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*What* Insertion?


Chapter Two
Mixing it Up


(Cue theme: Respect -- Upper West Side, from "Big O")


Place: Local elementary school
Time: Lunchtime

People would tell you that it's not polite to eat and talk at the same time.  Phibrizzo, though, was doing just that---eating a lunch that was provided for him, and holding a steady conversation with Inuyasha and Curtis.  It's about the only way that couldn't be considered impolite.

So that other new kid we saw is one of those fictional characters too? Phibrizzo asked, nibbling at some ramen and setting aside the small dish of fish and vegetables to eat afterwards.  Wow, this stuff tastes pretty good.

Inuyasha smirked.  "See?  Told ya."

Curtis worked his way through a mouthful of bacon cheeseburger, then swallowed.  "Yeah.  Name's Conan Edogawa, like he said earlier.  Granted its just his current name, but that's unimportant for now.  For those that know of him back home, he's got quite a reputation.  I'll tell you more about him after lunch."  Another bite.  "I didn't feel lively enough to eat anything earlier, and now look at me..."

No wonder you shouted like that.  Everyone was looking at me funny when I flinched, Phibrizzo said as he increased the pace of his eating.  And I'm pretty sure that new kid looked pretty suspicious.  What's he supposed to be?

"You know what detectives are, right?"

They're supposed to be people who find out about things, aren't they?

Another bite.  "That's just the basic definition.  Before an incident that took place last night, he was the best detective in the city...and a teenager to boot.  He investigated the more major crimes in the area, and even a few outside."

Why?  What happened last night?  Phibrizzo gulped down some milk.

"A couple professional criminals knocked him out and gave him some kind of new drug.  After they left, the drug didn't do exactly what they had intended: instead of killing him, it reversed his age.  I'll admit to wanting to relive my childhood years---minus the jerks, of course---but that's definitely not the way to go."

"So now he has to go back to a school for brats," Inuyasha said.  "Why doesn't he just find out who did it and get back at them?"

Somehow, I doubt it's that easy, and---  Phibrizzo jerked his head up as he finished off the ramen.  A couple kids are coming.  How'd they finish so fast?

"Well, you did waste a bit of precious time trying to decide what to eat first," Inuyasha commented.

Munch, munch, swallow.  "I recognize them," Curtis assured Phibrizzo.  "They're alright.  From left-to-right, we have Mitch, George, and Amy.  Decent kids for the most part."  He resumed eating.

Unknown to them was the fact that the others were aware that Phibrizzo had kept his mouth shut through most of the morning classes, looking nervous at times.  They had thought that he was a bit shy---which was true---but they had no way of knowing that Phibrizzo only had a vague idea as to the whats and whys of this world, and was thus keeping quiet so that he didn't say or do anything stupid.

Even if they knew this, it wouldn't puzzle them for very long; they had questions they wanted answered, and they didn't want to wait until later.

Phibrizzo spoke first.  "Um...hi.  What is it?"

The fat boy, George, waved.  "Hey.  Just wondering why you ate the ramen so fast.  You almost looked like a racer over here."

Phibrizzo licked his lips.  "What can I say?  It's delicious."  He set to work on the fish.

Amy spoke next.  "Hi.  That's a very pretty bracelet you have there.  What kind is it?"

With part of a fish piece jutting out of his mouth, Phibrizzo glanced downward at his bracelet.  Swallowing, he answered: "Don't know, actually.  I'd always thought it was a basic metal or crystal or something along those lines.  It's not gold, though.  I know that much."

"I'd thought that most boys don't wear bracelets," said Mitch, unsure.

Phibrizzo struggled mightily to keep himself from snapping.  After a few seconds, he finally stated with an annoyed edge in his voice: "Sooner or later, that always comes up.  It's something a friend of mine gave me, okay?  She'd been the only friend I ever had, and it's all I have to remember her by.  So don't bring that up again."  He took another bite.

George and Mitch didn't look too happy with that comment, although it was the latter who answered him.  "With an attitude like that, it's not wonder you've only had---"

Amy stepped in front of them, interrupting what could've led to an argument.  "Since you've only had one friend before, how'd you like to have more?"

Phibrizzo lost his upset demeanor, appearing a bit puzzled.  "What do you mean?"

George's frown vanished.  "I see what she's saying.  Do you want to be friends with us?"

Phibrizzo blinked several times.  "I'll let you guys know when I'm finished eating," he said, caught off guard a little.

This seemed to make the trio happy, but they didn't go too far away; instead, they formed a huddle of sorts and started talking amongst themselves.  Phibrizzo went back to finishing his lunch, turning his thoughts inward.  Inuyasha.  Curtis.  Comments?

"You're going to have to hang around with some twerps sooner or later," Inuyasha said, being straight-to-the-point.  "It sounds okay to me."

"I agree," Curtis said, who'd finished his bacon cheeseburger.  "They seem annoying at first, but they stick with you.  Conan's like that too, so you may want to mention him to them at some point."

Phibrizzo's tone became slightly accusatory, yet it also contained a bit of humor.  You know something I don't, do you? he asked, having finished off the fish and vegetables at this point.

"We both know something you don't."  Inuyasha folded his arms, amused.  "You know stuff we don't.  It's a fact of life, so get used to it."

"Speaking of knowing stuff we don't..." Curtis said, then hesitated for a moment.  "I never knew you actually had a friend.  What's that about?"

Let's not talk about that right now.  It's a bit of a touchy subject.  Phibrizzo downed the milk, then turned to Amy and the others.  "Hey, guys?  You listening?"

The trio of kids stopped their conversation and turned to him.  "So, what's it gonna be?" George asked.

Phibrizzo stared at them for a moment, then smiled.  "What are you guys doing later?"

This cheered up the kids, big time.  "Great!" they said in unison; this startled them for a moment, but they settled down just as quickly as something came to mind.

"We don't have anything planned for later," Amy murmured, solemn.  "Our parents found out that we tried to get on a rollercoaster for free yesterday, so they're making us stay home today and tomorrow."

"We'll plan for another day, then," Mitch offered.  "Maybe we'll try the park this weekend."

George agreed wholeheartedly.  "Sounds okay to me, but try not to throw the frisbee over my head like you did last time!"

Phibrizzo shrugged, momentarily wondering what frisbees and rollercoasters were.  "I'm okay with that."  His eyes scanned the room, seeking out Conan; he spotted him at the opposite end, looking rather annoyed and bored as he finished his own lunch.  "You know, you should try to get that guy in on the action, too."

"You mean Conan?  We thought about that."  Mitch looked over at Conan briefly, then turned back to Phibrizzo.  "You think we should talk to him, too?"

A nod.  "Maybe before we leave later.  How about that?"

"Alright with us!" the others cheered.

Phibrizzo smiled briefly as they left for their own part of the room, then turned back to his empty table; someone had taken the empty trey while he was talking to the others.  Have either of you ever wondered what it's like to watch your life spiralling out of control? he asked, his expression downcast.

Curtis looked up from where he was checking something along the side of his chamber.  "Is that question meant to be rhetorical?"

"If it's meant to be, it's not a very good one," Inuyasha growled.

Phibrizzo chuckled mirthlessly.  Take it however you want.

"I'll settle for 'rhetorical'," Curtis said, shrugging and going back to what he was doing before.

A brief shudder ran up Phibrizzo's neck; turning his head a bit, he noticed that Conan had tapped his shoulder a few times, trying to get his attention.  "Yeah...it's Conan, right?  What do you want?"

Conan lowered his hand.  "There's something that's been bothering me ever since this morning.  It...kind of has to do with you."

Phibrizzo turned around partially to see him better, allowing his 'parasites' to see the kid standing before him.  "What's it about?  Were you wondering why I flinched right after you introduced yourself?"

Conan shook his head.  "No, it's not that."

"I was staring at you for a bit while the teacher was busy.  Was that it?"

Another negative.  "You were?"

Phibrizzo laughed nervously.  "Okay, forget that.  Does it have to do with the bracelet?"

"I'll have to remember that...but no.  It's something else."

"Well, then what is it?" Phibrizzo asked impatiently.  "What else is there that you need to know about?"

"It's not much...I guess I'm just a little curious," said Conan.  "What kind of name is 'Phibrizzo Kaden'?"

Phibrizzo's face would've hit the floor, but the edge of the desk intercepted the side of his head before it got there.

----

Sweatdropping briefly as Phibrizzo continuously muttered: "Ow...ow...ow..." and rubbed the side of his head, Conan looked on as those closest to them checked to see if he was alright.  I haven't been shrunk for a whole day yet, and already I have a mystery on my hands, he thought.

He'd seen various signs throughout the day.  First, there was Phibrizzo's reaction to his introduction.  Next, during dull moments throughout the teacher's lecture (since he knew all this stuff already, there were quite a few), he'd caught Phibrizzo staring intently at the teacher and at someone's book, never asking any questions and waiting several seconds before responding to anything correctly; he seemed to be in a constant state of nervousness.  Third, from time to time while the teacher's back was turned, his head would turn slightly and his eyes would wander the room...almost as if he'd never been in such a room in his life.  Now, he'd just found out that the other newcomer had been watching him as well.

Most people his age would've dismissed all this.  Most people would pass off his nervousness as excitement at being in a new school.  Most people would likewise also think that Phibrizzo would want to make friends with someone and have them help him through his first few days in attendance.

There's something strange about that kid.  I'll have to talk to him some more after school lets out.

Most people weren't Jimmy Kudo.

"If you're going to say something to make me do that, Edogawa, could you at least give me some warning?  That hurts!"

Apparently most people weren't Phibrizzo Kaden, either.

-----

Location: Outside the elementary school
Time: Early-to-mid-afternoon

As Conan promised himself, he was able to run into Phibrizzo again after the school day ended.  It looked like the latter kid was about to head off somewhere in a hurry; but after calling him over, he seemed willing to talk...at first.  He seemed a lot less inclined to talk the further into Conan's questioning he got.

"So Phibrizzo's your real name, huh?"

"For the last time, yes!"

"It still sounds rather unusual..."

There was a moment of hesitation on Phibrizzo's part.  "That's the name I was born with, okay?"

Conan gazed up at Phibrizzo's face; his eyes had seemed to glaze over for a moment before responding to him previously.  "It doesn't really mean anything, though.  It just sounds like something that was patched together on the spur of the moment."

That got Phibrizzo's full attention; in response, the other boy turned his head in several directions.  Conan followed suit for a few seconds, noticing that most of the other kids had already left while they were discussing things.  Finally, Phibrizzo leaned in as close as he could and whispered: "Kind of like your name, you mean?"

Blinking and trying his best to hide his nervousness, Conan placed one hand behind his head and smiled.  "What are you talking about?"

Phibrizzo shook his head and placed one hand into his pants pocket.  "What I mean is, your name sounds even funnier to me than my own," he said, still keeping his voice low.  "'Phibrizzo' is my real first name and I was adopted yesterday, but yours sounds like you made it up on the spot."

This isn't good!  If he blows my cover, this could be trouble!  I can't let him come to that conclusion!  "Well, people are coming up with stranger and stranger names these days..."

"Edogawa, no matter how good you are at hiding your identity, I have my own ways of getting information; I would've found out about it sooner or later.  Now tell me, and be honest with me: is 'Conan Edogawa' your real name or not?" Phibrizzo asked quietly, glowering at the shorter kid with an intensity that seemed to go beyond his years.

Conan stared down at the ground, thinking hard.  I can't really tell if he's bluffing or not.  Does he really suspect I'm someone else, or is he just picking on me?  And if it's the first choice, can I trust him to keep a secret and not go telling everyone else about it?  This decision goes beyond important; if it goes out of hand, it could reach the ears of those men in black coats!

He looked upwards into Phibrizzo's eyes.  "Can I trust you to keep this secret?  I can't let anyone else know about this, and I mean anyone."

Phibrizzo took another look around, then resumed staring into Conan's face.  "I can keep secrets; I've got a few of my own.  Besides, who could I tell?  No one else would believe me even if I were so inclined."

Conan nodded, then took a deep breath.  Here goes.  "You're right."

"About the name thing?"

"Yes."

Phibrizzo smiled.  "Good.  If you don't mind, I'll keep my guess as to what your real name is to myself.  People would think I'm crazy if I didn't."

Conan nodded, inwardly sighing in relief.  "Right.  Thank you.  You have no idea how much this means to me."  I wonder...  "Can I have your phone number?  You know, in case I need to talk to you about something?"

Phibrizzo blinked in surprise, and his eyes took on a dull sheen.  One of Conan's eyebrows remained raised, while the other one narrowed slightly.  That's funny...he looks out of it.

A few seconds later, the other boy snapped out of it and stared down at the ground; he seemed rather embarassed.  "Um...I think my parents forgot to give it me before I left this morning."  He muttered something else that sounded like: "All that love and affection, and they didn't leave me a means of talking to them..."

"Sounds like you have real loving parents," Conan said, trying to keep the amused smirk off his face.

"Tell me about it...my new father practically bought me an entire wardrobe last night."  Phibrizzo withdrew his hand from his pocket and pretended to examine his wristband.  "I was wondering: is there a library around here?"

Conan nodded, getting out a piece of paper and pen.  "I have the address memorized.  Why do you want to know?" he asked, writing down the address.

"Well, I was going to look up some things on silkscreening.  Most of my new shirts are rather drab, so I may add some decorations to them sometime when I get the money," his fellow classmate told him, accepting the piece of paper.  He looked at the address briefly, then crammed it into his pocket.  "I'll check where that is later."

"You really are new here, aren't you?" Conan said, chuckling.

"Hey, it's not going to stay that way for long!"  Phibrizzo shuffled his feet for a few moments.  "For the next couple weeks or so, I was going to wander around as many of the districts in Tokyo as I can and try to memorize where things are."  He paused for a moment, appearing to be thinking about something.  "Starting with the Nerima district."

Conan shrugged.  "I see.  I guess it was nice meeting you, then."

"Likewise, pal.  See you tomorrow," Phibrizzo said good-naturedly, walking away.

Conan watched him until he turned a corner, then started to walk away himself.  That was a close call.  This is an awful risk I'm taking...but I suppose he's right.  There's not exactly anyone he can tell; he's new in town, and---

A flash of realization caught his mind's eye, and he emitted a startled gasp.  Wait a second!  The Nerima district?!

Hastily, Conan spun around and dashed as fast as he could to the corner where he'd seen Phibrizzo leave.  Upon stopping, he quickly looked both ways.  Nothing.  Where'd he go?  Where'd he disappear to?  He hurriedly rushed down the road that he'd seen his fellow classmate go down, but slowed down when he couldn't see him anywhere.

Shaking his head and narrowing his eyes, Conan began the walk back to his new home.  Something's up around here, but I'll have to find out what it is later.  Both Richard and Rachel will have a fit if I'm not back at the agency, so I guess I'll just have to talk to Phibrizzo about it tomorrow.

----

Back outside the school, Amy, Mitch, and George looked around curiously.  Mitch in particular seemed confused.  "That's funny.  Didn't we hear him talking out here a minute ago?"

"He must've ran off somewhere," George groused.  "The little escape artist."

"No worries," Amy said, smiling.  "We'll try again tomorrow, and next time we'll make sure to get out of school quicker."

----

Phibrizzo perked his head over the edge of the roof, watching Conan walk down the street and disappear from sight.  That had been a close call, although he wasn't sure why the smaller kid had rushed around the corner like that.

Getting a smug look on his face, he focused his thoughts on his two occupants just before Curtis started talking.  "That was too close.  You never told me you could still teleport."  The fat human took a look at something on the wall, his right eyebrow raised.

"I could still sense the trigger in my mind.  I wanted to get onto the roof of the nearest building, so I took the easy way out," Phibrizzo explained, still smug.

What he didn't tell them, though, was that he had felt part of his energy go into fueling the teleport.  He was pleased that he had kept this ability to do this, but he wasn't happy that teleporting repeatedly would mean running the risk of draining his energy.

Curtis must've figured this out, since he decided to change the subject.  "Well, okay.  Anyway, lets head home first.  We don't want to keep your mother waiting, do we?"

"You shouldn't go anyplace without telling your parents where you are, anyhow," Inuyasha remarked.  "Kagome told me once that it won't leave them guessing, and they probably won't worry as much."

Phibrizzo was about to argue the point, but gave up.  "Alright, fine."  With that, he allowed an image of the Kaden's yard to enter his mind and disappeared with a *SNAP-HISS*.

----

Location: Kaden residence

Knock, knock, knock.  "Mom, I'm back!"

Sylvia slowly got up from her chair, muting the television and taking her time getting to the door.  Grieving the last few weeks had taken a lot out of her, so she didn't feel as energetic as she was before her son's illness.  She did feel a little bit better when she had learned that Marcus had found someone to adopt, and the thought of being able to visit her sister-in-law once she recovered cheered her up even more.

Opening the door, Sylvia was greeted with the sight of a smiling, raven-haired boy.  She ushered him in.  "Don't forget to take your shoes off, Phibrizzo.  It's only customary," she told him quietly.

Phibrizzo looked puzzled, then shrugged.  Removing the shoes and replacing them with a pair of slippers that were set near the door, he went over and sat on the couch while Sylvia closed the door and returned to her chair.  "So, how'd your first day go?" she asked politely.

"Alright, I guess."  Phibrizzo turned his eyes on the wall, facing away from Sylvia.  "Met a few kids, met a few teachers, got confused at a lot of things...that sort of thing.  I'll have to get some of the needed materials for tomorrow; outside of a pen and note paper, I was unprepared for everything that went on."

Sylvia nodded.  "I'll let Marcus know when he returns home this evening.  By the way, I was able to wash those clothes that you had when I saw you this morning.  They're hanging in your closet, but I don't suggest that you wear them too often."

A disappointed expression crossed Phibrizzo's face, but only briefly.  "Alright.  Just don't throw them out."  After a short pause, he added: "Hey, mom?  I was kind of wondering if I could go out for a bit and look around.  I haven't had a lot of time to see the sights, and...well, you know."

After thinking for a few seconds, Sylvia came to her decision.  "I suppose it's alright with me, but I want you to be back in three hours.  We'll be having dinner then.  Stay there for a minute, could you, please?"  Getting up again, she walked out of the room.  I worry about him, it's true; but he doesn't look like the type to lead a sheltered life.  He needs to get around a bit.

-----

"It was really nice of her to give you that spending money and that map of Tokyo," Inuyasha said, jumping and dashing across buildings at top speed.

"Yeah," Curtis added, "and at least she gave you the home phone number this time in case something happens."

After receiving said items from Sylvia and listening to a brief lecture on keeping safe---and enduring one of his foster mother's gorilla hugs---Phibrizzo had left the house to find a place to hide.  When he did so, Inuyasha initiated a Switch and was now on a beeline for the outskirts of Nerima.

"Yes, but it bothers me that Nerima had a large red X and the phrase 'Abandon all hope ye who enter here' written across it," Phibrizzo said, unsure.  "Why did you insist on going there first?"

"That guy asked us last night if Inuyasha was from the Nerima district," Curtis said, instinctively holding on to the armrests as the hanyou made another leap.  "I have a feeling I know what he's referring to, but I want to check it out and make sure."

"I know, but running around like this in daylight is still stupid!" Phibrizzo complained.  To Inuyasha, he asked in the same tone: "Do you want people to recognize you?"

"You got any better ideas as to how we get there with time to spare?" Inuyasha asked, making a leap that landed him on top of a moving train.  "I'm all ears."

No response.

Inuyasha grinned.  "I didn't think so."  With that, he made several jumps towards the front of the train and propelled himself away.

In the meantime, Curtis took a quick look at a few sheets of paper he was holding.  "Well, as long as we have a few minutes, I'll give you guys a quick rundown and what to expect.  First off..."

-----------

Location: Nerima district, two blocks from Furinkan High
Time: Fifteen minutes later

The confrontation had started out much the way most confrontations in the district did: Ryoga had come from out of nowhere, yelling his usual "Prepare to die" lines.  Ranma had shot back with several retorts of his own, and the two of them were soon engaged in one of their usual fights.  In this case, "usual" meant that there was a lot of property damage involved, keeping the local construction companies in business.

Half a block down the street Ukyo was watching the battle, waiting to see when Ranma would finish the fight.  Everyone else in the area had disappeared, knowing what the two martial artists were capable of;  thus, it got to the point that only Ukyo was giving the fight her full attention.

"Um, excuse me?"

The okonomiyaki chef jumped, nearly startled out of her wits.  She almost armed herself with the giant spatula that she carried, but stopped when she saw who had spoken to her: a small boy with black hair and bright yellow-green eyes.  The kid spoke again.  "Miss, what's going on here?"

Ukyo stared at him for a bit, then brought herself down to eye level.  "You're not from around here, are you?"

The boy smiled cutely, scratching his head with an air of nervousness about him.  "What gave it away?"

"You asked what was going on here, kid."  Ukyo indicated the fight, turning her attention back towards it.  "Just about everyone who lives here knows what's going on.  You see that guy with the bandanna?  He's fighting my very best friend over some trivial matter involving one of my rivals.  It happens quite a bit around here."

"About how often?"

"Hmm...I figure about once or twice a week, on the average.  Sometimes longer if that guy gets lost."

The boy sweatdropped.  "I shouldn't have asked."  He took a few steps away looking as if he was about to cross the street, then stopped.  "Do you know where I can purchase a map of the district?  I just moved to Tokyo last night, and I'm trying to figure out where everything is."

"There's a guy who sells maps not far from my restaurant," Ukyo said, occupied.  Ranma was still fighting Ryoga, his back to them.  "Follow me to the shop after this is over, alright?"

The kid nodded agreeably, crossing the street and then turning to watch the fight himself.  Ukyo glanced at him out the corner of his eye, standing back up.  That kid's brave, that's for sure.

-----

Are these the guys you're talking about, Curtis?

Curtis nodded.  "I'm not sure if you noticed, but I'd disappeared again right after lunch.  When I woke up, I was able to remember what I knew about them before I started feeling lousy again.  No question about it; it's them, all right."

One of the fighters---the one with the pigtailed hairstyle---shouted something at his opponent, causing Inuyasha to chuckle and then laugh.  What's so funny, dog boy? Phibrizzo asked.

"You weren't paying attention, were you?" Inuyasha said, laughing.  "That guy there sounds like me!"

A brief pause ensued.  The chamber glowed a soft orange for a moment.  Great.  There's TWO of you.  Phibrizzo's disbelief and expasaration was apparent in his tone of voice.

Curtis laughed a bit.  "Talk about a small world," he said.  "What I don't get is why they're speaking English when their mouths are clearly saying Japanese."

"You noticed it, huh?  I've been wondering that, too, and---"

"Shi Shi Hokodan!"

A rough cry from down the street interrupted Inuyasha's comment.  Curtis looked up as a massive green energy sphere shot past Ranma, heading straight for them.  Phibrizzo emitted a startled cry and reflexively brought his arms in front of his face, bringing the remainder of his powers to the fore in an attempt to stave off Ryoga's awesome attack.

The attempt worked...in a way that none of the trio expected.

------

Ryoga and Ukyo both saw the blast fly past Ranma as he dodged it; but neither of them could do anything to warn the kid that was watching the fight.  Ranma himself realized it at the last second, but by then it was too late...

They were expecting an explosion.  What they didn't expect was the Shi Shi Hokodan being forcibly absorbed into the kid's body like water spiralling down the drain; the resulting force knocked the kid off his feet.  Some of the kid's hair fell across his eyes, obscuring them.

Ukyo rushed over to the kid to check on him; he seemed to be glowing slightly.  The others agreed to a temporary truce, with Ranma leading Ryoga over to see if the kid was okay.

He was alright...in a most unusual way.  Suddenly, the kid jerked up into a sitting position, seemed to hesitate for a bit, then let loose a flood of tears.  "You jerks hit me!  You don't even care about me!  Why is everyone being so mean to me?"  He blindly tried to shove everyone aside.  "Waaah!  You're all mean!  Leave me alone!  I want my mother!  You meanies!"

Ukyo stepped away from the kid, one eye twitching slightly.  "Wow.  What's gotten into him?  He took the blast, and now he's acting all strange...kind of like Akane's father."

For once, Ranma didn't have anything smart-alek to say.  Ryoga was having trouble deciding whether to blame Ranma for this or find some way to calm the kid down, and settled for looking rather undecisive.

Meanwhile, the kid was still ranting and crying.  "This is the story of my life!  I should've just stayed behind!  Why does everyone need to be so mean?"  Almost as if it were beyond his control, one of his hands slowly jerked upwards.  "Call my mother!  I want to go home!  Waaah!  Help me!  Someone help me now!"

As soon as his hand was raised above his head, a familiar green shape formed: the Shi Shi Hokodan that he had just absorbed.  With a final cry, the blast exploded from his hand and propelled itself skywards, then started to descend seconds later.

Reacting quickly, Ryoga grabbed the kid and bolted to the opposite side.  Ranma and Ukyo were quick enough to follow suit just as the blast impacted and exploded at the spot where they had just been moments before.

Everyone took a few minutes to catch their breath.  "Well, sugars," Ukyo commented dryly, "I guess this is what we can expect out of the Nerima district, right?"

The kid spoke up.  "Um, Mr. Ryoga?  You can let me go now.  I'm fine."

Ryoga let go.  The kid stood up and stretched.  "Well, that'll teach me not to be on the receiving end of that thing again."

Something occurred to the bandanna-foreheaded martial artist.  "Hey, how'd you know my name?"

The kid nervously took a few steps away.  "Honestly?  You wouldn't believe me if I told you."  He wiped his eyes to remove any visible tears, although it didn't do anything to reduce the redness below them.  Turning his head a bit, he stared at the recently-formed crater; there was a salty puddle in it.  "Wow, I did that?  Don't think I've ever been that sad in my life, and that's saying something."

"What's with you?" Ranma asked, beside himself with curiousity.  "First you absorb Ryoga's attack, then you throw a hissy fit, then you're able to get rid of the Shi Shi Hokodan and act like it didn't just happen!  What's with you?"

The kid took a deep breath and calmed himself down.  "Well, if you must know---"

"Saotome!"

"---I'll tell you some other time," the kid finished, staring at the teenager that had approached from down the street.  "Who's he?"

Ukyo shook her head.  "Kid, you shouldn't have said that..." she muttered.

"I am the one who shall defeat the foul sorcerer and free Akane Tendo and the pigtailed girl from his clutches!  I am: Tatewaki Kuno, the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High!"  Kuno pulled out a wooden sword and prepared himself for battle.

"Hmm...not sure if I can match that, but I can try," the kid murmured, seemingly talking to himself.  Standing in the middle of the street and adopting a heroic pose, he shouted: "I am the one who will take the world by storm and turn things upside-down amongst heroes and idiots alike!  I am: Phibrizzo Kaden, the Purple Cyclone of...of..."

Without further warning, he deflated.  "Blast.  I forgot the name of the elementary school I go to."

Everyone in earshot facefaulted.

------

That included Curtis and Inuyasha.

"Phibrizzo..." Curtis growled, pushing himself off the ground, "how did you manage to forget our grade school so soon?  And what's with the corny lines?"

If you want to take a crack at this, fat boy, be my guest!  "I'm glad that Amelia girl's not here.  She'd probably yell at me for botching up the speech."

Inuyasha got up as well, seething.  "Look, are you going to do anything with that moron or not?  If you're not, then I will!"

Phibrizzo sighed...then chuckled as something came to mind.  "You go on, Inuyasha.  Let's give them all a shock."

Curtis shook his head.  "I have a feeling something really stupid is going to take place..."

------

Ranma looked apprehensive at the whole thing, itching to take action but still wanting to see how the situation panned out.  "Amelia?  Inuyasha?  Who in the world's he talking about over there?"

Kuno finally got up, deciding he'd had enough himself.  "I see.  Well then, if you will not step out of my way, I shall force you out!  Have at---"

Before he could finish, a shocked cry arose from Ranma and the others.  Kuno's initial response was confusion as to what had startled his original opponent so much.  Then he noticed it: the white hair, the narrowed eyes...and the sword that hung on Phibrizzo's belt.  "Ah.  So the monster shows his true face at last.  Tell me: what is your purpose for controlling this child?"

"For one, I ain't a monster," Phibrizzo growled, his tone the exact opposite of what it had been a minute ago.  "For another, he's letting me do this.  Finally: I just want you to shut up.  The kid was in the middle of a conversation, and you ruined it."  He folded his arms.  "Now get lost."

"If he's trying to intimidate him, he's not doing a very good job," Ryoga muttered, twirling a bandanna absently.

He didn't seem to be intimidating Kuno, either; the swordsman went into a rant about how "justice is slow but sure" and how he would smite everyone who barred his path towards Akane's "freedom".  After having enough of the idiot's smug look and posturing, Phibrizzo decided to unsheath the sword.

Almost immediately, everyone's jaws dropped to the ground with a *clang*.

-----

Inside the green pillar, Phibrizzo smirked.  "If that didn't shock them, what will?"

"The fact that he can actually move around while holding the Tetsusaiga," Curtis remarked from his own room.  "Hey, Inuyasha?  Nothing fancy.  Just get behind him and give him a boot."

-----

Alright, if you say so...

Immediately upon thinking that, Inuyasha bolted behind Kuno faster than anyone could blink.  "Smite this, you moron!" he yelled as he wound up with one foot, kicked the kendoist towards Ranma, and resheathed the Tetsusaiga all in the same motion.

Ranma snapped out of it in time to see Kuno flying towards him.  Reacting quickly, he dodged out of the way and diverted the direction of Kuno's flight path, sending him airborne.  The cry of "Release the pigtailed girl, you fieeeeennnd!" marked his departure from the area.

Inuyasha shook his head as the others came to their senses.  "Man, what an idiot."

"You're telling me," Curtis commented, his pupils resembling dots.  "Makes some of the kids I knew in school seem smart in comparison."

A bell rang somewhere, getting everyone's attention.  In the meantime, Inuyasha decided to relinquish control of Phibrizzo; he'd just wanted to make Kuno go away, and didn't plan on staying very long.

The half-mazoku slowly backed away a few steps towards the edge of the street, his stomach mysteriously rumbling.  He blushed slightly, but no one seemed to be watching him.  Seeing the source of the bell---a bicycle (that's a neat mode of transportation if I ever saw one, he thought) being ridden by a purple-haired teenage girl---a plan quickly came to mind.

------

Ukyo shook her head, greatly annoyed as she watched Shampoo come to a halt and jump off the bike en route to Ranma.  Every day, it was the same old thing.  She frowned, grabbing her giant spatula and preparing for another fight.  That girl just doesn't give up!

Thankfully, after the usual glomp, Shampoo jumped off and reached for the bike basket.  Her gaze was notably still fixed on Ranma.  "Airen, Shampoo prepare something good---huh?"

It didn't occur until she actually looked in it that there was nothing in the bike basket.  Time slowed down for a bit as Shampoo's anger started to build.  "Shampoo went to all that trouble...Shampoo wanted to give special ramen to Airen...where ramen?"  She turned her gaze to Ukyo.  "Spatula-Girl take ramen?"

"What would I want with ramen?" Ukyo said defensively.  "I cook okonomiyaki!"

"Lost Boy take ramen?"

Ryoga shook his head repeatedly, and Ranma folded his arms.  "Neither of us had anything to do with it, Shampoo."

"Then WHO take ramen?" Shampoo yelled angrily.

A contented sigh was heard.  "Wow, that was delicious!"

Everyone turned to the source of the sigh.  Ukyo was surprised to see that it was the small boy---Phibrizzo Kaden.  The kid was sitting on the ground, several empty boxes sitting next to him.  He smiled broadly and flipped a few yen coins towards Shampoo.  "If there's any change, keep it.  That stuff is great!"

Shampoo fumbled for a few seconds, finally catching the coins as she gazed at the source of her surprise.  "Aiyah...Did small boy eat ramen?  How so fast?"

Phibrizzo stood up, smiling cutely.  "With all due respect, miss, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."

Shampoo nodded.  "Oh.  Shampoo see.  Have something to say."

"Oh?  What's that?"

"If small boy want ramen, ASK first!" Shampoo yelled, getting directly into Phibrizzo's face.

Ranma, Ryoga, and Ukyo all expected Phibrizzo to back off; that was usually the result of one's first encounter with an angry Amazon.  Surprisingly, he stood his ground and got into Shampoo's face.  "What, and have you say 'no'?  You were going to give that stuff to Ranma, weren't you?"

"Yes!  Ranma is Shampoo's airen!"

"Well, there you have it!  Whatever 'airen' means, I don't think he wants to be it!"

"Shows how little small boy knows!"

"My name is Phibrizzo, you noisy girl!"

"Shampoo not noisy!"

"You are now, Miss Hair Product!"

The trio of on-lookers sweatdropped at this exchange.  By this time, Phibrizzo and Shampoo were glaring at each other with no more than a half-inch of space between them; this was remarkable, considering the height difference.  It was in the middle of the third inning, and still no score.

Thankfully, the game was about to be postponed; Ukyo chose this moment to speak up.  "Excuse me, sugar, but didn't you say you wanted to get a map?" she asked, putting the giant spatula away.

Phibrizzo nodded, still glaring at Shampoo.  "Of Nerima, and of other districts too if possible!"

"You might as well follow me, then.  Shampoo, leave the kid alone before I tell Cologne that you've been shirking your delivery route."

Reluctantly, Shampoo stood up and away from Phibrizzo.  Her anger subsided somewhat, but she still looked irritable.  The object of her previous anger turned to follow Ukyo as she started to walk away.  "Delivery route?"

"Yes...she works at the Cat Cafe," Ukyo explained.  "It's a ramen restaurant not far from my own shop."

-----

Before Phibrizzo could respond, a series of black rose petals drifted to the ground; these had adverse effects on everyone in the area.  Shampoo backed away as far as she could, muttering something about crazy women.  Ranma decided he'd had enough and decided to get while the getting was good.  Ryoga ran off intending to follow Ranma and finish their earlier fight, but instead detoured through an alley and smashed through a wall.  Ukyo got as far out of the way as she could.

Phibrizzo looked at those who were still there, confused.  Inside his head, Inuyasha appeared just as puzzled as he was.  Curtis, though, had an entirely different reaction: he immediately leapt out of his chair and tore his way into Inuyasha's chamber, stepping onto the marked spot near the wall and slapping the "Switch" button angrily.

-----

Ignoring Phibrizzo's protests, Curtis glared at the source of the rose petals.  "Kodachi Kuno," he growled.

He was rewarded with an "AH-HA-HA-HO-HO-HO!" as said woman gracefully jumped down off the roof of the building near Shampoo.  She looked at the "young boy" with an expression that bordered on arrogance, then turned her attention to Ukyo and Shampoo.  "I must insist that you commoners tell me where my dear Ranma has disappeared to," she declared.

Ukyo shook her head.  "He left when you showed up, you know.  If that shouldn't tell you something, I don't know what will."

Kodachi smiled.  "Nonsense.  He has no reason to fear me."

"Crazy lady call paralysis flowers no reason to fear?" Shampoo shouted indignantly.  "Shampoo wonder what wrong with head!"

"You're just jealous...all of you.  You have no idea how far my love for him extends---"

Curtis decided that he'd had enough and turned his backs to them.  "BWA-HAHAHAHAHA!  It's true what they say...that love is blind!  HAHAHAHAHA!"

This got the attention of everyone around him.  Annoyed, they listened to him rant to himself: "You don't really know what insanity is until you've spent some actual time with the experts.  I guess we should've listened when we learned that we weren't supposed to come here, but no; we had to wander clear into a smokescreen of trouble.  A place where cats are more dangerous than they look..."  Shampoo's look changed to that of curiousity.  "And a place where idiocy is the order of every day...and that's just for beginners!"

"You said that 'we' should've listened?  What do you mean by that, child?" Kodachi inquired.

Unseen by them, Curtis grinned.  "'That' is a secret, Kodachi.  It's one the likes of you could never hope to understand...not that you understand much, anyway.  I wish I could say you were smarter than you look, but if you did, you'd understand that the person you love and the person you hate are one and the same.  Don't tell me you haven't noticed the similarities."

"Phibrizzo, it's useless," Ukyo said, stopping him from elaborating.  "Neither of them understand.  It's been tried and done by just about everyone."

"I know," Curtis groused.  "That's why I'm so ticked.  For them to dismiss the obvious in this situation, they'd have to be idiots."  He turned to face them.  "Look at me, for example.  Notice anything different about me since I got here?"

"Well...your hair's brown instead of black," Ukyo thought aloud.

"Small boy is fat," Shampoo added.  "Not very fat, just...fat.  And crazy lady is showering air around Phibrizzo with flower petals."

Ukyo edged closer to Shampoo as a cascade of black flower petals---and flowers---rained down around Curtis, who just stared at them in wonder.  "What would you say...sleeping powder, sugar?" Ukyo asked, probably thankful that they were both out of range of Kodachi's subtlety.

"Yes...great-grandmother showed Shampoo difference between sleeping powder and paralysis powder," Shampoo explained, flipping her gaze between Ukyo and Curtis.  "But Shampoo wonder why small boy is not effected..."

This was puzzling Curtis, as well.  Earlier when Kodachi first made her appearance, she'd done the same thing and nothing had happened to him.  "I don't get it," he said to himself.  "I should be out of it by now.  What's the deal?"

Inside his borrowed mind, Phibrizzo made his opinion known to him.  "Hey, fat boy!  Did you forget I'm still half-mazoku?  And let me out of here!"

Curtis smacked a fist into an open palm.  "I get it now," he said, smiling.  "I almost forgot that I don't need to breathe!"

Two sweatdrops appeared on his observers.  Ukyo's left eye was twitching.  "I'm not sure I want to know, Phibrizzo..." she growled, exasparated, "but Kodachi's gone.  She's not listening to you."

"So what else is new?"  Curtis folded his arms as the last of the flowers descended, looking around.  Kodachi had indeed decided to take her leave for the time being.  "Probably thinks I'm a monster of some kind."  Close, but not entirely.  "Anyways, could you lead me to where those maps are?  I think I've stuck around here long enough for now."

"Alright, sure," Ukyo muttered.  "I'm ready whenever you are."

"Okay, great.  Give me a second, could you?"  Okay, Phibrizzo.  Sorry about barging in like that, but the sheer idiocy that was present was a little bit much for me.  Curtis mentally triggered a Switch, letting the half-mazoku back in the game.

-----

Phibrizzo blinked as he regained control, then narrowed his eyes.  "Blast it, Curtis, give me some warning next time!" he hissed.

"I said I was sorry," Curtis told him, walking back towards the other chamber.  "And try to remember to say that mentally next time, okay?"

Phibrizzo looked up, noticing that Ukyo and Shampoo were both staring at him funny.  He sweatdropped and chuckled nervously.  "Sorry.  I've been having some problems with multiple personalities recently."

"We are NOT personalities!" Inuyasha and Curtis both yelled.

"And they both yelled at me when I said that," Phibrizzo said, flinching.  "But when they take over, that's pretty much what they are if you count out the differences in appearance."  He could hear some grumbling in the back of his mind, but he kept going.  "Anyways, could you keep that a secret?  There are a few people I don't want to tell about this.  Pass that on to Ryoga and Ranma the next time you see them, too."

Shampoo and Ukyo nodded.  To the former, he added: "Hey, Shampoo.  Is it alright if I drop by the Cafe sometime?  I wasn't kidding about the ramen."

"Since small boy ask nicely," Shampoo said as she got on her bicycle, smirking, "yes."  Not saying anything more, she pedaled away.

Phibrizzo lowered his head, sighing out a mushroom cloud.  "Why can't she just call me 'Phibrizzo'?" he whined.

"She's like that to everyone," Ukyo explained as she went over to join him.  "In your case, she's just picking on you.  You ready?"

The two of them finally set off in the direction of Ucchan's Okonomiyaki and the nearby map seller, leaving behind a tear-filled crater and a mess of flowers.

-----

Shampoo raced down the street on her bicycle at full tilt.  "Got to tell great-grandmother about this," she told herself aloud.  "Weirdness of Nerima is going up again."

-----

Location: A park not far from Phibrizzo's school
Time: Two hours later

(BGM - Instrumental of "Tomorrow", from The Information Society)

"That was real nice of her to offer you that okonomiyaki to go."

I guess so, Curtis.  Phibrizzo slowly munched away at the meal that was given him, once again wondering how his life kept curving in front of him.  So where to tomorrow?

After getting the maps he wanted---which were currently jammed into his pants' pockets---Ukyo had offered to cook him a snack.  Phibrizzo agreed; after accepting a case that contained said snack and thanking the chef for what she'd done, he'd bolted from the shop to take a quick tour of Nerima with Inuyasha's help.  After over an hour and a half of touring the district they now knew where all the major landmarks were, including a few of the nicer ones that had never been the scene of a fight.

Finally, the trio had decided to return to home.  Somewhere along the way, they'd sighted a small table inside a park; thankful to be sitting down for a few minutes, Phibrizzo had started on the okonomiyaki.

"Lets try the Shibuya district next," Curtis suggested.  "I heard kids and teenagers like the place."

Just try to remember that I'm not really a kid, okay?  I lost track of how many years I've lived centuries ago.

"Guess you'll be the oldest child people are ever going to see, then," Curtis said.  Phibrizzo just shook his head at the fat human's dry humor, not amused.

"You guys realize that once we know where a place is, we can just teleport over there, right?" Inuyasha spoke up, sitting on a cushion that Curtis had provided him with earlier.

Phibrizzo nodded, swallowing his portion and taking another bite.  "I'm surprised you figured it out so soon, dog boy.  What are you suggesting?"

"I'm suggesting," Inuyasha said with a smirk, "that we travel to a certain spot in each area of Tokyo.  Once we memorize where and what that spot is, we head to another place.  After that, whenever we want to go to a certain district, we can just teleport on over there easy."

Curtis sat up in his chair.  "I get it.  This'll save us some time getting there in the long run.  We'll have to save the districts and wards that are farther out for days when we have more time, but I think it'll turn out alright eventually.  Inuyasha, I'm definitely impressed."

Inuyasha chuckled.  "See?  Told you I get some bright ideas now and again."

The canine mind never ceases to amaze me.

"Is that a shot?" Inuyasha snapped, bristling.

Phibrizzo laughed inwardly, still eating.  Oh, calm down.

Curtis just sighed and shook his head, an amused smile crossing his face briefly.

-----

Location: Moore Detective Agency
Time: Early evening

"And now, our top story.  Last night, renowned anthropologist Gerald Kym was contacted by a good friend of his, and in turn called Tokyo police, telling them that a strange person has been seen wandering the residential areas...and on the rooftops, no less.  Police were reluctant to believe Kym's statement, until several officers brought in a terrified teenage robber.  This person, according the robber, was around three and a half feet tall, has wild shoulder-length white hair, is dressed in clothes remniscent of Europe's Middle Ages, and is armed with, quote, 'a really big sword', unquote.  After stopping the thief, the unknown kid headed in the direction of the city limits.  If anyone has information on the whereabouts of this person, please contact Tokyo police or this station.  We are not sure if he is watching this broadcast now, but if he is, the Louis family would like to thank him for what happened last night and would also like to meet him in person.  That's it for local news; now, let's go to Mr. Mason for our weather report..."

The volume on the television was turned down as Richard Moore turned to his daughter, Rachel.  "What kind of kid wanders the city in stuff like that?  What is he, some kind of nut?"

Rachel glanced over at her father, curious.  "Well, you've heard about how Nerima's full of crazy people who can do seemingly impossible things.  Maybe he's one of them."

Richard shook his head and snorted.  "I still say it's a lot of mass hysteria.  People who run through walls and/or are sent skyward whenever they do something wrong?  That by itself is a lot of garbage."

Over on the couch, Conan was lost in thought.  The Nerima district...there are people who believe that stuff happens, and those who don't.  I've never actually been there, so I don't know what to think.  What I do know is that whoever goes there is either really crazy or extremely brave.  Phibrizzo told me after school that he was going to explore the city and its districts one by one, and that Nerima was first on his tour.  I sort of pity him; I hope he didn't run into that other person somewhere along the way, or anyone else that could injure him.

It's strange, though...why did he seem intent on wandering the city?  Another thought occurred to him, and he sweatdropped as he mulled it over.  And why do I have the feeling that my life's gotten a lot stranger all of a sudden?