Genma lifted the final stone into place, then whacked it several times to settle it in more solidly. It slipped a bit to the left with his last blow, and a spray of water blasted past his head. "Another spring?" he groaned.
"That's enough," Lobsang said. "I can't use any more springs. With all these accidents, you must have a Jusenkyo curse. But how come the water keeps missing you?"
Genma groaned. "That's two Jusenkyo curses. Maybe it's some kind of double negative?"
"There's something going on. You should see a holy man about it. Jangbu Lama might be able to help. He studied under the Ancient One."
"He doesn't live anywhere near the Amazons, does he?"
"No, the other direction. Two mountains over, that way." The old man pointed. "Let's make the pilgrimage I've wanted to meet him for years. The truck from Xining goes in that direction from here. If you help the driver load and unload, he might let us ride with him."
Genma groaned, again. "You really think the lama can do me any good?"
"I have no idea. But the only other people around here that might know what your curse is up to are the Amazons. We don't want to get mixed up with them."
"No Amazons," Genma said firmly.
"Well then, the wall is done and the truck isn't until tomorrow. Let's visit the tavern."
This time, Genma smiled.
Jangbu was even older than Lobsang. ("More venerable" was the term he favored.) The three of them sat around a fire in a small, bare room with rocky walls: half-cave, half-building. Jangbu sat in the lotus position, while Genma sat seiza lotus isn't easy when your legs are both muscular and fat. Jangbu whirled a prayer wheel and chanted, disconnected from the material world, but Genma felt his scrutiny nonetheless. A tiny light glimmered on the lama's forehead, visible to Genma's ki senses. He was sure it was more than just the flickering of the firelight. Shadows danced around them. If Genma had looked behind, he might have seen his shadow forming peculiar shapes and acting out past episodes in his life.
Finally the lama roused and motioned to Lobsang, who had quietly tended a kettle during the examination. Lobsang poured three cups of strong tea and put a dollop of yak butter in each cup. He passed them out. All three men drank.
"I seldom meet a man who's robbed as many temples as you have." The lama smiled, and raised his teacup to Genma.
Genma tensed, and prepared to execute the Saotome Final Technique.
"Fortunately, poverty can bring tranquility. There's little here to steal: a teapot, three cups, and a few perfectly ordinary scrolls of the Tengyur Sutras. My underwear, if you're a disciple of Happosai."
Genma flinched at that one.
The lama looked at him. "Genma, you are already in custody. Important spirits are teaching you lessons which shall not cease until you mend your ways. I should not care to interrupt their teachings, nor be accidentally caught up in them so off with you. Oh, and might I have my cup back?"
In heaven, Inari and Nanibozo chuckled. That Jangbu was a sharp one! Then they took another drink. Divine intoxication doesn't cause hangovers. That was in the design specs.
The trail from the road to Jangbu Lama's hermitage had taken Genma and Lobsang days; it took more days to return to the road. Lobsang kept a certain social distance from Genma, but wasn't as stand-offish as he could have been with a temple thief. Harsh terrain breeds bandits, but also the desire to get along. Even the bandits and their customary clients prefer to get along when they're not engaged in business matters. Since Lobsang wasn't a temple, he felt relatively safe. The two camped, and waited for the truck.
They talked about getting Genma home. "I'm Chairman of the local committee," Lobsang said.
"You don't even like the Chinese. How come they put you in charge?"
"I don't trust them. That means I'm less likely to go off on every wild fever-dream Beijing comes up with. My friends and neighbors keep insisting I do it, the lazy wretches, and we're far away from the central government. So the Chinese believe their tales of my virtues, and keep assigning me."
"That's reasonable," Genma said. "But what does it have to do with travel to Japan?"
"Well, I can write you up some papers to smooth your trip. You'll still have to work your way, but people will be more willing to let you."
The truck came, and they got into the cab. They weren't but halfway back to Lobsang's village when they came around a curve and found a tree across the road. Lobsang and the driver had a quick discussion in Mandarin. Then Lobsang spoke to Genma. "Trees don't fall by themselves this time of year, and I can see axe marks. You're the strongest. Get that tree out of the road before the bandits attack."
As Genma was coming to grips with the tree, the bandits attacked: four of them, two with clubs, one with a machete, and one with an AK-47. Genma took the one with the AK-47 out first, then had a leisurely bit of exercise with the rest. Eventually they were all unconscious.
Genma went back to the truck, leaned in the window. "Is there a reward for capturing bandits?"
"People will think well of you," Lobsang said. More quick discussion with the driver. "And the trucking collective will get you to Xi'an. That's most of the way to the Yellow River."
Genma nodded, found some rope in the back of the truck, and trussed up the bandits. He tossed them in the back, threw the tree into the gorge alongside the road, and climbed in. "It's a start on the road home."
In Xi'an, Genma stopped a crate of expensive, delicate machinery from toppling. That got him a ride on the railroad to Kaifeng. Nobody in the railroad yards there spoke Japanese, so he hopped another freight he thought was headed towards Shangai. He picked wrong, and was halfway to Beijing before the railroad cops tossed him off. Things got worse, and he spent time in jail before Lobsang's papers and the notes the freight lines had added sprung him.
"One of these days," he muttered to himself, "I have to learn Mandarin." At least there was some overlap between Chinese hanzi and Japanese kanji. That let him get a rough reading of signs and lettering. But a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing he misread a sign and got put into a re-education camp to learn to be a proper peasant. It took him quite some while to get out.
As weeks grew into months, his curse was almost never accidentally triggered. Well, his Jusenkyo curse wasn't triggered; his curse of Interesting Times was busy enough to make up for it. Slowly, with back-tracking, bandits, bureaucrats, calamities, and excursions, he made his way towards the coast.
Ranma and Akane had the Tendo trophy-cabinet open, and were putting the first non-martial trophy in place. Their joint entry in the New Year's art competition had won the sculpture category.
The entry itself was displayed prominently, one of the first things seen from the door. A boulder had been carved out to form a small pond surrounded by rocks. There was the gnarled remnant of a tree beside it, carved of driftwood. Those were Ranma's work. In the pond were several lily-pads and a lily of copper, with an artful range of patinas that mimicked the living plant. Those were Akane's work. On one of the pads sat an iridescent dragonfly. Akane had done the basic metalwork, then Ranma had carved the details. Akane had finished it off with patination. The whole scene was a miniature, of course a real pond wouldn't have fit in the home.
Learning patination had unexpected side effects: working with corrosives and poisons, Akane had finally learned the importance of following a recipe carefully and cautiously. She brought that home with her. She still wasn't the best cook in the house Kasumi and Ranma took first and second prizes there. But her food was edible and starting to reach 'tasty'. Soun didn't cry as much these days, but eating Akane's food could still bring the occasional tear of joy to him.
"We need a celebration," Akane said. "Ice cream?"
"I like it. Let's have a party. I'll call Kuno's, and you see who's available over at the Cat Café."
Tatewaki and Kasumi were otherwise occupied, but Nabiki, Kodachi, and Shampoo were available. They all took the subway to Shinjuku.
As they piled in the door of Sakura, the owner was mildly stunned. Five of them now? he thought. But he didn't have much time to think. Ranma wanted a hot fudge sundae. Nabiki wanted a double cinnamon cone. Kodachi insisted on sakura ice cream, the house's signature flavor. Akane had lemon sherbet.
"You have ramen flavor ice cream?" Shampoo exclaimed. "One scoop ramen, one scoop ginger, in bowl."
"Ramen?" all the others said, crowding around to see.
"It was a joke," the owner said. "But some people liked it, so I do up a batch now and then."
The girls made their way to the largest booth, and crowded in. Sighs of pleasure followed, interspersed with conversation.
Kodachi smiled. "I really like that sculpture you did. A proper samurai should know the arts. Calligraphy, painting, and poetry are more traditional," she said, "but sculpture should count too. I've seen the netsuke you make, Ranma-sama; but, Akane, your water-lily rivals them. Might I, perhaps, commission some jewelry from the two of you?"
Ranma took a long, considering taste of her sundae. Then she smiled at Kodachi. "The first one is free," she said. Akane nodded her agreement. "Then, once you have the taste, it gets expensive."
Nabiki snorted. Ranma was far too good a student. And she could do it with a smile. Shampoo had Ranma's bobcat carving on a thong around her neck, and showed it to Kodachi. After a bit of talking around the table, Akane decided she'd like to make a kodachi Kodachi's namesake sword the proper size for a hair stick.
"I won't be able to do a real hamon on something that small," Akane said. "But I've been wanting to try mokume-gane, layered metals, and that should let me do the job. You wouldn't want it properly sharp, of course it would cut your hair. But I think I could fake the appearance."
"Okay," Ranma smiled. "I could do a vegetable-ivory grip for the kodachi. And maybe I could whittle out some kind of scabbard, but it'll have to be wood. Tagua nut isn't big enough for a scabbard, and I don't want to mess with elephant ivory."
Nabiki had a notebook with her, and soon they were all commenting and pointing as Akane and Ranma sketched. Nabiki sulked a bit she'd be the only one without a carving after this but Akane noticed and decided to do something for her also. On the quiet, for a surprise.
As they were getting ready to leave, Kodachi ordered a quart of sakura ice cream to go. Shampoo caught the fever, and ordered a pint of ramen ice cream, and a quart of ginger. "Great grandmother be surprised by ramen," she said. "Ami and Usagi no get chance come with us, but we bring them treat."
"Makoto and the others are coming to the dojo tomorrow," Ranma noted as she ordered a quart of chocolate and a quart of vanilla.
Then they were out the door, and off to the subway. They got off near the Cat Café. "Let's go there first," Ranma said. "We can keep our ice cream in the freezer until we leave."
As they walked down the street, they noticed a bulky figure in a cloak. "That looks like oyaji," Ranma said. "Moves like a martial artist. He's been gone for three months. It's about time for him to turn up." She motioned the others close, whispered a bit, then they broke their huddle and headed towards the figure.
Genma suddenly found himself surrounded by squealing girls. "Oh, Saotome-san! Save us! That terrible, terrible Happosai has been running wild since you've been gone!" "Your wife waving sword muchly! Make her stop!" "Poor Daddy has to handle the dojo all by himself, and it's running him ragged! He needs help!" "I've been learning to cook, for real this time, and need a fresh opinion!" "Hey, oyaji, I'm going soft and turning into a girl. You're just in time to help me!"
After working his way from the far west of China to the east coast, Genma was glad to be home. But this wasn't the welcome he was expecting. Worst of all, Ranma was acting just like the other girls. Deciding to handle the biggest problem first, he reverted to habit, turned to Ranma, and growled. "We'll get a priest right in, and marry the two of you. Then Akane can straighten you out."
Ranma and Akane joined hands and spoke in chorus. "Oh, we did that months ago. It's very nice, being married. How do you like our wedding rings?" They lifted their left hands to Genma's face, ring fingers extended. He had the most interesting look on his face, Genma did.
"And they've been busy," Kodachi said. "The two of them won their category in the Tokyo Schools Art Competition!"
Nabiki folded her arms and looked at Genma. "Their winning piece is in our front room. Be very careful not to harm it." He could see the warning on her face.
Genma grasped his head in his hands and moaned. "Not only is my son turning into a worthless girl, the other girls are helping!"
The five girls looked at each other. This was an insult. Four of them were powerful martial artists. The fifth was a master of blackmail-fu and conversational violence. Genma tried, but it wasn't long until the four had him grabbed up by his wrists and ankles. They carried him spread-eagled down to the canal bridge while Nabiki discussed his ill behavior and unforgivable manners with exquisite politeness. They heaved him over the edge.
That was when the weird hit the fan. A panda rose spluttering from the chill waters but it wasn't the panda they'd expected. No, this was the sleekest, cutest panda-girl any of them had ever seen, even in manga. She looked rather like Ranma-chan in black and white fur, slicked down and given sheen by the water. She shook her fist at them and cursed vividly, in a gentle voice that sounded like wind blowing through a stand of bamboo.
"I hear the words," Kodachi said. "I hear the music. They don't match." The others nodded in agreement.
Genma climbed out of the canal, and began shaking herself dry. Good idea: wet fur isn't as revealing as wet silk, but it comes close. Ranma cocked her head in thought. "Y'know, oyaji, you're pretty good at that feminine modesty bit already."
Genma looked up and tried to snarl. Her voice just wouldn't work that way. She slumped.
They hadn't thrown the cloak into the canal along with Genma, which was wise: it was early Spring, and the breeze was cold on wet fur. Ranma tossed the cloak down to the bear, who gratefully wrapped up in it. "Akane, I think we gotta get the panda home," Ranma said. She waved her hand at the other girls. "Why don't you three go over to the Cat Café and give everybody an ice-cream treat? Nabiki, take a picture or ten of Cologne trying the ramen ice cream I wanna see her face."
When they got to the Tendo compound, everybody could hear the early katas of the Tendo Ryu being performed by beginners in the dojo. Soun's voice counted off the moves, occasionally pausing to correct a student.
"He sounds livelier than I've heard him in years," Genma whispered.
"He is," Ranma said. Akane continued. "We brought home a couple of students who really needed his help, and it just grew from there." The two held hands, and smiled. "We're all happy he's finally back to teaching!"
Genma shook her head, and walked quietly to the house. Ranma and Akane followed. It was empty. "Kasumi's over at Kuno's, and Nabiki is at the Cat Café," Akane said. "Daddy won't be through with his class for an hour yet. Let's get you all clean and dry."
"Kuno's?" Genma said, wide-eyed.
"Oh, we're all back-and-forth these days."
Some of the good clothing Genma had bought when he'd won the lottery was waiting in the closet of the guest room. Genma took a grey suit and accessories into the furo. A quick shower, a fine relaxing soak in hot water, a bit of drying, combing, and dressing, and he'd be ready to meet the world.
Meanwhile, Ranma and Akane had been on the phone. Then Ranma went upstairs and talked with Happosai, while Akane headed for the kitchen. When Genma finally emerged, refreshed, he found quite the crowd waiting to see him. Quiet sounds came from the kitchen, and the kotatsu was prepared for snacks. People were smiling at him, and he began to feel as if he were, perhaps, safely home at last.
Fortunately, the windows were open to catch the Spring breeze. Happosai came bounding in through one, with a huge bag of lingerie on his back, chortling "What a haul! What a haul!"
Kodachi followed immediately after, snapping her ribbon. "Come back, you pervert! If you want to be so manly, die like a man!"
Nodoka jumped to her feet and whipped her katana out, then leapt after them brandishing it. "I'll show the both of you how to behave!" All three vanished out the window on the opposite wall.
"Aiyah!" Shampoo said, as she held out a snipped lock of purple hair. "Ranma mother dangerous!"
Soun took a flabbergasted Genma by the shoulder, steered him to a chair. "Sit down, friend. Right now, you need to relax. We can discuss your helping in the dojo later."
At this point Akane came in carrying a large platter of sushi. "I made some food for us to celebrate with!" she said with an enormous smile. Ranma had changed into a kimono, and was carrying the tea.
Genma slumped in the chair, wiped his forehead of sweat. Oh Buddha, I thought they were exaggerating when they caught me on the street! He considered returning to the Bayankalas, but decided Nerima was slightly less perilous.
Happosai, Kodachi, and Nodoka came in the door, smiling. Ranma and Akane went over to Genma, stood before him. "Relax, oyaji we're teasing you. Now lets all have something to eat, and you can tell us what you've been doing while you were gone." Everybody had a good laugh, though Genma's was a bit nervous, and began nibbling sushi as Akane carried the tray around. Ranma followed, pouring tea.
Later that day, as the household was preparing for sleep, Genma passed a male Ranma in the hall. "So you're finally being a boy, boy?"
Ranma looked the part-time panda-girl up and down. "If I'm a guy half the time, and a gal half the time, I'm hardly a water magnet at all. I like that. As a cat, I insist on it."
Genma sniffed. "You're going to waste your boy time asleep?"
Ranma smiled. "I'm a tomcat and a married man, oyaji. I'm going to spend my man time in bed." He waggled his eyebrows at Genma, then went into the room he and Akane shared. He closed the door.
Genma stood for a long time, thinking of Nodoka. She was acting standoffish because he hadn't been at the wedding. When he heard the schools being joined, he went, disconsolate, to his lonely futon in the guest room.
A week or so later, Nabiki and Kodachi were at a table in the Cat Café. Nabiki was grumbling. "Genma's as bad as ever. Now that Ranma and Akane are married, he's meddling in everything else. He's doing his best to eat us into bankruptcy. He won't work says he worked his way across China and he needs a rest. And he's still a male pig even when he's a female panda.
"I'd send him home to Nodoka, but she's angry because he had to be out of the country for Ranma and Akane to get married. Ten years of independence, with bill-collectors after Genma for sauce, burned her out on the innate superiority of the Japanese male."
Kodachi laughed, a much prettier laugh than it would have been a few months earlier. "Find him a job. He'll take it, or he'll run away to avoid it. Either way, you're ahead of the game."
Ami was waitress that day, and was pouring refills for their tea. "Don't use half-measures. Find the panda-girl a job."
Nabiki and Kodachi raised their eyebrows and began to smirk. Nabiki pulled out a chair next to hers. "Sit, girl genius. Let us plot together." Ami took a quick look around, and decided the café was empty enough for her to get away with it. She sat. The three leaned forward, put their heads together, and began discussing jobs for panda-girls.
Half an hour later, Kodachi said "Yes, Kuno Enterprises owns a substantial share of that." She smiled, worked herself into the proper mood, and burst out with "OHOHOHOHOHOHOHO!" The girls thought the occasion deserved it. The rest of the patrons just flinched.
Soun moved his piece on the shogi board. "Saotome, I've just had the most interesting conversation."
"I'm sure you have, Tendo. I'm sure you have." Genma looked over the board, cupped his hand behind his ear, and listened. "Aren't those the Gojira sirens sounding, over in Minato ward?"
Soun didn't take his eyes off the board. "I'm sure we can finish the game before Gojira makes it this far. Until then, it's not our business. Your move, Saotome."
The position didn't look all that promising, but Genma made the best move he could. Soun took his piece. "Your move again, Saotome. We should hustle, just in case Gojira is headed our way. After all, it would be our duty as martial artists to deal with him. I'd hate to leave an unfinished game."
Genma moved another piece, and sulked. "You're no fun to cheat with anymore, now that you're back to teaching."
Soun smiled. "I've re-learned not to turn my back on students. Or Anything Goes shogi players." He moved a gold general. "Check, and I do believe checkmate."
Genma sighed, and began putting the pieces back into storage. "What was that conversation about, Tendo?"
"It was a casting agent from Galaxy Television. One of their producers saw a gaijin anime about a kung-fu panda. She wants to do something like that in live action. Their studios are in Nerima, and she heard rumors the Tendo Dojo has a trained panda."
"Of course I told her I'd have to check with the panda; but we have a tentative audition tomorrow morning."
"Kung-fu?" Genma said blankly.
"Oh, gaijin don't know anything about martial arts, and neither do television producers. Anything Goes will do just fine."
"Tendo, what are you getting me into?"
"Television, Saotome. Fame and fortune. Do you know how much they pay for a well-trained animal actor? We should get well upwards of a hundred thousand yen an episode for your participation. When they find you can speak your own lines, the sky's the limit!"
Genma liked the sound of that. He'd really enjoyed the day he won the lottery. Pity about the money not lasting, but at least the bill collectors were no longer after him. Maybe he could have more of that fine Kobe beef, and the excellent sake? "This sounds worth a try, Tendo! What time tomorrow?"
Genma lay awake that night. What had he let himself in for? The faint, distant sound of the schools being joined didn't help, nor the later sound of cats yowling in the neighbors' yard. But he eventually made it to sleep, only to be awakened early in the day by girl-Ranma with a bucket of cold water.
"Up and at 'em, oyaji! Tendo-san asked me to get you fixed up for your audition before I go to school. I've already had my bath. Go get yours, and be sure to shampoo all over. Here's a hair dryer for you to use. No wet, smelly pandas being hired today." Ranma looked Genma over. "I think you can wear some of my girl clothes to the audition somethin' that looks good but you can fight in it."
Genma sat blankly on her futon. "Up and at 'em!" Ranma said again. "Fame, fortune, money, and martial arts!" Sleepily, Genma began to shuffle out through the door. Ranma smiled inside. Kami-sama, it feels good to be on the dry end of the morning soak for once!
Nabiki and Kasumi poked their heads out of their rooms. "We're ready," they said. Kasumi brandished a hairbrush in one hand, a currycomb in the other.
Soon a reluctant panda-girl, wrapped in a towel, came trudging back from the furo. Kasumi handed her a cup of tea to wake her up a bit. Then Ranma took her into the guest room, where she'd laid out clothing. "This," Ranma said, "is a sports bra. You have to wear it, or you'll bounce enough to throw off your balance." And so it went, until Genma was adorned in Ranma's best Chinese outfit, kung-fu slippers and all. Then Kasumi came in with hairbrush, spray, and blow-dryer to style Genma's fur and hair. Genma ended up in fighting trim no tight seams to split or loose jewelry to catch or fly away, fur neatly curried and hair styled into a bowl cut rather like Nabiki's.
They went down for breakfast. Everybody was there. Soun was wearing the tailored brown gi he'd purchased during the lottery incident, and Kasumi had styled his hair and moustache. He looked quite handsome. Before he could hide behind his newspaper, Nabiki took over. "I've been whispering in a few ears," she said.
"The name 'Saotome Genma' might cause problems if it reached the wrong people. You'll be applying as Panda Panko. They contacted father about this, so he'll go with you. They need a sparring partner for the audition, and you two have worked together a lot, so you can put on a good show. They'll be watching daddy to see how he might do as a rival or nemesis or something."
Soun raised his eyebrows. "That could be publicity for the dojo," he said.
"And behave yourselves. Be humble and respectful, and above all, don't damage the studio. Once the show is going well, then you can push for better pay and perks. Because they'll never find another panda like Panko to keep the show going."
"I talked with Tachi-kun," Kasumi said. "Kuno Enterprises will lend one of their best negotiators to get a good contract for you. He'll meet you at the studio after your audition."
Fortified with tea, rice, and miso soup, Genma and Soun gathered up their composure and left for Galaxy TV. After some bus-riding they got there, entered, and found the reception desk. "Tendo Soun and Panda Panko to see Producer Nezu in Production Room 3," Soun said.
The woman stared. "That's the best trained animal I've ever seen. You've even got her in clothes!"
Panko smiled. "I might cause a scandal if I were naked," she said.
"Aaaa! It talks!"
Panko held up a sign. "Would you prefer " (flip) " sign language?"
Shaken, the receptionist retreated to her telephone manners. She punched a few buttons, waited a moment, then, "Tendo Soun and Panda Panko are here to see you, Nezu-san." She listened a moment, then turned back to them. "Producer Nezu will be down to greet you in a moment."
It was a short moment. The elevator doors opened, and a short woman in a dark pinstripe suit came out. She looked Panko up-and-down, then spoke to Soun. "This isn't the panda my sources described, Tendo-san."
"That panda was recently sent to Beijing. This panda arrived from Qinghai Province just last week."
"Surely, you haven't had time to train her," the producer said.
"I was fully educated before I arrived in Tokyo," Panko said with a bow.
The producer looked Panda Panko up-and-down. "You talk?"
"It was an extensive education."
"You look rather small for martial arts," Nezu-san said.
"She can give opponents a terrible surprise that way," Soun said.
"Well!" the producer said as she clapped her hands. "Let's go up to the sound stage and see what you both can do." She headed towards the elevator.
The sound stage was large, easily the size of the dojo. It was cluttered with lights, cameras, cables, and microphones. Two of the cameras were manned by technicians. Producer Nezu pointed out a relatively clear area of the floor. "Do some showy stuff over there. Be careful about the cables; you'll be working in this environment if you're hired, and we can't have the equipment damaged."
Panko and Soun checked the area out. "Let's start with some two-person katas," Soun said. They began slowly, weaving an intricate dance of potential violence about one another. The dance sped up, until they were moving almost too rapidly for the cameras to follow. After a few minutes, they stopped and bowed to each other, then to the Producer.
"Now we'll move on to contact, a few hits and throws, that kind of thing, "Soun said." The panda nodded in agreement. Again they started slowly, with simple throws and leg-sweeps. Soon enough Panko was flying through the air, spinning about just in time to nail Soun with a kick. They bounced and rolled like rubber balls as Producer Nezu gaped in astonishment.
Again, Soun and Panko stopped and bowed. "Do you wish me to escalate to a naginata?" Soun asked.
"No, no, I've seen quite enough."
"We've been demonstrating the two schools of Anything Goes for you," Soun and Panko said in chorus.
Nezu-san stood in thought. "I think you've given me a name for the show," she said. "We'll call it 'Panko, the Anything-Goes Panda'." She motioned them to come with her. "I can see it now. Panko can be a crossing-guard at an all-girl school; but secretly, she'll be defending the world against the evil Warlord. Now, Tendo-san, might you be interested in playing the Warlord?"
Panko said quietly, to herself, "All-girls school?"
Walking together, deep in discussion, the three headed for the elevator to the business offices. Behind them, the technicians began preparing the audition videotapes for executive review.
Some months later, as the cherry blossoms were in bloom, Nabiki, Kodachi, and Ami met at Lady Blue's place in Shinjuku. It was a discreet distance from Nerima, and fairly convenient for them all.
"That wasn't a very satisfying revenge," Kodachi said. "Who would have thought the panda would enjoy being on a kids' afternoon TV show?"
"Who would have thought daddy would enjoy being the villain on the show?" Nabiki added.
"Yes, but look what it's doing for the dojo," Ami said. "Us gals need a shoehorn to fit in our training. Too many people want in."
"Well, the boys just love being trained by the Warlord," Nabiki said. "Genma teaches as Panko sometimes. That draws the girls. Ranma and Akane are helping with the intermediate students, instead of making holes in the walls. Our finances have never been this healthy."
"Money is excellent," Kodachi noted sagely. "Peace of mind is even better. There hasn't been much trouble landing on your household since the panda got a job. I think that girl form has affected his mind in a good way."
"How else would you expect it to affect Genma? Being a girl is good," Ami said. She looked around her at a room filled with women and girls, chatting, eating, drinking, and occasionally holding hands. "Oh, look, here comes Kaori."
The bartender smiled as she reached their table, held out menus. "Good evening, Na-chan. Would you and your friends like to start out with a drink?"
Nabiki didn't look at the menu; she already knew it. "Warm sake for Kodachi and myself," she said, then looked inquisitively at Ami. Ami thought a moment, then nodded. "Three warm sake, and we'll order food when the sake arrives." Kaori nodded, and went off to the bar.
When the sake was on the table, they each raised their cups in a toast. "To love and justice," Ami said, and "To peace of mind," Kodachi replied. "To all of that, and all of us," Nabiki concluded. They clicked the cups together, and drank.
In heaven, Inari and Nanibozo drank also. "I think that'll take care of Genma for a while," Inari said. "As long as we're on the job, let's see if we can straighten Nodoka out a bit."
Nanibozo gulped, and held out his cup. "For that, I think I'll need another drink."
Kaori, Lady Blue, and their club first appeared in Clothes Make The by Katrina Lee Halbred, Ichinohei Hitomi, and Nicholas Leifker. Used by permission.