The Land Unknown (Final Fantasy V)
Gone... They're all gone... Killed...
Akane was only half-consciously thinking those words as her mind refused to focus itself while she had spent the past several minutes trying to fully wake up. She had no idea how much time had passed since she and Ukyo had been knocked out after they had witnessed his defeating and killing all of Kohei, Mousse, and Ranma. She also had no idea where she was or what had happened to her or her partner. All she knew was that at least she was still alive, but her continued failure to open her eyes caused the doubt of even that possibility to enter her mind.
Who's there? She couldn't tell if the one calling her was having trouble speaking or if she was having trouble hearing. A few seconds later, she heard it again.
Who's calling my name? Another few seconds passed.
Who is it? Ukyo? She was beginning to get annoyed.
"Akane! Wake up!"
"Wha...?" this was the first conscious mutter she had been able to make.
"Finally, you're awake," Ukyo's voice sounded relieved, "I've been calling out your name for a half-hour."
Probably because I used up so much of my ki in that attack, she thought as her eyes began to return into focus, I don't have nearly as much as Kohei-kun and Ranma, then her mind returned to reality.
"What happened?" Akane asked weakly as the fog fully lifted from her vision, and what she saw helped her eyes to shoot open beyond the rest of the way. Ukyo was sitting about five meters in front of her, with her hands tied behind her and around a thick column that she leaned against. But what shocked her more was that while her white bow still remained in her hair, her okonomiyaki seller's outfit was gone! It had been replaced by a tight-fitting, scarlet silk Chinese dress with slits running all the way up her legs to her waist, upon which a white sash was tied around. A jeweled bracelet adorned each of her upper arms and on her feet were slippers that matched the dress. It was the exact same style that the line of girls presented for Hashin had worn at the village.
"What did he do to you!" she demanded, trying to leap forward, but didn't get too far as she ended up stopping as quickly as she had started when a sharp pain racked her arms and shoulders. She didn't have to look back to know she too had her arms tied around a pillar. She only looked down enough to see that the dress she wore was a shimmering gold color.
"The same thing he does to every girl who he's taken from the village," came a soft, unknown voice from Akane's right. She turned her head 90 degrees to see a third girl, wearing a similar, but blue, dress tied to the pillar on that end, "he takes the clothing he stole from the village and forces us to wear them."
"Who are you?" Akane asked as she got a good look at this girl, who could be described as nothing less than drop dead gorgeous! Her eyes and hair were a matching color of blue, though a much darker shade than her dress. Her long hair was done up in a high ponytail that still looked like it would reach most of the way down her body if she was standing. Akane felt that if she was competing with her in a beauty contest, that girl would have won hands down while she could have been compared to a slug.
"My name is Juuman Aremi," she smiled, even though she'd obviously been sitting there a long time, "Kuonji-sempai has been calling your name for as long as she said. She was truly worried about you."
Akane didn't mean to forget to thank Ukyo, but the younger girl's name sounded very familiar in her ears, "Aremi... Aremi..." then the light bulb turned on, "now I remember! You're Miki-chan's friend!"
"You know Mi-chan?" Aremi asked.
"We do," Ukyo spoke up, "Kohei brought us back from Japan to help him fight Hashin."
"So Ko-chan went to Japan," she mused, "that's what I would have guessed."
"Aremi-chan?" Akane asked, she didn't want to tell her that he was dead, "how long have you known Miki-chan and Kohei-kun?"
"We grew up together. I've known them since I was 4, Mi-chan was 2, and Ko-chan 6 years old."
"Wow, how did you meet them?"
"I don't remember, I can't remember anything that happened at that time."
"You have amnesia?" Akane gasped.
"Yes, my first memory was waking up in their grandfather's house. He found me passed out outside of Ryuchiezu half-starved. Because I couldn't remember my name, he took me in as his granddaughter and gave me my name."
"Are you a martial artist too?" Ukyo asked.
"Yes. I trained with them all my life too, learning the Ikimono family style and also developing my own style with a sword. But enough about me, please tell me how Ko-chan found you and why he brought you to China."
"It's a long story," Akane sighed as she began, "it started one day at school when-"
"Wait!" Aremi shouted in a whisper as she tilted her head up to listen to a distant sound.
"What is it?" both Akane and Ukyo asked.
"Pretend you're still asleep!" and Aremi let her head drop.
Akane closed her eyes and, the instant her head fell, she could hear the footsteps that Aremi had picked up long before she did. As the next few seconds passed, with her heart the only other audible sound, the footsteps came closer, but there was something else. When the door opened and Hashin walked through the room, she could also hear the sound of a girl crying softly. A few minutes passed in between the time when he passed through their room and returned back, apparently being alone.
"What was that?" Ukyo asked first after he had left.
"Obviously he just woke up," Aremi explained, "every night he takes one of the girls he's taken from Ryuchiezu and repeatedly rapes her until he falls asleep."
The sound of the dreaded "r" word that all girls feared sent chills up Akane's spine as she began to get visibly angry, "What is that sicko thinking! That we're going to let ourselves be a part of his harem? He's even more perverted than Toma!"
"Keep your voice down," Aremi advised, "if he hears you speaking out against him he'll come and torture you."
"Aremi-chan," Ukyo said, "you sound like you're speaking from experience."
"I am," she sighed, "that's why I was all alone in here until he brought the two of you here last night."
Akane was beginning to get even more angry as she ignored their conversation; this wasn't the first time she'd been kidnapped, but she'd never felt this much disgust for her kidnapper! He'd killed Ranma, the man who she had once given her heart to and still loved as her brother-in-law, and he'd also killed Kohei, the man who she now had given her heart to. He stole from their village and gloated over his victory all because of a case of mistaken identity! Her rage was more than enough to cause her aura to fire around her. She was getting ready to ignore Aremi's advice and vent her anger out by shouting when one of the things Kohei had taught her entered her mind.
"Akane-san," he warned early in their training, "anger only comes from a lack of self-discipline and will only harm you more than help you. If you feel yourself getting angry, simply take a few deep breaths and let it out slowly. Once you've mastered this then I can teach you how to use it as your own weapon."
That advice had been very basic, but very challenging for Akane as she worked on keeping calm in the situations Kohei put her in, most of which was Ranma taunting her, knowing that he always did the best job. It had taken all of her willpower to not produce Mallet-sama and clobber him, but she was able to do it. If she could overcome her anger against Ranma, she should have no problem not lashing out against Hashin. It was more difficult than she thought, but she did keep herself from shouting. In fact, she thought of a good way to let it out in another way.
"We're going to escape," she announced, "I'm not going to submit to him. We're going to get you and all of the girls out of here."
"Tendo-sempai?" Aremi blinked.
"Call me Akane," she smiled, then turned to Ukyo, "do you have any of your throwing spatulas on you?"
"No," Ukyo shook her head, "he found all of them."
"We'll have to do this the hard way, then."
"Are you going to try and undo the ropes?" Aremi asked.
Akane nodded, "You'll have to help me since I can't see the knots."
"It's very painful to try, and you must move quickly for he checks the ropes and re-ties them after every meal."
"I'll do my best," Akane stated as she shifted around the column and began her ordeal. Aremi wasn't kidding, her shoulders immediately started hurting the moment she began trying to reach for the knots, but she wasn't going to give up.
"Have you been kidnapped so many times that you learned all the rope escape tricks, Akane-chan?" Ukyo asked, grinning.
Akane chose to ignore that joke.
The mountain winds carried a bone-chilling cold along their peaks, enough to send any inexperienced person who wandered them scurrying back to the valley like a scared animal, but not Kohei. These peaks were his backyard. He knew these mountains from end-to-end as he'd spend many days, even weeks or months training here. While he had initially told Ranma that the village didn't know where Hashin hid between his monthly raids, Kohei had a good idea. Beginning from the first night in which he had returned, he had said that he came out training for the entire night, but that was only a half-truth. He was scouting for that location and had narrowed Hashin's hiding place to only one last place within the Bayankala. If he wasn't at that place then he would be anywhere. Deep within the soon-to-be snow covered peaks of the range stood an old, abandoned monastery that had been purged of its members by an unknown cause. People guessed that the monks living there had been run out during the Boxer Rebellion, but as they hadn't been able to advance anywhere within Amazon land due to the superior fighting ability of the Amazons, even against guns, the Boxers would never have been able to get this far. Kohei's guess was that the monks died much earlier in time due to disease. Due to the distance from Ryuchiezu to the old building, he had been travelling since before dawn, which had been four hours beforehand.
Ukyo-san, Akane-san, he thought, I have twice failed my family and village, but I'll not fail either of you. I'll defend your bodies and honor with my life!
As the monastery came into view on the horizon, the memories of the last five months entered Kohei's mind as the sight of the monastery reminded him of the sight of Tokyo when he first arrived in Japan and brought about the moments that led up to the point in his life.
From the late night when he left Ryuchiezu until his arrival in Nerima, Kohei hadn't rested for a moment in his travelling and training, utilizing the same schedule that had set with Ranma and the two girls on the return trip. By using the active animal spirits from his cursed form to his advantage, when he traveled he was able to cover several kilometers at a constant and high speed for hours at a time. He would only pass through cities and villages long enough to find a place to sleep or to trade some of Ryuchiezu's goods for food and supplies. But because he was unfamiliar with the land outside of Amazon lands, it still took him two months to cross China and the sea. Once he arrived at the coast did the ease of his travels end. It began with the swim, while he considered it a good workout as it was much harder than running across China, especially as the mid-April weather made the water cold and choppy.
Upon his arrival at the beaches of southern Japan, he wasted no time in beginning his search for Ranma. However, as he traveled towards Tokyo, acting on his instinct that his name would be known in a large city, he often became the object of cold stares and cruel remarks at his clothes and appearance. It was only because of his perfect grasp of Japanese that was able to break that barrier. His obstacles continued to increase as he reached more modern cities. Like a curious child he was fascinated by the technological advances compared to his own village and, while he could have let himself be distracted to learn about the wonders of a modern world, he was more disciplined than that.
His first experience with a car wasn't a pleasant one as he was walking along a road when one turned a corner and apparently turned to hit him head on. Kohei was no fool; having learned that people drove on the left side of the road after watching traffic pass him by, he deduced that something was wrong with the driver. Leaping into the air, he flipped over the oncoming vehicle while touching a certain point on the hood with his index finger. The small explosion was enough to disable the engine and the car was dead by the time Kohei landed back onto the ground. As the auto came to a slow halt off of the road, he walked over to make sure that the driver was unharmed, an angry man, whose breath reeked of a foul smell stumbled out and cursed at him in a slurred speech before passing out.
Being one to never leave someone in need, Kohei lifted the man onto his shoulders piggyback, and carried him along the road towards the outskirts of the city of Tokyo, whose lights he had begun to see on the horizon not too long beforehand. Several kilometers before reaching the first buildings at the suburbs, another car pulled up along him and two men in blue uniforms stepped outside. After he asked, they explained to him that their duty was to enforce the law and protect the citizens and someone who had passed them earlier called the police station to report a young man carrying an unconscious man along the roadside. Once he re-iterated the incident, the two officers stuck a strange device into the man's mouth, and once it buzzed and emitted a red light, they placed the man in the back seat of their car, saying that he needed medical attention before he suffered from alcohol poisoning. They offered Kohei a ride into town, but he declined, allowing everybody to move on without trouble.
Not wanting to risk another similar incident, Kohei left the road and continued towards the city lights via another route. It wasn't long before another, more nearby and bright light from a fire caught his attention. As he approached the flame, he found a young man wearing dark pants, an orange shirt, and a black and orange-striped bandana around his head. On the ground next to him rested an enormous pack with a bamboo umbrella balanced on top of it. The older man sighed heavily, giving Kohei the message that he was depressed. As soon as he called out to the man, the first thing he said in response was a question asking where Tokyo was located. Wondering if the other man had hit his head and was confused, Kohei simply gestured to the lights only a few kilometers away. He then took the opportunity to ask if he knew about Saotome Ranma. While he seemed slightly surprised at being asked about Ranma, he was able to tell him that he attended Furinkan High School in the Nerima District. Kohei was about to thank him and be on his way, but the wanderer suddenly stood up and offered to guide him.
Kohei didn't know what happened next, but the city lights of Tokyo that he had been so close to suddenly seemed to disappear. He and his guide found themselves in Kyoto, Sendai, Yokohama, even Okinawa. As they ended up spending a total of three weeks wandering around Japan, he was getting ready to bid his guide farewell and return to Tokyo on his own, but he wouldn't want him to lose any more of his confidence. As they continued to press on, they eventually did arrive at Furinkan High School. Kohei wasted no time in getting registered so he would be able to look for Ranma from the inside. If he would have been unable to find him within a month, he would move on and look elsewhere. He had felt the most lucky at finding who he had been searching for after only a month in Japan on the first day of school, but even before classes began. After easily defeating the conceited swordsman and hearing the red-headed girl be called Ranma, because of his respect for the Amazons he had truly thought that Ranma was a girl, until Ukyo called her a "he." However, that had confirmed his initial suspicions upon hearing rumors of a male and female Saotome Ranma that there was actually only one Ranma who had fallen into either the Spring of Drowned Man or Girl. However, he did feel slightly guilty at offering to give Ranma the Naanichuan water for coming with him because it felt as if he was bribing him. To alleviate his guilt, he gave him the water right away and wouldn't have said anything had he not arrived at the meeting place the next morning.
But there was one other event that made Kohei feel like the luckiest man on earth as that had been the same morning he met Akane. From the moment he first laid eyes on her after she knocked him from the tree, he could sense something special about her that he'd never felt from any girl he'd known. As he got to know her better while they traveled and trained together, finding more characteristics that they shared, that special feeling only grew more and more. It wasn't until the incident in the hot springs did that strange feeling begin to affect the way he saw her, which made their relationship more difficult. He wanted to be able to express that feeling for her, but he couldn't figure out what it was, so was unable to express it. He also felt guilty for avoiding Akane, but he felt even more guilty in allowing harm to come to her. He knew that she had been crying at his parents' marker, but he didn't know what to say or do, so he ran.
I won't run away again, Akane-san, he thought as he finished tracing his memories back to the present and ran towards the sudden flare of anger that he felt and recognized, thus confirming his guess as to where Hashin was, you, Ukyo-san, and Are-chan are the only family I have left and I love you all! As he paused at the entrance of the monastery, where he arrived a half-hour later, he felt another gust of wind blow his hair and sash about wildly before the direction of the moving air shifted to push him forward.
"Akane, are you all right?" Ukyo asked as she saw her friend slump forward and breathe heavily. For the past thirty minutes she had been taking Aremi's direction in trying to reach the knots that held her arms bound behind her around the pillar. The blue-haired girl hadn't been kidding about how painful the process was as, from the beginning, Akane began to exhibit signs of discomfort in her face. But she didn't give up and fought for as long as she could, until now.
"I can't..." she wheezed, "my shoulders are going to dislocate if I try any more."
"You've been doing the best you can, Akane-sempai," Aremi said with a supporting tone, "but don't injure yourself. I'll try now. Ukyo-sempai, will you guide me?"
"Sure," Ukyo shifted herself so she could see Aremi's hands, "Akane, you rest a while."
"All right," she wheezed. After she had relaxed her arms for only a few minutes, her trained ears caught the sound of footsteps again, and they were coming closer!
"He's coming!" she exclaimed in a loud whisper, "Aremi-chan, turn back around!"
The youngest of the three girls wasted no time in shifting herself back around to face the other two...
But was unfortunately too slow.
"Trying to escape again?" Hashin asked sternly as he stepped into the chamber, "You still haven't learned your lesson!"
Aremi only glared at him as she spit at his feet, causing both Akane and Ukyo to raise their eyebrows in surprise. They hadn't known her for long but they were surprised to see her action of open defiance after seeing her as a sweet young woman.
"You're the only one who hasn't been broken," he reached down and grabbed her by the throat, "you know that I could crush your windpipe like a termite-ridden stick. Why do you continue to resist me?"
"You can torture me and rape me all you want, Hashin," she spoke boldly despite her lack of breath, "but I will never turn my heart or my will over to you!"
Hashin scowled at the young woman, "Foolish girl, you're placing your own head under the executioner's blade! Maybe killing you in front of these two will at least teach them how to behave and not be punished!"
Rather than strangling her, he grabbed her upper arm and began to twist it around. Aremi's face immediately developed a look of pain, but she subdued it as best she could.
"I'll start by breaking and tearing out your arms and legs," he growled and, with another twist, everyone could hear a loud POP as her arm was pulled from its shoulder socket. This time, Aremi did cry out from the pain that raced through her upper body.
"No!" Akane shouted.
"Stop it!" Ukyo exclaimed at the same time.
"She brought it on herself," Hashin grabbed Aremi's upper arm with both hands and proceeded to snap the bone when-
"What the hell was that?" Hashin let her go and looked up.
"Leave her alone!"
Akane couldn't believe her eyes as the dust from the explosion settled enough for her to see that Kohei had come charging into the room at full speed as if destroying the wall hadn't slowed him down a bit. Hashin had had no time to react as the young half-Amazon landed a spinning kick to the giant's chest, connecting with such force that he was thrown against the far wall, knocking over the column that Aremi had been tied to in the process. The chunk of marble fell and landed with an enormous crash, just centimeters away from crushing Akane's legs.
The girls all shouted their happy exclamations in unison as Hashin pulled himself from the crater he'd made in the wall.
"How did you find me here, kid?" he demanded.
Kohei simply remained in his fighting stance as he answered, "Your mistake was trying to hide in the land I've known my whole life. My guess that you were in this monastery was confirmed not too long ago. Anyone who can sense chi would have felt Akane-san's surge of anger all the way from Jusenkyo."
Akane wanted to get angry again and shout, "Excuse me for being short-tempered!" But she squelched it and surprised herself by blushing instead.
"I should have finished you last night!" Hashin charged forward.
The scene seemed to move in slow motion for Akane as she didn't even have time to open her mouth and shout a "Look out!" warning before Hashin's punch was thrown. Thankfully, she didn't have to warn Kohei as, acting much different from last night, he caught the huge man's arm, used it to swing behind him under his legs, and come up to face an open back.
"KACHUU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!!!"
Hashin could do nothing as his kidney area where being pummeled by the onslaught of punches.
"Ranchan taught him that one," Ukyo grinned proudly.
Once the technique was complete, he caught him with another, even more powerful kick to send him through the hole in the wall that Kohei had made using the Bakusai Tenketsu and through the next one as well. Several loud crashes were heard as the ceiling apparently collapsed and buried him under the rubble.
"There isn't any time to lose," Kohei turned around and stopped as he blinked in disbelief.
"Is something wrong?" Aremi, who had worked her arms up along the chunk of remaining pillar and gotten onto her feet, asked.
"You're injured, how did you stand up?"
"You said it yourself, Ko-chan, there isn't any time to lose."
"Yes, you're right," he walked around behind her, "brace yourself, this is going to hurt." As the blue-haired girl closed her eyes, Kohei popped her arm back into its place in her shoulder with ease and untied the ropes binding her hands.
"Free the others and get everyone to safety," he ordered as he headed for his hole.
"What will you do?" Aremi asked.
"I have to finish Hashin for good before he can recover. I'm counting on the three of you," and ran towards the collapsed chamber.
"We're counting on you, too," she called after him in support.
"He's alive..." Akane whispered in disbelief as she was freed and stood up. She could only stare into the dark void into which Kohei had leapt.
"Akane, hurry up!" Ukyo grabbed her wrist, "we've got to find the rest of the girls! This place is going to collapse as soon as they go all out!"
"Right!" Akane followed her two companions into the adjacent hallway, taking a brief moment to glance back and smile as she thought, He's alive.
I would bury him under the whole monastery if I could, Kohei thought as he stepped in front of the collapsed room, but I need to give them enough time to escape. It's victory or death now.
When the body underneath the rubble began to stir and crawl free, several seconds later, he was ready.
"Why can't I get rid of you?" Hashin asked, a red aura emanating from his figure.
"Kill me as many times as you like," Kohei responded, "but I can never die as long as I have a promise to fulfill. The promise to protect my sister that I made to my mother as she lay dying in my arms."
"A promise?" he began to laugh, "You would sacrifice yourself for a bunch of empty words that have no meaning?"
"To you they mean nothing, but to me, everything rests upon them. That promise to protect Miki has extended to others as well. You killed my parents, destroyed my home, stole from my people, stole and scarred my friends for life, tried to steal my sister before you killed her, stole my friend's future bride after you killed him, killed my cousin and her husband, and stole a woman who means very much to me. You commit such vile acts without a second thought to consider how evil they are. I have many reasons to extend the promise to my mother to protect all of those people. I wish to know, exactly what are you to house such hatred and evil?"
"You haven't figured it out yet?' he laughed harder, blowing aside Kohei's statements about his actions, "How could you be so blind?"
"What do you mean?" Kohei didn't shift at all.
"Can't you see that I'm just like you?"
This statement made Kohei's eyes widen as he guessed, "You mean to say that you also dove into the animal springs of Jusenkyo?"
Hashin threw back his head and guffawed loudly, "You are as stupid as ever. I say that we're alike because my father is Japanese and my mother was a Chinese Amazon. She died giving birth to me, but my father's name is Amatsu Mikaboshi."
Kohei's eyes widened farther as he recognized that name, "The god of evil!"
"Exactly," Hashin crossed his arms, "and I really should thank you for turning my Shishi Hokodan against me at our first fight. While the force of it throwing me against a mountain could have killed me, it was negative energy contained in it restored my strength and healed me completely."
"Your life blood is negative emotions and energy? The recoil from using the imperfect Shishi Hokodan is what heals you?"
"Exactly, and using it once can sustain me for days. My father developed it but was unable to teach it to the people on earth without birthing a child. So, unable to find any suitable fighting women in Japan, he traveled to China. The Amazon woman he found was more than perfect to be the mother of the greatest martial artist in the world. Once I was born, so was the Shishi Hokodan. And who better for me to teach it to than miners, the lowliest humans on the earth who face the darkness all day of every day? Being without sunlight and their families for long periods of time left their hearts heavy and depressed. While they were given the opportunity to make their work easier, they were only worshipping my father by using it. Even today, 400 years later, do miners continue to worship him by using the technique that my birth gave to them."
"Which makes you 400 years old."
"Yes, and during my life I was raised to fight, to defeat any opponent who stood up to me. It gave me satisfaction to watch them fall. It gave me strength whenever I would lose and foster my anger against the one who defeated me. This anger gave me the motivation to become stronger, to work until I defeated them, often killing them, in our next battle. I wandered for years looking for worthy opponents, but within the last century there have been almost none. I heard of another god, one of fire named Saffron. I had never fought one of my own and felt it my destiny to defeat him in combat. But when I arrived at the time when Saffron was to become an adult and reach his full power for that life cycle, I found him as merely an infant! His people said he had already been defeated eight months before my arrival, but refused to give the name of the one who had fought him and won. After gaining information from the Jusenkyo guides and the people living nearby, they told me that the only person who was seen leaving Jusenkyo after Saffron's defeat was a young man with blue eyes and green hair with a thin ponytail," Hashin raised his finger and pointed at Kohei, "you. I hunted you down and thought that I had become the best after defeating you, only until I found out that I had fought the wrong opponent. But that was remedied last night after defeating the right man. Now that I am the greatest martial artist in the world by defeating Saotome Ranma, I have no reason to fight a weakling such as yourself."
Kohei would have felt insulted had he not seen the irony of this situation that caused him to grin as he explained, "You may think that you're the greatest fighter in the world by defeating Ranma in battle, but I must tell you that I won when fighting against him in our spar the day before."
He wasn't bluffing, after their final morning-long spar ended on the day before Hashin's return to Ryuchiezu, he had been the one to deliver the blow that knocked one of the two combatants to the ground without him getting back up. It had been his first victory over Ranma in a fight, and he knew that he would demand a rematch soon, but he never would have thought how significant it would be for this current event.
The smug look on Hashin's face disappeared as he realized what Kohei had said, "You mean to say that when I fought you, I was supposed to fight Saotome, and when I fought him last night, I was supposed to defeat you?"
"Exactly, and I can see what you're thinking. You're about to say that you knocked me out as well last night, but I was not in control my body. You merely fought a wild wolf!"
Hashin's smug expression returned as he threw his head back and laughed so loud that his echoes reverberated along the halls and chambers of the empty monastery, making it sound that there were more than one of him for several seconds before speaking, "I can taste the irony! So now you're the only one I have to defeat and yet you come to challenge me!"
"I have no intention of being considered the greatest martial artist in the world," Kohei stated calmly but sternly, "the blood of the people you killed is on your head and all of them have placed their trust in me to bring you to justice. And if I should learn that you have made any of those girls pregnant, I will personally kill your children before the negative emotions in their blood corrupt them like you are."
"My godly half prevents me from having children with humans without developing another technique similar to the Shishi Hokodan. But you surprise me, you would kill children? You sound more full of hatred than my father."
Realization hit Kohei's mind. Not the realization that he was sounding like Hashin because he wouldn't actually kill children, he would have made sure they were raised in loving homes that wouldn't allow their cursed blood to destroy their souls. And if any of them should have fallen away, he would face them in battle so they would die with honor in battle. But he could see now that now he was the one being stalled. The girls had had more than enough time to get out of there, so he executed the pre-empitive strike, and not a second too soon as Hashin's red aura brightened in intensity.
Striking directly at the earth below the floor of the monastery, the explosion destroyed the foundation of the old building as the shrapnel again succeeded in distracting Hashin long enough for him to land another powerful kick directly in his face. The blow sent him back against the rubble he had crawled out of only ten minutes before.
"I'm not as slow as I was in our last battle," Kohei declared, "may the remains of this monastery be your tomb, Gekijo Hashin." With that farewell he ran back outside through the way he had come to escape the collapse of the old monastery as it would join the bodies of its former inhabitants in destruction.
Outside of the building, only a few hundred meters away, Akane, Ukyo, and Aremi watched the entrance of the monastery, each silently praying that Kohei was going to get out of there once they had heard the loud explosion and seen the start of the collapse. They had found the rest of the girls in Hashin's captivity, five in total, as well as Ukyo's weapons and the stolen goods from Ryuchiezu. After grabbing anything and everything they could, they had escaped only a couple of minutes beforehand. As they were all reasonably physically unharmed, the five girls all opted to take the supplies back to the village. Akane admired their spirits as she knew the emotional trauma they had experienced would haunt them for years. But perhaps the joy they felt at finally being freed and being able to return home overcame the emotional scarring, if only for a brief moment. That's the determination of humans to survive.
Even Aremi had felt slightly alienated when she stepped out into the sunlight for the first time in a month. While it took her eyes several seconds to adjust, she was able to see how tan Akane and Ukyo were while she'd become as white as the snow on the unseen highest peaks of the Bayankala. But she wasn't worried, the next several weeks in which she'd spend in catching up on her training would take care of that. But that was in the future, now she stood with her two new friends, hoping that the man she had loved her whole life would return to her alive. I can't be thinking about myself while Ko-chan is still in there.
Ukyo was the only one whose face and eyes held an expression of sadness instead of worry. While she was happy for Akane, Aremi, and the rest of the girls, but other than the fact that she had been saved from becoming a sex slave, she had no other reasons to be happy. She'd done a good job hiding her misery over Ranma's death but knew she wouldn't be able to keep it buried much longer. Her plans, despite everyone's expected protests, was to send Nodoka the news as soon as she could and then take her own life to join her Ranchan in heaven. I'm so sorry, Auntie Nodoka, I have the feeling that you'll join us soon.
Another loud crash, as the top floor fully collapsed, kicking up a cloud of dust that covered the whole front of the building, brought the three girls out of their thoughts and returned their attention to the tumbling building. Their heartbeats sounded more like drums as the whole rest of the monastery fell into rubble after losing its foundation and supports. A full minute passed in dead silence after the crashing noises ceased.
"Did he make it?" Ukyo whispered as the dust began to blow away.
"He had to," Akane assured them, but more herself, "he had to..."
After another few seconds, Aremi spoke, "He did," and smiled as she pointed into the cloud of dust, "he's right there."
The two girls from Nerima blinked and leaned their heads forward to see if the longest-haired girl was correct.
"I don't see another but du- wait!" Akane started, but interrupted herself as she saw something that wasn't moving dust coming through the clouds towards them. The youngest of their group was correct as Kohei burst out through the edge of the brown screen, coughing heavily but looking otherwise unharmed.
"He did it!" Akane and Aremi exclaimed as they immediately dashed forward, retracing their steps towards their former prison to meet him, leaving Ukyo behind for a second before she too broke into a run to follow them. As she ran, she thought to herself.
Akane, you're acting funny. Are you in love with him?
"He's gone..." Kohei said to himself for the fourth time, still in disbelief, as he coughed the remaining particles out of his lungs. Even with his speed, he'd just barely gotten out of the only remaining entrance before the ceiling in that room had nearly buried him with Hashin under the thousands of kilograms of stone and marble. Even Hashin would have had to have been crushed underneath the weight of the pieces of the broken building.
As his ears caught the sound of the two voices that called his name, he looked up and smiled when he saw Akane and Aremi running down to meet him. As he got a good look at Akane for the first time since his rescue operation began, his cheeks took on a red tinge as he thought, Akane-san, you look beautiful in my village's formal clothing for women. What would have been strange for anyone except Kohei was that he didn't think the same thing about Aremi, as a less-formal style of that kind of clothing was her normal, everyday wear, or Ukyo as he also saw her coming, as he knew that she had given her heart to Ranma.
"Ko-chan!" Aremi shouted again as she arrived first and practically tackled him as she hugged him, "you did it!"
"Are-chan, thank yo-ooff!" he had barely opened his mouth in thanking his oldest friend when he found himself being hugged by a second person.
Akane-san? he asked in his mind as, for the first time he knew of, he sweatdropped, I've never seen you like this before, but smiled. Once they had let him go, he stepped over to Ukyo, having felt sadness coming from her, and spoke, "I'm sorry about Ranma, Ukyo-san."
"It wasn't your fault," she smiled, but her empty eyes told him that she was faking it, "he wouldn't have wanted to go any other way."
"Yes," he nodded, "to fall in battle while fighting valiantly for what is just is the supreme form of honor."
"Thank you Kohei, and knowing him he'll probably be sparring with your parents right now up in the heavens."
"Yes," he said again before turning back to Akane and Aremi before declaring, "everyone, let's return home."
As the four of them walked abreast together, leaving the scene that ended the most trying chapter of his life, Kohei thought again, I can't bring myself to tell them that the village was destroyed and that Miki and Xian Pu are also gone. But their deaths were not in vain. And because of their support, they can rest on peace. The silent sounds of the cold winds seemed to carry a sad tune that he thought of as their funeral dirge while he knew that nothing could ever be the same again.
The four of them continued to walk and converse on happy topics, until...
"It happened when we were 12-" Aremi suddenly stopped in both mid-sentence and step.
"Are-chan?" Kohei stopped and turned his head.
"I can feel it," her voice shook as she spoke while a wave of terror fell over her body and caused her to tremble visibly, "he's still alive."
"No... No!" Kohei turned back to face the ruins just as he too could begin to feel the overwhelming sensation of the growing negative energy coming from the center of the rubble.
"How?" he asked, "nobody would have been able to survive that!"
"He's angry," the power had so affected Aremi that she had fallen to her knees and was hugging herself, "more so than a raging volcano."
"Are you sure?" Akane asked.
"Yes," Kohei answered for her, "Are-chan's talent in reading aura is greater than anyone else's. That's why it's having such an effect on her."
"I guess we have to fight again," Ukyo declared, her battle spatula already drawn, "I'm not letting Ranchan's death be for nothing!"
Once Aremi had been able to stand back up, the four of them stood ready to fight as a column of green energy shot upwards from the shattered building towards the sky, expand into a wide blast radius and fall back to the ground, destroying the rubble. Where the abandoned monastery once stood, now lay a shallow, smoldering crater, and in the middle of which, stood a glowing green Hashin. His aura consisted of both red and green, revealing to Kohei what his next move would be.
"Everybody scatter!" he shouted as he began to form a defensive shield out of his chi, "he's going to aim his attack at me!"
Both Aremi and Ukyo ran to the side away from Kohei, but Akane only took a few steps before stopping and turning back.
Kohei was there, his aura at full brightness to protect him from the blast.
If he takes it then he won't have enough in him left to fight!
Akane looked back and forth between Kohei and Hashin. She had a decision to make and she had to make it now!
Leaping back in front of Kohei, Akane stood her ground and spread her arms out to shield him.
"Akane-san!" he shouted and reached out to push her aside, but was shocked to find her elbow him in the stomach, causing him to fall to his knee as he lost his wind.
Summoning all of the rage she still felt towards Hashin, Akane was able to create her own shielding aura just in time to protect Kohei from the enormous green blast.
"Kohei-kun," she was able to somehow turn her head to face him, "thank you for everything." The next few seconds were excruciatingly slow as she expended absolutely everything she had, including her life energy, to defend against the attack. Now she knew why he had been so exhausted after his first battle against Hashin.
"Akane-san!" Kohei shouted again now that he had his breath back.
"Good-bye, Kohei," she said again as she smiled, "I wanted to tell you that I love you."
As soon as she had finished saying those words, the blast died and, with nothing left, Tendo Akane fell backward into Kohei's arms as he caught her and closed her eyes, leaving consciousness with a smile of satisfaction on her face.
Boss Theme (Magic Knight Rayearth RPG)
"Akane-san! Akane-san! AKANE-SAAAAAAANNN!!!" Kohei's voice echoed throughout the entire mountain range as the wind carried his mournful howl across the peaks of the Bayankala.
"Now you face my true self as the son of Amatsu Mikaboshi!" Hashin declared from his standing point, "Gekijo Hashin is merely a title! My true name is Adauchi Aka!"
"'Bloody Vengeance,'" Ukyo growled under her breath as she and Aremi rejoined Kohei, "what a lousy name to live with. No wonder he goes by Hashin."
Aremi held her head to Akane's chest with her eyes closed, reaching out with her own energy. She lifted her head after a few seconds and relieved everyone by declaring, "She's in a coma, but she's alive."
"Good," Kohei handed the young woman over to Aremi, "take her to safety, I'll end this for all of us." Had Kohei been in his cursed form, his eyes would have been twice as effective in emphasizing his message that he'd just given. But the two girls could see that the fire within his eyes as they were was more than enough to tell them not to argue with him.
Once the others were far enough away, Kohei used his own anger to create what he needed.
"GENKAKU NO SURAISU!!!"
The rage flowing through his blood gave him more than enough energy to create his sword without draining him much at all as he unknowingly mastered his technique. As he ran down into the newly created crater towards Hashin, who hadn't even made a move since his declaration, he thought, Where I was unable to crush you beneath the structure of the ruins I will cut you to pieces!
When he reached the bottom of the crater, Kohei immediately launched into his offensive.
"SPLITTING CAT HAIRS!!!"
As the images of his body duplicated themselves several times over, Kohei silently prayed that the violent demigod would be thrown by the illusions as he and they circled him, waiting for the chance to strike.
"Hashin, you will die!" he and his doubles shouted as they leapt at him, swords raised. Leaving his chest open became his mistake as Hashin, who still hadn't moved, apparently had no trouble finding the real Kohei and caught him in his ribs with a blindingly fast, powerful kick. The pain of the blow was enough to cause him to lose both his sword and duplicate images of himself. Hashin wasn't finished yet as Kohei found himself receiving several punches and kicks coming from seemingly all directions as he was carried into the air several meters. While he was able to block a good portion of the attacks, he had no time to counter. By the time his chain of attacks was over, Kohei's guard had been broken in time for Hashin to deliver an overhead blow to send him back to the ground.
Upon hitting the bottom of the shallow bowl in the ground, square on his back, Kohei fought against the pain racing through his body to move out of the way. He could see Hashin floating in the air above him, with a green sphere in his hands!
I can't dodge it! Kohei thought as he began to create another shield.
"Ko-chan!" Aremi called from the crater's edge.
He could see Ukyo ready to throw some of her mini spatulas, but suddenly seemed to hesitate.
From the opposite end of the crater, on Hashin's back, came a blinding white light that knocked the demigod out of his place in the air and sent him rolling along the ground barely outside of the crater for several meters. For the first time since Kohei had met him, he could see that Hashin looked like he was genuinely in pain. As he slowly got up, tuning out the messages from his nerves, he looked to see who had created the white light and couldn't believe his eyes.
Ranma took a few deep breaths. After having run for the last hour and having nearly zero time to build and fire his Mouko Takabisha, he was slightly winded, but at least he had been in time.
"Ranchan!" Ukyo called and waved from the other side of the crater.
"Hey, Ucchan," he waved back and spoke with his cocky tone, "sorry I'm late," then turned serious, "you and that other girl get Akane back to the village! Miki and Shampoo've set up a hospital for the injured!"
"Right!" Ukyo related the news to Aremi, who looked over at the two men as Kohei joined him.
"Ko-chan," she called, "let me help the two of you fight!"
"Listen to me, Are-chan," he shouted back, "you're in no condition to fight him! You haven't fought, or even trained for a full month! Look at your arm and leg muscles, they've become so thin!"
Aremi opened her mouth to speak, but understood his point. Nodding slowly, she helped Ukyo lift Akane onto her back and immediately began to run back towards Ryuchiezu.
"Ranchan, come back alive!" Ukyo shouted one more time before falling in step with Aremi.
"You okay?" Ranma asked Kohei as he saw the bruises on his face.
"Yes, thank you," the green-haired man nodded, "how did you survive? I saw that attack destroy the village and kill all of you."
"I'll tell you later," he reached for the thermos he had carried with him, "I brought this in case you needed it."
Kohei seemed to freeze for a second before he shouted, "No!" and knocked the container of cold water aside, destroying it.
Ranma blinked, "What are you doing, you idiot? You told me yourself that you would never be able to beat him without the effects of your curse!"
"For the first time, last night, my curse had truly been a curse," Kohei clenched his fists, "the spirit of the animals overpowered my body and led me to ruin our plan that would have left more people alive."
"Haven't you seen it yet?" Ranma raised his voice, "The spirits of the animals inside of you want to defeat him as much as you do! Why do you think the wolf attacked him? Your curse is only a curse if you call it that! Those animals are just fighting the way they know how."
"Then why did I nearly attack Akane-san?"
"Because they're trying to survive as much as we are. They're still the same, even in your body, they'll still be themselves. But they're still willing to loan you their power! I didn't like turning into a girl whenever I touched cold water, but because of that curse I was able to face more opponents and fight, and win more battles than I ever would have without it. I'm not saying I miss it, but it still helped me at times!"
Ranma watched as his words soaked into Kohei's mind, but he shook his head as he spoke, "With your help I shouldn't need any cold water."
"Damn right," he looked over at Hashin, who had finally been able to crawl back up onto his feet, "but why'd you ask me to come along to help fight if you don't let me have a piece of him?"
"I'm sorry, I thought you were dead," Kohei apologized as they ran over to their opponent.
"I've had worse," Ranma grinned, "but nobody beats Saotome Ranma and gets away with it." The proud grin on his face highlighted his confidence much more than the mid-morning sun.
As the two young men reached their foe, he had just fully gotten into an upright standing position and there was something Kohei could see that he couldn't believe. The burns on Hashin's back from Ranma's blast weren't repairing themselves.
"Wh-what did you do to me!" Hashin demanded as he glared down at them.
"You like that?" Ranma taunted, "what you just felt is the Mouko Takabisha, an attack that's fueled by positive energy. It's the exact opposite of the Shishi Hokodan!"
Ranma's last phrase echoed and re-echoed through Kohei's mind as his recent conversation with Hashin re-entered his thoughts.
"...my father's name is Amatsu Mikaboshi."
"Once I was born, so was the Shishi Hokodan"
"...using it once can sustain me for days."
"It's the exact opposite of the Shishi Hokodan!"
"That's the answer," Kohei exclaimed and pointed at Hashin, "that is your weakness!" then looked back at Ranma. "He is the son of Amatsu Mikaboshi. His blood is the same as the emotions that create the Shishi Hokodan."
"So all we've got to do is pump him full of positive energy and he'll be gone!"
"Both of you are fools!" Hashin declared, "No humans ever have the chance to destroy a god! I am the Shishi Hokodan!"
With that cry, Hashin fired another blast at the two of them, but Ranma had been preparing his own since his last statement.
As the two blasts negated each other out, Kohei ran in behind the white light just as both of them died, leaving Hashin open for his attack.
"KACHUU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN REVISED!!!"
Kohei knew that Hashin knew about the Amaguriken, as he'd used it on him before, but that had been with fists. By copying the technique that the girl, Chun-Li, had shown him, he was able to break the giant's defenses and land countless numbers of kicks to his chest and face. Despite the hundreds of blows that were connecting, Kohei still wasn't knocking him down, but soon discovered why.
"KACHUU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!!!"
Where Kohei was knocking their opponent backwards, Ranma was applying the infinite number of punches top his open and wounded back to send him back forward. Hashin had become a literal punching bag for the two young men. However, neither one of them was able to execute their techniques for more than a few seconds, despite the numerous blows inflicted.
"Use it again!" Kohei shouted as he leapt aside. Ranma didn't have to ask what he meant.
Ranma was certain that a Mouko Takabisha at point-blank range would have been more than enough to destroy, or at least cripple the man whose life blood was the negative emotions that, until recently, he had seen strongest in Ryoga. Anger, depression, sadness, fear, jealousy, hatred; all of these had been the only emotions he had felt from his rival. But now, he was fighting an opponent who was literally composed of those same feelings, and whose body could be destroyed by his pride. But during the past year, Ranma had improved the Mouko Takabisha. He no longer fueled it with his pride alone, but had learned how to include other feelings. Peace, joy, happiness, trust, gratitude, and love were now ingredients in his ki blast. With all of these new feelings, he was able to make his attack much more powerful and create it in much less time.
Mom and Ucchan taught me these feelings, he thought as the last of the power left his hands, I'm not going to let you trample all over 'em!
Once the bright light faded, Ranma hoped to see Hashin fallen to the ground, but couldn't believe his eyes when he saw that the giant had not only not collapsed, but had, during the split second between the infinite assaults and the blast, been able to turn around and raise his arms to black a majority of the attack. But the positive emotions had taken their toll on Hashin's arms, covering them with high-degree burns that would definitely prevent him from blocking another without destroying them.
"Fool!" Hashin shouted and took advantage of the small opening Ranma had left in his surprise by leaping forward and delivering several alternating left and right kicks to his stomach, with the final attack throwing him backwards several meters.
In the second that Ranma took to leap from his feet he came to a great realization and thought, He's been weakened big time. It should take one more good Mouko Takabisha to finish him. Good thing too 'cause I've only got one good one left in me. When Ranma fully regained himself, he saw that Kohei had caught up to Hashin and had landed a few blows before he could counter. The two of them were trading blows back and forth. But the anger that Hashin emitted was what his focus stayed on. The rage he emitted was so great and hot that even a novice martial artist could have seen his red aura. This opportunity was all too perfect. But that doesn't mean I can't do anything else, he grinned as he rushed into the fray.
Kohei must have sensed that his ki was set to ice as he ducked underneath a punch from Hashin and countered with a forward elbow blow to the stomach and call, "Do it now!" as he flipped back out of the way. Ranma smirked and began the spiraling motion he knew by heart.
"HIRYUU SHOTEN HA!!!"
Upon raising his arm and creating the whirlwind, he watched proudly as Hashin was carried up into the vortex, but blinked when he saw a flash of green blur by in front of him and leap into the tornado.
"SHIGAMI NO GENKOTSU!!!"
Kohei was using the power of Ranma's Hiryuu Shoten Ha to once again increase the power of his own technique just as he had when he'd countered him during their training while travelling. Ranma watched as the younger man absorbed part of the ascension wave into his fist to make the landing blow between Hashin's ribs more powerful. The contents of the demigod's stomach emptied upon receiving the punch, and he hadn't even begun to recover when Kohei flipped over him, kicked him in the back, and sent him back towards the ground, where he landed several meters away.
"Ranma," Kohei shouted as he landed, "finish him!"
"I'm going to need you to cut an open wound into him first," he responded, "if we pump him full of positive energy it'll kill him. But if I don't get any of the blast into his body, it might not work."
"How many more reverse Shishi Hokodans are you able to execute from now on?" he asked.
"Just one more good one," he shook his head.
"So you wish to make it the most effective, I understand," he closed his eyes and, for a few seconds, Ranma felt his ki increase. He kept an eye on Hashin, who was beginning to stand back up, but very slowly. His full attention fell back onto Kohei upon feeling that his energy buildup had disappeared.
"I... can't..." he was breathing hard, "I've already used too much of my chi in this fight. There isn't enough left to create another sword for the Genkaku no Suraisu."
"Work on building it back up," Ranma looked back at Hashin, who was again on his feet, "I'll keep him busy!"
Kohei nodded, closed his eyes, lowered his head, and began the process to power his energy back up to a sufficient amount to at least use his Illusory Slice to cut an open wound in Hashin. Meanwhile, Ranma had launched into another offensive.
Ranma had never fought an opponent like this, a man whose body was emotion, not cells. It was a good fight, but not as fierce at it could have been without his weakening him first. He spent the next several minutes exchanging blows with the giant demigod, who had obviously noticed the decline in his skills.
"What did you do to me?" Hashin growled as he blocked one of Ranma's kicks, "I can't use the Shishi Hokodan! I can't repair these cursed burns!"
"So I hurt you that bad, huh?" Ranma taunted while blocking the counter-attack, "You're already injured beyond repair. Why don't you just give up and admit you lost?"
"Never!" Hashin's shout hurt himself more than helped him as his blind rage allowed Ranma to maintain a grip on his arm, swing under his legs, flip around over his back, then flipped backwards, landing another powerful blow in his face.
"Even a god of anger and evil shouldn't let his rage blind him in battle," Ranma taunted again.
"Humans shouldn't have this kind of skill," Hashin staggered back into a standing position, "why do you fight me when you have no need to?"
"Hey, if you'd gotten your info right on who beat Saffron we'd have fought a long time ago."
"But that kid has beaten you, that makes him the only obstacle between me and the title of greatest martial artist in the world!"
As the giant man prepared to attack again, Ranma stood ready to counter, but he didn't have to a thing, for Hashin wasn't going after him. He had turned and was charging for Kohei!
"Watch out!" Ranma shouted and dashed to intercept, but was slightly interrupted when something wet fell into his eye.
"Dammit!" he blinked, "stupid rain!" then realized, "Rain? It's raining!" He hadn't even finished his sentence when the clouds fully opened and a late summer shower drenched the three of them. That's weird, he thought, it was clear when I got here.
By now, Hashin had run over to the green-haired one and thrown the hardest punch he could muster...
Only to have it caught in a one-handed block.
"Do you feel it?" Kohei asked sharply as he lifted his head and opened his eyes, grinning. The steel gleam in his eyes reflected the falling raindrops.
Wily Castle Level 1 Remix (Megaman II)
"Do you feel it, Hashin?" he asked again, "This is not merely rain. These are the teardrops of my mother in heaven. She could not bear to see her only son fall short of victory because he did not have enough strength to achieve it on his own." As he concluded his statement, the rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
"What rubbish!" Hashin exclaimed as he tried to punch with his other hand. It was as successful as his first attempt.
"The heavens are with Ranma and me," he said again, "the goddess of victory frowns upon you." Then, using Hashin's fists for support, he flipped over the giant and jumped off his back after delivering another powerful blow to his burns. When he landed, Ranma had already caught up to him.
"Shampoo taught you that one?" he asked.
"Yes," he affirmed, then gave a command, "begin powering your attack and fire it as soon as there is an opening. If it doesn't destroy him it will weaken him enough for me to be able to."
Ranma nodded, "Just keep him busy. If he sees me he'll come after me."
"With his weakened state and my increased abilities thanks to the animals," Kohei stated confidently, "he'll fall quickly," and rushed to intercept Hashin as he was running in to attack him. Over the next several minutes, as Ranma put everything he had into his attack, Kohei gave his all to distract Hashin and wear him down even more.
"When did you become so powerful?" Hashin demanded as he launched into another volley of attacks, all of which were dodged or blocked by the young man.
"Every day for the last five months I have been training myself to exhaustion for this battle," Kohei explained as he stayed on the defensive.
"How much training have you done during that time?" he asked, "Or have you grown lazy by enjoying the goods you stole from my people and raping my friends!"
"While I knew that I had to minimize their suffering by returning as soon as I was able, I also knew that I needed to be ready to return and defeat you!"
"On my journey I gained a new source of power that one like you could never understand. I met three people whose honor and dedication to each other are greater than anyone else in this world."
"By lending them my strength and drawing from theirs, we were all able to come this far. Ranma, Ukyo-san, Xian Pu, Mou Su, Miki, Are-chan... and Akane-san. If not for them I would never have become this strong." As he finished his statement, Kohei countered a punch and, spinning behind his opponent, delivered an axe kick to his wounded back and leapt out of the path between and Ranma's blast just as he finished building it.
I gave that one all I had left! Ranma shouted in his mind as the ki blast composed of all of his positive emotions left his hands, if it doesn't work it's all up to you, Kohei.
"You fools!" Hashin shouted as, using the last of his own reserve, jumped straight into the air to dodge it, "humans are weak creatures who can do nothing for themselves!" He looked back down towards Ranma, who stood in disbelief that he'd missed.
"You're wrong!" came a voice from directly above him.
"No!" Kohei had shouted as their enemy jumped over the attack, leaving him in the path of it! Using the split-second he had, he did the only thing his instincts told him to do.
"GENKAKU NO SURAISU!!!"
Instantly forming the sword in his hands, he raised it in a defensive position to block the Mouko Takabisha. Kohei couldn't believe his eyes as the white light was all absorbed into the weapon created from his chi. With the power of Ranma's positive attack combined with the sharp edge of his blade, he knew exactly what to do and wasted no time. Immediately after the blast subsided, Kohei leapt high into the air to meet his destiny.
"You're wrong!" he shouted again as he held his weapon raised while Hashin turned to face him while he descended down towards him. With the speed of the animals added to his own, Kohei was able to deliver the finishing blow.
"There is no weakness in drawing strength from your friends and loved ones," he declared as his charged sword sliced between Hashin's eyes and down his body to cut him in half, "you were the one who thought you could achieve everything by yourself. That has become your fatal mistake! And now, I give you the payment for your crimes!"
The shocked expression of disbelief was all that remained on Adauchi Aka, known as Gekijo Hashin's, face as Kohei's cut ended. The positive energy that had been stored erupted forth and coursed through his body. An explosion of overwhelming white light rocked the entire mountain range and the blast could be seen from all directions across the land of China.
"Ukyo-sempai!" Aremi shouted as she, taking her turn to carry a comatose Akane, sensed the uproar of energy and turned around to see the light.
Ukyo stopped in her tracks and also turned around. As she saw the pure whiteness of the explosion, she could only smile proudly and cry out, "They did it!"
"Aiyah!" Shampoo had to shield her eyes as she was caught off guard when the glare from the eastern sky appeared from nowhere. But she knew what it meant.
"Miki," she called, "come and see!"
Miki, who had been treating people's wounds in one of the basements-turned-hospitals immediately sprang up out of the ruined house to see the white nova.
"Big brother..." she said in heartfelt relief as tears of joy filled her eyes.
"A white flash was seen reported over China not too long ago this afternoon," the reporter read from the news bulletin he'd just been handed, "government officials are dispatching people to investigate its source. Possible explanations include-"
Nodoka simply smiled and sipped her tea as she listened to the newscast.
"That was no supernatural phenomenon," she told the TV, "that was my son."
For several seconds after the light subsided, Ranma had to blink several times before the glare that had burned into his eyes died.
What the hell was that? he thought and looked around, That blast was brighter than Saffron's! He hoped that having seen that bright of a light wouldn't eventually blind him.
"It's over," Kohei stated quietly as he walked up next to his friend, "it's truly over. Thank you, Ranma."
"How did you block my attack and still manage to finish him?" he asked.
"I didn't block it, I somehow absorbed it. But now," Kohei raised his palms and looked at them, "but now I feel as if the weight of the entire mountains, no, the world that had rested on my shoulders has finally been removed."
Ranma looked at the face of the younger man and could indeed tell that there was something different about him. Although his eyes were still the piercing steel blue of his cursed form, his face as a whole looked as it he was much more relaxed and that he had, after five tortuous months, at last felt peace again.
"Hey, Kohei," Ranma clapped his hand on his shoulder, "you did great. If you'd have trained like you did and fought him in cursed form to begin with, you wouldn't have needed me."
"No," he shook his head, "training in and of itself only adds strength of body but cannot be as beneficial as having the right motivation or friends to help you achieve your potential. Plus, without your reverse Shishi Hokodan, I never would have been able to truly weaken him enough. I can never thank you enough, Ranma-sensei."
"Hey, hey, hey!" Ranma looked at him dead on, "None of this 'sensei' stuff. You keep calling me Ranma and I'll keep calling you Kohei."
"That is a reasonable request," he looked towards the path that Ukyo and Aremi had left from only an hour ago, but now felt like years, "we had best begin walking back if we're to arrive before dark. It is a long walk."
"Yeah," Ranma agreed and they began walking, "everyone's going to be waiting for you."
"Us, they're waiting for us," Kohei corrected and continued, "but you never told me how you survived the Perfect Shishi Hokodan that destroyed the village."
"He almost got me before he destroyed the village," he explained, "here's what happened..."
Dammit, Ranma thought as the green blast headed for him, then remembered his own white sphere still in his hands. Acting on pure instinct he used the sphere to create a shield in front of him with his energy. It was enough to negate the power of the Shishi Hokodan, but without the proper defense, the recoil and added force of Hashin's attack threw him all the way back through the house behind him. The building's collapse missed crushing his body by only a couple of meters, but the blows he took to his head on the way were enough to knock him out for a few minutes.
When he did get up, he rubbed the bump and muttered, "That guy's got some serious power," then ran around the ruined building back to the village square.
"Ranma-onii-sama!" Miki called as soon as he came into her view, "where are my brother, Ukyo-onee-chan, and Akane-onee-chan!" She was frantic and had obviously been running. She was still wearing the green Chinese dress he'd seen her in while she was in line.
"I don't know," he felt a familiar tingle run along his spine and turned to find the dormant column of energy, "Miki, where's Mousse!"
"Xian Pu took him back to my house to treat his wound. He told me to run but she-ack!" she was interrupted as Ranma ran over to her, picked her up into his arms, and dashed away from that area.
"We need to get into someone's basement, now!" he shouted, "That thing's the Perfect Shishi Hokodan! If one that big goes off while we're above ground we can kiss this life good-bye!"
"We got to shelter just as the blast leveled the village. The Perfect Shishi Hokodan fades once it hits ground level so we were untouched. Luckily, Shampoo had Mousse down in the basement at your place too. Most of the people were outside of the village and were unhurt, so they gathered the survivors and Shampoo's been using two basements as hospitals for men and women since. I left to look for Hashin right after I'd gotten my ki back, since I knew how his felt I was able to track him all the way from the village," Ranma finished, "I'm sorry about one thing, Kohei. We think your grandfather was near the center of the village while he was helping people evacuate."
"So many people are dead," Kohei sighed, "but they can rest in peace. To think that Hashin did all this just to declare himself the greatest martial artist in the world."
"Hey, that reminds me," Ranma realized, "he said that you were the one he had to beat. Why was that?"
"After you defeated Saffron he saw you as the only obstacle between him that being the greatest, but he came after me. When he did fight you last night, he didn't know that I had already defeated you in our last spar. So I became that obstacle, which is the reason why he wouldn't fight you and only attacked me before it started to rain."
"So according to his reasoning, you're at the top and I'm just below you?"
"Exactly," Kohei nodded.
"In that case," Ranma flashed a grin, "Kohei, I challenge you! Three days from now we'll fight to see who is the best in the world."
"I really have no concern or desire to be the greatest martial artist in the world. If you want to take the title, feel free to."
Ranma blinked, "You'd give it up just like that?"
"But," Kohei grinned, "I could never resist an enjoyable fight. So if you want the title by defeating me, you'll have to do so."
"I'm looking forward to it," Ranma cracked his knuckles and laughed as the two of them shared conversation during the entire walk home.
"Wow..." Aremi couldn't believe what sight lay before her eyes, "that battle must have been fierce." She and Ukyo, who was again carrying Akane, had just arrived at the ruined village of Ryuchiezu.
"I'm sorry, Aremi-chan," Ukyo quietly apologized, "it must hurt to see the place you grew up in ruins."
"We can rebuild," she smiled, "I'm just sad about the people who died."
They had only turned the next corner when a familiar, happy voice called, "Are-chan? Are-chan!"
The blue-haired one turned around in time to be glomped by her oldest and best friend.
"Mi-chan!" she responded with the same enthusiasm as she hugged her back.
"I'm so glad you're okay," she cried happily and looked her over from head to toe, "he didn't hurt you, did he?"
"Don't worry about me, Mi-chan, your brother saved me and defeated him. But now we need to get Akane-sempai a place to rest."
Miki looked at the unconscious girl on Ukyo's back, "What happened to Akane-onee-chan!" she demanded.
"She saved Kohei's life," Ukyo smiled, "she sacrificed herself so he wouldn't lose any of his strength and keep fighting."
"She'll be fine, Mi-chan," Aremi smiled again, "she just needs to rest. She's simply in the same condition Ko-chan was in after his first fight."
"What about the rest of the girls who Hashin had taken," Ukyo asked as they continued to walk.
"They arrived not too long ago," Miki explained as the headed down to the Ikimono's basement, "Xian Pu's been examining them since." Inside the underground rooms were several women, most of whom suffering from burns of varying degrees laid on several makeshift beds made from people's clothing and other soft materials gathered after the destruction.
"This room is full, so she'll have to go into the next one," Miki directed.
"Right," Ukyo took Akane into the room while Aremi looked at the bedridden women. All of them she had known her whole life and it pained her to see them in bandages and suffering from the pain of their burns.
"They'll all be okay," Miki assured her, "the closest call was Mou Su."
"Mou Su," Aremi blinked, "what happened to him?"
"One of his weapons was thrown right through him, under his left shoulder. He lost a lot of blood but Xian Pu managed to get him to safety and stop the bleeding in time. Luckily, the harpoon was a thin one and missed his lung, but it completely tore the muscle and we don't know if he'll ever get to use that arm again."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Aremi couldn't think of anything else to say.
"He'll get to use it again," Shampoo, who suddenly appeared from the other connecting rooms, said, "he's already able to move it again."
"Xian Pu!" Aremi greeted.
"Welcome home, Aremi," she smiled, "Miki, can you help me in here?" then walked back to the curtain drawn over the door to that next room, "Aremi, you'll need to be examined too."
As Aremi nodded and Miki followed Shampoo into the next room, she thought, Xian Pu, you look exhausted, but you also look like you're enjoying every moment of treating these people.
"Aremi-chan, can I ask you something?" Ukyo, who'd just returned, asked.
"Please do," she answered.
"Miki-chan told Akane and me that if Shampoo and Mousse hadn't been here, she would have followed Kohei to Japan. But you were here and you two have been best friends your whole lives. Why didn't she stay if you were here?"
"That's an easy answer," Aremi smiled again, "I was getting ready to go with her."
About an hour later, when all of the girls who Hashin had taken were examined and, thankfully, were declared that none of them were pregnant, everybody who was able to stand all waited at the edge of the village for Kohei and Ranma's return. Based on Ukyo's estimate from the time she and Aremi left the battle between the sight of the white explosion, they were going to arrive within the next half-hour at most. What awaited them was more than enough to be called a hero's welcome. Everybody had changed into their most formal clothes that they could find and even Ukyo, who could have changed back into one of her okonomiyaki seller's outfits, opted to wear one of the formal Chinese dresses the village produced. She had cut to pieces the one Hashin had put her in and replaced it with a similar-looking, but purple one. Several of the uninjured had begun to prepare a feast the instant they learned that the explosion was the signal of his defeat. Those who could dance and those who were proficient with music stood ready and waiting as the whole aura of the village was one of happiness and joy.
"There they are!" Miki exclaimed as the two fighters appeared on the top of the hill outside of Ryuchiezu. The two of them strode confidently with their heads held high as they had done since they knew they'd be arriving back soon.
"Big brother Kohei!" Miki couldn't wait any longer and sprinted down the hill to intercept the two men.
"Hey, wait for me!" Miki turned her head to see Ukyo running up alongside her and grinning, "Ranchan wouldn't like it if Kohei had someone to meet him and he didn't." The two girls shared a quick laugh.
It was only a few seconds for the two men saw them and they too fell into a sprint to greet them.
"Ranchan!" Ukyo glomped her fiancÚ harder than anyone ever had in Ranma's life, "you beat him!"
"Was there any doubt about it, Ucchan?" he grinned proudly.
"Stubborn jackass," she grinned back, "but I still love you more than life itself," and leaned in to join their lips.
As they enjoyed their reunion and while Ranma lifted Ukyo into his arms to carry her the rest of the way, Miki had also glomped Kohei.
"You did it, big brother," Miki exclaimed happily, "you really did it!"
"I'm so glad you're unharmed, Miki," he hugged his sister tightly, then looked at her face, "Miki, why are you crying?"
"Because," indeed, tears were streaming down her cheeks, "because I thought he killed you," and broke out sobbing again.
"He nearly did, but even in death our mother was watching over me," smiling, he wiped the tears from her face, "and now, we can return home and never have to worry about Hashin again."
"I know," she choked, "I know." After several minutes while she calmed down, they stayed where they stood. When she fully regained herself, she smiled and continued, "everyone's waiting for you. I'm going on ahead because Are-chan and I are going to dance as part of the celebration."
"I look forward to it," Kohei smiled as he let her go, "you and Are-chan are the greatest dancers in the village."
Miki gave him one last quick hug before she ran back up the hill the way she came. Kohei let the tears that he'd hidden in his own face upon seeing his sister alive fall openly for a moment before he increased his pace to catch back up with Ranma and needed to guide him the rest of the way as he and Ukyo refused to open their eyes or break their kiss.
Several hours after that, far into the night, the village's celebration was still in full swing as the people showered their saviors with the gifts they could put together and stuffed them full of any and all of the food they had prepared. While Ranma was feeling bogged down with all of the attention, the food was at least good. After all of the performing dancers, including Miki and Aremi, were finished, every single young woman had wanted to dance with him, but Ukyo and her spatula gave them the message to stay away. After leaning a routine that had been developed in Ryuchiezu, he and Ukyo were able to practice it and dance together for a long time. He had had an unexpected reaction when Aremi found out that he was the same Ranma who beat Saffron. Like Miki, she said that she had wanted to meet him for a long time, but not to tell him she hated him, but because she had always wanted to spar with him. But he stood his ground and wouldn't fight a girl. Ukyo suggested he use one of the bottles of Nyaniichuan that had survived the attack, of which he wasn't very thrilled about. Even so, after midnight, he stepped aside from the crowds to take a break from all of the laughing, congratulating, and even marriage proposals, which Ukyo also took care of. He'd only been alone for a couple of minutes when someone called to him.
"Can't handle all the attention, Ranma?"
Ranma turned to see who'd asked him that, "Mousse."
The raven-haired man, whose left arm was in a sling, walked up to him.
"Isn't Shampoo with you," Ranma asked, "she hasn't left your side the whole night."
Mousse shook his head, "I just finished putting her to bed. She was up all night last night and has been working non-stop all day."
"Then why are you still up?"
"I've come to apologize, Ranma, for my uselessness during the battle-"
Ranma put on an angry expression and interrupted him, resisting the urge to knock some sense into him, he shouted, "Don't say that, Mousse!"
"It's the truth," he stated, "he used my weapons against both of us. Shampoo was right about her attitude towards me before, I am a stupid, worthless, weakling. She should have left me for dead."
"But she didn't," Miki's voice spoke as she joined them, "Mou Su, when I told her that you sent me to take her and run, she did run, but towards the battle. As soon as she saw you lying in a pool of blood, she took her own clothes off of her body to try and stop the bleeding."
"And you can't say you were useless in the battle," Ranma said again, "think about it; if it hadn't been for your second attack, I'd be dead."
"And you pulled me to safety before Hashin could take me away," Miki smiled.
"All six of us played key parts in this battle," Ranma continued, "after hearing what happened from everyone I was able to figure that out. Shampoo didn't actually fight with her fists, but she fought with her spirit to save the lives of the injured by giving them treatment, despite what her body is going through. Mousse, you saved both mine and Miki's lives. Ucchan seemed reckless for attacking him after I was knocked out, but she stopped him from following Miki, and she also brought Akane back. Akane saved both Ukyo and Kohei. I had the technique that was Hashin's weakness, but it was Kohei who delivered the finishing blow. Even though a couple of us were injured, all of us were essential to this victory."
"Ranma... Miki..." Mousse looked at them but couldn't say anything more.
"You're not useless, Mou Su," Miki assured him one more time, "and Xian Pu would be the first to tell you that."
"And knowing her, she'd whack him," Ranma grinned.
With all three in agreement, they soon burst out laughing. Once they had finished, they saw that Aremi had joined them.
"Has anyone seen Ko-chan?"
Aremi's Theme:Flight (Dragon Quest III)
"Akane-san..." Kohei's voice was the only audible sound in the darkened room as he crouched next to the comatose girl, "how can I celebrate knowing you're here sleeping?" He had come down to watch over her the instant Miki and Aremi's celebratory dance routine was finished. "You watched over me and sacrificed yourself for me. I promise you that I will wait here until you wake up." He then sat down cross-legged and refused to move.
Kohei stayed true to his word and, for the next three days, leaving only for the most absolute reason involving a bodily function, he sat there, drinking only water and did not take his eyes from her sleeping face. The day came and passed where he was supposed to fight Ranma, but he forfeited, saying that he had no desire to fight. This shocked everyone who knew him, but his closest friends were able to understand why he felt that way. During the whole time he recalled several of the memories he held dear of the times he spent with Akane during their travels together. One incident quickly raised to the top of his thoughts.
"Kohei-kun," she had asked one night as she found him standing at the precipice of a small cliff, "you can't sleep?"
"Akane-san?" he turned his head, "I just felt like watching the stars for a while. Feel free to join me."
"They're so beautiful without the city lights to get in their way," she observed, but noticed that he was looking sad, "is something wrong?"
"Tonight is the night of the full moon," he pointed at the large white orb hovering in orbit around earth, "I've returned to China but still am not home in time."
"Kohei-kun, you're doing the best you can. And like you said, we'll be there within two more weeks."
"But how can I feel peace thinking that he could have taken my sister at any of the times since I left!" he rose his voice and turned his head back to the ground, "I promised my mother as she died that I would protect her, then I leave her! If she's been taken or harmed by him in any way I'll never forgive myself for this selfish act!" After a few seconds he calmed down, "I'm sorry, Akane-san, I didn't mean to get angry."
"Don't worry, but I wish I could help you with your pain. I can see how hard it must be for you every full moon. But your wanting to protect your sister and your village isn't selfish. You left because you needed to find Ranma, and you made sure you would return as quickly as possible."
"I know," he sighed.
"I watch how hard you train every day, Kohei-kun, and I know that you'll beat him next time."
"Thank you, Akane-san," he looked at her to see her smiling a reassuring smile. With her facing the light of the moon illuminating it so well and the back of his head turned to the light, she was unable to see the red tinge on his face.
Only because he remained in his cursed form was Kohei able to stay awake the entire time he watched over her. And, as he spent more time watching her face, the more he continued to think about her. The more he continued to think about her, the stronger his feelings for her became. And the stronger his feelings became, the less he could deny.
Eventually, on the third night, his complete fatigue caused by the events of the previous week was catching up with him and he was beginning to doze off. Despite his body crying for rest, he continued to resist it with the utmost of his ability.
"You need to rest," came a gentle voice into his mind.
"I will continue to watch over her," he defended his position.
"Would Akane want you to be hurting yourself?" a second voice asked.
"I never wanted her to hurt herself for me. I can only repay the debt in a similar manner."
A third voice joined in, "That was in battle. To know that you stayed with her will warm her heart. She trusts you enough to know that you wouldn't harm her in any way."
"She trusts me? She said she loves me," he said to himself, "and I realize now that I'm in love with her as well," and looked up towards the sounds of voices and fell into mere disbelief at the sight.
"Kohei," the spirit of his father, Shinji, stated, "you have fought valiantly and brought honor to our family name."
"My son," Ji Lu smiled, "always continue your training to protect your sister."
"Father. Mother," he blinked upon recognizing them, but the third one, a shorthaired woman, he didn't know.
"Kohei-san," she spoke, "you taught Akane how to conquer her fear of anger and how to overcome heartbreak. I trust in you to continue to look after my daughter."
"Tendo-sama, I..." he could say nothing more as his tired body shut down and he collapsed on his side next to Akane, falling fast asleep.
"He's finally asleep," Miki, who had been watching through the door, announced quietly, "but what was strange is that he was talking to someone. I didn't see anyone."
"He hasn't slept much at all in the last five days," Shampoo whispered, "he must be seeing things."
"No," Aremi shook her head, "there were three strong presences in there until now."
"Whether he was talking to someone or not doesn't matter," Ukyo stepped in, "what does matter is that he loves her. And all of us heard it, right?"
The four girls nodded, all of them admiring Kohei's dedication. They left the basement to take care of the matters they needed to attend to and let the couple in the next room be alone.
Only a couple of hours after this event occurred did Akane begin to show signs of awakening. As her body stirred and her eyes slowly opened, the question Where am I? was the first thing to enter her mind. As she slowly summoned the strength to lift first her head, then her upper body to sit up, she looked around and recognized the room as where everyone had held their briefing meeting the night before Hashin returned.
Hashin! she thought as her mind recalled its last conscious event, Did he beat him?
Akane was about to make her way to her feet when she happened to look down towards the floor. She saw that she still wore the gold dress she had been put in, but paid that no mind once she noticed that Kohei was lying on the floor about a meter away from her, fast asleep. More questions were raised inside of her mind, but thanks to all of the training he'd given her, they were rational questions. Nothing like, When did he sneak in here? or, What does that pervert think he's doing? even entered her mind.
"Kohei," she spoke softly as she touched his hair, "were you watching over me until I regained consciousness? I... I'm touched." She knew the younger man well enough to know that he would have done so, but she felt bad that she had woken up while he was asleep. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, Akane laid back onto her side, leaning her head on his chest and cuddled up to him. She grinned and lifted his arm up and around her. As she pretended to continue sleeping, a warm feeling washed over her body that left her feeling more relaxed than if Kohei had used his full-body relaxation pressure point technique and had also found a way to make it permanent.
The next morning, Shampoo started to awaken slowly, but as it had happened every day for the past couple of months, her morning sickness attacked and sent her running into full consciousness and outside of the basement room she and Mousse shared at a different house towards the closest bush she could find. Once she had finished upchucking, she wasted no time in heading to the two houses used for hospitals to check on those who were injured. While many of them had only minor burns and were already released, there were still a few whose severe burns had left them bedridden and would leave them scarred badly if not treated properly.
Even though her time spent training as a nurse under Dr. Tofu's tutelage had lasted a short time, the knowledge she gained while there was enough to teach her how to create salves and medicines from local herbs to treat her patients. Once she finished changing the bandages and applying her salve to those who still required the process, she peeked into the next room to check on Akane and Kohei. Shampoo's eyes widened as the surprise of what she saw in the next room only brought one word to her mind.
Outside of the village boundaries, at the training field, everyone else had already begun their morning workouts. Ranma had started working with Miki as, at her request, he began teaching her a few techniques and routines from the Anything-Goes martial arts style. On the other side of the field Aremi, who now wielded a thin, slightly curved but shorter than a katana, sword, was showing Ukyo a few katas she would be able to duplicate using her giant spatula. Mousse had been forbidden to train until he knew if his left arm would be usable again for things other than just moving it around a little. To help with the healing process, he spent most of his free time soaking it in the hot springs, which had miraculously survived Hashin's attack and were relatively unharmed. The bathhouse and its fence were on a high priority for the people and were both rebuilt in only a day. The four who were training all blinked as they saw Shampoo, who'd already stopped and gotten Mousse, come running out to meet them and both were looking very excited.
"Everyone," she exclaimed, "Akane is awake!"
Only a few minutes before Shampoo had checked in on them, Kohei was beginning to awaken from the first full-night's sleep he'd had in nearly a week to find that, sometime during his slumber, he had somehow moved closer to Akane and put his arm around her! The instant he saw this, he bolted awake, immediately sat up, and scooted backwards with an even greater speed than he'd had when cutting Hashin in half.
"Akane-san, forgive me," he spoke hurriedly as he again sat cross-legged, but at twice the distance he'd been before.
"Mmm..." Akane sighed as she rolled over and he could again see her face.
She's smiling? Kohei thought as confusion spread within his mind. He was unable to think of any explanation as to why the expression of happiness was on her face as he saw her eyes open.
"Akane-san," he exclaimed while trying to hide the fact that his face was still red, "you're finally awake."
"Kohei," she yawned and stretched as she sat up, "what happened with Hashin?"
"Ranma and I destroyed him," he answered simply.
"Ranma?" she blinked.
"Yes, Ranma survived the attack and was able to follow us to the monastery to help. We fought him while Ukyo-san and Are-chan brought you back here. Mou Su, Xian Pu, and Miki survived as well."
"I'm glad," she yawned again, and wondered aloud, "why do I feel so weak?"
"You've been asleep for three days while your body restored it's life energy," he grinned, "do you need anything to eat or dr-"
"And you watched over me all that time?" she interrupted.
"Y-yes," he stammered slightly, "yes I did."
"Then everything I need is right in front of me," she smiled again as she crawled over to him, threw her arms around his neck, and gave him a hug.
"Akane-san, I..." he began, but his sentence fell into the void of emptiness as he was unable to continue. He again acted based on what his instincts told him, and that was to slip his arms around her and return the hug, which he did.
"Thank you, Akane-san," he whispered.
"No, thank you," she corrected, "you gave me a reason to keep fighting and even a reason to live. It felt like a dream, but I thought I heard my mother's voice telling me that you were watching over me, waiting for me to wake up."
"There was nothing I had wanted more," he admitted, "I was supposed to fight with Ranma yesterday, but I wouldn't as you were still sleeping."
His eyes widened as he felt himself being hugged tighter, but not knowing why. Thinking he'd done something right, he smiled and again spoke the first thing that came to his mind.
"Akane-san, I'm happy that I met you."
"And I you," she sighed again and lifted her head to gaze into his eyes.
"The wolf is one of the most noble and honorable of all the animals," she stated softly as if she were reciting a poem, "and you are one of the most noble and honorable men I've ever met. It's fitting that the wolf is the strongest essence inside of you. But no matter which form you're in, your eyes convey that message."
"Akane-san," he felt his cheeks going red again, but could not escape her eyes, "yours are telling me that behind them lies a very strong, independent woman who also cares deeply for her friends and family. That is the most honorable trait anyone can attain."
"Kohei..." the same red tinge appeared in her face. The two of them said nothing more as the magnetic attraction between them activated and the next thing they both knew was that their eyes were closed and their lips joined together. Within Kohei's mind, he recalled the words that he most often heard his mother say to his father.
Wo ai ni, then added, Tendo Akane-san.
This had been the scene that Shampoo witnessed.
The long moment that the two of them shared was all too short in both of their minds. But as their kiss was broken, they sat there, not knowing what else to say. They didn't have to say anything as the sounds several footsteps from above came closer towards them. They stood up just in time.
"Akane-onee-chan!" Miki exclaimed as she caught Akane in a flying glomp.
Conversation erupted between everyone asking Akane how she was feeling and her replies and questions while they seemed to forget about Kohei as he simply stood back and watched. He could feel no reason to be sad any longer as he saw his friends and family before him. All of the joyful moments that had shared with each of them came to his mind: Finding out that Ranma had fallen into Nyaniichuan, Ukyo's expression and nearly dropping the kettle of hot water when he'd asked for some, Akane knocking him out of the tree, watching the conceited swordsman fly as he and Ranma each used the Hiryuu Shoten Ha, Miki's faking him out when he returned home, Shampoo's tantrum when she found out he took her weapons, Aremi's determination to get on her feet with a dislocated shoulder, and even Mousse's knocking him off of the roof. At the present, with all of his obstacles overcome, he could only look back on them and-
"Big brother?" Miki turned from the group surrounding Akane, "you're laughing again!"
"Yes," he barely managed to say as he was too occupied with his laughter, "I guess I am."
As she listened to Kohei's pure, joyful laughter, Akane now realized what Miki had been talking about that morning two weeks ago and could tell the definite difference in it and when she had heard him the day they met.
Two more weeks passed by as people fully recovered and several of the buildings in Ryuchiezu were rebuilt. Mousse's arm was healing properly and he estimated that he would be able to use it normally again within another month. He had joked that he was used to massive bodily injuries thanks to Shampoo. She responded to that by hitting him, but not too hard. Akane was slightly weak for the first few days, but as her ki and life energy fully returned, she was back to training with everyone and continued to be taught by Kohei. While everybody else continued with their training, Shampoo continued her medical duties, although most everyone was fully recovered, she had found something other than fighting that she had come to equally enjoy. Kohei remained the busiest of all, for as he continued teaching Akane and kept up with his own training, with the deaths of his father and grandfather, it became his responsibility to resume Aremi's training in the Ikimono family's style of martial arts. When he wasn't teaching or training, he was helping to rebuild the village and, when time would allow, he worked to make up lost time with his sister. Also during this time did he give Ranma their rematch, in which Ranma won. However, as the time passed and the village of Ryuchiezu began to get back on its feet, Ranma and his company began to discuss their return to Japan.
We've already been gone longer than I told Dad and Nabiki-onee-chan, Akane thought as she soaked in the hot springs after a full day, I hope the letter I sent will get there soon. She and all of the girls had wanted to have one last soak together and, as it was very late and Miki and Aremi had promised to make sure that no men would interrupt them, she only wore a towel. She had come to love this village and its way of life, but she knew that she needed to get back to school. It would be a nightmare making up for all of the lost work, but it would be worth it. For her, it would be harder to leave Kohei behind as, because of him, she was able to openly express her feelings without anger or hesitation. The sounds of another person entering the water brought her mindset back to the tangible.
"You must love these springs, Akane-sempai," Aremi smiled as she, also in a towel sank down to her neck, "you're always the first to arrive and the last to leave."
"Aremi-chan..." Akane was about to agree with her on how much she loved the springs, but after seeing her with Kohei for the past two weeks, she felt bad about something and blurted out an apology, "I'm sorry, I know that you're in love with Kohei."
The blue-haired girl didn't lower her ever-present smile, "Don't apologize. I'm happy enough to know that Ko-chan loves me as a second sister, but I'm even happier to know he has finally found somebody he can give his heart to."
"Aremi-chan" Akane smiled, "now I know why your name means 'full of compassion,' you're always thinking of others."
"A name in and of itself doesn't decide who a person is. Mi-chan, Ko-chan, their parents, my adopted grandfather, and everyone in this village taught me how to act this way. But I've known for a long time that Ko-chan wasn't able to see me as his future bride."
Akane blinked, "How so?"
"He's seen me naked nearly every day of our lives and he's never had the reaction with me that Mi-chan said he did with you."
Where the old Akane would have flushed red with anger, the new Akane flushed red with embarrassment as she stammered, "But I wasn't naked!"
"I know, but I also know that Ko-chan loves you. We all heard him say so."
"I know..." Akane sighed, "but I still haven't."
"He always was a little shy. If he wasn't he'd probably already be married."
Before Akane could respond, her sentence was pre-empted as two more voices were heard.
"Are you getting ahead of us?"
"We want to share a little girl-talk too."
As they spoke, Shampoo and Ukyo joined them in the water. The conversation continued to focus on things and matters that girls would talk about without any boys around until Miki nearly burst from the bathhouse looking excited.
"Everyone, I have big news!" she exclaimed.
"What is it?" all four of them asked in unison.
"Big brother Kohei just told Ranma-onii-sama and Mou Su that he's leaving Ryuchiezu again! And this time he won't be coming back!"
Two gasps were heard, one pair of eyebrows was raised, and Shampoo exclaimed her trademark, "Aiyah!"
"Yes, it's true," Kohei affirmed as his friends and relatives stood around him after the girls confronted him, "I no longer have a reason to live in Ryuchiezu. The people wish to make me the new elder, and even if they accept my refusal they'd still treat me like royalty for the rest of my life. All of you have seen how everyone's been treating me for these last two weeks. I have no desire to be treated as such. And while this latest generation has no qualms with other countries, I feel that the reason my great-grandfather's people settled into China was childish."
"But what about Miki-chan?" Ukyo asked.
"What about me?" she asked in response, "He knew I'd go with him before he announced his decision to leave."
"And where Mi-chan goes, I go," Aremi said as she stepped forward.
"You're not leaving us behind, either," Shampoo spoke up for herself and Mousse.
"Then it's decided," Kohei concluded, "as you have planned to depart tomorrow morning, we will guide you to the edge of the Bayankala, then our paths will diverge once again."
"So where will you go?" Ranma asked.
"That I don't know," he shook his head, "as Xian Pu and Mou Su have said they also wish to come with us we cannot live in an Amazon village."
"Then come with us!" Akane declared boldly as she set her hands on the table they stood around, "Come back to Japan with us!"
"Akane's got a good idea," Ukyo agreed, "we can easily find places for you to live, get you into school, and find jobs if you need them."
"I don't know..." Kohei looked over at the four who had decided to go with him, "will the country allow us to live there?"
"C'mon Kohei," Ranma prodded, "we can get you guys Japanese citizenships in no time."
"Big brother," Miki spoke up, apparently liking the idea, "remember our parents' promise to take us and visit Japan when you were of age?"
Kohei, after pondering for another few moments, looked at his sister and smiled, "Very well, I'm convinced. Ranma, we'll return to Japan with you and begin our new lives there."
"It won't be dull in Nerima, I can promise you that," Ranma grinned and none of Kohei, Miki, or Aremi could understand why everyone but them burst out laughing.
When the dawn of the next morning arrived, Kohei surprised Akane yet again as, by the time she was awake and ready, all of he, Miki, and Aremi were already waiting outside for the rest of them. Once everybody had gathered and as they departed, Akane took one last look at the village she had only lived in for a month, but had come to love and see as a second home. As the eight of them walked down the hill, she noticed that none of the three who had grown up there looked back at all.
As the group of three men and five women was led by Kohei towards the edge of the Bayankala, they kept a faster pace by traveling the whole day and only trained for an hour or two in the evening. By the middle of only the second day, they had reached a fork in the path, one path leading the rest of the way out of the mountains while the other led to Jusenkyo.
"Miki will guide you the rest of the way out of the range," Kohei suddenly said when they reached this fork, "there is one other matter I'd like to attend to before leaving China."
"What are you going to do?" Ranma asked.
"I will explain it all upon my return."
"Wait, we'll go with you," Akane said.
"I appreciate your offer, Akane-san, but where I am going all of you will be recognized. I ask that only Are-chan come with me as she has never been to this place before either."
After the conversation had been settled and supplies were given to the two of them, Kohei made one final remark, "Wait for us at the coast, we'll meet up with you within a week." As six of them took the path leading outside of the mountain range, Kohei and Aremi turned to the path that led back into the mountains by another route. But the training ground of accursed springs wasn't their destination. As they walked along the foot of the range, they soon reached another fork; one of the paths continuing to Jusenkyo, but the other leading to their destination where they would arrive within another day: the Amazon village of Nyuchiezu.
"[Matriarch Kuh Lon!]" a young Amazon girl called as she found the old woman, "[There are visitors at the gate!]"
Cologne, who had been returning home from training a group of warriors, turned on her cane and asked, "[Are they tourists or another news crew?]"
"[No, Matriarch. It is a man and woman, he in an Amazon combat uniform and she in a Chinese combat dress. The man is demanding that he speak with you.]"
"[They must be emissaries from another village. Very well, take me to them.]"
"[Yes, Matriarch,]" the young woman led Cologne to the edge of the village, where the said man was speaking with the other girl who had been standing guard at the gate.
"[As I've said twice already,]" he declared, "[I am Ikimono Kohei, this is my friend and travelling companion, Juuman Aremi. We have come from the village of Ryuchiezu to speak with Kuh Lon.]"
"[There is no Amazon village called Ryuchiezu,]" the guard argued, probably not for the first time.
"[It is enough,]" Cologne stepped in and ended the disagreement, "[the two of you come with me and we will speak.]"
"[Are you Kuh Lon?]" the young man, whose steel blue eyes would have been frightening to any normal person, asked.
"[Yes, now come with me. I'm certain you have much to discuss with me,]" she turned around to lead them to her home.
"[We will speak before the village council...]" he paused for a moment and took a deep breath before finishing his sentence, "[great-grandmother.]"
The two guards were so overtaken by shock that they dropped their weapons. Making a mental note to increase their training so they wouldn't be so easily startled, Cologne stopped and, without turning around, asked, "[What did you call me?]"
"[I've said it many times,]" he stated boldly, "[I am Ikimono Kohei. My father was Ikimono Shinji. My mother was Ji Lu, born in this village.]"
"[Ji Lu is dead!]" Cologne turned around, "[Ji Lu died twenty years ago!]"
"[Then why am I, who am her son, standing before you? It's true that Ji Lu is dead, but she died only six months ago. Look at me, Kuh Lon, can you not see her in me?]"
Cologne refused to believe this young man for, as far as she and the law were concerned, Gel died when she left the village instead of bringing her outsider husband here after they were married. But she could not deny that his hair was the exact same color and shade as hers.
"[Why have you come here?]" she demanded.
"[I come on behalf of Xian Pu and Mou Su,]" Kohei answered.
"[They are also dead!]" she interrupted.
"[Yes, and you are the one who killed them,]" he shook his head, "[but they are still alive. And I see that you refuse to believe me.]"
"[I refuse all impostors,]" she stated.
"[It's well that it should come to this. I will have to prove my heritage in the only manner that is known to this people; in battle.]"
"[You know of our customs well.]"
"[I was taught by an Amazon woman. And, as the law states, if I defeat this village's champion in battle, then you will have no choice but to allow me to present my statements before the council.]"
"[You are confident, but I must accept,]" Cologne turned back to the guard, "[go fetch Lin-Lin and Ran-Ran. Tell them to prepare for a fight.]"
"[Wait!]" Aremi interjected, this being the first time she spoke since their arrival, "[Why will he have to fight two at once?]"
"[Because,]" Cologne grinned, "[the two of them have never come out of a battle with each other in anything other than a draw, so the village declared both of them as champions.]"
"[But-]" Aremi started again.
"[It's fine, Aremi,]" Kohei held his arm back to stop her, "[I will fight them both.]"
"[It is settled,]" Cologne announced, "[we will await you at the arena. If you should win, the council will hear your statements. But should you lose, which you will, you and your friend will leave and never return,]" and pogoed away.
The village's arena was slightly different than Aremi had expected: a giant log held up in the air by enormously thick rope. She watched as Kohei stood in the middle of the log with his arms folded while the pink and green-haired girls, Lin-Lin and Ran-Ran, stood on the ends, wielding a staff and trident and awaiting the call to fight.
"[Does he, a man, think he can truly defeat both of this village's champions?] one of the girls who had been at the gate asked her.
Aremi just smiled, "[I've known Kohei since I was a little girl. He always does some type of training every single day.]"
She noticed that the guard was looking her over as she said, "[I didn't notice this until now, but you-]"
"[Begin!]" Kuh Lon declared.
Aremi's smile widened as the short battle unfolded and ended within only a few seconds. Both Lin-Lin and Ran-Ran charged at Kohei with their weapons raised, shouting, "Aiyah!"
"[Too slow]," Kohei taunted as, in one swift motion, he caught Ran-Ran's trident, used the pointed end to catch and disarm Lin-Lin. As he wrenched the trident fully out of Ran-Ran's grip, Kohei twirled it around to smack Lin-Lin in the face with the other end while back-kicking Ran-Ran in the stomach. He immediately followed up by grabbing Lin-Lin's wrist, threw her back against her partner, and ran in for the kill.
As he spiraled around the pair of girls, delivering his doubly infinite number of unseen and unheard punches, both of them immediately began to tire from the hits they were taking. The anger they began to exuberate that Aremi immediately felt would definitely be their undoing mistake.
"HIRYUU SHOTEN HA!!!"
Kohei had used the spiraling motion of his Dancing Cat Paws to lead into the Rising Dragon Hurricane the moment he sensed their hot chi. As he raised his arm, the vortex carried Lin-Lin and Ran-Ran out of the arena and declared him the victor.
"[Much too slow,]" he spoke again, then turned to face Kuh Lon, "[I have defeated your champions. Now you must hear me!]"
"[Yes, you have done well, son of Ji Lu,]" Kuh Lon admitted, "[she has birthed a strong warrior, even for a man.]"
"[That is not what I came to Nyuchiezu for,]" he stated, "[take me to the council!]"
"[Very well, follow me.]"
As Kohei leapt from the log and walked towards Kuh Lon with several people following, Aremi turned back to the girl whom she had been speaking with.
"[What were you saying?] she asked.
"[Your friend is very strong for a man,]" she answered, "[but I was going to say that there is a teacher in this village who you resemble greatly.]"
Aremi's eyes widened at this statement, "[There is?]"
"[Yes, her name is Tse Pu. And if you wish, I will take you to her.]"
"[Yes, thank you!]" she was beginning to get excited.
"[Aremi]," Kohei had reached her, "[is everything all right?]"
"[Yes!]" she beamed and nodded, "[You go on ahead. I might have found a clue!]"
Kohei smiled as he put his hand on her shoulder, "[Take all the time you need. I'll wait for you here after I am finished with my business.]"
"[Right, good luck,]" she smiled again and turned back to her guide.
"[Follow me,]" she directed.
After walking about halfway through the village, the two of them reached a small house that looked to hold only one or two people.
"[Teacher!]" Aremi's escort called as she knocked on the door, "[there is a woman who wishes to speak with you.]"
A few seconds later, a middle-aged woman, asking, "[What does she want?]" opened the door and stepped out. Aremi's jaw nearly dropped when she saw the near-mirror like image before her. This woman had the exact same shade of hair and eyes that she did, and merely looked like an older version of herself. The woman called Tse Pu must have noticed her as well, for she immediately spoke again.
"[Thank you for bringing her here, you may leave.]"
"[Yes, Teacher,]" the guard took her leave and returned to her post at the gate.
"[Child,]" Tse Pu inquired, "[what is your age?]"
"[Sixteen, I think,]" Aremi answered.
Tse Pu's face immediately lit up as she suddenly threw her arms around Aremi and hugged her, crying, "[Oh, child, you're alive! You're alive!]"
"[What are you talking about?]"
"[You are the daughter of Pah Fume, my daughter,]" she explained, "[I am your grandmother!]"
Aremi, after searching for her true family for the past ten years and now, having finally found a blood relative, couldn't hold back her joy as she wept with her.
Kohei stood in the middle of a circle of people, surrounded on one end by the oldest women who made up the village council, and by all of the people who had witnessed or participated in the battle on the other end behind him.
"[We are here,]" Kuh Lon announced, "[what have you come here for?]"
"[As I've said, I have come for the sake of Xian Pu and Mou Su, who were both wrongly given a death sentence!]"
"[Xian Pu broke the law countless times and she and Mou Su deserted the clan,]" Kuh Lon retorted, "[they are both worthy of death should they be found!]"
"[Xian Pu broke no laws and that is my case. Three years ago, Xian Pu lost the annual championship tournament to an outsider: a Japanese martial artist named Saotome Ranma!]"
"[How do you know of Ranma?]" three voices called out, those of Kuh Lon, Lin-Lin, and Ran-Ran.
"[I have fought with and against him! But so did Xian Pu. However, Ranma had fallen into Nyaniichuan before fighting her. Xian Pu lost to Ranma, yes, but Ranma was still a man, only trapped in a woman's body! Xian Pu's Kiss of Death was invalid because your law states that only those of the same gender can exchange the Kiss of Death!]"
A small commotion erupted before one of the council members accused, "[You have no proof that Ranma fell into Nyaniichuan!]"
"[I have no concrete proof, yes,]" Kohei agreed, "[but I have three solid witnesses!]" He turned his head to three people as he spoke their names, "[Lin-Lin, Ran-Ran, and Kuh Lon. All three of you have seen Ranma in both his male and female forms! And before you try to deny this fact, I only want to remind you that your laws put those who lie to the council to death!]"
Another commotion erupted when the old woman and young women agreed to the fact that they had witnessed Ranma's male and female forms. Once it settled after several seconds, Kohei continued again.
"[There were two more incidents in which Ranma defeated Xian Pu in combat, but again, no laws were broken! In the first incident, no formal challenge had been issued as Xian Pu was attacking somebody else whom Ranma defended by destroying one of her bonbori. By sheer happenstance did the end of her weapon fall onto her head to knock her out. Xian Pu, not realizing the technicalities of what had happened, and possibly still being confused about her loss to Ranma in a woman's body, gave him a kiss and called him her airen. But she had not attacked him or challenged him first, so it was all invalid.]"
"[What about the third battle?]" Kuh Lon asked, while trying to hide the fact that her tone contained a slight hint of nervousness, "[I happen to know that Ranma had issued a formal challenge before he attacked her.]"
"[Yes, but you also know that Xian Pu was under the influence of a magical object, thus making the battle handicapped! You knew that she was wearing the Jewel of Reversal, Kuh Lon, and you used Xian Pu's feelings in an attempt to bring your 'son-in-law' into your family. There are also many other incidents in which you attempted to force Ranma and Xian Pu into a marriage that, by your laws, wasn't legal. And when the time came when Xian Pu allowed Ranma to give his love to another, you saw that you wouldn't have a son-in-law, suddenly no longer forgave her 'breaking' the laws, and ordered her to kill the woman Ranma loves or be killed on the spot. She had done nothing wrong and didn't want Ranma to be sad, so she left the clan. Mou Su followed likewise so she wouldn't be alone and you returned here without a second thought about them other than they or their children will die should they be seen in Nyuchiezu again. My final statement on this matter is that Xian Pu did not break any Amazon laws, Kuh Lon did!]" To finalize his statement, he pointed an accusing finger at her.
Several audible gasps came from all directions as the council members, minus Kuh Lon, whispered amongst each other while she, who was maintaining her expression, was now sweating visibly. After several minutes of deliberation, one of the council members, the senior, spoke.
"[We have accepted your statements, son of Ji Lu,]" she said, "[do you wish to bring charges against Kuh Lon?]"
"[Because she is my great-grandmother, I will not, but on two conditions: One,]" he raised a finger, "[remove the death sentence on Xian Pu and Mou Su and allow them back into the Amazon clan.]"
"[It is done,]" the senior member declared, "[as of dawn tomorrow, Xian Pu and Mou Su's names will be returned to this clan.]"
"[Two,]" Kohei continued as he raised another finger, "[Kuh Lon, give me the deed to the Nekohanten!]"
All eyes fell on her once again as she stood up, "[You are a cheeky man, son of Ji Lu, I will never overcome the fact that I was defeated in a battle of wits by my own great-grandson.]" She reached into her robe and produced an envelope, "[Tell me, how did you come to learn all of this?]"
"[Xian Pu is the daughter of my mother's sister, as you know. Combined, she and Ranma told me everything.]"
"[Hmph, the deed is in here. Take it and go,]" Kuh Lon tossed the envelope to him.
After catching the package, he opened it and verified that it contained the document he'd requested, "[I thank you for your cooperation,]" he turned to leave. As the crowd parted to let him through, he stopped and spoke again without turning his head, "[While my statement was a personal matter, this one pertains to the entire Amazon clan, and Lin-Lin and Ran-Ran can witness to this as well; Kuh Lon has revealed and taught three of the secret Amazon techniques: the Kachuu Tenshin Amaguriken, Hiryuu Shoten Ha, and Bakusai Tenketsu to outsiders. Two of them were to Ranma,]" with a backwards wave he stated, "[do with her what you will,]" and left the building just as the room exploded with commotion.
"[That has been my life from the point I first remember up until this day,]" Aremi concluded, "[so, as your part of the promise, please tell me about my parents.]"
"[You are a very lucky child to have been raised by such a loving family. The spirits of your parents must have led you to that village,]" Tse Pu sighed, "[but I will keep my end of the promise. In truth, this is a day I have been dreading as much as I had been hoping to arrive. For twelve years I've waited, wondering the whole time if you were alive. As I said, your mother was my daughter, Pah Fume. Your father was the champion swordsman from a neighboring village. His name was Lu Xun. He and my daughter were to be married until, over a trivial disagreement, our villages went to war. Because of the fighting, the village councils forbade your parents from marrying, but they were too far in love to be stopped. Four months later, Pah Fume discovered that she was pregnant. Knowing that she would be put to death if anyone found out, I helped your parents flee into the mountains without anyone knowing. But the villages assumed they had eloped and soon began a manhunt for them. Five years passed before they were discovered. During the night, our soldiers killed your parents in their sleep and burned their home to ashes. But in that same cabin was a four-year-old girl. Fearing that they would incur the anger of the gods by killing a child, especially a woman, they used a secret technique combined with a special blend of shampoo to erase all memory of your parents and life. They then left you to wander the mountains until you died a 'natural' death. Your first memories of your adopted grandfather finding you must have been soon after that night. I searched for you for two months before I was caught and forbidden to leave the village since then, but I never gave up hope over the years that you were alive. And I'm sorry, child, your name died with your parents and was burned with your home.]"
"[My parents... killed by their own people...]" Aremi was in visible shock as new tears fell down her cheeks.
"[I can't ask you to forgive us, child,]" Tse Pu sighed, "[I knew that this would be terrible news for you to hear.]"
"[I understand, Grandmother. I won't put any of the blame on you, but I can never forgive the people of this village.]"
"[I expected to hear that from you. Therefore, I will not ask that you live here.]"
"[I could never live here!]" Aremi stood up and her disgust caused her to unknowingly switch to Japanese as she shouted, "Mi-chan and Ko-chan are my family now! They would never leave me to die!" and dashed out of the house, tears of sorrow left behind and still flowing.
"[Good-bye, child,]" Tse Pu sighed as she watched her go, "[I'm glad to know you are alive, but it has fallen beyond my duties to comfort you. You must find your own peace now.]"
Kohei hadn't been waiting long next to the arena, after finding some hot water, before he saw Aremi come running from a cluster of buildings. He hadn't wanted to arrive at this village in his cursed form, but nature had said otherwise when another late summer shower broke out. Concern filled his mind as he saw how red and sad his friend's face looked.
"Are-chan?" he asked calmly as she drew closer and he put his hands on her shoulders, "Is everything all right?"
After giving him a tear-filled look and sniffing for a few seconds, "Kohei-onii-sama!" she bawled as she glomped him and poured out all of her tears into his shoulder. Again taking his role as the big brother he had acted as for the last 12 years, he put his arms around her and held her close, assuring everything would be okay. Another several minutes and one very wet shirt for Kohei later, Aremi finally calmed down.
"I'm sorry, Ko-chan," she sniffed, "I don't know what went wrong with me."
"Don't worry," he smiled as he wiped the last of her tears away, "what happened? Were you able to find anything?"
"Yes, I learned everything. Who I am, who my parents were, and why I have no memories of them."
"That's wonderful! Did you learn your real name?"
"Yes," and with two last tears appearing in her eyes as she looked into his, she answered, "it's Juuman Aremi."
As the two of them traveled away from Nyuchiezu and once Aremi had more or less accepted what had happened in her early life, she soon was able to relate the story to Kohei. Because of the trauma of it all, she looked the saddest she had been in in years. And for someone like her, who was always happy, it was pretty difficult for Kohei to see her that way.
"I can now understand why you were crying," he sighed, "I never knew that my mother's people could be so heartless because of such a primitive law. I'm sorry about your parents. But at least you now know you are a full-blooded Chinese Amazon."
"I had that feeling as we were growing up and I saw you and Mi-chan fight in the Amazon style," she sighed, "and my skills with a sword come from my father, Lu Xun. But as least now I can leave China with no regrets."
"Yes, all of the mysteries in our lives have been solved to this point... except one. But I doubt we'll ever learn who that man was."
"Do you mean that man who could eat a storehouse full of food and was able to move to anywhere in the blink of an eye by raising two fingers to his forehead?"
"That's the one," Kohei nodded, "he was the one who gave me the idea to train with weighted clothes, but the one thing I'll never forget about him was his unusual hair."
"That was ten years ago, Ko-chan, he's probably used that instantaneous movement technique so much that his speed carried him to another world, or a different earth."
"You're right, we'll never see him again so we are leaving nothing behind."
The two of them continued to talk about old times and laugh about happy memories as they hurried to meet back up with Ranma and everyone else.
Melodies of Life Piano Arrangement (Final Fantasy IX)
"Saw," Ranma held up his hand as Mousse produced the tool from his robe. After a few minutes of sawing, he held the tool back out and stated, "Hammer."
"Wait a minute," Mousse used his good arm and patted around his clothes, "I know I have one in here somewhere."
"Haven't you two finished that boat yet?" Akane asked as she stepped out of the abandoned beachside hut they had been sleeping in, "Kohei and Aremi-chan will be here any day now."
"Almost," Ranma replied as Mousse found the hammer and gave it to him, "just finishing up by nailing the seats in!"
When Ranma and the group arrived at the coast, at the same place where they had landed when they came from Japan, the rowboat that Ukyo had bought was still in its hiding place. But with twice as many people returning to Japan with them, one boat wasn't enough. So the only alternative to four of them swimming across the sea was to duplicate and build a second boat. After one day of planning and four days of work, Ranma and Mousse were finally done. Their finished product turned out much more reliable-looking than Akane had first guessed it would be. But in reality, if the original hadn't been painted, she probably wouldn't have even been able to tell the difference.
"You guys did great," Akane smiled as she looked it over once Ranma finished.
"Thanks, Akane," he stood up to admire their work, "with this we'll be home in no time."
Nodding, Akane walked back into their rented hut to tell Ukyo, Shampoo, and Miki.
"Hey, they just finished the second boat," she announced.
"That's great," Ukyo smiled as she hefted her portable grill to take it outside and cook lunch, "I never knew Ranchan could sit still long enough to build anything."
"Are you going to tell him that?" Akane giggled.
"Of course," Ukyo smiled and exited.
She got different, in fact, no reaction from Shampoo or Miki as the lavender-headed girl looked deep in thought while the green-haired one was pacing back and forth impatiently.
"Where are big brother and Are-chan anyway?" she asked for the umpteenth time since they arrived at the coast.
"Be patient, Miki-chan" Akane grinned as she yet again put her hands on the younger girl's shoulders, "he said they'd meet us within a week and we've only been here five days."
"I know, Akane-onee-chan, but I want to know where they went and why."
"They'll tell us when they're ready," she assured her, then moved to sit with Shampoo at the table, "is something wrong?"
"Shampoo still can't figure out what we'll do when we get back to Nerima," she sighed, obviously not taking time to fully fix her speech, "we have no place to live or work and we can't just live at other's houses. If only we had some way to return to Nekohanten," and rested her head on her folded arms.
"Don't worry, Shampoo," she patted her back, "you'll think of something else."
"She won't have to," came a voice from the door.
"Kohei!" all three girls looked up as the half-Amazon man entered the hut with Aremi. Miki, as always, greeted both of them with a flying glomp. Once he returned the hug and let her go so she could glomp Aremi, he continued.
"Here, Xian Pu," he offered her an envelope, "you may consider it a late gift for your wedding."
As Shampoo opened the envelope and read the contents inside, her face lit up the entire room as she exclaimed, "Aiyah! This deed to Nekohanten!"
"Yes, great-grandmother gave it to me. Also, you and Mou Su are again Amazons."
If Miki's glomp on him wasn't tight, Shampoo's certainly was. Above the sound of cracking bones, Shampoo exclaimed, "Thank you Kohei! You're greatest cousin ever!" then dashed outside, "Mousse! Come and see!" before her voice faded.
"You went to Xian Pu's village to get that?" Miki asked.
"I did, and Aremi found something as well."
"Really?" she turned to her best friend, "What is it?"
"I learned everything about my past, Mi-chan," she smiled, "my mother was born in Xian Pu's village and I am a full-blooded Amazon."
"That's wonderful!" Miki hugged her again, "Now I can teach you some of our techniques! Let's start right now!" A green blur passed by Kohei and Akane as Miki nearly ran through the door while Aremi followed with her omnipresent smile.
"You love your family very much," Akane smiled, "that was so nice of you."
"Thank you, Akane-san, they're all I have. But..." he looked at the ground and paused before continuing, "but I wish to welcome one more member."
"What do you mean?"
"Since our battle with Hashin, I've realized something," from his pouch he produced a small box, "my mother gave this to me for my eighteenth birthday, but said it wasn't for me. Now I understand why." Another smile appeared on his face as he confessed, "Akane-san, I am in love with you and have never met anyone as special as you," fell to one knee and opened the box, revealing a gold ring engraved with dragons along the band, "will you grant me the honor of becoming my bride?"
"Kohei..." Akane wanted to fall to her knees as her legs turned to jelly. She wanted to be at his level just to stare into his soothing ocean blue eyes. The rush of warmth she experienced had never felt like anything she'd witnessed before. It was a truly different feeling to be asked, rather than suddenly be told, "This is your fiancÚ." As she stood speechless for several seconds, she finally croaked a quiet, "Yes, I will," as she nodded and raised her left hand. She smiled as he stood up and slipped the ring on her finger, which fit perfectly. As soon as it was on, her joy overflowed beyond her body's capacity to hold it and she glomped Kohei so hard that he could actually feel pain this time, kissed him on the lips, and dashed outside to announce it to everyone.
As the good news of her new engagement was received by all of those people whom she would soon be related to, Akane thought of all of the events that they had shared together in her life that had led up to this point and how it had all began. She made a decision at the time, to never forget and always tell her children about the rainy afternoon in which a panda waltzed into her home, and on his shoulder, lay a kicking and screaming red-haired girl.
Because Kohei and Aremi arrived before noon, everybody decided that they wanted to set sail for Japan immediately after lunch, which became a large celebration of Ukyo's best okonomiyaki and instant ramen in honor of Aremi's learning of her past, her and Miki's eternal bond of friendship, Shampoo's pregnancy and her and Mousse's regaining the Nekohanten, Ranma and Ukyo's continuing engagement, and Kohei and Akane's new engagement.
Once everyone had eaten their fill and gathered their supplies, they prepared to return to Nerima. But Kohei suddenly stated that he needed to attend to one final matter before leaving China. He was only gone for a few minutes and he didn't say why. As the group of eight people whose trust and friendship had created a bond that would last for generations departed, they continued to ask Kohei what he'd done, but it would be weeks before they finally figured it out. Only a few hours after they left, a beach combing man was puzzled at one of his finds that he'd discovered behind the small hut on that strip of sand: An empty bottle with a label written in both Chinese and Japanese...