Disclaimer: None of the characters belong to me. I only use them to hopefully tell an interesting tale and I don't make any money with this.

Chapter 2

The boy froze for a brief moment like a deer caught in the headlights at seeing the beautiful and very naked brunette in front of him, but before Kasumi could react he was already at her side, clamping one hand over her mouth while reaching for the showerhead with the other.

He looked to be about 13-14 years old, had long black hair that fell down to the small of his back, blue eyes and a well toned and well muscled body that was covered with old, faded scars. It was obvious that he had trained a lot and must have seen his fair share of fights.

Not letting go of the squirming Kasumi for even a moment he opened the cold water tap and sprayed himself with the water beam. Kasumi's eyes widened as the unknown boy transformed into the cute redheaded girl that she had met the day before. That proved to be too much for the older girl and she promptly fainted.

'Damn', Ranma thought while pacing the bathroom. 'What should I do? I can't have her blab what she saw to the world. I guess I'll just have to swear her to secrecy. I don't think there will be any problems. After all, I was going to tell her about the curse anyway before starting her training. I just hope she won't hold it against me. With the potential she has it would be a shame if she should decide to decline my offer'.

Ranma quickly put on some fresh underwear, consisting of plain white panties and a simple white bra, pulled on some blue, form fitting denim trousers and a red tee-shirt. She took Kasumi into her arms and opened the bathroom door after having done an aura scan to make sure the coast was clear. Not sensing anyone she darted to Kasumi's room and lay the unconscious girl on the bed.

She lightly tapped Kasumi on her cheeks several times until the brunette came to. The older girl opened her eyes and after seeing Mei she relaxed a bit, but stiffened immediately after remembering the scene she had witnessed in the bathroom and that had made her lose consciousness. "You... You're the boy I saw in the bathroom, right? You got a Jusenkyo curse. That means... you're Ranma, aren't you?" She asked tentatively.

Ranma just stared incredulously at the brunette and nodded her head. "How...?"

"How did I guess?" Kasumi asked with a slight smirk. "Well, it's obvious. Genma transforms into a panda with cold water. So I'm well aware of the curses. And here there is a boy who transforms into a girl, practices Anything Goes, and is well aware of Genma's less than exemplary conduct... Need I tell more?"

"No, that won't be necessary," the redhead said, looking very sad and close to tears. I am Ranma. I-I'm sorry for deceiving you, but I was going to tell you my secret before starting to train you. You're probably very disappointed and I can understand if you don't want to have anything to do with me any longer. I'm really sorry. I'll just leave and never darken the steps of your home with my presence again. And I also want to apologize for seeing you naked. I assure you I am not a pervert."

Throwing a dejected look at Kasumi she turned around and prepared to leave.

Before she was to the door she could feel a hand holding her arm. She looked at Kasumi, expecting to see a hateful expression on the older girl's face, but to her surprise said girl was smiling.

"Please stay," Kasumi said in a soft tone and a hopeful expression on her face. "I know you are not a pervert. I should have checked before entering the bathroom. It was my fault. And I won't hold your curse against you. I can understand why you don't want to reveal your condition to the world. There probably are a lot of people out there who wouldn't understand and treat you like a freak. You're my friend and I value our friendship, how short it might have been. And it's not like you hid your true identity with malicious intent. But I insist that you tell me the whole story. The real one, not the one you told us yesterday. Friends shouldn't keep any secrets from each other and I swear that I won't hold it against you. So please, don't leave."

Ranma sighed and sat down on Kasumi's bed. "All right, I'll tell you the story, but first I'll check your wound. Just wait here, I'll be back in a minute." Ranma went to her room to get her first aid kit. After returning to Kasumi's side she undid the bandage and lifted the poultice. Seeing that the stab wound looked a lot better she took a jar filled with a greasy cream out of the kit and rubbed it on the wound. She grabbed a fresh roll of bandages and tied them around the wound. "You should rest today just to be on the safe side. We will start training tomorrow.

Ah yes, before I forget. At what time do the others generally get up? I don't want them to overhear our conversation. It's very important that as few people as possible are made aware of my old identity. Promise me that you won't tell anyone without my permission."

Kasumi looked into her friend's eyes. "I promise I won't tell anyone."

The brunette saw Ranma visibly relaxing after hearing the promise and it seemed like a heavy weight had been lifted off the younger girl's soul.

"Akane usually gets up at seven and father and Nabiki at half past seven. I get up at half past five for some training and preparing breakfast. Normally I don't use the furo at this time, but since my wound prevents me from training anyway I thought it would be nice to take a nice, warm bath. Thank God it's almost completely healed."

"All right. That leaves us more than enough time. Just so you know, I'll only tell you parts of the story for now. To hear the complete version you'll have to make a very important, life changing decision first. I'll tell you what it is once we arrive at that part of the story."

For the next thirty minutes Ranma told the story of a boy who was forced to leave his home when he was only six years old and was trained to be the best martial artist in the world. She left nothing out; not the insane training methods such as the neko-ken, nor the physical and psychological abuse he had had to endure 'for the sake of the art', or even the very few positive experiences he had had like meeting his best friend Ukyo or the kindness he had been shown in some temples and dojos. From time to time Ranma stopped to recompose herself as she was overcome by her emotions and had to be comforted by a teary-eyed and sympathetic Kasumi who couldn't understand how it was possible for a father to treat his child like that. She had always thought that her life had been harsh, but that was nothing compared to what Ranma's had been like and all the hardships the child had known in her short life. Finally, she explained about the fateful day at Jusenkyo that would dramatically change 'his' life… "And just as I was about to plunge the tanto into my belly someone stopped my hand."

****FLASHBACK****

Ranma looked up in shock at the person who had so casually stopped her from killing herself. The man seemed to be 22-23 years old, was very tall, and his toned body, lean muscles, and spiked, brown hair gave him a wild and handsome appearance. But as the shock wore off the young girl became enraged at this stranger's audacity. Who was he to deny her the right to end her miserable existence? "What do you think you're doing?" She shouted while hitting him repeatedly in the chest, tears running down her cheeks. "Stay out of this! It's none of your business what I do with my life!"

The man just slapped her before venomously laying into her, the disgust at the redhead's suicide attempt clearly audible in his tone. "How dare you?" Life is too precious to be thrown away on a whim. I don't know what reason you have for trying to commit such an act, but I won't allow it. There's always a solution to any problem. Killing oneself is the coward's way out. And I don't think you are a coward. From the energy output I sensed earlier you must be an accomplished warrior. All the more reason to continue on living and to use your skills in a constructive way. Achieving such a level at your age shows a lot of dedication to the fighting arts, something a coward could never manage. Now, stand up and end this foolishness!" The earlier disgust had changed into fury, but then his stern tone softened as he continued addressing the distraught girl. "Child, life is harsh, but that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. And if you're that willing to end your life, maybe you could postpone your plans for a while and tell me what's wrong. What do you have to lose? Nothing. I know through personal experience that bottling your feelings up inside of you doesn't work, but that it leads to anger and depression. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. So what do you say? Will you let me help you? "

Ranma stopped hitting her saviour in the chest, just then noticing that although she had put a lot of force in her punches the man didn't seem to be affected at all, and mused about what he had told her. 'He's got a point. What do I have to lose? Nothing. My life is over anyway, and if I tell him everything he'll hopefully leave and let me die in peace'. Having made her decision she nodded, raised her head and looked the interloper in the eyes. "All right; I'll tell you, but I hope you have some time to spare; it's a rather long story." And telling she did. From the day she left her home until her fall into the cursed pool and subsequent seppuku attempt. While still suspicious of the man and his motives at first, she felt the powerful, yet peaceful aura he was emitting and very soon the suspicions changed into trust and she really opened up to him, telling him her most secret feelings and worst fears. And she had to admit that the brunet was right. She really felt a lot better, especially since it seemed that Aiolos didn't see her as a freak but was genuinely interested in helping her. "And that's about it," she finished her story, completely spent but happier than she had been in years.

Aiolos was thinking about what Ranma had told him, and it was obvious that the redhead had suffered at least as much as he had. Betrayed and heavily injured by his fellow saints, surviving through sheer iron will and on the run for the last 10 years he knew about suffering, but even his training as a saint hadn't been as harsh and cruel as Ranma's had been. No wonder she's so depressed and distraught. 'How can I help her? That she still has such a kind heart after everything she went through shows her strength of character. And that she was able to awaken her cosmo on her own, without instruction shows that she has a lot of potential. She could probably become one of the greatest saints ever with the right sensei. And if anything should happen to me there would be someone worthy to take over the mantle of Sagittarius Saint. But first I need to do something to help her with her shattered confidence and low self-esteem. But how best go about it?'

While Aiolos was absorbed in his thoughts the guide had approached the pair and asked Ranma if she felt better. The brunet turned to the guide. "Tell me," he asked the guide in Chinese. "Are you sure you haven't seen anyone lock the boy's curse?"

"Yes. I'm sure about it. I saw the entire fight between the boy and his father, but there hasn't been anyone else in the vicinity. In my twenty years of doing this job, this is the first time I've witnessed the springs locking a curse without outside interference. I'll check the records, but I'm quite certain that this has never happened before."

'Hmmm... I wonder what that means', Aiolos pondered. 'Maybe it was his destiny to fall into that pool. But why would he have to be a girl? Maybe she's supposed to get some training from the Joketsuzoku since they only train female saint aspirants. But even if I'm wrong about that she'd make a fine saint. Now I just need to convince her. From what I've gathered from her life story, every ordeal she has gone through only made her stronger. There must be a way to make use of that. Appealing to her sense of justice might do the trick. It's my best bet in the current situation. '

Nodding his head, having made up his mind, he addressed the redhead. "Tell me; what is the primary tenet of the martial arts?"

"To help those that can't help themselves and to protect the innocent." Ranma answered without any hesitation, the principle having been drilled into her head over the years by her ex-father, even though the bastard had never really respected those ideals."

Aiolos gave her a gentle smile and resumed his speech. "And aren't you a martial artist? A very good one even?"

The young girl gave a small nod wondering what the young man was getting at.

"In that case, don't you have a moral obligation to uphold your creed? How can you call yourself a martial artist if you're willing to take the coward's way out and run away from your obligations? Yes, you are a girl now. But you still are a martial artist and gender shouldn't be an issue if you want to hold true to your beliefs. Tell me; are girls worth less than boys? Can't a girl be martial artist too? Did your skills get affected any by you turning in to a girl? Are you less of a fighter now than you were before? Are you weak? TELL ME!"

The redhead's eyes started to water once again as her brain computed the new information she got. 'Am I really less of a person now that I'm a girl? Is he right? Would seppuku really mean I betrayed my beliefs? I-what should I do? Can I really live like this, as a g-g-girl? Am I weak? Am I worthless? While she was pondering this a small part of her mind started to rebel and slowly but steadily started to rebuild the young girl's shattered confidence. 'Will I let this little setback get me down? Haven't I survived every ordeal Genma put me through over the years? Didn't everything I went through just make me stronger? Do I even have the right to wallow in self-pity?' As her confidence started to recover and even surpass the level it was at before Jusenkyo Ranma continued to think about her options. 'No, I don't. I'm a survivor. I'm alive and in good health. I'm a girl, but so what? There are billions of girls that lead a happy life. I AM a martial artist. I WANT to continue on living, to help people. I can do this'. "I WON'T LET THIS GET ME DOWN!" she shouted as her confidence aura burst into the visible spectrum, knocking the guide off his feet while Aiolos looked proudly at his prospective student.

Shortly afterwards the young girl fell down, exhausted, unconsciousness having claimed her.

The Sagittarius Saint picked her up and carried her to the guide's hut. "Where can I lay her down?" He politely asked the Chinese man.

"Just put her into my daughter's bed. She's off visiting her aunt and won't be back for a few days."

He nodded and gently carried his burden to the indicated room and tucked her in, stroking her hair. 'What a horrible life to live for one so young. And it won't get any easier for her if she should accept my offer. No need to worry about that right now; I'll simply ask her tomorrow and hope for the best'.

He joined the guide on the porch hoping that he could get more information out of the Chinese man.

"What do you think?" The guide asked. "Will she be alright?"

"If her outburst before feinting is any indication the worst is over. I'm sure she won't try and take her own life any longer. She is a survivor and this experience will only serve to make her stronger. We just have to give her enough time to accept the new situation and to let her mind heal and adapt. A good night's sleep should help a lot, but it will take her some time to completely accept the changes she's going through. But that will come. I believe in her."

The two men continued talking while Ranma was recuperating, having fallen into a very deep sleep. But although it looked like she was sleeping like a log, her brain was working in overdrive, her mind still trying to come to terms with what happened earlier and working on repairing her damaged psyche.

01234543210

The next morning Aiolos entered Ranma's room to wake the redhead up. Her cushion and the bed sheets were drenched by sweat, indicating that her sleep hadn't been as peaceful as he had hoped. But she'd obviously calmed down some time before as she lay there with a smile on her face, the regular heaving of her chest the only sign that she was still breathing. The night's rest had obviously had a positive effect. He was almost reluctant to wake the child, but it had to be done. He shook her lightly at first, but when the girl didn't react at all he tried harder.

"Five more minutes pops... sleepy."

The saint narrowed his eyebrows, but then a nasty grin appeared on his face. He took the half empty jug of water from the nightstand and upended it over the child's face. With a loud spluttering the redhead woke up and immediately took a defensive position, ready to blow her father into oblivion. When she saw the grinning man in front of her, a man who wasn't Genma, the events of the previous day came back to her and her sombre mood returned.

"Oh, it's you," she exhaled. She was herself surprised that she hadn't reacted more violently, but then she wasn't really in the mood for a fight. She sighed and looked sternly at Aiolos. "Was that really necessary?"

"Probably not," he answered amusedly, "but seeing your face was well worth it. I HAVE been trying to wake you up for the last five minutes, but to no avail."

"Hehehe, I'm known to be a heavy sleeper. I even managed to sleep through an earthquake once. Any reason for waking me up?"

The playful tone disappeared from Aiolos' voice as he became all business. "Are you up for a short travel? There's a tribe not far away who's been living around here for several millennia and there's probably no one who knows more about Jusenkyo than they do. So, do you want to meet them?

THAT got Ranma's attention. She immediately jumped out of the bed, tripping over the blanket and landing on the floor... hard. Ashamed of her clumsiness the girl turned red and Aiolos chuckled.

"I'll wait outside. The guide is busy making breakfast, but you should have enough time to freshen up and get dressed. If we leave soon we'll make it to the village before nightfall."

Ranma was used to rustic settings and wasn't bothered by not having a warm bath ready. After all, she has spent years travelling through the wilderness, and a warm bath was a commodity she only rarely experienced. So, she filled the simple bathtub with cold water, took a bar of soap and lathered herself quite thoroughly. When she saw the sorry state her gi was in she opened her backpack and took out one of her silk Chinese outfits. Since the curse hadn't affected her size they still fit.

Five minutes later she left the room and joined Aiolos and the guide in the kitchen.

"Good morning. Did you sleep well?" The guide asked. "The food will be ready soon."

"I've slept better," she answered, not bothering to hide the depressed mood she was in. "But I've realized that trying to take my life was stupid. I still can do a lot of good, even if I'm destined to stay this way."

The guide nodded. "There are worse fates than being changed into a girl. At least you didn't turn into a helpless animal like a rabbit or a piglet. Some of the victims were not that lucky and fell victim to the wild animals living around the springs. I've seen it happen twice and it's not something I'd ever want to witness again."

The redhead shuddered when she imagined that she could have ended like that. "Aiolos really made me think about it and he was right. Even if I should remain a girl for the rest of my life, the body is the only thing that has changed. I'm still me. I was just afraid that the curse might change who I am and turn me into a girl on the inside as well as on the outside. But except for my male bits missing I don't really feel any different. And there might still be hope. Aiolos told me of a village where I might get some help."

"Ah, the Joketsuzoku. Yes, they might know something. They have been living here for more than 2,000 years I've been told." The guide then put out the fire and removed the pot from the stove. "Well then, breakfast is ready. It's rather frugal, but that's all I have. I hadn't expected any visitors."

"That is fine." Aiolos answered. "We'll leave after breakfast."

"Would you like me to show you the way?" The Chinese man enquired.

"No, thank you. I've been there before. We've bothered you long enough already."

"Not at all." The guide reassured his two guests. "I'm always happy to have some company. I rarely get any visitors except for the neighbouring tribes."

The two guests finished eating in silence and after clearing the plates they bid the stocky man goodbye and left for the Amazon village.

01234543210

They'd barely left the grounds when Aiolos decided to make his pitch. He had been thinking for quite some time about the best way to approach the young girl and decided that being completely open and straightforward would work best. With Genma as a role model she probably hadn't had any experience with people giving her the honest truth. "So, you're a pretty good martial artist I noticed. How would you like to become my apprentice and take your skill to the next level?"

He grinned as he saw the redhead's eyes pop out of her head. "Really? What styles do you know?" She asked in an upbeat tone.

He was right. He just had to mention martial arts and she'd forget all of her worries. Well that should make it easier since saints were the strongest warriors in the world. And she really seemed eager to learn more. He just hoped that she would accept all of the duties that came with the job, especially that she might have to take a human life. That was always the hardest part for a new saint, and something they generally didn't even realize when they started their apprenticeship. But he knew that he had to give her all the facts lest she would end up resenting him.

"Not so fast," he chided the kid. "You should wait till I finish before you make your choice."

After the girl acquiesced he continued. "Well, first of all. Do you know what a saint is?"

The redhead thought about it for a while. She knew that she had heard the word before, but couldn't remember where. Then it suddenly came back to her. Some monks in a temple she had visited a few years earlier had been talking about them. "They are legendary, powerful warriors that lived a long time ago. Am I right?"

"Partially," the brunet answered. "They are formidable warriors but they are more than a mere legend. They still exist today and you have one in front of you."

That piece of information stopped Ranma in her steps. "No way!" She shouted. "Really?"

Aiolos just nodded his head. "I see that you're excited, but wait till I've finished since there's a lot I have to tell you. Saints are more than mere martial artists. The job comes with a lot of responsibilities and the powers of a saint shouldn't be used lightly. But I sense a lot of potential in you. You might even become one of the strongest saints ever. And I'm rarely wrong. But the most important condition to become a saint is strength of character and righteousness. Getting strong is fairly easy, but saints are obligated to use their power for good. Saints abusing the powers they gained or using them only for their own benefit aren't worthy of their status.

After hearing your story and learning about some of the things you've been subjected to, and seeing that you still hold honor in high regard I just knew that I had found a worthy heir. But before you tell me your decision there are some very important facts I need to make you aware of.

First thing you must know is that as a saint you will be expected to carry out any missions you receive. And that means that you might be ordered to kill. A saint values the life of every living being and never takes one lightly. But there are some really evil people and creatures in the world and sometimes you have no other choice but to take a few lives in order to save many. Do you understand? Think about it and depending on your answer I'll tell you more."

The redhead just nodded her head and Aiolos gave her enough time to digest that information while they continued walking towards their destination. And Ranma really thought about what she had been told. Could she do it? Could she take a life? Her pops may have been full of it, but he was a very skilled martial artist. And he had always preached that a martial artist's duty was to protect those that couldn't protect themselves, although he quite often didn't take his own words to heart. So, could she do it? Could she kill a living being if it meant saving an innocent person. She had often hunted for food on the training journey and so she had already killed. But only animals. And that wasn't the same as a human being... or was it? Animals are sentient creatures too, after all. They may not be as evolved as humans but they probably don't want to die either. She realized that she needed more information before she could make a decision.

"So, about the killing. What kind of people would I have to kill... if I really had to do it?"

Aiolos was happy that she hadn't outright refused his offer and decided to tell her more. "As I said before, saints only kill when it's really necessary and there's no other solution. One of a saint's main jobs is to protect the world from otherworldly menaces like monsters, demons, youma, and other supernatural creatures. But that doesn't mean that we'll never have to kill human beings. Among those are demon summoners, rebel saints, or other people that are a menace to the world."

Ranma thought about the additional information she'd just received. She had heard about the existence of supernatural creatures during her travels even if she hadn't ever seen one, and most of what she had heard wasn't good. Those creatures were generally merciless killers and didn't give a damn about humans and their right to live. Killing them she could probably handle. Humans on the other hand... Well, she had to agree with Aiolos. People who summon or control those kinds of creatures and even order them to do unspeakable things were evil. No doubt about it. And if she had to kill them in order to save the poor victims of those monsters she would do it, but no one could force her to like it. At least as a saint she would be using her art for the purpose it was created, namely helping others.

Yes, she was sure she could do it. Even more since she had been disowned. Ronins were a disgrace in Japan, pariahs even. As a ronin she didn't have any kind of future in her home country. So what did she have to lose? Everything was better than being an outcast. And she really liked the young man. He seemed to be honest and was obviously very strong and skilled since he so easily stopped her arm the previous day. Her decision made she decided to give him her answer.

"I accept."

Aiolos nodded solemnly. "Are you sure?"

"Yes!" the girl answered, sure of her decision .

"Then I accept you as my apprentice. But first let me introduce myself. I am Aiolos, gold saint of Sagittarius."

Ranma grinned and shook the hand the man offered her. "I am Ranma, formerly of the Saotome clan, and I accept your offer."

"Then, let me tell you more about the history and the duties of Athena's saints. Yes, you heard correctly. Athena, the Greek goddess of Wisdom and War. The main duty of the saints, even more important than protecting the world, is to serve Athena, the goddess who created them. And even if you're sceptical I can assure you that the gods exist. Athena is walking among us as we speak, even if her current incarnation hasn't awoken to her powers and memories yet. As I said, the saints are Athena's army and guards, and her orders are law to us. You must never disobey any of her commands, do you understand? Athena is a benevolent goddess and loves humanity and the earth. She would never willingly let any harm come to good people."

Ranma was digesting what she was told so far and liked the idea. She had never heard of Athena, but if she really was a benevolent goddess, like her mentor claimed her to be, than she wouldn't have any problems serving her.

"Next I need to give you some information about the different classes of saints there are and the armour they wear. Yes, saints wear suits of armour called cloths. The cloths are sentient and divided into three categories. From the strongest to the weakest there are 12 gold cloths, 24 silver cloths and 48 bronze cloths. There are 4 more cloths but not much is known about them. The cloths also give you information on the saint's rank and power. If you want to compare them to current military ranks, the gold saints are the equivalent of generals, the silver saints of colonels, and the bronze saints of captains. Additionally you have the simple soldiers. They have been subjected to the same training as the saints have and are more powerful than most martial artists. But since there's a limited quantity of cloths they never got one. But they are still formidable warriors in their own right and are in charge of the lowest thread missions. On top of the hierarchy is the pope who is Athena's right hand and is in command of the saints in her absence.

You mentioned that they were powerful, didn't you? And that's true. They are the strongest beings on earth, except for the gods of course. But their strength does not only come from the rigorous training they go through, but also from the energy they use, called cosmo (1). Now, you know about ki of course. Ki flows through our body and sustains us. Without ki we'd be dead. Dedicated martial artists can use it for different purposes, like strengthening their muscles, increasing the healing rate of their bodies, produce an aura and with lots of training even how to project it. Cosmo is similar, yet completely different.

It's a form of energy, just like ki, but works in a completely different way. True, you can use both form of energy to do the same things, but cosmo is much more potent and versatile than ki.

The easiest way to explain the concept of cosmo probably is to compare it to the Big Bang.

I'm not a physicist, so bear with me even if the explanation is not totally correct. The Big Bang is the initial explosion that created the universe. A similar phenomenon happens when a saint uses cosmo. Basically the energy is inactive until the saint calls for it. But then it is liberated through one big explosion that originates from one point in the body and spreads from that point through the whole body, suffusing every single cell with energy. That's the classical explanation of cosmo.

But a more accurate analogy would be nuclear fission.

As you might know, everything in the world is composed of atoms. And atoms contain energy. Nuclear power is won by the fission of atoms which release a lot of energy. Cosmo uses the same principle. Every single cell of the body is like an atom. A saint produces cosmo by making the cells of their body 'explode', which liberates a lot of energy.

What makes cosmo so deadly is that once a person has a grasp of the concept it's not difficult to use it to destroy any matter they touch, simply through disrupting the molecular cohesion of the atoms that compose it. That's why every sensei must ensure that they only teach people who would never abuse their teaching to do evil deeds. Only honourable and upstanding people are allowed to become saints.

I'm sure you won't disappoint me and only use my teachings for the benefit of humanity, won't you?"

Ranma didn't even need to think about it before giving an answer. "I promise, sensei."

Nodding his head, the saint continued. "Good. That's what I wanted to hear."

"But sensei," Ranma enquired, "how can I learn how to use cosmo? Is it difficult?"

Aiolos just grinned. "Yes it is… normally. You probably haven't noticed it, but you've already used cosmo at least once, when you furiously attacked your father after falling into the pool. You unconsciously made your cosmo explode and that's what called me to you… I watched for a while to get a feel of the situation, but when I saw you take your tanto and realized what you were about to do I had to act, and just in time to prevent you from taking your life.

I was really surprised when I saw you since the aura I had felt was at least as strong as a Bronze Saint's. I knew at that moment that you had a lot of potential and that it would be a waste to let such a promising person die. Once I learnt about your past I was certain that I had found a worthy heir."

Ranma didn't answer and thought back to her fight her father in her mind, replaying the whole chain of events in her mind. She was very angry at the moment and quite out of it. She just knew that she needed to punish the origin of all of her problems, and that she needed power to do it. Could she really have accessed her cosmo unconsciously? Well, she must have, even if it isn't common. So, if she had managed to do it once she should be able to do so again. She vaguely remembered what the energy had felt like. If she could consciously control that energy without anger as a focus she'd have a new, powerful weapon in her arsenal. Yes, meeting Aiolos was certainly the best thing that had happened to her in her whole life. So far she hadn't sensed any duplicity coming from the young man, but that didn't necessary mean that she needn't be on her guard, but so far it looked rather promising. At least he couldn't be worse than her father, well ex-father rather. And maybe it was for the best. She could have a new start, away from the panda and all the trouble that had followed his schemes.

When the Gold Saint shook her out of her musings she looked ahead and saw a large, fortified village and two armed women standing at the entrance.

"We've arrived," Aiolos announced. "Welcome to the village of Nyuuchezu."

****END FLASHBACK****

Ranma stopped at that point and noticed the way Kasumi's wide open eyes were fixated on her lips, lapping up every word she said and she couldn't hide a grin. Kasumi reminded her of herself whenever someone mentioned a new technique.

"That's for the first part of the story. And yes, I finished my training, and yes I am a saint. Now, you heard about the things that are expected from us. I would be happy if you took my offer. There's a lot of work to do and it will take several years for you to reach gold saint level power, but I have a great feeling about you. Just think about it and give me your answer this evening. Should you accept I'll tell you the rest of my story.

But my offer for normal martial arts training still stands, even if you shouldn't accept my offer. And thank you for listening to me and not holding my curse against me. It means a lot to me, just as much as our friendship does."

The redhead packed up her medical supplies and left Kasumi's room. She entered her own bedroom and groomed her hair, not bothering to put it back up into the elaborate Amazon hair style since she wasn't in the village now and didn't have any social functions to fulfil. She put it into a simple high ponytail, her mane reaching down to the small of her back.

Checking herself in the mirror and quite happy with the results she left the bedroom and joined Kasumi in the kitchen. They made some small talk while preparing breakfast, consolidating their newfound friendship while comparing fighting techniques. Sometime later they heard someone coming down the stairs.

Akane put her head through the kitchen door and greeted Kasumi, completely ignoring their houseguest. She was wearing a pale yellow gi and was obviously about to start her daily training session. Ranma just shook her head at Akane's rudeness and childishness, but didn't let it distract her from watching the cooking pots.

"She left for her jogging. She does it every day for half an hour. Afterwards she pulverizes some cinder blocks in the dojo." Kasumi explained.

The younger girl scoffed. "That's what she calls training? Where does she get the idea that she's such a great martial artist? That girl's delusional. With the little effort she's putting into her training she never will amount to much. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but it's a fact. Without some sacrifices you can never advance in the art."

The brunette nodded. She didn't like people talking badly about her family, but she couldn't dispute the redhead's analysis of her sister's skills.

"I agree. But she hasn't received any formal training for years and limited herself to the moves we learned from our father years ago. I know that I should have helped her, but I wanted to keep my skills a secret until I could manage to defeat Genma. Well, now that father seems to have recovered he'll hopefully go back to training her. And maybe that will help curb her temper somewhat. I've tried for so long, not getting any results. Ah well, breakfast's ready. Could you get everyone, please?"

"No problem, Kasumi." The young girl left the kitchen and gathered everyone together.

They were enjoying a quiet meal until Soun started talking. "So, Mei, what are your plans for today?" The Tendo patriarch asked.

"Well, I have a lot of things to take care of. Since I only came back yesterday, the first thing I'll do is visit my sister. Afterwards I'll go to Furinkan middle school and enrol. After all, I need a diploma if I want to get a good job later on. I also need to buy more clothes and other necessities. And since this is my first time in Nerima I'll use the rest of the day to explore the ward. As you can see I'll be busy."

"Why don't you stay with your sister, Mei?" Nabiki asked.

"Quite simple," the redhead answered. "I like my independence and my family respects that. I want to manage on my own, without any help. Additionally it will be easier for me to train Kasumi if I'm nearby."

Nabiki accepted Mei's answers but decided to do a private investigation about their guest's family and the girl's past. After all, unknown quantities could be quite detrimental to her activities. And she had a feeling that there was more to the petite girl than met the eye. She smirked. She loved mysteries, and especially unravelling them. Who knows, maybe she could be a good money source. Everyone has skeletons in their closet and Nabiki had a knack for finding them

Since I use both the concepts of ki and cosmo in this story I needed to clearly differentiate them. That's why my explanation of cosmo differs a little from canon.

Posted 12/30/2008

Edited 01/04/2009