Part 3


Miki's Theme: Airen, My Husband (Ranma 1/2 - Akanekodan Teki Hihou)

     Both Akane and Ranma's expressions held equal amounts of shock at what had just happened while Ukyo, who wasn't at all familiar with the Kiss of Death, looked more confused than shocked. Only the okonomiyaki chef's mind was conscious enough to hear the remainder of Kohei and Shampoo's conversation, even though she couldn't understand a word of it.

     "[It looks like you've done a good job of taking care of my home while I was gone,]" Kohei commented.

     "[After all you've done for me and Mou Su, I was more than happy to take care of your home and sister,]" she answered, then asked, "[how was your journey? Did you find who you were looking for?]"

     "[Yes, I found him. He and his friends are right behind me.]"

     For the first time since their arrival, Shampoo looked behind the green-haired man and, as she did a double take, the expression of happiness and surprise in her face became even greater than the shock still present on Ranma and Akane. She immediately leapt over Kohei, jumped off of his back, and flung herself towards the group with outstretched arms shouting, "Ranma!"

     Akane had recovered enough by this time only to remember that she could do nothing about this while Ukyo, who could, jumped in front of Ranma. But both girls were taken aback when they found themselves in Shampoo's group glomp as she continued, "Ukyo! Akane! It's been a long time!"

     Questions immediately began to flood Akane's mind: What was Shampoo doing here and not at her own village? What was her relationship with Kohei? Why was she glad to see the two who were once her primary rivals? Why had she called them by name instead of "spatula girl" and "pervert girl?" And why...? The surprise generated from her last question caused her to blurt it out loud and be the first thing said by any of the three.

     "Shampoo, your hair!" she exclaimed as she examined down her back, "you cut your hair!"

     "Huh?" both Ranma and Ukyo blinked and, while slightly more difficult for the man, they too noticed that Shampoo's once long, flowing purple hair that ran all the way down behind her knees now didn't even reach the small of her back. Plus, the two buns that were on each side of the top of her head were now gone. The vibrant girl grinned, released the three of them from her vice-like Amazon grip, turned around, and struck a modeling pose.

     "Do you like it?" she asked, "I cut it not too long ago."

     Something was wrong. Akane could easily see that sadness hiding behind her eyes. And the way she spoke in Japanese, it was completely coherent; not the broken up dialect that Chinese people assumed Japanese people spoke and she utilized. Was this really Shampoo?

     "From the look of what's just happened, I guess it's unnecessary to make introductions," Kohei observed as he stepped closer to the group.

     "Yeah," Ranma answered quietly, looking at all three of the girls, "we knew each other for a couple of years. It's been a while, Shampoo." He was obviously remembering the time when he was engaged to them all.

     "But how do you two know each other?" Ukyo asked as she looked between the full-blooded and half-blooded Amazons.

     "That's a simple explanation," Kohei answered as he placed a hand on Shampoo's shoulder, "Xian Pu is the daughter of my mother's sister. But we didn't even know about each other until we met earlier this year." The Japanese trio's eyes widened again.

     "If you guys are cousins," Ranma blurted, "then why'd she give you the Kiss of Death just now?"

     Kohei and Shampoo looked at each other, blinked, and she burst out laughing while he just smirked.

     "That wasn't the Kiss of Death," he explained, "only those of the same gender can exchange the Kiss of Death. She was just greeting me."

     "Oh...” Akane and Ranma both sighed in relief upon hearing that explanation.

     Ukyo continued the array of questions, "So, how did you come to live here?"

     Shampoo stood silent and looked down at the ground for a moment before opening her mouth to speak. She had barely begun to utter her first word when Ranma suddenly leapt outside the doorway in time to avoid a large mace that fell onto where he had stood.

     Ranma immediately knew who it was that had attacked him and leapt up onto the roof in time to hear the challenge that he almost had begun to miss, "Saotome, prepare to die!" and dodge another volley of chains, harpoons, spears, and various other weapons before coming to a halt on the edge. He looked across the top of the building to see his opponent glaring at him from the opposite end.

     "Hey, Mousse," Ranma greeted, "how ya been?"

     "What are you doing here, Saotome?" he practically barked, "Have you come to steal Shampoo from me again?"

     Ranma shrugged, "Hey, Kohei brought me here. I had no idea that you and Shampoo were here."

     While he expected a loud "You lie!" followed by another assault as the reply, he was wrong.

     "Hmm," Mousse lowered his stance, "so you were the one Kohei was looking for. I should have guessed." Ranma noticed something about the weapons master.

     "How'd you recognize me without your glasses, anyway?"

     He snickered, "I no longer have need of that burden. I can now see as well as anyone and as to how I did it, is my secret."

     "Mousse had vision correction surgery," came Shampoo's voice from the edge between them, where she'd just leapt onto, "it cost him everything he had."

     Ranma couldn't hold back his laughter; "Mousse got vision correction surgery! How'd you afford it?!" he asked between fits.

     "Think about how much money most of my weapons where worth," he muttered, "but I had to do it, or Shampoo wouldn't have agreed to marry me." Had Ranma not been a martial artist, his surprise would have caused him to fall from the roof.

     "You two got married?!" he exclaimed. From below he could hear Ukyo and Akane start talking about it, and in the dim light, he could see Shampoo smile and nod.

     "Let's go back down before you tell us," he said before they could start, "Ucchan and Akane might want to hear this too."

     "Mousse can tell you," Shampoo quickly stated, "I'm going to find Miki and tell her Kohei is home," and immediately leapt to the next building and headed for the center of the village.

     "Is she okay?" Ranma asked, "she's in a pretty big hurry."

     "The last year has been a nightmare for Shampoo," Mousse explained as he walked up next to him, "I'll explain what I know," then jumped down. Ranma noticed that his hair was about half as short as it had once been. What's with them cutting their hair? he thought as he met everyone else on the ground.

     After everyone had settled back inside of Kohei's house, numerous questions were all thrown at Mousse without giving him a chance to answer.

     "Where've you been for the past year?" Ranma asked.

     "When did you and Shampoo get married?" Ukyo inquired.

     "Why did you come here instead of going home to your own village?" Akane questioned.

     "Give me some time!" he finally interjected, "I'll just tell you what happened to us and that will answer everything." The trio began to calm down while Kohei simply leaned against the wall watching the front door. He already knew of most of the events they'd gone through and was simply waiting for Shampoo to return with Miki. Mousse began his story.

     I don't know exactly what happened but, one day last year when Shampoo returned from a journey, all she did was tell the old ghoul that it was time to return home. But as she had failed to marry Ranma or kill Akane, she had broken the law more than enough to warrant a death sentence against her. It had become so bad that even the old ghoul couldn't ignore it anymore. I don't know why she had to do what the ghoul told her to, either kill Ukyo, not Akane, or she would have killed her where she stood. But, rather than do anything that would make Ranma sad, she did the unthinkable: renounced her Amazon heritage and cut her hair!

     "She did what?!" the two girls asked at the same time.

     "That's why our hair is shorter than you remember," Mousse explained, "we're no longer Amazons."

     "She renounced her heritage because of me...” Even though Mousse had just begun his story, Ranma had already heard more than enough. Looking ready to explode, he stood up and stormed outside without another word, or at least any understandable words. His angry shouts could be heard the second he got outside.

     "Ranchan!" without hesitation Ukyo leapt onto her feet and dashed out after him.

     "Wait!" Akane called after them.

     "Let them go," Mousse interrupted.

     "Kohei-kun," Akane turned to him, "you knew all of this?"

     "I did," Kohei didn't move, "but not everything. Xian Pu refused to tell me any names. Continue, Mou Su."

     "Shouldn't we wait for Ranma and Ukyo?" Akane asked.

     "Give Ranma a chance to calm down before he hears the rest," Mousse said, "he'll hear it when he's ready."

     I had been listening in on the conversation this whole time, and it was then that I finally realized how deep her feelings for Ranma were. I also knew that while she might never have done the same for me, I was always willing to make any sacrifice for her. I stormed into the room and faced the old ghoul. I had nothing to lose from renouncing my heritage, but I could see the burden lifted from Shampoo's shoulders as I too cut my hair. I don't know why she did what she did, but the next thing I knew was that she began to treat me like she did Ranma. If it was to fill the newly empty void in her heart or if she genuinely saw through her negative feelings for me, I don't know. We left Nerima that night and, even though I proposed to her again, she refused, at least until I found a way to repair my eyes. Like she said, I found a surgeon and had my vision restored. But as a result, we had no money. After failing to find jobs and no longer being legal residents, we soon had no choice but to leave the country before the government deported us.

     This had gone on for three months before we returned to China. And once we did, we ran into the same problem: No one was willing to take us in or help us. After another six months of wandering, we decided to return to Jusenkyo and switch places. She would jump into Nannichuan and I into Nyaniichuan, then find the Musk and ask for some Chittsuon. Afterwards we would find a new Amazon village to settle into because the people at Nyuchiezu would have killed us on sight and obviously spread our desertions to the rest of the clan.

     "You were that desperate!" Akane couldn't believe what she'd just heard.

     "Yes," Mousse nodded.

     "How awful... please go on."

     We had no idea that our plans would be shattered because we forgot about Jusenkyo's flooding. So we headed north, not knowing that our path would take us exactly where we needed to be.

     "[Mou Su,]" Shampoo suddenly stopped walking and put her hand to her ear, "[do you hear that?]"

     Mousse also stopped and listened intently, "[I do. It sounds like a battle.]"

     "[Do you think it's an Amazon? If we helped her win the battle we might be welcomed into her village!]" she immediately sprung into a fast run towards the faint sound of fighting in the distance.

     "[Xian Pu, wait!]" Mousse called as he ran after her; "[Did you forget about how much pride the Amazons have? They'd never let us interfere in a one-on-one battle! And if it's anyone from our village, shed take time to kill us first, then fight who she's up against now!]"

     Shampoo obviously wasn't listening as she continued her full sprint over the crest of the hill that stood between them as the sounds of the fight raged on and became louder. When the two of them reached the peak of the hill, they were in time to see a young, green-haired man who was down use the Bakusai Tenketsu to send sharp rocks into his opponent, who was nearly twice his size, and throw a sword into his chest, causing a reverse explosion from the large man's growing ball of energy that sent him flying over into the next mountain.

     "[Mou Su!]" Shampoo exclaimed, "[he used the Bakusai Tenketsu! It is an Amazon!]"

     "[It looks like he's overdone it. Look, there's someone else down there," he pointed to another body, that of a woman, nearby.

     "[Let's help them,]" she briefly looked over to the horizon, "[there's a village over there. We'll take them there.]"

     The two sprinted down along the opposite side of the hill and soon arrived at the two limp bodies. Mousse checked the young man's breathing, which, thankfully, was normal. He was going to be all right. He hefted the unconscious man onto his shoulders piggyback and walked back to Shampoo, who was on her knees and looked at her sadly.

     "[She's dead,]" she said quietly as she shook her head, "[what could have killed her?]"

     "[That giant must have had enormous power at his disposal. But look at this man, he could be her son. And he's still alive.]"

     Shampoo looked up and compared the faces of the two and cracked a smile, "[Let's take them to the village,]" and lifted the dead woman's body onto her back.

     We had never heard of Ryuchiezu, and were surprised to find out that it was not an Amazon village, even though it was on Amazon land. When the people saw us carrying Kohei and Gel, we were welcomed to Ryuchiezu and everything about the people was explained to us. As soon as she heard her name, Shampoo recognized Gel as the name of her aunt, who she was told died soon after Shampoo was born. Shampoo was ecstatic that her aunt was not dead and immediately became close to Kohei and Miki, for as far as she was concerned, they were her only living relatives. Until then, we could not find anyone willing to marry us, but the village elder was more then willing.

     Only a couple of weeks after our wedding, after Hashin had returned, Kohei disappeared one morning without leaving us any notice. When we asked his grandfather, he simply told us that Kohei had gone on a journey to find someone to train under, but he wouldn't tell us who. His grandfather had also mentioned that he had left his home and sister in our care until he returned. But on every full moon for the five months we've lived here, Hashin would return to collect the "taxes" and take another girl. The people agreed to hide Shampoo as she was not born in this village, but Miki has been in that line every month. As thanks to Kohei for giving us a new home, Shampoo and I have been training to help him fight Hashin when he returned.

     "That's all that's happened since we last saw each other," Mousse concluded.

     "You've done well in protecting my home and sister, Mou Su," Kohei commended.

     "I noticed that Shampoo's Japanese has gotten better," Akane mentioned.

     "The teachers here have been working with her very closely," Mousse explained, "she's still got a few old habits in her speaking from when she's excited, angry, or speaking too quickly."

     To illustrate Mousse's point, the front door immediately slammed open and a loud, happy voice announced, "Nihao! I home!" along with a younger, angrier voice that shouted, "KOHEI!!!"

     Despite the dark night now that the sun had completely set, Ukyo had no problem finding where Ranma had run off to outside of the village, for the loud swearing and sounds of shattering objects easily revealed his position. While she desperately wanted to walk over and hug him, she also knew better to wait until he calmed down, unless things got really nasty. For the next several minutes, she simply stood back and waited for the sounds of shattering rocks to stop.

     "Shampoo you bitch!" he shouted, "why didn't you ever tell me that you heard me! You never had to throw your life away because of me! I would have helped you!" A green sphere of energy began forming in his hands.

     "Oh no!" Ukyo exclaimed.

     "Damn it all! You make me so mad sometimes!" What she didn't know was that he was referring to himself that time. The sphere increased in size.

     "Ranchan! Stop it!" without thinking, Ukyo ran up, tackled Ranma from behind, and held him to the ground, "Don't use the Shishi Hokodan!"

     "Let me go, Ucchan!" he shouted, her grip was too strong for him to push her aside.

     "No," she answered softly, "no... I'll never let you go. Even if the gods themselves tried to separate us, I'll never let you go. I'm here for you, Ranchan. I'll always be here for you."

     The calm tone behind Ukyo's voice slowly breached through his shell of rage and he soon settled down enough to allow her to reposition themselves as Ukyo sat up with her legs folded underneath and holding Ranma's head in her lap.

     "Now," she whispered, "what's wrong?"

     "What have I done, Ucchan?" he asked quietly, "I never wanted to hurt anyone, but now I've ruined yours, Akane's, and Shampoo's lives. I can't believe I never saw it until now; When we were exploring those Musk ruins and I saw that I nearly killed you, I shouted out loud that I loved you and wouldn't trade you for anything. Shampoo must've heard me say that. I was so worried about you that I never noticed how she had acted slightly cold to me when she came into the room and now that I remember, her voice seemed to crack a little. She left that night, probably to beat us back to Nerima and pack up to return to China so she wouldn't have to face me. But, as Mousse said, the old ghoul stopped ignoring her failures. So rather than kill you and force me to marry her, or die, she gave up her past. Ucchan, this is all because she heard me!" He put his hands over his face, ashamed to look into his fiancé’s eyes.

     "It's not your fault, Ranchan," she confirmed as she moved his hands, "Shampoo was the one who chose to do what she did."

     "Then why do I feel so damn lousy!" he raised his voice again, but only for a moment, "sorry, Ucchan."

     "Don't worry about it, Sugar. At least we know that Shampoo and Mousse are still alive."

     "Ucchan?" he looked up at her, "I thought you hated Shampoo."

     "I do," she grinned, but looked away.

     "Ucchan, even though you're a great businesswoman you're not a very good liar."

     "You're right," she giggled, "but I can't lie to you, Ranchan. Even when we were rivals, I couldn't hate her. And she's given me some of the best workouts I've ever had."

     "Oh? And I'm no better?"

     "You always hold back, but if you gave it your all-"

     Ukyo was interrupted as Ranma, moving at full speed, quickly sat up and switched their places by pulling her into his lap.

     "Then I'd take you by surprise," he grinned.

     "Uh..." her face produced the familiar red tinge, "yeah..." then she regained herself, "Feeling better?"

     "Yeah. Thanks Ucchan."

     She snuggled up to him, "Anytime, my Ranchan. Anytime."

     Ranma just laughed as he held his cute fiancé close to him as they watched the stars together under the absent light of the new moon.

     Kohei simply smirked when he saw his sister, Miki, enter the house behind Shampoo.

Recolored by Dyne

     To him, she was the spitting image of their mother; with the long, flowing green Amazon hair that reached down behind her thighs. However, her eyes weren't the same color as Kohei's. They came from their father, a healthy grass green that nearly matched her hair. What surprised Akane though, was her height. She couldn't have been fifteen years old, but she was only a couple of inches shorter than Kohei! The fact that she was wearing an Amazon combat uniform told everyone that she had been out training.

     "Kohei," she said again, even more sharply, "how could you go and leave me like that? Especially so soon after Mother and Father died?!"

     "Miki..." his smile disappeared, "I'm sorry."

     "'I'm sorry' is no excuse!" Miki warned him by entering her fighting stance, then launched into a full-scale attack without hesitation.

     "Hey, wait!" Akane exclaimed and stood up, but Shampoo, who had walked behind her, put a hand on her shoulder and shook her head. Akane got the message and sat down. She saw that Kohei was having no trouble blocking or dodging all of his sister's attacks, even in the small space of that room. The fact that Kohei wasn't fighting back reminded her all too much of her spars with Ranma. But, being a spectator to a battle such as this, she began to see why Ranma never fought back. As the younger girl's attacks continued, Akane noticed that Kohei was just testing her, working with her to see if she would learn how to read his moves and get some hits in, but her anger blinded her from that. Ranma could have easily beaten her at any time, but staying on the defensive always gave her time to fight and possibly train before he finally did knock her down, usually with just a single move. How could she not have seen that until now? Ranma was never trying to taunt her, but train her. She let go of her thoughts to watch the rest of the spar.

     "You've improved over the last five months," Kohei smiled as he ducked from a high kick.

     "Of course I have!" Miki retorted as she continued with another barrage of kicks.

     "But," he quickly executed a leg sweep to knock her free leg from underneath her and send her falling onto her butt, "you're still not skilled enough to beat me."

     Akane remembered this all too well. She just looked over at Miki as she sank her head to the ground and sniffed loudly, sounding as if she was trying not to cry. Kohei obviously noticed it too as he knelt in front of her and put his hand on her shoulder.

     "Miki?" he asked, "are you okay?"

     "Kohei... you big meanie..." she choked, "you always beat me and..." her soft chokes and sobs quickly turned into boisterous laughter as she glomped him, "you're such a softie. I missed you, big brother!"

     Kohei didn't look surprised at all as he smirked again, "You always were good at tricking me."

     Akane was still slightly confused, that is, until Shampoo explained, "Miki is a very sneaky girl." And you're no different? she thought. When the young girl's laughter had subsided, everyone gathered around the table and Kohei made the first introduction.

     "Miki," he gestured, "this is my friend and travel companion, Tendo Akane-san of the Tendo School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts."

     "It's nice to meet you," Miki bowed in her sitting position, "Akane-onee-chan."

     "It's nice to meet you too," Akane smiled, feeling good about how her new little sister had quickly accepted her, "what have you been doing while Kohei-kun was gone?"

     "Nothing other than what I did before he left. Xian Pu has picked up on my training where Mother left off."

     "Miki is only being trained in the style of our mother's people, not in the Ikimono style," Kohei explained.

     Shampoo nodded, "She's very skilled, but still not ready."

     "Ready for what?" Akane asked.

     "Fighting Hashin," Mousse answered, "when he last came, two weeks ago, I had to run in and hold her back from attacking him."

     "Why was that?" Kohei asked sternly, looking down at his sister.

     "He..." she looked at the floor, "He took her. He took Are-chan. That's why she's not with me."


     Miki nodded.

     "Who's Are-chan?" Akane asked.

     "Her name is Aremi. She's our oldest and closest friend," Kohei clenched his fists and scowled as he explained, "she and Miki are never apart. I should have returned sooner."

     "Big brother, it's not your fault," she put her arm around his shoulder and gave him a small hug.

     "Thank you, Miki, but I'm afraid that you're wrong," he shook his head as he lifted her arm away and stood up.

     "Kohei-kun?" Akane asked first, "Where are you going?"

     "I was going to wait until morning to do this, but I need to report to Grandfather and do some serious thinking," and without another word, he stepped outside and leapt off somewhere.

     "He still blames himself for not reaching our parents in time to help them," Miki sighed.

     Not one of the three of Akane, Shampoo, or Mousse knew what to say to help her. But as luck would have it, they didn't have to say anything, for Ranma, who was carrying a sleeping Ukyo, came walking back in through the front door.

     "Hey," he greeted, looking a lot calmer than when Akane saw him last, "what's up with Kohei? I just saw him leave in a big hurry." He'd just barely finished his sentence when he quickly had to dodge a flying kick aimed at his head, "What the...?"

     Miki immediately turned around after landing and glared at the young man, "Who are you and why did you just enter my house without permission?" she demanded.

     "I... uh..." he stammered, wondering how to get out of this one.

     "Leave, now!" Miki prepared another attack, but was held back by Shampoo.

     "It's fine, Miki," she assured, "he's Ranma."

     "Ranma?" her glare intensified, "Saotome Ranma? The Saotome Ranma who beat Saffron?!"

     Knowing that there were too many people to speak against him if he lied, he nodded, "Yeah, I'm that Ranma."

     The cold glare on Miki's face didn't disappear as she walked up to Ranma as close as she could and raised her hand up high.

     "I've wanted to meet you for the longest time, just so I could tell you how much I hate you!"

     He quickly shifted Ukyo into one arm so he could have a free arm to block the expected blow, but what she said next startled him.

     "But that was before I saw how handsome you are."

     "Eh?" the time Ranma spent blinking was enough for Miki as she suddenly jumped into his free arm. His surprise and the sudden imbalance of weight caused him to fall back onto the ground. Shampoo and Mousse immediately burst out into heavy laughter while Akane started to get jealous, but took a few deep breaths and calmed down. But she didn't start laughing. The worst thing, though, was that the jolt was enough to wake Ukyo up.

     "Ranchan..." she whispered softly and lifted her arm to wrap around his neck, only to have it interrupted by someone else's head.

     "Shampoo you-!" she accused as her eyes shot open, but stopped in mid-sentence when she saw that her assumption was incorrect, "you're not Shampoo."

     "Over here," the purple-headed girl waved.

     "Then who are you?" she pointed at Miki.

     "I'm Kohei's sister, Ikimono Miki," she introduced herself, "and I've chosen Ranma-sama as my future husband."

     "Wha?!" Ranma gulped loudly and hurriedly explained, "Ucchan it's not what you think!"

     Ukyo scowled, but not at Ranma, "I know that, Ranchan," and continued looking at Miki sternly, "it's too late for you, I'm already Ranchan's fiancé."

     "Fiancé?" the young half-Amazon blinked, "what does that mean?"

     "It means that Ucchan and I are going to get married soon," Ranma quickly explained, but didn't sound possessive at all.

     You never would have said it that way when you were engaged to me... Akane thought and sighed in her mind.

     "But you're not married right now?" Miki asked.

     "Uh... no... but..."

     "Then Ranma-sama is still eligible!" she only hugged Ranma tightly, causing him to sweatdrop, Ukyo to tense up even more, Mousse and Shampoo to start laughing again, and Akane to feel worse.

     When everything had calmed down, it became Miki's responsibility to help the three Japanese natives to find places to sleep. It was a very welcome idea to all of them, especially after their very long day. Ranma would be sharing a room with Kohei while Akane and Ukyo were with Miki. Shampoo and Mousse slept together in the room that once belonged to the Ikimono's parents. However, even long past midnight, Kohei still had not returned.

     Because she couldn't sleep due to her churning stomach, Shampoo stepped outside and hopped onto the roof for some fresh air. She wasn't able to put into words the excitement that she felt at seeing Ranma again. And yes, she was also genuinely glad to see Ukyo and Akane, her former rivals as well.

     As she took a deep breath, Shampoo recalled her feelings about the events of the past year that led her and Mousse to living in Ryuchiezu. She had had no idea that her great-grandmother's reaction to her announcement of wanting to leave Ranma and return home would have been so severe. Even though she had failed and broken the Amazon laws many times, great-grandmother had always tried to help her in making up for the mistake, if not ignore it completely. However, when Cologne had learned that she would not be given a son-in-law to re-strengthen the Amazon clan, all of the mistakes that Shampoo had made suddenly resurfaced and made her worthy of death. At this moment she had to make a life-altering, or life-ending decision: she could have refused the order to kill the one Ranma loved and lost her own life then and there. Or she could have killed Ukyo and destroyed Ranma's happiness, turning him away from her forever. Shampoo couldn't have imagined the consequences of either outcome, knowing that he had enough compassion for her to know he would have sought revenge for her death. So she did what Cologne considered the unthinkable; as the knife cut away her hair, it severed her past, her status, her identity, and her family... or so she thought.

     Until the moment that Mousse had done the same just to prevent her from being alone, she had only seen him as what she thought of as a friend. But she learned that she not only hadn't treated him as someone would a friend, but had actually seen him as a blind, stumbling weakling who she enjoyed bullying around. And until that time, she had only seen him as one of the obstacles between her and Ranma. But Ranma was gone. The selfless act that Mousse had committed, all for her, shattered all of her former negative feelings for him and she could see only the good, only a man who was truly willing to sacrifice anything for her. A man who she could love in return with no outside objections. After all, no one else wanted Mousse.

     Shampoo did, however, still object to being confused with cows and statues, and asked Mousse to find a way to fix his eyes before she agreed to marry him. He responded by selling his beloved weapons, some of which he had carried and fought with for years, and many of which were quite valuable, all for her. But after spending all of their money on his surgery, they were soon left in poverty and had no choice but to return to their homeland. As Shampoo had never been used to being the one to receive ridicule, scoffing, insults, and persecution, she nearly broke down and wanted to return to Nyuchiezu and do whatever it took to return to the Amazon people. But once again, Mousse helped her through the hard time. Even though she was always able to defend herself physically, her ability to maintain herself emotionally was very weak. Mousse, who had suffered in the same manner all of his life, gave her all of the support she needed to keep her self-esteem high. However, after several months of nothing but failure in wandering all over China, even Mousse began to think of giving up. But that was now all in the past.

     Shampoo never would have imagined what happened as she and Mousse traveled north from the former cursed springs of Jusenkyo and witnessed the end of a fierce battle between two men, one of whom looking like an Amazon. The body of a dead woman and how much they looked alike confirmed their suspicions and they carried the two to the village they had seen on the horizon. The first one to meet them was a tall, long, green-haired girl, looking exactly like a younger version of the dead woman. When Shampoo learned that the dead one's name was the same as her aunt, who great-grandmother had told her died when Shampoo was an infant, she couldn't contain her happiness. Gel hadn't died, she lost to an outsider man and, rather than bring him to their village, he took her to his village, causing the village council to consider her dead. But now, here, she had family; her cousins Kohei and Miki, of whom she previously knew nothing, gave them a home to live in and a town to be accepted. Now, for Shampoo, her great-grandmother and father were the ones who were dead.

     Soon after she and Mousse were married in the village, Kohei left without warning, leaving Miki in their care. During the next five months she worked with her youngest cousin and taught her all of the techniques she knew while Mousse forged new weapons and trained to help Kohei when he returned.

     A long three-and-a-half months passed before they received a letter from Kohei, saying that he was ready to return home. Shampoo was glad to inform Miki of the news, who had been a little depressed since her brother left. His news was all she needed to cheer up.

Recolored by Dyne

     When he arrived, another six weeks later, Ranma was with him. The sight of him with Ukyo had caused her bitter memories of the past year to arise and trouble her, especially when Akane mentioned her hair, but only for a few minutes. By the time she had found Miki and returned home, they had again been forgotten. Now, as she saw on the roof of her new home, surrounded by family and friends, she breathed deeply and exhaled a contented sigh.

     "Who's there?" came a voice from the edge.

     Shampoo suppressed her startlement. Knowing only one person who had the ability to sneak past her senses like that, she replied, "It's Shampoo, Ranma."

     "Can't sleep either, huh?" even with only the light of the stars, he found his way over to sit next to her.

     "I just wanted some air," she replied, not making any moves toward him, "you can't sleep, Ranma?"

     "Nah," he leaned back on his hands, "it's so quiet here: no electricity, no lights, no barking dogs, and no cars speeding by. Just not used to it, I guess."

     "You get used to it. It helps you sleep much better and-"

     "Shampoo?" he asked, interrupting her.

     "What?" she blinked.

     "Do you hate me?" he blurted.

     "Uh?" Shampoo blinked again, surprised.

     "I ruined your life three times: at the tournament, when you first met me as a man, and especially after what happened after we went to those ruins. You've got to hate me."

     "Ranma," she said quietly, "I don't hate you. The years I lived in Nerima were my happiest."

     "Wha?" it was Ranma's turn to be surprised.

     "If it wasn't for you, I never would have known life outside of my village, never seen Japan, or had a large goal to seek. After all, back then I was always saying, 'Ranma, you I love.'" She giggled at the way she used to speak.

     "But because of me you threw away everything! You-"

     Shampoo placed a finger to his lips, "Ranma, remember what you told me on our last date?"

     "Um... not really..." he sweatdropped and scratched his head, "sorry."

     "You asked me if I was wanting to make you my airen because of my own choice or because of Amazon law. That stayed in my mind and I never told you what I wanted to in the ruins."

     A brief jog of his memory brought the moment back to Ranma's mind, "Yeah, you fell into that trap wall before you could tell me."

     "I never forgot what I wanted to say," Shampoo sighed, "I decided that, for as long as you had not chosen me, Akane, or Ukyo as your wife, I would try to win your love only because it was you I loved, not because of my laws. If I hadn't renounced my Amazon heritage, something terrible would have happened to you."

     "You didn't have to leave Nerima though. I would have helped you find another place to live. You could have gone back to train under Tofu-sensei and become a nurse."

     Shampoo smiled, "Thank you, Ranma, but I have no regrets for what I did."

     Ranma sighed, "I'm glad you and Mousse are alive though, because I have to admit, things got too quiet and boring without you around to keep me on my toes. Remember the nikuman you gave me that made me hug anyone who sneezed?" he began to chuckle.

     "I could never forget," she giggled again, "or when we had to stop Akane at the Martial Arts Ping-Pong Tournament?"

     "Yeah, she thought she had you good on that one, but only because of the super soba noodles. Or when your great-grandmother-" he caught himself, "Sorry! Sorry!"

     "No need to worry about Cologne, Ranma. I am no longer her great-granddaughter or she my great-grandmother. Lin-Lin and Ran-Ran would deny knowing me. My father must have disowned me as well. But I still have my airen, my cousins, and again my friends. The past is gone, Ranma, but that doesn't mean we can't share happy memories."

     "Shampoo..." he couldn't believe what he was hearing from her, "you've changed so much."

     "You, too, Ranma. And I'm sorry I gave you the Kiss of Death."

     "It wasn't your fault, you didn't know about my curse. And I'm sorry for being the one to trigger the events that made you fall into the Spring of Drowned Cat."

     "You don't have to worry about that, anymore." She sighed happily.

     "You got cured too?"

     "Yes. Kohei gave us water in thanks for bringing him back to the village as soon as he learned about our curses."

     "I shoulda guessed. He gave me Nannichuan water in thanks for me agreeing to come back with him."

     "Remember when you found out about my curse?" Shampoo began to reminisce again. The resulting conversation about old times kept both of the two friends from sleep for nearly another hour. When Shampoo finally did return to bed, Ranma decided to stay on the roof and think for a while longer. But, of course, he didn't get the chance to.

     "It looks like you and Xian Pu and Mou Su have known each other for much longer than I first guessed," a voice came from behind him, "she never told me anything about when she lived in Japan."

     "Kohei," Ranma turned his head, "how long have you been there?"

     "Long enough to hear what I needed to form a question for you. You see, Ranma, I want to help Xian Pu and Mou Su in any way I can. It must be a long story, but if you're willing, I'd like to know the account of how you first met them and all the events that brought them here."

     What is he up to? Ranma thought as he began.

     Kohei's premonition was indeed correct as he spent an even longer time listening to Ranma's story than Ranma and Shampoo spent reminiscing.

     Back inside the house, a third person was finding sleep difficult to achieve. Akane had been tossing and turning in her futon for hours. I don't get it, she thought, this is my first night sleeping indoors for two months and after travelling for so long, I should have fallen asleep instantly. But Kohei-kun still hasn't come back and- no that’s absurd. It's not like I have any feelings for him or anything; he's just a friend. He's done a lot for me though. I've learned more in two months than I have in the last two years. Thanks to Kohei-kun I can control my anger, and I'm much faster now. I'm probably feeling like this because I see a lot of Ranma in him. She shook her head, Ranma? I'm not his fiancé anymore and never will be again. That thought brought a tear to her eye, Maybe it's time I moved on. Shampoo has. And I knew Tofu-sensei for much longer than Ranma, and I was able to get over him. So if Shampoo can let go of him, I should be able to too. Those thoughts continued to fill Akane's mind until she did finally fall asleep, long after Ranma and Kohei came back inside.

     When day broke, a combination of light from the late-morning sun and the sound of several shouts of battle from outside were enough to pull Akane from her slumber. As soon as she had readied herself for the day (and was grateful for the village at least having running water, even though there was no electricity to heat it), she caught the smell of something cooking downstairs. The aroma of the home-cooked meal compared to the instant ramen, light okonomiyaki, wild fruit, and fish she lived on while travelling was a nice change of pace and slightly caused her mouth to water. For a moment, she thought she was back in Nerima before Kasumi had gotten married and that all of the recent incidents had been a long dream. However, it was not her older sister who stood over the wood-burning stove, but rather her new, younger sister.

     "Good morning, Akane-onee-chan," Miki greeted as she dished up some rice for her.

     "Good morning, Miki-chan. Thank you," she responded, taking the food, then asked, "what time is it?"

     "Almost noon," Ukyo, who sat at the table, just finishing her breakfast, commented, "I haven't been up very long either. But Kohei is giving the people who want it the day off."

     "Oh, so is everyone else outside training?" she asked as she sat down.

     "They weren't able to even start until just a few minutes ago," Miki explained as she, too, sat down, "when word got out that Kohei had returned, the whole village rushed over to welcome him back and also meet Ranma-sama."

     "When did Kohei-kun get back last night?" Akane questioned again.

     "Not until very late. After he spoke with Grandfather he visited our parents' grave and was meditating there for hours."

     "He never lets up, does he?" Ukyo asked.

     "I don't know if that's good or bad," Miki sighed, "he's more devastated than he'll ever show."

     As she heard this, Akane recalled the time she had seen him praying in the dojo and silently crying. She knew how he felt. She had never completely overcome the pain caused by her mother's death and even now, several years later, she would dream about her and find a tear-stained pillow when she awoke. Akane was only half-listening to Miki as she remembered her mother, until the younger girl added; "I haven't even heard him laugh since that day."

     "Wait!" Akane jumped in; "Kohei-kun has laughed since then, but... only twice. At least as far as I know."

     "He might have been faking it," she shook her head, "When everyone greeted him this morning he was. Big brother's real laugh makes everyone around him feel higher than the tallest mountains. Up until the day of Hashin's first attack, he couldn't go through a single day without laughing with his full heart behind him," and sighed again, "I miss my brother. If Xian Pu and Mou Su hadn't been here, I probably would have followed him to Japan."

     "Miki-chan..." both older girls said quietly at the same time. Akane could see the sadness in her eyes, but could also see that behind her depression lay a deep and loving care for her family.

     "Don't worry, Miki-chan," Ukyo took the tall girl's hands, "when we beat Hashin, your brother will be back to his old self. The way you know him better than any of us."

     "Thank you," Miki wiped away the tear forming in her eyes, "I didn't want to depress either of you too, but thank you for listening." She stood back up and began to dish up some more food.

     "It always helps to talk your problems out," Akane smiled, ignoring the twinge in her heart that told her she was being hypocritical, "but what are you doing now?"

     "Ranma-sama was so busy this morning that he never got to eat," she answered, "I'll take him some of my homemade breakfast right now," and promptly left the house.

     "I thought you didn't like her?" Akane immediately asked the longer-haired girl.

     "I'm not worried about her," Ukyo giggled, "Ranchan isn't stupid enough to allow her to take him from me."

     "I don't know about that one," Akane mused over some past events, "she seemed to be in a hurry and made mention that she had cooked breakfast on her own... Oh no!" as her eyes widened with realization, she quickly stood up, slamming her hands on the table, grabbed Ukyo's wrist, and pulled her towards the exit.

     "Akane!" she exclaimed in question, "what's going on?"

     "Do you remember why Kohei-kun was hiding in the tree during lunch on his first day at school? Why he was hiding from all the girls who offered to share their homemade lunches with him?"

     Ukyo, remembering what Akane had told her in the locker room that day, immediately began to outrun the other girl and pull her along instead. They both sprinted to the open field right outside of the village where Ukyo had found Ranma the previous night. Kohei, Shampoo, and Mousse were sparring in a three-way free-for-all while Miki had pulled Ranma aside and was speaking with him. They'd just gotten into earshot over the loud sounds of battle when she held out the tray of breakfast.

     "Thanks, Miki," he said as he reached for the tray, "I'm starving."

     "Ranma! Wait!"

     "Ranchan! Stop!"

     Ranma had only just turned his head as both girls shouted and Ukyo snatched the tray from the young half-Amazon's hands while Akane snatched her and pulled her aside.

     "Ucchan?" he asked, blinking, "what's going on?"

     "Oh nothing," she hid her lie behind a cute tone of voice and smiled, "Miki-chan made the food but I wanted to be the one to feed it to you," she scooped up some rice with the chopsticks and held them up to him, "open your mouth and say 'Ah.'"

     "Ucchan," he sighed slightly," I don't have a lot of time for this," but ate anyway.

     Meanwhile, a few meters away, Miki stood next to Akane and stared at the couple with her jaw wide open.

     "How did you know?" she asked in full disbelief.

     "Ranma's had a lot of bad luck with laws from outside cultures," Akane explained, "that's how he got caught into Shampoo trying to marry him. But Kohei-kun had told Ukyo and me about this village's marriage proposal."

     "Well, you caught me," Miki attempted a fake sigh, but failed and burst out giggling, "but I'm not going to give up."

     "Are you even being serious about trying to win Ranma?" she asked sternly, "he's had to put up with this kind of thing too much in his life."

     "I'm just trying to show Ranma-sama my hospitality," she smirked. And before Akane could respond, her attention was turned to the sparring field as Shampoo stood up from a blow, but suddenly keeled over again and vomited.

     "Xian Pu!" Kohei exclaimed as he, being the one who knocked her down, knelt beside her, "Are you all right? I didn't hit you too hard, did I?" By this time, everyone else had made it over there as well. The tray with Ranma's breakfast now lay shattered on the earth.

     "I'm fine," Shampoo assured, but quickly turned her head and retched again.

     "You've really been overworking yourself, Xian Pu," Miki put her hands on her hips akimbo, "this isn't the first time."

     "What?" Kohei, Ranma, Ukyo, and Akane all asked simultaneously.

     "This started happening every morning almost a month ago," Mousse answered for her.

     "If you're sick then why are you still training so hard?" Akane asked.

     Shampoo just looked up and smiled, "Mousse didn't tell you? I'm not sick," her eyes began to sparkle as she became excited, "I pregnant!"

     The shock of the sudden announcement was more than enough to floor the four.

     Several hours later, far into the afternoon when it was too hot to train, everyone decided to take a good long break and Ranma was the first to begin walking to the only place in the village that had reasonably hot enough water for a good bath; some open-air hot springs that the village was built around. As he walked, he looked at the small population of the village, not more than 200, as they went about their daily business. Most, if not all of them, were out in the fields working with the crops to supply the village with enough food for winter. Others were at work preparing locally made goods to trade with other villages, mostly Amazon ones. Most of the children were in the small home used for the school where they were taught up to the equivalent of a Japanese first-year high school education. Ranma almost admired the simplicity of life here. While they had none of the modern conveniences that helped ensure an easy survival, they seemed to be happy and well disciplined in their work. He had felt extremely awkward at how they had all crowded around him to see what Saffron's defeater looked like. Then, after that, they began ignoring him completely,

     "I asked Grandfather to have the people act like I was still gone and none of you were here," Kohei had explained. "If word gets out that we are here, then there is a high probability that Hashin will find out and we will lose the element of surprise that we will desperately need."

     Those hadn't been the only words of warning he had given. The second set came as he neared the bathhouse.

     "Our hot springs are slightly similar to the public bathhouses in Japan: When you enter, you will find a stack of baskets to hold your clothes and there are separate sides for men and women to wash. However, the springs themselves are not separated. So if you feel uncomfortable being naked in front of anyone, just wear a towel and they won't mind. And if you don't want a complete stranger girl asking you to scrub her back, it's best to go in the afternoon before dinner, while everyone is still working, the bath is usually empty at that time."

     I don't have to worry about anyone wanting to scrub my back since everyone's ignoring me now, Ranma thought. As he was the first to leave, he was also the first to arrive. After two long months of bathing in cold and sometimes dirty rivers and lakes, to him a hot soak was all he needed.

     He arrived at a small wooden hut that stood in the center of a tall fence that obviously surrounded the hot springs. Once he entered, he found the pile of baskets the Kohei had mentioned and grabbed one. He stepped through the curtain labeled "Men" in both Chinese and Japanese and began to disrobe. All there was inside the washing area were some buckets filled with water from the spring and kept near a small fire to keep warm. After grabbing two, one for washing and the other for rinsing, he quickly soaped up and rinsed off so he could experience the warmth of the springs. As he wrapped his towel around his waist and carried his basket of clothes and soap out to the springs, he took a moment to stare at just how big the large pool was; even bigger than the soaking pool at the luxury bathhouse he had fought Happosai in. And, sure enough, Kohei was right, he was the only one there, but could now hear the sounds of splashing water from inside the bath hut, signaling that someone else had just gotten there. Ranma ignored those sounds, sat his basket on the edge of the water, and stepped in. As soon as he up to his shoulders in the slightly murky water, he instantly felt all of the tension and soreness in his muscles literally melt away. Now I know how Akane feels whenever Kohei has to use those pressure points to stop her from being angry, he guessed in thought.

     He had only sat back a little, closed his eyes, and was just beginning to totally relax when, with his relaxation allowing his guard to drop, he felt a pair of arms encircle him from behind, hands cover his eyes, and a happy voice chime, "Ranchan, guess who?"

     Despite the warmth of the water, Ranma felt an enormous chill run down his back, especially when he didn't feel a towel between his and Ukyo's skin.

     "U-Uc-Ucchan..." he stammered, "w-what are you doing?"

     "What do you mean, Ranchan?" came the same voice, definitely Ukyo's, but this time from in front of him. Dreading what the truth of this scenario would be, Ranma slowly grabbed the wrists of the girl who was covering his eyes and, opening his own, nearly had a triple bypass when he saw his fiancé, wrapped in a towel and seeing her bra straps cover her shoulders under that, standing before him. Only being able to move his head, he slowly turned to look behind him. All he needed to see was the few loose strands of long green hair before not only his face, but also his entire body flushed into a deep pale. He slowly removed Miki's arms from around him, took the few slow steps back to the edge, grabbed his clothes from his basket, and immediately dashed back through the wash hut towards Kohei's house, almost forgetting to stop and get dressed.

     "I warned him," Kohei, who had witnessed the scene just as he finished rinsing, was nearly run down by Ranma, and stepping into the springs, setting his towel on the edge once he was in, said, "but Miki, what were you thinking?!"

     "Is it wrong to want to give Ranma-sama a hug?" she asked, simply and plainly.

     "Listen," Ukyo was definitely angry this time, "Ranchan and I are engaged! And until now I've overlooked your attempts to get his attention! I've only known you for a day, but as long as you do things like this, you're going to get on my bad side!" And without another word, stormed off to follow Ranma.

     "Miki?" Kohei asked quietly as he stepped in front of her, "do you hate Ranma that much?"

     "Big brother, what are you talking about? I love Ranma-sama."

     Kohei looked his sister in the eyes, wishing for a moment that he was in cursed form, as the change in his own eyes would have emphasized his message, "Miki, I am your older brother and I've known you since the day you were born. Mother entrusted me to teach you the Amaguriken. I can see through your veils of deceit. Ever since I saw you try to propose to him according to our village's laws this morning, I could tell you resent him deeply. Why would you hate him? Please tell me." He placed his hands on both of her shoulders.

     "Big brother..." she fell silent and looked away for a few seconds. Knowing that she couldn't keep anything from him, she quickly covered her face with her hands and cried, "if Ranma hadn't beaten Saffron, Hashin would never have come here and killed our parents, thinking that you were him," her sobs began to be audible, "it's all his fault! If he hadn't taken what Hashin claimed to be his destiny, Mother and Father would still be alive, you wouldn't have had to leave, and Are-chan wouldn't have been taken away!"

     As she began to sob even harder, Kohei took his role as her big brother, put his arms around her, and held her close.

     "Miki," he said softly, "please don't place your anger on Ranma. He fought Saffron to protect his friends, not for the reason that Hashin wanted to fight him; just to show off his power. It was Hashin who made the choice to seek me out, thinking I was Ranma. And had I known, I would have fought him one-on-one and possibly lost, but wouldn't have had to let Mother and Father sacrifice themselves. Hashin is our enemy, not Ranma. I've learned much from him, Ukyo-san, and Akane-san as we traveled. When I left here I had the intention of defeating Hashin for revenge and because I gave him the Kiss of Death. But now I want to defeat him in order to protect my village, my home, my friends, and my dear little sister from an evil man. So please, for me, don't try any longer to destroy Ranma's relationship with Ukyo-san. The more you foster your hatred for an innocent man, the more opportunity you allow for disaster to strike."

     "Kohei!" she bawled, returning his embrace and crying into his shoulder.

     "I'm sorry for leaving you behind Miki," he said after several minutes as he patted her back, "I know how much you hate being alone."

     "I'm... I'm sorry too..." she sniffled, "I didn't know how much trouble I was causing."

     "I forgive you. But please don't do anything that would jeopardize our training. Hashin will return in less than two weeks, and all of us must be at our optimum performance."

     "I understand, big brother. I'll apologize to Ranma-onii-sama and Ukyo-onee-chan as soon as we get home."

     "That's better," Kohei smiled as he looked her in the eyes again, "I missed you too," and planted a kiss on her forehead, then looked around, "one more thing: Didn't Akane-san come with you?"

     "She did, but she seemed a little concerned about the springs so she wanted to get something out of her belongings, so I left a little ahead."

     Kohei nodded, thinking about how, when they were talking about the village at Dr. Tofu's clinic, he had only told Akane about the hot springs of Ryuchiezu before the four left Japan. At the time she assured him that she had something that wouldn't cause her to be embarrassed. However, Kohei had no idea what she was talking about, that is, until Miki looked around behind him and greeted, "Akane-onee-chan, we're over here!" waving.

     "Akane-san," Kohei turned around to see where she was, "feel free to join uaaahhh..." he stopped in mid-sentence when he saw her and what she was wearing.

     "I'm sorry I took so long," Akane apologized as she sat on the edge of the spring with her feet dangling in the water to test it, "this thing was buried all the way at the bottom of my pack."

     "What is it?" Miki asked.

     "It's a swimsuit," she explained, sinking down the rest of the way into the water, "girls wear them when they go swimming in Japan."

     "Wow, it makes you look so cute. What do you think, big brother?"

     Kohei was too speechless to answer and he could feel his face go red as he thought, It hugs the curves of her body so nicely. Akane-san, I've seen many girls naked throughout my life and had never been fazed by them. But why am I staring at you now when you're still dressed? Why do I want to imagine you without it on? Akane-san, when I first met you I felt a strong emotional attachment to you, but now I can see how beautiful you are: your face, your hair, and your body. Akane-san... I-

     "Kohei-kun?" she asked, waving her hand in front of his face.

     "I-I must go!" he quickly stammered, grabbed his towel from the edge, wrapped it around his waist under the water, grabbed his clothes, and left with a speed coming very close to Ranma's. He was in such a hurry that he not only forgot to dress, but didn't hear Mousse call out to him as he sprinted through the washroom.

     Oh gods, Akane thought as she turned around to not watch Kohei as he left, he was naked! and a red tinge appeared on her own face.

     "Akane-onee-chan?" Miki tilted her head and looked at her, "you're blushing."

     "Why did he leave so suddenly?" she hurriedly asked, changing the subject, "he did the same thing at school."

     "Well, he's probably never seen a girl in a swimsuit before. But did you see the way he looked at you?"

     "Huh? I don't know what you're talking about."

     "What do you think of my brother?"

     "Um..." for some reason, Akane too became speechless. Why is this so hard to answer? Kohei-kun is my friend and teacher!

     "Miki-chan," she said, "your brother is a very dedicated martial artist. I don't think he even thinks of me as anyone but his student and friend."

     "He's been training you?"

     "Yes, and he's a very good teacher. But he's also been training with Ranma and Ukyo too."

     The conversation continued to focus on what Kohei had taught Akane. And until Shampoo and Mousse, both wearing towels, joined them several minutes later, Miki did her best to try and get her to say what she felt about her brother, but had no luck. However, Miki knew how he had looked at her and knew her big brother well enough to decipher it perfectly...

     Kohei was falling in love with Akane.

     While Ukyo had at first been angry with Miki for her stunt at the hot springs, she was willing to accept her apology when she spoke with her and Ranma later that evening. After all, Shampoo had done much worse for much longer and Ukyo had forgiven her, so forgiving Miki wasn't hard at all. From that moment on, Miki welcomed a new older brother and another older sister into her family as the three truly began to get to know each other and conversed well into the evening. Despite his protests, Ranma was forced to stay. Ukyo knew that he'd rather be up on the roof sparring with Kohei and Mousse, but wanted him to be able to have some conversational skills as her future husband.

     Downstairs, as Shampoo was making dinner, with Akane helping her by peeling vegetables, she noticed that the shorter-haired girl was highly distracted by something, as she was staring blankly into space.

     "Akane," she gestured to the potato in her hand, "that one's done."

     "Eh?" the youngest Tendo blinked and saw that the vegetable was about one quarter of the size it should have been, "oh, sorry," and picked up the next one.

     Something was wrong and Shampoo knew it. She knew Akane well enough from when they lived in Nerima to have expected a more defensive and angry reaction.

     "What wrong?" she asked suddenly, not taking time in her mind to fix her Japanese.

     "N-nothing's wrong. I'm perfectly fine!" Akane began to raise her voice. Now she was starting to act like the violent girl Shampoo remembered.

     "You sure?" she pointed to Akane's fist, "you crushed potato."

     Akane opened her hand and examined the mashed remains of the crushed veggie in her palm. She might as well ask what was on her mind.

     "Shampoo," she whispered quietly, almost so much that the Amazon girl didn't hear her, "how did you get over your feelings for Ranma?"

     "Aiyah!" she widened her eyes but didn't raise her voice so that the three upstairs could hear, "Akane still love Ranma?"

     Akane shocked her, and herself, even more by nodding her head without being defensive. By this time, she was no longer able to deny it and the feelings inside her had erupted.

     "For Shampoo it was hard too," she took Akane's hands, "but I was able to fill the void from Ranma being lost to me."

     "With Mousse," she didn't raise her head.

     Shampoo nodded, "I still have fond memories of Ranma from when I wanted him as my airen, but I never knew what his feelings were until last night. Now we are friends."

     "Yeah," Akane sighed, "we had that kind of talk too, but it didn't help. You weren’t around him for the last year. You didn't see how happy he was when you weren't the one giving him that happiness."

     "I thought of Ranma's happiness, even if he didn't need me. It was hard, but I moved on, but didn't forget, either."

     "So the best way is to replace him with something else?" she asked quietly.

     "Or someone. But never forget."

     Akane looked up and smiled, then surprised Shampoo again by hugging her, "Thanks, Shampoo."

     As the two of them overcame their past problems and established a new foundation of friendship, Akane thought, There's just one more thing I have to do before I can. The Dead-Man's Switch was activated as the engineer in her train of thought suffered a massive coronary and died when the normal THUDS from the roof as Kohei and Mousse jumped around suddenly changed to a rolling, rumbling sound, followed by a loud THUMP from the ground just outside the house.

     "What happened?!" both girls exclaimed as they dashed outside, where they saw Mousse helping Kohei off of the ground and leaned him onto his shoulder. The green-haired man had his hand to his forehead and a trickle a blood was visibly running down his face. They could also see three large slashes torn across the chest of his uniform.

     "Mousse!" Shampoo yelled, "what you do to Kohei?!"

     "It wasn't his fault," Kohei spoke first, "I was distracted by something on my mind."

     "I hit him with the Takazume Ken and he fell off the roof," Mousse explained in the following split-second.

     "I'll be fine in a few minutes," Kohei assured, "my vision is just a little cloudy from landing on my head."

     "You won't fight anymore today," Shampoo stated as she helped Mousse help take the dazed Kohei inside and find a bandage. Akane stood there for a few more minutes, staring at the spot where he'd landed. As she lowered her eyebrows she thought,

     Kohei no baka.

Shattered Egg of Dreams (Xenogears)

     Later that night, after almost everyone had gone to bed, Ranma sat alone on the small table in the dining room. Using the light of his small lantern, he again read the unsigned note he found on his pillow after dinner.

     "I need to talk to you. Meet me downstairs after everyone else has gone to bed."

     From the moment since he found it, Ranma had been trying to guess who wrote it. What actually surprised him was that the person who had called on him was the one he hadn't even considered.

     "Ranma?" her voice called softly as she stepped into the doorway and he saw her in the edge of the light.

     "Akane," he answered quietly, "what's up?"

     She took a few steps forward until she stood only a half-meter in front of him, "Thanks for coming. This really means a lot to me."

     "What's going on?" he questioned again.

     "Ranma," she whispered again, "I know this sounds strange, but... it's time I let you go."

     "Huh?" he blinked.

     She sat down next to him, "I don't know how to say what I want to say, but even long after our engagement was broken, I couldn't let go of my feelings for you."

     "Akane-" he began to speak and was going to remind her that he was the one who broke the engagement.

     "Please let me finish," she slightly choked, "I may never have the strength to do this again."

     The young man just nodded.

     "Ranma, I-I just wanted to say... No- I mean that I want to tell you..." she continued to try and start whatever she wanted to say, but only to pause and start over again. After several seconds of this, Ranma took his turn to surprise her. Putting his arm around her shoulders he smiled and said, "Go ahead and say it, Akane."

     While he expected a walloping punch, he was given a tearful look. A few more seconds of silence passed, until she suddenly cried, "Oh Ranma!" grabbed his shirt, and began to sob into his chest.

     As the tears stained his shirt, Ranma thought, I'm sorry, Akane. I never knew that during the whole past year you felt this way. It must've been torture.

     "I-it's my fault," she sobbed, making him realize that he'd just voiced that thought, "everyone has moved on. But I was too stubborn, too angry to face the future. I wanted you to be happy, but I wanted you to be happy with me. I can't do that, so it's time I saw reality and let you be happy with Ukyo."

     "Akane," he blurted the first thing that came to mind, "I'm glad I met you."

     She said nothing more and continued to weep until her tears were dry. During this time, Ranma looked up and saw Ukyo standing in the doorway at the edge of the light. He smiled at her and put his finger to his lips in the "Ssh" fashion. She too was a little teary-eyed at having witnessed this, but smiled back and gave him an "OK" sign before quietly returning upstairs.

     Even long after Akane had finished crying her heart out, thanked him, and gone back to bed, Ranma continued to sit in the same spot for a long time. His shirt was now dried and wrinkled. He had seen Akane like that only once before, when she had had the same experience with Dr. Tofu. He noticed that as soon as she had finished, she looked as if an enormous weight, equivalent to that of the world, had been lifted from her shoulders and, for the first time in a very long time, he saw her sincerely smile. You've still got a cute smile, Akane, he thought, share it with someone who can love you more than I ever could. Ranma felt that from that moment on, he would see Tendo Akane in a different light.

     The next morning, Ukyo was just beginning to awaken from a very restful sleep. The sight of Ranma with Akane last night hadn't sparked any jealousy in her as she had been waiting for Akane to talk to him like that for the longest time. And now, as far as she was concerned, she was the only one who had any right to claim to be Ranma's fiancé now. True, there was still Kodachi, but there was also a faint, albeit very, glimmer of hope that she would also move on with her life. Just as Ukyo was beginning to slip into awakeness, her slip became a tumble when a sudden series of the house shaking violently roused her fighting senses. She leapt out of the futon, shouting, "Earthquake!" but was confused when she could not only not hear the sounds behind what was causing the house to shake, but couldn't hear her own shout, at least until she found that someone had stuffed large wads of cotton in her ears. A quick glance around the room solved the second mystery.

     "I'm sorry," Miki apologized as Ukyo laid eyes on her and removed the cotton. The younger girl was just standing up from stuffing wads into Akane's ears, "I knew you would have wanted to sleep a little longer."

     The okonomiyaki chef took a quick glance out the window to see that the sun was just barely rising. And now that her ears were open again, she could now hear the source of the shaking.

     "How could he do such a thing to Shampoo!" Shampoo's angry voice penetrated the walls, "Shampoo mad!"

     "Shampoo, please calm down," Mousse's voice failed to speak over his wife's, "he knows what he's doi-uuaaagggh!" and they could see his head come breaking through the wall with spirals in his eyes.

     "What's going on?" Ukyo asked.

     "Big brother Kohei stole and hid all of Xian Pu's weapons before he left to go train this morning," Miki explained, "he doesn't want her to fight because she's pregnant."

     "Oh, and all Shampoo has done her whole life is fight."

     Miki nodded just as Akane sat up and the whole incident had to be explained again.

     "Bakusai Tenketsu!"

     Why? Why can't I get her out of my mind now? Kohei thought as he shattered another boulder, Akane-san, now I can only think of you. How good you've been to me, the kindness you've shown to me and my people, your beautiful smile... What is this feeling I have when I see you now, or even think of you? Arrrgh! He approached the next boulder.


     Kohei didn't flinch as the shrapnel exploded into his face. Once it had cleared, he stood up and dusted off his hands. The Bakusai Tenketsu isn't helping me forget about her. I'll increase the severity and use something that requires a one-hundred percent focus. As he walked up to the next boulder, he took a deep breath as he raised his fists in front of him, closed his eyes, and concentrated. He focused all of his chi into forming a sword in his hands.


     Once the blade created from his energy completed its formation, he wasted no time in cutting the large rock into tiny pebbles. When he finished his series of slashes, the entire boulder crumbled into pieces that were even smaller than they would have been had he touched the breaking point. However, the technique had left him drained and he stood, staring at the remains of the boulder, breathing heavily as the sword vanished from his grasp. He remained there until he turned around to catch a pebble that had been thrown at him.

     "I'm glad I'm on your side," Ranma observed as he looked wide-eyed at the remains.

     "The Genkaku no Suraisu is much more difficult to execute than any other technique I know," Kohei turned back to look at the pile of rubble as Ranma walked up to him. "I've been practicing it for years but am still unable to form the sword for longer than a few seconds. A true master is able hold it for as long as he wishes. But creating it requires far more chi than maintaining it. Father had mastered it before he died, but I only have barely enough power to create it."

     "Then that's why I could only see it for a split-second when we first fought. You know, the old ghoul who taught me the Amaguriken and Hiryuu Shoten Ha also taught someone else the Bakusai Tenketsu."

     Kohei looked at his older friend again, "Are you serious?"

     Ranma nodded, "You might want to know her name."

     "Please tell me."

     "She's Shampoo's, and I guess your, great-grandmother, Cologne."

     "Kuh Lon..." Kohei lowered his head, "I only know her by name. But to think that she would violate the law so severely by revealing our secret techniques to outsiders."

     "Why are you so hung up on those Amazon laws anyway? It's not like you live with 'em."

     "I know, Ranma, but I respect the laws of my mother's people. If I wanted to, I could teach you how to see the breaking point of rocks and learn the Bakusai Tenketsu, but I will not for that same respect. If you wish to learn any of my other techniques: the Shigami no Genkotsu or Genkaku no Suraisu, I'll gladly teach you."

     "I'll pass, I've been able to do fine with what I've got. There are a couple tricks I have that you haven't seen yet," he noticed that Kohei's fists were clenched, "and if you're so tense, then why didn't you just first say so?"

     "Ranma," he grinned as he tossed the rock he caught aside, "have you come to challenge me?"

     Ranma jumped back a few meters and landed in his fighting stance, grinning, "What do you think?"

     "Very well," Kohei entered the stance of the Amazon fighting style, "I accept."

     "But first," the pig-tailed man left his stance and grabbed the bucket of cold water he had brought with him, "I want you to give me everything you've got. That's what you're going to be giving Hashin and that's what you should be training with."

     "Now that you say it in those words, it is a reasonable request. Go ahead and douse me."

     As Ranma threw the water onto his younger friend, he asked one more question, "Are you trying to revise the Amaguriken? I watched you trying to use it with kicks instead of punches yesterday."

     While Kohei brushed the now wet strands of hair from his eyes, he explained, "While I was crossing China on my way to Japan, I met a fighting girl and detective named Chun Li. We sparred a few times, and while she was a very formidable opponent, I was most impressed with her ability to execute a barrage of kicks with the speed of our punches when using the Amaguriken. I've been trying to duplicate and master it ever since. It's been far easier than the Genkaku no Suraisu. It will be very helpful against Hashin."

     "Well you have twelve more days," Ranma again entered his fighting stance.

     "Is that an invitation to practice on you?"

     "Give me your best shot."

     Those were the last words they exchanged as they began their near-morning long fight. They didn't even stop when Ukyo brought out some of her okonomiyaki for breakfast. When she, Akane, and Mousse arrived, they were too mesmerized by the excitement of the battle that they didn't begin their own training for fear that they'd miss a second of Ranma and Kohei's all-out spar. They stood and watched, uninterrupted for several minutes, until they heard a loud crunching noise behind them. They turned around to see Shampoo reaching into a small bag she held.

     "Popcorn?" she offered.

     The next eleven days passed without any major incident as those who wished to fight for the village continued their daily and exhaustive training. Several other people from the village had offered to help fight the battle, but Kohei's grandfather asked them to be prepared to help people evacuate if necessary.

     Those same days passed agonizingly slowly for everyone, but most especially for Akane. She couldn't figure out why, but Kohei started talking to her less and was having a hard time looking her in the eyes. He even stopped teaching her after the first week, claiming that she no longer needed his advice. She felt that he was beginning to avoid her. But for what reason? A dilemma began to arise in Akane's mind, for the more she thought about her situation with Kohei, the more she ended up just thinking about Kohei and not the situation. The more she thought, the more she began to feel. And the more she felt, the less she could deny.

     When the night before the day of the full moon finally did arrive, the whole village was scrambling to gather together the "taxes" that Hashin claimed they owed him; one-half of their entire increase from the previous month. They all worked a little more slowly this time, for hope that this would be the last time and that what they gave wouldn't be lost, but regained. Those who had been selected to fight Hashin directly were gathered in Kohei's basement for a briefing session.

     "This is the plan that Grandfather and I have developed," Kohei explained as he laid a map of the village on the floor, "Mou Su, as soon as Hashin picks a girl, I will give a signal for everyone in the village square to disperse. That will be your cue to pull the girl to safety with one of your many weapons. Meanwhile, Ranma and I will attack him and try to pull him away from the village. Then join us as soon as you can."

     "Yes," Mousse nodded.

     "Ukyo-san," he looked at her, "you are to provide a long-range support with your throwing weapons to distract Hashin and give us time to use any of our special techniques."

     "Right," Ukyo affirmed.

     "Akane-san..." he looked at her for a second, then shook his head as he regained himself, "I ask that, in the event that anyone is injured, please get that person to safety as quickly as possible."

     "I understand," she quietly declared.

     "What can I do?" Shampoo asked.

     "For the sake of your unborn child you will take refuge," Kohei answered her boldly. Shampoo pouted a little but said nothing more.

     Once the briefing meeting concluded, Kohei made one last declaration, "Ranma, Ukyo-san, Akane-san, Xian Pu, and Mou Su, I wish to thank al of you from the bottom of my heart. I know that you have come here and stayed here with the full knowledge that you may never leave here alive. Tonight is the last night you have to relax, so I urge all of you to spend it with your loved ones." He said nothing more as he left the room and returned upstairs.

     "Big brother, where are you going?" Miki asked him before he got outside of the house.

     "I'm going to prepare myself for tomorrow night. I'll be gone until then," he answered, tying his sash around his waist over his training uniform.

     "You're going alone?"

     "Yes," he walked up to her and put his right hand on her right shoulder, "and since I won't be back until tomorrow evening, I wanted to tell you this now: Miki, if I should die tomorrow, whether in victory or in defeat, I want you to leave here. Leave Ryuchiezu and flee to Japan with Akane-san."

     "Big brother," she stepped back, "you're not going to die!"

     "I wish I could be as confident in myself as you are as confident in me, Miki," he smiled and brushed her hair from her face for her before turning and leaving.

     "You're not going to die..." she said quietly after him.

     "Are you ready for this, Ranchan?" Ukyo asked as she and Ranma sat atop the Ikimono's roof, watching the sunset.

     "When I have ever not been ready for a fight?" he asked, grinning proudly, "As long as you're here, Ucchan, I have a reason to fight: to protect the one who matters most to me," and put his arm around her.

     Until now, Ukyo would have smacked him with her spatula, but as she leaned closer to him, she simply sighed, "I love you, Ranchan," before kissing him on the lips.

     "[Mou Su,]" Shampoo tried to sound angry, but was actually almost on the verge of tears, which is why she stood with her back to him, "[if you die in battle tomorrow, I'll never forgive you.]" They stood together on the top of the hill where they had witnessed the end of Kohei's first battle with Hashin.

     "[Xian Pu,]" he put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, "[do you know why I always lost to you, and still do? I can't bring myself to ever go all-out on you and maybe hurt you. But with Kohei and Ranma's help, and all three of us fighting against Hashin at the best of our abilities, I'll come back alive.]"

     Shampoo turned around and glomped him, "[Stupid Mou Su! You're such a weakling! Even against me you should always go all-out. Why don't you?]"

     "[Because I love you, Xian Pu.]"

     "Big brother Kohei? He just left for one more outside training session, but you might be able to catch him at the cemetery first," Miki answered when she was asked where he was.

     "Thank you, Miki-chan," Akane bowed and quickly headed for the north end of the village. She had sat in the basement for several minutes, contemplating what Kohei had said about spending the evening with loved ones, only to realize she had nowhere to go. As his sister had predicted, she found him kneeling before his parents' marker with his head bowed and his eyes closed.

     "I know you're watching over me, Mother, Father," he prayed silently, "tomorrow I will either join you in the heavens or you will be pleased to watch as I send Hashin to hell."

     "Kohei-kun," she called quietly once he was finished.

     "Akane-san" he turned to face her and smiled, "I'm glad I was able to speak with you one last time."

     "You are?" she blinked, trying to not blush as he walked over and put a hand on her shoulder. But why was he talking like that?

     "Yes," he confirmed, "I'd wanted to talk to you before the battle tomorrow and thank for all of your help. Thank you, Akane-san."

     "You're welcome. But Kohei-kun, I should be thanking you. You've helped train me into achieving the potential you saw in me. I never would have gotten this strong without your help and..." she hesitated a little, not knowing exactly how to say this, "and you've helped me to find something new to fill a large void that was left in my heart."

     "You're very welcome. Although I don't fully understand what you meant, you're welcome. Now I must leave."

     For the first time in a while, Akane began to feel very angry, enough to the point of her aura flaring about her, but was able to suppress enough of it to not lash out at him. She did her best to try and voice the words that she shouted to him in her mind, Kohei no baka! I'm trying to tell you that I love you! But even long after he had walked away, she could do nothing more than fall to her knees and cry.

     The next night finally arrived. The people of Ryuchiezu had come to see the day of the full moon as a day of mourning, for they were going to lose another of their young women. None of the ones Hashin had taken in the previous months ever returned. Upon hearing this, Kohei too had begun to fear that they were either dead or kept at his hiding place as part of his own personal harem.

     No more! he thought as he crouched atop the roof of his grandfather's house, which was next to the village square. His currently steel-blue eyes were practically glowing in the light of the moon from above and the lanterns from below. Ranma and Mousse were both positioned on the roof opposite of his, awaiting his signal. Ukyo and Akane stood in the alleys nearby, waiting for the time when they would be needed as well. And, after a lot of prodding, Shampoo had again agreed to wait in the Ikimono's basement.

     The entire village waited restlessly for the time when Hashin was to arrive. Everyone could hear the sound of shifting feet and nervous breathing from everyone else. Would tonight be a night of redemption or a night of disaster? Even Kohei's heart began to beat heavily when the precession of lights from the south end of the village signaled his arrival. The trail of lights proceeded towards the square and halted. It took all of Kohei's mental discipline to not immediately leap from the roof when Hashin stepped into his view. It was even more difficult to not allow his disgust to form an aura.

     "The time has again come," Hashin simply announced, and in Japanese.

     "You will find the wagon of goods awaiting you on the edge of the village as you leave," Kohei's grandfather simply stated before stepping aside to allow the line of twenty young girls, with Miki being the tallest, to walk forward.

     Kohei's heart pounded harder as Hashin looked over each of the more nervous and terrified girls. All of them knew about the plan, but were still afraid. However, as Kohei watched while the selection was being made, he didn't know that he was about to learn something about himself. What he had never learned was that most, if not all, of the animal spirits inside of him were very territorial and protective...

     And all of them triggered the instant Miki was the one chosen.

Desparate Attack (Final Fantasy VIII)

     "HASHIN!!!" he shouted as he leapt from the roof without thinking, "DON'T YOU DARE LAY A FINGER ON MY SISTER!!!"

     The power of his jump carried him high into the night sky and, as he reached the apex, his body was completely silhouetted against the full moon.

     "Mousse, do you see that?" Ranma pointed at Kohei, who seemed to halt in mid-air.

     "There's something behind him-" Mousse observed.

     "It's the image of-" Ukyo, from her spot, noticed.

     "A howling wolf!" Akane finished.

     The unusual actions of Kohei as he landed between Hashin and Miki, having attacked too early, sparked a wave of panic among the villagers as they fled in every direction for fear of being caught up in the battle. Both Ukyo and Akane practically became pinned to the walls of the alley as the large crowds prevented them from getting out to the square.

     "So you're alive, boy," Hashin grinned, "you don't look very happy to see me."

Recolored by Dyne

     The look on Kohei's face certainly wasn't one of a happy reunion as his eyes seemed to glow more fiercely as they were more emphasized with his head facing away from the lanterns. He only emitted a low growl before launching into his offensive.

     "What is he doing?" Mousse exclaimed, "He attacked way too early!"

     "He's winging it," Ranma simply stated, "which is what we've got to do. Get Miki out of there then come help us," and leapt down towards the fray.

     Meanwhile, Miki had slowly backed off from the square and cornered herself against a wall as she saw her brother's erratic and wild behavior cost him the advantage of surprise he needed and was beginning to take hits right away. What was wrong with him? He wasn't fighting in his normal style, nor was he saying anything, only growling. She flinched as Hashin landed a series of kicks to his chest, with the last that sent him through the bathhouse fence and into the hot springs.

     "Now," Hashin turned to her, "we can leave without any more disturbances."

     Miki glared at him and clenched her fists as she entered her fighting stance, wishing she had any of her weapons on her.

     "You've got to get through me first!" Ranma declared as he landed between them.

     "Ranma-onii-samaaaaaaahhh!" as she was excited by his arrival, she didn't feel the length of Mousse's chain wrap around her waist and pull her up to the safety of the roof.

     "Mou Su!" she exclaimed happily. He didn't turn to look at her, only watched the conversation below.

     "Miki," he ordered, "go get Shampoo and run."


     "Run away from here as fast as you can, don't even look back." He said nothing more as he then jumped down to join Ranma.

     "Mou Su..." she was about to disobey him and join the battle, but shook her head and jumped across the rooftops towards her house.

     "Who are you?" Hashin had demanded the moment Ranma stepped in.

     "I," he declared, waiting in his fighting stance, "am the one you're looking for, the one who defeated Saffron! I am Saotome Ranma of the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts!"

     "Saotome Ranma?" Hashin scratched his chin, "so that kid wasn't lying about you after all. I'll just have to kill you to become the strongest fighter in the world!" and before Ranma could ask him any questions, he charged forward.

     "Ranma, jump!" came a voice from behind him. He knew better than to hesitate at commands like that and immediately hopped over the charging giant just as a steel-tipped harpoon would have run through his head. Where Ranma was able to dodge, Hashin was unable to react as Mousse's weapon drove deep into his chest, causing him to fall to one knee.

     "I did it!" Mousse explained, but the words from Kohei when he had told him of their first fight echoed in Ranma's mind.

     "Even then, no matter how many times I hit him and with my most powerful attacks, he would always regenerate faster than I could deal any damage. I would have had to kill him completely, before he was able to regenerate."

     "No! It's not over yet!" Ranma shouted and leapt to attack,


     Only to find his face meet the back of Hashin's fist as he dodged and countered.

     "You're right that it's not over yet," Hashin simply turned to face Ranma after swatting him aside. He grabbed the harpoon embedded in him and pulled it out with ease. The wound from where it had pierced him sealed itself almost instantly. Ranma's vision was a little cloudy as he was still a little dazed from the power of his blow. He hadn't even begun to recover as Hashin approached him and raised the harpoon into the air. He didn't get the chance to thrust it through him as he fell under assault from another volley of Mousse's weapons.

     "You've already made me angry!" Hashin shouted as he turned around and, with his free hand, knocked aside all the blades aside with ease before throwing the weapon he carried straight back at its owner.

     Before Mousse could even think that he wouldn't be able to dodge, the weapon not only pierced him, but also completely went through him! The sudden loss of blood immediately took its toll on his body and he collapsed.

     "Shampoo..." was the last thing he uttered before his eyes rolled back and all became dark.

     "Mousse!" Ranma had recovered by now in time to see his ally fall, "damn you, Hashin! Now I know why Kohei wants to see you dead!"

     "You make me laugh," Hashin taunted, "you haven't even touched me yet. You can't kill a god."

     "Wanna bet!" Ranma lunged forward.


     The countless number of blows all hit their target at full force, causing Hashin to fall back a few steps.

     "It's my turn now!" Ranma smirked again and the white sphere of energy fueled by his pride formed in his hands.

     "MOUKO TAKA-"


     Hashin hadn't been fazed by the attack at all, and was only faking the damage that Ranma had given him. He then had more than enough time to prepare his counter-attack and make it a powerful one while his opponent was charging his technique. The power of the Shishi Hokodan also took out the building behind Ranma, causing the top floors to collapse. But all that Hashin cared about was that when his blast cleared,

     Ranma was gone.

     "Ranchan? RANCHAN!!!" for the first time in her life, Ukyo was genuinely afraid, and she had only been this angry once before. Her fiancé, whom she had spent over ten years seeking and another three trying to win his heart, had been killed in front of her own eyes. She wanted to deny it, wanted to think he'd dodged it or survived it. But no, she had seen it consume and possibly vaporize him. Without Ranma, she had nothing left, except for one last thing on her life's agenda. All of the people that had been blocking her were now dispersed, giving her a clear path. Drawing her battle spatula, Ukyo stepped into the square.

     "Hey, you!" she shouted.

     Ukyo what are you doing? Akane thought when she saw the taller girl openly challenge Hashin. She too had seen Ranma and Mousse fall, but that didn't justify committing suicide!

     "So you wish to die by my hand as well?" Hashin asked her, "You could have run, but if you wish to throw your life away trying to defeat me, it's your choice."

     You're not going to be alone, Ukyo! before she knew what she was doing, Akane dashed into battle.

     He's just toying with me! Ukyo thought as he dodged all of her attacks consisting of both her battle and throwing spatulas. While her extra training had greatly improved her skills, they still weren't enough to even faze the giant.

     "Are you done?" Hashin asked as he caught her weapon and raised his fist. Ukyo couldn't let go of her battle spatula or he'd use it against her, so she simply closed her eyes and braced herself for the blow.

     "HA!!!" came another voice's battle cry from nearby and Akane, glowing red from her own aura of anger, gave Hashin a powerful enough punch to the stomach to send him reeling backwards for several meters.

     "Akane!" Ukyo greeted happily, then thought, That's the potential Kohei saw in her? Mental note: Never get on her bad side again.

     "It's up to us, Ukyo!" she declared, still surrounded by her crimson aura, but had a calm expression on her face and looked to be in complete control. She had done it, she had overcome her anger and used it as a weapon rather than allow it to use her. And now, it would be her key to victory.

     "Right!" Ukyo nodded.

     "Wrong!" Hashin stood up from his walloping, "that wasn't bad for a girl, but can you keep up?" moving at full speed, he flipped around behind the two girls and, before they could react, grabbed their heads and slammed them together.

     "Ranchan..." Ukyo muttered as she lost consciousness. She wasn't quite sure, but she almost thought that she heard Akane call Kohei's name.

     Hashin grinned as the two girls collapsed in front of him.

     "Since my choice for this month has disappeared, you two will have to be my new concubines," he took a quick glance around the area, "this village has defied me, so I'll just have to render punishment." Taking a few steps aside, he crouched and gathered his negative energy.


     Rather than the column of energy from the Perfect Shishi Hokodan erupting from his figure, it merely stayed in place where he had activated it. Without saying another word, he threw the two unconscious fighting girls over his shoulders and left the way he came.

     Am I dead? Kohei thought as he floated in a seemingly ended void, I'm sorry, Mother, but I failed.

     "K... ei..." a silent voice began to call out to him.

     "Who's there?" He looked around within the blackness, but saw no one.

     "Ko... hei..." the voice summoned him again. This time, as he looked around, he could see a faint light in the distance.

     "Come to the light, Kohei," the siren's voice, definitely coming from the light called to him.

     "The light..." he seemed to lose himself as he unconsciously began to fly towards it. He had reached within a few meters of entering the bright pillar of white before him and was just about to enter it when-

     "Kohei, stop! It's not time for you to enter there yet!"

     As Kohei turned away from the pillar, he couldn't believe the image that filled his eyes.

     "Mother?" he asked in disbelief.

     "You're still alive, Kohei, but you must wake up!" Ji Lu surprised him by landing a powerful roundhouse kick to his stomach, flinging him back away from the light. He could only feel his spirit literally slam back into his body as his eyes opened. He choked and sputtered as he pulled himself out of the water and towards the edge of the hot springs after nearly drowning.

     "I'm alive? Thank you, Mother," he coughed as he shook the cobwebs from his head and spat out the water from his lungs. After taking a few deep breaths, he continued, "but I can't believe the wolf took over so easily this time." He quickly recalled what just happened, "Oh no! Miki!" and immediately leapt over the fence and back into the village square. But everyone was gone. All he could see was a column of glowing green energy, of which the sensation he recognized all too clearly; the Shishi Hokodan!

     "Miki!" he called, "Ranma! Mou Su! Ukyo-san! ... AKANE-SAN!!!" Not getting a response from anyone, anywhere, he looked towards the southern exit of Ryuchiezu, "HASHIN, YOU'RE NOT ESCAPING THIS TIME!!!" and ran in that direction as fast as he could. Fearing for his sister, he didn't take any precious time to find cold water. After several minutes of running at a full sprint, he caught up with Hashin outside of the village in the same field where they had first fought. What both surprised and angered him Kohei was that his enemy was not carrying Miki, but both Ukyo and Akane, and they were out cold!

     "Hashin, leave them alone!" he shouted, immediately entering his stance, "they weren't born in Ryuchiezu!"

     Hashin began to laugh heavily and didn't even turn around, "But they were living there when it came time for me to collect, so there is nothing you can say against it."

     How can I attack him without hurting Ukyo-san or Akane-san? he thought, lowering his eyebrows in frustration.

     "But that doesn't matter because Ryuchiezu no longer exists!" Balancing Akane on his shoulder, he swiftly turned around and extended his right hand.

     "Shishi Hokodan!"

     Even though it wasn't a very powerful one, Kohei wondered why it was aimed above him instead of at him. What he didn't see was that it was aimed at, and hit dead on, the column of dormant energy in the village square and activated it. He was about to attack Hashin while he was distracted from finishing the attack, when a loud explosion caught his attention and caused him to turn around. He was just in time to witness the enormous blast of the Perfect Shishi Hokodan encompass the entire village and several meters outside of it as well. Kohei could do nothing as the shock of seeing the place he had known as home his whole life fall into rubble before his eyes and taking the lives of his family and friends with it. The sight of it caused him to fall to his knees and was so overcome that he couldn't move, only stare, giving Hashin time to carry the girl he had come to love away from him. The echo of the demigod's laughter reverberated in his ears long after he had disappeared into the mountains.

On to Part 4

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