Windborne

A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.

By Josh "Sunshine" Temple

 

Naturally, I own neither Sailor Moon nor Ranma. So here's the disclaimer

Ranma 1/2 and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.

 

Previous chapters and other works can be found at my fanfiction website.

http://jtemple.florestica.com/

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C as always is wanted.

 

Chapter 5 Planning, Training, and Training Plans

 


            A path of blue-grey slate stones set in emerald green moss meandered into a copse of swaying willows with wide canopies of leafy tendrils and twisting maples with spindly deep red leaves.


            Beneath the branches, the ground was cultivated with more patches of moss, rounded ivy-covered stones, and puffing fronds of blue-green ferns and creeping vines with clusters of pale blue balloon-like flowers.


            A small trickle of water burbled from the top of one of the stones and trickled down a path cut into the ground and into a little stream that ran towards a clearing in the center of the tiny glen where the flagstone path split, curving left and right around a small pond.


            The largest of the flagstones served as a bridge allowing the stream to flow into the circular pool. Two meters wide, the shallow pool's bottom was made up of polished hexagonal tiles that reflected the trees and sky above, as well as the flashing lean little koi that meandered within.


            Leaves rustled in the breeze, which carried a slight floral scent. The copse sat as a quiet retreat within the greater retreat of the Kuno Estate's vibrant grounds.


            A few small stone benches lined the circular path. Two of them were occupied. One held an auburn-haired fairy in a light kimono that matched her blue and green wings. A large bound book was in front of her. It was written in Eelinu, the looping two-tone script of the Seelie fae.


             Another bench had someone who, other than the poitned ear on top of her head and the tail, looked human. Wearing a slim violet quilted vest over a black fur-trimmed mini dress, she was younger and had a dark purple black-pageboy and slitted amber eyes. Around her neck was a black leather, silver chased, choker set with a deep purple familiar stone.


            As the fairy continued to read, the familiar huffed and tapped her bare feet on the flagstones. Tail swishing, she gazed down at the pool. Its surface shimmered and distorted due to the trickling inflow. However, her attention was not on the reflections, but instead on the flashing fish.


            "Wolf really appreciates your help," the fairy nearly sang, her lyrical words rhythmically, running from one to the next.


            Blinking in confusion, the catgirl's black ears twitched. "What did you say?" she asked as the fairy idly turned a page and resumed her reading.


            "I said," the fairy paused, then with a blush on her nutmeg cheeks closed the book. She cleared her throat. "Sorry for that," Nodoka said in Japanese. "I was saying: Wolf really appreciates your help."


            Nabiki's ears folded back a bit as she eyed the closed book the fairy held in both hands. "Oh? I'm just starting out." She turned back to the pool and this time concentrated on her reflection.


            "Yes, but Wolf's enjoying the opportunity to take some time off. It shows good character as well," Nodoka added.


            "Shadowing Little Miss Sparkle-butt is a job and a half," Nabiki idly agreed as she turned back to face the fairy. "I can see why Wolf relishes the chance to get some time away from her."


            Eyes smoldering, Nodoka raised an eyebrow. "You speak of your Mistress and Queen."


            Nabiki tapped her familiar stone with a long talon-like fingernail. "I'm well aware of that," she said, brushing a drift of glitter off her dress.


            "You really are taking this seriously?" Antennae bobbing, Nodoka nodded in approval. "Though that tone... I wonder if a sarcastic streak was designed into the familiar stones. Maybe as a way to keep a familiar's owners humble." She looked up, catching movement among the leaves.


            "I was always sarcastic!" the catgirl hissed her tail angrily swishing.

 
            "Yes, you were, but we love you anyway," Kasumi sweetly said as she fluttered down into the center of the glen. Spiraled pink and red wings beat as the little fairy landed on the stone bench next to Nabiki.


            The tiny figure gave a little bow and with a burst of crisp, white sparkles returned to human size. The lithe fairy hopped off the bench and sat down crossing her long legs and adjusting the light yellow housedress that breezily draped over her delicate torso.


            Her tail low, Nabiki swept yet more of glitter off her dress and bend to float twinkling onto the flag stones, moss, and into the pool. "I was wondering why I was getting more of this stuff. It's almost enough to make me want to ditch the dress," she looked at the glitter on her hand and smiled.


            "You do make a lovely cat," Kasumi happily noted as she patted Nabiki on the head.


            "It sounds like you had a good flight," Nabiki observed, pointedly ignoring her sister's comment and the petting.


            "Oh, it was wonderful!" Kasumi gushed as her wings flapped behind her. "I'm going to have to ask Ranma for some more lessons too."


            "It is good that she's reignited her passion, just having people to teach has helped her so much," Nodoka said.


            "Other than her fiance?" Nabiki slyly asked, her tail swishing.


           Nodoka nodded. "It does help. You know how self conscious she can get."


           "We're talking about the same little redhead that likes cuddling into Kuno's lap while he feeds her treats and strokes her... ego?" Nabiki asked after a slight pause.


           "Remember, she's still new at this," Kasumi gently said. "Our queen's only started building her kingdom."


           "Started? That's being kind. She's got an Estate, two familiars, and three fairies." Nabiki's ears flicked. "There's magical girls with bigger kingdoms than that."


           "Speaking of whom, there's also that human girl she's got working for her," Nodoka added.


           "It's good that she's finding new friends, especially such bright well-mannered ones," Kasumi agreed.


           Nabiki held her tongue. She was certain her queen had an ulterior motive to her actions, and while it might not be as sinister as "take a critical magical girl from a competing team". Nabiki was sure that her mistress was not fully heterosexual given the way she looked at her human assistant.


           "I would also agree that claims of sovereignty are grossly premature," a haughty voice said as another person strode into the grove. She wore dark blue slippers over the legs of a full body black leotard with a gauzy black skirt with pleated cobalt blue ruffled trim. The bodice of the leotard had glossy sable accents and was adorned with jet sequins that formed blooming roses.


           Frothy black hair was held back using a silver inlaid ebony hair-band adorned with a row of deep, deep black roses. Bearing blue tips the meat of the petals were a dark color that seemed to greedily consume light, reducing the blooms to gaping little black-holes. A pair of smaller roses were also tucked behind the girl's ears and gave her intense, pale face a slightly blue cast with the after effects of the inky-void-like color.


           "Lovely blooms. I trust your garden is doing well?" Kasumi asked blinking her eyes. The light absorbing black roses caused blue afterimages to appear in Kasumi's vision. She turned and saw her sister's tail twitch and her eyes reduced to fine slits.


           Kodachi's lips curled into a smile. "Oh yes, dear sister is quite the resource." She primly sat down and crossed her legs at the ankle.


           "I suppose it's only fair," Kodachi added. "She has readily taken to my brother's offer that she move in."


           Nodoka tilted her head, but could detect no offense in the Kuno girl's tone. "They are engaged."


           "Yes, and they make such a lovely couple together." Kodachi folded her hands in her lap. "I only hope that when my Ranma-sama sweeps me off my feet that our affection does not make my dear sister unduly jealous."


           "Oh, I don't see that happening," Nabiki snidely remarked.


           Kodachi glared at the familiar.


           "Very true!" Kasumi agreed with a big smile forestalling the Kuno girl's response. " Our queen's character has many facets, but jealousy is not among them," she gave Nabiki a sidelong glance.


           The catgirl gave a tiny nod. "True... sis, but I'd say it's more that she'd be too busy with her Tachi-kun to notice what our dear 'dachi's up to," Nabiki added.


           Studying the catgirl, Kodachi's expression softened. "You are right, Titania has many... lovely traits," she delicately said eyeing Nodoka. "But she can be easily distracted, I suppose that's her fae nature."


           Nabiki smiled.


           Kodachi coughed behind a hand. "Decorum prevents me from crediting her antics to my brother's virility of course. And there's that... gaudy furniture she has been making. It's quite the indulgence," the gymnast said with a haughty smirk.


           "You mean the white chairs she's been crafting using those stones?" Kasumi innocently asked.


           Kodachi shook her head.


           "I think she means the other chairs," Nabiki said with a smirk that, while less haughty than the Kuno heiress' had a certain primal cant about it.


           "Hobbies aside, my Dear sister also has certain... strategic deficiencies when it comes to money."


           "You mean she's got no idea about the value of a yen, let alone how to spend with any sense or budget?" Nabiki asked.


           "Far be it for me to be critical," Kodachi allowed, bowing her head to Nodoka. "But I in awe that I'm finding relief in that my brother is the one who holds the coin-purse in their relationship."


           Nabiki's ears perked up and her lips curled into a smirk


           The gymnast sighed. "Yes, and who could forget the petty cash my Dear Sister's familiar has been entrusted with."


           The catgirl crossed her legs. "Who, me?"


           Kodachi gave a wintry smile. "You may be a mercenary, but you know who holds your leash."

           Nodoka coughed. "Perhaps a bit blunt. But the point is valid. Perhaps it is best that such... finances are held in less... distracted and... indulgent hands."


           "Auntie Saotome! You make it sound like the Queen would waste all of Tatewaki's money on sweets and shoes!"


           "Shoes? No, jewelry... sparkly things perhaps," Nabiki laughed


           "Still, it is best that her financial resources are guarded against... loss." Kodachi allowed. "While our little queen is quite the resource herself. The wealth, that is a finite resource."


           Kasumi's eyes went down. "That's not totally true," she delicately said. "In fact, I was planning to have some discussion as to the... growth of assets our queen will need in the future."


           Kodachi squared her shoulders. "Go on?"


           Wings sparkling, Kasumi smiled. "As you said, our queen is quite the resource. There is much we can do with that. Much she can do."


           "Such as?"


           "Flowers for one," Kasumi swept her hand about, encompassing the garden and Kodachi's floral adornments. "Wolf's also got a stock of books that could be quite useful."


           "You're certainly not thinking of copying magical books and selling them!" Nodoka gasped.


           Kasumi primly crossed her legs. "Of course not. There aren't enough fairies in existence yet. But other subjects could be appropriate. Poetry, art, gardening, songs."


           "It will have to be translated. Unless you expect people to learn a new language," Kodachi sniffed.


           Kasumi gave a little nod of assent, while also smiling slightly.


           "You wanna divvy up the old queen's culture in little packets fit for what... the mystic crystals and charms crowd," Nabiki's tail rolled back and forth. "Heck why don't you just cut out the middleman and sell magic crystals directly?"


           Kasumi gave Nabiki a level look.


           The familiar blinked. "Oh. Right, they don't even have to be really magic, just pretty."


           "Our queen is most adept at creating things of beauty," Kasumi noted.


           Thinking of the chairs in the redhead's apartments, Kodachi somehow managed to hold her tongue.


           Nabiki looked thoughtful. "Right, put some glitter on them and they'd be magic enough. But why stop there? You can sell candies and treats too. Sure the crystals and jewelry can be real high margin."


           "And can build good connections," Kasumi added.


           Smiling, Nabiki nodded. "Right, but low-margin stuff can build up volume. And have advertisements of its own. Don't even have to be special, just add a little sparkle and..."


           Crossing her legs, Kasumi straightened her back and spread her wings as she gave a knowing smile. The fairy then reached out and scratched the catgirl on the nape of her neck.


           Nabiki's ears flicked back and forth as she tried to gather her thoughts amid the distraction. "Okay, I can see a little shop, cancel that, a fancy boutique. Ra-" the familiar looked at Kodachi. "Titania can make it pretty easily enough."


           "And someone else can make sure there's a modicum of restraint?" Kodachi added.


           "Right. And we can sell copies of all sorts of fae stuff. Not just sweets and flowers and books, but jewelry and clothes. Hmm, we'd have to get suppliers and then glitter it up at the shop. Could be a big hit."


           "Akane practically carries that gi with her all the time," Kasumi helpfully added.


           "Especially if we get a good location." The catgirl then frowned. "But..."


           "For what end?" Nodoka asked. "Surely my daughter's future husband has more money than such a boutique will bring in."


           Kasumi's grin grew and Nabiki found her ears flattening in disquiet. However they perked right up when Kasumi resumed the petting.


           "It's not about money," Kodachi's eyes widened. "You've got money, that's not what you're lacking." The gymnast gave a little clap. "Bravo."


           Nodoka tilted her head.


           "Apologizes." Kodachi's bowed to the older fairy. "You lack people; and Miss Tendo aims to recruit."


           Kasumi brushed some sparkling dust from her dress. "It's just in preparation for when our queen runs out of friends."


           Nabiki exhaled, of course her queen's kingdom would keep growing. That was its purpose, she reassured herself, though her ears still were held back.


           "Though I suppose we could dabble in money too," Kasumi turned to the Familiar. "Maybe you can ask Wolf what the fae used for money. Given they were a magical race that could summon stuff..."


           Nabiki's eyes widened. "Oooh."


           "And how will you draw them in?" Kodachi lightly asked Kasumi.


           " That's where the other books come in. Those with an interest could learn the language, maybe get something enchanted. We can ease them into our world. Especially those that we want. A jeweler or a baker would be wonderful to have."


           Still looking pensive, Nodoka nodded.


            Kasumi gave Kodachi an innocent smile. "And for those that we most definitely want to bring in we give them something to add a bit of magic to a passion near and dear to their hearts."

 

***************

 


           Shifting a folded bag in her arms, Ukyou gave a brief smile as she stepped away from the counter. Absently nodding to herself, the chef exited Osumi Spices. Crossing the threshold, the wind kicked up and her gaze lifted. Her nostrils flared at the bright floral scent that wafted past her.


            The chef's confusion at sight of the slight smell vanished at the young man waiting on the sidewalk before her. Slightly taller than her and of willowy frame, he had smooth chestnut brown hair tied back in a loose ponytail. After a flicker of memory Ukyou placed the face to Okonomiyaki: Akami tuna with Dijon mustard and ponzu sauce, drizzled with honey and garnished with minced Hojiso. She also recalled his habit of ordering pickled plums. After a few seconds a name also floated up in her memory: Hideo Komadori.


           "Miss Kuonji what a surprise..." The young man's smile grew as he looked up at the sign above the storefront. "Ah, of course I'd find you here."


           "Ah, Mr. Komadori," Ukyou smiled. "Will I be seeing you for lunch later today?"


           Hideo coughed. "I hope so, it would be a welcome break from my appointments."


          Ukyou politely nodded. She recalled the man saying little of his employment, other than being a courier of some kind. "Business or..." she let the question hang.


           Hideo laughed. "A bit of both, maybe even at the same time. Well it depends on if I visit the shrine of the dojo first. Things are more convenient here," he looked up again at the storefront and then over his shoulder towards the taller buildings closer to the bay.


           "If a bit more noisy?" Ukyou completed.


           "And exiting." An easy smile flashed across his face. "Especially now."


           Ukyou chuckled. While she did not place his accent as Kansai exactly, it was close. "Take it from someone else who moved up here. You get used to the bustle and strangeness of the big city."


           " Even Nerima?"


           "You're not the first martial artist to come in from the country looking to train," Ukyou said as she started walking down the sidewalk. Chairs and tables from a sidewalk cafe slowly went past.


           "Oh, you flatter," Hideo's easy smile returned. "But I would not make any such grand claims. I'm just an eager student."


           "Don't we all," Ukyou murmured. Splashes of color from a flower planter drifted past the edge of her vision.


           "If you'll allow a... personal question."


          Ukyou slowed her pace and gave her best hostess smile. "Of course," she assured her nose sniffing at the floral scent. "Though if it's not about okonomiyaki I might not be much help," the chef added with a touch of strained levity.


           "Well... pardon if it seems rude but..." Hideo laughed and for a moment Ukyou wondered if his smile came a bit too easily.


           "But is this, well, normal?" He reached over to a planter that edged the cafe's seating area and picked a tulip with glossy almost luminous blue petals.


           Ukyou's nose itched. "Well..."


           "They're very pretty; are they imported?" Hideo idly asked.


           The chef exhaled. "I'm not honestly sure."


           Shrugging, Hideo twirled the flower between his fingers. "Another beautify mystery, like the redhead?"


           Eyes narrowing, Ukyou turned to him. "The redhead?"

           Hideo's easy grin wilted. "Yeah... I mean I've just heard rumors. I haven't -um- seen her." He stumbled. "But I've been told that there's a short and well... healthy redheaded girl out and about. Dresses like an.... idol singer?"


           Ukyou looked down at the planter. "What about her?"


           "She's part of it..." Hideo stopped. "Part of how things are getting stranger?"


           Sighing, Ukyou nodded. "Yes, yes she is."


           The teen slowly rotated the flower between his fingers. "Pardon the forwardness, but you seem.... distracted."


           "It's nothing. I just..." the chef looked at her patron. "It's not how I expected things would turn out."

           "So, I was forward? Forgive me." Giving a tiny smile, Hideo sniffed the flower.


           Ukyou waved her hand in dismissal. "It's nothing."


           "It doesn't sound like it. It sounds like you're close to this redhead. Do you disapprove of her... career choice?"


           Pausing, Ukyou eyed the young man.


           "She's not an idol singer," Ukyou sighed, the sweet scent of the flower tickling her nose. Her forehead furrowing, she squinted her eyes for a moment. "As for disapprove... it's not my call. Not anymore."


           "Oh?"


           Shifting the bag of spices, Ukyou rubbed her neck with a free hand. "Maybe not ever. Maybe I saw love when..." She shook her head slightly. "When it was just stupidity."


           Interest flashed in Hideo's eyes before he put on an expression of awkward trepidation. "If I may... that is if it's not too personal..." he hesitated twirling the flower. "It sounds like you're giving up?"


           Ukyou narrowed her eyes. The smell filling her nose was familiar, so was the tickling pressure building in her forehead.


           Hideo put up his palms placating. "Love is scary. Love is powerful. Love will drive us to do things we'd never think we'd do. Bring us places we'd never go."


           "I am well aware of that," Ukyou found her tone less curt and more resigned than she expected.


           The young man nodded. "We risk so much for it. We're loath to give it up. Not when there's still a bit of hope."


           Ukyou raised an eyebrow.


           "There," Hideo smiled and slipped the flower into the chef's free hand. "Now... What would you sacrifice for love?"


           Feeling a bit more pressure, Ukyou blinked. "Sacrifice?"


           "Purely a hypothetical," Hideo assured.


           The brunette woman shook her head. "No. Not for me."

           This time Hideo didn't conceal his growing interest.


           "I've already given up everything for revenge." The flower slipped past her fingers. "Everything. And in one moment, with one careless comment I lost even that."


          She looked past the eager, well-groomed slim young man. "I lived for revenge. My past, my identity, were discarded. My future, my dreams were abandoned."


           "How tragic. I can see your caution, but surely love-"


           Ukyou's snort cut him off. "Please. What do you think replaced revenge?"


           "Ah, so you already know what you'll sacrifice for love." Hideo shrugged.


           "Even I have my standards. And that much glitter has to rot the brain."


           Hideo chuckled.


           "At least she seems happy with him. It's creepy, but maybe she-" Ukyou sighed. "Maybe she likes someone who isn't intellectually challenging."


           "I did hear the redhead was engaged," Hideo allowed.


           "You can say that. And she is egotistical and vain, so having someone worship the ground she walks on..." Ukyou shook her head again, relieved that the pressure was receding. "Or maybe she's stubborn and won't admit she's in over her head."


            Hideo taped his fingers. "And that's too far for you? Would you really have to give up that... much?"


            "She's been a frequent customer. And she rarely comes alone."


            "Oh? I must have missed her," Hideo easily lied. It had taken a fair bit of surveillance to assure his regular meal-time did not overlap. Not to mention making sure he had sufficient forewarning in case she decided to arrive after he had already started eating. Fortunately the entourage the redhead had accumulated made that an easy task.


            Ukyou snorted. "Believe me, you'd have remembered meeting her."


           "I suppose I would," Hideo made a point of sounding thoughtful. "You've had a lot of time to think about this?"


           "Every time the glittery bimbo came in," Ukyou muttered.


           Hideo pretended not to hear. "I suppose that is a healthy attitude?"

           "What, realizing revenge is a sucker's game?"


           The young man's face darkened momentarily. "I was talking about love."


           Ukyou's stance shifted slightly as she detected the sharp edge to his voice.


           The brown-haired teen forced a smile.


           "It's okay... I'm just..." Ukyou shook her head and blinked. "You bringing it up does help. I mean... do you know what I've given up? All that I've sacrificed? And for what?"


           "How mature."


           "We all have to grow up."


           "The wiser of us do," Hideo agreed.


           Ukyou looked past the slim-man's smile and looked to his hands. Her body tensed slightly as she shifted the bag of spices she was carrying. Apprehension grew, if he was not a regular customer she would have been more worried.


           "And how's your waitress doing?" Hideo asked with a big oblivious smile.


           Despite herself, Ukyou chuckled. "Oh she's doing fine." She idly wondered if Konatsu would have to deal with another unwanted suitor. Though she had to admit that Hideo seemed well behaved enough.


           "Good, I did notice a new spring in her step the last view times I've visited. Maybe more of a glow about her."


           Ukyou's mirth evaporated. "She's... fine."


           "Great! I was worried she was getting into a rut. It's good to see her turning over a new leaf."


           Ukyou held her tongue. Had Konatsu been changing? He did seem to be closer to Ranma lately. Though those two had been friendly enough, especially after Ranma rescued the kinouchi from... an evil stepmother. " Konatsu did have a hard life," Ukyou admitted.


           "And now she's been saved, like something out of a fairy tale," Hideo chuckled.


           Ukyou frowned. How would Konatsu react to a genuine magical fairy? She had noticed that the Konatsu was giving the cafe's plants more attention.


           "I've taken enough of your time," Hideo bowed slightly.


           "Oh, it was no imposition," Ukyou assured flashing her hostess smile. "I love getting in touch with my customers."


           "And I will look forward to your latest culinary creations," Hideo assured before he turned and left.

 

***************

 


            Shimmering gi over an arm, Akane entered the dojo. Looking at the gleaming beams and shining mats, the martial artist sighed. The training hall was quiet; she expected that. Really, with Ranma living at her... mother's, once again, Akane was the only one using it. However, the silence had followed her from the house.


            Her father was still on that moronic trip with Mr. Saotome, and her sisters... were at the Kuno Estate. Stepping around the edge of the room, she idly adjusted her teal tank-top and yellow shorts. She watched dust-motes fall in the sunlight coming in through the windows. Spotting flashes and flickers of glitter among the dust, she growled and tossed the gi to the side.


            "Damn Ranma, this sparkly crap really does get everywhere!" Akane ranted as a few of the motes drifted by. "And this is despite all the cleaning Kasumi has been doing lat-" She stopped when one touched her nose. The martial artist sniffed. The glitter smelled crisp and had a hint of mint.


            "That's not..." Akane blinked feeling a slight chill on her back. There was none of the sickly-sweet floral scent that marked the redhead's copious glitter. "Great, so I know what her glitter smells like."


            "Maybe it's someone else's glitter," a coy voice asked behind Akane.


            Giving a little gasp, Akane spun on her heels. "Nabiki!"


            "Yes?" The catgirl purred, her little smile showing a flash of fang as her tail swished behind her. Ears peeked above her fine, glossy purple-black pageboy. Purple-stockinged feet confidently slinked forward as a black fur-trimmed periwinkle mini-skirt swished from side to side.


            A thick silver-furred stole draped over the shoulders of a light lavender vest over a low-cut cream-colored blouse with gold thread accents and buttons adorned with the scepter and wing seal. Around her slim neck was deep purple stone set in a silver-chased black leather choker.


            Akane looked into her sister's slitted amber eyes then slowly turned away. "Sorry, I wasn't expecting... you."


            "Keeping an eye on Little Miss Sparkle-butt is quite the job," Nabiki admitted with a graceful shrug as she prowled around the dojo. She idly, almost carelessly, scratched a wood pillar with a talon-like fingernail that slid out and then inspected the result. "Yes, the glitter does get everywhere."


            "Even on your skirt," Akane sourly noted, trying to ignore what looked almost like palm patterns on the shimmering periwinkle and cream-colored garments.


            "An incentive not to even bother with clothes."


            Akane's eyes widened.


            "Not like that." Continuing her circuit around the room, the familiar smirked. "Though, I suppose it would be interesting to see which form Mistress is more comfortable with. Me as a nude woman or as a nude cat."


            "Oh? The glitter-addled bimbo is still bashful around women?" Akane laughed. "Heck, Ranma never had feminine modestly as a human, and I don't think those transparent dresses are helping."


            "True, but she's still bashful around other girls being nude," Nabiki playfully purred. "Teasing her is another upside to the job."


            "And how is this... job?" Akane asked, distaste on the last word.


            "Wonderful," Nabiki assured circling around to stay just out of Akane's line of sight.


            "Being turned into a familiar? Having to serve a clueless glitter-brain?" The younger Tendo raised an eyebrow.


            "Yes, woe is me."


            Out of the corner of her eye Akane could see Nabiki's toothy grin grow.


            "Being stuck advising clueless, rich people." Nabiki reached into her vest and pulled out a thick secretary wallet. Larger than billfold or trifold wallet, the glossy tooled purple leather wallet had silver corners and was the size of a cheque book and thicker than a phone.


            A long finger paused over the gold seal embossed on the center of the wallet and giving a shiver, the catgirl undid the platinum clasp. Covetously, pridefully, Nabiki stepped back into Akane's view and opened the wallet.


            Akane swallowed. Inside the wallet was soft pastel red with the leather worked to provide precise compartments and slips. The left side was centered with a sapphire credit card simply bearing the name Titania Windgates II. Beneath that was a section with banking paperwork and slips. In the very back, as almost an afterthought was a thick pile of ten-thousand yen notes.


            Meanwhile the right side... sparkled. At first Akane wondered why Nabiki had half a dozen green lozenges, then she realized that nestled on the top of the wallet was a three by two grid of rounded emeralds. In the middle section she could see the tips of rounded little slips of gold poking out like gilt sticks of gum. Then in the back of the wallet was came the sound like that of a crystal wind chime.


            Stunned, Akane blinked then raised an eyebrow.

            "Oh, just an experiment of mine," Nabiki undid the clasps on the rearmost section of the right side and using her taloned nails withdrew a couple gleaming disks. Thick and softly glowing, they gave a musical clink when tapped together.


            "Money?" Akane stared at the, now recognizable, wing and scepter seal on one side of the... coin. Her frown deepened at an, also worryingly, familiar scent wafting off the sparkling coins. "Those are made out glitter."


            Nabiki smirked. "Yup! I asked Wolf how Titania's kingdom handled money, given the powerful ones can just magic up gems and precious metals." The catgirl paused. "Course, really, that just means they couldn't use Commodity Money. Which we don't do either."


            "Right, the yen's not based on the value of gold, is it."


            Nabiki nodded. "Right! So the question was what kind of fiat money did the Fae use. Turns out for the big stuff the Fae exchanged favors and deals, but for day to day..."


            "The queen's glitter?" Akane rubbed her forehead and sighed. "That's just so..."


            "Insidious?" Nabiki laughed as she slipped the coins back into the wallet and started doing the clasps. "And I guess... technically it might still be a commodity money."

            Akane snorted. "So your tiny kingdom of under a dozen people now has its own play money?"


            "Oh no, I just had these made for fun," Nabiki assured. "It's just amusing to keep with the rest of the real petty cash."


            Akane eyed her sister, skeptical "And what are you Ranma's purse?"


            "Yes, I'm exactly that," Nabiki smiled, slipping the wallet back into her vest. "The queen's purse."


            Seeing the glint in her sister's eyes, Akane shook her head. "So you steal from her and as punishment..."


            "I get to watch her money. The fae have quite the sense of humor, no?"


            "Is that really something Ranma ordered you to do?" Akane crossed her arms. "Or was it your idea."


            Resuming her pacing, Nabiki's ears pulled back slightly. "Do you think so little of me, Dear Sister? That I'd worm into a position to enrich myself?"


            Pulling one hand up to pinch the bridge of her nose, Akane slowly exhaled. "If anything I'd be reassured if it was," she eventually said.


            The catgirl paused and frowned. "Oh." A smile forced itself on her lips but her tail drooped slightly. "Well, that's some good news at least."


            "Was the purse your idea?" Akane stressed.


            "It was Wolf's," the catgirl coughed.


            "Ah, him," Akane sighed.


            Nabiki's smirk returned. "Yes, you'd almost think he had a sinister agenda..."


            "If he wasn't so up front about it?"


            The catgirl tittered. "That and even he seems worried about our Mistress' rampant vanity."


            "She is an egotistical little thing," Akane distantly said.


            "Tempting too," Nabiki purred.


            Akane looked out the door of the dojo to the empty house beyond. "That much is clear."


            "Isn't it?" Nabiki asked stroking the shimmering gi folded over Akane's arm.


            Akane looked down. "It's a gift."


            "Temptation can start with that," Nabiki smiled.


            Frowning, Akane looked up.


            "And what about you?" Nabiki teased. "Even ignoring the honor of getting a gift from a fairy queen..."


            "Big deal! Kasumi got a magical apron!"


            "And look what happened to her." Nabiki purred.


            Akane growled.


            "And here you are sparing with the Queen. Having lunches with her. Maybe you two can go shopping. She can give you anything." Nabiki stepped closer. "What do you want?"


            You won't have to help father keeping this dreary place running," Nabiki added.


            "Hey, he's still got students coming in! There's even someone coming in later this week." Akane defended, she had checked Soun's calendar a few days ago, as she did periodically whenever he was on a "training trip".


            "You want to train? I'm sure in time the Mistress will have plenty who could use it," the catgirl smiled.


            Hesitantly stepping back, Akane sniffed and stared into her sister's amber eyes.


            Making a confused noise, the catgirl tilted her head.


            Wiping under her eye, Akane gave a bitter laugh. "Really? You can't guess?"


            "Well-"


            Akane cut her off. "Tell me... familiar, does your... Mistress even remember she's looking for a cure?" the youngest Tendo asked with a bitter grin.


            Tail curling up and ears perking, Nabiki snorted. "Please. Remember that magical girl she's snared?"


            Akane returned to crossing her arms.


            "Well, she's setup a whole arcane lab. Books, crystals, potions, some sort of magical computer, the works."


            Akane made a thoughtful noise. "So, being engaged to Kuno-" The Tendo girl shivered. "hasn't completely distracted her. Maybe the glitter hasn't totally rotted Ranma's brain and she can put-"


            "What?" Nabiki chuckled. "Put this fairy stuff behind her? Behind him?"


            "Ranma's looking for a cure."


            "Against the mind magic? Sure. Getting a male form? Sure." Nabiki's fanged grin sharpened. "But turning totally human? Locking away all that fae magic?"


            Akane paled.


            "But do you really think she'll abandon her fairy body? That power? That pleasure?"


            The martial artist looked down.


            "Even if she could? Should she?" Nabiki purred.


            Color rose once more to Akane's cheeks.


            "It's not just Ranma anymore," the catgirl declared. "What about Kasumi?"


            Tossing the gi to the floor, Akane's eyes narrowed. "Leave her out of this."


            Nabiki looked smug. Then her ears twitched and the middle sister tilted her head.


            Nostrils flaring, Akane turned towards the doors. "Wait..."


            A glittering comet trailing sparkles flared across the open threshold and rocketed to the center of the room where it exploded in a burst of sweet fairy dust.


            Settling to the floor, the glitter revealed a diminutive young woman with deeply tanned nutmeg-colored skin. Dainty little feet were cosseted in gold silk ballet slippers that were tied up her ankles with shimmering lace ribbons and little bows.


            A breezy green translucent miniskirt trimmed in gold leaf did not quite reach her thigh, while a gold ribbon was threaded through the top of the skirt as an ersatz belt. Beneath it was a green silk leotard with flowing clear sleeves, gold piping and, to Akane's relief, "strategically placed" sequins of glossy emerald down the garment's front, which despite reaching up to her neck, still gave the impression of plenty of cleavage.


             A lacquered wood pendant hung from her neck, a thin silver diadem crossed her brow, tight golden rune-etched bracelets were clasped over thin wrists like wide bracelets, and gold and emerald earrings studded her ears.


            Wide almond-shaped green eyes were surrounded by sparkling gold eyeshadow, glossy eyeliner, fluffy curled lashes, and tiny arching ruby eyebrows. Big lips glistened and shimmered as she smiled, and blusher gave nutmeg cheeks a permanent little pink flush.


            Shining ruby and sapphire hair was pulled up into a rounded little bun. Lacquered and polished until it resembled a smoothed two-tone gem, the updo had a long red and blue ponytail spilled down from the bun's summit to about waist height.


            Nabiki slipped up next to the fairy and bowed, deeply. "My queen, all is ready," she respectfully said, eyes slightly downcast.


            "Lovely," Ranma ran a hand down the silver stole draped over the catgirl's shoulders. "Oh, that reminds me!" the fairy removed her lacquered wood pendant and held it out.


            The familiar diffidently held it in her hands.


            Looking between the two, Akane looked vaguely queasy. More than the depth, there was something off about the bow, her sister's hands did not seem to be in the right place. Akane stepped to one side of the dojo and hung up the shimmery gi and pulled down a plain one.


            In a puff of glitter, the fairy transformed to her tiny size. She then flittered up and took the pendant from the catgirl's palms. There was another rain of sparkles and the fairy returned to her full height.


            After removing a small carved wooden box, she handed the now suitcase sized lacquered case back to the familiar. "Thanks Nabiki, you can fill this if you want," Ranma said giving the catgirl's skirt a pat as she absently ran a finger over the base of her tail.


            "Thank you," the familiar purred as she bowed even further as her tail came down. Gratitude crossed her amused amber-eyes, with a sensual roll of her hips, she left the dojo.


            Akane snorted at the theatrics. Though the almost awe-struck look on her sisters face was a bit upsetting. She turned to the queen. "And now she's got free reign of your magical box? Do you remember what happened last time she was alone with it?" Akane demanded.


            Ranma blinked. "But I trust her now."


            "What if she steals from you!


            The fairy gave another, slower, blink.


            "Gah! Never mind! " Akane exhaled, and then coughed.


            The fairy folded her hands before her and waited, bouncing a bit from foot to foot.


            "Dressing plain today? How modest. I guess you wanted to be ready to spar," Akane dryly noted as she stepped forward.


            "Thanks!" the redhead smiled as she stood on one leg and pulled the other leg up behind her. "I figured something more practical would be sensible."


            Blinking, Akane lowered her gaze. She blinked again, but the little fairy was still over half a head shorter than her. The redhead had to be least ten centimeters shorter.


            The Tendo girl tilted her head and spotted the little ballet slippers. Her expression sharpened as she stepped closer and practically loomed over the girl. "I can see why you suddenly like high heels."


            The fairy blushed. "As if my body wasn't short enough," she grumbled as her jeweled green and red butterfly wings flapped weakly


            "Oh? Suddenly now it's 'my body'?" Akane scoffed as she circled around the backside of the fair. "What happened to finding a cure?" she asked, somberly.


            Shrugging, Ranma raised a manicured hand; glitter sparkled down. "Ami's making some real progress; we're learning a lot."


            Akane slowly exhaled. "And after...."


            The redhead blinked, lashes fluttering.


            "Never mind," Akane groused eyeing the diminutive girl. "Leotards? This looks like something from rhythmic gymnastics? Please tell me I'm not seeing Kodachi's hand in this getup."


            The fairy flipped her wrist dismissively.


           Akane frowned at the gesture, and at the long blue-green, red-tipped, manicure that adorned those polished nails. They made the tiny girl's thin fingers seem almost inhumanly long.


            Palming the wooden box with her jade nails, the fairy gave a little snort that shifted into a giggle. "Please, I came up with this on my own. I’m pretty sure the getups Kodachi wants for me would be a bit more obvious."


            Akane leaned a bit closer. "True... I don't see a single black rose."


            "I know!" The fairy idly ran a hand down her leotard's sequins. "But no, I came up with this design myself, well my magic chair helped a bit," she admitted with a blush.


            Exhaling, Akane tried to control herself. Seeing this little redhead be so damn... proud of dressing up like some cheerleader magical girl. She did not want Nabiki to be right.


            Her eyes went to the gi crumpled on the dojo mats.


            Ranma followed her gaze. A frown crossed the redhead's overdone face.


            The Tendo girl coughed. The sweet glitter was starting to fill the room. "Wait... chair?"


            "I've got something to you," Ranma chirped as she opened the carved wooden box she held.


            "A gift?" Akane asked, Nabiki's comments echoing in her mind.


            The fairy flipped open the lid revealing a dark blue velvet liner containing a marble-sized ruby in a silver setting. The gem sat, almost sullenly, in its soft cut-out.


            "No way! I saw what one of these did to Nabiki!" Akane eyed the gem with trepidation. At least familiars did have some advantages over fairies. The martial artist shook her head.


            "I said I was sorry. Nabiki too! And you were just talking with her; she's fine!" Ranma added.


            "Why do you want to turn me!"


            The fairy titled her head causing her ponytail to sway. "This isn't a familiar stone. It's a null-ruby! It was a hard enchantment but Ami and I got it to work," she grinned.


            "What?"


            The fairy's pride deflated a bit. "Uh well..." her expression brightened anew and she snapped her fingers over the gem. "I told you we were learning a lot about undoing this magic stuff..." Glitter rained down, but instead of coating the ruby, the gem shivered and the sparkles were repulsed.


            "It's glitter repellent!" Akane's eyes lit up. "Gimmie!"


            "It blocks other things...." Ranma weakly said as Akane pulled the gem out of its box. Beneath it was a fine silver chain.


            Giving a slight buzz, the pendant hung from Akane's neck. The martial artist inhaled then exhaled. The overpowering sweetness was gone, now she could only smell a hint of the fairy's floral perfume. "No more glitter!" she marveled watching the sparkles drift towards her arm and be repelled by some invisible field.


            "Lovely isn't it?" Ranma asked her tone bittersweet.


            Akane's smile dimmed. "Oh... I guess it won't work for you? Otherwise you'd be wearing one too."


            "I'd have a line of them around my neck like a choker." The fairy sighed; her eyes distant. "But no, I'm producing the dang stuff. All the gems would do is keep it from escaping." Ranma shook her head. "And I couldn't bear the itching."


            Akane fingered the gem. "Uh, thanks. I mean..." she frowned awkwardly


            Ranma held up a hand. "I'd block it out too if I could."


            The Tendo girl's frown deepened. There was something off about the fairy's statement.


            "Oh! More good news." the fairy said skipping to where Akane had dropped the gi. " It won't block our your gi's enchantments, so there's no need to toss it aside."


            Hand still on the ruby, Akane eyed the shimmering gi.


            "Well... you'll have to put the gi on first and then the ruby. See the ruby blocks new magic."


            "Ah... that's why it can't help you?" Akane absently asked.


            Nodding Ranma flounced over to the gi. "Don't worry, it won't do anything embarrassing like the last time you tried a power up," she said picking up the shimmering garment. "No unsightly hair growth I promise," the fairy smiled sweetly as she folded it up and put it to one side.


            Shaking her head, Akane slipped the silver necklace on and patted the ruby.


            "Ah, so you don't want to spar with it," Ranma bounded closer to the Tendo girl. "Well, maybe I can change your mind." Her glossy lips formed a cocky grin.


            Easing into a stance, Akane smirked. "Big words Sparkle-butt."


            "Oh, please." Ranma stuck out her tongue.


            "That's it!" Akane growled as she charged ahead.


            Giggling the fairy skipped to the side.


            Anticipating the move, Akane turned and drove with a kick to the side.


            Glitter sparkling, the fairy rolled inside Akane's swinging leg, dipped under the martial artist's arm and flounced behind the dark-haired girl.


            Twisting, Akane punched back and spun on her heel. Seeing the redhead flitter off, the Tendo glared. "Oh, come on! You just gonna dodge me?"


            Bouncing between her skippered feet, the leotard veiled fairy beckoned with a thin finger.


            Leaping, Akane punched with one arm and tried to grapple with the other. As the fairy dodged, Akane turned and spinning on one leg kicked towards the fairy. Irritation growing, Akane found herself unable to capture the fluttering, flouncing fairy.


            "Are you going to take this seriously?" Akane demanded as the fairy bounced off her shoulder and flipped across the dojo. "Or are you just gonna dance?"


            Ranma paused and gave a little bow.


            Exhaling, Akane gave a frustrated cry as she charged forward.


            "Are you feeling Deja vu too?" Ranma innocently asked as she nimbly slipped aside Akane's kick.


            "Maybe if you tried to hit me back?" Akane groused as she threw a punch.


            Glitter puffed up as, the redhead twisted her shoulder. "Oh?"


            Frustration bubbling, Akane stopped. She eyed the fairy.


            The glittery girl tilted her head.


            Akane let her ire bleed off. There was none of the casually dismissive cockiness of their first meeting. "How about you try to hit me? You know, so I can learn how to dodge you for a change?"


            "Well..." Looking down, the fairy gave a bashful smile.

 
            Akane snorted. "That'd be nice, but if you're too weak-" Her words caught as the fairy suddenly appeared next to her. Akane gasped as lacquered nails poked her solar-plexus.


            Moving to grapple, the martial artist found the fairy's slim arm slip out of her grip. Pulling back, Akane found her counter move meet sparkling air as the fairy tapped her temple. The ruby flared and static electricity danced over Akane's brow.


            "Damn it, Ranma!" Akane growled as the fairy flipped over her and landed with a twist. "Can't you even throw a punch?" she demanded feeling the fairy's nails poke her in the neck where her spine met her skull, Ranma's other arm held Akane's other arm in a loose grip.


            "Or are you afraid you'll ruin your manicure?" Akane asked as she pulled out of the fairy's grapple.


            Holding up her newly released hand, the fairy nervously laughed.


            Akane shot the sparkly girl a glare. Spotting the shimmering gi, she walked across the dojo. "Okay, you do have speed, I'll give you that."


            "At least it's something," Ranma allowed.


            Akane picked up the gi. Her ruby softly pulsing. the garment tingled in her hands. "This'll make me faster?"


            "And stronger," Ranma reminded with a beaming smile.


            "Right." Akane let the slick, shimmery material fall through her fingers. Keeping her back to the fairy Akane closed her eyes. When she opened them, she shouldered out of the plain gi she had been wearing. The garment fell to the floor, but her shoulders still felt strangely warm.


            Akane's hands went to the ruby dangling from its chain. She pulled it off, dropped the new gi around her shoulders, belted it, and then slipped the necklace back over her head.


           It was only when the polished ruby was back in place that Akane realized she had been holding her breath. Sneezing, she ran a hand down the side of her face. Her sinuses tingled but so did her arms. She paused and flexed her right arm and shifted her stance. As the tingling traveled down her legs, a smile slowly appeared on her lips.


            "Well? How's it feel?" Ranma expectantly asked as the Tendo girl turned back to face the fairy.


            Rolling her shoulders, Akane's grin sharpened.


            "Ready then?" the fairy eagerly asked as she flittered from foot to foot.


            Euphoric, Akane launched herself towards the fairy. Ranma began to block the blows, but after a few exchanges, Akane found herself powering through the blocks forcing the fairy to retreat.


            However, now Akane found her reactions quickening to evade the fairy's counter-attacks. Reveling in the delightful, almost familiar energy, Akane found her speed ticking up.


            The fairy was quicker, but Akane found she had reduced the gap enough to start limiting the fae's mobility. It took effort to keep her from slipping away, but Akane focused her attention on every motion and twist of the redhead's body.


             "You can't just dance away now!" Akane cheered as a low kick managed to connect, causing the fairy to stumble.


            Cornering the fairy, Akane followed up with a grapple that caught Ranma by the shoulders and a hit with the edge of her left hand across the base of the fairy's spine.


            Feeling refreshed, Akane panted but realized she still had her second wind, and even her sweat had gone away. Her gaze fell on the fairy, who bowed.


            Seeing how the redhead's leotard showcased her cleavage with ruffles that went from her shoulders and down the sequin adorned V-shaped neckline, Akane lifted her gaze and rolled her eyes. Returning her attention, she snorted at the glittery little leotard with its clear semi-pleated mid-thigh length skirt and fluffy golden bow in back.


            "I told you the gi would help you," Ranma said, affecting a modest tone as she kept her gaze lowered an idly twisted the toe a wedge-heeled slipper back and forth on the dojo mat. Her rocking head also caused her knee-length ponytail to bob back and forth.


            Watching glitter drift through the air, Akane made a thoughtful noise.


            "Wanna try it again?" Ranma asked, her voice teasing.


            Tilting her head, Akane smirked. The sparing resumed with the martial artist pressing her advantage in strength and reach over the diminutive fairy.


            Grinning at the Tendo girl's increase in power, Ranma gave a surprised squeal when a solid hit landed on her chest.


            "Someone's not paying attention!" Akane chortled.


            "Meanie!" Ranma pouted adjusting her leotard. "At least you're enjoying my gifts."


            A moment of guilt flittered past Akane's mind. She knew the gi was giving her a leg up but... it was helping her beat the bubbly fae. Putting those worries aside, she resumed the match.


            Euphorically relishing the magical boost, Akane resumed the match. After exchanging a few moves she moved closer and was about to grapple the dainty fairy. Giving a high-pitched squeak, the fairy vanished in a cloud of glittery motes.


            Fluttering her wings, the tiny redhead took to the air.


            "That's cheating!" Akane demanded as the two-inch tall fairy flew off with a triumphant laugh.

 

***************

 


            A slim young man walked down the road with a spring in his step and a sparkle in his eye. Worn boots poked out of dark-green work pants and a light pack was slung over one shoulder or a loose grey traveling coat.


            His stride was purposeful but measured, as if born of the patience of a long journey. Down the street he could see the trees and buildings of a shrine peeking above an encircling wall.


            The brown-haired man took a moment to slow his pace and savor sighting his destination.


            His gaze rose and his expression soured briefly. A pair of ravens flew over the shrine grounds. Resuming his pace, he watched the two birds circle. Indecision gnawed at him; he knew there were risks. He knew that he might be... watched.


            One of the birds started to drift away from the shrine. It still wheeled about in the sky, but its growing orbit started to drift closer and closer


            As he neared the shrine's gates he briefly fell under the shadow of both birds. The brown-haired man wished he had his staff, but a walking stick would have been putting on the "weary pilgrim" act a bit thick.


            Resuming his stride, he walked past the shrine with a rueful shake of the head. There were still others.

 

***************

 


            "Cheating?" the tiny fairy asked as she hovered closer to the irate martial artist.


            "How am I supposed to fight when you're smaller than my hand?" Akane fumed.


            "You'd think being so much larger would be an advantage," Ranma teased. "You do know most fae will fight like this."

Giggling, the redhead crossed her arms and fluttered closer to the Tendo girl. "Well maybe more like this," she admitted as her bracers sparked and she zapped Akane with a bolt of blue energy.


            "Now, that's definitely cheating!" Akane yelled as the ruby flashed and her gi tingled.


            Ranma stuck out her tongue.


            "Fine!" Akane lunged towards the tiny girl. Trying to capture the sparkling target, her frustration grew. After a couple blows, Akane sighed and put her arms down.


            "Giving up?" the fairy asked from sitting perched on one of the dojo's rafters.


            Akane looked up and sighed. "How am I supposed to get you up there?"


            The fairy's antennae drooped. "Oh alright," she sighed and hopped off the beam. There was a burst of glitter and she returned to human size.


            "I'll just have to have Ami whip something up, but until then..." Ranma laughed and slipped into a loose stance.


            "You going to try to attack me?" Akane asked with a little smirk.


            The fairy gave a little blush enjoying Akane's cockiness. "We do need to see what you can do now."


            In a sparkly flash the fairy flittered in with a diversionary kick. In the split second when Akane was put off balance by her response, the redhead moved with a throw to take advantage of the larger girl's momentum and mass.


            The fairy gave a surprised eep, as the throw failed and Akane simply stood and reshifted her balance. Blinking, Akane grabbed the fairy and slapped her across the shoulders then down the back.


            Striking with the blade of her hand and discharging a bolt of magic from her bracelets, Ranma slipped out of Akane's grip and bounded a step away before flipping back and trying a high kick on Akane's side.


            Once more, Akane blinked at the impact and grappled with the fairy. This time taking the fairy by the multi-tiered shoulder ruffles of her sleeveless leotard and the ribboned-bow in the back of the pleated skirt that curled over the fairy's backside. Nearly reaching her knees, the ruffled bottoms of the stiff transparent skirt pleats whispered against the fairy's stockings. Jeweled sequins flashed along the skirting in little arcs. The fairy idly tapped an arching heel to her pump-styled gold slippers with their emerald bows in the toe.


            Grabbing the long train of ruby curls, Akane spun Ranma around to face her.  Pushing the fairy back, while maintaining her grip on the tresses, she eyed the sparkly little fae. Thanks to the shoes and her puffy bun, they were almost the same height. Wide almond-shaped eyes heavy with eyeshadow stared back.


            "Are you taking this seriously?" Akane asked with another tug, her hand finding purchase on the sapphire braids spiraled through the curly fall.


            "Of course," Ranma crossed her arms and tapped her foot.


            Akane sniffed, thankful for the ruby blocking out the glitter drifting between them. "Right, that why you're playing dressup?"


            "Maybe I'm just making things easier for you," Giggling, Ranma gave a little spin.


            Akane grit her teeth as the fairy, deft on her feet, bounced away. The Tendo girl jumped over to the fairy and bypassing the redhead's blocks, tossed the queen in a sparkly comet.


            "You can't play cocky; not when I'm actually winning for once!" Akane stomped her foot.


            Hovering, the fairy stuck out her tongue. Then giving an amused squeal, she dodged Akane's charge. Exchanging blows, the two resumed their sparing. Using heavier attacks, Akane tried to build up speed while the fairy was faster and focused on throws and magically charged jabs .


            "Stop poking me!" Akane's yelled as she captured the fairy and bapped her on the backside. Glitter clouded up and the fairy tripped Akane and flipped the taller girl to the floor.


            The sparing continued for several minutes with Akane's relentless strength slowly surmounting the fairy's slight fatigue. It also got a bit easier to take the fairy by the ruffles and the shining drifts of hair.


            "How come that's not cheating?" Ranma teased after Akane pulled her down until the pair fell into a heap.

            "Because it's your stupid hair," the martial artist countered as she helped the tiny girl in her elaborate skirt back up.


            Ranma giggled and gave a little bow.


            Akane rolled her eyes and resumed the sparing.


            After several more rounds, the light suddenly changed. Akane turned and saw that the door had slid open; beams of sunlight cut through the thick drifts of glitter that filled the dojo's volume causing blinding reflections and sparkles.


            Wincing at the sudden brightness Akane closed her eyes and shook her head. "I think that's enough, Ranma."


            "Yeah I guess so." The fairy gently touched down on the dojo's mats, the tips of her toes in an effortless en-point thanks to her little ballet boots with their spindly golden heels adorned with trailing green ribbons.


            Sequined stockings vanished up into the hem of frothy golden ruffles that hung at mid-calf height. Layers of curving green silk formed arcing pleats that were pushed out by soft legs and a curved rear filling a flounced silver slip. Accented with little sapphires in gold settings, the fluted, almost bell-like, skirting was adorned with leaf-themed patterns of golden lace filling the center panels of each pleat.


            A golden ribbon wove though the top of the skirting and was tied off in the back with a big floppy bow with the ends trailing down and before arcing back up in knee-length loops. A thinner ribbon was tied through he bottom of the skirting cinching down the pleats and tied off in a smaller sparkly bow.


            Puffy bouquets of silk and glitter spilled down her shoulders forming a plunging top bodice-like panels and golden ties that helped support her generously exposed chest and display swirling golden accents and jeweled sequins.


            A glossy bun swirled atop her head and supported a glittering fall of ruby hair. Tumbling to nearly the floor the crimson tresses were shot through with sapphire braids that helped spread, curl, and fluff the glistening locks.


            "That was fun!" Ranma happily said. "We should do it again," she promised, reaching out; the long gilt tip to her arcing jade nails running over the sleeve of Akane's gi.


            The Tendo girl eyed the glitter popping and deflecting off the shimmer garment. She shook her head at the fairy's extravagance. Not only did the girl's manicure look longer than Akane's entire pinky finger, but the nails were so glossy and polished they looked more like jewelry than anything else.


            "Right," Akane coughed and followed the fairy towards the door. Seeing glitter still wafting out, she looked down and gasped. Spilled across the threshold of the door was a fan-shaped drift of sparkling dust.


            It was thick enough that it nearly covered the shoes of the two girls waiting on the porch... and rimmed much of their clothes.


            A girl in a sparkling clear blue dress gave a little sneeze that turned into a giggle. Shimmering sapphire hair was pulled up in a glossy bun, save for twin bangs that fell in front of her ears and curled up her pale cheeks. Sparkling, pink lips curled into a polished smile.


            Next to her stood Nabiki. The catgirl's ears were flat against her dark hair and her nose was twitching. Akane's attention went back and forth between the two girls. If not for the fresh layer of glitter on her sister's fur-trimmed miniskirt, lavender vest, and silver fur stole, Akane would have thought the blue-haired girl had started out glitter-encrusted.


            The sparkly blue dress was given some measure of modesty by shiny teal horizontal bands across the torso and chest, with a thicker band at the waist. The top hem of the dress' scoop neck was another band as was the bottom knee-length hem and the ends of little elbow length sleeves.


            A gauzy almost translucent white coat loosely draped over her shoulders and fell down her backside like a silken cape. A thin golden tiara sat on her brow with a deep blue-violet gem at the center. Matching the color of her eyeshadow, both drew out the depths of her eyes.


            A lacquered ebony book-style clip-board was held to her bosom. Thick with a silver hinge down the left side the clipboard's back was inlaid with cobalt-blue snowflakes. A crystal-tipped steel rod was held like a pen in her white-tipped blue manicured fingers.


            "Pardon my intruding on the sanctity and tranquility of your training, Mistress," Nabiki slyly said as she placed Ranma's lacquered box next to the doorway and let her tail lower.


            Akane's smile at her sister's sarcastic tone died when the Familiar proceeded to clasp her hands before her and deeply bow. More worryingly Akane saw the catgirl's left knee bend slightly lowering her further. Then the catgirl's hands separated to rest on her thighs as she rose out of the bow.


            "It's no worry." Smiled beatifically, fairy queen glided closer to the door; the layers of skirting bobbing around her. "Did you get everything?"


            "Yes, thank you for the privilege of using your magic box," Nabiki stated.


            Akane's brow wrinkled at the seemingly snide tone.


            Ignoring the Tendo girl's confusion, Nabiki lowered her gaze and gestured to the blue haired girl. "Lady Mizuno has arrived to escort you to your next engagement."


            The blue haired girl gave another bow. This was shallower but with a flourish at the end that Akane recognized as almost curtsy like.


            Seemingly oblivious to the obeisance, the redhead bounced to the girl. "Ami!" she happily cried drawing the taller girl in a hug. Ami's 10 cm blue heels combined with her nearly 160 cm height made her clearly taller than the tiny fairy, and allowed the shorter girl to rest her head on Ami's chest.


            "Ranma!' Ami gushed returning the hug, and kissing the fairy on the cheeks. "I love your dress!" she cooed running her hands down the back of the dress and tugging at the golden ribbons. "It's definitely bigger! Especially the back," she added, winking.


            "Silly!" Already on tip-toes, Ranma's wings fluttered raising her up a bit so she could return the kisses, and not disrupt Ami's careful, gentle measuring.


            Akane's cheeks reddened at the display before her. It was only the guiles innocent joy on Ranma's part that kept her humors in check.


            "It's a skirt and leotard. For training. See!" the fairy said flouncing back to give a little twirl.


            The catgirl leaned forward. "Yes... I can see a leotard... beneath the sequins and ruffles." She looked to Akane. "And what kind of training were you two doing?"


            Bearing the lipstick prints on each cheek like a glittery pastel beauty-mark, Ami stepped forward. Coat swishing behind her, her eyes twinkled as she arced around Akane. The silver-accented clipboard flipped open and the blue-haired girl alternated between using her steel rod to jot down notes and wave it over the martial artist's shimmering gi.


            "Akane, this is Ami... er Lady Mizuno," Ranma delicately coughed.


            The martial artist eyed the blue-haired girl in the sheer, sparkly dress and took come comfort in her human features. "She's a magical girl?"


            "Yup! In fact she's the smartest one on their team. She's been a great help."


            Spotting the ruby hanging around Akane's neck, Ami's smile grew. A manicured finger then poked one of the pairs of sapphire earrings the woman possessed. A pair glasses with silver-frames and slim sapphire lenses appeared on her nose, and the examination continued. "Oh, lovely, Ranma! They work!"


            Wilting a bit under the scrutiny, Akane cleared her throat. "So... Lady Mizuno... you must be helping Ranma find a cure?"


            Nodding, Ami slipped her wand behind an ear and gave a happy sigh as her free hand wafted some glitter towards her.


            Akane frowned at Lady Mizuno's reaction... if this was the caliber of help that Ranma had found...


            Lady Mizuno jotted down a few more notes in a spiraling two-toned script. "She has wonderful potential."

            "I know." Ranma admitted, tottering over to Nabiki.


            After bowing once more, the catgirl handed the case over. There was a burst of glitter as the fairy shrank down.


            Hardly noticing the queen's resizing game, Akane absently brushed the sleeve of her gi as she walked out onto the deck that ran along the perimeter of the dojo. Making a perplexed noise, she looked down. The sleeve was still glitter free.


            "That ruby really does wonders." Leaning forward, Ami ran her wand over Akane's arm. The crystal tip glowed brighter the closer it got to the gi.


            "I was worried it wouldn't be strong enough," Ranma confessed, gliding back to the taller human girls.


            Akane looked down at the glitter, ruffle, and jewel encrusted redhead. The lacquered locket was back in its customary position.


            Following Akane's gaze, Ami giggled behind her hand.


            "What?" Akane's ears pinked as she took a step back.


            "Enjoying the view?" Nabiki teased slipping up next to the fairy. Her sleek stockinged leg and fur-trimmed skirt pressed up against the redhead's lacy and sparkling skirts. Some of the ruby tresses spilled over the cat girl's lavender vest and silver stole.


            "I..." Akane blushed. "Well she just sticks them right out!" the youngest Tendo blurted.


            "That she does," Nabiki purred. Her ears perked up and her tail started to swish.


            "You said I was dressed modest today, ready to spar" Ranma pouted, her long fingers running between the base of Nabiki's tail and the middle of her back. "You even called me plain!"


            "That was in the little leotard and skirt you were wearing!"


            "But I am in a leotard." The fairy's pout grew.


            "And technically wouldn't a longer skirt be more modest?" Ami asked. "It's certainly more appropriate for later."


            "A queen being so... physical is somewhat unseemly," Nabiki noted as her back arched and her hips started to swish with her tail.


            "At least with someone other than her fiance..." Ami then leaned in and whispered into Ranma's pointed ear.


            Akane could catch only a few words like Kuno, ball, dip, and seat. However she did note how the fairy's nutmeg cheeks flushed a glittery pink and that Ranma used her free hand to fan herself just in front of her neck. Her attention diverted, Akane missed the little kiss Ami gave the tip of Ranma's ear when she finished whispering.


            "I think that's enough teasing, my good friend" Ranma playfully said her green eyes sparkling as she minced closer to the martial artist. "Besides, she's always been there to help me."


            "Another gift?" Nabiki suggested as she did a little rotation to bring her up to Akane's right side while still being close enough to her queen.


            "She really does have such potential," Ami agreed, on the martial artist's left flank.


            Ranma put a polished manicured nail to glossy glittery lips. A thin arched ruby eyebrow rose. "I'm thinking she could use a ranged attack. But what to enchant?"


            "And what kind," Ami reminded.


            "Wait... you're serious. Me, a magical girl? Can you?"


            The fairy queen's expression turned disbelieving and she gave a disappointed little sigh.


            Nabiki gave a big fake grin and extended her hand. "Hi! I'm a panther familiar my queen made in between rebuilding her fairy kingdom. If you have more questions about being a magical girl I suggest you ask Lady Mizuno."


            Akane glared. "I know little Miss Sparkle-butt's got magic powers but I'm kinda against the whole glitter thing."


            Giving a hurt expression, Ami turned up her nose slightly.


            Ranma simply leaned forward and tapped Akane's ruby.


            "Right," Akane snorted. "This is like anti-glitter."


            The redhead blinked, then slowly nodded. "Well, I can sympathize with the appeal. Perhaps..." she gave a faraway look.


            "Maybe we can give her something that's not glittery?" Ami suggested.


            Ranma nodded. "There is something..." she murmured. "But where would we find the meteorites..."


            "You? Sympathize?" Akane asked Ranma, ignoring the magical girl. "Just look at those sequins!" she demanded, sweeping a hand over Ranma's chest; her fingertips brushing the ruffled lace edging.


            Giving a happy murmur the fairy stepped closer to the martial artist.


            "I guess it wasn't sufficient to merely 'enjoy the view'," Nabiki purred.


            "What? No," Akane cried. "Just look at how she sticks them out," the Tendo girl repeated her earlier complaint.


            "Jealous?" Ranma teased, crossing her arms under her chest and leaning forward.


            "I suppose that could be done..." Ami muttered.


            Akane's brows furrowed as her gaze tracked the redhead's bosom. "Gah! No!" she eventually declared, backing away a half step.


            "I'd be happy to help." Sweetly smiling, Ranma brushed a bit of glitter off her milk-chocolate-colored cleavage.


            Akane opened her mouth then slowly closed it.


            "Think about it. Bigger breasts might land you a boyfriend," the fairy said, running a manicured finger over her engagement ring.


            Squinting as if to ward off an incipient headache, Akane found her jaw hanging one more. "You? You're giving me relationship advice. You?" She shook her head. "Wait, no... you're giving me advice on how to pick up guys!"


            A look of horror quickly surfaced on the redhead's face. "Oh..." it then submerged with a bashful giggle. "I suppose catching the likes of Kuno is no great victory."


            "He was mad for Akane," Nabiki reminded. "And look at how plain she is."


            Akane's ire grew. "You too?"


            The catgirl stuck her tongue out at her sister.


            Akane slowly exhaled and then slowly inhaled.


            "It's not all bad. Your face is lovely and many people love that toned body, and there's even those that will go for your hips and thighs. Very strong there," the fairy said almost wistfully.


            Akane coughed and resumed her controlled breaths.


            "Now, I'm not saying you need to get to my level..." the fairy airily continued.


            Breathing forgotten, Akane grit her teeth at the glittery girl's almost haughtily dismissive tone.


            "But a couple cup sizes would do wonders for you," the redhead continued. "More confidence for one. And get rid of that jealousy."


            The martial artist clenched her fists.


            Ranma looked the girl in the shimmering gi over. "Well... maybe three for the jealousy."


            "I am Not Jealous!" Akane roared, pouncing forward. A leg went out and swept the fairy from her feet as the martial artist took the diminutive girl by the shoulders and tossed her down the decking alongside the dojo.


            Sparkles flying, the fairy had time to give a surprised squeak as Akane took another bounding step, and grappled with the tumbling tiny queen. Glitter blasted up in thick clouds as green silk expanded and jeweled wings flapped.


            Laughing, Akane grabbed the ruby-red fall of hair. "You're not dancing away this time!" she promised. More glitter came up obscuring her view, but Akane could feel the ruffles and the squirming body.


           Nearly blind and her ruby glowing a dull red just below her view, the martial artist's hands found a silky braided rope. "You really shouldn't have all these bows and ribbons," Akane cackled as she, looping from back to front, knotted it around the struggling fairy's wrists.

 
            "What do you have to say now?" Akane demanded as the glitter cleared.


            "It was crazy to think you're jealous?" Nabiki sarcastically drawled.


            "That's a pretty gown," Ami added.


            "Gown?" Frowning, Akane turned back to the fairy. There was something off with the fairy's stance and how she held her wrists crossed but her elbows pulled back along her torso. Akane's gaze went down and the martial artist blinked.


            Resting on the decking, circular waves of golden ruffles lapped around the queen. Rising out of shiny hemlines were tiers of clear green silk that arced in wide, fluted skirting. Past gilt-set sapphire accents and gold-lace panels, shapely legs and flared hips were visible like the clapper to an emerald bell.


            A golden bow tied in the back of her waist. Its folds were done in the style of shimmering butterfly wings complete with curled antennae and trailing ribbons that ran down the length of the emerald gown.


            Their gold ties straining, her abbreviated bodice was now the same green silk as her skirting and the flounced cascades of silk that ran down her shoulders. Both garments were now fused with her skirting forming a seamless, sequined gown.


            Confusion crossed Akane's face. The gem-engorged gold tiara on the fairy's brow was expected, as were the multiple sets of crystal chandelier-like earrings. However the fairy's face was only slightly more embellished with sweeping sparkling eyeshadow, glossy pastel lips, pinking blush and dense ranks of arching, fluttering eyelashes.


            The confusion grew when she saw that the queen's slick, lacquered hair bun had only gown a couple inches. Akane's brief dread on how she expected such indulgent extravagance as normal was cut short when she looked down behind the fairy.


            Shot through with blue braids, a massive wave of crimson tresses tumbled down between the fairy's wings, cascaded over the swelling backside of her gown, curled down the flare of emerald skirting, and finally spilled out behind the queen in a meter long ruby fan.


            Akane gave a brief nod. "Yeah... that's over the top. No wonder it was easy to grab."


            "Oh, that's not what you grabbed," the queen coquettishly said, demurely lowering her gaze.


            Swallowing the martial artist followed the fairy's emerald eyes. Tying the little fairy's wrists together in front of her waist was a thick tight braid of shining sapphire tresses.


            "I...." Akane squinted past the fairy in the emerald gown and shook her head. "I tied you up with your own ridiculous hair?"


            The fairy gave a sparkling smile. "And got me dressed up for a special date with my Kuno-samma." Rolling her shoulders, she tried to lift her forearms but her elbows were fixed. "Lovely idea with using my own hair to bind my arms, and so thorough" the fairy gave a satisfied sigh as she squeezed her arms closer.


            "Er..." Akane's mouth dried as the fairy slowly, delicately, rotated on her hips via little, mincing steps.


            Frothy golden ruffles and green skirting flounced and swished as the gown turned and the wide train of crimson tresses glittered as it rippled and seemed to shift like the pool beneath a rotating waterfall.


             The sparkling sapphire braids went from the queen's wrist and looped around the fairy's elbows before tying into the golden bow at the base of the redhead's spine.


            Rolling her hips, the fairy tried to move her elbows. "This'll make the date so special," the redhead purred.


            "Let me guess you think Kuno will just love it?"


            "Oh, I know Tachi-kun will," Ranma promised with a wink and a giggle.


            Akane's face twisted as her stomach churned. "Ick... wait..." she looked through the clear green skirting. The thick braid snaked down the dress and looped around each ankle, linking the two ballet boots with a few inches of braided rope.


            "Hey! I never tied your legs!" Akane demanded.


            Fluttering her eyelashes, the overdone fairy continued her giggling.


            Ami looked up from her notes. "Her outfits do tend to magically change to fit her partner."


            Leaning forward, Nabiki ran a hand over the braided blue rope then brushed some glitter off of the preening queen's bodice. "It looks like you really wanted to take control Sis... in more ways than one."


            "Oh no! You're not blaming me for.... for... this!" Akane demanded.


            "You did tie up her arms," Ami tapped her clipboard and looked to her queen. "We can have the refreshments delivered in a few minutes," she said pulling out a cobalt-blue phone.


            "And she did start out wearing a leotard," Nabiki reminded.


            Akane's teeth ground.


            A smirk flittered across the fairy's face before her eyes widened. "Don't worry Akane-chan, I'll make sure Kuno-sempai knows all about your help." Giggling her wings fluttered. "Maybe he'll thank you personally for it," she promised with a wink.


            Looking ill, Akane's eyes darted between the trio. "Please tell me you're joking!"


            Vapidly smiling, Ranma tilted her head. After a few seconds her glossed lips curled into a smirk. "Yup!"


            "What?" Relief flooded Akane's face. "Geeze... this is too much."


            The fairy stuck out her tongue.


            "Still... good that this bimbo bondage fairy stuff's a joke."


            Looking down, Ranma gave a sly smile that failed to reach her eyes. "Yes then. I guess we should go," she sighed, disappointment edging her voice.


            "What?" Akane looked to her sister. "Is she mad at me? What'd I do?"


            "Tell me you're not that clueless," Nabiki sniffed.


            "It's her choice," Ranma gently said as she snapped her fingers and the blue braids fell away from her wrists, elbows and ankles.


            "Ah.... I'll have the cheesecake and mead delivered to the original location then," Ami assured as she reached over and hugged the little redhead.


            "That will be nice," Ranma softly said as the magical girl led her away, her gown leaving a sparkly trail in her wake.


            "What...."


            "You insulted her," Nabiki hit the backside of Akane's head with the side of her hand. "What? Were you waiting for her to wrap herself up in a bow and toss herself at you? Oh wait... she did." The catgirl gave another whack.


            "Hey!"


            Slowly gracefully, the queen turned back. Green eyes smoldered. "Nabiki. Leave her be," the fairy said, her words commanding. "She made her choice. It's not our place to force her. Now come."


            Nabiki eyed her sister before bounding off and mid-stride changed in a flash of light. A large black panther slinked over to the queen, the gem around her collar sparkling.


            The queen's stern expression cracked a bit as Ami bent over and ran a golden leash from the cat's collar to the fairy's waiting hand.


            Akane hands flexed as she watched the retreating entourage. Soon she was left alone in the empty dojo. "Ranma... Nabiki...." she whispered. She then took in the sparkling motes wafting in the air and the shimmering drifts of glitter in the corners of the room.


            "Hey! You left me with a mess to cleanup!"

 

***************

 


            "Damn fairies," Akane muttered as she pushed the broom over the mats. Clouds of glitter frothed up as she worked on the far side of the dojo.


            Pausing to watch the glitter bounce away from her skin, Akane turned and picked up a large pail. She then took a little dustpan and started scooping drifts of glitter into the metal five gallon bucket.


            "Why should I clean up after her messes?" Akane groused. Pushing the bucket with her foot, she watched the swirling sparkles slosh around within.


            Exhaling, she surveyed the dojo. She had only cleaned up a third of the dojo. "I'm going to need a bigger bucket." Akane poked one of the mats with her toes. "I wonder where Kasumi put the vacuum..."


            The Tendo girl sighed again. "She should be doing this," Akane grumbled as she swept up more of the glitter. She exhaled then coughed.


            "Stupid glitter," Akane gagged as a thick floating drift of the sparkling motes scattered away from her. "Guess I can't blame her."


            "Blame her for what?" a pleasant voice asked.


            "Wanting to get out of this place," Akane murmured. A slight smile appeared as she spun on one heel. "And what are you doing here?" she asked with deceptive calmness.


            Standing just across the threshold was a willowy young man with long brown hair. He smiled and bowed slightly to Akane. "Apologies but since the sign said challengers were to use the rear entrance.... and well..."


            "You're here to challenge the dojo?" Akane asked skeptically. From the young man's stance she guessed that he had some training, but he did not seem to have the hard edge of those of Ryoga or Ranma's caliber. Akane sighed and amended her last thought. That farce of a sparring match had shown Ranma's martial attitude had become... different. If anything the redhead was even more of a dangerous opponent...


            Still something about this man made her wary. Though she wondered if that was from the annoying throb her gem had been emanating ever since the cleaning had really started to kick the glitter up.


            "Oh no, not here to challenge." The young man chuckled. "It's, well, is your father in?"


            Dread crept into Akane's stomach. "Oh, another engagement. Lovely.


            "Pardon?" the young man asked sniffing the air. "There was no engagement," he said a contented smile spreading on his face.


            "That what did my father offer your father?" Akane deadpanned.


            "Uh... lessons?"


            Akane blinked. "Ah yes, of course." She forced a smile. "We are a well renowned martial arts style."


            "So, your father said in his correspondence with my Master," the young man made a show of looking around. "Where is Tendo-san? I was told things were a bit... informal here, but I didn't expect things to be quite this..." he eyed the drifts of glitter. "Quiet."


            "He's on a training trip with another master in the art," Akane said a bit flatly as she looked the man up and down once more. His frame was slender but she had seen him move enough to detect a gracefulness about him. "And may I have your name? Father has kept me apprised of many of his deals."


            "Oh, apologies," the young man blushed. "I am Hideo Komadori," he then gave a formal bow with an odd sweep to his arms.


            Akane chewed her lip. Something about his bow was familiar, almost reminding her of the one Nabiki had sarcastically given earlier. On the other hand... his name did sound familiar.


            "I'm sorry for the confusion and lack of preparation on our part," Akane returned a more conventional bow. "But are you scheduled for today?" she asked, forcing an even tone. She cursed her father's irresponsibility and took some comfort in the timing. If this Hideo had arrive an hour earlier... awkward questions could have been made.


            "Oh no, Tendo-san told me to come tomorrow mid-morning. He didn't give a more precise time..." Hideo coughed. "I'm here just to make sure this is the right place."


            Akane chuckled. "You're the kind of guy who asks a girl out to a restaurant then goes there and has a dinner there the day before the date just to check everything out."


            "I have traveled far for this opportunity." Hideo chuckled as he looked around the dojo once more.


            "An earlier... student... she has an... unconventional fighting style," Akane slowly stated.


            "Ah, Nerima does have such a reputation," his attention then went to Akane. "You teach as well."


            "What of it?" Glaring, Akane crossed her arms.


            "It'd be nice to know that if your father hasn't returned by tomorrow, I can still have lessons," Hideo assured as he smiled easily.


            Akane's eyes darted to the sparkly floor and suppressed a sigh.


            "If I may be so bold, that is an exotic gi," Hideo said, while his attention was on the glowing ruby dangling from Akane's neck.


            "It's new," Akane stated focusing on the slender teen. His traveling clothes reminded her of a much neater Hibiki, but something about him was off. "I don't suppose you have one of the letters my father sent?"


            "Of course, as well as a letter from my master," Hideo slipped his hand into his forest green vest and pulled out a pair of envelopes.


            Akane took them and flipped open the smaller. Inside she found a postcard with her father's deplorable chicken scratch. The writing was even worse than normal but she could read enough to get the thrust of her father inviting a Master Osamu to sent one of his students.


            The Tendo girl flipped over the postcard, glared at the samurai panda picture on the back, then turned back to the cramped writing. Once she confirmed that there was no mention of an engagement she went to the other envelope.

            "Okinawan?" Akane paused unfolding the letter with its neat lines of calligraphy. The letterhead at the top gave the address and a few more tidbits about this "Master Osamu".


            "Yes, mostly Shudokan but there was a lot of the philosophical groundings of Genseiryu, and some Hapkido to give some contrast," Hideo added.


            "Eclectic," Akane murmured as she skimmed past the rambling, half-remembered drinking stories that seemed to take up nearly half of the letter. But the bit at the end saying he was sending his prize student did line up with the other postcard.


            Akane suppressed a sigh and slipped both pieces of correspondence into their envelopes. She could see how the Okinowan and Korean styles could mesh well, but it required a lot of dynamic training. She also wondered exactly what he meant about Genseiryu's philosophy, normally one rendered that school's name to mean "pursue the deep truth and making it clear through the art", but it could also mean "to control the universe".


            "That is why my master consulted with yours," Hideo easily smiled.


            Reading over the letters, Akane's instincts did not settle. There was something off. The young man moved like he had some training, and while he did have the graceful almost circular motions of Shudokan karate or Hapkido... it seemed to be a front.


            Akane wanted to spar with him to get his true measure, but a small part of her thought back to her last sparing match and the unpleasant surprises she found then.


            The young man glanced back out the door and looked at the grounds of the Tendo compound. "I do look forward to my lessons, tomorrow' Hideo added. He then coughed. "If your father returns, or..."


            "At the very least I can evaluate your skills," Akane absently said. "Come up with a basic plan for your training. Father will fill in the details... when he returns of course but..."


            "Is everything alright?" Hideo hesitantly took a step closer. "Perhaps I'm being forward, if so pardon the lack of propriety."


            "You let yourself in and now you complain about propriety?"


            "The door was open... and I knocked and... and the sign said-"


            Akane held up a hand cutting off the man's stammering. "You wouldn't be the first student to just barge in here."


            Hideo nodded. "I know your family's school is... exclusive but... this place is rather quiet. You're the only student, here right now?"


            "I'm the only student in the family," Akane flatly said.


            "Well, you won't alone be when your father gets back." A smile played across Hideo's face before vanishing. "Or will your sisters come back?"


            Akane's face clouded; she was not sure she had mentioned her sisters when Hideo had first remarked about how quiet the dojo was.


            "That's not your liking? I mean if you're the only one being taught."


            "Maybe Kasumi got what she wanted," Akane muttered. " And maybe Nabiki thinks she got what she wanted. But..."


            Hideo put on a confused face. "I'm sorry?"


            "Nevermind, it's just my sisters, they...." Akane waved a hand at the empty dojo.


            "Ah, you're the youngest then? The overlooked one."


            "Now you're being forward," Akane's voice was clipped.


            Hideo bowed his head. "I'm sorry. Change is hard. You think you know the world. You think you know your place in it. You go to sleep. You wake up..."


            Despite the tingle on her ruby Akane nodded. At least this felt honest from the young man. "And it's gone."


            Hideo gave little smile.


            "At least you can go back to Okinawa. Back to your Master"


            "It won't be the same," Hideo gave a fatalistic shrug. "It's like how you'll get your sisters back, but they won't be the same, no one is."


            Akane exhaled.


            "Love is powerful. It's natural you want them back, and love will heal things."


            "If all this magic doesn't tear us apart," Akane grumbled.


            Raising an eyebrow, the slender young man shifted his stance. "Perhaps I should go..."


            Akane sighed. "I'm sorry, things got a bit personal," she forced out. Her father would get angry if she chased away every prospective student.


            "It's okay, Hideo held his hands out and lowered them soothingly. "You're under a lot of stress, what with your family and the -uh- glitter," he said avariciously looking at the bucket, eventually turning away.


            "Glitter," Akane flexed her leg but caught herself, kicking the bucket would just make things worse. "You think I want this stuff? That I want all this magic?"


            "Magic?"


           Akane scoffed. "Yeah, you get far enough in the martial arts and you'll have to deal with all sorts of magical nonsense. Or didn't your master warn you about that?"


            "Well... I had some training... but most of it was how to avoid being taken in," he quickly added.


            "Magic is more trouble than it's worth, even if sometimes it seems to work."


            The young man pretended not to notice the Tendo girl idly running an arm down the side of her shimmering gi.


            Her body shivered, and Akane shook her head. "But it's not worth it. I don't want this, not at the price..."


            Hideo allowed a smile. "What do you want?" he lightly asked.


            "I want us to be what we used to be! I want...I want it all!" Akane's glare softened. "I want it back the way that it was!"


            Still looking out the doorway, Hideo nodded. "You love them."


            Akane scoffed.


            "And what will you sacrifice for that love?" Hideo asked idly waving his hand.


            Shaking her head, Akane tapped the ruby on her chest. "I'm sorry?" She blinked.


             "Well, this friend of yours..." Hideo flashed another smile. "I won't pretend to know much about magic, but it sounds like you're dealing with some pretty powerful stuff."


            "You could say that." Akane moved her broom again. "She's got some magical girl working on it but... I'm worried she's getting corrupted too."


            Taking a spare broom, Hideo nodded. "That sounds.... challenging..." he allowed relishing her loose tongue.


            After glancing up to see her reaction, he took a moment to savor the glitter being kicked up.


            "Careful, you don't want to get this stuff on you."


            Hideo nodded. The enchantments and glitter were... intriguing. It was certainly evidence of the raw power and budding skills of the new queen.


            He helped her brush for a couple minutes in silence. The glitter did seem to get everywhere. A bit of nostalgia washed over the young man.


            "What would you do then?"


            "Do?" Akane poured a glitter-filled dustpan into the bucket. Despite her warnings she could see the dojo's new student was transfixed by the iridescent sparkling motes.


            "Save your friend? Help your family. Do more... be more?


            The martial artist's hand brushed her gi before cupping her ruby. "I could... but that wouldn't bring things back?" she idly poked with her brush at the last big pile of glitter that had gathered by the doorway.


           The young man helped sweep in the last of the pile, clearing the bits that had spilled out onto the porch past the threshold. "That depends on how far you're willing to go. What would you sacrifice for love?"


            Akane carefully brushed the glitter pile onto the dustpan. She let her gaze drift over the floor. The mats sill sparkled and shimmered. She would have to get down and scrub or vacuum to get rid of the rest and even then some would remain. The motes would have embedded themselves into the flooring, the beams, the walls.


            "Is it too late?" she asked to herself dumping the dust into the nearly full drum-like bucket. "I'm just not... I don't know," she sighed.


            Giving one last push with his broom, Hideo shrugged. "You've got great potential. I can see why she's interested in you."


            "Don't think I'll go easy on you just because you're sucking up," Akane teased as they carefully tapped the brooms over the bins, shaking out the glitter.


            Hideo grinned "Perish the thought." He held out a hand and took Akane's broom, and after getting directions put the cleaning supplies away.


            "At least you're keeping ahead of things," Hideo offered looking over the shinny dojo.


            Akane snorted. "Right, until things spin out of control."


            "I'm sure you'll make the right choice." Hideo shrugged as he slipped towards the door. "Love brings out the best in us."


            Walking further into the dojo, Akane rolled her shoulders. "Right." She gave the big bucket a wide berth. The metal walls of the bucket seemed brighter almost silvery. Her arm reached out and... hesitated.


            "Oh no, let me throw it out, I should be leaving anyway," Hideo assured as he slipped back into the dojo.


            Akane eyed the silver bucket with its swirling contents. "Sure, just don't get any of it on you."


            Hideo nodded and gingerly picked up the bucket's handle. "Of course. Of course," he promised.

 

End Chapter 5

 

I'd like to thank my prereaders for their help in this story: Mahou Sensou, J St C Patrick, Crimson Vixen, DCG, Pale Wolf and Kevin Hammel.  They definitely make for a more enjoyable read.