Disclaimer:

See Chapter 1


I've reloaded this chapter, expanding the part with the fight with Kuno.

SHOWTIME!


"…besides, it's no big deal for me to see a naked girl. I mean, I've seen myself plenty of times, right?" Ranma said, tugging at her shirt collar and exposing some of her chest, pointing out the rather obvious fact that he was currently a she. Akane's face revealed surprise, indicating that she hadn't thought about it from that point of view. Any thoughts in that direction, however, were quickly forgotten when Ranma turned away with her hands behind her head and added, "And I'm built better, to boot!"

Akane flattened him with the dining room table.

"Now that he had coming!" chuckled Genma, looking at his crushed son.


-This is as far back as we can go. Any farther and Yygdrasil will be active, and the system will reject having two Maras accessing the system at the same time. That will lead to questions from the higher-ups that would be far too difficult to answer. If time travel happens, we're not allowed to give out information which could change the future. At least, Gods and Demons aren't.-

That's fine. I was hoping to go all the way back to China, maybe keep Shampoo from getting on my back, but this will work.

-Very well. Brace yourself, because this might hurt just a little…-


Ranma's eyes opened, revealing Kasumi and Nabiki sitting in front of her.

"Ah!" Kasumi started. "She's awake!"

Hurt a little? Hurt a little? "Feels like I got hit by a truck…" Ranma grumbled.

-Quit your complaining.-

"Are you ok?" Kasumi asked the boy-turned-girl. "Don't think too badly of Akane. She's really a very sweet girl. She's just a violent maniac."

"Oh, good, Kasumi," Nabiki interjected. "That makes lots of sense."

Anything else that may or may not have been said came to a crashing halt as Ranma's body began to glow an intense blue color. She rolled to her feet with a practiced ease, stretching her arms and straightening her back until several joints popped, then relaxed her shoulders and body, but kept her head tilted back, looking at the ceiling.

"I feel… good," she chuckled. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have a panda to indiscriminately grapple until it screams." Ranma smiled to herself as she quickly left the room, cracking her knuckles all the way.

"She just had a table bash her in the head and she feels good?" Nabiki said to her elder sister. Kasumi just looked confused.

They both stared at each other in bewilderment until the sounds of a panda howling in intense pain reached their ears.

Both sisters decided they really didn't want to know, and went to bed.


"School, is it, old man?" Ranma asked, sending a mild Death Glare at his father.

Genma took the glare in stride, which may or may not have had anything to do with the fact that you couldn't see his face… or any other part of his body, since he was wrapped from head to toe in bandages, rather reminiscent of a mummy. "Well," he said, sounding somewhat muffled, and in pain. "We are going to be staying a while."

"It's the same school me and Akane go to," Nabiki said from the doorway.

-Akane and I.- Mara corrected from inside Ranma's head.

"Akane and I," echoed Ranma.

Nabiki blinked in surprise. "We'll, er, see you there," she finished.

I thought you were going to sleep for a year.

-I am asleep. Since I'm inside you, oh gracious host, I can still talk to you, if I choose.-

Oh.

"Nabiki, wait!" Akane called, running up with her school bag. "I'll go with you!"

"What are you talking about?" her older sister replied. "Ranma is your fiancée, remember? You should walk him to school." Then Nabiki bolted for the door as Ranma turned his Death Glare at her and her sister.


"We're not getting married, you know!" Akane snapped at the pig-tailed martial artist up on the top of the fence.

"Did I ask for your opinion, macho chick?" Ranma shot back.

"Just don't hang around me in school!" Akane retorted.

"Now, look, bricks-for-brains, let me remind you-" Ranma said as he dodged an incoming punch from his arriving father, who was miraculously free of bandages. "-that it was-" he dodged again, "-your father who said- Damn it, Pops!" he bellowed, and kicked him in the face as the older man opened his mouth to speak. When the panda jumped back out of the canal and at Ranma, he simply opened his hand and yelled, "Moko Takabisha!"

The ball of ki slammed Genma's panda body in the stomach, and launched him cannon-ball style back into the water.

What was that Akane thought. When did DragonBall become real?

"Didn't we talk about this kind of behavior last night!?" Ranma yelled at the water bubbles that rose from where his father had landed. "Or do I have to dislocate your arms again!?

"And you," he continued, turning on Akane, who was still recovering from Ranma summoning ki to his hand and smacking his father with it. "Let's get one thing clear right now!" Akane took a step backward as Ranma advanced on her. "It was your dad who left the decision making for the fiancée business up to me. You know what that means? It means that that crap you and your sisters did last night, passing me around like an old dress nobody wanted, doesn't mean a damn thing! It don't matter-"

-Doesn't matter.-

Shut up, I'm ranting here!

"-what you want, or don't want. This decision is mine, and mine alone. Now that we've got that, here's my idea on it. I - don't - choose - you. I don't want you, I don't need you, and I sure as hell ain't getting engaged to you! So whatever ideas you've got floating through your empty little skull, you can go ahead and get rid of right now, 'cause you, me, and your sisters are going to sit down and sort this out tonight, and if you don't like it, tough! You've got about as much say in it as my old man, and you tell how much I listen to him!" Ranma spun on his heel and indicated the bubbles in the canal.

This… this… this boy thinks he can just talk to me like this? I'll show him… Akane fired off a quick punch at the back of Ranma's head.

She screamed all the way to the surface of the water in the canal, landing on the soggy body of a panda.

"AND DON'T BE LATE FOR CLASS!" Ranma thundered at her from the sidewalk.


Ranma enjoyed his stroll to school, since Akane had marched off for Doctor Tofu's office to dry off before going to class. He walked by the old lady who was scooping water onto her sidewalk, and was amazed that she didn't hit him at all. He'd been tagged by her from across the street sometimes, it seemed.

-It's the release of your chakra, remember? Your internal ki system isn't using your curse to try and make you balance anymore.-

No more water magnet, Ranma though happily. Feeling that Mara was about to correct him, he added, Ok, not as much, but still, big difference!

Mara chuckled. -You know, I'm surprised you haven't brought up the issue of your chakra system being messed with to your father. I would have thought you would've thrown that in his face at the earliest opportunity available.

Oh, I'm saving that for a special occasion, like when he does his little 'Oh, what have I done to deserve such a dishonorable son? You should marry a Tendo right this second to atone!' speeches. Besides, I've got a new attack I'm working on, and I want to perfect it before I tell him.

-Why?-

So I can hit him with it.

Inside his head, Mara burst out laughing.

When Ranma got to the gates, he discovered that he had apparently taken longer than he thought, since he found Akane perfectly dry, and beating off the Hentai Horde as he waltzed in.

"Ranma!" Nabiki called from one of the upper windows. "Get in this school! Now!"

Ranma just smiled and waved at the middle Tendo sister, continuing towards the doors, ignoring Akane as she commented on the boys defeated at her feet, and Kuno Tatewaki's opening speech. Obnoxiously, a rose smacked him in the head as he tried to walk passed them.

Oh, look, its Kuno… looks as stupid as ever. Feeling amused by doing so, Ranma focused on the Soul of Ice technique, and pulled ki into his hand, freezing the rose into a solid chunk of ice. It shattered on the ground, bouncing into a dozen fragments. Kuno fumed, angered. Not that Ranma cared, since he promptly turned his back on him and Akane, and continued for the school doors.

"Hold, boor!" Kuno bellowed at Ranma. "Who are you to intercept my flowery declaration of affection towards Tendo Akane?"

"Oh, god, please, no inbred stupidity this early in the morning," muttered Ranma.

Akane chuckled, overhearing him.

"How dare you use foul comments to induce the wonderful laughter of my fierce tigress!" bellowed Kuno, brandishing his bokken in Ranma's direction. "Who are you to act so casually around her?" Not even waiting for Ranma to speak, he continued, "Ah! But it is the custom to give one's own name first! Fine then, mine I shall give!" Kuno stuck himself in his 'noble' pose. "My name is Upperclassman Kuno. Junior Group E. Captain of the Kendo Club. Undefeated new star of the High School fencing world. But my peers call me… the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High."

Ranma groaned, sinking his head into his hands. "Sweet Christ on a crutch, I think my IQ dropped twenty points just listening to you."

Kuno bristled.

"I am Saotome Ranma. Heir to the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts. I invented the Squirrel Maneuver."

"The what?"

Ranma swung his leg into the space between Kuno's legs. The Blue Thunder dropped lack a sack of potatoes, whimpering like a puppy.

"And I don't want to be late on my first day."

Ranma laughed at the shocked faces of the students of Furinkan High, and strolled through the double doors of the school building, feeling like a king. Hell, he could almost hear the celebratory music.

Outside, a panda stood at the gates, gaping stupidly as it started to rain.

-Was that the new move?-

Don't be stupid, of course not!


"Class, this is Saotome Ranma. He was recently in China, and he will be joining us for the duration of the school year. Everyone should make him feel welcome. Saotome-kun, since you seem to be familiar with her already, please sit next to Tendo Akane."

Frowning at his inability to stay away from the tomboy, Ranma did as he was instructed, as the teacher started in on his lessons. Moments after the teacher's back was turned, a note was passed to him from a girl in the corner.

'Squirrel Maneuver?'

Ranma grinned, and scribbled out an answer, before flinging in back across the room, landing perfectly on the girl's desk. After opening it, she had to cover her mouth to hide the smile, before passing the note along for others to read.

-Oh, I like that. 'Just go for the nuts.'-

Ranma 's grin grew wider.

Then he slumped his head against the desk as Kuno ripped open the class door, buckets of water flying. The word 'BUFFOON' was stenciled on his forehead in bruises. Ranma smirked, seeing it. Gotta love that Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken.

-Just be thankful I corrected you on the spelling.-

"Never, Saotome Ranma! I shall never accept your enga- Urk!" Another ball of blue-white ki nailed him in the stomach, chucking the Blue Thunder out of the doorway and into the hall.

"Can you excuse me, sensei?" Ranma asked, rising to his feet. "I just need to hurt an idiot, then I'll come back to class."

Startled, though not entirely surprised by Kuno's actions, the teacher of class 1-F nodded, and gestured for Ranma to go after the slowly rising Kuno.

Ranma sighed, walking out of the door, and shutting it behind him.

"Damn… you… foul… Saotome…" the class heard from the other side.

Ranma's answer was somewhat cryptic, but understood as probably painful. "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire revised: One Thousand Strikes of the Angry Squirrel!"

Kuno's (high-pitched) screams resounded through the school.

When Ranma reentered the classroom, he smiled at the class, which responded with a massive sweatdrop.

"I kicked him out the window," he announced.

"But this is the third floor!" objected Akane.

"He's fine. Kuno probably fell in the pool," Ranma replied, returning to his seat.

"PROBABLY?" Akane screeched, rising to her feet. "What kind of martial artist-"

"Tendo!" snapped the teacher.

Realizing that she was still in class, Akane's mouth snapped shut. "Hai, sensei?"

"No yelling in class. Go stand in the hall."

Oops, she thought, and headed for the buckets.


"So," Nabiki asked her two sisters. "Why exactly are we here? I thought we settled the engagement thing the other night." The sisters, Ranma (in girl form), and the parents were all in Kasumi's room.

Ranma frowned, but not at Nabiki. It was directed at the idiot duo that consisted of the Tendo and Saotome fathers. "I don't recall asking you two fools to join this conversation," she snapped.

"Now, son," Soun started, with Genma nodding to show support for whatever his friend was about to say. "This concerns the future of both of the schools, and the marriage of my youngest daughter, Akane! I think-"

"So what name will the school go under after the marriage? Saotome or Tendo?" Ranma interrupted, rolling her eyes.

"Ah, of course, it will be Tendo!" Soun declared. Genma frowned.

"No, surely it will be Saotome," replied Genma.

"But it's the Tendo dojo," shot back Soun. Ranma started pushing them both towards the door.

"But the Saotome school will be bringing more Art to the schools," the panda man objected. Ranma shoved them out into the hallway, both of them now too occupied to notice she was doing so.

"But the Tendo-" Soun was cut off as Ranma shut the door.

"Nicely done," Nabiki complimented. Ranma snorted.

"Please. Getting those two distracted is as easy as opening a sake bottle. In fact, that's a good way to distract them in the first place."

"Sad, but ultimately true," the middle Tendo sister said with a sigh.

Ranma allowed herself a brief smile, before turning a withering cold stare at Akane. "You. Out."

"If you think-"

"I do," the pig-tailed martial artist interrupted. "And I don't think you ever have. I told you what this was about earlier. Get out."

"I'm not leaving you alone with my sisters, you pervert!" Akane snapped, turning her most defiant glare on the sex-changing boy.


The koi were swimming peacefully, and occasionally flitting to the surface to jump at an insect, when, strangely, a new bug they had never seen entered the pool. Larger than any other bug, many times bigger than the fish themselves!

"IT'S COLD!" Akane screamed.


Ranma slid the window shut, slapping the blinds closed. When she turned around, it was to the astonished stares of the elders of the three Tendo sisters.

"What?"

"You threw her out of the window!" Nabiki said, shocked.

"So?" Ranma asked, raising an eyebrow.

"You threw her out of the window!"

"What, you wanna go next?"

Nabiki's eyes widened. "No, I'm fine. Definitely fine." So much for the 'somewhat gullible' first impression I had. I guess he was just, what? Nervous meeting new people? Or was embarrassed because he met us as a girl first? Kasumi did say he seemed kinda nervous when she first mentioned a bath to him…

"Excellent!" Ranma declared, setting herself in a chair next to Kasumi's desk. "Well, now that we know that I'm not going to need to demonstrate that the window is a perfect exit in case of a fire, let's start with what we know. Firstly, I was summarily passed off to Akane much in the same fashion of a second-hand piece of clothing that doesn't fit, and is somewhat out of style. Secondly, the best reasons I can think of for this, is that Kasumi isn't interested in younger men, and that neither Nabiki nor Kasumi want to marry someone who can pick his gender for the day in the same fashion that you pick out your shirts. Sound about right?"

Kasumi look ashamed, while Nabiki blushed lightly, but neither disagreed.

"Now that we know that, here're the things we don't know. Ranma is in a very bad mood. In fact, he's in the worst mood that he has been in for probably all of my life. The reason for this, would be oh…" Mara snickered and mumbled something. Ranma grinned. "… call it the human condition known as You Are All Greedy Morons, And Use Me As Scapegoat. In the past eleven years, I have been sold by my father more times that I care to count, to probably dozens of people, for things ranging from yattai carts, to bowls of rice, all in exchange for my hand in marriage, without my knowledge or consent. I have been put through exercises that would be considered violations of the Geneva Convention in the name of 'martial arts training,' including being tossed to a covered pit of fifty starving cats… a dozen times… coated in fish products."

Nabiki and Kasumi looked properly horrified at this concept.

"I have been beaten, belittled, and used like a shogi piece in my old man's push for a lazy retirement. I have had my mind manipulated, been drugged, and poisoned by some of the 'fiancées' who have tracked me down, intent on taking their anger for my father out on me, my father's manipulations at work again. I have been cursed, possessed-"

-Hey!-

"-tied to speeding trains, thrown in raging rivers with my arms tied, smashed upside the head with heavy weaponry by abusive young girls, almost incinerated, almost frozen, fought demons and gods, been told I am nothing but a perverted idiot, been locked in my cursed form multiple times, degraded myself for potential cures that were dangled in front of my face only to find that they were not going to work in the first place, dragged all over Japan and China by a man who tried to convince me my mother was dead, ever since he took me from her at the age of five. I have been groped and detonated with explosives, while my 'friends' pushed me towards the bombs and perverts to save themselves. And all of this on a continuing basis since I started my 'training.'"

The blood had drained from Nabiki's face by this point, and Kasumi was rapidly approaching a state of shock.

"Have we got all that?" Ranma asked, reclining in her chair. Nabiki nodded. Kasumi whimpered, but Ranma decided that was probably a 'yes' of some kind. "Ok, then! Here's the final part. I am the best martial artist this world has to offer." Kasumi's shocked face remained, but blinked in surprise, while Nabiki began to look doubtful. "Don't believe me? In less than two years, I have learned to do at will what most people can only begin to accomplish after decades of work. I can summon the ki from my body and use it as a weapon. Go check with my class, they saw me wield it against Kuno-baka. Or your sister, she watched when I smashed my fat Pops in the stomach with it, and blasted him into the canals. I can punch you a thousand times over the space of seconds without breaking a sweat. I could jump this entire house if I decided to. If I so desire, I can and have been known to use an attack that creates a tornado out of ki and throw my opponents for miles. I can become invisible at will, and create blades out of nothing that can slice through buildings. I can shatter boulders with the touch of a finger, or pick them up whole and crush you under them. I can manipulate the pressure points on your body to make you so sensitive to heat that even mildly warm water will leave you screaming, or take away your strength to the point where lifting a carton of milk is like hefting a hundred-kilo weight." Ranma eyeballed the two girls in front of her. "And if there is any doubt of what I just said, I will show you. Just ask, but I'm not a circus pony. I don't perform for crowds," she added, seeing the speculative gleam in Nabiki's eyes. "And after everything I've been through, I'm also more than willing to enforce my decisions."

Kasumi didn't seem to get that last part, but Nabiki swallowed nervously, telling Ranma that the middle Tendo sister had gotten the not-so-hidden message that had been meant specifically for her. Try to use me, and I'll use you as a practice dummy.

"Is anything I've said yet not understood?"

Nabiki and Kasumi shared a glance, but then agreed that they understood, if were not a little shocked by it all.

Ranma smiled at them. "Here's the fun part. You remember what your dad said to me last night?"

"Um, no?"

"Which part?"

Ranma sighed. "The part where he said 'Pick the one you want. She's your fiancée.'"

Nabiki promptly paled again in reflex, while Kasumi's reaction was for confusion to cross her face.

"Nabiki, since you seem to have gotten it, would you explain it to Kasumi?"

"Well, sis," Nabiki said, her voice perfectly flat. "He means that Daddy left the decision for who would marry him up to Ranma, and if I were to guess," she said, casting a glance in Ranma's direction, "I would have to say that Ranma has had enough of 'violent, abusive people'-" Ranma nodded in agreement. "-and that means that the one girl he's not going to choose would be the 'violent maniac' of the family. So that means one of us is up for marriage instead." Nabiki frowned. "So who's is going to be, Saotome?"

"Up to you two," the pig-tailed martial artist said, waving a hand dismissively. "But let's get a few questions I know you probably want to ask out of the way. Firstly, I'm not a total jerk, despite how I might seem at the moment. I'm just… stressed." Ranma slumped back in the chair, relaxing and stretching her legs out. "The next, is that I'm not anything near what you could call traditional. I'm not going to turn you into a dutiful housewife, just because that's what some guys want. If I marry, I don't want a servant, I want a wife. Better than a wife, I'd rather have a friend. My total number of friends right now is zero."

-Don't I count?- pouted Mara in a playful voice.

Ranma imagined herself sticking her tongue out, and stretching her cheeks. The demoness laughed.

"The next is, I'm not a control freak like some guys I know. If you want to have a life, be my guest. We're not exactly meeting on the best of terms, I know. I don't expect either of you to fall in love with me just because our parents decided when they were drunk that we were going to marry before any of us were born. Married life with me ain't gonna be normal. You gotta understand what you're getting yourself into." She sat up straight and looked Nabiki and Kasumi in the eyes. "From the looks of your dad, he hasn't practiced in a while, so I don't know if you can remember what it's like to live with a martial artist. It means that I'm going to practice, and practice alot. It's what I'm good at, and I think its fun. At some point in the future, I'd like to teach. I want to do tournaments, which I'll probably win, and have challengers show up at odd moments wanting to test themselves against me. But thanks to my old man, there're some people in my past that might come calling, and they're not all nice, and most are dishonorable pigs." Ranma smirked at that. "But we can get into that later. I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you get engaged to me, don't think that means your life ends. Neither of you has a life right now, so not a big change even if it did. So, since I'm not gonna run your life for you, that means you got to do it. If you want to be a business woman, go for it. If there's a job you've dreamed of having, try and get it. Or hobbies that you've wanted to try. Or whatever. I don't need a maid. I don't need to have someone waiting for me when I get home, to serve me like we were living two hundred years ago. If you can cook, great. If not, I can cook sometimes, or takeout if we can afford it. If you want to go out with your friends, ok. Just let me know, because I'm kinda paranoid, and I've been told I'm an overprotective jerk." She shrugged. "Couple that with martial artist, and that usually means that if I think you're in trouble, I have a tendency to carve a path out of the people between us until I'm sure you're safe. I've done it before, even when I'm wrong about it."

Ranma paused, then burst out laughing. "I think that's the longest speech I've ever given in my life!" Nabiki blinked in surprise, then smiled. Kasumi hid a giggle behind her hand.

"Ok, last thing I think you should know. Yes, I can be a girl, or a boy. I can change whenever I want. I've even gone to ice cream parlors and scammed the guys behind the counter out of free ice cream with a cute smile and a good bounce."

Nabiki laughed out loud, but Kasumi looked scandalized.

"I guess the one thing you have in the back of your minds, is what it's going to mean being married to someone who's not always a boy." Ranma idly scratched the back of her head. "Despite what your sister says, I'm not a pervert. I'm not going to force you to do something with my girl side. Hell, I'm not going to force you to do something with my boy side. I'm not going to force you to do anything. If we see each other out somewhere, I don't care if you treat me a little different because I'm the wrong gender for you to be attracted to, even if we've been married for years. Better get used to it, 'cause there's no cure. Believe me, I know that there ain't."

Nabiki raised her hand. Ranma stared at her. "This ain't school, y'know."

"I just wanted to know if you're different when you change. Your mind, I mean."

Ranma shook her head. "No, it's the same person who looks at everything the same. The only things that changes is the body. Hell, if it happens quickly enough, I don't always notice it until someone points it out."

"So it's always a guy inside?"

"Yeah. Oh, and don't hesitate to point out if I'm doing something I shouldn't in the wrong body. Like, holding your hand if your not comfortable with it, or something. I can forget, because I'm used to being anything at any time. So go an' talk about it between you two, and let me know when you've got it figured out."

Nabiki paused, thinking. He said he's been locked multiple times since he acquired the curse… and had potential cures held in front of him. And friends (note the sarcasm he used there) push him towards molesters to keep them away from themselves. So it's been a busy two weeks, from China to here. No wonder he's so stressed. If I got cursed, locked, unlocked, had a cure dangled in front of me, locked again, unlocked, another cure failed, been pervert bait a couple of times, then arrived here and told I'm going to get married right after I meet the girls… I suppose I'd be on a short fuse, too. (1)

She leaned over to Kasumi to share her observations, noting that her sister looked… unusually nervous about something. Her eyes were darting around, and she was wringing her hands together. Repeating her conclusions to her older sister, including personal observations that Ranma looked neither dishonest nor inclined to be mean, did nothing to ease the elder Tendo girl, but it's didn't seem to add to her stress, either. Nabiki frowned, wondering what was wrong with her.

Maybe she doesn't want to get married? Or maybe she thinks this is her last chance to? Does she want to accept for fear that she might never be proposed to, but wants to hold out for someone specific? I never could tell if she liked Tofu-sensei, or was just going over there to actually borrow books. Kasumi, I never could read you very well. She didn't start acting like this until tonight, so I think it's that suddenly she's being put in the spotlight again for the engagement. I don't think she wants it, but knowing Kasumi, she's too nice to reject him. Nabiki turned her eyes to Ranma, wondering what was going through her sister's mind, as well as the potential martial artist fiancée in front of her.

Ranma was staring at her own hand like she was expecting it to leap off of her wrist and break out in song.

"Nabiki, do you think…"

"What was that, onee-chan?"

Kasumi's voice dropped down to a conspirational whisper. "Do you think he's…" Her voice got even quieter. "…serious?"

Nabiki blinked. "About which part?"

"When he said… that thing about…" Kasumi's question disappeared into mumbling.

Sighing, Nabiki leaned in until she was just a few inches from her sister's face.

"…about being able to…" Kasumi swallowed in anxiety. "… the… part where we can… go out and… have our own life?"

Nabiki goggled, before schooling her face into the impassive mask she sometimes wore around the town, especially when doing business. "Yes," she whispered back her sister, keeping her voice even and sincere. "I believe Ranma is serious about everything he just told us." I personally think he was exaggerating his abilities a little, but most martial artists do that anyway. But about the rest…

CRACKLE-BOOM!

Both girls jumped in shock and spun where they sat to look at Ranma… who was difficult to identify, since she was covered in black charring, her pig-tail sticking straight up from the back of her head. Her clothes were half gone, looking as though they had been a combination of burned and blasted off of her body. Ranma's hand was still held up in front of her face. Her eyes twitched in annoyance, from her perch of on top of Kasumi's desk, where she had apparently landed.

"Are you alright?" Nabiki asked, the first to recover her voice.

Ranma forced a smile at the two frozen girls.

-HOW THE HELL DID YOU DO THAT?-

"I'm fine," Ranma croaked, smoke billowing from her mouth when she opened it. "Owie…" She slid off of the desk, bouncing off of the chair, straight onto the floor, fingers twitching.

Kasumi laughed. Nabiki stared. Her sister hadn't laughed for real in years. She kept laughing, and laughing, until her sides apparently started to hurt so much that she had to wrap her arm around her ribs, and started hiccupping.

After a good five minutes of solid laughter, long passed when Ranma had recovered from knocking herself around with her own attacks, Kasumi began to wind down, but the hiccups remained.

Nabiki paused in thought, watching Ranma as she began to do… whatever it was with her hand that had led to blasting herself in the first place. Martial artists, she thought to herself, once they start on something, you can't get them to stop. Turning her attention back to her elder sister, who was trying to suppress her hiccups, Nabiki's thoughts turned from the stubborn tendencies of Saotome Ranma, to the non-existent social life (or even scholastic life) of Tendo Kasumi.Maybe this engagement will be good for her… Kasumi has even less of a life than I do, Nabiki thought to herself.

"Ranma," she stated, bringing the attention of the martial artist from her hand… and was it crackling?… over to herself.

"Yeah?" Ranma asked, half-looking at Nabiki, half back at her hand.

"Kasumi wants to accept the engagement."

"Oh?"

"Nabiki!" squeaked Kasumi, the shock of hearing the statement seeming to cure her hiccups. "I…"

Nabiki gripped her sister by the shoulder, and pulled her close. "Look onee-chan, I know that you want out of the house, even if you won't admit it. I know you'd also let me marry martial artist boy… girl… over there, just so you could know I was marrying someone who'd let me become whatever I wanted. But right now, I don't have room in my life for getting engaged, much less married. I've got one more year of high school ahead of me, then business college. I've got the next few years of my life planned out, and I admit I'd like a relationship, but I'd rather it wait until I've settled myself at a good job before then. You need to get out of the house more often, or you're going to turn into an automaton."

"Auto-what?" Kasumi asked, frowning in confusion.

"Jeez, and you used to give me vocabulary lessons," Nabiki muttered.

CRACKLE-BOOM!

"Itetetetete…"

-WHAT DO YOU MEAN, I SHOWED YOU HOW TO DO THAT!-

"Ok, stubborn tendencies of blowing himself up aside, Ranma seems like a good guy, and I think you need a relationship, and a chance to get out of the house. So, you're getting engaged to Ranma." Noting the pensive look on her older sister's face, Nabiki persisted. "Hey, Ranma mentioned that his dad might have engaged him to other people, right? So even if you don't like him, you and Ranma can call everything off later, saying you need to settle any other possible engagements he might have. C'mon, big sis, if you really don't want to, I can find you the loophole out. At least this way, you have a chance to do something that isn't housework."

Kasumi nervously bit at the tips of her fingers a few moments, thinking it over. She would never admit it to her family, but Gods did she want out of the house, for something that wasn't shopping or anything else related to maintaining the house. The only time she got to visit the clinic to borrow books from Doctor Tofu were times when she needed to get out of the house for something else. She almost never got to return them, instead counting on her sisters, or even her father, to return them. The more she stayed in the house, the more the felt less like a person and more like… a robot, constantly having less and less time to do anything for herself. She'd recently started waking up well before dawn in order to keep the house properly maintained, going to bed even later the normal. A stray thought came unbidden into her own mind. If things kept up like this, what would her life be like, years from now? Unmarried, unskilled, incapable of leaving the house for anything but shopping or picking up supplies, caring for her family until they all left… except Kasumi didn't think her youngest sister ever would leave. And she certainly couldn't care for Father, heavens no. Her cooking… or sewing… or even cleaning skills… Akane made greater disasters in her attempts at housekeeping than existed before she started. She does try… Kasumi thought to herself.

CRACKLE-BOOM!

"Owie!"

-BUT YOU ONLY EVER SAW ME PERFORM IT ONCE!-

I'd… I'd never be able to leave. Akane will take over the dojo for Daddy when he becomes too old to even think about being able to take on students. And who will take care of the house then? Nabiki might not be able to afford rent when she moves on to college, and might stay here until she can. Or maybe even through college, until she can find a job! And I… I'll be here the entire time. My family needs someone to take care of them, and without Mother, I must… must take care of…

"If you want to have a life, be my guest."

"I don't expect either of you to fall in love with me."

"If there's a job you've dreamed of having, try and get it."

"I don't need a maid."

"I don't need to have someone waiting for me when I get home, to serve me."

I… I want to get out! I want to have friends again! I want to be a nurse! I don't want to be old and unmarried!

Unconsciously, Kasumi had started gripping the sleeves of her dress tighter as she thought, something that didn't escape the notice of her sister. Nabiki watched Kasumi wrestle with her own thoughts, wondering what was happening inside the eldest sister's mind. Ranma, she saw, didn't seem to notice the emotions flying around on her sister's face, completely preoccupied with the… the…

"Is that a ball of lightning you've got in your hand?"

"Huh?" Ranma said, looking up.

"I'LL ACCEPT IT!" Kasumi shrieked, causing both Ranma and Nabiki to fly towards the ceiling.

CRACKLE-BANG Came the sound from Ranma's right hand, and the discharge flung Ranma from her startled arc into the wall with a dull thud.

"Was that a ball of black lightning you had in your hand?" Nabiki shot at Ranma as the martial artist stood up, trying to process the impossibility Ranma had apparently conjured, before moving on to her screaming sister. "And did you just change into a boy?"

Ranma looked down at himself, and grinned. "I love martial arts."

-TELL ME HOW IN THE NINE LEVELS OF HELL YOU ARE USING MY HELLFIRE THUNDER BLAST, YOU BASTARD! AND- Hey, you changed without water!-

Ranma ignored the semi-hysterical demoness.

"I'll take it, I'll… I'll accept the agreement. I'll become your fiancée… Ranma-kun," Kasumi said, sounding somehow out of breath.

Ranma smiled. "Alright, Kasumi."

Then, Kasumi kowtowed in front of Ranma. "Please, regard me kindly!"

Ranma stepped back in surprise, "What are you, whoop-!" He tripped over the chair he had been sitting in a moment before, bouncing off of the desk, and falling forwards, right at Kasumi. Kasumi scrambled to get out of the way, but Ranma easily caught himself with one hand, and simply rolled up to his feet.

At least, that was his intention. Kasumi's rush to get out of the way meant that she bumped into the one hand on the ground, and knocked Ranma's elbow out. The end result was that Ranma fell over to the side, sprawling over Kasumi and entangling their legs, causing them both to roll halfway across the floor, landing against Kasumi's bed, with Ranma underneath Kasumi, who was laying flat across Ranma…legs straight out, and her arms wrapped in fright around his waist.

Both Ranma and Kasumi opened their eyes at the same time, blushed, and shot back from each other.

… right into the chair Ranma had tripped over and Kasumi's bed frame, causing Kasumi's legs to tangle and sending her headfirst into Ranma, and Ranma to bang his head against the wooden frame, making him sit up in reflex.

And a dripping wet Akane chose that moment to open the door, slamming it open with all the righteous fury she could muster.

"Wha- What-?" Akane stuttered, witnessing Ranma sitting against Kasumi's bed, with Kasumi flat on her belly, and her head in Ranma's lap, while Nabiki watched (well, more like stared in shock).

Akane rounded on the immediate cause of this act of perversion (or so she assumed), Ranma. "You stupid, foul, evil-"

"Akane, no! This was my fault!" Kasumi interrupted, managing to pull herself to her feet, and blushing heavily.

The youngest Tendo froze in place, with one hand raised to punch. "Y-Your…?"

"It was Ranma-kun's idea, but I was the one who wanted to. I was going to let Nabiki do it, but we decided it was best if I did." Kasumi explained. Nabiki bit her lip to keep from laughing. I wish, I wish, I wish I had brought my camera! she thought as Akane turned red from the cheeks up.

"You wanted… Ranma?" she asked, looking like she was having a hard time accepting the idea.

Kasumi nodded, while Ranma finally realized exactly how one of these situations looked from the outside, and why so many people were always laughing. Of Mara, nothing could be heard except for the most hysterical laughing. Kasumi was talking about the engagement, while Akane was referring to finding Kasumi face first in Ranma's lap, and whatever imagined perversions she had come up with.

Wow, if I hadn't been in this situation a dozen times myself, then I'd probably be laughing my head off, he thought as Kasumi made things go from bad to worse by trying to explain that Ranma had said that he wasn't interested in doing it with Akane, but regarded Kasumi and Nabiki as acceptable, and in addition would let Kasumi do things she had always wanted to try but never could before. Akane, of course, drew even more wrong conclusions, going fire-engine red in the face, before uttering 'perverts,' and passing out.

Nabiki finally fell over, cracking up, while Kasumi simply opted for looking completely and totally lost.


After several days passed, (in which Soun and Genma were informed of the switchover from Akane to Kasumi, which didn't seem to sit very well with the elder Saotome, for reasons that no one seemed to understand, but the fat panda laughed off whenever it was mentioned) Kuno eventually discovered the existence of 'the pig-tailed girl' and began an immediate pursuit. Sadly, this did not go very well at all.

For that matter, it didn't even go intelligently.

"…'if you want to give her your panda, give it to Saotome Ranma,' quoth Tendo Nabiki," stated Kuno. "How do you know my pig-tailed goddess?"

-I thought you were exaggerating. He's like a goddamn brick.-

"Kuno…" started Ranma. Oh, man, this is gonna make me late, I just know it. Why, Kuno, just why are you such a moron? "Forget about her, alright? Don't look at her if you see her, don't think about her, don't even… don't even throw bouquets of roses at her and tell her you love her, because… uh, because she's allergic. Just… oh, God, just fucking don't."

Ranma could actually feel his temper fraying as he side-stepped a sudden downpour of water.

"Hey, what if somebody was down there?"

"Don't worry about it."

"WELL START WORRYING ABOUT IT, YOU MORONS!" the irate martial artist bellowed, leveling a glare that could start forest fires. Unsurprisingly, the water-wielding duo scrambled away fast enough to leave a dust cloud.

"Need a little help, Saotome?" came a voice that Ranma could actually hear smirking.

"Yeah, you probably speak demented idiot, Nabiki. You explain the curse to bokken-for-brains."

Nabiki smiled. "Of course."

"And Nabiki…"

"What is it?"

Ranma casually leaned up against a nearby tree. The temperature in the immediate area dropped fast enough to raise goose bumps along the middle Tendo daughter's arms. The tree developed a half-inch thick layer of frigid, gleaming ice starting from where Ranma's hand was against the trunk, and rapidly enveloped every last branch and leaf. Nabiki's smile went from self-assured to self-preservatory.

"…don't say anything stupid, ok?"

Kuno began prodding the tree with the end of his bokken in wonderment.

"R-right."

Ranma watched from next to the tree as Nabiki dragged Kuno off.

-Remarkable work.-

I'm sorry?

-The tree. It's an excellent manifestation of the manipulation of internal forces.-

… who did what now?

-… I meant that it was fascinating to watch you use your own ki to freeze it. -

Ah. This ain't so hard. It's only that using ki this way isn't the way that most people do it. The Soul of Ice technique that Cologne taught me was just the beginning. I don't think she expected me to figure out the advanced stuff for myself. I was only supposed to know enough to perform the Hiryu Shoten Ha, but with the experience I gained fighting Saffron, I came to realize that there must be more that she told me.

-What do you mean?-

Ranma watched Nabiki grow increasingly frustrated as Kuno began to misinterpret Nabiki's explanations. At least, that was the impression he gathered from the fact that her body language grew increasingly erratic, and Kuno's more and more outraged.

At first glance, the Soul of Ice looks like a technique to control your temper, and calm down from a rage, in order to fight better. But I know for a fact that anger, and even rage, have a place in martial arts, if you can keep your control. I'm only guessing, but I think the Soul of Ice was originally created by the Amazons to combat challengers or warriors who either had berserker fighting styles, or who's battle auras were based around hate, or anger, and as a result, produced heat. Now that I think about it, the basic version of this technique would be protection against the Musk. They've all get animal ancestors, so it makes sense to think that battle auras of theirs would be more… angry, or something like that. Bloodlust, the desire to fight. Battle auras based on anger produce heat, the angrier, the hotter, and trying to fight hand-to-hand with someone whose mere presence scorches your skin… well, forget about it. The only two ways two combat something like that would be to be even angrier, but to generate more rage than a bunch of possibly wounded half-tigers and half-bears defending their territory…? Forget about it. The second option would be to get cold, hence, the start of the Soul of Ice. That bitch, Cologne, taught it to me only because there were no other options, it was the only way I was going to fight Happosai on anything resembling an even level.

"Kuno, you're not listening, it's a curse, its magic, and there is no pig-tailed girl! It's just a body that Ranma can wear!"

"Silence! Do not think you can fool the Blue Thunder with your base lies!"

-So… the advanced?-

Again, I'm guessing, just guessing, but if I'm right, I'd say some Amazon Elder sometime way back when get it into her head that if the Soul of Ice they developed to use against the Musk was effective against 'hot' auras, then it could be taken further and used as a way to stand against, Saffron. Not enough to generate ice or a chill effect like he does fire, but enough to stand in his presence without being roasted. I mean, come on, the bastard could have wiped them off the face of the planet, three thousand years of martial arts or not, if he ever got it into his head to, unless they had something against the fire. He's fucking immortal, really immortal, and when I fought him, everything was the fuck on fire… the Phoenix Pill can make you immune to extreme heat, if you're not affected by the Cat's Tongue pressure point, but I'll bet they're hard to come by, and you'd need a thousand of them, and even then, I can't picture an entire village of Amazons going up against Saffron naked and unarmed.

-…?-

The Phoenix Pill makes you strong against getting burned, but not your weapons or your clothes.

-Ah. Good point. So this advanced form…-

…creates actual cold. Taken to extremes…

-… you can even go and freeze trees.-

Only to an extent. There are limitations; either external or internal. I can generate a personal aura of cold that can protect me from fire, or I can freeze other things solid, as long as I'm touching them or they're very close, but it's not anywhere near possible to do both at the same time. I tried it once a few days before we came back, and almost lost an arm. It's useless in an actual fight. Whatever I freeze has to hold still, avoid struggling, and let me infuse it with my ki. I can't imagine that anyone would let me do that. Anyway, I figure the only reason Cologne never used or hinted at the advanced forms around me was that she was probably afraid I'd figure out the way it works, and if it's the only thing that lets them fight against Saffron and his people, she'd never want anyone to have it. It just goes to show, the Amazons care nothing about what happens to outsiders, and only care for themselves.

-How do you figure that?- Mara asked, watching through Ranma's eyes as Kuno's eyes crossed in confusion under Nabiki's onslaught of attempted explanations.

Cologne knew I was going to end up facing either Saffron or someone wielding the Kinjaken, but she didn't even make mention of any kind of defense she knew against either. But I got a thousand yen that says she shoved another Phoenix Pill down Shampoo's throat before we left. The only thing that kept me alive was the Gekkaja. There was no way Cologne could have known that I'd get a hold of it, and even if I had, that I'd find the way to work it. She could have told me of the advanced form. She could have told me about the Gekkaja. She could have told me whatever she knew about Saffron and his transformation. Instead, all she told me was how the bird-people of Jusendo came about. She didn't even mention Saffron, even though she knew all about him.

Rather than let slip another of her precious Amazon secrets, Cologne sent me off to die.

"ENSLAVER AND DEFILER OF WOMEN!" shrieked Kuno. "PERVERSE TYRANT!"

Ranma groaned as he dodged, spying Nabiki clutching her head in frustration.

-I think she only made things worse.-

"Did you think that you would get away with such acts of cruel perversity?" Kuno bellowed, swinging wildly.

"What happened here?" Akane asked, walking up behind Nabiki.

"Tried to explain Ranma's curse. Kuno decided to listen in his own way."

"You mean like an idiot."

"…yeah."

"That you would enslave her own body and soul with your twisted acts of sorcery! That you would use her body for your own sick pleasures! You are no man; you are a demon made flesh! I WILL VANQUISH YOU! Then, the beauteous pigtailed-girl will be free, and I will show her that a true samurai like myself can show her comfort and pleasure in my arms, away from the likes of YOU!"

"THAT'S IT, I HAVE FUCKING HAD IT!" Ranma thundered, driving his fist into Kuno's face.

smash

"I CAN'T STAND LISTENING TO YOU!"

punch

"I CAN'T STAND LOOKING AT YOU!"

kick

"I CAN'T STAND KNOWING THAT YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT MY CURSED SIDE LIKE THAT!"

gouge tear bend break bleed mutilate

"JUST FUCKING FRY! HELLFIRE THUNDER BLAST!"

Black lightening split the sky, arcing over Ranma's hands where they dug into Kuno's chest. The kendoist began to scream. Akane tried to pull Ranma off by way of knocking him in the head, and was backhanded into a wall for her trouble, even as Ranma continued his assault on Kuno.

It was only when she heard the snap of bones that Nabiki finally unfroze, and threw herself into Ranma, knocking them both into the ground. Kuno dropped like an empty sack.

"Get off me or die," the pig-tailed martial artist said coldly.

"You're going to kill him if you don't stop!" Nabiki shot back.

"That's the general fucking idea," Ranma snapped back. He waved a series of pictures in front of Nabiki's face. "Recognize these? I'm sure you do, since you're the one who took them, and then sold them. You want to join him in Nerima General Hospital?"

Nabiki paled. "Y-you wouldn't."

"I wouldn't what? I wouldn't beat the amateur pornographer who sells a borderline stalker half-naked pictures of the girls he obsesses over to within an inch of her life?" Ranma's eyes narrowed. "I'll let him go. Today. But we'll be talking about this when we get home, believe it. I've been used more in my life than any other dozen people in this school combined. I'm not going to tolerate it. Not from my old man, not from your father… and certainly not from you."

The world spun in frightening circles around Nabiki's point of view as Ranma literally threw her off. The middle Tendo sister looked up at Ranma's back as he left.

"It's not pornography," she said spitefully.

"Then perhaps I'll take pictures of you topless, and sell them to Kuno. I wonder what his reaction would be? Make no mistake," Ranma said as he left, "as soon as we're alone in your room, you're going to have to prove to my satisfaction that you weren't deliberately sending an over obsessive delusional maniac who doesn't mind beating girls around out for an attempted rape, because that's all that I see right now."

Nabiki did prove well enough that she wasn't to get Ranma molested (or worse), but Nabiki couldn't be angry with Ranma ever since the word rape left his mouth. Although no psychologist, she had read enough to believe that Kuno Tatewaki was delusional enough to believe that whatever affections Kuno showered upon a girl were not only welcome, but invited. Ranma kept repeating his idea of selling half-nude pictures of Nabiki, and she shuddered to think of Kuno's obsessions turned on her. It seemed kind of ok when it was Akane, she beat him up all the time, and with Ranma it was kind of funny, since he was really a boy. In the end, although Ranma crushed her camera down to the size of a ball bearing while staring her in the eyes, burned her negatives, and left with a great deal of the money she had made, Nabiki realized that she got off lightly. If someone else had turned Kuno loose on her after making sure that he was sufficiently 'in love' with her, then she would probably have done much worse.

That night, Ranma announced that he intended to get a job. The money that the pictures had pulled in, although no large amount, was still a decent sum, which is what caused Nabiki to begin to wonder what Ranma needed the money for. It would be a question that would come visit her mind a great deal.

Akane kept a distance of several feet from Ranma, Kasumi, and Nabiki at any time, except at the dinner table, where she changed from her usual seat to right next to their respective fathers, making Kasumi sit next to Ranma. When she eventually remembered that Kasumi had said that Ranma wasn't interested in doing 'it' with her, and stopped keeping her distance (after Nabiki charged her 1,000 yen for the telling of the full story). Akane apologized to Kasumi, but did not apologize to Ranma for the misinterpretation, but instead, demanded that he apologize for throwing her around at school during the Kuno mess.

For several days, Ranma continued to baffle Nabiki to no end by creating black lightning out of nothing, but his attempts to actually use it as a weapon were met with little success. While Nabiki watched, Ranma could generate enough of it to power several of the surrounding houses (by her estimates) at any given moment, but it didn't want to let go, instead crackling and racing all over his body whenever he would try to fling or propel it in any given direction. It had the side-effect of forcing Ranma to immediately change genders, even without hot or cold water.

The 'side-effect' alone made learning the technique worth it, in Ranma's opinion, even if he fried himself no less than half a dozen times before managing to control it enough to not electrocute himself. Still, it frustrated him to no end that he couldn't yet use it the way it had been intended

Mara finally managed to pry the whole story of how Ranma was able to use a magical attack when he had no knowledge of how to use magic in the first place, and also lacked any kind of magical reserve to call upon, since he'd never trained for that kind of thing.

I watched when you got rid of that dark thing right after you merged with me, Ranma thought at the demoness. I could feel exactly how you did it, I guess since you were in my head. The everything, from how it was shaped, to the charge time, to the amount of power you needed, the source of power, and the delivery of it. That's why I'm so mad that I can't seem to throw it. I know how you did it, but I just can't make it do what I want.

-Forget that, just tell me how you're even managing it! You don't have any magic at all, you shouldn't even be capable of something like that. Even if you did, the Hellfire Thunder Blast is a very high ranked attack. It's not that mortals shouldn't be able to perform it even if they knew how, it's more that they couldn't. The amount of magical power required, while low by my standards, is staggering for a mere human. Only a human that had been training for all their life could probably pull it off, and even then, only after a century of dedicated practice, and even then, it'd kill them in the attempt, unless they had some serious protection in place. I mean, I'm a demon. To me, calling upon violent, chaotic energies is like breathing, but you should be a charred pile of meat after the first try. There's no chance a mere human could just have a magical reservoir large enough to do that on their own, unless they had Godly or Demonic heritage. And before you ask, the answer is No, you do not!-

There was a long silence as Ranma thought that information over, that ended when he asked, What do you mean when you said I don't have a magical re… what was that phrase you used?

-Magical reservoir. It's like your ki reservoir, only filled with magic, instead of ki. And it's a bitch for humans to expand on.-

Does it feel like my ki reserves? Like a big empty place filled with a force that I can tap?

-Yes,- Mara replied after a moment of thought. –It would feel something like that, I guess. Not even having ki, I can't compare directly, but you should feel a tingling kind of sensation when you pull at it. Why?-

Because I've got a big thing of magic inside of me. I just pull at it when I'm trying out your Hellfire Thunder Blast.

Mara's response had been immediate. -Show me.-

Ranma had simply directed his attention inwards, feeling towards where he had sensed that force that felt almost identical to what Mara had powered her own attack with. It's… there! he thought at her. Mara investigated, and discovered what had to be the smallest trickle of magic in existence. It wasn't a pool of magic, it was more like… a thread. She 'followed,' tracing it back to the source. Where is it coming from? Has he tapped into something, or maybe he's come into contact with a greater magic object, and has somehow bonded with it? The 'thread' expanded, leaving Mara in front of a vast, untapped power. Threads led away from it across the astral plane in all directions. Ranma was just one of many, but his was the only one that seemed to sing with power, probably because he was the only one pulling at the source. Others gave a twitch, but that was probably others triggering whatever effect or condition that had resulted in their own bonding in the first place. She was disappointed to discover that when she got close to the source, it reached for her. It seemed that accessing the magic, or even coming into contact with it, forced a bond, making it useless for Mara to try and tap. She certainly wasn't going to bond with earthly magic, no way.

Expanding her senses, Mara felt around for the name of the reservoir, looking at the source from a bird's eye perspective. A large valley, isolated for the most part. Pools littered the landscape, with bamboo poles sticking in the earth.

Ranma didn't have a magical reservoir, but he had found one he was bonded to.

Jusenkyo.

Ranma had tapped into the power of the oldest, largest chunk of unending magic power on his half of the hemisphere.

You gotta be fucking kidding me! Mara screamed inside her head. Forcing herself to calm down, she did realize that it certainly explained why Ranma would change genders if he covered himself in lightning. Covering himself from head to toe in the magic of Jusenkyo simply activated the curse, one way or the other.

When she explained all of this to Ranma, he had laughed, and simply replied, Well, I guess I got something out of the curse after all!

It was pretty ironic, Mara realized. The source of one of Ranma's biggest problems was also the source of his newest attack. Sadly, this revelation did nothing to help Ranma throw the lightning around. It still stubbornly clung to him, causing an instant gender switch if he generated too much at one time. Still, Ranma refused to give up. Mara gave several helpful tips, but nothing worked.

After a little while, Ranma realized that he had managed to avoid having his neck being set at a ninety-degree angle by a Kasumi-exposed Tofu. He also realized that he hadn't really met the man yet, not having a reason to visit him. He was in the middle of thinking about what to do about Dr. Tofu on his way to school. Nabiki had cleared things up around the school regarding the confusion surrounding the engagement (and had probably made a few yen while doing so). Kuno, while relieved that Ranma was not engaged to Akane, still occasionally attacked Ranma to release the pigtailed girl. Considering that the kendoist was still covered in casts and bandages, he was little more than an annoyance, and Ranma simply snapped whatever weapon the idiot happened to be wielding whenever he was in sight.

What to do about the Doctor, though, Ranma thought to himself. He does know martial arts, but he shouldn't be a problem if he gets violent. On the other hand, I don't think he knows about the engagement yet. I wonder how he'll take it. I do not want some crazy man with too much knowledge of how to manipulate the human body on my back. Maybe I should sit him down and just tell him the circumstances? He'll understand, if it's an arranged marriage. On the other hand, it's Kasumi we're talking about, the Doc gets weird whenever she gets brought up…

-I hate to interrupt your inner monologue of trying to avoid more problems in your life, but you should probably know that there's this guy about to land on you…-

Oh, him. Is it really time for that idiot to show up?

"RANMA! PREPARE TO DIE!"

Yup, that'd be him.

Deftly avoiding the incoming lead umbrella strike, Ranma did a neat handstand, driving both of his feet into Hibiki Ryoga's face.

The Lost Boy hit the pavement with a loud splat, and didn't get back up.

"Who's he?" Nabiki asked, leaning over Akane to get a view of the unconscious boy.

"Hibiki Ryoga, a guy I knew from school a few years back. Likes to attack you when your back is turned if you're stronger than him. Or weaker than him. His reason's always the same, too. 'You've made my life hell, and now I'll have my revenge!' Never tells you why his life is hell, either. You usually have to figure it out while you're dodging the umbrella."

"This thing weighs a ton!" Akane said, trying to pick said umbrella up.

"It's good for training," Ranma pointed out. Akane nodded in agreement. Hauling it around would be good for strength training.

"The only other problem with Ryoga is, he's got a curse, like me."

"He turns into a girl, too?" asked a voice from the gathering crowd. This was followed by questions about what kind of girl, what she looked like, and whether he could change at will in a shower of black lightning.

"He doesn't turn into a girl, he turns into a piggy." Ranma grinned. This time around, he'd never made that stupid promise.

-Not like it mattered in the first place, baka.- Mara pointed out. -You seem to have told the neighbor's dog that you wouldn't reveal its secret. What horrible secret did the dog have, anyway?-

Shut. Up.

"A pig?" Akane asked, surprised.

"Uh-huh," Ranma said, grinning wider. "A little, pot-bellied, black piglet, nowhere near as strong as his human body, with the same stupid headband Ryoga wears around his neck."

"Sounds worse than a girl," Nabiki pointed out casually.

"Maybe, but I've never used my curse to act cute and bury my face in a girl's chest."

Akane, who had been checking over the Lost Boy for injuries, dropped his face into the concrete. "He's a pervert!" she instantly concluded.

It took a great deal of control through the Soul of Ice not to scream with laughter. "If rubbing your face in a girl's chest, and then sleeping in her bed without her knowing that the little pet pig she found is really a guy, then… yeah, I guess he is."

Akane made a disgusted face at the unconscious cursed teen, and stalked away to deal with the Hentai Horde's latest gathering. Ranma idly wondered if he should beat them all into painful submission, just to avoid the hassle.

"That was a pretty quick reaction you showed there," Nabiki said, walking next to Ranma as they entered the school.

"Yeah, well, having someone drop out of the sky, screaming about your death will do that to ya."

"Good point, Saotome, good point."


Later, when Ranma was at home, Kasumi brought over the challenge letter, which actually showed up a day before the challenge date, instead of after. Ryoga couldn't even keep track of time, it seemed. Not that Ranma expected Ryoga to show up on time for the challenge, but he did have a plan to break the Lost Pig's local reputation before it even started. He worked out the details with Mara while he cleared a local park of a small gang that had been scaring some of the residents.

On the day of the challenge, not a week later, but the actual day written down, Ranma stood on the field behind the school. A large portion of the students had shown up, and Nabiki could be seen wandering around, checking for the best angles for pictures, and taking bets.

Ranma himself had placed two thousand yen on Ryoga not showing.

He stood in the middle of the yard, waiting. Ranma ignored the whispers coming from around him about the fight, and just waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

By the time two hours had passed, the whispers had changed from the outcome of the fight, to when the challenger would show.

Another two hours, and the whispers became related to if Hibiki Ryoga would show.

By the time the sun had reached the horizon, people had stopped whispering, and were talking in loud voices that this had been a waste of time, and Ryoga obviously wasn't going to show.

When the sun disappeared behind the horizon, and seven hours had passed since Ryoga was supposed to show up, Ranma hammered the last nail into the coffin of Ryoga's reputation.

"IF YOU WERE TOO AFRAID TO FIGHT, YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE ISSUED THE CHALLENGE!" he screamed into the air. "COWARD!"

And everyone around him could only whisper in agreement.


A week later, Ryoga showed. Ranma wasn't waiting for him. There was no crowd gathered to witness the fight, and most people were startled to even see him. In anger, he stopped several of the passing students and demanded to know where Ranma was. When the response was almost always, "Probably in class," Ryoga loudly bellowed that Ranma was running away from the fight, like the weakling that he was. The response to that was even more surprising than the Lost Boy had figured. Everyone within earshot wore a disgusted face, and several openly called him a coward for showing up a week late. More than one simply turned away from him, and walked away.

"But I got lost!" Ryoga objected. "Ranma should have waited for me!"

"You got lost?" someone from the dispersing gathering asked. "And then what? You didn't ask for directions?"

"Or catch a taxi?" someone else interjected.

"Find a map?"

"Ask someone to walk you here?"

"And you expected Saotome to wait here for a week for you to find your way? You are a coward!"

And the students of Furinkan High turned their collective backs, and left for their classes. It wasn't worth being late to listen to someone who was obviously a coward try to explain why everything was all Ranma's fault.


It was to a great surprise when Ranma returned to the Tendo home, that he found Akane with a smile on her face, evidence of recent crying staining her cheeks, and remarkably short hair. Unable to figure out how this had managed to happen again, he was somewhat amazed to learn that Ryoga had apparently gone into a rage, and threw several bandanas in random directions before leaving the school grounds, one of which had gone right for Akane's head. It was only good luck and her own reflexes that saved her from being scalped, but she had twisted her ankle dodging, and it had lopped off her long hair. Doctor Tofu had taken care of the sprain (Ranma guessed correctly that things had gone just like before at the Doctor's) and Kasumi had fixed up her hair.

When asked about whether she had seen Ryoga after that, Akane's expression turned to the familiar losing-my-temper face that Ranma was so familiar with, and she loudly declared that she'd teach that cowardly, bullying, hair-chopping baka of a so-called martial artist a lesson the next time she saw him, monster strength or not!

"Ryoga, that jerk!" she yelled.

Ranma refused to tell anyone why he was laughing so damn hard.


(1) This is Nabiki working with what information she has. She doesn't think he's lying (since, really, he's not), and assumes what she can based off of the limited information she currently possesses.)

Now go and read chapter 3.