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Sailor Ranko: Thrice In A Millennium: Chapter 13, Birds Come To Roost.
Rebecca Ann Heineman

Ranma 1/2 and the characters therein are the property of Rumiko Takahashi. Based on "Sailor Ranko" by Duncan Zillman and "Twice in a Millennium" by Kevin D. Hammel.

I don't own these characters. Please don't sue me, kill me or make me reinstall Microsoft Windows again, and again, and again...

The lunch bell rang at Furinkan High, signaling the end of the current class and the start of the noon break. Hikaru Gosenkugi sighed as everyone gathered in groups that didn't involve him. In short time, he was sitting all alone, in the corner, utterly ignored. He reached into his desk and pulled out his book bag, clutching it to his chest like it contained the secrets of the universe. Truth be told, that's just what was in the bag.

He snuck out of the classroom, an act that was trivial for him since no one even bothered to shoot a glance in his direction. He slithered around a corner and ducked into the shadows. Numerous students ran by his location, all on the never ending quest to be first in line at the cafeteria to get the best breads before they were all sold out.

Once the mass of students had disappeared down the stairs, the lanky teenager silently tip toed down the stairs and toward the library. Taking a look to the left and to the right, hoping one of the resident bullies weren't around to beat him up for his lunch money, he cautiously approached the open doorway and peered in. He saw the librarian typing away on a terminal with one hand and holding a sandwich in the other. He smiled upon seeing that no one else was in the room.

Hina, the elderly librarian, looked up from her screen as Hikaru made his almost silent entrance. She put her lunch down, took off her bifocals and wiped them clean with a tissue as she spoke with a happy expression. "Today's your lucky day."

Hikaru's face became paler than normal, turning white like fresh snow. He couldn't believe that he actually had luck that wasn't bad, terrible or awful. "I-It came?"

"This morning, Hon'. Let me get it for you." She swiveled around in her office chair and rummaged around behind her librarian's counter. Hikaru approached the wooden desk slowly in the hopes that he wouldn't offend the gods by being too expectant of his long awaited prize.

"Hmm..." Hina mused as she placed a small stack of books on the counter. "I could have sworn it came." She placed her fingertips on the spines of the books and slid her digits upwards as if the motion would get the books to tell her where the missing tome was. She made a clicking sound with her tongue, a habit that annoyed other students when they came to study, but was permissible when only Gosenkugi was around. She, like everyone else, just didn't care about the impossibly thin wanna be sorcerer. "Maybe it's over there."

The lanky student sighed. "Just my luck," he surmised. There was only one form of luck he ever experienced, and it was bad. His eyes followed Hina as she kicked the ground and rolled in her chair from behind the desk to the table in the center of the study area. There was a small rolling cart stacked with books and DVDs. She stopped with pinpoint precision in front of the cart and quickly examined the titles. She paused and pulled out a very old looking book and held it out for Hikaru to see. "Here it is!"

He couldn't believe his eyes. Before him, written in English script in small letters below a large title in meaningless scribbles were the words he dared not hope he'd ever actually see in his lifetime, "The Demonomicon".

Gosenkugi blinked. The book was still there. He shook his head. The book remained in view. He turned around to look at the area above the doorway, searching for a hidden camera and some TV personality lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to say, "Smile! You're on hidden camera!" The live audience was nowhere to be found.

"Hey, Hon'." Hina snapped her fingers to get his attention. "You okay?"

"Uh..." He was mesmerized by the leather-bound cover. Was it cow leather or did it come from something else? He didn't really want to know the answer to that question. "Yes, I'll be fine." He moved closer to the book, but the elder pulled it away and held it close to her chest.

She held out her hand expectantly. "Library card?"

He froze in terror. He placed his hands on his cheeks and moaned to the heavens!
"NNNNNOOOOOO!!! I forgot it at home!"

"No cardy, no booky. Principal's rules." She rolled away in a flash, back behind her desk; book hidden from view.

"But... But... You know me. You know I've got a card." He pleaded to the now unresponsive librarian. He was so close to gaining the forbidden knowledge that he couldn't leave the room without the book. He knew that somehow, someway, if he left the room, the book would vanish in a puff of smoke. These things just had a way of happening around him.

"Yep, you've got a card. Where is it?" She went back to typing one handed and finishing her sandwich with the other.

He grasped both hands together in the universal sign of total begging. "I can't leave without that book."

"I can't give you the book without a library card." Hina smirked. "And don't even try to ask me to bend the rules. I look terrible in a bowl cut."

Sensing utter defeat, he would submit to complete humiliation. He had to have that book. "I'll do it."

"What Hon'?" She filled with dread. He couldn't be serious, no one in their right mind was going to do... That.

He was on his knees and bowed. "I have to have that book. I'll do anything." He rubbed his hair on the top of his head. "And I will."

"So, you'll use Article 9, I take it."

He closed his eyes. He was going to do anything and he meant it. "I'll use Article 9."

"Okay." The librarian reached under her desk and pressed the shiny red button. She was pleased. She's going to get a little bonus in her pay envelope come next payday.

Principal Kuno burst into the room holding shears. His Hawaiian shirt was the only thing louder than his entrance. "Aloha, Keiki! I gots da call. We's be havin' an Article 9 I be takin'?"

Hina pointed to Hikaru. "He already invoked it."

The Principal was very pleased. "Good job Keiki! Da big Kahuna will remember next Friday you bein' good hard worker. 'Elpin' me out in makin' the Keiki look proper." Three seconds later, Hikaru's hair was floating down to the floor and a mirror was shoved in his face.

Hikaru sulked. He didn't look too bad with a buzz cut, but he was going to get picked on a little more today because of it.

"Lookin' good man! Hina, you take care o' da Keiki now, why doncha?" The palm tree haired man placed a strong hand on Gosenkugi's shoulder. "Youza see, Keiki who follow da rules get good privileges man. You make good choice. Now, I be off. I gotsa find me boy and fix 'is 'air." With that, the principal vanished as if he had never been in the room. Only a small pile of Gosenkugi's hair and his new hairdo were the only signs of the elder's passing.

Not looking up from his gaze on the floor, Hikaru softly asked. "Can I have my book now?"

"Sure Hon'." She snickered. She tossed the book to the bowing man and the volume bounced off of his head. He grabbed it before it flew out of his reach and caressed the cover with the same care as an archeologist would upon unearthing a priceless antiquity.

Hina took the last bite of her sandwich and asked with a little concern. "You alright there?"

He looked up with a gleam in his eye. His plans were coming to fruition. The book had all the answers to the questions he was asking. Tonight was going to be different. "I'm alright... Now."

Kasumi hummed a little tune to herself as she hung up the laundry to dry. A blanket here, a karate gi there and shortly thereafter, all of the wash was on the clothesline. She held the empty basket close to her waist and felt her heart become as empty as the plastic container.

The laundry once required eight ropes to hold it all. Now, fluttering in the breeze, were four lines of assorted clothes. In the past, Kasumi would have rejoiced at the lower workload. She had wanted to spend some more time studying textbooks that she had borrowed from Dr. Tofu and now after having been granted her wish, she regretted it.

Nabiki was busy with her new role as the president of the Sailor Moon Fan Club which meant she was spending almost no time at home and was having her clothes dry cleaned. With Akane, Ranma and his mother living in Juuban, the number of regular visitors had trickled to almost none. Ukyou would stop by once in a while to drop off some okonomiyaki take out for Soun, but none of Ranma or Akane's old friends had a reason to visit anymore. With the lack of morning sparring sessions, fights and weird happenings, the number of clothes that needed mending or washing were far fewer than ever before.

Even though her father and Mr. Saotome were playing shogi on the back porch, a sign that some things hadn't changed, the house felt empty, barren and lonely. She wondered for a moment at what was to become of her. Her sisters had found their way with Akane's Senshihood and Nabiki's career guiding their respective lives. Her father's finances were cared for by Nabiki so he had no wants. What was in Kasumi's future? What did fate have in store for her? Did she want to care for her father in his golden years? Wouldn't it have been better to reconsider Miss Hinako as someone to fill her mother's shoes and be a loving caring wife for Father so she could consider something for herself instead of her family?

A teapot's whistle broke her musings and Kasumi fondly remembered the special significance that sound meant to the occupants and guests to her family's ancestral home. Always that high pitched tone was followed by the footsteps of a purple cat, a white duck, a panda or Ranma-chan wanting to change back into their birth forms. Today, the sound only signaled that tea was ready to be served and not a general call for a guest to come visit.

The oldest Tendo girl felt a prickling down her back as something seemed wrong about the backyard. She turned around and spotted a small boy wearing a magnificent silk pantsuit. He stood slightly over one hundred and thirty centimeters tall, wearing white leather gloves, open toed sandals, and an elaborate headdress that gave a regal air to his ensemble. His white feathered cloak flew open as the boy walked with purpose across the grass to the side of the largest koi pond. The stranger planted a large staff into the ground with the top end having a gleaming hoop of silvery metal with flames made of the same material as decoration.

The oddest thing about the boy, not that the boy himself was rather strange, and weird people had a habit of appearing here, was that in his other hand he held a plastic tub with a rubber duck, a toy lobster, bath soaps and a towel. She breathed a sigh of relief; this boy didn't appear to be a bill collector. However, he could be some prince coming to marry Akane or Ranma-chan. The bath supplies were the most likely reason for his visit and the Tendo acted accordingly as the gracious host she was.

"Young man." Kasumi asked, not really sure just who or even what this person was. She was certain about one thing; he shouldn't be disturbing the fish. "If you wish to take a bath, we have a furo you could use."

The boy finally took notice that Kasumi was in his presence and sneered in return. "Your water is impure. My journey was in vain."

Kasumi blinked at the unexpected response. He wasn't after someone's hand in marriage, which was a good omen. Concerned for the well being of the koi, she asked. "Oh, my. I'm sorry, but could you tell me what's wrong with our water?"

"I see that the Jusenkyo link to here was never completed." He tapped the end of his strange staff into the water and a small amount of steam bubbled out.

"Are you referring to the Jusenkyo guide who was here some time ago. No, he wasn't able to make a Nannichuan." Kasumi remembered when the infamous guard came to Nerima and proclaimed that their koi pond was linked to the spring water from Jusenkyo. Much to the dismay of the cursed, he was unsuccessful in making a spring of drowned man and it would take one thousand years before the next time they could try again. With this recollection, she understood just why her new guest was interested in the pond. "Are you looking for a cure to your curse?"

Genma's ears popped up with the most holiest of phrases. The promise of a cure. Instantly, he was standing next to Kasumi. "A cure you say? Where's the cure?"

The boy huffed at these clueless landlings. He twirled his staff upside down and hopped onto a bracket mounted just under the half meter diameter hoop. He held on to the staff like a warlock would ride a broomstick and it floated in the air as the hoop glowed in fire, scorching the ground. "I have no need of you. I'll take my leave and return to Jusenkyo. Pathetic land... urk..." The boy was thrown to the ground as Genma jumped on the flying staff.

"Saotome! What do you think you're doing?" Cried out Soun at the unwarranted attack on a small child by his friend.

"Jusenkyo!!! Here I come!" Genma leaned forward and the staff moved straight for the compound wall. A smash and a martial artist shaped hole marked his passing.

FOOL!" The boy screamed as he emerged from the koi pond, dripping wet and angered beyond words. "You can't control the power of the Kinjakan!" He threw down his bath items and wings emerged from his back. He flapped his white feathery wings and flew into the air to strike back at the fat man.

Genma was fighting with the Kinjakan, trying to learn how to steer it and slowly got the hang of it. In moments, he understood how to shift his girth to change course and grinned at his good fortune. "Soon, I'll be in China and I can get rid of this curse that my worthless son gave me. Maybe I'll even get some of the water to settle a few debts. HA HA HA!!" Thoughts of bottling Jusenkyo water and selling it to the highest bidder filled his feeble little mind. "I wonder how you sell stuff on eBay?"

"Get back here you infidel!" The regal looking boy flapped harder, but he was no match for the speed of the Kinjakan. "I will see to it personally that you're punished for this. Huff, huff..." He gasped and developed a cramp in his wing from exceeding his physical limits. "Argh!" He fell from the sky and smashed into the top of a tall pine and held on as the tree swung back and forth from the impact.

Mr. Saotome was having the time of his life. He was hundreds of meters off the ground on a magical flying staff. A device that would fetch a King's ransom once he accomplished his mission. He tilted the staff upwards and flew west, toward China. The idiot was completely oblivious to just how much trouble he had just put himself in.

Clutching the tree top, a boy that went by the name of Lord Saffron glowed in anger. "I'll make sure you suffer for this outrage."

Back at the Tendo residence, Kasumi shook her head sadly. "Father, what are you going to do about this?"

In classic elegance, that only the patriarch of the Tendo clan can accomplish, he fell to his knees and cried like a little girl.

Minako Aino stood tall in her P.E. uniform. She gently knocked on the door of the coach's office and clasped her hands behind her back while she patiently waited for the door to open. She tapped her foot. She sweated a drop of water on her forehead. Screaming, she pummeled the door with two fists, almost shattering the frosted glass that separated her from the man who could save her team from utter embarrassment.

"Hey! Quit it!" Came the exasperated voice from behind the door. "Could you give me ten seconds before you try to break my door down?" The coach's silhouette appeared behind the door's window. "What now?"

He unlocked the door and a frazzled goddess of love pushed her way in. "Coach, can you call Yuuki or Mariko and get them in here?"

"I would if I could." The coach let go of the doorknob and turned to face his star player. "Yuuki's recovering and Mariko's out of town."

The blond thought for a moment. Could Sailor Saturn stop by and visit Yuuki? She growled in frustration. "Grrr..."

The tall dark haired man may have been a little slow on figuring out things, but it didn't take him long to put two and two together. "Who else is sick? Don't tell me Akane's out?"

"No, she's fine. She's down at the gym, practicing with the rest of the team."

Giving a sigh of relief, the middle-aged teacher walked back to his desk, sat in his chair, put his feet up and played with a foam volleyball. "So, what's the emergency? With you, Akane and Ranko playing, it doesn't matter who else is on the team. You three can take care of just about anyone."

"Do you remember who we're playing against on Monday night?"

"Sure do. They've been wanting a rematch since that last gaming disaster."

"And who do they want to play against, hmm?" Minako crossed her arms, and emphasized her humming.

"Ranko of course. Their star player seems to have it in for her." He caught the toy he was tossing and held it tight. "Don't tell me."

Minako turned her head to the side. "Ranko's missing. Cancel the game."

"Once, maybe, but not twice. We nearly went broke giving out refunds the last time."

The young blond leaned forward and placed her hands on the table. She shoved her face across the desk to get her point across. "Coach, the only two members of our team who've ever played Martial Arts Volleyball are Ranko and Akane. With those two, we can win, but if one's missing, we're pancakes!"

Leaning back in his chair, to avoid the girl's battle aura, he nearly lost his balance and grabbed the nearest thing he could to keep from falling: Namely, Minako. Surprised by the extra weight on her shoulders, she tumbled forward and both of them hit the floor. Groaning, the teacher corrected his student. "It's toast, not pancakes."

WHAM! Minako belted her teacher away from her since they were in a compromising position. "Pervert!" She got up and dusted herself off. "Call St. Hebereke's and cancel the game."

Rubbing his arm to soothe the pain from being punched, he picked himself and his chair off the floor. "You know I can't do that."

"And why not?"

"Remember the last game we tried to have? The one where that little freak showed up and ruined the gym?"

The girl shuddered. But then, the mere thought of Happosai would make any sane woman tremble in fear.

"Well that little event cost us millions of yen in damages. Kodachi's brother was gracious enough to pay for the repairs on one condition. Kodachi made it very clear she wanted a rematch."

"You've GOT to be kidding me?" Minako shouted. The players in the gym halted their practice to cover their ears. "K-Kuno? Brother? As in Tatewaki?"

"Yeah, that's her brother's name"."

"You mean that lunatic who was on TV yesterday? You made a deal like that with those people? What's wrong with you?"

The coach shot back. "Do you know how long it would have taken to get the school board to fund the reconstruction? It's bad enough that we're paying a fortune in insurance premiums because of youma attacks. The lousy insurance company doesn't want to pay because we didn't have a rider for crazed martial artists. So, it's either play this game, with Ranko, or we can say goodbye to our athletic program when they repossess the gymnasium."

"Oh, Ranko." Minako groaned.

"So, as captain of the team, you go find your teammate and get her butt over here or else." He was red with anger. "And don't you dare ask what I mean by 'or else'. You're not going to like it."

A moment later, a door was slammed behind the blond volleyball team captain. She twitched as the loud bang was heard and then she held her head low. As she walked slowly to the gym, she tried to think of excuses. "Maybe I could transform into Sailor V and pretend there was a Youma attack. I could call in a bomb threat. Maybe I could get hit by a truck? Nah, I wouldn't be so lucky."

HONK!!!! A truck was barreling down the street that the girl had absent-mindedly walked into. Her honed Senshi training allowed her to jump out of the way, back onto the safety of the sidewalk. She watched the truck speed off and then jumped up and down in fury. "I could've had a perfect excuse! ARGH!"

Akane and the other volleyball team members spilled out of the gym and ran down the path to the front of the school. There they found their leader rapidly kicking the base of an innocent tree, showering the area with leaves, twigs and the occasional squirrel. Usagi, feeling genuine compassion for her angry friend, ran forward, slipped on some loose twigs and planted her face into the ground. "Ouchie."

Minako saw Usagi's antics and it made her even angrier. She started to punch the tree. "We... Are... Going... To... Suck..."

"What's going on?" Asked Akane, while staying just out of arm's reach of the Senshi of Venus.

She stopped beating the tree, only to watch it collapse from all of the abuse by snapping in two. She shook her open hands to dislodge the bark particles and glared at Akane. "Where's Ranko?"

"Ranko? That idiot's off to who knows where and she won't answer her phone. What's wrong? Tell me."

Minako smiled a feral grin. "I'll tell you. And after that, you find her and you get her here by tonight or I'll personally introduce her to Artemis. And you know how much she likes cats... Heh, heh, heh..." She rubbed her hands together while entertaining dark twisted thoughts involving felines, sulphuric acid and a bulldozer.

The team shook in terror. Minako wasn't showing any signs that she was kidding.

Amid the hustle and bustle that was the Narita International Airport, a taxi screeched to a halt at curbside. The driver called out. "International terminal, departure gate." He pointed to his fare meter. "Who's buyin'?"

Ryoga sat dumbfounded. "Pay? I knew there had to be a catch."

Mousse extracted the proper amount of money and handed it to the driver. "You've never taken a taxi before?"

"Why?" Ryoga crossed his arms in indignation. "I get around fine without 'em."

"Let's go." Mousse opened the door and exited the right side of the cab, straight into traffic.

"The blind, leading the lost." Ranko muttered. She opened the left door and stopped Ryoga from joining Mousse's attempt at real-life Frogger by yanking him toward the door nearest the sidewalk.

The near-sighted martial artist felt strong gusts of wind as large vehicles whizzed by within centimeters. "Strange, they're using really big luggage carts."

The taxi driver tossed out Ryoga's backpack with great effort onto the sidewalk and hopped back into his car. He sped off in search of another fare, leaving Mousse standing alone in the road amid honking trucks and taxis. Ranko ran over, grabbed him by the arm and tossed him onto the sidewalk. "Are you deaf too? Yikes!" She somersaulted into the air to avoid getting hit from a speeding sedan.

Ryoga put his backpack back on and scanned the crowd for any signs of where he should be going. "Hmm." He spoke softly, "have I been here before?"

Ranko, after landing next to him, grabbed his shirt sleeve to keep him from wandering away, replied. "Is there any place you hadn't been to?"

"Uh..." He laughed and scratched behind his head. "Let me think about that."

"How'd I let them talk me into this?" Ranko rolled her eyes to the sky for a moment. There were too many witnesses, so she couldn't just beat these two into unconsciousness, then transform, then teleport their sorry butts to Jusenkyo. Even if she did teleport them, they'd ask too many questions and they'd probably get lost even if she left a trail of bread crumbs and erected a neon sign that said "Spring of Drowned Man, jump here." No, she was cursed to lead these two to the magical springs if she wanted to clear her conscience of being to blame or partially to blame for their curses.

Mousse happily exclaimed. "The next flight leaves in two hours."

"How'd ya know that?" Asked Ranko, suspicious that Mousse might have been reading the wrong flight information and was taking them to Moscow. She breathed a sigh of relief at seeing he was actually wearing his glasses while spying a monitor for outgoing flights.

"China Airlines has a flight to Bejing. Once we get there, we take a connection to the airport near Jusenkyo."

Ryoga was even more dumbfounded than before, maybe because in the matters of travel, he was just dumb. "There's an airport near Jusenkyo?"

"Well, it's not really that close. We'll still have to travel two hundred kilometers. But it beats walking all the way from the capital." With that, he led the trio into the terminal building and toward the ticket counter. Ranko kept an eye out for misdirections, Ryoga's attempts at going the wrong way, or another fiancee.

A pretty attendant smiled at the myopic man. "Yes, Sir. How may I help you?"

"I need three tickets to Beijing please." Mousse fumbled around looking for his cash.

"Excellent, Sirs. May I please see your travel documents?" She held out her hand expectantly. "Do you have any baggage to check in?"

Mousse produced his Chinese passport and handed it to the woman behind the counter. "Okay, guys. Give her your passports."

Ryoga and Ranko shot a glance at each other and asked in total befuddlement. "Passports?"

"Oh, oh..." Mousse softly spoke as his plan began to unravel before it had even begun. "What do you mean, passports? How did you two get to China?"

Ranko answered. "I swam."

Ryoga held his fingers together and tapped them nervously. "I don't really know."

Now it was Mousse's turn to get upset. "You mean to tell me that neither of you has a passport?"

Ranko shot back. "Why would I need one? It's not like I could ever afford anything. My pop's always had us hitch a ride or somethin'."

The lost one kept tapping his index fingers together. "What's a passport for, anyways?"

The attendant became impatient. "Sirs, I require your travel documents before I can book your flight. Sir, Miss, if you've misplaced your papers you need to go home and retrieve them or contact your government office and have new ones issued. You cannot travel to China without proper passports and visas."

"Visa?" Ryoga brightened up. "I've got one of those." He took off his massive backpack and rummaged around for it.

Mousse felt a bit better. "Now we're getting somewhere. You don't happen to have a visa as well, Saotome?"

Ranko watched Ryoga expectantly. "As if."

Ryoga produced a small plastic card with the word "Visa" written on it. "Here it is. Is this what you're looking for?"

The ticket lady looked at the card and nodded. "Yes, we take Visa as a form of payment. But I still need to see your passport."

"But you said I needed a visa." Ryoga looked down at the credit card his wife gave him.

Mousse wanted to cry, scream and curse at the gods who were messing with his head. "No! She meant a tourist visa, you idiot! You get one of those when you go to the Chinese consulate. Argh! You've both been to China and you don't have any passports! What're we going to do now?"

Ranko had a plan, but it required a beating, a mini-skirt and blowing her cover. She liked the part about the beating, but the other parts she could do without. She declined to mention it. She came up with another plan, one based on a more favored method of travel her father preferred. "I've got an idea."

Mousse retrieved his passport from the attendant. "Now I'm scared."

Mrs. Saotome entered the apartment with two small bags of groceries, one in each arm. Her children had healthy appetites and required frequent trips to the store to keep the kitchen from emptying out of foodstuffs. She placed the plastic bags filled with the ingredients for tonight's meal on the tiny kitchen table and in response, the phone rang. She took a moment to rest, straighten her hair and picked up the receiver to answer the phone in a cheery voice. "Saotome residence."

Akane was at a pay phone in the courtyard of Juuban High School with Minako standing next to her. The blond was sweating profusely from nervousness and rambled on, waving her hands in frustration. "I could say that we got sick. No, they'd want a doctor's note. I know, a youma attacked Ranko. No, Usagi would want to strike back and that would only make it worse. Maybe the school bus got lost. No, this is a home game."

As Miss Aino went on creating excuses to cancel the game, Akane asked her mother the question that was on everyone's mind at the moment. Where's Ranko? "Mother, has Ranko stopped by the apartment?"

"Ranko?" She paused. "No, Dear, why would she stop by? Isn't she at school with you?"

"No, Mother, she's not here." She sighed at the disappointing news. She spied a glimpse at her volleyball captain as she held her arms close to her chest and her head tilted back, as if the clouds above had the answer she sought. The girl continued to babble with no one around listening to her disjointed sentences about meteor strikes or nuclear war. Akane cupped her hand on the phone to block out the extra noise. "Well, she met up with Ryoga and Mousse, you remember them, and went somewhere." Akane tapped Makoto on the upper arm to get her attention. "Mako-chan, did you hear where exactly did Ranko say she was going?"

Makoto was consoling her Senshi teammate from her own blubbering. She bit her lip as she recalled those few minutes of that odd encounter with the white robed man and the boy who kept trying to attack Ranko. "It was some weird sounding place." She sucked on her lower lip for a moment, then remembered. "Jusenkyo, I think."

"Are you sure?" Akane screamed out, almost shattering the windows nearby. "She's going to China?! Why that idiot! Why did she go and do that for?"

"The guy in the white robes was saying something about being a real man and it got her really mad. Wait a minute, you don't suppose?"

Akane got pale. After everything they had been though, her husband would still let insults to her manhood get the better of her. She had to find her quick before she did something monumentally stupid. She spoke into the phone again. "Mom, are you sure that Ranko didn't come home? Maybe to get her backpack or camping stuff?"

Nodoka twiddled with the phone cord, wondering what sort of trouble her child had gotten herself into this time. "Give me a moment and I'll check." She hurried over to the tiny closet and slid the door open. Instantly, a wall of clothes, bokkens and other assorted items fell out, narrowly missing the Saotome matriarch. Sitting among the pile were two backpacks, one belonging to Akane, the other belonging to Ranma. She tip toed over the pile of clothes, back to the kitchen. "No, she hasn't been home. Her backpack is still here."

"Thank you, Mother." Akane hung up the phone and found herself shoved against a cold stone wall by an extremely psychotic blond.

The madwoman's eyes were unnaturally wide open and she howled her words to alert the planet of her displeasure. "She's not there?!? Akane, you go find her and bring her back, you hear! If you don't, there will be hell to pay!" Minako curled up into a ball and mumbled to herself about the odds of the sun going supernova in the next six hours.

Makoto whispered. "It's the end of the world."

Usagi, who had been quiet all this time, gasped at Makoto's statement. "W-what do you mean, Mako-chan?"

The tall girl answered. "Mina-chan didn't screw up a proverb."

The moon princess took a step back in fright. "It really is the end of the world."

"Oh, please." Akane shook her head at Minako's mindless chatter. "If Mousse is taking her to China, it'll be over his dead body." She nodded her head with an idea. "I know just where to start looking. See you!" With that, she ran off to the locker room to change into street clothes.

In the northern part of Tokyo, a patron stopped at a small ramen shop to get his lunch, only to find the front door locked. The Cat Cafe's windows were shut and a small "Closed" sign hung slightly lopsided on the doorknob. He shrugged and went on his way, leaving a girl in an okonomiyaki seller's outfit alone to fume. She wasn't going to let this barricade stop her from getting some answers. The young woman reached over her shoulder and unhooked her giant spatula. She held it ready in one hand to deliver some strikes on the residents if they didn't explain things to her satisfaction. She knocked on the door with a little more force than a simple greeting would require.

The wind picked up and a few scraps of paper fluttered by while Ukyou made a mental inventory of the condition of her competition's place of business. Curtains drawn, menus missing, closed sign displayed and no irritating bicycle riding Chinese bimbo were all clues that no one was home. The chef peered into the window, trying to see if she could spot someone inside. Thoughts of Cologne and Shampoo cooking up some new concoction danced in her head and darkened her imagination. Angry, she rapped on the door with the business end of her weapon and with almost enough force to break it down. "Hey! I know you're in there. I need to talk to you. NOW!"

Only silence answered as she waited for a few minutes before taking a new tack. She was about to kick in the front door when she remembered there was an entrance in the back. Not wanting to be accused of imitating one of Shampoo's worst habits, she holstered her weapon and casually walked down the side alley to the back of the building.

There Ukyou bumped into an old friend. "Akane?"

Akane was gasping for air from her cross-town run and held her arm out against the back wall of the Cat Cafe for support. She replied. "Ukyou, what're you doing here?"

"I was goin' to ask you the same thing, Sugar." She noted that the back screen door was closed but appeared to be free of dust. It was a good sign that someone was home. "What're you doin' here? Shouldn't you be in school?"

Suspicious, Akane shot back. "I've..." Gasping, she continued. "I've got to see Mousse. Why aren't you in school?"

"I've got to talk to Cologne. What do you wanna talk to Mousse for?"

Akane took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then exhaled while speaking so she could talk normally. "Ranma's late for volleyball practice and I'm here to get him."

Ukyou blinked. "Huh? He's in Nerima to play volleyball? With Mousse? When did they start playing?"

"She." Akane spoke a little louder on the pronoun, then regained control of her breathing. "She's been playing with the Juuban team for weeks now. We've got a big game coming up."

"And what's this got to do with Duck Boy here?" Ukyou pointed her spatula at the restaurant for a moment.

"Mousse conned Ranma into something." Akane went to the back door to open it.

"Wait just a sec' Sugar. I got here first."

"So? After I pull Ranma out of here, I'm going home. You can talk to Cologne all you want."

"I'm asking the questions first." Ukyou gave a cold stare.

Akane stared back. "I'm getting my husband first."

Ukyou winced at the word 'Husband'. "Not before I get some answers!"

"I'm talking to them first!"

Ukyou glowed. "I'm talking to them!"

Akane summoned a mallet. "NO! ME!"

Ukyou summoned a bigger mallet. "NO! ME!"

Akane's mallet stretched into a much larger size. "BACK OFF!"

Ukyou's mallet grew even larger. "MAKE ME!"

In the doorway, attracted by the angry shouts of two girls arguing, Shampoo's father stood, silently watching the display. He became cold as he recognized the pair as the two who were directly responsible for his daughter's disgrace. He smiled at the sight of them preparing for a duel to the death. If they killed each other, then there was hope for his little girl after all.

Akane's mallet was at forty kilos and rising. She struggled to maintain her grip on it as it was still expanding. "IF YOU INSIST!"

Ukyou's mallet shifted in shape into a wooden battle spatula. She raised it above her shoulder to deliver a swing. "OH, I INSIST!"

Ukyou and Akane faced each other in righteous fury. They needed answers and they needed them now. They growled, one holding a wooden battle spatula, the other holding a mallet. Lightning sparked from their eyes and met in the middle, making a small light show that frightened Mr. Xian.

Akane, not taking her eyes off of Ukyou, spoke loudly in the elder's direction. "Mousse took Ranma to Jusenkyo. How do I get there?"

Ukyou, mirroring Akane's gaze, tone and stance, asked a similar question. "Where'd Kiima take Konatsu?"

Shampoo's father stood back, dismayed that they declared a truce instead of cutting each other to ribbons. He shouted back, anger built up from everything that had gone wrong today. Despite his urge to tell the girls to jump into a cursed spring, he answered their questions. All Amazon males were taught to obey the females without hesitation. "You, Violent Girl, that dishonorable boy took the store's money to go after my daughter in China. I hope you make him suffer."

Ukyou frowned at not hearing her answer first. She glared daggers of ice from her cold gaze at the middle aged man.

Mr. Xain continued, not wanting to spend any more time in their presence than necessary. "You, Spatula Girl, Kiima's a soldier of Phoenix Mountain. If you want to know anything more, you'll have to see her yourself. Now, if I may take my leave of you, I have to find someone to help me run this store."

Akane's anger subsided and her mallet shrank in response. Incredulous at the accusation, she recalled all of the things Mousse had done and it made sense that he could have resorted to crime. Mousse had stooped to some very underhanded tactics to win over Shampoo and thievery was something he was capable of. "Mousse robbed you?"

"That's what I said. What? You no listen?" He spoke from behind the screen door, hoping that if they attacked, it would offer him some thin measure of protection. "He took over six hundred thousand yen; all money in the register and the safe. He will have to answer for his crimes."

Akane's eyebrow twitched. "Give me the directions to the springs."

Ukyou interrupted. "Where's this Phoenix Mountain?"

He shook his head in frustration. "One at a time! Spatula Girl, Phoenix Mountain is one hundred kilometers from my village in China. You will find it beyond Jusendo Falls." He wanted to continue the sentence with a warning, but the fact that the Phoenix Mountain people didn't like humans visiting them and usually killed them on sight, pleased him. If she went there and had a tragic accident, it would solve one of Shampoo's problems.

Ukyou's spatula mallet shimmered and vanished. "Where's this village of yours. I need a map so I can get to this Phoenix Mountain."

Akane instinctively shouldered her mallet, not noticing that the weapon shouldn't even exist. She repeated herself to get her own answers. "I need a map to Jusenkyo." She growled. "Now."

"Give me a moment. I'll be right back." Mr. Xian left the back door and went into the room he shared with Mousse. He looked at Mousse's things in disgust, hating the boy even more. He agreed with his daughter's assessment that the hidden weapons master was an unfit suitor and his actions in courting her only strengthened his resolve to make sure that the boy never became Shampoo's husband. The man sat at a small desk and proceeded to draw a map of the area around his village when a idea sprung into his mind. Acting on it, he crumpled up the paper and with a new sheet of paper, drew a new map with a few minor changes. Satisfied with the results, he went back to deliver on his promise.

Ukyou stood, arms crossed and very impatient. "Took you long enough."

He unlocked and opened the door to see the two walking corpses one last time. He held out the map for Ukyou to take, but Akane snatched it. "You are Violent Girl. Follow the trail to Jusendo. There you'll find Jusenkyo beyond the ridge at the base of Mount Phoenix."

Ukyou studied the map over Akane's shoulder. Seeing the little drawing of a mountain marked Mount Phoenix with the Jusenkyo springs at its base, but no other landmarks like the location of Kiima's home, she asked. "Where is Kiima's village?"

"There is a trail clearly marked at the bottom of the mountain. Follow it to the summit and there you'll find who you seek." Mr. Xian silently added, "if you live that long."

"Thank you." Akane bowed. "You've been most helpful."

Ukyou bowed as well. "Thank you for the map. Oh, and you may want to post want ads around Furinkan High School. There's some students there that could use a part time job."

They were being helpful and polite? Mr. Xian was confused. All of the stories he had heard about Ranma's fiancees were that they were the spawn of demons and devils. His encounter at first only reinforced that belief, but now, he was beginning to have his doubts.

Ukyou secretly hoped that Sailor Io would make an appearance and just beam them there. Thinking that was the best way to travel, she held Akane's hand and tugged her away from Mr. Xian's hearing range. "So, Akane. Got a ride to China? Can you teleport?"

"No, I can't. Ranma was the only one who could do that."

"What about the others? Maybe we could hitch a ride with them?"

Akane debated about it. She thought about calling Usagi and the others to do a Sailor Teleport, but the risk of exposing who they were to Ukyou was too great. Ukyou knew who Akane and Ranma were as Sailors, but not the rest, and they'd already missed too much school as it was. No, this was going to have to be her job and hers alone. Besides, Ranma's just in China, so how much trouble could there be? "No, not really."

Ukyou pondered her options. "Hey, do you have travel papers to China?"

The Tendo shrugged. "Yeah."

"Well, Sugar. Today's your lucky day. Follow me." Ukyou ran off to the street and raised her hand in the air. "Taxi!"

"It's a good thing that we made this flight." Ukyou shoved her backpack into the overhead compartment. "And I'm glad I was able to check my stuff in as baggage."

Akane buckled her seat belt. "Yeah, and to think that they had a last minute cancellation. This flight looks like it's completely booked." She glanced at their seats and noticed that there were three instead of two. "Looks like we've got a little extra space."

Ukyou took a moment to sit in her seat and buckle up. A thought crossed her mind. "Hey, I've got to ask. Why did you have your passport in your school bag?"

Akane couldn't stifle a giggle. "When you've been kidnapped and flown to China with no notice, you learn to be prepared for anything."

Ukyou nodded. "This was that Prince Kirin thing wasn't it?"

The former Tendo laughed. "Yeah, that and when Kuno stranded us on Prince Toma's island. Remember all the hassle we got from Immigration when we got back to Japan?"

"How could I forget? Nabiki was shameless in that dress of hers. She just did a twirl and walked right past the drooling officers."

Akane brought back the memory of her sister Nabiki wearing the very revealing outfit she got while she was also kidnapped with the rest of the girls to be a bride of the pint-sized Prince Toma. She, strutting her stuff and enjoying every minute of it brought a real smile on the short haired girl's face. "She knows how to get what she wants, doesn't she? Anyways, after that, I got my passport and keep it handy. Looks like it paid off."

The interior of the plane darkened as the pilot prepared for take off. "So Ranchan's got his passport too?"

Akane rolled her eyes. "No, the dummy doesn't even understand what a passport is." She paused for a moment. "With his ability to teleport, I don't think he really needs one."

Ukyou relaxed in her seat as the plane accelerated and lifted into the air. "I hope you're okay Ko-chan."

"Ranma, you idiot." Akane whispered with worry. "Don't do something stupid."

"Y'know, Akane. I can't shake the feeling that Ranchan's nearby."

Akane rested her head against the armrest and tried to block out Ukyou's pining for her husband. She too, felt the same inside and didn't understand why.

Down below, inside of a wheel well in the undercarriage of the plane, were a red-haired girl, a duck and a pig. The girl held onto a metal strut for support and pressed her small body into a narrow cavity. The wind threatened to suck the trio out but they tightened their grip until the plane was in the air, the gear retracted and the outer door was sealed shut.

"Bwee?" Asked the pig.

"Yep," Ranko answered. "This was how pops and I got back to Japan."

"Quack?" The duck was curious about something.

"Pops? He was in another wheel well. I've got no idea how he fit his fat butt in one of these things." She looked around the dark cold chamber that was going to be her home for the next few hours. "But then, pops was always full of surprises. Too bad he's not coming, he'd love a chance to get a cure." Ranko happily spawned an idea. "Maybe I can ship a barrel of Nannichuan home to him."

Was it daylight out? Shampoo had no idea. Her cell was a deep pit, dug into the earth with a straw lid six meters above covering the opening and blocking out almost all of the light. The little cat could see somewhat in the darkness but that gave her little comfort. She licked herself to clean her fur. They may have taken her freedom, but they didn't take away her self-respect.

A half-eaten rat sat a meter away from the purple feline. A symbol of how low her own people felt she had fallen. She wasn't worthy of human food anymore. She was nothing more than an animal to them. A beast, only fit for a pet or perhaps the slaughterhouse.

She placed her paws forward and laid her body down in sorrow. They didn't tell her what crimes she was imprisoned for, but she had a good idea.

The first time she had ever left her village to go out into the world beyond, was to pursue a red-haired girl and fulfill her promise to kill her. By strict Amazon tradition, she gave and fully intended to make good on the kiss of death; the promise to hunt down her prey to the ends of the Earth and slay her.

Fate had decided to play a dirty trick on her. She found that her target wasn't a girl at all, but a Jusenkyo cursed man. Her law was clear on that subject as well. If defeated by an outsider male; she became honor bound to bring him into the tribe.

He not only had defeated her once, but by her own foolishness, he defeated her again in the defense of Akane. What could she do? She saw him as the perfect male yet he was also the woman she had to destroy. She had no choice but to run home and beg the elders for guidance.

It was at that dreaded council meeting that her future was set. As punishment for not ending the life of Ranma Saotome, she was to train at Jusenkyo and accept whatever punishment the springs deemed fit to doom her with.

The little kitty wanted to cry, but cats didn't have tear ducts. It didn't help lessen her pain as she found that her new form all but guaranteed that her Airen would never choose her. He loathed cats and she became one with just a small amount of cold water. In the darkness, she sighed at the sight of her purple and white paws. These were once the hands of a warrior, one of the best. A champion among champions only to be humiliated by a boy and his stupid father.

Shampoo closed her eyes to push away the sight of the cursed body that the man she loved could never tolerate. She hated herself. She had only one thought, something she couldn't say in her feline body, but wished with all of her heart would come true. "Please kill me, I deserve nothing less."

The lone warrior leaned against her walking stick. Weary from battle, she made her painful way forward, away from the battlefield to what she hoped was a safe haven. The terrain was unfamiliar and it scared her deep inside. She paused her journey for a moment to rest. Holding the bamboo pole tight, she shifted her weight onto it to give her legs a much needed rest.

Her ninja garb was on its last legs. She watched helplessly as the last thread holding the large patch on her knee of her loose cotton pants gave out and the square piece of cloth fell off and landed silently on the dirt path below. She wanted to bend down to pick up the patch, in the hopes that soon she'd have an opportunity to sew it back on. But that would have required her to bend over, and that was an action she wasn't capable of performing at the moment without aggravating the wounds on her back.

The girl was a sorry sight. Blood stains covered her tattered kunoichi outfit, her sword was lost, and she herself looked liked she had been dragged by a rope from the back of a train for five kilometers. Her once beautiful hair was burnt and matted with dried mud. Only her face had survived the ordeal intact sans makeup. She would have to apply some once she was able to make it to a town and beg for some from the local townsfolk.

Looking ahead at the horizon, she saw the path she was on continued for a kilometer and disappeared over the top of a small hill. At that peak, there was a primitive looking hut. With renewed vigor, she stepped forward nearly tumbling to the ground as her walking stick refused to move for an instant before she was able to yank it out of the soft earth. A hut meant people. People meant civilization. Civilization meant sanctuary.

Glancing back at the sky, it appeared that her way was clear. The kunoichi took another painful step, then another. Using the bamboo pole as a third leg, she kept up her slow pace, moving ever so slowly ahead. Using the image of the hut as a attainable goal, she sallied forth. Her warrior's heart told her that her very survival hinged on getting to that hut before her enemies found her and finished the job they had failed to do.

Her mission was everything to her. She had to make this work. Failure was never part of her vocabulary and she had no intention of learning the meaning of that word today, or ever. She rubbed her brown eyes as a slight gust blew dust into her face, but she refused to slow down.

Only five hundred meters kept her from a meal and a bed. She felt dizzy as her body had begun to give out from over exertion. Through sheer will alone, she coaxed her leg muscles to keep moving, each step taking more and more effort feeling like she was waist deep in a winter snow and forcing forward movement into a snowbank that was chest high.

Her vision became blurred. She wasn't exactly sure if she was still going in the right direction but she still moved on. She couldn't let them get her. Not now, not when she was so close to salvation. She thought she heard something. It was... It was...

"Halt! Who goes there?" Cried out an amazon sentry. She held a bo staff ready. The teenaged orange haired girl, wearing a light green Chinese pantsuit, walked slowly to the fallen girl. She called out to her companion back in the hut. "Get over here!"

Another sentry approached. She was in her forties but she looked far younger than her true age. Her golden locks fell below her waist and her emerald eyes had a look of wisdom that was far older than she was. "Who is she? She's not from here."

The young Amazon poked the ninja garbed woman and got no response. She touched her backside in several places, softly at first, then with some force to pinch. She retracted her staff and placed her fingertips on the girl's neck to check for a pulse. "She's alive. Barely. What should we do?"

The elder weighed her options for a moment. "She's a warrior. No doubt about that. We'll take her to the village. The elders will decide her fate."

The young warrior nodded in reply and lifted the semiconscious girl over her shoulder and carried her away.

It was dusk when the girl reached the border of the village with her heavy load. The amazon's years of training had paid off as she easily held her burden all the way up to the healer's hut. There she placed the black haired girl on a soft mattress.

Potion came out from behind the curtain that separated the front receiving area from her living quarters. She made a quick glance at her new patient. "Who's this?"

Bending down on one knee and bowing in respect, the warrior answered. "I don't know. She arrived at the west guard post in this condition."

The short old woman coughed. The kunoichi's odor was filling the room with an unclean stench. "I'll need you help me remove her garments and wash her down." She held her nose and lifted up a piece of fabric from the girl's sleeve. "I think we may have to burn these."

"As you wish." The orange haired girl bowed again. She went to a small cabinet by the entrance of the hut and extracted a small bucket and washing supplies.

Potion stood next to the low mattress and used her fingers to open the kunoichi's eyes. Getting a good look at the weak girl's face, she recognized that she was Japanese and not Chinese. Speaking in perfect Japanese, the healer asked. "And just who might you be, child?"

She weakly answered. "Kunoichi, Konatsu, lies before you..."

Author's Notes: Please review my story. It makes me feel oh so happy and motivates me to put out chapters faster. You do want chapters faster don't you?

Last edited on January 27th, 2007

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