Bright Golden Crystal
Ellen Kuhfeld

Ranma and Soun were in the Tendo Dojo, watching as the priests and accountants distributed Genma's money to the merchants he'd victimized. Nobody had tried doing anything physical to Genma once he'd been tied up. That might have been the influence of the priests, but having a pair of martial artists made sure it stayed that way.

Soun was growing more and more distressed as each merchant had told Genma just what the payment was for. He really didn't want to know this kind of thing about his good friend.

Ranma was carving small figures in wood, using her claws unobtrusively. The Cat was awake and snickering as Genma squirmed, and Ranma wanted to keep her claws occupied. Besides, when she'd talked with Cologne, the Elder had said it was customary to make gifts for a new shield-sister.

Now all she had to do was keep Akane from making some kind of … edible … gift. Gently.


Akane wished people would back off. Ninomiya-sensei had given her a grilling over Ranma's whereabouts before Principal Kuno took her off de hook. Then Yuka and Sayuri had started questioning her. During lunch period, rumors had seeped in about the riot at the Tendo Dojo, and nobody was leaving her alone after that. Every few minutes, another note landed on her desk; and twice, teachers had reprimanded her about it.

She wanted to hit somebody over the head with a mallet. Genma was probably the best candidate, but he was far away and busy besides. Perhaps the next person who passed her a note?

One hour forty minutes of school left and counting down. She sat and sulked as the air about her shimmered faintly green.


Nabiki sat in her classroom, but her Ice Queen faηade made sure nobody bothered her. She valued knowledge. She valued control. She wanted to be in charge, so she could protect her family. Now people and circumstance were changing all around her, and there wasn't a thing she could do about it.

Ranma had come back different – more assured, more assertive, less willing to be manipulated. And strangely interesting. Very interesting, she admitted, and wasn't sure what to think of herself about it.

Her sisters had changed. Akane was less argumentative, less violent, more willing to listen. And she was sure she'd seen Kasumi exchanging some fairly warm looks with Kuno Tatewaki.

Damn, Kuno-baby was changing too; and he was her chief customer and play-toy.

Then there was Genma. For over a year he'd sat, manipulative and obnoxious, as one catastrophe after another came to visit Ranma. Suddenly all the catastrophes were landing on Genma, and Ranma was having smooth sailing. On the other hand, her father seemed to be growing a bit of spine.

Shimatta! It was going to take time to get things sorted out and back under control. At least they had a five-million-yen cushion to sit on while she did it, thanks to Genma's latest adventure.

She sat, muttering silently to herself, and didn't let even the tiniest portion of it show on her face.


Kasumi was alone in a mansion. Not totally alone – there were servants – but alone.

She didn't like it.

The servants were part of the problem. Her little sister was part of the problem. Her father was part of the problem. And she, herself, was part of the problem.

When her mother had died, and her father collapsed into himself, she'd done as best she could to keep the household going. She was twenty now. She'd been a housewife for more than half of her life, too busy for a social life. A housewife, without some of the more important benefits – someone to sleep with, someone to hold, someone to love and make love with. For a while, she'd thought she might get that with Tofu-sensei. But he'd disappeared one day without a word.

Then her youngest sister had told her she was getting married. Akane, who hated boys. Akane, who hadn't had any more dates than she, herself. Not only that, she was getting married to a hunk like Ranma. Kasumi occasionally spent bitter time scolding herself for turning Ranma down that first day – but how could she have known?

And here she was in an empty house, with servants doing the work that could have distracted her, leaving her nothing to do but think. An empty house – but an empty house with possibilities. After school, Kuno Tatewaki would return.

She knew the problems. She'd heard Akane and Ranma complain about him. But when she'd come here with the others for dinner, she'd been charmed. He liked to cook! More, he was good at it – and in a way that would let her use her heritage as a martial artist. Food and knives and graceful motions, oh my! And then he'd come with that helicopter to rescue them when all those people wanted to … speak … with Uncle Saotome.

This must be explored.


Kuno Tatewaki was in his classroom, feeling good. Dinner had been a success beyond his wildest dreams. His every move had been swift and sure, and then Kasumi had joined in and they had danced. Yes, Ranma-kun had it right. That had been a dance.

Then he'd rescued the Tendo sisters from an ill-mannered crowd. He'd been in the helicopter himself, helping them in. The fierce tigress Akane had thanked him. The mercenary girl Nabiki had expressed gratitude. And the domestic goddess Kasumi – she had held his hand a bit longer than necessary when he gave her a lift up from the ladder. And she had smiled.

He'd check with Ranma and Akane before he said anything – he knew he often saw affection where there was none. But Kasumi's smile was very promising.



At Saint Hebereke, Kuno Kodachi was depressed and subdued. She'd lost Ranma-sama, unless she were willing to accept the red-headed harridan as part of the deal. Her brother had lost his loves too, but he was recovering with unexpected speed and unaccustomed resilience, flirting with that older Tendo girl. Dark shadows of loneliness threatened to overcome her.

None of the other girls on the Rhythmic Gymnastics team dared approach their Captain. When she was this way, nobody could predict what would happen – rage, insane laughter, or a punishing training session. Best to leave Kodachi-san alone.


At the Cat Cafι, Cologne was preparing for the shield-sister ceremony. It wasn't complicated – it happened on the battlefield, often as not – but she wanted to have everything go well. Mousse was sulking, and upstairs Shampoo was preparing her gifts. And they had a cafι to run, too. She broke off her preparations as three customers entered.


On Hakone Mountain, Kuonji Ukyo and Kuonji Konatsu were packing to return to Nerima and their restaurant. Their restaurant! Ukyo's father had called to tell them he'd extracted compensation from Genma, and paid off the mortgage. Married life was looking better all the time.


Ryoga was in a swamp surrounded by alligators. He hated alligators. He'd thought Mr. Green Turtle was bad, but these were wild, hungry alligators. An hour ago, several had tried eating him, and he'd beaten them up with no problems. But then uniformed men in the strangest boat he'd ever seen – it was flat, and they sat up on it on chairs, and it had a big airplane propeller on the back – had started chasing him. They were yelling something in English about "protected ".

He heard the propeller-boat in the distance, headed in his direction. He quickly knocked the alligators out and slid into the swamp to hide, not knowing about the leeches.

"Damn you, Ranma, this is all your fault!"


In Minnesota, Bjorn Njalsson was at his computer making flight reservations to Tokyo for Mao and himself. He'd stay at the Outlook through the next full moon, then his brother Thorbjorn would handle things while they went to see Ranma and Akane. A wedding between two berserks? This, he wanted to see. And Mao could translate. She'd thought the trip would be exciting.


In the evening, Akane went home to check out the territory. Their yard was a trampled mess, but there weren't any strangers in it. That was a start. She removed her shoes in the genkan. "Tadaima!" she cried; and heard Ranma's welcoming voice from inside.

Ranma and Happosai were eating a simple meal. "Yer father's in his room," Ranma said. "The day was pretty rough on him. But he's okay, just weary."

"And you're eating dinner with Happosai?" Akane said in astonishment.

"He helped me keep th' martial artists under control, once everybody else left. He deserves dinner, at the very least." Happosai was smiling and nodding as he shoveled in the food.

"Where's your father?"

"Oh boy, that takes some explainin'. See, towards the end, the police came with warrants. They wanted to arrest him. He broke loose and tried his 'cute little panda' trick. They filled 'im full of trank darts an' carried 'im off to Animal Quarantine."

Akane snickered. When Ranma didn't object, she guffawed. But eventually, she ran down. "What will you do?"

"They wanna ship him to the Beijing Zoo breedin' program. I couldn't let somethin' like that happen to all those poor pandas, so I'm gonna see if Cologne can get the shipment diverted once it's in China. Nerima's too hot for oyaji right now, anyway." Ranma motioned to the food. "Sit down an' have a bite. I'm an okay trail cook."

"First I have to call Kasumi and Nabiki and let them know the coast is clear."

"They over at Kuno's?" And when Akane nodded 'yes', Ranma said, "Th' three of you should prob'ly stay there tonight if Kuno'll put you up. I'm bettin' we didn't have all of oyaji's 'old acquaintances' here today. But me an' your father an' Happosai should be able to handle things tomorrow. An' that should take care of most the trouble."

Akane went off to see her father – he was asleep in his darkened room with a cool damp towel on his forehead – then made her phone call.

Tatewaki answered. "How are things, Akane-san?" he asked when she identified herself. In the background, Akane could hear Nabiki and Kasumi.

"The house and the people are fine, the yard is a stepped-on mess, and Genma-panda has been captured by Animal Control. They're sending him to a breeding zoo in Beijing." Tatewaki passed the news on. She heard Nabiki's chuckle, and a cheerful "Oh, my!" from Kasumi. She continued. "Ranma says there'll probably be more people tomorrow, and suggests we stay the night at your mansion."

"I thought that might be the case, and took the liberty of having the servants prepare our largest guest-room for the three of you. With all the turmoil, sisters will probably sleep better together."

"Tatewaki-kun, you are being unbelievably empathetic, and just plain good. Bless you!" Akane felt the beginnings of tears at the corners of her eyes. She sniffled. "I'm so sorry for hitting you the way I did!"

"But I challenged you! I would expect nothing less from my fierce tigress!"

Akane smiled through her sniffles. "Ah, Tatewaki, the whole world has changed this last month. And you and I, especially, for the better. I'm going to eat dinner with Ranma while she fills me in on the day. I'll be over in a couple hours."

Akane joined Ranma and Happosai at the table. The meal was simple, and mostly eaten, but there was still enough for her. Pickles and rice, grilled eel, and a salad which probably (if she knew Ranma) had sweetened rice vinegar for the dressing. She took some rice and followed it up with a tender morsel of eel. She was right about the salad. She sighed. It was good to get some food in her stomach (which had been gnawing on itself all day, and needed the distraction). It was unsettling to know Ranma was such a decent cook. She looked at Happosai, and realized this was not the time to discuss such matters. Ranma was watching her, and from the look on her face and the occasional twitching of her nose, was following her thoughts. She sighed again, and took another bite of eel.

"I'm sorry it ain't very fancy," Ranma said. "Let's go out for ice cream afterwards?"

Akane liked the idea of ice cream, and this particular suggestion was becoming their code-word for private time. She smiled. "Sure. Sakura, again?"

"Good ice cream, but it's a bit late in the day for that long a run. Somewhere closer?"

"You've got it."

Later, walking to the ice-cream parlor, Ranma said, "I don't think either of us'll ever make it to yamato nadeshiko."

"Oh," Akane replied, "I can just see you turning into the perfect Japanese housewife."

"Hmpf. Kasumi does that. And lookin' at her tells me how far we'd have to go. I'm not gonna go that far."

Akane's walk slowed a bit. Her head was lowered, her face pensive. Ranma slowed, and turned back to see her. "Ano …." Akane said, as she came to a stop. "Do you ever wonder what it'd be like being engaged to Kasumi?"

Ranma could tell this was serious. They were nowhere near a park, but there was a low wall. She picked Akane up by the waist, and set her on it, then hopped up beside her. She put her hand on Akane's, and was silent for a while. "Kasumi's one of the dearest people I know," Ranma finally said. "But she doesn't live in the same world I do. What would we do together? Or Nabiki. If I wuz on the fight circuit, she could be my manager. But I don't want the fight circuit, and runnin' a dojo wouldn't make enough to keep her happy.

"I got the right sister. We may fight a lot, but we can fight side by side just as strong as with each other. We can be partners. D'ya see that for me with Nabiki or Kasumi? If you c'n live with me not being a perfect housekeeper, or a perfect man among men, I can live with you that way."

"As long as you don't leave the freezer door open on the ice cream. You, I think, already know enough not to leave the toilet seat up."

"Bitter experience, Akane, bitter experience. The panda is messy."


Wooden knives flickered through the air. Tatewaki had cooked dinner, with Kasumi coaching; now Tatewaki was teaching Kasumi the showier aspects of teppanyaki. They were using wooden knives before going to the real thing. Kasumi was juggling two knives with her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth.

Nabiki had never seen Kasumi's tongue do that. If her sister was putting forth so much effort and attention that her normal smile was absent, she was serious. Kasumi missed a catch; but she'd seen that coming, and moved her hand out of harm's way. Her foot swept out, caught the handle of the knife at just the right moment, and kicked it back up into the pattern. "Good!" Tatewaki said. "Consider working that into your routine!"

Damn, Nabiki thought. Ranma should be here to see this.

Beside her in the practice hall Kodachi sat, head down, her body lax instead of its normal taut. Nabiki couldn't tell if she were watching, or not. Her head wasn't moving, but Nabiki couldn't see her eyes. "It's wonderful to see the two of them this way," Nabiki said.

Instead of replying, Kodachi stood and walked briskly through the door. But as soon as she passed out of her brother's sight, she stumbled a bit. Then she began to run.

Nabiki had to know what was going on. She rose to follow. Kodachi had headed for her greenhouse. By the time Nabiki got there, Kodachi was settled onto the stool in front of her workbench. She was slumped over, head on her arms. Nabiki knew that posture. Her room was soundproofed to help keep secrets. Tears were one of the secrets she kept. It was lonely being the Ice Queen.

She put a gentle hand on Kodachi's shoulder, and left it there. No motions, no speech, just a touch. She felt Kodachi flinch, then hold quite still. After several minutes, Kodachi rolled her head to one side, looked up at Nabiki with one smudged eye. "Why?"

"That's a lot of questions for one word," Nabiki said. "I'll give you three answers. I won't even charge for them.

"You lived by your dreams. They've been taken away. That's why you hurt.

"I lived by my certainties. They've been taken away. That's why I understand. That's why I'm here. I don't hurt as bad as you do, but I hurt too." There was another stool further down the bench. Nabiki fetched it, sat down at a respectful conversational distance from Kodachi. They breathed in the scent of roses while the gymnast thought this over.

After a while, Nabiki quietly said, "None of us had a chance, really. It was all settled that first day, when Akane said 'You want to be friends?' In all his life, Ranma only had two friends, and he hadn't seen them in years. The panda has a lot to answer for. I hear you want to make him pay. Can I help?"

Kodachi looked up, then sat upright. She extended her pinky finger; Nabiki locked her pinky finger with it. "For pain and loss," Kodachi said.

"For mine, and yours, and Ranma's," Nabiki said.

"The panda must suffer," they both said, and nodded sharply in agreement.

"But no fleas," Nabiki added. "Not unless we can be sure the panda won't be coming home to roost."


After their ice cream, Ranma and Akane walked together, holding hands. They found a lonely spot and kissed good-night for a while, then Akane went back to the Kunos' and Ranma went to talk with Cologne. After perhaps an hour's discussion, she sought out the Animal Control quarantine facility.

She wrapped herself in the umisenken, and ghosted into the building. It didn't take that long to find her father – the building map had "Large Animal Facilities" marked on it. At this late hour the lights were off, and most of the animals asleep. Darkness held no problems for a cat, though some of the animal odors were distracting.

"Yo! Oyaji!" she hissed outside his cage. Snores and mutters returned. Ranma looked around and found a bin of large dog biscuits. She hefted one, and threw it between the bars of the cage. It hit Genma-panda on the nose with considerable force. The panda gave a yelp and a snort, then rose on its haunches and looked about.

"Oyaji!" she hissed again.

The bear rose to all fours and shuffled over. It grunted.

"I been checkin' 'round," Ranma said. "They know perf'ctly well who you are. They're takin' this chance to get rid o' you without botherin' with a trial. They're shippin' you to a breedin' zoo in Beijing, with instructions to keep hot water away from you."

The bear whimpered.

"This town's too hot for you. I made arrangements with Cologne. They're gonna divert your crate from Beijing once it reaches China. So behave yourself 'til then."

The bear whimpered again, but Ranma had silently left. There was no reply.


Friday was a low-key version of Thursday, but the visitors were much less persistent when they realized the guest of honor was no longer there. Early on, Soun had gotten one of the local priests, one who'd been there the day before, to help explain the situation. "Genma's gone, his money's gone, the law took him away." Which was true enough as it went, even though it was the animal laws that were being invoked and the animal wardens enforcing them. By the end of the day it was starting to sound like just another repetitive chant, and the last few claimants had been wondering aloud if the priest were, perhaps, hypnotized. But they went.

Towards sunset, the sisters came home. Soun embraced them tearfully, and exclaimed how sorry he was that they'd had to go through all that trouble. He was puzzled when Kasumi blushed and giggled, and said it was no trouble at all, she'd rather enjoyed the adventure.

Ranma had been in touch with the Kuno mansion, and knew when they were returning, so she was standing there in an apron, dinner prepared and the table set. Akane helped her serve the food. There was the rice-cooker, of course – no meal is complete without rice – and chicken teriyaki. There were bowls of miso soup, mixed attractively with cut green onion and sliced carrot, and salads. And they could smell dessert in the kitchen, but they weren't sure what it was.

Kasumi was a bit flustered, knowing somebody else had been using her kitchen. But Ranma had helped her before, so she wasn't too worried. Everybody settled themselves by the table, and Ranma passed the food around.

"Oh, my, this is good!" Kasumi said.

"Since I got here, watchin' and helpin' you has put some polish on my trail-cookin'. And havin' a better sense o' smell tells me how things are developin'."

"You should study with Kasumi and Tatewaki," Nabiki said. "She's been teaching him to be a better cook, and he's been teaching her to juggle knives. It's an amazing sight, and the food's good. They've gotten even better since their first outing."

Soun looked back-and-forth between Nabiki and Kasumi. He was missing something – juggle knives? – but it certainly seemed to have put his oldest daughter in a good mood.

Ranma and Akane turned their heads, looked into each others' eyes, raised their eyebrows, and shook their heads in agreement. They turned to Kasumi. "Can we study with you, oneechan?" Akane said.

Kasumi looked taken-aback for a moment, then nodded. "Perhaps you'd have an easier time learning cooking if you spiced it up with knife-throwing," she said to Akane. "I remember how well you were doing on rhythmic gymnastics until you twisted your ankle. But you have to listen to your sensei."

Ranma and Akane both smiled, then went back to eating. Without the panda trying to take her food, Ranma was eating at a fast-but-reasonable pace. It didn't take long until everything was gone, down to the last morsel. Ranma and Akane cleared the table – "Sit down, Kasumi, we're doing this tonight!" – and they brought in bowls of sweet sticky rice with custard, sprinkled with coconut shavings and ginger. When they'd finished, Ranma brought out small cups, and a flask of warm sake. "It's been a rough week," she said. "A bit of sake will help us relax, without impairin' us if more trouble knocks on the door." She poured, and they all sipped quietly.

Then she stood and said, "Akane and me got things to do tomorrow, and we should talk about 'em first. Nabiki, would you mind doin' the dishes, so Kasumi can have an evenin' off?" They went upstairs, leaving the middle sister gasping with an indignation she knew she couldn't get away with showing.

Once they got into Akane's room, Akane wanted to know why Ranma had said that.

"Acchan, just lookit the way Kasumi's been actin' with Kuno. How long you think she's gonna stay 'round the house? The rest of us are gonna haveta take up the slack. If I cook, Nabiki does the dishes and keeps the books, you handle the laundry, and we all share the cleanin', it'd come out somethin' like even. Maybe we c'n even get your father out workin' in the yard. It'd be good for him. But we can worry about the details later."

And they fell to discussing the shield-sister ceremony the coming day, until Nabiki slid open the door, somewhat more vigorously than required. "Just why did you mousetrap me that way?"

"Sorry, Nabiki – we didn't think to warn you." And the two explained their thoughts.

Nabiki was still simmering, but at a lower heat. "I don't like change," she said. "And if it means I have to wash dishes, that's just another thing to dislike."

"Yeah, but you been watchin' Kasumi and Tatewaki. If things keep goin' at this rate, she could be a Kuno pretty darn soon. And she'll move out, because do we want any Kunos livin' here?"

Nabiki nodded thoughtfully. "Even if we get along with some of them, there's always Principal Kuno to consider. He might come to visit."

Ranma continued. "Kasumi's been doin' most of the housework, and none of us have been complainin'. But if she moves to another house, do we got the right to complain? We're just gonna have to share the work, and be glad for her. It's easier to get used to it gently, rather'n all at once. Not to mention, if she does move out she'll feel better if she knows we can cope."

Akane added, with a smile, "Besides, neechan, she's going to be preoccupied even before she moves. Wanna bet?"

Nabiki shook her head. "I don't do sucker bets." They all went into Nabiki's room, so they'd be less likely to be overheard. They settled down comfortably, and began filling each other in on recent events. But for some reason, Nabiki didn't tell them about her pact with Kodachi.


Ranma, Akane, and Shampoo knelt on a rug in Cologne's room. Ranma was wearing the clothes she'd worn when she rescued Shampoo. Shampoo had been in her cursed form, and her clothes weren't available – she was nude. Akane wore the garb of an Amazon warrior, which Shampoo had gifted her with before the ceremony. They were in a triangle, facing each other. Cologne stood behind them, also in the garb of a warrior, and Mousse stood witness in the shadows. Incense smoke rose from a small brazier.

Cologne held a sharp dagger high in both hands. "Artemis, Goddess of the Amazons, hear our words, consecrate our weapons, mark our deeds."

She lowered the dagger to waist-height, still held upright. "Blood, life, and death – three of the most powerful things we know, all found on the battlefield. Only honor, love, and friendship are strong enough to let us withstand them.

"Ranma, Shampoo, Akane – you have met in battle, fought together, fought against one another. Now, Ranma, you have saved Shampoo's life and wish to join her as shield-sister; and Akane, you wish to join them both." She raised the dagger again, moved it in a crescent. "Owl-eyed Athene, Goddess of Wisdom, guide their thoughts and words."

She stood behind Ranma. "Saotome Ranma, do you wish to join with Shampoo and Akane in shield-sisterhood, to defend and support one another in battle and in all of life?

"I do."

Cologne reached forward with the dagger and slashed a quick cut on the back of Ranma's left hand. "Then let your lifeblood flow."

She stood behind Shampoo. "Shampoo of the Amazons, great-granddaughter of mine, do you wish to join with Ranma and Akane in shield-sisterhood, to defend and support one another in battle and in all of life?"

"I do."

Cologne reached forward with the dagger and slashed the back of Shampoo's left hand. "Then let your lifeblood flow."

She stood behind Akane. "Tendo Akane, you come unblooded in our battles; but Ranma and Shampoo will gladly have you join them in shield-sisterhood. Will you join them, to defend and support one another in battle and in all of life?"

"I … I do."

Again Cologne cut with the dagger. "Then let your lifeblood flow." She took Ranma's hand and Shampoo's and brought the cuts together. "Let your lifebloods flow, and mingle." She did the same with Ranma and Akane, Shampoo and Akane.

Now Cologne turned, set down the dagger, and took up a small pot of unguent. "You are all strong in battle. But there are things even the strongest warrior cannot do for herself. Hold forth your left hands, palm up." And she put a daub of unguent in each palm. "The palm of your hand cannot touch the back of your hand. You cannot soothe your own wounds. But you can soothe one another's."

Ranma spread unguent on Shampoo's cut, and she spread unguent on Ranma's in return; then they both turned to Akane and spread unguent on her wound. She, in turn, spread her unguent on theirs. Then Cologne wrapped gauze bandages over each girl's hand, and tied them off. They put their hands together in the middle of their triangle, and Cologne wrapped them all at once.

"Rise, sisters," Cologne said. "Rise, and stand together before gods and humanity alike. What blood has joined, let nothing short of bitter death break apart." She reclaimed her dagger, moved it in its crescent once again, then held it high. "Artemis, mark our words and deeds."

Then Cologne worked a quick 'splitting cat hairs' so she could hug all of them at once – something that would normally be impossible with her short arms. "My grand-daughters!" she said happily.

Shampoo donned a simple blue-silk yukata, and they all knelt formally around Cologne's table. "Come, Mousse," Cologne said as she swept out of the room. Soon they returned with a simple feast – bread and salt, plum wine, tea, and rice. She stood at the fourth side of the table, bread held high in both hands. "In the days when the Amazons were nomads on the plains of central Asia, we had a custom. Hospitality was offered, and accepted, with bread and salt, and wine. Three thousand years later, we keep this custom."

She took the loaf, and broke it into five pieces. She sprinkled a pinch of salt on each. Mousse came forward, and poured wine into five cups. The bread and wine was passed around, so each had a section of loaf, and a cup. Mousse was included in this ceremony; he might not be a warrior (by Amazon rules, at least) but he was a part of the community. They all ate; they all drank. Then Cologne poured a thin stream of wine into the brazier. There was a hiss of steam and a plume of sweet-smelling smoke. "So be it," she said, and raised her cup to the heavens. "Let the wine and the incense be sweet in the nostrils of the gods, and may they support us in our resolution and our deeds."

Cologne dropped her formality, and sat. Mousse sat at her left hand. "Bread and salt and wine are for ritual," she said. "Tea and rice are for sustenance. Let us eat."

The tea and rice were simple, but the finest that could be had, and all the girls were so choked up by the significance of what they'd done that they had very little appetite. It was sufficient. They ate little, spoke less. Mousse was silent and subdued, eyes hidden behind his glasses. Cologne was genuinely happy. When they finished, Cologne stood, and made shooing motions.

"Go. Get out of here. This is your day – do with it as you will." So they went upstairs, and changed into everyday Japanese clothing, and went out the door into the light.

All three were still very emotional. For Ranma it was a foreshadowing of his wedding a few weeks in the future. For Shampoo it was the end of one dream of Ranma, the beginning of another, and a sister to share the new dream with. And for Akane it was another sister, and a grandmother, and a foreshadowing of her wedding. She broke into a run. "Ice cream!" she laughed.

They ran and ran, laughing, sometimes going down the street, sometimes skipping over the rooftops, occasionally jumping through the trees. Akane led the trio. She knew where she was heading. Panting, they came to a stop outside of Sakura. "This is where we went, a week ago, when I chased Ranma out of the cafι," she said. "Golly, they're good!"

They went in, and crowded up to the case. "There," Akane pointed. "That cinnamon is fine." Shampoo had a bowl of cinnamon. Akane chose vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, pineapple chunks, and a cherry on the top. And Ranma had a hot fudge sundae. If it was good last weekend, why not another dose?

They sat in a booth. The run had broken their solemn mood; they laughed, and chattered. After half an hour they each got a cone, and left in a happy jostling mass. The owner had been watching; he no longer knew what to think. It may or may not be a waste, he thought, but those are some prime young women.

As they passed a mailbox, it began to change and grow into a very strange figure of a woman wearing a body-suit made of postage stamps. "Tsubasa?" Ranma asked. "What in the world are you up to?"

The woman pulled apart her bodice, revealing a black star. A black beam shot out, and hit Ranma. "I will have your pure heart!" she cried. "Postal!"

Akane and Shampoo were stunned for a moment as Ranma screamed and convulsed, then fell to the ground. A bright golden crystal came from her chest, and began moving up the beam towards the woman, shimmering as it went.