Ranma sighed. He really didn't like this, but his mom . . . well, what she'd said had made a lot of sense, and he'd never been able to say no to her . . . and it really wasn't that much worse than the time he'd had to go bra shopping with her. Really.
"Oh the shame!" cried Genma. "My son dishonours me so by dressing like a weak little schoolgirl! The humiliation! The - "
Whatever else it was would forever be unknown to Ranma as the wrapped flat of his mother's katana smacked against the back of his pop's head and shut him up. It was kinda pathetic really. A grown man, a martial artist of real skill, and even the most minute glimpse of katana would have him quivering.
"This is not Nerima," said Nodoka, in a seemingly calm but distinctly authoritative tone of voice. "People here are not used to magic curses, and our son cannot avoid cold water all day."
"But - "
"No buts, Genma!" hissed Nodoka, her expression calm but the look in her eyes anything but. "Perhaps if you hadn't acted so foolishly at the wedding this might not be necessary, but there is nothing we can do about it now. With the note that nice Doctor Tofu lodged with the school board, Ranma should be able to avoid hot water and any unpleasantness."
"Ya could 'a just let me stay where I was," grumbled Ranma, picking at the strap of the bra he was currently being forced to wear. It should also be noted that he was actually a she at that moment in time and wearing a rather cutesy looking school uniform. A moment later her hand was gently batted away from where he was fiddling by his mother.
"Don't fiddle with your underwear, Ranma," said Nodoka absently. "It's unseemly."
"Yeah, yeah," grumbled Ranma, but she made no motion to start fiddling with it again even if it did itch something fierce.
"You know why we're here, boy," rumbled Genma. "It's because you haven't dealt with those girls that follow you around."
"And who got me stuck with them?" snapped Ranma, taking half a step towards her pop and clenching her fists before relaxing again when she saw his mother frown at her.
"It's easily dealt with, boy," said Genma, taking on his 'wise sensei' air, which was about as convincing as a three thousand yen note. "Just marry Akane and the whole mess will just go away."
"Is that before or after the others trash half of Tokyo to try and stop me?" shot back Ranma in a caustic tone of voice. "Stupid old man. If you wanted me to marry Akane then why'd ya get me hitched to all the other too?"
"Enough of that," said Nodoka, stopping them both before they came to blows in their usual fashion of dealing with a disagreement. "Those girls will have to be dealt with but that is your responsibility, Genma, not Ranma's. You are the head of the clan."
"Well, that's me screwed," muttered Ranma.
"Now, now, Ranma," said Nodoka. "I'm sure Genma will think of something."
The last was said while giving Genma a piercing stare that had him sweating bullets. Ranma found it highly amusing, but . . .
"I'll believe it when I see it, mom," she said, before looking at the clock. "Gotta go or I'll be late," she finished, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm in her voice.
"Have a nice day at school, dear," said Nodoka, handing Ranma her lunch box.
Ranma felt like a complete berk as she walked to school. It was one thing to wear the skimpy stuff to distract Happosai or win a challenge, but wearing this cutesy crap . . . that was something else altogether. Even if she had been born a real girl - and she shuddered at that thought - she'd still hate this crap. And she was going to punt the next boy who stopped and stared at her into orbit. And the next man? He was taking a trip to the moon. Possibly Mars if she got pissed off enough.
And it just felt weird to not have Akane with her when she was walking to school. Every day for the last two years, she'd gone to school with Akane, and she'd got used to having her there, and now she wasn't. Normally they'd be walking along - her on the ground, him on the fence - and teasing each other all the way. This was just no fun at all. It was just boring. Endlessly boring.
On the plus side, there was no random bike-of-doom attack coming along any time soon. That was one thing that gotten real old, real fast. And it had always pissed Akane off, too, when Shampoo got grabby afterwards.
Ranma's head jerked up when she heard a car's horn blaring away. What she saw just about made her blood run cold. Some girl was just strolling across the road, day-dreaming, and completely missing the fact that she was about to get hit by a fairly large sports car. Instinctively, she gathered her ki and leapt in front of her, then in one smooth movement she grabbed hold of the girl and leapt away from the car. The girl looked positively seasick as Ranma put her down.
"Look where you're going, will ya?" said Ranma. "Get yourself killed if you pull stunts like that.
"Uh, thanks," said the girl as the slightly green tint to her complexion started to fade. She still looked a bit out of it, though.
Ranma snorted and took off again, heading to school. Wasn't her problem if the girl got herself smashed by a car. Then again, as soon as that thought passed through her mind, she had the strange feeling that it was her problem for some reason. Weird. She dismissed the thought from her mind. She had more important things to be dealing with right now than some stupid girl who didn't look where she was walking.
The school was depressingly normal. She'd been able to tell that from the moment she set foot on its grounds. The only vaguely strange thing about it was that it adjoined a junior high school, and to be honest Ranma had no idea how strange that really was. Wasn't like she'd attended school all that regularly when she was training with pop really. A few months here and there before they moved on at best normally. About the longest she'd managed was those few months at junior high with Ryoga and she'd spent most of that time fighting with pig-boy.
Not that she minded spending his school-time in a good fight. Not at all.
"Why don't you tell the class a little about yourself?" said the teacher, looking rather bored with whole procedure.
"I'm Ranma Saotome, heir to the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts," said Ranma, looking over the class. None of them looked like martial artists - they all looked weak and scrawny. Oh well. No new sparring partners to be had here. He'd have to wait for Ryoga to turn up like he always did before he could get a good fight. They were all staring at her too but she just stared right on back till they looked away. Like she was gonna get all uncomfortable because people stared at her.
"Oh," said the teacher weakly. "Martial arts?"
Oh yes. She'd made the connection. Former Furinkan student and martial artist. Generally not good for the health of the school to have one of those around.
"Yeah," said Ranma. "I'm a martial artist. Best at the school too."
That last part was added purely to see the teacher's reaction. And the way the blood drained from her face? Very much worth the effort.
"Right," she said weakly. "That's nice. Why don't you sit down and we'll start the day."
Lessons were as boring and incomprehensible as ever. She tried, she really did, but school just was not her thing at all. As much effort as she put in, her concentration eventually drifted onto more interesting things. Which, in the case of school, is pretty much everything.
Ranma settled down, leaning against a large tree and sitting in its shadow, as she opened her lunch box. Ah, food. Best part of the school day as far as she was concerned. Well, maybe second to the end-of-day bell. It was a close thing really. No more school for a day versus filling her stomach. Very tough choice that. Ah well. It wasn't all that important. And with that decided, she began to shovel the contents of the lunch box into her mouth at ridiculous speeds.
"Wow, you eat even faster than I do," said the girl she'd saved earlier on in the day.
Ranma swallowed down the mouthful she was chewing at that moment and looked up. "Yeah, part of my martial arts training," she said.
And then Ranma's hand shot out and caught the baseball that had been about to smash into the side of the girl's head.
"You really need to pay more attention to the world around you," chided Ranma gently. She couldn't quite bring herself to scold the girl this time. It'd be like kicking a puppy or something.
"Sorry," gulped the girl eyeing the ball nervously. "But, wow, you're fast."
Ranma shrugged and lobbed the ball back over to the boys who were playing baseball. "It's all in the training."
"If you say so," said the girl dubiously. And then her face lit up in a bright smile, "I'm Usagi Tsukino."
"Ranma Saotome," said Ranma. "How come yer talking to me? Everyone else has been avoiding me like I have the plague or something."
Usagi frowned. "Why are they doing that?"
"Think they're scared of me or something," said Ranma. "Probably because I'm from Furinkan."
"You're from that school that got trashed by the students?" asked Usagi, her eyes wide and sparkling.
"Well . . . yeah," said Ranma, scratching the base of her pigtail. "It was mostly Ryoga and those stupid Shi Shi Hokodens of his, though. Stupid pig-boy and his stupid temper tantrums."
"That's so cool!" said Usagi. "Do you think he'll wreck my school?"
Ranma blinked. Well, she hadn't been expecting that reaction. "Uh . . . I doubt it," she said. "There ain't no loonies here to set him off and I doubt he'd attack me looking like this."
Usagi pouted for a moment. "Hey, what do you mean 'looking like this'?"
"He's, uh, not too bright, and he has a thing about fighting girls," said Ranma. "Normally I can get him to fight me easy enough . . . but dressed up like this it's kinda not gonna happen."
And that was the truth. By the time Ryoga realised that she was Ranma he'd be on the other side of the world again. He was nothing if not easily fooled, that boy. Usagi looked disbelieving for a moment and then she burst out laughing. Ranma couldn't help but join her in her laughter. It was just so utterly ridiculous that Ryoga would still instinctively pull his punches against her when she was in female form even though he knew damn well that she could still fight plenty well enough.
The rest of the school day after lunch proceeded pretty much the same way as the school day before lunch. Boring lessons, boring teachers, almost total indifference to the whole thing on Ranma's part, and the other students avoiding the hell out of her. It was pretty pathetic really. These kids had all the backbone of a slug. Even Mr. Tendo wasn't this utterly weak. Well, except for when Happosai was involved; then he was even worse. It really wasn't long before she started to feel utter disdain for the whole lot of them. It's one thing to not be able to fight but it's something else entirely to be a coward.
When the day ended, she strolled out, given a wide berth by all of her fellow high-school pupils, fully expecting to stroll on home alone and then get some katas and maybe some sparring with pop in. Maybe she'd have even seen about getting in touch with the tomboy and see how things were going back in Nerima. But she was met by an incredibly cheerful Usagi who dragged her off on a tour of Juuban's shopping centres before stopping off at the local arcade for a few goes at the Sailor V game.
And that was where they stood now, with Usagi watching as Ranma tore through the game, putting her martial arts reflexes to a rather unexpected use.
"You're so good!" said Usagi. "So Sailor V morphs . . . "
"Yup. You've only got a split-second to do it," said Ranma, absent-mindedly. "And then you have to hit them with the killer move just at the right time. Not that hard, really."
It wasn't so bad, really. She'd always thought that computer games were a little silly, and they didn't compare to the real fights she got into, but they weren't a total loss, it seemed. Better than putting up the old man trying to order her to go marry Akane right this minute, anyway.
"Usagi, you're here!" called out a voice from near the arcade's entrance. Sounded like another girl around Usagi's age, but Ranma wasn't going to break her concentration to check.
"Ami!" called out Usagi in return. Sounded like she'd been right, anyway.
The other girl moved closer and the hairs on the back of Ranma's neck stood straight up. Oh no, she knew that feeling . . . And the mantra began in her mind, 'don't look, don't look, don't look . . . '.
"She's so good at that game . . . " said the new girl, Ami.
"Usagi, who's your friend?" asked a male voice from near where Ami was stood. "Same school?"
"I'm Ranma," said Ranma, keeping her eyes fixed firmly forwards and not even flickering to where she just knew there was a demon spawned straight from the pits to torment her; sorta like the Kunos, really. "Just started at the high school next to Usagi's school."
"Hi!" said the male voice. "My name's Motoki."
"Your name's Motoki?" asked Usagi. "Guess I never knew it before."
And still the mantra ran through Ranma's mind as her hands flew over the controls of the arcade game. 'Don't look, don't look, don't look . . . '
The conversation moved on and the guy, Motoki, drifted off as Usagi and Ami drifted off into talking about wedding dresses. Now that brought back some memories. The tomboy had scrubbed up pretty nice when it came down to it before those lunatics blew the wedding up. The momentary distraction of thinking about what Akane had looked like all dressed up for a wedding was enough to delay her next move enough to get her avatar killed. Bah.
All her muscles tensed up as she faced the prospect of coming face to face with one of the devil's own. She didn't want to but she wouldn't turn away from a challenge. No way, no how. It wouldn't be much fun to explain just why she was going nuts because of some stupid animal but she could deal with that. Really, she could. It wasn't like one stupid ca-ca-feline would drive her into the neko-ken.
She slowly turned around to face it and there it was. In the hands of a cute teenage girl who actually looked vaguely like Akane - minus the tomboy stuff, she hastened to add - was the black-furred monster. The fear spiked up, but she controlled it and funnelled it away into her ki to fuel her strength. One demon would not drive her nuts if she had any say in it! And then her fear dwindled away as she looked into the beast's eyes. Now that was new. She tentatively reached out and clumsily stroked the thing's head. Nothing.
"This is weird," she muttered.
"What's weird?" asked the Akane-lookalike.
"Me and ca-ca-felines don't mix," said Ranma, looking away from the thing. "Not normally."
"Ailurophobe?" asked Ami
"Ailuro-wha?" said Ranma, her brow scrunched in concentration as she tried to figure out what the hell Ami had just said. Usagi looked to be doing something similar.
"Someone who has a fear of cats," said Ami, patiently.
"Huh," said Ranma. "Yeah, what you said, I guess."
"Why would you be scared of kitties?" asked Usagi, looking scandalised.
"Bad experience when I was a kid," murmured Ranma. No way was she telling them about the neko-ken. No way.
One frantic apology later - it would have been impossible to hold anything against Usagi anyway; she was just too damned nice - and they left the arcade and Ranma tagged along as they strolled around Juuban. It was nice to be able to do something so normal, to be honest. Whenever she'd tried to have a peaceful, relaxing time back in Nerima it had always, always gone wrong. She'd get bored of the normality eventually, probably fairly quickly, but she could always hop back over to Nerima for a fix of insanity when she felt the need. The presence of the thing was just creepy though. Even if it didn't quite bring the same mind-numbing fear, it was still creepy.
Eventually the conversation took a more interesting turn as they approached the mall. Or a more usual turn for someone who'd lived Ranma's life. "Guess what!" said Ami. "I heard a strange rumour. You guys know the bridal shop outside the mall?"
"Yeah," said Usagi. "Naru was just there."
By that time they were standing outside the shop they were talking about.
"Well, it's supposed to be haunted."
"Nice dress on that mannequin," said Ranma. "Sorta like the one Akane wore."
"Who's Akane?" asked Usagi, her face a picture of curiousity.
"She's, um, a friend of mine," said Ranma. "She lives in Nerima."
"Actually, no," a hint of anger showing in her voice. "Some idiots crashed the wedding and messed everything up. And, boy, was she ever pissed."
"No wonder," cried Usagi. "I . . . oh, I don't know what I'd do but it'd be bad!"
Ranma smirked. "Well, they got what was coming to them, believe me. So is this the haunted shop, huh?"
"That's right," said Ami. "It's haunted by the ghost of a dead bride. That mannequin floats around here after midnight. If there's a guy around, it'll seduce him."
"A ghost?" asked Usagi.
"If a bride buys her dress here, the ghost will possess her," said Ami. "Her marriage will be doomed."
"Definitely checking the label before my wedding," decided Ranma out loud.
"You're getting married?" asked Usagi, hearts in her eyes.
"Eventually," said Ranma, rolling her eyes. "It was arranged by my idiot of a father."
"They still do that?" asked Ami, looking horrified.
Ranma shrugged. "My pop does," she said. "You get used to it after a while. There are no depths of idiocy to which he will not sink given time."
And that pretty much brought that conversation to a grinding halt. She supposed that it generally wasn't regarded as polite to insult one's father in public, but they'd soon get used to it if they became friends. Everyone who ever met her pop ended up cursing him anyway.
"You know, this place looks familiar," said Ranma as they approached the shrine. "I'm sure I've been here before."
"Maybe Rei will remember you," said Usagi cheerfully.
Ranma really, really doubted that this Rei would remember him in his current form but it wasn't like it could hurt. And if his pop had ripped the place off - which she doubted, but you never know with him, at least they wouldn't immediately come after her with her being the wrong sex at the moment. The old man who waved them in certainly didn't seem to recognise her anyway. He led them over to where a long-haired girl was feeding some crows.
"Rei, you've got visitors," he said. Then as the girl turned to face them, "and they're such pretty things! Want a job at my temple?"
Ranma gave the old man a measuring glare as Usagi giggled. Weird old man but he was no Happosai, that much was certain. She couldn't shake that weird sense of familiarity she was feeling either. Well, anyway, the old man soon skedaddled, followed all the while by the burning glare of his granddaughter, and a conversation started up about the haunted bridal shop.
"A haunted bridal shop?" asked the shrine maiden. "A dead bride's ghost? Sounds suspicious."
"Usagi's friend's cousin," said Ami. "Her fiancee might have been seduced . . . "
"Ghost or no ghost . . . if he gave into temptation it's his own fault!" sniffed Rei.
"Come on, Rei," said Usagi.
"I don't trust guys," said Rei, looking rather adamant on that position.
"Now that sounds familiar," said Ranma. "Don't suppose you're related to the Tendo family?"
"Just asking," said Ranma. "Sounds like something Akane would say. Anyway, I think I'll be going. This whole ghost thing is all over my head. See ya later."
And with that she waved goodbye, a gesture that was returned, and left. It wasn't really over her head but the last thing she needed was to get involved in that sort of stuff right now. Mom wouldn't be pleased if she trashed another school.
Ranma quickly returned home and scarfed down some dinner before changing into his usual attire of choice and heading out. Had to get the lay of the land so he wouldn't run into a dead end or get lost in the middle of a fight, after all. Well, he tried to be a he. Approximately fifteen minutes after leaving the house a fire hydrant popped its lid next to him and he became a she once more. She just sighed and shook her first at the heavens. Damn curse wouldn't be half as much of a pain if she wasn't such a water magnet.
Ranma spent quite some time exploring, a lot of it jumping from roof-top to roof-top to get the aerial perspective before she grew thirsty and dropped down from the roof-top she was on to buy a bottle of water from a nearby vending machine. What happened at that point was something that Ranma would never be quite able to recollect properly. What she did remember was a series of disconnected images and feelings, a blond man, a feeling of fear and then panic, a wedding dress, and then another man in a tuxedo that changed into a girl.
"I won't let you dress up like a virgin bride and tempt men!" cried the man who turned into a woman, a woman wearing an outfit that would have scandalised Ranma's mother for sure. "On behalf of the moon, you're punished."
"You can't use people. Your brains should be used to help people," said another girl who was behind and to the left of the gender-shifter, wearing a similarly skimpy outfit. "You're punished. I'll cool your head with Mercury power."
"I won't let you take advantage of women!" cried the other girl, behind and to the right of the gender-shifter. "Here's the Mars power flame of anger! I'll punish you in high heels."
Ranma looked down at herself . . . and she was wearing a wedding dress. A wedding dress that looked an awful lot like the one Akane had wore. And with that realisation a terrible rage welled up in Ranma like she hadn't felt since Phoenix Mountain. This was just too damn much. First the failed wedding, then her other fiancees going nuts trying to drive her away from Akane, and then . . . then this. Someone was going to pay and pay dearly for this. Something foreign and powerful welled up in her and she instinctively clutched onto it. This power, this was what she needed, she knew that without thought.
And then she transformed. It was like nothing she'd ever felt before. It was like having pure power injected into her system and she could feel her ki reserves growing exponentially as the transformation worked through her. It wasn't just her ki either, she could feel something . . . something she couldn't define, something that felt like a home that had long since been lost to her and was now returned. Memories, broken and disjointed as they were, flooded into her mind and she knew what she was even if she couldn't explain the whys and hows of it. She was Sailor Jupiter.
The man who stood next to her was irrelevant and Ranma batted him across the room without any real thought or attention. The demon in the wedding dress was something else entirely and all her instincts cried out to destroy it quickly before it could harm the princess. Ranma leapt at her with all the speed she could muster and lashed out with a series of powerful punches and kicks aimed at the vulnerable points on its body. As the demon fell to the ground crippled she stamped down on its neck and killed it.
"Heh. That's just my shadow," called out a male voice from the top of a nearby building. "I'm over here."
Ranma's response was immediate and instinctual, her mind still going on the new instincts that had been crammed into it by the transformation. She leapt up from her standing position and landed lightly next to the man before launching into a senshi transformation powered Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken that blasted the man across the roof and bounced him off a wall before he collapsed to the ground groaning. What came after that was pure instinct and came from the source of power that Ranma had clutched onto.
"My protector, Jupiter, call on a storm," she cried. "Thunder and lightning SHOWER DOWN!"
What followed next was pretty disgusting to be honest. Massive bolts of lightning thundered down from the sky and repeatedly struck the guy in the militaryesque uniform till there was little more than a greasy spot and a few scraps of clothing left where he had been. That wasn't so bad . . . it was more the intermediate stages of scorched body and the screams of pain that were the problem. Ranma ended up having to turn away as her stomach churned. The guy was evil, no doubt, but this didn't sit well with her at all. She was a martial artist, not some sort of psycho killer. Killing a demon is one thing but this guy was . . . had been . . . human. What the hell was she becoming?
Then she looked down and the male voice in her head cried out as her masculine pride took yet another body blow. What the bloody hell was she wearing? It was like her Happosai collection crossed with her school uniform to produce the most abominable piece of clothing the world had ever seen. And she'd thought she couldn't sink any lower than the bunny suit!
She just sighed. Pop'd always said that the life of a martial artists was fraught with peril but she'd never thought he meant stuff like this.
"Wow, you're a great fighter!"
"Yeah," said Ranma in a hollow tone of voice. "I'm the best."
And as pumped up as she was at that moment, she probably wasn't exaggerating either. Even the old letch and the old ghoul would have been hard-pressed to take her on with the amount of power that had just been shoved into her system. Oh, they had a few neat tricks she'd have a hard time dealing with, but she had 'em beat all ends up on power as she was.
A comforting hand landed on her should and squeezed gently. "I know it's hard," said Usagi - somehow, she just knew it was Usagi now. "But these things have to be stopped and we're the people who've been given the power."
"That wasn't a thing," snapped Ranma. "That was a person. A human."
"A person who has been draining people to the point of death for his masters," said Ami.
The mention of that brought another slew of images to the forefront of Ranma's mind till she forcibly shut the stream off. "I didn't know that," said Ranma. "I just acted on instinct. Kill him before he could threaten the princess."
And those instincts were going to be thoroughly squashed very soon if she had any say in the matter. No way was she going around prepped to kill without conscious decision. She'd trained way too damn long to lose control like that.
"You're one of us now, Ranma," said Usagi. "If you need someone to talk to, we're here."
She . . . that felt right, dammit.
"We need to meet somewhere private tomorrow," said Ranma. "I have some stuff I need to tell you guys."
She really couldn't justify hiding things like her curse from them now. They were, well, she wasn't exactly sure what they were to her, but it was something important, or at least it had been something important in her last life. And that was something else that just blew her mind. She had a previous life. Gods above but she'd never really believed in reincarnation before. And anyway, hiding the curse never worked.
"Tomorrow at the shrine then," said Rei. "We'll have privacy there."
The hissing sound of the automatic doors sliding open drew all their attention at that point. It was the thing that didn't scare her for some reason. And it was carrying something in its mouth that it promptly dropped in front of the door with a clang.
"Luna?" asked Usagi.
"Sailor Moon, we have found four scouts," said Luna. "You must be their leader and protect the princess and the ginzuishou."
Ranma's eyes widened to roughly the dimensions of a Saotome-size dinner plate as the thing spoke. "It speaks?" she asked dumbly.
"Of course I speak," said Luna sniffily. "What do you think I am? Some common alley cat?"
Ranma back-pedalled so fast you could almost hear the sonic boom. "No, no, no! Of course not," she babbled.
Usagi scooped Luna up into her arms before she could say anything else. "Stop it, Luna," she scolded gently. "Ranma's afraid of cats. You're scaring her."
"I ain't afraid of nuthin'," muttered Ranma, but no-one believed her.
They dispersed at that point to avoid the police. Not that it was very difficult. Even the untrained could roof-hop easily in this getup. As she approached home, she dropped her transformation.
"Ah, hell," muttered Ranma looking at the returned wedding dress. "How'm I gonna explain this?"