Ranma ½

A Scary Thought:

What happened last time: Sorora introduced herself to the crew, and they discovered that Cologne may have found the Amazon Queen.

Chapter 62

XXXXX

Kasumi frowned slightly as she concentrated on healing Makoto's rib. Shampoo sat nearby looking guilty as Ami and Usagi likewise hovered, observing. "You need to be more careful," Kasumi commented, although it was not clear who exactly she was speaking to.

"It's my fault. I said she could get a bit more serious... I guess I wasn't ready yet," Makoto quickly said. "Not nearly as durable... like this," she continued, glancing at Ranma who was currently sparring with Genma a fair ways away.

Kasumi nodded and finished up. "How's it feel?"

"Much better," Makoto replied as she flexed the region and pulled down her shirt to cover herself back up. "I got a long ways to go."

"Still, your progress is remarkable," Ami said. "I was barely able to keep track of you in motion. You're so much faster now."

"See, I told you guys we should all train like this," Makoto said.

"It certainly would be a benefit, but I fear many of us are ill suited to this sort of training," Ami replied. "I also worry a bit that Usagi..."

Usagi hung her head in response, knowing exactly what Ami was hinting at.

"Yes, that is a worry," Kasumi said, then looked at Usagi thoughtfully. "You know, it is so curious I can't feel it. Usagi feels totally normal to me."

"To us too," Makoto replied, looking at Ami who nodded along.

"Yes, I even asked Herb and he said he can detect nothing of Usagi's... ability," Ami looked at Ranma and nodded slightly that he was far enough away to continue quietly. "I at first thought this was because of our armor, and I think that does explain us."

"Well, mostly. Cologne was able to sense a bit of my power," Makoto noted.

"Yes, but probably not enough, by itself to be suspicious."

"Although I suspect strongly now she knows," Kasumi said with a smile.

Ami nodded. "Yes, but it sounds like she learned that through other means. Either way, that doesn't explain Usagi. Her armor isn't functioning anymore. Herb had a theory though. He said that most energy senses we use actually do have a low level blind spot, so very weak energies go unnoticed. The theory about that has been that energy sense for us looks for the repulsion of the opposing source. If it is too weak, it doesn't repulse. However, he theorized if that was true, that it may be bi-directional, and that the weak energy likewise can't sense the strong entity either as it simply isn't strong enough to induce a repulsion effect. It makes sense, as we seem to be the only ones capable of sensing particularly powerful enemies that everyone else seems totally unaware of."

"I suppose, but wouldn't that mean that he couldn't sense her at all? Well, not just him, any of us. I certainly sense her." Kasumi asked as Shampoo joined her to listen more closely.

"No, since we channel an external energy, the energy of our star seed, presumably the matching planet. This means we still have our own energies that can be sensed, but they are of course far weaker by comparison. It is just a theory of course, so it could be wrong, but does make sense. It would also explain why my equipment can sense it, as it is using an entirely different method," Ami replied, prompting Kasumi to nod in acceptance of this. "In a way it is fortunate. Most beings would not be able to sense her for this reason, and the few that could will likely see her as too intimidating to confront."

"I just wish I could control it," Usagi said with a sigh.

"How did you learn to control your other powers?" Kasumi asked.

The senshi looked at each other and shrugged. "We just sorta... knew," Makoto replied.

"Perhaps it is another function of the armor, to instill the knowledge in us directly," Ami offered. "Unfortunately that doesn't help Usagi."

"Still, the ascended don't use armors, so there must be a way," Makoto said.

"Was there any other training methods used?" Kasumi asked, prompting Ami to go into thought.

"I did look to see if there was any formal teachings, but didn't find any. Of course the records are incomplete, unfortunately," Ami replied.

"No mention of training at all?" Kasumi asked in surprise.

"There was practice sessions of course. And I saw some mentions of meditations, but nothing else."

"Meditations?" Kasumi asked.

"Yes. Our predecessors would often take time to meditate, or at least that is what it sounded like," Ami replied, looking at Kasumi. "Is that interesting?"

"Perhaps. Some mental techniques use meditations as training, but without details..." Kasumi answered.

"You mean like going legs crossed and sitting under a waterfall kind of thing?" Usagi asked, prompting Kasumi to laugh.

"Yes, that's the sort of stereotypical meditation, but generally they involve allowing oneself to dive into your own mind. I've used them to simulate fights or combat situations."

Shampoo nodded. "Yes. Use visualization meditation often at village. Help be ready for hard battle that rarely actually see. Although, elder usually help direct."

"I get the impression it is a lot more advanced than just imagining a situation," Ami said and Kasumi nodded.

"It is, and isn't easy to achieve. That said, there are lighter versions as well. Sadly, without knowledge on what to train in, that sort of thing isn't very helpful," Kasumi said although she took note that Usagi seemed to be thinking. "Did you think of something?"

"Oh... I just," Usagi said in a start at being noticed, before taking a second to consider. "I was just thinking that it sounded a little like the times I've talked with my mother... my Moon Kingdom mother, Queen Serenity."

"You can speak directly to her?" Kasumi asked.

"Well, not right now, but when it happens... yeah, I guess I can," Usagi replied.

Ami, at that moment, hit on a thought. "Actually, I think those records may have been referring to meditations that were meant to do exactly that. I mean... not Queen Serenity, but other previous senshi," Ami said, confusing the others. "Sorry, it wasn't plain, but in context they would often speak about connecting with their ancestors. I thought it meant this metaphorically, but as Usagi says, she's actually done it. So, it could be that they were deliberately inducing such a state of mind to allow direct communication."

"Hate to say it, but nice as that is, what good is it to talk with Queen Serenity. She wasn't cosmos and wouldn't know how to control the power any more than Usagi would," Makoto said, deflating Ami a bit.

"Ah, yes, that is true."

"Still could be worth a try," Kasumi replied. "Perhaps you are not limited to speaking to your direct predecessor."

"I don't think you are," Usagi unexpectedly said to everyone's surprise. "I... think I may have spoken to Cosmos already."

"What? When?" Makoto asked.

"When I was in the dream, after I discovered what was going on and was tossed into this pit of darkness... a voice there talked to me. It seemed so... pained. It is the one that told me what to do, to destroy the crystal. I didn't see her, but I think it was Cosmos talking to me," Usagi explained to the others' shock.

"If so, maybe you can talk to her again," Kasumi suggested.

"Yeah... but if it was..." Usagi said with a slight cringe. "I really don't think she's over it, even now."

Ami frowned. "Perhaps, but what other choice do you have but to try? Right now we have no other avenues to explore that seem safe. Kasumi, do you think some technique you know might help here?"

Kasumi nodded. "I can't be sure, but I think there are a few meditations that might do the trick. They aren't quick to learn, but not that difficult either. Would you like to try, Usagi?"

Usagi looked at the others and after a moment of consideration answered, "Yes."

"Very well. Perhaps we'll try on your days off. It takes a while to get into the right state of mind when you first start and that can take a number of hours," Kasumi said.

Usagi nodded in acceptance of this and smiled. "Better than homework!"

"Possibly not," Kasumi said with a weak smile which caused Usagi to slouch.

XXXXX

Across the way, Ranma finished up his morning training with his father, the latter dismissing himself to head to his part time job at Tofu's while Ranma had to soon prepare for school. Still, his mind was little on his education, but rather on the group across the way.

'Kasumi and them sure have been talking a lot lately,' he thought as he partook in a drink of water. 'I'm guessing whatever they can't tell me has something to do with that,' he concluded but quickly dismissed the topic. While curiosity was nagging at him, he had some notion that this was not something he should push. So, instead he turned his mind to another matter.

There was a third party in their morning training, that of Herb. The prince was a common figure at their morning training, but not because he was participating. No. In fact, he rarely ever joined them, and only it seemed when Kasumi insisted. The last time they had done anything together was when prepping for the fight with Rippa and Kitsui, but there his aid was mostly for Shampoo. Since then, he had done very little.

It was not that he didn't train though. Ranma had seen him sparring on occasion with Mint and Lime, but even that was rare. Ranma had always taken this as a sense of superiority from the prince, like he was saying to everyone 'I'm above you.' However, since the recent incidents, he had noticed a different sort of feeling from the prince. He did not know what exactly it was, but particularly today, the prince's attention seemed to be locked on him, instead of his usual interest in Kasumi.

Just as Ranma was considering this, as if sensing Ranma's thoughts, Herb marched over to him. 'Oh, here we go,' Ranma thought and turned to face his chief competitor.

"Saotome," Herb said simply, his gaze intense.

"Yeah, you got beef with me?" Ranma asked.

Herb's eyes narrowed slightly and he glanced at the distant Kasumi before returning to Ranma. "The training ground, in the woods."

"Hmh?" Ranma said, puzzled.

"Meet me there, after your schooling," Herb said, and without further explanation turned and departed.

'Oh?' Ranma thought and smirked. 'Calling me out, huh. Fine. Been waiting a long time to have it out with you.' As he considered this, he too glanced at Kasumi in consideration. 'Should I tell her?'

Before he came to an answer, Kasumi's conversation with the other girls ended and they headed off, presumably to school, while she and Shampoo turned towards him. Casually, Ranma walked over. "Makoto all patched up?"

"Oh yes," Kasumi said and grew thoughtful. "Would either of you be interested in learning my healing techniques? I realized I'm the only one around who seems to have them."

"Shampoo learn!" Shampoo enthusiastically said.

"I would have thought your mom would have taught you," Ranma noted. "Isn't she a healer too?"

"Yes, but she and Shampoo no get along," Shampoo explained.

"Oh right," Ranma replied. "I suppose they could be handy, so I'm game, but I'm working on a bunch of other stuff right now, so might have to hold off."

"Yes, best not to divide your attention too much," Kasumi replied.

"Yeah," Ranma agreed and after another second of thought decided to keep the challenge to himself, but a related thought did hit him. "Say, you haven't spoken to Kuno or Ryoga yet, have you?"

"No," Kasumi said with a sad shake of her head. "I've been so distracted... but you're right, I really should. Especially with this new arrangement... I'll speak to Ryoga today then."

"Shampoo talk to Kuno," Shampoo added quickly, getting an appreciative smile from Kasumi.

"Right. Oh, I got something to attend to after school, so I may be back late. Don't worry," Ranma said before rushing off before he could be questioned on the issue.

"Okay," Kasumi said as he departed, slightly confused.

XXXXX

Later that day, during the school lunch period, that very topic was heavy on Kasumi's mind. She had caught sight of Shampoo approaching Kuno and the pair heading off out of view for what was most certainly her portion of the talk. So, that left Kasumi. She definitely was not looking forward to it.

'Do I really want to drop this on him midday?' She asked herself, quickly giving into a bit of procrastination and declaring, 'No. I'll just tell him we should talk after school.' So comforted, she sought up the boy in question, finding him out in the school yard, his canine companion next to him.

"Ryoga," Kasumi greeted, prompting the boy to look up and quickly jump to his feet.

"Kasumi," he greeted in kind. "Do you need something?"

"Oh no. I just... I need to talk with you... later, after school."

"Oh, sure, no problem," he replied, and Kasumi smiled, ready to leave it at that, but suddenly he spoke up. "No... actually, I have something to say right now."

"Hmh?" Kasumi responded, noticing Ryoga's sudden nervousness.

"Kasumi... I... I can't do it," Ryoga said, confusing her. "Sorry... I mean, I can't... marry you."

"Oh?" Kasumi said in a strange mix of surprise and relief.

Ryoga hung his head. "I've been giving it a lot of thought and... I just can't deal with the kind of... complex situation you have."

"Oh, that's perfectly understandable," Kasumi assured him. "It is rather... complex."

"It's not that I don't-" Ryoga suddenly looked up to declare but Kasumi shook her head.

"I understand, Ryoga. Believe me, I do. If I could possibly... simplify things, I would dearly wish to do so, but it doesn't seem to be possible."

Ryoga once more hung his head and nodded slowly. "If you ever... need me though..."

"Of course," Kasumi replied with a smile. "How have things with... Kodachi been?"

Ryoga sighed. "She's... umm... very... uh..."

"Aggressive?"

"Yeah!" Ryoga agreed quickly, looking back up.

"Would you like for me to speak with her? Or, perhaps I can have Akane attempt to do so?"

Ryoga considered but finally shook his head. "No... I'm still not sure what I want to do."

"Have you tried talking with her?" Kasumi suggested getting Ryoga's full attention. "She has little chance of adjusting if she doesn't know your preferences."

Ryoga considered that and nodded. "Uh... yeah, I suppose. I might try that. Thank you." After a few seconds of silence between them, Ryoga asked, "What was it you wanted to talk about?"

"Oh... it isn't important anymore," Kasumi assured him to which he nodded. The two shared their quick goodbyes before Kasumi headed off, silently sighing in relief. 'Thank goodness for small favors,' she thought before a new voice caught her attention, one she had not heard in some time.

"Kasumi!" Mousse called out as he rushed over.

"Mousse?" Kasumi replied in honest surprise at seeing the boy, particularly at seeing him without his glasses. "It's been... months I think. Where have you been?"

"Uh... I..." Mousse seemed to struggle to reply but shook his head. "Nowhere important."

"You're glasses, did you lose them?" Kasumi asked.

"Uh, no, actually. I don't need them anymore."

"Really?" Kasumi asked in surprise then smiled. "That's wonderful news!"

"Uh.. yeah," he replied, although strangely seemed less than happy about it.

"It is good to see you again. Are you planning on staying?" Kasumi asked.

"I think so, yeah," Mousse answered. "I hear you've been... busy."

"That's one way to put it," Kasumi replied with a sigh.

Mousse looked to the side for a moment in thought before refocusing on Kasumi. "Can I ask you some things?"

"Hmh? I suppose," Kasumi answered.

"Good. It is actually about Shampoo," he explained before continuing. "Do you know her favorite food?"

Kasumi blinked at the oddity of the topic but thought little more on that, instead turning her mind to the question. "Favorite food," Kasumi repeated as she thought. "I'm not positive, but she has shown quite a liking for cream puffs." Mousse frowned, confusing Kasumi. "Is something wrong?"

"No... no, I think that's right. How about her favorite movie?"

"Movie... I can't say which one in particular, but it is most likely a Disney one," Kasumi answered, slightly uplifting Mousse's mood before Kasumi smiled. "She said she'd grown to like them after her father had taken her to see them. It sounds like those were quite fond memories for her."

Mousse's upbeat mood deflated at hearing this. "I never even thought of asking why..." he muttered.

"Hmh?"

"Nothing," Mousse quickly responded before sagging even further. "I really know nothing," he whispered before shaking his head and looking back at Kasumi. "Uh... thank you. I have to go," he said and just as suddenly as he arrived, he rushed off.

Kasumi watched him go, puzzled by the whole affair. Her confusion only grew as Shampoo came up suddenly, looking around intently. "Is something wrong?"

"Thought felt C-chan here," Shampoo replied.

"Oh, no... well, I didn't see her," Kasumi replied, looking around herself in some trepidation. "That reminds me that I haven't seen how bad my cat fear still is," she noted before refocusing on Shampoo who was frowning. "Oh, you just missed Mousse, by the way."

"Mousse? He just here?" Shampoo asked, wide eyed.

"Yes. I was speaking with him," Kasumi answered, causing Shampoo to frown once again. Shampoo nodded, deep in thought. "Is something wrong?"

Shampoo considered. "No know. Shampoo deal with. You no need worry about," she replied.

Kasumi accepted this. "You spoke with Kuno?"

Shampoo once more nodded. "Yes. He... understand."

'I suspect it wasn't quite that easy, but I'll not inquire,' Kasumi thought. "I spoke to Ryoga as well. Seems he had already concluded he should withdraw."

"Is for best," Shampoo said to which Kasumi nodded in agreement.

XXXXX

"That sucks pal," Ranma consoled Kuno as the other laid his chin on the surface of his desk.

"It was a dream beyond my reach," Kuno replied and sighed. "But nay, I somehow knew this day was coming."

"So, you're out? For real?" Ranma asked and Kuno reluctantly nodded.

"I have troubled Kasumi too much in the past to let myself fall to such single mindedness again. I will merely content myself with wishing for her happiness from the sidelines."

Ranma nodded before noting Kuno intently looking at him. "Hmh?"

"I have heard nothing of you being excluded. That means it remains between you and Herb and Ryoga-"

"Ryoga's out too," Ranma interjected before conceding, "and yeah, seems me and Herb are the last ones standing."

Kuno huffed and straightened. "Then I trust you will see to it this foreign prince does not whisk Kasumi away?"

"Trying my best on that front. Speaking of said prince, he's called me out."

"Oh?" Kuno remarked.

"Yeah. Supposed to meet him tonight at the training ground in the woods."

Kuno considered. "A secluded location for a duel."

Ranma nodded in agreement. "That's why I'm thinking. Ultimately don't matter much. Kasumi's the one choosing, not us, but I'm not backing down."

"Unless he means to be rid of you through more forceful means," Kuno cautioned.

Ranma considered this. "I don't think so. Oh, he intends a fight alright, but he is no idiot. He knows damn well Kasumi would never have anything to do with him if he pulled some kind of serious stunt, and it wasn't like he was trying to hide this."

Kuno nodded. "Still, be on your guard. I will pray for your victory."

Ranma smiled. "I got him. Don't you worry. So, what are your plans?"

Kuno considered. "A good question indeed. That new girl... Ranko? Yes, do you think-"

"Nah," Ranma quickly dismissed the option. "Think you're better looking elsewhere."

Kuno reluctantly nodded in acceptance of this.

XXXXX

'Just had to pick a spot in the middle of nowhere,' Ranma thought in annoyance as he finally approached the forest training ground. While the location was one they had used a few times before, and actually did have relatively convenient bus access, it was still over an hour out. 'Of course, that's probably exactly why he did pick it,' Ranma concluded as the camp came into sight.

Herb was already waiting. That much was not surprising. What was a bit curious was that he was not in his usual armor. Sure it was mostly decorative, but he'd never engaged in anything serious without it. Ranma briefly played with the idea that he had read the intents wrong, but when Herb rose to meet him, already stretching in preparation, Ranma reaffirmed his original conclusion.

Ranma came to the camp and gave the area a pick once over. As expected, they were alone, so he focused on the prince. "Alright, I'm here," Ranma said, crossing his arms. "So, what now?"

"You still intend to seek Kasumi's hand in marriage, yes?" Herb asked.

Ranma shrugged. "Honestly, I'm mostly along for the ride right now, but if you're asking if I can be... encouraged to give up, then no."

"Hmph," Herb huffed. "Your lack of... enthusiasm annoys me."

"I'm sure it does. It isn't like I don't like her... I do like her, but this has always been our parents' idea and we've both just been going along with it. Really haven't had much opportunity to really deeply consider it, but right now, I can say I don't have anything against it," Ranma replied honestly.

"And what of Ukyo?"

Ranma considered. "If you're asking if I love her, I... don't think so, but I do care about her," Ranma replied.

Once more Herb huffed in annoyance at the response. "Then your current chief concern seems to be that of honor or obligation, correct?"

Ranma considered and gave a slight nod. "I suppose that's close enough."

Herb considered, shaking his head slightly before refocusing on Ranma. "Very well, then show what strength you possess!" the prince commanded as his aura flared to life.

Ranma grinned. "Oh I've been waiting for this," he confidently declared as fell back into a fighting posture before beckoning Herb to make the first move.

Herb obliged, rising into the air then swooping down upon Ranma. With that, the fight was on.

XXXXX

'What was I thinking?' Mousse thought as he trudged down the street. The plan had seemed fine. Learn all he could about Shampoo and prove himself superior to Kasumi by comparing notes as it were. However, in less than a minute Kasumi had, without even realizing it, completely gutted his strategy by showing the fundamental flaw with it.

'I know nothing! I know a bunch of useless trivia. Sure I might know the exact movie Shampoo likes the most, but I have no idea why!' He sighed heavily. "I'm a total idiot," he muttered before noticing his wandering had taken him back to Tofu's. 'Why am I... oh I feel a compulsion to go inside. She summoned me, didn't she! I hate this.'

Quickly concluding resisting was pointless he proceeded into the doctor's office, although very quickly catching an ongoing conversation between Frost and Shampoo.

"I'm just keeping him out of trouble," Frost nervously said.

"That is not your place to decide for him," Shampoo replied flatly as Mousse came into the room.

Shampoo immediately turned to him and frowned. "Just as I thought. You're C-chan."

"How-" Mousse began to ask but Shampoo answered before he could even complete the question..

"Spirit sense. I've sensed you as C-chan before," Shampoo replied before crossing her arms and looking at Frost. "Free him from whatever magic you have on him," Shampoo ordered.

Frost cringed. "But, he's going to be-"

"I don't care. I'll deal with it if I have to," Shampoo countered quickly causing Frost to hang her head.

"Alright," she finally conceded. Still in a bit of shock over the whole situation, Mousse was rather surprised as Frost walked over to him and touched his forehead. A quick incantation and he felt suddenly lighter, as if a weight he did not even know was there had been removed from him. "It's done."

"I'm really... I'm not under the enchantment anymore?" Mousse asked in uncertainty.

"No. You're technically still a familiar, but a free one," Frost replied, noting a frown from Shampoo. "I can't change that without removing the eye magic too. It isn't going to hurt him any."

"It's fine," Mousse quickly confirmed to Shampoo. "I can even control my curse... kinda."

Shampoo was a bit surprised by this, but finally nodded. "Okay." Shampoo gave one last look at Frost, sighed and left without further word.

Mousse hesitated, looking at Frost who pouted and looked away, before heading after Shampoo. "Shampoo, wait!"

"No even start."

"I... wasn't..." Mousse started to say before catching up and matching her pace. "I just... wanted to thank you." Shampoo huffed but said nothing. "Why-"

"Shampoo had enough of such magic, that is all," she replied.

'Right... I guess she has had a rather bad set of experiences with it,' Mousse thought.

"Does Akane know?" Shampoo asked.

"No," Mousse replied honestly. "She knows I'm C-chan, even that I talk and can take human form, but not that I'm... Mousse." Shampoo frowned and looked at him, prompting him to keep explaining. "I lost my memory when she took me as her pet, and ever since I remembered I've made sure to not take advantage of the situation at all."

Shampoo mutely nodded, apparently accepting this. "What you doing now?"

"I haven't decided," Mousse replied before noticing Shampoo once more studying him with a level glare. Under the scrutiny, Mousse hesitated, looking away before looking down. "I... you don't have to worry about me anymore."

"Oh?" Shampoo replied, clearly unconvinced. "Is not Frost talking?"

"Huh, uh, no," Mousse answered quickly. "It's... I've had a lot of time to think. I thought maybe if I... it doesn't matter. I realized I've been rather foolish till now. Akane kinda made me realize that."

"Hmm," Shampoo replied before returning her gaze ahead. "You like her?"

Mousse blinked in surprise as he looked up before considering. "Yes... but it is impossible," he replied honestly. "Besides, she's got eyes on Tofu. I'd rather help her with that, than try to make something work that has no realistic chance."

Shampoo looked back at him in some surprise and lightly nodded. "You can stay at restaurant if want."

Mousse shook his head. "No. I think it best I stay elsewhere. I'm sure Tofu still could use some help, or I can find someplace else."

Shampoo shrugged. "If you wish. Have plenty of room though," she said.

"Thank you... and thank you for... talking with Frost."

Shampoo huffed. "Know what she do... dumb, but don't get in feud with her," she cautioned.

"I won't," Mousse replied with a more annoyed tone. "As much as I hate it, I did come out of this sorta ahead. Doesn't mean I'm about to forgive her though."

Shampoo accepted this with a nod and the two parted ways.

XXXXX

'Bloody Hell!' Ranma cursed mentally as he completed his latest escape. He quickly found himself a particularly good set of trees and hid himself while simultaneously concentrating to suppress his aura.

"Is all you know how to do is retreat?!" Herb called out, unseen and distant.

'Yeah, starting to feel like that,' Ranma conceded. 'I have to give him credit, he's not the glass cannon I took him for.' Mentally he reviewed the fight to this point. Herb had been dominant the whole time, and as pained as he was to admit it, for good reason. He seemed to have counters thought up to every one of Ranma's strategies. Every technique he had thought to deploy against the prince, Herb had an answer to it, sometimes mirroring or outdoing him at it. Seeing Herb use the Flicker step better than him was perhaps the most galling! 'I just learned that the other day! Damn copycat! Worse than Ken!

'He's been studying everybody all this time. I've seen elements of Kasumi's, Shampoo's, Rippa's, Ukyo's, Pop's, and my own techniques among others. Thank god he hasn't deployed any Ha Do or Burning Soul nonsense or I'd be truly screwed!' Ranma thought with a mix of frustration and respect. 'Still, he's had me dead to rights several times now, and hasn't followed through. I don't think that's just arrogance. He's trying to get me to show him my all. Of course, at this point I'm not sure I have anything left.'

Ranma quietly sighed before repositioning. 'Okay, okay, think Ranma! What would Pops do?' he asked himself and quickly frowned, remembering a piece of advice from his father.

"When you know you're beat, there is no shame in groveling and retreat to fight another day," Genma had said to him some time ago.

'Yeah, screw you, Pops! You're useless. No way I'm giving up!' Ranma thought bitterly before thinking of other sources of inspiration. He hit upon Rippa, remembering a conversation with him during one of their training sessions.

"So, that Herb character is also out to marry Kasumi? I'd be careful of him," Rippa had said.

"Oh, why?"

"He's serious business. Honestly, I think he's out of your league."

Ranma had scoffed at this. "I'm not afraid of him."

"Careful, your stupidity is showing," Rippa chiding with a smile.

"Think I can't beat him?"

"I didn't say that," Rippa replied. "After all, you're a master of the Anything Goes School are you not? If all else fails, you can always fall back onto what you do best..."

In the current time, Ranma quietly completed the line, 'fight dirty.' The advice was sadly sound. He did not like it. Sure, he was perfectly fine with exploiting some weaknesses, and finding nuances to rules he could exploit, but straight up taking off the proverbial gloves and getting into the mud was unpalatable. 'Still, at this point, what choice do I have?'

Resigned, Ranma considered a wider set of options, immediately focusing on one particular truth he'd noticed. 'Close up, I still think I have the advantage. Problem is, he knows that, and no matter what I've tried I can't close the gap reliably. Even when I do, as he is, I'm not doing that much damage. So... yeah, now where was that again?... right, should be right over that ridge.'

Nodding to himself he laid out plans. Herb would be surely expecting this form of attack, and would surely know the lay of the land just as well as Ranma. So, there was only one thing for it.

Breaking cover, Ranma leapt to a nearby stone and called out, "Hey, Princess! All you know how to do is throw around light shows?!"

The response was expected and immediate as a bolt of energy shot out from the nearby woods. Ranma dodged at the last instant, knowing any sooner would let the prince arc the shot to compensate. The blast went safely by, shattering a tree trunk behind him which Ranma took little note of, instead concentrating on reading his opponent as he stalked out of the woods and into clear view.

"Is all you know to do is throw insults?" Herb asked.

"I figured since you were screwing around, I might as well too," Ranma replied, causing Herb's eyes to narrow. "If you're fighting for Kasumi, you don't seem so enthusiastic about it yourself," Ranma said with a dismissive gesture.

Herb clenched his teeth. "You dare..."

"Of course I dare," Ranma replied, more seriously. "After all, you ordained yourself her guardian running off to that place. Look how that turned out." He said the words convincingly but inwardly Ranma winced. 'Sorry man, but if this is what it takes.'

Indeed it had the desired response as Herb lost his composure. "What do you know?!" he roared a let off a huge blast, which Ranma once more dodged from. "You think you could have done better!" He yelled, repeating the attack to equal effect.

"Couldn't do much worse, now could I!" Ranma called back as he retreated over the ridge.

Herb gave chase, following Ranma's aura perfectly, and timing an energy blast just as he crested the ridge. It was perfectly placed and timed, just as Ranma knew it would be, and hurt like hell, driving Ranma directly into the river like a bullet. 'Perfect!' Ranma thought in triumph as the back splash from the massive impact sent a rain of water in every direction, and right into Herb, triggering his curse.

Herb realized her folly a second later just as Ranma bounced back from the river and closed the gap with a flicker. Ranma did not let the opportunity go to waste, hammering the transformed prince with several kicks and punches. It was not a victory condition, however, as Herb quickly recovered even under the onslaught and let out a massive blast of energy, forcing Ranma back.

'He may be able to compensate for the lack of ki using that technique he taught Shampoo, but that does nothing for his actual body. Plus, if Shampoo is to be trusted, even with that technique it takes up valuable concentration to perform,' Ranma thought as he squared off with Herb once more. "Yeah, that form suits you much better," Ranma taunted, causing the Herb to glower.

"Do not think this will grant you victory," Herb quietly replied.

"Oh, I'm not that stupid, but like it or not, you just lost quite a bit of your edge. Now, bring it, Princess!" Ranma urged, beckoning Herb once more onto the attack.

"As you wish!" Herb replied and bombarded the area with blasts.

XXXXX

Around that moment, back in Nerima at the restaurant, Kasumi was pondering the mutual absence of Herb and Ranma. 'It is rather unusual for both of them to be out at the same time,' she thought as she came down the main stairs to the kitchen. She paused, however, on seeing a rather unexpected party hovering at the entryway, that of Ukyo.

Ukyo quickly noticed Kasumi, frowned and headed up the stairs. Kasumi watched after her till she left.

"She's been hanging around the kitchen for hours on and off," Crystal said, prompting Kasumi to turn to her.

"Is she considering joining the kitchen staff?" Kasumi asked but Crystal shrugged.

"I'm not sure, but I'm not getting that... vibe from her," Crystal replied.

"I wish I could help, but..."

"Oh yes, I understand," Crystal replied. "Were you looking for me?" she asked.

"Yes, I was wondering if you had a schedule all setup for everyone?"

Crystal nodded and directed Kasumi out into the front. "I've tried to keep the shifts reasonable for everyone. Herb still wishes to 'earn his keep' as he says, so he has the most, but since the rest of you are attending school I've kept them rather limited, enough for some spending money as it were, but nothing that should interfere with their studies," Crystal explained as she handed over a book.

"That's good," Kasumi said as looked over the contents which had the hours neatly laid out and nodded approvingly.

"There is one matter I was thinking of," Crystal said, regaining Kasumi's attention. "It's the barrier. It is drawing... some attention."

"Oh?"

"Nothing bad, but we have had some... interesting visitors. Tokyo does have a number of different parties around, and is a hub of transit as well," she explained.

"Is that going to be a problem?"

"An opportunity, actually. We might be able to offer more... specialized services for such visitors."

"Like what?" Kasumi asked.

Crystal frowned in thought. "I'm still considering. A secure place to stay might interest some."

"I think Nabiki suggested something like that," Kasumi noted. "However, I'm not sure we're up to it."

"I agree. For now I think we'll just gauge things and see how they go before considering any expansion of services. I particularly would like to gauge the type of crowd we attract. Barrier or no, that sort of thing can be unpredictable. Still, you have already played host to quite a number of such parties, so there is definite potential there, and forming wide reaching bonds can prove quite useful."

Kasumi blinked in some surprise at the suggestion, to which Crystal merely smiled. "It... might be worth considering."

"Yes... but not today. I just wished to bring up the matter so you were aware," she said and accepted the schedule book back from Kasumi. "Everything is on track for the opening."

"That's good. I'm kind of missing the old restaurant duties," Kasumi said to which Crystal smiled and nodded.

Just then, the main door opened, prompting both to look over, but it was merely a member of the staff coming in. However, Kasumi frowned. "Do you happen to know where Ranma or Herb went?"

"No," Crystal replied honestly. "Herb said he would be out most of the day, but did not elaborate, and I didn't hear anything from Ranma."

Kasumi nodded but continued to think for a moment. It was then the obvious struck her. "Oh dear..." she said aloud before looking around in a bit of a panic.

"What is it?"

"I suspect they are... meeting somewhere, and not likely of a friendly variety."

"Oh!" Crystal said with a knowing nod. "Well, there is nothing to be done about it but wait, I'm afraid."

"Wait?" Kasumi repeated in surprise.

"You don't know where they went, right? I doubt they communicated it to anyone if they didn't tell you, which was probably on purpose," Crystal analyzed to which Kasumi could only agree. "I don't think there is anything serious to worry about. While they may have issues with each other, they are both smart enough to not take it too far."

"I hope you're right," Kasumi said, but was eased slightly. "Nonetheless, I'll ask the others if they said anything."

"Of course. I'll ask around as well, but I doubt they would say anything to the other staff."

Nodding, Kasumi departed.

XXXXX

Ranma's breath was heavy as he once more faced off with Herb. Unlike earlier in their battle though, the transformed prince was little better off, exhaustion clear as her breathing too was labored and she could not even maintain a full upright posture. They had both mutually spent their endurance many times over. However, neither stood down, and with one more mutual burst of remaining energy they rushed, or rather hobbled at each other, both throwing punches that solidly connected with the other's chin.

It mattered little. The punches had no strength to them. In fact, it was the motion itself that finally did them both in as neither could recover from it. Ranma stumbled forward, spun slightly, and then his legs buckled beneath him. It was all he could do to aim for a nearby tree trunk and collapse against it.

'That's it... for real this time... I really, really mean it, I got nothing left...' Ranma thought. It was the fourth such declaration from him in the past hour, but truly this time it seemed absolute. None of his limbs would respond, exhausted beyond all measure from having been taken to their limit, and beyond, and beyond that. No matter what mental tricks Ranma tried, there was nothing to be done.

At that moment it was all he could to maintain his half sitting posture against the tree. Every muscle was screaming from over exertion. Even breathing was taxing and painful. Truly, when he thought back, he could not recall a single time he had reached this low of a point. Even his battle with Rippa felt like a minor skirmish right now.

As Ranma considered this, on the opposite side of the tree he heard Herb give out a quiet but pained groan that mirrored his own feeling. 'So, that's where he ended up,' Ranma thought. "Alright... I'm ready for another... round. Bring it on," Ranma bluffed.

Out of sight, Herb let out the slightest of huffs followed by another groan. "What do you... plan to use... more harsh language?"

"Sure... I know all the insults... and I got plenty left," Ranma said with a slight smile before his aching ribs shot him a warning that if he even so much as thought about laughing, they would skip town.

Herb huffed once more and a long moment of silence passed between them. "You are... more tenacious... than I gave you... credit for," Herb struggled to say.

Ranma considered before replying, "You're not so... bad yourself. And here... I thought I... had you pegged. I thought... I knew all your moves. I thought... you were just... fixated on Kasumi. No, you've been watching us... all this time. Think I saw... hints of practically... everyone in your attacks. Kasumi, Shampoo, Rippa, Kitsui, Ukyo, even me."

"Of course... a trifle for a member of the... dragon clan."

"Show off."

Herb huffed. "What? Did you believe... I would simply stand idly by as you trained to surpass me?"

This time Ranma huffed. 'Honestly, it may have been a bit foolish, but yeah, I did,' he thought but said nothing.

Again silence passed between them for a long time before Herb finally spoke once again. "You can't protect her," he said, but not as a denigration. Slightly puzzled by this, Ranma turned slightly, as much as his weakened state allowed. "I can't protect her," Herb added a moment later.

'Oh, is that what's biting you?' Ranma thought, before returning to his original position. He considered for a minute before conceding, "No. I guess not." Getting no response, after another moment, Ranma added. "All the more... reason to get stronger..." He once more shifted toward the prince. "Right?"

He heard a slight shuffle before Herb replied. "Yes."

Ranma nodded and returned to his relaxed position. "You didn't use the Ha Do, or the Burning Soul. That would have easily cinched a victory. You weren't holding back on me, were you?"

"No. Both techniques are incompatible with me. Believe me, I tried. They would require substantial modification to work with my energy system."

"Hmh... guess that checks out," Ranma replied, finally gaining some control of his limbs once again.

"And what of you? Is trickery and deception your main talent?"

Ranma huffed. "Do what works, whatever it takes. You think those jerks are going to play fair and honorable?"

"No, I suppose not."

"Besides, your stamina and endurance sucks," Ranma said, gaining a huff from Herb. "It's true. You had me early on, but you spent so much of your strength you ran out of gas and just a few hits from me were outdoing whole barrages from you."

Herb huffed once more, but this time it seemed to Ranma's ear as one of acceptance of the critique. Another minute passed in silence allowing Ranma to look to the sky. "You really love her, don't you?" Ranma asked.

"Yes. More than I once thought possible," Herb replied.

"So I guess it pisses you off that I don't feel the same?"

Herb huffed. "Yes, but strangely I understand perfectly. Before meeting her, I expected I would come to feel for my eventual companion just as you: slowly, as a matter of obligation... I never expected to have so strong a reaction."

Ranma nodded silently. "Yeah, hard to predict I guess," he said after a moment. After another minute of silence he sighed and stated the obvious, "There is no way we'll make it back to Nerima in this shape."

"We are in agreement on that," Herb responded.

"Taxi it is... even that's going to be difficult. Nearest phone is probably... an hour or so away?"

"At least two," Herb replied.

"Right," Ranma said and applying every ounce of will he had, he forced his body up to a standing position. "No sense hanging here anymore." He slowly circled the tree to stand over Herb. 'You know, without the armor on, and looking all down like that, pretty easy to forget she's a guy on the inside,' Ranma thought before offering his hand. "So, truce then?"

Herb looked up at the offered hand, frowned and took it, allowing Ranma to aid her to her feet. "Very well," she replied quietly and together the two began their very slow march home.

"I'll get there before you."

"You never quit, do you?"

"Never!"

"Hmh... we shall see then who is the swiftest," Herb declared as both tried their best to quicken their pace.

XXXXX

Sure enough, it was several hours later when the pair arrived home by taxi. They barely made it through the front door before being confronted by Kasumi who immediately went from slightly disappointed to deeply concerned.

"We're fine," Ranma assured her before Kasumi could say a word.

"I do not call that fine," Kasumi retorted. "You both look like you were run over by a herd of elephants."

"We have sustained no serious injuries," Herb said but Kasumi quickly urged them into the Karaoke common room, both doing their respective best not to wince with each step. Shampoo soon joined them, moving to aid them as strength threatened to fail once more.

"Whatever were you doing?" Kasumi asked as she guided Ranma to a seat, Shampoo doing the same with Herb.

"We were having a friendly discussion, right?" Ranma said, looking at Herb.

"Of course," Herb agreed.

"Friendly?!" Kasumi echoed with a frown, but when both refused to reveal more, she was forced to simply sigh in defeat. "Fine, just sit still. I'll do my best to mend the worst of it," she said before looking at Shampoo. "Actually, this is as good a time as any. Shampoo, I'll guide you through some of the basics, okay?"

Shampoo nodded and began to listen intently as Kasumi began her instruction. As they both started healing some of the wounds, Kasumi asked. "So... you talked?"

"Yeah. I think we came to an... understanding," Ranma said.

"Yes," Herb agreed.

Kasumi looked between the two skeptically, but finally let herself smile just a little.

XXXXX

The restaurant was closed up for the day by the time Ranma had recovered enough to properly move about. Still, he decided to simply relax for a while to further recover as the others headed off to their respective rooms.

'Man... going to be sore tomorrow,' he thought with a faint smile and fatigue nearly took over and lulled him to sleep when he heard some cursing in the distance. He sat up, wondering for just a moment if he had imagined it, but decided to investigate.

He made it to the main entryway when Ukyo's distinct growl of frustration came from the kitchen. 'Okay, now what?' he wondered as he headed in. There he found Ukyo tossing a piece of toast onto a pile in annoyance. "Get the munchies?" he asked curiously, startling her.

"I... no... I..." Ukyo said in a bit of a panic as she spun to meet Ranma. After a moment of further false starts, she finally hung her head. "I was... practicing."

"Practicing?" Ranma repeated, walking over to the finished toast, seeing a pile at least a loaf worth high. "Practicing toast?"

"I know it is stupid," Ukyo quickly said. "I don't even know what I'm doing wrong," she explained further but this only served to further confuse Ranma.

He picked up the latest piece. "Well, damn, this is the most perfectly evenly toasted bread I have ever seen," he commented and took a bite. "Seems fine to me. Could use some butter I suppose."

"It is supposed to be dry, and it is all wrong!" Ukyo countered.

"How so?" Ranma asked, now thoroughly puzzled, examining the toast but not seeing anything out of sorts.

Ukyo sighed. "It's... the priest said it lacked... confidence."

Ranma raised an eyebrow skeptically at this. 'Right, I remember her talking about something like this before.' He once more looked at the toast, but then lightly shook his head. 'Don't know about how you can tell from the toast, but still she's not exactly seeming all that confident right now.'

"I'm just no good at all," Ukyo said, prompting Ranma to immediately scoff.

"That's Baloney," he replied. "Look, I don't know about this priest, or what he said, but I know you're an excellent cook. Maybe you don't reach his lofty standards, but that doesn't mean you're 'no good at all'."

Ukyo looked away, but did not argue the matter. Ranma sighed. 'I'm guessing the business with Kasumi has pretty much killed her last line of mental defense. That's probably why this is bugging her so much now,' he thought before huffing slightly. 'Funny enough, Me, Herb, even Shampoo, all in Kasumi's orbit and all seem to have had our world and motivations upended in her wake. Ukyo's no different it seems.'

"Come on, time to call it a night. Clearly this route isn't what you need to work on. I'm sure you'll find it, whatever it is, though," Ranma said and Ukyo reluctantly nodded before heading upstairs. 'Hmm, wonder if I should go see this priest and talk with him?' he wondered, but decided for now not to force the issue and headed up behind her.

XXXXX

End Chapter 62

Next time in A Scary Thought: It is time for Frost to depart and greater pieces begin to move.

For those a bit confused on the crossovers: Usagi, Rei, Minako, Makoto, Ami, Haruka, Michiru, Hotaru, Setsuna, Luna, and Artemis are all from Sailor Moon. Kitsune has her ties to the X-files, but only in that she's a fanatic of similar interests rather than appearing in said show. Saki and Sampei are from Sukeban Deka. You may also notice Frost borrowing a spell from here or there; in particular Gargoyles and Illusionaries are two prime targets. Speaking of Gargoyles, if you're a fan of the series you may have already figured this out, but La Bac is Cabal spelt backwards. Also Gen-U-Tech is also a business from Gargoyles. Does that mean this is a Gargoyles crossover? At this point, probably not. I have tried to square the circle of Gargoyles time travel mechanics with my story and it just isn't working and unfortunately they are too key to Gargoyles continuity to just ignore so most likely Gargoyles will remain just a shout out kinda crossover but not official. Anyway, besides that we have Chun Li, Rose, Shadow Lady, Shadow, Gill and the previously shown Karin and Sakura which come from Street Fighter series (Rose, Karin and Sakura from Street Fighter Alpha 3, Shadow and Shadow Lady from Marvel vs Capcom, Chun Li from much of the Street Fighter series, and now Gill from Street Fighter III). As for Ranko, well she's from my other major fanfic, Most Unlikely of Friends, although you can largely consider her standard Ranma trapped in female form for most purposes. And lastly comes dear old Siren who is from Dreiser's story 'Black Rose Blue Thunder'. I won't be using her much but she fits a temporary need. Be Dea comes from D B. Sommers fic Shampoo ½, and if you haven't read it, do so, now! I've also previously mentioned Perfume from same fic (although this story has two Perfumes being mentioned, the other being from my own Most Unlikely of Friends). Garnet was first mentioned by Jim Bader in A Very Scary thought I believe, but whatever the case I don't believe he ever actually appeared in any of Jim's stories, although I could be wrong. As already mentioned, Miku, Neru and Haku are vocaloid character, but just cameo's for them.

On a side note for those crossovers, it recently came to my attention that some believe I am crossed with Negima. I'm actually not, but out of curiosity I checked out Negima and could certainly see the similarities (a lot of them in fact, and was quite surprised seeing as I had never even heard of Negima until it was mentioned). That got the proverbial wheels in my head turning about potential crossovers so... maybe, but don't count on it. As Uq Holder, Negima's continuation, is still in progress and throwing in all kinds of new curve balls, I'll probably be forced to steer clear.

Speaking of things I'm not crossed with, two notable ones are Ah My Goddess and Tenchi! Jim liked to use the latter a great deal, and I believe he might have used the former too, although less sure on that, but either way I have decided both are ultimately incompatible with my vision of my story world.

Oh, something new cross over wise to speak about this chapter, and that is Miyuki. Not long ago I discovered there is a Sukaban Deka manga and it has a LOT more content than the anime covered. Now, for the most part I'm ignoring the manga canon particulars as they already contradict the anime canon which I used for the basis of the cross over. However, I will be taking some inspiration from it. The first bits being for Saki's backstory and the existence of her sister Miyuki. While there is obviously nothing in the manga about the mother being an Amazon, it actually fits reasonably well with what is there, so with a bit of a massage that is what we have here.

Website... does my website even exist anymore? Well, I have it on my hard drive still, but that hardly counts. Needless to say, if you do stumble on it, it's hopelessly out of date.