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A Ranma ½ story
by DB Sommer

Any and all C&C is appreciated. You can contact me at sommer@3rdm.net

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

Preface: What's happened before: Akane got her hands on a wish and used it to wish her mother had never been in a car accident and was alive in the present. Well, her mother wasn't in an accident and is with them in the present. There's only a slight complication; Kachiko had been in two accidents, the first occurring when she was the ripe old age of seventeen…

Foreword: A word of warning in advance. This is a flashback featuring Kachiko, so she's the only character mentioned throughout all but the start and end. Soun is going to have an interlude devoted to him later. So for those who correctly say that this series deals a lot from Kachi's perspective, please bear with it, since this is a necessary thing.

Interlude 1: Faerie Tale Endings

"Come on, Akane. Tell me what's wrong," Ranma said to the closed door, in a voice that was not quite pleading, largely in part because he never pleaded.

"No! Just leave me alone," was the only response.

"I can tell something's bothering you." Ranma stared at the plaque hanging on the door, the one bearing Akane's name. She had been avoiding him for the last few days, ever since the race. Most of the time she stayed in her old room. The only time she vacated it was during the night, when Kachiko slept there and she would retreat to Kasumi's room. Ranma had tried hitting Kasumi up for any hints as to what he had done wrong, but Akane had remained close-mouthed with her as well. Her reticence was going from mildly irritating to annoying.

Behind the door, Akane's voice emerged louder than before. "Mom was right! I screwed up! I could have won the race, but I was stupid. Now leave me alone!"

At last, he finally knew the truth. Whatever Akane thought she messed up was seriously being blown out of proportion. He was the one that wanted the item, and by the day after the race, he had written off the loss and carried on as though nothing had happened. "Ah, don't worry about it. The thing probably wouldn't have worked anyway." Those sorts of cures never did.

"That's not the point. I should have won the race. I should have gotten it even if it didn't work."

Ranma rolled his eyes. "I was the one who didn't win, and it was only because of bad luck. You're being too hard on yourself. It's not like I'm angry with you. I wasn't counting on you winning it or anything. I mean, you probably had the worst odds of anyone in the race to win, so it would have been pretty stupid if was depending on you."

The sound of movement came from within the room. Ranma impressed himself with the ease with which he had soothed her wounded pride. He put on his most charming smile and waited for the door to open.

Instead, a thrown barbell shattered the door as though it was made of paper. It struck Ranma squarely in the face before bouncing off and hitting the floor, rolling to a stop a few feet away. A stunned Ranma followed a moment later.

Shaking his head clear of the cobwebs, Ranma began crawling low to the floor, presenting as small a target profile as he could manage, and made his way down the hall. "Definitely moodier than usual," he mumbled to himself. He'd give her a couple more days to cool off before trying to make her feel better again.

Once he was at the top of the landing — and well out of Akane's line of fire — he stood up and made his way downstairs. There was another side of the equation. Kachiko had also been subdued since the race, and doing her best to avoid everyone as well. In the beginning, the lack of attention she usually showered him with was reassuring. Then the idea that the reason for that might have been her spending time with Kunou occurred. That would have changed everything. Being left to his own devices was one thing; being ignored in favor of someone else's attention was something else. So Ranma spent part of the day following her once, but all she had done was shop at one of the local malls alone. After shopping, he continued following her until he ran into Ukyou. There was no way to avoid her, so they talked for a few minutes. By the time Ukyou had left, Kachiko's trail had gone cold. Since there had been no obvious disturbances — and Kunou tended to cause those wherever he went — Ranma felt assured that Kachiko had been up to something else, and decided to turn his attention back to Akane and discover what was troubling her.

The more Ranma thought about the situation, the more he realized he needed additional information. The best avenue seemed to be confronting Kachiko directly. Knowing she had left the Tendou home out before he had woken up, and still had not returned, Ranma decided to find Kasumi and see if she knew her mother's whereabouts.

Ranma poked his head into the kitchen and found Kasumi. She sat at the table poring over a book with the title 'Abductions Made Easy'.

Kasumi noticed Ranma's presence. She placed the book down and asked him, "You wouldn't happen to know anyone who might be interested in kidnapping Mother? Preferably someone Father could defeat."

"Ah, no," Ranma said slowly.

"What if Mother was drugged beforehand?" Kasumi asked hopefully.

"Not really." Ranma began to wonder if it might not be best to leave Kasumi to her own devices and not bother her further. She did have her own life to lead, and he shouldn't interfere with it.

Kasumi pouted slightly. "I'll have to think of something else."

Sensing the line of conversation had died on its own, Ranma decided to stick around and asked, "Do you know where Kachi is, by chance?"

Kasumi's demeanor suddenly became more subdued. "She finally discovered Grandfather and Grandmother were dead. She was very depressed. Father tried to comfort her. Mother was actually quite nice and merely told him to leave her alone instead of hitting him. And he did what she asked without complaining. He was polite and very understanding of her pain. I think they're making progress. Afterwards she went to visit their grave. I don't know when she'll be back."

The sound of the front door shutting came to their ears.

"Maybe that's her now?" Kasumi suggested.

Ranma headed toward the front door. He saw that luck was on his side for a change and that the arrival was indeed Kachiko. He noticed that she was clothed in an unusually somber black dress as she sat on the floor, halfway through the process of removing her shoes. Ranma waited until she had stood up before saying, "I wanted to ask you what you said to Akane that's got her so upset."

Kachiko glared at Ranma, obviously not appreciating the tone of voice and letting her disapproval be known in her own. "Do not start on that now," she warned, then headed for the living room.

Remembering what Kasumi said earlier, Ranma tried to mollify her, "I'm sorry about your parents being… you know."

The anger seemed to leave Kachiko for a moment. Her shoulders slumped and an exhausted sigh escaped her lips. "It's just, I sort of thought of this time traveling thing as a vacation from them. I didn't think they were… you know. I might not have gotten along with them, but still, I didn't want them…."

Ranma nodded. "Yeah, Pop gets under my skin too, but I don't want anything to happen to him."

Kachiko gave him a sad stare. "I'm not surprised Dad didn't last long after Mom died. To others, he might have seemed cold to her, but they were devoted to one another. Sometimes I got a little jealous, since they seemed to love each other more than me. I just…" She rubbed her eyes. "Look, I don't even want to talk about it anymore. It's like Sakura being old and having kids. It's all in the past and I just have to adjust to it. I've always been good at adjusting to things. If I wasn't, I'd be upset about being here now instead of delighted at avoiding that fate you said was waiting for me in the past."

It sounded to Ranma as though Kachiko was trying to convince herself of the statement. Rather than challenging it, he said, "Yeah. You're real lucky you're here." Sensing Kachiko was somewhat mollified, Ranma tried to ease the conversation back along his original intent. "Akane's feeling pretty bad too. Maybe you ought to talk to her about what's wrong and work something out."

Ranma's sense proved wrong as Kachiko's anger returned, more than doubling from before. "Look, if she wants to act like she's Miss Goody-Goody and so much better than everyone else, fine, but I'm not pretending her little self-proclaimed 'act of kindness' didn't !#$% everything up! If she thinks I'm going to pat her on the head and coo about how it's too bad she didn't win, but boy, it certainly was gee-golly nice she saved the cat and that's all that matters, she can kiss my #$%! What really matters is results. If she's having problems choking on that heaping dose of reality I fed her, that's her problem. Someone should have explained the way the world really works to her long before now."

"You're being way too harsh," Ranma said.

Kachiko gave him a half-lidded stare. "No, I'm being realistic. Having pure motives and good intentions does not mean you always win in the end. You want to try and stand on some pretend moral high ground so you can be above everyone else, fine, but don't snivel and cry when you learn it's not as high as you think and you're not rewarded for your behavior."

Taken aback by such open vehemence, Ranma got out, "That seems a little cynical."

Kachiko's disdain grew. "Don't mistake cynicism for being realistic. Here's a little story to illustrate my point…"

Kachiko looked timidly around the corner of the school hallway, sticking just enough of her head around it so she could get a clear view of what had captured her attention without readily revealing her presence. She remained motionless, unconsciously sighing at the slender young man who was chatting away with several other students.

A finger tapped Kachiko on the shoulder, drawing her attention. She turned to see her best friend in the whole world, Sakura Daisho, looking at her and shaking her head sadly.

"Boy, you've got it bad for Bosatsu," Sakura said in a disapproving voice.

"I don't know what you mean." Kachiko's attempt at feigning innocence had the same success she would have had being employed at a bordello and remaining a virgin.

Sakura walked around the corner and let herself be seen openly staring at Bosatsu. "This isn't like you at all. Ever since you started dating last year, you haven't acted the least bit hesitant about going after some guy that catches your eye. Actually, you go after nearly every guy that catches your eye."

"I know," Kachiko confirmed, all the while remaining hidden around the corner.

"He's bishonen. You don't like bishonen guys. You've never understood why any girl would want to go out with a guy more feminine than them," Sakura pointed out

"I know."

Sakura continued, "He tutors his classmates. He helps old ladies across the street. He even spends time at a soup kitchen for the homeless and never asks for anything in return. He just smiles and says he's glad to help. He's your classic 'nice guy'."


Sakura rolled her eyes. "You've never been attracted to nice guys. You always express disdain whenever someone goes on about one. You always complain they're boring, predictable, uninteresting, and that you can't stand the fact their nobility illustrates just how morally corrupt you really are."

Kachiko nodded her head. "I know. I… Wait a minute. I never said the last part."

"I added it, but only because it's true," Sakura assured her.

Kachiko tried to get angry, but failed. Anger was not an emotion she could ever direct towards Sakura. Annoyance, frequently, but not anger. "I know. By all rights, I shouldn't be interested in him in the slightest. Ordinarily, I'd say he has nothing going for him, except he's good-looking, and looks can only take you so far — Icky Slutzenin illustrating the point perfectly. But…." Kachiko stared around the corner again.

Sakura unleashed an annoyed grunt. "I can't stand seeing you pine away like some lovesick puppy. It makes you seem disgustingly normal, and you're anything but. It's like trying to dress a pig in a suit and tie: it just doesn't work — Icky Slutzenin illustrating the point perfectly. The next thing you know, you'll give up martial arts, start dressing in kimonos, and talk about how nice it'll be to settle down and raise a big family."

"That's not funny!" Kachiko snapped, shuddering at the idea of conforming to her parents' desires.

"Then act like you normally do and go ask Bosatsu out," Sakura ordered.

Kachiko began twiddling her thumbs. "What if he says no?"

Sakura slapped her forehead. "Give me a break. Lots of guys have turned you down. And sometimes you even give up on them right away instead of harassing them."

"It's called winning them over, and I'll have you know it's worked plenty of times. And sometimes we hit it off and go out on more than one date," Kachiko said satisfactorily. "Besides, it's not like you usually give up after one refusal. As I recall, the number of times you'll try for a guy is tied into how many years older they are than you."

It was Sakura's turn to look indignant. "That's not true. Aoshi was twenty-one and I stopped trying after the third time."

"Wasn't that because your sister was dating him and threatened to kill you if you didn't stop?"

"I didn't say there weren't ulterior reasons involved; just that I stopped after three times." Sakura looked down the hall again. "What is it about him that's reduced you to this state?"

Kachiko shrugged. Demurely, she said, "I don't know. I just feel different about him from other guys. I always get worried when we talk that I'll say something weird and he'll think I'm stupid."

"You always say stupid things to everyone," Sakura retorted.

"But I don't care what everyone else thinks," Kachiko said. "Around him, I do. And his being a nice guy isn't irritating, like it is from all the other nice wishy-washy guys. It's freaky."

"And if I told you he has a thing for girls that dress in kimonos?" Sakura asked.

"Really?" Kachiko chewed in her thumb in thought. "I guess I could wear one. It's not like it would kill me. Mom's even bought me a lot of different ones, so I have a variety choose from. Do you know what color he likes?"

Sakura let out a noise of pure disgust. "That's it. If you're worried about what to wear to impress a guy, it's got to be love at first sight."

Kachiko said, "We've already had this conversation. There is no such thing as love at first sight. Love can only come about after two people learn about one another and grow together over time. It's just lust until then."

"If that's the closest you can get to love at first sight, then that's what it is," Sakura said. She looked down the hall. "All his friends have gone. This is your opportunity. Walk up to him and ask him out."

"Right. I need to stop acting like some cowardly simpering girl and take the initiative." Kachiko firmed her resolve, started to head down the hallway, then turned around and hid around the corner. "On the other hand, there's something to be said about not having my dreams crushed and spirit trampled. I can be content to admire him from afar."

Sakura shook her head. "But I can't. Seeing you so spineless… Why, I'd be compelled to write on the walls of the bathroom stalls how attracted you are to Yumi and send love letters to Icky in your name."

"No!" Kachiko gasped. "How can you say such horrible things and call yourself my friend?"

Sakura said, "Because a real friend will throw you into the line of fire if it's for your own good, even if it means you'll hate them for it later."

"That's a stupid thing to say!"

"It's what you told me right before you shoved me into the ocean in order to help me overcome my fear of swimming."

Kachiko laughed nervously. "Oh, right. Forgot about that."

Sakura nodded. "You helped me get over my fear. Now it's only right, and vengeful, that I do the same to you."

"You're an evil person."

"It's why we get along so well. We're two peas in a pod," Sakura stated coolly. "Now, are you going to go down there and ask him out, or do I shout out 'Bosatsu, Kachi likes you' down the hall?"

"I'll do it! I'll do it!" Kachiko insisted. This time when she left the cover of her corner, she didn't duck back, mostly because Sakura repositioned herself in-between Kachiko and the wall. Sensing her friend would make good on all her threats in the misguided belief it would be in Kachiko's best interest, she forced one foot in front of the other, eventually repeating it often enough to be called 'walking', and approached Bosatsu.

She made it only halfway toward him when Wakaba appeared from a side hall and approached the bishonen youth. For some reason, seeing another good friend speaking so casually to Bosatsu relaxed Kachiko and she increased her speed.

Eventually Kachiko drew close enough to overhear Wakaba saying, "…and I was wondering if you might… that is, if you'd like to go ou—"

She was abruptly cut off as Kachiko moved in-between Wakaba and Bosatsu and said, "Hold on for a second, I have to ask him something important."

Wakaba's face turned bright red. "Oh no, you don't! You are not stealing another one away from me just when I finally worked up the courage to ask—"

Kachiko held her up hand. "I promise that from now on I will not take the last of the Jell-O from you at lunch before you get to it."

Wakaba turned bright red. "That was not what I'm talking about!"

"Cool. Then it'll be first come, first served, same as always. That would be fair, right?"

"Of course," Wakaba said, crossing her arms before the dawn of realization set in. "Wait! That's not fair—"

But Kachiko had already started to say, "Anyhow, Bosatsu, I happen to be free tonight and was wondering if—"

This time it was Kachiko's turn to be cut off as a large divan landed on top of her. The piece of furniture was so large it caught Wakaba too, flattening her underneath its broad bottom. Only Bosatsu remained outside the impact site.

A high lilting laugh pierced the air. "Hoohoohoohoohoo! Bosatsu, my sweet! At last I, the ravishing, effervescent, and fabulously wealthy Miko Mizuhara, have arrived. Leave us, my faithful horde of lackeys." She waved away the burly men that had borne her on the silk-covered divan. Once clear, she stood up, then all but sauntered as she approached the bishonen boy.

"Hello. How are you doing, Miko?" Bosatsu said pleasantly.

Before she could answer, the divan she had just walked off was hurled away with incredible force, embedding itself in a nearby wall.

The person responsible for the destruction stood up, a fiery aura of rage glowing about her. Kachiko's slitted eyes tried boring holes into the one who had dared disturb her at the moment of truth. Miko Mizuhara was everything she claimed to be. She was extraordinarily attractive, with flowing dark hair that cascaded down her back, tall with long legs, high cheekbones, and a more than ample bust. She had modeled extensively for her mother's world-famous clothing line, as well as the line of high-priced sports cars her father's automobile company manufactured. She was also proficient in Martial Arts Cheerleading, giving her a reputation for being able to kick ass when she had to. Even now she was adorned in her cheerleader garb, pompoms attached to the belt that perfectly complimented her blue top and yellow skirt. Kachiko had encountered the arrogant annoyance on multiple occasions, each time the rich bitch managing to get under her skin with practically no effort. Usually breathing the same air was sufficient.

Kachiko huffed and pounded her fist to her chest in a gesture reminiscent of a belligerent gorilla defending its territory. "You stupid wench, how dare you drop that thing on me!"

A gurgling came from the floor.

"And poor, innocent Wakaba," Kachiko added.

Cattily, Miko said, "A thousand pardons, I failed to notice you there, Koochie-koo Tendon."

"That's Kachiko Tendou!" she spat out. "What are you doing here? This isn't even your school. You should be at Saint Drunkies."

"Saint Hebereke," Miko corrected, some ice finally entering her voice. "And as to my purpose, well, the fact that I attend an all-girl's school is the very reason as to why I am here." She sidled up to Bosatsu. "I have come to ask Bosa-chan out on a date."

Kachiko went from mildly red straight to purple with rage, skipping the various hues in-between. "You can't ask him out! I'm asking him out!"

Miko sniffed disdainfully. "Don't be ridiculous. Bosa-chan and I go way back. We're practically childhood friends."

Bosatsu laughed nervously, "We only met last week when I was helping the children at the orphanage and you came in to take shelter from the rain. By the way, it was very nice of you to donate five hundred thousand yen like that, and to give the orphans all that designer clothing."

Miko smiled nonchalantly. "Mother had them lying around. The poor little waifs had no style to call their own. I'm just glad I could make their lives a little brighter, and give them some fashion sense."

"You're just trying to buy his affections, you yen-pinching bitch," Kachiko accused in a spluttered gasp.

Lighting fast, a baton was thrust under Kachiko's chin, catching her momentarily off-guard. In less than a heartbeat, she regained her composure and backed out of the weapon's reach.

Miko softly intoned, "It would behoove you to recant that awful innuendo."

Instantly apologetic, Kachiko said, "Very well. I'm sorry. I meant to say no matter how hard you try, you don't have enough money in the bank to buy Bosatsu's affections."

"That was not a retraction, you flat-chested worm!" Miko snarled.

Kachiko's eyebrow began to twitch madly. "Men are interested in more than looks, you walking set of tits."

An amused laugh escaped Miko's lips. "If that was the case, I wouldn't be making an outrageous salary modeling, now would I?"

"No amount of money is worth being known as the 'Bimbo of the Walkway'."

The insult, one that had graced the covers of more than one tabloid, caused Miko's eyebrow to twitch ferociously in time with Kachiko's. In response, she leveled her baton like a rapier, right at the smaller girl's chest. "That insult is more than I can bear. Prepare to have a civil tongue beaten into you, Tengu!"

"That's Tendou!" Kachiko snapped.

The two leaped forward, intent on landing the first blow in a fight that would reach legendary proportions, even in the hallowed tomes of Furinkan's extensive, violent history.

However, the huge section of ceiling that landed squarely upon the duo's heads relegated the conflict to little more than a passing footnote in the index of the school's archives.

Floating down on butterfly-like wings, a beautiful alien woman flew down through the hole and hovered next to Bosatsu. She was humanoid, but clearly not human. Besides the wings projecting from her back, her skin had an azure hue with dark patches all around, and a pair of small antenna sprang forth from her temples. Despite her alien countenance, she was incredibly ravishing, like something out of a poem woven by the bards of old.

In a melodic voice that would have made even the greatest songstress green with envy, the girl stared deeply into Bosatsu's eyes and said in musical rhyme,
~I am Arianna, the Faerie Queen.~
~Here I descend, to share my dream.~

Casually, Bosatsu said, "It's a pleasure meeting you as well."

Pleased by his response, she said,
~Your handsome form has caught my eye.~
~Never should such beauty die.~
~Allow you, my consort to be.~
~Together bound, for eternity.~

Bosatsu took the conversation in stride, as though faeries floating down through the ceiling and hitting on him was an everyday occurrence.

Beneath Arianna's floating form came a rumbling sound. She flew away from the source of the disturbance to hover at Bosatsu's side.

Kachiko and Miko stood up, the massive chunk of ceiling held above their heads. As one they heaved the piece away, the pair sharing a mutual look of rage at the Faerie Queen.

Kachiko said, "Back off from my man, you oversized insect, or I'll stuff a can of Raid where the sun don't shine!"

Miko seconded it with, "What the barbarian said, except for Bosa-chan being her man, since he's mine."

Arianna stared at them idly.
~Ugly trolls, whose voices demand.~
~Leave my presence, by my command.~

"What did you just call us?" Miko sputtered.

Order given, Arianna turned away from the enraged girls and settled her loving gaze upon Bosatsu yet again. Her hand glowed red briefly. The glow faded, and in it was small circle of gold.
~Tis time to go, oh future King.~
~ Our beginning sealed with this ring.~

Bosatsu politely bowed away. "Sorry. Your offer is tempting, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to turn it down."

Arianna drew back in confusion.
~Surely you jest.~
~This would be for the best.~
~To the Kingdom we must travel.~
~Before my spell does unravel.~

Again, the young man shook his head. "Sorry. I'm just not looking to settle down in a magical land anytime soon. I'm sort of a down-to-earth kind of guy. I do appreciate your offer. I'm very flattered that you would express interest in me when there are so many guys to choose from."

The Faerie Queen recoiled, red fire flashing in her eyes and sneer on her lips. Her musical voice took on an ominous tone.
~You are a fool, who bears coarse rejection.~
~And dares to release it upon this form of perfection.~
~My heart's ire has been wrought, my wrath unbound.~
~Let you who would play with a queen's affection, fall into a sleep most sound.~

Arianna held out her hand, palm flat and open, directly in front of Bosatsu. She blew lightly upon it. In response, a shower of golden dust rose from her hand and struck Bosatsu directly in the face.

Caught off-guard, Bosatsu caught a deep breath of the dust. He fanned his hand back and forth in an effort to wave the powder away. His nose crinkled. "Hey, that smelled…just… like… lilac…" His eyes closed and he slumped to the ground.

"What did you do to him?" Miko asked, her eyes tearing at seeing Bosatsu lying so still that he could have been mistaken for a corpse.

Arianna smiled in satisfaction at his downed form.
~And so it goes, a curse unleashed.~
~Upon one who would—Urk!"~

The rest of Arianna's proclamation was cut off by an arm wrapped around her windpipe, one that began squeezing very tightly and cutting off her supply of oxygen.

"Wake him up!" Kachiko snarled.

Arianna choked out,
~To defile my being, is painfully vain.~
~Now unto you, shall be done the same.~

Arianna's skin changed from its azure hue to a brown one. Her soft, perfect epidermis took on a wooden texture, identical to that of a tree. From every square inch of her body, jagged thorns sprouted outward.

The effect was instantaneous as Kachiko cried out in pain at the thorns suddenly thrust into every part of her that was in contact with her foe. Rather than release her hold and detach herself from the impalement, she bit through the pain and instead tightened the hold on Arianna's throat.

"Knock it off!" Kachiko hissed in equal parts rage and pain.

Eyes threatening to roll into the back of her head from her asphyxiation, Arianna's skin reverted to its previous texture. No longer the flawless melody of before, she gasped out,
~Release me, I shall remain.~
~A word is given. A bond sustained.~

Slowly, Kachiko released her hold from Arianna's neck. Instantly, Miko was there, bending the faerie's arm behind her back in a firm grip bordering on painful. "Wake Bosa-chan up."

Arianna shook her head.
~Beyond my ability, to lift the veil of sleep.~
~The Shadebringer's Breath works its way too deep.~

"There has to be a way." Miko brought Arianna's arm higher until the wrist was as high as the shoulder blades.

Arianna yelped out in pain,
~A cure can be had, in the Forest of Vare.~
~A place whose tread, no one may dare.~
~A flower which blossoms in the middle of the Glade.~
~ Vermilion, whose breath can contest the powers of Shade.~

"Then we'll just have to get some, won't we?" Kachiko said pointedly to Arianna.

Arianna shook her head.
~Impossible for me, a Child of Faerie.~
~The denizens hate us, and in turn we are wary.~
~Once there, my powers would flee.~
~Once there, forever, never to be free.~

"Could someone from Earth go?" Kachiko asked.

Arianna nodded.
~No powers to lose, so some have tried.~
~None have returned, no matter how they vied.~

"Can you send us there from here and back again?" Kachiko prodded.

Arianna didn't answer at first. A twisting reminder of the compromising position of her arm and loosened her tongue.
~A portal, I can maintain.~
~So long as it is here I remain.~

"Isn't that convenient?" Miko said dubiously.

"We're going to have to take her word for it. Time's running out," Kachiko nodded her head in the direction of where Bosatsu was being cared for by Wakaba and Sakura. "Open this portal thing," she ordered.

Arianna began a low incantation, than her voice hesitated.
~ Too much pain, I cannot chant.~
~Loosen thy hold, or my vow I recant.~

Reluctantly, Miko eased her grip ever so slightly. When it was obvious she would release the limb no further, Arianna chanted again.

To the crowd that had gathered to watch the spectacle, the reverberation from the faerie's incantation seemed to hum through their very minds rather than their ears. A sparkling vertical whirlpool of energy suddenly appeared in mid-air, growing with every musical note from Arianna's mouth. The vortex composed of motes of light swirled so fast it was almost blinding, and many of the bystanders had to shield their eyes. Within moments, the chanting reached a crescendo, and the vortex ceased growing. The song finished, there was a moment of silence, the portal itself not making the slightest noise despite its rapid movement.

Kachiko stared grimly at the brilliant display. "No sense in waiting. Let's save the day."

"I don't think you should go," Sakura mentioned as she left Bosatsu in Wakaba's care.

"Don't be stupid. I have to save him," Kachiko said.

Sakura walked closer until she was standing next to her friend. She pointed at the school outfit Kachiko wore.

For the first time, Kachiko assessed the damage Arianna's thorny exterior had wrought. Tiny bloodstains, numbering well over a hundred, dotted both her garment and her legs. None of them were particularly large, but combined they had a very disturbing effect, as though someone had emptied a squirt gun full of red dye at her.

Kachiko waved at the damage dismissively. "It's nothing."

Sakura jabbed her finger at the origin of one of the bloodstains. Kachiko winced slightly.

"I'll be fine," Kachiko insisted. She turned to Miko. "Come on, let's go."

Miko's head jerked, as though she had been startled by the suggestion. Hesitantly, she said, "I don't think my going would be such a good idea. Bosatsu would feel terrible if I was hurt for his sake. He's just that sort of guy, and I wouldn't want to hurt his feelings. But you seem pretty callous, and I'm sure you can ignore his sentiments. And there's the matter of you being more expendable than I am. I have a lot of people relying on me, but you don't. You should go. Besides," she gave a twist of Arianna's arm, causing the Faerie Queen to wince. "Someone has to make sure Tinkerbell doesn't try to pull a fast one and shut down the portal. Getting the flower does no one any good if there's no way to return."

Sakura growled, "Of all the cheap, weak excuses for cowardice—"

"Enough," Kachiko said with more than a hint of finality. "Someone does need to ensure the portal stays open. And we'll see who Bosatsu's more appreciative of after I save his neck." She smirked at Miko.

The cheerleader simply gave a disdainful shake of her head. Arianna winced again, the hold on her arm shifting and not for the better.

Deciding there was no sense in prolonging things, Kachiko told the others, "Wish me luck!" and jumped into the portal.

"Good luck!" Sakura called out.

"Don't screw up, Tendon!" Miko cried out.

Kachiko shouted an off color comment toward Miko, and then was fully immersed in the vortex.

There was no sense of traveling or disorientation. It was as though she had simply made a tiny leap from one side of the hall to the other. However, despite the fact it felt as though she had moved no more than a couple of feet, the environment said otherwise.

Kachiko took inventory of her surroundings. She found herself standing on a flat, green plain, the portal hanging in the air directly behind her. Fields of flowers rode in three directions as far as could be seen, their colors ranging from common to unearthly shades that hurt the eyes to merely look at.

Ahead of her, in the direction she has stepped out, was a vast forest that seemed to be a solid wall of trees and greenery. Where there wasn't bark, there were huge shrubs with thick branches, all of them taller than Kachiko. It appeared all but impassable without a machete to chop a way through.

"That's got to be the forest the bug was talking about." Kachiko found the sound of her voice reassuring in such an alien land. Under different circumstances, she might have considered it a magnificent world, but here and now, it was alien terrain that represented in impediment to her goal.

She walked up to the wall of greenery, trying to find some indication of a path, or even a lessening in the barrier. "Couldn't be easy, could it? Damn flower couldn't just be sitting right in front of the portal and I couldn't just grab it and get back to save Bosatsu and rub it in that walking pair of tits' face?" she grumbled.

A seductive voice broke the stillness in the air. "There are more interesting sights than the Forest of Vare, mortal. By all means, come over here and allow me to show you pleasures your limited mind has never fathomed."

Kachiko turned to see a nude woman, one whose unearthly foreign beauty reminded her of Ingrid, though the comparison was along the lines of Wakaba compared to Miko when it came to looks. The newcomer posed seductively against a tree, having appeared out of nowhere. Long strands of blond hair curled about her body, hiding it in strategic locations. The simmering stare she gave Kachiko left no doubt to her desires.

Kachiko shook her head. "Look, you over-endowed bimbo, that slutty come-on might work with bull-dykes like Yumi, but I'm afraid I am immune to your little charms."

"Do not be so certain." She removed the hair from its strategic locations. "Now come to me, oh virile one. It is has been long since I have had one of your kind."

"I am not interested!" Kachiko insisted.

The newcomer's eyes widened. "Impossible. You must desire to have sex with me. There is no choice in the matter. None are the mortal men that can resist Suyaere's charms!"

Now livid, Kachiko raged, "I am not a guy, you air-headed nymphomaniac!"

"That's just 'nymph', not 'nymphomaniac'," Suyaere corrected, then stared at Kachiko in confusion. "But you're built like a man. Are you certain you're not one of those eunuch creatures I have heard about? That would explain your lack of interest in me."

"Why, you!" Kachiko snarled, the pulled up her top and removed her bra. "Look at these!"

Suyaere squinted slightly. "Those qualify as breasts only in the loosest sense of the word. Better you should take these as an example." The nymph handled her own chest for emphasis.

"There's more to being good-looking than a huge rack! There's personality, and attitude, and martial arts skill, and… stuff!"

Suyaere considered that. "I have heard many women claim that, but never the men. They seem more interested in my huge… rack?" The final word seemed foreign to her tongue.

"Yeah, wait until they start sagging on you," Kachiko taunted. "They'll be dragging on the ground like an ape's knuckles, especially since you don't even have the decency to wear a bra."

The nymph cocked her head quizzically. "My body does not sag. That happens to mortals. My appearance shall remain as it is from now until the end of time."

Kachiko's eyebrow began twitching. It was a good thing Miko hadn't come along. Whatever this nymphomaniac's secret was, if the more earthly bimbo could learn it, Kachiko would never have been able to find a man again.

Kachiko put her bra and top back on. "Enough of this. Since I'm not a guy, or a dyke, tell me how to get into the forest."

The nymph laughed as though the very idea was unthinkable. "No mortal is allowed to enter the forest."

"They just enter you, eh?" Kachiko quipped.

"Why, yes; at least the men," Suyaere agreed happily.

Seeing the insult was completely lost on the girl, Kachiko shouted. "All right, if you won't help me in, I'll just help myself." And went charging headlong into the nearest shrubs.

It was like moving through molasses — and Kachiko knew exactly what that was like, thanks to one of Yumi's twisted, little, perverted schemes — the flora was so thick. The shrubs seemed to twist into her way, their small branches slashing at her flesh and reopening the numerous cuts the thorns had inflicted.

Kachiko felt like she had barely moved three meters before suddenly bursting through the shrubs and into a clearing. "Well, that wasn't so bad…" the words died on her mouth as she surveyed the scene. In three directions an endless plain of flowers stretched before her, and a vortex of energy hung in the air nearby.

"There's no way I got turned around!" Kachiko insisted.

"How amusing female mortals are." Suyaere literally rolled on the ground in mirth.

"I'll show you amusing," Kachiko started to head toward the nymph, intent on slapping the girl around until her tits wouldn't stop jiggling. She was almost upon her prey when the creature gave its hardest laugh yet and jumped right for the nearest tree.

Kachiko was about to laugh herself at the girl's stupidity — a monumental testament to IQ being inversely proportional to one's chest size — when instead of smashing headfirst into the tree, she instead disappeared into it as though it was immaterial.

"What kind of an idiot do you think you're dealing with? You ain't escaping that easily!" Kachiko snarled and hurled herself at the tree as well.

Her head met the trunk with a resounding thud.

As Kachiko returned to her feet, swaying groggily back and forth, Suyaere's head literally popped out of a different tree some distance away. She unleashed a highly feminine giggle. "There is no end to your entertainment value."

The laughter cut through the haze over her thoughts. Kachiko gave a cry of rage and launched herself though the air and toward the head poking out of the tree. Once again, Suyaere retreated into the wood, leaving Kachiko to once again bounce headfirst off the giant plant.

The nymph's head emerged from yet another tree farther away. "You have difficulty learning as well. Perhaps it comes from having tiny breasts."

"Let me in the forest!" Kachiko shouted.

"No mortal may enter the Forest of Vare. Give up, or continuing running into trees. It is most amusing. Not as good as physical pleasure, but it shall suffice."

Kachiko fell to a cross-legged sitting position in front of the tree she had just tackled. It was obvious this nymphomaniac was the one preventing her from entering the forest. She had to persuade the bimbo to let her in. Physical force wasn't going to work. No way would she agree to have sex with her. Some other form of leverage would have to be used. But what was there?

A broad smile erupted across Kachiko's features. She dug her fingers into the tree and ripped off a huge section of bark that was at least two feet wide and equally as long.

Suyaere shook her head. "Oh dear. You're about to outsmart yourself, aren't you? Perhaps you're going to try to cut down the trees? It won't work. They heal more quickly than you can cut."

The nymph's warning proved true as the damaged section healed more than halfway in a handful of seconds.

"I'm not trying to bring them down. Actually, their fixing themselves means I'll have plenty of wood to work with." Kachiko tore a second section, then tried interlocking the pieces. With a little bit of work, she managed to get them connected to one another by tearing out parts of the edge and meshing them together.

"Then what are you trying to do?" Suyaere asked.

"I'm going to put up a sign telling men to stay away from the forest since there's a really ugly, saggy, bitchy hag that's pretending it's a nymph and will try to hit on them."

Suyaere widened in horror. "Noooo! You cannot do that! No men will come, and I need them!"

Kachiko placed her hand to her chin in thought. "I wonder if I should add something about sexually transmitted diseases."

The nymph's bawling doubled. "I'll give you whatever you want; just stop it!"

The sign raising stopped momentarily. "Let me in the forest."

With a wave of her hand, Suyaere made several of the shrubs part, showing a hidden path that led deeper into the forest. "Here, take the path! Just do not put up your cursed signs!"

Goal achieved, Kachiko tossed the bark away. She skipped along, making certain to stick her tongue out at Suyaere as she passed up.

The nymph cried, "I hope the mosquitoes get you, you manlike creature."

"Kiss my !#$" Kachiko shouted, sticking her bottom out in the Suyaere's direction and smacking it once, before heading into the forest.

Kachiko was quickly out of sight of the annoying woodland creature. "Yeah, like a few bug bites are going to stop me. What kind of a wimp does she think I am?"

A humming sound reached Kachiko's ears as a sudden wind gusted, blowing her hair hard enough so that it floated around her head. She spat out several strands, and was trying to prevent the locks from blocking her sight when she became aware of a whirring sound above her. Moving the hair as far from her face as she could, she looked up and saw one of the mosquitoes the nymph had mentioned. She could tell what type of insect it was by its compound eyes, clear, membrane wings, and large proboscis. Making out those features was quite easy, since the insect in question was easily five feet across and just as long.

"Times like these, I really wish I'd quit sticking my nose in other people's business," Kachiko bemoaned.

Fifteen minutes later, a human figure staggered into a large clearing. Seeing the green grass beckon her, she collapsed on the ground in a heap.

To herself, Kachiko rambled, "That wasn't nothing. The human body can risk shedding four or five pints of blood, no problem. Now, I think I'll slip into a coma for a while." She noted there was a nice side effect from the mosquito bites; none of her wounds were bleeding any longer. Not having any blood would have probably gone a long way towards explaining that.

There was no time for sleep as a low whinny caught Kachiko's attention. Summoning all of her remaining strength, she forced her head to point in the direction of the noise. Her tired eyes widened as they located the source of the disturbance.

An equine stood there, a noble beast with rippling muscles over its entire body, balanced adroitly on four nimble legs. Its skin was as white as pristine snow, and an equally white mane traveled down the length of the back of its neck. Despite its obviously proud bearing, one that gave every confidence the creature could run forever without breaking a sweat, its most outstanding feature was the single horn that rose from its forehead. It appeared to be made of the purest gold. It was easily the most magnificent animal Kachiko had ever seen in her entire life.

She rose to her feet and approached the unicorn. "This is so cool. I know all the legends about you, since Principal Faust made European Mythology a mandatory course. You got a thing for letting young virgin girls ride you. Now I got me some transportation through this miserable bug-infested rat-hole." Kachiko made cooing sounds as she walked to the unicorn, intent on not scaring her future ride.

The creature's only reaction was to turn its hazel eyes in the girl's direction as she drew closer.

The unicorn's easygoing attitude towards her presence made Kachiko laugh. She walked more confidently, knowing it had no intention of running now. "I wonder if I have to ride him bareback or if there's a saddle somewhere around here."

Kachiko was looking for something to use as a makeshift halter and bridle as she held her hand out to allow the unicorn to sniff it and become familiar with her. The instant she drew within a foot of the animal, its head descended towards her hand, snapping at it. Only Kachiko's finely honed martial artist reflexes prevented her from losing a few fingers.

"Hey! What's the big idea!" Kachiko snapped.

The whole demeanor of the unicorn changed. It snarled in anger, its irises turning red as it reared up and lashed out with its powerful forelegs.

Kachiko had to leap to the left to avoid the hooves aimed at her skull. "Knock it off! I'm a virgin, I'm telling you!"

The horse whinnied in anger again.

Kachiko began backing away. "Come on! Letting one guy feel me up a couple of times does not constitute a loss of my undefiled status!"

The unicorn lowered its head and aimed its sharp and pointy horn right at the girl.

"Ahhh!" Kachiko screamed as she began running away from the charging beast. "This is so unfair! The legends should specifically say you only like uptight girls that have never let a guy get as far as second base!"

Kachiko began darting around, making sharp cuts and turns. Evading the unicorn wasn't easy as the beast seemed intent on impressing her with its bull imitation by goring her.

Eventually the unicorn anticipated one of the Kachiko's turns. She barely had enough time to evade the horn, which snagged part of her blouse and tore it open as the animal went past.

"I swear I'm going to turn you into glue when this is over with!" Kachiko paused long enough to shake her fist at the unicorn before running in a straight line for the wall of trees she had originally emerged from.

The equine gave another high pitched whinny and charged again. It targeted her bottom, keeping her right between its eyes. Each step allowed it to draw closer to her fleeing form. It unleashed a feral snarl as its horn brushed against the brown of her skirt.

Suddenly, she wasn't there. However, there was still a vision of brown directly in front of it; a substance somewhat harder than cotton.

Its full speed charge suddenly stopped as the unicorn's horn impacted with the tree trunk.

Perched above in the branch she was clinging to, Kachiko looked down at the sight of the animal with its horn buried to the hilt within the tree trunk. She began laughing at the top of her lungs. "Serves you right! Only a dumb animal would be stupid enough to run right into a tree like that. Hahahaha… ha… ha." Kachiko's laughter died as she recalled an incident from earlier in the day.

Convinced the unicorn was firmly embedded in the tree, and wasn't going anywhere despite its wild attempts to tear free of the trap, Kachiko released her hold on the branch and landed directly behind the unicorn. She cracked her knuckles loudly. "Now, why don't we see how I can repay you for trying to run me through?"

The unicorn lashed out with its rear legs. Both met Kachiko solidly in the gut, and she was sent sailing away, landing hard on her back as the breath was knocked out of her lungs twice over.

Kachiko slowly returned to her feet. Between gasps, she got out, "That… didn't… hurt. Only… out… of… breath… from… running." She waited a few moments until she recovered her wind, then shook her finger in a warning gesture to the still immobile animal. "You're just lucky I still have to save a hot guy, or I'd take the time out to give you a lesson you wouldn't forget."

Still holding her stomach, Kachiko continued walking through the glade and headed deeper into the forest. The next time their class studied European mythology, she was going to straighten out her instructors on a few of the misconceptions that seemed to be integral to those legends.

Kachiko hadn't traveled more than a couple hundred meters when the gentle notes of music reached her ears. It was from an instrument that was both eerie and melodic at the same time. Her eyes took on a vacant stare, and her stride a more wooden cadence as she headed towards the source of the melody.

The music taunted and lured at the same time. The source pulled at her, leading to a ring of rocks in the middle of the clearing. Each one was slender and jutted upward in an arc, like giant fingers beckoning one to come within. Kachiko did so, walking until she had entered the ring and could see what lay in the center.

The music-maker was a man from the torso up, while his lower half was that of a goat. There were some features that crossed the unseen line of demarcation: a pair of ram's horns projected from the sides of his head, while he walked on two legs, though they ended in cloven hooves rather than feet.

The satyr was dancing merrily as he played the tune on his pan flute. Once Kachiko entered the ring, still using her slow, wooden gate, the satyr ceased his playing. His eyes held a lecherous gleam as they settled on the girl.

"Ah, a woman from the mortal plane. I am overjoyed by your presence. Welcome." He gave a deep bow. "I see the sound of my magical melody had entranced your soul, as it does with all such females of your realm. Far too long has it been since I have enjoyed the… pleasures of your kind. Since you will be my plaything until you grow old and unpleasant to my eyes, I shall allow you to entertain me, starting now." His lecherous look doubled as he emphasized the final part of his pronouncement.

Kachiko continued walking until she was standing next to him. He took a moment to admire her appearance.

"Hmm, not the best-looking woman I've ever seen, but you'll do. I hate to admit it, but I'm pretty hard up. Ever since that damned nymph showed up, she won't let women in. They have to trick her, or slip past her when she's distracted by a man." He raised a hand toward Kachiko's chest. "And now, I'll give you a chance to distr—ACK!" he cried out as her hand grabbed his throat and he suddenly found it difficult to breathe.

"Impossible," he rasped out. "My magical music will enchant any mortal woman."

Kachiko said, "It probably would have, save for one little problem: you used a pan flute."


"I HATE PAN FLUTES!" Kachiko screeched, shaking him like a rag doll. "My entire life, the only music that's played at my home is the pan flute. Mother fancies herself an expert and plays it constantly! It's the only kind of music she lets me and the old man listen to on the radio! I've had to hear that creepy instrument my entire life! The first words from my mouth were, 'Not Zamphir again'! There is nothing I detest or hate more than the sound of a pan flute! I would rather hear Yoko Ono sing endlessly with only a xylophone for musical accompaniment than be subjected to one more note from that obscene instrument! The instant I heard the first stupid note, I knew I had to stop its source, even if it meant killing whoever was playing it!"

The satyr gasped out, "I'm a lover, not a fighter!"

"That just makes it easier to kill you!"

The satyr broke the instrument across his knee and held up the two pieces for Kachiko to see.

She considered the two pieces warily. "I don't know. You were playing it for an awful long time. I think I should kill you anyway."

"Wait, I can do other things that would make me useful to you," the creature rasped out.

"Like what?" Kachiko asked.

He gave a dazzling smile, despite being slowly strangled. "I'm great at sex."

"Do I look desperate enough to take up bestiality?!" The grip tightened.

"I can help you get out of the forest alive," he was barely able to say.

"There is that." Kachiko's grip loosened, but her hand remained around the neck. "Can you take me to some Glade where the blossom that can counteract the Nightbringer's Breath is?"

"Not if you want to get out alive."

The hold tightened again.

The satyr said, "I don't mean I can't take you to it. I mean it's too deadly. Anyone, even the denizens of Vare, don't go there. It would kill us too. It's sort of the 'seedy slum' side of the forest."

"Tough. I need the flower."

Seeing she was determined either to retrieve the flower or asphyxiate him, the satyr relented. "Very well. I can lead you to the Glade. But don't expect me to enter it."

"Fine." Kachiko released her hold, but made it clear that if he tried anything, nothing would prevent her from feeding him the broken pan flute.

The satyr stood there, messaging his neck. Once he could speak more clearly, he said, "Since you're determined to die, want to go out with a bang?" He gave her a lascivious stare.

She kneed him in the groin.

"That'll suffice," the satyr squeaked, and promptly led her away.

The trek took over an hour, most of it spent walking over various paths that all appeared the same to Kachiko. She was beginning to think the satyr was playing some sort of game when the forest took on a much more ominous air. The flora, which had seemed bright and cheerful, though unquestionably alien, became dismal, and cast a forbidding pall over everything. The shades of greenery became darker, and Kachiko's mood worsened.

Soon they emerged from the forest and into a glade. Unlike the others they had crossed, this one was far more foreboding. Many of the trees surrounding it bore no leaves, and their bare branches resembled dark, sickly fingers waiting for someone to wander too near so that they could be grabbed and have unspeakable things inflicted upon them.

"Creepy," Kachiko said softly, her words muted, as though the air itself was sucking the life from them.

The satyr wordlessly nodded in agreement.

Kachiko was about to lose hope when she spotted a flower that seemed out of place in the glade. It was bright, and instilled a sense of optimism where none was to be found. It resided on a small finger of land that poked out of a pool of water that resembled a puddle more than a pond; one that had an oil tanker disgorge its contents in it. A host of sickly yellow vines ringed the pond, and there was a pile of what appeared to be dead leaves four times as tall as Kachiko that was surrounded by the vines.

"Is that it?"

"Aye, the Vermilion. Are you certain you don't want a quick roll before you go?"

Kachiko shot him an evil glare.

The satyr began backing away. "Sorry, you're the only girl I've seen in over ten years. Gets pretty lonely. Anyway, this is where I leave. I'd like to say it's been nice knowing you, but I'm only good at lying when it comes to seducing a woman." He moved back into the woods, disappearing from sight as the trees seemed to swallow him.

Kachiko's eyes scanned the entire glade. There were no animals. No obvious traps. There's weren't even any of the creepy trees near the flower. There was nothing in her way, save for the pond.

"Goat face was just being a weenie," Kachiko said, mostly to assure herself as she took a tentative step forward, ready for anything to jump out and try to devour her.

Nothing happened. She took one cautious step, then another. Still nothing challenged her path to her goal.

"Ha! This place is way overrated." She walked more confidently. It was like she always said. Rumors and myths built things up so that what was believed to be the truth was actually as far from the reality as possible. All this place had going against it was an ominous pall and bad fishing.

She continued forward, walking through the vines and to the edge of the small pond. Oily black, it was impossible to judge its depth. Kachiko considered it small, and not very deep. In the worst case scenario, it might make it up to her knees, judging by the slope of the ground and the distance from 'shore' to where the flower lay.

And then she felt the vines slither up her legs, wrapping themselves around her limbs and tightening as they went, becoming as hard as steel cables.

"What's going on?!" She struggled futilely against the vines as they moved up her body to wrap around her arms.

The pile of leaves erupted, sending a geyser of decayed plant material in the air. Hidden within the refuse was a plant that resembled a giant Venus fly trap, especially when it came to its broad mouth and sharp, pointy teeth.

Kachiko tried using all of her strength to tear free of the vines confining her body. For a moment they held firm, but thoughts of Bosatsu remaining in a coma for the rest of his life filled her with strength, and she tore free. She slumped to the ground, weak beyond measure, and was barely able to regain her footing.

More vines moved into position, cutting off any route of escape as the giant plant's maw snapped in her direction.

"I definitely should have convinced Miko to come along. That wide butt of hers would have had that thing chewing for hours." Kachiko tensed her legs up, and leapt.

The plant's jaws snapped shut, engulfing Kachiko's entire body. The plant swallowed, burped once, then settled down back into its previous curled up position.

All was silent in the forest.

Sounds drifted through the swirl of colors.

A voice recognizable as Wakaba's stated enthusiastically, "All I'm saying is you should let me slap the bitch around a bit."

"But that might shut down the portal," Sakura protested.

"Then we lose Kachi and find an alternate way of waking Bosatsu up. There is no downside to this."

"Only if we find another way of awakening Bosa-chan," Miko's voice said. "I am getting worried about Koochie-koo. She has been gone for a while. Perhaps she has failed. She is incompetent, as well as stupid. But I don't want to have to go. I might get hurt, and Bosa-chan would never forgive himself if something bad happened to me for his sake."

"Your concern for his feelings knows no bonds," Sakura commented dryly.

The discussion ended abruptly as from the center of the vortex emerged the worn form of Kachiko Tendou. She was almost naked, with only the remains of clothing covering her in a few strategic spots. Half of her hair was several centimeters shorter than the other half. She was dripping with some sort of foul-smelling slime, and a bizarre, squirrel-like creature was attached to her ankle, viciously trying to gnaw on it.

As she stepped foot back onto her plain of existence, Kachiko raised a hand upward triumphantly. All could see the bright flower clutched in its grasp, as though it held the salvation of the world.

Sakura's eyes widened. "My god, Kachi. You look like hell."

"You do," Wakaba said happily.

Miko looked at her curiously. "Does she? She usually looks so repulsive, it's hard for me to judge."

Sakura moved to Kachiko's side. "What happened?"

An inane smile on her face, Kachiko said, "Lots of bad things. Dyke came onto me. Some goat played the pan flute and tried to get me into bestiality. A walking mushroom hit me with some spores and made me realize I'm actually composed of cheese. Oh yes, and a mosquito bit me."

"The slime?" Wakaba asked.

"Plant digestive juice," Kachiko explained. "That was probably the worst. A carnivorous plant was going to eat me, but I tricked him by jumping right into his mouth and down his throat. I swam through his digestive tract and out the other side before it could dissolve me. Much."

Miko said, "You mean—"

"I really do look like shit now," Kachiko laughed.

Wakaba shook her head sadly. "Her sense of humor is intact."

"Regrettably," Sakura agreed.

Finally, Arianna spoke up.
~The flower she has found for Bosatsu's ease.~
~Now it is time for my release.~

"Sure thing." Miko removed the hold she had maintained around Arianna's arm the entire time. "You okay? Shoulder's not too bad?"

Arianna sang,
~A discomfort was your arm.~
~But it inflicted no lasting harm.~

"Glad to hear it," Miko said, then kicked the faerie in the gut, sending her through the portal. It immediately closed behind her, her wails of terror falling on deaf ears.

"Enjoy the horny dyke," Kachiko said to the lingering sparkles than hung in the air. By the end of her statement, the last of them vanished. Not even a single mote of light remained All was as it was before, save for the destruction caused by the faerie's arrival.

"Here." Kachiko handed Sakura the flower.

She looked at the blossom curiously. "What's this for? I thought you would want to administer it to Bosatsu."

"I need to commune with the pastrami on Neptune. I'm thinking of becoming a Reuben." Kachiko closed her eyes, and all plunged into darkness.

Groggily, Kachiko opened her eyes to see she was in the school infirmary. Then her head informed her of its state, and she wished she had not. "Hangover monster attacked me, didn't it? I lost, didn't I?"

"You're awake."

The headache fled as Kachiko's heart skipped a beat. She turned to the sound of the voice. Her mind could scarcely grasp the fact that Bosatsu was sitting there, looking at her in concern.

Kachiko gave the bishonen boy a loving stare. Hearts all but appeared in her eyes as she said, "You're all right."

"Thanks to you," he admitted. He held a hand to her forehead.

The mere touch sent shivers down Kachiko's spine. Demurely, she said, "It was nothing."

"It was to me," he assured her.

Kachiko gulped as she felt her face blush. The effect he had on her was unbelievable. Never had she been so overwhelmed by the presence of anyone. In an attempt to engage in conversation, she asked. "Have you been sitting there long?"

"Only five hours or so. I came around quickly once the flower was held under my nose. Ever since they told me what had happened to you, I've been waiting, making certain you were all right."

Kachiko was afraid her heart would leap out of her chest. Things couldn't have worked out more perfectly if she had planned it that way at the beginning of the day. The depths of her feelings were expressed to Bosatsu far better than mere words could ever manage. Now with the courage to do what she could not before, Kachiko said, "Anyway, before that big-chested bimbo and oversized insect interrupted me, I was about to ask you out."

Bosatsu suddenly backed away in obvious embarrassment. "I'm sorry, but I can't. I've already agreed to go out with Miko."

Kachiko's jaw nearly hit the floor.

"Oh dear, you're not taking this very well," Bosatsu fretted.

"But… how? Why? When? You said you were here with me."

"She came in while you were asleep and asked me," Bosatsu explained.

"She's a worthless tramp whore!" Kachiko declared.

Bosatsu appeared distraught over the choice of terms. "You're being very judgmental. In the time I've known her, she seems sincere, caring, and very straightforward with her feelings and opinions."

"It's all an act she's using to seduce you!" Kachiko declared.

Bosatsu seemed taken aback by the claim. "If it is an act, I'll discover it for myself. I'm many things, but gullible isn't one of them. But she seemed genuine in her feelings. We'll go out on a date and see how things develop."

Sensing she was losing the fight, Kachiko said, "Well, it's not like you're going steady or anything, so you can date me too."

Bosatsu shook his head. "I'm sorry. I only date one girl at a time. With everything I do, I find my spare time and attention is barely enough for one. I can't imagine what it would be like trying to split it between two girls. And then there's all the potential complications that might arise. No. Only single dating for me."

"But I saved your life. She didn't even try to," Kachiko offered weakly.

The statement caused a shift in Bosatsu's demeanor as it became more firm and perturbed. "Yes, and that was very foolish of you and wise of her. I feel bad enough that you got even a little hurt trying to save me. I'd have never forgiven myself if you had been permanently injured for my sake."

"But I couldn't let you be in a coma forever," Kachiko protested.

"Better that than you being hurt because of me."

"But if our positions were reversed, you would've tried to save me, right?" Kachiko prodded.

Bosatsu nodded. "Of course, but I wouldn't have felt guilty about being hurt for your sake."

"Then why would you expect me to behave differently?"

Bosatsu shrugged. "I guess it's because I care about other people's welfare more than my own. I suppose it is a double standard, but that's just the way I am."

Even now, he was painfully nice. Kachiko felt like crying. It wasn't fair that he was rejecting her. That wasn't the way it was supposed to be. She had risked everything and saved him. He should have been going out with her! "Why are you choosing her over me?"

He gave her a hopeless look. "It's not a competition, and it's not something that can be explained in some statement. Dating isn't about objectivity. Everyone's subjective about what they like. Sometimes they can't put it into words. It's just a feeling."

"It's because she's rich and good-looking, isn't it?" Kachiko accused.

Now the bishonen boy appeared angered at the accusation. "I'll have you know I have turned down both attractive girls and ones that come from families that have money. And I would hardly be so rude as to consider either one criteria for not going out with them. If I accept going out with a girl, it's because I'm either attracted to them or find them interesting, and for no other reason."

"Then you're saying I'm not attractive or interesting!"

Bosatsu shook his head sadly. "No, I find you both. But I personally find Miko more attractive and interesting. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is." He stood up. "I can see my presence is just agitating you, which is the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I'll be leaving now." He stood up and headed for the door. He paused, and took one last look over his shoulder. "I hope you feel better soon."

Kachiko didn't respond.

Bosatsu gave up and left, closing the door lightly behind him.

Kachiko wiped away the tears that threatened to form in her eyes. She had never cried over a guy before. She wasn't about to start now.

Within a minute, there was a knock on the door. Before Kachiko could snap at the person to go away, Sakura appeared. She waved happily as she closed the door behind her. "Nihao, mi compadre. That's Chinese and Spanish, in case you're wondering. I saw Bosatsu clear out. How did it… Oh god, Kachi, you look terrible."

"Thanks," she said spitefully.

"No, I mean you look depressed," Sakura clarified. "What happened with Bosatsu?"

"I asked him out and he said no. He's going out with super-tits."

Sakura looked at the door askance, as though it were the man in question. "But you saved his life. That gutless tramp wasn't even willing to risk her neck for him." Sakura shook her head sadly. "What a creep. I thought he was nice guy. I guess it goes to show you can't judge a book by its cover."

Hearing the same sentiment Kachiko herself had used earlier made the bedridden girl reconsider things. With a sigh, she said, "No, he made the only reasonable choice."

Sakura looked at her in shock. "No, he didn't."

"Yes, he did," Kachiko corrected. "Look, even if all other things are equal, who would you go out with: some guy that was good looking and had money, or one that was plain and didn't?"

Sakura considered that. "Which one's older?"

That made Kachiko roll her eyes. "I said all other things being equal. They're the same age."

"I'd go out with the guy that tried to save me," Sakura stated plainly.

"Even if you didn't want them to risk themselves?"

"Yes, but I want a guy that's willing to disobey me when I secretly want him to. If a guy loves you, he can tell what you really want, even if you don't know yourself."

Kachiko shook her head. "Well, Bosatsu wouldn't. Maybe Miko does know him better. She was right about him feeling guilty about anyone risking themselves for his benefit."

Sakura snorted derisively. "No, it makes him an unrepentant asshole." She flopped herself down on the bed next to Kachiko and placed a comforting arm around her shoulder. "Don't you worry though, you'll always have me at your side."

That was met with a roll of the eyes. "Dogging my steps, harassing me at every turn, constantly telling me when you think I'm wrong."

"Puncturing your inflated ego, cracking the whip on you when you get out of line. That's the plan," Sakura finished.

"I don't deserve a best friend like you," Kachiko said dryly, though with a smile she couldn't hide.

Sakura happily agreed. "That's what I've been telling you since kindergarten. Nice to see you've been paying attention." She saw her statement had the desired effect of making Kachiko smile. Sakura turned a touch more serious as she said, "Don't you worry. I'll be at your side no matter what. Best of friends, to the end."

"What if an older guy comes along and you have to choose between him or me?"

Sakura pretended to consider that. After an exaggerated frown, which made it appear she was constipated, she said, "Fine, even if an older guy comes between us, I'll choose you over him. But that means you'll have to put out for me instead."

Kachiko sat up, picked up her pillow, and beat Sakura in the shoulder with it. "Don't go 'Yumi' on me. It's creepy."

Sakura laughed. "Now that's the Kachiko I know and love, in a platonic, non-Yumi way," she quickly added. She fingered her friend's uneven locks. "What say after you get out of here, we get you a haircut, and then go get really drunk?"

"Sounds like a plan," Kachiko agreed.

"And?" Ranma asked.

"We got drunk," Kachiko said. She played with her hair a bit. "That's when I decided I liked shorter hair. Until then, I wore it longer."

"Short hair looks better on you," Ranma agreed, thinking of how Akane looked before and after her own hair cut.

Kachiko moved closer in a decidedly seductive manner. "Really?"

Instinctively, Ranma backed away. The resemblance to Akane was deeply unsettling. "I didn't mean it that way."

"I knew that," Kachiko said with only a hint of disappointment. "Anyway, the moral of the story is, you want to take some pretend virtuous high ground, that's fine, but don't think that by doing so you're owed some kind of happy ending. Same thing goes if in the process you screw someone over. Don't expect them to pretend nothing happened. You mess up, you reap the rewards."

"But I don't care if she screwed up and chose the cat over me," Ranma protested. "I mean, I might not like cats, but it's not like I want all of them to drown, even if it would be a lot easier on me."

Kachiko raised an eyebrow at that. "You really don't mind she tossed away your cure?"

Ranma considered the question. "Well, I'd have liked the cure, of course, but I wouldn't want Akane to compromise her morals or do something bad in order to get it for me."

"So you're just like Bosatsu," Kachiko said plainly.

"I am not!" Ranma declared.

Kachiko moved close enough so that she could pinch Ranma's cheeks. Playfully, she said, "Oh yes you are. You're willing to suffer for other people rather than letting them suffer for you. It's one of the reasons I like you soooo much."

Ranma moved out of her grasp. "I just don't want anyone to have to get hurt for my sake."

Kachiko moved back as well, "Ah, but the women that like you might not feel the same way. I have a feeling you're going to be in for a serious disappointment if you get into trouble and someone has to haul your butt out of danger."

"I am not going to end up in any danger," Ranma assured her.

"Of course you won't. I'm sure you've never been in trouble." Kachiko moved back until she was around the corner of the doorway, then out of sight.

Ranma let out a sigh of relief, which quickly died as Kachiko poked her head back around the corner and said, "Let me assure you I do not have such a double standard. If I get into trouble, feel free to bail me out, and I will be very, very grateful." She blew him a kiss and left.

Once convinced she had really left, Ranma said, mostly to himself, "She is one screwed-up human being." The more he got to know her, the more he realized he didn't understand her at all. Still, it wasn't right for that Bosatsu guy to be so direct and dump her so coldly. He should have let Kachiko down more gently. Actually, he should have gone out with her at least once in appreciation for all she had done. And Kachiko was a nice girl. In some ways. He could tell from the way she had told the tale that she really had liked the guy, and she had been hurt by his blunt refusal. It really helped Ranma to see her in a new and sympathetic light. He hadn't thought she'd been through something like that. Everything just seemed to slide off her, even being thrown into the present day. But now she had revealed that sometimes it hurt her when things didn't go her way, or her feelings were trampled upon. For perhaps the first time since her arrival, it made Ranma truly empathize with her.

It was too bad for Kachiko she had fallen for such a creep. Had Ranma been in Bosatsu's position, he wasn't sure what he would have done, but it would have been nicer than that. Kachiko, pain though she could be at times, didn't deserve to have her feeling trampled so casually.

And neither did Akane. Ranma hadn't done the trampling, and Kachiko did have her reasons for acting as she did — legitimate or not — but Ranma wasn't her, and not about to hold anything Akane did against her. He went upstairs, determined this time to see to it Akane understood that he not only didn't blame her, but approved of her actions.

As he walked up the stairs, he realized he had several new things to consider.


To be continued.

Author's notes: Yes, I played fast and loose with a lot of Western mythos. Hey, they're myths. You just know the 'truth' of them would be corrupted over time.

Next chapter: Nabiki finally hits the breaking point on her mother's birthday, and intends to make it one Kachiko is going to remember for a short time to come.

Special thanks to:

  • Eternal Lost Lurker
  • Michael A. Chase
  • Chris Horton
  • The Apprentice
Chapter 9
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