Chapter: 12


Akane listened to the soft even breathing coming from
the other side of her room. Satisfied that Ranko was asleep she
threw back the covers and moved to sit up, biting back a gasp
as red-hot spikes shot up and down her leg. Sweat poured
down her face as she inched her bad leg off the side of the bed.
Reaching for her cane she pushed herself to her feet, pausing
to listen to Ranko's breathing. Satisfied, she inched her way to
the door, quietly slipping through to hobble downstairs.
Ranko's eyes snapped open as her foot hit the first stair and
the transformed martial-artist stared into the darkness.

Akane didn't bother with the doujou lights, but waited
a moment for her eyes to adjust to the gloom, lit by moonlight
and halogen lamps that lined the neighborhood streets. Not
that she needed light, the doujou was more her home than the
house she'd just left and she knew and loved every board and
stone in it. She did a few preliminary stretches to loosen her
arms, shoulders and trunk.

Then she braced herself, focusing on her knee. Kasumi
didn't understand. Neither did Nabiki.

*A martial artist defends the defenseless* . . .

That's how her father always started his stories . . .
Yamaguchi Gogen fighting the wild tiger, the White-Crane-
Wushu Test-of-Courage, Nai Khanmon Dtom's death fight
with the twelve Burmese Bando fighters . . .

*The path of the true martial artist is difficult and
fraught with danger* . . . was how he ended them. She
couldn't let a little pain interrupt her training . . .not and
consider herself heir to the Musabetsu kakutou Tendo-ryuu.

"Pain is an illusion," she whispered to herself, focusing
on her center. Taking slow, deep breaths she began to shift her
weight to her bad leg, preparing to do a one-legged deep-knee
bend. Fire began to shoot up her leg. She shifted another
fraction to her bad side and the sudden spike of pain almost
made her vomit. "P . . .pain is . . .an illusion."

"Bullshit----pain hurts like hell."

The sudden voice at her ear threw her off balance. She
started to go down as her leg buckled and she felt something
start to tear deep inside her knee----just as she was snatched
against a warm stone wall.

"Do you really believe all that Zen crap?" Ranma
lifted her effortlessly and carried her to the doujou steps.

"W . . .what are you doing here?" Akane asked faintly,
half sick from the pain in her leg, and from fright as she
realized how close she'd come to wrecking her knee.

"Just thought I drop by and let you know I'd be gone
for a while."

"Gone?" Ranma sat down on the steps and Akane bit
back a whimper as the movement jostled her leg.

"Yeah," Ranma ran his hands down her leg, and it was
a sign of her distress that she didn't protest. "I'm gonna try to
decoy Ukyo away from Nerima. I'll let him see me tomorrow
and he'll chase me."

"I'll go with you," Akane tried to get up and sank
back with a groan. "You're our guest and it's my duty----"

"I know why my pop likes your family," Ranma
interrupted, "you're all so crazy you make him look good."
When Akane didn't react to his gibe he began to get worried.
He couldn't make a good impression if she passed out.

"K . . .Kami-sama couldn't make your father look
good." Akane whispered, just as he started to feel for her
pulse.

"Yeah? Well, you Tendo's are doin' a pretty good
job." He placed his left hand under her knee and with three
fingers of his right began to make small firm circles.

"What . . ." She'd regained enough strength to try to
fight him, but he caught and held her hands.

"Just gimmie a minute, an' maybe I can do somethin'
to help."

"Help . . ." Akane's bewildered voice trailed off on a
gasp of relief as a cool river seemed to wash over her burning
joint.

"Me an' pop didn' have no doctors on th' road, so we
hadda learn to do for ourselves. I picked up a few tricks."

"Ohhhh . . .that feels good." Her voice took on a
sleepy note that Ranma noted with satisfaction. It meant he
was pulling energy from the rest of her body into the injured
joint. A moment later her eyelids fluttered and closed.

The darkness hid his smile of satisfaction, even if there
had been anyone to see. He'd made his first big step in
winning her over. Akane was too stupid and too stubborn to
quit getting into trouble and hurting herself. And Saotome
Ranma had the cure . . .he wiggled his fingers, being careful
not to awaken the girl in his arms.

Carrying her to her room he plotted out the next few
weeks. With 'Ranko' working on the inside, pretty soon he'd
know more about the Tendo's and Akane than they did
themselves. Using his magic touch, and her stupid sense of
honor, he'd have her tied up in knots in no time. He tucked
her into bed and turned to go to the bathroom and change.
Three weeks, four tops---- and he'd have her trained to come
when called. He and pops wouldn't have to scam the
doujou----she'd give it to them, and probably cry because she
didn't have anything better.

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

*Bastards* Ukyo crouched in the shadows, watching
the Tendo compound. From his vantage points he could see
_almost_ the entire perimeter of the wall. It was that almost
that worried him. If he'd had some help, a single member of
the extended Kuonji clan would have made this job much
easier. He thrust such unproductive thoughts from his mind.
He had no right to help, no right to the Kuonji name really. All
that had been lost when that damned bastard Genma----a tiny
movement caught his eye. He loosened the giant spatula in it's
scabbard and checked the bandoleer that crossed his chest with
the unconscious familiarity of a lifetime of practice. Jumping
lightly from the rooftop he hurried after his prey. Ten years . . .
ten years of searching. Ten years of sweating blood, aching
muscles and broken bones. Ten years of humiliation, of being
outcast, of giving up----

Shaking off the nightmare images that made dream
indistinguishable from his waking moments he sped through
the night, his lips drawn back in a foam flecked snarl.

Ten years!

It ended----


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

Now!

Ranma leaped into the train car just as it left
Hinagawa station. Glancing unobtrusively over his shoulder
he made sure Ukyo had made it into the next car. It had been
tricky----staying ahead, but not too far ahead, of Kuonji. He'd
been afraid he'd lost him when they changed trains at
Ouokayama, but the maniac was still with him. He relaxed
slightly, reviewing his plans to see if there were any loopholes.

The "Norwegian Wind" was in port, taking on stores
before continuing on to Hong Kong, there to start her return
swing on the "Ring-of-Fire" tour. The third purser was a
friend of his ----or rather, a friend of Chin Akazara, the half
Chinese seaman he'd been when he and pop worked their way
to the Gulf of Thailand.

Ranma would get off the train when it stopped, but
Chin would board the Windy. Ranma grinned to himself. He'd
let Ukyo get _just_ close enough to see that he'd disguised
himself as Chin before he lost him on board. . .then, a quick
splash of cold water, a dark wig, and he'd stroll off the boat.
Very obviously female and of no interest to Ukyo.

Kuonji couldn't possibly finish searching the
"Windy" before she reached Hong Kong. After that . . .
Ukyo'd have to decided to stick with the ship for the entire
tour, or get off in Hong Kong. And he wouldn't know whether
to look for Saotome Ranma, or Chin Akazara (who would be
surprised to learn he'd been sailing on the Norwegian Wind)
or someone else. With luck it would be weeks, maybe months
before he gave up and returned to Japan. And before then he
and pop would have converted the Tendo's assets to hard
cash. They were going to lose it all anyway with that stupid
idea a girl could run a doujou. At least this way, he and pop
could put the money to good use.

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