Divided I Stand
Based on the characters, settings and situations created by Rumiko Takahashi for her Ranma1/2 series of manga. They are here used without permission.
Chapter 08

       Shoko Asahara adjusted the wrappings around his head, making certain that his eyes were the only visible part of his face. Satisfied that his black attire now adequately covered him, he crept through the forest toward the river using his clan's Shadow-Creeps-Beneath-the-Sun technique. He did not creep in exact time with the shifting shadows of the forest, of course, but he did become indistinguishable from them.

       After several minutes of traveling in such a manner, he came upon the riverbank at the base of the cliff at the top of which Happosai had chosen to camp. Much to his delight, his timing had proved perfect. The half-dozen fools pursuing Happosai had found and followed the old man's trail with the help of a guide. Now they were now surveying the cliff, trying to choose the best route to for climbing it. The guide they had hired wanted no part of scaling the sheer wall of rock and they noisily dismissed the man. Asahara silently sneered at them.

       Damned fools! he thought. They're already dead and don't know it. Happosai had left a trail that even the slowest-witted of my apprentices could have followed. Yet, they had to hire a guide. Obviously, they plan on killing the guide once they have finished with Happosai. Your problem, gentlemen, is that Happosai will finish with you first. You'll never get around to killing that guide. He'll lead the police here and say, truthfully, that this is where he parted company with you. The police will find your bodies all battered and broken and assume that it was you who killed the curator. They will assume that the lot of you died in an accident as you tried to climb down from this cliff. They will wonder for years why you came all the way out here to torment that silly little man, but in the end, they'll be happy to close another troubling case and the real story will never be known. You will all be written off as just another sect of religious fanatics. Your foolish faith in that non-existent demon-god of yours has done you ill this day, boys. The Eye does not choose its favorites lightly. It has chosen the old man over you.

       Asahara settled down at the base of a tree surrounded by underbrush. He could see the river and the cliff above it quite easily from here, but the forest understory would break up his outline nicely, making him invisible to even well-trained eyes. He expected Happosai's carefully staged little drama to be over with in five hours or so. Five hours would be a relatively short wait by his standards. Watching and waiting without moving did not bother Asahara until after the second week passed. This little jaunt was proving to be completely painless. He probably would not even find it necessary to eat until he was well away from this place and on his way home. He was glad of that. While he willingly did the bidding of the Eye, he had no desire to confront Happosai. The old man was welcome to keep the Eye and delight in its company all he wished. He would not be the first to do so. So long as Happosai did nothing to risk the destruction or loss of the Eye, Asahara would be content to remain a passive observer.


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       Ranma Saotome woke up to the sound of snarling diesels and the high-pitched howls of chainsaws. He was annoyed at first, then brightened up once he realized what was going on.

       "Gotta admit," he muttered as he sleepily tramped his way downstairs, "it's good to know that people are fixin' things."

       On reaching the first floor his ears picked up the sound of something else. Running water!

       "It's in the kitchen!" he exclaimed as he sprinted across the room. Sure enough, water was pouring out of the faucet of the kitchen sink. The sink had filled to the level of the overflow port and was about to rise above it. Ranma turned the water off.

       "Man! The girls are gonna be happy about this!"

       "About what, Ranma?" Nabiki's sleepy voice asked.

       Ranma turned to find her standing in the entryway of the kitchen, looking at him expectantly.

       "The water's back on," Ranma said with a huge grin.

       Nabiki disappeared as though caught in a teleportation beam. Ranma blinked in shock.

       "I had no idea she was that fast!" he exclaimed. He could hear water running again, and knew that he did not need to check for the source. It was coming from the furoba.

       He stepped back into the great room and could hear Nabiki's muffled shouts.

       "Cold! It's cold!"

       "Yeah, but is it fresh?" Ranma shouted.

       "Yes!" came Nabiki's muffled reply.

       "Then be happy!" Ranma shouted.

       "I am!"

       Nabiki's muffled reply was followed by the sound of running feet.

       "Iito-za!" Ranko shouted waving her hands for Ranma to move out of the way.

       "Look out, Ranma!" Akane added in the same tone of voice.

       Ranma jumped aside as they thundered down the stairs. Both of them were wearing yukata and carrying towels. The looks on the two girls' faces told him that he had done the right thing by moving out of their way. It was disconcerting.

       Hmph! I kinda already expected to get pushed around by Akane, but geez! Now she's got a helper who's really me--well, used to be me. Whatever Akane hasn't already figgered out, Ranko is gonna tell her. Girls always stick together.

       He opened the engawa and made his way outside. He started a fire, then came back inside for a kettle and filled it from the faucet in the kitchen.

       "Don't guess I can blame 'em for bein' excited about the water, though," he muttered. "Of all the things that bug ya about livin' on the road, not havin' water handy is the worst."

       He went back outside and hung the kettle over the fire and sat down to think.

       How the hell am I ever gonna work all this out? I mean, they'll both want kids, right? Who am I kidding! I got the answer to that yesterday out in the doujou. Of course, they both want kids. Well, Akane wants kids already. Ranko probably ain't had the time ta think about that, yet, but she will. Oh, shit! She's like me. Once she wants somethin', there ain't no stoppin' her. Gotta remember to give Pop an extra whack or two over this one. With my luck, they'll both get pregnant at the same time. How the hell am I gonna feed two women and two kids on the kinda money I can make?

       "What's the matter Saotome?" Nabiki asked. "You look worried about something.

       Ranma turned to find that his future sister-in-law was standing on the engawa behind him, dressed in a damp yukata with a towel wrapped around her head. He nearly went cross-eyed trying not to stare. Nabiki smirked at him.

       "Whadda ya think they pay bodyguards, Nabiki?" Ranma asked as he turned around and stared into the fire.

       "Well that speaks volumes!" Nabiki said. She walked over close to Ranma and placed the palm of one hand on his forehead.

       "You aren't running a fever, that can only mean one thing."

       "Huh?"

       "Huh, indeed, Ranma," Nabiki said, giving Ranma a knowing grin. "Have you set a date yet? Are we having two separate weddings, or are the three of you set on getting it all done in a single ceremony?"

       "Who said anything about weddings?" Ranma asked with more than a little heat in his voice. "I'm just tryin' to figure a way to make a little money is all."

       "Like I said, Ranma, that alone speaks volumes," Nabiki answered. Her demeanor changed dramatically as she suddenly became all business. "You haven't asked Dad about anything like this, have you?"

       "No, why?"

       "Because thirty seconds after you do that, he's going to be out ordering wedding invitations, that's why?"

       "Oh, man!"

       "You still have another year of school to go, too, you know."

       "Yeah, I know!" Ranma said disgustedly as he rested his chin on one hand and stared at the fire again. "It don't look to me like things are gonna wait for us to finish school, though."

       "You don't want Akane to have to live the way your mother has had to live, do you, Ranma?"

       "Hell, no!"

       Nabiki breathed a sigh of relief.

       "I was hoping you would have better sense than your dad."

       "Hey! What kind of feat is that, huh?" Ranma asked, severely annoyed. "Sure, he might be one of the greatest martial artists to have ever walked the earth, but so what? What does he do with it?"

       "Be fair, Ranma," Nabiki said, giving him a wicked grin. "He risked his life and yours chasing down evil just a few days ago."

       "Oh, whoo-hoo!" Ranma said with a snort. "We ran out into the storm of the century to chase a panty thief! I mean, the entire world lives in terror of panty thieves, right? Especially this one?"

       "What was all that about, anyway, Ranma?"

       "I wish I knew! I asked your dad, but I can't get him to tell me anything."

       "He hasn't said anything at all?"

       "Nope. Shuts up tighter than a clam every time I try to ask, or he changes the subject."

       Steam began to pour out of the kettle.

       "Just stay here with that, Ranma," Nabiki said. "I'll got get the tea and stuff. We can make tea right here where it's cooler."

       Ranma merely cocked an eyebrow at her. Like most people whose physical fitness approached or exceeded the optimum, ambient temperature had little effect on him. The weather had to get truly nasty before Ranma noticed it. He quickly became immersed in his own thoughts again.

       I wonder if there is a place on earth where I could be completely safe from all women? Hmm, I could go back to China and try to sign up with the Musk, I guess. I mean, it ain't like I'd hafta worry about pissin' Haabu off by turnin' into a girl every time it rained. Nah! We'd just get into a fight over somethin' else and I'd rather fight Safuron again any day of the week. I wonder if Taro has run into Haabu yet? Boy! I'd like to see that shit! Knowin' Haabu and his crowd, they'd be throwin' a really big barbeque after it was over with.

       "Ranma!"

       "Huh?" Ranma noised, being more than a little startled.

       "Are you going to let the water just boil away, or can we make tea now?" Akane asked.

       "Watcha thinkin' about, Saotome?" Ranko asked as she took the kettle from Ranma and handed it to Nabiki.

       "The Musk," he replied. "I was wonderin' what might happen if Pansuto Tarou had a run-in with Haabu."

       Ranko cackled then said, "They'd be havin' a really big barbeque, that's what!"

       "Ranma, are you sure haven't gotten Haabu mixed up with Safuron?" Akane asked, looking worried.

       Nabiki merely shook her head as she poured hot water over the tea.

       "Not hardly!"

       "I'd whole lot rather fight Safuron again than I would Haabu," Ranma and Ranko chorused.

       "Was he really all that tough?" Nabiki asked, glancing at Akane's suddenly pale face.

       Ranma and Ranko shuddered in unison.

       "Scariest sumbitch I ever fought!" they chorused.

       "I hit him with one of the best right-crosses I ever delivered," Ranma said with a worried look on his face. "It caught him completely by surprise, too."

       "And all it did was piss him off!" Ranko said with a shudder.

       "Yet, Safuron was no push-over, was he, Son-in-law?" a dry and ancient voice asked.

       Ranma nearly jumped out of his skin.

       "Cologne!"

       "Good morning, Elder Cologne," Nabiki said, giving Cologne a polite bow. "Would you care for tea?"

       "Yes, thank you, dear."

       Ranma felt his hackles rising and a glance at Ranko told him that she was doing the same thing. He liked Cologne, and had no doubts that she liked him as well, but he never forgot that the ancient Amazon had her own agenda and was constantly watchful over her own interests--not to mention that she and Tofu were the only two people who could sneak up on him with any regularity. She made him nervous.

       "As it happens," Cologne said, pausing to accept a cup of tea from Nabiki, "I have it on good authority that Haabu is favorably disposed toward you, Ranma."

       "Only because I kept him out of that avalanche," Ranma said in a grim voice.

       "Yeah, and he positively hates me!" Ranko added bitterly. "He associates me with everything to do with his curse."

       "Actually, I think he finds you rather attractive, Granddaughter," Cologne said with a smile, "but like so many men, he's reluctant to show his true feelings."

       "Can't blame him for that!" Ranma said.

       "Yeah, I was completely male at the time!" Ranko added.

       Uh-oh! Ranma thought as he watched Akane put the back of one hand against her forehead. Akane's fixin' to blow a gasket.

       "Allow me to offer you some advice, Ranma," Cologne said.

       Ranma, not Son-in-law? Ranma thought. What the hell is she up to now?

       "Don't write Haabu off as an ally just yet," Cologne continued, seemingly unperturbed by the tension around her. "You are soon to face far more formidable opponents than you have been confronted with in the past. You may need his help."

       The ringing in Ranma's ears drowned out the noise of trucks, frontloaders and chainsaws.

       I might've known, he thought. I just decided that it was finally time to settle down and this comes along.

       "You'll want to get them out of your way quickly, I'm sure," Cologne said, giving Ranma a sly grin. "If I am any judge of human affairs--and I am."

       Dammit! Is my life ever going to be my own? Ranma wondered.

       "You do realize that your life will never be entirely your own, do you not, Ranma?" Cologne asked. "The kami never simply give gifts to us. They only trade with us, and they always collect their part of the bargain."

       Ranma gave out an exasperated sigh and shook his head. Ranko and Akane looked angry, while Nabiki cocked an eyebrow at the Amazon Elder.

       "What bargain?" Ranma asked. "I never talked to no kami so I wasn't the one makin' any bargains!"

       "He's still got a lot to learn, Elder," Nabiki said. "Who, or perhaps I should ask, what is it this time?"

       "Why, Happi, of course," Cologne said sweetly. "You haven't caught him yet, have you?"

       Off in the distance, a horn blared and all the machinery that had been running suddenly went silent for morning break. Ranma suddenly realized that they were all simply staring at Cologne in dumbfounded silence. He tried to speak, but found that it was all he could do to make his jaw work on its hinges.

       "Why is it that the old lech has become so important all of sudden?" Nabiki asked. "We haven't been able to make sense of that."

        "Then I gather that neither your father nor Genma Saotome has told you about the Eye of Mephistopheles," Cologne said, using the western pronunciation of the demon's name, then sipped her tea.

       "No, I have not, and I had not planned on telling them," Soun said in a heavy voice, surprising everyone. They all turned toward the sound of his voice to find him standing behind them.

       I wonder what's buggin' him? Ranma wondered. Is he feelin' sad about something or is he feelin' guilty? Tendo-san is a funny egg. There are days when he's brimmin' with confidence and he breathes fire like a dragon, and then there's all those times when he weeps like a baby. I wonder what the hell happened to him? Surely he ain't been like this all his life!

       "That, to me at least, seems unwise, Tendo-san," Cologne said, giving the Tendo patriarch a dry-eyed stare. "You would send this fine young warrior out alone without even telling him what he faces?"

       "Of course not, Obaasan," Soun answered with more than a hint of irritation in his voice. "Initially he went out with his father. I had no plans of asking him to seek after the Master until I had the opportunity to consult further with Genma on this matter."

       "I wonder if even you know what it is you are up against, Tendo-san," Cologne said. "How is it that you two and Happosai came to be involved with this evil little bauble?"

       "Bauble?" Ranma asked, sounding surprised.

       "Ya mean it's a piece of jewelry?" Ranko asked. "I thought the old freak only went in for girl's underwear."

       "Yeah, you guys have always kinda overrated the old man, if ya ask me," Ranma said. "He's a nuisance, yeah. An embarrassment? Sure. An aggravatin' old fart? You bet! But seriously evil? I don't think so!"

       Cologne rolled her eyes while Soun heaved a sigh. He flopped down on the engawa and sat cross-legged as he rubbed his face with both hands. After a moment of silence he looked up at Cologne said, "Tell me, Elder, what is the Amazons' involvement with this cursed bit of sapphire?"

       "Oh, so it's blue!" Ranma said. "I guess now I can start feelin' informed."

       Cologne rapped Ranma on the forehead with her staff and said, "Be silent, puppy! How you hope to learn anything while running that sarcastic mouth of yours is a mystery in its own right."

       Ranma rubbed his head and gave Cologne an angry glare. The glare was strictly pro-forma. He knew that Cologne was right and remained silent.

       "As it happens, the Eye is a sapphire only because of an arbitrary convention among those who trade in gemstones, Ranma," Soun said.

       "Oh, I remember," Nabiki interjected. "Both rubies and sapphires are made of the same thing, corundum, but only the red corundum is called a ruby. Corundum of any other color is referred to as a sapphire, even if it is pink."

       Cologne cackled.

       "I might have expected that you would know about that, Nabiki-chan. In this case, the Eye is a nearly transparent piece of corundum about the size of a human eye and almost perfectly spherical. It has needles of black rutile radiating out from its center within the stone."

       "The rutile at its center refracts the light passing through the stone in a very curious way, making the entire thing change colors depending upon how the light strikes it," Soun added. "It is both beautiful, and evil."

       "So you have seen it, Tendo-san," Cologne said, squinting her eyes with obvious suspicion. "Have you ever touched it?"

       "Seen it, yes. Touched it, never," Soun said, shaking his head. "The Master has actually held it in his hands, of course, or we would not be troubled by it today. However, it fell and bounced off of Genma's bare arm when we were trying to pack it away."

       Whoa! The old ghoul didn't like that news! Ranma thought, watching Cologne's face.

       Ranko and Akane got up then settled back down on either side of him. Ranma felt some of the tension in his stomach ease.

       "Did the stone flare, when it touched him?" Cologne asked.

       "I thought I saw the faintest of flashes," Soun said, "but it could have easily been my imagination. Genma has behaved much the same as he always did. It was very different for the Master."

       "Hmmm, that is troubling," Cologne said. "I mean no insult, Ranma-kun, but your father's innate nature could easily be masking a great deal of inner turmoil in his soul."

       "None taken," Ranma said. "I know my old man better'n anybody here, and I can tell ya, I don't really know him. But what's all this about the old lech? Are ya tellin' me he didn't always steal panties?"

       Soun and Cologne both snorted at this.

       "No, I fear...I fear the Master was always rather fond of that particular avocation, Ranma-kun," Soun said, "but after we ... er ... found the Eye, he picked up a few other bad habits."

       "That's when you and Genma decided to try and kill him, was it not?" Cologne asked.

       "Ah, well, we didn't exactly try to kill him...we merely tried to see to it that he would die of natural causes while not troubling too many other people."

       "Fools!" Cologne shouted. "Did you not understand what was happening?"

       "No, not really," Soun said. "I, for one, did not come to fully appreciate the scale of the problem until much later. Genma might have known sooner, but only after we tried to hide away the Eye."

       "So where is it now?" Cologne asked.

       "I thought it was in the deep waters of the Pacific, a hundred kilometers west of Hokkaido. The water there is several kilometers deep. There would be no chance of its ever being recovered from that depth."

       Cologne, Ranma noted with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, did not look the least bit relieved by this news.

       "But that is not what happened to it, is it?"

       "I...I don't know!" Soun exclaimed, his voice cracking. "My wife went to her father, a fishermen in Hokkaido. She was supposed to ride out with him and cast it over the side of his ship."

       "But you did not go with her, did you?" Cologne asked.

       "No, I couldn't. The Master had left more than a few loose ends that had to be tied up in the town we were in at the time. Genma and I were rather busy."

       "Tryin' to make amends or were ya runnin' for your lives?" Ranma asked. Akane and Ranko both elbowed him in the ribs.

       "We did as much as we could to ... to put things right," Soun said with tears running down his face. "Those were some of the hardest days of my life."

       Cologne growled as she set her cup down with a clunk on the boards of the engawa. "Where is the Eye, Tendo-san? We must find it before Happosai does!"

       "I honestly do not know!" Soun answered with desperation creeping into his voice. "Just before the typhoon arrived, Genma and I heard the Master laughing and talking to himself, as though there was another person in the room with him, only there wasn't. We both knew then that he had either found the Eye, or that he had discovered its whereabouts."

       "So you tried to kill him again," Cologne said, with an odd note of sadness in her voice.

       "Hold it! Wait just a minute, here!" Ranma shouted. "Just why exactly are you so eager to find this thing, Honored Elder? And, how is it you know so much about it?"

       Ranko and Akane had both seized Ranma's arms as they tried to shush him, but he shrugged them off. Nabiki's eyes had grown to the size of dinner plates as she motioned for Ranma to calm down. Ranma was having none of it.

       "You seem awful willin' to be rid of the old freak! Is it just because you don't like him or is it because you want this stupid jewel for yourself?" Ranma asked.

       Cologne eyed Ranma for a moment with a speculative look, then grinned at him.

       "Well, now I am surprised. There might be some hope for you after all, Ranma-kun. I was beginning to think you were as empty-headed and shortsighted as your father."

       "I ain't nothin' like my old man in the stuff that matters most, Old Ghoul, you oughtta know that. Now then, what gives with this cursed rock you're so worried about? How come you knew about it and never said anything before now? And why is it you're so eager to get your hands on it before the lech does? I don't like the sound of any of this!"

       Much to Ranma's relief, he could feel Akane and Ranko stiffen on either side of him. It meant that they shared his resolve as well as his reservations and were ready to back him up.

       "My! Now that is an impressive trio!" Cologne said, grinning at Ranma and the girls beside him. "Very well, Ranma-kun, I'll explain. I hope you're ready to hear a long story."

       "School's out and I haven't had a history lesson for three days now," Ranma said with a sneer. "Go ahead, tell it the way you see it."

       "That was rude, Ranma!" Ranko said, giving her alter-ego a gouge to the ribs with her elbow. "Cologne..."

       "He's quite right to be suspicious, Granddaughter," Cologne said, holding up her hand. "It might please you to hear that I have no desire whatsoever to get my hands on the Eye, Ranma-kun. In fact, no person my age should ever come near it."

       "Yeah? Why is that?" Ranma asked, still fuming.

       "Because the older you are, the more likely it will be that the cursed thing will be able to influence you. That's why."

       "I don't get it! What's age got to do with any of this?"

       "You, as young as you are, have already done some things you wish you hadn't, have you not, Ranma-kun?" Cologne asked in a surprisingly gentle voice.

       Ranma winced, then nearly collapsed.

       "Well, then, you should understand that I have done quite a few things I would rather I had not done, but in many instances, I had no choice. On other occasions, I made mistakes. Just as you will in the not-too-distant future, I'm sure."

       Ranma winced again. Akane and Ranko each placed a hand on one of his arms, and leaned against him. Ranma took a deep breath and drew strength from their show of support.

       "The Eye can take advantage of such memories. It can twist them and make you a slave of your own conscience. Even an extremely virtuous person can find the very best of his desires twisted to the purposes of evil under the influence of that wretched rock."

       "Where did this thing come from?" Nabiki asked. "Is it a natural object, or was it made?"

       "We don't know, Nabiki-chan," Cologne answered. "Some of our scholars speculate that it was Alexander the Great who first brought it to Asia and that it is Egyptian in origin. Another school argues that it is not nearly so old and that it was originally found in India, being nothing more than a curiosity until it was taken to Europe and spent some time in the hands of a German alchemist. No matter where it originated, we know that it spent some time in the possession of Genghis Khan. After that, it belonged to Kublai Khan, and finally Timur the Lame, known as Tamerlaine, in the West."

       "Then who got it?" Ranko asked.

       "We did," Cologne answered. "Fortunately, our tribal elders of the time recognized its danger and sealed it away in a specially dug cave. Unfortunately, someone, we know not who, found it and carried it off. It fell into the hands of Nurhachi, the Manchurian."

       "I think I'm beginning to see a pattern," Soun said, "and it makes sense from what I saw it do to the Master."

       "Indeed?" Cologne asked, cocking an eyebrow at him. "It was stolen from the Manchu treasury by someone, again, we do not know by whom, and it eventually fell into the hands of one Oda Nobunaga. You probably know a lot about him."

       Ranma felt his heart stop. Oda Nobunaga? The great general of the Warring States period? He shivered when he thought of the many times his classmates teased him about Nobunaga. Though he was a ferocious warrior and highly effective general, Nobunaga liked to relax by lounging around in women's clothing. Ranma forced his misgivings aside and struggled to think clearly.

       "Let me guess," Ranma interjected. "Hideyoshi Toyotomi got it after Nobunaga was murdered, right?"

       "Indeed, you're right, Ranma-kun," Cologne said, pausing to pat him on the head. "He carried it with him to Korea. There, it was stolen, and again, we don't know by whom, but we recovered it. Amazingly, one of our agents found it still in the very same box we had originally stored it in upon our first discovering it. Someone had left it lying in their camp rubbish. It had rained heavily after this person left their camp, so we were unable to pick up a trail."

       "Let me guess," Nabiki chimed in. "It was stolen again."

       "Would you care to guess the year, Nabiki-chan?" Cologne asked, her tone suggesting that Nabiki could do better if she tried.

       "Easy, sometime between 1890 and 1901," Nabiki replied, giving Cologne a grin. "That is, assuming things held to pattern."

       "As it happens, the Eye was taken from our guardianship for the second time in January of 1890," Cologne answered.

       "Hard to believe that it took that long to build up to rebellion, all things considered," Nabiki said. "I was afraid I had been too conservative."

       "When we next caught wind of the Eye's whereabouts, it had fallen into the possession of a lay student of a recently disbanded Shaolin order. His name was Hung Hei-kun," Cologne said.

       "Ah!" Ranko and Ranma chorused. "Hung Gar Kung Fu!"

       Cologne smiled at this and added, "And the inadvertent founder of the Boxer Rebellion."

       "He had good reason to start a rebellion! Everbody and his brother was screwin' the Chinese over!" Ranma exclaimed. "Surely this Eye thing, whatever it really is, didn't have anything to do with that!"

       "Yes and no, Ranma-kun," Cologne answered. "By all the accounts we have of Hung Hei-kun, from both our agents and the observations of others, he was a virtuous man. I am sure that his sole purpose was to free his people from the miseries visited upon them by those he saw as foreigners, which included, by the way, the Manchu Dynasty.

       "However, I am equally certain that he would have had second thoughts about his actions had he foreseen the consequences of them. Probably the worst of which, in my opinion, was the watered down instruction given to gullible recruits. They died like flies before American, Japanese, and European firearms."

       Ranko opened her mouth to ask a question, but Ranma stopped her by placing a hand on her knee. This earned him a startled look from Ranko and a sharp elbow in the ribs from Akane.

       "Later, Ranko," Ranma hissed in a half-whisper, then mumbled to Akane, "Cologne just said something really important, Akane. We need to think about it."

       "And, the Boxers indulged themselves in other excesses as well, such as killing foreigners simply because they were foreigners, even though many of them were actually of a help to many Chinese. The Boxers also killed a great many Han Chinese, simply because they had adopted Christianity or some other Western religion. None of this was ever advocated by Hung Hei-kun, but it was he who started it while under the influence of the Eye."

       "You never recovered the Eye, did you?" Nabiki asked.

       "No, it left Asia altogether for a while, and as best we were able to determine, was stolen many times, passing through the hands of several Europeans before finally disappearing altogether during the height of the second word war. The last man we knew of that possessed it for a while was Eiki Tojo. He was the Chief of Military Police of the Kwantung Army at the time. Shortly after coming into possession of the Eye, this rule-bound little bureaucrat advanced rapidly until he became Prime Minister of Japan, and changed his name to Hideki Tojo."

       Ranma broke the heavy silence that momentarily smothered conversation with, "I still don't get it. Why the worry about Happosai getting his hands on this Eye thing? He's just a panty thief. He ain't got any political connections at all. Tendo-san is the closest thing to a politician that I know."

       Cologne gave out an exasperated sigh then said, "One of the men to possess the eye for a while was a German artist whose work was so unpopular that he resorted to hanging wallpaper for a living. Another to possess the Eye, or to be possessed by it, had been the son of a Russian cobbler. Neither man had anything in the way of future prospects, yet both of them eventually led their countries to ruin at the expense of millions of human lives, Ranma."

       "Huh?" Ranma and Ranko chorused.

       "She's talking about Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, Ranma," Nabiki said in a faint voice. "Neither of them were accomplished Masters of the Art."

       "No, they were merely ambitious and had great appetites for the adulation of others," Cologne said. "The Council of Elders does not believe that Happosai will possess the Eye for very long. It is seeking someone else."

       Another heavy silence filled the air until Nabiki picked up her cup and held it out toward Ranma in the manner of offering a toast.

       "Here's lookin' atcha, kid," Nabiki said with a wry grin. "I guess it's a good thing you're engaged to Akane and not to me."