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A Ranma ½ story
by Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ is property of Rumiko Takahashi and Viz video, and Project A-ko was borrowed from Soeishinsha Co., Ltd. and U.S. Manga Corps.

Notes: Something of an alt for both, with changes becoming evident as appropriate. Assume that Ranma is as canon, with the exception of his memories, and keep in mind that the events in Project: A-ko part one have not yet happened (with the exception of Shiiko arriving, which happened about 16 years ago). And a little tweaking to move the Eiko timeline back about thirty years to be even with Ranma's. The intro was just the setup — the actual divergence for Ranma takes place in volume 11. So here it is!

Note: This chapter brought to you by 32 hours of sleep deprivation and a 24-pack of Pepsi.

Chapter Two: Breaking Free and Falling Fast

The seven o'clock train from Tomokomai pulled into Graviton City station at four minutes to six in the evening, sliding to a halt with a subdued 'whoosh' instead of the standard shrieking of metal sliding across metal. The train, much like everything else in Graviton City, was a symbol of the advanced technology that the area had produced in its four and-a-half years of bustling life. The magnetic levitation allowed for cheaper, more efficient transportation, with less pollution, as well as being quieter, and the people along the coast had welcomed the advancements of the line to their own cities.

Once it had come to a rest, the doors on the side of the train opened, disgorging their loads of passengers onto the platform.

Ryouga fought through the crowds of salarymen and assorted other travelers, clearing a path for Akane and Ukyou. The crowd ended abruptly at the edge of the platform, a wide cement stairway dotted with stragglers leading down to the street.

The lost boy turned around quickly, making sure that he hadn't lost Akane and Ukyou, finding himself more than a bit surprised that he had actually managed the feat.

Akane glanced towards the darkening evening sky for an instant, before frowning. "Well, let's get to a hostel," she called out, producing a brochure from a pocket. "This one's supposed to be close by."

Ukyo's gaze darted over to Akane, scanning the paper briefly before she nodded her approval. "I'll stick with you for a bit, Akane." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Unless you want some time alone with Ryouga?"

The youngest Tendo gave Ukyou a sidelong glance, her frown deepening for a moment before disappearing. "No… but let's hurry before Ryouga manages to get lost."

Wincing, Ryouga held his tongue, following the two girls away from the station.

Bouncing over the heads of the lingering remnants of the initial crowd, Cologne narrowed her eyes, sensing something oddly familiar. Shaking her head to dismiss it, she turned her attention towards finding a place to sleep for the night. Enough time to investigate minor details later.

On the next train, two figures clung to the rooftop of the speeding car, nearly a mile away from the station. Ranma had discovered that he could easily maintain a firm grip despite the weakness moxibustion.

Teeth rattling from a lurid cocktail of fear, adrenaline, cold, and the shaking of the train, Tofu shouted, "How do we get off?"

Ranma grinned widely, his own teeth chattering slightly. "Easy. See that light?" he yelled back.

Peering forward, Tofu noted a light on the horizon. Not wanting to waste his breath for a moment, he nodded, noting uncomfortably how his hands were beginning to cramp up.

The pigtailed boy next to him pointed ahead, and Tofu again wished that he hadn't stowed his glassed before the trip began. But there was also substantial risk of losing them, had he worn them on the roof of the train. Ranma took a deep breath and leaned closer to Tofu, sliding a few inches across the roof, closer to the doctor. Roaring to be heard over the keening of the wind, he shouted, "That means it's time! We jump off here!"

Tofu's eyes widened, and his shock was so great that he lost his grip for a moment before scrambling frantically to regain it. Shaking his head at Ranma, he mouthed, "What!?"

Ranma's eyes gleamed with a faint, ominous light. Simply a reflection of the moonlight, Tofu hoped. "We jump!"

His hope died a slow and painful death as Ranma rolled off towards the side of the train, and vaulted suddenly from the very edge, moments before he fell free. Tofu's heart caught, as Ranma's form cleared the envelope of sucking air that could have meant his death, and disappeared into the darkness to the side of the tracks.

Swallowing nervously, the doctor tried to ignore an accusing voice in the back of his head that pointed out that he had wanted a return to the excitement of his college days. He muttered an expletive, and slid to the edge of the train quickly, not wanting any more distance to pass between himself and Ranma than was necessary. Gripping onto the lip at the edge of the roof, he heaved himself over, placing both feet against the side of the train car, and kicked out as fiercely as he could.

For a single, breathless moment, it seemed like the dragging pocket of rushing wind would pull him down… but he was clear, soaring for that lingering instant before realization set in.

He had just jumped from a moving train, and couldn't see what he was jumping into.

"Oh, CRAP!"

Ranma swiftly curled himself into a ball, and wrapped his arms over his head, ready to roll with the fall.

He had done this enough times with his father, though Genma usually waited until they were closer to a train station to jump. But Ranma wasn't fond of rolling across gravel, when something less abrasive presented itself, and didn't mind a bit longer walk in exchange.

Clenching his eyes shut, and concentrating on maintaining his form as spherical as possible, his entire world becoming a sickeningly spinning jumble, as he felt a nearly perfectly flat surface beneath him/above him/to his side. He choked, unable to breathe until he stopped sliding across the surface, and began to sink into it, where it promptly grabbed a leg, and threw him forcefully upwards in a vaulting arc.

Opening her eyes, and ignoring the traitorous signals, Ranma observed that the surface she had been rolling across was water, which explained the gender change. <Uh-oh, must have been moving faster than I thought,> she noted, aligning her body to land feet first.

Ahead of her, she could see fairly clearly the flailing form of Dr. Tofu as he hurtled downwards, towards the flooded rice-paddy. Ranma heard his shout ring out before he expertly flipped himself, allowing the pack to take the brunt of the impact before spraying up a gigantic column of water.

Sighing in relief, Ranma landed roughly, tumbling to roll to a sitting position near Tofu, both of them sitting in the frigid water dazedly.

Tofu slowly turned to look at Ranma, his eyes seeming unfocused. "Tell you what," he said, voice wavering. "Next time, I'll pay for the train tickets."

Ranma giggled, still dizzy herself, "Yeah, that's what Pop always said. But wasn't that fun?"

"Oh… my best friend is a psychotic maniac with suicidal tendencies!" wailed Tofu, still trying to recover his equilibrium.

Standing abruptly, the redhead said, "Hey, you did it too. We could have waited until the end of the line, but it's not nearly as much fun. Let's find someplace dry, and set up camp. Unless you want to stay here?"

Groaning, The doctor managed to climb to his feet, staring at Ranma with wide eyes. "Your father made you do that before?"

Ranma nodded absently, already picking his way towards the edge of the flooded rice-paddy. "Yeah… hurt when I landed badly, too. You learn that part really quick, though! Landing right, I mean."

Tofu halted, gaping at Ranma. The redhead turned to face Tofu, confused. "What? Something I said?"

The man pointed at Ranma unsteadily, saying, "You've fallen badly from things like that, and lived?"

Looking uncomfortable, Ranma nodded, her visage darkening. "Yeah… once I rolled into a tree really hard… Pops insisted that it was good endurance training, since I didn't break nothing…"

Tofu heaved an unsteady sigh, mentally adding another counter to his list of reasons to try and help Ranma out. "Oh," he said in a quiet voice, wondering just how durable Ranma really was. The thought left him too distracted to admonish Ranma's slip into the sloppy speech normally affected when discussing Ranma's father. Shaking his head, he plaintively asked, "Why didn't we just wait until the train was at the station and get off when it had stopped?"

Ranma shrugged, slogging towards higher ground. "It's a lot harder to sneak past the security people."

Groaning again, Tofu mumbled, "I did teach you a trick to hide yourself."

Ranma winced, covering her embarrassment with a boast, "Ah, but where's the fun in that?"

Eiko's alarm went off. It was not that she was in the habit of paying it much heed — quite the opposite, in fact. But this time, she did wake up. Perhaps as a side effect of having gone to bed earlier the night before… Perhaps due to a rather vivid and quickly fading dream about a lost love… And perhaps simply because the alarm was moved closer to her bed the night before.

So she sat up, running her fingers through her hair, which had become mussed while she tossed and turned the night before. Climbing out of her bed, she stumbled over to the alarm, and peered at it intently. The hands on the quickly shaking device indicated that it was three after five. Groaning, she turned the alarm off. How had it gotten set so early, anyway? Activating the radio without thinking about it, and not paying much attention to the disk jockey's voice as he droned on about something or another, she stepped towards her closet.

The disk jockey's narrative wasn't quite enthralling to her, because she was distracted in thinking of something else. A way to burn off some built-up tension. Assuming she could find her jogging clothes, she could run. That was always good. She fumbled through her closet until she found her jogging outfit, pleased to see it still in good condition.

Dressing slowly, still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, Eiko grabbed her keys and her change-purse, pocketing both before leaving the house.

"Well," she whispered to herself, stretching a little before she headed out to run. "At least it's not too bad a day, so far."

After waking, Cologne yawned leisurely, rising from her huddled position next to the chimney on the roof of one of the larger homes. Being small did have some advantages, one of them being that it was easier to find a place to sleep.

Fully awake, she leapt away from her resting place. Moving from rooftop-to-rooftop quickly, she looked for any of the subtle hidden markers that would reveal any allies she might have had in the area. Amazons, or Amazon sympathizers could theoretically be anywhere… In practice it was fairly rare to find an ally this far outside of China, but she had some faint hope.

She remembered at least one fairly important Amazon from a sister village moving somewhere in the vicinity a mere twenty or so years ago… an elder matriarch, if she remembered correctly.

And if there were no Amazons in the area, she could have her restaurant moved to Graviton City. Of course, she would need to be certain that her somewhat-unwilling son-in-law was in the area before she moved, but from a business standpoint, rent was cheap.

She frowned, shaking her aged head and her sending her hair lashing behind her ominously. But the first thing is first, of course. Any allies she might find would help her keep an eye out for Ranma, and she would be one step closer to taking care of the problems that Happosai had caused.

Her frown deepened at that. Happosai would have hell to pay, and from more than just her. Ranma's friends wouldn't stand for it, and Cologne had no doubt that her own great-granddaughter would be more than willing to apply a liberal beating to the aged lecher… Which made her wonder why Happosai would do something as spiteful and foolish. Had she, perhaps, given the old man too much credit?

Cologne knew that one way or another, she wanted Ranma to become a better martial artist, and maybe a dose of humility wouldn't hurt… But this was extreme, even for Happosai. Maybe he was that petty… Still, if there was a way to cure Ranma, the old man might be saved some punishment… and if there wasn't, well Ranma was still viable as an Amazon husband… He had already defeated Shampoo, after all.

Clicking her tongue, the old woman pogoed down a street, narrowly missing seeing a suspiciously familiar redhead in her jogging outfit, on her early morning run. Had Cologne looked she might have gotten an inkling of what was going on, but as it was, she relied too heavily on her ki-senses, which recognized the difference and thus ignored the girl.

Ryouga scratched his head, looking around. "What the heck is this?" he muttered to himself, peering across the stretch of tarmac before him, softly bathed in the glow of the rising sun.

Sighing, he wandered towards a building he could see in the distance. It looked a lot like an S.D.F. base, and the Self Defense Forces were usually helpful and friendly enough when it came to directions, provided he managed not to blunder anywhere that he really shouldn't go… but that hadn't happened in a while, so he wasn't too worried.

Of course, there were a few planes on the runway, and various maintenance crews scurrying around. The lost boy shrugged, deciding that he would just try asking them for help. It couldn't hurt, and he had spoken with a good number of their kind before.

He walked towards the ground crew, thankful that he couldn't see any chain-link fences. That was a good sign, since it meant he was probably in a place where he wouldn't get in trouble.

The maintenance staff smiled politely as he drew near, though he could see the slight hint of confusion on the lead mechanic's face.

A burly man in his early thirties, he stepped towards Ryouga, protecting a beloved F-15J with his own body, and asked, "What are you doing here?"

Ryouga smiled weakly, worried about Akane in his absence. "Well," he began apologetically, coming to a halt a few meters away from the man. "I got lost…" Clearing his throat slightly, he applied what little bit of knowledge he had about head mechanics. "That's a beautiful plane you have there."

The ground crew relaxed at that, and the head mechanic smirked, shaking his head. "Yeah, she's a real beauty, isn't she?" There was a moment of silence as he turned towards the nearest plane, and patted it lovingly.

Ryouga nodded knowingly, not saying anything for the moment.

"Yer out here pretty early, though. Tell ya what, it's a good bit into town from here; stick with us for a few, and I'll give you a ride back into the city in a couple hours. My shift ends around noon." Sticking a callused hand out towards Ryouga, the man smirked, adding, "Sorry, get caught up in things, sometimes. Name's Daichi Akito. But you can call me Touhi, most of my friends do."

Ryouga smiled pleasantly, glad that the men were friendly, even if it was going to take him a while to get back to the city. It was better than getting hopelessly lost again… Of course, Hokkaido was smaller than Honshu, but… "I'm Hibiki Ryouga, pleased to meet you," he said, giving the grinning mechanic a firm handshake.

Ukyou frowned, fingering the giant battle-spatula strapped to her back thoughtfully. Akane paced in front of her, briskly walking about in the too-early morning chill. "Honestly," Ukyou grumbled. "How the hell did Ryouga manage to get lost already?"

Akane faltered briefly, shaking her head. "I don't know," she sighed. "But you have to feel kind of sorry for him."

Ukyou grunted in a non-committal manner. "Maybe… you seem to like him, huh?"

Ignoring the comment, the shorthaired Tendo scanned for some sign of Ranma, as though she would be able to see a magical trail leading to him somehow.

With a shake of her head, Ukyou mentally filed away her plans to get Akane together with Ryouga, and returned to looking around. It wouldn't do to let Akane find Ranma alone, despite the relatively slim chances of actually finding anything, especially at five in the morning. "Why are we looking for Ranchan at this hour? Is he ever awake this early?"

Akane winced, a slightly worried and angry look in the corners of her eyes. "I just… need to make sure he's okay." Biting her lip, she turned to Ukyou, sternly forcing herself to avoid wringing her hands. "I'm kind of worried about where we're looking, though… and what if we were totally wrong? What if he doesn't come here? What if Tofu-sensei had nothing to do with Ranma at all?"

The brown-haired okonomiyaki chef frowned, considering. "What other reason would he have for coming here, though? I mean, he had that picture of Ranma from the newspaper, didn't he?"

Rummaging through a pocket, Akane halted her walk, retrieving the clipping. She scrutinized the article again. "The thing is," she said, "this article is just talking about a girl and her family… what does it have to do with Ranma?"

Ukyou opened her mouth to reply, but froze, her jaw falling slightly as her eyes locked onto something past Akane's shoulder, and quickly snapping shut as she grinned wickedly. Akane only had enough time to blink as Ukyou flew past her, shouting, "Ranchan!"

Akane spun, a smile and a 'hello' coming to her lips before she caught herself, watching the okonomiyaki chef bound towards the currently female Ranma.

Ranma stumbled to a halt, boggling at the okonomiyaki chef. "Uh," the redhead said, confused. "Who?"

Ukyou slid to a sudden stop just before Ranma, and smiled in what she hoped was a cute and attractive manner. "Ranma? It's me, Ucchan! Your cute fiancée!"

Ranma's look of confusion deepened, as she shook her head. "Um… fiancée? Are you sure you've got the right — mrph!"

Akane stumbled from her run towards the pair, intending to ask how Ranma was doing, and why he left, but… She could only stare, hurt and confused, as Ukyou released the wide-eyed redhead from a deep, searching kiss. It shook her in a way that Ranma's harsh words never had, creating a burning and undeniable pain deep in her heart. "Ranma!" she shouted, tears obscuring her vision. "How could you!? And you were a girl at the time! You pervert!"

Ranma twitched slightly, stepping away with a look of horror etched on her features — directed not at Akane, but Ukyou — and moved too slowly to evade the punch that Akane threw towards her. Akane whimpered, as her strike slammed into Ranma's shoulder, knocking the redhead back half a step and nothing more, doing more damage to Akane's hand than Ranma. Clutching her bruised fist to her chest, Akane ran away sobbing and trailing tears, while Ukyou watched with a vague sensation of guilt.

"Ranchan," she began, turning back towards the redhead. "I… uh… I just wanted to show you that I loved you…" she trailed off suddenly, alarmed by tears in the other girl's eyes. "Ranchan? You okay?" Ranma shook her head, stepping back from Ukyou slowly. Ukyou paled slightly, realizing that she might have made a mistake, and that 'Ranchan' was wearing a rather feminine jogging outfit… "Uh… you are Ranma, right?" she asked, uncertainty and near-panic level worry in her voice.

The girl — who was apparently not Ranma — shook her head slowly, her eyes filling with tears. "No," she whispered. "Damn you… Ranma —" spinning away abruptly, she dashed away with enough speed to create a vacuum that nearly pulled the okonomiyaki chef off of her feet, picking up dust and stray papers as she departed.

Ukyou came to the startling realization that she done two things she regretted. Firstly, she had kissed another girl, and a complete stranger, at that. Secondly… she had hurt Akane's feelings, and even though she wanted Ranma, hurting Akane was never part of the equation. That's why she had tried so hard to get Akane together with Ryouga… and now she had created what might very well be an impassible rift in their admittedly weak friendship. "Oh… man… what was I thinking?" she berated herself. "I have to find Akane and tell her what happened!"

Eiko ran, faster than she had ever run before, forgetting the advice her parents had given her. She couldn't strain herself enough, though. The Earth's pull simply lacked the power necessary to counter the energy she had to pour out, brimming to overflowing with a nigh explosive force. She stumbled to a halt, adrenaline and anger flowing through her, as she wiped away the tears.

Who was that boy? That boy in the okonomiyaki chef's outfit who had called her Ranma, and… and… and kissed her!? And the girl… what on earth had she been talking about, anyway? 'Pervert'? 'Girl at the time'?

She swallowed, grinding her teeth in frustration. The only boy she had kissed was Ranma, and that… jerk in his okonomiyaki seller's outfit… had to go any take that away! Eiko reigned in her anger, taking a deep breath, and looking behind her, where the wind of her passage had torn up loose papers and uprooted small plants, scattering them in her wake with gale-force and stronger gusts.

Taking another calming breath, the redhead closed her eyes, still trembling with anger… but there was nothing here that could handle her strength — no safe outlet for her power, her restrained emotion. Her rage at her lack of relief, the still bitter and sharp edge of her inability and her loss of Ranma, and the petty, annoying voice that told her that she had even failed to get rid of any of the tension of the day anyway.

Opening her eyes again, she took a third breath, before slowly walking towards her home. She would just have to wait, and deal with the further indignities of the day. If only there was something to look forward to after everything else that had gone wrong — some light at the end of the tunnel. But no, as soon as she got home, she would have to prepare for school, and school meant… meant… Biiko.

Listlessly entering her home, Eiko dropped her keys and change-purse on the table before methodically plodding to her room. After gathering her uniform, the girl sighed, and went to the shower.

The warm water was relaxing, and helped fight off the stresses of the day — far too early for her to need to relax, in her opinion — and wonder at what would happen next.

The furo was better, in her opinion, but her parents had the final say, not her. She dismissed the thought, and turned to her plans for the day, and her hopes and expectations. Facing up into the stream of rushing water, she ran her fingers through her hair, gathering a handful of shampoo from a dispenser and working it into a fine lather.

She halted mid-shampoo, feeling a small smile build. She was up early! She could go to school before Biiko! It was something to work with, at least. If only the memories didn't haunt her still… And that jerk who had kissed her… Best savor what she did have, in that case. She couldn't resist the urge to hum contentedly as she finished washing.

It might still turn out to be a good day.

Ranma stood at the lip of the crater that marked the edge of Graviton City, looking down at the fog-shrouded depths and admiring the view. The only flaw in the otherwise perfect vision was the spire in the center of the city, which rose like… like some discarded, misshapen… thing. He grimaced, not being able to find a word appropriately tacky enough to describe its form. Shaking his head, he looked to his side, where Tofu crouched, smiling and enjoying the breeze as it ruffled his hair.

"Wow…" Tofu breathed, raptly gazing at the city. "I've seen it in the papers once or twice, but the view is spectacular!"

Ranma nodded, turning to look again at the city spread out below him. "Yeah, it is… and Eiko's here, somewhere…" he trailed off, frowning. "It's a big looking city, though…" He stepped away from the slope and paused underneath one of the closer trees, reaching his arms out and stretching.

Tofu sighed, looking away from the view, and towards Ranma. The boy knuckled back a yawn before rummaging through his backpack. Frowning slightly, the doctor asked, "So… what do we do from here?"

Shrugging, Ranma answered, "I'm going to look around for Eiko a bit, ask anyone if they've seen her…"

"How will you do that? I thought you lost the picture of her."

The boy scowled at the reminder, shaking his head. "I think I can describe her pretty well, Tofu. I mean, she looks exactly like my girl side."

Narrowing his eyes speculatively, Tofu asked, "Why do you suppose that is? I had noticed, but I hadn't really thought about it too much."

Ranma shrugged, sealing his pack and hefting it to his shoulders. His face fell at the miniscule weight that was all he could manage. Shaking his head, he turned to survey the city again. "I dunno… Probably because they're cursed springs, and they wanted to make me unhappy, or something. Pops thought I was pissed when I found out I turned into a girl… he had another thing coming to him when I figured out which one I looked like."

Tofu nodded, dismissing the issue for the time being in favor of a more pressing concern. "Is this where we part ways?"

The boy shifted his weight from foot to foot, pausing for a moment to consider before he shook his head. "Nah… I'll meet you later today… Uh…" Squinting, he pointed at one of the larger and more colorful buildings he could see in the city. "That ugly yellow building you see there next to the ugly gray one?"

Tofu snickered, shaking his head. "Right, right… I'll meet you on the north side of the yellow building just before sunset, and we'll see where things go from there. Sound good?"

Ranma nodded, smirking and retrieving the Bo he had acquired earlier. "Yeah, you still got some of my stuff, after all." Twirling the staff in one hand, he slung it over one shoulder, looking out across the city absently and trying to decide where to begin his search.

Heaving a sigh, Tofu peered once more into the slowly clearing fog. "That's true…" <And perhaps gives me time to think about things a little… I have a feeling you're going to stay here, Ranma… you're going to need a friend to get through things, I think. If it keeps you away from your father, I might just have to do it…>

He frowned at that, wondering. How did you protect people who took leaping from speeding trains as a given?

Chattering voices carried across the yard in front of the school gates, reaching Eiko easily. Whispered questions of, 'who will win today?' followed by the varying opinions that they were offering.

Eiko hissed, her hands clenching into fists at her sides, "Do…" She trailed off, trying to collect herself and remember that she couldn't fight Biiko — there was too much of a chance that the other girl would be hurt. She trembled with barely restrained rage, looking at Biiko's latest creations.

The 'Arashiyama five,' Biiko had called them. Five gigantic monstrosities, scattered around the edges of the yard before the school gate, in gaudy colors that Eiko more than suspected that Shiiko would have picked out, roughly ringed her. Barring her path to her classroom, and more than that, compounding what had already started out as a very bad day.

Biting back a growl, she shouted to Biiko, "Aww, would you give it a rest!?" Taking a breath, she tried to ignore Shiiko, focusing on Biiko instead. "Today we finally get to school early, and you have to ruin it! And you're going to attack me with these stupid giant robots! Are you dense? Get with the times, already!"

The other girl scowled, succumbing further to her own petty rage, and snapped back, "Eiko! The depth of my vexation is beyond your comprehension!" Clenching both fists in front of her face, she yelled, "First, you take my one true love, Shiiko, and now even my friends and peers…" She trailed off, stealing a glance at Shiiko, who merely looked mystified. "The kami may smile upon you, Eiko, but I never will!"

Shiiko glanced at Eiko, wondering at Biiko's declaration of love. "Do you know what she's talking about?" the little blonde asked.

Eiko was too busy glowering, her rage having been built of even further. Who was Biiko to talk to her of love? She'd had, and lost her love, and having the reminder brutally dragged back up, over and over, was beginning to wear thin. She took in a deep breath, ready to shout her displeasure, but halted at the sight of her teacher. Hiding her angry look, she pasted a smile on her face for the benefit of the aquamarine-haired woman as she rolled in on her little motorcycle.

Miss Ayumi, the teacher in reference, shot Biiko and Eiko a stern look, glancing between them before settling on the red-haired student. "Now, now students, since were here on time today, why don't we all get to class?"

The gathered students murmured again, sounding disappointed, but they all trotted into the school, stealing backward glances at what had promised to be an interesting fight.

The aquamarine-haired teacher's gaze hardened slightly, fine silk giving way to tempered steel. Turning to glance between Biiko and Eiko again, she announced, "You two hurry on inside once you've finished your little game, understood, Eiko-san, Biiko-san?"

Biiko nodded quickly, her eyes firmly fixed on Eiko. "Of course, Ayumi-sensei."

Taking that as a confirmation from both girls, she returned the nod, faced forward on her bike, and rolled through the gates, leaving the three girls alone.

Eiko took another slow breath, <Too many for one day,> she noted to herself. <And it's not even noon, yet.> "Shiiko…" she said, struggling for self-control, and thrusting her bag towards Shiiko. "Can you take this to class and call my name for roll?"

The diminutive blonde nodded slowly, taking the bag. "Um…" she began. "Be careful, Eiko."

The redhead nodded, watching Shiiko trot towards the school, casting back fearful glances every few steps.

"Eiko! Prepare to die!" Biiko shouted, gesturing towards the five towering robots.

Right on cue, the robots began to move, aiming their odd-looking canons at the redhead, who leapt towards one of them in a fury, trailing a fierce and wordless battle cry.

Searing lasers swept through the space she had occupied mere moments earlier, as she flew upwards, reorienting her center of balance and grabbing onto the ridiculous hornlike appendage that capped the thing's head. The other robots began moving towards her as she somersaulted, hefting the 80-ton monstrosity in the air and slamming it into the earth with explosive force without any apparent effort.

She crossed her arms before her face, riding the shockwave as it exploded and threw her towards another of the giant robots, this one a horrid shade of yellow. It seemed to almost flinch back as the relatively miniscule redhead slammed a petite foot into the base of what passed for its head, impacting it in a crater easily large enough to be blamed on a meteorite, or rogue nuclear testing.

Biiko smiled, seemingly impassive as Eiko simply smashed directly through a red robot's torso, leaving enough room for another robot or three to pass through, had they wanted to. Her impassive expression failed her, betrayed by a traitorous eyebrow, as Eiko picked up a fourth robot and smashed it into the last vehicle of destruction still standing.

The explosion rocked the remnants of the robots, scattering debris and unleashing a shockwave that whipped Biiko's hair around wildly, her face still attempting to remain placid.

The bluish-gray haired girl eyed the smoking ruins of what had been a multi-million-yen investment — three days allowance for Biiko, and a pain in the neck for the assembly workers that had slaved over completing her prototype and duplicating the original — reduced to rubble an destroyed in mere seconds by an angry classmate.

Biiko could practically hear her father already, "You let a schoolmate take away your toys and break them!? Your allowance is going to be cut by ten million yen, young lady! Until you can learn to take care of…" She shook her head, dismissing the imaginary conversation. Her father was actually much more forgiving, but an excuse to be angrier with Eiko couldn't be passed up that easily.

"Eiko!" She shouted, her eyebrow ticking away with alarming celerity. "You have humiliated me for the last time!"

The redhead stared at Biiko numbly, wishing that she could lash out at the other girl, strike her — just once! — for her attitude, and her scheming, and her meddling, and hell, once or twice just on general principals. But she couldn't, because if she wasn't careful, Eiko could seriously hurt her.

She was normally a very kind and forgiving person, but this… this was a bit much. Biiko's actions were without reason, and she was going to get someone else hurt if she wasn't careful.

Eiko tore her attention away, managing only a single step towards the school before the bell rang. Hanging her head in defeat, she turned back towards Biiko. <Late to class again… thanks, Biiko… what a lousy day…>

The other girl snarled, "Eiko! Because of you, I've seen hell!"

"And this one here, she's good, used to have very fine control, but she has a tendency to yaw juuuust a tad more than the pilots like. Not sure why yet, but we're going to take her apart completely tomorrow and have a look-see at the—"

Touhi cut off suddenly, turning to face Ryouga as the lost boy wiped at his nose apologetically. "I must be coming down with a cold," he explained, wondering at the sudden sneeze.

The head mechanic shrugged, turning back to the plane, its fuselage opened up for inspection. "Now," Touhi resumed. "If you look closely here…"

Ryouga held back a sigh, wishing that noon would come and he could be given a ride back to the city. Still, the mechanical components were an interesting diversion… And it wasn't like he really wanted to find Ranma that badly.

Ranma narrowed his eyes, pausing on the slope leading down the crater rim, through neatly terraced housing and switchback roads. An explosion sounded in the distance, just above the crater rim, and then another, and more, followed by a rather impressive and hazardous seeming column of smoke.

He raised an eyebrow at that, changing direction suddenly. Eschewing the far-too-inefficient roads, he took to the roofs, noting that this neighborhood had taken some unsettling and recent damage. One of the switchbacks had its safety barrier completely blown away, great spans of earth had been torn up in narrow strips, and some of the homes in the area bore scars from decimated walls and pierced fences.

Frowning, he focused on heading towards the explosion, and finding its source. Even if Eiko wasn't involved, there could be people in trouble, and it was a martial artist's duty to protect the weak.

Eiko blinked, incredulous at Biiko's attitude, and snapped, "Look! Because of you I'm late again! You and your stupid, STUPID little robots!"

Biiko cut Eiko off, snarling, "Is that all that you worry about? Nothing else matters, as long as you're on time!?"

Falling silent again, the redhead simply settled for glowering at Biiko, as she droned on, "You've always been like that! Playing the 'good' little girl! And you're too selfish to worry about me, making me be the bad girl! You don't care about anyone except yourself!" The bluish-gray haired girl took a deep breath, balling up a fist at her side. "I hate it, and I always have hated it. Because of you, I've always had to be the villain!"

She paused, narrowing her eyes and staring at Eiko darkly. "If I have to be the bad girl, then I'll do this the way that a real bad girl would!"

Eyes narrowing as her face twisted into an incredulous expression, Eiko exclaimed, "What? How are you the victim here? What about my problems? Did you ever think about-"

Not in the mood to listen, Biiko grabbed one edge of her shirt, yelling over Eiko's voice, "Shut up! Then I'll be the bad girl! See what this gets you, Eiko!" With that, she yanked, tearing off the garment, and revealing what looked much more like a metallic blackish-purple bathing suit with oversized boots instead of a proper piece of armor. Biiko, gloated, "What do you think, Eiko? This is the unparalleled 'M' line 'Akagiyama 23'! With this, I can easily defeat you!"

Eiko blinked, wondering, through all of the emotional turmoil racing through her head, where Biiko had managed to hide the mask that she wore while tearing her clothes off. The armored girl shifted her attitude nearly instantaneously, striking a pose while the assembled students chattered from their classroom windows.


"Look at that!"

"Who do you think is going to win?"

"I wouldn't be caught dead in an outfit like that!"

And most damning of all:

"I knew she was sick, but cosplay?"

Shaking her head, Eiko dropped her offensive stance, hopping over the fence and landing in the schoolyard. Turning around towards Biiko, still outside the gates, she asked, "Wouldn't real armor be better?"

Biiko held back her embarrassment at the insult to her suit's appearance, following the redhead over the fence and yelling, "Shut up! Come on and fight me!"

Eiko began to shake her head, reigning in the frustration and tension, but blinked suddenly, as realization came to her. <Why the hell not?> she thought recklessly. <She's asking for it.> Shifting back to the first stance she had learned from copying — <Best not think about that now,> she reprimanded herself.

Shifting her stance to receive a charge, she announced, "Fine. I'm ready for you."

Biiko narrowed her eyes, readying herself to leap forward.

Eiko smiled grimly. "Sorry, this is going to hurt you a lot more than it's going to hurt me."

Returning the grin, Biiko mocked, "That's my line."

The two spent a long moment staring at each other, while the breeze carried the scent of destroyed mecha away slowly.

Without any warning, in a unified yet contrary motion, the two charged, responding to an unseen signal, each shouting out their battle cries.

Ryouga pointed at one of the small circular dials in the cockpit, and nodded knowingly. "That's the altimeter, that's the fuel gauge right there, and that…" he trailed off, leaning closer to examine another dial. "Ah," he said, relaxing slightly. "That's the compass."

Touhi smirked, raising an eyebrow. "Okay," he said, nodding grudging respect to Ryouga's meager skill. "Tell me what you do if you're cruising at two thousand meters and—" The man stopped suddenly, listening to a short burst of static and some frantic commands being shouted into a loudspeaker. Frowning, Touhi darted away, followed by the majority of his ground crew.

The lost boy frowned, wandering a short distance away from the F-15J. He hadn't been able to understand what all of the commotion was about, but he wasn't about to let himself be too close to the plane if something were happening.

He'd seen far too many movies where people got dragged into things like wars just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Too close to a plane was certainly the wrong place to be if something was happening right now.

Bouncing back from the initial clash, Eiko made a note to herself to not hold back as much. The suit was much more powerful than she had expected, though the redhead wouldn't be caught dead in it, if she had any say in the matter.

Leaping forward again, she spun, one foot lashing out. The roundhouse kick missed as Biiko ducked, not yet fully used to her power suit.

Eiko touched the ground for the merest instant before launching into another attack; a jump-kick that could have destroyed any less well-equipped person, but Biiko somersaulted away backwards, quickly throwing herself skyward and twisting around to land on her feet.

She pointed a finger towards Eiko, striking a pose. "Fool! You can never hope to win, because evil never prevails!" cried out the self-proclaimed bad-girl. "Eiko! Prepare yourself to lose!" Finished with her speech for the moment, she unleashed another shout and charged forward, now ready to utilize the potential of her power-suit.

Eiko stepped back — too slowly. Biiko brought one fist upwards, striking Eiko firmly in the stomach and driving her fist upwards, causing the redhead to curl over the fist, gasping for breath. Never one to let up an advantage, Biiko pulled back her fist and struck again, this time slamming her attack home firmly into Eiko's jaw, easily lifting her off of the ground with it's force.

Still reeling, Eiko tottered back onto the ground, only to receive a vicious backhanded slap that rattled her jaw and knocked her away, but Biiko's relentless attacks continued. The armor-clad girl seized Eiko's wrist as she fell — spinning sharply and throwing Eiko like a doll, sending her flying towards the school.

Righting herself after crashing through a window, Eiko glowered, briefly surrounded by a halo of falling glass shards, sparkling in the morning light. <Okay,> she thought, touching one hand to the red-carpeted hallway for a moment to ensure her balance was steady. <I'm going to have to be more careful!>

Rising to her full height she stepped forward, into Biiko's next attack. Shifting her body slightly to one side, the redhead caught Biiko's charging punch, using a classic aikido throw to redirect Biiko's momentum through an interior window. Biiko flipped over and landed on her toes in the middle of the crowded classroom, swiftly launching herself back out as the bewildered classroom attendees stared.

The armor-clad girl slammed into Eiko with a tackle, as the redhead prepared to follow Biiko into the classroom. Grappling for control, Eiko worked her leg free from Biiko's pin, and slammed her knee upwards forcefully, striking the surprisingly sturdy material of the power-suit and launching her opponent towards the ceiling.

Biiko rebounded from the floor easily, just in time to meet a crushing sidekick from Eiko that launched her easily down the corridor, to slam into a wall some thirty yards away.

Half buried in the wall, her body sending her mingled warnings of pain and numbness, Biiko dazedly noted Eiko charging towards her, screaming a 'kiyah' and preparing another attack. Dropping to the floor, she evaded the attack, sliding beneath Eiko's legs across the floor, and springing back to her feet again. Taking advantage of Eiko's surprise at missing, she lunged forward, quickly hooking an arm around Eiko's neck and using her free hand to halt Eiko's other arm.

Fighting back an urge to giggle, Biiko hefted Eiko once, and smashed her into the ground, sending splinters and plaster shards ricocheting around the hall, along with scattered bits of masonry. Retaining her hold, she gloated, "I'm just getting started!"

Setting to a spin once more, Biiko reduced both girls to a blur across the visible spectrum. Laughing maniacally, Biiko released Eiko, sending the redhead flying again… much harder this time.

Eiko smashed completely through the interior window, passed through a classroom full of students, another window, across the courtyard in the center of the school building, through another window, another classroom full of students, and one final window before impacting against a wall and tumbling to the floor amid a heap of falling glass shards. The noise of the shattering windows and her screams as she flew were loud enough to be heard by at least one pig-tailed martial artist as he picked through the remnants of a quintuplet of scrapped — and still smoking — robots nearby.

From her position halfway across the school, Biiko grinned, and activated her secret weapon — a wrist mounted missile-launcher built into the power-suit. It was capable of holding just over two hundred rounds in its clip, and the warheads were small, but packed a lot of power.

Dubbed 'wasps' by the development staff, the little warheads managed a passable approximation of tracking technology. What they actually did, were latch onto color patterns, and look to make sure they were aimed as close to that color pattern as they could before they burnt out, which was a tragically sudden portion of the process.

When she fired a trio of missiles, all of them were looking for a pattern similar to the red of Eiko's hair. The last missile, partially blinded by the trailing smoke, wobbled a little low, and veered upwards, catching a shade of red that the simple computer in the warhead decided was 'red enough.' This was the red of an inquisitive martial artist's shirt, as he stood on the roof and peered around.

Biiko dismissed the errant projectile and subsequent explosion, snorting to herself, "That was too easy." She dusted her hands together in an exaggerated gesture of contempt, before pausing suddenly, hearing something at the edge of her vision, vastly amplified by the power-suit's sensors.

Incredulous, she watched a furious redhead round the corner, looking only slightly singed, but largely none-the-worse-for-wear. Too stunned to react, she was caught on Eiko's shoulder throw, and carried forward in a frenzied rush. "Hah!" Biiko grated out, pretending no pain where there actually was. "You're good, but…" Biiko shifted, grabbing onto Eiko as the redhead rushed, preparing to charge into the wall while bearing the armor-clad girl. "You aren't good ENOUGH!" she screamed, flipping over and redirecting all of the momentum into her throw, sending the redhead hurtling towards another wall.

Eiko's eyes flashed for an instant, then she braced herself, slamming into the wall and sending out broken chunks of shattered masonry. Falling limp after taking the full force of the impact, Eiko slumped to the ground, while Biiko resumed her mocking commentary, "Don't you see that you don't have a chance against me?"

Climbing to her feet wearily, Eiko bitterly reflected, <At least things can only get better from here.> She winced, a hot flare of surprising pain sparking from her bruised hip.

Biiko narrowed her eyes as Eiko winced. The armor-clad girl called out, "If you won't stay down, then I'll make you stay down!" Biiko charged after her latest proclamation, setting into her redheaded opponent with renewed vigor and increased brutality.

Eiko ducked under a kick that would have thrown her through another wall, and managed to deflect the next two punches, her only reward to be flung down the hallway again, this time by an errant snap-kick.

Grinning to herself at the ease with which she had defeated her opponent, Biiko shouted, "Black Jacovini Meteor Lash!" As the sound activated weapon was delivered into her palm, she gestured widely for the benefit of anyone who might be observing, eager to show off her creations.

Eiko lay on the floor, dazed, and resisting the urge to whimper. Biiko wasn't just hitting her — she could handle being hit. But it actually hurt when she did it! Pain wasn't unfamiliar to Eiko, she knew what it was, and how to deal with it… but this was different. She had always had a hearty constitution before, but these wounds would easily bruise, possibly worse.

And worse still, she knew that she could and should have been fighting much better than she had. Why couldn't she fight? There was the easy answer of removing her bracers, but that could be dangerous to Biiko, and injuring the girl — though she'd deserve it at this point — would be an incredibly unkind thing to do.

Before she could collect her thoughts, she felt something wrap itself around her leg, and hurl her up into the air, while she was aware of Biiko's voice just above the rushing of the wind around her. "Take that!"

The ground rose to meet her suddenly, her hands instinctively covering her face to protect it as she impacted, tearing up more splinters as she broke through the layer of carpeted wood, and smashed into the concrete beneath.

"And that!"

The shattered ground was torn out from beneath her, sending her hurtling upwards, to suddenly reverse directions and meet the ruined surface roughly again, sending sharp pains through her knees as they smashed into the splinter covered concrete.

"And that!"

But that was enough for Eiko. Folding her leg sharply, she launched herself towards Biiko in a tight somersault, arcing mere centimeters over Biiko's head. The armored girl turned around in surprise, just in time to catch a face full of foot, but Eiko wasn't done yet.

Placing her hands on the ground as she landed, Eiko twisted around, grabbing Biiko's stumbling form with her ankles and flinging her to the ground while managing to launch her own body away, towards an undamaged point on a far wall. "Screw… kick!" she shouted, remembering very clearly Ranma's emphasis on the importance of versatility, adaptation, and ingenuity… though he hadn't used those words.

Biiko's eyes bulged, seeing Eiko neatly rebound across the hallway, and then again from the opposite wall, ending in a trajectory that would terminate in Biiko's face. Reacting more out of panicked instinct than genuine skill, Biiko flung herself away at the last moment, being struck by the debris as Eiko drove her ankle through the floor and imbedded her ankle firmly in the concrete beneath.

Not thinking, Biiko fired off another round of missiles, confident that the fight was under control.

It wasn't.


Akane spun around, wiping at her eyes furiously, fighting back tears with anger. "What!?" she snapped.

Ukyou stumbled to a halt a few steps away, leery of getting too close no matter how sorry she was for what she had done. <I have to make an apology,> she reprimanded herself. Heaving a shuddering sigh, she said, "I'm sorry."

Akane's eyes narrowed, hurt overpowering the anger, despite her attempts. "So?" she asked, voice quavering. "You're sorry that… that… that Ranma likes you?"

Ukyou winced, and looked away. In a very quiet voice, she said, "You're jumping to conclusions, Akane."

The youngest Tendo took a step back at this, surprised, but eagerly grabbed onto the ray of hope in Ukyou's statement. "Huh?"

The okonomiyaki chef seemed to struggle, as though a great weight rested on her shoulders, and her answer could lighten it… or increase its burden. Slumping slightly, she shook her head. "First off," she began, her voice sounding empty, "I kissed her, not the other way around."

Akane blinked at that, then her eyes widened. "You… you… you…" she sputtered, unable to find the words she was searching for.

Ukyou sighed unsteadily, continuing, "And secondly… that wasn't Ranchan. That was… just… a girl."

The two stared at each other for a long moment, the silence only broken by a muffled explosion, and a stiff breeze rustling loose leaves and trash around nearby. Akane nodded slowly, eyeing Ukyou mistrustfully, and unsure of her feelings.

The okonomiyaki chef stared at her feet, her hands trembling. "Akane… I know that we've never been close friends, but I… I didn't mean to hurt you like that. I was… selfish, and… I'm…" she trailed off, as Akane hunched over and began to convulse weakly. Worriedly, she took a tentative step towards the other girl, "Akane?"

Akane convulsed harder, curling up into a ball, and she released a noise that sounded like a strained sob. Ukyou felt her heart break realizing that she had done this to someone who had deserved better, someone who she should have treated as a friend — a friend she didn't deserve, she realized darkly.

"Akane…" she said unsteadily, placing one hand on Akane's back. Akane clung to her fiercely, emitting another strangled noise, and Ukyou blinked, comprehension dawning. "Uh, Akane…"

The other girl made the sound again, then managed, between wheezing breaths, "You… you… kissed a strange girl… in the middle of a city you've never… heh.. hehehe… hahah… BWAHAHAHAHAH!"

Unable to keep a straight face, she collapsed into Ukyou's loose embrace, shrieking with laughter, tears streaming openly down her face. The okonomiyaki chef flushed scarlet, feeling keen shame, and an undeniable tinge of amusement with herself for being so foolish. "I guess that was kind of funny," she admitted, still blushing.

Cologne looked up at the echoing explosion, suspecting — somehow — that her son-in-law was involved. It was the kind of thing that he either caused, or was drawn into.

She debated for a moment charging across the city, situated as she was on the far side of the crater's rim. The debate was lost with the remembrance that Ranma was still under the influence of the ultimate weakness moxibustion. <He'll need help,> Cologne thought, increasing her pace and taking to the rooftops.

<Oh, certainly he'll resent it, but a dead Ranma is of little use to us, and less to himself.> She nodded knowingly, her leaps chewing up the distance between herself and the source of the explosion, still venting a giant cloud of smoke. <He'll need all the help he can get, even if he doesn't admit it to himself.>

A klaxon blared warning in the distance, and Ryouga observed several pilots jogging towards their respective planes. Nodding knowingly, he decided to try and sneak away.

Not having anything else to think about, he ran the accumulated data that Touhi had given him through his head again.

A plane started turning towards him, and he realized belatedly that he was standing on the runway. Dropping any pretense of sneakiness, Ryouga turned away and ran full bore.

The F-15J's on this airfield had been customized, Touhi had told him.

Five steps later, a small black piglet struggled to free itself from a pile of sodden clothing, seeing an accelerating F-15J bearing down on him. Unleashing a terrified 'Bweeee!" he galloped away, trying to vary his course and get away from the approaching craft.

Each of them had the wheels replaced with slightly narrower dual wheels, for a little bit of extra ease in landing, and aid if one of them happened to blow out.

Ryouga's curse being what it was, his wildly varied course turned into a straight line, directly in the path of the approaching craft's front tires.

Ryouga had thought that Touhi was just making an excuse for tinkering with the tires.

'Bweeing madly, he accelerated his trot to a full out gallop, wincing as a glance behind him revealed the foremost tires running over his clothing and launching them upwards into the ominous compartment that the landing gear folded into.

The width of the tires had been adjusted, so that they were exactly sixteen centimeters apart.

Turning suddenly, Ryouga came to a complete halt, centering himself on that small gap between the tires. <Maybe I can fit through as a pig!> he thought excitedly. <Yes! That will work!>

P-chan was also almost exactly sixteen centimeters wide. The plan was perfect, and might have worked if it weren't for one minor detail. The weight of the planes caused the tires to bulge, ever so slightly, and placed them at a total of only fifteen centimeters apart.

He exhaled, sucking in his porcine gut and making himself as slim as possible, a thin fifteen and one eighth of a centimeter wide, the end result being… a small piglet wedged into the space between the front two wheels.

Said tires did not bulge near the top, so that once the piglet had gained upward momentum, he suddenly found himself free of the wheel's grip. Flying upward, he found himself caught in a tangle of clothing and wires. <Oh good> he thought dazedly, as the tires ascended, and the covering plate sealed him inside. <I'm with my clothes again.>

Tofu walked through a semi-residential area, pausing at the sight of a comfortingly familiar building — one that could have been a clinic. The phone registry said that the address was only a few blocks away from the only 'Megami Clark' in the city, so…

The doctor frowned, considering things. He didn't know the first thing about the likelihood of getting a good business if he were to rent the clinic and set up here… and he wasn't certain that he wanted to settle down again so quickly… and he wasn't certain that Ranma would appreciate the efforts… and he wasn't certain that 'Eiko' lived here at all… and—

He cut the line of thought off, scowling. There were too many things to consider this early. There were too many unknowns, and — "Damnit," he said softly. He recognized that particular progression of logical thought all too well.

Bad enough that his mother would nag him and apply reverse psychology to make him do what he thought was right over what he wanted to do, but to have his own mind work against him? <Then again,> the doctor thought, recalling Kasumi, <it wouldn't be the first time.>

Turning towards the building, he rapped on the door, curious if the real estate agent would be in, or worse, if someone else had already made an offer.

Sure enough, mere moments after knocking, a pleasant-seeming man carrying a broom answered the door, all polite smiles and nods of the head. "Good morning, sir! And how can I help you?"

Tofu scratched the back of his head nervously, then sighed. It wouldn't hurt to ask a few questions, that was certain. "Well," he began slowly. "I was wondering if this building was available for rent, you see…"

The man nodded eagerly. "It's available, Sir, it is it is… Just want to make sure she's in tip-top condition and ready to be rented out, you know… My name's Oe Shiro. What's yours, if I might ask?"

"Ono Tofu," he replied, glancing around the building absently. It was fairly similar to his own in many ways, but there were some striking differences. It was bit little larger, and the placement was awkward, nestled as it was between two taller buildings, but… "What's the back yard like?"

Shiro shrugged, leading Tofu through a small kitchen-like area in the back of the building. "Most people don't pay too much attention to the back yard, but it's decent. This land was bought when the city was new, but it's been a real pain selling it… By the way, what were you looking at using this building for? It's got potential as quite a few things, you know, and the apartment upstairs is quite spacious."

Tofu made a noncommittal noise, "Well… I was thinking a clinic, but I'm not certain…"

Shiro paused at the edge of the backdoor, sliding the panel open to show the backyard to Tofu. "Good idea," he advised. "We've got plenty of doctors down in the city, but none around here." Tofu more than suspected that the location was not as prime as Shiro would have him believe, but it was still somewhat comforting to hear.

Stepping out into the backyard, the doctor resisted the urge to stare. It was easily the size of the rest of the clinic, if not larger. Completely flat, with the sparse stubble of a recently planted lawn, but… "I don't know," he dithered. "I'm kind of partial to sand gardens, myself. And maybe a koi pond."

Nodding eagerly, Shiro gestured, "Easily changeable however you would like, Sir. Of course, you'd have to pay for it yourself, but…" he trailed off, noting Tofu's frown at the neighboring buildings. "Is there a problem, Ono-san?"

Adjusting his spectacles slightly, Tofu shook his head. "Just that those buildings look like they'd block all the sunlight." He knew a little bit about bargaining… and he wasn't certain that he wanted the building anyway. The hulking, squat steel and glass monoliths on either side of the property did make it feel more cramped than it actually was.

Shiro frowned, and was about to rebut the doctor's statement, only to close his mouth and look up at the sky in surprise. Tofu looked up along with him, seeing what looked like a glinting ember that seemed to hang motionless, twinkling in the air.

"What do you suppose that is?" Shiro asked, dumbfounded.

Tofu narrowed his eyes, then grabbed Shiro and hauled him indoors, mere seconds before an ear-splitting 'kra-THOOM!' shook the potential clinic, sending the pair tumbling to the ground.

Shiro's eyes widened, and he hauled himself to the doorway, peering out in alarm. "Well," he said unsteadily. "One of the buildings is gone, so you got your sunsets right there!"

Another explosion rocked the building, while Tofu threw himself on top of Shiro, bearing the other man to the ground again.

"And look!" Shiro managed from underneath Tofu, seemingly not dazed by the fall, "The other building is gone too! So what do you say, isn't it perfect!?" Indeed, where the buildings had been were stray spires of twisted steel, and great columns of smoke… but no more buildings.

Tofu stared at the man in frank disbelief, as another projectile fell down, blasting a crater into the backyard and spraying burning debris to rain down across the sparse lawn.

"See! See!" the real estate agent exclaimed, wriggling out from under Tofu, climbing to his feet, and jumping up and down in excitement. "Perfect for a sand-garden and koi pond!"

The doctor could only blink in stark amazement. "Are you serious?" he asked, incredulous. "I mean, trying to get me to rent this building now!?"

Shiro shrugged, unable to hide a mad grin. "Aww, hells, I'll throw in the first month's rent for free!"

Tofu blinked, hearing more distant explosions. "Uh… who taught you how to make deals like this?"

"Picked it up from my son, Kintaro."

Again, the doctor could only blink, while the shrill piercing noise of shrapnel continued to surround them. "Kintaro… Oe Kintaro…" Shaking his head, he surrendered. "Fine. How much is it going to be after next month?"

Ukyou looked up as the sky filled with various pieces of flaming debris. "This can't be good," she commented.

Akane raised an eyebrow, nodding her agreement. "Should we go somewhere for cover, you think?"

The okonomiyaki chef noted one particular piece of falling material that looked to be headed specifically for them. "That might be a good idea."

The words 'Ranma was not pleased' failed to convey the depths of his displeasure. He had spent two weeks trying to come to grips with a total lack of strength, had been chased by a small and persistent explosive projectile when he had drawn near this place, and when he had finally found Eiko…

Oh yes, he found her, and he was most displeased at the state he had found her in.

He saw another girl — whose behavior reminded him far too much of Kodachi's more frightening moments — beating up the person he wanted to talk to had infuriated him. Rage boiled off of him like a thick palpable force, his aura crackling and flaring a bright actinic blue.

He drew on what calmness he could muster, knowing that attacking in a blind fury would solve nothing. A fond smile grew as Eiko counterattacked, even if she missed. Eiko wasn't a pushover; that much was certain.

But the other girl firing a volley of missiles… Ranma knew of only one way to save Eiko at that point, so he took it, hiding his aura as he entered the battle.

Biiko's eyes widened at the sudden realization that her missiles would not be evaded — Eiko's foot was wedged firmly in the concrete, allowing her no room to dodge the shots.

Her mind was divided on this. One the one hand, she felt glad that she had won, and that her respect, her position, and of course, her Shiiko would be restored to her. On the other hand, she wasn't sure she wanted to hurt Eiko that badly.

But that too was removed from the equation, as a relatively handsome boy in Chinese battle tunic and pants moved to intercept the missiles — moved faster than she could even with her armor, and probably faster than Eiko, as well.

Then she began to experience regret, watching the small projectiles launch forward towards the innocent, and wondered just what was going to happen next.


Eiko's eyes closed, as she realized that she was trapped — for the moment, at least — and that she was going to get hit. Hurt? Perhaps not, but hit; and that this was a truly, truly bad day.

<It will get better, though,> she thought, no longer wholly convinced. Her optimism was only able to take so much of a beating before it gave out, and it was drawing near that point already.

Then she waited, hearing the slow-seeming sound of the rockets on the missiles as they roared towards her, and distant sound of footsteps rushing… footsteps?

She opened her eyes, rewarded by seeing a surging red blur, and hearing a fast, "Kiyaaaaaah!"

Someone was standing in front of her, spinning a bo quickly, and striking the passing missiles just so…

The stuck projectiles spun, as multi-million-yen in development cost projectiles met with a piece of wood that a poor martial-artist had picked up while traveling. The wood delicately tapped the sensitive steering vanes, once, sending them spinning, then again on the opposite side, neatly reversing their direction of thrust. At that point, the primitive tracking system could only 'see' forward, where there was no red, so they simply continued blindly in that direction, towards a certain Akagiyama M line 23-clad student.

Biiko's regret deepened, as she ran, chased by her own missiles and screaming, "Eiko! This is all your fault!"

The mysterious stranger dressed in his Chinese clothing turned around, and Eiko's eyes widened.

It wasn't a stranger at all. It was Ranma.

And suddenly, it wasn't such a bad day anymore.


To be continued.

Author's Notes:

04/14/01 — Pre-reader draft.
04/16/01 — Tax day draft!!! (Second pre-reader draft) Various grammatical errors cleaned up.
04/23/01 — FFMLR draft! Yippie!
04/24/01 — Delphi draft.

Hah… this chapter was much harder to write than I had originally expected. I hope that it works. :\

The fight scene. Right out of the movie? Yes. Why? Well, I've been getting a lot of comments from people who haven't seen the movie, so I thought I'd include that, and help give some idea of what the show is like. And now, if you haven't yet, go watch it!

Anyway. Thanks to Corwin, my vastly overworked pre-reader.

At this point, while I'm between chapters, and it's convenient, I am in need of another pre-reader. Curse my foolish pride for rejecting offers previously! But Corwin is but one pre-reader, and cannot stand-alone against the tide that is Rursus Iterum. :p

Or something.

Chapter 3
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