Hgeocities.com/Tokyo/Dojo/1449/advcd8.htmlgeocities.com/Tokyo/Dojo/1449/advcd8.htmldelayedxJOKtext/htmlpa &b.HTue, 08 Aug 2000 08:18:53 GMT@3Mozilla/4.5 (compatible; HTTrack 3.0x; Windows 98)en, *J A.D.V. Curses and Demons Chapter 8

A.D.V. Curses and Demons Chapter 8

All Ranma characters are property of Rumiko Takahashi, first published by Shogakugan in Japan and brought over to North America by Viz Communications.
 

        A Different Viewpoint: Curses and Demons:
                Chapter 8

    The next morning, everyone gathered at the Tendo Dojo for the ride to the airport.

    Nabiki handed Johnathon a sheaf of tickets.  "Well, it's not first class, but these will get you to China in a few hours.  There's a stopover in Beijing, then you'll change to a smaller plane for the trip in-country.  I assume you'll be renting a vehicle for the remainder of the trip?"

    Johnathon shook his head.  "Not this time, Nabiki.  Jusenkyo is even farther off the beaten track then the Children of Osirus were.  We'll be busing into a town in the foothills of the Bayankala Range, and hiking in the rest of the way.  Should take us about a week to get there and a week getting back.  We'll be a almost a week late for the beginning of school, but hopefully it shouldn't be too hard for everyone to make up their classes.  You and Ryoga will make sure and get everyone's homework, right?"

    Both Ranma's groaned at the thought of a week's worth of homework and Nabiki grinned.  "Sure, I'd be happy to.  No charge, seeing as we're all practically family now."

    Ukyo looked dubious.  "Family?"

    Nabiki nodded genially.  "Family.  Ranma is now my brother-in-law, which makes the Saotomes family, and since you're marrying Ranko, you're practically family as well, Ukyo-kun."

    Ukyo blinked.  "Er... sure, I guess so...."

    Johnathon smiled thoughtfully.  "Of course, it doesn't hurt that you're about to make a huge profit on the calendar shoot...."

    Nabiki nodded, smirking.  "No, it doesn't hurt a bit.  We've already got pre-orders for over a thousand calendars on the first run!"

    Ranma sighed.  "I should've known."  He glanced around and spotted a certain bandana clad Hibiki talking quietly with Akane near the front door.  Ranma walked over to them and faced the lost boy.  "Hey, Ryoga, I appreciate you taking over my martial arts class again.  From what I've seen, you've done a pretty good job so far.  I want you to keep pushing them, they're ready to start learning some more advanced stuff soon."

    Ryoga looked a little irritated.  "Pretty good?  Hey, I thought I've been doing better than pretty good!  I taught most of them the basics of all their individual weapon styles already!"  He shook his head.  "I'm not so sure about teaching any advanced techniques, though.  Even if one or two of them might be ready to start special training, I'm not certain about letting girls as young and inexperienced as they are learn any really dangerous techniques."

    Ranma nodded.  "I know where you're coming from, Ryoga, and I agree, you shouldn't just go teaching anyone some of the stuff we can do, but I'm confident in this bunch, OK?  Go ahead and teach them whatever you feel like they can handle.  I'll be back in two weeks tops, and I expect some real improvement."

    Ryoga bristled.  "Are you saying you think I can't handle the job, Ranma?"

    Akane put her hand on the lost boy's shoulder.  "Of course not, Ryoga.  We have every confidence in you!  Ranma's just not too good at giving complements... right, Ranma?"

    Ranma shrugged, scratching the back of his head.  "Yeah... you're doing fine, Ryoga, I mean it."

    Ryoga calmed down, mollified.  "Well then, I'll keep doing my best.  Its the least I can do for all your family has done for me, Akane."

    Akane smiled.  "Thank you, Ryoga."  Kasumi and Ranko came down the stairs, Ranko holding a cat carrier, and Kasumi carrying Misty.

    "I hope you won't be too uncomfortable in there."  Kasumi said, looking dubiously at the cat carrier.  "I'm sorry you have to ride in storage, Misty."  Misty sighed and shrugged and Kasumi commiserated.  "You're being very understanding, Misty-chan.  I lined the bottom with our favorite blanket, you know, the one with the teddy bears on it, from mother?"  Misty nodded, stood up in Kasumi's arms to give the bottom of her chin a lick, then jumped down to walk on her own.

    Soun came out of the living room holding C-chan.  "I thought you would want to say good-bye to your kitten before you left...."  He gently put the kitten down on the floor in front of Misty.  "Oh... my baby girl... you'll... you'll be all right...."  He broke into tears, rubbing his eyes with the back of his arm.  Misty sniffed the kitten, who looked up at her uncomprehendingly, then nudged it with her head, back toward her father.  Soun attempted to stop crying.  "I... I understand, Kasumi-chan.  I'll take good care of C-chan while you're gone...."  He picked up the kitten and hugged it while he went back to crying.  Misty took a deep breath and nodded, then turned away, running over to Johnathon.

    Johnathon glanced down at his feline wife.  "Is everything ready, Misty-chan?"  The lithe little black cat nodded firmly, and Johnathon turned to face the rest of their group.  "All right, everyone.  Let's get going!"

    Nabiki, Ryoga and Soun waved to the airport van that had come to pick up their friends and family as it drove away.  Soun sobbed freely while he waved, then reached down to take one of C-chan's front paws and wave slowly for the kitten.

    "Say good-bye to your mommy, C-chan."  The Tendo patriarch told the kitten, sniffing.  The kitten, not understanding, tried to bat at Soun's soaking wet mustache with it's free paw.

    Nabiki left the two men at the gate and went into the house, looking in the kitchen for something to eat.  < Uh oh.>  Nabiki's brow furrowed as she stared into the refrigerator.  < In all the rush, we forgot!> She looked in vain for something resembling leftovers, but while there seemed to be plenty of ingredients, there was nothing already prepared in the kitchen.  < With Kasumi gone, there's no one here who knows how to cook!>  She grimaced at the thought of ordering takeout for two whole weeks while her sister was gone and began thinking of possible solutions.  "Maybe Auntie Nodoka could stay with us while Kasumi and everyone are gone...?"  Nabiki shook her head.  "No, that would mean having to put up with Genma for two whole weeks, not to mention him, Auntie and Daddy trying to find me a husband.  Sheesh, you'd think they would be satisfied with ruining Ranma and Akane's lives."

    Nabiki frowned thoughtfully.  "I suppose I could try cooking... it can't be as hard as Akane makes it seem."  She shrugged.  "I have to learn sometime, unless I plan on marrying a cook, or someone who can hire a cook."  Nabiki went to a nearby cupboard.  "I guess I'll make some Ramen.  I've done that much before...."

    As Nabiki began her preparations, Ryoga wandered into the kitchen.  "Ah, Nabiki... er... I was looking for the Dojo...?"

    Nabiki glanced at him in surprise.  "And you're still in the house?  You're getting better, Ryoga-kun."  She frowned.  "Darn it, did Daddy let you go off by yourself?  What if you had gotten out of the yard?"

    Ryoga blushed in embarrassment and annoyance.  "I'm not a baby, Nabiki, I don't have to be led by hand everywhere."  Nabiki just raised an eyebrow dubiously.  Ryoga frowned.  "I don't!  At least I know enough not to go out of the gate!"

    Nabiki nodded in agreement.  "You have gotten better, Ryoga.  You haven't gotten really lost in quite a while.  I just was worried you'd get lost today.  You have a class to teach in three hours, you know?"

    Ryoga looked indignant.  "Of course I know!  Why do you think I was headed to the Dojo!  I can easily make it there in time if I leave now!"

    Nabiki resisted the urge to point out the fact that the family dojo was less than a dozen yards away, and with an effort, took his words at face value.  "Of course you can, Ryoga, but since you're here, you can help me make something for lunch.  I'll take you to the dojo myself afterwards, so you don't have to worry about being late."

    Ryoga brightened at that and nodded.  "Sure, Nabiki, I can help!  What do you want me too do?"

    Nabiki hesitated.  "Er...."  She frowned.  "Why don't you tell me what you know about cooking, and we'll see what you can do."

    It turned out that Ryoga knew quite a bit more about cooking than Nabiki did, given all the time he had to spend traveling on his own.  He wasn't as skilled in the kitchen as Kasumi, or even Ranma, but he knew enough to get by nicely.  Nabiki took mental notes as Ryoga prepared lunch.  Every cook had their own style in the kitchen.  Kasumi was graceful and methodical in her cooking, while Ranma cooked with energy and flair, just like he did everything.  Johnathon, Nabiki had noticed, cooked efficiently, as did Ryoga, with the minimum effort expended to get the job done.

    < That's how I would like to cook.  Efficiently.>  Nabiki decided.  < I don't want to be a perfect housewife like Kasumi, but since I do need to be able to cook if I'm going to ever live on my own, I might as well learn from someone who doesn't cook like it's their sole purpose in life.>  She snickered.  < Imagine trying to learn to cook from Ukyo.  Okinamiyaki everyday, and learning to cook by the raging sea?  That's not for me.>

        *******************************

     Usagi sat down on the chair in front of her parents, looking worried.  Ikuko and Kenji Tsukino, her mom and dad, sat together on the couch opposite her, looking severe.

    Ikuko spoke up first.  "Usagi-chan, I know that it may have seemed harsh at the time for us to ground you, but your father and I felt that we were doing what's best for you...."

    Kenji broke in.  "It's not specifically that we disapprove of you and your friend Diana's... preferences, but rather the fact that you are still too young to be making those kinds of choices...."

    Ikuko continued.  "We were also concerned with the fact that both you and Diana refused to tell us how to contact her parents.  How can we trust either of you when you keep something so basic from us?"

    Usagi protested.  "But mom, I don't know Diana's parents!"

    Ikuko nodded once.  "You've said as much, but even if that is true, why didn't she tell us anything about them?"  Usagi shook her head helplessly.  Her mother sighed.  "Where does this Diana live, Usagi?  Have you ever seen her house?"

    Usagi shook her head, trying to come up with something.  "Mom... I... I don't think Diana even has any parents...."  She looked painfully at her own parents.  "I think they're probably dead or something.  I... I never asked her about them, because I didn't want to hurt her feelings...."  Usagi started to cry a bit thinking about it.  < Poor Luna, she really doesn't have anyone, does she?  Nobody except me and the senshi, and Mamoru, and Artemis of course, and Kasumi, and Ranma and Akane, and Johnathon-san....>  Usagi blinked back a few more tears.  < But no parents.  They must have been part of the Moon Kingdom before it fell or something.>

    Kenji nodded sympathetically.  "I understand, Usagi.  It isn't easy talking about difficult things like that, but we worry about you.  There are a lot of bad people out there that might take advantage of you, and I don't want to see my little girl get hurt."

    Ikuko nodded in agreement.  "That's right, Usagi.  This has all been because we were worried about you."  She paused.  "However, your father and I have decided to lift your punishment.  We know that you've been very unhappy being stuck here at the house all day long, and we think that you understand how we feel about... taking unnecessary risks with yourself."

    Usagi's face lit up at hearing that her grounding was over, then she frowned slightly.  "Mom... I wasn't taking any... unnecessary risks with myself...."  She tried not to wince.  < Not unnecessary ones, anyway.  The risks I've been taking have been very necessary.>  She continued quickly.  "Lu... Diana isn't a danger to anyone!  She's nice, and kind, and would never hurt me!"  Usagi frowned again.  "Although she does always nag me to finish my homework, and not play video games so much, and...."

    Ikuko hesitated before speaking again.  "Well... speaking of Diana... I know that you care for her, but your father and I don't want you seeing her again until she comes here and talks to us."

    Usagi bit her lip.  "And?"

    Ikuko sighed.  "Now you may think that your father and I may have been... hasty in our earlier conversation with Diana, but you must understand, we were quite shocked to find you and her... well... as we found you."

    Kenji took a deep breath.  "Now Usagi... if there is anything that you want your mother or... well your mother to tell you... about, er...."

    Ikuko finished for him.  "About sex, dear."

    Kenji flushed.  "Er... yes.  If there's anything... well then you should feel free to ask, all right?  Anything at all."

    Usagi was starting to blush bright red.  "Dad!"

    Ikuko nodded.  "I'd be glad to explain anything you don't understand to you, Usagi, if you have any questions."

    Usagi continued blushing, and stared firmly at the floor.  "Mom, dad... I already know... all that stuff.  So you don't really...."

    Ikuko took a breath, glancing at her husband.  "Yes, dear.  They do explain things rather well at school nowadays...."

    Kenji grimaced and nodded, then stood up.  "Well then... that's all I had to say...."  He glanced at his wife.  "I believe that your mother does have a few more things she wanted to talk about... so I'll just leave you two alone."  Mr. Tsukino took the opportunity to exit, leaving his wife alone with his daughter.

    Ikuko took a deep breath then gave Usagi one of her most understanding looks.  "Now Usagi, your father and I did mean it when we said that it wasn't... specifically, your... preference, that had us so worried.  We understand that some girls do feel... attracted to other girls... and we're not going to love you any less if you happen to feel that way."

    Usagi took a deep breath, counted to ten, and smiled calmly.  "I'm very glad to hear that mother...."  Ikuko tensed up in anticipation.  "But."  Usagi continued slowly, enunciating carefully.  "I... am... not... a... lesbian!"  She looked her mother straight in the eye.  "I like boys, OK?  I really like boys!"

    Ikuko nodded.  "I believe you, Usagi-chan, really.  Is there any boy in particular that you'd like to tell me about?"  She leaned forward conspiratorially.  "Just between us girls, all right?"

    Usagi hesitated, then nodded.  < Mom is bound to find out sooner or later.  I should tell her before she finds out on her own.>  "Mom... you know Mamoru Chiba, don't you?"

    Ikuko nodded.  "Oh!  Is that the boy you like?  He's... he's quite nice... a little old perhaps, but a very nice boy."  Ikuko looked thoughtful.  "Well, he is very cute, isn't he?"

    Usagi blushed so hard she started to turn purple.  "Mom!"

    Ikuko giggled.  "I may be your mother, dear, but I'm not dead.  I'm glad you told me about him."  She leaned her head slightly to the side in interest.  "So, have you two done anything yet?"

    Usagi continued to blush, twiddling with her fingers and staring once more at the floor.  "Um... well...."

    Ikuko shifted a bit closer.  "Its OK, Usagi-chan.  You can tell me...."

    Usagi swallowed.  "Well...."

    Ikuko leaned forward a bit more.  "Yes...?"

    Usagi hesitated a bit more.  "Well... we...."  There was a pair of loud thumps behind her and Usagi jumped, whirling around.  Her father and little brother lay face first on the floor just in the hallway coming out of their concealment rather abruptly.  She frowned angrily and sniffed.  "Dad, I expect that from Shingo, but really!"

    Kenji picked himself off, holding one hand behind his head sheepishly.  "Er...."  He shook his head.  "Never mind that.  You and that older boy?  What have you two been doing?"

    "Nothing, Dad!"  Usagi shot back angrily.  "We only kissed!"  < A couple hundred times....>

    Usagi's father looked like he was about to have a stroke.  "Kissed... kissed?  My baby, and that Mamoru Chiba...?"

    Shingo pumped his hand.  "Way to go, Sis!  I didn't think you had it in you!"

    Ikuko sighed.  "Really dear, it's just a kiss.  Nothing to be worried about."  She turned back to Usagi.  "I think it's perfectly fine for you to have a boyfriend at your age.  I'm sure Mr. Chiba would never do anything improper...."

    Usagi shook her head quickly.  "No way mom!  My Mamoru-chan is a perfect gentleman!  He's a regular knight in shining armor!  Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, polite, hungry...!"  Usagi trailed off.  "No wait, I'm hungry...."

    Ikuko nodded.  "I believe you dear.  Why don't you invite that nice Mr. Chiba by for dinner."

    Kenji nodded fiercely.  "How about tomorrow?"

    Usagi gulped.  "Er... OK, I'll tell him."  She looked from one parent to the other questioningly.  "Does that mean I can go and see my friends?"

    Ikuko nodded.  "Yes, Usagi, it does.  Now, you only have a few hours before Naru's mother will be by to give you a ride to your martial arts class, so remember to be back here then."

    Usagi laughed happily.  "Oh, not to worry, mom!  I'll catch a ride with one of my friends!  I'll just call Naru first to tell her the good news!"  The blond pony tailed girl ran off energetically, leaving her family in her wake.

    Ikuko sighed, then turned to her son and husband.  "Now Shingo, what have I told you about eavesdropping?"  She glared at Kenji.  "And what were you thinking encouraging him?"

    As the two men of the Tsukino family cringed, Usagi made her escape.

        **************************

    Mamoru Chiba lounged in front of the T.V. "pulling a Usagi" aka, goofing off.  Luna whistled in the background as she practiced the intricacies of folding laundry.  She didn't begrudge Mamoru his down time, as he had been studying hard getting ready for his next semester when he wasn't at work or sleeping.  He would have to cut back when school started up again next week, so he was putting in a lot of over time now.  A knock came at the front door and Mamoru rose to open it.

    Usagi barreled inside the moment he turned the doorknob, nearly bowling him over.  "Mamo-chan!"  She screeched joyfully, hugging him tightly.  "Oh Mamo-chan!  I'm free!  Free at last!"  She took a step back and grabbed his hands, and started jumping up and down excitedly.  "I get to spend time with my hunk meister, yippee!"

    Mamoru Chiba laughed and led his girlfriend into his apartment, pushing the door shut with his foot.  "You get to see me at class twice a week anyway, Usagi-chan."

    Usagi shrugged.  "Yes... but I don't get any time alone with you, Mamo-chan...."  She blushed.  "You know... a l o n e...."  She glanced at her feet, then slowly let her eyes run up her boyfriends body until she reached his eyes.  Mamoru tried not to blush as she thoroughly "checked him out".  Usagi's eyes were soft and she stood on her tip toes to bring her face close to his.  "It's been such a long time, Mamoru...."  She puckered up and closed her eyes expectantly.

    Luna coughed.  "Ahem.  So, Usagi, would you like me to leave the two of you alone now?"

    Usagi blinked and glanced over in the direction of her cat's voice.  "Luna!  What are you doing here?"  She asked innocently, not the slightest bit embarrassed.

    Luna rolled her eyes.  "I live here now, you might remember."

    Usagi blinked.  "That's right!  Well... you don't have to leave, Luna... I mean, I wouldn't want to kick you out...."  She blushed suddenly and her eyes went wide.

    Luna blinked at Usagi's open mouthed stare.  "What?  What are you staring at?"  She followed the line of Usagi's eyes to the pair of boxers in her hands that she had just started folding automatically.  Luna sighed, shaking her head.  "Won't you ever grow up, Usagi?  I'm just doing the laundry."

    Usagi shut her mouth and tried (unsuccessfully) to stop blushing.  "But... those are... Mamo-chan's...."

    Mamoru put a hand to his forehead in embarrassment and amusement.  "Usagi-chan, it is just laundry after all.  You have a younger brother and a dad, so it's not like its something you haven't seen before, right?"

    Usagi shook her head.  "But it's my Mamo-chan's!"  She blushed shyly, imagining her boyfriend wearing those boxers... and nothing else, and quickly started to giggle maniacally.  Mamoru and Luna both sighed.

    Recovering quickly, Mamoru patted his girlfriend on the shoulder.  "Hey, why don't I take you out for ice cream to celebrate your new freedom!"

    Usagi was immediately distracted away from imagining her boyfriend in his underwear by the promise of food.  "Ice cream!  Great!  Let's go!"  She hugged Mamoru tightly.  "I just have the best boyfriend ever!"

    It was at the ice cream parlor that Usagi finally broke the bad news to Mamoru.

    "Mamo-chan...?"  Usagi sounded hesitant.

    Mamoru nodded encouragingly.  "What is it, Usagi?"

    Usagi shrugged.  "Well... I kinda told mom and dad that we were dating.  They want to meet you... tomorrow night... for dinner."

    Mamoru blanched slightly.  "Tomorrow?  I...."  He blew out a breath.  "I suppose it's as good a day as any.  OK, I'll be there."

    Usagi would have leapt across the table and hugged him if not for the presence of several dishes of ice cream that wouldn't be likely to survive the attempt.  She settled for beaming happily at him and planning hugging him a lot more in the near future.  Actually, Usagi realized, she would have done that anyway.  The blond pony tailed girl started daydreaming and blushing as she thought about all the other things she wanted to do with her boyfriend in the near future.

    Mamoru sighed inwardly and started thinking up some plans to keep his overly affectionate girl friend from doing something that her father would likely want to kill him for.  It wasn't that he had any real objections to Usagi getting more... affectionate, just that he wanted to do the right thing by her, and that included getting married first.

        *********************

    Sitting on Minako's bed, a black cat with a white belly watched as the self proclaimed "Senshi of Love" went through her cupboard for more hair dye.  "I'm not so sure about this, Minako-chan."  Artemis complained.  "I look silly in black."  He lifted a paw and sniffed it.  "And how am I supposed to keep this stuff clean?  I don't think it's supposed to go on fur...."

    Minako glanced back at her feline advisor.  "You look fine.  We just have to remember to dye you when you're in your cat form this time." She giggled.  "Or remember to dye ALL of your hair when you're a girl, instead of just your head."

    Artemis was glad that it was impossible to see him blush through his now mostly black fur coat.  "Why don't I just start wearing a wig?"

    Minako glanced at him.  "Hmm?  Oh yeah!  I can really see you as a blond!  How about a brunet, or maybe red hair like Ranma!  I bet you could pass for his twin if we gave you a pig tail...."

    Artemis blinked.  "Er... that's not exactly what I meant."  He looked thoughtful.  "Although now that you mention it, the more
disguises I have ready the better."  He frowned.  "White hair is just too uncommon, however.  Nabiki or Mr. Tendo would be sure to recognize me then."

    Minako nodded, and went back to looking through her drawers.  "That's why you need to keep your hair dyed.  A wig could fall off while we're working out or sparring...."  She found the black hair dye and brought it out.  "Now, we'd better do everything this time, your natural color is starting to show again."  She approached the cat on her bed.  "Now, how do you want to do this... as a cat, or as a girl?"  Her eyes twinkled, giving Artemis a hint about which she would prefer.

    Artemis swallowed.  "Er... whichever is easier, Minako-chan, just as long as you remember that your mother is home... we don't want to repeat what happened to Usagi and Luna, do we?"

    Minako pouted.  "You're no fun."  She sighed.  "I don't understand why we can't just tell mom that you're my lesbian lover from France?"

    Artemis sweated slightly.  "Well... for one thing, I don't speak French...."

    Minako shrugged.  "OK, how about Australia?"

    Artemis frowned.  "Well... I guess I could pull off the accent... but that's not the point.  I mean, wouldn't your mother be a bit shocked to find out you're sleeping with another girl?"

    Minako shrugged.  "Nah... mom sat me down a couple days ago and told me she didn't care if I liked girls or boys.  She even told me about this one time in high school where she had this huge crush on an actress at this all girl theater...."

    Artemis blinked.  "What brought that on?"

    Minako looked thoughtful.  "I think Usagi's mom has been asking around trying to find out more about Diana....  I bet she called Ami's mom too."

    Artemis sighed.  "I feel sorry for the Tsukinos.  This can't have been easy for them."

    Minako looked indignant.  "What about poor Luna!  She's the one they kicked out of her house and home!"

    Artemis nodded.  "I feel sorry for Luna too.  It's just one big misunderstanding, but there's nothing we can really do about it, is there?  Not without telling the truth."

    Minako looked determined.  "I won't believe there isn't anything we can do.  We'll think of something to get those two back together!  Wait and see!"  In an abrupt change of mood, she looked at Artemis questioningly.  "Lover... do you ever regret getting together with me?  I mean, for the longest time I thought you and Luna were meant for each other.  I still feel guilty sometimes for taking you away from her."

    Artemis shook his head.  "No.  No, Minako-chan, I don't regret anything we've done together.  Not any of it."  He gave her one of his usual cocky grins and looked away, not wanting her to see the look of guilt on his face.  < Oh Luna... I am sorry.>

    Minako noticed anyway and smiled knowingly.  < Don't worry, Artemis.  The Senshi of Love is on the case!>

        *******************

    It was a full class that arrived at the Tendo Dojo later that afternoon.  As promised, Nabiki had led Ryoga to the dojo before his class arrived, and he waited patiently as his class slowly filed in.  When everyone had arrived Ryoga went one wall of the dojo (it was always a different wall, but none of his students had mentioned it, thinking it had something to do with the training).  He turned to his students and stood patiently, and they all obediently lined up in front of him.  When they were all ready he bowed, and they bowed back, ready to begin the session.

    Several of his students glanced around in some confusion, and finally Makoto spoke up.  "Um, excuse me, Ryoga-sensei, but isn't Ranma-san supposed to be here today?"

    Ryoga hesitated, frowning.  "Er... Ranma had to leave for China...."  He scratched his head.  "So... he asked me to take over for a couple more weeks...."  He glanced around at his class.  "If anyone doesn't want to train under me, they can go."

    Makoto was the first to shake her head.  "Oh no, Ryoga-sensei!  You're a great teacher!  I'm here to train!"  Everyone else nodded in agreement.

    Ami broke in.  "Ryoga-sensei, is this about Ranma-san's curse?  Is everything all right?"

    Ryoga blinked.  "The curse?  Um...."

    Nabiki looked thoughtful.  < That's right, most of the class was at the wedding, so they must have overheard Kuno when he talked about Ranma's curse.  I wonder how much they know?>

    Ami answered Nabiki's unspoken question almost immediately.  "Did Tatewaki Kuno use the water from the spring of drowned twins?  Is that why Ranma has left for China?"

    Ryoga blinked in surprise.  "Er... yes, actually, that's correct."

    Nabiki cleared her throat.  "So, when did you find out about Ranma's curse, Ami?"

    It was Ami's turn to blink.  < Oops....>  She shrugged noncommittally, trying not to show her sudden nervousness.  "I found out back when Ranma-san gave us all those free lessons...."  She tried to recall the cover story they had made up.  "When he gave us all lessons to repay my aunt for helping cure Ranma's cat phobia...."

    Nabiki's eyes narrowed slightly.  < What makes me think there is more to this than she's saying?>

    Ryoga nodded, laughing nervously.  "So... Ranma told you about his curse, huh?  What... er, what exactly did he tell you?"

    Umino came over to Ami, looking curious.  "What is Ranma's curse, Ami?  I've heard rumors, of course, but they were so ridiculous that they were obviously contrived to conceal the real truth."  He laughed.  "I even heard that Ranma was cursed to turn into a girl whenever he is splashed with cold water!"  Umino shook his head, laughing even harder.  "Hah!  What a ridiculous story!"

    Everyone in the dojo but Naru stared at Umino in strained suspense and the geeky young man blinked.  "What?  What did I say?  I told you it was just a rumor...."

    Ami shook her head slowly.  "No, Umino-san, actually, that's the truth.  Ranma is cursed to change into a girl with cold water.... At least he was...."

    Umino blinked in disbelief.  "You're kidding!  That kind of thing can't be real."  He glanced around at the solemn faces around him and blinked again.  "Can it?"

    Naru glanced at her best friend.  "Usagi-chan, is what Ami said really true?"

    Usagi nodded.  "I know it's hard to believe, Naru, but it's true."

    Naru shook her head.  "Not really, not compared to all the things that have happened to me.  It's just kinda strange, that's all."

    Luna spoke up.  "Ryoga-san, could you tell us what happened to Ranma?  He's a good friend of ours."

    Ami continued.  "Yes, Kuno-san said he had water from the spring of drowned twins.  He used it?  What happened?"

    Nabiki cleared her throat, stepping forward.  "Ahem.  Information is my business.  If you want the scoop behind Ranma's trip to China, I'll be glad to tell you all about it... for only ten thousand yen...."

    Ryoga blinked.  "Er...."

    From the back of the group, Setsuna frowned.  < Why didn't I see this coming?  Is my sight completely useless when it comes to Jusenkyo?>  She strode forward and handed Nabiki a ten thousand yen bill.  "All right.  Please tell us."  < At least money isn't a problem for me.>  She sighed.  < I don't believe I'm resorting to paid informants now... but I can't chance making a mistake that might interfere with the princess's future.>

    Nabiki made the bill vanish in an instant.  < Damn, I should have held out for more!  Oh well, a deal's a deal.>  She nodded to Setsuna.  "Yup, Kuno used the spring of drowned twins water all right.  He set a trap for Ranma at the honeymoon suite.  Both he and my older sister Kasumi got splashed by the water, so they're both going to Jusenkyo for a cure."

    Ami spoke up.  "So, did the twins water work as Kuno explained?  Did it split Ranma into a guy and a girl?"

    Nabiki nodded, her eyebrow raised.  "That's correct."  < Hmm, this girl is pretty sharp.  I'd better play it straight with her.>  "Ranma was split into two, one guy, one girl.  His girl half is going by the name of Ranko right now.  She's planning on using the spring of drowned boy to turn back into a boy."

    Ami looked concerned.  "Are they sure that will work?  From what I've heard of the curses, they don't seem that simple."

    Nabiki shook her head.  "I really don't know.  They're going to try, anyway."

    Ami frowned.  "You said Kasumi got cursed as well?  Did her... other half get split up too?"

    Nabiki blinked.  < Does she know about Kasumi's curse too?  Did Ranma tell her, or Johnathon?>  She nodded slowly.  "Kasumi got split the same way Ranma did."

    Usagi gasped.  "Oh no!  Poor Kasumi!  Does that mean she's stuck as a cat again?"

    Now Nabiki started to look confused.  "How did you...?"

    Naru looked astonished.  "Stuck as a cat?  Usagi, what are you talking about?"

    Usagi gulped, looking nervous.  "Oops... I guess I wasn't supposed to talk about that, huh?"

    Rei sighed.  "You meatball head, can't you keep a secret?"

    Usagi looked miserable and Nabiki was surprised to find herself wanting to reassure the ponytailed blond girl.  "Don't worry about it.  It's not like its a big secret around here, anyway."  She glanced around at the other girls meaningfully.  "Not that we want all this getting around.  The last thing we want is for all this to get on the cover of some tabloid."  She looked meaningfully at Umino.  "Or showing up on someone's web page...."

    Umino wilted under the half dozen threatening stares he suddenly found himself under.  "Of... of course not!"  He protested strongly, looking to Naru for support.  "I wouldn't to anything mean like that!"

    Naru patted his shoulder.  "I know you wouldn't, Umino.  You'd never do anything to hurt someone."

    Umino sighed happily at his girlfriend.  "Of course not Naru-chan."

    Nabiki nodded in satisfaction.  < He's safe enough with his girlfriend as his conscience. >  She glanced around at the rest of the girls in the room.  < How did they find out so much about Jusenkyo, anyway?  It's not like Ranma goes around telling just anyone.>  She sighed.  < They must have seen him change.  I wonder what else they know about?>

    Ryoga was wondering much the same thing.  < Oh my god... if they know about Jusenkyo... do they know about my curse?  What if they don't and they find out?  Who would want to learn from someone who turns into a pig?>  Ryoga forced himself to calm down.  < Take it easy, Ryoga, if they know, they haven't said anything, and if they don't... I'll just have to make sure they don't find out.  I managed to keep Akane in the dark for almost a year.  There's no reason I can't keep my secret safe for a while longer....>  He turned to the class, clearing his throat.  "Well, now you know why Ranma can't teach today, but since he has left you in my charge, we might as well get some practice in, all right?"  The class turned to him and nodded, going silent while everyone moved back into position.  Ryoga waited until they were back in line again then nodded.  "Good.  Well then, lets get to work.  We'll start as usual with our stretching exercises.  Hino-san, if you'd care to lead the class?"

    Rei beamed and nodded.  "Sure!"  She hurried over to stand next to Ryoga and began leading the group through their normal warm up exercises.

        *******************

    Shampoo rode swiftly down the fence on her bike, laden down with the day's groceries.  < Hmm... what should I cook for dinner tonight?  Something special, perhaps, to take my Airen's mind off of whatever has been worrying him so much lately....>  Suddenly Shampoo sensed something approaching her.  "Who is it?"  The young Amazon braked quickly, perching her bike on top of the fence with the ease of long experience.  "What?  It's you?"  Shampoo's eyes narrowed.  "What do you want?"

        *******************

    "Niayo!"  Shampoo announced cheerfully as she entered the clinic's front door.

    A little old lady smiled at her.  "Ah, how sweet."  She turned to the doctor.  "Well then, thank you very much for treating my back, Doctor.  I'll just leave you two love birds alone then."  She giggled and hurried off, swinging the sign in front over to closed as she went through the door."

    Dr. Tofu shook his head.  "Ah well, we might as well close up early anyway."  He glanced at Shampoo.  "Shampoo, I know you've been wondering what's bothering me...."

    Shampoo nodded automatically.  "Nyes I did, Tofu-chan!"

    Dr. Tofu blinked.  "Shampoo... did you just meow?"

    Shampoo's eyes widened momentarily then she smiled at him.  "Nwhy?"  She stepped up and cuddled into his side.  "Don't you Nlike cats?"

    Tofu blinked again.  "Er... certainly Shampoo, of course I like cats."  He smiled, putting his hands on her shoulders and pushing her gently away.  "Is this is your way of asking me if I have a problem with your curse?"

    Shampoo blinked once, then nodded agreeably.  "Nyes, that's it."

    Tofu smiled, shaking his head.  "You make a cute cat, Shampoo-chan, I certainly don't mind your Jusenkyo curse."  He tapped her nose lightly.  "So don't worry."  He glanced at her suddenly as if confused.  "Shampoo... is there something...?"

    Shampoo interrupted.  "You were about to ntell me about what was bothering you."

    Tofu frowned.  "Yes... I want you to keep this to yourself Shampoo, but did you notice anything wrong with Nabiki while you were working with her during the photo shoots?  I know I asked you to keep an eye on her, but did anything at all seem unusual?"

    Shampoo shook her head.  "Nabiki nwas fine, Tofu-chan."

    He frowned.  "I really should go see her.  Are you sure?  She didn't say anything about Gosenkugi, for example?"

    Shampoo shook her head again.  "Why Gosenkugi?"

    Dr. Tofu shook his head.  "I really can't tell you much, except that Nabiki came to me with a problem a while back, and...."  He shook his head.  "Shampoo, what do you know about the hypnosis incense that Happosai was using a few months back?"

    Shampoo shook her head.  "I nreally don't nknow anything about it, Tofu-chan...."

    He looked surprised.  "Really?  You and your great-grandmother were both affected by it, I'd have thought Cologne would have tried to find out something about it."

    Shampoo hesitated, thinking.  "Nno, Cologne... er, great-grandmother nnever told me anything about the incense...."

    Dr. Tofu sighed.  "Oh well.  I think I had better go see Nabiki myself.  She said that Ranma and Akane got cured of the incense, but she never mentioned how....  It would be useful information to know, even if I'm mistaken about Nabiki."

    Shampoo nodded.  "All right.  Why don't I make dinner for us while nyour out, Tofu-chan?"

    The good doctor nodded distractedly.  "That sounds nice, Shampoo-chan."  He went to the door and opened it, pausing and glancing back at her with a slight grin.  "You really do sound like a cat, Shampoo, its kind of cute... don't greet any patients like that though."

    Dr. Tofu started off toward the Tendo Dojo.  < I wonder what's gotten into Shampoo today?  Is she trying to tell me something by acting like a cat?>  He mused.  "Maybe this is her way of telling me she's considering jumping into the spring of drowned girl and getting a half-cat curse like Johnathon-kun...."  He considered a felinoid Shampoo for a few minutes.  "I guess I wouldn't mind, if that's what she wants."

        ************************

    In a dark alleyway, a cloaked figure spoke quietly to something only it could see.  "So the doctor knows of a cure for the incense?  I see, and he's going to check on Nabiki Tendo?"

    A thin pale teenager came up from behind her meekly.  "Mistress, that might be a problem.  Nabiki Tendo was the only one to know that I had the incense, and Happosai.  If she regains the memories that I locked away...."

    The cloaked form sniffed.  "Then the doctor must be dealt with.  Are your pawns ready?"

    Gosenkugi nodded.  "I have both brother and sister under my control now, mistress.  They can act at any time... but they will not be enough, and Happosai the others are already on their way to China...."

    The cloaked figured growled softly to itself.  "If it is allies they need, so be it.  That can be arranged."  She spoke to the air once more.  "Gather your troops, and kill Dr. Tofu immediately, and before he reaches the Tendo Dojo!"

    Gosenkugi nodded.  "Yes mistress."  The pale youth slunk away quickly, and she felt another presence leave as well, leaving her alone in the alley.

    "Soon."  The cloaked figure hissed to herself.  "Soon I will have my revenge, Kasumi Tendo!"

           End Chapter 8
 
 

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