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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 the slight complication that she was plucked out of time at the ripe old age of seventeen…

Chapter 7

Kasumi Tendou was delighted with herself. For a long while — since Kachiko first appeared, to be accurate — Kasumi had been confused as to why her mother behaved in such a non-motherly manner. There were habits and traits that clearly indicated this was indeed the mother Kasumi knew and loved, but those were few and far between. Instead, she acted far too much like most of Ranma's friends, who were nice but decidedly non-motherly as well. It made no sense that she would have changed so much, and definitely not for the better.

After much concern and worry, Kasumi came to understand what the problem with her mother was: Kachiko hadn't become the woman she eventually would. It had been obvious the whole time, but she hadn't realized it. It wasn't that hard to believe she had overlooked it. Kasumi was quite honest with herself in admitting she didn't like trying to solve complex problems and avoided them. One of her friends back in high school had put it succinctly: Kasumi was a maintainer, not a groundbreaker. She followed, but never led. And Kasumi was happy being that way. Simple things in life were all she cared for. But there were times when she was confronted with problems that required her personal attention, like when Nabiki had insisted on becoming Ranma's fiancée. Things were getting out of control, so Kasumi had to solve that problem by telling Nabiki to stop it. Now things were out of control again, and it fell to Kasumi to fix them.

Her first idea had been for Auntie Nodoka to help train Kachiko in what it took to be a mother. The idea had seemed wonderful at first, and should have solved everything. However, little progress was coming that way. For some strange reason, it seemed Auntie didn't want to train Kachiko, and the feeling was mutual on the time-lost girl's part. Solutions did not lie in that direction after all.

That meant it fell to Kasumi to help spur matters along. After much thought and concern, the answer finally came to her. It was simple, really. While Nodoka encouraged the more domestic skills, Kasumi would engineer things so that Kachiko's dormant motherly instincts would come to the fore. And what better way to do that than to give her a small child to take care of? All women, when confronted with a young baby, felt an inherent urge to care for the child. Once Kachiko was placed in such a situation, her own hardline against having children at in early age would fall by the wayside. And once she accepted Kasumi, Nabiki, and Akane as her daughters, she would want to have a family, marry Soun (again) and help take care of the house, just as she was meant to do, since she already had. It was perfect.

Of course, there was the matter of procuring a child. Obviously Kasumi producing one of her own was out of the question; it wasn't exactly the same thing as making dinner for the family. That meant borrowing someone else's. The main problem there was that no one wanted to leave their children at the Tendou house. As Kasumi discovered in times past when she offered to baby-sit, for some peculiar reason the neighbors thought the environment was too hectic and dangerous for children. That was silly. Kasumi and her sisters had been raised there, and they had turned out fine. And it was good for children to be in an active environment rather than a staid and boring one. But none of the neighbors agreed with that philosophy, and had refused to allow their children near the Tendou domicile.

And then Kasumi remembered the new neighbors at the end of the street, neighbors that had a little boy that was a little over one or so. They had moved in a month ago. The few times Kasumi had gone to greet the Yasurokas, they had refused to answer the door. Kasumi had caught rumors (which she assured herself were exaggerations) that the people were shut-ins that never went out to the point they had their food delivered to their home. Others claimed there was something mysterious about their child. Small animals and household pets had been disappearing shortly after the family moved in, and wagging tongues said the family was to blame. Unusual cries could be heard every night from the house, and sometimes it smelled of blood. And at odd hours of the night, voices could be heard chanting things. The general consensus was that it was best the Yasurokas were left alone since it was obvious they wanted nothing to do with the rest of the neighborhood.

But Kasumi was eager to have a child for her mother to look after, and they seemed the last reasonable hope. Otherwise she would have to rent one from an orphanage or something.

After making proper arrangements with the rest of the family, Kasumi put on her best dress and baked some cookies as a sort of neighborly greeting (not a bribe, she assured herself) to get her in the door. Once inside, she would make the offer. Odds were the parents didn't get out much because of their child, and they would be delighted to have someone baby-sit the little tot for a night. It was a perfect plan. Not only would it help awaken her mother's parental instincts, but it would be a neighborly gesture as well.

Her plans complete, Kasumi walked to the end of the street, humming a merry little tune to herself the entire way. As she approached the house, she noticed a flock of crows stood perched on the roof, their obsidian orbs focused on Kasumi, as though daring her to approach the property.

"Hello, little birdies," Kasumi greeted, unconcerned about their baleful gaze. Perhaps they were having problems finding food. She would set up a bird feeder to feed the poor starving birdies at a later time.

The fence surrounding the house had been added since the family moved in. It was composed of thick wrought-iron metal and had wicked-looking spikes lining the entire length along the top. Numerous 'No Trespassing' signs were taped to the bars, as plentiful as wanted posters in a police station. Of course, Kasumi paid them no heed. She wasn't trespassing; she was being neighborly.

Just as she was about to knock on the closed gate, it opened of its own accord, screeching on hinges that pleaded for an entire can of oil to ease their suffering. Taking that as an invitation, Kasumi walked up to the front door. As she did so, she noted that the ground was bone dry and all the sparse grass that remained was desiccated, brown husks. She would have to recommend a good landscaper for them.

She approached the door, a huge metal thing that appeared to be a dozen centimeters thick, judging by how solid it appeared on the outside. Obviously these were people that were concerned about break-ins. Kasumi would have to assure them that besides Grandfather Happosai's panty stealing, no crimes occurred on their street. For some reason criminals seemed to avoid it. So did the police, for that matter. But since there was no crime, there was no need for police. It all balanced out.

Kasumi put on her neighborly smile and rang the doorbell, hoping the family was in. After a full minute, a shutter toward the top slid back. A pair of panic-filled eyes looked through the metal slit. "Who are you what do you want?!" the voice almost screeched as the words tumbled out.

Kasumi held up the basket with her goods. "I'm your neighbor, Kasumi Tendou. I've brought you some cookies and wanted to welcomed you to the neighborhood."

"We don't want any!" the man (whom Kasumi assumed to be Mr. Yasuroka) stated in no uncertain terms.

"Is that the delivery man with the food?" a woman's voice asked from somewhere deeper in the house.

"It's a neighbor."

"Send her away!" the woman's voice was now filled with as much dread as the man's.

Kasumi smiled again. Usually when people first said no, they withered under her pleasant demeanor and gave in. "I'm sure you'd like some. They are quite good. I've also come to help you."

"Help?" the man said, sounding like a drowning person that had just been offered a life preserver.

"Yes. It's my understanding you have a child. I'm sure you'd like to go out, and I'd be more than happy to baby-sit for you."

The man's eyes widened so much Kasumi feared they would fall out of their sockets. Softly, almost inaudibly, the man gasped, "He's summoned you here, hasn't he?"

Kasumi stared at him in confusion. "I beg your pardon?"

"Get away while you can," the man whispered.

From within the house, a much deeper voice said, "Nonsense. Don't be rude. By all means, you should go out for an evening and allow the girl to baby-sit."

The voice was unlike any Kasumi had ever heard before. It was like a vocal form of bile to hear words intoned in such a manner. Nails drawn across a chalkboard would sound like birds singing compared to that voice.

"It sounds like someone has a sore throat," Kasumi said, smiling. "I have some home remedies for that I could recommend."

The sound of heavy metal bars being lifted and a half-dozen bolts snapping back into place came to Kasumi's ears. The door opened, creaking almost as ominously as the gate had. Kasumi could see the Mr. Yasuroka was trembling. Pale and wan, he looked like a prisoner that hadn't eaten more than stale bread and water or seen the light of day in years. Kasumi offered him the basket of cookies.

He accepted it and placed it on a stand near the door. From within the house a sad-faced woman came to the entryway and looked Kasumi over. She had an equally wane appearance. "I am Umi Yasuroka… I…" for a moment she looked as though she were about to blurt out something, then thought better of it. "It is an honor to meet you. Tetsuo is this way."

Kasumi noted the woman's voice sounded better now, and followed the couple into what was once a living room, but now appeared to be something out of a gothic temple. Braziers full of lit candles lined the room. Repulsive sculptures of demonic half-man, half-animal creatures stood at every corner. There was a huge, elaborate inverted pentagram on the floor, decorated in a dried red substance, and a black altar made of mirrored black stone dominated in the center of the room.

On top of the altar in stark contrast to the darkness that resided in every corner of the room, sat a child no more than a year and half old. He had a pudgy face and black hair, with a single strand sitting up near the top. He wore blue overalls and a white shirt underneath. He gave Kasumi a bright, cheery smile upon seeing her and clapped his hands.

"I see you're very religious," Kasumi said to the couple.

The two looked at each other in open surprise at her reaction. Weakly, Umi said, "Yes, I guess you can say that. The beas… Tetsuo seems to like this room best. Are you certain you want to baby-sit him? Perhaps it would be best if you—"

A low rumbling growl, like a displeased lion the size of a jet engine, filled the room. A warm, humid wind filled the house for just a moment, blowing everyone's hair around.

"I meant to say we're honored you'd watch him!" Umi quickly amended. The husband cowered behind his wife and nodded in assent.

The growling died off and the air settled.

"Thank you very much," Kasumi said, bowing before the couple. Obviously they needed to get out in the worst way. It was nice they were so protective of their child, but it would do little Tetsuo good to get out of the stuffy confines of the house and meet new people.

She picked up Tetsuo and smiled at him. "I'm Kasumi Tendou and will be watching you today. Won't that be fun?"

The child nodded his head and smiled a large, almost inhuman, toothy grin.

Kasumi returned to her home, Tetsuo in tow. From all appearances, the boy was wonderfully normal for a one and a half year old. He appeared healthy, being able to keep his little legs pumping and stay alongside Kasumi as they walked to her house. Once they got to the gate, she could no longer resist and picked up the child. She held him up so he was face level with her and could not help making childlike noises and saying, "You're so cute." She wanted children like this someday. Maybe in a few years she would get the chance to meet someone nice and settle down.

The child gave its wide smile back at Kasumi, his eyes glinting with an intelligence that belied his age.

"I'm home," Kasumi announced, though she was fully aware there were only two others left in the house at this time, and Nabiki would be leaving soon.

Then she remembered something. "Oh dear, I forgot about the food." Kasumi entered the kitchen and placed the child on the counter. "Stay here for a moment, I have to get something out of the oven."

Tetsuo nodded his head. Kasumi grabbed a pair of oven mittens and bent over to remove the casserole she had been making. A foreign dish, but one that her mother had mentioned she wanted to try. Kasumi had been eager to please her parent. It would also save Kachiko the trouble of cooking for her and Tetsuo later.

As Kasumi bent down, Tetsuo's delighted smile changed into a sinister gleam. He turned to a nearby knife block where a number of handles stuck out. He stood up quietly, using an agility that should have been impossible for a year-and-a-half-year-old, and grabbed the largest knife from the block. Handling the blade with an ease associated with practice, he proceeded to walk silently across the counter and close the distance to his baby-sitter.

Kasumi was finally starting to rise, attention riveted to the pan in her hand. Hands full, she closed the oven door with her foot and rose to her full height.

Now at his height, her back to him, Tetsuo switched his grip on the knife and raised it overhead. He aimed for the center of the back, smiled insanely, and—

"Hey, Kasumi, something smells pretty damn good… whose kid is that?"

Kasumi turned to see Kachiko in the doorway. She quickly set the pan on a metal rack and turned to see Tetsuo had moved along the counter to get closer to her. She was amused that he liked her so much he wanted to stay by her side, but then she spotted the knife lying next to gurgling child.

Horrified, Kasumi picked it up, careful to keep the point away from the child. "No, Tetsuo! Knives are very, very bad! You must never play with them." She was very emphatic in her admonishment.

Tetsuo, wide-eyed, nodded in affirmation.

At that point Kachiko had wandered over to the counter and looked over the casserole with a critical eye. As she smiled in appreciation at the food, she said, "Let the brat cut himself a couple of times. He'll learn not to play with knives."

Kasumi looked at her mother, aghast. "That's terrible. What sort of person would allow a child to cut themselves to… prove…" The outrage (or what qualified for such in Kasumi's eyes. Most people would merely have called it mild disapproval) quickly passed as she remembered…

"Ah, Momma! I cut myself!"

Kachiko looked down at her daughter. She saw the finger Kasumi was holding, a bit of blood on the tip, and gave sad shake of the head. "That's because you weren't careful. Knives are sharp, and if you don't pay attention, you'll get cut."

"Make it stop hurting," Little Kasumi sobbed.

In no great rush, Kachiko slowly went to the cupboard where she kept the disinfectant. "It doesn't work that way. If you cut yourself, it'll hurt. It's to remind you to be more careful next time. Are you going to be more careful next time?"

"Yes, Momma," Little Kasumi sniffled.

"Oh," Kasumi said as she absently rubbed the finger that had been cut so long ago. It was odd how she didn't remember her mother being quite so direct in her teaching methods. She seemed much more… angelic, at least before.

"Experience is always the best teacher," Kachiko informed her as she stuck a finger in the casserole, then pulled it back yelling, "Hot, hot!" She began sucking on the burnt digit. "What's the kid doing here anyway?" she asked through a mouthful of finger.

Kasumi turned from her memories of a young Nabiki, and later Akane, cutting themselves and her mother giving them the exact same lecture. "Oh, that's Tetsuo. I'm baby-sitting him." Kasumi felt increasingly bad about misleading her mother this way, but it was for the best for everyone, including Kachiko.

A knowing light came to Kachiko's eyes. "That would explain the toys Soun pulled down from the attic. I thought he was just housecleaning." Kachiko looked longingly at the casserole. "Where's Ranma? I haven't seen him all day."

Kasumi said, "I believe he and Akane went to a study session with some of their classmates. They won't be back for a while. Father and the Saotomes went out as well."

"And I'm heading out too," Nabiki informed the others as she entered the kitchen and grabbed a carrot from the refrigerator. She looked at Tetsuo. "Cute kid," she then shot a wicked smile to Kachiko before heading out of the kitchen and toward the front door.

Kachiko looked suspiciously at the exit. "I wonder what she's so happy about."

"She's that way sometimes," Kasumi told her.

Kachiko scratched her chin in thought. "Yes, but it usually means someone else suffers for it. She's like a parasite: taking from others and not giving anything in return. Oh well." Leaving the matter at rest, Kachiko looked at Tetsuo and frowned. "Rugrat's going to be a problem. I can tell just by looking at him."

Tetsuo smiled at Kachiko, but it appeared strained.

"Children are wonderful," Kasumi gushed, trying to get her mother in the right mindset for what was to come.

"Assuming they aren't mine and someone else takes care of them, yeah," Kachiko said. "I wonder what Tachi-kun's doing. Maybe he'd like to take me out on a date. I ought to give him a call."

"No!" Kasumi shouted.

Kachiko was startled by the unexpected outburst. "I was only considering it. You don't have to jump down my throat."

Thinking fast, Kasumi said, "I was hoping we might get a chance to spend some time together."

"You mean you want me to help take care of the kid," Kachiko said dryly.

"Ah." Kasumi became concerned that Kachiko had somehow sensed her true intentions. Before she could make up an excuse, the phone rang. Kasumi was quick to pick it up before Kachiko could. "Hello?"

"I'm calling like you asked," Nabiki said on the other end of the line.

"I see," Kasumi began reciting the lines she had come up with. "So you are stuck in Roppongi and need me to help you? You are unable to reach your parents or husband? I am your only hope? Well of course, Misao Akiyama. I will be right down." Kasumi hung of the phone. She turned to Kachiko, "Mother, I have to ask you a big favor."

"Already got the little brat bundled up for your trip," Kachiko said as she held Tetsuo out for Kasumi.

Kasumi waved her hands helplessly. "I don't think taking a child to that district is a good idea. It might have a bad influence on him." She went to the living room to get her purse.

Following close behind, child still held out in offering, Kachiko said, "Going through Roppongi is not going to turn a one and half year old into a hooker." Kachiko thrust the child towards her again.

Kasumi accepted the child, then placed him on the floor among the rocking horse and building blocks with letters that her father had left out for the child to play with. Kasumi decided it was time to put her foot down. "Mother, you are being unreasonable and you know it. It would not be proper to take the child with me to a seedy area of town I am unfamiliar with. You are the only one here and are quite capable of taking care of Tetsuo. I'll see to it you get all the baby-sitting money."

The mention of money made Kachiko reconsider. "Getting some cash would help keep that greedy wench from blaming me for her funds continuing to be misplaced." Largely in part because Kachiko would stop taking them, though it was suitable punishment for Nabiki to lose her ill-gotten gains. Part of being a responsible parent was teaching children that crime didn't pay, and from what Akane had said, all of Nabiki's money came from taking advantage of helpless people or tricking them. Except for some fellow named Kinnosuke, no one had tried to outdo her. Therefore Kachiko took it upon herself to demonstrate to Nabiki the error of her ways through object lessons rather than lectures which Kachiko knew would fall upon deaf ears. If she came out monetarily ahead in the process, that just meant she would be rewarded for her proper parenting method.

While Kachiko congratulated herself on being such a responsible parent for such an irresponsible girl, she discovered Kasumi had used the time wisely by moving to the front door and putting on her shoes. "Hey, I haven't agreed to this yet," Kachiko reminded her.

Kasumi looked hopefully at Kachiko.

"Damn whipped puppy dog look," Kachiko grumbled. More loudly, she said, "Fine, I'll look after the brat. But you get back here as soon as you can."

"Goodbye, Mother. Thank you for helping me out." Kasumi was about to bow, but on impulse, hugged the girl. It was interesting to note that she was now taller than Kachiko and put an odd twist on the display of affection.

Kachiko was obviously uncomfortable with the gesture, but returned it anyway. As Kasumi headed out the door and up the walk, Kachiko called after her, "I'll have you know, whatever happens while you're gone is not my responsibility! You're the one leaving the brat with me!"

Kasumi just waved and headed up the road towards the nearest railway station.

Cursing under her breath, Kachiko reentered the house. It wasn't fair that she had some mewling brat foisted upon her. She was young, and meant to have fun. She should have been out on a date making out with some handsome guy, not changing the diapers on some diminutive crying and crapping machine. If she hadn't known better, she would have sworn Kasumi had set her up to take care of the child or something. But that was silly. The girl was too nice. Kachiko would be able to see through any scheme someone that pleasant came up with. Akane wasn't much better, and Ranma could be read like an open book. Nabiki was the only one devious enough for such maneuvering, and Kachiko was certain she would have sniffed that out. It was just coincidence that the child ended up in her sole care, that was all.

Kachiko reentered the living room to check on her ward. She saw that Tetsuo was actually acting the part of mild-mannered child, and was playing with the blocks. Good, it was nice to know the kid could entertain himself. It would make Kachiko's job easier.

Tetsuo backed away from the blocks and stood proudly, displaying his work for Kachiko's benefit. Kachiko shrugged and looked at what he had made. The child had used the letters on the sides to spell out a sentence.

"You'll be dead by dawn."

The child grinned evilly in her direction.

Kachiko nodded in approval. "You must be one of those prodigy type kids. Pretty bright. Here." She bent down, rearranged the letters, and used some additional blocks to spell out something as well. She stood back and allowed Tetsuo to admire her handiwork.

"I really don't like kids."

"Think about it," Kachiko told him as she went to the kitchen to help herself to the casserole. She piled on a heaping plate of it, and made a smaller one for Tetsuo. If the kid didn't like it, he could go hungry. It was her experience that children's pickiness when it came to food went down in direct proportion to how increasingly hungry they were.

As Kachiko entered the living room, plates in hand, she saw that Tetsuo had been busy. All around on the walls, written in a red substance was the word "redrum." On the floor, the blocks had been reshaped to form a ziggurat displaying the word, 'DEATH' over every surface. As to Tetsuo himself, he floated above the ziggurat, his eyes now vertical slits on fields of gold. His mouth was full of needle sharp fangs, and two tiny horns sprouted from his head. His wore a rictus leer, one full of malice and hate that was promised to the only other person in the home.

Kachiko just shook her head resignedly. "I see someone has hit their terrible twos a bit early, and I get stuck watching them. Great. Just !#$% great." She made as though to sit down and eat.

A voice boomed throughout the room, seeming to come from the air rather than the child's mouth. The words were felt more than heard, the evil in them palpable to the point that most people would run in terror or wet themselves. Even the plants in the room wilted at the reverberations. "Foolish cow, you will meet your doom this evening! Your agony shall drive you insane, and your soul will be tortured throughout eternity! Your suffering will be legendary, even in the deepest pits of Hell!"

Kachiko growled, "I see. So you are in league with them. I'll tell you the exact same thing I told the rest of my so-called family: I am not marrying that old geezer. Not now. Not ever. So you can get that out of your head right now."

"The only thing you shall be bound to is torment, misery, and hopelessness."

"And I told you, I am not marrying Soun!"

The child blinked at her in surprise. "You stupid mortal! I am not describing marriage! I am a demon inhabiting this child's body that's going to kill you in the most painful way imaginable and then devour your soul for a millennia."

Kachiko looked at him suspiciously. "You're a demon in that kid's body?"

The floating creature looked at Kachiko in angry confusion. "Of course I am. Look at the blood on the wall, what I did with the blocks, my stated intentions, and the flying. It's obvious."

"A demon. That's a relief." Kachiko relaxed. "You had me worried that you were trying to set me up with that old guy too. I feel a lot better now. The way almost everyone is fixated on me marrying him and treating the girls like my kids or something I jumped to the wrong conclusion. Sorry about that."

The demonic child roared, the sound making the building shake to its foundation. "Quit apologizing and feeling relieved! You are doomed in a way your puny imagination could never comprehend!"

Kachiko gave him a dismissive wave. "Ah, you're just a demon. That's nothing to get all bent out of shape about."

"Yes it is!" Brimstone smoke began to emit from Tetsuo's body. "I am Shuma-Ghorath-Chan."

"Shuma-Ghorath-Chan?" Kachiko asked. "That makes you sound cute, not evil."

"Every damn person in Japan says that!" Shuma-Ghorath-Chan yelled. "It's not my fault it's an appellation denoting affection of cuteness in your language! In mine it's a sign of pure evil. It just doesn't translate well."

"Since your name's too long, I'm calling you Shumy-Chan," Kachiko informed him. "So what's your gimmick?"

The demon seemed taken aback. "Gimmick?"

"Yeah, gimmick," Kachiko said. "All the demons I've met had one. Etrigan spoke in rhymes. Pandamonious had his panda fetish. Beezulbub the Cabbagehead Demon made a mean dish of coleslaw. So what's yours?"

"I… I don't have one," the demon admitted in confusion.

Kachiko scoffed. "And how do you expect me to take you seriously if you don't have a gimmick? Obviously you've put no thought whatsoever into this whole demon thing."

"I'll devour your soul!" The demon screeched. "I'll break your bones and carve off your skin and shape it into—"

"—Neat origami birds, and rape me with your tentacles, and torment me by calling in the middle of the night and hanging up, and blah blah blah." Kachiko rolled her eyes. "Hello. This is not new stuff. I hear it all the time from you and your stupid kind. Could you at least come up with something creative?"

The demon's eyes flared, red temporarily overcoming the fields of gold. "I'll show you creative. Originally I was going to slowly torture you, then, when the girl that invited me here showed up, dispatch you before her eyes to show what a mistake she made before I consumed her as well. But you've made me angry, so I'll just kill you now and settle for torturing the rest of the family in your place."

Kachiko crossed her arms in defiance. "And just how do you intend to do that?"

"Like this!" Shumy-Chan gave a great intake of air, swelled up like a balloon, and exhaled, unleashing a torrent of fire. The cone of fire expanded with every centimeter it covered until it consumed a third of the room. Eventually the gout of flame stopped, and the demon looked through the charred ashes that were left behind where his flames touched the structure. "Ha ha ha ha! How's that for creative, mortal cow?"

A stick with a blackened marshmallow stuck on the end was thrust over his shoulder and held out in front of him. "Want one?"

The demon drooled "Ah, there's nothing quite as scrumptious as a marshmallow with just the right amount of blackening." He took it off the stick and was about to pop it in his mouth when he turned completely around to see who had offered the morsel.

Kachiko stood there idly chewing on a marshmallow of her own. "I like them a little lighter myself, but I was never into overcooked food."

The demon floated back in stunned amazement. He pointed in the direction of the scorched remnants of the room, then at Kachiko. "How… how did you?"

Kachiko tossed the stick aside. "Every one of you stupid demons always use fire. It's like you all took the same training seminar or something. Dodging direct fireblasts like that is easy. Larger ones are trickier, but you just have to switch techniques to deal with those." Kachiko fell into a fighting stance. "Now it's time to kick your butt, just like I did to all your buddies."

Shumy-Chan laughed. "Silly girl, you dare not attack me."

Kachiko paused slightly. "Why not?"

Shumy-Chan floated closer, all but daring her to strike him as he unleashed a macabre smile. "Because you would harm this innocent child whose body I am possessing. His spirit still dwells within, but is too insignificant to fight me. I suppose you could call that my 'gimmick'. I possess the ultimate shield to protect me from harm. I can attack you at will, and all you can do is dodge until your muscles become weary and your bones threaten to brAHH!" Shumy-Chan barely flew out of the way of a fist aimed at his face.

He shot Kachiko an evil glare. "I see. You are more stupid than I originally thought and did not understand me. I am possessing this innocent child. If you hit me, you will harm him even mores— Hey!!" he barely evaded a second blow. "What are you, crazy? I'm dead serious about me only possessing the body. It really belongs to the child."

Kachiko smirked in the demon's direction. "You're forgetting something I told you before."

"What's that?"

"I really don't like kids!" Kachiko shouted as she launched a flying kick at Shumy-Chan.

Using all of his skills, he darted to the left barely missing the blow. It was so close he felt the wind from the kick blow his hair back. The closeness of the blow made the demon begin to sweat. "You can't destroy this innocent child. Your soul will go straight to Hell if you do."

"As I recall, you were going to devour it anyway. Given a choice, I'll take you down with me in the process of eternal damnation."

"Damn you!" Shumy-Chan flew away from her. Luckily, there were other forms of attack he had besides the fire. He headed to the rocking horse and landed on it.

Kachiko fell out of her attack stance and laughed. "I somehow don't think you're going to get away on that."

"Escape is not my intention." The demon's smile returned as he gripped the rocking horse by its neck. Eldritch energies coursed through his palms and flowed into the wood, permeating its entire being. The horse grew in stature, becoming wider and larger. Wood warped as a musculature became evident across the entire breadth of the toy until it was the size of a real horse. Its painted eyes turned crimson and it opened its mouth, showing jagged nails in the place of its teeth. Nostrils flared, releasing a breath that carried the fetid scent of rotting wood. It flexed its powerful legs, shattering the runners on the bottom and freeing the nightmare steed from its only restraints. A howl came from the deepest recesses of its throat, shattering every piece of glass in the room. It then turned sanguine eyes towards its enemy: Kachiko.

Shumy-Chan bellowed, "Run the bitch down!" and struck the horse with his hand to spur it forward.

The horse rose up on its hind legs, elevating them up high enough to shatter part of the ceiling. It brought them back down, the charged towards Kachiko with a speed that would have made any jockey pass out in amazement.

Shumy-Chan laughed evilly as he watched the surprised Kachiko stand motionless. She disappeared from sight as the nightmare's thick neck blocked his view and it ran on top of her. Shumy-Chan felt the steed tremble for just a moment, then continue galloping. It hit the wall, going clean through it as though it had been made of paper. It continued forcing its way through another wall before ending up in the open air of the yard.

The demon let his mount tear up huge tracks of the lawn with its cloven hooves, laughing insanely the entire time. To the skies he shouted, "Foolish mortal, how did you like that ride of your life?"

"I was never much into horses. If I'm going to ride bareback, I'd want to do it with a different species, if you get my meaning," a voice behind him quipped.

Shumy-Chan's jaw nearly became unhinged. He pivoted his head around and screamed, "How?!"

Kachiko shrugged. "All I had to do was watch out for his legs and grab onto his neck, then move along underneath him until I was able to flip up here." She looked around. "Yep, definitely boring. Time to bring this ride to a halt."

A splintering sound emanated from the area of the horse directly beneath Kachiko's legs. Shumy-Chan looked down to see cracks form in his wooden steed, starting directly beneath her thighs. They grew in size, looking like giant spider webs, until they traveled the length of the creature. There was a bellow of pain from the horse, than it stopped moving. In disbelief Shumy-Chan watched as, by leg power alone, Kachiko shattered his demonically-imbued steed in half.

No longer having a purchase, Shumy-Chan floated in the sky while Kachiko landed on the ground.

She slapped her thighs. "I can crack coconuts with these babies. Did that once in front of the student body. Had a hard time getting a date for a while after that, for some odd reason," she added.

The demon was concerned for a moment, but then his diabolic senses informed him of a great evil located nearby. Using his unholy powers, Shumy-Chan sent tendrils of ebon energy from his eyes to seek out the power. The dark tentacles reached down into the soil under the back porch. From the ground came a rumbling sound, and a laugh evil enough to rival that of Shumy-Chan filled the air. The back porch detonated in an explosion of wood and earth, temporarily concealing everything view. Mere seconds after the explosion someone emerged from the cloud of dust. It was a man obviously of Eastern European decent. He was tall, gaunt, pale in complexion, save for blood-red lips and eyes. However, his most outstanding features were the fangs in his mouth, evident as he breathed in the crisp spring air. The clothing he wore was a tuxedo — an Armani — if Shumy-Chan wasn't mistaken, so impeccable he would have sworn it had been freshly pressed, save for one mark: a hole in the jacket right where his heart would be.

The well-dressed vampire raised his fists to the sky and shouted in a heavy accent, "Free at last! Once again the night is mine to command. I vow that never again shall I, Baron Vladimir Tepeski, also known as Vlad the Skewerer, be denied my rightful place as absolute ruler of the undead. Let all who dare walk under nocturnal skies pay homage to its master! BWHAHA HA!"

He waved his hand in the air. From the clouds overhead, lightning crashed down, striking him in the head.

"Ow! I'm rusty from my earthen nap," Vlad explained as he rubbed his smoldering head.

Shumy-Chan said, "I have freed you from your tomb, Vampire. In return I demand you kill this annoyance for me."

Vlad bowed. "In return for your assistance, I shall grant you this boon. Besides, I'm hungry anyway. Now whom do you want me to dispatch?"

"Her!" Shumy-Chan pointed at Kachiko.

The vampire took one step forward, fangs bared and made a hissing noise intended to strike fear into the heart of his future meal. Then he squinted at the girl. He pulled a pair of glasses from an interior pocket, placed them on his face, then instantly stopped hissing. Instead he pointed in terror and shouted, "Ah! Tendou!"

Kachiko smiled pleasantly and waved. "How's it going, Vlad-kun? Earthworms gnaw anything important off you?" She patted her crotch meaningfully.

The vampire looked at the floating demon, looked again at Kachiko, then back at the ground. He sighed helplessly, put his glasses back in his pocket, picked up a piece of the shattered porch, and drove it into his heart.

"What are you doing?!" Shumy-Chan shouted.

The vampire hunched over in obvious agony. "Believe me… it's far less… painful, and quicker… this way. You'll… find out… soon… enough." The vampire collapsed to the deck, using the last of his energy to roll back into the hole he had risen from.

Shumy-Chan stared in stunned silence first at the hole, then in Kachiko's direction.

Kachiko looked at the hole and pouted. "Jerk. He sure knows how to make a girl feel unwanted, you know?"

"You aren't wanted!" Shumy-Chan assured her as he made his fingernails grow until they were razor-sharp and as long as daggers. "I'll disembowel you, spreading your entrails out for the crows to feast upon!" he swore.

This time Kachiko ran away. Delighted at finally gaining the upper hand and finding an attack she was afraid of, Shumy-Chan merrily flew after her. However, Kachiko's retreat didn't last long as she stopped and bent over, reaching to the grass.

"I have you now!" Shumy-Chan flew in low, aiming for her posterior. Not the biggest of targets, but he could make do with it.

A moment before the demon's fingernails would have impaled Kachiko, she spun around and moved faster than the demon's eyes could follow. He was still

flying forward as he rammed straight into Kachiko's crotch, fingers still extended. For some odd reason, there was no blood flowing from the wounds he should have inflicted.

Kachiko shouted, "Hey, you little perv! You're a couple of decades too young for that!" With one hand she grabbed him by the back of the neck and tossed him away.

Shumy-Chan regained his balance in mid-flight and hovered there once again. He looked down at his hands. All that were left were tiny stubs where his nails had been.

Kachiko wielded her hedge clippers like a giant sword. "And I always thought being taught Yardwork style martial arts was a complete waste of time. Looks like the old man really did know best. Now prepare to die!"

She snipped at the air above the demon's head, forcing Shumy-Chan down. A second and third snip, and the demon found himself compelled to go down to ground level. He tried to retreat along the ground, but found his back to a wall. Moves to the right and left would easily be countered by the far quicker girl.

The demon wailed to the skies, "Curse you! I have no choice but to leave this body. But mark my vow, Kachiko Tendou. I swear you have not heard the last of me." His words began grow faint as though the speaker was far away. "I will find a way to get revenge." The last word was barely audible.

Kachiko stared down at the child. The look of intelligence that had been behind those eyes was gone. On the contrary, it seemed all that was there was a vast vacuum, save for basic instincts, like eating, crying, and sleeping. The child's smile lacked any malice of any sort. He just stood there, drooling.

Kachiko breathed an exceptionally over dramatic sigh of relief. "I'm glad that's over with. Baby-sitting is a lot harder now than it was in my day. That idiot daughter of mine is really going to get it for leaving me to hold the bag." She smacked a fist into an open palm, then began heading to the house.

The little child remained where he was. He gurgled once, beamed at an insect that was down around his feet, flitting from a blade of grass to another, and ducked so low he ended up on his stomach, barely in time to evade the shears that snapped shut where his neck had been. "Are you insane?! You nearly decapitated me!"

"Like I would fall for that pathetic 'Watch me pretend to leave the person I'm possessing' trick!" Kachiko retorted. "Now hold still, and I'll make it quick and painless. Or at least as painless as getting your head chopped off will be."

Shumy-Chan panicked. The girl was stupid, but obviously had finely-honed survival instincts, as well a streak of ruthlessness. Had they not been directed against him, he would have found the traits admirable. However, she was the enemy, and he would lose his hold on the mortal world for five hundred years, as well as having grievous harm inflicted on him, if his host died an unnatural death. Decapitation qualified as such. That meant going all out with his ultimate attack. It was one hundred percent certain to work, but employing it would leave him completely powerless for the next two days. And being powerless meant being vulnerable. He wouldn't even be able to light up a cigarette with his flame breath. It was a risk, but as Kachiko drew back the shears again, it was one this homicidal woman was forcing him to take.

"Soul Kiss!" Shumy-Chan cried out. From his mouth he unleashed a large, shimmering black, billowing cloud. Rather than merely hover in the air, the cloud moved as though it was alive, heading straight for Kachiko. Before she could move it engulfed her entirely. For a moment it simply covered her in a misty cloak. Then it moved, entering her body through the very pores of her skin. It continued forcing its way in until it had entirely disappeared.

As the cloud entered Kachiko, she froze up, unable to even breathe. A trembling wracked her body, like she had been plunged into a pool of water in the dead of winter. Her face began taking on a light green hue before she raised her head to the heavens and spewed out the shimmering black cloud. Unlike when Shumy-Chan expelled it, the cloud dissipated into the air.

Kachiko looked as though she was about to throw up. "Kami-sama. What was that thing? It felt like I had motor oil pouring through my veins instead of blood."

All Shumy-Chan could do was stare in mute horror. He pointed with one of his diminutive hands, trembling in uncomprehending fear; a state nearly impossible for a demon to feel. "It's not possible! Your soul should have been ripped from your body and not returned for a week! What are you?!"

Somewhat recovered from the attack, Kachiko said ominously, "I am very displeased." And snapped the shears open and closed once.

"NOOOO!" Shumy-Chan wailed at the sky as tears flowed down his face. From above his head, a bright red energy emerged, hovering in a small cloud shot through with twinkling motes of white. Instead of going after Kachiko, like the inky cloud before it, this one shot up into the sky. It left a trail of sparks, like a roman candle, then headed to the north.

The child gurgled happily at Kachiko.

A dangerous gleam entered her eye. "So, you think I'm pathetic enough to fall for the same trick twice? Now I really am insulted. For trying to tear my soul out, and ruining my night by making me watch you, meet your demonic-type master thing!" Curse delivered, she aimed for the tot again, shears open.

They closed with a loud snap less then a centimeter from the top of Tetsuo's head, clipping off a stray lock.

The child laughed and grabbed onto the closed shears with both hands.

Kachiko lifted up the shears, the child holding on and continuing to laugh. She observed the conspicuous lack of fear. "Hmm. Seems old Shumy-Chan really

did evacuate the body that time. Bit showy, if you ask me." She scratched her head with one hand while continuing to keep the child suspended in air. "If I remember my previous experiences with possessions, that means he can't inhabit anyone for a couple of months." She considered the child at the end of her shears. She brought him close and smiled at him. She said in exaggerated talk that adults used on children, "On the other hand, maybe you're still faking it. And in any case, I don't think we can take any chances. Off to the garbage disposal with you."

Kachiko headed back to the house, child merrily dangling by the end of the shears.

Kasumi was pleased. It was rare she had a night to herself, and had enjoyed it tremendously. Having nothing better to do, she decided to go to the movies. It was a bit lonely to go alone, but the film had been an entertaining one which more than made up for the lack of companionship. She had heard it received critical acclaim, and with good reviews, felt certain it would be worth the price of admission. It turned out to be one of those pictures aimed at younger people, centering on a class of high school students. Battle Royal had brought back memories of the not so distant past of Kasumi's own school days. Of course, she hadn't been forced to go to an island and kill all of her classmates, but she was pretty certain had she been placed in such a situation, she could have finished everyone off and won. There were dozens of ways to dispatch her classmates with any one of the weapons that had been provided in the movie. Some very inventive ways, actually. Some of them lingering and painful.

Kasumi was idly fantasizing about being in the movie, and what methods she would have employed in finishing off her former classmates, when her thoughts were interrupted by coming across a familiar figure. "Hello, Auntie. I'm surprised to see you alone. I thought you were with Father and Mr. Saotome."

Nodoka appeared somewhat exasperated. "They decided to go out drinking, and I don't particularly care to hang around them when they act like little boys."

The two women began walking together. The night air was crisp but pleasant as they made their way to the Tendou home. They traveled in silence for a while, until they were almost at their destination.

"Are you certain leaving that tramp… I mean your mother with the child was a good idea?" Nodoka asked.

"Of course. Her motherly nature is there, just waiting to bubble to the surface. Left with a helpless child who has no choice but to depend on her, Mother's parental instincts will surge to the fore, and she will be one step closer to returning to the woman she needs to be." There wasn't the slightest hint of doubt in Kasumi's voice.

Not anywhere so confident, Nodoka left the rest of her recriminations unvoiced as the two arrived at the Tendou house and entered.

As they headed toward the living room, Kasumi announced, "I'm home, Mother. How was your night with little Tetsuo?" And then Kasumi entered the room and had a pretty good idea of how things went.

The living room was in shambles. One side of it was burned, while a gaping hole letting in the night air dominated the opposite side. Water from broken pipes poured out, forming a tiny pond near the bath. There was a hole in the ceiling, and some of the wiring was dangling halfway to the floor. Furniture was overturned and the place was in shambles.

In the middle of the mess lay Kachiko on her stomach, unmindful of the carnage. Next to her was a laughing Tetsuo, with whom she was playing a game with the blocks. Kachiko looked up and waved at the two women, "Hey, you two!"

Nodoka recoiled in horror while Kasumi sadly shook her head. In a disapproving tone, Kasumi clucked, "Mother, Mother, Mother."

Nodoka was much more aggressive in her admonishment as she rushed forward and snatched the child away, cradling him in her arms and shielding him from Kachiko with her body. "I don't believe this. How irresponsible can you be? We leave a child in your care for several hours, and you destroy the house and endanger his life with your shameless antics." She gave a wave of the hand to the remnants in the room

Kachiko stood up, mortally offended. "Excuse me, but I was the one left with a child who was possessed by a demon that tried kill me. I'd say I did a damn good job of exorcising the annoying jerk and playing with the kid afterwards."

"Possessed by a demon?!" Nodoka shouted. "I cannot believe you'd make up such a ridiculous story to cover up your own reckless behavior and endangerment of the child. Have you no shame? Can't you admit to your wrongdoing?"

"I didn't do anything wrong!"

Kasumi continued shaking her head. "I'm afraid I did make a mistake. I only hope Tetsuo's parents can forgive me."

"They'll probably want to give me a medal for freeing the child from that pesky demon," Kachiko said.

Nodoka shot the girl a nasty stare. "Get away from the child. I'll not let you jeopardize his safety anymore."

Kachiko put her nose up in the air. "Fine. I didn't want to take care of him in the first place. I'm going outside." She headed for the hole in the wall. "And I still want my money." She informed Kasumi before leaving altogether.

Kasumi sighed at the giggling child in Nodoka's arms. It appeared some other plan would be needed. Perhaps if her father successfully wooed Kachiko, that would serve as the trigger to awaken her true identity…

"That went pretty well," Akane said as she exited the library with Ranma at her side. Study session complete, the pair headed in the direction of their home.

"I think I understand the material better," Ranma admitted. He was becoming a bit concerned at Akane's behavior. She didn't seem like herself. Admittedly, with Kachiko's return, Akane had a great deal on her mind most of the time, and even he could tell she was strained when it came to the matter of her mother, but this seemed different somehow. She had been very quiet all evening, like there was something really heavy on her mind. Even Yuka hadn't been able to get her to say more than a handful of words that weren't related to studying. A part of him wanted to ask what was wrong, but another part warned him no good would come from prying. Best to keep one's nose out of matters unless one wanted to risk it being bitten off. On the other hand, it was Akane that was being considered. He didn't like the idea of something bothering her.

It didn't take Ranma long to decide that he would rather take a chance on making a mistake by doing something instead of not doing it. He asked, while making sure to look in another direction as though he really didn't care, "Something wrong?"

Akane seemed hesitant to speak. She said in a quiet voice, "Not really."

That should have settled matters. If she didn't want to say what it was, then she didn't and that was that. But there was a little voice in the back of Ranma's head that said she didn't mean it, that there was something troubling her, and that he should take steps to fix it. Besides, his asking and her refusal to say anything about it was sort of like admitting that in trying to get her to open up, he had failed. And that was too much like losing to suit his taste.

"Come on, you can tell me," Ranma prodded.

Akane turned her head away. "I said it was nothing."

Her mouth said one thing, but it was obvious from her actions the opposite was true. Like a shark smelling blood in the water, Ranma persisted. "Look, whatever is bothering you, I'll take care of it."

Abruptly, Akane's shoulders took on a strength and determination. She looked Ranma squarely in the eye and said, "Fine. Tonight you're going to tell my Mom that I am your one and only fiancée, and that you are not marrying anyone other than me."

Ranma felt his stomach twist into a knot. He had no idea it was this topic that was bothering her. Had he known, he would have avoided it like the plague, to the point of which he would have directed the conversation away from the engagement the moment she broached it. But having invited it in the first place, he didn't know how to avoid things. The best he could come up with was, "That's not a good idea." And tried to walk away.

Before he could manage two steps, Akane placed herself in front of him, arms wide open to prevent any chance of escape. "No. It's time to stop dancing around the issue. You are doing it tonight."

Like a beast in the jaws of an ever-closing trap, Ranma began thinking panickedly. He grasped at the first hope of salvation his mind could come up with. "I can't do that because if she stops being interested in me, that means she'll go after Kunou full force, and he's way too interested in her. You don't want them to end up together, do you?"

"That's just an excuse. We'll deal with that when we have to," Akane stated in a firm voice.

Defense countered, Ranma tried another path. "But it would hurt her feelings, being rejected like that. And she's sort of feeling awkward with being in a new time and with no one she knows around. And she gets kind of annoyed with you guys doing, you know, what you're trying to get her to do. I wouldn't want to depress her even more."

Irritated, Akane said, "We're trying to get her to act like our mother, which she is."

"Well, not yet, kind of," Ranma pointed out, though he was uncertain if he was right. Time traveling made explaining things a real pain. He did know Kachiko didn't consider herself to be their mother, and seemed to get more irritated when the people around her tried to make her admit that. He could definitely sympathize with her in that regard. People tried to get him to admit to things he didn't want to all the time. Like Akane was doing right now.

"Quit taking her side," Akane snapped.

"I'm not taking her side. I'm just saying she might not like you guys trying to force her into doing what you want."

Akane said, "We have to because she doesn't realize that what she wants is right here. She thinks she wants you, and that's not acceptable. Which is why you have to make her stop now."

"But I can't just tell her like that," Ranma insisted.

"Yes, you can. What you mean to say is you won't!" Akane's anger doubled. "This is what always gets you into trouble. Your going back and forth and not being decisive is what's causing this mess in the first place. It's just like with Ukyou and the others. You're never firm when you tell them no and that I'm your fiancée and you're not interested in anyone else."

Now fully cornered, Ranma lashed back. "That is not my fault! They take stuff and twist it into what they want to believe. I don't encourage them or anything."

"By not being decisive enough you aren't discouraging them, which is the same thing as encouraging them, which is why you can't be like that around Mom now. Tell her the family pact is not a case of any Tendou being suitable. Tell her you want to marry me."

The idea presented in the last statement made Ranma snap. "I don't want to get married to anyone now!"

Akane recoiled. Through tear-filled eyes, she said, "Fine! Marry her! Marry Kodachi! Marry anyone you want! I don't care anymore!" And ran off into the night.

For a moment, Ranma tensed up and prepared to follow. Then his mind tried picturing what he would say to calm her down. The only thing that he thought would work, accepting her terms, was impossible now. He meant what he said about not wanting the pressure of the engagement hanging over his head. Over the last few days, he found he liked the freedom being guaranteed a delay of several years entailed. It wasn't that he didn't want to be married to… someone eventually. But he couldn't make himself say what Akane wanted him to, or else the pressure would be back on and he would be forced into doing something he definitely didn't want to.

"She's just going to have to understand I can't do that." Ranma decided to give her a chance to cool off and think with a clearer head. Once she calmed

down, things would go back to normal, like the always did. Still, it was with his head hung low that he decided to walk around the neighborhood for a while. It would be best to arrive after Akane and avoid any future confrontations for the evening.

By the time Ranma returned, via over the wall around the back yard rather than through the front door, it was late. He was being cautious so he could feel things out in the household, just in case Akane was still angry with him. With any luck, everyone would already be asleep, and he could deal with matters tomorrow after a full night of rest.

He was surprised to see Kachiko was still awake. What was more surprising was that she was pacing back and forth in the middle of the backyard, grumbling to herself in obvious agitation at something.

Silently, Ranma was about to slip back over the wall and try the front door, when his conscience began nagging at him. While it was true his curiosity had cost him peace of mind once tonight, he wanted to know what had upset the time-lost girl. There was always a chance Akane had delivered her ultimatum to Kachiko herself, since Ranma wasn't going to do it. If that had happened, he would have to be very careful for a while, since the situation could be very messy, and he could conceivably be blamed for it by others, even if he wasn't responsible.

Knowing he was going to regret his actions no matter what he did, Ranma again opted to make a mistake from action rather than inaction. He walked up to Kachiko said, "What's wrong?"

Kachiko looked up, seemed decidedly unmoved by his presence, and kicked a stone. It skidded across the ground and into the koi pond with a splash. Like a petulant child, she muttered, "Rotten old hag and stupid frumpy girl."

Translating the identities, Ranma said, "What did Mom and Kasumi do that has you upset?"

That someone seemed interested in her emotional state made Kachiko's attitude shift somewhat. "They didn't believe me when I told them that little kid they left me was possessed by a demon."

"I… see." Ranma was of two minds. Kachiko could be lying — she seemed to do it when it suited her needs — but at the same demonic possession was far from unheard of in their neighborhood.

Not being treated with open disbelief, Kachiko felt encouraged. "They think I placed his life in jeopardy, when in fact they were the ones who placed my life in jeopardy. I'll admit I wasn't in much danger since the demon was a real wimp, except for that weird cloud thing which made me feel icky. Even after taking a bath I still feel like I was dipped in oil, inside and out." She shuddered once.

Sensing she was telling the truth, largely in part because she wasn't so much trying to convince him as much as complaining about what had happened to her, Ranma asked, "It didn't hurt you too bad, did it?"

"Nah," she said, unconcerned. "But it's the principle involved. I mean, here I am, doing a good deed in getting rid of the demon by exorcising it, and I'm treated like a bad guy. They wouldn't let me talk to the parents because they thought I might mention that the kid was possessed and they would think I was nuts or something. Although I did leave out back and secretly met the parents when they were almost to their house and let them know the kid was clean. They were ecstatic. They said they would quadruple the original baby-sitting rate and were going to rename the kid after me, since the name Tetsuo had too many bad memories connected with it. Like him devouring small animals, continuously terrorizing them, committing all sorts of unholy acts, and basically making their lives hell."

"Isn't having a name like Kachiko going to be a bit hard on him?" Ranma asked.

"It's better than being called Shuma-Ghorath-Chan."

"Well, yes. There is no denying that," Ranma admitted.

Kachiko's emotions shifted again, taking on a thoughtful cast. It caused Ranma to wonder just how someone could go through so many opposing emotional states so quickly.

Kachiko said, "You want to know something I learned from all this?"


"I have to admit, before tonight, I was kind of critical of kids. And being attacked by a possessed one did nothing to change my mind," she added. "But something happened. It was after I chased the demon out, and was in the process of stuffing the kid's leg down the garbage disposal, when he looked at me. He had one of those stupid happy faces only children and people with five I.Q points can muster. And even though every other time I saw a kid stare at me like that it made me roll my eyes, this time it was different. I felt kind of affectionate for the little guy. So I stopped and realized it might be kind of fun to play with him for a while. I got to admit it was kind of fun, in a brain-dead sort of way. But the kid really enjoyed it, and it made me… I don't know. Kind of happy too. Now I'm thinking maybe I was being a bit harsh. Maybe kids aren't so bad. Especially when it's obvious I'd make a great mother. When I'm older, I mean. Like thirty or something. Or maybe even as old as your Mom was when she had you. But I think maybe kids aren't quite the evil little burdens I originally envisioned them as. They're actually okay. I think I would like some someday."

Ranma was astonished to see that Kachiko now seemed happy when talking about children. It was like she was a completely different person.

Then she approached Ranma. He was instantly placed on edge by the assessing look she gave him. She walked around in a circle, openly inspecting him, before stopping in front of him again and shaking her head in disapproval.

He definitely didn't like that shake of the head. "What?

"I'm afraid that, whereas I would be a great mother, you would be a crappy father."

Indignant at the slander, Ranma replied automatically, "I would not! I'd be a great father. I'd raise kids just fine."

Kachiko retreated, sticking out her tongue. Playfully, she taunted, "Get real. You couldn't raise a kid. You couldn't even raise a Chia-Pet."

"Could too," Ranma followed not allowing her to get the last word. He responded. "I'd make a great father."

"I bet even a plant would wither under your care," Kachiko mocked, still retreating.

"Take that back," Ranma insisted.

"Nope. Not until you convince me you'd make a good father," Kachiko continued, now playfully evading Ranma's attempts to keep up with her.

"I'll show you," Ranma said, more concerned with keeping up than exactly how he could convince her.

And up above, from a window on the second floor, a pair of eyes watched the two chase one another around. "Baka Ranma," Akane said quietly, then turned away from the depressing tableau, laying down in her bed as tears filled her eyes.


To be continued.

Author's notes: Yep, ended on a more somber note, but there is a bit of seriousness necessary for this to end at its proper conclusion. The series overall is still going to be more humorous in tone, though it is a work in progress.

Shuma-Gorath was a name created by Marvel in the Lovecraftian vein. Most people are probably aware of him from the Marvel Capcom game. Part of Shumy's dialogue was inspired from one of the Hellraiser movies.

Special thanks to:

  • Michael Chasse
  • Chris Horton
  • Eternal Lost Lurker
  • The Apprentice
  • Max M.
Chapter 8
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