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“It’s about time you finally showed up. We’ve been waiting almost half an hour for you. I thought you weren’t going to make it, and that really would have been too bad, since I have a feeling this is going to be the most important meeting of all.”

“Sorry. Business was heavy.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re here now, so sit down and we can begin. I’ll cut to the chase by saying what’s on everyone’s mind: we’re getting nowhere with Ranma. Ever since the attempted wedding several months ago, things have just gone downhill, and there isn’t any sign of them getting better.”

“Loathe as I am to agree with you, I fear you are right. Ranma has been showing me little attention. I know he doesn’t love me, but that doesn’t mean he won’t fall in love with me. I know he will, once we have some time alone and he is removed from that wicked girl’s enchantment, which seems to beguile nearly all men. She’s even managed to win the attentions of my brother, moron that he is. It’s uncanny how she does it since it seems like she isn’t even trying.”

“Shampoo agree. She getting nowhere with Ranma fast. It take forever to get him to talk to her again after wedding. He never marry Shampoo with the way things are going now.”

“He would never marry you any—“

“Enough! We aren’t here to argue amongst ourselves, so settle down. Now, since everyone can agree that things are going badly, then we can agree that a course of action has to be taken.”

“Absolutely, and it has to be taken immediately before things go too far. The point of no return is coming soon, and if something isn’t done right now, there’s no point in doing anything ever. Everyone might as well go pack up and start thinking about finding their future husband in some other district.”

“Forget it! Ranma’s mine. There’s no way I’ll let Akane have him.”

“Keep it down. The restaurant’s walls aren’t that thick. Now, I’ll admit I have been giving this matter some thought, and I’ve come up with the only possible course of action. Look, the simple fact of the matter is Ranma loves Akane. The only way to win his love is to get her out of the picture. That’ll free Ranma up, and then the playing field will be level for the first time. However, the only way to truly remove her is to get rid of her permanently.”

“Permanently? Do you mean kill Akane?”

“Of course I mean kill her.”

“That seem cold-hearted coming from you.”

“Oh, it is. Make no mistake about that. But nothing less than that will do. Otherwise there will always be a chance she’ll somehow pop up again, or Ranma will go on some idiotic quest to find her, and if he discovers even a clue to her still being alive, he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to find her. You should be the one with the least hesitation about this. You do have an outstanding kiss of death on her, as I recall.”

“Well, yes, but that was from long time ago.”

“But you were willing to do it, and don’t try telling me otherwise. If anything, your position is even worse now, since it’s obvious Ranma really does love her. It’s only a matter of time before the two of them try to get hitched up again, and he won’t be so forgiving if anyone tries to prevent the wedding a second time. If a stand is going to be made, it has to happen as soon as possible.”

“I hate to admit it, but I guess you’re right. Getting rid of Akane seems to be the only way for us to stand a chance with Ranma. I know there’s no way we can get her to back off, no matter how hard we try to convince her. She’s in it for the long haul. Even when she gets angry with him and calls the whole thing off, she always ends up going back and the two of them act like nothing ever happened. She’s in love with him, even if she still hasn’t openly admitted it to anyone.”

“Is you sure? Maybe there is still something we can do to make Akane no want to be married to airen for real. Maybe we can trick Ranma into sleeping with another girl and get pictures, then Akane throw him out for good.”

“Don’t be stupid! Idiotic plans like that are why you’ve never made the least bit of progress in all of this time. I can think of a hundred things that could, and probably will, go wrong with that idea, and you’ll end up being the one that gets screwed. Why are you of all people acting squeamish about killing Akane?”

“Now you is the stupid one. If Ranma ever finds out someone killed Akane, he won’t rest until he gets the killer. Everyone knows that.”

“Of course he would, which is why he can’t ever have a clue that she has been killed. She needs to just ‘disappear’.”

“Why not kill her and set someone else up, to make it look like they did it? That way Ranma can get revenge, and we won’t be suspected of a thing.”

“I did consider that, but it’s too likely something will go wrong and we’ll get blamed. Then that will be the end for all of us. Best to keep things simple. We kill her, make sure the body is never found, and give ourselves in alibi for when she disappeared.”

“You’re right. Ranma’s mine, not hers, and she knows it. I haven’t been after him for over half of my life just to give up now. She should have backed off when she knew that I had prior claim and really love Ranma. Whatever happens to her now, it’s her own fault.”


“Shampoo knows you is right. Akane should understand what stakes is, and this is only way to get Ranma, yes? So what do we do?”

“We should make our move this week. I happen to know that Ranma and his father are on another of those inane training trips and aren’t due back until the end of the week. Also, Akane told me she and Ranma had another fight. Now don’t get your hopes up because it’s obvious she isn’t backing off, just that he did something to really irritate her and they both know it. If she disappears while Ranma’s gone, maybe he’ll assume he finally pushed her too far and she’s run off to get away from him. He’ll go looking for her, of course, but since she’ll be dead by then, he’ll never find her.”

“Okay, so we lure her somewhere alone and then what? How we kill her? Who kill her? All of us, or just one with others helping? And what we do with body afterward so no one finds it?”

“We need somewhere relatively close by so as not to arouse her suspicion, yet quiet and out of the way so that no one can see what happens. How about the restaurant?”

“No way. If anyone sees her enter and not come out, we’re done for.”

“I was thinking about the park in the late evening, near where they’re constructing that huge new playground. It’s within easy walking distance. There’s lots of heavy equipment there and the place is off-limits, so no one should be hanging around there. The foliage near it is pretty thick since they haven’t gotten around to removing most of the trees around the area yet, so it’s hard to see unless you’re right there. I checked it out and they don’t have a night watchman or anything. There shouldn’t be any witnesses to what occurs there. Still, disguises would be called for, just in case. And if anyone does stumble on the scene, Shampoo can erase their memory with that special shampoo of hers.”

“Hmm. If they’re laying the foundations, it would be a convenient place to dispose of the body. Bury it in some quick drying concrete in a hole in the ground, and no one will be the wiser.”

“Exactly what I was thinking. Nice to see our minds think alike.”

“I suppose I should take that as a compliment.”

“Shampoo can administer death blow. It come so fast, Akane will not have a chance to cry out.”

“Nice to see you’re finally participating in this.”

“As you say, is only way to get airen away from her.”

“So we lure her out to the middle of the construction site, kill her, mix the body with the foundation and hope they don’t discover the ground is settling and tear it up and find her skeleton. It almost sounds too easy.”

“Can you come up with a better plan?”

“I’m not saying that. It’s a good plan, but I’m so used to plans getting screwed up, no matter how simple they are, that I don’t have much faith in them.”

“Then you not interested in killing Akane and getting shot at Ranma?”

“I didn’t say that. I guess you’re right. It’s the only way.”

“So who will lure Akane out there?”

“I’ll do it. She trusts me the most. She’s always been too trusting for her own good. I’ll call her and tell her I have a lead on a cure for Ranma and want to talk to her in private out in the park. She’s always eager to help Ranma. If it happens fast, she won’t wonder why I’m calling her instead of getting it myself to give Ranma.”

“Wait. How do we keep Akane from telling her family it you who she’s meeting?”

“I have an idea on that. Leave it to me. Once she’s alone, I’ll give you a call to give her a call.”

“That sounds reasonable. We’ll take care of matters from there. Then afterwards, if anyone asks, we provide each other with alibis by claiming we happened to run into each other and had an argument which ended up at the restaurant. With the way we’re continually at each other’s throats, no one should doubt us. Few will have any suspicions that we acted in unison to dispatch our rival. We’ll even fight with each other worse than ever to add credibility to the idea.”

“Yes, is a good thing we not let anyone know we get together like this several times before, or they might not believe it.”

“So when do you think we should do it?”

“Why not the day after tomorrow, before someone loses their nerve or something come up which prevents us from meeting again?”

“I see no reason why not. This sounds like an exceptionally sound plan, as long as the timing is there.”

“You mean it sounds like the kind of plan one uses when there’s no other course of action left for them to take.”

“Having second thoughts?”

“No. Just recriminations. But like you said, things have been going downhill and it’s all Akane’s fault. I can’t deny I’ve been wondering how much easier things would be if Akane was removed from the picture. I keep coming up with a much better world than the one I’m in now and will likely end up in. I like her well enough, but when push comes to shove, I’ll choose Ranma over her every single time.”

“Then it’s settled. We’ll check out the area and, if it’s useable, we’ll set events into motion the night after tomorrow around ten thirty. It’ll take Akane roughly half an hour to get to the right place in the park. By that time the area should be clear. Shampoo can reconnoiter it beforehand just to make sure. If something goes wrong, Ukyou can make up some vague rumor she heard about a casket of Nanniichuan somewhere and tell Akane the two of them can get together to recover it. There’s an outside chance we can work with that if things falls through, though I doubt if they will. It is, after all, a good plan.”

A Ranma ½ story
by D.B. Sommer

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings © Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.

All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at sommer@3rdm.net

Ukyou stood silent under the night sky, a lone figure in the middle of an open area next to the construction site feeling vulnerable and uneasy. But the others were right; she had to be the one standing in the open as a sort of bait. Everything had gone according to the plan so far. The call had gone off without a hitch. Akane had contacted no one as to where she would be. The area was secure, at least for the moment. There were several large holes where the foundation was being laid and quick drying cement on hand to bury the evidence. Shampoo could shatter the concrete in one of the holes, and they would refill it with Akane’s body mixed in the middle. They would take care of the excess debris by tossing it into an already existing pile. All that was left was for the victim to appear in time for her funeral.

Ukyou was surprised to feel few recriminations now that the moment of truth was upon her. She and Akane had gotten along pretty well for rivals, which confounded Ukyou somewhat once she got to know Akane. True, their personalities meshed sort of well, but for some odd reason Akane had rarely become irritated over Ukyou’s own attempts to follow her destiny and marry Ranma. Not at all like the sort of disdain the youngest Tendou would show towards Kodachi (which was actually easy to understand since no one liked her, not even her own brother) or Shampoo for her numerous attempts at nabbing Ranma, (of course Ukyou hated the bimbo as well, if not more. And she was far less forgiving than Akane). Actually, if Ukyou was any judge, Akane disliked Shampoo even more than that laughing hyena gymnast.

However, the standards concerning those two didn’t seem to apply to a rival like Ukyou. She and Akane had gotten along from day one and had few disagreements, even when the okonomiyaki chef tried to get Ranma to open his eyes and realize whom his true love was. Perhaps Akane thought if she and Ukyou were friends, she would back off and not marry Ranma. Ha! Like she would ditch someone who had been the focus of over half of her life, for some vague friendship with a rival for her love’s attentions. But then, Akane was painfully naïve about some things. Nabiki seemed to be the only one born with any decent judgment in that family.

The chef never had figured out exactly why Akane had behaved in such peculiar ways when it came to her. And now, she never would.

Ukyou found could live with that.

It really was Akane’s own fault that events had to come to this. It was obvious to Ukyou who Ranma’s only true love was. From the first moment they met they had been destined for one another. It was only that fat ass father of his that ruined everything by betraying her, stealing both her dowry and Ranma, then abandoning her along the roadside like so much rubbish. It was a tragedy. Anyone could see that Ranma truly belonged to the one who had suffered the most for him. But Akane had blinded herself to the truth by entertaining illusions of her own destiny and even going so far as to confuse Ranma into believing the youngest Tendou daughter was the one he loved. Bombing the wedding was a warning Akane chose to ignore. What happened next was on her head for failing to take heed of the warning. It was all Akane’s fault.

Soon it would finally be over, and Ranma would be Ukyou’s. The other two girls didn’t stand a chance against her once Akane was gone for good. Ranma actually liked her, and would avoid the two deluded idiots like the plague even after Akane was gone. Of course, once it became evident to them that they had lost a second time, they would most likely try to ‘remove’ Ukyou, even as they were now working in concert to get rid of Akane. But that knowledge had always played in the chef’s thoughts, even as their plot had been discussed. Plans had already been formed as to what she had to do next to secure Ranma for herself now and forever.

“All mine,” Ukyou sighed.

“What’s all yours?”

“Ah—“ Ukyou bit down on her lip to keep from crying out further and alerting anyone else in the vicinity as to her presence. The unexpected question had come from directly behind her. Her heart nearly stopped as she recognized Akane’s voice. A brief vision flashed in her mind of Akane having discovered the entire plot and quietly maneuvered behind Ukyou in order to sink a knife into her back and throw her would be murderer’s body into the nearby hole in the ground.

Tensing for a fight, Ukyou spun and confronted Akane. The black-haired girl was just standing there in a plain yellow dress, looking curiously at the taller girl. No weapon was evident. She didn’t look ready to a fight.

“Sorry, you just scared me,” Ukyou blurted out, feeling sorry for a moment at luring this basically innocent girl to her death now that she was standing right in front of her. But thoughts of Akane marrying Ranma and having a horde of children while Ukyou was left to pine away an old maid in an empty restaurant burned such doubts from her mind. It was all Akane’s fault.

“Why? You’re the one that called me out here,” Akane’s voice was full of unspoken, anxious questions.

“I wasn’t paying attention.” Ukyou laughed nervously and tried to calm down. She knew damn well she was acting suspicious, but couldn’t seem to stop herself. Every breath she took made her afraid of alerting Akane to what was going on and having her bolt away before the trap could be sprung.

“You’re acting weird,” Akane stated flatly.

“Me weird? What do you mean?” The question came out three times as fast as it should, all but shouting out she was up to something shifty. Where the hell was Shampoo?

It was obvious Akane was having none of that. She continued looking at Ukyou suspiciously. “Come on. Who are you trying to fool? You didn’t call me out here to discuss finding some Nanniichuan for Ranma, did you?”

The sudden shift in Akane’s attitude made Ukyou gulp nervously. She had not brought her battle spatula, or even her throwing ones, along for fear of alerting Akane to the trap. Likewise she had wanted to maintain a low profile and avoid catching any passerby’s’ eyes on the way to the park. But without her weapons, she was at a disadvantage. Her own pure hand-to-hand skills were mediocre at best, while Akane’s were certainly a good notch above that. Had the others betrayed her or gotten cold feet at the last minute? Ukyou suddenly panicked, wondering again if it would be her who would fail to leave the park alive.

Ukyou’s questions were answered as Akane reached forward, obviously irate, only to fall facefirst to the ground, her legs lashed together by a ribbon. The fallen girl had just enough time to give a brief cry of pain when a blur shot out from the shadows and landed in a crouch above the fallen girl. A hand lashed out to the back of Akane’s neck, and Ukyou could see her eyes widen for a split-second before they rolled back into her head and it crashed once more to the ground.

Kodachi let some slack in her ribbon to loosen its hold, and then pulled it back into the confines of the sleeve of the trenchcoat she wore to hide her trademark leotard. As she emerged from the shrubs she had been using as a hiding spot, she looked suspiciously back and forth, as though expecting an attack on her person as well.

Ukyou watched Shampoo put on a pair of gloves, then check Akane’s neck for a pulse. The Amazon was dressed in a plain, loose sweat shirt and matching pants, a baseball cap hiding her thick head of hair and making her look like any other girl rather than the Chinese Amazon she really was. Ukyou was sorry she hadn’t thought of dressing more casual as well, but it wasn’t possible, since she had to prevent Akane’s suspicions from bring aroused as long as possible.

The trio of girls surrounded Akane’s body. Ukyou stared at her fallen rival. She looked so serene now. Perhaps this really had been for the best. It had been quick and relatively painless. Akane deserved that consideration, at least.

“She looks so peaceful, doesn’t she?” Kodachi gave voice to Ukyou’s unspoken thoughts.

Ukyou nodded her head in agreement. “Now it’s over. Let’s get over to a hole and… Hey! Why is she still breathing?!”

“That because Shampoo only apply sleep pressure point,” the Amazon said that with a lifted eyebrow, as though challenging the others to question her further.

Kodachi responded to the challenge first. “You were supposed to kill her.”

“And then we bury the body.” Now Ukyou really wished she had brought her spatula along. Shampoo was up to something. She could feel it in the pit of her stomach. She should never have trusted the bimbo, or the gymnast, for that matter.

The Amazon snorted at that. “And what if construction mens realize someone mess with their foundation? Or what if we pour it wrong? Or what if they decide to redo it? Or maybe ground no settle right and they dig it up and Akane’s body is found right away?”

The uncomfortable feeling in Ukyou’s stomach leapt around like a thing alive. This was not the way things were supposed to go. Would she have to administer the deathblow herself? She thought she could. She knew she would if she had to. “We have to do something with her, and fast. And we still have to kill her, you know.”

“We will, but we do it Shampoo’s way.”

That perked up Kodachi’s inquisitive nature, temporarily overriding her anger. “And just which way is that?”

“We shouldn’t change the plan like this,” Ukyou insisted.

“Shampoo have a much better plan,” the Amazon assured her in hushed tones. “Everyone know Akane can no swim at all. So what Shampoo is going to do is make Akane unconscious, like she is now, and then dump her in the canal next to the park. There Shampoo make it look like Akane fall in water and drown. It all look like a silly accident. It’s a perfect plan.”

“No, it isn’t!” Ukyou hissed. “They’ll find her floating tomorrow.”

Shampoo shook her head. “Akane sink like rock alive, she sink like rock when dead, too. Or if she does float after she dead, maybe she go with canal and go out to sea.”

“But they’ll still find the body eventually,” Ukyou pointed out.

“That all part of the advantage Shampoo’s plan has.”

“Oh? Why?” Kodachi asked, genuinely intrigued. She noted with distaste how Ukyou was continuing to shake her head. The stupid commoner. Didn’t she know some plans needed to be modified when the occasion called for it?

Seeing she had at least one co-conspirator interested, Shampoo continued. “This way everyone assume Akane die in accident, and Ranma no waste time wondering what happen to Akane. There are no doubts about where she is. He get sad real quick, then Shampoo will be there to comfort him in his time of trouble.”

“We all will be there for our beloved,” Kodachi assured her with a warning glare.

Ukyou shook her head furiously. This was a bad idea. She needed to explain that fast. Time was wasting and the longer they were out in the open, the more likely it was something would go wrong. “What about the pressure point you used? They’ll be able to tell she was rendered unconscious from that when she drowned.”

Shampoo was barely able to restrain her laughter. “No be stupid. Only Great-grandmother and Happosai have enough experience to tell pressure point was used. Great-grandmother is obviously not going to snitch, and Happosai not bright enough to think to check. He’ll be too busy crying into Akane’s panties for that.”

Ukyo’s mouth twitched at being so easily shot down. “What if she wakes up before you get there, or once she hits the water?”

In answer, Shampoo rolled the unconscious Akane onto her back, then sat her up, keeping her upright by holding her shirt by the back. Shampoo held her free hand high above her head, and then lashed forward, the open palm cracking Akane’s cheek so hard that even Kodachi and Ukyou grimaced. Aside from the head moving from the force of the blow, Akane didn’t react in the slightest. Smirking, Shampoo gave a slap to the other cheek. Again the only reaction was for Akane’s face to turn red with a handprint across it.

Shampoo was about to administer a third one when Kodachi prevented it by haughtily ordering, “Enough! Do you want to alert everyone in a five-mile radius we are here? I am convinced she will not be waking up any time soon. Or ever again.”

Satisfied, Shampoo continued her explanation. “Pressure point leave Akane unconscious for hours. More than enough time for her to drown and no one think anything other than she slip and fall in. No wounds. No drugs. No doubts.”

“I like this plan better.”

“Well I don’t.” Ukyou barely managed to keep control of her voice. Were they insane? They already had a plan. Sure, Shampoo might have pointed out a few holes in it, and yes, on the surface the bimbo’s did sound better, but it was never a good idea to change a plan so significantly without good reason. They had come up with a solid one and should stick with it. What if there was a flaw in Shampoo’s new scheme that they couldn’t see? They needed to think about this, and they had no time to do so. “We should go with the original plan. Let’s kill Akane now and bury her.”

“Nonsense. Shampoo has come up with a superior plan,” Kodachi insisted. “This way we won’t have to wait a year or so for Ranma to go on a pointless quest for Akane before I… that is we, win his heart.”

There was that. Ukyou hated to admit it, but that was a very nice advantage to Shampoo’s idea. No incredibly long wait, just a brief period of mourning and then Ranma would be hers at last. After over a decade of waiting, her heart would be made whole once again. She didn’t even want to wait a month. She wanted him right now, but realistically she had to wait until her Ranchan worked through his grief before she could win his heart.

“Very well,” Ukyou’s admission was more a sigh then a sentence. “Let’s go for it. But let’s kill her now, before she hits the canal.”

“No be stupid,” Shampoo hissed quickly. “If she dead when she hit water, then everyone know it murder and not accident.”

“Her lungs would not be filled with water,” Kodachi agreed. “That would ruin everything. Her death has to be from drowning and no other way.”

Ukyou hadn’t thought of that; more proof that there could be some other detail they were missing. Pros versus cons. Which was the better choice? “I can’t approve of this. We should go with the original plan and kill her now. Sorry.”

“Well, I like Shampoo’s idea,” Kodachi said defiantly.

Shampoo just nodded grimly.

“Then do what you want.” This was all going to backfire on them. She just knew it. And once that happened they would be running for their lives. Ukyou stalked off, leaving the other two to do what they would.

Kodachi and Shampoo watched Ukyou wander deeper into the park and out of sight. The gymnast shook her head in disapproval. “I don’t like this sudden reluctance on her part. I’d better follow her and make sure she doesn’t screw anything up.”

“And leave Shampoo to do dirty work,” the Amazon growled.

“If you want me to stay…” Kodachi let her offer trail off.

After considering that for a moment, Shampoo shook her head. “It’s better if Shampoo do it alone. One person attract less attention than two. Besides, it best if someone follow Ukyou and make sure she no get cold feet.”

Course decided, Kodachi headed off to follow Ukyou, leaving Shampoo to sling Akane over her shoulder and walk quickly toward the canal. The added weight was nothing to the Amazon’s superior strength as she moved with catlike grace, and most importantly, silence, towards her destination.

As Shampoo walked off with her burden, she missed the smug look and barely restrained laugh Kodachi’s features held.

But it was probably for the best, since she missed the smug look Shampoo had when thinking about her current partners as well.

The figure moved as silently as it could, hoping it had followed the path Shampoo had taken. Hurrying through the park in the middle of the night was difficult, but it knew the Amazon’s destination. The most reasonable route would be the straightest one she could navigate through the thicker part of the trees. Time was of the essence, and the longer Shampoo remained in the park with Akane, the more likely a pair of casual eyes might spot her.

The figure had lost some time in gathering the items it needed when Shampoo had changed the plan. However, they were necessary to the modification it had made in its own plans to match the new one Shampoo had come up with. The wise always took advantage of the opportunities they were presented.

Perhaps it was just as well. Shampoo might have sensed someone following her, and then the plan would have to be modified again. Proper execution was all in the timing. If it was off in the slightest, the ultimate price might be paid, but if the plan were completed as it should, then everything would be perfect.

The figure peered through some bushes lining the walkway to the canal and scanned the area. It was just as it had thought. There was Shampoo, doing a quick look back and forth from the spot she had chosen as far between the lights along the canal as she could. In the darkness, the Amazon was hard to detect for someone not knowing what to look for. Not invisible, but definitely low profile and inconspicuous.

The figure waited for the right moment as Shampoo carefully lowered her burden to the ground right next to the edge of the canal. The figure wondered why she was being so gentle when it realized that causing any sort of wound on Akane might raise suspicions. It would be ironic if, after the all the trouble Shampoo had went through to use a pressure point to mask any hint of foul play, a casual bump on Akane’s head from being handled brusquely would be misinterpreted by the authorities as a blow that rendered her unconscious. Obviously, Shampoo had thought out things very carefully.

The figure continued watching as again, with a surprising tenderness, Shampoo crossed Akane’s arms across her chest, almost as though preparing her for a viewing. Shampoo’s own hands went to her chest, then she brought them down and handled Akane’s again. As she held on, Shampoo leaned in close and kissed Akane on the cheek. A ‘Kiss of Death’ administered to an unconscious person. What courage the Amazon was showing! What was about to happen next would give the figure an immense amount of pleasure.

Shampoo cast one last look back and forth, her eyes lingering on the figure’s position for a moment (a moment in which the other’s heart skipped a beat), before moving onward. Convinced she saw no one, the Amazon gave a satisfied smile. The watcher smiled in return, even if Shampoo was unaware of its presence. Apparently pleased, Shampoo rolled Akane over and into the canal.

The splash carried to where the watcher could hear, though it was not very loud nor did it carry particularly well. The water in the canal was rather high this time of year, and the distance to the surface of the water not that great. The figure remained hidden, watching carefully to make sure no others had heard the splash and appeared or raised an alarm. But there was no one and nothing. This part of the canal was somewhat isolated, with few residents within easy listening range. It was a good place to dump a body.

The watcher observed Shampoo continue looking back and forth to make certain no one was approaching, then looked over the side where she had dropped Akane’s body, keeping her hat low so no one could identify her at a distance. She was certainly being thorough for a change. Good. Not only was she making certain Akane didn’t unexpectedly break the surface, or come across a random scuba tank, and not drown, but it made what was about to happen next even easier.

Quietly, so as not to disturb Shampoo’s observation, the figure tucked its necessary tools behind its back and into its belt, hiding them from sight as it moved towards the Amazon. Only half the distance was covered when Shampoo sensed another’s presence, for she looked up from the canal and towards the person that she had sensed.

After a moment’s tension, Shampoo softly said, “Oh. It’s you. Shampoo surprised to see you here. She thought you didn’t want to watch Akane die.”

“Can’t I change my mind?” The figure moved to the edge of the canal, making certain to face its front towards the Amazon. One glance at what was behind its back and everything would be over. Gazing downward into the canal meant leaving itself vulnerable to Shampoo for a brief moment, but taking the chance of something unexpected happening was necessary in order to confirm Akane’s death. Looking down, the only thing visible was a goose floating idly on the surface of the canal. There was nothing else. The waterfowl looked up expectantly; seemingly aware of the attention it had drawn. The figure smiled and waved to it, then looked back at Shampoo. “For a second there, I thought that was a duck. I was afraid Mousse had somehow sniffed things out.”

“Don’t be stupid. Mousse is the last person in the world Shampoo would let know what she had planned for Akane.”

The surface of the canal was nearly pitch black, with only a slight sliver of moon reflecting off the moving water. Seeing anything underneath was impossible. There were no air bubbles, no flailing about in the water, no unexpected swirls or eddies that could be seen. All was as it should be. Akane had sunk like a rock and drowned at the bottom. Excellent.

After waiting another three minutes, Shampoo boasted triumphantly, “It over at last. Now that annoying pest is out of the way, Shampoo’s airen will soon be hers, just like it should always have been.”

“It sure will.” The figure’s hand drifted behind its back, making the move seem casual. The lid of the container was removed with a flick of the finger. Soon. Very soon now.

Shampoo took one more look at the water. Seemingly satisfied, she moved away from the edge and took several steps towards the park. ”So now what we do? Go home and wait to hear sad news of tragic death?”

“One of us will.” And with that the figure brought out the small container that had been hidden behind its back and flung the contents forward.

As close as the other was, all Shampoo could do was widen her eyes in surprise as she found herself doused with cold water and changed into her cursed form. Reflexively, she shook her fur out, a mistake as it gave her attacker enough time to bring out the other item tucked behind its back: a burlap sack.

The sack was thrown over Shampoo, who instantly tried to struggle free. Only the side had fallen on her, not the opening, though the sack had effectively tangled her up for a moment. She could run for it if she could win free of the material. She was faster than her attacker. Much faster. All she needed to do was get out from under the sack and escape.

The material abraded her skin and rubbed her fur the wrong way. She was confused as to which way was out, despite the relative small size of the sack. Left, right, backwards or forwards. Which was the closest course to freedom?

Then she saw a hint of starlight to her right. An opening! Instantly she lunged that way, her head clearing the edge of the sack.

And then she felt an arm come down hard on the back of her neck.

Stunned senseless, she was only faintly aware of being manhandled and thrown into the sack properly. She could faintly hear the sound of the drawstring along the top being pulled shut, trapping her in a canvas prison from which she could not escape, at least not without considerable time to use her claws and scratch her way to freedom. It would probably take ten minutes to work a hole big enough to move through, even for her. It would be more than enough time for her attacker to finish her off. And she had little doubt that was what the end result was going to be for this betrayal: to eliminate Shampoo even as she had eliminated Akane. Perhaps it was some perverted form of symmetry for the treachery she had done to her attacker, even if it wasn’t fully aware of that detail at the moment.

Fighting for her life, Shampoo drew in a breath to begin caterwauling and draw attention to her dilemma, but a hard impact from a foot crashed into her stomach, forcing the air out of her lungs and sending white hot shards of agony into her chest. At least one rib was broken, maybe even two or three. She was certain of it.

“Bad kitty!” The words were hissed so that only Shampoo could hear them. She was vaguely aware of the sound of snickering at her plight.

“Oh, this is too good.” There was clear amusement in the other’s voice as it listened to Shampoo trying to catch her breath. “And to think, originally I was going to try to trick Ryouga into killing you by showing him pictures of you administering the death blow to Akane and sending him into a frenzy. But I like this way better. I’m just lucky someone left a container and an empty sack lying around the construction site. Lucky for me, unlucky for you, you stupid, slutty, Chinese bimbo.”

A second kick followed the first, only glancing off Shampoo’s left leg, but it was more than enough to send a gasp of agony through her clenched teeth.

“God, you disgust me with your stupid, brainless antics. If you had even half the intelligence to go with your looks, you would have had Ranma wrapped around your little finger in a week. But no, you have all the subtlety of a runaway train and the restraint of a five-year old. No wonder you’ve screwed everything up so badly that he doesn’t give a shit about you.”

Shampoo felt the sack, and subsequently herself, lifted in the air.

“I will give you this, drowning Akane was a brilliant idea. I’d have to say it’s the best plan you’ve ever come up with, at least for one that worked. In fact, it’s such a good idea, I think that I’ll use it as well to get rid of a pesky little kitty that should have stayed in a her backwater little hovel and married the blind village idiot.”

The sound of water drifted somewhere below Shampoo. Now she knew what her attacker was talking about. She struggled as hard as she could. Every movement was pain incarnate, every breath torture, but she had to escape. She had to.

Shampoo had barely managed to get out a low howl when she felt herself falling. She took a deep breath and held it, but she hit the water headfirst, the blow shooting enough pain through her to make the world turn white, then black. The last thing she heard before drifting off into the night was the sound of a goose honking in alarm. The cry reminded Shampoo of the little squeeze horn that had been on her bicycle when she first purchased it. She had gotten rid of it in favor of the ringing bell that had served as a warning before she landed her bicycle on someone. The mind really came up with odd things when it boarded on unconsciousness.

And then there was nothing.

The figure turned away without a backward glance. The goose’s honking might alert others, and with no way to shut the bird up, it would be best to be as far away from the area as possible when Akane’s body was eventually discovered. There was no reason to stick around. Shampoo was dead. The bag had sunk like a rock. It had kicked the Amazon hard enough to break bones and had tied the drawstring into a knot that, while not very great, wouldn’t come undone by merely being dumped in water. It didn’t know if Shampoo’s body would revert to her natural human form once she died, but it hoped not. The idea of the Amazon being mistaken for a common alley cat that had been drowned as the vermin she really was had appeal on some basic level.

Besides, there were other plans to enact, and time was wasting.

Kodachi Kunou looked over the variety of workout uniforms hanging in her closet with a careful eye. A full spectrum of colors was presented before her, each especially tailored to mold to her nubile form perfectly. Finally she chose a bright red leotard: something to match her cheery mood. Almost twenty-four hours had passed since the plan that had resulted in the death of Akane Tendou had been officially initiated. True, the body had not been discovered yet, but that was hardly a surprise. Since the early morning hours it had been raining heavily, nearly a typhoon level gale judging by the way the wind shook the house, and few people would have been out and about to stumble upon the body. That was assuming it wasn’t still at the bottom of the canal. Akane did have the buoyancy of a rock. It would be amusing to think no one would ever find the wicked girl, leaving her corpse to be picked apart by the animals that made the canal their home.

Now that Kodachi thought about it, drowning while unconscious was too quick and painless a death for one who had stood in the way of her happiness for so long. Better they had fed the awful little harridan to Mr. Green Turtle, which would also have served to dispose of Akane’s mortal remains as well. In truth that was only an idle fantasy, unrealistic in the extreme. A simple drowning really was the best way to get rid of the annoying girl. Besides, poor Mr. Green Turtle might find the meal too tough to enjoy. Such a brutal woman might adversely affect his delicate palate.

Once suited up, Kodachi went through the house to the private gymnasium located in a wing of her home. Removing some kinks in her neck, she loosened up, and then started her workout routine. As she began the first elaborate motions of her floor exercises, she thought about how difficult it was to believe that so many of the simple peasants lacked such rudimentary necessities. That was one thing the Black Rose would have granted Akane, at least she had her own dojo to work out in, quaint little thing that it was.

Now that his relationship with Akane was severed forever, it placed Ranma’s likelihood of inheriting that piece of real estate in doubt. Perhaps Kodachi could plant the seeds of their future union by allowing him to use her facility to work out and give hints that it could be his as well someday. Likewise, the Kunou gymnasium lacked the ‘painful’ memories of the few awkward moments he had shared with that wicked girl. After being with the one he would share his future destiny with for a while, he would quickly forget Akane had ever existed at all. Kodachi would see to every step of his recovery personally; she loved him that much.

Ranma. He would be hers at last. All of her dreams would finally be realized and her heart would know peace once the love of her life rested comfortably in her arms. All the problems of the world would disappear the moment they became of one flesh. He would pluck that single ‘Black Rose’ from the field of red and make her his own. It was so painfully romantic. Kodachi stopped her work out and hugged herself. So very, very soon, it would be just the two of them.

Shaking herself out of her fantasy, Kodachi picked up a couple of gymnastic pins and began an intricate kata, the weighted objects dancing in her hands like they were alive. Never had she felt so happy and satisfied with herself. Soon it really would be just her and her beloved Ranma.

An even wider smile broke across her features as she thought about her so-called ‘rivals’. That poor little foreign slut, believing nothing more than a vacant stare and a large chest was how to win Ranma’s heart. Or that ridiculous cross-dressing country bumpkin, who thought ‘buddying up’ to Ranma was the way to go. Stupid peasants. They had not one-tenth the class or style Kodachi possessed. Neither of them was worthy enough to stand in her shadow, much less vie for Ranma’s heart, and deep down inside they knew it. No doubt once the other two foolish girls burst through their delusions and realized they were in the process of losing once again, they would attempt to remove Kodachi next. Knowing there was nothing in all of Heaven and Earth that would break her and Ranma apart, they would conspire to dispose of her just as they had Akane. Or at least they would have, had Kodachi not already taken matters into her own hands.

That poor Chinese tramp, dying like the animal that she in truth was. Had she simply accepted that Ranma was not for her, all would have been well and she would have been allowed to survive and live out her meaningless existence to the end of her natural life. Actually, had the girl been more agreeable, Kodachi would have paid her a tidy sum for the efficient disposal of the gymnast’s only true rival. But alas, the foreigner was pitifully stupid and believed herself above her proper station. Subsequently, she had paid the price for her mistake.

With the Amazon out of the way, only one opponent remained, and Kodachi had already seen to setting up Ukyou’s demise. It might have cost her a tremendous sum, but it would be worth every cent to have peace at last. All that was left was the delivery of the special ‘package’, and it would all be over but the romancing.

The door to the gymnasium flew open and slammed against the wall with a resounding crash that echoed throughout the room. Irate that her thoughts had been interrupted so rudely, Kodachi spun to confront the intruder. She was stunned to see that it was her brother, the look of murder clear in his eyes.

He knew! That panicked thought flew through Kodachi’s mind before she forced herself to relax. It was impossible. Her brother had retired early last night thanks to a little something she had slipped him at dinner, and she would have known if he had followed. He had the stealth of pregnant water buffalo, even on his best days.

“Brother dear,” Kodachi soothed with honeyed tones. “What brings you he—“

“SILENCE!” Kunou roared as he entered the room and headed directly for his sister.

Kodachi backed up, holding her pins up in a defensive posture. Things were happening too fast. She needed time to think. Maybe it was something else that had raised his anger, though she had never seen him this enraged before in her life. “Tell me what wrong you believe I have done and I can explain it.” Perhaps she could still talk him down.

Her illusions were quickly shattered as he roared. “I have seen the pictures! I know the truth! Do not lie to me about your crimes, you who deserve punishment that only the gods can mete out to you. And so they shall, when I send you to them.”

It was only then that Kodachi was able to turn her gaze from her brother’s murderous glare to the weapon that was in his hands. No simple wooden surface was held this time, but rather the naked steel of a katana that reflected the milky glow from the lights high above. It was the family blade that usually rested in its honored place on a mantel in the main living room. She could not recall it being removed from there in her lifetime. Now it was being used in its proper function: that of a deadly tool in the hands of one who was a master of such a weapon.

A base betrayal! It could have come from only one person. They would pay. Oh, how they would pay. Kodachi would see to it that their suffering lasted forever and that they would beg for a death that would never come. But thoughts of vengeance were for later. Now all that could be afforded were thoughts of survival.

“Brother dear, allow me to explain things to you so that you might understand what truly happened. You are being lied to. Manipulated.” A half-truth, one she hoped, no, prayed that he would believe.

The tears poured freely from Kunou’s eyes and traveled down his cheeks. “Your life has been naught but lies, an existence beneath the station you were born to. Do not die with one on your lips. Accept justice as befits a Kunou.”

That settled it. There would be no talking him out of this. Her death was too firmly in his mind. Matters were now reduced to nothing more than a fight for survival.

In not-so-feigned terror, Kodachi backed away. Ice. She had to be ice if she was to live to be with her beloved Ranma. A desperate plan formed. It was remarkable to Kodachi how the mind would reduce even a family member to nothing more than an obstacle that was in the path of continued survival. What remorse she felt was pushed to the back of her mind, eliminated from conscious thought. The man before her was no longer her brother, but an enemy, one that desired her death beyond anything else. He had to be killed first. It was the only way things could be.

“Brother, please stop!” she pleaded with genuine tears falling from her eyes, matching his own. She allowed one of her pins to fall from her hands, and the other dangled limply in the other, posing no threat to her brother.

“Did Akane say those selfsame words to you before you killed her?” There was pain in his voice, but no hesitation in his gait. He might have been her brother by blood, but now he would be her executioner as well. The two positions were not mutually exclusive.

Kodachi felt her back brush against the far wall. There was no longer anywhere left to run. No escape. It all came down to if she could execute the move that had come to her in time.

She slumped against the wall, crying. “Forgive me, brother. I was wrong. Show mercy,” she pleaded with what sounded like all of her emotions, but were, in truth, hollow words. Her heart was completely ice now. All or nothing.

Kunou stood before her, drawing up in all of his glory, what little he felt he still possessed. “I shall make it a quick cut. That is the mercy you deserve.”

“So be it,” Kodachi bared her neck, steeling herself for what was about to happen.

Kunou looked at her in approval and drew back his katana, raising it high to the lights above, aiming for a spot on the offered neck.

Time seemed to move in slow motion as the blade continued to rise. In response, the pin dangling in Kodachi’s hand, the one currently hidden from Kunou’s view, twisted so that it was firmly in her grip. A quick flick of the wrist activated the deadly spikes concealed within.

“She has a weapon!” a voice from behind Kunou cried out in alarm.

Any chance Kodachi had of beating her brother to the blow was lost as she hesitated, recognizing the hated voice. The voice of the traitor that had not simply informed her brother of her perfidy, but had lingered long enough to see that its plan was fulfilled.

Reacting on instinct, Kunou adjusted the swing of his blade, bringing it down prematurely before it reached the height of its intended arc. Kodachi tried bringing her own pin up and into her brother’s stomach, but it was too late as the blade came down and severed her arm five centimeters before the hand.

No cry escaped Kodachi’s lips, the shock of losing the limb overwhelming her sense of pain. It deadened the further agony as Kunou reversed the blade and brought it up and forward in one fluid motion, stabbing his sister clean through the heart and a lung. Backing off a full step, he removed the blade, keeping it at the ready.

Kodachi’s remaining hand came up to where he had cut her, partially covering the wide wound, though blood poured freely from it. Her other arm moved in mock parody of its opposite limb, as though her hand was still attached. Dark blood burst from her mouth and flowed down her lips and neck in a stream, deepening the red of her leotard as the fabric greedily absorbed the liquid.

Senses rapidly leaving her, Kodachi chose as her last action to look at her executioner in fascination, noticing for the first time just how noble her brother truly was. How wrong she had been to mock him, for whatever boorish exterior he bore, there was a core of principle deep within him that she had not recognized until now. It was not so bad, dying at his hands. He was a Kunou, after all.

It was a comforting thought that traveled with her in the afterlife.

Near silence reigned for almost a full minute, only the soft drip of blood a testament to the tale of Family and Death. Muted horror filled the room, the effect only being augmented as Kunou finally found a strength that matched his earlier resolve.

“Sister, I did love you,” Kunou sobbed out as the full ramifications of what he had done finally set in. The blade fell from his fingers and to the floor, rolling a moment before coming to a rest at his feet.

“You did what had to be done.”

Turning, Kunou nodded sagely at the other occupant in the room. His companion stood there, hands behind the back and giving the young man a stare full of conviction. Kunou bowed slightly in return. “My thanks for the timely warning. Had it not been for you, my sister possibly would have dealt grievous harm to me.”

“True. I had to make sure she died first, since you’re much easier to fool.”

Before Kunou could react to the words, the other’s gloved hand darted from behind its back and brought up the pin that Kodachi had dropped in order to lure her brother into a false sense of security. Spikes protruding from the weapon, they embedded themselves deeply into Kunou’s neck.

“I guess that trick with activating the spikes wasn’t so difficult after all.” It was a dry comment, considering how much blood was spurting from the wound. The job had been well done indeed.

Kunou’s eyes widened in disbelief, even as his sister’s had done earlier. The other backed away, mindful not to let the young man come into contact. Kunou managed to pry the club from his neck, only to cause the flow of blood to double. He fell to the ground, spinning and falling right in front of the body of his sister.

As he lay there, Kunou noted that evidently his sister had been correct about him being manipulated. That was unacceptable. He was Tatewaki Kunou; not some buffoon. In the name of righteous vengeance he tried to regain his feet, but could not. Instead, the only option that lay before him was to remain where he was, bleeding profusely. Within seconds, light left his eyes, though they remained open, staring at nothing for eternity.

The figure looked at the scene of carnage with an approving eye. Making certain the Kunous were alone in the house before starting the endgame involving Kodachi had been easy. It was unfortunate for Kunou he had to be dragged down as well, but it had to look like they killed each other in a fight to the death. Since nearly everyone regarded the family as being terribly unbalanced to begin with, few would question the idea that they had gone over the edge and killed one another. It really had been quite simple. Show Kunou incriminating photos of Kodachi being present at Akane’s ‘demise’, convince him that his sister deserved to die for her crime, and make sure neither survived the night. And it had gone off perfectly. Now there was just one more loose end to tie off, and then everything would be finished at last.

The scent of tea warm hit Ukyou the moment she entered the front door of the Ucchan. She had spoken to Konatsu earlier in the day, dialing him up in Hokkaido where she had ordered him to take a vacation since he had worked so hard for her, (in reality, just an excuse to make sure he wasn’t underfoot when the plan was unveiled and executed). That left one other suspect, the only other person Ukyou had given the key to her place, due to the secret meetings necessary for the two to plot and scheme so that it was they who came out on top and not those other two troublemakers.

“Hey there. How’s it going?” Ukyou asked her unexpected company, who was behind counter, obviously in the middle of preparing some tea. The okonomiyaki chef locked the door behind her. If anyone were to blunder in, like Ryouga or Tsubasa, things would be very difficult to explain.

“All right,” the other answered. “I finished up with our final business tonight. Closing the deal, so to speak.”

“I’ve been busy too,” Ukyou agreed. “Making my own final preparations.”

“Oh?” The chef’s response gained a raised eyebrow shot in her direction. “Meaning what?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

“Find out what? It’s a little late in the game to be holding anything back.

“It’s a surprise.”

“I don’t like surprises.”

“You’ll like this one.”

The figure didn’t like that enigmatic smile at all. Not one little bit. Ukyou was acting like she had a secret. Secrets were dangerous at this point. The figure knew. After all, it had secrets of its own.

Similar thoughts were going through Ukyou’s mind. Thrust and parry. Parry and counter-thrust. It was like combat, only subtler, but the stakes could be just as high, if not higher. Trust was a valuable commodity, especially given the nature of this game the duo were playing. And tonight they would find out just how much they trusted one another. Ukyou already knew her answer and wondered if her guest had already guessed what it was.

There was a palpable tension in the air. Both figures stared at one another intently. Then, in unison, each gave a smile to the other. Had anyone else been in the room, they would have thought they were looking in a mirror, the kind found in a carnival funhouse, distorting the image and twisting it so it barely looked like the person it was reflecting. Only the smile would have been the same, a thing that was in many ways more disturbing than a look of hate.

“Fine,” the other conceded. “I guess I can wait for the surprise.” It turned off the stove and placed the teapot on a serving tray. Two porcelain cups were already sitting there, along with a container of sugar and some honey. Sitting down at one of the tables, Ukyou allowed her guest to set down the tea and pour some for both of them. Once finished, the other sat down across from Ukyou, watching her expectedly.

Ukyou picked up her cup, started to put it to her lips, then paused. She regarded it carefully, then cast yet another smile to her companion. The chef stretched across the table, offering the cup. “Why don’t you drink from this instead?”

Her guest appeared taken aback. “Don’t you trust me?”

“Of course I do. Look at all we’ve done so far. Now drink.”

That gained Ukyou an irritated glance as her guest took the offered drink. Her companion looked the cup over, carefully examining it. For a moment, the figure made as if to pour the contents on the table, but then smiled and took a large gulp. It made a big production of letting the liquid travel down its throat, then gave a loud sound of content. “Satisfied?”

Ukyou waited a moment before becoming convinced the contents of the cup were safe. “Very. Now drink from your cup as well.”

Her guest all but slammed the cup on the tabletop, nearly breaking it in the process. Without preamble the figure picked up the other cup and took a sip before placing it more gently upon the table. Ukyou made certain the amount of liquid in the container was lower than before. It wouldn’t do to be sloppy at this point of the game.

“I’ve had just about enough of this crap,” the other informed its companion.

“Just making sure, sugar,” Ukyou said soothingly, taking the cup that had been in front of the other and helping herself to it. The one that had been slammed down looked like it might have cracked slightly when it met the tabletop.

“After all we’ve gone through, I would think having doubts at this stage in the game would be a little late.”

The other was all but snarling at Ukyou. She decided to ease her partner’s distress by holding up her end of the bargain. She brought a piece of paper, folded over, from out of the confines of her okonomiyaki seller’s outfit. Taking her time, she unfolded it slowly, savoring each move before placing it flat on the table in front of her guest.

Her companion grabbed it greedily and poured over the words written on the parchment. “It all looks like it’s in order. It’s got your signature, making it nice and legal.”

Ukyou nodded in agreement. It was a simple exchange, after all. “All you need to do is sign it and our deal will be closed.” As the other read over the paper again, Ukyou went to place some sugar in her tea. Just as her hand brushed the surface of the container, she could have sworn her partner had tensed up slightly. It was hard to judge, since it appeared the other was busy intently rereading the contract, but how could she be really certain? Instead, Ukyou grabbed the container of sugar that was already on the table and poured the contents from it into her drink.

The other seemed satisfied with the document. It took out a pen and began writing. “I’m surprised selling half of your place isn’t harder for you.”

“Getting Ranma all to myself is worth half of the restaurant.” Ukyou shrugged as she watched the signature close the deal and began drinking her tea. “To be honest, I’m surprised Kodachi didn’t come up with the idea of trying to bribe you into stabbing me and Shampoo in the back too.”

The other laughed at that. “Oh, she did. She just made the mistake of not offering as much as you. In her case, it really didn’t pay to be cheap.”

“You’ve got that right,” Ukyou felt oddly satisfied at the deaths of her rivals. The truth was, she had liked Akane more than either of them, even if the youngest Tendou was, or rather had been, the worst threat to Ukyou’s future happiness. Helping to participate in Akane’s death numbed her to the pain involved in the necessity of removing the others. To her, one of the worst things about the whole experience was that her Ranchan would never know what lengths she had gone to to unite the two of them, never appreciating the sacrifices to her personal honor she had made because of the pride and stupidity of those around her.

“You seem a little lost in thought,” the other said, folding up the paper and putting it in a pocket.

“Just thinking about what I’ve had to do,” Ukyou sighed. “And what I still have to do.”

“You mean about how to convince Ranma to marry you?”

“I mean about tying up the only remaining loose end that knows what really happened and could blow everything for me.”

Ukyou stood up, unlimbering her spatula from her back. The other moved quickly, darting from the seat and out of easy reach of her attacker. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? We had a deal.”

“And I’ve lived up to it,” Ukyou intoned menacingly, not leaving the slightest doubt that this was no hollow threat. “The deal was we eliminate Akane together, then we get rid of Shampoo and Kodachi, which would leave Ranma for me. In exchange, you get half my restaurant and profits, and half of any future business as well. And you will get half of everything for the rest of your life… which is going to consist of about two minutes.”

“You bitch!” the other spat out, continuing to back away but quickly running out of room. “I lived up to my end of the bargain.”

Ukyou sneered. “Right. And you are just so trustworthy that I would never have any doubts. Get real. You were eager to stab the others in the back, and you’d do it to me in a heartbeat if you saw an advantage to it.”

The other tried to run to the left where it might be able to flee out the back entrance, but Ukyou lunged that way with her spatula, cutting off the potential escape avenue. Pleading seemed the only option left. “No way. You can trust me. I need you alive to keep getting half of everything, right? It’s not like I can run a restaurant, so obviously I wouldn’t harm a hair on your head.”

That brought a scoff. “If anyone offered a better deal than the one I gave you, you’d turn on me without a moment’s hesitation. Or you’d just blackmail me for a higher percentage if you felt like it. I know you too well.”

Her companion couldn’t come up with a plausible response to that. Instead, it said, “I have several copies of a letter that details everything we did in someone’s possession. If anything happens to me, and I don’t contact the person that has them, they’ll send them to the authorities and Ranma. It’ll be a contest to see who gets to you first. If you’re lucky, the cops find you and you end up in jail for life. If not… well, even I can’t begin to guess what Ranma will do to you, but I think you’ll agree, he can be creative when he feels the need to be.”

Ukyou laughed. “I considered that you might do something like that, but ruled it out. I have some idea of how your slippery mind works, and I refuse to believe you would leave anything lying around that would potentially incriminate you. And there’s no one you trust enough to give something like that since if they looked it over, they’d be able to burn your own ass with it.”

“Shit,” the figure could not help hissing. Ukyou was far cleverer than the other had given her credit for. Still, the other needed to buy some more time. There was still a chance it could save itself. “So how are you planning on getting rid of me?”

“Bludgeoning you to death with this.” The large spatula reflected the light almost as thoroughly as Kunou’s sword had. “If you stay real still, it’ll only take a blow or two. I’m not much for drawing things like this out.”

“What about the getting rid of my body?”

“You are just full of questions tonight, aren’t you?” Ukyou teased. “I’ll probably slice and dice you with my eyes closed and use a meat grinder on the rest. Then I’ll toss the whole lot down a sewer or something. By the time I’m done, no one will ever know it’s you.”

"That's disgusting." The figure was finally backed into a corner and had nowhere to run.

“Very, but I’m a desperate woman in love with a man. I’ll do anything to keep him, even if it means butchering you like a pig.” Ukyou knew it was the end at last. There was nowhere left to run, and there would be no damage to the restaurant, which was why she had driven her prey into a corner where there would be no wild swings, near misses, or evasions that would destroy her property. Just a final, quick death.

Raising her weapon to administer a blow, Ukyou became caught up in the moment and decided to release some of her suppressed anger. “You want to know something? On some basic level, I’m actually going to enjoy killing you. I didn’t really like doing it to the others, even second hand. Akane, I liked. Shampoo and Kodachi, I at least respected since they were acting out of love as well, even if it was for a man that neither of them deserved. But you, you’re different. You’re just a manipulative jackass looking out for number one. You could have had it all, including Ranma, but you pissed it all away because you’re nothing more than a self-absorbed piece of shit. I completely and utterly despise you. Of all the people that have died in the last couple of days, you’re the only one that really deserves… it. Now drop… dead?”

Ukyou found she could no longer swing her spatula, no longer do anything, as an odd sensation began tingling throughout her entire form. Her muscles seized up on her, the heat of her passion masking the subtle signs that would have given warning her that all was not right with her body. Now she could no longer ignore it as her muscles refused to respond to any of her commands. Instead, she lost all sensitivity in her fingers, and her weapon fell to the floor with a loud clamor. Her legs began trembling, unable to support her weight.

“Waugh huppen?” Even her tongue was failing to work.

A sigh of relief passed through the other’s lips as it drew itself up to its full height to stand next to Ukyou. “Kami-sama! I thought it would never kick in. That idiot Kodachi said it would work inside a minute. I’ll kill her for screwing that up. I mean, I would if I hadn’t already killed her. Heh.”

Smirking at finally regaining the advantage, the other pushed Ukyou over before she herself had a chance to fall on her own. Her body hit the floor hard as she lacked enough muscle control to break her decent. She was more helpless than a turtle thrown on its back. Her body refused to obey any orders she gave it.

The other resisted kicking Ukyou’s fallen form. There could be no additional injuries on the chef’s person. At least no unplanned ones, not if the finale was to work right. Instead, it pulled out a set of surgical gloves and donned them. Quickly, it began wiping away fingerprints from every surface it had come into contact with. It knew where they all were, having paid very close attention to everything that had been touched from the moment it entered the restaurant. After that, the tea service was removed and placed in a plastic garbage bag. Once that task was finished, it began recovering the items it had gathered together and hidden in back and out of sight for just this moment.

To pass the time as the ‘scene’ was being set up, the other began talking. “You’re probably wondering what’s happened to you. You were right about me putting something in the drink. It was a little thing Kodachi whipped up for me specifically to take care of you. She came up with this whole scheme. It’s a rather simple, yet ingenious, little concoction. The tea was indeed laced with a nasty little paralytic. No, it’s not fatal. It’s just something to keep you docile until things are set up good and proper for your real demise.”

More objects were placed in their ‘proper’ setting. “The tea was laced with the stuff, but it didn’t affect me because it was a binary compound. There’s a lot of technical terms behind it that I don’t really understand, but the gist of it means the paralytic doesn’t have any effect until a second ingredient is added to it. In this case, the other half necessary to work its magic was just common commercial sugar, Sugar.” The other gave a cruel smile at the word play, mocking Ukyou further. “I knew you always drink your tea with sugar from those times we got together. As to the paralytic itself, it’s something that’s real subtle and barely leaves a trace in the bloodstream. Kodachi said unless you know what to look for, or get real lucky, you won’t find it. Believe me, she knows her drugs.”

The other took out a piece of paper and held it before Ukyou’s face. “This is a written confession in detail by you about all that’s happened. Actually, I wrote it, but you know what I mean. I’ll admit it leaves out my part in all of this and substitutes yourself in most of my places, but it reads like a masterpiece. It all makes sense, from you guys getting together and conspiring to kill Akane, then killing you co-conspirators, to you finally killing yourself because, ‘In the end, none of us deserved Ranma, not even me’. They’re going to love that bit, let me tell you.

“You’re probably wondering how I managed getting your handwriting down so well. Since you were kind enough to let me have a key to this place, it was a simple matter to pop in here one day while you were at school and Xerox your little dairy, then return it so you wouldn’t know it was ever taken. I used that as my blueprint to write your ‘magnum opus’. I’ll admit to having to make up several of the words on my own, but I’m damn good at forging stuff. I’ll take my chances that anyone looking at it carefully won’t pick up on the discrepancies.

“Besides, after this matter is over, I think the cops will be perfectly happy with closing this case quickly and with as little fanfare as possible. After all, this is Japan, and we don’t have insane, obsessed, cross-dressing serial killers running around in our country. At least not ones we’ll admit to. And if said serial killer confesses her crimes right before committing seppuku, well that cleans up all the loose ends, and the whole matter can be swept under the table quickly and efficiently. Everyone knows how obsessed you are with Ranma and how violent you are with those you consider a threat to your continued happiness with him. Once the police discover that, they’ll find it easy to believe you finally snapped like a dry twig. As thorough as the cops are, they’re still like everyone else. If they uncover what they want to find and it makes life easier for them, they won’t bother looking hard anywhere else, not that I’ll leave anything for them to find.”

Ukyou’s eyes widened at that. She wouldn’t ever see Ranma again! Worse, he’d know at least part of the truth and hate her for the rest of his life. She couldn’t let that happen. She had to survive. She had to find a way.

Slowly, she felt sensation return to her fingers. The paralytic must have been wearing off. All she needed was some more time, and then she would escape and make her traitorous companion suffer. Just a little more time.

The other noticed Ukyou’s shock at its plans and laughed. “Come on. You didn’t think I was going to leave you alive? No way. You’re my last loose end, one that’s about to leave her entrails all over the floor. I’ll admit that you surprised the heck out of me with the whole trying to kill me first bit. I underestimated you. I didn’t think you would have the nerve or savvy to do something like that, you deluded, lovesick bitch. Lucky for me, that stuff kicked in when it did. Now upsy-daisy.”

Placing its hands behind Ukyou, the other lifted her into a sitting position, placing her legs directly under her. It was a bit difficult at first, but the other managed to keep the chef upright as it pulled out a tanto and forced Ukyou’s hands and fingers around it, positioning it at her stomach tip first.

Ukyou could feel more sensations slowly return, but it was almost too late. She had to move and force the blade away right now. Her grip tightened on the knife as she mumbled out, “Tell me why you betrayed me?”

The other smiled. “No more answers.” The blade plunged in, cutting through the flesh as cleanly as a surgeon’s scalpel. Once in deep enough, the blade was moved across the stomach in a slow motion as what little strength Ukyou possessed went into an attempt to prevent the cut. All it did was increase the agony as she felt herself disemboweled more slowly by the weapon, making the wound more jagged and forced, inadvertently making it appear more genuine.

Satisfied the cut would be fatal, the other quickly loosened its hold and moved away from Ukyou’s form. Releasing the young woman allowed her limp body to fall forward, a low moan of pure agony escaping her lips as her lifeblood poured from the wound and onto the floor.

The other looked down at the surgical gloves that encased its hands. There was some blood on them, but not much. That was good. The more blood splattered around Ukyou, the better. Waiting until the chef had regained some muscle movement was a bit risky, but it was necessary. Recovery of some motion meant the majority of the drug had been absorbed into her system, and the struggle with the blade that she was holding made it appear that the cut was difficult for her to do, adding authenticity to the supposed suicide that had just taken place.

 The other double-checked everything in the restaurant, making sure it had left nothing behind that could incriminate it, as well as making absolutely certain that Ukyou had expired from her wound. That the suicide had taken place in a public area that was frequented by hundreds of people every week meant any small hairs or tissues it might have left behind would blend in with all of the others, making any intense investigation difficult for the detectives involved. But with this public relations nightmare the police would surely bury the case in a hurry. Still, it never hurt to be thorough.

Satisfied at the results of its handiwork, the murderer doffed a wide-brimmed hat and left the restaurant through the back exit next to the alley. It would dispose of the clothes it had specifically bought a couple of months ago for this very occasion later in a dumpster a district away, so that even if someone spotted the figure in the alleyway, it could deny ever owning such garments.

At last, it was finally over. The idiots had all been disposed of, and the figure’s true goal was open to it at last. It was a pity that it couldn’t sell off its half of the restaurant to someone, but that ‘bill’ had been nothing more than a feint to disguise its true motives. But the world would find those out soon enough, even if they didn’t realize that was the real reason so many worthless lives had been thrown to the wind.

It had been a good, if busy, couple of days.

“I cuh… can’t do it, Kasumi.”

“You have to.”

“I cuh… cuh… can’t. I’m sorry. I just can’t do it. Pleasedontmakemego.”

Kasumi sighed at her younger sister’s display of emotion. “But it’s Akane’s funeral. You need this for closure in your life.”

“No! It’s too much like when we buried Momma. I don’t want to have to go through that again! I can’t take it! I can’t!”

Kasumi’s voice remained gentle, but firm in spite of Nabiki’s hysteria. “Think very carefully about this. You can only really say goodbye to Akane once. Father’s going. You wouldn’t want to disappoint him, would you? Ranma was her fiancé, and he’s going despite how hard it is for him. He loved her.”

“So did I! She was my sister!”

“Which is why you should go,” Kasumi pointed out, exasperated as one could be when trying to be reasonable with an unreasonable person.

“Please don’t make me go!” Nabiki pleaded.

For a moment, it appeared to Nabiki that Kasumi’s face tightened and she was going to try again, perhaps ordering her this time. But just as suddenly the strength seemed to leave her older sister’s form, and her shoulders slumped in defeat. “Very well. You can pay your respects after you’ve calmed down. We won’t make you go. I’ll tell the others.”

To Nabiki’s eyes, it appeared Kasumi had suddenly become three times older than her true age. It was a tired woman, worn down by the burden that was called life, that left the living room, allowing her younger sister to sob endlessly on the table in the middle of the room.

The sounds of conversation drifted from the entryway, heard by Nabiki over her tears.

“I don’t think it would be a good idea to make Nabiki go. With the way she is now, there could be an incident. It would be a disservice to Akane’s spirit to have something happen now.”

“It’s hurting me too, but I’m going. I mean, Akane was her sister, for crying out loud. She should be there.”

“Son, calm down. Nabiki intends no disrespect. It’s just hurting her harder than she knows how to deal with it. Give her time, and she’ll come around.”

“Nabiki will pay her last respects later, once she’s calmed down. I’ll see to it myself. I promise you.”

Kasumi’s assurance seemed to settle things as the sound of a mutual, if reluctant, agreement came from the others. The tears continued to flow endlessly from Nabiki until she heard the door in the entryway slam shut, indicating the remainder of her family and the Saotomes had departed for the funeral. The affair would take place under open skies, in spite of the fact it was nearly pitch black from the dark clouds high overhead. It would take a miracle for it to not rain.

Nabiki remained sobbing on the table, for one minute. One became two. Then two became five. It was somewhere after the fifth minute that the sobs changed from those of heartbreak to that of unbridled laughter.

“Hahahaha! I can’t believe you fell for it, you airheaded twit. You’re even more spaced out than when Mother died. Hahahahaha.”

Nabiki rose from the chair and went to the bathroom to take a good look at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were bloodshot and tears still trickled freely, traveling a course down her cheeks and around her pouting lips. “Damn. Next time I have got to use less soap on my eyes.”

Wiping her face, Nabiki tried to restore some appearance of her old self, mindful not to look too together for the others’ sake. Within a couple of weeks, she could go back to acting relatively normal, and within a month she could be fine, with only making an occasional token display of the loss she had suffered. One had to keep up appearances, after all.

As Nabiki made her way upstairs to her bedroom, she gave some thought to the smaller details she was going to have to take care of. Kasumi seemed to be all right. But honestly, with the way her father was going on you’d have thought it was the end of the world instead of him just losing a daughter. Nabiki knew he certainly wouldn’t have gotten this upset if she had been the one that died. But Akane always had been the apple of his eye. Still, she needed him in some semblance of working order. Perhaps Genma and Nodoka could do something since they were going to move in for the duration after this tragedy. The bond between the men was tight, and most likely the elder Saotome could bring her father out of his depression given a little time. Nodoka could make the place feel like a home again. It would help bolster Kasumi too, for that matter. Lord knew if Kasumi was concealing her grief, Nabiki sure wasn’t going to waste time trying to uncover it and help her deal with it.

As she made it to the top of the stairs she, paused in front of Akane’s door. Dead for over a week and the little duck plaque bearing her name was still hanging on the door. It would probably remain there for quite a while in some senseless sentimental gesture. It was such a waste. They could use that room for either the Saotomes or Ranma himself. It wasn’t like there was an infinite amount of space in the home. On the other hand, Ranma sleeping in Akane’s room was probably a bad idea. He didn’t need to be reminded of his loss. At the moment, he was holding up remarkably well, though there was a vacant look to his eyes, and he had burst into tears several times when he thought no one was watching. Still, Nabiki suspected that if he were going to self-destruct it would have happened by now. Starting today, she’d provide a helping hand to bring him back up to his old self. She’d have him forget Akane in no time at all. Lord knew, Nabiki was starting to forget her already.

Smiling, Nabiki opened the door to her darkened room. She was about to turn on the light when a voice spoke from within.

“Leave it off.”

Nabiki felt her heart skip a beat. That voice! It couldn’t be! It just could not be!

“Close your mouth and come inside.”

Nabiki could just make out the figure sitting in a chair in front of the room’s solitary window, the little light trickling in silhouetting the figure’s form so that it appeared as little more than a darkened shadow. One of the few things she could be sure of was that the shadowy form’s hairstyle matched that of the voice it belonged to.

Fast. Nabiki had to think fast, even if she was being confronted with the impossible. It would be best to do was being demanded in order to buy enough time for her to turn the situation around in her favor. Nabiki did was she was bade, leaving the lights off and walking just beyond the entryway of her door.

“Better. Much better,” the figure soothed.

The figure was being secretive, remaining sitting next to the window with the light turned off and. Why? Was it just to keep anyone outside the room from seeing what was going on, or was there some ulterior motive? Nabiki hated not having a clue as to what was going on. There were some things she needed to know, or else she would go mad. But she needed to protect herself too, for she knew what ultimate fate was in store for her at this intruder’s hands. A potential solution came to mind, one that was hidden in the room from the prying eyes of the intruder. But she would have to be subtle, real subtle, in order for it to work.

“How can you be here?” She needed time and answers. Though she could go to the grave without the latter, as long as she remained alive she needed to know.

That brought a light snicker in response. “Maybe you not know how to tie a knot, stupid bitch,” Shampoo snarled.

Nabiki cursed herself. She had been so certain the knot was good and the sack durable. It seemed impossible Shampoo could have gotten out of it in her cat form. She should have drowned!

“No be so disappointed. It was a nice plan. Just with one little hole in it, and there was no way you could know about that, so you couldn’t take it into account.”

Nabiki hated the sly taunting in that voice, wanting the bimbo dead more than ever. Still, she had no illusions as to what Shampoo would do to her for the attempted murder. Why the Amazon was taunting her instead of killing her outright evaded Nabiki, but she would be damned if she would let the opportunity to save herself pass by. Putting more panic in her movement and voice than there really was, she made it appear she was terrified and moving randomly as she drew closer to her dresser and the all-important top drawer. As long as Shampoo remained right where she was, Nabiki had a chance. Just a little distance to go.

“What hole?” Nabiki asked, inching her way to potential freedom.

“That’s a secret,” Shampoo said.

That’s it, Nabiki thought. Just play with the prey a little more, then you’ll find out this prey is actually a hunter too. One who’s a whole lot smarter and has a bigger gun. “Come on. Let me know where I screwed up.”

The Amazon said, “When you mess with Shampoo. Now it’s my turn to ask a question. Why you want to kill Akane?”

That made Nabiki pause for a moment. She had assumed the question would be what her true motives were, or why she had stabbed everyone in the back, but Shampoo had surprised her. Again. Nabiki really hated the slut. “For the money, of course. Kodachi and Ukyou paid me a good hunk of change to help take her out.”

“Liar. Shampoo has seen that sort of look in people’s eyes before when we discussing plan. You wanted to kill her long before you were made the offer. You just use the money as an excuse.”

For a moment, Nabiki considered protesting the accusation, but much to her surprise, she found herself wanting to answer. “You want the truth? Fine, I’ll tell you the truth. You’re right. I hated her. I’ve despised her for years, and I’ve wanted her dead for about the last two.”

Even Nabiki was surprised at the amount of venom in her voice. “Everyone always goes on and on about how great and wonderful Akane is. Daddy always treated her like she was the best of us, like I wasn’t worth giving the time of day. She was willing to learn martial arts, so that made her Daddy’s little pride and joy. She was going to inherit the dojo with whomever she married. She received all of his attention, all of his love, while I didn’t get shit from him. Everyone was like that. Kasumi liked her better than me. Mom showered her with attention. Even that fucking Dr. Tofu treated her better than he did me when we got checked up.

“It got worse as we got older. All the boys absolutely adored her. They fought over the right to date her, for kami’s sake. And what did she do? She complained about it. She actually fought off her fucking admirers and told them she wasn’t interested. But they wanted her so bad they were willing to get beaten up by her and came back for more. But me? The gutless worms wouldn’t even give me the time of day. The few guys that went out with me never wanted a second date, and it was because they thought I wasn’t as desirable as that bitch sister of mine. They were always comparing me to that stupid, ill-tempered thug and thought she was better than me! It’s like that with everyone she meets. Ranma, Kunou, Ryouga, even that dipshit Shinnosuke fell in love with her. He couldn’t remember anything else BUT HE REMEMBERED HE LOVED HER! I would have given anything to have been adored like Akane was, and she hated the way everyone loved her. She had everything I wanted, but could never have.

“Why did I want to kill her? Hell, why wouldn’t I want to kill her?”

The confession made Nabiki feel relieved, as though a great weight had been taken off her shoulders. Almost as great was when she knew Akane had been killed.

“You is one sick person.”

Nabiki felt no anger at the statement. The soon-to-be-deceased’s opinions meant nothing to her. Besides, Shampoo was just a Chinese tramp that got lucky in surviving one murder attempt and was too stupid to realize it. Well, she wasn’t going to survive the second one. Especially since Nabiki had finally figured out why the Amazon had stayed in the shadows. Now recovering the object would be easy, and ending her one remaining problem even moreso.

“Why did you come back? Why didn’t you just kill me the moment I entered the door?” Nabiki asked, no fear in her voice anymore.

If Shampoo noticed the change, she gave no indication of it. “Shampoo needed to know Nabiki’s motives.”


The shadowy figure gave no answer.

Another secret. Nabiki mentally shrugged. It didn’t matter anymore. She didn’t give a damn about Shampoo’s motives, even if the Amazon cared about Nabiki’s. It was over. At last, the middle Tendou daughter arrived at the dresser. Without the slightest bit of hesitation, her hand whipped up to the top drawer and darted into the back left corner of it. She had no fear of the item ever being found. Everyone knew better than to mess with her things. Even Kasumi.

It was in an inconspicuous plastic case. The lid was easy to flip open with just the touch of a finger, which she did. An instant later, the cool grip of a very old .38 revolver was in her hand. Trademark smirk plastered on her features, Nabiki whipped the gun out and leveled it at Shampoo. The Amazon hadn’t moved a muscle in all of that time.

“You have no idea what I went through to get this little piece of personal protection from some Yakuza thug I scrounged up,” Nabiki spat. “Looks like my sacrifice has paid off, though. For me, not for you, of course.”

Nabiki backed away from the dresser and drew nearer to the door. She didn’t think Shampoo could possibly move in time to stop her, but why take the chance? Much to Nabiki’s surprise, and annoyance, Shampoo had not reacted in the slightest to the change in events. Having achieved control of the situation, and unable to resist the urge, Nabiki decided to brag a bit of her own. It was the last time she would ever get a chance to revel in what she had done, after all.

“You’re still injured, aren’t you? From those kicks I gave you in the sack? That’s why you’re just sitting there, not even trying to make a move to stop me, not that you would be able to even if you could. Even at your best you aren’t that fast.”

Shampoo didn’t answer.

Nabiki made her way to the lightswitch next to the doorway. “You’re sitting in those shadows, hiding how much pain you’re in so I can’t see your facial expressions. Well, let’s change that, shall we?” She flicked on the lights. There was Shampoo, unmistakable and right before her. There was the faded discoloration to the flesh below her right eye, indicating a wound she had received, and it did appear from her facial expression she was in at least a little bit of discomfort. There were no weapons visible near her, or anywhere on her Chinese style pink and cream white cheogsam and pants she was dressed in. At least Shampoo wouldn’t die in one of those too tiny dresses she frequently wore, Nabiki thought to herself. Her death would have some measure of dignity, at least.

“Just as I thought,” Nabiki smirked. “You really, really, should have killed me when you had the chance. A quick blow to the head as I entered the room would have done the job. I’m no martial artist. I would have been lucky to even see it coming.”

“How will you explain shooting Shampoo?”

Nabiki, finally tired of explaining everything, drew back the hammer. “I’ll think of something. Bye, bye.” She pulled the trigger.

The gun’s only response to her pull was to make a clicking sound and rotate the cylinder.

A misfire. Refusing to lose control, in spite of her panic, Nabiki pulled the trigger again.

Another click.

Breath now coming in gasps, Nabiki pulled again and again. Six times she pulled, and six times all the pistol did was roll its cylinder and click.

The sound of something small and metallic hit the wooden floor behind Nabiki. She stopped trying to shoot and listened to it. It sounded like the metal rolled back and forth slightly, almost as thought the object was round.

A second clink joined the first.

Then a third.

Then several, all of them hitting too close together for Nabiki to determine how many there were. Terrified beyond all measure, she unwillingly turned around to discover the origin of the noise.

“NOOOOOOOOOO! Nabiki wailed upon seeing what, or more specifically who, had made the noise.

Akane Tendou let the last bullet drop, bouncing off another one of the five that had already fallen to the floor. “I’ve known that gun was back there for a while. You’re not the only one that goes rifling through other’s possessions.”

“You’re dead! You drowned! I saw you die!” Nabiki protested.

“You saw what anyone watching was supposed to see.” Akane moved into the room. “Shampoo let me know everything that happened that night you guys came up with the plan to kill me. Since we knew none of you would rest until I was dead, and it would only be Shampoo’s word against yours that your little meeting had taken place at all, we came up with a plan to counteract yours. We decided to fake my death, lulling you into a false sense of security, so that we could nail you all for what you had done and tried to do. Things were going along pretty well until we got to the canal and you tried to kill Shampoo. You really screwed everything up with that one.”

As angry as Nabiki felt at the turn of events, she was also helplessly fascinated at how she had been outmaneuvered. “But I saw Shampoo throw your body in the canal. I looked for it myself and even if you were awake when she threw you in, you were definitely not swimming around or anything.”

“Of course I was, you saw me floating right there,” Akane said.

Nabiki replayed the events of that night in her mind. What was Akane talking about? She hadn’t been there. No one was there. The only thing that had been floating in the canal was…

Akane watched the knowing light Nabiki gained in her eyes. “That’s right. I was only pretending to be unconscious by that time. Shampoo had undone the pressure point after she placed me on the ground. She then slipped me a packet of Instant Spring of Drowned Goose. Once I hit the water, I changed. I might not be able to swim as a human, but it’s easy when you’re a waterfowl. That was how I rescued Shampoo too, though it was a near thing. She had nearly drowned by the time I was able to undo the knot you tied on that sack. After that we had to lie low while I helped her recuperate from the wounds you inflicted on her. During that time, you went on to murder Kodachi and Ukyou. There was nothing we could do about it until now.”

Nabiki shook her head. “But that still doesn’t explain why Shampoo would tell you anything, and why the two of you would work together. She had as much to gain out of your being dead as anyone else.”

“You don’t know anything.” Akane turned to look at Shampoo, momentarily ignoring Nabiki. “Are you all right?”

Nodding, the Amazon gave Akane a reassuring look. “She didn’t figure out Shampoo was hurt until it was too late to do anything about it.”

Shampoo rose to her feet slowly, in obvious pain. Akane moved closer, keeping one eye on Nabiki the entire time, letting her sister know she couldn’t escape no matter how fast she ran. Once Shampoo was close enough, Akane slipped a hand around her waist and held her tight in an unmistakable move of affection.

“Just what in the hell is going on here?” Nabiki’s jaw had nearly hit the ground at witnessing the sight before her. She had thought her quota of surprises had used up for her lifetime.

“I think it would be obvious.” Akane reluctantly released her arm from Shampoo’s waist. “Shampoo and I are in love. We’ve been that way for a little over two months now.”

“But you love Ranma!” Nabiki protested.

“Oh? When did I ever say that?” Akane asked.

“When you…” Nabiki trailed off at that.

After giving her several moments, which Nabiki only managed to fill with silence, Akane answered for her. “You can’t remember.”

Nabiki started to protest, but then stopped. After a moment, she gave Akane a frustrated sigh. “Fine. I never heard you actually say you love him, but I have eyes. I saw everything that happened between the two of you. Hell, you were going to marry him, and it was obvious you weren’t being dragged into it.”

“And yet, I never said I loved him, not even up to when I walked down the wedding aisle, did I?” There was pain in Akane’s voice as she reminded Nabiki of the past events.

Nabiki felt her temper boiling. What sort of twisted game was Akane playing? “You’ve always acted like you did love him. Are you telling me you don’t?”

That declaration seemed to hurt Akane. “I never said that either. As a matter of fact, you’re right. I do love him. For all the times he’s egotistical and unthinking, he’s caring and nice five times more. He always helps others when they’re in need, even his enemies. He’s quick to forgive those that wrong him, even those that give him a hard time over and over again. He’s frequently giving and will sacrifice things for others if he thinks it’s the right thing to do. And there’s a whole list of other nice traits that’s too long to mention. He’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, not at all, but he does try. I’ve always felt warm inside when he’s around me. He’s always been there for me when I’ve needed him, even if I told him I didn’t want him around but really did. I’d give my life for him without a moment’s hesitation if I had to. I do love Ranma. I really and truly do.

“But I’m not in love with him.”

Nabiki’s temper flared at what she perceived as being jerked around. She snarled, “That made absolutely no sense whatsoever.”

Akane shook her head sadly at the display. “I knew you wouldn’t understand. There are different kinds of love, Nabiki. For a while, I tried to convince myself what I felt for Ranma would grow into the love he wanted from me, and the sort of thing I wanted in my life. I was even willing to marry him with that hope. Once Dad revealed to me he had arranged some Nanniichuan water as a wedding present, that settled things. I decided I’d marry Ranma just to give that to him alone. For all of the crap he’s had to put up with from everyone, he deserved a little happiness that water could give him. And no matter how I felt, I knew he truly loved me. After Mount Phoenix, there were no doubts. I knew he loved me more than anyone else in the world.

“And after that fact got a chance to sink in, I also realized I didn’t love him as much as he did me. Not like that. Never like that.

“I care for him almost more than I do anyone else in my life. Even more than my family. And I still do. But a marrying kind of love? No. No matter how much a part of me would like the idea that I could do that, it just doesn’t work that way for me. You can control your thoughts, but your heart has a mind all of its own and goes its own way. You just have to deal with it.” She gave a meaningful glance to Shampoo. “Mine’s like that. I could have had the man just about every woman around here wants, and I don’t want him the way they do.”

At last realization started to set in for Nabiki. “You mean you’re really—“

Akane cut her off. “When I was about nine, I told Kasumi I didn’t like boys. They were all dull, unattractive, stupid jerks that treated girls like they were worthless and didn’t understand them at all. They just wanted to use girls to make themselves happy. I told her I liked girls instead, since they got to be pretty, and nice, and could understand things other girls went through. I told her I really liked Kyoko, who lived down at the end of the street, and I thought she liked me too.

“And then Kasumi slapped me.

“I was stunned. Kasumi never even raised her voice to anyone no matter what they did, and she had slapped me. Hard. I was in too much shock to cry. Kasumi told me that girls couldn’t like other girls. It wasn’t natural. It was wrong and immoral and people like that would go to Hell when they died and be damned forever. She told me it would break Mom’s heart up in heaven if I were like that. She told me you, Dad, and her would hate me if I liked girls. So I was to not talk that way ever again, and I was to like boys just like a normal girl would, since I was really a normal girl and couldn’t possibly like other girls, you see?

“Of course, by that time I was bawling like a baby and agreed to everything. I promised her I would never think about girls like that again and would only like boys and would behave myself. I’d never be bad ever again and would only have girls as friends and nothing else since that would be bad and everyone, including kami-sama himself, would hate me if I was that way.

“As much as I love Kasumi, I think I hate her, too. I know I still haven’t forgiven her for that day. I don’t think I ever will.”

“So you’re a fucking dyke,” Nabiki said, momentarily forgetting the situation she was in.

Akane’s face crinkled at the rude appellation. “I am what I am. I do like the attention boys give me; I just don’t like it when they come on to me. I have an ego, and it’s nice to know guys find me attractive, even if I don’t think of them in the same terms. I know that makes me sound like Ranma, wanting attention from others without being willing to give it back in return. I think that’s one of the reasons I resented him wanting the other girls’ interest; it reminded me too much of myself.”

Nabiki shook her head. It sort of made sense, in a weird, twisted, distorted way. “If you didn’t like Ranma that way, why did you agree to get engaged to him?”

Akane seemed almost embarrassed to answer. “At first, because he put down my looks and called me uncute. I wanted to prove to him I wasn’t, even if I went about it backwards. Though I guess it ended up being the way to catch Ranma’s interest, ironically. He hates being chased. Once I got to know him and found out what a nice person he was, and that he could turn into a girl, I tried convincing myself that it just might work out. But it was only a pack of lies I told myself to try to fit in. He’s a guy, even when he looks like a girl. Even if I could somehow change that part of him, I wouldn’t; I care and respect him too much to do that sort of thing. He is who he is, even as I am who I am. We just have to learn how to live with what we are.”

“And Shampoo?” Nabiki asked.

That caught Shampoo’s attention as she finally entered the conversation. “After bombing the wedding, Shampoo eventually realize Ranma never love her the way she love him. Never the way he love Akane. If Shampoo can no go back home with her airen, Shampoo can never go back at all. So Shampoo figure if she can no leave and no get Ranma, she would see to it Akane would not get him either. Since Shampoo could not convince Ranma to be with her, then Shampoo would try to seduce Akane instead and break them up that way.”

Akane laughed at that and looked to Nabiki. “Isn’t that the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard of? It has to be the most stupid of stupid plans she’s ever come up with.” Akane caught the angry glare Shampoo shot her. “Shampoo, I love you to death, but your plans are stupid. It’s just ironic that the most stupid one of all ended up being the only one that actually worked.”

Akane turned back to Nabiki. “I’ve always been attracted to Shampoo, even if her behavior really put me off. Heck, the first time she left I tried to goad Ranma into bringing her back by complimenting her looks and asking why he didn’t try to stop her, even if I didn’t realize why I was doing it at the time. It’s also the reason I’ve always hated the way she threw herself at Ranma and never minded it quite as much as when Ukyou and Kodachi showed their affection towards him. It was jealousy, pure and simple.

“So when Shampoo hit on me a couple of times in private, I was flattered, even though I resisted her advances because I figured it was probably some kind of trick. But then Kunou bought that magic charm from the cursed antique store that made that colony of ants grow huge and all of us had to fight them. During the fight, Shampoo saved my life by taking a blow meant for me.”

“Which was ironic since Shampoo was trying to kill Akane at the time,” the Amazon admitted. “She not see giant ant trying to attack Akane from behind, and Shampoo accidentally take blow instead.”

Akane gave her a forgiving look. “Luckily, I didn’t realize it and mistakenly thought Shampoo had risked her life to save me. So I ended up risking my life to protect her when she was hurt and carried her to safety. Once we got a few seconds alone in private, I was seized by the moment and kissed her.”

“Since that was Shampoo’s intention all the time, she return kiss and from there go on to successfully seduce Akane. Only it not go the way Shampoo thought it would. Instead of being happy she make Akane betray Ranma, Shampoo found she liked Akane being so nice and affectionate to her. It was the first time anyone had treated Shampoo like that in her whole life, except Mousse, and we know all about him. So instead of telling Ranma what happened, Shampoo wait and think about things. She was left with choice of making Ranma hate Akane too, and make everyone miserable, or making Shampoo and Akane happy by having a relationship. Shampoo always prefer being happy to miserable.”

Akane nodded. “So we kept things quiet until we could figure out a way to go public and somehow not hurt everyone, especially Ranma. There was also the problem of Kodachi and Ukyou. There was no way I would risk leaving him in their hands. He deserves better than them.” There was an edge of anger in Akane’s voice. “But then the meetings with you guys began, and you saw how things deteriorated from there. Things probably would have turned out all right in the end if you hadn’t screwed everything up by betraying everyone.”

Having somehow managed to absorb the information, all Nabiki could do was shake her head. “Congratulations. I had absolutely no idea. Not much slips by me, but that one completely did.”

Akane gave Nabiki a serious look. “There’s just one thing I want, no, I need to know. Why did you really get involved with all of this? And don’t tell me it was for the money or the opportunity to kill me. You were motivated by something else, or you wouldn’t have killed Ukyou and set her up to take the blame.”

Nabiki debated holding out, then shrugged. What was the point? She wanted Akane to know. It was about the only weapon she had left to use against her sister. “The answer’s simple. You know I always get what I want, no matter what it takes or how long. I just wanted Ranma for myself.”

Akane looked at her sister in disbelief. “But… but you were engaged to him and just used it to harass him and the others. It was obvious you weren’t interested in him at all.”

Nabiki shrugged. “I changed my mind since then.”

It took almost a full minute for Akane to find her voice. Slowly, in carefully measured words, she said, “Do you mean to tell me you killed three people, and tried to kill two more, including your very own sister, because you changed your goddamn mind about a guy you were interested in? One that had no interest whatsoever in you?!”

Nabiki looked at Akane as though she was stupid for even asking the question. “Why not?”

Suddenly, the anger seemed to leave Akane. She stared at Nabiki, almost as though she was looking at a chick that was unable to break out of its shell, no matter how hard it tried. The strongest show of emotion she could muster was to shake her head sadly. “It’s time to finish things up. I’m sorry.”

Nabiki backed away towards the window, trying to figure out what words to use to postpone her fate so that she could escape it. But for the first time in recent memory, nothing came to her. There wasn’t anything she could think of that had even a remote chance to get her out of the situation. It was as if she had been trapped in one of her own schemes, a spider caught in its own web of lies and deceit.

It wasn’t fair. She was the mastermind. She had come up with all of the plans and was the smartest one around. She had set everything up perfectly, and it had all come apart because she hadn’t noticed that her sister was a dyke that was screwing some Chinese bimbo. Impossible! If Nabiki Tendou was to be taken down, it should have been for better reasons than that wild tale she had been given. It wasn’t fair!

Akane shook her head sadly and moved forward. Nabiki knew she could do nothing to defend herself, so she remained motionless and allowed her sister to embrace her intimately in those powerful arms she possessed. Leaning close enough so that she could whisper in Nabiki’s ear, Akane said in soft, almost affectionate tones, “Do you remember when I was eight and broke my arm?”

The question froze Nabiki’s blood in her veins.

Feeling her older sister stiffen, knowing that Nabiki at last understood and accepted what was about to happen to her, Akane said softly, “It was because you shoved me down the stairs and pretended it was an accident. It’s time for me to return the favor.”

And with that Akane released Nabiki from her hold and shoved her in the direction of the open window. Nabiki’s hand lashed out to try to arrest her flight, but all she managed to do was grab a vase on the stand near the window, sending it tumbling outward with her. There was no time to grab anything else as her body went out the window, heading downward as she completely cleared the opening and fell headfirst towards the concrete of the patio below.

As Nabiki saw her face about to impact with the ground, which had drawn close enough to make out a column of ants making their way across the rocky surface in a serpentine line, one final thought went through her mind.

In that last instant, she hated Akane more than any other moment in her entire life. It wasn’t because her younger sister was killing her; Nabiki could accept that since it’s what she would have done had their positions been reversed. No, it was because not only had Akane been more popular and attractive than Nabiki, but she had also proven herself smarter and more devious in the end as well.

And then the delicate bone of her face, and the vase that had gone tumbling out after her, met the ground at the same instant, both shattering into dozens of smaller fragments and creating a cacophony of noise from the twin impacts that broke the otherwise quiet afternoon.

At her position in the window, Akane looked down to see the shattered remains of her sister far below. The way her head and neck were turned, combined with the matted gore that was the remains of her face, informed Akane that Nabiki was as dead as one could get. There would be no miraculous ‘escape’ from death as there had been in Akane and Shampoo’s case.

Tears would not come. Akane had already mourned the loss of her sister when Shampoo had informed her of the plan Nabiki had come up with to kill her. More were spilled after witnessing her sister throw her lover in a sack and toss it into a near watery grave. There were no more tears for the monster her sister had become, or perhaps had been the entire time and had just hidden it well. The evil creature was dead, and the world was a better place for it. The only thing Akane was sorry about was that she had not done something to prevent what had happened, even if she still hadn’t figured out what that something was.

The sound of a hammer being pulled back from somewhere behind Akane shattered the silence far more loudly than Nabiki’s body striking the ground had.

It was Akane’s turn to stiffen, even as Nabiki had in her embrace just moments before. The shock of what the sound meant was immense, perhaps the worst that the youngest Tendou girl had suffered in her entire life. It almost made her turn around, but at the last second she refused to. The image of what was happening behind her was all too vivid in her mind’s eye. That would do. Akane had no desire to see the reality that lay there.

It was only now she realized that Shampoo was no longer at her side for a reason. Really, it had been sloppy of Akane to leave the bullets just lying there. She should have gotten rid of them altogether, but she had been reluctant to dispose of something she might have needed later, even if she had no plans to use a gun, or even knew how to fire one accurately.

The words came easily to Akane’s lips. That was a surprise, but then again, sometimes the truth was easy to say once one could accept it within her heart. Lies were always difficult for Akane to manage, even if much of her life had been based on one. “I always knew you still loved Ranma, even when we were lying in bed together after having made love. I just thought maybe you would realize he’d never love you, and that you would come to care for me just as much as you did him. I guess I sound just as stupid as Kodachi, huh? Pining away and hoping someone’s heart could change on the basis of how I behaved?”

“Turn around, Akane.”

Akane shut her eyes, trying to keep the tears from coming. She didn’t want to cry. She didn’t want to appear weak in front of the woman she had come to love, even if that woman didn’t love her. “Just shoot me in the back, please. It won’t make any difference where you do it. You’re going to have to get rid of my body anyway.”

“Turn around.”

No! Akane didn’t want to have to see it coming. Didn’t want to see the betrayal happen before her eyes. It was too much to ask.

“Shampoo said turn around. Now.”

Unable to resist the Amazon’s wishes, even now, Akane turned around. It was just as she had pictured it. Shampoo standing there, grinning smugly, with Nabiki’s gun pointed directly at her chest. The only thing the youngest Tendou hadn’t pictured was the small open thermos that Shampoo was holding out to the side.

Seeing Akane’s puzzled gaze at the container, Shampoo continued grinning in an almost mocking fashion. “This is Akaneniichuan mixed with water from Chiisuiton, and no ask Shampoo what she had to go through to get that. Shampoo grab some last time she went home to Joketsuzoku. Now it’s going to be very useful when ‘Akane’ show up from nearly drowning and have very bad memory of what happen. Maybe hit self on head too so it look like partial amnesia is likely. And as to Shampoo’s speech pattern, when ‘I’ concentrate, ‘I’ can speak pretty good Japanese. I’ve been studying and practicing it for months now, but keeping it hidden in case I needed to throw someone off by speaking it well. It’s a pretty good plan, yes?”

That Shampoo was taking such delight in tormenting Akane made the betrayal hurt even more. Why couldn’t she have just shot her in the back without gloating and be done with it?

The Amazon made a show of looking at a nearby clock. “There’s not much time left. My plan actually has a lot more phases to make it look convincing, but that’s the gist of it. Do you have any last words?”

There should have been a million curses and threats on Akane’s lips for this treachery. She had been used in body and soul by the most heartless monster among a neighborhood full of them. Nearly everyone Akane knew, when it came right down to it. But the anger would not come. All she could manage to say was, “For what it’s worth, I honestly believed we would be happy together. I know it wouldn’t have been easy, but I would have done everything in my power to make you never know another moment of pain. I’m sorry I failed you. I hope you and Ranma have a happy life together and even though you’re still doing this, I really and truly still love you.” There wasn’t anything else to say. It was everything. Simple, yet complete.

Shampoo just shook her head. “Nice try, but flattery like that only works on the really stupid, and I’m anything but. You should know that by now.”

Satisfied Akane was finished with what she had to say, Shampoo threw the contents of the container over her head and pulled the trigger of the gun at the same time.


“What are you thinking about?”

“Nabiki’s suicide. I still can’t believe she’d do something like that,”

“Yeah, me neither. I had no idea Akane’s death would hit her so hard.”

“She did always keep her emotions bottled up. I told her to be more open, or they would consume her. I only wish I hadn’t been so right.” Kasumi sniffled into her handkerchief. It was the third one she had gone through in the last half-hour as she and Ranma sat alone at the dinner table. The words of the recent pronouncement, right on the heels of Nabiki’s funeral, were still being dealt with by both of them.

“I’m sorry Father is determined for us to marry so quickly. It’s not fair to you. But if we don’t—“

“He’s going to go completely off his rocker, not that he isn’t three-quarters of the way there already.” Ranma winced at his words. He had to start thinking before he spoke. That was one of the primary mistakes he had made in his relationship with Akane. He was damned if he would do it again in this one with Kasumi.

“No, Ranma. You’re right. I’m afraid for his sanity as well. He’s nearly mad with grief. We have to pull together for his sake. He’s the last of my family. I won’t abandon him for anything in the world. Marrying you isn’t really the sacrifice I thought it would be when you first came to us. And you’ve matured a lot in the past few weeks.”

“Who wouldn’t?” Ranma admitted. He had to change. Events had forced him to mature and start thinking about the consequences of his actions. To have misjudged everyone so badly, he had no idea things had built up to a head like that. True, he had been too wishy-washy in openly proclaiming his feelings for Akane, but that the others had been so unbalanced as to kill one another over him? He wished he had never met anyone outside of the Tendou family itself. That way everything would have been fine. But his thoughts would change nothing. Wishes were ‘what ifs’, and the world was made of ‘what is.’

“I’m sorry all of this has happened to you,” Kasumi said.

“You’ve been hit harder than me,” Ranma pointed out. “I mean, I did lose the woman I love… I mean loved, but you’ve lost two people you’ve cared for almost your entire life. I can’t believe how you’re holding up. I only wish I had that kind of strength.”

“I’m not really that strong,” Kasumi insisted. “I’ve always thought if one stays mired in the past, they’ll never go forward. In an odd way, marrying you is just that, taking a tremendous step forward. I’ll never forget my sisters any more than I would forget mother, but I am alive, and will remain that way for as long as I can. I will not allow the grief that consumed Nabiki to take me as well. I won’t.”

Ranma heard the edge in Kasumi’s voice and quickly nodded in approval. He would be there to personally make sure she did not give in to her grief anymore than he would give in to his own. Grief was a foe like any other, and no matter how overwhelming an opponent it was, he would triumph over it no matter how long it took. He was Ranma Saotome. He gave up to no one and nothing, not even pain. Akane had helped him see that. 

This time it would be different. He had failed Akane by not seeing things for what they were. He would not do the same thing to Kasumi. He owed it to her, to Soun, to his parents, and most of all, to Akane. No matter the void currently within him, he would go forward and make sure no one else suffered needlessly ever again, especially his fiancee, who had endured almost as much pain as he had, if not more.

Oddly enough, Ranma felt a growing affection for the older woman, and he thought he detected the same from her. Their mutual loss and heartbreak had served to draw them very close, very quickly. It was almost as though they had discovered they needed one another in order to survive, or to just plain keep their sanity. And as time progressed, the more they shared, the more they wanted to share. They were being drawn together as only people who had survived a mutually horrible experience could. They had come to rely on each other more than they did their parents, or anyone else in their lives. It wasn’t love. Ranma knew what love was now and could tell the difference, but it was the possibility of love, given time. If it was allowed to bloom. This time Ranma would learn from his mistakes. He would find them the time to discover the truth of it or not, and not deny his feelings under a mask of fear and uncertainty. No one would be allowed to interfere with his relationship. Never again.

It was odd, Ranma knew, but for some reason, when he thought of Akane, he wasn’t as broken up as he felt he should have been. He had loved her with all of his heart, he knew that was the truth, so why wasn’t he more heartbroken about it? It made no sense. Was he in some sort of twisted form of denial? Was the fact they hadn’t recovered her body making him think she was somehow still alive out there? No. It wasn’t possible. Ukyou’s confession had made that clear, along with her suicide. Akane was dead. The trio of girls had killed her before Ukyou had turned on them, killing her partners and then herself in an orgy of slaughter. They were all dead. It was all over.

No, it was best to forget such futile hopes and impossible dreams. He had to live in the present with the people that he cared about, those that were still alive. He would always honor Akane’s memory and cherish every too brief moment they had for the rest of his life, but he would also live for himself and those he loved as well. Again, he felt that was what Akane would have wanted.

“Akane, I hope wherever you are right now, you’re happy.”

Kasumi grasped his hand. “So do I, Ranma. So do I. She deserved some measure of happiness more than of any of us.”

“Yeah. She deserves it.”

“I can’t believe you were such a jerk!”

“Akane really need to develop a sense of humor.”

“Do you honestly believe that claiming the Nyanniichuan was Akaneiichuan and pretending you loaded the gun was a joke?”

“Shampoo have a good laugh about it.”

“Up until I kicked you in the gut. I’m almost sorry it was in those ribs of yours Nabiki busted, by the way.”

“Thanks. Shampoo is sorry she play with Akane’s head like that, but she just wanted to make sure you love her and not just using her to satisfy your urges.”

“I thought you could speak better Japanese than this.”

“Sorry, old habits die hard. But with where we are now, maybe you should learn Chinese.”

“Yeah, I guess with us living in the Chinese section of Osaka, I should. You have to admit though, between moving, the change in hair style, dye jobs, and tinted contacts, no one should ever be able to find us.”

“You didn’t need to get the boob job.”

“I told you we can’t risk anyone recognizing us and having word get back to the others.”

“I liked your breasts just fine.”

“You’re just jealous because my chest is finally bigger than yours.”

“It is not!”

“Heh. Nice to see I can still get a rise out of you. And you’re right, yours are still bigger than mine, though not by much.”

“I knew it.”

“Of course you did.”

“Akane, do you think we made the right choice?”

“I think allowing everyone to continue believing we’re dead was for the best. They were just starting to get over us. A quick clean cut is better than the continuing pain and disgrace of having us alive and in a relationship with one another. Now, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“Sham… I mean, I was wondering when you were going to ask this. I could tell something was bothering you.”

“Don’t try to change the subject. I just need to know, and you make damn sure you tell me the truth. I was right about you still loving Ranma, wasn’t I? You really did consider that plan you outlined to me in Nabiki’s bedroom, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did. But it was a fool’s dream, even if I could have pulled it off. That whole screwed up scheme, and everyone dying, has made me tired of lies. I have to learn to accept the way things are and try to be happy as best as I can. I swear to you I do love you. Someday Shampoo love you more than Ranma. It happening slowly. Just give it time. We have the rest of our lives.”

“Now that sounds like a good plan.”


Author’s notes: At last you may bear witness to the result of watching too many Alfred Hitchcock mysteries and feeling compelled to try something in that genre. But then, one of the purposes of writing it experiment with different things and seeing how they work, both for one personally and the reactions of others from reading the material. I confess that it was fun for me to try to come up with all the ‘twists’ that I could. A great deal of fun, actually. True, it was probably obvious that the ‘mysterious figure’ was Nabiki from early on, and with the distinct lack of actual corpse laying around for Shampoo and Akane might have lead some of some to conclude that they had indeed survived, but I hope enough didn’t pick up on it to spoil everything, or even if they did figure out who was doing what to whom, they were still able to enjoy the story overall.

Remarkable how long this grew on me. Even at the 50K point I was sure there was no more than 25K left, but the final Shampoo ‘betrays’ Akane bit, and several other things occurred to me to expand what was in my head. I tried shortening the Nabiki-Shampoo-Akane go around, which was longer than any other scene, but it was the final one were everything was explained and the final secrets revealed, so hopefully that’s justified. Still, I’m not sure if it dragged or not, but I couldn’t see trimming it either. The first few scenes probably could have been expanded on as well, but I thought the increased size would detract from the story since one of the driving forces in the first half is trying to figure out who the ‘mysterious figure’ was and drawing it out would be a bad idea.

I’m satisfied with the basic layout, though there is still too much exposition. There are also probably things I could touch up to make it read better. For my first fic of this type of genre, I’m satisfied with the overall feel of it, if not all of the details, such as the details of Ukyou’s ‘suicide’. And there are probably several holes in the story that would lead someone to say ‘Of course the police would know Ukyou was murdered because ‘Item A’ was missed by Nabiki,’ but hopefully you can bypass those little details and enjoy the story anyway. True, this work distorts the characters we know and love, Akane especially, from their original flavor, but hopefully enough of them remained true to form without being too distorted. Or at the very least, you enjoyed the story despite the flaws.

As to Akane’s interest in Dr. Tofu, for the purposes of the story she felt the way she did partially because he was so nice to her, but also because stealing him away from Kasumi would have been a way of ‘getting back’ at her oldest sister for trying to force her into a mold that didn’t really fit her. Though ironically if Akane had been successful, she would have been following Kasumi’s wishes.  I couldn’t find a way of mentioning it in the story without it feeling forced, especially since the scene had gone on longer than I was comfortable with.

Kasumi and Ranma’s sudden closeness. Not sure if that felt rushed or not, but drawing that out or explaining it longer seemed excessive for the purposes of the epilogue. It was just a general idea of the possibility of future things, and was not meant to imply a lack of care about the ‘deceased’.

Hmm. I’d say that takes care of that.

D.B. Sommer

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