coming from the tape player, as they looked at all of the photos. The moans, panting and, even occasionally, screams of pleasure were infectious, and it did not take long before the three of them were rubbing themselves and each other in time with the 'music' on the tape. Nor was it long before they were all naked and thoroughly enjoying themselves, so much so, that the elder girls failed to notice Nabiki occasionally pressing a button on a control near by.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ukyo had been working hard on clothing designs. Her new body was causing her problems, and she wanted to find a way to change forms without shredding her outfit every time. It was not that the girl had a problem with being naked, especially when Ranma was around to see it, but replacing her clothing was getting tiresome. She thought she had found a way to not only change without ruining her outfit but, as a bonus, it would allow her to show off her figure to the best effect when she was in her normal body. The hardest part was figuring out a way to keep the outfit tight at the waist and yet allow for the 'sudden expansion' of her 'shell'. She came up with a 'very' low-cut 'dress', that was completely open on the sides, which showed off her hips and legs quite well, but she was having a hard time figuring out a way to keep it closed.

The trick was to find a way to make the waist sash come untied with pressure from the inside. Some form of reverse slipknot was required. She had some other ideas, like the skimpy 'monokini' with no sides and a plunging neckline to show off her cleavage and navel. She had a version with no back at all, which kept the shell from squishing her breasts, but used a kind of 'hook' to keep it between her legs, she was considering attaching a 'toy' to it for 'stability' instead, it would certainly make it more 'comfortable'. She had even made some in thin white, and other almost transparent materials. However, she wanted a nice dress, one that looked nice, showed off her figure, and still did not feel like she was running around completely naked all of the time. After all, as the photos from the Tendos proved, sometimes it was sexier to keep some parts hidden, while at the same time, showing off. It was much more tantalizing.

With Shampoo's help, she had gotten a lot done, she just had to make an extra one of each design, in return for the help, well, that and keeping up the crash courses in Japanese. Shampoo needed a slight modification to the design with an opening in the back for when she wanted to 'spread her wings'. That girl really knew a about skimpy clothing though, and was a lot of help. Nevertheless, she would still have to remove them if she wanted to take her lion form. Ukyo felt guilty about being a bit jealous of the other girl's figure (and her 'cursed' form), but since Shampoo was wanting to show off for Ranma's sake, Ukyo could hardly say 'no'. Having the bubbly girl as one of their concubines would be a lot of fun, even if it was only for while they were living in the village. The other girl's personality was infectious, and always put Ukyo and the others in a good mood when she was around, not to mention how skilled she was. She was not as skilled as Ukyo herself, but more so than Pai, so far. Though with Ranma's special training, Pai was catching up quickly. Once Pai learned some more special techniques and got a bit better with her ki use, she would be able to hold her own in their sparring.

The three of them were fast becoming good friends, despite the initial friction between the two Chinese girls, mostly over who got to go first. The language barrier certainly did not help either, Shampoo's Japanese being almost as bad as Pai's Mandarin was. Luckily, Ranma, as Ukyo had expected, handled the problem with ease. Ranma had ended up having to make good on his promise of a 'spanking', which, Ukyo had noticed, the two girls seemed to enjoy more than she would have anticipated, and calmed them both right down. Their combined looks of pleasure and embarrassment made Ukyo want to act up and get a spanking herself, but there was a time and place for all things. She could always ask later, but asking did not feel as tantalizing as being 'punished' for being 'naughty'. Nonetheless, the four of them had a lot of fun that evening, and Ukyo had even voluntarily allowed the other two to go first that night, since each of them were having their first time. Ukyo kept Shampoo 'busy' while Ranma gave Pai his full attention, making her first time as special and enjoyable as he could, and then she repeated the favor for Shampoo, keeping Pai 'busy' during her turn. Not that Pai was in any condition to interrupt once Ranma was done with her, but it gave Ukyo something to do while she waited for her own turn. Once Ranma had brought Shampoo to climax several times over, Ukyo and Pai joined them, and the four teens enjoyed themselves for the remainder of the evening. Ukyo enjoyed it immensely, and was looking forward to doing it again ...very soon. Ukyo had felt bad for Ryoga, who had been, once again, left out, but not bad enough to do anything about it herself. The lost boy was nice enough, and a good guy, but there was just no comparison to her Ranma. It did not help that she still felt a bit concerned about his lack of control after the massage fiasco. She knew she had felt her spine break that day, and was fairly certain that if it had not been for Ranma's fast application of his healing technique she would have likely been paralyzed from the waist down. She needed to remember to, once more, thank Kyoshi-sensei if they ever crossed paths again.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

"Ranma! You fight Shampoo now!" Shampoo had taken up a fighting stance.

Ranma looked the buxom girl up and down, but did not make any other moves. "What is wrong Shan Pu?"

"What wrong? What wrong is Ranma no fight Shampoo! Ranma treat Shampoo like weakling! Shampoo Challenge! We fight now!"

"Now, Shan Pu, you know I do not think you are weak. What is this about?

"What? Ranma too scared of fight? You is too too scared of Shampoo fighting?"

"You know I can disable you with a touch, what is this about? This isn't another attempt at a marriage duel is it?"

Dejected, Shampoo's arms and head drooped. "Was worth try..."

"Come on Shan Pu, I think you are a great girl, but you know I am not ready to get married. Let's go have some fun instead and I will show you exactly how great I think you are."

"Is okay, but Shampoo on top this time."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Ranma and the girls were heading back from their day of training, Nodoka had stayed behind to talk to Cologne. When they got close to the house they were using, they saw Ryoga running around in a circle yelling, "Gotta run! Gotta get away from here! Gotta go! Gotta go... AH!!!!"

"Oi, P-chan! What's the matter?"

"ACK! Oh, it's you, Playboy... You are good with this sort of thing, what should I do?"

"What happened?"

"Well, I was trying to get directions and this girl challenged me, but when I won, started kissing me, and so I ran away!"

"Shimatta, Hizainu! That is exactly why I told you that it would be best not to accept any direct challenges while we were here, especially when you can only understand about half of what they are saying!"
{*Hizainu = Hiza - lap; Inu - dog*}

"I understood the words 'Challenge' and 'Coward'... I thought you just figured I couldn't win."

"No, I was afraid you would. You know you could have read the rulebook they provided. Not to mention, we explained all of this a few times."

"You know perfectly well I can't read a word of Chinese!"

"There's a Japanese translation on the other page..."

"And I missed that completely!"

"Well, Congratulations old pal, you just got married!" Ranma slapped his friend on the back with one hand while pretending to puff on a cigar made of ki with the other.

"Who do this?"

"They had black hair, in a yellow clip, green pants, a dark gray top with red dragons on it, and threw knives with both hands and feet..."

"Zhei Kan! Very good throwing, but no is good in real fight. Only is good for sneaky attacks or from long distance."

"Are you sure?"

"Very sure airen, few throw knife with foot. Fewer match look."
{Airen = spouse; sweetheart*}

"Pai-Pai, will you keep an eye on Puppy here, we will be back soon."

"Okay, but then I get your attention when you get back! I am way overdue for a 'massage'..."

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Before long, the three teens found the girl they were looking for. Zhei Kan was searching around the village for her lost 'husband', luckily for Ryoga, he was in the one place she didn't think he would go, in front of his house. ...Of course Ryoga would not have been there if he hadn't gotten lost while trying to get away.

Shampoo walked over to the distraught girl and said, "/Did you lose something/ -Stirred-?"

The pale girl's face burned red for a moment. "My name is Zhei Kan, NOT/ -Stirred-!"

"/What do you think you are doing with our guests? They are off limits!/"

"/Not that one! I heard, that boy was not an honorary member of the tribe! Not blood related to the other members of the tribe, so, therefore, 'outsider'!/"

"/Hey, Ryoga might not be blood related, but that guy is just as much a part of our family as any of us!/"

"/Trust me, you will be sorry if you try to lay claim to that one.../"

"/Who are you to talk? A warrior who submits to being a lowly concubine has no room to lecture me on anything!/"

Ukyo got angry, but restrained herself thanks to Ranma putting his arm around her, in a comforting way.

"/...and how well did you do in last year's tournament? Oh, that's right, thirty-fourth place! Whereas, I won! I was even the one that beat you, if I remember correctly.../"

"/That's just because my style isn't suited for the challenge log! Besides, you winning just makes your actions with this male that much more pathetic! You insult us all!/"

"/This wild horse is too strong for any one warrior to tame! A weak warrior like you is not even fit to wipe Ranma's butt! Do you really want to know why I am willing to 'submit to this male'? Forget being able to fight with an elder, forget being the most handsome man I have ever seen, and even forget that almost every available woman (and a few who were not) have been clamoring for Ranma's attention. But if you really want to know, maybe you can get a small taste./" Knowing how cute she sounded in her singsong, broken Japanese, Shampoo switched to it for the extra effect. "Airen, you no mind using Chumo de Tiantang technique on stupid girl, yes?"
{*Chumo de Tiantang = 'Touch of Heaven' in Mandarin, Shampoo's name for Ranma's 'Special Massage', in Japanese it would be 'Tengoku no Tatchi'*}

"Well, I am not sure that would be very nice to P-chan."

"Maybe, but sneaky girl deserve disappointment. Maybe teach respect for too too manly Ranma!" Shampoo was smiling and almost bouncing as she pleaded with Ranma.

"Well, I can't say 'no' to that cute face." A smiling Ranma leaned in, put his arm around Shampoo's waist and kissed her.

Ranma let Shampoo go, turned toward Zhei Kan, and cracked his knuckles. Zhei Kan pulled out her blades, and took a defensive stance, slowly backing off. "/I normally wouldn't do this to my friend, but I have to admit, I do not like the way you took advantage the situation, or the way you talked to Shan Pu. You have insulted my family, my friends, and myself. I do not want to hurt you, but I would not use those knives if I were you. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way... Your call./" Ranma used his 'charming' smile to stun the girl before she tried to throw her knives and hurt someone by accident. Using the speed of his recent training, Ranma quickly disarmed the girl, and moved in behind her to start hitting pressure points on her back. Zhei Kan instantly collapsed into a quivering pile. Ranma held up her knives. "/Come apologize to Puppy, Ucchan, and Shan Pu, and you can have these back. I hope you didn't have anything important to do for the next half an hour or so.../" Ranma put his arms around Ukyo and Shampoo, and they headed for their home.

-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-

Zhei Kan was on her knees, begging forgiveness. "/I am sorry Shan Pu, you were right./"

"/That you are not fit to wipe Ranma's butt? Yes, I know./"

"/I now understand why you would submit yourself to this male as a lowly concubine.../"

Ranma stepped in front of Ukyo, preventing the girl from attacking. "/Okay, now we come to your third problem. Even if Puppy forgives you for what you did to him, and you do end up becoming a member of our family, if I EVER hear you use the word 'concubine' in a derogatory manner again, you will live to regret it. Because I do not care who you are, you will NOT insult my friends and family that way. I was being nice this afternoon, but insulting these girls like that is something up with which I will not put!" Ranma used his aura to intimidate the poor girl, who was so scared, that not only could she not move, but she wet herself as well. "/There is nothing 'lowly' about being a concubine! It is a position of honor, and you WILL respect that! Do I make myself perfectly clear?/"

Despite Ranma focusing his aural 'attack' toward the cowering girl, everyone else in the room felt it to some degree. Those closest to him had come close to wetting themselves as well, some in more ways than one. This being the first time Shampoo had ever seen Ranma get even slightly upset, she was literally shaking. "Scary! Remind Shampoo, 'never make Ranma mad'. Most elder no is this scary!"

"If you think that is bad, you do not want to see miomo-sama mad. I have never seen anything so terrifying in my life, and we fight monsters on a semi-regular basis."

Still unable to move, Zhei Kan stayed on the ground, sitting in her own puddle. "/YES BA! Or do you prefer 'dashi'? Please forgive this lowly piece of human filth! I am sorry! I am sorry! I will never do it again, I swear! Your greatness will never be troubled by this one again! Your great self has this lowly worm's undying loyalty!/"
{*Ba, in this case, means 'feudal chief; rule by force; tyrant; lord; master' and 'Dashi' is 'great master'*}

"I think I overdid it... I figured the girl's willpower would be stronger than that... Ooops. /Well, since we have that straightened out, how about you start atoning by cleaning up the mess you made?/"

Sh