The Thing About Blondes
Niki  (NeeP) Paradis
Chapter three: The Reversal of the Usual Roles: Ukyou to the Rescue!

     Ukyou was mad.  Very mad.  So mad that Jiro had to hold her back before she could wreck her own restaurant.
     "I'm gonna kill that little hussy!  How DARE she kidnap my Ryo-chan?!?"
     "Please Ukyou, you gotta calm down," said Jiro softly into her ear.  "This isn't helping Oniichan any."
     Jiro held on tight, making sure that Ukyou wasn't about to hurt herself.  Ukyou struggled against the younger girl, but finally she gave up and started sobbing softly.
     "What do I do now?" she asked wearily.
     Ranma and Akane were cleaning up the mess from the fight.  Ranma shook his head at Ukyou.  Akane was more verbal.
     "You go and rescue him, that's what you do!"
     Ukyou sniffled.  "But how do I begin?"
     Jiro let go of Ukyou and stood back.  She reached over the counter and picked up the sheet of paper that was left behind.  She waved the sheet in front of Ukyou's face.
     "Well, we already know where she's taking him-- the island of Fumei.  We just gotta look that up on the map."
     Ukyou sniffled.  "How do we get there?"
     Akane blinked.  "By boat, how else?" she said in a confused voice.
     "I mean, how do we cover the expenses?  We can't afford to rent a boat..."
     Jiro looked thoughtful for a moment.  "Leave that to me..."
     "Me too," suggested Ranma.
     "What are you two gonna do?"
     Ranma and Jiro looked at each other, then nodded as if in agreement.
     "We're gonna make a deal with the devil," said Ranma.

     A medium sized luxury yacht was speeding through the endless sea, on a course to who knows where, better known to the passengers as the Island of Fumei.  A curious seagull perched on the rail of the quick-moving craft and looked into an open window.  It was dark inside, but the bird was able to make out the forms of three human beings.
     "Scram, you nasty thing!" shouted a voice from the inside, and a small stone came zooming towards him.  Knowing that he still found his life desirable, the seagull spread its wings and took off--just in time to avoid the stone.

     The Fumeian princess looked away from her latest acquisition towards her most trusted confidant, Misha.  She raised her eyebrow as if in question.
    The small woman was still panting with the sudden exertion of throwing the rock.  "I really hate the dirty things," she grunted, gesturing towards the seagull.
     Celeane shook her head and looked back down at the sleeping young man on the bunk.  His sleep was restless as he tossed and turned.  The island princess was a little concerned; she didn't want her prized catch to hurt himself in any way.  The bruises would mar his beauty.  She didn't want to use restraints for the same reason.  So in order to transport her groom to be, she had to resort to drugs.  That, for the most part, rendered him unconscious.
     She had never seen anyone like him.  In the bunk was a well-built nineteen year-old Japanese boy.  He had beautiful long blonde hair, and delicately pointed ears.  His mouth was slightly opened, revealing an exotic looking pair of fangs.  But what really attracted Celeane to him were his eyes.  Technically 'hazel' they had the ability to appear to change colours, ranging from green to brown to grey, depending on his mood.  They were closed at the moment, but the princess knew that she would never get tired of looking into the eyes of this beautiful young man.  She couldn't wait to get him home and marry him.
     "Ryouga..." she tried the foreign name on her tongue.  "Prince Ryouga..."
     Misha, still in her trench coat, looked at the comatose boy in the bunk.
     "Do you think he really is the one, Princess?" she asked.
     "Just look at him, Misha..." the princess said dreamily.  "And he's modest too, a little shy, but that doesn't matter.  And he's got to be strong too..."
     Misha snorted.  "I'll say...  It took four of the ladies to hold him down when the knockout gas wore off.  And they were wearing power-suits.  I have never seen anyone so strong..."
     "But they didn't hurt him, right?" asked the princess worriedly.
     "No, we didn't."
     "Will there be any more trouble getting him home?"
     Before Misha could reply, a slightly slurred voice came from the bunk.
     "W-where am I?"
     Both women turned towards the young man, who was struggling to sit up.  He brushed loose strands of blonde hair out of his eyes as he looked at his surroundings.  He blinked almost owlishly as he tried to focus on the two women.  Celeane inhaled as the boy finally focused on her. With the drug still in his system, the boy's eyes appeared to be a shade of greenish gold.  But the eyes quickly darkened as they registered recognition.
     "Where's Ukyou?" he asked in a clearer voice.  "Where's Jiro?"
     Celeane gasped as the young man swung his legs over the side of the bed.  "Stay put," she commanded in a shaky voice.
     "I have to find 'em..." he mumbled as he attempted to rise.  Ever so quickly, Misha slammed the hypodermic needle into the boy's arm, then held onto him until he dropped into unconsciousness once more.
     Celeane gave a sigh of relief.  She gave her confidante a small smile.  "So he won't be any trouble?" she asked teasingly.
     "Not at all-- that is once we got him tranquillised."  The female special-agent sighed.  "The problem is that I have no idea what we are going to do with him once we get home.  We can't keep him drugged indefinitely...  And he seems more capable than others at shaking off the effects sooner."
     "Leave that to me," replied Celeane with a small smile.  "I'll be able to handle him..."
     "I hope you're right," muttered Misha quietly.

     Nabiki Tendou was finishing her tea as her secretary escorted her visitors in.  Her face showed none of the surprise that she felt as Ranma Saotome and Jiro Hibiki took the seats in front of her desk.
     "So tell me, Ranma, Jiro-chan, to what do I owe the pleasure...?"
     "Uh, well..." started Ranma.
     "We need a favour, Nabiki-san," stated Jiro.
     Nabiki raised an eyebrow.
     "A favour...?" she asked.
     "Yes, we have to rescue Ryouga-oniichan.  He's been kidnapped."
     "Oh?"  Nabiki was a little curious but she wanted to get straight to the point.
     "We need a boat," said Ranma.
     "Why come to me?" asked the Tendou sister.
     "Because it is partially your fault that he was kidnapped in the first place."  Jiro leaned back and glared at Nabiki over crossed arms.  "Some foreign princess fell in love with a certain blonde-hair Japanese boy."
     "Why do you figure that?"
     "Nabiki," said Ranma, "Just lend us a boat so we can go get Ryouga."
     "Not until I hear the whole story."
     So Jiro told the whole story, starting from the first day that Ryouga came home from the Kira-kira no Kamenoke Company with blonde hair.  She talked about how women were staring at her brother and making lewd comments.  She told about the foreign exchange student who expressed a particular interest in the blonde martial artist.  She told about the fierce women in mechanised armour who came, attacked, and left them all unconscious.  And she told Nabiki about the note that Princess Celeane left behind, and Ukyou's vow to get him back.
     Nabiki listened to the story with a straight face.  To anyone else, the story she just heard would have seem too incredible to believe, but Nabiki Tendou have been a citizen of Nerima as long as she could remember and these kind of events were normal --especially since Ranma Saotome and his father moved into the neighbourhood.  She thought about the situation, then she made her decision.
    "Okay, I can provide a boat for you, but I want something in return..."
    Both Jiro and Ranma looked sceptical, but they listened and agreed to the conditions that Nabiki set out.

    Ryouga woke up in a comfortable bed.  He sat up and groaned as his head pounded with the worse headache that he had ever encountered.  It reminded him of one of the few times that he ever drank--and the hangover that he had to deal with the following morning.  He hated that.
    So he sat on the bed, with his head in his hands, waiting for his headache to subside.  He thought about where he was and was pretty sure that he was no longer in Ukyou's restaurant.  He remembered the women in mechanised armour and the self-indulgent smile of Jiro's classmate, Celeane.
    As soon as the headache eased up enough for him to open his eyes, Ryouga raised his head and took a look around the room that he was staying in.  It was huge, with stone walls and floor and expensive looking furniture, paintings and rugs.  Through an archway he could see a huge marble bath with deep green tiles and fluffy towels. He was sitting on a four-post bed, with a solid oak posts, and forest green drapes and covers. He idly scratched a bare knee as he tried to locate the door out of the room.  He stopped.
    His bare knee...
    He looked down at himself and realised that he was wearing nothing but a long green loincloth secured by a gold belt.  It just covered the important parts, while leaving his thighs bare.
    He yelped.
    "Ah!  You're awake!" called out a voice from the previously undiscovered door.
In a fit of panic, Ryouga yanked to covers of the bed to cover himself, after he was certain that nothing serious was exposed, he looked towards the sound of the voice.  A young woman, slightly younger than Jiro with long dark hair, stood at the door.  She wore a loose-fitting dress of yellow.  It took Ryouga a moment before he recognised the girl as Celeane.
    "You're Jiro's classmate, aren't you?" he asked as he tried to bury himself under the covers of the bed.
    "Was.  It was just a cover until I found what I was looking for..."  The girl smiled at him
    "Which was...?"
    "You, silly..."
    "Me?!?  Why me?"  Ryouga was getting confused.  Why would anyone be looking for me?
    Celeane walked over to the bed and sat down.  "Because you're perfect." She purred as she reached over to touch him lightly on the chest.
    "Perfect?!?" squeaked Ryouga as he pulled away from the girl's overly familiar hand.  "I'm not perfect, believe me."
    "But look at you," Celeane exclaimed as she crawled towards her prey.  "I've never seen anyone like you before.  You're so beautiful."
    Ryouga backed away until he reached the edge of the bed then promptly fell out.  "What do you want with me?" he asked from his awkward position from the floor.
    Celeane looked over the edge of the bed down at him.  "I'm going to make you my prince."
    "Prince?" squeaked Ryouga again as he pulled the covers down to cover himself from the preying view of the girl.
    "You and I are to be married in three days from now."
    "Of course, why else would anyone look for the perfect man?"
    "But... I'm already engaged--to Ukyou!  I can't marry you!"
    Celeane looked confused for a moment.
    "Ukyou?" she asked.  "You mean that brown-hair peasant girl with the oversized spatula?  You can't be serious."
    Ryouga glared at the ignorant girl.  He was more than a little angry at her casual dismissal of Ukyou and his feelings for her.  How dare she... just dismiss us like that?!?
    "I am very serious," he said to her.  "Who are you to judge?"
    Celeane looked seriously baffled.  "B-but she is so ordinary."
    Ryouga gave a lopsided smile.  "Ordinary?  Not in the least."
    Celeane crossed her arms and frowned.  "Well," she said.  "It's obvious that I can't talk to you with you like this."  She got off the bed and walked to the door.  "We'll speak later--at dinner."  She walked out and slammed the door behind her.  A beautiful picture of a tropical landscape fell off the wall and crashed onto the floor in her wake.
    Figuring that it was safe, Ryouga got off of the floor and brushed himself off.  Not that there was much to brush off.  He caught a glimpse of himself in a large hanging mirror and shuddered.  The loincloth that he was wearing really didn't do much to hide anything, and was barely keeping him modest.  His long, still blonde hair was hanging loose down his shoulders.  He wore nothing else.  He figured that he resembled something from those bad sci-fi movies were the alien queens kept those male concubines.  Not far from the truth, is it, Ryouga? he asked himself.
    "Hey!" cried a feminine voice.  Ryouga looked towards the direction of the new voice.  He found a tall muscular woman standing in another door that appeared to lead outside.  She held a type of ceremonial spear, which she gestured, to both the door and to Ryouga with.  "Outside," she said.
    "Out...side?" asked Ryouga.  "In this?!?"  He gestured to his scant covering, while blushing.
    The woman was unsympathetic, but she looked over Ryouga appraisingly. "Now," she said.
    "How do you plan on making me go outside?" he challenged.
    The woman smirked, then whistled.  Three other large women who stared at Ryouga's near naked form appraisingly quickly joined her.
    "Well if you want us to haul you outside by force..." the woman leered.  Ryouga blushed a deep red, swallowed and made a mad dash through the door, knocking down some of the women in the way.
    He kept running until he reached a small spring, then stopped.  He appeared to be in some sort of garden, surrounded by a tall stone wall.  Exotic looking flowers and plants grew almost everywhere. Around the perimeter of the garden was a large stonewall, on top of which heavily armored guardswomen kept a constant vigil.  He saw the gate, also heavily guarded.  Ryouga sighed.  He'd love to try and escape, but he knew that there was no way to do it without being seen, there was no chance that he'd be able to get anywhere without getting lost, and there was one more thing as well.  There is no way that I'm going anywhere in this getup.
    Instead, he concentrated on doing his katas.  He had trouble doing them at first as his long loincloth kept wrapping around his legs and constricting him.  So he tore off a piece of the hem until it reached to his knees instead of his ankles.  A strip of the green cloth was used to tie back his hair, and another strip served as a makeshift bandanna.  He was only slightly aware of the amused glances of the women, but he made a point of ignoring them as he concentrated on his movements.  The sun was hot and the air was very humid, and the spring in the centre of the garden was starting to look inviting.  But the last thing that Ryouga wanted was to reveal his curse to the people around him.
    Two hours passed by and Ryouga decided to take a break.  He walked to a spot under a tree against the wall and sat down.  With all the women watching his every move, he wasn't very concerned about getting lost in the garden at all.  He panted a little as he pressed his back to the wall.  With the remaining scrap of green cloth, he wiped some of the sweat form his body.  The rock wall felt very cool against his back.  He pressed his hands against the surface, trying to cool them off and found a hole.  Without turning around and attracting anymore attention to himself, he explored the dimensions of it.  It was almost large enough for a small pig to fit through it.  Ryouga grinned to himself as he started to figure out an escape plan...

    The small speedboat raced through the water towards the island of Fumei.  On the deck, four young women stood, drenched by the spray.  All four were on the deck for very different reasons.  Ranma-chan was up on deck to enjoy the warm breeze and the sea air--something that she never got to do very often.  Jiro was up on deck to watch the play of the sea and the spray; she really loved the water.  She was practically in her element.  Ukyou was on deck focusing on their unseen destination.  Everything else went unseen as the young woman thought dark thoughts about the girl who kidnapped her fiancé.  Akane was up on deck, leaning over the rail because she was sick.  She accidentally ate some of her leftovers before they all boarded and she was regretting the action ever since.
    Ukyou walked up to the captain.  "How much longer until we get there?" she asked.
    The captain, an American, scratched his beard before replying.  "I really can't say for sure, Kuonji-san," he said in heavily accented Japanese.  "It will depend on the tide around the island."
    "The tide?" asked Ukyou blankly.  "What do you mean?"
    "There's a large coral reef that surrounds the island.  There's only one part that where the bed is low enough for most boats to cross through, and that will be only at high tide.  If we try to go in when the tide is too low, the boat will beach on the bed and we will sink.  So it doesn't matter when we reached our destination; we can't go in until High Tide."
    Soon enough, the speedboat reached the tropical island.  The tide was apparently low, as the reefs were high up out of the water.
    "Looks like we will have to wait," said the captain.  "We'll moor the boat on the other side of the reef and we'll go in at High Tide."
    "When will that be?" asked Ukyou.
    "Sometime tonight."
    Akane groaned from the side of the boat.  "Works for me.  I can't do anything until my stomach settles anyway."
    Ranma, for once, was wise and kept his mouth shut.
    Ukyou grunted.  "I can't wait that long," she complained.
    "Sorry Kuonji-san," replied the captain.  "There's nothing I can do about it."
    Ranma then looked to Jiro.  "Hey Jiro.  You understand this whole thing about tides and water, right?"
    "Yes, I do, Ranma-san," replied the blonde girl in a cheerful voice.
     "So tell me something, since you know about this kinda stuff...  Is there a way to get the tides to change?"
    "Nothing practical, I'm afraid."
    "I don't care about practical.  How do we do it?"
    "Well," started Jiro, "all we gotta do is move the moon."
    "Well, since the tides are caused by the relative position of the moon, if you want the tides to change, you gotta wait until the moon moves."
    Jiro pulled out a deck of cards from her pocket.  "How about a game or two to pass the time until then?"
    "All right," agreed Ranma, "but I have to warn you, I've gotten better."
    Jiro grinned.  "Okay Ranma-san, you’re on."

    The sun was starting to go down as Ryouga was herded back into the room where he was supposed to be staying.  He entered to find that a boy, just a year or so younger than him, was waiting.  He had short-cropped brown hair and large grey eyes.  He looked at the Lost Boy expectantly.
    Ryouga was at a loss.  He didn't know what to say.
    "Uh, hi," he managed at last.
    The young man gave him a welcoming smile.  "Hi.  You must be Ryouga, right?"  His Japanese was oddly accented.
    "Yeah, that's me."
    "I'm Mishon.  I've been asked to look after your needs."
    "My needs, huh?  What I really need is to get out of here."
    Mishon gave him a sympathetic smile.  "I'd love to help you out there, but I'm already in hot water with the Princess as it is."
    Out of idle curiosity, Ryouga asked, "What did you do?"
    The boy blushed.  "I, uh, walked into her chambers as she was taking a bath.  I didn't mean to --I mean, I was only taking in fresh towels and I thought the place was deserted."
    Ryouga shook his head in sympathy.  Mishon shrugged.
    "Anyway, speaking of baths, I'm supposed to make sure that you had yours.  This way, please."
    They both went into the tiled chamber with the inset bath.  The hot water steamed from the bath and the fluffy green bath towels were still warm.  The belt and loincloth barely hit the floor a second before Ryouga hit the water.  The bath was fairly deep.
    "I am perfectly capable of taking a bath by myself," commented Ryouga to the assistant when he resurfaced.
    "I know, and I'll leave you be so you can bathe in private.  But I'm supposed to let you know that it would be unwise to escape, as there are guardswomen stationed all around this room."
    "Believe me, I'm not about to escape without any decent clothes to wear."  Ryouga pointed in disgust at the remains of what he was wearing earlier.  "Whose sick idea was that thing, anyhow?"
    "I think it was the Princess'," replied Mishon.  "She gets the strangest ideas at times..."
    "I think I've noticed," said Ryouga dryly.
    Mishon left Ryouga to his bath as he went to put some sort of outfit out for the evening.  Ryouga shuddered as he conjured up what he thought Celeane's idea of eveningwear might be.  He decided to concentrate on scrubbing instead.  He looked through the many bottles of shampoo sitting on the ledge of the bath and selected the one that smelled the least flowery.  He scrubbed furiously at his scalp, secretly hoping that the blonde colour would come out.  But no such luck, his hair was just as blonde as before.  Sighing he concentrated on the rest of himself, noticing that his skin was browner than it was before.  Probably due to the lack of sunscreen, he snorted.  I would've thought that living on an island like this, the people would know about the hazards of sunburns and skin-cancer...
    He thought about the hole in the wall and his potential plan of escaping.  Fighting his way out was not an option.  The guardswomen would overcome him with their sheer numbers and/or knockout gas.  He figured that when night fell, he would just escape as P-chan, under the cover of darkness.  He would squeeze through the hole.  Which was why he spent the rest of the day enlarging the hole by forcing his chi into the rock and forcing the edges to crumble into dust.  It was kind of like a 'Bakusai Tenketsu' done on a microscopic scale.  He was glad, for once, about his training in stone manipulation using his chi.  The hole was almost the right size too; just a little bit more work needed to be done.  The challenge was to be able to find the stupid hole in order to finish. That was all.  Once he was out, he figured that he could hitch a ride back to Japan or stow away on a boat, or something.
    He ducked under the surface of the water one more time, then climbed out of the bath.  Taking a fuzzy green towel of appropriate size, he wrapped it around his waist, then used another one to dry himself.  After towelling his hair dry, he started to look for this way out of the bathing area.  He was thinking about going through the door next to the window that looked into the garden when Mishon's voice called from another direction.
    "Hey.  In here," he said.  Ryouga followed the boy's voice into the main bedroom.  A girl even younger than Mishon was waiting in the room as well.  As a conditioned reflex, Ryouga grabbed the towel that he was wearing with both hands, while blushing furiously.
    "There you are," grinned Mishon as he watched the colour changes in his charge's face.  "This is my little sister, Mishelle.  The Princess sent her to fix your hair."
    Ryouga just stood still, gasping for air.  "M-my hair...?" he asked.
    The young girl curtsied and giggled.  "You have to look your best for dinner.  The Princess sent me because she seriously doubted that Mishon could style hair properly."
    "Why should I bother?" asked the girl's older brother.  "I'll have you know that I happen to like having my hair sticking out all over the place."
    "Um..." started Ryouga, breaking up the argument between the two siblings.  "Can I get dressed first?  In something decent, please?"
    Mishon pointed to a shirt and trousers were laid out on the bed.  Everything was in a shade of green.  "There you go.  Don't take too long in dressing, apparently the Princess is anxious to see you."
    "Can you guys turn around as I get these on?" Ryouga asked as he picked up the trousers.
    Swiftly the two siblings turned around.  Ryouga struggled to get into the trousers.  After ten minutes of trying to find the proper pant leg to put his feet through, he managed to button them up.
    "What is her interest in me anyway?" he asked Mishon as he pulled the loose fitting shirt over his head.
    "Probably those Japanese shojo mangas.  She always expressed an interest in trying to find an actual bishounen.  You're probably the closest to the real thing that she's gonna find."
    "Well," said Mishelle with her arms crossed.  "A bishounen is what she will get when I'm done with him."  She pulled out a comb and adopted a stance that would take no argument.  "Now come over here and sit on the bed."
    "Why?" asked Ryouga.  He was starting to get very tired of people telling him what to do.
    "I have to brush your hair.  You're not about to go in public with your hair a mess like that."  The young girl imperiously pointed to the bed.  "If I have to, I'll call the palace guards to hold you still.  They would probably enjoy that, I think."
    Ryouga snorted, but he went to sit on the bed.  He really didn't like the fact that there are little girls with the power to push him around.  But as long as he didn't have to face the leering stares of those brute women, he was almost willing to do anything--until he can make good his escape.

    Her Royal Highness, Princess Celeane was sitting in her room wondering about the problems that Ryouga posed before her.  He seriously did not want to marry her and that confused her.  He had actually professed that his love belonged to the girl named Ukyou, the foul tempered girl who ran the okonomiyaki restaurant.  What did that older girl have that she didn't?  She really couldn't figure it out.
    A servant entered the room.  She was a smaller girl, unlike the elite women who guarded the castle and her person-- even smaller than Misha, but she served just as faithfully.
    "Dinner is almost ready, your Highness," the girl stated.
    "Thank-you.  How is our guest faring, Timala?" Celeane was hoping that the older boy had come to his senses by now.
    "He's almost ready for dinner, your Highness."
    "Please tell the chef that I will be down presently."
    The servant girl bowed and left.  Celeane went thoughtful.  Perhaps I can convince dear Ryouga to see things as they should be.  I will prove to him that I'm much better than that bad-tempered girl that he is engaged to is, then he will love me instead.  She took a quick glance in the mirror, nodded at her reflection and walked out of the room on her way to dinner.

    The captain started the motor just after the moon started to rise.  The roar seemed extremely loud after a day of nothing of but the sounds of birds, surf and the moan of Ranma losing to Jiro.  Ukyou stood in anticipation of reaching land.
    "We're ready to go, Kuonji-san," said the captain.  "It won't be long now..."
    "Good," she replied.
    Ranma-kun was busy at the stern, putting his clothes back on.  According to the rules that Jiro had presented, he was to remove one article of clothing each time he lost.  He had lost his game against Jiro repeatedly-- in fact, every time.  They had stopped playing when Ranma was left wearing only his boxers.
    "I thought you said that you have gotten better, Ranma-san," Jiro stated innocently.  "Did you lie?"
    "He did get better," laughed Akane.  "He held out in each game for about 45 seconds.  He used to only last for about 30."
    Jiro laughed and even Ukyou chuckled.  She partly wanted to yell at them to be more serious, but at the same time, she was glad that they weren't overly tense.  We're coming, Ryo-chan, she thought, just wait there and don't get lost.
    The boat moved smoothly through the water into the breach in the coral reef.  Ukyou could see some lights from what appeared to be a small town and even more from what appeared to be some sort of castle.  She figured that the castle would be the most likely place for Ryouga to be.  As much as she would like to just bust in, wreck the place and just grab Ryouga on the way out, just to teach that snotty little princess a thing or two, she realised that such an action would be stupid, especially with the guards, the technology and the fact that she had no idea where her fiancé would be.
    She figured that some intelligence would be in order.
    "Jiro-chan?" she asked.  "What can you tell me about this Celeane?"
    Jiro, whose back was facing Ranma, looked thoughtful.  "I really can't tell you much, Ukyou.  All I know are the rumours that went around the classroom and the things that I noticed myself."
    "Maybe it will be enough."
    "Well...  The gossip went that Celeane was a girl who had everything, and although she wouldn't brag about it, it was fairly obvious.  Everyone knew about the bodyguards-- or at least the rumour of them, whether they believed it or not."
    "Go on..."
    "I noticed that she seemed to be real educated too.  I mean, she's only fifteen years old and she was in the seniors' class.  And the other thing that I noticed was that she seemed to always expect things to go her way, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.  As if she always got what she want."
    "You honestly think that, Jiro-chan?"
    "Yes, it is."
    Ukyou grunted.  It wasn't much information to base a plan around, but it was a start.
    "So she always expects to get her own way..." she mused.  "That can be helpful to know later on."
    "But how are we going to get in?" asked Akane.
    "We'll figure that out when we get on shore."
    "Right."  Akane nodded.

    Ryouga squirmed under the careful, but firm administrations of the young girl, Mishelle. They were both sitting on the huge bed.  She had been brushing Ryouga's hair for more than ten minutes, and he was starting to lose patience.
    "How much longer?!?" he asked in an exasperated voice.
    "Relax," replied the girl in a soothing voice.  "We'll be done in a moment."  Ryouga heard the girl put the hairbrush down.
    "Finally."  He was starting to feel ridiculous.  "I feel like a doll."
    "Just one more thing..."  Mishelle was placing something on Ryouga's head.  It felt like a narrow metal band.  She adjusted it until it seemed to suit her.  "There."
    Ryouga reached up and felt a large gemstone.  "What's this?"
    "Leave that be!" snapped Mishelle.  "You'll mess up your hair!"
    "Poor guy..." commented Mishon from the sidelines.  "Why can't you girls leave him be?"
    "What do you mean?" asked the younger sibling.
    "I think that Ryouga had the right picture.  Between you and the Princess, you both are treating  him like some sort of doll."  Ryouga glared at the servant boy.  "Well, it's true."
    "Thanks a lot..." grumbled Ryouga.
    "Let's go," said Mishelle, as she pulled the blonde hair boy off the bed.  "The Princess is waiting."
    "Coming."  Let's go see how else her highness could humiliate me, he thought.  He passed the mirror without looking in its surface.  No point in upsetting myself yet.

    When the boat landed on the shore, four dark shadows leapt from it onto the shore.  Those shadows then made a beeline for the trees.  Everything was perfectly silent for a moment, and then the boat backed up, turned around and went back the way it came, putting quietly.  Everything was quiet once more.
    "So," asked Ranma, "what do we do now?"
    "We go rescue Ryouga," replied Ukyou simply.
    "How are we suppose to do that?" asked Akane.
    "Uh..." Ukyou was at a loss.
    "We're gonna have to find a way to infiltrate the castle up on the hill," commented Jiro.
    "Okay.  But how are we gonna do that?" asked Ranma.
    "I don't know yet, but..." Jiro's voice trailed off as she strained to hear something.  Holding her finger up in a 'just-a-sec' kind of way, she got up and walked over a couple of feet to a cluster of bushes.  She tried peering into the leaves.  "Who's in there?" she demanded.
    "Don't hurt me," whimpered a small voice.  A young woman crawled out of the bushes, and stood up.  She was about as tall as Jiro and wearing some sort of armour.  "Please don't report me..." she pleaded, with the tall blonde girl.
    "Who are you?" asked Jiro softly.  She hated to see people cry.  "Why are you hiding?"
    "I'm Urma," the girl sniffled.  "I'm a trainee in the Palace Guards."  She was a tall girl; about 17 years old, with short, curly brown hair and grey eyes.  She might have been described as pretty, except her eyes were red from crying, her hair was matted and full of twigs and she held herself in shame.
    Akane joined Jiro at her side.  "Why are you crying?" she asked.
    "I-I had to get away.  The senior officers are so mean.  They demand so much.  I can't take it anymore, so I ran away.  I'm so scared that they would find me..."
    Ranma joined the other two.  "What would they do if they found you?" he asked.
    Urma looked at the handsome young man in front of her.  She wiped her eyes and straightened up.  "They would make an example of me.  Examples are usually humiliating.  I knew a girl who ran off and was caught.  She was marched up to the town square naked, then whipped in public."  The fear in her eyes intensified.  "I can't have that happen to me..."
    "Man..." sympathised Ranma.  "That's rough."
    Urma looked at Ranma in appraisal.  "Are you taken?" she asked.
    Ranma blushed and Akane pulled him to her side.
    "He's my husband," she said to the girl in an even voice.
    The big girl blushed.  "Sorry."
    "What kind of things do the senior officers want you to do?" asked Jiro.
    "Well, earlier today, the Princess came back with a young man.  He was so beautiful.  I never seen anyone like him."
    Ukyou, who was just listening a few feet away, came closer and looked at the refugee with a fiery intensity.  The girl stopped talking and looked at Ukyou.
    "Go on," said the okonomiyaki chef.
    "I was on duty at the time and my captain, who just returned with the princess, commanded me to help get the young man undressed."
    "Say what?!?" Ukyou shrieked.
    "But I couldn't do it!" wailed Urma.  "It didn't seem right.  So my captain said that she would talk with me later.  And she hits her subordinates-- she put at least six into the infirmary that I've heard of.  I had to run away."
    "Couldn't you stand up to her?" asked Ranma.
    "Not without getting in worse trouble."  Urma shook her head.
    "Is your captain the short woman who wears the trench coat?" asked Ukyou.
    "No.  That's General Misha.  She's the Princess' right-hand woman.  She's great, but she doesn't have enough authority to discipline my captain.  That's suppose to be the Princess' job, but she always seems too busy to notice."
    "You're awfully trusting to a bunch of strangers," commented Ukyou suspiciously.  "How come?"
    "I heard you saying that you were trying to sneak into the palace to go rescue the young man.  I remember the Princess calling him 'Ryouga'.  The Princess shouldn't have brought him here.  So, I guess I can help you.  It doesn't seem right."
    "Do you know of a way in?" asked Akane.
    Urma nodded.  "I can show you."
    "Why are you doing this --really?" asked Ukyou.
    "Well, I don't think that kidnapping is the way to acquire a husband.  I am sort of ashamed of our Princess.  Besides," here, Urma winked, "it is the captain that is in charge of guarding him.  If the man she is suppose to be watching disappears, she will be reprimanded.  Those who receive the Princess' displeasure, are usually stuck doing the most humiliating things that she can think of.  She'll be in disgrace.  That's a good enough reason for me.  So I'll help you."
    The group stared at the palace turncoat.
    "Just, please, don't tell them it was me."
    Ukyou was pleased.  Finally, they were getting somewhere.
    Hang in there, Ryo-chan, we're coming.

Chapter Four

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