Subject: [FFML] [fanfic][Ranma] Relentless - Epilogue One
From: Thunderstruck
Date: 5/15/2005, 11:32 AM
To: FFML
Reply-to:
thunderstruck_comic@comcast.net


Here's the first of the two epilogues for "Relentless", also 
posted on the  website. C&C is most welcome.

The second epilogue will arrive next Sunday (May 22nd). 

- Grayson Towler
http://www.talesfromthevault.com/relentless

               =========================
                      RELENTLESS
                A Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction

                   By Grayson Towler
               =========================


-----------------------------------------------------------
                       EPILOGUE ONE:
                         Loose End
-----------------------------------------------------------

                         - - - - -

                      SIX MONTHS LATER

                         - - - - -

Ranma felt the pressure wave a moment before the punch 
connected, and jerked away from the blow. He heard the shift of 
Ryouga's shoe, crunching the gritty dirt slightly as he 
Planted his weight, and knew the Lost Boy was about to follow 
up with a kick. Ranma took a hop back to get a little distance. 

A swift rush of air brushed Ranma's face in the wake of 
Ryouga's missed roundhouse kick. He took the opening to step in 
and throw a combination of sharp punches to Ryouga's torso. The 
timbre of each impact sounded like he was punching solid rock. 
<Can't believe it... is he getting tougher?>

Ryouga was getting faster - of that, Ranma had no doubt. 
Practically unfazed by Ranma's counter, Ryouga lashed out with 
a punishing backhand that even Ranma didn't have time to dodge. 
The young Saotome blocked the blow, grunting with the effort as 
the shock jarred the bones in his forearms. He weaved away from 
the follow up attacks, searching for more openings to strike.

He could feel the cooler air on the bare skin his back, and 
knew that Ryouga was trying to back him up against the 
cinderblock wall surrounding this vacant lot in order to limit 
his mobility. Subtle differences in temperature often alerted 
him to the specifics of his environment, and against a normal 
foe they helped him keep track of his enemy's movements and 
position.

Ryouga was not normal - his battle aura flared so hot and 
strong that it dazzled Ranma's fine-tuned sense of temperature. 
Against the Lost Boy, he had to rely on sound, the feel of air 
pressure, and his sixth-sense to danger. With his reflexes, he 
could keep clear of Ryouga's pulverizing kicks and punches, but 
only if he had enough space to move.

<Still... might be able to use this to my advantage.> A little 
quickening of Ryouga's breath tipped Ranma off to the bandana-
clad fighter sense of anticipation. He probably thought Ranma 
didn't realize that he was being backed into a corner. <Let him 
think that... let him over-commit...>

Ranma feigned a look of surprise when his ankle touched the 
cool cinderblocks, and Ryouga lunged.

The punch whistled of Ranma's head as he ducked and shattered 
the cement of the wall. Great irregular chunks spiraled in 
every direction along with clouds of dust. Ranma had guessed
that would happen - the smell of the cinderblocks had told him
how dry they were, so he had been confident they would put off
a lot of powdery dust when they were hit hard enough The momentary
smoke screen gave Ranma a perfect opportunity - he wasn't affected 
by the blinding debris, after all.

Bracing both hands against the base of the broken wall, Ranma 
kicked out with both legs, catching Ryouga solidly in the 
abdomen. The mule-kick didn't hurt Ryouga that much, but it did 
pack enough force at that angle to put the muscular young 
fighter off his feet. The Lost Boy's body went soaring through 
the air, crashing down several dozen meters away at the end of 
the arc.

<A little distance,> Ranma thought. <That's just what I 
needed.>

He charged up his battle aura, with cold focused on one hand 
and heat on the other. He expected Ryouga would take a measured 
approach to closing the distance, which would give him plenty 
of time to bombard him with Dragon-Claw Storms. The Lost Boy 
might also decide to trade ki-blasts with him - he had a new ki 
attack that had evolved from the Shi-Shi Hokoudan and didn't 
rely on the heavy ki of depression. Even so, Ranma fought much 
better at long range, and felt confident that he could come out 
ahead on that kind of exchange.

To his surprise, Ryouga took neither approach. The moment the 
fanged martial artist regained his footing, he launched himself 
straight towards Ranma at a full sprint.

<Didn't learn your lesson last time, did you?> Ranma thought. 
He was almost disappointed. <Well... here goes...> 

"ONE-MAN DRAGON ASCENSION!"

The pig-tailed martial artist executed a string of pirouettes 
with blinding speed, pulling his heat-shrouded hand closer to a 
core of cold in order to instantly create a powerful whirlwind. 
The charging Ryouga, running too fast to check his momentum, 
was caught in the grip of this sudden vortex. Ranma heard the 
winds catch the Lost Boy's body, following to the rippling of 
his clothes and hair as the tornado picked him up off the 
ground and battered him in its fury.

<This fight is done,> he thought in satisfaction. It was just a 
matter of how much punishment Ryouga could endure before he 
gave out. Ranma could renew the whirlwind as many times as he 
needed to keep up the attack until his foe was finished. <Once 
I get you in the air, it's all over... what?>

"COMET DRIVE!"

He barely had time to react. He heard something heavy hissing 
through the air towards him at an unbelievable velocity, 
punching through the storm directly like a brick through sheet 
glass. He threw himself aside at the last instant. The object 
thundered into the ground with a deafening report, kicking up a 
huge plume of dust. It was like the Breaking Point, except 
several times as powerful... and Ranma was practically at 
ground zero.

He staggered, his body pummeled by shrapnel, momentarily 
deafened by the cannon-like explosion. Suddenly, he felt 
powerful fingers close around his neck. <He dropped clean outta 
the sky!> Ranma realized. <How the heck...>

Ryouga hauled him into the air, dangling him off the ground in 
his vise-like grasp. Ranma raised his hands, his Talons of Ice 
suddenly springing to life at the ends of his fingers.

The two fighters paused, letting seconds tick by.

"If I tighten my grip," Ryouga finally said, "you're finished."

"If I slash... with these claws," Ranma replied, his voice 
ragged, "you're pullin' back a stump."

Wisps of wind kicked up stray clouds of dust and swirled them 
around the two fighters. Little crystals of snow fluttered from 
Ranma's Talons of Ice, catching the sunlight like tiny diamonds 
as they drifted away. 

"It's a question," Ryouga said, "of whether you can stand up to 
my grip long enough to take my arm off."

"Or whether..." Ranma gasped, "...you're fast enough... to 
squeeze down before I strike."

"Yeah."

Ranma heard his friend start to chuckle, and felt the minute 
loosening of his fingers. The young Saotome let out a dry laugh 
in response.

"I'd call this one is a draw," the Lost Boy declared.

"Yeah. I think you're right." Ranma agreed, and then he was 
free and back on his feet. He wobbled on shaky legs, and Ryouga 
put a hand on his shoulder to steady him. 

"You didn't really think I'd fall for the same thing twice?" 
the fanged boy asked.

"Guess I underestimated you," Ranma admitted. They had fought 
like this three time since returning to Japan. The first time, 
Ryouga had knocked him cold after about seven or eight minutes 
of hard battle. The second, he'd caught Ryouga in a One-Man 
Dragon Ascension, and that had been the end of it. "What the 
heck was that? 'Comet Drive?'"

"Something I learned at the Temple," Ryouga explained. "The 
real technique is called the 'Gravity Well.' The Comet Drive is 
just one application, when you do a diving charge."

Ranma understood immediately. "Lets you control your weight, 
does it?"

"Yeah," his friend acknowledged. "Earth technique from the 
Elements of the Soul. I'm still getting the hang of it... but 
that one worked well enough."

"Heh... remind me never to let you sit on me." The two fighters 
made their way over to the entrance to the vacant lot. Ranma 
collected his shirt from the ground where he'd left it - he'd 
gotten very good at remembering where objects were. These days 
he preferred to fight without a shirt on, since he could get a 
better read on the temperatures around him with his bare skin. 
<Might get people lookin' at me weird if I fight as a girl,> he 
realized.

Then again, people ALWAYS seemed to be giving him weird looks 
now.

He'd been healthy for months now. The Temple had funded a 
hospital trip for him after his last clash with the Reikoku, 
and he'd been on his back for several weeks. The doctors had 
done a fine job patching up his cuts, burns, and lacerations. 
Further, the work they had done on his face was nothing short 
of miraculous - the top half had pretty much been a ruin when 
he got there, and he could barely even feel the tiny remnants 
of scar tissue on his skin. Everybody said you couldn't see the 
difference.

Except for his eyes, of course. There was no way to fix his 
eyes.

Ranma could deal with the disability, really. He had found all 
sorts of ways to cope with the loss of function of his 
eyesight. Once he'd gotten past the shock and dismay, he even 
kind of relished the challenge. He'd found ways to use his 
other senses he'd never dreamed possible, and was still 
exploring the unfolding potential of his sensory acuity. 

It was the pity he hated.

It manifested in all sorts ways, great and small. Kasumi fussed 
around and was too mothering. Nabiki didn't throw her usual 
jabs and japes his way, and hadn't tried to make money off him 
since he returned. Tendou Soun wept and tried not to let it 
show. His father found reasons to disappear, working at the 
restaurant more and more, uncertain of what to do about his 
son's condition. Natsume was formal and helpful, Kurumi was 
sweet and helpful... always asking if they could get something 
for him, do something for him, help him out in any way...

Even Akane did it. She at least tried not to, and he 
appreciated that she at least understood how much he detested 
the sympathy. But she loved him, she suffered when he did, and 
she wanted to help him through his troubles... and sometimes 
she ended up making him miserable with her attempts to care for 
him.

School was the worst, though. He was now a student with 
"special needs." They wanted him to go to "special classes." 
They scheduled appointments with counselors, assigned "helpers" 
for him to take notes when he couldn't see the chalkboard, and 
set up tutors for him to learn Braille. He ditched the classes, 
skipped the appointments, and blew off his helpers and tutors. 
Everything about the situation made him want to puke.

And Kunou... there'd been times when Ranma had been just about 
ready to kill the kendoist. Kunou now refused to fight him, 
declaring that he would not take advantage of one who had been 
"crippled by ill fate." Almost as bad, in a way, was the fact 
that Kunou had suddenly lost interest in the "Pig-tailed Girl." 
Ranma knew that Kunou was mostly focused on Natsume right now, 
but he still made the occasional pass at Akane. But the BLIND 
girl, the CRIPPLED girl - that wasn't good enough for the great 
and mighty Kunou Tatewaki... no more than his old rival was 
good enough to fight him anymore...

Ranma had seriously considered dropping out of school entirely. 
Akane was the only reason he stayed - she still wanted to 
complete high school, apply for college... all that stuff. <If 
it means gettin' treated like a freak for five or six more 
years, why bother?> In martial arts, at least, he knew how to 
overcome his sightlessness. He could still be strong and in 
command. School made him feel... handicapped. 

Ryouga and Ukyou... they were the only ones who understood.

The time they had spent on the run from the Reikoku had changed 
the three of them, creating a bond that Ranma didn't feel with 
anyone else. Not his dad, not the Tendous... and although he 
hated to admit it, not even Akane. As much as he loved her, 
there still was a gulf between the two of them that he didn't 
know how to cross. 

He made time to be with Ryouga and Ukyou about twice a week. He 
thought Akane might be jealous, especially where Ukyou was 
concerned... but it wasn't like that. His former "cute" fiancee 
had stopped pursuing him. In fact, he had a feeling she was 
interested in Ryouga, but Akari had also been around 
recently... he wasn't really sure what was going on there. 

They never talked about any of that kind of thing when they 
were together. Mostly they practiced martial arts, or talked 
about their travels in China, or just... spent time. The thing 
he treasured was how they didn't treat him any differently. He 
could relax around Ryouga and Ukyou... could feel like himself.

And he could fight at his best.

Ryouga had changed since that time when Ranma had been weakened 
by Happosai's moxibustion. Back then, the Lost Boy had pitied 
his rival's plight in the same way well-meaning people pitied 
Ranma now. Even when he'd wanted to, Ryouga had been unwilling 
to attack the weakened Ranma at full strength.

Now, though, he didn't hold back. When the two agreed to go for 
a full combat spar, Ryouga fought like a demon in a bandana - 
just like he always had. Ranma wondered if his friend 
understood just how much it meant to him that he fought that 
way, giving it his all. <He probably does,> he thought. <He 
knows how humiliation feels.>

"Where's the cart today?" Ranma asked. 

"Um..." he could hear Ryouga fumbling for a scrap of paper. 
"Near the antique shop down by park with the fountain," he 
read. "You know where that is?"

"Yeah," the young Saotome said. It was funny - even blind, he 
could find his way around town far better than Ryouga. "Let's 
go before she gets bored and closes up on us."

Ukyou had taken to operating out of her traveling okonomiyaki 
cart, much like her father had done while she was growing up. 
She checked back in on the restaurant every so often, but she'd 
confessed to Ranma and Ryouga that she really didn't feel at 
home there anymore. The restaurant truly belonged to Nabiki 
and Konatsu now, even if Ukyou technically still owned it. The 
two of them made a great team, and Ukyou had found herself 
feeling like the odd one out when she'd tried to come back and 
resume her place at the helm.

Just as he was about to step onto the sidewalk, Ranma paused. 
"Hey," he asked Ryouga. "Anything feel... weird to you?"

"Huh?"

"I dunno..." Ranma sniffed the air. "I just get the feeling... 
like..."

"Like what?" came an ancient creaky voice.

Ranma and Ryouga whirled as one, dropping into fighting stances 
as they turned to face the voice. "Like we're being watched," 
the young Saotome announced.

The cackling response was as unexpected as it was familiar. 
"Well, well, young one. You even managed to sense my presence! 
You have become alert."

"Old Ghoul!" 

"It's... Elder Cologne!" Ryouga said.

Ranma found himself smiling, a surprising feeling of warmth 
flooding his heart at the sound of that old woman's dry, creaky
voice. "What the heck are you doin' here, Granny?"

>From the sound of it, she had perched on top of the cement 
wall, balanced on her gnarled staff. Ranma couldn't imagine how 
she'd masked the rapping of her approach if she'd hopped along 
on that thing - the old woman's prowess in martial arts still 
left him amazed.

"Good to see you boys," Cologne asked. "As to your question, 
I've decided to re-open the cafe. We'll be back in business 
this weekend."

"How come?" Ryouga asked. 

"Don't tell me the whole Shampoo thing is back on..." Ranma 
began.

"No, no. Nothing like that." He heard the swish of the 
matriarch's long, silver hair as she shook her head. "But think 
about it, boys. Saotome Ranma, Hibiki Ryouga, Kuonji Ukyou, and 
now Tendou Akane. Four martial artists who have mastered secret 
Amazon techniques, all in the same area. This generation of 
Amazon girls needs to get their act together if they want to 
become warriors worthy of our tribe. I think a little... hmm, 
'au pair' program might be just the ticket."

"Amazon girls?" Ryouga asked. "Wait... you mean that promise to 
train Amazons, right?"

"Correct," the old woman confirmed. "I expect to cycle through 
several girls a year for some training time in Japan. The cafe 
makes an excellent base of operations, and keeps the whole 
enterprise profitable. So it seemed the logical thing to come 
back and start it up again."

"So," Ranma asked, "is Shampoo with you?"

"She still has several months left in her penance," Cologne 
reported, "but after that, yes, I expect she'll want to come 
back. She rather liked it here, and I gather she has a few 
loose ends she wants to tie up."

"Like what?"

"This and that," the old woman said. "Not much of it concerns 
you boys. Still, she did reveal something about a 'Kiss of 
Death' to one of your teachers."

"Miss Hinako!" Ranma blurted, surprised. He'd forgotten all 
about that. "She's not going to kill her, is she?"

"Contrary to what you might think," Cologne explained, "these 
things rarely end in death. Still, it is an outstanding matter 
that she is honor-bound to settle. So yes, she'll be coming 
back."

"And Mousse?"

The Amazon elder snorted. "I expect he will as well. Doesn't 
seem to be any way to stop him from following her around. For 
now, I brought some young warriors with me to help start up. 
Nobody you've met... though they shall be seeking you out for 
instruction soon enough."

"Heh," Ranma chuckled. "Bring 'em on. So long as they don't try 
any Amazon kisses on me when I smack 'em down."

"That doesn't apply to teacher-student relations," Cologne 
assured him. "So... I'm glad to see you in such good spirits, 
young one. Your blindness doesn't seem to have slowed you 
down."

Ranma felt his breath hitch at her words. He was accustomed to 
all sorts of avoidance and platitudes when people addressed the 
question of his sight. The old woman's matter-of-fact words 
were a shock... but not a bad one, he realized. He liked the 
direct approach. 

"Not for martial arts," he said. "I'm fightin' better than 
ever. Right, Ryouga?"

"Eh, you're not bad," the Lost Boy replied. Ranma could tell by 
his tone that he was smiling.

"Doesn't slow you down for martial arts, is it?" the elder 
asked. Ranma heard it in her voice - she'd intuited the 
problems he'd been running into at school and elsewhere. "So 
then, young one... what are your plans?"

"My plans?"

"I mean," she elaborated, "that the Amazons have an interest in 
your whereabouts. You're going to be training our next 
generation of warriors, after all. I know this lad," he heard 
the swish of her sleeve as she made a gesture towards Ryouga, 
"can't be counted on to stay in any one place too long. What of 
you? Do you intend go off to some university, perhaps?"

In the long pause that followed, he could feel the old woman's 
gaze on him. Ryouga was holding his breath, waiting. 

Ranma worked his jaw, grimaced, and then cracked his knuckles. 
"Screw that crap."

"Hmm?"

"I'm a martial artist. What the hell do I need any of that 
garbage for? My life is about fightin', and I sure as hell 
ain't gonna learn anything about that in some dumb college."

"I see."

The words poured out of him now - he couldn't have stopped even 
if he'd wanted. Thoughts that had been brewing in the back of 
his mind for months now sought to be spoken, and nothing could 
hold back the tide. "I'm sick of sittin' around in class 
learnin' crap that I'll never need. Most of that garbage is 
supposed to be preparin' you to take the entrance exams 
anyway... and if I ain't gonna take those, why do I need it? 
It's wastin' time that I could spend training!"

"Hmm," the old woman hummed. "Well, there's much to be said for 
keeping the mind sharp as well as the body, boy."

"Yeah, I know," Ranma acknowledged. "But there are tons of ways 
to do that... and besides, school ain't keepin' my mind sharp. 
It's just drivin' me nuts!"

"In that case, what will you do instead?" she queried.

Ranma leaned forward, gesturing sharply with his hands as he 
spoke. "I gotta build my reputation, see. That's what I figure. 
If I'm gonna teach martial arts, I'd better be known far and 
wide for how good I am. That means hittin' the road...  
challengin' dojos, winnin' tournaments, studyin' at temples, 
catchin' criminals, performin' exorcisms, takin' care of 
monsters... all that kind of stuff that martial artists are 
s'posed to do. I'll go from one end of Japan to the other, 
until everyone knows about Saotome Ranma."

"Are you concerned," the Amazon asked, "that people might 
hesitate to employ a blind martial artist for such tasks?"

"Nah," Ranma said confidently. "Anybody doubts me, I can show 
'em. The way I figure, it'll even start to work in my favor. 
You know, like I'll be a modern-day Zatoichi."

"And what about your bride?" Cologne asked pointedly.

Ranma pursed his lips. "If she wants to come with me... I think 
that'd be great. We'd be a heck of a team. If she wants to stay 
back and go to school... I guess I can live with that. It'll be 
kind of like how things were between my mom and pop."

Ryouga let out a gagging sound.

"Only I won't be a dumbass like my pop was," Ranma amended. "I 
just... I'm gonna marry Akane. I want that more'n anything. But 
if she wants to go off to college and stuff... that's her 
thing. I can't just follow her around. I'm a martial artist. 
I'm a BLIND martial artist now. And I'm the Master of the 
Anything-Goes School."

He paused, making a face.

"Something wrong, lad?" the old woman asked.

"Nothin'... well, it's somethin'," he admitted. "Just my 
problem."

"Hmm." He could hear her stroking her chin. "I'm guessing that 
you're thinking about Happosai, aren't you?"

"Geez, are you a mind-reader or something?" the young Saotome 
groused. "Yeah, I was thinkin' about him. He's... kind of my 
own loose end."

"Ukyou and I found him before," Ryouga said, his voice grave. 
"I've told you that I think we can help you find him again... 
if that's what you want."

"Yeah," Ranma acknowledged. The idea of Ryouga helping him find 
anything was kind of a joke, but if Ukyou knew something... "I 
dunno. I still ain't figured out how I want to deal with that."

"He has cost you much," Cologne said softly.

"Don't I know it," Ranma grumbled. "Still, what am I gonna do 
about it? I could hunt him down and beat the snot out of him, I 
guess... but that's not really enough to balance the scales, is 
it?"

"I wouldn't say so," the elder agreed.

"Well..." Ranma spread his hands. "I don't know if I wanna... 
go the next step." He swallowed. "To kill him. That's really 
what's left... and it ain't my style."

"And you're content with that?"

Ranma kicked irritably at the dirt. "No," he admitted. "It 
still pisses me off. I mean, it SUCKS to just let that old son 
of a bitch off the hook for what he did, but what can I do? I'm 
not gonna waste my life huntin' his ass down. If he crosses my 
path... well, I guess we'll cross that bridge then."

"I see," the old woman said.

"You think I should handle it different?" he challenged.

"Not necessarily. This might be the best approach for you."

Ranma had gotten pretty good at hearing the nuances in people's 
voices now, and could usually get a feel for if they were lying 
or holding something back. Not with Cologne, though - he had no 
clue what was going on under the surface of the ancient woman's 
words. <Whatever,> he thought, shrugging. <If she wants to say 
somethin', she will.>

"You wanna come with us?" he asked. "Ukyou's got her cart down 
by the park."

"Perhaps later," the elderly warrior replied. "I have a few 
other matters to attend. But alert young Ukyou and your bride-
to-be that I've returned, and shall be sending students their 
way before long."

"Heh. I'm sure they'll be thrilled to have Amazons hangin' 
around again," he noted with a wry smile.

Cologne cackled with mirth as she hopped away. "I'm sure they 
will, my boy!"

- - - - -

Akane felt the tug on her sleeve as she made her way through 
the crowded central hallway of Furinkan high. "Nabiki?" she 
said, turning to see that it was her sister. "What's up... 
geez, you look like a mess."

Nabiki, who normally maintained a deliberately polished image, 
faced her with sunken eyes and unkempt hair. She rubbed her 
brow. "Oh... rough night. It's nothing."

Akane sighed. "It's Kontasu, isn't it? Nabiki... don't tell me 
you were up all night with him again."

"Yeah," the mercenary girl admitted with a sigh. "You wouldn't 
think it by looking at him, but he can be a real beast."

"Wearing you out, is he?"

"He's an animal!" she exclaimed. "Absolutely relentless. I can 
hardly keep up with him."

"Look, sis," Akane said gently, "The stuff Konatsu is into... 
is pretty hard core, you know? Maybe he's too much for you 
right now."

"I can take it," Nabiki insisted. "Really, I'm enjoying it. 
Just takes a lot out of me, that's all."

"Are you sure," she asked, "that you don't want to learn 
martial arts from someone else? I mean, we DO live in a dojo. 
Daddy could teach you, or me, or Natsume and Kurumi..."

"Nah," Nabiki replied, waving her hand. "It's not so much the 
fighting I want to learn, sis - it's the stealth. I'm more 
interested in avoiding nutballs like Kodachi and Azusa than 
beating them up. Konatsu's ninjitsu is what I need."

"If you say so."

"The training is harder than I thought it'd be," she said. "I 
figured stealth wouldn't be as tough as fighting. Wishful 
thinking, I guess. Anyway, I had a message for you, Akane."

She blinked. "A message?"

"Yeah. Ukyou dropped by the restaurant this morning and said 
she had something she needed to talk to you about. She asked 
you to meet her on the roof after third period."

Akane felt the muscles in her jaw tighten. "Ukyou." She took a 
deep breath. "Do you know what this is about?"

Nabiki gave a breezy wave. "Nope. Hey, if it was a challenge, 
I'm sure she would've fried up the message on the grill. Don't 
get all knotted up about it, okay?"

"Right."

"See you later, Akane." The middle Tendou sister merged back 
with the flow of students in the hallway, and soon disappeared 
from sight. Akane turned and made her way up the stairs to her 
third period class.

She barely registered anything the teacher was saying during 
the class. Ranma had decided to skip school again today - that 
worried her. He'd been with Ukyou and Ryouga last night, and 
had gotten back pretty late. He'd seemed happy... actually, 
he'd seemed to be feeling better than he had in a long time. <I 
should have talked to him about it,> she thought. <I had an 
exam to study for... but I should have made the time.> If he'd 
been depressed, she knew she would have gone to him. <But not 
when he was feeling good. There's something messed up about 
that.>

Maybe she hadn't WANTED to hear why he was feeling good... 
because it probably had something to do with the time he'd 
spent with Ukyou and Ryouga.

Ranma and Ryouga were almost like brothers now. That didn't 
bother her - sure, they sparred a lot, and Ryouga's lack of 
restraint worried her sometimes, but overall she thought it was 
good for both of them to have finally gotten over the feud that 
had caused them so much trouble for so long. <It took something 
like the Reikoku,> she mused, <but at least the two of them can 
get along.>

She wished she could feel the same way about Ranma and Ukyou. 
Maybe they were telling the truth - maybe Ukyou really had 
given up on her engagement with Ranma, and now valued him only 
as a friend. Maybe she was just being jealous over an old 
rivalry that didn't apply anymore.

<But if that's so,> she wondered, <then why does Ukyou seem so 
angry at me?>

There had always been a strain in Akane's dealings with Ukyou, 
but that had been easy to understand when they had both been 
engaged to Ranma. Now, even though the fiancee issue had 
theoretically been settled, Akane felt a kind of hostility out 
of Ukyou that was far more intense than before. They could 
still pretend to get along if they had to be together, but 
there was no mistaking the anger smoldering in Ukyou's eyes 
when she looked at Akane.

<It's not over for her,> Akane thought. That had to be it. <No 
matter what she says, she still wants Ranma for herself.> Back 
in China, in the aftermath of Ranma's final battle with the 
Reikoku, Akane had gotten the impression that Ukyou and Ryouga 
were together. But she realized she'd thought that before... 
and once again, it seemed she'd been wrong. <Ukyou and Akari 
get along fine,> she noted. <No way they'd be so chummy if 
Ukyou was hot for Ryouga.>

Akane could think of no other explanation. She fumed about it 
as she made her way up the stairs to the roof of Furinkan High, 
where Ukyou had asked to meet her. <Maybe she wants to get it 
out in the open,> she speculated. <Fine. Let her. Ranma and I 
are together now, and there's nothing she can do about it.>

Ukyou stood at the railing, looking out over the courtyard and 
the rooftops of Nerima beyond. She had left behind the giant 
battle spatula today. The Temple had replaced her trademark 
weapon after the Reikoku had destroyed the original, but she no 
longer lugged it around all the time. Even without the 
oversized weapon, though, she cut a distinctive figure. A young 
woman with long hair in a boy's uniform, a bandoleer of 
throwing spatulas slung across her torso... you could spot 
Ukyou from a mile away.

<Not like me,> she thought, strangely uncomfortable at the 
thought. 

"I'm here," she announced.

"I noticed," Ukyou commented. She still faced away from Akane, 
the light breeze rippling her long ponytail. "You walk like a 
sack of cement with legs."

The young Tendou narrowed her eyes. "What do you want, Ukyou? 
Or did you just ask me up here to insult me?"

"That wasn't an insult," the chef said. She finally turned and 
fixed a belligerent gaze on Akane. "That was an observation. 
Believe me, if I wanted to insult you, you'd know it."

"What is WITH you?" Akane demanded, the heat rising in her 
cheeks. "Have you got some kind of problem with me?"

"Oh yeah," the long-haired warrior replied. "You bet I do."

"Then spit it out!" she snapped. She felt her anger mounting, 
but her head was clear. If Ukyou wanted to fight, she was more 
than ready to oblige. "What is it, Ukyou? Are you dying to try 
to be the 'cute' fiancee again?"

"Feh." The okonomiyaki chef planted her hands on her hips. "You 
moron. I know Ranma well enough to know that he loves you. Love 
really is blind, I guess. But he's MY friend... and it ticks me 
off to see how little you've done to earn him."

"What?!" Akane's fists clenched of their own accord. "What does 
THAT mean?"

"You stayed HERE," Ukyou barked, pointing at the ground for 
emphasis. "When Ranma's life was in danger, you stayed back 
where it was safe and let him fend for himself. Don't think 
I've forgotten that, sugar... or forgiven it."

"I DID go to China to follow him..."

"Sure," Ukyou agreed. "Took you long enough, didn't it?"

Akane felt herself trembling with anger now. This wasn't what 
she'd expected - not at all. "I don't have to justify myself to 
you..."

"YES you DO!" the other girl shouted back. "You goddamn well 
DO, Tendou Akane! Because I stood beside Ranma out there! I 
FOUGHT that monster for him, and you NEVER did!"

"I was ready to!" She slashed angrily at the air with a fist. 
"I was two seconds away from fighting..."

"That means nothing," Ukyou cut her off. "I know about the 
little promise you made to Ranma... that you wouldn't fight to 
save him even if that damned thing was about to kill him."

"I had to!" She couldn't believe Ukyou knew about that. "I 
saved his life. Don't you get it? I had to..."

"You worked up the nerve to finally come after him late in the 
game," her rival said, "and then you chickened out at the end 
when the chips were really down."

"You have NO idea what I went through to be by his side," Akane 
snarled.

"Oh yes I do," Ukyou countered. "You went through some hard 
martial arts training. Big freakin' deal, Tendou. I know how 
THAT feels as much as you do. But you never fought the Reikoku. 
You never had that demon hounding you night and day. You never 
had to touch it... had to feel..." Her voice broke, and she 
took a deep breath to steady herself. The look she gave Akane 
had an edge like a dagger. "You don't know ANYTHING."

Akane felt a stinging in her eyes. She refused to let this 
arrogant girl make her cry, so she stoked her rage instead. "So 
what do you want to do about it, Ukyou?" She took an aggressive 
step forward and dropped into a combat stance. "You want to 
fight? Is that it?"

Ukyou advanced, closing the distance between them with long, 
confident strides. "Believe me, part of me would like nothing 
more than to wipe the floor with you, Tendou."

"Anytime you're ready..."

"But that's not why I'm here today." In a lightning-fast 
movement, Ukyou reached out and grabbed Akane's wrist, then 
slapped her other palm into the Tendou girl's hand. Akane felt 
something small and hard pressing into her skin. She drew back, 
the tiny object clutched in her fist.

"This is for you," Ukyou said.

The short-haired fighter opened her fingers to look at what was 
in her hand. "An earring?" she asked, baffled. The little 
turquoise jewel was shaped like a teardrop and affixed to a 
slender golden hook. "What's this for?"

"Hold it up."

Akane pinched the clasp between her thumb and forefinger, and 
dangled the earring in front of her face. As the swaying of the 
little jewel stabilized, she noticed that it didn't point down 
- instead, it swung its point out somewhere to the east. She 
studied it, still simmering with the desire to fight, but also 
puzzled at this peculiar earring.

"It's pointing to Happosai," Ukyou said.

Akane nearly dropped the thing. She gaped for breath. "Wh... 
what?"

The young chef brushed a strand of dark hair away from her 
face. "A gift from the Amazons. We used it to find the old 
pervert before. It points to the other earring in the pair, 
which Happosai stole years ago. It has a limited range... this 
is the first time it's even twitched since we got back to 
Nerima. I've checked it every day."

"Why don't you use it?" she asked. "Go after him!"

Ukyou's lips narrowed to a thin line. "We can't," she hissed. 
"Not me, and not Ryouga."

Akane blinked. "Why not?"

"A promise," the warrior girl said, her voice tight. "An 
obligation. Because they caused such unintended harm when they 
sought vengeance on him the first time, the priestesses of the 
Temple of Three have sworn to call off any grudge they have 
against Happosai. Ryouga and I are bound by that judgment."

"But this is a personal matter for you," the young Tendou 
countered. "You shouldn't let them tell you what to do if..."

Akane stepped back at the vehement rage in Ukyou's gaze. "You 
don't GET it, do you? I don't like this, but Ryouga and I made 
a vow. That was our sacrifice so we could survive - we had to 
give up some of our freedom. Ranma's sacrifice was even worse. 
But you... what have YOU given up, girl? What have you 
sacrificed?"

She bit her lip, hands balled into fists. "Ranma is my fiancee. 
I love him. I suffer when he does."

Ukyou nodded. "Good answer. But it's time to prove you're more 
than talk."

"What does that mean?"

"Have you wondered why I haven't given that earring to Ranma?" 
Ukyou asked.

Akane grimaced. She thought that was in pretty poor taste. 
"He's not in any condition to be chasing down someone like 
Happosai. You should know that..."

"Don't be such a jackass," Ukyou snapped. "You underestimate 
him. Ranma may be struggling in school, but he's perfectly 
capable of finding and beating that fossilized panty-thief."

The Tendou girl ground her teeth. "Fine. Then how come you've 
kept that from Ranma?"

Ukyou took a deep breath and looked away, staring at the clouds 
for a moment as she composed her thoughts. "Happosai deserves 
more than a beating for what he did. Ranma knows that as well 
as I do. But if he's the one to do what should be done... it'll 
hurt him. It'll make him be someone he doesn't want to be. And 
I don't want to see that."

"Ukyou..."

"The choices we make," the long-haired girl said softly, 
"follow us through our lives. They change who we can become. A 
choice like that... will follow Ranma through the rest of his 
days. Follow him like a hunter. And Ranma's been hunted 
enough."

Akane swallowed hard.

"You may have been willing to fight the Reikoku, but you never
did. You were never hunted." Ukyou pointed at the earring. "So
this falls to you, Tendou Akane. Are you ready? Are you ready
to put yourself on the line for Ranma?"

The earring somehow felt heavy in her hand. Akane fixated on 
it, fascinated by the little ways it shifted as it oriented on 
its target. <Happosai is moving,> she thought. <Each little 
twitch of this tells me he's taken another step.> 

She felt Ukyou's stare on her, boring into her with a fearsome 
intensity. Her eyes followed the tip of the earring. <That's 
him,> she thought. <That's the one who started all this. 
Because of him, Ranma will never see me in my wedding dress. 
He'll never know what his children look like. Because of him, 
I'll never look into Ranma's eyes again. And Ukyou wants me 
to... wants me to...>

Akane trembled, then snatched the earring in her fist. She met 
Ukyou's gaze, her eyes clear even though her voice was choked
with emotion. "Yes. I'm ready."

"Good."

The okonomiyaki chef turned and strode towards the door from 
the rooftop, the ends of the white ribbon that held her hair in 
place dancing in the wind. She paused at the head of the 
stairwell and turned to look back at Akane. The anger had gone 
from her face, replaced by something else... Pity? Respect? She 
seemed about to say something, then changed her mind. A moment 
later, Akane was alone on the roof.

Alone with her thoughts. Alone with the earring, which would 
lead her to Happosai. She watched it, still reeling from the 
enormity of what she had just agreed to do. <The choices we 
make follow us through our lives,> she thought. 

<And when I find Happosai... what will I do?>

- - - - -

Rumors had a way of spreading through the martial arts 
community, and Happosai had been keeping his ear to the ground 
for news from Nerima for many months. He didn't want to risk 
going back to the Tendou Dojo to check for himself what had 
happened with the whole mess about the Reikoku, since they were 
likely to blame him if things had gone bad, but he listened to 
the chatter of martial artists as he traveled around Japan in 
search of amusing diversions and new pupils.

There had been a few bits of news of interest - some kid from a 
Martial Arts Flower Arranging school pining after "the 
beauteous Tendou Nabiki," a dojo challenger who had been 
repelled by a pair of Tendou sisters (whom Happosai eventually 
managed to identify as being those cuties, Natsume and Kurumi), 
a Martial Arts cheerleader training like crazy to defeat a 
rival named Tendou... and so forth. He squeezed what 
information he could out of the stories, but nothing really 
told him about what had become of Ranma and his friends.

Until last week, when he'd overheard some novices talking 
about a fight they'd witnessed in a park in Nerima. They'd 
described two fighters of tremendous skill going at it, 
unleashing techniques they'd never even heard of. The one with 
the bandana and the fangs had been strong, but they'd really 
been impressed by the other one. He'd managed to take the 
fanged fighter out with his eyes closed.

An exceptional fighter... with a distinctive pigtail.

Happosai had questioned the youths, and confirmed that the 
fight had been just a month ago. <That has to be Ranma,> the 
old man thought, delighted. <Well, he made it after all!>

So Ranma was back, up to his old games of duking it out with 
that Ryouga kid. Which meant Ryouga and little Ukyou must've 
come through alive as well. <They went to that temple place,> 
Happosai speculated, <and smoothed things over with those 
ladies somehow. Got them to see it was all mistake, and they 
called off the Reikoku before anyone got killed.> It had all 
worked out for the best.

And he, Happosai, had been the one to set things right. After 
all, he'd been the one who had told Ryouga and Ukyou where to 
go. Without him, they never would have even known about that 
temple, and certainly couldn't have found it. So maybe he did 
start the trouble, but he'd solved the problem in the end, too. 
They should be grateful to him! 

They probably wouldn't be, though. There was the thing with 
poor old Pantyhose dying. <What a waste,> Happosai thought 
sadly. He hadn't wanted that to happen. Still, Ranma and the 
others hadn't exactly been friends with Pantyhose, so they
shouldn't be TOO upset by that. Nonetheless, if they'd seen 
him get killed by the Reikoku, that had probably shaken them 
up pretty badly. They might decide to hold that against him 
when he came back.

He flipped up a few skirts as he bounced through a crowd of 
girls waiting at a crosswalk, surveying the panties with a 
connoisseur's eye, then sped on down the street. 

<I'm probably in for a beating,> he reflected. It wouldn't be 
the first time he'd been pounded for something. When you 
followed the Way of the Pervert, you had to expect to be beaten 
to a pulp every once in a while. He supposed he had it coming 
this time. Well, he'd take his medicine like a man... and then 
get on with life.

It would be good be back, he thought. He wondered if he should 
beat Ranma and take back his title as Master of Anything-Goes 
Martial Arts. Perhaps he should let the lad keep it... and 
Happosai would start his own rival school. That might be even 
more fun - pitting his students against Ranma and his friends, 
pulling strings and setting up rivalries, stirring up 
grudges... good stuff like that. Should he set up his own dojo? 
Take over one that's nearby, perhaps? <Or maybe I run my school 
out of Soun's place. Two rival schools under the same roof... 
how sweet! Think of the fun we'll have...>

He was running on autopilot as his contemplated his plans for 
the future, sneaking peeks and copping feels out of old, old 
habit as he made his way through the city. He didn't sense the 
danger until it was too late.

The girl looked like a real cutie from behind, bright yellow 
sundress rippling in the breeze against a shapely young figure, 
long hair flowing down her back from under a broad-brimmed hat. 
He zeroed in on her, fingers outstretched to flip up that 
billowing dress and see what she had underneath... when 
suddenly she turned.

The breeze carried the wig and the hat away. 

<Akane?>

She moved with a speed he never would have guessed she could 
muster, and suddenly fingers like steel cables closed around 
his diminutive body. She pounded him into the ground, pinning 
him to the cement with phenomenal strength, and looked down on 
him with an expression that was terrible to behold. That face - 
that lovely face, filled with a mixture of fear and rage and 
horrible resolve - was the last thing Happosai ever saw.

She reared back with her free hand, fingers curved like a 
raptor's talons, and struck at his face.

He howled in shock and anguish as his world exploded in pain, 
his vision suddenly disappearing into a smear of deep crimson 
agony. Real panic flooded him as his hands scrabbled at his 
face, feeling the damage she had done, feeling the blood on his 
cheeks. "My EYES!" he shrieked, the disbelief almost greater 
than the pain. "My EYES!"

"Justice." Akane's voice trembled as she spoke. "That was for 
Ranma."

He reeled, staggering randomly away. He leaped, smashed into a 
wall, and tumbled to the ground. Confused and disoriented with 
pain, he lurched away, still unable to believe what had just 
happened to him. It had all been so fast... how had she found 
him? Why had she done this to him? Why... why...

He lost track of time, running without any sense of direction. 
He might have gone miles, might have just gone a few feet. He 
didn't know how long it was before he felt the small, strong 
hand on his sleeve, and heard an old, familiar voice.

"Hold still now, Happi."

"C... Cologne?"

She steadied him, and he felt a cool, damp cloth on his face. 
"Let's get that bandaged up now, shall we?"

"That girl," he snarled. Confusion gave way to rage. "AKANE! 
You DARE..."

"Yes, she dared quite a bit," the old Amazon said in her calm, 
papery voice. "I didn't think she'd take it that far... and was 
afraid she might take it even farther."

"Wha... WHY?" Happosai wailed. It was so unfair! 

"Ranma was blinded in his last fight with the Reikoku," Cologne 
informed him.

"Ranma?" the old pervert asked. "He's..."

"Yes, just like you. 'An eye for an eye,' I suppose." She 
sighed. "A rather primitive form of justice, but sometimes the 
old ways do work the best."

"It's still... NOT fair!" he raged. "I'll have my revenge..."

"No," the Amazon elder said with quiet finality. "That you will 
not."

"Wha..."

"You managed to get out of this alive," Cologne said. "Yes, 
you're blind now. You'll have to learn to adapt. An old 
campaigner like you should be able to bounce back from such a 
thing. It's not the end of the world, as Ranma himself has 
already learned. All in all, I'd say the scales are balanced 
now. It's time for you to go, Happi."

"Go?" He frowned at her. "What do you mean?"

"I mean," she continued, "that I will be looking over these 
children now. They a sort of family now... important to the 
future of my people. If you escalate the feud with the Tendous 
or the Saotomes now, it will become quite ugly. The 
consequences will be bad for all of us... including you."

"But..."

Cologne sighed. "You can't escape karma, Happi. You've spent a 
lifetime trying, but it does catch up with you in the end. Be 
thankful that you have not paid worse for the things you've 
done. Ranma and Akane... and their family, and their friends... 
they all have much to do. The road ahead will be strange, 
dangerous, and wonderful, as it is for all true martial 
artists."

She stroked his bald head in a gesture that was almost tender. 
"But you shall not be on that road, Happosai. Pick up and move 
on, and see if you can learn something from what has happened 
to you. Your part in this... is over."

- - - - -

                      end of epilogue 1


-----------------------------------------------------------
                      AUTHOR'S NOTES
-----------------------------------------------------------

"Zatoichi" is a popular figure in many Japanese stories -
sort of the same status as Robin Hood or Zorro in the West.
The thing with Zatoichi is that he is a blind swordsman,
so Ranma naturally feels a kinship there.

COMING SOON:  Epilogue two - Ryouga, Ukyou, and Akari.

COPYRIGHT STUFF:  All the Ranma characters belong to Takahashi 
Rumiko,and are licensed in America by Viz Communications.    

GRT - April 2005
Thunderstruck_comic@comcast.net

All existing chapters of this story may be found at:
http://www.talesfromthevault.com/relentless





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