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Part One: Shuradou
By Rob Barba

 

??A Duet of Pigtails: Age of the Black Blade

Part One: Shuradou

By Rob Barba and VGAP



Based upon the fanfic series created by Elizabeth
Thomas, and on the

characters and storylines of Ranma ? by Rumiko
Takahashi and Magic

Knight Rayearth by CLAMP



"Nabiki?" Ukyo tapped the shoulder of her friend.
"Are you

okay?"

"No, no I'm not," the older woman said. "I'm not
sure if I will

ever be." At the mention of Nabiki's problem,
Ukyo nodded soberly. It

was all she could do to put up a brave front as
well. It was all any of

them were doing, especially in the past few days.
Only four days had

passed since Akane's funeral, and the dark pallor
seemed to nestle over

the entire neighborhood, as though the sun had
only come for the

youngest Tendo daughter. For the past few days,
it had been perpetually

cloudy; not raining, as though out of respect for
Ranma, but not clear,

either.

"How's--" Ukyo ventured asking.

"Still won't speak to anyone, Ukyo," Nabiki
commented, wistfully.

"He sits in the dojo, and hasn't come out to eat
or drink, or anything.

Everyone's tried to do something, but it's no
good. If it wasn't for

Kasumi, there'd be no one to take care of little
Akama right now. It's

not like he's human anymore." Her eyes began to
well.

Ukyo's eyes also teared in understanding. She
wished that she

could do something for her best friend and
sometime love interest.

She'd always wanted her shot at Ranma, but Akane
got in the way, and in

the end was the one that successfully got him.
Ukyo wanted another

chance, but not at this price...never at this
price. She vowed to

herself that she would try again, but it would be
a while down the road,

when--if--he would let anyone back into his heart
again.





A voice called softly from behind her,
"Ukyo-sama, if you want to

go see Ranma-sama, I can keep the restaurant open
for you." As always,

Konatsu was sacrificing for her benefit, allowing
her to go to the man

she loved; just as he always did, even prior to
Ranma and Akane's

marriage.

For the first time in a while, she realized how
much Konatsu was

just like her, being nothing more than a friend,
though wishing for

more than was possible at the present
time--perhaps forever. It was not

an insignificant deed, even considering that
Konatsu himself respected

Ranma almost as much as he adored her.

Without comment, she turned and gave him a hug.
"Thank you,

Konatsu. And I'm sorry."

Konatsu, feeling uncomfortable, asked, "Why,
whatever for, Ukyo-

sama?" But she didn't answer, merely letting go
of her embrace and

running upstairs for a jacket. Turning to Nabiki,
he asked, "Do you

know what that was all about, Tendo-san?"

Nabiki didn't answer him. She was too preoccupied
in trying not

to cry.



~*~



The dojo, dark and silent, just like the sky,
just like the world.

"Ranma, you're not doing any good to yourself
sitting here like

this," a voice said, on the verge of
exasperation. "You've sat here for

four days, like some damn statue!" The speaker
was a young man, 22

years old, with a mop of jet black hair tied
somewhat in place by a

yellow bandanna. His green eyes flickered between
concern and anger, and

whenever he opened his mouth, a pair of canines
longer than the human

norm showed. He wore nothing but a faded black
tunic and blue monpei

pants, secured with a black belt. "Damn it,"
Ryoga said, "why are you

doing this to yourself?"

The person whom Ryoga addressed was a
breathtakingly beautiful

young woman, though looks alone can oft be
deceiving. She had long red

hair tied in a Chinese braid, though it was
unraveling from the looks of

it. Her normally sparkling blue eyes were almost
the same shade of red

as her hair; tear tracks down her face told the
reason why. Her

clothing, consisting of a black long-sleeve
Chinese tang, and matching

mist-gray pants, were rumpled, as though she'd
slept in them for several

days.

Of course, that would imply that this person
slept. Or ate. Or

did anything in the scope of humanity's basic
functions. Such was,

however, not the case. Since her wife's untimely
death, Saotome Ranma

didn't really live within the realm of human
functions any more. Nor

did she want to live in the scope of humanity.
She wanted nothing

anymore, except for the sweet pain of emptiness
and entropy.

*"DAMN YOU, RANMA!"* Ryoga screamed, unable to
tolerate the

redhead statue bit any longer, *"WOULD YOU WANT
AKANE TO SEE YOU LIKE

THIS?!?! HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN EVERYTHING THAT MADE
HER LOVE YOU?!?!!?

WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT IRRESPONSIBLE BASTARD WHO
SHE LOVED?!?!?!"* Ryoga

grew angry and more frustrated at his friend's
ominous silence. *"WHAT

ABOUT YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS, RANMA?!?!?! HOW DO
YOU THINK WE FEEL,

SEEING YOU LIKE THIS?!???! WHAT ABOUT YOUR
SON?!?!? OR HAVE YOU GIVEN

UP ON HIM, TOO?!!?!?"* Ryoga got so infuriated
that he punched forward,

without thinking, slamming his fist into Ranma's
face. The fact that he

lost control like that, when he'd spent so much
time with Akari,

learning to control that anger, worried him.

The thing that worried him more, though, was that
Ranma took the

blow. Didn't block, didn't counter, didn't even
try to dodge, but took

the hit right across her face and didn't flinch
as it hit. She sat

there, with her cheek turning red from where he'd
connected, continuing

to stare at the blank wall of the dojo.

Ryoga, stunned by what he'd done to his closest
friend, said, "I'm

sorry, Ranma," and walked out the door, back into
the Tendo home.





"Ryoga, is he...?" a woman's voice asked.

"No, he isn't, Saotome-san," Ryoga answered to
Ranma's mother. "I

wish he would." Ryoga sat at the table, joining
Nodoka and Kasumi. A

short distance away, a Panda was playing a
solitary game of go. The

seat across from him, almost always occupied by
the owner of the house,

was and had been empty for the past few days. It
didn't appear as

though it was going to change anytime soon.

"Would you like some tea, Ryoga?" Kasumi asked,
which Ryoga took

gladly. Since Akane's death, Kasumi had hovered
near the Tendo home, as

did Nodoka. Although she lived with her husband
now, she knew that her

family needed her more than ever. Sadly, though,
things had seemed too

quiet. Her father, still hurting all these years
after their mother's

death, had not come out of his room since Akane's
funeral. Likewise,

Ranma was doing much the same thing in light of
his circumstances. The

fact that two men of such different generations
could act the same

bothered Kasumi.

She looked around the room. There weren't any
smiles there, and

there shouldn't have been, to be honest. The pain
was still present,

permeable and palpable. Time would heal the
wounds, but the key there

was time.





The wail of a baby sounded in Ranma's room. Young
Akama was

crying, calling out to be fed by a mother that
could no longer do so for

him. Kasumi thought that only the baby, a mere
two weeks old, would be

the only one spared the pain of what had
happened. Akama would grow up,

never knowing his namesake personally, though she
knew Ranma would tell

his son all about Saotome Akane.

Instinctively, both Nodoka and Kasumi rose to
their feet. Both

women knew the call of motherhood well, as Nodoka
was now a grandmother

and Kasumi was in her first trimester, though it
had yet to show on her.

Either one would have gone for the formula
sitting in the refrigerator,

if Nabiki hadn't come in at exactly that moment
and heard the child.

Hearing Akama, she handed her jacket to Ukyo,
then turned towards the

kitchen, commenting, "I'll get it, you two. Stay
put."

Nodoka and Kasumi looked at each other and gave a
sort of smile.

If there had been one good thing that had come
out of this, it had been

the change that had come over Nabiki in the past
few days. Nabiki was

tending to Akama with a determination as though
he had been her own

child. Somehow, a new sense of compassion had
been engendered in the

young woman, and hopefully it would stay there.

Racing upstairs, bottle in hand, Nabiki said,
"I'll be back in a

few moments, Ukyo!"





In the meanwhile, the okinomiyaki chef pulled a
seat right next to

Ryoga. "How is he?" she asked, as Kasumi poured a
cup for the new

arrival.

"Not well, Ukyo," Ryoga admitted. "I spent the
past hour trying

to get through to him, and it...." Ryoga shook
his head in frustration.

"Arrgh, damn it, it's like he doesn't want to
live, Ukyo! Like he'd

rather join Akane!"

In spite of the situation, Ukyo smiled. "You
know, it wasn't that

long ago that you would have wanted him to
be...." She trailed off,

rather than state that word. At the moment, it
just didn't seem like

the right thing to say.

"I know," he said, his voice dropping to a
whisper, as his head

lowered. The reaction was so unlike Ryoga,
everyone did a doubletake.

"That was before I realized that he was my
closest pal, before I

realized a lot of things."

Ukyo turned to Nodoka. "Auntie, isn't there
anything we can do

about Ranma?"

"I don't know, Ukyo," she replied gently. "I just
don't know."

The group stared at the table in collective
silence, trying to

reason the unreasonable, and hoping for some sort
of answer to the

problem that lay before them.



~*~



In another part of Nerima, a young woman walked
down the street,

glancing at a paper every so often and looking at
houses she passed by,

as though she were searching for a specific
address. She was apparently

in her late teens or early twenties, with short
black hair and black

eyes, with high cheekbones, in a classic face.
She wore no makeup, and

the loose sweater and jeans she wore hinted at a
well-kept figure. Over

her shoulder, she had slung a long pack, as
though she was carrying a

pool cue or something of the like.

As she rounded the corner, she heard a voice call
out, "Fair

maiden that I have not seen before, thou hast
caught the attention of

the noble and magnificent Kuno Tatewaki. Who are
you, thou vision of

loveliness?"

Without looking up from her map, or even
stopping, she said, "My

name is Keiei. Fuitamu Keiei of the School of
Combined Jigenryu and

Bushin Arts." Her voice was so lacking in
interest, a recorded response

of a phone service would have sounded livelier.

"And what is your reason for arrival, oh goddess
who I see before

me?"

She considered answering with a line along "None
of your business,

bozo", but correctly determined that such phrase
would not repel him.

Still peering into her map, she replied, "It is a
burning desire for

revenge, and a promise to keep. I come back to
Tokyo to seek revenge

against my rival, and to find the person who I am
to be with."

"Well, I can help you with the latter, for if
fate is to be true,

then I challenge you!"

Keiei looked up from her map. "Come again?"

Kuno raced in towards her, bokken at the ready.
"The contest

rules are set: if I win, I shall date with you.
If you are the victor,

than I shall allow you to date with me!" He
brought his bokken up as he

charged, the brown-lacquered wooden sword held in
a thrusting position,

as though one single strike would be all that he
would need.

Muttering to herself, "Great. Just great," she
folded her

map, slid it in her back pocket, then stopped.
Hearing his approach,

she turned her head slightly and followed his
path.





Tatewaki Kuno, at the age of 23, was already a
grandmaster of

Kendo, also the national champion in the same
field. Though not

respected by most of other martial artist in
Nerima, he was skillful

with his weapon and knew the art of swordmanship
quite well. No

ordinary martial artist could hope to defeat
him.

Keiei was anything but ordinary.

In a move that few could have matched, she spun,
pulled out a

long, jet black object out of the pack, and
screamed, "Shippu-kurogen!"

Keiei slashed the bokken at an incredible speed,
far faster than Kuno

could have even hoped to accomplish.

Kuno stared in vague fascination at the tip of
blade, as dark as a

moonless night, and the pectoral it rested
against. His pectoral.

Slowly he raised his eyes to meet her cold pair.

"Do you yield?"

Predictably, (to those who knew him) his face
took a look of

adoration. "You have proven your worth. Heavens
themselves must smile

upon thee indeed, given thy divine skill and
magnificence. Truly such

perfection can be cherished only by one such as
glorious and noble as

Irk."

Keiei spared a moment to admire her handiwork; a
slit, less

than an inch deep, on this idiot's chest,
courtesy of her katana.

Confirming that she had not caused a permanent
damage, she repeated

"Do you yield?"

Kuno nodded, the lone hamster operating his mind
seeking a refugee

status in another country and thinking about
retirement.

She toyed with the idea of scaring him some more,
but decided

against it, not wanting to attract attention.
Deliberately slowly, she

withdrew her blade, taking a moment to wipe off
the blood on Kuno's

hakama. She did not look back as she left behind
a frozen swordsman.

For once, Kuno Tatewaki met a woman that even his
somewhat

formidable mind could not handle.





Several minutes later, Keiei gave a disgusted
sigh and put away

the map again. "Argh! Just where IS that dojo?"
She growled in

obvious frustration, irritated at having to stand
on a waiting line

while her lifework's fulfillment was just around,
literally, a few

blocks.

"A dojo?" A man's voice answered. "Do you mean
Tendo Dojo?"

Turning around, she saw a bespectacled man appear
from the

building she had just passed. He appeared to be
about a decade older

than her, and had a wise look on his face. She
also didn't miss that

he was moving in a way best suited to conceal his
existence. Trying

not to sound too eager, she replied, "Yes, it is.
Can you direct me to

it?"

"Go straight on this road, turn right at the
fourth

intersection, then just keep going. You can't
miss it." He frowned,

eyes narrowing in suspicion. "What business do
you have there?"

"I'm a dojo-yaburi." She presented the customary
lie with a

straight face. It wasn't her habit, but she
didn't want to cause any

complications by revealing her true purpose. "I
have heard of the fame

and strength of the Musabetsu Kakutou Ryu, and
wish to challenge it."

The man relaxed slightly at hearing this. "Well
then, I'm afraid

you came at the worst possible moment."

"Why is that?"

The man hesitated visibly, choosing his words
carefully. "Well,

you see... The grandmaster of the school... His
wife-"

Ono Tofu had a glimpse of shock, horror, and
frustration racing

across the young woman's features before she
turned and rapidly ran,

presumably toward her destination. Staring at her
rapidly receding

back he mumbled, "Now what was that about...?"



~*~



Ukyo sat down heavily. Those who knew her were
bothered to see

her without the usual air of cheer on her. She
resembled an okonomiyaki

missing a vital ingredient, such as flour.

"No luck?" Ryoga asked, hoping against hope that
he was wrong

and Ukyo, whom he knew to be much more
understanding of Ranma than he,

had succeeded. Sadly, of all the times, he was
right on this occasion.

"No luck." Ukyo looked ready to break down.
Considering that

her lifelong friend/fiancee was near death in
mind with body gradually

catching up, he was surprised she hadn't done so
already, as he had

just done. "I tried everything I could think of.
I even tried meowing

like a cat." Her fists clenched tightly. "I feel
so powerless! I

can't do anything to help him!"

Nabiki sighed, looking no less tired than any
other occupant in

the room. "Don't blame yourself, Ukyo. I don't
think he would do so

much as bat an eyebrow if I placed a keg of
Nanniichuan water in front

of him."

It was not a joke, and everyone knew it.

"If only I can do something..."

"Yes, yes, if only Akane didn't die. If only
those damnable

Amazons didn't exist. If only I kept my son at my
hands! IF ONLY ANY

OF THIS DIDN'T HAPPEN AT ALL!!" Everyone stared
at Nodoka, startled by

her hysterical outburst. For a moment the Saotome
matriarch seemed

ready to shriek some more, then regained her
center and took a deep

breath. "I am sorry... That was undignified of
me. Just... Please

don't mention 'if only' around me. I'm not sure I
can restrain myself."

The mood dropped to new depth, nobody daring to
speak out the

thoughts haunting them; unfortunately, said
thoughts weren't about to

give them a break. Was this how rest of their
lives were going to be?

Slowly losing sanity, then life? Will there ever
be an end to the reign

of woe upon them?





A loud *TWACK* rang across the household,
interrupting cicadas'

rock concert and knocking everyone out of their
misery. Ryoga stood and

examined the object embedded on the outer wall,
frowning when he saw

what it was.

"Ryoga? What is it?" Ukyo asked.

Ryoga pulled, yanking it out from the wood. "It's
an arrow. With

a paper attached to it."

Nabiki groaned. As if the last one didn't do
enough damage, fate

saw them fit to send another letter. She mentally
gave it 1 to 500 odds

of being anything good. "Who is it from and what
does it say?"

"Only one way to find out." Ryoga removed the
piece of paper tied

to the arrow, rolling it open. Within seconds of
reading the message to

himself, he crumpled it and threw it away, a
decidedly annoyed look on

his face.

"Ryoga-kun? What is it?" Nodoka's query was
ignored by the

fanged young man as he approached her currently
inhuman spouse. Genma

blinked as an irate Ryoga picked him up like a
sack of potatoes with a

single hand.

"Okay, you pile of useless fur, what did you do
this time?" Ryoga

all but snarled. His fabled depression, having
been accumulated due to

the obvious, was begging for an outlet, and he
was severely tempted to

use the beast in his hand as a punching bag.

Ukyo, never the one to leap into Genma's defense,
ignored the

panda as it protested its innocence via wooden
signs; instead she

retrieved the paper and carefully straightened it
before reading it

aloud:



To Saotome Ranma's current wife,



Appear at the vacant lot along Sakura-fubuki
Douri at 5:00 p.m.

with your husband. Be prepared to curve your old
family name in your

gravestone.



Ranma's true fiancee, Fuitamu Keiei



Ukyo let out a groan. It was echoed by other
women in the room,

while Ryoga kept Genma's body a foot above the
floor.

The phone rang out suddenly, saving the eldest
Saotome from icy

stares for exactly two seconds. Kasumi went to
the hallway to get it,

and their attention was returned to Genma.

"Who is this Keiei?" Nabiki asked in a flat, cold
tone that had

not been used for a while. It was what she used
back in the days of

constant blackmailing and extortion.

|I don't have any idea! Honest!| Genma's sign
read. Upon seeing

this, Nodoka stood up and quietly left the room,
unnoticed by anyone.

Ukyo withdrew her monstrous spatula with a
deliberate slowness.

"You have got a lot of nerve, saying something
like that with ME

around."

The obvious implication at their past
relationship was not

lost on Ryoga. "You have sold Ranma almost as
many times as I get

lost."

|Exactly!| Another sign was produced, then
flipped over. |I

can't remember every person I engaged Ranma to!|

"In that case, I can improve your memory." Nodoka
stepped back

in, cradling an all-too-familiar long bundle of
silk. Beneath the

covers her family heirloom slept, thirsty for
blood and hungry for

flesh even in its slumber.

None knew these better than Saotome Genma did. He
quickly

materialized a big sign and started writing on
it, only to be

interrupted by Nabiki with a steamy water from a
kettle. "Talk."

Her voice left no doubts about her intentions if
he didn't cough

up ALL of information she wanted.



~*~



Even though she had set the place for the duel,
Keiei had trouble

finding it. What should have been a fifteen
minutes walk from the Tendo

dojo had instead taken an hour. She could care
less, however. One of

her dreams, one she had devoted her last six
years on, was close to

fruition. What was an hour next to that?

Like all who had been traumatized in their life,
the memory of

her happy childhood when tomorrow was filled with
promise were hazy and

almost unrecognizable. They were all shattered
into pieces by the event

that tore up her life as well.

She was thirteen, never defeated by anyone in her
age group. She

was in the finals of a Kendo tournament. She had
been assured of her

victory. So had her parents and friends, and the
public opinion was

generally leaning on the case of her domination
of the competition.

Some of her opponents even conceded the match
entirely, not willing to

experience what they saw as a brutal beating.

So, upon seeing that her last opponent was a
mousy redhead that

didn't look at all confident, she decided to go
easy. What harm could

it possibly do?

The type of harm that would haunt you forever.

She was caught off guard in first round and lost
a point by face.

She then held nothing back, and won the second
round. But at the third

round, her accursed enemy somehow slipped through
her fierce offense

and launched a counterstroke.

Keiei remembered the next few seconds very
vividly. Her mind

had shut down, unable to comprehend the alien
concept of defeat. Then

that... that... BITCH offered her a hand, and
said something that she

didn't understand. She only knew it as a sentence
to her failure, and

so ran from Shidou Hikaru.

It was an year later, after an year of cursing
her enemy, hating

herself for not being good enough, and enduring
the look her relatives

threw at her, was when the Saotomes challenged
their school and she had

regained hope.

At first she had thought nothing of Ranma.
Nothing before he

defeated her father with his bare hands. Nothing
before seeing him

fight like a creature specifically designed for
it. Nothing before he

attacked, defended, and moved with a grace and
perfection she had deemed

impossible previously. Nothing before she
realized that if she could

have him, could be with him, she would once again
be the best and never

have to worry about losing that status.

After the fight, she had managed to be alone with
her father and

begged him to convince the Saotomes to take her
with them. He was all

too happy to do so, preferring to lose his
daughter rather than the

dojo sign, the mark of their tradition.

Thus her joy was beyond description when it was
agreed that not

only she would be taken along, she would actually
be engaged to her

idol. Equally great was her sorrow at next
morning when they found the

Saotomes gone with the dowry taken, and Keiei
left behind. She was

deemed unworthy, that was the conclusion everyone
reached. After all,

who would want a failure like her?

Instead of being crashed again, however, this
time her passion and

fervor had reawakened with vengeance. She threw
herself at training,

ignoring education, friendship, and other
distractions. She improved

herself until she surpassed any of her family
members and thus was

worthy of her hero. She dreamed of the day when
Ranma would look at her

with love and adoration, when Hikaru would be
lying dead at her feet,

when finally she would once again be the best
there was.

Now it would come true.

Keiei got out a well-worn oilstone out of her
pack, and set to

her task. Her katana, Murasame, was of a fine
quality rarely seen even

in the impressive standards of Japanese blades,
but it could never be

too sharp to drink the blood of
soon-to-be-deceased Mrs. Saotome. She

would slay her obstacle, and claim the hand of
her fiancee.



~*~



Kasumi walked back in, a slight frown on her
face. She had been

doing it so often these days that she wondered if
she could ever smile

sincerely again. "That was Tofu. He said that a
young woman with a

katana asked for directions to get here."

"That's probably this Fuitamu woman." Ryoga
nodded.

"How did she get engaged to Ranma?" Kasumi
asked.

"It's a little different from the usual case.
Genma made Ranma

fight her father and tried to get some money in
exchange of not taking

the dojo sign. Instead she was offered as a
bride--with some dowry, of

course. The rest is history." Nabiki snorted. A
month ago, she would

have been watching this with amusement and trying
to figure out a way to

make some profit. Now the thought didn't even
enter her mind.

"Well, I needed to get some money somehow..."
Genma cringed under

the looks he received. "And besides, the daughter
offered herself!

There's nothing wrong with refusing part of a
present you don't want!"

"A PRESENT!?" Ukyo screeched. "This is a human
being we are

talking about, not some object! Did you think
about how heartbroken the

poor girl would be? About what kind of
humiliation she would have to

face? And that's not even considering the fact
that you engaged Ranchan

off yet again!!"

Genma did the wisest thing he could. He shut his
mouth.

"Ukyo, please calm down." Nodoka said. She was
starting to

get a headache. "We must deal with one thing at a
time. Now, what

shall we do with Keiei-san?"

"Can't we just ignore it? Akane's... well, you
know. There's

nobody to take up this challenge, so it shouldn't
be dishonorable to do

so." Nabiki suggested.

Nodoka shook her head. "I'm afraid that it's not
so simple. In

this circumstance, the duty of answering this
challenge lies in you,

Nabiki."

Nabiki blinked, followed by others. "You have got
to be kidding!

I haven't trained for more than a decade! How do
you expect me to

defend myself, much less beat this challenger who
very obviously wants

to kill me!?"

Nodoka repeated her earlier gesture. "Saotome
honor demands so.

I know that it's unreasonable, even cruel, to ask
you to do this, but

there is nobody else to answer this."

"Yes there is! I am!" Ukyo cried.

The others turned to look at her with varying
looks. Kasumi with

gratefulness, Ryoga and Genma with
incomprehension, Nabiki uncertainly,

and Nodoka challengingly.

"I was, and still am, Ranma's fiancee... Now the
only one left,

other than this newcomer." Ukyo paused a moment
to lick her lips

before continuing with her speech. "It's within
my right and duty to

answer this challenge to defend my position, even
if the challenge was

directed at Akane."

The woman acknowledged as the best okonomiyaki
cook in the world

met the gaze belonging to an older woman who,
under different events,

might have become her mother-in-law. She still
had every intention of

making it so, no matter how long or what it
took.

After several tense seconds, Nodoka finally
allowed a smile to

appear on her face. "Well said, Ukyo. I shall
assign this task upon

you, and wait for your victorious return."

Ukyo grinned back, her face shining vivaciously
at last. She,

for the moment, was back to "Ucchan" that
everyone were familiar with.

"Count on it! I have years of experiences
fighting for Ranchan! Just

one thing though."

Nabiki asked suspiciously, "You aren't asking for
Ranma's hands

in exchange for this, are you?"

Ukyo snorted. "Give me a break. I'm just asking
you all to make

sure this jackass won't escape before I come
back." She pointed at the

cringing Genma. "I have a lot of things I want to
'discuss' with him."

Before Genma could bolt for it, Ryoga grabbed his
collar and

picked him off the ground once again. "Get in
line, Ukyo. I always

wanted to see if Bakusai Tenketsu worked on
bones."

Everyone, save for the eldest Saotome, shared a
good laugh at his

pathetic scream.



~*~



Keiei opened her eyes, but did not turn around to
face her

opponent, nor did she relax from her meditative
posture. "You have

come."

Ukyo, having made no attempt to conceal her
presence, was not

impressed. "Yeah, I did."

The swordswoman stood slowly and turned around.
What she saw

puzzled her somewhat; a relatively tall woman
with a middle-length

chestnut hair, tied with a simple bow, wearing a
blue gi-like clothing

with the kanji for 'like' printed all over it.
The spatulas, both the

small ones on her front and the huge one strapped
on her back, did not

help with her confusion. "Is this a joke?" Keiei
narrowed her eyes.

"You do not seem like a warrior of any sort."

"Don't underestimate me." Ukyo got into a stance,
whipping out

her weapon. "I'm Kuonji Ukyo, practitioner of
Kuonji-ryu Way of

Okonomiyaki."

Keiei stared at her with a mixture of curiosity
and frustration.

"Kuonji? Not Saotome? What happened to Ranma's
wife?"

"She is unable to answer your challenge." Ukyo
shrugged. "I'm

her... friend, and I'm filling in for her."

Keiei snorted derisively in response. "Pathetic.
After I'm

finished with you, I'm going after the coward by
myself."

Ukyo glared at her. "Don't be insulting my
friend." Especially

when she is deceased, she added to herself.
"Stupid question, but I

suppose you can't be talked out of this?" She
asked more softly.

"Certainly. If you get your weakling of a friend
to hand my

fiancee over, I would prefer to avoid unnecessary
bloodshed."

"Right." Ukyo held out her spatula in a defensive
position.

"Ready whenever you are!"

Even though she was looking at her opponent
directly, Ukyo still

had trouble following the other woman's motion.
With a grace that could

have been called artistic, Keiei whipped out her
katana and thrust in

a single motion, impacting against the flat of
her spatula half a moment

later. Had she been going for the first blow, the
match would have been

over right then and there.

Luck was favoring her at the moment, for the
staggering caused by

the unexpectedly fast blow also moved her out of
the range of Keiei's

subsequent rising slash... just barely. Again the
sharpened metal met

the tip of her unusual weapon, but this time she
used the impact to leap

away backwards. Six feet from the ground, the
okonomiyaki chef threw

three of her smaller spatulas, sending
razor-sharp utensils at Keiei.

Upon landing, Ukyo wasted no time in rebounding
and jumping at

Keiei with a sharp battle cry. Her opponent was
fast at parrying away

the projectiles as well, but not fast enough to
launch a successful

counter-attack. A giant spatula collided with a
black sword, producing

a loud metallic scream.

Ukyo locked her weapon with Keiei's, noting with
satisfaction

that she was slowly but surely pushing down the
other woman. The victor

of this unofficial muscle contest did not,
however, notice the foot

zooming at her stomach until she was propelled up
into the air in a

manner similar to the tomoe-nage of judo.

Both of the combatants relied on their instincts
at this point.

In a desperation maneuver Ukyo cried "Merikenko
Bakudan!" and threw

an object over her head. Keiei slashed downwards,
intending to strike

both the projectile and her fallen opponent. She
instantly learned why

that was not a good idea when dealing with a pack
of flour.

Ukyo rolled to the side before standing up as
quickly as she

could, automatically holding her weapon in
blocking position.

Thankfully it was unnecessary because Keiei
finished coughing away

the powders in her lung only now. Hair and face
pasted white, she

glared at Ukyo with a passive kind of anger. "You
ARE a joke! You

are a clown, not a fighter." Her glare turned
into a cruel smile. "But

I can be quite a comedian too. Let me show you
some of my tricks."

"Do your worst!" Ukyo yelled back, making no
attempt to hide the

fact the she was offended. Any pity she earlier
felt for the enemy who

had a similar experience was long gone, replaced
by a growing dislike

for someone who resembled two of her least
favorite women in the world;

Shampoo and Kodachi.

"Tenka-gohatto Ken!"

Keiei charged like a gale, her body blurring in
sheer speed.

Ukyo fought off a wave of panic and stood her
ground. Just one step

before her reach, Keiei swung down her sword
vertically, its tip

failing to graze the tip of Ukyo's spatula.

Ukyo took a step forward.

Keiei moved her katana as if she was about to
sheath it.

Ukyo raised her spatula over the right shoulder
and prepared to

swing.

Keiei thrust backwards, the blade missing the
scabbard by mere

centimeters.

Ukyo put all her weight into the horizontal
attack.

Keiei caught the dull side of her weapon with her
left hand,

and pushed it forward like a reversed staff.

There was a sickening sound.

The giant spatula, painstakingly close to its
target, fell from

Ukyo's hands as her knees buckled. She stared
dumbfoundedly at the

short knife extending from the tail end of
Murasame's handle that sank

in her ribs. Looking up to Keiei's smug smile,
she hoarsely whispered,

"You bitch..."

Keiei smiled and removed the hidden dagger from
her body. Ukyo

crumpled to the ground, staring in fascination at
the grass pricking

at her forehead. She heard Keiei say, "Why do you
think I gave it a

name like that? And you were fighting for the
MUSABETSU Kakutou Ryu.

If you aren't prepared to become the best one way
or another, you

shouldn't even try."

Then the grass in front of her faded, along with
her vision.



~*~



Nabiki measured out the powders in teaspoons
carefully. She could

not cook anything more advanced than frozen
foods, but mixing a baby

formula was something any human being could do...
barring her late

sister. She now wished she could take back the
insult poorly disguised

as a joke said just before Akama's birth; it was
along the line of how

Akane would have to get Ranma to fix her baby's
nutrient once her milk

ran out.

When one looks back at his or her life, one would
inevitably find

something he or she would wish to undo. Few had
as many of those

regrettable memories as Tendo Nabiki did. Her
reputed lust for money

began with her mother's death, when they could
not afford the treatment

to prolong her life. That was when the seven
year-old girl decided that

money was the key in life and became determined
to collect it as much

as possible. Through various means she fought her
way into economics,

more often than not disregarding other things for
her purpose.

It was only of recent she learned that money
could buy only so

much things. It could not buy time, friend,
family, love, or life.

Right now, as she entered Akama's room, she was
berating herself

for the mistake not even two weeks ago... for the
thousandth time.

"If only I pressed Akane harder." Nabiki thought
while fighting back

the tears. "If only I got rid of those Chinese
psychos earlier. So

many 'if only's. Was I wrong? Am I powerless
after all? I was trying

to help my family, and look at where I got. How
pathetic."

Nabiki shook herself back into the reality,
noticing that Akama

was rejecting the bottle. "Come on baby, aren't
you hungry?" The

youngest Saotome continued to avoid the feeding,
crying harder. "Drink

up, Akama. Please."

It was no use. No matter how much Nabiki pled
with the infant,

he continued to cry steadily harder. With every
decibel raised,

Nabiki's self-worth dropped. Not knowing what to
do, she discarded

the bottle and picked him up, trying to soothe
him into sleep.

Walking out in the garden produced the desired
effect; Akama was

becoming calmer and showing signs of fatigue. She
sighed at the picture

she imagined two of them must have made. When a
young woman is holding

an infant in her arms, a casual bystander can
make only one possible

assumption.

"So you are that woman."

Slowly and holding down her surprise, Nabiki
turned to see a woman

in a sweater and jeans. The katana hanging on her
side gave away her

identity like a name-tag to Nabiki's razor-sharp
mind. "Fuitamu Keiei,

I presume?"

The younger of two brushed her hair back
casually. "You are

correct."

Noting the faint trace of flour in her hair,
Nabiki forced her

words out, willing her voice not to shake, "What
have you done with

Ukyo...?"

Keiei gave an amused sneer. "She wasn't my
target, so I let her

live. She should be crawling back here to report
her failure in a few

hours." She lazily drew out her weapon, and spoke
in a tone full of

venom of hate, "You, on the other hand, aren't so
lucky, soon-to-be-ex-

Mrs. Saotome."

An idea to tell off the intruder by correcting
her

misunderstanding was formed and rejected in
Nabiki's head within the

same second. If the bloodthirsty woman didn't
believe her, which was

the most likely scenario, it would only serve to
set her off. If by

some miracle Nabiki convinced her, she would
simply start going after

somebody else in the dojo.

"What do you hope to accomplish by killing me?"
Nabiki wasn't

trying to reason with this madwoman; she was
trying to stall for time.

"Ranma would only hate you."

Keiei fired a laugh that was quieter than
Kodachi's, but somehow

even scarier. "My love is the best among the
best. Such man needs a

worthy woman, and I can prove my worth by killing
you."

"Like hell!" Nabiki shouted, desperately hiding
her fear. She

was horribly aware that it was not successful.
"You would never be

worthy so much as to lick the ground he walked
on!"

Keiei smiled in a way that, under different
circumstances, could

have been called cute. The naked blade in her
hand dispelled that

illusion instantly and thoroughly. "Interesting
words, coming from the

mouth of a coward. But I did not come here for a
talk."

A foot lashed out with a blinding speed, catching
Nabiki on the

chin. She fell back several feet away, Akama
still clutched to her

chest protectively, tasting the blood in her
mouth. Painfully she rose

her head, seeing Keiei advancing on her
intentionally slowly.

Fear exposed completely on her face, Nabiki
kicked her brain into

emergency mode, trying to see a way out of this
situation with her head

and body connected. If her mind was a computer, a
big 'error' notice

would have popped up on the screen. There was no
solution. This woman

beat Ukyo without a scratch, implying an
unusually high level of skill.

Only Ryoga stood a chance against her, and how
long it would take his

sense of direction to come to her rescue was a
question she didn't have

an answer to, only that it wouldn't be quick
enough.

Just as Nabiki would have screamed out in
terror--genuine terror

--for the first time in years, Akama beat her to
it. The future heir of

Anything Goes School cried his soul out in a
single, long shriek that

had been heard throughout the neighborhood. It
was a sound that could,

and did, pierce into one's heart.



~*~



It is said that, at a moment just before death,
one sees his or

her memories like a cinema roll.

Ranma's was looping around the period between
Akama's birth and

Akane's death. Over and over again she was forced
to witness the most

important woman in her life march to her demise.
The worst part was

that she was reliving through them, knowing what
was going to occur, yet

unable to do anything. Those fateful scenes
repeated countlessly, at

a ludicrous speed, non-stop and out of control.
Like a melted down

nuclear reactor, it was contaminating her mind
with its poison.

The first reaction was a denial; a refusal to
accept the tragedy

that threatened to shred her heart apart.

Secondly came the realization; a forced
acceptance of the

undeniable reality, the sadistic touch of a
nightmare.

Following next was a shock; a numbness of heart
that steadily

incapacitated every emotion known to mankind.

But the fourth stage of oblivion, a blackhole
swallowing her into

a loving hold of nonexistence, the step scheduled
to be concluded by a

slow death, was interrupted.

Called out from her dark haven, Saotome Ranma's
eyes saw, for the

first time in days, the world of living. The
eternally cursed martial

artist saw an injured Nabiki holding Akama. She
also saw a woman armed

with a katana advancing to them.

To be or not to be? Ranma, albeit with
reluctance, chose the

right answer.



~*~



Keiei's heart, although as black as her sword,
still contained

some conscience within it. She hesitated a moment
on a decision;

should she slay the child along with his mother?
Though a baby of her

enemy, he was still undoubtedly innocent, and
Ranma's child as well.

Perhaps... Just perhaps... It might cause him to
hate her...

Next thing she knew was being knocked aside. To
her dismay, her

weapon was wrenched out of her hands as well. She
got back up just in

time to see a red-haired woman--where had she
seen her before?--throw it

out of the residence, effectively disarming her.

Quivering with rage, Keiei took a good long sight
of her new

opponent. A messy, petite woman with a strangely
familiar scarlet hair

done in a pigtail, wearing a fairly androgynous
clothing of Chinese

looks. She was in a stance Keiei hadn't seen in
years: the Saotome Ryu

Musabetsu Kakutou! Getting into her own Bushin
stance, Keiei asked in

a tightly controlled voice, "And who are YOU, to
interrupt my mission

of lifetime?"

"Tendo Ranko." The redhead's voice was strangely
flat, almost

mechanic. "I don't know who you are, or what you
are trying to do, but

if it involves trying to hurt my... cousin, you
will have to get past

me."

Keiei snarled, "As you wish, harridan!" and
leaped in with a

very fast roundhouse kick. To her shock, 'Ranko'
moved even faster and

sidestepped her attack, giving her back a rough
shove, sending her

tumbling on to the ground.

Keiei rolled out the momentum and stood up
quickly, only to find

her opponent standing still and allowing an
obvious advantage to pass.

"What is the matter with you!? Too scared to
attack me?"

"Listen, whoever you are," Ranma replied tiredly,
"I'm REALLY

not in the mood for a fight. Go back before my
patience runs out."

"The only thing that will run out will be your
blood!"

Keiei rushed in with her fastest combo, going
all-out. Ranma was

forced to block and dodge to the best of her
abilities. She was losing

ground, but she still did not attack more than
necessary. This served

to anger the swordswoman even more.

As the fight dragged on, both of combatants'
abilities became

apparent in comparison. They were nearly as fast
as each other, but

Ranma definitely had the edge in skill and
agility. Getting desperate,

Keiei pulled out her last trick.

"Take this! Taifuu Shuu!" Keiei whirled and
twisted her body to

an impressive degree before spinning herself in
opposite direction and

swinging her leg out, sending a waist-high
hurricane at Ranma. She also

reached inside her sleeve, throwing a concealed
tanto.

Ranma dodged the first projectile with relative
ease, only to

see the second racing past her, heading straight
to a wall.

More precisely, to a wall where Nabiki and Akama
was leaning on.

Ranma cried out their names.

Keiei shouted in triumph.

Nabiki screamed and shut her eyes.

The knife struck.

Ranma cried out louder.

Nabiki opened her eyes, seeing the tanto sticking
into the surface

only an inch away from her neck. She continued to
stare at the

reflection in the blade, unable to believe that
she was still alive.

Keiei cursed the powder from earlier that ruined
her aim before

seeing 'Ranko' rushing at her. She tried to
counter by a spinning

backhand, not noticing the energy around her
rapidly collecting in a

swirling pattern. She did notice when Ranma
ducked into her range and

launched an uppercut.

She, however, did not realize that this was
Ryu-ou Ken, a

variation of Hiryu Shoutenha, an uppercut
reinforced by the force of

tornado. She also did not realize that she was
being thrown out of the

Tendo-Saotome Dojo, for she was already
unconscious.





Nabiki finally succeeded in ripping her eyes away
from the

fascinating reflection and moving them to her
presently female brother-

in-law's back. She handed Akama to Ryoga, who,
along with rest of the

family, had long since been attracted by the
racket, and approached the

silent redhead.

Licking her dry lips, she softly called,
"Ranma?"

There was no response. Ranma did not even move
from the position

where she landed from the attack.

"Ranma? Talk to me... please."

A twitch in the shoulder was the reaction.

"Ranma?"

A sound escaped from her. Nabiki realized that it
was a sob.

Ranma turned around, no longer the
near-invincible combat machine she

was but a moment ago. In its place a teary young
woman stood shaking.

"It... It hurts."

Ryoga blinked. "I didn't see you get hit..."

Nabiki glared at the eternally lost man briefly
before enveloping

the younger woman in a hug. "I'm hurting too,
Ranma. Everyone is."

Ranma leaned into her sister-in-law's arms,
unable to hold the

emotions within her. The dam that held back her
feelings was broken,

and an apocalyptic flood was taking place. "I, I
just want to crawl

in... Forget about everything..."

Kasumi approached them from behind and put her
arms around the

crying girl as well, gently rubbing her back. "Do
you want to forget

about Akane, too?"

Almost violently, Ranma turned her head around,
shouting "NO!!"

Then in softer tones, she continued, "But I... I
don't wanna forget

about her. I'm afraid that I'm gonna forget her
eventually if I

live... I'm scared of that."

"You won't forget her, Ranma." Nabiki said. "You
can keep on

loving her, forever, without killing yourself
like this. You can get

over her death; we all need to..."

Ranma cried harder. "I don't wanna get over her!
She was the

only one for me! I'm, I'm never going to find
anyone else. I can never

get over her..."

"Then you must live, my son." Nodoka intoned.
"For the sake of

your deceased wife and your own son. You must
live for them, if for

nothing else."

Ranma stared at her mother, who calmly looked
back with wisdom in

her eyes. She then slowly disengaged herself from
her position, and

walked up to Ryoga. She took the baby without a
word, going inside of

the house before Ryoga could speak.

The ominous silence was broken by Genma, of all
the people.

"Well, at least he's back with us..."

Ryoga grimaced. "It's still not good enough. I
looked at his

eyes... They are still dead, or close. He will
never be the same guy

I knew." Again, Ryoga Hibiki was absolutely
right. Certainly enough

was happening for such a miracle to happen twice
in row.

"For the better or worse, he will change." Nodoka
sighed. "I

can only hope for the former."

"Ranma..." Nabiki stared at the darkening sky,
watching the stars

appearing slowly. "Why can't the poor guy have a
break for a change?

If there's any god listening, give him someone
else to love before it's

too late..."

"Hey, a shooting star." Ryoga pointed up. "Maybe
your wish would

come true."

"I certainly hope so." Nabiki sighed tiredly,
feeling thrice her

age. "But I won't bet on it... Let's go get
Ukyo."



~*~



Keiei rubbed the bandage around her chin, not
noticing the pain

being caused by the action. It was puny and
unnoticeable when compared

to the maddening storm in her heart.

She had lost. Again.

Damn that Tendo woman! Everything was going so
well when she HAD

to butt in. Just as luck seemed to favor her, it
turned around and spat

on her.

Simply remembering her second failure sickened
her at heart. It

dug out long-suppressed inferiority complex from
its grave, and she was

afraid that every moment without confidence and
determination was eating

away at her sanity.

Yet she was a warrior, not a helpless crybaby.
She knew that

everything she fought for-the very core of her
being-would be forever

out of reach the moment she stopped trying. Her
will was her life.

"Tendo Ranko... Enjoy this victory while it
lasts. And I will

see to it that it will be short-lived indeed."
Thus vowing, she set out

on a new quest for power. Somewhere over that
horizon was her future,

where she and her husband could protect their
home, family and

happiness; she was certain of it.







Glossary:



Shuradou: "Way of the Damned."

Shippu-kurogen: "Gale Black Sword." A thrust
attack as fast as a

shadow. (Mr. Barba's invention.)

Merikenko Bakudan: "Flour Bomb." Just what it
says; believe it or not,

it was used at least twice in original Ranma
1/2.

Tenka-gohatto Ken: literal translation: "Under
the Sun Illegal Sword."

Better phrased as "Universally Forbidden Sword."
Stabbing with

concealed knife on the handle.

Taifuu Shuu: "Tornade Kick." Simply a projectile
attack with miniature

tornade created from a spin kick. Knife-throw
follow-up isn't

a necessity.

Ryu-ou Ken: "Dragon King Punch." Hiryu
Shoutenha-boosted uppercut.



Author's notes: Here I had another chance to
contribute to (spoil?) my

favorite epic fanfic, Duet of Pigtails. But this
time, I worked with

Rob Barba, the person who has supported Ms.
Thomas's series more than

anybody else has.

What a big mistake.

This part was what I expanded upon what Mr. Barba
started on (did

you notice the sudden drop in quality in the
middle of the story? ^_^;),

and he worked on the following part, named
Fugutaiten. As you can see,

my part is embarrassingly short in comparision to
Mr. Barba's part. I

cannot help but feel that I made this
side-story-series inferior to what

it could have been. That is not to say I did not
make efforts to write

this well (I revised it after completion, which I
hate to do), but my

skill is simply not up to his.

Well, enough with self-criticism. Ms. Thomas has
asked for an

introductory tale for a new character/villainess,
and so between our

discussions Fuitamu Keiei (actually she had
several other suggested

names) ended up, in my opinion, as a combination
of worst elements of

Ranma, Shampoo, Ukyo, and Kodachi. Normally I
hate making up an original

character for a large role, but I think she ended
up interesting enough.

I would like to thank Libby Thomas for creating
Duet of Pigtails

and allowing me to be involved with it, Rob Barba
for working with my

inconsistent writing habit, and YOU for reading
this. I hope you at

least enjoyed it; right now, my ego is badly
wounded. =_=;

Oh well, back to working on other fics...



Tell me what you think:

VGAP <vg_ap@hotmail.com
>

VGAP's weird page at:

<>











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