Shampoo daughter of the matriarch of the Joketsuzoku, one of the best martial artists of her age and currently a cat cursed fluidly in her native Chinese as she dragged her clothing in her teeth towards the Saotome home.
The summer shower that had barely dampened her silk clothing had been just long enough to trigger her unlocked Jusenkyo curse. Already the sun was out and shining and the little bit of moisture that had fallen from a now cloudless, dang it, sky was evaporating.
Oh well, the inconvenience was worth getting access to her ki again. Plus with the practice she’d been getting lately she might finally get a handle on controlling the damn thing. In one stroke she’d change a liability to an asset. That was the Joketsuzoku way. None of which made trudging along like this any better. Sighing heavily, the nekofied woman jumped the wall surrounding the Saotome property and headed for the house.
Ranma smiled as he watched his cursed friend make her way up to the bath. He knew the beautiful Joketsuzoku would be down in a minute. Just in time to watch the upcoming match.
He’d actually thought the Tendo heir would be here first but it seemed he was having trouble finding the house. Not surprising. What was surprising was that his wife would still let him go anyplace by himself. Ranma had always thought more of Nabiki than that.
Still the pig-boy was in for more than one rude awakening today. If nothing else today would be payback for the day all of this started. A frown slipped across his features as he recalled the day he’d damn near lost everything.
In an attempt to get away from his fiancées for a while he’d convinced his mother to send him off on a private training trip. No Fiancées. The latter had taken more than a little effort since each of them had decided the ban didn’t mean THEM. Still, after more than one round of ‘lose the girls’ he found himself in the middle of nowhere; which in Japan meant Hokkaido.
The snow had been harsher than usual and had probably accounted for his would-be paramours’ strange lack of enthusiasm in following him. He’d been bedded down in the snow and was practicing using his ki to both keep dry and warm when he’d felt the first fluxes in his ki. Packing up he’d made his way to the train station just as the spell kicked in.
It had felt like he was being put through a meat grinder as his curse slowly activated pulling his body through an excruciating change that was usually instantaneous. The aftermath had seen him weak as a kitten, dry-heaving and sweat soaked on the train platform.
In a spectacular display of Saotome bad-luck he’d run into the fanged idiot right after the spell had gone into effect. Still reeling from what he’d thought had been a loss of ki caused by either the old letch or the old ghoul Ranma hadn’t been much of a match for his rival.
Ryouga’s customary surprise attack had caught him off-guard and the teen had beat him damn near to death and run crowing to the Tendo's about his magnificent victory. In the two weeks it took the lost boy to find the Tendo estate Ranma’s life had undergone a series of changes, none for the better.
Still things had eventually turned out for the best so he wouldn’t actually kill Ryouga. After all, being married to the Tendo junior-Yakuza was punishment enough. Probably.
Ryouga glared up and down the street and glanced down at the smart phone in his hand and carefully made a left turn until the arrows matched direction. Satisfied that he was once again on the right track he resumed his journey towards retribution.
Ranma should have just stayed down. The beating he laid on his hated rival the first time should have been enough but it wasn’t.
Somehow Ranma had picked himself up and challenged him again. Ryouga basked for a moment in the memory of the second match. The second beating had been even worse than the first and it had put Ranma in the hospital for nearly a month.
Each succeeding match, though admittedly less decisive, had stripped the Saotome heir of another piece of his life.
That was until their last match. Their last match hadn’t been so good. Ryouga, now heir to the Tendo School of martial arts, had placed his engagement to Akane and the Tendo dojo sign against Ranma’s seppuku pledge. It was supposed to be a final victory over his enemy.
Somehow, though, the pigtailed bastard had cheated. Despite being faster, stronger and tougher Ryouga had lost. No matter how he tried he’d been unable to hit his opponent.
Ranma’s strikes hadn’t hurt but each blow had deadened a limb or had some other nasty effect. Eventually he’d gotten so frustrated that he’d charged Saotome. And promptly got lost.
When he made his way back he’d found the Tendo dojo sign gone and a pissed off Nabiki waiting for him. Their wedding shortly thereafter had been one of the most unpleasant experiences of a long, hard, unpleasant life. Just another thing he owed Ranma. This time the bestower of curses and ruiner of lives was going to pay. Following the last of the GPS instructions Ryouga entered the Saotome dojo. Yes, with the additional training he’d had under Soun and his new techniques Ranma would pay.
Smiling grimly Akane ducked a slice from her opponent’s weapon and hopped back out of range long enough to shake the sweat from her eyes. Eyeing Ukyou warily Akane thought she detected a very slight shaking in the other girls arms.
They’d been going at it for over an hour now and Ukyou had to be tiring from constantly swinging that thing around. With a burst of concentration Akane formed her mallet and swung the massive, bludgeoning head around in a tight arc narrowly missing her dodging sparring partner. Continuing the motion she brought the long handle around quick to block the countering slice.
Scowling the shorthaired girl considered the ki-construct in her hands as she maneuvered for better position. The mallet was the only advanced technique from the Tendo School she’d ever been taught. Now, thanks to the pigtailed bastard, it would be the only one she’d ever know.
Akane, now just Akane, hated her for that. Was what she wanted so repugnant? It would have solved all their problems at a stroke. Gritting her teeth at the memory of the humiliating rejection Akane increased the speed of her attacks.
Ukyou knocked the expected mallet blow aside and dodged quickly to avoid the follow up sweep. Akane was getting angry again which meant the spar was almost over.
The ki-construct was already losing focus and she expected her former rival to lose it shortly. Despite what many would say Akane was a formidable martial artist, easily on par with herself or Kodachi. Once she lost her temper though her technique went to hell. Still, she was getting better.
The first time they’d sparred Akane had lost her cool within a couple seconds. Now she was able to ignore the taunts and frustration for an hour. Ukyou wasn’t fooling herself though. Even together they wouldn’t be a match for Saotome …yet.
The Anything Goes heir was good and if they’d gotten their ki back so, most likely, had he. Not that it would save him. Ukyou felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck. She couldn’t see him but their ace in the hole was undoubtedly watching them carefully even now.
Both she and Akane wanted to put the son of Genma in an urn and scatter him across the bitter sea. And while they’d prefer the personal touch neither was going to be above using outside help. No matter what she’d once felt for him Ranma was going to die. It was that simple.
When Ranma had been locked in girl form it had seemed a godsend. As the only registered male amongst the fiancées she’d considered her position secure. She’d been so confident she’d sent word to her clan to begin preparing for the wedding. That word had, unfortunately, been premature. The resulting debacle had gotten her thrown out of her clan and a ruined restaurant. Now there wasn’t a choice either Ranma died or she did. Ukyou was inclined to the former state of affairs.
The grandfather clock in the old English library chimed the fourth hour as Rupert Giles made his way past tables full of books but devoid of people to replenish his tea cup. He’d called an end to the research for the night to let the girls and new watchers get some sleep. Some of them had been up for thirty-six hours straight and were barely able to turn the pages let alone do anything with the information therein.
As it was a compendium of mysterious disappearances had almost eaten one of the new watchers in training before they had caught his ankle.
Avoiding a stack of worldwide periodicals in several languages he entered the tea cubby. He huffed a bit at the sight before him. Once again the pot not only wasn’t on the boil the way it should be, it wasn’t even cleaned out. Sometimes it was like running a boarding school.
With a shudder he repressed his early memories of that place quite firmly once again. While most English boys that had been sent to the expensive penitentiaries masquerading as private boarding schools would attest that what they lacked in comforts they made up in sheer bloody-mindedness and wanton cruelty, even those schools didn’t hold a candle to the ala mater that watchers typically attended.
To the best of his knowledge few students of other schools needed to worry about waking up without their soul or in a form other than that they went to sleep in. Still, by all accounts it beat being buggered in the boys room and he’d only had trouble that one time turning someone back. From what Froggy had said the last time they’d met, the extra inch on his tongue had actually been quite well received by the ladies of his acquaintance.
Chuckling at the memory of his pre-Ripper days Rupert cleaned out the kettle and teapot and put the former on the stove. It was a bit chilly in the library and he buttoned up his cardigan as he waited for the water to boil.
A bit of movement out in the main room caught his eye and he glanced out and smiled. Of course the order to go to bed wasn’t obeyed by everyone.
Off in the corner he could see Dawn meticulously going over the combined research notes the other teams had gathered and compiling them into a single document. The seed that her experience with directed research in Sunnyvale had planted had blossomed here and he already saw signs of a great intellect coming to life within her.
Though the girl didn’t know it she was already being groomed to replace himself. It wasn’t the life he’d have chosen for her or anybody really but like the rest of the Summers women he’d known she took her duties, self appointed or not seriously.
He’d much rather see her in some more innocuous profession. Like… anything else really. The life of a watcher was full of trials at the easiest of times. Times lately had become a good deal more hazardous. Sighing deeply he poured the hot water into the teapot. In a moment he’d go over and see what she’d dug up before sending her off to bed.
Formally, Ranma-chan tightened the belt around his female body and bowed to his opponent.
Unsurprisingly Ryouga simply sneered and waited for the signal to begin. In a small way, Ranma was almost disappointed. Ryouga could have been so much more than he’d become. The training trips that the Hibikis endured whether they liked it or not were just as brutal in their way as the one his own father had dragged him on. While the other boy didn’t have a father stealing his food and putting him through tortuous training techniques the journeys Hibiki went through would have killed lesser men. The results spoke for themselves. Ryouga was fast, tough, and a quick learner whose raw talent rivaled even his own.
Of all the rivals and challengers Ranma had, Ryouga was the one he’d felt closest to and the one that had earned the most respect. Even the beatings the other boy had given couldn’t remove it entirely. After all, Ranma had been the one to issue the challenges. Still, there was a small part of his mind that was going to enjoy this.
Shampoo watched the two competitors carefully as they readied themselves. She’d missed the last fight between the two titans but great-grandmother had described it carefully to her. Ranma had learned through painful trail and error and at the cost of nearly everything he’d held dear how to fight like a matriarch. Ranma had seen it the first time he’d fought the ancient warrior. Shampoo, born and raised among the ki-adepts and ancient warriors of the Joketsuzoku had never thought about it until her beloved pointed it out.
Once her great-grandmother had been a village champion the best of her generation. Ki had flowed through her young body boosting her strength, speed, and endurance to levels incomprehensible and unreachable by most.
She’d fought demons, Musk, undead and hundreds of other foes for more than two hundred years as that Ki peaked and began to wane.
As old age approached more and more of that power was diverted to keep the aging body alive. Precision, skill, careful focus and other skills replaced the raw power the current matriarch had once wielded.
How else was a three hundred year old woman able to beat a younger, stronger, Ranma? Now though, the gap was closing rapidly. Ranma naturally sucked up techniques like a sponge and was willing to do almost anything to learn. Shampoo had seen some of the training methods the matriarch had inflicted on a willing Ranma.
If it weren’t for the herbal lore of her people Shampoos beloved would be a lot uglier now. But every time her ancient relative had asked if he wanted to quit the Saotome youth had just smiled and begun again.
He’d been crushed, stabbed, subjected to shiatsu attacks that could kill and still he wouldn’t give up. Fairly late in the game Shampoo had finally understood the secret of Ranmas incredible success. He wasn’t just lucky and skillful. Those had been taken away and still he kept coming back for more punishment. The secret was simple. He didn’t give up. Ever. Stripped of everything Ranma had found a way back from the brink. It was somewhat scary really.
Though Ryouga didn’t know it the end of this struggle was never going to be in doubt. Ranma had beaten the lost boy without his Ki. The pig tailed wonder had read the lost boys moves before he made them. Sometimes two or three techniques ahead of his opponent Ranma had just dodged and waited for openings.
Now that her ex-airen had access to his Ki again the fight wasn’t even going to be close. Almost nonchalantly, Shampoo dropped her arm to begin the match.
Ryouga was in motion almost before the hand dropped. Ranma had gained the advantage last time by out maneuvering him and out lasting him. All he needed to do was keep a grip on his temper and stay in the dojo. This time it was going to end quickly.
Unfortunately for him, he was right.
Ranma contemptuously slid away from the haymaker. Within a minute the Saotome heir had dodged over a hundred blows that would have smashed concrete and hadn’t even retaliated. With a saucy wink Ranma whirled away giving him the space to talk and flaunting his female body in the way he knew infuriated Hibiki. “You ready to give up pig-boy?” he taunted and watched Ryouga turn red.
“I’m going to beat you so bad the spirit of your old man is going to hurt,” Ryouga promised grimly. With a mental effort he pushed back his anger and settled into the fight. Ranma was going to lose this time.
Punches, kicks, and special techniques fell like rain around Ranma affecting him about as much as rain passing through the air. And now Ranma began taking a slightly more active role.
When Ryouga punched Ranma gently brushed the fist aside and ruined the other boys balance. With a well-placed push Ranma redirected Ryouga into a dojo wall. Fearing an attack from behind Ryouga spun quickly only to find Ranma calmly buffing his nails against his gi and directing attention to the female breasts inside. Ryouga blushed, redirected his gaze away with embarrassment and then flushed with anger.
Again! Saotome had got him with that Again! Anger drove the punch from the pit of his stomach outward in a haymaker with wrecking ball force. His head whipped around to catch his target standing carelessly. This was it! He could already taste the victory.
In a flash of light Ryouga was temporarily blinded. When his vision cleared he could feel his punch caught. His eyes tracked to the fist and the hand that enclosed it. Oh shit.
Ranma smirked confidently as Ryouga realized that he’d returned to guy form. In a flurry of movement the pig-tailed martial artist touched a dozen quick pressure points on his dazed opponent. There that should do it. Walking away from the paralyzed form of his former friend Ranma picked up the Tendo dojo sign and walked out the door with Shampoo in tow. Whistling slightly he made his way to the back of the Saotome property. He had a fire to build.
Asleep in a chair in the corner Dawn grumbled and turned awkwardly pulling a knitted yellow and blue blanket back over her shoulder. A shadow cast by the only other occupant of the library kept the light from the reading lamp out of her eyes and allowed her to nap without interruption.
Hunched over a table in a remote section of the watchers library Giles flipped between three historical tomes two of which hadn’t see the light of day in centuries.
Sipping his now cold tea he forced down another caffeine pill. Research time was now coming up on seventy-two hours and he was beginning to think he had an idea about what had happened.
After reviewing Dawn’s notes on the research of everyone involved he’d managed after dint of much effort to narrow it down to these three books. Now though the research was really beginning to get to him.
It wasn’t so much the way ‘The Annals of Achmed the Mad’ kept gibbering at him or the way ‘Marshows Treatise on Countercharms’ kept trying to disenchant itself; he’d grown used to those. Magical tomes this strong typically gained a personality related to their contents.
The final scrapbook though was beginning to scare him. He’d at first thought it was yet another oversight of the former council that the events in China in Japan had been overlooked. But, that now seemed unlikely.
No, it was much more likely that the former heads of the council had buried news of these events on purpose. Picking up a Japanese-English dictionary he flipped open the collection of newspaper clippings from Nerima, Japan. If he was right than he’d allowed Buffy and Willow to make a terrible mistake. He only hoped when the time came that the Joketsuzoku would understand. He doubted it though. That ancient tribe wasn’t known for it’s flexibility.
With quiet efficiency a discreet, black Mercedes Benz limousine pulled up to the curb fronting the Tendo grounds. Almost before the expensive car had come to a halt two large gentlemen in impeccable, tailored, pinstriped suits had exited the vehicle and flanked the door. Shortly thereafter the gate opened and two more men stepped out of the grounds to eye the occupant.
“It’s the consigliore.” One said and nodded towards the camera. The other smartly stepped forward to open the door to the luxury automobile.
Nabiki, dressed immaculately in a fitted blazer, blouse and skirt stepped gracefully out of the limousine parked outside of her childhood home and suppressed a shudder. Gripping the handle of her leather briefcase tightly she passed through the open gate into her childhood home.
Walking through the gate Nabiki eyed the camera and steel backing on the gate doors with distaste. She’d lived in this house since she was born. Half of her childhood schemes had centered around how to keep living in it. Now all she wanted to do was run away.
Boris, a former Russian Spetsnaz, watched his protectee carefully as she passed through the gate. Once she was firmly on Tendo soil the large man helped pull the gate closed behind her. Boris was careful but he’d been informed in no uncertain terms that the inside of the facility was not his problem. They’d guard the gate with the others until it was time to leave. It wasn’t like anything could happen to her inside.
Sunlight bathed the yard of the Tendo-ke in false cheer as Nabiki made her way in from the gate. Nabiki Tendo presented the very image of a modern professional woman. With her briefcase and perfect hairstyle she could have been on her way home from a meeting with the rich and powerful. In truth, that was the meeting she was heading for and Nabiki didn’t like it a bit.
The past year hadn’t been kind to the last recognized child of Kimiko and Soun Tendo. Her confident smirk and easy stride of a woman secure in her protection and place in life were still in place but her eyes were now cold, missing the gaity and mischievous nature that had once been her trademark. Fear lurked behind the mask now. Her bodyguards would laugh if they knew that she felt most secure when she was alone, shaking, in her apartment on the other side of Tokyo. After all what could hurt her here? Nabiki would have called them fools to their faces if that wouldn’t wreck the mask she HAD to keep in place. Her source of terror was much closer to home.
Nabiki stopped at the entrance to the Tendo Dojo and checked herself carefully. In a moment she would face the man she most feared and she needed a second to collect herself. Getting a grip on herself Nabiki slid open the door and stepped inside.
Grunts and thuds of many men practicing katas and sparring masked her steps as she walked through the dojo towards her father. Everywhere in the remodeled and expanded building men that even Happosai wouldn’t have associated with were practicing the basics of the deadly art form.
Nabiki would have been impressed with their dedication if she didn’t know it was driven by fear. Too many of the men here had seen the temper of the current master and had no desire to get a closer look.
The only current, recognized master of Anything Goes stood on edge of the practice floor watching his new students impassively his concentration on their performance total. Despite this she was quite sure he knew she was there. So she approached Soun Tendo warily.
Ever since the death of Genma and Happosai, Soun had become a different man. It was hard to believe that at one time she actually made fun of the man she used to call father. Shortly after the problems with Ranma began, the widower had become much harder and much, much more vicious. The façade of a weeping and broken father that she’d known most of her life had been peeled back to reveal a man that she didn’t want to cross.
In the past she’d often wondered where she’d gotten her acumen and ruthlessness. Now she knew and the knowledge was a cold stone in her stomach. Before his death Genma had mentioned that he feared that Soun was slipping back into his old persona. At the time Nabiki had laughed at the idea and at the fat martial artist. Now she wished her fathers old friend was still around. If nothing else his bulk would have provided a decent place to hide.
Today’s Soun Tendo was a much different man. He had a steel grip on his emotions but the constantly suppressed anger was visible in the back of the mans eyes. A fact Akane had taken too long to figure out. When the girl had finally been forced to come out to her father about her sexual orientation the results had been… gruesome. The father who’d cried when his little girl got a scraped knee had mercilessly beaten the same girl to a pulp and cast her out of the clan.
Only Ranma’s late intervention had kept the youngest Tendo from death. Not that Akane appreciated how close she’d come to dying. She’d blamed the whole thing on Ranma yet again for not accepting her sexual overtures.
Now both Tendo and former Tendo regarded the Saotomes as targets of opportunity. Soun had promised on his honor not to go seeking them but Nabiki knew the man was eager for an excuse to put that aside.
Akane, on the other hand, seemed determined to end the line of Saotome at her earliest convenience. Nabiki wasn’t sure how her former sister had managed to ensnare Ukyou in this madness but the pair had become inseparable. She suspected only Konatsu’s absence had kept them from attacking before.
Shaking her mind out what was becoming a rut Nabiki resumed her approach. She was not looking forward to telling him how her search for her eldest sister had gone. Soun had been adamant that Kasumi return to Tendo-ke. Now Nabiki was in the unenviable position of having to tell him that it looked like she and Tofu had fled the country together.
Alone in a graveyard in Paris DB Woodside, former principal of Sunnydale High and self-styled vampire killer, ducked a blow from a bladed staff and spun away from the expected follow up. He could feel the slowly bleeding gash in his side slowing his movements as his blood stained his grey sweater. Grinning madly he grabbed a stake from the inside of his black leather jacket. He’d been expecting to jump a lone vamp or two fresh out of the grave and easy meat. He hadn’t expect three experienced vamps to be waiting for him to show. He’d managed to stake one but the fight was wearing him down. Sweat beaded and flowed down his bald black scalp as he concentrated on staying alive for another few minutes.
This had been a lot easier when he’d been the one backing up the Slayers. The past couple days had been enough to convince him that the soft living was making him losing his edge. In the absence of their help he had been patrolling at night by himself. This night in particular was beginning to make him rethink that decision.
“You ‘ave been making things difficult for us monsieur.” The vamp wielding the bladed staff said as he took another swipe. “Per’aps you should have rethought coming to our country? No?” With a thrust he backed his opponent up a crucial half-step. “Martin, what do you think?”
Woodside realized his mistake almost immediately and entirely too late. He twisted madly to bring the sharp wood point to bear on the vamp behind him.
Almost negligently the other vamp laughed as he dodged the stake and landed a hammer blow to the back of his human opponent’s neck dropping the exhausted vamp killer to the ground. With a careful kick Martin kicked the stake away from the outstretched hand and pulled the human into a submission hold. They had been waiting for this.
“Now Henry,” he chided, “where would we be without wannabes?” He pulled the arms of his captive up higher and smiled at the grunt of pain. “It’s hardly worth killing these days now that there’s no Slayers to make it interesting.”
“You boys should just make it easy on yourselves.” Wood said through the exhaustion and pain.
Henry grinned and moved closer to reply. The grin faded and he looked down as something poked out of his shirt. With an incredulous look he collapsed in a dusty heap.
Buffy pulled the stake back from the collapsing vamp. “We’re not quite all gone you know.”
Martin glanced around nervously looking for a exit that didn’t end in his demise. “I don’t suppose you’d just let me be on my way now?”
Buffy idly flipped the stake into an overhand grip. “Um. Let me think about No. Hey, Wood been a while.” She remarked cheerily as she leaned down to see her former bosses face.
“Yeah well, I’ve been busy.”
Martin lifted the arms a bit higher. “You know I can still break his arms?”
Buffy waved this off. “He’ll get better.”
“Don’t be such a baby.”
With a shove Martin turned and sprinted for it.
Calmly Buffy caught the ex-principal and set him upright. “You OK?”
“Peachy.” He said, as he rubbed his shoulders. “How far you gonna let him get?”
A shortened scream came from the direction of the running vampire.
A trio of SITs jogged towards the ex-principal and Slayer.
Buffy grinned evilly. “Unpowered doesn’t mean helpless you know. We’ve got the girls out in groups handling what they can.”
“So where’s the rest of the crew?”
“Willow’s in England at the estate with a severe case of the nopower. Witches said she’d be out of commission for a while.” Buffy lost her perkiness and looked uncomfortable. “Kinda hoping you could tell me where Xander got to.”