Comes the Cold Dragon

Don Granberry

Chapter 13c


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.

Dawn lighted the eastern horizon with her rosy fingers then slowly faded into the bright blue of a cloudless morning. This would change as a warm front worked its way up from the south, but for now, the sky was a serene, cloudless blue. Ranma, to his utter amazement, woke up in his female form, cuddled up to his fiancee's back. He kissed her neck, causing Akane to smile in her sleep. Onna-Ranma got up and made his way to the bath. He bathed with icy cold water from the tap then let himself turn male as he gratefully sank into the steaming waters of the furo.

(I coulda swore I went to sleep as a guy last night.)

(Man, Saotome. You, are a man.)

{{And a very womanly woman.}}

(Yeah, Scales, I know. I kinda noticed that this mornin'.)

(You have a problem with that, Saotome? You seemed to have been okay with it last night.)



(No, not really. I just worry about Mom, that's all.)

(Well I don't care what Mom thinks. It's time for Mother to get a life of her own and grow up a little.)

(How can you say something like that about our mother, Red?)

(Is she our mother or just our male-half's mother? She doesn't seem to be quite so fond of us in my form, and she certainly doesn't seem to care for Scales very much. So I ask you, is she really our mother?)

Ranma took a deep breath then laid his right forearm across his eyes.

(You know damned good and well she's our mother!)

(Okay, I'll admit she gave birth to Ranma Saotome, but there's more to being a mother than that, right? I mean, aren't you pretty much a hero? More than a few girls our age and some older sure seem to think so. Even Akane thinks we're manly and she's more of a man than most of the guys we know.)

Ranma laughed out loud. It was a sharp, barking laugh and he cut it off quickly, not wanting to wake everyone in the house.

(She's more of a woman than most of the women we know, too.)


(So, what's any of that got to do with Mom? Why are you down on her?)

(I'm not, Saotome. She's down on us. She's down on us without good reason.)

(After what we did last night? D'ya really think so? I mean, I enjoyed that as much as you did, maybe more.)

(I doubt that, Saotome.)

(Where the hell were you guys when things started getting out of hand, anyway? And how come I couldn't change?)

{{Because none of us, not even you, wanted to change, Saotome. We were of one mind and one body when our Treasure woke us last night.}}

"I'm not ready to be alone," Ranma said aloud.

{{(We know)}}

(And, you won't ever be alone, Saotome.)

{{The Scarlet One and I will always be here when you need us, Saotome.}}

(Especially if you need to think in words, Saotome.)

{{You seldom think with words.}}

(That's good in a fight.)

{{But it has its difficulties when you must deal with others.}}



{{Yes, the image of well-worn path dividing into numerous faint trails that fan out in all directions. The image is quite eloquent in its own way.}}

(But it's the truth, Saotome. You have to choose a path for yourself and Akane now. Mom can come along for the trip if she wants, but she isn't the one who gets to choose anymore. She made her choice well over ten years ago.)


(I know what Kasumi said about Mother and our grandfather, but you aren't thinking it through, Saotome.)

{{Refusing to choose, or allowing others to choose for you, is making a choice, Saotome. Would you have others decide our beloved Treasure's fate?}}


{{No, I did not think so.}}


(A phoenix? Why the image of a phoenix, Saotome? And why does it fly away?)

{{True, she could fly away, Saotome. Our Treasure will always be allowed to choose what she wishes. We will make certain that we never give her reason to fly away.}}

"Ranma?" Akane asked as she stood next to the furo. "You don't mind if I join you, do you?"

Ranma looked at the love of his life and could not find the words he wanted to speak. She was holding a small towel in front of herself, blushing from head to foot. Ranma looked her up and down, taking huge delight in the sight of her muscular curves. After a moment, he realized that Akane was aware of his survey and that her blush was deepening rapidly. He grinned at her.

"Are you all right, Ranma?"

"I am quite well, Beloved Treasure. Please join me."

"Whoa, still in dragon mode, are we?"

A smile slowly made its way across Ranma's face.

"Just tryin' ta think things out, Akane," Ranma said. "How long have you been in here?"

"Fifteen minutes or so. Time enough to bathe, anyway."

"Oh," Ranma said, offering her his hand.

Akane giggled before taking Ranma's hand, then stepped into the furo and sat down next to him. Ranma put his arm around her as she cuddled up to his side.

"Are you sure you're all right?"

"I'm fine...I guess. I was just thinkin' about what we did last night."

"Don't worry, Ranma," Akane said. "I'm not pregnant. I'm starting to feel the monthly bloat already this morning."

"Aw, I kinda figured you knew what you were doin'," Ranma said. "I was thinkin' about it another way."

"Oh, in what way?"

"Well, I mean...we made some pretty important choices last night, right? Or, at least to me we did."

"Ranma, we made the really important choices before last night, or I wouldn't have...I wouldn't have..." Akane could not finish, becoming tongue-tied.

"Yeah, that's kinda what I meant. That's kinda why I let Ranko go crazy last night...I think. It seemed like the only way to even things up...kinda."

Now it was Ranma's turn to blush and he could feel the heat of it pouring off of his face.

"Kind of? You, the most manly man among men, playing the love-sick and horny girl just for me? I think you were the one taking the big risks."

"Maybe, maybe not. You can't get me pregnant--not with that...that...Say, whaddaya call that thing, anyway?"

"Loads of fun?"

Ranma rolled his eyes at the memory.

"You did enjoy it, right?"

"I thought I was gonna die."

"So did I," Akane said. "Especially when you woke me up and started making love to me as a dragon."

"Dragon?" Ranma asked sounding alarmed. "Did I do that?"

"Well, you stayed in this body," Akane said, as she reached down into Ranma's lap, "but your soul turned dragon. I could tell the difference."

Ranma's blush deepened considerably.

"How could you tell," Ranma said, pausing to clear his throat, "that my soul turned dragon?"

"Because you are much more serious when you're a dragon."

"Well I can talk better when I'm a dragon, sure. That's 'cause my dragon side uses words better. But...I don't remember sayin' anything that last time."

"You're sweeter when you're a dragon, too," Akane said, then moved her hand up to Ranma's chest.

"I think now I see why Pop always said girls could be bad for my trainin'."

Akane giggled. "Mostly we are behind because I broke my nose."

"Well, that's true," Ranma answered, "but I didn't feel much like fightin' when I woke up this mornin'."

"You want me to throw you out a window?"

Ranma grinned then said, "Nah, I think I'll cook breakfast first. How about a western omelette?"

Akane's stomach growled.

"You want me to help?"

"Nope. I want you to go warm up. We'll start trainin' right after we eat."

"Can I get Nabiki up and into her chair first?"

"Sure, good idea."

The aroma of Ranma's cooking woke Kasumi in time for her to help him set the table. Ranma let the girls eat in relative peace. The three of them bragged on Ranma's cooking, pleasing him enormously, but a Westerner would not have recognized what he called a western omelette. Western omelettes do not ordinarily include chopped squid, rice and slivers of sweetfish, although most Westerners would not have been surprised by the jalapenos Ranma slipped into Akane's omelette. Not only did the tongue-searing peppers not seem to vex Akane in the least, she seemed to actually like them. Ranma shuddered as he watched his fiancee wolf the thing down. He felt that he had just glimpsed an important clue into the enigma of Akane's problem with cooking. He decided to put the matter aside for later consideration. He had other, far more important things to worry about this morning.

"Nabiki and I will take care of the dishes, Ranma," Kasumi said. "You and Akane take care of your training."

"Are you sure, Kasumi?" Akane asked

"We'll manage, Akane," Nabiki said. "You are behind on your training."

Ranma and Akane stared at Nabiki in amazement.

"Go on and get out of here before I change my mind!" Nabiki said in a sharp voice.

"Nah, I don't think so, Nabiki," Ranma said. "I think you need at least another day off that ankle."

"Damn you, Saotome," Nabiki growled.

"It won't take us long to do these," Ranma said with a grin. "You start standing on that thing too soon, and you'll be laid up for two more weeks instead of just this week."

Nabiki gave out an exasperated sigh.

"Have you finished counting the stones yet, Nabiki?" Akane asked.

"No, I haven't," Nabiki said. "Roll me back to my room and you can help me get set up."

"Okay," Akane said.

Twenty minutes later, Ranma was fretfully watching Akane go through the first kata of the Beginner's Sextet. Her form was perfect so far as footwork and making the right moves, but it wasn't right, and he struggled to find the words to explain what she was doing wrong. There was a knock at the door. Ranma opened it and Nabiki wheeled herself in.

"I'm getting the hang of driving this thing," she said cheerfully. "May I watch?"

"Sure," Ranma said.

Akane had finished her third run through of the kata that morning and resumed the ready position.

"How are we doing?" Nabiki asked.

"Not real bad," Ranma said.


"Watch this. Begin!"

Akane began working her way through the kata. Nabiki smirked and waved Ranma over. He bent down so that she could speak into his ear.

"Bwee, bwee," Nabiki whispered.

Ranma grinned. Nabiki had spotted the problem. Akane needed something to get her going.

"You are so right!" Ranma whispered back.

Akane finished the kata and resumed the ready position. She looked at Ranma and said, "I'm doing something wrong."

"No, not really," Ranma said then gave Akane a smirk. "If you were studying ballet, it would be utter perfection."

Akane bristled.

"But if you were fightin' Ryoga, he'd blow through your blocks and kick your cute little ass. Hell, Kodachi would give you a hard time."

An ominous blue aura surrounded Akane.


The power Akane threw into the kata this time made the air crackle, but her control was greatly diminished. Ranma was more than happy with this situation. It had been what was missing from today's work. He patted Nabiki on the shoulder then mouthed "Thanks" at her when she looked up. She gave him a grin and a wink in return.

Akane finished the kata. Her breathing recovered quickly, but Ranma's highly trained eye picked up the fact that she only reminded herself of her breathe training after she finished the form.

Ranma walked within striking distance of his fiancee and said, "Well, that was little less girlish at least."

Akane's fists creaked as the glow around her brightened.

"Think you can be serious this time?" Ranma asked.

Akane quivered.


Akane threw her entire body and soul into the kata. Her ki flashed at the end of every punch, at the sweep of every block, and at the terminus of every kick. It was a performance that would have thoroughly intimidated the average blackbelt, but the cost to Akane in terms of energy drain was horrendous. She finished up the kata gasping for air. Her gi was soaked completely through, her body's moisture dripped from its hems. Ranma grinned at her.

"Tired already?" he asked. "What if you had to fight a hundred hentai this morning? Would you give up now?"

Akane gritted her teeth.


Akane pulled herself into the ready position.


Akane's exhaustion was painful when she finished, but she had put no less effort into her last performance. Ranma expected she would, but was impressed just the same. He briefly considered letting her rest, then thought better of it. Sometimes a student reached a breakthrough while they were exhausted. He decided such a breakthrough would worth risk of Akane hurting herself.


This time, Ranma presented himself as a target for Akane's punches and kicks while carefully keeping himself just out of range. He was just as careful to keep his face calm and expressionless. He watched her eyes until he could see that she was concentrating better then stuck his tongue out at her. She faltered but kept going until she finished the kata. Ranma decided not to push her any farther for a few minutes. "Rest!"

Akane gave him a little bow then flopped down into a distant corner of the potting shed so that she could indulge in some serious panting. Ranma grinned at her as memories came flooding back to him. His father had been far less merciful than he had been this morning, but it seemed he was doing well enough with Akane. She was getting closer. The problem with students who drove themselves the way Akane did was their innate stubbornness. Stubbornness could be a very useful trait. Ranma understood that better than most, but stubbornness could also get in the way of progress, and right now that was Akane's problem. It was necessary for her to learn the limits of stubbornness and aggressiveness, just as Genma had forced Ranma to learn them. A glance at her face told him that she was frustrated, but struggling to understand what she was doing wrong.

"I think I'll go finish counting those stones, now," Nabiki said.

"Okay, Nabiki," Ranma said as he turned to face her and give her a sly wink. "See ya later."

"Hang in there, Akane," Nabiki said, as she wheeled herself out the door. "You ARE getting better, little sister."

Ranma knew that Nabiki had thrown that last in just to irritate him, but let it pass. He closed the door then turned back around to examine Akane, wanting to make sure that he had her up and moving again before she got cold. He remembered one of the conversations his father carried on with another sensei one night while the three of them sat around a fire. The older men had been sipping sake while Ranma worked on a large mug of hot chocolate.

"Kata ga ongaku nite iru," the older sensei had said to Genma. "Kata resembles music." Genma had merely smiled and gave the man a blank look before pouring more sake for the both of them. Ranma had not understood it at the time either, but now, while watching his own student struggle; he realized the truth of the man's statement. Any given piece of music could be played in numerous ways. The music always mattered more than the notes. Akane was playing the notes. Her music was getting better, but mostly, she was still just playing the notes. He tried to remember when he himself had gone from merely playing the notes to making music, but the memory eluded him.

"Yo, Tomboy! You ready to get back ta work?"

Akane responded by bouncing to her feet and taking the ready position in the middle of the potting shed. Ranma could see that she was eager to begin, but had a puzzled frown on her face.

That's all right, Akane, Ranma thought to himself. I'm not all that sure either, but we'll figure it out together.

"BEGIN!" Ranma shouted.

Akane launched her entire being at Ranma's solar plexus. He danced back out of the way and shouted, "That's it, Tomboy! Put some feeling into it!"

And so it went. Ranma having Akane repeat that same kata over, and over and over until it was time to eat and study. He could tell that she was bored to tears with it, but also understood that his fiancee's innate stubbornness would not let her complain. He was sick of it as well. He thought back on his own training and remembered that his father had drilled him in the mornings then had him do strength or stealth building exercises in the afternoon. The old man had not encouraged him to build up speed, believing that his speed would improve with his strength. In many ways, Genma had been right about Ranma's speed and strength. Akane however, needed no strength training. She had enormous endurance to go with it, given the amount of energy she wasted.

(Let's start working on her speed, Saotome.)

(It's risky. She's liable to hurt herself. You know how she tries to overdo everything.)

(Well, why don't we wear her out first? It's not as though we couldn't use the exercise.)

{{A trip to the quarry might be fun. She is due for some fun, you know, Saotome.}}

(We had lots of fun last night.)


(Okay, okay! We'll go to the quarry after we finish our schoolwork.)

{{Stealth training to tire her first.}}

(Yeah, then we can work on her speed.)

(You just wanna chance to train with her, Red.)

(What's the matter, Saotome? You afraid she's going to be faster than you?)


(When she learns to relax, she is going to be faster than our guy side, Saotome. You know that as well as I do.)

(Yeah, okay. We'll work on her speed.)

(Oh, goodie! This will be fun!)

(We'll work on her balance on the way.)

(Oh, you mean by having her walk the rails!)


(The best thing about it is that it'll kill the boredom.)

(Saotome! I can't believe you're thinking of doing that!)

(Doin' what?)

(Letting her spar with Shit-daddy!)

(Hey! Can you think of a better way to get back at him?)

(You don't know what he might do, Saotome.)

(He won't do anything too drastic. She's Soun's daughter, remember? 'Sides, Pop is as sneaky as they come. It'd be good practice for her.)

(Ranma, you don't really think she can beat Shit-daddy, do you?)

(She can surprise the hell out of him the first couple of times. Then she'll get overconfident and the old man will get mad and pull some of his sneaky shit on her. The beauty of it is, we get to watch and she gets to learn.)

{{Bwaha! Bwahahahaha!}}

(Just how do you think you'll get this started? I don't think the old bastard will spar with her.)


(Oh, you really are a...Hey! It will work.)

(Oh, yeah. It'll work. All we hafta do is get her speed up a notch or two.)

(Scales, have you ever noticed that we push him around until he gets what he wants?)

{{You are surprised?}}

Ranma finished his schoolwork early and decided to take a quick nap. Akane woke him up by cuddling up to his side and kissing his neck.

"You're wearing a clean gi," Ranma said.

"Kasumi put my other one in the wash," Akane said. "I never understood how you and your dad could wear the same one all day the way you do."

"It's easy when you don't have a choice," Ranma said as he rolled to face his fiancee.

Akane kissed him, then said, "We have to behave now."



"I'm sorry. You gonna be okay for this afternoon's trainin'?"

"Yes! Silly!" Akane answered as she thumped him on the chest. "Did you ever let it stop you?"

"No, but it bugged the hell out of me."

"So? If it bugs me, it bugs me. I'll cope."

"Getcher shoes."


"Yeah, your runnin' shoes. We're goin' for a little jog."

"No kata? But I wanted to..."

"Kata tomorrow. This afternoon we are gonna work on the stuff that ain't in any of the kata."

"Oh, okay," Akane said as her face brightened.

Ranma smiled and said, "I'll wait for ya outside, Akane."

"Okay! I won't be long."

Once outside, Ranma led Akane around Ono-ke in a slow jog.

"What are we doing, Ranma?" Akane asked.

"Warmin' up, Akane. You got a bitch of a workout ahead of ya."

"Oh, how so?"

"Think ya really know how to fall down?"


"Good!" Ranma said then tripped his fiancee.


Akane managed to control her fall and roll without getting hurt.

"Asshole!" Akane shouted.

"Hey! Be glad you wasn't trainin' with the old man. I gave ya plenty of warnin'."

"Do I get to trip you?"

"Sure, if ya think ya can."

Akane gave Ranma an evil grin.

"Let's go, Ranma!"

Ranma led her around the farmyard a few more times. Fending off Akane's attempts to trip him by tripping her, or maneuvering in a way that caused her to trip herself. Deciding that she had probably gotten in enough of the tripping drill, he hopped over the fence, heading for the railroad.

"Come on, Akane! Follow me."

Akane bounded over the fence like a deer.

(She's pretty damned good if you don't give her time to think about it. Huh, Saotome?)

(Yeah, we gotta cure her of that though. Sometimes ya gotta do a little thinkin' in advance.)

Akane had not gotten enough of the tripping game. She kept trying to trip Ranma all the way to the railroad track. She finally got him just as they reached it.

(Sloppy, Saotome! Very, very sloppy!)

(Hey! My student is improvin'!)

(Yeah, right.)

"That was sloppy, Ranma," Akane said between gasps for air. "I can't believe you fell for that one."



"Yeah, yeah. It's time to work on your balance, Tomboy."

"My balance. How?"

"Get up on this rail."

"Oh," Akane said as she stepped up on the rail. "This is too easy, Ranma."

"Think so, huh?" Ranma asked as he skipped along the top of the rail. "Let's see if you can keep up."

Akane gave him a dirty look, then followed him westwards along the track. They had not gone more than fifty meters when Akane fell. Thanks to Ranma's little tripping drill she did not hurt herself. She sheepishly brushed the gravel from her gi and got back up on the rail.

"Too easy is it, Tomboy?" Ranma asked, giving Akane his most irritating grin.

"Bleah!" Akane stuck out her tongue at him. Ranma laughed at her and walked on westwards. Akane fell two more times, but managed to keep up.

"Ya know, Akane," Ranma said, "You wouldn't fall if ya'd just give in and step down off the rail once ya realized ya can't stay on it."

"Wouldn't that be cheating?"

"Hell no!"


Ranma stopped and turned around so he could look at Akane. She lost her balance when she stopped, and rather than step down off the rail, she fell.

"You are one of the most hardheaded people I've ever met," Ranma said laughing.

"Oh, shut up!" Akane said.

"Nyah, nyah! Tomboy can't take it!"

Akane tried to hit him, so he blocked her off and scooped her up into his arms.


Ranma cut her off with a kiss.

"We are supposed to be training!"

"Yeah," Ranma said, "we are. Guess who forgot it first?"

"I let my temper get away, didn't I?" Akane asked, looking sheepish.

"Do it again," Ranma said, "and I'll do ya the way Pop always did me."

"I'll work on it, Ranma."

Ranma set her down on her feet.

"You better."

"I'm sorry."

"No big deal. Ya ready?"

Akane stepped back up on the rail and they continued their trip westwards.



(She's gonna have time to think about this bridge, ya know.)

(She's probably thinkin' about it already.)

(We need to get her off the rail.)

(In a minute.)

A few meters onto the bridge, Ranma stopped and waited for Akane to catch up. She faltered, then teetered, then caught herself and took a deep breath. Ranma stepped down off the rail and walked the sleepers until he was standing next to her.

"Get down, Akane."

"I can do this, Ranma."

"I said get down, and I meant it!" Ranma commanded in a cold voice.

Akane stepped down off the rail and gave Ranma a hurt look.

"This is a lot worse than that little jumping exercise we got into the other day, Akane."

Akane hung her head.

"You'll whip this bridge one day, but not today, okay?"

"All right, Ranma."

"Come on. Let's get across before a train shows up."

"Train?" Akane shrieked. "Where?"

"Comin' down the track," Ranma answered. "Where else would it...Akane?"

(Whoa, did ya see that, Saotome?)

(No, I didn't. How the hell did she get way over there?)

(I don't know. I didn't see her.)

{{She ran across on the rail.}}

(Are you sure about that, Scales?)


(See, Saotome? Never give her time to think and she can do ten impossible things at the same time.)


Ranma calmly walked the sleepers until he caught up with Akane. Much to his surprise, she was quite shaken and was crying.

"Why did you scare me like that?"

"Scare ya? I wasn't tryin' ta scare ya! I was tryin' to tell ya somethin' and you ran off!"

"You started talking about a train!"

"Akane, did you hear a train comin'?"


"Did ya see a train comin'?"


"Then why didja run off like that?"

"Because you said there was a train coming!"

"I didn't say that! Ya gotta learn ta listen!"

"You said coming down the track!"

"I...Oh, man!" Ranma said, his voice reflecting the depths of his exasperation. "Watcher eyes, Akane," Ranma said as he put his hand over Akane's eyes and invoked the change.



"Yes, Akane?"

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"Being afraid."

"There isn't anything wrong with being afraid, Akane," Onna-Ranma said. "So long as you stay in control of your fear, you're okay. Letting fear control you is the only thing worse than letting your temper take over."

"I hate bridges."

"Oh? Why is that?"

"They scare me."


"Because they're high."


"And they're narrow."


"And if something like a train comes along..."

"You haven't anywhere to go but over the side, right?"

Akane nodded her head.

"That was the point I was trying to make."

"It's sort of obvious, Ranma."

"Think so?"

"Well, yes...I...OH! You mean it applies to the art as well."

"That's my Tomboy!"

"I don't get it."

"Never stay in a threatening situation any longer than you must, Akane. It's simple."

"Oh, so you lead me out into the middle of a railroad trestle to teach me something obvious?" Akane shouted.

"Most people never think about where they are, Akane! Jeez! Pop got me out on a trestle and asked me what we were doin' wrong."

" not most people, Ranma Saotome!" Akane shouted. "Give me credit for a having a little sense!"

"Wait a minute! Wait just a minute. You thought about it because you're afraid of heights!"

"Yes, I am. Anybody with good sense is afraid of heights!"

(She ain't that afraid of heights, Red.)

(I think you're right, Saotome. I think she's afraid of her clumsiness and heights.)

(But she ain't that clumsy!)

(She is when you give her time to start thinking about it. Remember that time we threw her the shinai during that stupid Kendo tournament. She already had Kuno beat and he's good at kendo, but she dropped that shinai when we pitched it to her. We gave her time to worry about dropping it.)

(Aw, man! How are we gonna get out of this mess?)

(We admit our mistake to her.)

(Our mistake? What the hell do you mean? Our mistake?)

(Yeah, Saotome. Our mistake. We didn't identify the real problem so we tried the wrong solution for it.)

(Hey! I knew she'd be a little nervous.)

(But she was scared half out of her wits, Ranma, not just nervous.)

(Aw, all right, already. Ya gotta point.)

"My mistake, Akane," Onna-Ranma said, then hung her head. "Can you forgive me?"

"It wasn't your mistake! It was your guy-half that screwed up!"

Onna-Ranma laughed. "We're the same person, remember? I thought it was a good idea too, until we got you spooked."

Akane joined in the laughter, then hung her head.

"I'm sorry too, Ranma. I shouldn't have panicked. I should have had more faith in you than that."

There was a flash of bright blue light then Ranma answered.

"Hey! I ain't gonna try ta getcha hurt, Akane, but I ain't omnigent, or nothin' like that. Don't be afraid to ask if you think somethin's too dangerous. Just try not to panic, that's all."

"Okay, Ranma," Akane sai, then gave him the smile that always weakened his knees. "What are we going to do way out here anyway?"

"Speed and stealth trainin', mainly," Ranma said. "That, and I thought maybe you might like to see what the diamonds came from."

"It's omniscient, by the way."


"You said omnigent. I think you meant 'omniscient'."

"Hey! I gotta reputation ta live up to."

Akane giggled. "Well, it's safe with me, Ranma."

"C'mon let's get movin'. We're gonna cool off too much."

After another three hours of training, terminated by the setting of the sun, Ranma carried Akane back. She was tired. He was hungry and in a hurry.

They arrived at an Ono-ke just as Tofu rolled into the driveway.

"Hi, Doc!"

"Good evening, Doctor Tofu!"

"Yo, Ranma! Good evening, Akane. Looks like you two have been into some serious training today," Tofu said, looking at Akane's gi. It was no longer white, or very little of it was white. It had become a mixture of ash gray and grass green and more than a few crumbs of leaf mold still clung to it.

"I've been learning how to trip Ranma," Akane said with a grin.

"Hmm, I thought you figured that out last night," Tofu quipped.

Akane and Ranma both blushed.

"He isn't all that easy to trip," Akane finally shot back. "I'm still learning."

"Well, so long as you have fun," Tofu said with a smile. "Ranma, I have a heavy sack for you in the back."

"A heavy sack?"

"Yes, the boy that dropped off your schoolwork brought it by the clinic."

"Oh, yeah? Did he say what was in it, Doc?"

"I looked at it before I put it in the ambulance, Ranma," Tofu said. "It's full of coal."

"Why do I suddenly smell Nabiki's perfume?" Akane asked.

Ranma laughed. "All I can smell is Kasumi's cooking."

"You and your stomach!" Akane said with a sniff, then her own stomach growled.

"This is a good idea, Akane," Ranma said as he hoisted the sack up onto his shoulder. "I can probably make better diamonds with this stuff than I could the charcoal. It's a lot more solid. Where did Nabiki find it, Doc? I didn't think anybody was burning coal anymore."

"You'll need to ask her that, Ranma. I haven't a clue," Tofu answered then looked up at the sky. "Looks like we're in for some dicey weather."

"Cold don't bother me anymore, Doc," Ranma said, "I'll check the propane tanks while I'm out back."

"Good idea, Ranma," Tofu said. "It's not uncommon for us to lose electricity out here if we get much sleet."

Akane shivered.

"Getting cold?" Tofu asked her.

Akane nodded.

"Your teachers loaded you and Ranma up today, I'm afraid," Tofu said with a feigned grunt as he hefted a sizeable package of papers. "I think they must be trying to send you a message."

"Like, come back to school now?" Akane asked, looking at the package. It was almost a third of a meter thick.

"Probably," Tofu said. "Ranma does seem to be quite a bit better now."

"Yes, he is," Akane said. "He's been much calmer since we've been out here. It has been good for both of us, I think."

"Are you ready to go back?"

"I'd like to have at least another week, Doctor Tofu," Akane said. "It isn't just school that causes him trouble."

"Oh, there are some clothes hanging in the ambulance, Akane," Tofu said. "Would you mind bringing them in?"

"No, not at all, Doctor Tofu."

"Thanks, Akane," Tofu said, then lugged his kit and the schoolwork inside.

Akane opened the back of the ambulance and was surprised that Tofu had brought out her and her sister's formal kimono, as well as both varieties of Ranma's. Puzzled, she gathered took them by the hangers and brought them into the house.

"What are these for, Kasumi?" Akane asked.

"Ranma didn't tell you?" Kasumi asked.

"Tell me what?" Akane asked.

"We're having company day after tomorrow," Nabiki said.

"Company?" Akane asked.

"Some guy from China," Nabiki said. "What did you say his name was, Kasumi?"

"Prince Haabu," Kasumi said. "He asked for a formal audience with you and Ranma, Akane."

Kasumi managed to catch their kimono just before Akane dropped them.

"Haabu?" Akane asked.

"Yeah," Nabiki said. "He must owe you an apology or something. He wants to perform a Cha No Yu for you and Ranma."

"_Me_ and Ranma?" Akane asked.

Kasumi and Nabiki nodded their heads in unison.

"You're sure it is for _Me_ and Ranma?"

Her sisters nodded their heads again.

Tears began running down Akane's face.

"I need a bath," Akane squeaked out, then left the room.

"I thought she took that rather well, don't you, Nabiki?"

"Better than I expected," Nabiki said. "That Haabu guy was really bad news the last time he showed up around here. You had better go talk to her, Kasumi."

"I suppose I had," Kasumi said. "I wonder why Ranma didn't tell her before now?"

"Well they have been a little busy, you know," Nabiki said. "You know how guys are. He forgot."

Kasumi went to put the clothes up, then came back and went into the bath. Ranma walked in shortly after she left the room.

"Akane takin' a bath?" Ranma asked.

"Yeah," Nabiki said. "I'm sure she wouldn't mind if you joined her, Ranma."

"Nah, I think she's seen more than enough of me for today," Ranma said. "I'll give her rubdown at bedtime."

"Well if she turns you down, you can come give me a rubdown," Nabiki said with sly grin.

"You're gonna get us both killed talkin' like that."

"I doubt it," Nabiki said. "What did you think of the coal?"

"I think it will work better than the charcoal," Ranma said. "It's a lot more solid. Is there a rush?"

"Other than to satisfy my curiosity?" Nabiki asked. "No."

"I'm kinda curious myself," Ranma said. "I'll give it a try the first time we get a break."

"You have been busy, haven't you?"

"Yeah. Between trainin' and schoolwork, Akane and I haven't had much time to fool around. What's the matter, Nabiki? Why the face?"

"I was biting my tongue," Nabiki said. "Why didn't you tell Akane about Haabu coming for a visit?"

"Aw, geez! I forgot. I meant to tell her this morning."

"I had our kimono dropped off at the clinic and Tofu asked Akane to get them out of the ambulance."

"Oh, well. It can't be a total surprise. I told her he was somewhere here in Japan a couple of days ago."

"You knew?" Nabiki asked.

"I knew he was here in Japan, yeah."

"How did you know?" Nabiki asked, looking both alarmed and curious.

"He's a dragon," Ranma said with a shrug of his shoulders. "I can just tell, that's all."

"Ranma are you telling me you're psychic?"

"Naw, nothin' like that, Nabiki," Ranma said. "His aura is so powerful and so different from everyone else's he sticks out, that's all."

"I see," Nabiki said. "What about your aura?"

"Pretty much the same now, I guess," Ranma said, "Except I do know how to hide mine if I hafta do it."


"Yeah," Ranma answered.

Nabiki said nothing more, yet Ranma could all but hear the gears turning in her head.

"What is it, Nabiki?"

"There has to be some kind of connection to all of this, but I haven't found all the pieces," Nabiki answered.

"Well don't spin yer wheels too hard," Ranma said. "I think Haabu is gonna bring a few answers along with him. I don't think he came all the way here just to have tea with me and Akane. He needs me for somethin'."

"Ranma," Nabiki asked. "How many dragons are there?"

"Me and Haabu are the only two I know about, why?"

"Well, you'd feel the aura of any others, right?"

"If they were here in Japan, probably, yeah."

"So you can't say for sure," Nabiki said.

"That's right."

"But there can't be too many of you, or you would know by now, right?"

"Yeah, I kinda figure it that way," Ranma answered. "But that don't mean I'm right."

"Pretty safe assumption?"

"Probably, yeah."

"Then he must need a friend," Nabiki said. "The question is, why?"

"We'll find out Thursday, I think."

"Be careful, Ranma," Nabiki said. "I get the feeling that Ko Lon is wrapped up in this some way."

"Oh, yeah?" Ranma asked. "What makes ya think that? The Musk and the Joketsuzoku are almost exact opposites of one another."

"Oh, really? What makes you say that?"

Ranma explained what he knew of the Musk and their culture.

"They sound more like opposite sides of the same coin, if you ask me," Nabiki said.

"I hadn't thought of it that way before," Ranma said, scratching the back of his neck. "You might well be right."

"Let's compare notes after his visit," Nabiki said. "There might be a few things I can shed some light on, maybe."



"Akane, I'm sorry! We got busy and I for...Oof!"

Akane cut him off with a vice-like hug.

"Well, that's an improvement," Nabiki observed dryly.

"Did he really invite me to this Cha No Yu?" Akane asked.

"Accordin' to Mom he did." Ranma answered, sounding as though he could perhaps be relieved, but not entirely certain that he should be.

"I'm hungry," Akane said, releasing him. "Let's eat."

"What's an improvement?" Ranma asked.

"She didn't drive you into the floor like a tack for just being a guy," Nabiki answered then gave Ranma a knowing grin. "You must've been a good little boy last night."

Ranma sputtered and turned red in the face. Nabiki gave him a heartfelt smirk, but her eyes held a feverish burn that Ranma failed to notice.

Ranma massaged Akane's feet and lower legs after supper and she quickly fell asleep. He, however, was still very restless. He kissed her cheek, then tiptoed out of their room and made his way to the kitchen. Much to his surprise, Nabiki was still up.

"I figured you'd be in bed, Nabiki."

"Try sitting around in one of these all day, Saotome," Nabiki said as she patted the arm of her wheelchair, "and see how well you sleep."

"Kind of a pain, huh?"

"The bad part of it is, I get sleepy during the day, then I can't go to sleep at night. Why are you up? I expected you to be sawing logs by now."

"Too much stuff ta think about and not enough stuff to decide," Ranma said.

"Uh-huh," Nabiki said. "Congratulations, Ranma. You're growing up. It sounds as though you are learning to worry."

"I don't like it much," Ranma said.

"Hey, just approach it like you would the Art," Nabiki said nonchalantly. "You'll get the hang of in no time."

Ranma chuckled.

"Would you like some tea?"

"Naw, too much of it keeps me awake," Ranma said.

"No caffeine in this, Ranma," Nabiki said. "It's chamomile. It'll help you sleep."

"Actually, I was thinkin' about goin' out back and doin' a little meditatin'."


"How good are those diamonds, Nabiki?"

"The best ones are probably about grade "H" in color," Nabiki said, "but I don't have the equipment to grade diamonds properly, and these are rough. I could be off by two grades in either direction on color. From what I can see with a magnifying glass, their clarity must be pretty good. They'll bring in a lot of money, if that's what you're wondering."

"But they'd bring in a lot more if they were less yellow, right?"

Nabiki took a deep breath before trying to explain.

"Ranma, I don't understand how you do this exactly, so it's hard for me to give you any clear-cut advice. If you can make them all very bright yellow, that's fine. It would put them in the fancy category. Brown diamonds have been selling a little better than they once did, but I don't think that will last. It's all marketing hype and I don't think brown diamonds will catch on."

"There were a lot of brown ones, weren't there?"

"Yes, and they will still bring in a lot of money. Even poor diamonds are expensive."

"I never dreamed you could say poor and diamond at the same time and still make sense."

"Poor, my dear Ranma, is a relative term."

"Hmm, so clear or very bright yellow, would be best, huh?"

"Just about any shade of blue is good too," Nabiki said. "That big dark one you made is actually blue, you know."

"It is?"

Nabiki nodded her head. "It's very similar to the Hope diamond. Blue with lots of very small inclusions that make it smoky. There must have been some boron in that piece of charcoal for some reason."

"Huh! I just figured it was next to worthless."

"Nope. None of the stones you made are anywhere close to worthless, Ranma. Every one of them will bring in money."

"That book of yours said something about pink diamonds," Ranma said.

"Yeah, but nobody knows for sure what makes them pink. Most gemologists think it's their grain structure."

"Grain structure?" Ranma asked, looking as though something had just occurred to him.

"Yeah, does that ring a bell for some reason?"

"When I was growin' 'em, I realized that they had a grain, but I thought I was seein' things," Ranma said.

"What's it like, anyway?" Nabiki asked.

"It's so weird I can't even describe it, Nabiki," Ranma said. "I don't even understand how I do it to tell ya the truth. It's like...I think electrons are really just...well...they're more like rubber bands than anything else. You can stretch 'em, and they get all tangled together."

"I never dreamed you would become a quantum mechanic, Ranma," Nabiki said then giggled. "Who else would have believed it?"

"Not me," Ranma said with a rueful grin. "I ain't all that sure that you can call me that, anyway. I ain't all that sure what I am seein' is what is really there. To tell ya the truth, I don't think I'm actually seein' anything. At least, I ain't seein' it with my eyes, right? I can't be."

"Yeah, you're right, Ranma," Nabiki said. "I don't think your eyes will work on that scale, no matter how hard you meditate."

"You know what else is weird? I haven't seen a nucleus yet. I mean, I ain't seen nothin' like what's in my chemistry book."

Nabiki sat back and sipped her tea and thought for a moment before speaking.

"That's probably because they are so small, Ranma."


"Yeah, remember? Nuclei are very tiny compared to their electron clouds."

Ranma looked vaguely nonplussed.

"That means what you are seeing, if you really are seeing these things, must be pretty close to actual existence," Nabiki said. "You really are a quantum mechanic."

"It's too weird."

"Weirder than turning into a girl when you get splashed with cold water? Or turning into a dragon while you're in the middle of a fight with ten-meter tall chimera? Oh, and that was AFTER you got struck by a river of lightning bolts. I don't know that anyone has ever seen that before, either."

"Well...geez.. I don't know! This electron stuff is weird to me, okay?"

"I'm turning into the Red Queen, or whoever she was."

"Whaddaya mean?"

"Believing nine impossible things before breakfast is getting to be a habit of mine. I have no other choice anymore. It's the only logical thing left for me to do."

"I think I'll go meditate on that one," Ranma said.

"Don't hurt yourself trying to make white ones, Ranma," Nabiki admonished. "What we have will set us up for a long time to come. And keep an eye on the weather! It's supposed to sleet tonight."

"Okay," Ranma said over his shoulder as he left. "See ya in the mornin'."

Nabiki waited until he went outside, then muttered, "I had rather you stayed and helped me into bed, Saotome."

End of Chapter 13 Part c
Copyright © Don Granberry