Chapter One

Tnedou Nabiki walked through the remote valley. The tournament she had entered would not be held until late in the evening. She paused at the foot of a path. A feeling came over her as she started down the path.

She turned her thoughts to her young son, [Akane]. His strange dreams had not only haunted him, but her as well. She shook her head at the memories, fighting them.

Looking up, she saw the entrance to a temple. As her habit of twenty years, she strode through the gate. Any temple was a welcomed sanctuary from the worries she had, and the demons that haunted her life.

As she stepped into the courtyard, she noticed a young priestess. She paused as a memory flashed through her mind. She held her breath as she watched the young woman go gracefully from task to task.

Each action she observed was carried out with great care and reverence. The young priestess maintained her temple in such a way that it reminded her of her older sister. Her only remaining sister.

Nabiki gasped when the priestess turned to face her. Before her stood a younger version of a person she thought she would never see again.

"Ranma?"

The young womanís eyes widened in surprise. She recovered, extending her hand to Nabiki.

"Nabiki? Is that really you?"

Nabiki embraced the young woman. Tears ran down her face as she held Ranma tightly. "Gods, Ranma, I didnít think you were alive. W-when you left, youÖyou didnít contact us."

Ranma returned the embrace. She fought the tears. After a moment, she pushed Nabiki away. A gentle smile replaced her shocked face.

"Iím glad to see you, Nabiki. Please, come inside."

"H-hai," replied Nabiki as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "I-I have some hot tea in a thermos if you want to use it to change."

Ranma frowned slightly as she opened the door. "That wonít be necessary, Nabiki. I gave Akane that at the funeral."

"I donít understand. What do you mean?" asked Nabiki as she sat at the table.

Ranma removed the hakama she wore, revealing her jean shorts. "I left what I thought was the most important thing to me with Akane. I-I have not been a male since that day."

"I-Iím sorry, Ranma. I thought it was just your grief speaking."

Ranma smiled as she put on a sweater. "At first, it was. Then, as I traveled, I realized that I failed Akane so many times because I put my so called manhood before her happiness and safety. I-I never had the chance to tell her I accepted the curse. Shampoo took that chance away."

Nabiki nodded, shuddering at the memory of the funeral. She stood next to her father and older sister, Kasumi, watching the procession of people drop items of worth into her younger sisterís grave. She had expected Ranma to be at the services, but he hadnít shown up.

Shampoo walked by, dropping a dagger into the grave. "Shampoo glad Violent Girl accept gift with open arms. Make saving Airen easier."

Shampoo smiled slightly as she moved on. Cologne and Mousse followed. The crowd parted as the male Ranma walked up to the grave. No one argued that he cut in front of the mourners. Nabiki whimpered at seeing Ranmaís empty eyes.

Ranma knelt beside the grave, touching the casket. "Iím sorry, Akane. Iím sorry for everything," whispered Ranma as he kissed the spot where Akaneís lips would have been.

Standing up, Ranma removed the lid from the bottle he held. "Some man I turned out to be."

The crowd watched as Ranma poured the contents over himself and the casket. "Please accept what I was, Akane-chan."

Before anyone said anything, Ranma left the gathering. Nabiki watched as the various suitors shouted at each other and threatened to end the truce. She caught Shampooís calculating look.

"Nabiki?"

Nabiki shook her head as she faced Ranma again. "Iím sorry, Ranma. IÖI was remembering the funeral. I donít think anyone understood what you did. Since we never saw you again, we assumed you became a man again."

Ranma smiled sadly. "I suppose Iíll have to take you to the hot springs sometime. Anyway, at first, Mom didnít understand. After a while, she knew what I had done, and helped me. If it werenít for her, I would probably be dead now."

"I donít believe it. Youíre a strong mÖperson."

Ranma smirked. "You almost said Ďman.í Nabiki, I havenít been a man since the day I ran from the funeral. Iíve moved on. Iíve finally found peace. With myself, my past, my future, and with Akane. Are you at peace?"

Nabiki stared at the young woman before her. "I think so. For my sonís sake, I hope so."

"You have a son? How old is he?"

"He just turned fifteen. Heís a handful, but a good kid. Heís the heir to the dojo."

"Oh. Um, who is the current heir?"

Nabiki smiled. "I am. After you left, I took over both schools. I think I can beat you, provided you havenít picked up any new tricks."

Ranma looked at her hands. "IÖI donít fight any more. When Akane was killed, I died. Well, the old me died. After a few years of wandering, I came here. I finally had something to live for. Becoming a priestess meant more to me than being a martial artist.

"I canít go back, Nabiki. I no longer want to be a fighter. I can heal people. Give them the peace the need, like I needed.

"Iíve presided over several weddings, and funerals, that I finally feel something other than pain. It hurts, knowing that Iíll be alone for long time. Maybe for the rest of my life, but I at least get to bless those who

have the courage to marry, before itís too late."

Nabiki nodded. "Thatís why I took over the art. I wanted to make it up to you, and Akane. I did some stupid things, things no sister is supposed to do to her family. I have finally come to forgive myself for what Iíve done. Can you forgive me?"

Ranma took Nabikiís hand. "Hai. Life is too short to hold grudges forever. IÖI even forgave Shampoo."

Nabiki withdrew her hand. "Why? She killed my sister to marry you! Did you forget that?"

"No. I forgave her, otherwise sheíd haunt my dreams. I hate her for what she did, but I forgave her. Thatís why Iím at peace. I no longer let my past rule me. Please Nabiki, before itís too late for you, forgive her. If you donít, youíll never truly know peace."

Ranma smiled. "I donít want one of the women I would have called Ďsisterí haunted. I may be able to perform exorcisms, but I donít want to be the one to cleanse those I once called family. Please, Nabiki, let the past go."

Nabiki glared at Ranma. I need to be getting back to my hotel. I have a tournament to attend. Do you want me to pass anything on to Kasumi or Father?"

"No, Nabiki. Please donít tell them youíve found me. Iíve finally found what Iím looking for. I canít go back to the way it was before. Iím sorry."

"I understand. Until youíre ready, I will not tell them. Is your mother alive?"

"Hai. Iíll tell her you said hi and wish her well."

"Will you be at the tournament tomorrow?"

"No. I have given up that part of my life. Keiichiís not there, so I wonít go."

"Keiichi?"

"Heís a young, troubled teen. I have taken him on as my helper, here at the temple."

Nabiki half smiled. "Are you dating men or women?"

"Neither. I donít have the desire to date anyone. They may end up dead.

"I wish you the best of luck, Nabiki."

"Thank you, Ranma. I hope to speak with you again."

"So do I," replied Ranma as she watched Nabiki walk down the steps.

As Nabiki faded into the long shadows, Ranma clutched her heart. Tears rolled down her cheeks. "Iím at peace. Iím at peace," chanted Ranma as she began to sob.