Halftime

By Aaron Ziegler
spanner@visi.com

Chapter 12: Just in Time

"So, we figure a team of five would be best, just to be on the safe side," concluded Lucca.

"Well, with me along, you'll be perfectly safe!" boasted Ranma.

Ryoga barked a short laugh. "Yeah, right! I guess I'll have to go, too--just to keep you safe from him when he screws up."

Before an irritated Ranma could reply, Marle added, "Crono and I will be going, too."

"And I shall complete the regimen," concluded Frog. Then he looked apprehensive. "Or shouldst thou, Lucca? Lest misfortune strike again?"

"Don't worry, Frog," Lucca reassured him. "I've checked and double-checked the Epoch. As long as you don't time-travel in groups of more than three, nothing should go wrong. After all, the rest of you did plenty of travel without me back on our world without any problems. You'll be fine."

Returning to the mission, Lucca continued, "We know that Lavos is buried under Jusenkyo. Unfortunately, we don't know where Jusenkyo is, as Robo didn't uncover anything in Tokyo."

"Mostly because I was in Paris," Robo remarked dryly.

"Shut up!" Ryoga responded defensively.

Lucca pressed on, "We were planning on asking Magus, but he's missing. Ukyou doesn't know where he is, and, frankly, I don't really feel like waiting for him to get back." Several heads nodded agreement. "Hopefully, with Ranma's help, you'll get to roughly the same chunk of Asia as Jusenkyo. With luck, the natives will be able to help you out--especially in the past, when legendary training-grounds were, hopefully, a bit less legendary."

Crono remarked that there was still one flaw in the plan: five travelers and only three seats. Lucca giggled. "True, the trip to China will be a little...crowded. But once you get there, you can travel back in time in smaller groups."

"Maybe we should douse you with water so that you'll be lighter, Ranma," suggested Ryoga with a smirk.

"Maybe we should douse you with water to see if you get any lighter, pig," Ranma responded acidly. Ryoga's smirk disappeared, and he paled.

"I can already tell this is going to be a barrel of fun," Marle chuckled. "I'll drive." With that, she climbed up into the pilot's seat of the Epoch.

"I'm taking a seat," announced Ryoga, leaping into the air. Soon he felt the all-too familiar feel of Ranma's foot in his face, as Ranma utilized him as a springboard. He collapsed to the ground in a heap as Ranma vaulted into a chair. "How DARE you use me as a stepladder! I WILL have my revenge!" Ryoga scrambled up the side of the Epoch, only to see that Crono had already taken the other seat. Frog, for his part, was perched, somewhat awkwardly, on Crono's lap. Ranma suddenly realized what he was in for and groaned. Ryoga slowly smiled. "Looks like I'll get my revenge sooner than I expected," he grinned, climbing onto Ranma.

As the cockpit closed, Lucca and Robo could hear cries of "Get your elbow out of my ear, Ryoga," and "Oh, I'm so dreadfully sorry, Ranma. Did I kneel in a bad spot?" and "AAAAHHH! That HURTS, Ryoga!" The two of them slowly shook their heads as the time machine lifted into the air.

* * * * * *

Several painful minutes later, the aircraft landed in China. The bruised and battered forms of Ranma and Ryoga stepped out of the time-machine. Ranma looked around at the tall, rocky outcroppings and scattered boulders, and said, "You know, this place looks kinda familiar."

"Jusenkyo?" asked Marle, still in the Epoch.

"No...but I do think I've been here." He shrugged. "Probably just passed through with my dad, that's all."

Marle nodded. "Okay. Well, I'll take Frog and Crono a couple hundred years back, and then come back for you." The time machine rose into the air, and accelerated out of sight. Soon, it returned, and disappeared in a flash of light, having accelerated up to speed. Ranma and Ryoga regarded each other distastefully as they waited.

Fortunately, they didn't have to wait long. The Epoch soon reappeared above them, and after its standard world circuit, landed before them. The two climbed into the now vacant seats formerly occupied by Crono and Frog. Soon, the five of them were standing in the same location, a few hundred years back. The area looked mostly unchanged--aside, of course, from the crazed woman racing toward them with a large, and rather sharp looking sword. The woman screamed something in Chinese, and swung the blade with vicious intent. There was a loud clash of metal striking metal, accompanied by a bright shower of sparks, as the descending blade was simultaneously blocked by Crono's Rainbow and Frog's Masamune.

"What? Who?" exclaimed Ranma in surprise at the unexpected assault. He belatedly assumed a defensive stance. Still, he hesitated. Something about the woman looked familiar.

"So, baby-thieves," hissed the woman, "you speak Japanese. Give me back my child!"

"Baby-thieves?" asked Marle incredulously. "How could you say such a thing! We'd never do anything that evil!"

"Oh no?" asked the woman suspiciously. "I followed the tracks that led from where I had left my baby. They led right here!"

"What tracks?" demanded Ryoga. The woman pointed at a set of huge, webbed footprints. Gouges in the ground at the end of each toe indicated that the creature, whatever it was, had some impressive claws.

Marle looked slightly irritated. "Do any of us look like we could make tracks like that?"

The woman frowned. "Hmmm. Show me your feet."

"What?"

"Take off your shoes!" the woman insisted, lifting her sword menacingly.

With patient and impatient sighs, each of the gathered time-travelers removed their footwear. The woman carefully examined each foot, pausing briefly to study Frog's webbed toes in more detail. Finally satisfied, she said, "You're right. You couldn't have made those prints. Besides, they continue on that way." She pointed at some more clearly visible prints heading away. As one, the group collapsed in exasperation, groaning in disgust.

Crono suggested that they could help her search for her child. The woman was obviously pleased at the offer, and accepted.

"Shouldn't we be looking for Jusenkyo," suggested Ranma with a hint of impatience.

"Show a little sympathy, you insensitive lout," suggested Ryoga with more than a hint of impatience. "This lady's lost her child!"

Though irritated by Ryoga's abrasive response, Ranma put up no further argument and began to follow the footprints along with the others. Soon, however, the prints came to an end.

"Where could it have gone?" wondered Ranma.

"I don't get it," said Ryoga. "The thing couldn't have just vanished, could it?"

"There are less rocks here," noted the woman with the sword, looking rather unhappy. "Could it have flown away?"

"'Tis a possibility," said Frog grimly. "'Twould make it a difficult creature to track."

"No!" wailed the woman.

"Hey, wait a minute!" exclaimed Marle. "Crono, do you remember what Cologne told us to remember?"

"Huh?" said the woman, surprised. "I never told you to remember anything."

"That's it!" exclaimed Ranma, suddenly remembering. He had visited this same area when he had inadvertently traveled back in time via the magical Nanban mirror. "You're Cologne! That's why you look so familiar. I met you when Happosai was visiting-"

"Don't you DARE mention that pervert!" interrupted Cologne in a dangerous tone of voice. Then she calmed a bit and continued, a bit sadly, "Besides, Happy left years ago. You're too young to be that other boy..."

"Look, we think we know where your child is," broke in Marle.

That got Cologne's attention. "Really? How? Where?"

"'The child can be found to the west of the village,'" Marle said, repeating the words Shampoo's ancient great-grandmother had insisted she memorize.

"How do you know this?" asked Cologne curiously.

Crono reassured her that the knowledge was from a reliable source. He then asked where the village was, so they could travel to the west of it. Cologne nodded, and led the way.

* * * * * *

After a reasonable excursion the woman and her newfound allies were standing at the edge of a chasm. The jagged tear in the ground was several dozen yards wide, and stretched away in either direction as far as the eye could see. A haze of steam issued from the dark crevice, obscuring any attempt to gauge its depth. "Do you think this is where the thing took my baby?"

"I'd say there's a chance," noted Marle, gazing at the many dozen huge clawed footprints surrounding the edge of the chasm.

"Funny, our village has existed for many centuries." She paused, gazing into the ominous void. "I would have thought that someone would have found this before now."

"It does seem pretty...noticeable," remarked Ranma.

"Perhaps it's a result of the earthquake we experienced a few weeks ago," pondered the Chinese Amazon thoughtfully. She gazed into the crevice once more. "So, how can we get down?"

Peering into the black pit, Ryoga remarked, "It looks way too steep to climb."

"I couldst jump down," suggested Frog. This comment earned some puzzled frowns. "I speak not in jest. I can jump twixt yon wall and this, back and forth, til I reacheth bottom."

"Can you really do that?" asked the swordswoman, awed.

"A powerful jump is one of the advantages accompanying a frog's form, milady," responded Frog, bowing modestly. "I shall return forthwith, hopefully with thine offspring."

With that, Frog made a powerful leap off of the edge of the cliff. When he hit the far wall, he braced against it with all four limbs and sprung off again. After several such leaps, he had descended out of sight.

The assembled warriors waited in worried silent, many of them gazing into the inscrutable mists rising from the stygian depths. Suddenly, the mists seethed and churned as a massive updraft of hot air surged upward from the crevice. A fearsome growl was heard, and the mists were momentarily lit by a reddish glow. "Frog!" called Marle, worriedly.

For a few moments, there was dead silence. Ranma and Ryoga cautiously approached the edge. They both jumped at the bright sound of metal striking stone, but soon recovered enough to gaze over the edge. From their vantage, they could see Frog hanging by one hand from the hilt of the mighty Masamune, which was itself buried to the hilt in the rocky wall of the chasm. Frog's other arm looked badly burned, and hung useless at his side. Frog's head was tilted to the side, long red tongue stretched uncomfortably by the burden of an oddly silent child.

By now, the rest had gathered around the edge. Frog's eyes, bulging with the strain he was feeling, turned to gaze at them. "Woubst thbou pbleeth helb be?" he asked, fingers slipping slightly from their tenuous grasp.

Working quickly, Ranma and Crono carefully lowered Ryoga over the edge by his ankles. At full extension, and with Cologne and Marle anchoring Ranma and Crono, Ryoga was still several feet out of reach of the dangling amphibian. Thinking quickly, Ryoga withdrew his bamboo umbrella, flipped it open, and stretched out with it. "Climb on!" he called.

Frog eyed the frail-looking parasol dubiously, but carefully reached up with a leg to test its stability. Apparently satisfied, Frog climbed onto the umbrella and yanked his sword free from the wall, causing a few pebbles to fall into the depths. With another glance, he confirmed that Ryoga's grip on the umbrella seemed to be sure, and so he sheathed the Masamune. Finally, he reeled in the dangling toddler, who giggled with oblivious amusement. After rubbing his sore tongue, Frog urged, "Thou must hurry! Th' serpent cometh!"

"Huh?" asked a confused Ryoga. He was answered by the crunch of a huge taloned foot gripping the rock wall somewhere far below. Without further remarks, the dangling warriors were pulled up onto the edge of the chasm.

They ran a short distance away from the edge. Frog carefully handed the infant child over to its grateful mother. "Hush now, dear little Eyeshadow," Cologne crooned to the baby girl, who had for some reason decided that, now that she was relatively safe, it would be a great time to start bawling. Turning glad eyes on her daughter's rescuer, Cologne asked, "How can I ever repay you, um..."

"I am called Frog, milady." Frog glanced warily at the chasm, which was emitting a steady crunching noise as the beast within scaled the rock wall, and drew his sword again. "Thou shouldst take the youngling to safety. Bring help, if thou couldst. We shall attempt to hold the wurm at bay." Cologne nodded once, and ran in the direction of her village.

The moment she was out of sight, the huge, taloned hand of the beast gripped the edge of the cliff. Another hand soon joined it, and by the effort of the heavily muscled arms attached to those hands, a dragon's ugly head rose into view. A pair of three-meter long horns protruded from the beast's head, one above each slitted, reptilian eye, while a single sharpened horn jutted out from the dragon's elongated snout. The snout sported a gleaming set of nasty looking teeth. From the chin of the monster hung a long, course beard of white dragon hair. The beast's eyes focused on the tiny creatures that dared to raid its lair. The dragon hissed menacingly, and shot out of the chasm and into the sky, lifted by the power of two huge batlike wings. The rest of the creature's body appeared to be long and snakelike, with no hind limbs.

The serpent wheeled in the air for a moment, giving the five challengers enough time to scatter. The dragon selected a target, and dove towards its hapless victim, jaws opened wide.

Ryoga, the hapless victim in question, watched the rapidly approaching dragon carefully. For a moment, he thought that the beast intended to eat him alive. Then the dragon started to inhale. Sensing the beast's intentions, Ryoga swung his umbrella into position between the dragon and himself. It was not a moment too soon. The world around Ryoga was abruptly transformed into a blazing inferno. Ryoga gritted his teeth and sweated uncomfortably as the fiery tempest raged around him. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the barrage ceased, leaving Ryoga untouched. The only things left burning were the ground around Ryoga--and Ryoga's umbrella.

Ryoga wasn't always the brightest or most thoughtful of warriors, but even he could see the likely consequences of hanging onto a flaming umbrella for too long. Pausing briefly to test the wind, Ryoga reared his arm back, and flung the umbrella with a twist of his arm. Looking like a bizarre cross between a buzzsaw and a flaming top, the umbrella spun rapidly through the air. It reached the dragon, who was hovering in the air and charging up another blast of fire, and sheared cleanly through the tender membranes of one wing. The dragon roared in pain, and snapped at the umbrella with its massive jaws. This turned out to be a less than wise decision on the part of the dragon, as the razor-sharp umbrella cut easily through a tooth and continued on its way. The tooth dropped to the ground with a 'thunk', and not long after, the umbrella slowed its wild flight and fell as well.

The dragon fluttered to the ground, wincing as it pumped its damaged wing. Apparently, it was now too painful to fly. "Great work, Ryoga!" beamed Marle. "It'll be much easier to fight on the ground!" Ryoga blushed deeply at Marle's praise, and was almost crushed as the dragon chose that moment to swing its tail at him.

"Pay attention, you moron!" jeered Ranma, earning a dirty look from Ryoga.

Meanwhile, Marle, Crono, and Frog were preparing an attack of their own. As one, they shouted, "Arc Impulse!" Marle closed her eyes and began to concentrate. The air seemed to shimmer, especially around the swords of Frog and Crono. With the shimmer came a distinct drop in temperature, and the air around the enchanted swords began to become misty, as if the air itself were condensing from the intense chill now being radiated by the blades. Crono leapt high into the air, sword raised high. He descended from his leap, and katana met dragonflesh in a perfect vertical cut, skin and scale instantly freezing and shattering under the icy blow. Once Crono was clear, Frog dashed across, adding a vicious horizontal slash to the vertical one left by Crono.

The dragon, freshly branded with a nasty cross-shaped wound (and one likely to become more painful as it thawed), howled in anger, and lashed out at Crono with a taloned hand. Crono attempted to dodge, but was a little too slow. A single claw nicked him, and sent him flying, trailing blood from a nasty gash.

"Crono!" shouted Marle. Ryoga, Ranma, and Frog paused briefly in concern. The dragon, for its part, took advantage of their distraction to swing its tail again. This time, it connected with Ryoga and Frog. The two sailed through the air and landed with a sickening thud.

"I gotta make sure Crono's all right!" Marle told Ranma. "Oh, and the others, too! Try to keep the dragon away!"

"No problem!" called Ranma. He turned his attentions to the beast before him. 'Great,' he thought, 'the thing's taken down three of us and all we have to show for it is a torn wing, a broken fang, and a couple of sword cuts. Sure, piece of cake.'

As Ranma strode boldly forward, the beast seemed to regard him with amusement. Almost casually, it lashed out at its solitary foe with its tail. Obviously, it was expecting one of two results. Either the foolish human would be struck by the tail and flung through the air to join his comrades, or he would dodge, in which case the dragon could have a little more fun with its prey before finishing it off. To its surprise, Ranma did neither. When the tail came close enough, Ranma leapt into the air and landed on it. He then slowly started to make his way up the long scaly appendage towards the beast's head.

The dragon did not like this one bit. It thrashed its tail around, hoping to dislodge the unwanted guest, but whenever it became too difficult for Ranma to maintain his balance, he merely dropped and gripped the tail until it became safe to proceed once more. So, the serpent tried another strategy. Twisting around on its supple neck, the dragon's massive head loomed over Ranma's struggling form, preparing to grind Ranma's frail body into a pasty mush between its wide, toothy jaws. Not a bad plan, but, unfortunately for the dragon, one Ranma had been counting on. Just before the dragon's mighty jaws closed around Ranma, he leapt backwards, narrowly avoiding a toothy doom. Wasting no time, Ranma grabbed onto the beast's nose and hauled himself up onto the dragon's snout. After taking a moment to stick out his tongue at the startled creature's huge eyes, Ranma reared back and punched the snout with all of his might. He could feel scales and cartilage crumple and break under his fist.

The dragon howled with fury and pain, swinging its head and finally dislodging Ranma. Ranma landed on his feet a distance away, and turned to observe the damage he had wrought. He was gratified to see that the dragon was bleeding profusely from both nostrils and was evidently very annoyed. 'Well, that wasn't hard at all,' thought Ranma. 'If I can get in enough hits like that, the thing's bound to give up sooner or later.'

Unfortunately, the dragon had had more than enough of Ranma. Rather than lashing out with its tail, the dragon merely stared at Ranma--and began to inhale. 'Oh, yeah,' thought Ranma grimly. 'It can breathe fire, can't it?' Ranma considered his options. There was no cover near at hand, and Ryoga's umbrella was burnt beyond any possible use. Ranma looked at the dragon, who had almost finished its breath. Things were about to become very hot.

'Hot! That's it!' thought Ranma. 'Now, if only I could cool off--and fast...' "Marle!" called Ranma frantically. "I need ice, and I need it NOW!" Marle glanced up from her work healing their fallen comrades, confused. "I'm gonna get very warm, very fast if you don't!"

The dragon began to exhale. Ranma futilely tried to shield himself with his arms--and suddenly found that he couldn't move. His next sensation was of being painfully cold, and he realized that Marle had apparently frozen him in a block of ice. Ranma had expected Marle to drop a few slabs of ice between him and the creature, like she had at the skating competition, but this was even better! Even as the ice began to crack and melt under the ferocious heat of the dragonflame, Ranma was feeling cool and calm. Now was his chance. Just as the ice began to break apart, Ranma shouted "Hiryu-Shoten-HA!" and thrust his fist into the air. Ranma's chi energy twisted around his body in the shape of a glowing dragon, and ripped into the air above him, leaving a cone of chill air behind it. The extreme temperature difference caused the air and fire to spin and twist, soon forming a fierce cyclone of flame with Ranma at its eye. The dragon tried to resist the cyclone's irresistible pull, but was drawn helplessly into the swirling maelstrom. The dragon was whipped and lashed in the searing air, and soon disappeared into the sky. Ranma's hurricane died, and a few seconds later, the dragon's blackened body crunched to the ground.

"Wow! That was incredible!" said an astonished Marle.

"Aw, it was nothing," said Ranma. But inwardly, he was impressed. He had never been able to execute a Hiryu-Shoten-Ha of that power before. Perhaps it was because the temperature difference between himself and his opponent had never been so great.

Then Marle looked sheepish. "Sorry I had to freeze you, but after curing Crono, Frog, and Ryoga, I didn't have enough magic left to do an Ice2. So I had to settle for just Ice. I figured that a little cold was better than a lot of hot."

"Aw, it takes more than a little cold to slow me down." Ranma boasted. Then, with rare concern, "How're the others?"

As if in answer, the three patients stood up. "We're fine--no thanks to you," Ryoga said darkly.

"What do you mean?" answered Ranma, irritated. "I finished the thing off, didn't I?"

"Yeah, AFTER it had pitched us all away!"

Before Ranma and Ryoga could engage in a more...spirited form of discussion, Cologne appeared, along with several other armed women. Upon seeing the decimated dragon, Cologne nodded and said, "You are very strong fighters. Somehow I knew you would not need our help." She approached the serpent's carcass.

Frog looked concerned. "Madame, perhaps thou art being incautious-"

Suddenly, the dragon staggered upright and lashed out at the startled Amazon with a handful of blackened, but still very sharp, talons. Without a moment's hesitation, Frog lashed out with his tongue and grabbed Cologne around the waist, yanking her out of the claws' path. At the same time, he swung his mighty blade with both hands and flung it at the beast. The Masamune struck the dragon's left eye, and continued until it had lodged itself into the back of the dragon's skull. The creature howled once more, and then died.

Frog unwrapped his tongue, and helped the wide-eyed and breathless Chinese Amazon to her feet. "Art thou harmed?" he asked.

"No, thank you," Cologne panted. Slowly, she regained her composure. If she had lost face among her Amazon colleagues, neither they nor she betrayed any sign.

Frog looked dolefully at the punctured head of the dragon. "Retrieving mine blade shall not be a task to relish."

"Leave it," suggested Cologne. Frog gave her a look that implied he'd sooner leave his lungs. Cologne elaborated, "We will be butchering the dragon anyway, and we can recover your sword for you." Speaking of the butchering prompted Cologne to invite the party of dragonslayers to a feast in their honor. "Dragon meat is a rare delicacy," she added.

"That'd be great!" Ranma answered at once, always eager to take up an offer of free food.

"Weren't you were in a hurry to find Jusenkyo?" Marle queried.

"A quick bite won't hurt," Ranma answered defensively. Ryoga smirked.

* * * * * *

A short time later, the village of Joketsuzoku was abuzz with activity. Everywhere one looked, there were people working with some dragon part. At the center of the village, a huge hunk of dragon meat was slowly turning on a massive spit. The meat was producing a tantalizing aroma as it roasted. Elsewhere, dragon meat was being cut into thin strips for drying and curing. Several villagers had obtained some of the dragon's bones, and were carving them into jewelry, weapons, and even furniture. The dragon's scaly skin was being converted into shields and light armor.

Back in Cologne's hut, the five time travelers were relaxing. Frog was playing with young Eyeshadow (who seemed absolutely enthralled with the funny-looking knight). Ranma, Ryoga, and Crono were having an arm-wrestling tournament, while Marle looked on in amusement, occasionally cheering on whoever looked to be losing. Cologne, oddly enough, seemed to be grinding hair from the dragon's beard into a fine powder.

After barely loosing a match to Crono, Ryoga rubbed his arm and asked, "Hey, Cologne, whatcha doin'?"

Cologne smiled slyly and answered, "I'm grinding Dragon's Beard. Powdered Dragon's Beard is a main ingredient in a number of magical potions. Especially love potions."

At these words, Ranma stiffened. In his own time, Ranma had frequently been a victim of Cologne's love potions (mostly because of Ranma's tendency to eat anything put in front of him). Crono took advantage of Ranma's surprise to slam his arm down, concluding their match. Ranma didn't seem to notice. After thinking for a moment, he stood and asked, "Cologne, could you do me a favor?"

Cologne stopped grinding and stared straight at Ranma. "Anything," she said seriously. "If it wasn't for you and your friends, I would have lost my baby, and possibly my life. What would you like?"

"I want you to promise me that you'll never force me to marry your great-granddaughter."

Cologne's serious expression shattered, and she started to laugh. After recovering, she asked, "No, really! What would you like?"

Ranma's face remained stern. "I mean it. Promise me."

Cologne grinned. "Well, I don't see how it would hurt, as you and I will likely both be long dead by the time my great-granddaughter reaches marriageable age. I think she would resent being married to a dead man by a dead woman, anyway. Very well, I promise that I shall never force you to marry my great-granddaughter."

Ranma felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Crono and Marle looking sternly at him. "We need to talk," said Marle. Crono gestured for Ranma to step outside.

"Look," said Marle, once the three of them were outside, "Cologne told us that the laws of Joketsuzoku are not to be ignored-"

"Of course she did!" Ranma interrupted. "The old troll's been trying to get me to marry Shampoo for a long time now! Now I finally have a chance to stop all that, and I'm gonna take it, like it or not!"

"This may be the wrong way to try it," Marle warned. "Changing the past can have...unwelcome side effects." For emphasis, Marle and Crono grimly explained how Marle had briefly been erased from the space-time continuum, merely by being mistaken for her kidnaped great-grandmother on her first trip back in time.

"I don't care how risky it is! If I don't try, I may never be free of her!" Ranma stomped back into Cologne's home. Crono and Marle frowned at each other and shrugged.

Before they could follow, a loud chime began to ring. Throughout the village, people put down what they were doing and began to walk toward the enormous table where the feast was to take place. Cologne emerged from her hut, baby Eyeshadow in arm, followed by Frog, Ryoga, and Ranma. The seven of them proceeded to the center of the village and sat down. The table was topped with the enormous dragon haunch that had been succulently roasting on the spit earlier. Topping the roast dragon like a toothpick in a titan's hors d'oeuvre was Frog's Masamune. Frog's eyes widened slightly as he saw it, and he turned a questioning glance on Cologne.

"By all means, Frog," Cologne smiled, "you may carve the roast."

Needing no further prompting, Frog leapt to the top of the mountain of meat, and pulled his beloved sword lovingly free of it's fleshy encasement. A second later, he laid into his meaty adversary, fibers parting easily before each blow. Frog continued his frenzied culinary dance, and every now and then a single serving of meat would land neatly on a random plate. When Frog finally slowed to a halt, no plate was left unserved, and none had been served more than once. As one, the villagers applauded the breathless amphibian, who bowed deeply and returned to his seat.

Cologne stood and spoke to the assembled village loudly in Chinese, prompting Ranma and the others to glance at each other. Cologne noted their discomfort and said, "My apologies, I had forgotten that you don't speak our language. I was about to begin a speech. Toothbrush!" She was apparently addressing an overweight man with a pipe and crossed eyes. Ranma noted with some amusement that the man looked almost identical to the Chinese Guide who had helped Ranma and his father find their way around China. Ranma wondered if the guide knew that he had an ancestor from the Village of Chinese Amazons.

The man approached and bowed to Cologne. Cologne spoke to him for a few seconds in Chinese. She turned back to the time-travelers and explained, "Toothbrush is the only other member of the village who knows any Japanese. He will translate for you as I speak."

Cologne began to speak loudly to the villagers again. Toothbrush listened a few seconds and translated, "She say that she very happy that you strangers save baby. That what she tell village."

Cologne continued. "Now she say that she most happy to you, Frog-person. She most happy to you because you save her and kill dragon."

"Hey, I mostly killed it-" Ranma started to protest. Fortunately, Marle's hand over his mouth cut him off before he could probe any new depths of tactlessness.

Cologne was still speaking. "Now she tell whole village of Amazon womans that she name her first son after you. She is giving first son name 'Frog'. That what she say now."

Frog jerked slightly. He cleared his throat (always an attention-getter), and said, "Milady, I am honored beyond words. But in truth, mine name is not Frog, but Glenn. Thine son wouldst likely come to resent such a title."

Cologne colored slightly, and thanked the knight. She addressed the villagers again. "Now she say that first son name not 'Frog' but 'Glenn'." A few of the villagers smiled at this.

Cologne finally brought her speech to a close. Toothbrush smiled widely and translated, "She say, everyone eat now. That what she say."

Ranma, of course, needed no further prompting. Within seconds, his mouth was filled to capacity with scrumptious meat. The flavor was odd; sort of spicy, though no spices had been added. But as he chewed and swallowed at an appalling rate, Ranma couldn't shake the feeling that he had forgotten about something.

Ryoga, oddly enough, solved that dilemma. "Cologne? Do you know of Jusenkyo?"

"The cursed training grounds?" Cologne responded. "I have heard stories about it--none happy. Why would you want to go there?"

Dodging the question, Ryoga pressed, "Do you know where it is? It's important that we find it."

Cologne thought for a few moments. "Sorry, I have no idea. I know of Jusenkyo only through its legends, and none of those give directions." Ryoga briefly assumed the bleak, tormented visage that one would expect to see on a lost soul forever banished to the nethermost regions of Hades. However, this was not an extreme, or even unusual level of depression for Ryoga, and he thanked the Amazon.

A few minutes after the feast had ended (or a few centuries, depending on the point of view), the sated time-travelers were gathered around the Epoch, back in the twentieth century, preparing for the trip back to Nerima. "Well, that was unproductive," Marle frowned.

"I wouldn't say that," said a blissfully happy Ranma. There had been more dragon than even he could eat, and he was stuffed.

"She was taking about our mission, you jerk!" snapped Ryoga.

Crono suggested, none too gently, that the two of them should stop arguing. He was eager to get back to Nerima to see what Lucca would make of their failure. The five of them gloomily piled into the time machine for the uncomfortable ride back.

Afterword:

Okay, I admit, at the time that I wrote this, I had never actually seen the episode where Happosai and Ranma travel back to the past via the Nanban Mirror. However, I'd read quite a bit about it, and felt that I knew enough to make a reference to it, at least. It seems that I hit pretty close to the mark!

Chrono Trigger Tip #12:

This adventurer guy, Toma, keeps ranting about trying to find a Sunstone, or something like that. I hate him, and I want to ruin his day by finding it first. Where can I get it?

Well, if it exists in 600 A.D., when Toma is looking for it, it is way too thoroughly hidden to find. However, it also exists in 2300 A.D. in a temple to the north. It's guarded by this weird red blobby thing called 'Son of Son', which has five balls of flame encircling it. The only way to hurt it is to attack one (and only one--no area attacks!) of the fireballs. If you hit the right one, the blobby thing will take some damage. Unfortunately, the blobby thing randomizes its fireballs every now and then. Just keep at it, and wear Red Mail if you have it (Red Mail protects against fire damage, and the blobby thing only uses fire as an attack), and you will eventually win.

Okay, now I have the Sun Stone. But it's dead! Drained! Useless! What do I do?

Don't panic. As you may or may not remember, someone on one of the floating continents of 12,000 B.C. mentioned that you can charge a Sunstone by leaving it in a beam of sunlight for millions of years. Fortunately, in every time period but the End of Time, there exists a Sun Shrine--a cave, within which a beam of sunlight shines night and day. (How? Who cares?) Go back to 65,000,000 B.C., and go northeast of the main continent, and you'll find it. Leave the Sunstone there for a few million years, and it'll be charged up good as new.

AAAHHH! It's GONE!

When?

1000 A.D.! It was fine in 600 A.D.! What happened?

Go to the village on the southern continent in 1000 A.D. Hmmm, the house of the miserly millionaire seems to be glowing, isn't it? Mighty suspicious. Even though he says that he's never heard of any Sunstone. I think this fellow needs a lesson in manners. Go back to 600 A.D. The millionaire's ancestor is desperate for some Jerky, and Jerky is hard to come by. Fortunately, you can find it in a shop near the docks on the southern continent in 1000 A.D. It won't come cheap, though. The owner's been saving it for a special occasion. Buy it anyway, and take it to the past to give to the millionaire's ancestor.

Whoa, she's offering me MONEY! I can recoup my losses!

Don't. No matter how foolish Nabiki would think you for doing so, give the Jerky to the woman free of charge. She'll be so impressed by your generosity that she'll teach it to her kids, who'll teach it to their kids, etc. Now, the millionaire is not nearly so miserly, and will be happy to give you the Sunstone. Put it back in the Sun Shrine, and collect it in 2300 A.D., fully charged.

Okay, it's charged. It STILL won't do anything! What good is it?

Well, first off, if you take it to Lucca's house, she can use it to create the ultimate Gun, the Wondershot. Second, if you have both it and the Rainbow Shell, Melchior can forge some kick-butt equipment, including the Rainbow, the most powerful Katana. But he won't be able to do that for you until after you've reconciled Marle with her father.

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