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Lost Together Chapter 16(AU)(RyoRan)Reuploaded/Edit note(9/29/22): After the response to chapter 16's Chervil I DaisukiFox would like to say I'm sorry for letting myself go overboard and completely missing the tone of the Chervil arc. Facer had warned me before posting and we've gone back and made some changes! We hope you consider leaving another review or are at the least content with this version. I only want to make the best story we can, thank you for your feedback, whether positive or negative we're out here to give the best story we can and what I did was not the best we can.DaisukiFox: There's something I think I need to address, things are constantly changing and redefining themselves, but as time goes on we're noticing that more art is becoming censored and or considered outdated, you see when I am writing these scenes, I have to look at it with a lens from the past.This can be considered problematic to some, but we have no choice if we want to stay true to our source material.Ranma ½ wasn't written in modern times, the fact that we're doing well enough to make this is amazing. Why even bring this up though? Well, we notice our little story is growing and that means various opinions might come flooding in that might want us to change, so in a sense, this is like future proofing as well as letting everyone know where we stand.The main point of this? The past matters and we're going to write it from the time it was written.This is fanfiction and we do this for fun while trying our best and trying new things. Because art is free and bold.That being said! I also want to say that one thing is becoming abundantly clear in many reviews… most don't want Ranko to go back to normal or to regain her memory. lolzDr. Facer: Hello, everyone. I'm happy to see that so many people enjoy the story, and it is good to hear how well received it has been so far. We'll be working hard to make it interesting and fun to read in the future, we can only hope you continue the journey with us.I noticed someone asked about the stance Ranko used in the previous chapter. Good eye, as it's actually the one Ranma uses in page 2 of chapter 185, when he's about to fight Taro at Water Keep shrine. Ranma does use that legs spread wide-one fist up stance often up to the midpoint of the manga if I'm remembering correctly. Nice catch!Something else is that many of you made very astute observations regarding Ranko and her development and possible outcomes. I can't confirm or deny anything (no spoilers, sorry), but I'm sure that eventually when we get there, quite a few of you will think: "of course, it all makes sense now" or "I knew this would happen". What can I say? You guys are really paying a lot of attention to all the plot points and little clues in the story so far.Disclaimer: We do not own Ranma ½! Ranma ½ is owned by Rumiko Takahashi and Viz media (Plus affiliates if there happen to be any)!Lost together Chapter 16, Still standing atop the same stove as before the cloaked fugitive Lioness, arms crossed as she closed her eyes. Looking to be deep in thought."I really got nothing," Chervil admitted to herself after a bit, lowering her face in disappointment.Chervil opened her eyes, gazing out into the distance, images of the days prior coming back to her but what really kept coming back was how much time she had spent trying to follow a scent, only for it to suddenly vanish, all the time she had to stop and look around frantically replaying itself in her mind as well.'Even when I get her scent it seems like the other redhead just vanishes or something! Then there's this other scent that I think is human…' she thought profusely, it didn't matter though, it all kept spiraling back down to nothing."I've been here for too long, I need to figure out how to find that redhead from before…" Her voice trailed softly as Mousse and Shampoo suddenly flashed inside her mind, followed by what they had said to her."That weird girl and her boyfriend are probably back in Joketsuzoku," the female feline commented."I need to find my way north of here…" She remarked before looking around, thoughtfully scratching behind her ear when she spotted a tree, focusing on the moss, she then faced in the direction it grew.'Maybe if I can talk to them, they might even have some information on the other redhead,' she thought aloud but calmly as she started walking.'I'll recover the ring soon, Herb, and then we'll be together, I promise…' Chervil pondered as a small smile spread across her face.'I just hope you can forgive what I did…I never wanted things to be like this,' she thought with a lightly choked up sounding inner voice…A younger Chervil stood alone at the edge of the women's training grounds, dressed in what appeared to be a sleeveless beige gi. A red and yellow spiral pattern waist belt that barely held together from the looks of how training damaged and scuffed it was.Before her, was a tall tree with a thick trunk, however, being such a sturdy piece of vegetation also helped it to serve as her training dummy. Scratch marks littered the surface as if some large wildcat had been trying to claw its way through it.Chervil screamed as she slashed the trunk, bits of wood and bark flying off in the process."Huh!?" she gasped as she noticed she had clipped a nail, and her full hand started to hurt a little. She clearly still had to practice more to get this technique right."Remember what dad said, harden your fingernails with ki!" She recited, remembering her father's advice, "Make them like iron like he showed you!" tensing the muscles in her hands as she concentrated.Looking to her side she saw circular slices of tree trunks gathered around a stump. The top half of the tree laid off to the side, almost resembling a piece of broccoli with how clean the cut at the bottom was. The fallen, sliced up tree was the handiwork of her father, who had demonstrated one of his techniques earlier that morning after she had asked him to show it to her for several days."If you want to have a chance in the women's tournament, then mastering the Tetsu Rībā will be the first step!" she said in a sterner version of her own voice, repeating what her father had told her just before showing her the technique.Beyond the clearing where she stood were three girls, walking along the road that led to the young lioness' training grounds, each dressed much in a similar manner to that of the pint-sized Chervil. Though instead of waist belts, the two off to the sides wore red and gold sashes."There's Chervil, training alone, again…" A high-pitched and youthful girl's voice spoke."Heard she's been like that for a year now," Another with a deeper almost fully grown woman's voice said. "Doing extra training all by herself every morning.""I think she's trying to catch up to us, it won't help, she'll always be a slacker!" The green-haired one in the center of the three blurted out loudly enough for Chervil to hear.Right then Chervil struck the tree again, the veins in her good hand had expanded in her silent irritation. This time she managed to shred chunks about the entire length of her fingers, a first for her."What did you call me!?" The auburn-haired girl demanded to know, turning to face them after asking.For a moment there was silence, the one who set Chervil's mood ablaze stood, now frozen for a moment before gritting her teeth in a show of dominance. "Don't think I'm afraid of you! You're not stronger than us just because you started doing some extra training!" The forest green Lioness pointed out."T-that goes for us too, w-were not scared of you!" The black-haired girl to her right raised her fists a tad cautiously."Especially not to some slacker like you!" The long haired brunette girl to the left backed up more confidently than the one before her."Yeah, even your dad's a slacker!" The emerald haired girl rejoined."My dad's not a slacker, take that back!" Chervil angrily warned the girls to watch their tongues around her."Or what?" The leader of the trio asked with a smirk, mockingly twirling her emerald tresses between her middle and index fingers. "You're gonna tell on us?""She won't, but I'll make you all eat dirt," a new voice said from behind the mortified Chervil.The four lion girls turned in the direction of the voice, seeing a tall, Tiger clan girl around their age emerging from between the trees and entering the training grounds."Papri!" Chervil said with a smile, glad to see her best friend had arrived."These strays bothering you?" Papri asked, cracking her knuckles as she stared at the other three girls."I think they were leaving, right?" Chervil said, smirking at the annoying trio."Krème, Anise," The green-haired girl called, looking back at her friends. "Let's leave the losers alone, we don't wanna catch their germs.""Vanille are you gonna let them talk to us like that?" The second girl complained but buttoned her yap when she saw that Vanille was serious."Anise, Krème let's just go, they're not worth it," Vanille said, turning around and starting to leave."Yeah, run away you cowardly cubs," Papri mocked, arms akimbo as she watched the bully trio start retreating."Oh, you wish," Vanille said, stopping for an instant, her eyes narrowing as she tried to think of a way to save face. "We… we just don't want to kick your butts right now. But keep training, because we'll settle this during the women's tournament, you'll see!""Yeah, keep dreaming!" Papri laughed. "We'll be the ones who'll kick your butts, right Chervil?""Yeah, we will!" Chervil promised, feeling bold now that Papri was there.Without any more words, but plenty of hard stares, Vanille and her friends made a slow retreat they clearly hoped allowed them to retain some dignity."Thanks for the help," Chervil said once she and Papri were alone. "If you hadn't shown up…""Eh, it was nothing, those three are a real pain you know?" Papri said with a sigh. "Just because their dads are soldiers and ours aren't they feel like they're a big deal. Idiots.""They're just stupid, our dads teach martial arts in the boy's side, that makes us even," Chervil declared. "So… wanna go for breakfast or something? I don't feel like training anymore.""Sure, let's go!" Papri said with a grin. "My mom was baking fish cakes, we can see if they're done!", A few days later…The miniature Chervil ran as fast and as discreetly as she could, keeping her head down to avoid calling attention to herself. She didn't want people to notice her or where she was going.Reaching the culvert, she looked around to see nobody was paying attention to her and slid down the canal to where she'd normally steal glances at her crush from a safe distance. Looking back up one last time and hoping she hadn't caught anyone's attention, she slowly entered her secret spot.Once she was there she dropped so she could be on her knees, waiting in a spot between the wall and the iron bars where shadows kept her out of sight, hoping her prince would come to the stream that day."He didn't come here yesterday or the day before, I hope I'm lucky today…" Chervil muttered, straining to hear in case someone approached the stream from the other side of the wall."Lord Herb, wouldn't you prefer to bathe at the palace?" Sumac's voice echoed from a bit away."I'm covered in mud and dirt, and I smell! I need to wash right away," Herb stated in disgust. "You didn't mention we would train fighting in a mud hole today, Sumac!""It's part of our regime, Lord Herb, we all must learn how to fight in any environment!" Sumac explained, sounding confused while talking. "You already know that, your father told you this part of your training would start last month.""My father didn't mention it would involve being knee deep in mud, I bet he thought it'd be funny if I discovered it on my own!" Herb ranted as jumped down to the edge of the stream and started undressing, the sight of him removing his clothes down to his underwear caused Chervil's face to heat up and turn as red as a strawberry, for an instant she was about to squeal and run away, but fear of being discovered froze her in place, all she could do was hope nobody saw her."Your Father's sense of humor is a little… unique, but he means well, I can assure you of that…" Sumac hesitantly reassured, not sure how to placate the annoyed prince."Not so funny when I'm the one who's covered in mud," Herb commented as he entered the stream with his eyes closed.From the bars through the culvert, Chervil slowly poked her head out to better see Herb waist-deep in the water. Her mouth hung open, blushing as she stared at the Musk Prince.That was until it looked as though he were about to open his eyes! Not wanting to get caught, she quickly ducked back out of sight.Swearing she could hear her heart beating madly in her chest, she looked down to her feet with shocked eyes. "It's been a year since the first time I saw the prince and he just keeps getting more and more handsome…" she whispered as she smiled softly, but then a traitorous thought entered her mind."...But what if I can't win the women's tournament?" she mused as she dug her fingers into her knees a smidge. "Or… what if I win and he doesn't like me?"Herb tilted his head as he thought he had gotten a glimpse of something but hadn't really caught sight of anything in time."Everything alright?" Sumac inquired."I thought I saw something, maybe this stupid training in the mud has me so annoyed I'm starting to see things…" The dragon prince answered the advisor, blinking in confusion."Perhaps you need some rest," Sumac suggested. "And you do have Literature class later today, would you like me to summon your tutor earlier?""Maybe I do need a break," Herb admitted as he finished washing his hair and then walked out of the stream. "Please call the teacher, Sumac. I'll complete this stupid mud training course tomorrow."'No… I'm sure if I'm strong enough and work hard on my looks Herb will like me when I grow up,' Chervil thought while she stole another glance, looking at the right time to see her crush pouring some water over his head with a bucket, then pick up his clothes and finally stretch his muscles this way and that before following Sumac to the Musk Castle."I will marry Herb someday," she muttered to herself with a soft upward tilt of her lips. "No matter how hard I have to work for it, I swear I'll marry him!" she whispered as she stood up slowly and began walking away, smiling as the sun's bright rays welcomed her once she was out of the culvert., A few days later…Arms raised and poised at the ready were Chervil and Papri, facing one another as they traded practice punches at one another.Surrounding them was a wide clearing near a shimmering pond, weapons, training dummies, and various clawed-at trees that probably extended even further into the dense forestry beyond the site.Female Musk members surrounded them in the background.Going for a nimble right hook was the very confident Papri, however, her attack was much more like a quick but playful swat that if it had landed it still might have hurt.Chervil stood her ground, her expression slightly shocked because although she had managed to dodge the swing in time, she was still a bit alarmed by how much force was packed into the tiger girl's punch. "Hey! W-we're just practicing, remember!?" The smaller lioness reminded the Tiger clan girl."Sorry, holding back is hard for me…" Papri's voice trailed as she gently bonked the top of her head with her knuckles."Students, gather!" A female voice with a proud bravado spoke, all turning to see a wolf clan member with her hands on her hips and a knowing smirk.All seized their movements, except the ones who were sparing and in mid-swing, they fell rubbing their faces before standing around the female wolf."Greetings new students, I'm Chinkiang for those of you who don't know!" She announced, bowing her head quickly, receiving a nod of return from those who didn't know her."And today I'm going to teach you younglings how to harness your ki!" Chinkiang proclaimed with a wide grin."Why would that matter to someone like me?" Papri questioned as she lifted her arm and put her palm over her bicep.Chervil rolled her eyes in response to this, smiling in a somewhat coy way as she made it apparent that she thought her friend had way too big of an ego."With my muscles, I'm more than strong enough to defeat anyone who even tries to challenge me!" The overly cocky Tigress announced rather proudly.A chorus of groans erupted from the class, even the teacher put her palm to her face."However! I'll still listen anyways!" She exclaimed loudly enough for it to cut through their collective groans.The atmosphere in the room went from agitated to beaming with laughter as her statement felt like she just wanted to gloat."Oh! This might be more for me!" Chervil found herself getting excited, clenching her hands together."How do you know that?" Chinkiang inquired, tilting her head to one side."My father said that the true strength of the Lion clan lies in our ability to produce ki, second only to the legendary Dragon clan themselves!" Chervil outlined with her finger pointed up and her eyes closed…"Simpler times," Chervil commented with a timid smile; stopping, she looked around herself and saw that all she could see was nothing more than trees and rocks as far as her eyes could see.'Walking is taking too long,' she pondered. Leaping in a single bound, she landed on a thick tree branch. Going from there, she used her powerful legs to jump from branch to branch.After what felt like a good while to her, the feline began to get nervous, looking around as she continued to follow the direction of the moss."What is that? Is that a…" She questioned then narrowed her eyes as she focused on the building in the distance."A school?", Leaving faint trails of smoke as they ran, the Lucky God twins charged by each other's sides, 'Although Bishamonten has lost! We will avenge his sacrifice!' Daikokuse thought before closing in on their target. Right before they were within striking distance, the twins whipped an arm out to their sides, the white circled brother was the first to throw out his left arm, 'We must make not only big brother Jurojin proud but the King as well!' Daihakuse thought, pulling it back for a powerful attack, the brother with the black circle did the same. Their free arms merely hung in between them while clenched tightly. Ranko narrowed her eyes, spotting something particular about the way they were coming at her. Not getting much longer than that to think about it, she instead found herself face to face with that answer, unable to see a counterattack available at this moment, she instead opted to catch both of their fists into her palms. Without any hesitation on the twin's part, they brought up their other arms for a team attack. The redhead had no choice but to merely let go, pulling her head back before they could hit her. Both had used a fierce uppercut, although, when recognizing that they had missed, they brought their arms back down to their sides and leaped towards Ranko, Daihakuse sticking his right leg forward while Daikokuse did so with his left leg. Now was the pigtailed girl's chance to dodge, taking it, she narrowly escaped a direct kick to her pelvis from Daihakuse's foot. Yet there was to be no quarter for her, she was already facing off against two martial artists whose actions were as fluid as a calm river; it reminded her of the steps to a dance really. Ranko retracted her arm, balling it into a fist! It wouldn't matter though, whenever she tried to shift her weight into the proper attacking position, the two younger males would move right back in. Ryoga's eyes darted between all three of the fighters, trying to follow along as best he could. His eyes were hardened, and his lips resembled a flat line as he watched, "It was such a weird sense of déjà vu, though where have I seen that stance?" he asked himself quietly and softly, thinking back to everything involving Ranko's fighting style. Much like her, it was wild and unexpected, all over the place if he really had to say anything. What made her so formidable was her intense focus, speed, and obscene strength at her disposal. Inhaling sharply, the redhead bared her teeth, her eyes trembling as she felt the pain in the spot where Daihakuse had hit her start to spread more and more. "Now! Brother!" Daihakuse ordered as they closed back in together. Ranko's eyes widened as she saw two separate strikes coming her way, immediately she acted on instinct, knowing she could anticipate their attacks and block them, holding her hands out to each closed fist before they could even land. They swung their arms out, looking to be repeating the same tune as before. Except for this time they peeked at each other's eyes for a nanosecond before looking back out at their target. "What the-" Ranko got out while the Lucky God Twins were in mid-run, swapping places with a quick side hop. Ranko attempted to accommodate for this change of pace, however, she could only manage to stop Daihakuse. One went for somewhere towards her eyes, while the other went for her cheek, 'Dammit!' she thought while the two suddenly changed their approaches. Prioritizing the safety of her face was something very important to Ranko, so naturally, her first instinct was to protect it. A hard thud echoed from where the black shoji twin struck Ranko, hitting her directly where his brother had wounded her before. Ranko cringed noticeably, grabbing onto her sore spot. Taking this as a moment to stop and think quickly, she noticed that the two were already at it again while she was on her knees and still recovering as best she could. Ranko adapted as well as any other time, relying on her own quick wits and experiences of known and unknown origins. The second they were close enough, Ranko let out a loud battle cry as she pushed herself off the ground and leaped, though, what they hadn't expected was for her leap to include a single reverse hurricane kick. "Oof!" both grunted immediately after the other, starting from Daihakuse and then to Daikokuse. Flying through the air as the white tiled piece teen crashed into his brother, the twins were flung back into the smokey haze cover they had hidden in just moments before. Some of the smoke parted but swallowed them whole when the sounds of them hitting the ground rang throughout the area. "Gotcha!" She exclaimed with one eye closed, keeping a hand over her tender spot before letting it gently fall back to her side. Flopping to the ground on their sides, Daikokuse grunted in pain, holding it in before his eyes shot wide as his brother landed faster than he could gather himself. Screaming in his throat when Daihakuse's body unintentionally pummeled into his. They lay there, doing as best as they could to maintain their element of surprise. Each looked up to the smoke as it cloaked their presence. Gritting their teeth in determination they moved closer to one another, pushing themselves up into kneeling positions. "Brother, I don't know if we can beat her, maybe we should have-" Daihakuse began as he whispered as quietly as he could, knowing that he was only talking as audibly as was absolutely necessary. "Have you forgotten that it was Big brother Jurojin who let us have our titles as lucky gods! He saw something in us no one else saw! So let's honor that sacrifice!" Daikokuse said as slowly moved closer to his brother, meeting him eye to eye. Daihakuse stared at him with his mouth agape, 'It's because of us that Big Brother has to fight in the shadows, he could have been freed of that life his own father had to endure but Daikokuse is right, he believes in us…' The white-tiled teen thought to himself before returning to his senses. "You're right, we're more than worthy, though we were not the elders or even King Hirin's first choices, we will show them we're more than worthy though! Brother! It's time we use our most powerful technique!" Daihakuse whispered with passion. His brother only smirked in response and then nodded his head, 'We miss you, big bro! But now we have a purpose, all thanks to your sacrifice! We might even have more than that to show you soon!' the other twin Lucky God thought as an image of Rin Rin took occupancy in his head. Clenching his fists so hard he felt his knuckles going white, the Lost Man held onto the memory of Ranko's pain, 'I know Ranko doesn't want me to but it makes me so mad when she's hit and I can't do something about it! I have to trust her! Just like she did to me!' he pondered, that's when he noticed Ranko turning the tables in the most spectacular way he could've imagined. Releasing a breath Ryoga hadn't been aware he was holding, he made his way over to her. "You think they're unconscious maybe?" he wondered while about eight feet away from her. "I wouldn't count on it, I couldn't hit 'em' as hard as I wanted to…" Her voice trailed as Ryoga continued to get closer. The smoke around them didn't appear to impair their ability to breathe, it acted much more like a fog than any sort of hazardous fumes. Ranko led the way as Ryoga got close enough to stand nearby her. "Maybe they're out cold," she spoke calmly and quietly. "It didn't sound like they crashed into anything, aside from each other…" Ryoga's voice trailed softly as looked off to the side. "Just in case though, maybe we oughtta use this time to at least go looking for an exit!" Ranko recommended with some urgency in her tone. Wasting as little time as they could, Ranko and Ryoga walked in a hurried manner, looking from right to left. "It's so hard to–" Ryoga commented but then his eyes widened. "Ranko!" "What's up?" She asked, holding her hands out, no doubt trying to feel something on the wall, hoping they were near or close to the back door. "Do you hear the sound of wood burning?" Ryoga asked while reaching behind him to rub the back of his neck. "Huh, no, I'm more hearing a bubbling noi-" Ranko said but stopped as she bumped into a hard object. "Ran-" Ryoga was also cut short as he bumped into whatever had stopped his girlfriend too. The smoke cleared a bit as the strong wooden affixture they slammed against held strong, only creaking and groaning before almost immediately settling. Beneath the center of its wooden arch hung a massive black pot, it was so huge that it sort of resembled a large cauldron. "So this is what's been making all this fog or whatever," Ryoga commented, putting his hands on his hips as he stood still while looking around. "I think that's the lid over there," Ranko alerted to a shelf near Ryoga. Reaching over for it and then going back to the pot to cover it with the lid, though, when he took a step back, he felt his foot land on a fireplace poker. Checking what he had just stepped on, he looked down, his eyes widening when he took it and began to disperse the coal on the marvel floor, effectively putting the fire out. "It matters not that you put the fire out!" Daihakuse proudly proclaimed, his voice echoing from amongst the smoke. "Because there should be enough smoke for one final attack!" Daikokuse threw in as well. "Where are you brats!?" Ranko demanded to know. In the smoke, a blue orb began glowing enough to show its general direction. "Let us build our energy together brother!" Daihakuse announced as the ball began to expand with each pulse of energy. "Is that a massive ki attack!" Ranko exclaimed, pointing in shock as they seemed to not have any way out. "It's better that it only takes one of us out!" Ryoga declared, running past Ranko to close his eyes and stand before her. "Ryoga!" She cried out as she held her hand out, not having expected this turn of events. "Haaaaaa!" The twins' voices hollered as they prepared to unleash their attack. Everything felt like it was moving so much slower than it should, the adrenaline coursing through her veins. It felt like Ranko's lungs would collapse at any minute, 'Am I about to lose the man I love? Why didn't I see this comin-' the redhead thought but stopped thinking when she caught sight of Daihakuse and Daikokuse leaping to her side, flanking her as they had taken advantage of misdirection and were now out and closing the distance. "What the…!?" Ryoga's eyes widened when the sounds all over the place focused behind him. "Take this!" Both shouted as they slammed their open palms against Ranko's weak spot as hard as they could, causing her skin to cave in a little as the force of their attack sent her skidding on her heels. There was that insane pain again, screaming at her, the pigtailed girl's eyes widened as the veins in said eyes suddenly became very pronounced. Once her travel backward ended, she tried to maintain her balance but the pain inside her was so overwhelming that when she tried to straighten her legs out, she would immediately become too weak to stand. Breathing heavily through her grit teeth, the redhead parted her upper and lower jaws to breathe even deeper, 'Like-like hell is this over!' she thought, tensing all the muscles in her legs as hard as she could; screaming past all her pain. "Ranko!" Ryoga watched their trickery, although he had to wonder what the source of that light was, peeking back at it, the smoke surrounding them began to clear out enough for Ryoga to notice what looked like a bright glowing snow globe set on a wooden totem; behind it was an electrical cord. Trying to make up for his blunder, The Lost Man moved as quickly as he could, there was no need though. For Ranko dashed forward like there was no tomorrow, it was like watching a wild animal closing in on some helpless prey. From what Ryoga could gather, the twins seemed unfazed by this turn of events and tried leaping backward into what was left of the fog, their expressions seeming proud. "Even if you're still standing! There's noth-" Daihakuse said, immediately forced to eat his own words as she forced her legs to push so painfully fast that she was now standing directly in front of the two. "Huh!?" The twins both gasped out at the exact same time., "I know it must be hard being an orphan but I've asked my father to take you both in! Please don't run away or live on the streets! I'll help Daihakuse become the next Lucky God so you two will never have to worry about being alone ever again!" A younger-looking Jurojin exclaimed as he stood behind the two as the two toddlers in beige versions of their current clothing sat on their knees, heads tilted down as before them were two tombstones in the shape of a square house with triangle roofs, two incenses were lit in front of those graves, slowly burning out as the seconds went by. The two younger boys turned to the bigger one slowly, tears streaming down from their eyes, all hope wiped from their faces as they fought the permanent frown on their faces, alas, it couldn't be helped. "Jurojin!" They exclaimed as Jurojin dropped to his knees in front of them, a stern but also broken expression, though he did not cry, he had to be strong for them was what they wondered at the time. Without warning, he took them both into his arms, his head in between theirs. "I won't let them separate you two, you two will be the first Twin Lucky Gods, I swear it on my life…" He whispered while choking on his words, allowing the toddlers in his arms to cry., 'Forgive us, big brother! But we were not enough!' The twins thought with defeated and pained inner voices. Poooowww! "Argh!" Ranko roared as she landed two uppercuts; one for each twin's chin. "Did she just use The Chestnut Fist for a split second to do a double uppercut?" Ryoga commented as he watched them flying towards the ceiling. Splat! Ryoga recoiled a little as he saw where the two went, also, since enough of the smoke had cleared out he was able to watch as they both crashed into the ceiling, it was like watching if gravity hadn't applied to them. Only for existence to remember that it had a purpose to serve, so, it brought them back down to the ground with a loud thud. "N-next time, don't stand so close to-to each other, makes it too easy to deck ya both at the same time!" Ranko explained through tired breaths, turning to face her boyfriend. "I-I think they're unconscious…" Ryoga's voice trailed as he slowly tried to walk up to her, hoping to maybe act as some sorta shoulder to lean on. "Whatever, they were way more annoying than I expected so that serves those punks right!" she commented with her eyes closed and a scoff, clenching her side in pain again. "Ranko," Ryoga tried to reach out to her with his hand. "Worry about me la-later! Go-go find the exit first!" she exclaimed, dropping back down to her knees when Ryoga was finally looking away. The tension after Kirin's defense of arresting a supposed innocent amnesiac was still palpable in the air. Everything was silent again, however, the two could not help but stare into the other's eyes from time to time, almost as if studying one another. Off to the side of the table was a maid with her hands clasped together, waiting to be of service. "Lady Lychee, although I cannot permit your friend and her beau a pardon, does that mean we cannot continue to get to know one another?" Kirin requested while raising his drink up to gaze at his reflection from the corner of his eye. "I never said that we couldn't get to know one another, besides, I'm just a waitress, working in my family business..." Lychee's voice trailed while she replied, looking off to the side, blushing while taking a sip of her tea, face becoming bright red when Kirin mentioned getting to know one another. "Rather humble beginning if I do say so myself," Kirin commented while nearly finishing his second cup, his delighted expression seemed permanent. "A shop worker in Bao would also be really accurate too I suppose," Lychee forgot to add, however, it did make her feel rather small in comparison to him. 'He's so important, I wonder if he'd even really like to hear about any of this,' she pondered in slight dismay, shutting her eyes calmly. "Interesting, I'd like to hear about how you manage these two jobs, perhaps I could pay you and them a visit sometime?" The Prince inquired tenderly, probing for answers clearly but maintaining a tranquil air to him. For Lychee right now, she felt as though she were a steam valve going off as her face had reached another level of red, "W-why do you ask?" She inquired while shakily putting her tea cup back down on its saucer, she was pretty sure she knew the answer but was rather shy, or maybe it also bought her some time to think about his question. "I'd like to meet your parents before announcing our engagement of course," Kirin answered as if it were the most casual thing on Earth. Lighting up like a Christmas tree she leaned back but her expression didn't portray her as disgusted in any sense but rather just massively caught off guard for him to talk about already meeting her parents and then their engagement, 'Calm down! You always told yourself that you'd be ready for this day! He wants to be your prince! I just have to save my only friends somehow from ruining a peace treaty that could end a decades-long if not a centuries-long alliance, n-no pressure,' she thought, after some time, but right before it could get too awkward for either of them, she forced back her giddiness, only to replace it with a shy expression. "I-I wouldn't mind but before we'd get to meet my parents and workplaces, you'd have to promise me that you'll leave my friends alone," She responded, even if she stumbled out the gate quite a bit when asking, she found herself getting a little more confident the longer she spoke with Kirin. Sighing heavily before taking the last sip of his tea, the somewhat exhausted-looking Prince closed his eyes, putting down his cup as if it were some strong shot of alcohol he'd need in order to prepare himself. "Yet again, I'm afraid I must put the future of our people first..." His voice trailed with a disheartened tone. "Am I not a part of your people's future too?" Lychee inquired, sure, it felt a little forward for her to say since Ranko was still in danger but she found herself almost acting without thinking, letting the first thing that came to mind just gets blurted out. "Though that fact remains very much true my sweet Lychee, my obligation to the Prince of the Musk demands that we bring about the non-aggression pact between Nekonron and his people..." "Which can only be brought about by my friend's arrest," She finished, albeit not exactly how he would have phrased it but that was it in essence. "Were the circumstances different, perhaps the least of our worries would have been when we should first begin to date..." Kirin's voice trailed in a longing sort of way. Here they were again, for Lychee, she felt like she had been going in a complete circle. She couldn't convince him to just drop this so easily so she sighed a tad heavily, 'I suppose I can't blame him entirely but Ranko wouldn't do something like this on purpose, she wants something to believe in but she also needs someone to believe in her!' she thought, finding inner strength for the friend she cared for. "I know this is important to you, but if you're so convinced you need to fight her, at least promise me you'll try to talk to Ranko if there's a chance, my Prince..." Lychee said while staring down at her empty porcelain cup, pausing at the end to include the fact that she still wants to see where this was going between them. Prince Kirin weighed the suggestion, plus this would more than likely put Lychee in a better mood. "I believe that's acceptable, I'll allow them a chance to speak on their behalf," the Nekonron Prince accepted with a nod, considering this one plea from his hopefully future wife. "Thank you for the consideration, I'm sure she'll reach you as she did me!" Lychee began softly but her courage grew, causing her excitement to be painted thickly on her face. During that time, she grinned widely, finally getting some level of peace of mind, she then looked at the painting that caught her eye earlier. Following her line of sight, he spotted what he thought was calling her attention, 'Is she showing an interest in her future people's culture?' he pondered with an upward tilt of the corner of his mouth. "Please, do tell, what is being depicted in that painting over there?" The strawberry blonde asked about her possible future King's family history. "Have you heard about Saffron, the Phoenix King of Ho'O peak?" Kirin asked, wondering if Lychee was familiar with the evasive Bird People. "Only rumors, none of them good," she provided with a nod. "This painting here… does it relate to him?" "Yes. Long ago, one of Saffron's previous incarnations decided to test the mantle of man in all the other kingdoms of the region, proclaiming strength to be the only real determining factor amongst which Kingdoms were allowed to flourish or fall like the many before them," Kirin explained as he stared at the picture in admiration. "And… if a Kingdom failed or all of them failed to be strong?" Lychee inquired out of curiosity, blinking in confusion. Seeing that her duty called, the maid in the corner had come up to them to top of the Prince's drink, which he calmly held up a little as to serve himself all the quicker before the worker retreated backward, happy to be of service, shutting her eyes, excusing herself with a bow. "If they failed to be strong, he felt that they would stand to benefit from being ruled by him instead," His voice paused softly for dramatic effect. "The Musk King at the time matched the intense heat coming from Saffron's fire, while my ancestors and the previous iterations of the Seven Luck Gods used leather fortified airships to face a squadron of elite bird warriors in the air! Reaching a stalemate with them!" The proud Prince declared, raising his glass in triumph. Clapping her hands together with wide starry eyes, she then looked down and seemed perplexed. "There's an old story in Bao I heard about a battle in the sky! I wonder if they're one and the same?" Lychee questioned with a wonder-filled tone. "It must be from the sounds of it! I must say, it's quite nice to know you've heard a little of Nekonron's history," Kirin's voice paused as he met Lychee's shimmering eyes. 'Why is it so hard to breathe? Does my heart feel like it's about to come out of my chest? Or am I experiencing feelings this early on?' he thought, lost in the pools of his Princess' eyes. "Please, do go on..." Lychee's voice trailed somewhat shyly, lowering her hands to put them on her lap., Ryoga glanced at Ranko from the corner of his eye and ignored the need to ask her how she felt. He had already asked twice, being worried about her labored breathing, the pearls of sweat crowning her forehead, but she had responded poorly and expressed that she felt fine so he had decided to keep his mouth shut, instead be ready in case she fell on her knees again. The young man, however, was starting to fear his girlfriend had a fever. They had walked out of the main hall a few minutes before, only to find a short hallway with three doors. One to the right, one to the left, and one in front of them. The light filtering from below the door ahead told them it was the exit, but fearing a trap they checked the two on the sides. The left door opened to a bedroom with two beds, obviously the place where the twins slept. For a moment Ryoga thought about suggesting Ranko take a short nap, but discarded the idea right away. The other door led to a kitchen. "Do you mind if we check if they have food?" Ryoga asked, hoping Ranko would agree so she could rest for a few minutes. "Are we… running out of snacks or something?" She answered, her voice low. "We must hurry, Ryo… remember?" "It won't take too long and yeah, we need to restock." "Alright… but be quick," she said and followed him. Flinching a little as she walked, the redhead took in a deep breath and sat on a chair, watching as her boyfriend rummaged through the kitchen. 'She's clearly in pain,' Ryoga thought while opening a small cabinet and finding it full of plates and cups. He doubted for a moment but in the end, reached for two porcelain cups and then filled them with water from a clay pot that was on the kitchen table. "I'm a bit thirsty," he said, offering a cup to Ranko. "Do you want some water?" "Not really… I mean… I am not thirsty," the redhead managed to get out. She had kept her hand discreetly over her midsection and avoided moving much; she'd discovered that as long as she stayed still the pain in her guts receded considerably, and she was taking advantage of this short rest to recover as much as possible. "Drink, Ranko," he insisted, holding the cup in front of her. "We don't know if we'll have the chance to relax after we're out of here, you know?" "I… guess you're right…" she said and slowly reached for the cup. She managed a smile and then took a sip, expecting it to hurt when the water hit her stomach but that didn't happen. Instead, the cool water slightly eased her pain. Glad for this discovery, she continued drinking sips until she had emptied her cup. 'Seems this is what I needed,' the redhead thought. It was true her discomfort wasn't gone, but it was quite tolerable now and perhaps it would go away soon now that she had rested and drank a little water. "Can I have more?" She asked, handing her cup to Ryoga. "Seems I was thirsty after all… and it was kinda hot outside, remember?" "I remember," he said while refilling her cup; that done, Ryoga did the same with their canteen. "A bit surprising, it should be getting colder considering how high we seem to be." "You seem to know a lot about this," she said. "Do you climb mountains often?" "Not really, I… spend most of my time outdoors, training," Ryoga answered, again hiding his poor sense of direction with a half-truth. "Climbing mountains helps build your stamina and strength." "I see… well considering how you can lift boulders like it's nothing it makes sense," Ranko told him and managed a smile. "Let's get outta here, shall we?" "Yeah… just let me finish packing these rice cookies and those apples, too.", A few minutes later… The redhead stretched and enjoyed the sun and the wind that greeted her the moment she exited the Castle Gate. She had to admit the twins had been more troublesome than she had expected, but it didn't matter, she had won in the end, and even if they got a few lucky shots in, she was certain a bit more training with Lotion would help her become strong enough to never have trouble again with adversaries of the obnoxious brats levels. "Feeling good?" Ryoga asked, noticing color had somewhat returned to Ranko's face, and that she wasn't sweating as if she had a fever anymore. "You bet!" she answered, pointing at the third fortress with her thumb. "And also real glad we can finally leave that place behind us." "Me too…" the young Hibiki said with a nod. "And by the way, don't forget next time it's my turn to fight." "Sure, be my guest," Ranko said with a grin. Other than a slight discomfort her abdomen wasn't really hurting and she felt good enough to let Ryoga have his way without teasing him or arguing with him. "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!", Back inside the fortress… The main hall of the second Castle Gate was almost completely quiet, with only the breaths of the twins breaking the silence until a low groan was heard, followed quickly by another, indicating the Nekonron twins were slowly regaining consciousness. "Ugh… I think… I've never gotten hit like that before, Daikokuse." The white-tiled twin managed to say, squinting his eyes and shaking his head from side to side as he stirred while laying on his back. "I… ouch…have to… agree with you, Daihakuse." His black-tiled brother responded in a similar manner, stopping to shake like a leaf. "That redhead didn't hold back… at all," Daikokuse said after a time, struggling to get up and finally managing it after a few tries. "Well, we did make her upset… didn't we?" Daihakuse reminded his twin as he also managed to get back on his feet. "Maybe if we had focused only on the fight," the first twin sighed while rubbing his right shoulder and flinching a bit. "I must have fallen on this side." "If we had done as you say… we could have defeated her," the second twin guessed as he placed his hand over his left arm. "And I think I fell on my left side." "Perhaps… but I'm not so sure about our chances against her boyfriend," Daihakuse opined with a hint of wariness in his voice. "That man seemed very strong." "I bet… he's the one who defeated Bishamonten," Daikokuse said and shuddered. "No way the girl… could have done it." "Shall we pursue them?" The other twin asked. "I'm not hurting that much, so…" "I'm not hurting that much either, but I don't think we'll have to," the black circle twin said. "We did hit her with the Futago no Dokuken." "You're right, our Twin Poison Fist will take care of her," the white circle twin agreed with a nod. "She'll get weaker the more she moves." "And will surely faint before they reach Wu's gate," Daikokuse predicted. "Wu should be able to take down the boyfriend." "And even if Wu can't…" Daihakuse started. "Jurojin and Monlon are in the next gate," Daikokuse completed. "And there's no way the boyfriend alone can defeat them," the twins said simultaneously, sharing a mischievous smile. The two boys stood still for a moment, then took in deep breaths and crossed their arms in thought, as if considering what their next move should be. "Since we aren't chasing the redhead and her boyfriend…" Daihakuse said. "Perhaps we should go check on Bishamonten?" "Yes, perhaps we should," Daikokuse agreed. "Just to see if he isn't hurt." "And after we help him we can go see how Jurojin and Monlon are doing." "Agreed, brother, it sounds like a good plan." Saying nothing more, the twins nodded at each other and, still resenting the damage from the fight with the fiery redhead, slowly made their way out of their fortress and from there down to the first gate, hoping that Bishamonten was alright., Further up Seven Luck Mountain… Ryoga, who as usual walked behind Ranko to avoid getting lost, and he knew from past experiences that he was capable of getting lost even if the path he was on was practically a straight line, also couldn't help but notice how the redhead in front of him was starting to make short pauses every few steps before resuming walking. He didn't mention it but decided to keep an eye on her in case she would collapse again. A few minutes later Ranko not only stopped but had to lean on the rocky wall. She was breathing hard and started to sweat profusely again as if she had come up with a sudden high fever. Her brow had knit and she gritted her teeth while pressing a hand to her abdomen. The pain had obviously gotten too much for her to bear. "Let me see your stomach," Ryoga said, walking to her and reaching for the hem of her shirt. She didn't answer, instead, she frowned at him as she slapped his hand away with as much force as she could. "What the hell, Ryoga?" Ranko questioned. "I want to see," he insisted, finding her strength seemed to be fading away, as his hand didn't even hurt after she'd hit him. "This is not the time or the place to get frisky with me, you pigheaded moron!" She gasped angrily between deep breaths, drops of sweat falling from her chin, staining her shirt as she spoke. "Let me see," he said again, too worried for her well-being to be stopped by her insults. "I know you're hurting, so let me look or I won't know if I can help you!" "I'm not hurting, and…!" Ranko started but her vision clouded for an instant and the only reason she didn't drop to her knees was that Ryoga grabbed her by the shoulders, steading her and helping her remain on her feet. "The twins struck you twice in the same spot, I'm pretty sure they did something to you," he declared. "They must have used some sort of special technique… perhaps they managed to hit a pressure point. I need to see how bad it is… so, Ranko, please…" "It's nothing, ok? Let's just…" she tried to argue, but got suddenly dizzy and weak, again not falling only because Ryoga was holding her. "Ranko, please… I-I'm sure I can help you, don't… don't you trust me?" Ryoga found himself needing to think his words out clearly, causing him to trail his voice twice during his answer. "I'm…" Ranko was about to tell Ryoga she felt fine, but her eyes settled on his and the words died in her mouth. The way he was looking at her disarmed her, his gaze upon her expressed not just worry, but an honest desire to help and protect her. This realization made her remember the moment on that rooftop when she understood how strong her feelings for him really were. Knowing this, Ranko realized that she could trust him with her life and that there was no reason to refuse his help. 'He… must love me more than even I imagined…' she thought, feeling suddenly shy under his gaze. 'He wouldn't be this worried if he didn't… if he didn't care…' "Alright, Ryoga," she said, her voice low. "You can look." The young man nodded and lowered his arms, setting his gaze on her torso. Taking in a deep breath, he reached for the hem of her shirt, but she placed her left hand over his to stop him. "No, wait… I'll show you," she told him. Ryoga nodded again and took a step back, giving her space. Ranko nodded back at him and slowly lifted her shirt, revealing her abdomen to him. What Ryoga saw was a red spot on her smooth, pale skin and he immediately knew that was the place the twins had hit. Crouching to take a better look, he reached up and softly placed his right palm over the crimson mark. It was hot to the touch, and the way Ranko flinched was all he needed to know this was more than just a regular bruise. The twins did do something, but he had no idea what. 'A special technique, I bet,' he thought and swallowed, finding he had a knot in his throat. 'It must hurt a lot, too… and she's been walking like this since the fight?' "Stop touching it, Ryoga," she said, dropping her shirt so he would remove his hand. "It… it actually hurts a little, but I'll be fine, okay?" "Ranko… that bruise looks kind of bad," he told her, "I think you should rest, and…" "We can't!" Ranko argued, her voice sounding strained as she tried to walk, but stopping just a few steps after, having to lean on the remains of a statue to avoid falling backward. "Lychee is… she's waiting for me… I have to save her, I promised her mom and dad…" "You can't save her like this," Ryoga disputed softly. "I will… I'm sure I'll be fine… when we reach the top," she insisted, "I just…" But she couldn't continue. Because she felt two strong arms circle her first and then, before she could understand what had happened, she found herself being carried, bridal style, in Ryoga's arms. "Ryo…Ryoga…!" She gasped, readying a hand to slap him hard but one look at the fierce determination in his eyes was all it took to stop her from resisting, and the way he pressed her against his chest to share his warmth with her did nothing but convince her that letting him hold her like this was the right thing to do, at least until she had rested a little. "It's okay, Ranko," he whispered, his gaze now set on the road ahead of them. "But what if someone sees us?" Ranko quizzically inquired, nervously looking around with a light blush across her face. "There's nobody around, and it's just for a little while," he promised. "Save your strength, okay? I'll keep it a secret, no one will ever know about this, you just take this chance to rest a little." Ryoga suggested, offering a sheepish smile to follow his recommendation. "Are… are you sure?" His girlfriend asked while meeting Ryoga's eyes with a stern look. "I am sure," he said, his sheepish grin evolving into a genuine one. "Besides… if I don't take care of you, then who will?" He asked, showing her how confident he had become, although he couldn't help but have the faintest reddish tinges on his face. "Who?" Ranko blinked, recognizing those words as her own from earlier. Finding this detail amusing she simply smiled back and leaned her head on his chest, making herself as comfortable as she could in his arms. "I guess that's why you're here, aren't you, big guy?" Ranko asked jokingly, however, her voice came out a bit hoarse. "Yeah… I suppose," he replied and started walking, once again paying close attention to the path ahead. "Don't worry, I'll be careful not to hurt you." Ryoga assured her, one of his little fangs poking out from the corner of his mouth. "I know you will," she said, finding the way he carried her was not as bad as she had expected it would be, it in fact made her feel safe and protected, something she was enjoying more than she thought she would. Breathing deeply, Ranko managed to relax and noticed the pain in her stomach was a bit more tolerable. Perhaps all she needed was a little rest. She really hoped that's all it was., Far from there… Genma Saotome wiped the sweat off his brow and surveyed the group of teenagers in front of him. These girls were not as talented as the previous group he had been assigned, but they more than made up for it with dedication and effort. This reminded him of his old friend Soun Tendo, who had trained with him when they were younger. 'The old master always said we lacked talent, Soun… but that only made us try harder, didn't it, old friend?' Genma thought as he circled the group of girls to evaluate how drained they were after his class, finding they weren't as tired as he had thought they would be. Good, it meant he could give them harder exercises the following day. "Are we done for today?" One of the girls asked. "Yes, you can leave," Genma answered. "Be here tomorrow at the same time, we'll start practicing mid-air defensive moves so make sure you are well rested." The girls nodded and after bowing to him as a show of respect, went their separate ways, as they still had more training to do that afternoon. Genma found himself feeling satisfied, the experience of teaching a group again was something he found pleasant, and if he wasn't a captive here and free of other responsibilities, he wouldn't be that averse to staying in Joketsuzoku for an extended period of time. 'But we can't have that, can we?' he thought, looking around to see that the Amazon soldiers Rinse had sent to watch him during his class had finally left the training grounds Cologne had assigned him the day before. 'Good, I may be able to relax for a bit. Now, if only I could send letters to Soun and Nodoka, let them know I'm here…' "But there's no way the two old moldy hags will allow it," he whispered sourly, remembering Cologne and Rinse were always watching and had already refused when he asked them about sending a letter to a friend. "At least they let me move around the village now… I wonder if they'll let me go grab something to eat or if I'll be escorted to my cell." It didn't take Genma long to find Cologne. The old Amazon was sitting outside the village's Council Hall, studying a very old book and smoking from her long pipe. He approached her cautiously, as he usually did, and waited until she acknowledged his presence before speaking to her. "I imagine you finished your class," the elder said, not lifting her gaze from the book. "Yes, a few minutes ago," he answered. "The girls are doing well, they're dedicated." "As they should be," Cologne said, closing the book and looking at Genma. "Did you want something?" "Yes, can I go eat something?" He asked, not liking much being forced to report his every move, but after his years under Happosai's mentorship, Genma had learned well how to swallow his pride when it was convenient to him. "Hm… I suppose you can," the elder nodded. "You have done well training our girls, after all." "Much appreciated," Genma answered. He waited in case the old woman wanted to say something else, but Cologne simply returned to her book, ignoring him completely. Understanding that the Amazon elder would not speak to him again that afternoon, the master of the Saotome school of martial arts turned around and walked to the rows of houses beyond the training grounds., A few minutes later… Genma, who had at first intended to go to the tavern and have some food and something to drink, had instead entered an alley and discreetly made his way towards the wall that surrounded most of the town. He'd noticed this section the day before, it was out of the way and no windows from the nearby houses looked in this direction, making it the perfect place to attempt an escape. And he had to escape. His son's disappearance was beginning to honestly worry him; while it was true that Ranma had on occasion taken a few days to explore by himself before, the boy should have tried to rescue him by now, wouldn't he? "Where the hell are you now, Ranma?" Genma whispered as he inspected the bamboo, brick, and boards that made the wall, finding that climbing it would be fairly easy. "And not only that, what are you even doing?" Well, whatever the boy was doing, Genma would soon find out, he just knew it. The man trusted his skill to avoid the Amazons once he was outside the village and imagined tracking down his son in either form would not be too much trouble. 'He probably went back to Jusenkyo,' the man guessed as he placed his hands over the wall and felt for an edge or an opening he could use to hoist himself up. 'And if he didn't, the guide may have some information…' Whatever the case, he had to find Ranma. It was imperative they returned to Japan to meet with Tendo and his daughters soon. Genma knew Soun's daughters were close to Ranma's age and feared they could become engaged any day now… to someone who wasn't his boy! "I can't let that happen!" Genma muttered with a tone of urgency. "If all three Tendo girls are engaged or even worse, married, I won't be able to engage Ranma to any of them and I'll never be able to get my hands on Soun's dojo, or on some of the insurance money he received when his wife died…" No, he couldn't let that happen. While it was true that his honor was one reason why he wanted to fulfill the union of the families as he and Soun had promised, the opportunity to gain access to the Tendo dojo, a steady source of income, as well as securing some of that sweet inheritance money for himself and Nodoka, were Genma's real motivations. Now, it's not that he didn't know how skeevy and selfish his objectives were, it was simply that he didn't care much. And nobody could blame him either; Genma had been Happosai's most advanced disciple after all and had learned quite well the art of ignoring shame from his rotten master. "I guess I could always convince Tendo to break any other engagements his daughters have until Ranma chooses one of them…" he mused as he reached for a crevice he'd found and prepared to start climbing. "But I'm getting ahead of myself, first I have to get out of here and then find the boy; after that…" Thunk-Thunk! Genma froze. Two arrows had flown and were now embedded in the wall. One above his head and the other between his index and middle finger. There was only one person in Joketsuzoku who could have done something like that. And sure enough, once he turned to look behind him, Genma found Zhang Wei standing on a roof behind him, bow and arrow at the ready. "Going somewhere, Saotome?" The archer asked. "Eh… of course not I was… stretching! Yes, stretching, that's all," Genma nervously provided, hoping his excuse would work. "You can stretch in the bar," Zhang Wei said. "Come, we have to talk about those lessons you agreed to." Finding it impossible to refuse, Genma sighed and headed for the town's tavern, wondering as he went where his son was because by his count at least three weeks had passed and there were still no signs of him., Back in Seven Luck Mountain… The road had become easier to travel, with fewer loose pebbles or rocks on the way which was a sure indication Ryoga and Ranko would arrive at the next Castle Gate soon. The redhead was walking again, though slower than usual as she had found that moving quickly made her stomach cramp and her side hurt from the hip to the shoulder, but she expected that would go away on its own soon. She hadn't mentioned her discomfort had returned to Ryoga, however, both to keep him from worrying again and because the last thing she wanted was to meet the next of the Seven Lucky Gods while being carried by her boyfriend, it would be too humiliating. 'I'm starting to think Ryoga's right and those brats really did this to me…' she silently thought as she followed the road that kept turning right. Ryoga, who was worried by the way Ranko's eyes had lost a bit of their natural luster, now walked by her side, keeping with her slower pace and ready to offer her a hand in case she needed it. He had entertained the idea of carrying her again but suspected she'd punch him if he tried it so he instead focused on silently observing her, prepared to help her the minute she showed any sign of renewed weakness like before when she almost collapsed in front of him. 'I really hope she's not seriously hurt,' he thought, stealing a glance at the redhead. 'Maybe I should…' "Well… this one's different," Ranko said then, interrupting Ryoga's thoughts. "Huh? What's different…? Ah, I see," the young Hibiki said. They had reached a wide part of the road and the next Fortress was in front of them. It was a large, rectangular, white, and gray construction and built in a way that completely blocked the path. The main door was open wide, revealing a hallway that went through the building as the only way to continue forward. "I bet the next one of these Lucky Guys or whatever is already waiting," Ranko said, walking towards the imposing construction with a determined gait she hoped would hide how drained she was feeling. "Let's hope we don't meet anyone as annoying as the two brats I just had to deal with." "I agree with you on that," Ryoga said with a nod while following his girlfriend. "At least I think there's no traps here," she said once they reached the entrance, using the back of her hand to wipe a trail of sweat off her face. "I can't see anyone, do you think we should go for it?" "Sure, might as well," he answered, noting Ranko hadn't fully recovered even after resting while he carried her. The young Hibiki considered mentioning it, but in the end decided against it, no need to put Ranko in a bad mood when they were about to meet their next opponent. "Good, let's go then, we…" Ranko, who was about to enter the long corridor had to stop the moment a huge mass literally fell from the Gate's roof right in front of her, landing with a loud thump that shook the ground under her feet and forced her to take a few steps back until she bumped into her boyfriend's chest. The impact had lifted a cloud of dust, hiding whoever had landed in front of them. Little by little the dust settled, revealing something that almost made the redhead gasp. "Ryoga… is it me or an awful big guy just dropped in front of us?" "An awfully big guy just dropped in front of us, yes," the young Hibiki confirmed, eyes set on the towering man who stood in front of them. The Gate's guardian wore loose white pants and a vest that couldn't cover his large belly, but his strong arms indicated he was anything but flabby and weak. This Lucky God was a true colossus of a man who remained very still, staring at them with a somewhat amused expression. "He's huge," Ranko whispered, amazed and even a little intimidated by the man's stature. Bishamonten had towered over Ryoga, she recalled, but this giant was easily twice as tall as her boyfriend, maybe even more. "I think… I think he's as big as Jasmine." "Looks like it," he agreed, finding the comparison quite adequate; this man really was as huge as an elephant, and Ryoga had no idea what to expect from him. "Hey, mister, can you speak?" the redhead risked asking, wondering why he was so quiet since their previous opponents had been rather talkative. "What's your name?" "Oh?... I'm Wu," the giant replied and blinked, slowly moving his eyes from one teenager to the other. "And you… are arrested." "Sorry, but we can't have that," Ranko said, arms crossed as she put up a confident front to hide how weak she truly felt. "If you wanna stop us you'll have to fight us!" Her declaration was met by a long silence, broken only by the sound of some crows cawing above them. Finally, after what to the redhead felt like an hour, Wu tilted his head to the side while taking a deep, long breath and opened the large sack he carried in his left hand. He fished out a rather large rice ball from inside his bag and ate it all in one bite. "Acceptable," Wu said with a small smile after swallowing his snack. He stared at the teenagers again and then… he did nothing. "Are you going to fight us?" Ryoga asked, preparing for any sudden attacks but it seemed his precautions were not necessary, because Wu remained motionless. The giant simply continued standing there, not moving an inch while watching both teenagers, his eyes going from one to the other as if he were a curious child. In reality, the huge martial artist was studying Ranko and Ryoga, evaluating their ki and trying to judge their skill, as he was a bit surprised these two had managed to defeat Bishamonten and the twins. "Are we doing this or not?" Ranko asked with an annoyed tone after several moments of silence. "We're in a hurry, here, what do…?" "The twins got you," Wu interrupted, pointing one massive finger at the redhead's torso. "No, they did not!" Ranko protested, finding the statement ludicrous, she had won the fight with those two little brats fair and square, what was this big guy saying? "I kicked their butts!" "They got you," Wu repeated, then ignored Ranko's rather angry refusal, focusing on Ryoga instead. "Those cuts must sting." "Kind of, but it's not too bad," the young Hibiki admitted, wondering where the tall martial artist was going with this. Once again Wu went silent, his eyes going up as he seemed to be considering something. A few seconds after, just when the redhead was about to complain about the silence and lack of action, Wu sat on the ground and opened his bag. He spent a moment searching for something until he finally produced a small table, a clay bottle sealed with a cork, three little clay cups, and two rice balls wrapped in silk. The giant gently unwrapped the snacks, revealing one of the onigiris was covered in sesame seeds, while the other was decorated with rose petals. That done, Wu proceeded to fill the cups with the contents from the bottle, which ended up being a flowery scented cold tea. "Sit, rest and eat," Wu invited once the preparations were complete. Fully expecting the teenagers to obey, the giant fished out a rather large meat bun from his sack and started munching on it while he allowed himself to relax a little. "Excuse me but… what are you doing?" Ranko asked then, one brow up while she stared at the table and the food with great suspicion in her eyes. "Are you trying to sedate us?" Ryoga wondered, feeling the same concern as his girlfriend. "Not fair fighting you weak," Wu explained as he finished his meat bun and produced another that he also started eating. "Ryoga…" Ranko called, getting close to him while motioning at Wu with a quick nod. "He's just sitting there eating, you know?" "I know, do you think we should accept the food?" He asked, unsure of what to do. "I think we should go for it," the redhead said, this time nodding at the hallway behind Wu. She reached up to wipe the sweat off her brow and managed a crooked smile, obviously feeling certain her idea would work. "What do you say?" "Oh… I guess we should?" Ryoga said and returned the smile, he understood then what his girlfriend wanted to do and he was willing to try it, all he hoped for was that she wouldn't collapse while they did it. "If you think you can, shall we do it now?" "Of course, I can, so let's do it…now!" Ranko exclaimed, and with this both teens darted to Wu's sides, hoping to pass him while he was distracted eating. But they didn't get very far, because Wu quickly opened his arms wide, blocking the entrance to his gate at the same time he unleashed his battle aura. The giant hadn't made his aura visible, but the teenagers could feel it all the same, and it was strong enough to force them to stop and then back up several steps. "Sit, rest, eat," Wu repeated, his voice slightly colder this time. "I am helping you." "Well… when you put it that way…" Ranko said with a nervous chuckle, trying to hide both how much trying to run had drained her and how uneasy Wu's aura had made her feel for a brief instant. "I guess we have no choice," Ryoga completed, moving to the small table and sitting across from Wu. While not feeling weakened like Ranko, the young Hibiki had to admit the giant's battle aura had unsettled him and made him wonder how much of his real strength he was hiding from them. The redhead followed Ryoga's example and sat to his right, welcoming the opportunity to rest for a few minutes but at the same time still very much on guard, or as on guard as she could be, since the discomfort she felt was making it difficult for her to move much. "So… we just eat this and that's it, there's no trick or anything?" Wu looked at the redhead, lifted his right eyebrow, and gave her a nod while he pushed the rose petals covered onigiri to her. "No tricks, eat." "This better not be poison…" Ranko muttered and then glanced at Ryoga, who hadn't touched his food either. She stared at him and waited until he looked at her. "What is it?" He asked. "Eat your onigiri," she said. "It's not polite to refuse food." "I know, but you haven't touched yours either, and…" "Because you should eat first," the girl insisted, her eyes silently pleading for him to eat before she did. "It's… it's only proper for me to wait until you've had the first bite." "Uh… thanks?" the young Hibiki said, wondering why Ranko suddenly started caring about her behavior, considering she usually ate as much as he did and with not exactly the best table manners. Ryoga narrowed his eyes and looked at Ranko and how worried she seemed to be. He then realized she wanted him to eat first in case the food was drugged. "Well?" She insisted while lifting a hand to discreetly wipe a strand of sweat off her left temple. Ryoga sighed and nodded. He had for a moment thought about suggesting they both ate at the same time, but understood that in her weakened state Ranko would prefer to be more cautious, and was trying to do that without admitting to feeling sick. "You're right," he said then and grabbed the onigiri Wu had set for him. "I should eat first." And so Ryoga did. He took a bite of the onigiri and chewed it slowly, being pleasantly surprised by the taste. The teenager then grabbed the cup and sipped the tea, finding it was very fresh and delicious. "Is it good?" Ranko asked, releasing the breath she had been holding. She had prayed nothing would happen to her boyfriend and greatly appreciated that he had tried the food first just to help her when she was not at her strongest. "Yeah, it's surprisingly good!" Ryoga answered with an honest smile. "Try it!" "Nice!" the redhead said and picked up her onigiri to take a large bite of it and then drink from her own cup. "You weren't joking, Ryo! This stuff's very tasty!" Wu waited in silence while the two teenagers finished eating. He scratched at his belly and then took in a deep breath, still considering the current situation. These two kids didn't feel like criminals, their battle aura wasn't tainted with negative feelings as far as he could tell, and he could. Wu was the one amongst the Seven who had focused on and mastered ki reading, as it helped him measure how strong and how likely to cause trouble his opponents were. This skill was useful for him, as it allowed him to determine how much of his considerable strength he'd need to use in order to subdue and defeat his adversaries without resorting to lethal force unless he really had to. Because of this, Wu was certain these teenagers were good people. True, the boy seemed to have his ki fluctuating in ways he wasn't familiar with and he couldn't help him with that, but he didn't feel evil at all and that was enough for him. The girl was also a nice person from what he could tell, but he had detected the twins managed to hit her with their Futago No Dokuken and that meant her ki was in disarray and that would cause her to collapse from exhaustion soon. While Wu was aware that would be convenient for him, and if he had determined this strange redhead was in any way evil he wouldn't have offered her help, he also didn't want to face his young visitors with any unfair advantages. It simply didn't feel right to him. "Ryoga… don't you feel… better?" Ranko said then, ignoring the way Wu kept watching them and instead wondering what had happened to her body. She had just finished her food and felt completely rejuvenated; nothing hurt anymore and she didn't feel tired at all. It was like some sort of magic! "I mean… it's like I just had a good night's sleep or something, this is great!" Ryoga didn't immediately answer, the cuts in his arms had stopped stinging, and even if he hadn't been tired he was feeling fully rested, just like Ranko had said. This was incredible, just what was in the tea and onigiri? "I can't believe it…" the young Hibiki said, looking at his girlfriend and smiling when he saw her recover. "Are you really feeling better?" "I feel as good as I look," Ranko grinned and winked at him. "I could even fight an army all by myself right now!" Holding back a well humored-chuckle, Ryoga simply placed his hand on her shoulder and smiled warmly at her. "I'm glad to hear that, Ranko." "Ryoga…" she said, feeling a bit shy by the intensity in his eyes. The redhead returned the smile and then turned to look at Wu. "I don't know what you did, but thank you." "Yes, thank you for helping us," Ryoga said, slightly bowing to show his gratitude. "You're welcome," Wu said as he slowly returned the table, the cups, and the bottle back into his bag. "Healing herbs in tea… healing spice in onigiri… good for health." Once he finished putting his things away, Wu got back on his feet and stretched his massive arms above his head twice. This basic preparation complete, he once again stared at Ryoga and Ranko. "We can fight now… a fair fight, too… much better, no?" "Yes, it is," Ryoga said. "I wish we didn't have to fight, but I suppose there is no other option." "If you don't want to fight him I can always take your place," she offered, and her voice indicated she was ready to give it her all. "I know you could," the young man said while handing his backpack to Ranko. "But it's my turn now… don't worry, I think I can win." "Show off," Ranko half-joked as she grabbed the backpack. "But I guess I can't stop you, so do your best, okay?" "Okay," Ryoga said and offered Ranko one final nod, watching silently as she walked to the mountainside and stood there, giving him room for the upcoming fight. Once she was there, the young Hibiki finally approached Wu, trying to appear as calm as he could. The truth, however, was that Ryoga didn't know what to expect. 'His aura when he stretched his arms was as strong as Bishamonten's when he used his special technique,' Ryoga thought, recalling the moment the master of the Kaze Yari Ken used the Yari Tatsumaki as his final attempt to win their fight. 'But Wu was clearly holding back… just how strong is he, really?' "Your name?" Wu asked once the teenager was in front of him. "I told you mine… you didn't." "Ryoga Hibiki," the young man answered, "And she's…" "I'm Ranko!" the redhead said from where she stood. "Sorry, but I don't remember my last name yet!" "Good enough," Wu said with a nod, and then… he simply stood there, doing nothing. A minute passed, then another, and then… "Oh, c'mon, this is stupid!" Ranko shouted; she was tired of waiting for Wu to make the first move and didn't want to waste more time here. They had to rescue Lychee before something bad happened to her! "He seems to be thinking…" Ryoga started, looking back at the redhead. "Who cares? Do something, Ryo!" Ranko ordered. "We've no time to wait for him to decide what to do!" Sighing, Ryoga nodded and turned to face the silent giant, who appeared to be busy contemplating other things completely unrelated to the current situation. The young Hibiki really didn't want to fight an opponent that seemed unprepared, but Ranko was right, they didn't have the time. "I appreciate the medicine you gave us," He said, taking an offensive stance, "But I think we should start this fight." "You two kids…" Wu started, made a short pause to take in a deep breath, and then continued. "... Don't feel like bad people." "Eh… well, we aren't bad people," Ryoga confirmed, a bit confused by the giant's comment. Wu nodded and once again stood there, not moving while being completely silent. "Does that mean you're going to let us pass?" Ranko asked, a tone of hope in her voice. "No." Wu answered her, glancing in her direction and smiling. "I can't do that." "Oh, for the love of…!" Ranko groaned, feeling that in his own way, Wu was as irritating as the twins, perhaps even more. "Ryoga, we've been here long enough as it is, what are you waiting for?" "Alright, alright," he answered and then looked at Wu. "I'm sorry, but we really need to pass, so if you don't mind… Can we start this?" Wu looked down and gave Ryoga a nod, but still didn't move at all. "You're not going to attack me?" He asked, again wondering what to do, as he was not used to combating with people who wouldn't fight back. "Are you waiting for an invitation, Ryoga?" Ranko called, "He's obviously letting you attack first, so punch him!" "But… I don't know, hitting someone who won't defend himself feels wrong," he complained without looking back at his girlfriend. "It's fine," Wu invited, slapping his belly. "Punch if you want." "Well, if that's what you want…" Ryoga said, taking a deep breath and preparing his stance again. He ignored Ranko's voice, as she was calling him to get on with it, and focused. He lifted his right fist, brought it back, and… "Haaaa!" He delivered a punch with enough strength to knock out a normal person and send them flying several steps back, as Ryoga was sure that would be enough to at the very least cause Wu some damage, but… The moment Ryoga's fist impacted the giant's stomach, all the power behind his fist dissipated and Wu received no damage at all! That alone would have been bad enough, but Ryoga's punch bounced back and he ended up smacking himself in the chin. "What…?" the young man shook his head in surprise and then blinked, not really believing what had happened. That was when she heard Ranko chuckle, and Ryoga wished the ground would open and swallow him. "Ryo, what are you even doing?" the redhead asked. She had managed to avoid laughing openly at seeing her boyfriend hit himself, even if it had been incredibly funny, at least to her. "It was not on purpose, hitting him is like trying to punch a tire!" he complained, not looking back at Ranko to avoid showing her how flustered and embarrassed he was. "You are strong," Wu said then, his voice was calm, and it helped both Ranko and Ryoga recover their composure. "Good… I have decided." "What have you decided?" Ryoga asked cautiously. "You decided to let us through?" Ranko questioned, her voice hopeful. But Wu once again simply stared at the sky above them and remained silent, annoying both teenagers who just couldn't believe how much time the giant martial artist was costing them. "Drop me on my back, and you can pass," Wu said with a smile, surprising his teenaged adversaries. "I drop you on your back, I arrest you… deal?" "...Is that for real?" Ranko asked, not really believing things could be so easy for a change. "Yes, deal?" Wu repeated. "Deal!" Ranko exclaimed, going to Ryoga's side and smiling at him. "This will be super easy, you're so strong you can carry rocks bigger than him!" "Yeah, but moving boulders is not the same as trying to move a person." "You should be able to push him on his back, Ryoga, have some confidence!" the redhead insisted with a smile. "I'll try… Please give me some room?" he asked, and waited until she returned to her spot next to the mountain's side. Once she was there, Ryoga planted his feet firmly and took in another deep breath. The truth is that he was remembering Wu's impressive battle aura and how firm his stomach was. The young Hibiki had not mentioned this to his girlfriend, but he believed pushing Wu to the ground would probably be far more difficult than actually fighting him. 'Very well, here goes nothing…' Ryoga thought, and focusing all his strength he brought both hands to Wu's belly and pushed! And slowly, very slowly, Wu's form started moving back, his feet leaving a trail on the soft dirt but… he didn't fall. Ryoga, realizing his enormous adversary was not going to fall, simply stopped and wiped the sweat off his brow. He had managed to push Wu back several steps, but nothing else, the giant wouldn't fall! "That was good," Wu said, his voice showing he was actually somewhat surprised. "But not good enough," Ryoga answered. "You're still…" But Ryoga couldn't finish the sentence, because Wu slapped him in the right shoulder, hitting him so fast he couldn't even react in time to block and so hard he was sent flying high, crashing against the mountainside with enough force to crack the rock on impact. The young Hibiki, out of breath after smashing against the mountain, had to quickly maneuver his fall so he landed on his feet. Ryoga staggered when he touched the ground, and fell to his knees with his left hand over his bruised shoulder. That slap had really hurt! His eyes never leaving Wu, the teenager suddenly remembered the only other adversary in recent memory who had managed to hurt him this way had been Pantyhose Taro's minotaur form. "He must be as strong as that monster if he could hurt me like this…" Ryoga muttered so Ranko couldn't hear him. "This could be bad." "Ryoga, are you alright?" Ranko asked then, crouching by his side and looking at him with honest concern. "I'm fine," he answered, standing straight and glancing at the gigantic Lucky God. "But it seems this will take longer than what I expected." "I am waiting," Wu said then, standing still, his massive frame blocking the path like an immovable rock as he calmly waited for the teenagers to make their next move…, DaisukiFox: I want to reveal something about chapter 10 and the random original characters. They were low key a nod to get those who had seen mine and Lovelylily13's co-drawn web comic; FoxTales. Sorry about that though, it was a one time thing and that chapter still did really well despite that and even though we did, you guys were so cool about it at that time too! *bows*We even told Facer about it and he was cool about it too! I always meant to say this but it kept slipping my mind. My bad!We have such an observant crowd! lolz I love it! Really guys, we can't thank you enough for making this happen. Know it's going to be a long ride until this is over but we hope you think it was worth it. Some of you even came back after a long time away from !Last reviews were even telling us we're the last great fanfiction of the RyoRan section or just the last great story for the section. This applies only to Fanfiction reviewers by the way and I'm only going off what they're saying and I got to admit I'm fluttered as all hell and glad we haven't gotten much flames either.Have to admit that's a lot of pressure but if you guys have come this far, why not try and make sure you're up to date? Make an account instead of risking missing out. That's all the advice I can give you all but we also love all our viewers, alterters, favorites too!So we'll go as long as we can for as long as we're able!Dr Facer: Since Dai revealed that we used some of his characters, I suppose I can also mention that Tong Po Harbor, which has been mentioned in passing in some previous chapters, is a location I used for my ancient Mousse/Shampoo stories many years ago. We needed a location near the sea for several events and it was easier to use that old one instead of creating a new one.By the way, someone asked about how the seasons are separated. I didn't expect that question, but I can help with that. We've so far split the seasons in five episodes each, as they cover some important events, they would be like this:Season 1: chapters 1 to 5, main events: Ranko and Ryoga meet, fight against Mousse and Shampoo.Season 2: chapters 6 to 10, main events: Pantyhose Taro fight, Ranko and Ryoga share their first kiss.Season 3: chapters 11 to 15, main events: Lychee and Seven Lucky Gods introduction, Hiryu Shoten Ha training.That said, I truly appreciate all the positive feedback and reviews that you guys have left for us. I hope that we can continue delivering an interesting and enjoyable experience for all of you, and that you join us all the way to the end of this wild ride.Thanks for reading!Prescribing fluff from the Doctor~Dr.Fox~...
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lewd femboy/girl/futa ych by 1npuXD
Kurosyai Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2023  Professional Digital Artist

Bust Up : $20
Half Body : $40
Full Body : $60
Background : $25-$50

Commercial : 2x price
Character Sheet start $100

For More Details, clik this link :

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Discord : KuroSyai#744
Before Morning by Kurosyai   Flame Dr Plague by Kurosyai   In The Library by Kurosyai   Rose Flo by Kurosyai   Grey Sky by Kurosyai  
jmatt37 Featured By Owner May 1, 2023  Hobbyist Digital Artist
(OPEN) ADOPTABLE XERION AUCTION AD #42923 - 33 by jmatt37  
jmatt37 Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2023  Hobbyist Digital Artist
(OPEN) ADOPTABLE AUCTION AD #41923 - 32 by jmatt37  
AlVAdopts Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2023   Digital Artist
[OPEN] Adopt #121 (SET PRICE) by AlVAdopts
AlVAdopts Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2023   Digital Artist
[OPEN] Adopt #120 (SET PRICE) by AlVAdopts
AlVAdopts Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2023   Digital Artist
open adoptable set price 45$
[OPEN] Adopt #118 (SET PRICE) by AlVAdopts
AlVAdopts Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2023   Digital Artist
[OPEN] Adopt #117 (SET PRICE) by AlVAdopts
jmatt37 Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2023  Hobbyist Digital Artist
(OPEN) ADOPTABLE AUCTION AD #4323 - 31 by jmatt37  
AlVAdopts Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2023   Digital Artist
adoptable open set price 50$
[OPEN] Adopt #116 (SET PRICE) by AlVAdopts
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