Comes the Cold Dragon

Don Granberry

Chapter 11


Most of the characters in this piece and the setting for it were conceived of by Rumiko Takahashi for her Ranma 1/2 series of Manga. All such characters and the setting are the property of Takahashi-sensei and her licensees. All other characters, except those noted below, are purely fictional and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Many extra special thanks go to my pre-readers for helping to improve this piece.

Nabiki Tendo left for school by exiting the house through the engawa on Friday morning, wanting to see how the three men were doing. Tetsugo was not in the yard. Her father and Genma Saotome were busily cleaning up and removing their temporary smithy. She shrugged her shoulders at this and made her way to the outer gate. Much to her surprise, she found Ichiro Tetsugo waiting just outside the walls of Tendo-ke.

"Finished already, Tetsugo-sensei?" she asked upon seeing him. He was sitting on the tailgate of his pull-cart. It was laden with his tools and two oblong objects wrapped in heavy, cotton cloth.

"With the simplest part, Tendo-san," Tetsugo said with a smile. "Only with the simplest part. Saotome-san chose a rather sandy ore for us to start from, but I think in the end it will all work out for the best. A sandy ore often makes for the better steel."

"I see," Nabiki said, although she did not. She had assumed that all this was for making swords, but the two billets, assuming the two oblong objects were billets, were far larger than what should have been necessary for a pair of swords.

"Aren't they a lot more work than you needed to do for just a couple of swords?" she asked, indicating the wrapped objects with a nod of her head.

Tetsugo smiled again, clearly impressed with Nabiki. "It's enough for four swords, two naginata, and two smaller knives, Tendo-san."

"Then I gather we will be seeing you again, but it will take a while."

"Until the yams ripen in the fall, I should think."

Nabiki nodded. Tetsugo's return would coincide with Happosai's. Something bothered her about this, but she shook it off.

"Before I leave though, there is something I wanted to give to you," Tetsugo said, giving Nabiki a sunny smile.

Nabiki was a bit concerned about this. The probable cost of the weaponry alone was already making her sweat bullets. She did not want anything else accumulating on the Tendo tab with this old man, likeable though he might be.

"I mean no disrespect, Tetsugo-sensei, but my family will have much difficulty paying you what we owe now."

Tetsugo laughed at this.

"It is of no consequence, Tendo-san. You cannot pay me back anyway."

Nabiki's heart froze in her chest. This could not be good, whatever it was. Master craftsmen did not work for free.

"I gift whomever I deem worthy, Tendo-san. Their only obligation is to treat with others as I have treated with them. I do not make arms for just anyone, you know."

Chills ran up and down Nabiki's back as she remembered what Happosai had told her about Tetsugo. "Oh, Akane!"

"Be at ease, Tendo-san," Tetsugo said in reassuring tones. "Your sister would not have her life turn out any other way."

Nabiki closed her eyes in frustration. She could little doubt that Tetsugo was telling the truth. Akane would never fit into the routine existence of days spent at an office and quiet evenings at home. She was, in her own way, as adventurous as Ranma. Nabiki just wished that her adventuring would not be so serious as Tetsugo's behavior suggested it would become.

"Tell me the truth, Tetsugo-sama," Nabiki said. "You are a kami, aren't you?"

Tetsugo smiled at Nabiki then said, "Hold out your right arm, Tendo-san."

Nabiki hesitated, then held out her right arm. She began to shake despite her best efforts not to. Tetsugo wrapped a bracelet around her wrist.

"Hah!" Tetsugo exclaimed. "Perfect fit! Just as I thought it would be."

Nabiki withdrew her arm, then held it up so that she could examine the bracelet. It had been made from thousands upon thousands of tiny, golden links. A strangely stylized eagle had been woven into the links with platinum wire so fine that Nabiki suspected it to be thinner than a human hair. There were five settings for jewels in the bracelet, but no stones. Nabiki looked up at Tetsugo and tried to speak, but could find no words to express herself. Tetsugo found this amusing.

"One day you will meet a tall man. He will be both familiar and strange to your people. He is destined to become something of an outcast soon. When you meet him, he will have the stones for this bracelet in his pocket."

Nabiki worked her mouth, but nothing would come out.

"He will bring you many years of happiness, Tendo-san," Tetsugo said, looking serious for a change. "If you let him."

Nabiki looked down at the bracelet and blinked a couple of times. When she looked back up to ask Tetsugo what all this was about, he and his cart were gone.

Nabiki stood motionless in front of the gate for a long time before remembering that she was supposed to be going to school.

"What am I supposed to do now?" she muttered half-aloud. "Walk around asking tall guys if they've got expensive rocks in their pockets?"

Prince Haabu, Lord of the Musk, breathed a huge sigh of relief as the _Rodriquez_ rounded the point and made her way into the shallow calms of Tokyo Bay. In another day, the significant part of his mission here could begin. He stood on the port wing of the bridge, willing the _Rodriquez_ to go faster. He looked to his right as Kiima walked out into the wind to stand beside him. She had to crane her neck to look him in the face because she was still in her cursed form. She was wearing a heavy, hooded cloak which hid most of her visage.

"All is prepared, Lord Haabu," she told him. "The men know their hiding places and our belongings are now stored within the hidden spaces of the ship."

Haabu nodded.

"I also gathered the crew and explained the need to maintain our anonymity."

"I trust you were as emphatic as necessary?"

Kiima looked vaguely troubled at this.

"I made an example of one, M'Lord. He had some sort of pretensions towards defiance."


"Yes, the Western Barbarian," Kiima said. "He seemed to think he was privileged in some way. I am not sure why. He seemed to think it entitled him to a separate payment above and beyond the agreements we made with this vessel's owner."

Haabu shook his head in disgust. "Did you kill him?"

"He made it necessary, M'Lord. I did not kill him out of malice. He claimed that there would be a substantial reward for him and his shipmates if he turned us over to the authorities."

"I understand, Kiima. In the future, if such a thing needs to be done and it can be put off, consult with me first."

"Yes, M'Lord."

The silence was quite grim. Haabu had no qualms about killing a fellow warrior. Killing one another was what warriors trained all their lives to do, but he found killing people outside his class distasteful and avoided it if it were at all possible.

"You seem eager to be ashore, M'Lord."

"Yes, I am," Haabu said. "I am eager to see what has become of Ranma Saotome."

"Are you so eager to make amends?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," Haabu said. "A man such as myself can ill afford friendship. It gets in the way of leadership. I am not in a position to have friends now, nor am I likely to be in the future, but even I need at least one friend, Kiima."

"Especially if that friend is the Cold Dragon, yes?"

"I am uncertain whether you underestimate or overestimate me, Kiima. That says something sad about our life and our society, doesn't it? At any rate, I want him for a friend because he is worthy of my friendship, more so than I am worthy of his. That is a rare treat in comparison with the rest of my life."

Kiima said nothing, but Haabu had been around her long enough to know when something was on her mind.

"You seem to find this amusing."

"Indeed I do, Lord Haabu. If anything, I owe him a good deal more than you do. He, whether he meant to do it or not, has given my people the chance to begin life anew outside the Middle Kingdom, but I have no hope of ever having him for a friend."

"I think you misjudge him, Kiima."

"Perhaps, Lord Haabu, but you are mistaken if you think I am amused by him. I am not. Rather, I am amused by us and our plight. Here we are, you the Lord of the Mighty Musk and I, formerly the Captain of the Royal Guards of Hououzan, pining away for the friendship of a crude little boy!"

Haabu smiled at this. As much esteem as he held for Ranma Saotome, there was no denying the young man's lack of culture and education. Still, Ranma Saotome was anything but a boy, little or otherwise. Even in his cursed form, Ranma was one hell of a man.

"I think he is learned in what matters most, Kiima."

"What matters most to him, perhaps, M'Lord," Kiima said with a sniff. "I think he lacks a certain amount of mental discipline."

"Also true, Kiima, but he has something you and I lack. Something I hope to learn from him."


"He is inherently decent."

Kiima laughed out loud at this.

"You find that amusing?"

"Yes! I tried very hard to tempt him, you know. I failed. Ultimately, his 'inherent decency' is what made him victorious over Safuron."

"Hah! That surprises me not at all, Kiima."

"He is not one prone to be tripped up by temptation, nor does he allow his fear to control him. He is nothing like his father in that regard."

"Then you will treat him with respect?"

"Yes. I will, Lord Haabu," Kiima said. "He has earned at least that much from me to be sure, but I wonder if he will treat us with respect. Do you think we deserve it in his eyes?"

"That is a good question, Kiima," Haabu said, as a grim look came over his face. "A very good question indeed."

Akane woke up at four on Friday morning only to find Ranma's futon empty. She was vaguely disappointed. Admittedly, being thrown into the freezing waters of Ono Pond had not been at all pleasant, but the idea that Ranma thought her capable of dealing with it pleased her far more than she dared show. She sat in the darkness for a moment, wondering if he would come back and administer some new form of rude awakening, or if he might already be waiting out in the potting shed for her. This could easily be a test, after all. She decided not to take any chances and quickly put on her gi. A short while later, she found her fiance out in the potting shed. He was practicing a kata, the second Kata of the Beginner's Sextet, and he was having obvious trouble with his concentration.


"Yo, Akane." Ranma said, then smirked. "I see you decided to skip your swim this mornin'."


Ranma grinned at her, but still seemed curiously subdued, and the light in the potting shed was considerably dimmer around him. Akane knew all too well what that meant.

"What's wrong, Ranma?"

Ranma cocked an eyebrow at his fiancee.

"Someone is coming."

"Tarou again?"

"No," Ranma said. "Someone a lot more dangerous. More dangerous than Safuron, even."

"Do you know who it might be?" Akane asked, now genuinely alarmed.

Ranma nodded his head as he spoke. "I'm pretty sure it's Haabu."

Akane shrugged her shoulders. "You've beaten him before, Ranma! And, you are stronger than ever now. "

"I didn't beat him by myself, Akane. I had Mu Suu and Ryouga helpin' me out."

Akane stared at her fiance in disbelief. It was not at all like him to admit that anyone helped him out in a fight, much less intimate that he did not believe he could win a fight.

"You're worried."

"Yeah," Ranma said. "I don't think he's comin' here to fight with me. If he had been, I would have sensed his approach before now. Trouble is, I don't see a way out of us gettin' into a fight."

"Ranma, if he isn't coming here to fight, why start one?"

"He can't come here and not apologize to you for what he did, Akane!" Ranma shouted. He took a deep breath, then spoke in a somewhat calmer voice. "I ain't gonna let him set one foot in Japan without a fight until he does! I don't think he can bring himself to apologize. That means we're gonna fight."

Akane opened her mouth with the full intention of chastising her fiance, but thought better of it. That was the thing she usually did, and it never got them anywhere. Clearly, Ranma was already enraged. The chilly air of the potting shed was rapidly getting colder. Akane wondered if it were Haabu, Ranma himself or simply fate that had angered him. Probably all three, she decided.

"Ranma, it's cold enough in here without your doing that," Akane said in as calm a voice as she could muster.

"What? Oh! Sorry, Akane."

The room became noticeably brighter as Akane's mind raced. There were so many things she could say, but none of them seemed likely to help matters very much. She did not understand why, but she knew in her heart that she did not want Ranma fighting Haabu again.

"If you are thinking of fighting him on my account, Ranma, don't. As far as I'm concerned, the score is settled. It's time to let bygones be bygones. He might be coming here because he has heard you are a dragon. There can't be very many living dragons, maybe Haabu just wants some company."

"NO!" Ranma said with a grim smile. "If he wants to have anything to do with me, other than havin' a knock down, drag-out fight, he has to apologize to you."

"Why, Ranma? Is this about me, or is your ego getting in the way?"

"Damned right it is!"

Akane felt an icy fist grip her heart.

"I don't want you to fight him over something like that, Ranma."

"What you want in this doesn't matter, Akane."

"Ranma Saotome! If you think for ..."

"Knock it off, Akane!" Ranma shouted. His voice had taken a brittle edge that frightened Akane. Vehemence did not suit her fiance very well.

"NO, RANMA! I WON'T! How many innocent people are you going to risk over something like this? The last time the two of you fought each other you destroyed an entire mountain! Now you're thinking of fighting him again? Why? Because he won't apologize to me for something you beat him up over? What kind of sense does that make?"

"'Cause it's more than just my pride at stake, Akane. He's gotta learn some respect for other people."

"Oh, really? You mean the way you do?"

"Well, okay! I ain't perfect. I know that, but I learned a lesson from that dogcatcher guy. It ain't how much power ya got that's important. It's how ya use it that matters. Haabu likes ta lord it over everybody. I can't let him do that here."

Chills ran up Akane's back. Ranma had just made their position clear to her. They were encamped upon the edge of a great precipice. Her fiance was much more than an accomplished martial artist. He was truly powerful. What on earth do you do with the kind of power Ranma had? The dogcatcher had proven how easy it was to make a mistake, even when you were trying to do the right thing. Ranma was powerful enough to frighten entire governments if he wanted, and maybe he already had. Who could say for sure? Power like Ranma's was something a great many would covet or want to destroy. How much less so could it be for Haabu? He's concerned about a good deal more than just his pride, Akane thought. Haabu was powerful enough to dictate to anyone and everyone if he chose to and there was no one around to check him. And, Akane was forced to admit, so was her fiance.

"You're afraid of him, aren't you, Ranma."

"Damn right I'm afraid of him. The only guy to kick my ass as many times as he has is Pop, and Pop can't whip me anymore."

"Can he change forms the way you can?"

"I don't know, but as powerful as he is it may not make any difference, Akane. You didn't see the all the stuff he could do with his ki. I ain't ever seen nothin' like it."

"You know, Ranma, he might be coming to you for help. Maybe he ran into an evil dogcatcher instead of an idiotic one the way you did," Akane said.

This brought Ranma up short. During the ensuing silence, Akane debated with herself over whether she should tell Ranma about her dream. She desperately wanted to share it with him, but was afraid to. She was not at all sure how he might take it.

"You know what I think, Ranma?"


"He doesn't have to apologize to me. You've already settled that score with him. All needs to do is be respectful of me."

"It ain't settled until he admits his mistake!"

"So? If he acknowledges my presence and treats me with respect, isn't that admission enough?"

Ranma look frustrated. "I dunno, Akane. I'll think about it," Ranma said. "Why are you taking his side on this? I don't get it."

"I am not taking his side, Ranma. I'm taking yours -- no, it's more like I'm taking ours. I think having Haabu for a friend would be a lot better than having him for an enemy."

Ranma looked away. Akane could tell he was dealing with more than a few misgivings and much rage.

"Dragons live a long time, right?" Akane asked.

"Yeah, I guess. I don't know very much about bein' a dragon. I know less about that than I know about bein' a girl."

"Then you need him as a friend, Ranma. There is a lot you need to learn from him. Besides, from what you told me about Haabu, the two of you had a lot in common when you first met him. You have even more in common with him now that you're a dragon," Akane said, her voice choking with emotion.

Ranma stared at her, concern obvious in his face.

"Don't cry, Akane! It's ..."

"It's madness is what it is, Ranma! You and Haabu can't just fight each other! When you two fight, it's as though two entire countries are going to war. Would you start a war just because someone failed to apologize? That's stupid!"

Ranma's face became very sad. "It's happened more than once, Akane."

"So what? It was stupid when it happened before and if it happens again, it will be even more stupid!"

"How so?"

"Because the two of you are so much alike, you arrogant jerk! You're both arrogant jerks!"

"Hey! I don't mistreat women or nothin'!"

"Not the way he does, no, but then you have much less excuse!"

Ranma sighed, then gave Akane a lopsided grin.

"He's got the same exact curse I had, remember?"

"Yeah, but he grew up in China, not Japan. Women are given a little more respect here than they are there, and we aren't nearly as uptight about sex as the Chinese."

Ranma looked guilty, then exasperated, then calm, then guilty, then exasperated again. He opened his mouth as though to speak, but closed it instead, saying nothing.

Akane seized his hand with both her own, then said, "Ranma, just promise me you won't start a fight the second you see him, okay?"

Ranma grimaced, then looked away.

"Promise me you'll at least give him and yourself some time to work this out peacefully. Please, Ranma?"

"It ain't kid's stuff anymore, is it?" Ranma asked in a distant voice.

"No, it isn't, Ranma. I don't want to lose you. I especially don't want to lose you to ...because you picked a fight with the one person on earth that ...who ..."

"Is a dragon like me? That stands a real chance of winning against me?"

"Yes! Like you just said, it's not child's play anymore," Akane said as she pressed the palm of Ranma's hand against her abdomen. "Promise me!"

Ranma took a deep breath and sighed aloud before speaking.

"I'll promise what I can, Akane."

Akane closed her eyes and squeezed Ranma's hand.

"I won't fight with him if I can help it," Ranma said. "I'll even settle for him just being nice to you. He won't hafta apologize if he'll do that much."

Akane released Ranma's hand. She curled her legs beneath herself so that she sat in seiza, and bowed formally to her fiance.

"Thank you, Husband."

Ranma merely stared, struck completely dumb by what Akane had just said.

"With your permission, Sensei," Akane said, "I would like to begin my stretches."

Ranma gave his head a shake, and his glazed-over eyes cleared slightly.

"Ah ...Oh, sure, Akane!" he stammered as he clumsily returned her bow. "You want some ...ah want some help with 'em?"

Akane gave him her sunniest smile, knowing full well the impact it had on him. Nabiki would be proud of me right now, she thought to herself. I kept my cool, and I played him like a violin. I hate it, but I had to. Even if Ranma won against Haabu the results would not be good. I MUST protect him from himself this time.

"Thank you, Ranma," Akane said aloud. "I'd appreciate that."

Xian Pu dropped back into the cat fighting stance, panting heavily. Mu Suu had fought like a demon in this morning's sparring match and Xian Pu found herself feeling grateful for the newfangled headgear and gloves. They were a huge improvement over the leather and cloth wrappings her people had been using for several millennia. The only thing Xian Pu did not like about the new equipment was the mouthpiece. It tasted horrible and made her throat raw. She would not have used it if Mu Suu had not insisted upon it.

Mu Suu launched a hapkido kick, but Xian Pu saw it coming, waited until the last second, then dodged only just enough to let the kick go by. She threw a hard right-cross at Mu Suu's solar plexus, but he had anticipated that as a likely counter-attack. His forearm absorbed the blow. Xian Pu then threw a hard left hook at his chin, but Mu Suu slipped it and threw a back-fist at Xian Pu's solar plexus. The back-fist paid off nicely. Xian Pu found herself trying to disengage in hopes of getting her breath back. Mu Suu did not give her time. He followed her, throwing a machine-gun-like series of blows at her face. Xian Pu was forced to keep her arms in motion to fend off this series of attacks, consuming the energy she needed to straighten out her badly upset diaphragm.

She recognized the signs, of course. She had experienced them before, although not recently. Her hearing went away first, as her vision was rapidly reduced to just that which was immediately in front of her. She was going to pass out on her feet! All that would have to happen now was for Mu Suu to get in a solid strike and her body would shut down of its own accord. Xian Pu knew she had to act fast. Mu Suu would not need to strike any vital spot to take her out at this point in the match. A solid blow most anywhere would put her away. Hell, even one of her own blocks hammering his flashing fists away might be enough to do the job. Xian Pu toed-in her lead foot, as though she were preparing for a spinning back kick. Mu Suu instinctively guarded against her heel coming up for a strike against his jaw. Xian Pu spun, but rather throwing a kick, she instead slammed her elbow into the lanky boy's rib cage.

Xian Pu spun back around, finishing up with her opposite foot in the lead. Mu Suu's solar plexus was open for a left-cross. Xian Pu threw a hard one. Just as her fist shot away, Mu Suu bent over. Her gloved hand slammed into the lens over his right eye and shattered it. Mu Suu went down with a sharp grunt, followed by a whimper as he hit the ground.

Xian Pu staggered in a couple of circles, still unable to see very well, and still unable to hear Mu Suu's cries as he lay thrashing on the hard tarmac of the alley. Finally, after what seemed an hour, Xian Pu's breathing returned to normal. Her hearing began to return, although her ears were still ringing.

"Where Duck-boy go?"

"Xian Pu, my eye!"

"Mu Suu?" Xian Pu called out as she searched about for him.

"Where you ... Aiiiyaaah! ... Great-grandmother, come quick!"

Xian Pu shook her head, not sure if what she was seeing was real or not!

"Mu Suu no do that! Wait for help!" Xian Pu said in her sharpest command voice, then she switched to her native Turkic and shouted at the very top of her lungs, "Warrior down! Healer! Warrior down!"

The screen door on the rear entrance of the Nekohanten slammed against the wall as Ko Lon raced outside.

"Shit!" Ko Lon cursed in Turkic. "Lie still, boy!"

Mu Suu did his best to stop thrashing, but Ko Lon still found it necessary to pry his hand away from his bleeding eye. Ko Lon grunted at what she saw before she could stop herself. The boy's eye was full of the broken glass and at least one piece of the frame that had held the shattered lens.

"Xian Pu? Go call Doctor Tofu! Ask him to meet us at the hospital. Then call 119 and ask for an ambulance!"

"Yes, ma'am!" Xian Pu answered in the battle dialect of their language.

"Lie still, son," Ko Lon said to Mu Suu. "Help is on the way."

"How bad is it?" Mu Suu asked.

"It's bad, Mu Suu, I shan't lie to you," Ko Lon said, cursing herself for letting her voice crack. "You may never see out of that eye again."

Mu Suu said several bad words in Turkic, a number of others in Mandarin, a few in Japanese, but waxed absolutely poetic when he began cursing in modern Arabic. Ko Lon found herself grinning despite the circumstances. She had to give the boy credit for being tough.

Ko Lon pressed several pressure points to dampen his pain. She made no attempt to slow the bleeding. There did not appear to be any arterial bleeding, and allowing a wound such as this bleed until a doctor could work on it was probably the best course of action to take. A positive flow of blood would help wash out fragments while helping to prevent an infection. Mu Suu quieted some, at least to the extent that he had begun cursing in rather pedestrian Japanese.

Tofu Ono surprised Ko Lon by descending from a nearby rooftop.

"Why wasn't he wearing glasses with plastic lenses?" Tofu asked, sounding more than a little annoyed.

"They are not commonly available in our part of China," Ko Lon answered.

Tofu popped open a cellular telephone, pressed a speed-dial button, and then began asking for a particular doctor at Nerima General, just as the noise of sirens filled the air. The EM team assigned to Nerima prided themselves on the practice of their Art. They were good. They were very good, especially with Tofu Ono watching. They had Mu Suu treated for shock and into the ambulance in under a minute. Tofu clambered aboard it with them, leaving Ko Lon and Xian Pu to face the local police, who had just begun arriving on foot.

Ko Lon was suddenly very happy that she had gone out of the way to establish a solid reputation with the local business leaders and other pillars of the community. She had to restrain Xian Pu several times. The girl was not particularly interested in answering the same questions over and over, worded in different ways. After an interminable fifteen minutes of this, a senior officer took over and put an end to it all. Finally free of the police and their annoying questions, Xian Pu shot across the Nerima skyline like a purple meteor in the direction of Nerima General.

"Okay, people," Nabiki said, tapping on the table with a paperweight. "We haven't much time left this morning."

The rather serious looking youngsters gathered around the table in the school cafeteria quickly quieted down.

"Phase II of Market Garden," Nabiki said in business-like tones. Most of the group perked up considerably. "Status reports. How are the drawings coming, Jiro?"

"All but one is done, Tendo-san, and I will deliver it to the patent lawyer's office on my way home from school today."

"Good!" Nabiki said, genuinely pleased. "Technical writeups, Miko?"

"The initial draft has been done, but I am not very happy with it, and neither was my dad. He says it is full of holes, and I agree with him. I called our patent lawyer's office this morning, and he agreed to have his technical writer speak with our gaijin inventor this evening. The only problem is, he doesn't speak French and Tibi-san's Japanese is very hard to understand."

"Kodachi?" Nabiki asked, "How are you on technical French? Never mind that, can you deal with technical terms in Japanese?"

"I won't have any trouble at all with the Japanese part of the issue, Sensei, and I'm certain I can coax what we need out of our dear sweet Jean-Luc."

Several of the group cautiously rolled their eyes at this. Upsetting Kodachi could easily cost them money, and making money was what this little group was all about.

"Good, I thought that would be the case," Nabiki said, "You will meet with the technical writer and Jean-Luc tonight then?"

"Of course, Sensei." Kodachi said as she did her best to tastefully preen.

Nabiki noted that Kodachi seemed genuinely pleased, rather than simply acting out a role the way she normally did. Nabiki was not surprised by this. For the first time in Kodachi's life she was experiencing something completely new. Nabiki had made her part of a team. This was not one of the phony clique's that Kodachi had played with at her own school, but a real team with a real purpose. Here, she was being treated as a genuinely valued member of the group, rather than a spoiled little monster who had to be feared and fawned upon. The affect on the Kuno child seemed positively salutary.


"Yes, Tendo-san?"

"Call that technical writer and tell him that under no circumstances is he to wear a suit."

Miko looked surprised at this.

"He is to dress as if he were about to work on his car or something. Clean, but casual and not very fancy, got it?"

"Sure, Tendo-san," Miko said, "May I ask why?"

"Because this Westerner is a craftsman. He builds bicycles from scratch. If your writer shows up wearing a suit, Tibi-san will think he can't tell the business end of a screwdriver from its handle."

Miko nodded her head in sudden understanding.


"Yes, Sensei?"

"Wear something casual, but very, very slinky."

Kodachi smiled wickedly.

"I want both of these guys to pay close attention to you," Nabiki said. "Encourage Tibi-san to explain in French, you do the explaining in Japanese."

"Of course, Sensei. I understand exactly what you are after."

"Good!" Nabiki said, "Everybody remember we have to make our first payment to the patent lawyer on this coming Wednesday. You must have your shares paid for by Tuesday."

Nods of assent passed around the table.

"That's for everyone but Ichiro-san," Nabiki said. "He has to be paid up by sixth period on Monday." Everyone around the table laughed. Ichiro always had the money, but was always slow about making transfers and it had caused Nabiki to gnash her teeth more than once.

"Anything else?" Nabiki asked. "No? Dismissed."

Bee-bee-boop! Bee-bee-boop!

Nabiki snatched a cellular telephone from her purse.

"Yes, Kasumi?"

"I just wanted to let you know about something, Nabiki. Although I don't really know whether it is all that important to you or not."

"What is it?"

"You know Mu Suu?"

"Sure, Kasumi."

"He was injured very badly in a training accident this morning. He may lose the use of one eye."

"Where did they take him, Kasumi?"

"Nerima General, no room number, yet. Tofu rode to the hospital with him in the ambulance."

"I'll see to it that flowers get delivered to his room. Nerima General, did you say?"

"Yes, Nerima General. But, you know, Nabiki, he won't be able to see flowers."

"I'll make sure they send something that smells nice," Nabiki said. "They aren't really for him anyway."

"Does there always have to be an angle, Nabiki?" Kasumi asked sadly.

"No, but in this case, the angle is a must, Sis. We don't have a choice. Our little sister's welfare rides on how we handle those folks."

"I suppose you're right," Kasumi answered resignedly.

"Are you and Tofu still going to meet me here during lunch-break?"

"As far as I know, Nabiki."

"Okay," Nabiki said with a sigh. "I gotta run, Sis. I still haven't picked up Akane and Ranma's assignments."

"All right, Nabiki. Love you."

"Love you, Sis. Bye."

Nabiki closed her telephone and smiled coldly.

"Two can play at the obligation game, Ko Lon, and I'm better connected than you are."

Five minutes later, the Furinkan Council for Fun, Profits and Prosperity effortlessly swung into full gear like the well-oiled, well-maintained, and well-run machine it was. Twenty minutes later, two very good looking, scantily clad cogs in the machine turned up at the Nekohanten, looking for part time jobs as waitresses. Both of them owed Nabiki Tendo money, largely because they had a weakness for clothes, especially the fashionably scanty stuff. Ko Lon very nearly kissed them. Friday was not a good day to be short on help in the restaurant business, and these two girls looked as though they knew all the tricks.

Akane sat down heavily in what had become her favorite resting place in the potting shed. Things were not going well. She lacked concentration. Try as she might, she could not get her mind off her conversation with Ranma and her dream about him leaving with the Musk Prince. She absolutely, positively hated being left behind, but there was no denying the portents of her dream any longer. She would get left behind, unless she could find the strength and acquire the skill to follow Ranma. Right now, it seemed as though the skills she needed were so far away that she would not reach them in time to meet Happosai's demands, let alone acquire enough to cope with her future. Having Ranma's babies and staying home to care for them would be a happy life, but not a very satisfying one, especially if she lost him in the end.

"Yo, Tomboy!" Ranma called out, breaking into Akane's morose reverie. "You tryin' ta learn the Shishihoukodan, or what?"

Akane gave Ranma a puzzled stare.

"Why such a long lip, Akane?" Ranma asked, sounding concerned.

Well, Akane thought, there's all the proof I need of that old saying. You can run, but you can't hide. He knows me too well.

"Tell me something, Ranma."

"Okay, shoot."

"How can you even think of going into a fight that you know you can't win?"

"Simple, Akane. You don't worry 'bout losin,' and you don't hope of winnin'. Ya just go ahead and do whatever it is ya have ta do. That's the key to the Soul of Ice."

"Mind of no mind?" Akane asked. She felt that she was beginning to get the first faint glimmer of an important insight.

"Well, yeah. I never really made that connection before, but I guess that's right. Partly right, anyway. Words can't explain all of it. Ya hafta do it."

Akane rose to her feet then bowed to her fiance.

"Then I am ready to do it, Sensei."

Ranma just stared at her for a moment. He looked profoundly shocked. Suddenly, he grinned. It was that cocky grin he got whenever an opponent did something he admired. Akane felt adrenaline rushing into her veins.

"I wantcha to go real slow this time, Akane. I want ya to try to look like somebody in a slow motion film, got it?"

"Yes, Sensei."

"While yer doin' the kata that way, I wantcha to concentrate on what every little muscle is doin'."

He knows I'm having trouble concentrating today. That's why he's having me do that. I have got so much to learn! Akane felt the sharp, icy pins of renewed fear stabbing at her soul. There's so much of it! I'll never learn it all! Just as she thought she would begin crying, something Ranma had said the day before came back to her. "Yer mind ignores what yer body can't learn." But, her body had learned a lot over the years, and now her mind was remembering more of what she was being told. She did not need to learn it all right now. She could not do such a thing, and neither could anyone else, not even Ranma. All she needed to do was learn what she could learn today, nothing more than that. Tomorrow, she would learn what she could tomorrow. She would do the same for the day following and the day after that and so on into the years beyond. Now that she understood, she wondered how she could have gone through so much of her life overlooking such a simple thing. Ranma had not sprung fully trained from the side of Genma Saotome. Genma's old lie now suddenly seemed funny rather than annoying.

"Yes, Sensei."

"Ready? Begin!"

Akane began performing the kata in slow motion, struggling to take note of what each muscle in her body was doing. This proved to be more tiring than performing the kata at full speed. Ranma had continued to do what he had been doing, using himself to provide her a target just out of reach.

"Not bad, Tomboy. Let's do it that way again, but this time I wantcha to try to breathe the way I showed'ja last night. Think ya can do that?"

"Yes, Sensei," Akane said, even though she found the idea frightening.

"Ready? Begin!"

Akane breathed in slowly as she sent the message to her right foot to come up on its ball. She could feel the hamstring in her right leg tighten, bringing up her heel. Now, slowly slide-step forward! The powerful muscle running along the top of her right thigh tightened, raising her knee. Air rushed deep into her lungs. It seemed to Akane that the air was actually compressing as it dammed up against her diaphragm. She could feel the large muscles in her upper arm begin extending her arm as her left leg propelled her forward in a slow, gliding step, her right foot moving forward with its sole only a few millimeters above the rough floor of the potting shed. The small muscles in her right forearm began to rotate her wrist, rolling her still loosely held fist towards a palm-down position. Her left arm began the sweeping outside-in block, her left hand already a rock hard fist, the muscles in her left forearm as rigid as a piece of cast iron pipe.

Akane's right foot settled to the floor, and she began to exhale. Her arm was now approaching the end of her slow-motion punch as the muscles in her right hand were beginning to pull her fingers into a fist. As the air began to leave her lungs, she felt a fire kindle in her hara, and power rapidly surged down into her legs. Her right foot was now firmly planted. She could feel the abrasive texture of the rough-sawn floorboards take a firm grip on the soles of her feet. The muscles of her right leg guided her knee outwards so that its outer edge was directly above the outer edge of her right foot. This maneuver was designed to prevent injury to the karateka's knee, should the opposition choose it for a target. She could feel the muscles in her leg tighten in a way she had never experienced before as the power emanating from her hara augmented the efforts of her musculature. Her leg may as well have now been made of cast bronze.

Much to Akane's exhilaration, she could feel her ki surge upwards as she terminated her punch. Her wrist was in perfect alignment, and the elbow joint of her right arm just barely short of full extension. Should she fully extend her arm while throwing a punch, the karateka would introduce enormous shock loads to both her elbow and shoulder joints. Such loads were very bad for the cartilage and would cause it to either tear, or simply wear out over the course of a year's training. Worse, a fully extended elbow joint could be easily ruptured by a well-thrown block. Akane had seen this happen to more than one careless student, and she felt a little spike of alarm in her chest remembering that her form had often been wrong in the past. She had been lucky to escape injury before. Now, however, her form was utterly perfect and she could feel her ki turning her arm into something as rigidly deadly as a katana. She could see a brief flare of ki around her fist shortly after her punch had terminated.

"Hold!" Ranma shouted.

Akane froze in place, her arm extended.

"Can ya tell me what went right and what went wrong with that move, Akane?"

"I ... I don't know, for sure, Sensei. My form is perfect, and I felt ... I felt my ki build up in my right arm and leg. Wasn't that what you were expecting to happen?"

"Yeah, I was, Akane," Ranma answered, unable to curb a smirk at her, "but there was something else I was hopin' you would notice without me havein' ta point it out."

"Like what?"

"I'll show ya. Get back into ready position, Akane."

Akane scrambled to comply, spurred on by burning curiosity.

"Now then, I wantcha to do the same exact thing again, Akane. Breathin' and everything, okay? I'm gonna be in the way this time. Remember to go real slow."

Akane nodded her head.


Akane breathed in as she again initiated the first punch of the kata. This time she could feel the fire light up in her hara as though she had a gas burner in her belly. Ranma did not back away this time as he had in all their previous exercises. This time he blocked her slow-motion punch with a slow-motion outside-in block with his left arm. At one and the same time, Akane could see his right knee come up until his knee cap was pointed at her solar plexus. He was, she realized, throwing a slow-motion snap kick. There was something familiar about the combination of a left handed, outside-in block utilized in conjunction with a front snap kick thrown with the right foot, but Akane could not immediately understand why. She knew she should remember such a move, but there was no time to dig through her memories. She had to concentrate on her punch.

Ranma's left forearm connected with Akane's right forearm just as her knuckles touched the bright red silk of his shirt. It was like being gently tapped with an axe handle. The pain came as quite a shock to Akane. There should not have been any, no faster than she and Ranma were moving. It was then that she remembered the front snap kick Ranma had launched at her solar plexus. A quick, mental review of her posture reminded her that her left arm was already firmly established in its blocking position. She shifted the focus of her awareness slightly.

Ranma was throwing a perfect, front snap-kick in slow motion. Throwing a kick of any kind in slow motion is no mean feat. The momentum involved in a fast kick actually helps the body maintain its balance on one foot, but Ranma was not merely delivering a nicely formed kick in slow motion. It was a perfect kick. Akane watched as the ball of his foot slowly and inexorably came into contact with a spot on her left forearm, midway between her wrist and elbow.

The pain Akane felt was much more intense than she expected as Ranma's left foot continued to move towards the termination point of his kick. The ball of Ranma's foot shoved her left forearm against her sternum and caused her left elbow to dig into her stomach muscles, just below the solar plexus. Akane felt her eyes widen with shock as the ball of Ranma's slow moving foot forced her backwards, up into the air and off of her feet.

"Yeeeow!" Akane shouted. She flew backwards for a meter or so, before falling to the floor. She was so surprised that she found it hard to believe that her reflexes took over and maintained her fall discipline. "That hurt, Ranma!"

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry, Akane, but it's part of trainin'. I hate ..."

"I can't believe you kicked me!" Akane shouted.

"Akane, I'm sorry! It's just part of the trainin'! I hafta ..."

Akane cut Ranma's apologies off with a level four glomp. The last thing she wanted was for him to hold back on her training because he was worried about her being angry with him over something like this. Their parents and Ranma had offered to let her wear the crown jewels of the Art. If she had to grow for them to fit, she would grow. Pain was of no significance to her.

"You kicked me!" Akane shouted in Ranma's ear without meaning to. "I'm so happy! Oh, Ranma I love you."

"Ah ... er ... ah ...Akane?"

"Yes, Ranma?"

"Can we get back to the lesson, now?"

"Yes, of course, Sensei!"

"What went right, and what went wrong?"

"I didn't feel my ki build up in my left arm," Akane answered. "Was that what went wrong?"

"Yeah, well, that's part of what went wrong. I wantcha to play the whole thing over in yer head. While yer doin' that, I wantcha to tell me what went right, and what went wrong."

Nabiki grinned silently to herself as the waitress set a large bowl of tempura ramen down on the table in front of her. It was on the house, just as she predicted it would be when suggesting the Nekohanten for lunch to Kasumi and Tofu. Ko Lon joined them at their table. They were running late and had arrived at the Nekohanten well after the noon rush. The reason they were running late, of course, was because Tofu insisted upon waiting until Mu Suu was out of surgery and making sure the hospital staff did their job correctly.

"So, Doctor Tofu, how is Mu Suu doing?" Ko Lon asked before trying her own noodles.

"He has been very lucky, so far, Honored Elder," Tofu answered. "He could not have chosen a better time to have this kind of accident."

"Oh? I wouldn't think there could be such a thing as a good time for an accident, Doctor."

"Ordinarily, I would agree with you, Honored Elder," Tofu said, then shuddered. Everyone at the table understood this, eye injuries such as the one Mu Suu had suffered were horrible things to look at, "In this case, however, I think things have a chance to work out for the better."

"How so?" Ko Lon asked, now sounding very suspicious.

"A few years ago, in the early nineteen-seventies, a Russian boy had an accident similar to the one Mu Suu had this morning. He had broken his lenses and gotten an eye full of glass slivers. The doctors spent hours searching for the slivers and stitched up the worst of the cuts to his eyeball. There were also injuries to the cornea of his eye. This kind of surgery is always a tedious and delicate business, you know. The slivers from clear glass are very difficult to find and are incredibly sharp."

Ko Lon nodded her head. Most of her suspicion was now evaporating. "I can easily imagine that it would be so, Doctor. We have these kinds of injuries fairly often among my people. Optical plastics and tempered glass are hard to come by at home. Most such victims never regain their sight."

"Have you ever had a case where such a victim's vision was improved once they recovered from their accident?"

Ko Lon stared at Tofu in shock. "Not that I can recall. I gather that this is what happened to the Russian child you were speaking of?"

"Yes. More important, Doctor Fyodorov, the Russian opthamologist treating him deduced why this patient's vision improved after the accident. It seems that the scarring which occurred had almost completely eliminated the boy's nearsightedness."

"You mean it was a fluke?" Ko Lon asked.

"Yes, but once Doctor Fyodorov knew why the boy's vision was improved, it was simply a matter of understanding how the cornea tends to heal from a cut in order to develop a surgery which would correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and even astigmatism."

"Hmm," Ko Lon suddenly sounded very interested. "Could such surgery let person get rid of their reading glasses?"

"Unfortunately, no," Tofu said. "Presbyopia is not caused by a flaw in the eyeball or cornea. We have muscles which focus the internal lens of the eye. As we get older, that lens loses its flexibility and the muscles can no longer change its shape."

"I see, or perhaps I don't," Ko Lon said, "depending on how far away and how small it is. Why do I still see so many people running around with glasses, Doctor?"

"Well, the procedure is fairly new, and the medical establishment in Japan is very cautious of implementing new procedures right away. Part of that is a result of our reluctance to risk harm to our patients. Also, most insurers consider it to be a cosmetic procedure, given that glasses can, in most cases, correct a person's vision to an acuity of 20/20."

"I think I am beginning to see," Ko Lon said, a smile suddenly playing across her withered face. "Mu Suu's injury allows his doctor to prescribe the surgery in hopes of salvaging his vision, correct?"

"Yes, and the National Insurance Plan will therefore be required to cover seventy percent of the costs, but only for his injured eye."

Ko Lon shuddered. "And to think I very nearly neglected having him registered as a long term resident here. I am glad I did now. How good will his vision be once this is done?"

"Well that is hard to say at this point, Elder. It will be necessary for us to wait until his eye heals before the necessary tests can be carried out, but I would be surprised if his vision in one eye were not improved to at least an acuity of 20/40. His night vision might be adversely affected, but on the whole, the chances for a considerable improvement are quite good."

"As ever, adversity and opportunity appear together at one and the same time. Have you told Xian Pu any of this?"

"No," Tofu said. "It may turn out that the surgery cannot be done. It is an unlikely but possible outcome of the surgery which has been done to repair the damage he has suffered. If that turns out to be the case, Mu Suu would have the option of risking surgery to his other eye and the rules would not prohibit the procedure from being carried out. Either way, the National Insurance Plan will only cover seventy percent of the costs."

Nabiki chose this moment to lay an envelope on the table near Ko Lon's right hand. Ko Lon looked at Nabiki and cocked an eyebrow.

"And this is?"

"Seventy-five thousand yen," Nabiki said. "The martial artists of Nerima do not necessarily get along all the time, but they do stick together when the chips are down, especially when someone among them shows a little leadership," Nabiki said with a faint smile. "I took up a collection. The list of contributors is in here as well."

"Bless you, child," Ko Lon said. "This is an act worthy of a true Amazon."

"I think being an Amazon is as much a matter of attitude as it is a birthright, Honored Elder," Nabiki said.

Ko Lon cackled. "So it is, Tendo-san. So it is."

Nabiki smiled at the older woman, then produced another envelope from her purse. "And this is a special contribution made on the behalf of both ryuu of the Anything Goes School. I deliver it to you on behalf of the school's founder and two of its current masters."

"Two of its masters?" Ko Lon asked. "You mean your father and Genma Saotome?"

"No, Auntie Ko Lon," Kasumi interjected. "Our father and Ranma Saotome. Grandfather Happosai has licensed him to teach his first student."

If Ko Lon was surprised by this, she showed no sign of it.

"I see," Ko Lon said, "and I can understand your optimism and can share it more than a little, but you must realize that Ranma could easily fail the final test."

"Ranma never loses anything easily, Honored Elder," Nabiki said.

Ko Lon laughed at this. "There is a dangerous lesson lurking in that statement for him, Nabiki-chan. Let us hope he chooses wisdom over experience."

"Yes, well, hope springs eternal, does it not, Honored Elder?" Nabiki asked sardonically.

"Yes it does, Nabiki-chan," Ko Lon said with a cackle. "And, we both have underestimated him in the past, have we not?"

Nabiki gave Ko Lon a little bow. "Touche, Honored Elder. Touche!"

"By your leave, Honored Elder," Tofu said. "We still have a bit of traveling to do."

"Of course, Sensei," Ko Lon said. "My thanks to you all for your help. I shall long remain in your debt."

"You owe us nothing," Kasumi said. "We were pleased to be of help."

"Perhaps you could spare me moment of your time upon your return, Nabiki-chan?"

"Of course, Honored Elder," Nabiki said. "Would Monday evening be convenient?"

"That would be very good."

"I look forward to it," Nabiki said.

Ko Lon's gave Nabiki a huge smile.

"As do I, Tendo-san. As do I."

Akane followed Ranma out into the yard just as the pale, cloud-shrouded sun began to drop behind the trees along the ridge west of Ono-ke. The grass was thick but short and had long ago turned brown and dormant for the winter season. Akane realized that she could never be sure of her footing here. The grass was slippery, but only in places. Having your foot slide a little way, then stop moving unexpectedly was often just as bad as having it slide unexpectedly.

"What are we going to do out here, Ranma?" Akane asked, trying to keep the excitement out of her voice. "Spar?"

"Nope. We're gonna do a little dancing, Akane."

"Dancing?" Akane asked, not sure what Ranma meant. Japanese has two words for dancing. One of them, "odoru," can be taken to mean "jumping up and down vigorously." This, of course, was the verb Ranma had used.

"Yep! The trick to it is, ya gotta breathe right while we dance."

So saying, Ranma sucked in an enormous breath of air, bent his legs slightly, then shot up into the air a good five meters or so. He seemed to hang in midair for a moment, then descended rapidly, still somehow making a soft, nearly noiseless landing on the balls of his feet.

"Now you dance, Akane," Ranma ordered. "Remember to breathe right!"

Akane took a deep breath and bent her knees. Once her lungs were full, she jumped while exhaling explosively. Her feet rose a respectable three-quarters of a meter from the soggy grass. Her landing was a bit heavy, but this was about as high as she had ever jumped while thinking about it. She suddenly remembered that she had leapt to the top of the fence along the canal once, but she had been quite angry with Ranma at the time and had given no thought to what she was doing. Could it be possible for her to do such a thing deliberately? Was that what controlling your ki was all about? To be able to do fantastic things whenever you wanted instead of needing to be angered or frightened first?

"Okay, that wasn't half-bad, Akane," Ranma said. "This time take it a little slower and wait until ya feel the ki build up in your lower legs."

Akane did as Ranma instructed, this time jumping a bit higher.


Akane jumped.


Akane jumped.


Akane jumped. It was turning into hard work, and she was not jumping any higher.


Akane jumped. Her fatigue caused her to lose control on landing, and her left foot shot out to one side, causing her to take a nasty spill.

"Are you okay?"

"Yes!" Akane said, sounding irritated as she rose to her feet.


Akane jumped, swearing that she would remember to wash her heavy bra before going to bed tonight--and every night forever after.


Akane jumped. Fatigue was beginning to claim her mind as her body started demanding more oxygen than her lungs could provide.

"Jump hard!"

Akane jumped, even though it seemed as though the muscles in her legs would burst into flames.


Suddenly, for reasons she could not explain, Akane found herself a good two meters above the ground. She should have been elated and would have been, but, her feet were up and her head was down. She would have screamed in terror, but lacked the breath for it. She felt a hand on her back, right between her shoulder blades, gently righting her as she descended. She was going to land on her feet!

"You mean I'm not going to die?" Akane squealed.

Ranma smirked at her.


Ranma touched down gently, soaking up enough energy to prevent injuries to either of them, but not enough for Akane to stay on her feet. She sprawled out face first upon the wet grass.

"Well that was really interestin'!" Ranma exclaimed.

Akane rolled over then sat up.

"I ain't ever seen anybody do that before."

Akane fumed and gave Ranma an evil stare. She wanted very badly to open her mouth and suck in great, heaving gulps of air. The problem with that was that she would have to spit out all the grass and mud she had plowed up with her bottom teeth, then Ranma would laugh.

"You really gotta learn to balance outcher ki, Akane."

"Phhtt! Pah-thooie! Yechh! Gasp."

"I ain't ever seen anyone build up so much ki in their legs that they could jump straight up feet first. That's gotta be some kinda record, Akane."

"Bleah!" Akane noised, then began trying to dig a clump of dirt out from between her lower lip and bottom teeth.

"Geez, Akane! Ain't cha outgrown eatin' grass and dirt, yet?"

"Up yours, Saotome!"

"That's my tomboy, all right!"


"You left out sadistic," Ranma said, doing his best to look angelic.



Akane soared into the air for several meters, then her feet rose above her head again. Ranma caught her in midair, this time bringing them both to a soft landing.

"Ya gotta learn how ta land or we'll be out here planting grass for Tofu when spring comes around."

"Put me down!"

"Maybe we better knock it off for ..."

"Please, Ranma? I want to try one more time. Please?"

Ranma gently set Akane down onto her feet.

"Not so hard this time, Akane. It's gettin' dark, and you don't know how to land so good."

"You didn't expect me to do as well as I have so far, did you?"

Ranma grinned at her. "I didn't expect you to jump so high, that's for sure."

Akane took a deep breath.

"Heeeyaaah!" she shouted as she sprang into the sky -- well for a couple of meters, anyway. She managed to keep her feet under herself this time. She landed harder than she would have liked, but did not take a spill.

"You're landin' too hard, Akane."

A faint, misting rain began to fall, but Akane ignored it. There was a brief flash around Ranma as he fended off the change.

"Hiyaaah!" Akane shouted as she leaped happily into the air again. This time she rose two-and-a-half meters while keeping her feet under the rest of her. She landed with less force this time, but the grass was very slick where she touched down, and she took a spill.

"See? I think that's enough for today ..."

"One, more? Please, Ranma, please?" Akane asked, using her best "little girl begging technique." It worked. No man on earth is capable of resisting it, not even a half-dragon.

"Okay, okay! But, just one more time and then we go clean up. I'm hungry."

Akane stuck her tongue out at Ranma. "What's more important? My training or your stomach?"

"Keepin' you healthy!' Ranma answered in an irritated voice. "If you get hurt we'll have a hard time ... "

"Kiiiyaaah!" Akane shouted as she let out an explosive breath and jumped. She jumped much higher than she intended this time as she tried to send a surge of ki into her upper body. It worked, but it had the unfortunate effect of making her jump backwards instead of forwards.

"Akane, look out!" Ranma bellowed.

Akane looked down. She was nearly four meters above the ground and was now descending towards the gravel driveway. Akane gasped aloud as the front end of an ambulance entered her field of view. The nose of the heavy vehicle was already diving as the driver began pumping his brakes.

"Well, at least I won't have to wait for one to show up," Akane muttered to herself. As the speed of her descent began to increase, she wondered why an ambulance had shown up anyway, then she realized that the vehicle must belong to Tofu's friend.

"Oh, no!" Akane shrieked. "I'm going to dent the hood!"

She did her best to land lightly. Much to her amazement, her efforts succeeded. Touching down softly with the balls of her feet upon the large, squarish hood. Akane bent her knees a little upon contact, then gave her shocked and relieved fiance a little bow. He scowled at her. Akane giggled, then turned towards the windshield. She tried to give Tofu a bow while looking him in the eye. This turned out to be a mistake. The hood of the ambulance was made of nicely polished and waxed metal, and it sloped forward towards the bumper. As Akane bent a little farther forward than normal to perform her bow, her feet slipped on the wet sheet iron. This caused her to slam her face into the windshield.

She watched Tofu's eyes widen as he winced in sympathy with her sudden plight. Kasumi, Akane could see, gasped and put her fingers to her lips. Nabiki smirked and shook her head. Akane's vision became too blurry for her to see anything after that. About halfway off the hood is when her nose informed her, with more than a little outrage, how badly it was hurt. Right after that, her chin explained that truck bumpers were harder than even a Tendo skull.

"Akane!" Ranma shouted.

Akane heard the ambulance doors open just before her hearing was overwhelmed by the bells ringing in her head.

"Damn!" Ranma cursed with heartfelt fervor. "I knew I shoulda made her quit!"

"Is she all right, Ranma?" Kasumi asked, sounding alarmed.

"Way to go, Akane," Nabiki said, as she got out of the ambulance. "You okay?"

Akane had left a trail of blood across the immaculate white hood of the ambulance.

"Here, let me look at her, Ranma," Tofu said, "I think it appears much worse than it is."

"Doc, she had to have broken her nose!"

"Oh, certainly she did, Ranma," Tofu said. "It was quite interesting actually. I've never observed a nose in the process of being broken before."

"INTRESTIN'!" Ranma bellowed in outrage.

"Fortunately, she did not actually crush her nose, Ranma," Tofu said with a smile as began to examine Akane's face. "She just pushed it to one side kind of hard. See?"

"Oh, yeah!" Ranma said, sounding both relieved and curious. "That'll probably heal up without showing any sign it ever happened."

"I'm sure it will," Tofu said as he gently palpated the area around Akane's battered proboscis with his fingertips. "Aha! There it is!"

Tofu pinched just so then pulled just this way and then gave Akane's nose a little twist. It made numerous cracking and popping noises as the flow of blood increased sharply.

"OW! THAD HURD YOU KNOW!" Akane shouted. Tofu's ministrations had sounded to Akane as though a shotgun had gone off in her face, and it felt far worse.

"She's fine," Tofu said. "Why don't you take her inside, Ranma? We'll need to clean her up and put some cold packs on that."

Ranma very gently picked Akane up.

"Come on, Tomboy. Let's get you cleaned up and fed."

"How gan you dink of vood at a dime lige dis, Bervert?"

"Keep your hand off your nose, Tomboy," Ranma said, unable to keep the grin out of his voice. "Unless you want Doc to straighten it out again before he tapes it."

"No, danks! Wunz was eenuv."

"I'd kiss ya, but you got blood all over your face, Tomboy."

"Don'd you dare! Id hurds doo mudge."

"I'll bet!" Ranma said, then laughed. "Next time, when I say enough, it's enough, okay?"

Akane nodded her head then shuddered at the pain it caused.

"Oh, no! What happened?" Nodoka cried out when Ranma carefully maneuvered Akane through the door.

"Aw, I ain't sure what's wrong with her, Mom. All I did was take off my shirt and her nose started bleedin'."

Akane thumped Ranma on the chest.

"Just too manly for her, I guess."

Akane thumped her fiance again.

"I vell down," Akane said, trying her best to sound ominous. "Heez lying."

"We're gonna need some ice, Mom."

"I'll bring it to the bath, Ranma," Nodoka said, looking relieved. "Be careful when you clean her face."

"Doc Tofu's outside, Mom," Ranma said. "I'll wait until he comes in."

Once in the bath, Ranma very carefully set Akane down on a bathing stool.

"Man! You are gonna hate your face in the mornin', Tomboy!"

"Is it sginned up?"

"Your chin is, a little, but yer gonna have two first-rate shiners by mornin'."

Akanae groaned.

"Hold your head like this, Akane."

"I'll breed on my zhird."

"It's an old gi, Akane. It oughtta be used to it by now."

Akane managed a weak smile for Ranma as Tofu entered the bathroom with his kit.

"Hold her head for me, Ranma. Yes, that's it. Just like that. This is going to hurt a little, Akane," Tofu said as he began taping Akane's nose.

"Ow!" Akane shouted.

"No practice for you tomorrow, young lady," Tofu said, "If you do exactly as I say, you might be able to do a basic kata or two on Sunday."


"Sunday?" Ranma asked.

"Look hard at her, Ranma," Tofu said. "What do you see?"

"Her ki!"

"Not as strong as yours," Tofu said with a grin, "but far more powerful than the usual, even for Akane. Like as not, she'll be good as new by Monday."

Business had been good. This had not come as a surprise to Ko Lon. The weather was cold, wet and blustery. People naturally developed a yearning for hot soup on such days. The two scantily dressed girls had encouraged a good many of her customers to try an extra bowl. Ko Lon wondered how many happily surprised housewives there would be this evening and cackled out loud.

Her good humor was short lived. Xian Pu had not returned from the hospital, which meant that Ko Lon would have to go get her. She decided that this particular chore could wait. Ko Lon sat down at her favorite table and began to fill her pipe, then cocked her head and listened intently.

"They're here already? How in the very devil did they get this close without my noticing?" she asked the empty room. Beneath the soft patter of gently falling rain, Ko Lon could hear the clink of armor and the unmistakable tapping noise the rain made when it fell upon a traditional umbrella. "I must be losing my touch."

She finished filling her pipe and lighted it before rising from her chair. The front door opened and a cloaked and hooded figure entered the Nekohanten. Ko Lon gasped. The cloak hid little from Ko Lon. She recognized the body and its gait as that belonging to Akane Tendo, but the aura was unfamiliar. The figure bowed to Ko Lon, then spoke in Turkic.

"Good evening, Honored Grandmother."

"Good evening, Kiima," Ko Lon answered. "You are Kiima, are you not?"

"Yes, Honored Grandmother. I am," Kiima answered. "I apologize for appearing in this form. I had no intention of trying to mislead you."

Ko Lon's face ticked at Kiima's address of her as "Honored Grandmother." The Turkic words the Houzanjin had used were actually a formal title rather than a polite form of address.

Kiima stepped to one side of the doorway while holding the door for her companions. Six heavily armed and armored Joketsu men, wearing packs and bearing a large, coffin-sized box, entered the Nekohanten. Ko Lon gasped. Men of the Joketsuzoku were only allowed to wear armor and bear swords or pole arms during full scale war or on serious occasions of state. The men entered the room with their burden and stood rigidly at attention.

Ko Lon sucked in a sharp breath at the sight of Haabu. He paused at the door to shake off the falling rain and put his umbrella in the stand by the door before walking over to face Ko Lon. He gave her a deep, formal bow. He held a leather pouch in his hands. Ko Lon recognized it as the kind used by members of her tribe to carry their credentials.

"Greetings, Honored Grandmother," Haabu said. "I bring you tidings from the Revered Grandmother of the Joketsuzoku."

"Greetings, Lord Haabu," Ko Lon said, struggling to maintain control of her voice. "Please dismiss your men. I'm sure they could use a hot meal and a change of clothing."

"As you wish, Honored Grandmother," Haabu said, a faint smile playing about his lips. He turned and nodded at Kiima, who began giving the men orders. Haabu then turned back to Ko Lon and handed her the heavy, maroon pouch he had been carrying.

Ko Lon opened it. There were several scrolls inside, arranged in what she knew to be a carefully prescribed order. Her head swam from a sudden wave of dizziness. She swallowed hard, then said to Haabu, "Would you join me for a cup of tea, Lord Haabu?"

"I would be honored," Haabu said.

Ko Lon gratefully made her way over to her favorite table and took a seat. One of the Joketsu males appeared at the table with a tea service, as though they were magically conjured up out of thin air. Ko Lon opened the first of the scrolls. It formally declared Haabu and all of the Musk to be in the service of Revered Grandmother. Historically, this had always been the case, but the Musk had not deigned to accept orders from any member of Ko Lon's tribe for many centuries now. Ko Lon carefully rolled the document up and set it to one side.

The next scroll turned out to be an inventory of what was in the long box the Joketsu men had brought. Ko Lon's hands began to shake. The first item on the list was Revered Grandmother's token.

"The remainder of our contingent will be here momentarily," Haabu said. "They are fetching some rather heavy items which I think several here will find a great comfort."

Ko Lon forced herself to remain calm. She looked Haabu in the eye before speaking. "Oh? What might these items be?"

"Barrels of water from the springs of Jusenkyo," Haabu said.

"Hmm, things have changed rather suddenly hereabouts, Lord Haabu," Ko Lon said. "I am not at all certain that any of them will want to avail themselves of them."


"Yes. Ranma Saotome has gained at least partial control of his curse. I would not be at all surprised if the others decide to wait and see whether they can achieve the same thing."

Haabu smiled at this. "I should not be surprised that my cousin has done this, I suppose."

"Cousin?" Ko Lon asked. Then suddenly realized what Haabu meant. "You are speaking of the Saotome child, I gather."

Haabu nodded his head.

"And how have you fared in this, Lord Haabu?" Ko Lon asked.

"I too, have partial control," Haabu said. "It can still overwhelm me whenever I am fatigued."

"It takes time," Ko Lon said. "After a few years you will fend it off without a second thought. Now, tell me what this is all about."

Haabu cocked an eyebrow at Ko Lon before answering.

"You know of what happened to my father and the bulk of our army already."


"The situation in our part of the Middle Kingdom has steadily worsened since my father's defeat. Recently, I concluded that we have no choice but to relocate the archives."

"I see," Ko Lon said. The Musk had originated as a group of elite soldiers whose sole task was to protect the ancient archives belonging to the Fleet. Unfortunately, her people had broken up into separate, less than friendly tribes, each guarding small portions of the archives. This had not been what the Honorable Ancestors had intended. Obviously, Haabu intended to consolidate the archives and relocate them. The only way he could have even entertained such a notion was if there had been dramatic changes at home. "Do you propose to bring them here, to the Land of the Wa?"

"That is my recommendation to you, Honored Grandmother," Haabu said. "If not here, then they must still be relocated somewhere outside the Middle Kingdom. All our peoples together will not be enough to keep them out of the hands of the PRC."

Ko Lon could not react. Haabu's deference caused her entire being to unexpectedly grind to a halt.

"The Revered Grandmother concurs with my estimate, Ko Lon," Haabu said. "I am sorry to burden you with this so abruptly, but our choices are few, and we have little time before we must act."

Ko Lon's mind finally began to thaw. She had expected to receive news that things had gotten worse. She had expected the Council to approve a migration plan to be executed over the course of several years. She had not expected them to do anything like this. Such a course had been well outside the realm of possibility before she left. Ranma had changed so many things without intention or even without knowing what he had done. The fact that Ranma could do such things was not so terribly surprising to anyone who knew him. The great surprise for Ko Lon was Revered Grandmother's choice of a successor. Ko Lon had not campaigned for the job and had never considered herself qualified for it.

"Am I to understand that you have or will take custody of all three archives?" Ko Lon asked.

"The Houzanjin had begun to return their archives to those of the Joketsuzoku when I left, Honored Grandmother," Haabu answered. "My men, being small in number, are arrayed in strategic places. They are supported by Revered Grandmother's guards, as you have seen this very night."

"Then you have sworn allegiance to her?"

"No, Honored Grandmother," Haabu said with a cold smile. "My troops are loyal to their mission. To that end, we are placed under your command."

Ko Lon understood what this meant. The Musk were a sort of Praetorian guard who guarded all of humanity rather than a mere ruler of men. Their loyalty was to their mission. So long as the Archivist was loyal to that mission, and behaved wisely, the Musk would follow her orders. Now, much to Ko Lon's surprise, she was to become the Revered Grandmother. Archivist of the Fleet, Historian of the Three Great Tribes. This was a role for which she was unprepared and had never anticipated filling.

"I gather, then, that the Saotome child's defeat of Safuron set all this in motion?" Ko Lon asked.

"Yes," Haabu said, suddenly looking as though he were proud, "but the final impetus came with the Gift of the Cold Dragon."

This too, Ko Lon understood. The legends held that the Cold Dragon only gave his gift when their people needed a man of such great power. The first such man had been the consort to Queen Atalanta, founding matriarch of the Joketsuzoku.

"You are proud of him?" Ko Lon half-asked, half-stated.

Haabu smiled sardonically. "I am deeply impressed by him, Honored Grandmother. And, I am pleased to have kin in this world. There is no one else of dragon blood that I know about. I am draconian by birth. Ranma has earned his place."

"It may be that he was bred to become such, Haabu."

"How so?" Haabu asked. "I did not think it possible to breed for the Cold Dragon's Gift."

"Let us say that I have a great many suspicions, Haabu," Ko Lon said. "Much study will be required before they can be confirmed or denied. Have you met the Saotome child's mother?"

Haabu shook his head.

"She is a formidable woman and is nothing at all like the child's father."

"His father must be gifted with certain merits of his own, yes?" Haabu asked.

"Indeed, but you are hard put to find them. I have learned from observing him that he is not so much a coward as he is simply a survivor type."

"A survivor type?" Haabu asked.

"The sort of person who makes personal survival his chief business," Ko Lon said with a shrug of the shoulders. "Genma goes beyond that. He has a positive talent for it, and he is ever reluctant to reveal his full abilities. Be cautious in dealing with him, Haabu."

"I will remember, but it seems such a job should be simple, no? After all, such a man habitually avoids confrontations, does he not?"

"As does his son, Haabu," Ko Lon said. "The chief difference between them is that Ranma believes in being a live lion, not a live jackal."

"Believe me, Honored Grandmother," Haabu said with a grim smile, "I know about that first hand."

They were interrupted by one of the men bearing steaming bowls of noodles. Kiima came with him, and waited until he left before speaking.

"Excuse me, Lord Haabu, but the rest of the men have arrived bearing the waters of Jusenkyo. Where shall we store it?"

Haabu looked at Ko Lon.

"The basement for now, I think," Ko Lon said to Haabu. "I will show them how to ..."

"We have already found it, Honored Grandmother," Kiima said, "You needn't trouble yourself."

"Thank you, dear," Ko Lon said, then pointed her staff at the large box. "Would you be good enough to have someone take these other items upstairs to my chambers?"

"Of course, Honored Grandmother," Kiima said, then scurried away.

Ko Lon watched as four of the big men came and carried the heavy box upstairs, then sighed. It would be a long night, and she was glad that people her age needed so little sleep.

Akane had gone to sleep quickly. Tofu had given her a concoction rather stronger than willow-bark tea. Ranma had cuddled up to her in his male form for the very first time, which both pleased and annoyed his fiancee.


(Yeah, I know. We ain't gonna sleep.)

{{A snack would be nice.}}

(Do you two always think with our stomach?)

(Hey! Somebody's gotta think with it. You always think with our ... with our ..)

(With our which, Saotome?)



{{Too bad our treasure is asleep. She makes a superb sandwich.}}

(You really know how to ruin a guy's appetite, Scales.)

(Depends on which appetite, Saotome.)

(Oh, give it a rest, Red!)

(You love it and you know it, Saotome.)

(Never said I didn't.)


Ranma got up and made his way down the hall. Much to his surprise, Nabiki was sitting at the table reading, or perhaps just staring at a thick book.

(Whoa! Lookit that aura, Red.)

(Better change forms, Saotome.)

(Huh? Why?)

(Because we're trooping around the house in our boxers and a tank top, Saotome. Unless you want her jumping our bones, you had better change into our girl-type and let me handle this.)

Ranma gulped. There was a flash of light as he changed into his female form. Nabiki turned and looked at him. She seemed to be vibrating with desire.

(Oh, shit! Maybe we should just go back to bed.)

(Too late for that, Saotome.)

"Hi, Ranma," Nabiki said. "Trouble sleeping?"

"Got a little hungry is all," Onna-Ranma said, rubbing his stomach. "Training your sister is hard work."

Nabiki gave Ranma a steamy look. "I'll bet it is."

"It ain't like that!" Onna-Ranma protested.

"Oh? What's it like then?" Nabiki asked, placing her elbows on the table and leaning forward so Onna-Ranma could see that she was not wearing a brassiere. "I'd love to know."

(Oh, man! What are we gonna say now?)

(Easy, Saotome. We very carefully misunderstand her.)


(Just watch, okay?)

"She's trying too hard as usual," Onna-Ranma answered. "It worries me sick."

Nabiki straightened up as her aura died down to something approaching a normal level.

(See, Saotome. She just needed a reminder, that's all.)


"So I noticed," Nabiki said. "Were you going to make a sandwich?"

"Yeah, you want one?"

"Yes, thanks."

Onna-Ranma went into the kitchen. Much to his pleasure and surprise, there were a number of sandwiches already made and stored in plastic bags. He grabbed three of them and a couple of cans of soda, then returned to the table where Nabiki sat reading her book. He set a sandwich and one of the cans of soda at her elbow before taking a seat on the other side of the table.

"Thanks, Ranma," Nabiki said as she took a bite of the sandwich.

"You're welcome, Nabiki," Onna-Ranma said. "Watcha readin' about?"

"My favorite subject, diamonds."

"Diamonds?" Onna-Ranma asked. "Kinda out of our league, ain't they?"

"You really should learn to think with your cleavage occasionally, Saotome. You'd find a whole new world around you."

"Oh, yeah?"


(Sic 'em, Ranko! That sounds like a challenge ta me!)

(You're going to regret it, Saotome!)

(I'm already regrettin' it! Just get on with it. Better to have her thinkin' of us as a girl than as a ... a ...)

(Hmph! Saotome, I could give her a nosebleed without half-trying. No talliwhacker required.)

(Hey! Hey! Hey!)

(Relax, Saotome. I know what you're after.)

"Is that a challenge, Nabiki-chan?" Onna-Ranma asked in his best, girlish voice.

Nabiki smirked at him.

"I already know you can fake it, Saotome. I want to know if you can walk the walk."

(Go take a nap, Saotome! I'm going to show the bitch!)


Onna-Ranma changed the grip on his sandwich, Carefully picked up his soda, then rose and strolled over to Nabiki's side of the table. Nabiki stared in awe at him, then scooted over so that he would have room to sit down next to her.

"So what's the big deal with diamonds, Big Sister?" Onna-Ranma asked as he sat down and rubbed shoulders with Nabiki. The older girl slid the book over a way so that Onna-Ranma could see one of the color plates she had been lusting over.

"Oh, my! That's gorgeous!" Onna-Ranma squealed excitedly, remembering to wiggle from head to foot.

Nabiki just stared at Onna-Ranma in amazement.

"You really can be a girl."

"Hey! I have plenty of cleavage! It only stands to reason that I can think with it, right?" Onna-Ranma said, then giggled.

Nabiki stared at Onna-Ranma for a moment, then giggled herself.

"You know, that's the first time I have ever heard you giggle, Nabiki."

"It must be the diamonds, Saotome. They'll bring the girl out in us every time."

"Well I must admit," Onna-Ranma said pointing to a spot on his upper chest, "that one would look great right about here"

"That's because it's the Hope Diamond, Saotome," Nabiki said. "It would look good on your guy-half."

"I suppose you're right, Big Sister, but I think it would look best on this figure. Don't you?" Onna-Ranma asked, placing both hands behind his head stretching.

"Yep! You got some real girl in you, Saotome," Nabiki said. "You'd better hope your mom never notices."

Onna-Ranma gasped, crossed his arms over his chest, then glanced furtively around the room.

"Relax, Ranma," Nabiki said. "Doctor Tofu gave Aunt Nodoka something to help her sleep. She said that she's been having a lot of trouble with that lately."

Onna-Ranma blushed violently.

"Oh, I think I see, now," Nabiki said, giving Onna-Ranma a little dig in the ribs with her elbow.

"We haven't done anything you need to worry about, Nabiki."

"Oh, really? Been having a little sushi for late night snacks, have we?"

(See, Saotome? I told you. I could make her nose bleed without half-trying.)

(Aw, geez! This is the last thing we need!)

(Don't worry, Saotome. We're going to be sisters before this is over with.)

(You sure?)

(Yeah, but it's going to embarrass the hell out of you, so you had best go get some rest.)

(Oh, man!)

"Something like that, yeah."

"I guess it's a good thing you came along, Saotome. I was beginning to worry about my baby sister."

"You needn't have, Nabiki," Onna-Ranma said. "She very much prefers my guy-type. I just won't let her have him, yet."

"Him?" Nabiki asked. "That sounds like a Freudian slip to me, Ranko. Maybe there's more girl to you than you'll admit."

Onna-Ranma sighed heavily.

"What's it going to cost me to keep this quiet, Nabiki?"

"Nothing, Ranko," Nabiki said, "provided you share some of the details."

"Okay, but first you have to teach me about diamonds and jewelry."

"Deal!" Nabiki said.

End of Chapter 11
Copyright © Don Granberry