Comes the Cold Dragon

Don Granberry

Chapter 13a


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.


Special thanks to Karaoki for her advice on this section of Part XIII. June is not one of my regular pre-readers, but I turned to her for help on certain parts and she has been very generous with her time.

For my pre-readers, again thank you for your hard work. I know that the longer this thing has gotten, the more difficult it has been for all of us and believe me, your patience with me is greatly appreciated.

Tofu looked at Ranma as he walked through the door with Nabiki, then shook his head in mock disgust.

"I thought Happosai usually left Nabiki-chan alone."

"It wasn't the Old Lecher this time, Doc. This is sort of my fault."

"Okay, you can explain it all after I've had look at that ankle, Ranma. Put her down over here."

Kasumi walked into the room, took one look at Nabiki, and said with gasp, "Nabiki, how did you do that?"

"Our soon-to-be Brother-in-law was meditating."

Tofu laughed out loud at Nabiki's reply.

"What did you blow up, Ranma?"

"A piece of charcoal," Ranma answered, sounding puzzled. "How did you know I blew anything up?"

"Take a look your shirt, Ranma," Kasumi said. "It's full of tiny little holes."

"Aw, man! I LIKED this shirt!" Ranma said as he headed for the bath.

"Get cleaned up while you are in there, Ranma!"

"Yes, Auntie!"

"Auntie?" Nabiki asked, then winced as Tofu gently manipulated her ankle. Something inside her ankle seemed to grind.

"Uhmm," Kasumi answered absently. "To-chan, you will need your kit, yes?"

Tofu nodded his head. "I'll fetch it."

Much to Nabiki's annoyance, Tofu did not settle for merely wrapping her ankle. He put a cast on it.

"For the next two days, I want you to stay off this foot altogether. No walking! NONE!"

"Sensei, do you have any idea how many things I have to get done in the next two days?"

Tofu grinned, then handed her her cellular telephone and two small tablets.

"What's that?"

"Your cell phone and some painkillers. You aren't going anywhere for a couple of days," Tofu answered as he passed her a tumbler of cold water.

Nabiki took the pills, then slid the phone into her pants pocket. Tofu set her up on a futon so that she could sit up and read. He handed Nabiki her book on diamonds and said, "Here, you may as well dream big dreams while you are relaxing."

Fifteen minutes later, Nabiki forgot all about her to- do list. She could not ever remember feeling so good, and the diamonds were so beautiful. She fell asleep with the book clutched to her breast.

Tofu found Ranma sitting next to Akane and holding her hand.

"How is she?"

"Sleeping like a baby, now," Ranma answered.

"Think you could spare a few minutes for us to talk?"

"Sure, Doc."

Ranma gently extricated his hand from Akane's powerful grip, then followed Tofu outside. The sky overhead was crystalline clear. The sun had settled just below the horizon in its bed of glowing coals while the stars danced and twinkled in the darkening sky overhead.

"How's Nabiki's ankle, Doc?"

"It's a very bad sprain, Ranma. She'll be laid up for at least two days, and I won't remove that cast for at least a week."

"Jeez! I'm beginning to hate this. Everybody around me is getting hurt, mostly because of me."

"What happened this afternoon, Ranma?"

"Aw, Doc! All I did was try to meditate for a little while."

"That's what Nabiki told us," Tofu said with a rueful grin. "How did you manage to blow up a piece of charcoal?"

"I think it must've been because I thought about the wrong thing at just the right time, Doc," Ranma said, then explained as best he could what he had experienced. Tofu whistled in amazement.

"Ranma, it sounds more to me as though you were a victim of air pollution."

"Nah, I don't think so, Doc," Ranma said. "I don't think it woulda happened if I hadn't started worryin' about ozone in the first place. It's like everything else in the Art. You just do it and never worry about what might happen if ya do it wrong."

Tofu stared off into space, looking deeply puzzled.

"You know, Doc, I think we may both be right."

"Could be, Ranma. If so, you need to think well ahead of yourself before conducting these little experiments."

"Trouble is, I didn't set out to do an experiment this afternoon."

"Explorations then," Tofu said, giving Ranma a smile. "You need to try to spot the hazards ahead of time, somehow."

"I'll try, Doc."

"Going off to a place like that old quarry is a good start, Ranma. I suggest you always let someone know what you are doing before you go, though."

"That'll hafta be you most times, Doc. I don't think anyone else could handle it all that well."

"You might be right about that, Ranma, but I think you might be underestimating Akane a little."

"Doc, you understand why I hafta do these things. I..."

"Certainly I do! By the way, that was a nice job you did on Nabiki's ankle."

"Thanks, Doc."

"You have the touch, you know."

"Touch? What touch?"

"The touch it takes to be real doctor, assuming that's what you want to be. You did a lot more than just cool her ankle. You actually made it start healing."

Ranma gave his older companion a disbelieving stare.

"Aw, Doc! You know I'll never get that kind of education!"

"Hmmph! That doesn't sound very much like the Ranma Saotome I know. The guy I know doesn't back down from challenges," Tofu said, as he crossed his arms over his chest. "The Ranma I know relishes the difficult."

"This is a different kinda difficult, Doc."

"So? What are you going to do, wet on my leg about it?"

"I... it's just that...well...a DOCTOR? Me, a doctor? Do ya really think so?"

"You should at least think about it, Ranma. A great many people aspire to become a physician and many get the education for it, but very few of them actually become doctors. Only a tiny few of them have a healing touch."

"Gee, I don't know, Doc. I mean the life I'm living now is hard enough."

"Look at this way, Ranma. What's the worst that can happen if you try to become a healer and fail? You finish up with a first-rate education, which is a pretty good level of success in its own right."

"It'll take a hell of a lot of commitment, Doc. Once you're a doctor people start countin' on ya."

"What's the first duty of a martial artist, Ranma?"

Ranma took a deep breath before answering.

"If you really think I can do it. I mean if you really believe in me that much, I hafta at least think about it. And, I gotta talk to Akane about it, too. It won't be easy for her, either."

Tofu then startled Ranma by giving him a hug. "That's all I can ask, Ranma. Let me know what you decide. All right, little brother?"

"Sure, Doc."

"Say, I'd better get a move on. I've got to get back to the clinic and get some sleep. I've got a busy day tomorrow."

Ranma watched Tofu go, then looked up at the heavens and asked, "You guys got any more curves ya wanna throw me today? If not, I'd appreciate if you let me get in a good supper and a decent night's sleep."

The answering silence was so deafening that Ranma shook his head and went inside. Kasumi already had three places set at the table. Ranma looked around the room, then opened his mouth to speak, but Kasumi anticipated him.

"Akane is sound asleep and so is Nabiki, Ranma," Kasumi told him. "I know you are concerned about Akane's diet, but To-chan says she needs rest more than she needs food right now."

Ranma grinned and nodded his head. The three of them sat down and began to slurp away at their noodles when Nabiki let out the most extraordinary squeal any of them had ever heard her utter. She was wriggling from head to foot without waking up.

"Yeeek!" Nabiki squealed again as she began tearing at her trousers with both hands. She stopped and wriggled again. "Yeek!"

Ranma heard a faint buzzing noise coming from Nabiki's lap and began scratching the back of his head.

"What the hell..."

"Oh, it's her cellular telephone!" Tofu exclaimed. "She put it in her front pocket earlier this afternoon."

"Aw geez! Ranma exclaimed as began to get up. "That's gotta be drivin' her nuts. I'll get it."

"Oh, my!" Kasumi exclaimed. "Perhaps it would be best if you let me get it, Ranma"

Ranma looked over at Tofu, who was now nearly scarlet in the face.

"Hey, Doc. You look just like I feel."

Tofu snickered as quietly as he could as Kasumi, having now extracted the phone from the still soundly sleeping Nabiki's trouser pocket, answered the infernal buzzing device.

"Hello? Ono-ke."

"Oh, yes Auntie. He's right here. Would you like to speak with him?"

"Oh, yes, of course! I'll explain it to him. Yes, Auntie. Good night!"

Ranma and Tofu both looked at Kasumi expectantly.

"That was Auntie Saotome, Ranma. She wanted you to know that an old friend of yours is coming to see you on Thursday."

"Old friend?" Ranma asked, feeling himself grow cold inside. "What old friend?"

"She said it was Prince Haabu. He presented her with a formal request for an audience with you and Akane."

"A wha...? An audience?"

"Yes. He asked for the privilege of performing a Cha No Yu for you and Akane. Isn't that sweet?"

Although Ranma was immediately feeling relieved, he was having a very difficult time with putting the word "sweet" in the same sentence with the name of Haabu and was now having serious trouble framing an answer.

"Ah...well...It is good a way. Did she say what time on Thursday?"

"Oh, I forgot to say, didn't I? She said they settled on five-thirty because that would be right before sunset."

Tofu was eyeing Ranma steadily and asked, "Are you all right, Ranma?"

"Yeah, sure, Doc. I knew he was here in Japan somewhere, but I didn't know why. I was half-afraid he would be here looking for a fight. Looks like I might have been wrong."

"Powerful, is he?"

"Way more dangerous than Safuron. I don't ever want to fight him again if I can help it."

Tofu looked surprised at this.

"Your mother seems quite taken with him, Ranma," Kasumi said.

Ranma chuckled dryly before answering, "Mom would be. I guess he is her type. He's manly and all that."

"Oh, you mean like Ryuu Kumon?" Kasumi asked.

Ranma rolled his eyes at this. "Haabu makes Kumon look like a pansy."

"He must be quite the warrior for you to be worried about fighting him, Ranma," Tofu said.

"Doc, he can dig a meter-deep ditch a hundred shaku long through solid rock with just his ki and never break a sweat. He goes all out when he fights. He's the scariest son- of-a-bitch I ever did battle with. Unlike Safuron, Haabu can take a punch. In fact, he takes a solid punch better than Ryoga does."

Tofu shuddered at this, alarming Kasumi.

"Ranma are you serious?" Tofu asked.

"As serious as a heart attack. I was dreadin' the day I'd hafta fight him again. Maybe now I won't have to. If he's askin' to perform the Cha No Yu for me AND Akane, it's a real good sign."

"He owes you an apology?" Kasumi asked.

"No, he owes Akane an apology, and that can't be easy for him to do. Him being Chinese royalty and all."

"He's kin to the Emperor of China? I thought none of that mattered anymore," Kasumi exclaimed.

"No...well... he might be kin to the old emperor; I don't know for sure. What I do know is that he has a dragon or maybe several dragons in his ancestry and that he is the hereditary ruler of the Musk Dynasty."

"But, Ranma, I thought all of China was ruled from Peking."

"Yeah, uh-huh! Peking would like for everyone to believe that, but believe me, Haabu's word is law wherever he lives. I think the PLA and Peking have sense enough leave him and his alone. Even the Old Ghoul's tribe is afraid of him."

Ranma suddenly noticed that Tofu was looking at him with what seemed to be greatly deepened respect.


"Oh, nothing much, Ranma. It's just that I am impressed with how much you've grown up."

Ranma pulled a sour face. "Killin' somebody will do that to ya."

"Ranma?" Kasumi cried out with genuine alarm, "Surely you didn't actually kill anyone?"

"Believe me, Kasumi. I wish what happened hadn't happened. But it did. I killed Safuron, and I meant to kill him when I did. He was reborn a few hours later, but that don't really change nothin'. I killed him dead'er than a wedge, and I meant to do it."

"Did you have any other choice, Ranma?" Tofu asked softly.

"He made me choose between him and Akane," Ranma answered in a hoarse whisper. "I chose Akane over him."

"Then you did the right thing, didn't you?" Tofu asked.

"Yeah, I did. I remind myself of that all the time, but you know what? It doesn't help very much," Ranma said, fighting the hard lump working its way up into his throat. It was so hard and tight that it made his jaws ache.

"Ranma, come here," urged Kasumi as she gathered him into a hug and held him close. She stroked his head as she would a child's. "My poor, poor baby", she whispered.

And then, Ranma did an extraordinary thing. He wept. For the first time as man and in front of others, he wept freely and openly. Tofu got up and went into the kitchen, then came back with a well warmed flask of sake.

"Here, Ranma. Drink up," Tofu said as he poured sake into a tiny cup. Kasumi loosened her hold upon Ranma so that he could see what Tofu was talking about.

"D'ya think that'll do any good, Doc?"

"Not enough, Ranma," Tofu said, "not nearly enough, but it will help you sleep tonight. And, I think you really do need some sleep."

Ranma hesitantly reached out and took the cup, then downed it quickly. Tofu refilled his glass. A short while later, Kasumi and Tofu laid him down beside his beloved Akane, and he slept like a rock.

Ranma woke up just as Tofu left at around four in morning on Monday. He sat up and listened as the old ambulance rattled and banged its way off into the distance down the dirt road leading from Ono-ke to the highway. He listened for a moment longer and realized that Kasumi was still happily stirring about in the grand old kitchen. It made him smile.

"Ranma?" Akane murmured.

"Yeah, Akane?"

"Are ve goingu do vork oud doday?"

"Nope. You need another day of rest."

Akane reached up and grabbed his shoulder, then pulled him back down onto the bed. She snuggled up close to him before speaking again.

"Den vhy are you ubp?" she asked.

"Habit, I guess."

"Mmmm..." Akane noised rubbing up against her fiance.

"Uh, Akane?"


"I thought I'd take a long walk this morning."

"Ogay. How long?"

"Might be most of the day."

"Vhat are you ub do, Ranma?"

"I'm not sure, but if I can pull this off, a lot of our problems might be solved."

"Vhich brobremz?" Akane asked

"Most of the ones that take money."

"Has Nabigi but you up do someding sdubid?"

"No. This is one of my own ideas."

"Vhere vill you be goingu?"

"The limestone quarry. Nabiki and Doc Tofu both know where it is."

"Ogay, Ranma. Be gareful."

"I will, don't worry."


"Yeah, I promise."

"Giss me."

"No problem."

Ranma got up and made his way to the kitchen.

"Good morning, Ranma."

"Mornin', Kasumi."

"Are you going back out to the quarry to meditate?"

Ranma nodded his head.

"To-chan said you probably would, so I made up a bento for you," Kasumi said as she handed Ranma a heavy box.

"Whoa! It must be loaded."

"There's enough in there for breakfast and lunch," Kasumi said with a smile. "I thought perhaps you might be wanting to get an early start."

"Kasumi...You're the greatest!"

"Why thank you, Nephew."

"Later, Auntie."


"Yes, Kasumi?"

"Try not to blow anything up, okay? We don't want to upset the neighbors if we can help it. Some of them are pretty old."

Ranma grinned at her before answering. "I'll do my best, Auntie."

Kasumi shook a finger at him as she spoke with mock severity, "See that you do!"

"Yes, ma'am! Bye, Auntie!"

"Be good!"

"Yes, ma'am."

Ranma found the grass outside covered with a fuzzy jacket of frost. The sky was still clear, and he could see the first faint signs of dawn in the east. He wasted no time in reaching the quarry, reveling in the fact that cold like this no longer troubled him. Once at the quarry, he began searching for another large piece of charcoal.

(Wow, Saotome! Look at that!)

(Yeah, no shit, Red. They must've been makin' charcoal here at one time.)

(That must have been what all that rotted firewood was for. They were making charcoal with it as well as fueling their boilers.)

(Just makes sense, I guess. None of this is gonna be any good for fuel, though. It's been out in the weather too long.)

(Probably not, but it might do for what we have in mind.)

(Well, we'll give it a try and see, Red. Just don't go thinkin' about no ozone, okay?)

(Think you could get us inside the charcoal this time, Saotome?)

(Huh? Oh, I get it. Sure, we'll give that a try.)

{{We will need to be very calm for this to work. Perhaps we should eat first.}}

(Guys and their stomachs!)

(Hey! I ain't ever seen you turn down any of Kasumi's cookin'!)

(You have a point there, Saotome. Let's eat first.)

The day wore on around Ono-ke in Ranma's absence. Akane did a few light stretches before breakfast while Nabiki made a series of telephone calls.

They ate. Akane practiced her kata in slow motion while Nabiki made more telephone calls.

Kasumi dusted the house with Akane's help until she finally ordered Akane to go study. Akane studied while Nabiki made yet more telephone calls.

Kasumi made the beds and started a load of laundry, then began work on lunch. The three of them ate. Akane and Nabiki studied, or rather, Akane studied. Nabiki tried to study, but had to answer numerous phone calls.

The telephone traffic died down considerably by three and Nabiki finally settled in to study mode, but her ankle had begun to hurt. Kasumi gave her a half-tablet of painkiller and the three of them broke for tea. Akane and Nabiki studied for another hour or so and then Akane decided she'd take a nap.

Ranma returned to Ono-ke shortly after Akane went to sleep. He was grinning from ear to ear.

"Here, Nabiki," Ranma said as he set his bento box down in Nabiki's lap. His devilish grin seemed to broaden to the point that the corners of his mouth were pushing his ears up the side of his head. Nabiki eyed the box suspiciously, then Ranma, then the box.

"What's this, Ranma? Leftovers?"

"Only in a matter of speaking, Nabiki."

Nabiki slowly opened the box. Her eyes grew to the size of dinner plates once she saw what was inside the bento.

"Yeeeek!" Nabiki squealed, then wriggled from head to foot.

"I thought you'd kinda like 'em."

"Yeeek!" Nabiki squealed, then wriggled even more vigorously.

Akane came stamping down the hall.

"RANMAAA! Whad are you doing do my zisder?"

"Yeeek!" Nabiki said, then wriggled, which caused the box to rattle. The rattling noise got Akane's attention, and she looked to see what was inside the box.

"Are doze...?" Akane asked as she picked one of the objects up.

"EEEEEEK!" Akane squealed, then wriggled from head to foot. "Dey are! EEEEEEK!"

"YEEEEK!" Nabiki squealed, then wriggled some more.

Kasumi came walking into the room drying her hands with a dish towel, took one look at what was in the box and dropped the towel.

"OOOOH, MYYYYY GOODNESSS!" Kasumi squealed, then demonstrated the true meaning of the word jiggle, Ranma blinked twice and shook his head in response. The power of Kasumi's performance was overwhelming. "Are those...are those...Are they?"

Nabiki, unable to speak coherently, silently nodded her head in affirmation of Kasumi's suspicions.

"YEEEEEK!" The girls chorused, then the three of them wriggled from head to foot. Ranma's nose began to redden dangerously. The girls began giggling as they let the contents of the box dribble through their fingers.

{{You know, Saotome. I don't think it is the color, clarity and cut of diamonds that matter all that much to us males.}}

(Ya got that right, Scales)


{{Indeed, I think it is more the squeal and giggle- wriggle factor that matters to us.}}

(This ain't fair, Saotome!)

(Ya got that right, Scales!)




(What ain't fair?)

(Have you ever wanted to squeal and giggle-wriggle, but couldn't?)

Ranma suddenly found himself being kissed by three girls all at one and the same time.

"EEEEEEEK!" Ranma squealed, then wriggled from head to foot.


(Okay, okay! Jeez!)

"Uh, watch your eyes, ladies," Ranma said. In a flash he became Onna-Ranma.

"Aw!" Akane said, sounding deeply disappointed.

"Why'd you do that, Saotome?" Nabiki asked.

"Hey, I just wanted in on some of the fun," Onna-Ranma said in his most girlish voice. "I like shiny rocks, too, ya know."

Akane tousled Onna-Ranma's coppery locks. Nabiki smirked at him while Kasumi beamed.

"Where'd you find these, Saotome? Surely not at that limestone quarry," Nabiki said.

"I made 'em."

The girls' jaws sagged in unison.

"You what?" they chorused.

"I made 'em! From charcoal."

"Was this what you were trying to do yesterday?" Nabiki asked, barely remembering to close her mouth.

"Nah, I was just meditatin' yesterday. I didn't think of trying' to make these until your telephone rang last night."

"My telephone?" Nabiki asked.

Kasumi giggled.

"You were pretty far gone from the painkillers, Nabiki. You never woke up, but when it rang we all looked at you, and you were holding this," Kasumi said, holding up Nabiki's book on diamonds.

"Oh," Nabiki said, "so then Saotome here decides to just go out and make a few diamonds. Ranma do you have any idea how much heat and pressure are required to make diamonds? Big companies have been trying to do that in profitable way for years now."

"So what?" Onna-Ranma said. "Heat and pressure ain't the key. All that does is get the carbon into solution, right? I mean, you force the carbon into a solution of melted iron or somethin', then percipitate it back out into crystalline form, right? The whole trick is to get the carbon into its lowest energy state."

The three girls gave Onna-Ranma a long, silent stare.

"Ranma, vhy is id all of zudden you know zo many big vords?" Akane asked.

"Hey, I reveal in my dumb-jock image, okay?"

"Phew! I was beginning do vorry vor a minnud," Akane said.

"Go ahead and worry, baby sister, worry a lot," Nabiki said. "I still don't get it, Ranma. How did you do this?"

"Easy, I just used my ki to reduce the carbon in the charcoal to its lowest energy state."

"Just like that, huh?" Nabiki asked, sounding skeptical. "You may as well have said 'I just wave my hand, and these nasty black rocks turn into diamonds.'"

"Well, it ain't easy or everybody would do it, Nabiki," Onna-Ranma said, sounding vaguely irritated. "It'd be easier ta show ya if you could follow me while I meditate."

"No one can do that, Ranma," Nabiki said. "They would have to be psychic. So why don't you try to explain? What did you do? Freeze the charcoal?"

"Naw, that don't work. Ya hafta jerk the carbon atoms around a little, then they start losin' energy and begin to least I think that's what I must've done. I had ta soak up lot's of heat to keep it happenin'."

The three girls gave Onna-Ranma another long, silent stare. Then Nabiki stirred the stones in the bento with the forefinger of her right hand.

"Yeeek!" the four of them chorused, then jiggled in time with one another. "Diamonds!"

"Oh, man! I been wantin' to do that all day!" Onna- Ranma said with a relieved gasp. Akane cuffed him gently on the back of the head.


"Well, I really have!" Onna-Ranma said.

"This is so cool!" Nabiki said.

"Id's de end of our money brobrems, isn'd id, Nabigi?" Akane asked.

"Only sort-of," Nabiki said. "We still haven't found a buyer for these. And we'll need to be careful. We can't let word about where these came from get out."

"Why not?" Ranma and Akane chorused, but Kasumi gravely nodded her head in agreement.

"If word gets out that you can make diamonds, Ranma, it will cause you no end of trouble."

"You got that right, Sis," Nabiki said, sounding deadly serious. "This little trick of yours, Ranma, will attract more hoodlums and sharks in grey flannel than you can even imagine, Ranma. We have gotta keep it secret."

Ranma suddenly sobered up.

"We especially gotta keep this secret from my old man."

"Hmmph! Think of thousands of guys like your dad, coming to bother you about this, Ranma," Nabiki said. "We can't let anybody know you have figured out how to make diamonds using your ki."

"Whad aboud Docdor Dofu, Gazumi?" Akane asked.

"Hmm, what To-chan doesn't know, he can't reveal, not even by accident, Akane. Besides, I don't think money is a problem for, I mean. Besides, if we do tell him, he will keep it to himself. That's just the way doctors are, you know."

"But money is going to be a problem for us," Nabiki said.

"What?" Onna-Ranma and Akane chorused.

"Too much money can be as hard to deal with as not having enough," Nabiki said. "You have to explain to Internal Revenue where the money came from. You don't dare just sell these and never declare the income. They will catch that sooner or later. Usually sooner."

"So?" Onna-Ranma asked. "Why not tell them the truth? Tell them you sold a box full of diamonds and then pay the taxes. No big deal."

"Because then they'll want to know where the diamonds came from and why didn't we have to pay for them, Ranma. The next thing you know, you'll have some rogue agent and several of his buddies breathing down your neck. I'll have to find a way to sell these, declare the income as having come from something else and then pay the tax bill as though we were being stupidly honest."

"Vill dhad vorgk?" Akane asked.

"If I do it right, yes. I've been playing the stupidly honest taxpayer now for about six years for Dad. We have been audited twice, and they haven't caught on. I don't think they ever will."

"Nabiki! You've been cheating on Dad's taxes?" Kasumi asked, sounding alarmed.

"No, just making sure he didn't pay single yen more than he had to, Kasumi. They could never make a case against him for evasion. During this last audit all they ever looked at was my main ledger. The trick is to never get them started looking very hard. The hard part of this deal is going to be finding a buyer that can keep his mouth shut."

"Aw, I don't know, Nabiki," Onna-Ranma said, sounding dubious. "Maybe I should just take these and throw them into the river. Then we wouldn't..."

"BITE YOUR TONGUE!" The Tendo daughters chorused.

Onna-Ranma grinned.

"Kasumi, is there something around here that is just super, super white?" Nabiki asked.

"My new cutting board. It's one of those new plastic ones," Kasumi answered.

"That would be perfect," Nabiki said, picking up a handful of stones from the bento. Kasumi fetched the cutting board and set it on top of the bento. Nabiki carefully spread her handful of stones out across its shiny white surface, then gasped.

"Oh this is perfect!"

"Vhad do you mean, Nabigi?" Akane asked. "None of dem are perfegdly whide."

"Yeah, I know. I was havin' a hard time keepin' the nitrogen out of 'em." Onna-Ranma said, sounding sad.

"Don't worry, Ranma," Nabiki said. "If they had been extremely transparent, it would have made them harder to sell."

"I thought clearer was better," Ranma said.

"It is," Nabiki said, "but if they were too perfect, we would get too many questions. This will look like a run of the mill batch of rough to a buyer. You can worry about perfection next time, Ranma."

"You vand do picg oud de dargest ones virsd, Nabigi?" Akane asked.

"Yes, we may as well cull first."

This did not take long. The tricky part was grouping the remaining stones. Two out of the first handful were near white. The rest had a slight to easily visible yellow tint to them. Kasumi brought some heavy paper in and Nabiki, to no one's surprise, showed them how to make a diamond dealer's envelope from it. She made several such and loaded the different rough grades into different envelopes. The stones were small, averaging about a carat to two carats each.

"There's two big ones down in that box somewhere, Nabiki," Onna-Ranma said.

"Big?" Nabiki asked.

"How big?" Akane asked.

Kasumi began to squeeze Onna-Ranma's arm with both hands, surprising him with the strength of her grip.

"Ah, well, one of 'em is about the size of my guy- half's thumb, but it's real dark. The other one is about twice that size, and it's bright yellow with a reddish tinge in the center."

"Yeeek!" Nabiki squealed, with an involuntary jiggle. "It's a fancy!"

Akane snatched the cutting board away. Kasumi and Nabiki immediately began pawing through the stones in the box. Kasumi came up with a bright yellow stone about the size of a guinea's egg.

"Yeeeeeeek!" the girls chorused, then jiggled and wriggled in unison. Onna-Ranma missed out on the squeal, but got in on the jiggle-wiggle. He couldn't remember ever having so much fun. The stones really did not mean that much to him, but the girls' excitement thrilled him to death.

"Oh, my, oh, my, oh, my, oh, MY!" Kasumi whispered reverently.

"Id'''s sooo big!" Akane exclaimed.

"Yeah, lucky you," Nabiki said out of the corner of her mouth. Akane glared at her sister. Onna-Ranma blushed.

"How vould you know, Nabigi?"

"I'm looking at it, silly."

Having been brought up short, Akane merely blinked in response.

"D'ya think its worth all that much, Nabiki," Ranma asked. "I didn't think this color would be all that good."

"Are you kidding, Ranma?" Nabiki asked. "This one is worth a fortune all by itself. It's what they call a canary. The damned thing is worth millions, billions even."

Onna-Ranma stopped breathing.

Kasumi's hand began to shake uncontrollably. She tightened her grip on the stone until her knuckles turned white.

Akane and Nabiki both took long deep breaths.

"Yeeeeeeek!" the four of the squealed together, then Onna-Ranma fell over on his side laughing.

"Vhat's so vunny, Ranma?" Akane asked.

"You know, I don't care if we never make a single yen off of these," Ranma said as he wiped a tear from his eye. "I'll never forget how much fun this has been."

The Tendo sisters stared at him with soft; goo-goo type eyes.

"You kiss him first, Akane," Nabiki said. "He's your fiance."

Akane was on him before he could even flinch. As soon as she let him up for air, Nabiki had him by the ears and was giving a truly serious kiss. She held it until Akane harumphed the second time, then let him catch a breath.

When it was Kasumi's turn, Ranma thought at first she would give it a pass because she hesitated and blushed, but then she threw her hands up in the air.

"Oh, foo!" Kasumi cried with a little stamp of her foot. She seized Onna-Ranma by his ears and said. "Just this once won't hurt!"

Kasumi's kiss did not last long, but she gave the matter her full attention.


{{I say, Saotome. Do you suppose we could buy her back? I don't think this is one of her serious kisses.}}

(No way, Scales. No man in his right mind would ever let that go.)

The girls looked at the stunned Onna-Ranma, giggled at his dazed stupor, then the three of them had another nice long squeal together. With the excess excitement of the moment thus bled off, they began happily sorting stones again. Onna-Ranma just sat and watched them, a warm happy glow suffusing his entire being. He could not remember ever making anyone this happy before, and he felt better about it than anything else he had ever done. It would be a day long remembered by all concerned, but especially by Ranma Saotome, the ragtag son and sometime daughter of an itinerant martial artist.

Monday evening was surprisingly peaceful. Tofu arrived at around eight. He and Kasumi helped Nabiki into the wheelchair he brought back from town. They had a late supper, then Tofu examined both Akane and Nabiki. He gave Akane the nod for a full workout the next morning, provided she did not do any high jumps or risk contact to her face. He reiterated his orders for Nabiki to stay off of her injured ankle, then handed out their assignments from school. Ranma chortled when he saw his and Akane's assignments.

"What's so funny, Ranma?" Tofu asked.

"Aw nothin' that funny, it's just that Akane and I have finally caught up with our schoolwork."

"Well, congratulations, Ranma and Akane," Tofu said with a huge smile. Ranma and Akane beamed back at him.

"Oh, by the way, Ranma," Tofu said. "I nearly forgot to tell you. Your appointment with Doctor Takahashi is Wednesday afternoon at three. I'll be here to pick you up at two."

Ranma rolled his eyes at this.

The Tendo girls gave each other knowing glances and giggled.

"Don'd vorry, Ranma," Akane said sweetly. "I'll go vish you."

"Thanks, Akane."

Tofu looked around the room and saw that the girls were making goo-goo eyes at Ranma, as though they might at any moment begin kissing him. He scratched the back of his head, wondering what was going on. Ranma looked very nervous.

"I think I'll go run through a few kata before going to bed," Ranma said.

"Mind if I join you, Ranma?" Tofu asked.

"Hey! I'd love to have ya, Doc."

"Well then let's go!" Tofu said with a happy smile.

Once in the potting shed, it took Ranma very little time to run through his stretches and warm ups. Tofu, being both older and having less time to practice, needed more time to stretch. He continued to warm up while Ranma ran through one of his school's more advanced kata. The form required Ranma to fall and roll on three different occasions. Tofu knew that he had never seen this particular kata before, but it still seemed vaguely familiar.


"Yeah, Doc?"

"Would you mind performing that one again?"

"Looks familiar, don't it?"

"Yes, it does."

Ranma grinned at his older friend then spoke, "Every advanced artist I have ever done that one in front of says the same thing, but none of 'em ever figure much of it out. I'll do it slower this time."

Ranma was as good as his word. Tofu sank into a Chinese split to watch. This was hardly the most comfortable thing to do, but he needed to stretch anyway and could not think of a better way to maximize the use of his time. Before Ranma finished running through the form, Tofu was certain he recognized parts of it, especially several of the blocks. He was also equally certain that the kata was intended to defend and counterattack a most unusual kind of threat, but of what sort, he could not discern. He had a sudden insight.

"Ranma, are you sure of what this kata is for?"

"Not entirely, Doc. I understand more of it now than I ever did before, but several of these moves have never made sense to me and still don't."

"You know, this may strike you as being very odd, Ranma, but I'm pretty sure I know at least part of this form's complement."

"Ya really think so, Doc? The last guy that thought so got hurt when we tried it."

"I gather the two of you went at it full tilt, then."

"Yeah, well, it was what he wanted to do. I decked him on the second move."

"I just imagine," Tofu said with a heartfelt grimace. "I'm not so foolish as all that. Would you mind testing it in slow motion against what I know?"

"Hell no, Doc! I'd love to. Who knows, I might figure out the whole thing if we do."

"Good! If it works, maybe then I'll find out what the kata I learned was for."

Tofu's sharp ears picked up a giggle coming from outside the potting shed, and he turned his head towards the sound. Ranma, he noticed, did the same thing at the same time.

"Your hearing has improved, hasn't it, Ranma?"

"All my senses have improved, Doc. Well, everything but my sense of touch. I think I've lost a little there."

"Oh, really? Is the loss very great?"

"Not bad, really. My girl side noticed it first. My guy side barely notices it at all."

"Now, that is interesting."

The door to the potting shed opened and Nabiki rolled in, closely followed by Akane and Kasumi.

"We thought we'd come watch the show," Nabiki said cheerfully. "You guys don't mind do you?"

Ranma caught Tofu's eye and barely, almost imperceptibly shook his head.

"Well, I don't mind, if Ranma doesn't."

"I don't mind, Doc. Whaddaya say we stick to the basics tonight, though? I don't think I'm up to the advanced stuff today."

Tofu grinned outwardly and inwardly. He must not want Akane to see that particular kata for some reason, he thought to himself. He's probably afraid it might tip her off to something he is about to spring on her.

"I have an idea, Ranma. Why don't we spar, just using the basics."

The brought Ranma up short and he had to think about it for a moment. Tofu again grinned inwardly to himself, knowing full well that he had just asked his young friend to cede a major advantage.

Ranma's face suddenly brightened with the devilish smile he got when faced with a truly interesting challenge.

"Okay, Doc, but you gotta promise me you can still remember all that stuff, and you gotta promise me you won't throw me too hard. Otherwise, we'll spend all day tomorrow patching this shed."

Tofu chuckled, then answered, "Done and done, Ranma. You lead."

Ranma threw a whistling overhand right at Tofu's head. Tofu stepped back with his right foot, simultaneously twisting his upper body to the right and leaning backwards. As Ranma's fist approached, Tofu tapped Ranma's forearm with the heel of his left hand. Tofu was gratified that his timing was still quite accurate. Ranma's fist dived towards the floor, forcing the younger man's shoulder to dip as his body began to spin clockwise.

Tofu was not the least bit surprised when Ranma's left heel came up and around in a spinning back-kick that promised to tear a telephone pole in two if it connected. Tofu dove for the floor and smacked the center of Ranma's left shin with the sole of his left foot. This accelerated the rate of Ranma's spin. Tofu briefly worried that he might have overdone it, but Ranma had obviously expected this counter. The boy, Tofu realized as soon as he saw that Ranma's right foot was no longer in contact with the floor, had not only expected the counter, but had in fact laid plans for it. Ranma had kicked up with his right foot, tucked into a tight ball, which changed the axis of his spin and slowed him down considerably, then killed his spin altogether by splaying out his arms and legs while in mid air.

Tofu had no choice but to spring to his feet and take a ready position as Ranma lightly touched down on the far side of the shed. The girls gasped in amazement, then applauded.

"That was beautiful, Ranma," Tofu said.

"Thanks to you, Doc. It's nice sparring with a pro for a change instead of a brawler," Ranma said as he launched a hapkido kick at Tofu's chin. Tofu pointed his chin at the ceiling, allowing the ball of Ranma's foot go by, then helped it upwards by striking Ranma's heel with the heel of his right hand. Ranma responded by kicking upwards with his off foot, then doing a half-twist in midair. This, of course, brought Ranma's formidable fists into play and Tofu was suddenly glad that the boy was not striking at full speed. He blocked off both elements of Ranma's left-right combination, then suddenly remembered that Ramma's legs were overhead. He barely blocked the left-right, inverted snap kick combination in time. Ranma caught his weight on his hands, collapsed into a ball and rolled across the floor away from Tofu.

This performance earned them another round of applause from the girls as Ranma came up onto the balls of his feet and dropped back into the cat-fighting stance.

"Pretty formidable combinations for basic stuff, Ranma," Tofu said with a grin and a couple of gasps for air. He could feel adrenaline pouring into his system now. He had forgotten what a pleasant rush it could be.

"I figgered you'd catch it in time, Doc," Ranma said, grinning back unabashedly. "You're a hell of a lot better than you let on."

It went on for another half-hour. Ranma testing Tofu's ability to ward off attacks, while Tofu presented Ranma with ever more difficult problems in recovering from successfully executed counter-moves. At the end of it, both of them were dripping wet with sweat and panting, Tofu quite a bit more so than Ranma. He held his hand up for a break and Ranma relaxed from his ready stance.

"Damn, Doc! That was beautiful!" Ranma exclaimed, then gave the older man a curt bow.

"Thank you, Ranma," Tofu said, returning the younger man's bow. "I need to do this more often. I have been letting myself get out of shape."

"You still got the touch, Doc."

Much to Tofu's envy, a mere glance told him that Ranma's breathing and heart rate was almost completely recovered. He knew his would remain elevated for another three minutes or so and would not become fully normal for at least another ten.

"Perhaps so, but I can tell that I will be feeling this in the morning."

"Kinda makes ya wonder how my old man does it, huh?"

"Indeed so, Ranma. I don't carry near as much weight as your father does."

"The secret is regularity."

"Regularity?" Tofu asked, momentarily confused.

"Yeah, practicin' every day instead of just a few times a month."

"Oh!" Tofu said, then laughed. "I thought you were talking about something else."

"So did I," Nabiki snickered. "Saotome, we have got to get you into some sort of speech class."

"Hey, I talk just fine."

"Besides, Nabigi," Akane chimed in, "he reveals in his dumb-jock image, remember?"

"Damn straight!" Ranma added.

Tofu wanted very badly to laugh out loud, but he was short of breath and Kasumi was drying his face off with a towel. He let his shoulders shake instead.

"You were magnificent, To-chan," Kasumi whispered.

"Thank you, Kasumi," Tofu whispered back, then in a louder voice he asked. "How much of that is an act, Ranma?"

"Some secrets I never revel, Doc."

"Ooh, Anything Goes Martial Arts Malapropisms," Tofu said with a grin.

"Malapontentates? What'er those?" Ranma asked.

"I suppose there probably are few of them still lying around from World War Two," Tofu said with a shake of his head. "I think I'm about ready for a bath and a hot soak."

"Mind if I join ya?" Ranma asked as handed his towel back to Akane.

"Not at all, Otouto-san."

Ranma snickered at being called "Mr. Little Brother." He opened the door to the potting shed and said with a grand sweep of his arm, "After you, Isha-san."

Tofu grinned at being called "Mr. Doctor," and walked through the door with an exagerated strut. As he and Ranma made their way back towards the house, Ranma asked, "Yo, Doc! What's a malaprostate, anyway?"

Tofu's shoulders shook with silent mirth as he answered, "Let's just hope neither one of us ever has to find out about that firsthand, Ranma. I always try to leave that to the specialists."

"Oh, yeah?


"That isn't something gynecolumnists do, is it?"

"Ah, well, I don't think that any of them would admit it if they did."

"Oh, good."

Kasumi and Akane watched Tofu and Ranma leave, glowing with more than a little pride. Nabiki stared after the departing men, listening to their banter and snorted.

"Ranma, you dirty little sneak," she muttered under her breath. "You really have been holding back on us."

"Oh, weren't they magnificent?" Kasumi suddenly exclaimed.

"Dey zure vere, Gazumi," Akane said. "I had no idea Docdor Dofu was so fasd."

"He's got a cute butt, too," Nabiki opined.

"Nabiki!" Kasumi and Akane chorused.

"It's almost as cute as Ranma's," Nabiki said with a sly smirk. "Cuter maybe, if you like older men."

"You know, Akane, our sister is just begging for another good tickling."

"Oh, believe me, Sis!" Nabiki said with more than a little emphasis. "After watching what just went on in here tonight, I could definitely use a good dickling."

"I dink a code bath zeems do be more in order, Gazumi," Akane offered, unable to stop herself from grinning.

"Exactly!" Nabiki said. "Let's go right now!"

"Yeek!" the three girls squealed in unison.

"Nabiki, you are so naughty sometimes!" Kasumi said.

"Ve have definidely god do vind her a boyvriend," Akane said.

Nabiki reached over to her right wrist with her left hand and turned the bracelet Tetsugo had given her. Noting that neither of her sisters saw the bracelet, she said, "I think one will probably find me."

"Well, let's get you in out of this cold, Nabiki," Kasumi said. Pointing at Nabiki's cast she added, "Your toes are turning blue."

"Hang on, Gazumi," Akane said. "I'll help you ged her tdrough de door vrom oudside."

"Can I have a whole painkiller this time, Kasumi?" Nabiki asked. "I just KNOW I'm going to have a hard time getting any sleep tonight."

"Oh, my! Look, Akane! Nabiki's turning green around the gills!"

"Oh, not really," Nabiki said with another of her trademark smirks. "So far, I've been getting all the entertainment value out of things without the bother of ownership."

"Hmmph! Nabigi, you are ingorrigible!" Akane said, sounding exasperated.

"And don't you ever forget it, baby sister!"

"You acdually enjoy being naughdy, don'd you?" Akane asked, as she lifted the front of Nabiki's wheelchair through the doorway.

"Yes, I do," Nabiki said. "Oh, that reminds me. I had some things picked up for you in Shibuya the other day. I'd better show them to you while the guys are still bathing."

"Vhad kinds of dhings?" Akane asked, sounding vaguely alarmed as she gently set the chair down.

"It's probably best that I just show them to you, Akane," Nabiki said with a positively evil grin. "You'll understand the second you see them."

Akane glanced at Kasumi. Her oldest sister's face had turned bright red, and she was refusing to look Akane in the eye.

"Yes, Kasumi," Nabiki said with a knowing smirk. "It's about what we discussed the other day."

"Vhad?" Akane demanded.

"Ranma's girl-half, silly."

Akane turned bright red.

"We need to hurry," Nabiki said. "We won't have more than twenty minutes or so. Tofu's tired and he'll be wanting to go to bed soon."

"So?" Akane squeaked out.

"So, you've got lots to do before bedtime, little sister," Nabiki said with a smirk.

"So how did things go today, Ranma?" Tofu asked as he gratefully slid into the steaming furo. "Did you visit the quarry again today?"

"Yeah, I did, Doc," Ranma said. "No explosions this time."

"Ah, that's good," Tofu said. "The meditation seems to be helping you out a lot. You're much calmer."

"Yeah," Ranma said, scratching the back of his head. He sat down in the furo, looking as though he wanted to say something, but was being reluctant for some reason.

"What is it, Ranma?" Tofu asked. "I'm your doctor, remember? I won't tell anyone else."

"I made a box full of diamonds today, Doc," Ranma blurted out.

Tofu shook his head as though to clear it.

"I'm sorry, Ranma. I didn't quite catch that."

"I said, I made a box full of diamonds today."

This was followed by a prolonged silence.

"Okay," Tofu said. "I thought that's what I heard you say the first time and didn't believe it. You haven't told anyone else about this, have you?"

"The girls know," Ranma said. "You shoulda seen their faces when they opened that bento."

"A bento?"

"Yeah, that big green one Kasumi likes to pack for picnics."

Tofu looked for a moment as though he might pass out.

"I can just imagine their faces," Tofu said after a moment. "That must have been one hell of a show."

"Yeah, it was," Ranma said sounding ashamed of himself. "I shoulda waited until you got here, but I was kinda excited myself."

Tofu chuckled, then he laughed, then he roared until tears came out of his eyes.

"It's a mess, ain't it, Doc."

Tofu forced himself to sober up a bit and answer.

"Yes, but you must admit, Ranma. It is a rather pleasant mess to have."

"You know what really worries me, Doc? All the rich people I have ever met were complete fruitcakes."

"Oh, how so?"

"Well, you know the Kuno bunch, right?"

"Ranma, not all rich people are like the Kuno-clan," Tofu said. "I'm reasonably sure their problems are congenital."

"Oh, I KNOW there's somethin' wrong with their genitals," Ranma said with great emphasis. "They're outta control!"

Tofu roared again.

"That wasn't quite what I meant, Ranma. What I meant was is that their mental problems are inherited, just like their money."

"Oh," Ranma said, "but there's been others! There was that family that had that damned mirror and ..."

"Mirror?" Tofu asked.

"Yeah, that was so weird I never tell anybody about it. Then there was this Yohiyo guy that owned an island. He fell in love with my girl half because I stepped on his head and stole his lunch. And, then there was that lady with that spoiled brat. He had his mom thinkin' he was sick all the time and ..."

"Whoa! Wait a minute, Ranma," Tofu said, trying to control his laughter. "You have a bad run of luck, that's all. Most rich people are a little extra sane, not the other way around."

"Well, Doc, it don't look that way to me."

Tofu laughed and shook his head.

"Well, given what you've been through I think I can understand your alarm, but you strike me as being the sort who is rather immune to money."

"My old man sure ain't immune to it. He'll go completely nutzoid over a hundred yen. Just thinkin' of what he might do if he finds about this diamond business scares the hell out of me."

Tofu sighed.

"I guess you're right in a way. Money does drive some people crazy, but usually just the people that have never had any."

"I ain't never had none, Doc."

"Well, tonight is the end of that problem, Ranma," Tofu said with an impish smile as he rolled his eyes. "I can tell you will lose some sleep over this."

"That's 'cause it opens a whole new can of worms!"

"Yes, but you'll manage. You have Nabiki helping you out with it, right?"

"She is really scary, Doc."

"Handling money is her art, Ranma, just as fighting is yours."

"Yeah, I figured that out about her a long time ago. You know, she nearly got me indejured in Hong Kong once over money."

"Indejured? Oh, you mean indentured!"

"Yeah, that's it. Indentured. I wondered how you was supposed to say that word. I thought I was gonna be waiting tables in Hong Kong for the next hundred years after she pulled that little stunt."

"What did you do? Resort to hot water?"

"Nah, I just ran like hell away from the place."

"You know, Ranma, your biographer will make a mint from your life's story."

This brought Ranma up short. "D'ya think so?"

"I know so. Look, you aren't a particularly money- hungry sort of person, Ranma, so money isn't likely to cause you that much trouble. Akane has never shown any signs of being inordinately greedy and Kasumi, well you know Kasumi.

"You didn't see their faces, Doc."

"They were staring at what? Two, maybe three kilograms of diamonds? Girls have a really big soft spot for diamonds, Ranma. Diamonds do things for them that money and flowers can't. I'm surprised Nabiki would even talk about selling them."

Ranma relaxed somewhat, then smiled.

"Watchin' 'em paw through that box was so much fun, Doc. I sure wish I'd a waited for you to be here."

Tofu chuckled.

"Well don't worry, Ranma. I won't hold it against you. But, you do realize that you MUST keep this talent of yours an absolute secret."

"Oh, yeah. I figured that out as soon as I thought of how Pop would act if he found out."

"Good. Now, let's take this up again, after tomorrow."

"Why not tomorrow?"

"Because you will not be in any shape to think clearly tomorrow, Ranma," Tofu said with a grin as he got out of the furo and began pulling on his pants.

"How d'ya know that, Doc?"

Tofu gave Ranma an enigmatic smile for an answer.

"You'll find out."

"Oh, man! I still remember the last time you told me that."

Tofu laughed, pulled on his shirt and left.

Ranma was not far behind him.

They found the three girls gathered around the table enjoying tea and rice cakes. All three of them had changed into yukata.

"You guys come have some tea and cakes," Nabiki said, "I want one last look at you before my sisters drown me in the furo."

"We aren't going to drown you, Nabiki," Kasumi said sweetly.

"No, bud I am going do hode her head under de vhader undil she durns a nice shade of burble," Akane said, with mock severity as she walked around behind Nabiki's chair.

"See?" Nabiki said as she melodramatically threw her left forearm across her eyes. "This will be our farewell tea, boys."

Ranma snorted. "What'd you do, Nabiki?"

"Pay her no mind, Ranma," Kasumi said. "She's merely making a play for sympathy she doesn't deserve."

"Yeah," Akane said. "Dere's nodding wrong vid her dad a liddle code vhader and a good dickling von'd gure, right, Nabigi?"

"I'll try to remind you of that just as I draw my last breath, Akane," Nabiki said, still playing at the forlorn and forgotten heroine of a silent movie. Akane shook her head in mock disgust as she began rolling the wheelchair towards the bath. Kasumi followed them.

"Fare thee well, cruel world!" Nabiki called from the hallway. "Remember me!" The other two girls tittered.

"Well, they seem to be quite giddy," Tofu said with a grin. "I suppose I have you to thank for that."

"'re welcome, Doc...I think."

"Would you like some tea, Ranma?"

"Not really, Doc. It's gettin' late. I think I'll turn in."

"You know, that sounds like a good idea to me as well," Tofu said. "I'll turn in right after I remove Akane's bandages. See you in the morning, Ranma."

"G'night, Doc."

Ranma made his way to his and Akane's room, stripped down to his boxers and tank top, then crawled under the blankets. Tired from his workout and preoccupied with the trouble he had inadvertently created for himself, he neglected to change forms before falling asleep. He would have certainly remembered had Akane already been in the bed, or had simply been in the room at the time, but she was not there and he forgot.

Just as Ranma's breathing became deep and regular, the shoji to his and Akane's room slid back. Akane had opened the door in the properly formal manner by setting everything down as she kneeled by the door, then gently sliding the door back. She was still wearing her yukata, but the bandages on her nose were gone. Nabiki had helped her cover the remaining bruises around her eyes with makeup. She got up from the floor with a lit paper lantern in her hand and softly stepped into the room. She set the lantern down in a corner well away from the futons, then stepped back out into the hall, returning with a deep pan covered over with a towel. Steam curled up from around the edges of the towel. She set the pan down near the lantern, then carefully slid the shoji shut. Akane turned and looked down upon her sleeping fiance. She took a moment to drink in the sight of him.

"Ranma?" Akane called out softly. Ranma stirred, but did not wake. Akane smiled.

"Raa-nmaa!" Akane called out again, putting a few faint notes of distress in her voice. Ranma's eyes snapped open as he quickly sat up.

"Are you awake now?" Akane asked in a sultry voice.

"Uh, yeah, Akane. What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I just wanted you to see this," Akane said with a wicked smile as she loosened the obi of her yukata. She gave a little shrug of her shoulders, and the flimsy cotton garment began to fall away from her naked body. Ranma's eyes widened with surprise as his body stiffened. The yukata slowly settled to the floor with the soft sibilant sigh of falling leaves. Ranma gulped.

"Don't you dare change on me, Ranma."


"Don't you even think about it!"


Nabiki lay back on her futon, wishing she had asked for another half-tablet of painkiller. The one she had taken was working, and she was feeling very relaxed, but that was not helping her sleep any.

"The Ice Queen and the Cold Dragon," Nabiki muttered to herself. "What a strange kind of uncouple we make, Ranma."

Restlessly, Nabiki reached behind her head and beneath her pillow, withdrawing a small drawstring bag. It contained one of the larger diamonds Ranma had made. The diamond was one of the two that were too large to put into the paper envelopes. This was not what she had been reaching for, but Nabiki smiled, then opened the bag and examined the stone within. It was the smaller and darker of the two stones Ranma had fabricated. She held up so that light from the hallway would shine through it and gasped.

"BLUE!" she cried out. "It's a smoky blue, just like the Hope!"

Nabiki carefully placed the stone between her breasts in a way that her nightgown would hold it, then strained her eyes trying to look at it.

"I think I'll have this one cushion cut and keep it," Nabiki said to herself with a grin, "then the four of us can take turns wearing it."

End of Chapter 13 Part a
Copyright © Don Granberry