Claude and Rena's Theme (Star Ocean II)
Akane didn't have time to blink before Ranma gave his decision.
"I'll do it!" he exclaimed enthusiastically as soon as he finished reading the word Nannichuan on the large vial.
"Ranma!" Akane looked at him sternly, "this isn't the first time you think you've found a cure."
"Akane's right, Ranchan," Ukyo said quietly, "remember what happened last time?"
"Don't worry, you two," he flashed them a proud smile and pointed to himself with his thumb, "just thinking about curing this damn curse is more than enough to not let me lose to some sicko."
"But what if the vial is destroyed before the battle is over?!" they both asked at the same time, knowing the many disappointments he had suffered through in the past, when he was within a centimeter, no, a millimeter of curing his curse, something went wrong and Ranma was forced to look for another method.
"Yeah," Ranma looked over at Kohei, "what kind of promise have you got if that vial's destroyed before we beat Hashin?"
"Did I say that I was going to give it to you after our victory?" Kohei simply asked in response as he surprised the three of them by standing up behind Ranma,
and pouring half of the vial's contents onto his head.
Out of the three, Akane looked up at Kohei with the greatest amount of shock as she thought, He already trusts Ranma enough to not only give him to water right away, but to pour it onto him for him? I honestly didn't think he would give it to him until after we defeated Hashin. Kohei-kun is different from everyone else who's promised to give Ranma a cure if they helped him. I'm surprised that per- she caught herself as she was still trying not to think about Ranma that way anymore, he didn't reject Kohei-kun's offer because of all those other times. She only smiled as Ranma sat speechless, almost with a look of disbelief on his face, while Ukyo hugged him.
"Ucchan," he said quietly, almost barely audible, "is this a dream? You're still here this time, right?"
"It's not a dream, Ranchan," she assured him, "and I'm still here this time. You've earned this moment."
What are they talking about? Akane thought.
"Kohei..." Ranma looked up at him, unable to find the words to express his thanks, other than his standard, "[thank you]" in English.
"It would have been wrong to make you wait, especially when I know that you are a man of honor," he said simply as he handed him the vial, still half-full, "there's enough left for curing one other man. Do with it what you will."
"That won't be a problem, I know who deserves this and who doesn't."
"I will leave you to celebrate for the rest of today. Meet me back at this place tomorrow morning at dawn and we will begin our travels to return to China," he said nothing more as he turned and began to walk away from the school grounds. Akane spent the next few moments looking back and forth between the departing young China man and Ranma with Ukyo still sitting in front of her. She truly felt happy for Ranma, but her place had long been lost from his innermost circle of celebration, and there was something else she had to know. Ignoring his and Ukyo's call to her, she stood up and ran to catch up with Kohei.
"Kohei-kun!" she called as she met up and fell in step with him.
"Akane-san?" he obviously had never expected her to come walk with him.
"Can I ask you a few more questions?"
"Yes, feel free to."
"How did you know to bring that vial of Nannichuan water?"
He didn't hesitate to respond, "That was easy. As Ranma's fame increased after he defeated Saffron, some rumors of the existence of two Saotome Ranmas began to circulate, one of them male, the other female. It wasn't hard to figure out that both were the same person, but I didn't know until this morning as to whether Ranma was actually a boy or a girl until Ukyo-san referred to his female half as a he. That was how I figured he fell into Nyaniichuan. In all honesty, I had brought a vial of Nyaniichuan and Nannichuan water."
That still didn't explain one thing, "You said that Jusenkyo's flooding negated all of the springs. How did you get the water?"
"With my village being so close to Jusenkyo, many of our fighters left to train there but only under the light of the full moon so as not to make their presence known to the guides. And, as you can imagine, almost all of them fell into various springs. So after any large numbers went to train, they would often bring back large amounts of water from both the Springs of Drowned Man and Girl. We still have a large surplus in the village storage, but a lot of it was destroyed in Hashin's first attack." Akane saw him clench his fists when he mentioned the other man's name. Now she was ready to ask what she felt was the most important, the question that would explain his personality.
"You don't have to answer this one if you don't want to," she started, "but when you were growing up, were you ever taken away from your mother for long periods of time because of your training?"
Kohei looked at her as if she'd just crawled out of one of the cursed springs in another form.
"No, of course not," he answered, "Unless it was a time to specifically train in my family's style, I always trained or traveled with both my parents and, when she was old enough, my sister. Can I ask why you asked that?"
"Of course. There are two reasons, really, the first is because I noticed that while you and Ranma both grew up learning specifically the martial arts, and obviously a little more in other fields of basic education, I also noticed that you and he are almost exact opposites in personality. I want to think it had to do with the amount of motherly influences the two of you had."
"Was Ranma not around his mother often?"
"No. In fact, Ranma spent 12 of the last 13 years completely separated from his mother because his father thought that a motherly influence would hinder his training and dampen his potential. As a result, Ranma is a good fighter, but he's stubborn, arrogant, proud, and has no social skills at all."
"What kind of man has so little honor as to tear his wife's own child from her for 12 years?!" the tone of his voice and the fact that his fists were again clenched told her that he was both angry and shocked.
"If I told you everything that Uncle Saotome has done to Ranma, my family, and even Ukyo, you would hate him as much as the rest of us. The only one who still thinks of him as a good man is probably my father, as they were united against a common enemy."
"I won't ask anything about him, then."
"Okay, but my second reason for asking that question was," she swallowed, "I was raised almost the same as Ranma. My mother died from a disease when I was a little girl, so I don't remember her very much. And I've heard some people say that because I didn't know her when I grew up, I became a tomboy."
"I'm sorry to hear about your mother, but..." he paused, "a tomboy?"
"Um... Akane-san? What's a tomboy?"
Akane heard that and had to stifle her laughter, "Oh, I'm sorry, Kohei-kun. I forgot you were raised in an isolated village."
"Yes, but I have learned a lot since arriving in Japan a month ago."
"I can imagine," she thought of all the troubles he had to have had with all the new things he'd undoubtedly seen, "but a tomboy is a girl who acts like a boy. I grew up studying martial arts too, and a lot of people always tell me that I need to act more feminine."
"I don't see why they would call you that name. If you were raised in Ryuchiezu or one of the surrounding Amazon villages, a girl of your skill would probably be a village champion, if not the best young female fighter of the whole clan." That was something she almost refused to believe.
"You think I'm skilled? But you've only seen me do one thing and that was hit a tree. I'm not as good as you or Ranma," she never would have admitted that while she was still his fiancé.
"But you could be. You already have the strength and you could be taught some new techniques."
"You really think so?"
"Of course," he nodded, "every martial artist, as long as he continues his training, can only become more powerful."
As Kohei's words referring to training sank into her mind, Akane thought of something.
"Kohei-kun," she asked, "where are you living right now?"
"Wherever I am allowed to set up my tent. My clothes and provisions are hidden in a vacant lot not far from here."
"My family has an extra guest room and we run a dojo if you would like to stay the night there before you take Ranma back to China. And if you're living in the vacant lot that I'm thinking of, my house isn't far from it."
That invitation caused him to stop and stare at her again, "Thank you, Akane-san, it would be nice to sleep indoors."
She only smiled and nodded, "Let's go get your stuff and we can be home in time for dinner," then felt a drop of water land on her forehead. She hadn't noticed the sky having clouded up during and after the fight. The first drop led to a second, and third, and several thousand more as it began to rain. With Kohei taking the lead, the two ran together to quickly find his things and get to shelter. The only thing she hadn't noticed was the small tinge of red on his face when she had smiled at him.
Mere words were unable to describe Ranma's gratitude he felt towards Kohei for giving him the cure he'd sought for three years. That gratitude was increased by nearly three times when the rain started and, true to Kohei's word, he indeed did not turn into a girl anymore. He even surprised Ukyo by taking her into his arms and dancing down along the sidewalk, very reminiscent of Dr. Tofu's dancing with Betty-chan whenever he used to be around Kasumi for too long, which now seemed so long ago. Neither he nor Ukyo cared as their laughter and merriment drew the attention of everyone on the stretch as they made their way back to her restaurant, where several customers awaited in a line outside as it was supposed to open nearly ten minutes ago.
"Sorry I'm late, everyone!" she announced, "But come on in! Everything's half-off today!"
The crowd was easily appeased by that offer. As Ukyo unlocked the door and led everyone inside, Konatsu, who was cleaning some of the tables, looked up.
"Ukyo-sama! Ranma-sama!" he exclaimed, "You're both soaked! Let me get you some dry clothes and towels!"
She just threw the hair that had fallen in front of her face back and headed behind the grill, "No need, Konatsu. I can't keep these hungry people waiting. The heat from the grill will soon be more than enough to get us dry in no time. So help me mix some batter but let me do the cooking."
The male kunoichi immediately responded to his boss's orders and, as news of the half-off special traveled around the district, the Ucchan soon became filled to capacity, with several more people waiting outside for a seat. Ucchan's place has really gotten popular in the last while, Ranma thought as she served him first with a heart-shaped okonomiyaki that said "Congratulations, Ranchan! I love you!" on it. He could only smile as he knew that she felt as good as he did and that her special was a spur-of-the-moment thing to celebrate the removal of his curse. After his own feast of that and a few more of his Ucchan's best okonomiyaki, he did what he could as a man to help run the business. After all, he still had all those IOUs that he owed her from the incident with the Gambling King.
"Tatewaki-sama! Tatewaki-sama!" Sasuke continued to call out to his master who still lay unconscious in the school nurse's office as he had done throughout the entire day. Even the ninja was surprised as Kuno shot up and shouted, "I shall smite thee and return the hearts of these women towards Kuno Tatewaki!" as if he had never been knocked out by Kohei. He then looked around and noticed where he was.
"Sasuke!" he called.
"Here, Tatewaki-sama!" he answered.
"What happened to me? The last thing I remember was rising towards victory against the one who dared cross my path this morning."
"Um... Tatewaki-sama, he knocked you out with one move. I saw it all."
This disturbed the blowharded kendoist beyond measure.
"For Kuno Tatewaki to be defeated... 'tis a farce! He must deal with the same black magic as that foul sorcerer Saotome! For Kuno hath never been defeated and shan't be defeated! Come, Sasuke, let us away to prepare for tomorrow's victory!"
Sasuke sighed and, not for the first time, wished his master would not let his ego interfere with any common sense he might have ever had because one day, it might cost him dearly.
Even though he was the guest of honor at Ukyo's party, Ranma didn't stay too much longer as he had one more thing to do before returning home, despite how far out of the way it was. As the train carried him outside of Tokyo, he held the half-empty vial of Nannichuan water gingerly in his hands and hoped that at last he would be able to at least atone for one of his mistakes that had resulted in a rivalry and somewhat of a friendship, but was founded on hatred.
When he arrived, he hadn't even crossed half of the distance between the main road and Unryuu household before the cry of challenge from an all-too familiar voice echoed across the field.
"RANMA!!! PREPARE TO DIE!!!"
Not caring how Ryoga seemingly appeared out of nowhere as there were no trees to hide in, Ranma quickly jumped aside from the thrusting umbrella attack from above.
"How's it going, Ryoga?" he asked casually as he dodged repeated swipes.
"You've got a lot of nerve coming here, Ranma!" the young Hibiki practically growled as his eyes showed that his mind was set to kill, "Have you come to insult me like you did Akane-san?"
"Hey! I thought we had made peace over Akane!"
Ryoga halted his overhead blow where it would have been a centimeter from Ranma's head had he not dodged the feint.
"I know that," he said, grinning evilly and lowering his weapon, "I was just rehearsing."
"Rehearsing?! What the hell does that mean? Does Akari have you working as the family watchdog?!"
Rather than take another swipe at his head, Ryoga just threw his head back and laughed, "You couldn't be more wrong, Ranma, I've been cast in a martial arts movie fighting some good-guy actor named Jackie... something. I think his last name was Chan, but I'm not sure."
"Never heard of 'im," Ranma shrugged.
"But congratulations! Being the villain is more than a perfect role for you, especially since you lose all the time!"
This time, Ryoga did take a swipe at Ranma.
"You're just jealous because I convinced you I was really trying to kill you!"
"You didn't have me fooled for a second," he lied, "but that's not why I'm here."
"Why then?" he again halted his attack.
Ranma looked him in the eye, "Ryoga, I know we've made peace over Akane, but I know you've never forgiven me for knocking you into the Spring of Drowned Black Pig."
"I've... come to accept it. Otherwise, I would not have met Akari-chan."
"Well, I've brought you this," and tossed the vial into his hand.
Ryoga made sure not to break the large vial that Ranma threw to him as he caught it, "What's this?"
"Read the label, moron," Ranma answered, "it's Nannichuan water!"
"It's what...?" out of his shock, he dropped the vial. Ranma must have expected it as he quickly caught it with his foot and lifted it back into his hands.
Ryoga almost refused to believe what was happening. Ever since he had met Ranma in Jr. High School, he had continually been humiliated by him by losing to him in the lunchroom every day. Allowing his rage to overrule his judgement eventually led him to follow Ranma to China, Jusenkyo, Nerima, Akane, and last of all, Akari.
The previous year had been almost as hard for him as it had been for Akane. As soon as he heard that Ranma had broken his engagement with her, his original anger returned and he was truly intent on killing him. It was the first time he had held onto his advantage when he first gained the upper-hand on Ranma in a fight. His victory was almost insured as he had been able to prevent Ranma from executing the Hiryuu Shoten Ha. After he had knocked Ranma into a wall with a force equal to when he had refused to let go of Akane during the Golden Pair's Couple Cleaver technique, he prepared for the finishing blow. His blind rage, however, didn't allow him to focus enough to create a Perfect Shishi Hokodan, and the one he was building was easily going to be enough to kill him as well in the recoil, but he didn't care as long as Ranma died in the blast. He had committed the unforgivable for breaking Akane's heart! He also didn't care when Ukyo threw herself onto Ranma in order to protect him. It was fine if they wanted to die together. But his first distraction was Akari, shielding the two lovers, begging him to stop. His decision became even harder as Akane stood next to Akari, asking him to let go of the past. They had made their statement: If he was going to kill himself and Ranma, he would have to take them too. Ryoga didn't know what to do as his blast grew in power, far too late for him to cancel it. Even if he did aim it away, it would still kill him, until Ranma somehow managed to get up and fire a Mouko Takabisha. The power of it negated enough of his growing Shishi Hokodan to reduce it significantly and he fired it into the air. But the residue of the Mouko Takabisha and the recoil of his Shishi Hokodan was still enough to give him severe high-degree burns on his chest, arms, and legs, hospitalizing him for several months.
During his long recovery time, Akari visited him nearly every day and never left his side for the whole time she was able to be there. Akane was also a frequent visitor, but it was at this time when the Eternal Lost Boy realized that, while he still had feelings for the youngest Tendo daughter, Akari's unconditional support for him despite the fact that he was probably going to be horribly scarred all over for the rest of his life, led him to truly fall in love with her in return. His biggest surprise was Ranma; he was there every day, even more than Akari, and often Ukyo came with him. But Ryoga always faked sleep for the first couple of his bedridden months and he heard Ranma continually confess that he had never wanted to hurt Ryoga in the first place and that he had only wanted them to be friends. But his pride wouldn't let him admit those same things when he was awake. So as far as Ranma knew, Ryoga had never heard any of his confessions. Being in the hospital gave Ryoga more time to think than ever before as his mind was never occupied with wondering where he was. It was there and during this time that he mustered the courage to confess his secret to Akane, despite the difficulty of it because she was obviously still hurting over Ranma. But when she did learn about his identity as P-chan, she was surprisingly understanding, finally figuring out why the two of them were never seen together and why "P-chan" always refused to take a bath with her and always looked away when she changed clothes.
As soon as he was released from the hospital, being considered extremely fortunate not to have as many burn scars as had been predicted, with what little he did have only on his chest, he was invited into the Unryuu household and began to officially court Akari. During this entire time had anyone been able to contact Ryoga's parents or anyone else from his family. They all feared that every one of them had gotten so lost as to either be dead on the road from starvation or on the other end of the world. Fortunately, when he did find his house the next time, Checkers was still there waiting for him and, rather than make her wait anymore, he took her back to the farm. Once all of the souvenirs from his travels were transferred, the Hibiki household looked even more abandoned than before.
Another two months after his release, when Jackie Chan's location scouts were searching for locations for Jackie's next film in the wilderness of Japan, they found a lost, tough, and excellent martial artist named Hibiki Ryoga training. They were so impressed with his skills that they cast him right away. Ryoga was actually just returning from an acting class to get him ready for the shooting when he found Ranma walking to the Unryuu farm.
"Hey, Ryoga? Ryoga!" Ranma waved his hand in front of his face, "Great, I killed him with shock."
"Cut it out!" he snapped awake and swiped the vial out of Ranma's hands.
His timing was perfect as a happy female voice called, "Ryoga-sama! Welcome home!" from behind.
Akari ran up to the two young men and hugged Ryoga long before she even noticed Ranma's presence, "Oh, Ranma-san! Welcome to my family's farm. What brings you here?"
"Let Ryoga answer that," he said, gesturing to him.
The young farm girl looked at her beloved with question included in her glittering eyes.
"Um... Akari-chan," Ryoga blushed and nearly stammered, "would you mind if I stopped turning into a pig?"
"Not at all," she answered immediately, "I love Ryoga-sama as both a man and a pig, but I only want to marry Ryoga-sama as a man."
"If that's what you want," with that, Ryoga emptied the rest of the vial of the cold, cursed water over his head. He felt a familiar tingle, but noticed that he didn't shrink out of his clothes and stayed as a man.
"It... it worked..." tears of happiness began to flow freely from his eyes as he looked to his old, new friend, "Ranma... I don't know what to say..." He was so overcome with emotion that he didn't feel Akari squeeze him again.
"Forget it," he just shook his head, "but there's something I've got to warn you about, Ryoga."
"Be careful with the Shishi Hokodan," he didn't have to warn him twice about that anymore, "the guy who gave me the water's parents were killed by it and from what he said, the technique only grows more and more deadly as you keep using it."
Ryoga started laughing again, "I don't think I'll ever be depressed enough to ever use it again!"
"Good," Ranma turned and began to walk away, only to stop after a few steps and say, "Ryoga, I'm going back to China to help that guy avenge his parents, and I don't know if I'm going to come back alive. From what I hear, our opponent is just as powerful as Saffron in full adult form. So if I don't make it, I leave Nerima in your hands," and didn't look back as he walked back towards the main road leading to the train station.
"Don't worry about Nerima, Ranma," he said after him as he put his arms around Akari, "and if you don't come back, I'll hate you for all of the afterlife," and smiled.
"I'm home!" Akane announced as she escorted Kohei into her family's home and removed her shoes. While the rain hadn't lasted very long, it was more than enough to trigger Kohei's alternate form. And since Kasumi was no longer around to welcome her back, Soun was the one to greet them.
"Akane, welcome home," he said as he stepped into the foyer and his eyes fell on Kohei, "look at my little girl, already finding a new boyfriend," and started guffawing. Akane could only scowl, as her dad hadn't been very supportive ever since Kasumi married "Saotome" Tofu, he hadn't really cared what happened to her in her love life since his wish in uniting the schools had finally been fulfilled. Except for the fact that she was doing most of the cooking now, half the time he didn't acknowledge her existence. But she put on her fake smile and let him get away with his negligent attitude, for now.
"Oh, Dad, stop it. Kohei-kun is a travelling martial artist who didn't have a place to stay tonight."
"I'm honored to be in your home, Tendo-san," Kohei said as he put his pack down and bowed, "I am Ikimono Kohei, son of Ikimono Shinji and the Amazon Ji Lu from the village of Ryuchiezu in the Bayankala Mountain Range of the Qinghai Province of China."
"From China? What brings you all the way to Japan?"
"I'm on a journey of training and searching, Tendo-san, and as master of this dojo, I would be honored to spar with you to prove my worth in staying the night."
"That can be arranged," and without warning, turned around, "I will wait for you in the dojo. Akane will show you the way when you're ready."
"Um... Akane-san, before we go out, can I-" but she was already leading him out towards the dojo. She knew what he was going to ask for, but felt that Soun really needed a good partner to get him back into shape.
"Dad hasn't had a good spar in a while," she said, "it'll be good for him."
"I understand. But, Akane-san, I have a question."
"What is it?"
"What's a boyfriend?" This time, Akane couldn't hold back as she burst out laughing.
"Did I say something wrong?"
"Oh no, no," she calmed down and shook her head, "I'll explain it later. But first I'll take you out to our dojo."
Kohei just shrugged as Akane led him out to the dojo, where her father awaited.
"Get ready, Kohei-kun," Soun stood in his fighting stance, "I'm going to give you everything I've got. I expect you to do the same."
"As you wish, Tendo-san," he entered the stance of his family's style, the same as when he fought Kuno, "but I must warn you-"
"Hiyaaaah!" Soun charged forward with a straight punch, which was the only time he was ever on the offensive.
If Kohei's speed didn't impress Akane before, it certainly did now as he spiraled around her father so fast that he looked like he was in two or three places at once! The whole time his illusory body continued to spiral around Soun, Akane didn't see anything else move, nor did she hear a thing, but could see that her father was taking several hits. After only about half a minute, he halted his seemingly invisible assault just as Soun dropped to the floor.
"Dad! Are you okay!" Akane shouted as she ran up and knelt beside him to look for damage.
"He'll be fine," Kohei assured, "I made sure not to cause any bodily damage as it was just a spar. He'll be awake in a few moments."
"What did you do?" she asked, not angrily but out of curiosity, "I didn't see you lay a blow, and you didn't make a sound."
"You've seen the Kachuu Tenshin Amaguriken. That was my faster revision of it called the Butou Sakibou."
"The Dancing Cat's Paws? I never thought the Amaguriken could be any faster."
"It's impossible for any normal human to pull it off, I can only do it in my cursed form."
A bellowy laugh from the entrance interrupted Akane just as she opened her mouth. The two turned to see Saotome Genma, who during the past year had lost a lot of weight, as he was the only one who couldn't avoid Akane's cooking.
"You're getting old, Tendo-kun," Genma laughed, "to be beaten so easily by such a youngster."
"Uncle Saotome," Akane asked, "were you watching?"
"I saw everything," he answered, "and I won't make the same mistake!"
"So you are the father of Ranma whom Akane-san spoke of. I accept," Kohei didn't wait for a chance to counterattack as he started on the offensive. Akane almost didn't want to watch as Genma soon found himself unconscious next to Soun.
"For someone who is the father of a warrior as skilled as Ranma, I truly expected more."
"Are you saying he was too easy, Kohei-kun?" Akane asked.
"Much," he nodded, "he has not trained in a long time and must have thought that he retained all of his skills."
He's right, Akane thought, Uncle Saotome hasn't been training at all lately and he looks so skinny. I'd better make him an extra large portion of dinner tonight.
"Ugh..." Soun groaned as he began to come to his senses, "I didn't think Kohei-kun was twins."
"Are you okay, Dad?" Akane asked.
Soun examined himself for any injuries and shrugged, "Looks like I'll be fine, but what happened to Saotome-kun?"
"He thought he could beat Kohei-kun just by watching you."
"I'm impressed with your skills, young Kohei-kun. You are more than welcome to stay at my home."
"I thank you for your hospitality," Kohei bowed again.
"All I ask is that you tell me more about your fighting style."
"I'm going to go start dinner," Akane announced before Kohei could begin, and left to go back into the house. She left Soun and Kohei in the dojo, discussing each of their styles and giving the occasional demonstration while they waited for Genma to wake up. Kohei-kun really gave it to Uncle Saotome, she thought, he must be mad at him for severing Ranma's ties with his mother for so long.
Inside the house, Nabiki calmly awaited for her sister to return from the dojo. As soon as Akane re-entered, she called to her in a loud whisper.
The youngest turned her head, "Nabiki-onee-chan?"
"I need to talk to you about Kohei-kun," she gestured her into the kitchen. Akane knew better than to ask her sister where and how she had learned about Kohei.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I managed to see his fight with Ranma-kun and got these," she laid out two sets of pictures on the counter, one from each of the two halves of the fight, "I also heard him talk about what he did at Jusenkyo, and I thought you might want to know that I might have a way to tell when he's in cursed form or not."
"How? I can't see any change."
"Okay, okay, 500 yen."
Akane shook her head and forked over the money.
"Take a good look at these two," Nabiki pointed as she pulled out one photo from each set that strongly focused on Kohei's face, but more particularly...
"His eyes!" Akane realized, "His eyes are different!" She had hit the nail on the head. Indeed, when Kohei was in normal form, his blue eyes a gentle, ocean-blue shade to them. But in his cursed form, they became a sharp, steel blue. The same steel blue as when she'd first seen him.
"Why didn't I notice this before?" Akane asked nobody in particular, "He must've gotten splashed before school and that's why he asked for some of Ranma's hot water! How could I not have figured that out sooner! He said the last spring he jumped into was the Spring of Drowned Wolf, and that's what his eyes look like now, a wolf's!"
Nabiki nodded and flashed her evil smile, "Kohei-kun is going to be a gold mine. Did you see how many girls were after him at lunch? I might get more money from them with pictures of him than I ever got from Kuno with pictures of Ranma."
Her smile vanished when she saw Akane scowling at her, "Nabiki! Don't even think of taking advantage of Kohei-kun!"
Nabiki couldn't apply her poker face this time in a vain attempt to hide her surprise.
"Are you trying to exploit his naivete? Are you going to try and cheat him out of what little money he may have, if any? He may have been raised only in martial arts like Ranma, but his personality and culture are a lot different than Ranma's! I'll bet a lot of money in saying that until he left his village and came to Japan, that he's never seen any electronic devices, any cars, paved roads like we know, or any modern convenience that we've known all our lives! If you even think of trying to do to him what you did to Ranma, you'll have to answer to me!"
Nabiki couldn't say anything. Never before had her sister lashed out at her like that.
She took a few deep breaths and began to calm down, "I'm sorry for that outburst," she said quietly, "you're a very smart girl, Nabiki-onee-chan, and I know your business sense is going to earn you a lot of money. But there are times when you go too far. I just ask that you don't do anything to Kohei-kun or sell those pictures to any of the girls. He's not going to be around much longer so he won't be as much of a gold mine as you'd think. And he's had it really hard for the past few months. His parents were killed right in front of him and his village has been practically put into slavery."
"I-I didn't know..." This time, it was Akane's turn to be shocked as she hadn't expected her sister, the one always on the side of money, to listen. And Nabiki hadn't known. Once she got the pictures and information about his curse that she needed, she didn't stick around to hear the rest of his story. But she said, "I'll tell my associates to leave him alone," and gave her the pictures of Kohei, "I'll let you get rid of these."
Nabiki just grinned again, "After all, I still have drawers full of prints of Ranma-chan and Ukyo that Kuno is stupid enough to buy, even though he's bought all of these prints twice already."
"Am I still in them?"
"Of course," her grin only became bigger.
Knowing that she was fighting a losing battle, Akane sighed and said, "You'll never change, Nabiki," then suddenly remembered something, "oh yeah, there's something that happened to Ranma that you need to know."
Akane did know of a battle she could win and couldn't help herself when she said, "500 yen."
Nabiki laughed, "Okay, you got me," and returned the money, "now what's this about Ranma-kun?"
Out in the dojo, Kohei, Soun, and the now conscious Genma looked out towards the house as they heard the scream.
"What was that?" they all asked?
Saotome Nodoka sipped her cup of evening tea and checked the clock, it was almost time for Ranma to come home and, as always, she eagerly anticipated his arrival. The past year had been the happiest of her life as she had spent the 12 before it without any contact whatsoever with her son. Day after agonizing day she would always wonder if he was even still alive, until she would receive a letter from Genma. But that would only alleviate her anxiety for that one day. When the time finally came for them to return home, they never came, and she had never received any letters since the one where he had told her they were preparing to train in China. Her worry reached its climax during that time, until a phone call from Genma told her that he had taken Ranma to the Tendos so that he could meet and marry one of the daughters and fulfill the promise he and Soun had made to unite the schools. As she looked back on that, Nodoka wondered why she wasn't immediately suspicious then and there, since Ranma should have still been in school. She had asked to go visit, but he told her to stay at home and that they would let her see Ranma when it came time for the wedding. Those had been the hardest two years.
What Genma hadn't told her, however, was that he was hiding himself and Ranma from her because he had disgraced his personal and family honor countless times, been the main cause of Ranma falling into a cursed spring due to his ignorance, and even drew in many other families into his selfish acts. Rather than commit seppuku, his last attempt at reconciliation had been to try and keep the promise he deemed as most important because it had been made to a good friend. But in Nodoka's book, if he had Ranma marry one of the Tendo daughters, he would gave dishonored himself beyond forgiveness in this life as he had made one of his promises and sealed it as higher than the one to Soun when he accepted the dowry of one of the girls whom he promised Ranma to. Never did Genma expect that nearly all of the girls he promised Ranma to would come to claim their payment, especially Kuonji Ukyo, who was the victim of his stealing her dowry and leaving her and her wishes in the dust, even though his action had placed her above all of the rest of the girls, including a Tendo daughter.
Ranma and Ukyo had explained all of this, and more, to her after he had explained his curse to her. Once her mind had been made up, Nodoka decided that rather than have Genma kill himself in an attempt to regain his honor, she decided that was too good of a punishment and let him live with the dishonor he had brought upon himself and the shame of losing everything he had when his wife divorced him. It didn't take long for Nodoka and Ranma to find a good number of the people whom Genma had lied to, including Ukyo's father. With the overwhelming number of witnesses present at the court, the judge was quickly able to identify numerous criminal charges against Genma, thus leading Nodoka to gain ownership of the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts, the Saotome home, and Saotome Ranma, their only son. The judge's list of charges included child abuse, for repeatedly throwing Ranma into a pit of starving cats, fraud, larceny, and overall mental incompetence, thus making his decision very easy. With that long chapter of her life complete, Nodoka stopped carrying around her family's katana and placed it on display in the family’s living room, hopefully never to be brought down again other than the reason for cleaning it.
Soon after the divorce was complete, Ranma moved back in with her, but soon asked if he could still attend Furinkan High School back in Nerima. She didn't mind that he had asked that, because that's where his friends and fiancé all went, plus she knew that he would come home every night, and would call her to let her know if he wasn't going to make it. It had obviously been hard for him to live back in a home that he had not known for 12 years at first, but he soon learned to adjust, help around the house, and get to know his mother far more. As a result, she was able to start teaching him how to be a good husband and parent and get him prepared to receive the school when he was ready. And because she was the new owner of the school, she wasn't going to settle for anything less than Ranma being 100% ready before she gave it to him. At Nodoka's request, Ukyo would visit whenever she could and, with her business sense, started to plan on how to run the school in the future, he would teach the classes and she would handle the finances until Ranma was able to handle both tasks so Ukyo would have time to raise the children. All of this talk of the future and having children made Ranma uncomfortable first, but the two women soon got him to accept the fact that Nodoka wanted grandchildren. As it began to sink deeper into Ranma's mind, he applied himself more at school and, as a final result, his grades began to improve significantly.
Nodoka's thoughts on the past and planning for the future were interrupted when she heard the front door open.
"I'm home, Mom!" Ranma announced.
"Welcome home, Ranma," she smiled as he walked in and, as he sat next to her, hugged him, ignoring the sweat he was drenched in, "how was your day?"
"Mom," Ranma said quietly, but directly, "there are a few things I have to talk to you about."
"What is it? Is something wrong?" She sat attentively as he related to her all of the events that had occurred thus far that day.
"Dinner's ready!" Akane informed everyone happily. Nabiki winced as she set the large bowl of chicken curry on the table before her, Soun, Genma, and Kohei. Fortunately for her, Akane had yet to catch her switch her cooking with the store-bought or take-out food she had hidden under the table. Soun soon gained the same idea and was able to afford his with the rent money that Genma paid him, leaving the old Saotome forced to either eat Akane's cooking or starve. Many times he chose the latter.
"Akane-san," Kohei complimented as she handed him his portion, "this looks and smells delicious."
Rookie, Nabiki thought as Akane served her and she made her switch, everyone says that before they learn the hard way.
"I hope everyone enjoys this," Akane smiled and sat. All eyes except hers were turned to Kohei. He didn't seem to notice as he lifted a mouthful to his lips...
Took his first bite...
Chewed it slowly...
During this whole time, Nabiki waited for the explosion.
"It's wonderful!" Kohei exclaimed, "Akane-san, how did you know that spicy foods are my favorite?"
"Really?" that was the best compliment she had ever received on her food, and it only increased more as he ate every piece of meat and grain of rice. Not even Ryoga ever ate that much or that quickly.
"Would you like more?" she asked.
"Absolutely, thank you."
As Akane served him seconds, she looked at the other three, "What's wrong with you guys? You all look like a typhoon blew through the house."
Indeed, Nabiki, Soun, and Genma's faces, clothes, and (for those who had it) hair had all become extremely disheveled from the amount of shock each one had just fallen into. All three of them were still there long after Kohei and Akane had eaten the entire meal themselves and he helped her clean up the table and wash the dishes. Once that was done, he asked her to meet him in the dojo when she was ready.
"And because I accepted his request and because he gave me the Nannichuan water, I'm bound by honor to go with him to China," Ranma concluded.
"So you're going to leave again?" Nodoka asked.
"And you can't guarantee that you're going to come back?"
He nodded again and could tell that what he had just told his mother was difficult for her to take.
"Ranma..." she opened her mouth, and he expected her to say, "it will be hard to watch you leave me again, but honor demands that you go, so I will wait." But her true words surprised him as they became, "I'll have your things ready for you in the morning. All I ask is that you let me come with you to your meeting place and try to contact me whenever you can. If you don't come back, I will soon join you in heaven."
"Mom... don't say things like that. I'm not going to die so easily."
"I know, but that is how a mother feels for her son, Ranma. It's still early, but because you have to leave before dawn, you might want to bathe and go to bed right after dinner."
The sight of the katana displayed on the mantle again reminded Ranma to never argue with his mother.
When Akane finished her homework and changed into her karate gi, she headed out to the dojo, expecting to see Kohei working out, meditating, or running through some katas. But she never would have imagined to see him in the state he was in: He was kneeling in the middle of the dojo and praying. She didn't mean to overhear, but couldn't help herself.
"I've finally found him Mother, Father," he whispered towards the heavens, "we will be returning to China starting tomorrow and, with his help, I can avenge you and free the village. Please lend me your strength and protection along with our ancestors. I am always thinking of you."
Akane didn't know how long he had been at it before she arrived, but her timing was perfect as he was just finishing and stood up. Knowing a little about the Chinese custom of praying to one's ancestors, she asked quietly.
"Do you pray to them often?"
"Every day," he answered softly and with a slight quiver in his voice, not turning around, "their memory and support have been what has kept me going in this strange land."
She could tell that he had been crying, but didn't mention anything of it, "I know how that is. My mother's death changed all of us more than we could have realized." She thought of how Kasumi had worked so hard to become a mother figure for her and Nabiki, how Nabiki had mostly kept it to herself and started to let it eat her from the inside-out, and how she herself had become as she grew up not knowing her. But most of all, her father had taken it the hardest, he had begun to fall away from his daughters and it was only the idea of the promise between him and Genma to unite the schools that kept him from becoming a hermit. She guessed that he must have developed his uncontrollable crying as the results of a near-nervous breakdown that he suffered at his wife's death. "But whenever I go to visit her grave, I feel strengthened whenever I do. I can always feel her presence there and can almost always hear her say, 'Akane, you've done so well since the last time we talked. Never give up and never forget that I'm watching you closely.'"
"Your dedication to your family and friends is admirable," Kohei spoke again, "I wish there were more women in the world like you, Akane-san."
"Th-thank you, Kohei-kun," she stammered, blushing slightly. A few seconds of silence passed, as Akane guessed, while Kohei fully regained his composure, before he did turn around.
"I see you're ready for that training session we talked about earlier."
By looking at his eyes, she saw that he had found some hot water before she arrived. She smirked and readied for her spar, expecting to lose, but she didn't let that stop her from fighting her hardest.
Mekiv Caverns (Seiken Densetsu 4: Legend of Mana)
As Akane had predicted, Kohei was able to dodge and/or defend against her attacks before following through with a counter-attack. At first she was unable to block the counters and found that while his blows had a lot of force behind them, there was no power behind them. It felt strange to get knocked halfway across the room and not feel anything.
"How are you doing that?" she asked as she got back up and attacked again.
"It's a form of chi training," he answered as he dodged her punches and kicks, "it allows me to increase my chi reserve and keep my stamina high. You may notice that-" he caught her with a punch to the ribs, "my fist doesn't actually connect."
She noticed that he was right, his punch connected a couple of centimeters before his fist did. The ki surrounding his blows was what allowed him to knock her back without hurting her. And she could also see his intent in this workout, to have both of them use up their stamina in attacking and defending rather than have large chunks of it deplete when taking hits. Having them use their vitality at a steady rate maximized the time of the spar. What surprised her even more was that during their match he always gave her advice on how to counter certain moves of his, and before long-
"HA!" Akane shouted as she connected her spin-kick into Kohei's stomach, sending him down to the ground.
"Well done, Akane-san," he complimented as he began to get back up, leaving his face locked in its serious expression, "but now I'm going to make it harder. Come at me again!"
This cycle continued for the duration of their training. He would increase his level of fighting and give her advice on how to see any openings and whenever she got in a good hit, the cycle would repeat. It was just as he had said, his intent was to increase her skills at a rate she would be able to handle and gain more confidence in her own abilities, rather than always lose to Ranma, who would just taunt her whenever she was beaten by him.
A good hour-and-a-half passed before Akane's energy finally exhausted and she couldn't fight any longer. Based on how many cycles of his increasing skill they had gone through, she guessed that he was fighting at about 3/4 of the power he used against Ranma that afternoon when they finished.
"You did well, Akane-san," Kohei congratulated as he wiped the sweat off of his brow, "you're very strong."
"Thanks," she said, breathing heavily as she began some cool-down exercises.
"With some extra training, you could become as fast as you are strong."
"Kohei-kun," she asked, "does your fighting style emphasize speed over strength?"
"Yes and no," he answered, "while the Ikimono family style tries to balance them, it is the Amazon-style that works to improve speed."
Akane nodded as she thought about all of the times she had seen Shampoo fight. That purple-headed bimbo was sometimes even faster than Ranma in his female form, but with her moves being so easy for Ranma to read, she always lost to him/her.
"If you'd like," Kohei said again, "I can teach you some training techniques that will improve your speed tomorrow morning before Ranma and I depart."
"I'd like that," she smiled at him again, and then decided it was time to speak what had been on her mind all evening, "but I'm going with you two."
"What?" his eyes widened.
"I helped Ranma defeat Saffron," she stated in her defense, "so I have the same obligation that he does to help you."
Kohei shook his head, "I'm afraid that I can't allow you to come, Akane-san. Did you deliver the killing blow? Are you strong enough to swim to China? Are you aware that you might not return home alive? I'm sorry, but it's just too dangerous of a place for you to be."
Akane scowled as what he said was exactly what Ranma would have said, just in lighter terms. "You're too slow! You're not good enough to handle this! It's too dangerous for you, Akane, let me handle it!" Thoughts of the past welled up, arousing her anger as the one she thought of as the "Chinese Ranma" stood in front of her.
"Akane-san?" Kohei blinked as he saw her angry expression and battle aura literally flare up around her.
"RANMA NO BAKA!!!" she yelled as, with a speed even he couldn't have matched, she charged forward, produced a large, wooden mallet seemingly from nowhere, and hit him upward, flinging him through the roof and into the night sky.
Hmm, she has even more potential than I first imagined, Kohei thought, if she can channel that anger into her fighting like that at will, then she could beat all three of us any day. He was so focused with his thoughts that he didn't even notice his crashing through the roof of another building a few blocks away.
Akane continued to breathe heavily as Mallet-sama vanished from her hands, then realized what she had done. She hadn't malleted Ranma, she had malleted Kohei!
"Kohei-kun!" she called after his vanishing body, but couldn't figure out what else to do. She hoped that this incident hadn't shattered the short friendship they had developed. If it had, then that was the second time she would have screwed everything up from the beginning. It's been a year and he still makes me so mad sometimes! she shouted in her mind, But now I let my anger towards him hurt someone else! She didn't realize that she was now starting to voice her thoughts, "Why can't I ever control it? Why?!" Akane fell to her knees and spent several seconds trying to hold the tears back, "Ranma no baka! If only you were nicer to me! If only I was nicer to you! Then I might have actually been able to openly tell you that I lo-"
"Akane!" Nabiki called from right outside of the dojo, "Phone call! It's Kasumi-onee-chan!"
Akane's mood immediately perked. Kasumi always knew how to cheer her up.
"Onee-chan!" she said happily as she picked up the receiver.
"Hello, Akane," her oldest sister replied on the other end, "a young man came crashing down into the clinic just a few minutes ago. His face had the markings of your mallet and he mistook me for you. Do you know who it might be?"
Akane's eyes widened and she couldn't help but smirk as she thought about how good her aim had been.
"Yes, I know him. Is he hurt?"
"He doesn't appear hurt, but Tofu-sensei is examining him now. What's odd is that both of them are laughing."
"I'll be right there, bye," she immediately hung up and dashed out of the house, still in her gi. She only came back inside when she realized she forgot her shoes.
"Konatsu!" Ukyo half-called/half-yawned as she finished cleaning the grill. Her half-off sale had been an enormous success. The restaurant generated nearly three times the average profits on any given regular day, but they had come dangerously close to running out of ingredients.
"Yes, Ukyo-sama?" the ninja materialized beside her.
"Can you please finish cleaning the place? I've still got to pack."
"Of course, Ukyo-sama. Are you leaving on a trip?"
Ukyo nodded, "I'm going to be gone for quite a while, maybe up to three months. So I think it'll be smarter to not open up again until I come back and order new ingredients. While I'm gone, you should probably go on another trip yourself."
Konatsu complied and nodded, "Yes, Ukyo-sama. I will be sure to protect this your home while you are away."
"Good. Just don't open the place or try to order new ingredients for me while I'm gone," with that, she trudged upstairs and, within a half-hour, was ready to leave the next morning. As she was just about to fall into bed, the phone rang. Konatsu could only hear her half of the conversation.
"Hello?" she asked, then continued to speak, "it's good to hear from you, too. What's that? Oh, don't worry, I already plan on going with him anyway. Okay. See you in the morning. Good night."
After such a long, busy day, sleep was a very welcome guest to Ukyo as she closed her eyes.
When Kohei's vision began to clear after his rough landing, he saw both a man and woman looking at him, but his focus had only returned enough to differentiate them in that sense.
"Oh my," the woman said, "he's starting to come to. Anata, is he hurt?"
"He'll be okay," the man assured her, "but do you see that mark on his face? It looks all too familiar."
As his vision fully recovered, he was able to make out the details on each of their faces. The woman looked strikingly like someone he knew.
"Excuse me? No, I'm her sister, Kasumi. And this is my husband, Tofu."
"Oh, I can see the resemblance you two share. You have the same eyes."
"May I ask who you are and how you met Akane?"
"Certainly, I am Ikimono Kohei, son of Ikimono Shinji and the Amazon Ji Lu from the village of Ryuchiezu in the Bayankala Mountain Range of the Qinghai Province of China. I met Akane-san at school this morning."
"You have the air of a martial artist," Tofu said, "were you sparring with Akane-chan?"
"Yes. But what I found unusual is that she didn't hit me this hard until after the match was over and she pulled a large mallet from nowhere."
Kasumi stood up, knowing full well what had happened, "I'll go call Akane and tell her you're here," and left the room. Once she was gone, Kohei was able to take a quick glance around the room. He noticed several anatomy and pressure point charts hanging on the walls.
"Tofu-san," he asked, "are you a doctor?"
"Yes, I am," he answered meekly, "and in actuality, I've know Akane-chan since she was little."
"Was she always as strong as she is now?" he questioned again as Tofu had now brought some kind of salve and was applying it to his cheek.
"Do you know Ranma-kun?"
"Yes, I do."
"Well, until he showed up, Akane-chan would single-handedly defeat every club captain at school every morning. And when he did show up, she would still have enough energy left over to give him a good beating whenever she got mad at him, too."
"She told me she was once supposed to marry him. How would he have ever survived long enough to even make it through the wedding?"
"Because he's got such a good doctor so close by," Tofu didn't boast in that statement, but it did remind him of the many times Akane brought a beat-up Ranma into the clinic, 99% of the time by her hand. The happy memories only caused him to burst into laughter as he described some of the ways Ranma had been mangled when he was brought in. Kohei soon began to understand why the young doctor was laughing and quickly fell in with him. Akane-san really brings more happiness into people's lives than she may realize, he thought as he laughed. That incident and the earlier one with Akane knocking him out of the tree had been the first times he'd laughed in quite a long time, but nobody would have guessed that.
When the two finished their joyful moment, Kohei asked Dr. Tofu about pressure points that he knew about and which effects they had. It wasn't long before he widened his eyes in awe as the doctor listed several sets of points that fell beyond the boundaries of his knowledge. All of the pressure points that he had learned about were taught to him by his mother, and even she would have been surprised to learn about how much Tofu knew. There was one particular set that, when he explained what it was for, caused Kohei's face to turn beet red as he decided to wait until he was married and only use it on his bride before attempting it at all.
When Akane did arrive a few minutes later, the three of them shared a long conversation on martial arts and Kohei's home village while Kasumi served tea and cake. It wasn't until he and Akane began walking back to the Tendo household that the trip to China was again brought up.
"I'm sorry for hitting you because of your concern for me," she apologized.
"It was my fault, really," he said, "I was the one who made you angry. But I learned one other thing about you, Akane-san; you have more potential than you realize."
He nodded, "If you could learn to summon the power behind your anger at will, you could turn it inward and enhance your abilities immensely. All it will take is some extra training."
She could see where he was going with this, but said, "But I don't know any ki attacks or techniques that would let me control that kind of power."
"That's why I'm going to teach you how as we travel to China. That is, if you still want to come with us."
She smiled, "Of course. Thank you, Kohei-kun."
As he saw her smile, he could feel some slightly strange new feeling begin to well up inside of him. You have a special air about you, Akane-san, he thought, when I'm with you I feel like my pain can be bearable. A few more minutes brought them back to the young girl's home where they concluded the day and awaited the following morning through sleep.
When morning did arrive, Akane awoke exactly at dawn so she would be able to have time to leave before anyone else who lived at the house could wake up. She felt bad for only leaving a note to announce her departure, but there was no other way as she wouldn't have had time to deal with her dad's bawling and clinging attitude when he realized that he was about to lose another woman in his life. This was the only time when he would have expressed concern for her anymore, but it would have only been out of his interest, not hers. Akane sighed as she simply wrote.
Dad and Nabiki,
I've left to go to China with Ranma and Kohei-kun. Don't worry about me and don't follow me. I expect to be gone anywhere from two-to-three months. I love you both and I'll miss you.
As soon as she finished her brief letter, she quietly slipped into her travelling clothes, hauled her large pack onto her shoulders, and quietly tip-toed down the hall to Kasumi's old room, which was where Kohei had slept, and was surprised to find a note addressed to her. Kohei's message simply said, "Akane-san, I've gone on ahead. We'll wait for you at the meeting place. Do not worry, I'll make sure that Ranma does not leave you behind." Wondering how he was able to get his things ready and leave so quickly and quietly, she left her letter on the downstairs telephone and dashed towards the field behind the school.
Ranma ran and hopped across the rooftops of Nerima as fast as he could. He and Nodoka had taken the earliest train into the district and, once they arrived, separated briefly as Nodoka said she needed to make one quick stop, allowing him to travel his preferred way. As he arrived at the rendezvous point, he found, as he expected, Kohei to be waiting for him, but not to see who he was with.
"I have awaited the entire night for your return, Ikimono Kohei," Kuno declared, "and today shall be different than the previous!"
"Are you so without honor and humility as to never learn that there will always be others who are more skilled than you?" Kohei asked in angry disbelief at how idiotic Kuno was behaving. Ranma knew how he felt.
"Kuno Tatewaki never admits defeat. It is only an array of setbacks that has allowed me to make mistakes."
"Jeez, Kuno," Ranma stepped in, "how dumb can you be? You were the one who ran into him yesterday and didn't you notice how fast he kicked your butt?"
"Silence, foul Saotome!" he pointed his bokken at him, "this morning I shall smite thee as well and set at liberty the lovely Akane Tendo, the voluptuous pig-tailed girl, and the ravishing Kuonji Ukyo so that their hearts may be once again mine!"
"They were never yours to begin with!" Ranma shouted, then remembered, "and as for the pig-tailed girl, you'll never see her again!"
"Still thy tongue! What have you done with her?!"
"Nothing," Ranma shrugged.
"You lie, foul Saotome!"
"He's right," Kohei admitted, "I was the one who made it so she would never appear again."
Ranma grinned, now knowing that they shared the same intent: to make Kuno blindingly angry and get his ki hot enough.
"Murderer! On my honor I shall smite thee!" he raised his bokken and prepared to charge.
"What honor, Kuno?" Ranma taunted, "She's told me about all of the dishonorable things you've done to her."
"Dare I ask?" Kohei looked at him.
"Foul sorcerers, both of you! I shall send you both to the depths of hell!"
"Bring it on!" Ranma shouted as Kohei similarly yelled, "I accept your challenge!" and they both rushed in with the Kendo club captain in between them, both moving fast enough to confuse him as to where to strike.
"Ranma!" Kohei called to him as they prepared their attack, "get back! I don't want this attack to hit you!"
"Don't worry about me! I know what you're going to do and I'm gonna help you!"
He could tell that Kohei didn't quite understand what he meant, but he stayed on Kuno's end opposite of Kohei as they spiraled their ice cold ki around Kuno's burning hot ki.
"HIRYUU SHOTEN HA!!!"
"HIRYUU SHOTEN HA!!!"
Ranma didn't quite know what the result was going to be when they raised their arms into the air. He smirked as the resulting two whirlwinds combined into one enormous vortex and sent Kuno flying out of the school grounds, maybe even out of the district. Once the winds died down, Kohei again looked at him in amazement.
"Ranma," he asked calmly, "who taught you that move? That's the second secret Amazon technique I've seen you use."
He shrugged, "The same old ghoul who taught me the Amaguriken."
"Was she an Amazon? What was her name?"
"Yeah, she is. Her name's C-"
"Ranchan!" Ukyo called concernedly as she ran onto the field, wearing her pack and carrying her portable okonomiyaki grill.
"Hi, Ucchan," he greeted as if nothing had happened, "are you going on a trip too while we're gone?"
"You jackass!" she replied angrily, "first I see you create a Hiryuu Shoten Ha bigger than my restaurant, and when I come running up to make sure you didn't kill yourself with it, you just ask me if 'I'm going on a trip?' like you just didn't do anything major!"
"Okay, okay, Ucchan, calm down," Ranma raised his hands in front of him to ward her off.
"No wonder Auntie Nodoka asked me to come with you," she continued, "not that I wasn't planning to if she hadn't."
"WHA?!" Ranma's eyes nearly popped out.
"Ucchan's right, Ranma," Nodoka said as she entered the area, "I asked her to go with you, not only to cook for you, but also so you could spend some more time together."
Ranma sighed, wanting to kick himself for not thinking that this was going to happen. No wonder his mom had let him go so easily!
"You don't want me to come?" Ukyo asked, changing her vocal tone to a cutesy one.
"Knock it off, Ucchan. I'll let you come if you want to."
"Really?" she beamed, "I'm so happy!" and all of her anger vanished as she glomped him. Ranma could only wince in pain as her portable grill smacked him dead on in the back.
Meanwhile, Nodoka had just noticed Kohei's standing there.
"Excuse me," she asked, "are you Ikimono Kohei-san?"
"Yes, I am," he answered, "what can I do for you?"
"I wanted to thank you for removing my son's curse. And I also have a request."
"What is that, Saotome-sama?"
"Please send my son and his fiancé home alive. He is my only child."
"I have no doubts that we will succeed," Kohei bowed, "Ranma and I have already shown each other that we make a formidable team. And with the many allies who are joining us both here and in China, our power will only grow."
"My," she was taken aback, "for one raised in such an isolated village, your Japanese is excellent."
"Thank you, Saotome-sama. My father taught me that the mind and body cannot be disciplined before the mouth, as that is the entrance to both."
"Your father is very wise."
"Thank you. My only hope is that I remain worthy to carry his and my mother's blood."
"Do not worry, Kohei-san, your parents are very proud of you."
"I know, Saotome-sama," he looked up into the dim morning sky and sighed, "I know."
"There was one other Chinese Amazon about your age who came to Nerima and lived here with her great-grandmother for a long time. But they suddenly left a year ago and no one has seen them around here ever since."
"What were their names? Mother often took me to other Amazon villages, so I might know them."
"The girl's name is-" the arrival of one more person interrupted Nodoka, "Akane-chan?"
"Akane?" Ranma and Ukyo asked in disbelief as they turned to see Akane stop in between the two groups.
"Good morning, everyone," she greeted, smiling, "hello, Auntie Saotome. It's good to see you again."
"It's good to see you too, Akane-chan," Nodoka replied, "but why have you come? Are you travelling to China too?"
"Sure am," before Ranma could say anything, she quickly explained, "Kohei-kun wants to take the one who defeated Saffron, but I helped Ranma beat him. So I'm in this as much as Ranma."
"She has enormous potential. And the training I plan to give her will help to increase her skills greatly," Kohei added, "which is why I agreed to allow her to join us."
"All right!" Ukyo cheered, knowing that she didn't have to worry about Akane as competition, "now I won't be the only girl!"
"Ucchan?" Ranma looked at her in the same amount of disbelief, "you too?"
"Of course, Sugar," she grinned, "it can get lonely sometimes."
"Very well," Nodoka spoke, "if Kohei-san and Ucchan have no arguments against Akane-chan travelling with all of you, then I wish her a safe trip as well. Ranma, you have a long road ahead of you. Please help Kohei-san protect these girls and come home alive and victorious."
Ranma didn't feel trapped this time as he held his head high and proudly stated, "I will, Mom."
Once all of the good-byes had taken place, the group of four teens set out on their journey to China and Kohei's home village of Ryuchiezu. The half-amazon had them follow a strict pattern of training in the morning and travelling in the afternoon. The first third of the exercises would have Kohei and Ranma take turns training with one-on-one Akane and Ukyo and try to teach them some new tricks and techniques. While Ranma was against this at first, as he didn't like fighting the girls, the conviction came to him through the medium of Ukyo's spatula and Akane's fist, again showing him that they weren't afraid to hit him. The second third of each session was a spar between partners of Akane vs. Ukyo and Ranma vs. Kohei one day, and switching to the other three as the four-day cycle progressed. The final third was especially aimed towards Ranma and Kohei, as they were deemed the two best martial artists in the group. Every other day, they would rotate with one of them fighting all of the other three at the same time. At Ranma's insistence, this would be the only time when Kohei would ever intentionally change into his cursed form. But on the day of Kohei's third turn...
"I'm ready!" he announced, throwing his canteen aside after dousing himself, "Come at me, all three of you!" and awaited their assault.
Ranma and the two girls all tried to take him at the same time, but, using his non-painful, high-force ki attacks, he soon knocked the two girls aside for a few seconds so he could concentrate on Ranma. He didn't hold back at all against Ranma, who had now become wise to all of his skills in cursed form and was now able to hold out against him for much longer. About 20 minutes of this passed before Ranma began to notice something. He's getting angry! he thought as he saw Kohei's next move and blocked it, This could be my chance! Using the split-second opening that he gained when Kohei knocked Akane back to his advantage, he set his heart to ice and spiraled around Kohei's now hot ki. Not knowing how he was able to manage executing the technique, he was still able to do it.
"Hiryuu Shoten Ha!"
The whirlwind appeared the instant he raised his arm to the air...
But Ranma never expected his wrist to be grabbed.
"Oh no you don't," Kohei growled, "I'm not the one going up there!" and threw him up into the tornado. "Didn't the one who taught you the Hiryuu Shoten Ha also teach you ways that it can be countered?!"
Ranma could only watch as Kohei leapt off of the ground and shout,
"Sun Rises in the East!"
His jump and extended fist were like that of when he executed his Shigami no Genkotsu technique. This time, he rode the winds upward, gathered their power, and, working his fist around Ranma's defenses, slammed between his ribs, hard, before kicking him back down.
Back on the ground, Akane and Ukyo, managing to jump outside of the range of the whirlwind, saw this and stared in awe.
"Only Herb was able to reverse it," said Akane, "and what technique did Kohei-kun use? It looks like the Hiryuu Korin Dan but it also looks like his Death-God's Fist."
"Ranchan!" Ukyo called as she saw him fall towards them. She immediately ran under and caught him. But the velocity of his landing sent her to the round as he hit. "Are you okay?"
"He got angry on purpose just to show that the Hiryuu Shoten Ha can be countered like that..." Ranma held his ribs and started to get back up.
"Ranchan! You can't fight anymore today!" she tried to hold him down.
"Lemme go, Ucchan," he tried to pry her off, "I've had worse and have been able to come back and win. The spar isn't over yet, either.
"Something's wrong," Akane noticed, "Kohei-kun hasn't landed yet." The other two looked up to see that she was right, he was nowhere to be seen.
Several meters away from the sparring circle and campsite, Kohei had landed into one of the trees after jumping off of Ranma, but something was wrong with him. He was breathing hard and heavily, not from fatigue, but from something else. His eyes exuberated fear as he looked at his hands and could see his rigid fingers almost becoming deformed. I know it was a mistake to allow my control to waver like that, he thought, I've got to fight it!
"Kohei-kun!" he could hear Akane's voice call to him from below. She had obviously come looking for him.
"Akane-san!" he responded in a loud shout, "You have to run back to camp and get me hot water, now!"
"Are you all right?!"
"Please, Akane-san! I can't subdue it for much longer!"
"A-all right!" it was obvious that she didn't understand, but he could hear her start to run back to the camp. His brief conversation with her allowed the last of his control to falter. As a wave of pain washed over him, he grabbed his head and cried out. Once it subsided, Kohei slowly stood up on the branch and emitted a loud howl. Not the howl of battle...
but the howl of a wolf.
"What was that?!" Ukyo, who had taken Ranma's shirt off and was applying some salve to his very bruised front, asked as she turned her head towards the direction of the loud cry that echoed across the entire forest. She had also turned back in time to see Akane sprint back towards them.
"Something's wrong with Kohei-kun!" she exclaimed as she ran towards the pot of water that Ukyo had also just set on the fire to boil so they could eat a quick meal of instant ramen before heading out for the afternoon. The water hadn't heated up very much so she looked around for something, anything else. But she had no luck.
"Don't look now, but here he comes," Ukyo reached to draw her combat spatula when she saw the green-haired man come walking into the camp, sniffing loudly, but Ranma quickly grabbed her wrist and shook his head when she looked at him.
"He can smell our food," he whispered.
"What's wrong with him?" Ukyo asked.
"He's acting like a wild animal," Ranma answered and stood up beside her. What was unusual though, was that he was walking on two legs instead of four.
Kohei slowly walked right past the two of them and headed towards the scent of the pile of food that was near the fire, and Akane. But when he noticed that she was between him and the food, he emitted a low growl.
"Kohei-kun," she turned and saw him, "what's wrong?"
"Akane!" Ranma called in a loud whisper, "back away slowly and don't make any sudden moves!"
"O-okay," she obeyed and began to back up around to the other side of the fire. But, Akane being Akane, found a rock to trip over. She hit the ground only a meter away from the fire and let out a loud cry of surprise. An instant before the strangely-acting Kohei was about to eat all of the noodles and seasonings raw, her loud noise and quick movement startled him. Seeing her as a threat, he snarled loudly, and lunged towards her with his fingers hooked into claws!
"Akane!" Ranma and Ukyo shouted as they ran over to stop him, but weren't fast enough.
"No! I don't want to hurt Akane-san!"
Kohei was just about to reach her neck when she saw an easy opening, grabbed his shirt, and threw him over her with her foot. As he landed on his side, he let out a loud yelp and whimpered slightly. By now, Ranma and Ukyo had gotten to her. But more importantly, the water looked like it was about to boil.
"Forgive me, Kohei-kun," Akane produced her mallet and smacked the pot, sending it and all of its contents onto him.
"Is he okay?" Ukyo asked.
"I don't know," replied the youngest Tendo as she shook her head before running over to him and knocking the pot aside. He lay sprawled on his back, breathing hard, but sound relieved. While his skin was red from the heat of the water, he didn't look like he was in pain.
"Thank you, Akane-san," he said, "I'm sorry... for worrying... all of you..."
"Forget it," Ranma waved it aside, "but what happened to you?"
"It was my mistake in letting... the wolf's spirit overtake me when... I purposefully got angry to counter... your Hiryuu Shoten Ha, Ranma..."
"So if you're not careful with your emotions in cursed form, then-"
"I turn into a wolf, mentally, yes," Kohei finished, "because that was the last spring I dove into before Nannichuan, it's influence is the strongest. I have no control over my body when the wolf's spirit overtakes it, but I know everything that happens.
"Hmm," Akane mused, "instead of the Cat Fist, your technique can be called the Wolf Fist."
"I've never heard of the Cat Fist. What kind of technique is it?"
"You don't want to know!" Ranma shouted as those horrid memories arose. After a few more minutes of recovery, the day continued on as normal.
Other than that one major mishap, there were no extremely unusual occurrences during the entire trip. When they reached the western coasts of Japan, Ukyo surprised everyone by buying them a small rowboat, mostly thanks to her large windfall from the night before they left. Their method of travel reminded Ranma all too much of the trip to fight Kirin and the students of the Seven Lucky Gods School of Martial Arts, but he didn't complain as it definitely beat swimming to China. Following their training and travelling routine as Kohei led them through the Bayankala range towards his village, they arrived about seven weeks after they had left.
"There it is," Kohei gestured to the cluster of buildings on the horizon, "my birthplace of Ryuchiezu."
"Wow," Akane admired as she shaded her eyes from setting sun to get a better look, "it's bigger than I thought it would be."
"It won't do us any good to stand here gawking," Ranma complained, "let's just get there already." Rather than chide him for his impatience, everyone agreed and they arrived on the outskirts one hour later.
"My home is on this very edge," Kohei guided as he looked around to make sure no one saw their arrival through the eastern gate, "I hope we can have time to get there unnoticed and rest until tomorrow before we talk to Grandfather."
"You seem awfully relaxed about this," Ranma said, "don't you want to go beat Hashin right now?"
"I don't know where he hides in between his monthly raids," he admitted, shaking his head, "my plan is to wait for him to return on the next full moon and catch him by surprise."
By this time, he had led them without discovery to his family's house, where Ukyo noticed something.
"Kohei," she pointed to the large sign on the building, written in both Chinese and Japanese, "your house is a ramen stand?"
He took a quick glance at it and easily figured something out, "It looks like my guests who took care of my home and sister while I was gone opened it up to bring in some extra revenue."
"You had someone take care of your house?" Akane inquired.
"Yes, and I'd like you to meet them, and my younger sister, Miki," Kohei ignored the "CLOSED" sign on the door when he opened it and led the three from Japan into his small house. It was a two-story wooden hut that consisted of at least four rooms on the first floor and they could see a staircase leading up to the second floor, as well as one leading down to a basement.
"Nihao!" Kohei called as they stepped in, "Miki! Xian Pu! Mou Su! I'm home!"
Ranma, Ukyo, and Akane all stopped dead, too stunned to continue forward.
"Xian Pu...?" Akane whispered in disbelief.
"Mou Su...?" Ukyo continued.
"There's no way..." Ranma finished.
Their shock heightened as they heard a loud, excited "Aiyah!" come from upstairs and Shampoo, the same Shampoo whom Ranma was once supposed to marry and who none of them had seen in over a year, bounded down the stairs and, not seeing them, glomped Kohei.
"[Cousin Kohei!]" she exclaimed in Chinese, "[Welcome home!]"
"[It's good to see you, Xian Pu,]" he responded.
But their shock climaxed when they saw her smile at him...
And kiss his cheek.