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Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 belongs to Rumiko Takahashi and co., and
there's nothing I can do about it. I don't make any money on this and
if anybody does, don't. Unless you actually have the rights to Ranma
1/2, in which case there's not much I can do to prevent it.
 
DUCK AND PEACHES AT THE FOOT OF FLOWER MOUNTAIN
CHAPTER SEVEN
By Hans Holm
 
"I don't see why all of you had to come", Mousse muttered.
"Mousse not able to tell difference between tree and human. Never find
right stone by self."
"Hey, they kidnapped _my_ mother! There's no way I'll leave rescuing her
to you."
"I think Ryoga's thinking along similar lines, and we don't want him to
wander off on his own."
"Speaking of Ryoga, where did he go?"
"AAAGH! I thought you were supposed to keep an eye on him, Ukyo!"
"Me? I thought _you_ were supposed to keep an eye on him!"
"What's all this racket...Oh! It's you!" A girl with nearly waist-length black
hair - a miko, judging by her clothes - suddenly appeared behind them.
"I think you need to keep a better eye on Mousse, Shampoo", Ukyo
whispered. "He's starting to look as bad as Ranma."
"Grrmble. And Ukyo know what Ninja-girl Boy is up to?", Shampoo hissed
back.
"Calm down, you two. At least she hasn't attacked or thrown herself over
him on sight", Akane whispered. "Like certain unnamed people did with
Ranma."
"I DID NOT!!", Shampoo and Ukyo screamed.
"Oh my! They...", the miko began.
"We're all kind of stressed out at the moment", Mousse explained. "It's a
long story."
"Why don't you come inside."
 
* * * * * *
 
Shampoo didn't know how to react to that the miko had to remind Mousse
of her name. Michiko. Eventually she decided to give him the benefit of the
doubt and decided it was because she never introduced herself the last
time he was at the shrine, not because he had so many other girls that he
couldn't keep track of them. Michiko seemed nice, but Shampoo really
didn't like the way she looked at Mousse. It wasn't that she was jealous or
anything. It was the principle of the thing. Shouldn't priestesses be more
priestess-like? Not making moon-eyes at other girls' boys. Or any boys at
all. Especially not Mousse, even if he was...unattached. It was nice of her to
offer tea and snacks, though. And Michiko wasn't really Mousse's type
either. Hopefully. And why was Ukyo tagging along? She had happily
ignored every other big questish thing like the Musk and the Phoenix
tribe. It must be because of Hairspray, not because she'd suddenly decided
she wanted Mousse as well as Ranma...Or maybe Mrs. Saotome...Or
Akari. She had wondered about Ukyo. Everybody who came looking for
Ukyo was either a pervert, usually a cross-dresser, or just plain weird. And
Ninja Girl-Boy...Kotetsu?...hadn't been around since Wu Jing and that
other ninja girl showed up. She would have to keep a close eye on Ukyo.
Not too close, though. She might get the wrong idea.
 
* * * * * *
 
Michiko wanted to hear the _whole_ story, from the beginning (after some
discussion it was decided that Ranma's first appearance at Jyusenkyo was
the best starting point), stopping them only occasionally to try to figure out
who was who and who was doing what to whom.
 
"So, they kidnapped _his_ mother and _that other guy's_ girlfriend to get
_you_ to give them the stone you and your gi..."
"HAIRSPRAY'S MOTHER NOT MOUSSE'S GIRLFRIEND!"
"Sensitive issue?"
"She's been sensitive to him and the word 'girlfriend' appearing in the same
sentence ever since she discovered that other girls might be interested in
him", Ukyo whispered to Michiko. "Even if _she_ loudly and frequently
states her lack of int..."
The last sentence, which had been spoken aloud, was interrupted by a well-
aimed tray of snacks.
"Ukyo not speak of things Ukyo not know."
"See?"
"Calm down, both of you! What did Mousse and Tao Tao do here?", Akane
asked.
"You want _all_ the details?"
"Uh...No, just what happened to the stone", Akane said, glancing at
Mousse, who was turning an interesting shade of red, and Shampoo, who
was almost visibly fuming.
"Well...Not much, really. Tao Tao told me there were people looking for it
who probably shouldn't get hold of it and asked us to keep it safe..."
"How do you know we're not those people?", Ranma interrupted.
"You don't look anything like them."
"How...?", Ranma began.
"Is priestess thing, yes?", Shampoo suggested.
"Yes...And some of them was here before. White-haired guy in a Chinese
robe and purple-haired girl...Don't worry, I've still got the stone here
somewhere."
"But you'll give it to us?", Mousse asked.
"Yes."
"Even though we're going to trade it to _them_ for the hostages?"
"You'll think of something...I mean you do this kind of thing a lot don't
you?"
Michiko struck a dramatic pose before continuing.
"A martial artist's road is fraught with peril!"
"But...But it's not something we actively look for", Ranma said.
"Not that we back away from it when we encounter it", Mousse added,
noticing Michiko's deflated statement.
"Shampoo? Will you come with me and help me get the stone."
"Why me?"
"So I can tell you what Mousse and Tao Tao did here", Michiko
whispered. "Without the others hearing."
 
Michiko led Shampoo down to some tunnels under the shrine.
"Shampoo think we not be heard here. Now, what Hairspray's mother and
Mousse do here?"
"Calm down. Your boy-friend and..."
"Mousse _not_ Shampoo's boyfriend", Shampoo muttered. "And they
already done too much."
"Well, while they were _here_, they just talked."
"About what?"
"I don't know...I wasn't listening that closely. What he was going to do
now, where she was going to, things like that, I guess...I think there was
some looking into each other's eyes deeply and holding back tears, at least
on her part...Now, where did I put that stone?"
"That all?"
"Yes."
"So why Mousse turn red when Akane ask?"
"Maybe he thought I'd make something up...Or maybe he did something I
didn't see...Third door to the right, I think...Ask him."
 
Michiko opened a door covered in wards and they entered a room filled with
shelves of boxed and unboxed artefacts.
"If I remember correctly, we put it in one of Gramps's old cigar-boxes",
Michiko said as she began to rummage through the shelves.
"This one?"
"No, it was thicker and there was an Egyptian cavalry soldier on the label...
Or maybe it was a little Cuban boy coughing his lungs out... _That_ box
contains either some flint arrowheads or a sleeping small Spirit Centipede."
"How Shampoo tell?"
"Shake it. If it rattles, it's the arrowheads. If it complains, it's the
centipede."
"How about this one? Look like Egyptian on label."
"No...That's a zouave. I don't think it's that one...Let me check..."
There was an audible growl when Michiko briefly opened the lid.
"No...No idea what it is, though...Ah, here it is."
Michiko pulled out a cigar-box, opened it and handed the thing inside to
Shampoo.
"This it?", Shampoo asked, looking at the figurine in her hands.
It was vaguely humanoid in shape, hunchbacked with differently sized
limbs and appeared to be made of flint.
"Well, that's what Tao Tao gave to me for safe-keeping."
 
* * * * * *
 
"Ah, she's finally asleep. I was getting worried...She's always been so well-
behaved before", Nodoka said as she put Hairspray in the makeshift crib.
"I think she misses her ducky", Akari said.
"Ducky?"
"Ukyo gave her a plush ducky almost as soon as she met her. She's become
very attached to it."
"Oh...For a moment I was afraid it was something like 'Ranko Tendo' and
her pet panda."
"Huh?"
"Ranma and Genma in disguise. It never happened to you? Do you want the
whole story?"
"Ah. Well, Ranma, but not Genma. Right now, I think I'd prefer one of
those kidnapping stories."
"We won't get much help from those, I'm afraid. I needed rescuing."
 
There was a knock on the door.
"Can I coome in?", Zelda asked.
"Be my guest", Nodoka replied.
"I have managed too find the nootess Ssimoon hass oon the sstoone. I
thoought yoou might be interressted...", Zelda said as she entered, carrying
a large and old-looking book.
"Well, it can't hurt."
"Noow, llet uss ssee", Zelda said as she opened the book. "Too begin with
the sstoone oonlly woorrkss at cerrtain timess - it'lll woorrk rright noow,
but in thrree weekss it'lll be tooo llate and it'lll be at lleasst fifty yearrss
untill next time..."
"No wonder Simon's stressed out."
"...And it can oonlly be ussed oonce durring that perriood."
"Only once?"
"Prracticallity rrarrelly pllayss a parrt in the llimitationss of magic itemss.
If it cooulld be ussed rrepeatedlly I have noo dooubtss Ssimoon woould
jusst wait forr oourr turrn."
"Our turn? What does it do?"
"It rremoovess currssess cooncerning sshapechanging or defoorrmity. It's
also supp..."
"Removes shapechanging-curses?"
"Yess, that'ss why Mooussse hass it, issn't it?"
"He doesn't even _know_ what it does! He thought _it_ changed shape or
something."
"If he knew what it did it'd either be used or broken to pieces by now...
There's no hidden drawback is there? As far as I can tell there always is."
"Issn't the rresstrrictioonss oon when it woorrkss enough? And it dooess
change shape, it ssuppoossedlly rrefllectss the llatesst currse it rremooved."
"So, how does it work?"
"I wass cooming too that..."
 
* * * * * *
 
Soun, Genma and Cologne sat around the table, looking at each other.
"No, even if he is the leader, which I doubt, Raggedy Man or his successor
isn't the kind to have a permanent base", Cologne said. "And as I told the
kids, I wouldn't know where to find it anyway."
"They don't sound like they're related to any of Nodoka's enemies that
she's told me about", Genma said. "Granted, there is the ninja, but those are
a dime a dozen."
"They could be someone she didn't tell you about", Soun said. "After all, if
you had asked me who would come back to haunt us twenty years ago, I
wouldn't have guessed Chardin..."
"No...Inji, perhaps or maybe..."
"I think we can safely say that it's Mousse who's the main target", Cologne
said. "I don't know why they kidnapped Nodoka, but I assume that to an
uninformed observer Ms. Unryuu has seemed a more natural hostage than
any of the other girls lately."
"But it doesn't really bring us any closer to finding out where they are",
Soun said.
He was interrupted by the phone ringing.
"They arre at Ssuperr Fun Crrazy Happylland", the voice at the other end
said before hanging up.
 
* * * * * *
 
As they walked back Mousse found his thoughts wandering.
Wu Jing had been there...at the shrine. He and whoever he was working for,
possibly the same person who had originally hired him and Tao Tao, had
_known_ where the stone was all the time but had needed someone to get it
from Michiko. They had kidnapped Hairspray to get him to do it. Maybe
they had been behind it all the time?...They had left Hairspray at the
Nekohanten to give them a hostage to use...Maybe Tao Tao was still
alive...What if she was involved in this too?...No, she couldn't be or they
wouldn't need him to get the stone...But maybe she was out there looking
for her daughter...Or maybe they had just stolen a baby and written the
note...But Cologne could tell things like that, couldn't she?...And if they
had planted Hairspray to use as a hostage they wouldn't have needed
Akari...Or Mrs. Saotome...In any case he _had_ to rescue her...She was his
responsibility...Akari had been more helpful than...Than anybody could
ask for...She didn't even seem to mind when people thought she was his
girlfriend or Hairspray's mother...Well, not until she was kidnapped
because of it, anyway...She had practically been an anti-Shampoo...And
she'd lost almost everything because of it...Her farm, her
house...Everything...But if they had known all along, why had they
destroyed the farm?...It didn't make sense...Nothing did
anymore...Shampoo seemed almost as upset that he didn't do anything as
when he used to...harass her...Gods! That sounded like it was something he
stopped doing years ago...It was barely two weeks since Hairspray
appeared...Had the village learned of it yet?...What would the Elders do
when they learned?...Why had they kidnapped Mrs. Saotome as well?...If
they could snatch Akari from a train, they should have been able to get
Hairspray on her own...On the other hand, Mrs. Saotome seemed quite
attached to Hairspray too...Like a surrogate grand-child...Or...She wasn't
_that_ old...At least there was someone to take care of Hairspray instead of
the kidnappers...Hadn't Ranma said something about Soun saying
something about Hairspray acting like a Tendo?...Whatever that meant...He
didn't know anything about Tao Tao's family...Hell, he didn't know much
about his own parents...Shampoo's mother had said that his father left as
soon as they untied him and his mother some nine months later...No...
Cologne would have mentioned it by now...
 
"Mousse? Hey, Mousse! That wasn't so hard, was it?", Ranma said,
scattering his thoughts.
"Shouldn't we try to find Ryoga?", Akane asked.
"He could be anywhere by now", Mousse said.
"Besides, he does have a knack for turning up unexpected at the right time",
Ranma added. "He'll turn up eventually."
"Any idea where we'll trade the stone for the hostages?", Ukyo asked.
"I have no idea when you'll get them back", a voice said behind them. "But
we'll take the stone now, thank you."
"WU JING!"
 
The black-robed man stepped out of the shadows followed by a midget, an
Indian who dwarfed even the Dojo Destroyer and a robed man wearing a
barbed wire mesh mask.
"I'm flattered you remember me, Mousse. You know, this couldn't have
worked better if I planned it. Except for Kemuri, the clowns I have to work
with refuse to get any closer to the shrine and that little priestess can do
things that seriously contradicts the legends of the shrine. But she..."
"She beat you up."
She did _not_. Now, the stone."
"The hostages first."
"Oh dear, I seem to have left them in my other robe."
Mousse barely dodged the sudden punch.
 
Wu Jing followed up with a roundhouse kick as his companions charged.
Mousse dodged again and counter-attacked with a series of punches.
Wu Jing was barely able to block them. Mousse followed up with a kick that
drew his opponent back. Wu Jing came back, lunging with a claw hand and
tearing Mousse's sleeve. Mousse replied with a elbow to the back of his
head, driving him to the ground. Wu Jing rolled out of the way of a stamp
kick and back up on his feet.
 
"You've gotten stronger, Mousse...", Wu Jing said with a smile. "And
you're not even using your weapons. Farm Girl must have really affected
you."
"If you've done anything to..."
"Mousse, Mousse, Mousse. What do you take me for? I haven't touched her
- the Doctor has special plans for her. Still...If he didn't..."
Mousse interrupted him with a kick to the chest. Before Wu Jing could
recover, Mousse continued with several punches to the face and finished
with a kick that sent Wu Jing flying.
How was everybody else doing?
 
Shampoo was busy with the midget, who didn't seem to do much actual
fighting, but was frustrating her by constant dodging and tumbling.
And fondling, judging by Shampoo's invectives.
 
Akane and Ukyo had their hands full with the giant. They had little trouble
dodging his attacks, but seemed unable to affect him with their.
 
Ranma didn't seem to have any real trouble with _his_ opponent, who was
clearly outmatched but stubbornly refused to stay down.
 
"I got the sto-one!", the midget suddenly called out.
Wu Jing got back up and wiped the blood off with his sleeve.
"It seems I've underestimated you, Mousse. I'd say 'next time', but there
won't be any. We got what we wanted and you'll never see any of us again.
Well...maybe I'll have your daughter hunt you down once she's old
enough."
Smoke enveloped Wu Jing and his companions. When it cleared, they were
gone.
 
* * * * * *
 
"How did it go?", Kasumi asked as they dejectedly returned to the Tendo
home.
"We got the stone, but Wu Jing and his friends showed up and stole it once
we'd left the shrine", Mousse said. "And Ryoga has wandered off again."
"Fortunately, we know where they are now", Genma said. "I figu..."
He was interrupted by Cologne's stick and an elbow from Soun.
"Actually, somebody called and claimed they are at Super Fun Crazy
Happyland", Soun said.
"What?"
"That's an abandoned theme park", Nabiki added. "It's not that hard to find
once you know it exists."
 
To be continued...