Weapon of Choice
Issue #01 – "A League of Their Own"
It was a normal morning for Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts; that is if one were to label a melee of fists, edged weaponry, umbrellas, magical aphrodisiacs and toxic food before school even started 'normal'. That day had originally kicked off with Shampoo and her nocturnal snuggling of the slumbering martial artist, snuggling which had apparently continued well into the morning hours until interrupted by an irate Akane Tendo and the bucket of water that had accompanied her. While the bucket was forced to comply with the youngest Tendo's demands, the cold water therein jumped all too readily at her designated targets, awakening the rest of the household to a terrified female scream, the yowl of a cat and the stomping of frustrated fiancée feet.
A normal morning indeed.
The word itself was a likewise familiar form of address and as such rolled his eyes as he picked over a bowl of rice while the dark haired girl next to him sniffed her disdain over the incident now barely half an hour old. Still, he had managed through the feline induced epileptic seizures, acquired hot water and was eating breakfast. Better yet, the girl named his fiancée hadn't seen fit to belt him over the incident. Yet.
"And I keep telling ya it's not my fault," Ranma shook his head in between bites. "How was I supposed to know she was there?"
"How could you not know?" This time it was Akane's turn to favor the martial artist with a lidded glare that conveyed her lack of amusement. "You could just tell her to stop, after all."
Ranma glanced back at Akane with a look that told her exactly what he thought of that particular suggestion. If the bland expression didn't convey his thoughts clearly enough, his words did. "Yeah, been there, done that."
"Try harder," Akane emphasized direly, but let her ire fade. Even she knew Shampoo was going to be persistent and if a near miss wedding hadn't clued her in...
Even as Ranma shrugged the ordeal off and returned to the rice and miso breakfast they shared, the kitchen door swung open. A yawn accompanied the older sister's entry into the dining room as did a mug of hot coffee in her left hand. Frazzled hair. Baggy eyes. The pigtailed teen noted the details with a cursory glance as the sibling passed. It was the Nabiki unknown to the rest of the world- disheveled, barely sentient-
"I could help out, you know?" Nabiki offered lethargically, sipping her coffee. Ranma's cheek twitched. Disheveled, barely sentient, yet still ready to make money at a moment's notice. She coaxed another lengthy sip from the mug, eyeing the engaged couple with an overly charitable smile. "Just say the word. I'll even throw in a family discount."
"Like the wedding?" Akane returned without amusement, saying the words Ranma could only think.
"Oh, that?" Nabiki rolled her eyes, affecting innocence. "How was I supposed to know that all Saotome's friends would go nuts?"
This time the pigtailed boy couldn't help but to comment. "How could you not know?"
The older sister paused with the snark, putting a thoughtful index finger to her lips. "I do seem to recall a tuxedo returned to me in less than pristine condition. Those fees get a tad pricey, you know?"
A mouthful of rice promptly lodged itself within Ranma's throat to produce a coughing fit.
Akane favored her sibling with a put-out look even as Nabiki lent her an affectionate pat on the head in return. "Think about it. If you have a change of heart, you know where to find me."
Both Ranma and Akane watched Nabiki walk by with all the superiority in the world regardless of the fact that she hadn't shed her morning attire or even looked the part of the Ice Queen everybody knew and loved. Akane shook her head in resignation as the girl left their presence, presumably to lounge in front of the TV as she was wont to do on Saturdays.
The martial artist's cheek twitched as she disappeared out of sight. He turned back to Akane. "And you say the girls are bad."
"They are." The youngest Tendo deadpanned, causing Ranma to snort at her dry humor. "Almost as bad as those two."
Ranma followed her glance, though it didn't take instantaneous eye contact to know what she was looking at. Or rather who. Beyond the table was the patio window and beyond that, two men older men playing shogi... Or rather desperately feigning playing shogi as they watched the drama play out from within. Eye contact was made however, and the pair conspicuously shifted their attention back to the board.
"Maybe it's better to keep the fiancée thing going for their sake," The pigtailed teen mused idly, wholly unaware of the bug eyes her expression had suddenly produced until he turned back to her. "I'm sure Ukyo and Shampoo would be happy to help. Best leave Kodachi... ah..."
Ranma watched the girl's hand flex into a fist. "Because one of them waking up in your bed isn't enough?!"
"Fine, fine." The teen sighed, lamenting the death of his idea while acknowledging that its sacrifice would help placate his volatile fiancée. He glanced back over at the girl with a shrug. "Don't suppose you have any good ideas?"
"You mean aside from just telling them 'no'?" Akane returned his question with a snarky one of her own. Ranma shrugged against the unamused look she set against him.
"I'm workin' on it." He replied with seeming indifference. "Ukyo I might be able to convince, but Shampoo…"
Something other than annoyance manifested itself across Akane's features as the conversation finally seemed to turn toward something of actual substance. She finished her bit of rice, wondering at the pigtailed boy's. "Shampoo, 'what'?"
"Shampoo ain't the problem," The black-haired teen across from her noted in between bites. He motioned his head outside, as if the subject matter he was referencing were just beyond the household walls. "It's the old Ghoul."
"So?" Akane blinked unsure of where the old woman fit into their conversation.
"So it's like this… What happened the last time Shamps disappointed her?" Ranma asked speculatively.
"She came back to try again…" Akane's expression soured as she recalled just how many times the Amazon had come back to try again. Memory techniques. Drugs. Magic. Ukyo was the thorn her side she could stand. Shampoo, on the other hand, was the dagger in her back. The irritated Tendo scowled her displeasure over the topic. "…And again. And again."
"Right, but what's gonna happen if she gives up?" Ranma pressed, hoping to get the girl to see the problem from his point of view. The school girl eyed him without understanding. He leaned back from the table, standing up as he pressed the point home. "What'd the old ghoul do last time she didn't come home with either a husband or my head on a platter?"
"Well they just… She…" Akane began to answer, then suddenly stopped. She blinked several times while Ranma watched the connections being made, then inserted the reality of what had happened into them.
"She came back as… as one of those things, Akane." The martial artist visibly shivered, stumbling over the forbidden word until finding a way to bypass saying it completely. He paused before stepping out into the living room, all but ready to wash his hands of the well-worn topic. "Good Ol' Cologne chucked her own great granddaughter into a cursed spring… So you tell me what's gonna happen if I tell her no outright?"
Ranma waited for a moment, watching as the girl named his fiancée stared at him, blinking. The answer appeared similar to his own—Not a damn clue. Of course, he hadn't really expected her to have anything, though just the fact that he wasn't receiving push-back was a miracle in itself. He decided to do what any sensible martial artist with a volatile fiancée would do in the same circumstances…
…He took his victory and ran.
Fortunately, his retreat only required a few steps to remove himself from Akane's presence and he paid a passing glance toward the next major obstacle between him and the outside world. She was thankfully curled up on the living room couch, her attention divided between a magazine and the news. Ranma speculated that his chances of making a clean getaway were better than average and attempted to make the passing behind her as unobtrusive as possible.
For her part, Nabiki Tendo didn't notice; at least not at first. She was preoccupied on three fronts, absently thumbed through her fashion magazine while paying occasional attention to the morning financial report. She sipped the third of her distractions, which would in turn imbue the middle sister with enough life to actually roll off the couch and begin her day. Eventially. Until the latter actually happened, she was content enough to drink her coffee and watch TV… At least until she noted the shadow standing over her. She blinked up and found a familiar pigtailed boy behind her, staring at the television.
"Back for more love advice, Saotome?."She arched a skeptical eyebrow, unsure of what to make of his silent presence. She glanced to the TV, then back, noting the focus of his attention and his failure to react to her jibe. "What gives?"
"Who's he?" Ranma gestured with an oddly blank expression, finally acknowledging Nabiki's presence. On the screen was a Caucasian foreigner in a black suit and tie, smiling as he shook hands with some local official. The camera panned out to a crowd lining what looked to be a factory assembly line. The mercenary crooked a smile for the pigtailed boy.
"Only the man of my dreams, not that you would know." She chuckled, earning a curious look from the martial artist. She happily filled in the blanks for him. "Bruce Wayne, CEO of Wayne Enterprises. He's rich, handsome and rich; three qualities I admire in a man."
"What's he doing in Japan?" The martial artist wondered aloud, ignoring her attempt at humor. Nabiki gave her future brother-in-law a searching look before indulging his curiosity.
"Something to do with an agreement between Wayne Tech and Marusha Industrial." The mercenary explained, turning back to the TV as a newscaster fawned over the news clip. "I'll tell you what, though—Somebody's stock just went through the roof with that contract."
The television continued to drone on as the factory scene was replaced by graphs and charts detailing the aforementioned stock and its climb upward. After several long moments of silence, Nabiki looked back up at Ranma, who still only had eyes for the TV. His fixation with the news story was starting to become unnerving.
"Alright, now you're just being creepy, Saotome." She admitted, staring up at him. The accusation seemed to finally break him out of his trance and he smiled weakly.
"Yeah, sorry about that." He shrugged casually, turning away for the door. "Guess I never saw somebody with that much money before."
"Kuno doesn't exactly compare, does he?" Nabiki agreed in a wistful tone that might have been mistaken for romantic reminisces as she returned her attention back to the TV. The financial segment continued and after another moment of silence she glanced back up, half expecting Akane's fiancée to still be brooding behind her.
The patio door to the back yard slid shut behind him.
Something was wrong with the boy.
Those who knew Genma Saotome would never accuse the man as being an empathetic parent. His world revolved around being the best by any means necessary; an ethos that extended to his one and only child. No son of his would be anything less- could be anything less, and if that meant swimming the Sea of Japan with a full pack, that was fine. If it meant wrapping him up in fish sausage and tossing him into a pit of starving cats to teach him a nigh unbeatable technique, so be it. Not all of his efforts bore the fruit he expected, but that was also fine according to his world view. The life of a martial artist was fraught with peril, after all. As the best, he expected his son to deal with it, not sob in the corner like a baby.
Empathy was definitely not the man's strong suite.
Even so, the elder Saotome knew his son. He had trained him since the age of four and knew the boy better than anybody; even his own mother. Genma could read his son like an open book and used that advantage to its fullest during their sparring. He consider such psychological warfare a valid martial arts tactic, while inuring his son to it would only make the boy stronger. It also helped his father know when something about the boy was off, such as today.
Genma Saotome's fist blurred past his son's cheek, missing the broadside of Ranma's face by only a scant few centimeters. He followed up with a roundhouse kick that was purposely delayed to confirm the hypothesis, noting his progeny's failure to capitalize on the opening. The Saotome patriarch stepped up the attacks and their aggression in order to force a response. Even when Ranma finally responded with his own counterattack, Genma could tell his child was simply going through the motions. There was no drive to press the attack, as if Ranma's mind were somewhere else.
He upped the pressure, kicking into Ranma's own shoulder hard even as he employed his own brand of parenting.
"Sulking like a girl, Ranma?"
That earned a reaction. Ranma's attention focused with a slight frown and he beat back his father's own offense, rolling across the man's punch to try and lock the overextended attack. Genma snatched his arm back, smirking at the success of his goading. Now that he had the boy's attention back, it was time to find out just what was distracting him. Ranma stepped in, flowing across the green turf that comprised the Tendo property as he sought to breach his father's guard with a flurry of punches.
"What's on your mind, boy?" Genma speculated aloud, still noting the lack of decisive aggression as the pair danced across the yard, probing at one another's defenses. The smirk returned. "Thinking of just what dress to wear after practice?"
Ranma simply rolled his eyes, backstepping as his father attempted to capitalize on the distraction. The older man's fingertip stab and follow-up kick cleaved the air, but Ranma was gone. The pigtailed boy swung right in his retreat then reengaged with both a physical assault and a question of his own.
"Just wonderin'," Ranma began as he threw a trio of jabs into his father's guard in order to gauge his response. "Remember that temple in the mountains?"
"That really narrows it down." The bald man returned sarcastically, batting his son's probes away, warily circling his offspring as his parenting skills finally began to pay off. He watched him tilt his head, as if recalling the details from memory.
"Pretty sure you'd remember this one." The teen assumed and began to press his father with a modest combination of kicks and punches while describing the particular temple he had in mind. "Kinda looks like a fortress. Snow everywhere. Stayed there while we were hiking through Tibet?"
A guarded look crossed the father's face, all but confirming Ranma's speculation. The martial artist produced a thin smile with the reaction as he continued. "Thought so. What was that all about, anyway?"
"You really expect me to remember every backwater temple out of the dozens we visited?" Genma questioned rhetorically, taking on a defensive tone as he did.
"Nah. Just this one." Ranma shrugged. His gaze turned cool as he stepped into a new, less familiar stance. "It's where I learned this, after all."
Ranma swept forward with the knife edges of his hand and began to hammer at his father's guard with uncharacteristic grace, targeting pressure points the surprise elder Saotome desperately rolled out to avoid. The blur of his son was on him even before he had a chance to reset his guard and suddenly his abdomen blossomed with excruciating pain. Genma shut it out with a grunt and retaliated, watching as his son's movement lost the theatrical flair of Anything Goes. They became sharp and economic, as if any excess movement were a crime. The parent's punches were deflected with the same efficiency, forcing him to take bigger and bigger risks in order to put an end to this particular father-son talk.
"Jogging your memory any, Pops?" The teen produced a tight smile as he reversed an aggressive thrust, managing two hard stabs along the arm. His father winced, yanking his arm out of the line of fire even as feeling drained from it.
Genma sent an accusing glare back at his offspring as he favored the arm. "Leave it alone, boy. It's for your own good."
"Yeah, now where have I heard that before?" The pigtailed boy shook his head. He shifted his balance as if to gain more traction. "And remember how you told me to never use most of that stuff?"
"Ranma…" Genma warned in a low tone, tightening his guard with the expectation of imminent attack.
The pigtailed teen blurred forward, his arms arcing in like a serpent. Genma lunged to intercept, only to find little force behind the blow before realizing it for the feint it was. Ranma flowed under the block and punched into several pressure point that caused his father's body to blossom with agony at their touch. Genma staggered left with the audible grunt of pain, purposely appearing to falter even as Ranma set up for another strike. The boy was fast these days, but the art he employed now was pure, unlike the patchwork of Anything Goes. It was potent, but ultimately inferior as Genma switched to Krav Maga to grapple with his son. The surprise on Ranma's face was enough as the bald man's arm locked his son's elbow and pivoted it back, then rotated the teen's body skyward.
Physics took over from there and there was only one place Ranma could land. Koi sloshed around the drenched redhead as she sputtered, spitting out pond water while wading angrily to the shore. Ranma brushed her wet bangs out of her eyes, noting her father's unsteady balance. She knew that he knew his throw had been a pyrrhic victory at best and dropped into the advanced ninjitsu stance once more.
"Round two, old man." The dripping neo-girl declared as her hands flexed back out into knife edges.
Genma glared at his son-turned-daughter, searching for a way out of this particular predicament. Escalating their fight was certainly an option, but the art she adopted only allowed for so much escalation before turning decidingly lethal. The fact that she was already pulling her punches was telling enough. Yes, he still had a few tricks up his sleeve, and yes, the amalgam of techniques known as Anything Goes was superior, but… But it was going to hurt a lot more before he claimed that victory. With that in mind, Genma Saotome reluctantly availed himself to the least savory option he could think of as a parent—The truth.
"Fine." Genma declared tersely, dropping his guard. Ranma cocked her head as he elaborated. "But not out here. Tonight."
The redhead stared at her father with uncertainty, only relaxing her stance once he had turned away for the house with a noticeable limp. For some reason she suspect it would still be a waste of time even with the ambiguous promise, but let her father hobble off.
Besides, she could always beat the truth out of him later.
"The League of Assassins."
Genma Saotome's foreboding words drew his son's attention from the twinkling of the Tokyo skyline against the night sky to his father, who continued his stoic thousand-yard stare into the night. A cool breeze cut across the rooftop they currently occupied; alone save a bank of air conditioning units and their accompanying ventilation. Ranma likewise suspected they would remain alone given the fact that it was just after 2am in the morning, which was probably the point. Not even the Tendos would be aware of their absence.
"The league of what…?" Ranma repeated without comprehension. It wasn't that he didn't understand the words versus the lacking any sort of context surrounding them. He stared at his father's back as the man took in the city lights.
"Assassins." The bespeckled martial artist repeated without turning back. "That fortress temple you described was their base of operations."
"Waitaminute." The pigtailed boy blinked, processing the new information with marginal disbelief. "You dropped me off to train with assassins?"
"It's all martial arts, boy." Genma began before getting sharply cut off by his son. "Do you think—"
"You told me they were monks!" Ranma insisted with growing indignation, stepping into his parents' space.
"What part of 'seven years old' don't you understand?" The Saotome patriarch finally turned back to the teen with crossed arms, as if the facts being leveled against him were irrelevant. "You wouldn't have understood anyway."
"Like it didn't ever occur to you that maybe it might just have been a really bad idea?" The martial artist shook his head pinching his nose in frustration. After a moment, he adopted a bland look for the man in front of him. "Wait. What am I saying? Of course not. It never does."
"Please." Genma retorted as his patience began to wear. "I don't see you complaining about all the other techniques that have saved your ass countless times."
"You just don't get it, do you?" Ranma glared at his father, gesturing out to the city beyond him. "There's always a string attached, so I'm wondering which it's gonna be this time—Another crazy fiancée or some psycho out to get me?"
"Don't you have faith in your dear old dad?" Genma clutched at his head in exaggerated sadness. "Woe be me for having such an ungrateful child!"
"Maybe I wouldn't worry so much if they weren't in town." Ranma returned dryly, watching his father's theatrics suddenly cease. The bald martial artist eyed his son carefully.
"The league…. Here?" Genma's expression faded from annoyance to slight alarm as his son folded his arms, watching his reaction.
"If by 'here' you mean the only Caucasian guy I ever saw training in assassin central, then yeah, they're here alright." The martial artist jabbed his thumb over his shoulder as if to indicate that the location of here was in close proximity.
"You're sure?" The father pressed with mounting concern, only to watch as his son nodded.
"He's older, but it's definitely him." Ranma shook his head without humor. "And I know better than to just chalk it up to coincidence."
"I see." The father's frown deepened as he leveled a serious gaze upon his only child. "Son, listen to me very carefully. The League of Assassins is not something to be trifled with. They're a worldwide organization with killers of the highest caliber amongst their rolls. Governments fall at their whim, boy."
A pit began to develop in Ranma Saotome's stomach as he considered the news report featuring the assassin in question. He was rich and powerful, matching his father's description of the organization to the letter. The martial artist's thoughts turned acerbic. Not only wasn't it a coincidence, coincidence apparently hated him.
'With a passion,' He huffed internally, still trying to get a handle on yet another mess instigated by the man called his father.
"And how do you know so much about these people?" Ranma voiced the most obvious concern that came to mind, then switched to the next in line. "Hell, who would be stupid enough to let their kid train with them?"
"It was for the art, boy." Genma stated, as if that were all the justification he needed. "As for how, let's just say the Master had some prior dealings with them and leave it at that."
"Greeaaat." The teen drawled sarcastically. "So when can I expect more panty thieves to show up out of the woodwork?"
"I'm serious, Ranma." The gi-clad father figure returned, his glass flashing ominously as the reflection from the traffic below caught them. "Cross them and they won't just come after you. They'll come after everybody you know—Friends. Family. Loved ones. This isn't a game."
"Says the guy who dropped his kid off on their doorstep." Ranma rolled his eyes as he gestured to himself. "That was me by the way. Don't suppose you promised 'em anything and didn't deliver, did you?"
Ranma's father remained silent, projecting a stony look back at his son and providing him with the answer he all but expected. It was Ukyo all over again, except starring an international organization of killers this time.
'And Happosai,' The martial artist groused. It was like a perfect storm of idiocy. If his father's own actions hadn't damned him, the old pervert's were all but guaranteed to.
"In either case, we're going on a training trip." The bald martial artist stated authoritatively, as if he had a complete handle on the situation. "If the League of Assassins is in town, we need to make sure your skills are—"
"Hide in the woods, you mean." Ranma shook his head, immediately preempting the explanation with his own sarcastic interpretation, causing his father's cheek to twitch.
Genma's jaw ground down in frustration as he tried to enforce his plan of action through force of will. "You can't go head to head with them, boy! Our best bet is to disappear for a little bit and train up so we can—"
"You mean so it can bite me in the ass at a later date?" The pigtailed teen cocked his head with an unimpressed look, interrupting his father again. The older man looked like he was about to answer the question until Ranma continued doubtfully. "Seriously, when has that ever worked?"
"Boy, you will—"
"No, you will." Ranma shook his head, finally turning his back on his parent to walk away. He jabbed a thumb at his chest. "And while you're doin' it, I'll be finding out what this guy's doing in Tokyo."
The Saotome patriarch balled a fist, but knew the top of a rooftop in the middle of the night wasn't the time or place to dress his son down with physical violence. Instead, he watched his child walk to the rooftop and hop off, taking the twenty meter drop to the sidewalk as if were a stair step.
Sooner or later his son would see things his way… Even if he had to apply a stop sign to the back of his head to do it.
Nine Years Ago
"A warrior does not feel pain." A sage voice advised as a series of meaty 'thunks' continued to beat in time with his words. The sound was that of flesh as it met the dense ironwood structure of a sparring tree, each impact reverberating through its frame with controlled violence. The hands that plied fist to wood were wrapped in thread bare bandages, already stained through with the crimson tint of blood as they wove their brutal pattern into the post while the voice continued. "The warrior is pain, meting it out upon his adversaries with unwavering resolve."
The voice circled around and behind Bruce Wayne as his very hands throbbed with excruciating pain, but continued to execute the drill by wrote. Each impact seemed to shoot agony through his very bones and up his arms, but he continued regardless. Sweat poured down his bare torso, yet both it and the pain were ignored. He hadn't come all this way to simply give up.
The Wayne heir could feel the presence behind him, watching silently as if passing judgement on his performance. Instead of acknowledging it, Bruce simply hit the sparing post harder while executing his combinations at a near blur.
"Will you let the pain defeat you, Bruce?" The gravelly voice wondered as it circled him from behind, out of sight. The apprentice clenched his jaw, letting the pain course through his body with each strike.
"The pain is a tool." He grunted, throwing himself into the kata. His next attack produced a sharp snap as one of the training arms fell away, clattering across the floor. Bruce ignored it and focused on the remaining arms as he recited the rest of the mantra. "The shadows are my home. The fear is my ally."
Another snap pitched across the dojo and another arm fell away in splinters. This one left a cut across the man's palm which bled freely, yet he continued the drill. Blood began to stain the wooden post as well until the bearded man stepped around into sight, holding his hand up.
The heir's arm froze mid throw, his entire muscular frame frozen still until the goateed man nodded. Bruce let out a pent up breath and clenched the lacerated hand to stymie the flow of blood. The deafening thud of his own heartbeat slowly faded and the noise of the dojo's other activities filtered back into his senses. A harsh yell muted by the room's geometry sounded from across the hall as practice continued in spite of his own kata.
"What are you feeling now?" The man older man inquired of his student with a studied gaze. A green cloak flowed around his person as he took position beside the exhausted apprentice, who in turn eyed him warily. The question sounded simple enough, but Bruce had found that never to be the case with the man known as Ra's al Ghul. His probe for information could just as easily lead to enlightenment as it would violence.
The Caucasian man far removed from any semblance of the western world considered his answer carefully before speaking. "I feel… I feel ready, sensei."
"Do you, now?" The man arched an eyebrow, as if weighing the statement for veracity. The black armored man gestured to him to follow as the green cape swept grandly in his wake. Bruce fell into step beside the master as they traversed the dojo. The various mats of the space they walked through were alive with sparing; mostly one on one but sometimes two or even three on one. Distracting yells echoed through the hall as the pair walked, while Ra's al Ghul glanced over to his protégée. "And what, exactly makes you feel that you are?"
"I'm not the same man who walked through those doors." Bruce Wayne answered with more confidence now that he had been allowed the chance to mentally center himself.
"Nobody who walks through those door is." The graying older man acknowledged in an impersonal tone, nodding with the fact. He paused, drawing to a halt with his gaze centering on the Wayne heir. "But what makes you different from them?"
"I'm better than them." The younger of the pair held his gaze on his master, knowing that such a candid remark could easily earn him a violent trip to the floor just to prove him otherwise. To his surprise, the cloaked figure gave him a studied look, but continued walking.
"Perhaps." He hedged impassively as they rounded the corner. The rest of the dojo stretched out before them while Ra's al Ghul himself received deferential nods as they passed other students and instructors. "We are all students, however. There is always somebody better, is there not?"
Bruce merely nodded with the fact. There wasn't even any point arguing when the man next to him could more than likely kill him with minimal effort, let alone a number of instructors that resided within the same walls.
"And that is why you are not ready." The ninjitsu master shook his head, ignoring the young man's surprised face. He glanced sideways with an impassive expression writ across the aged lines of his face. "You should know by now that the will to act- the will to triumph -supersedes skill. If you were truly ready, you must have the will to act against even me, regardless of the consequences... regardless of your very survival."
They walked the length of the hall until the green cloaked man stopped at the last mat, turning to observe the instruction taking place upon it. Bruce turned to watch as well and found one of the senior instructors kneeling beside a black haired boy who couldn't have been more than seven years old. The pair stood by as the adult by his side corrected his lunge and the angle of the short ninjato held in his hand.
"You know of young Saotome, of course." Ra's gestured to the boy rhetorically. Bruce, of course, did. The young Japanese boy was the only child that he knew of within the halls of the League, which was an oddity unto itself. Moreover, he was training with the same masters as he, as if the child weren't simply the seven year old he appeared to be. The sensei attending to the boy noted his master's presence and produced a respectful bow, one the boy immediately followed.
"Hey, Mister Ra's-san!" The black haired seven year old piped cheerfully as he retrieved back from the bow. The old man quirked the slightest of smiles at his enthusiasm, nodding to the child in kind as he replied in perfect Japanese. The Caucasian by his side had a passable grasp of the language and was able to follow the simple conversation.
"How are your studies progressing, Ranma?" The older man asked, noting the boy's various scrapes and bruises. If they affected the boy in anyway, his attitude didn't show it in his response.
"Sensei Kirigi was just teaching me strike angles." Ranma twirled the steel short sword in hand, then thrust it out and upward in order to demonstrate what everybody in attendance recognized as a the flat of his blade punching between the ribs and up into the heart of an imaginary person. Ra's al Ghul nodded his silent approval, then glanced at the man who had been training the boy. Words were unnecessary as Kirigi knew his presence was superfluous. He stepped to the edge of the mat and dropped into seiza, patiently observing. Ra's attention returned to the ponytailed boy.
"If I were to ask you to fight me, who would win?" The goateed man asked patiently and the young martial artist shrugged nonchalantly.
"And why is that?" The master pressed as Bruce watched the exchange carefully. His sensei had never been one for small talk and he knew there was a lesson imbedded somewhere within the conversation.
"Cuz I'm the best." Ranma replied easily, to which the older man nodded again.
"Indeed." Ra's al Ghul seemed to take the answer at face value, stepping away from the Wayne heir as he did so. "This man also thinks he's ready to be the best. Please show him the error of his ways."
Bruce blinked with confusion, glancing back to his master as he, too, took to the sidelines of the tatami, then back to the boy who's smile grew even more confident. He watched as the seven year old tightened the black belt to his white gi even as the green cloaked master elaborated for his sake.
"You are three times his body weight. Two times his height." Ra's al Ghul remarked gesturing to the boy in front of Bruce. "He is only seven and you much stronger. I wonder which of you has the will to act?"
'A test.' The younger man decided, looking back at the boy who stood by as if bored. What he was supposed to learn or even achieve was unknowable at this point, but the implication was clear—Fight the child.
At least it would be an easy test.
"I won't go soft on you, kid." He warned in halting Japanese and stepped into his initial nijitsu stance. The boy simply waited patiently even as Wayne constructed the initial engagement in his head—Rush the child, leg sweep, roll in and grapple where his body weight would do the rest. If he was being trained by the League, the boy undoubtable would have some tricks, but enough to influence the outcome of this particular match?
The long year and a half of hard training had beaten the hesitation out of Bruce Wayne and he rushed forward at his master's signal. He stepped into decisive range and drop low to pivot on one leg while the other swung out wide. Victory was assured… Until it wasn't. The black haired boy executed a quick hop over the leg and stepped into Wayne's open midsection, employing three quick knife edge jabs that caused Ra's apprentice to grunt with the sharp needling pain before pulling back to guard his midsection in order to fend off the next three punches in the combination.
Bruce attempted a counter, reaching to lock the boy's arm in close combat only to find his wrist batted away in deflection as the child quickly rolled out to break the engagement. Bruce watched his opponent warily while the child simply waited with a smile. The older of the two clenched his jaw with the throb of pain along his six and seventh rib on the right side while noting the kempo linage of the child's art.
"Ranma is training with us at the behest of his father," The old master explained from the sidelines even as Bruce's mind raced to formulate a new strategy. "Normally we would not consider such a request save the fact that his father was the apprentice of a respected- now deceased –grand master."
As if that were his signal, the boy exploded into motion, charging into his opponent with seeming reckless abandon. Bruce's response was a snap kick, only to watch as the boy grabbed at his right leg as if it were a gymnastics bar. He swung over it and use its momentum against the very person employing the kick. The seven year old had somehow ascended to the same absolute height and Bruce now found himself being force back by a ferocious volley of kicks that set him back into defense.
Like the punch to his ribcage, the kicks held a respectable amount of power. Ranma's aerial maneuver finally expended its kinetic energy and he dropped back to the mat behind the man, his legs snapping out to deny his opponent stable footing. Bruce stumbled away and reengaged, putting his strengths to work. Ra's was correct—He out-massed, out-muscled and out-leveraged the boy. The Wayne heir took one of the child's shots on purpose and endured the needling jab to his left thigh in order to get the opening he needed. The twenty-something year old man ignored the new pain and launched into an unrelenting offense, using his strength to overpower Ranma's defenses.
The boy grunted as several punches landed home, taking body blows even as he attempted to separate from the engagement. Ranma profiled left, avoiding the next and flowed under the punch to jab at the same rib from before. The hiss of pain that met his ears confirmed its effectiveness, then promptly earned him an elbow to the face that sent him sprawling with the force. Stars blasted across the young martial artist's vision as he executed a sloppy rollout just in time to meet Wayne's next attack.
The edge of Bruce's hand chopped and the man watched as the child stepped into a judo stance, caught his arm and applied the critical leverage. It was a classic throw that he should have never fallen for, but never saw coming. One moment it was kempo and the next, Judo. He even swore the kid was mixing it all in with League ninjitsu, but that mattered neither here or there. Wayne cursed himself as he tumbled through the air, correcting the arc so he would land with the ability to renew his assault. His feet touched the ground and he barely had time to defend against the kick that blazed in on his right shoulder. Had he have been a fraction of a second slower, it would have been his head taking the blow.
More pressure point blows reigned in from the impossibly agile child. His attacks were precise and measure. Even so, there was one overriding flaw to it all: He was mostly inflicting pain, not damage. The difference between the two was vast.
Bruce sidestepped, absorbing the next volley with his shoulder even as the grinning child circled him, waiting for an opening. Instead of attacking, the adult smirked. "You're pretty good… But this is going to hurt you more than it will me."
The spinning round house kick was his opener and Ranma threw both arms up in order to absorb its potential. There was no way he could bleed that much energy through a simple block however, and Ranma rolled across the mat even as the Wayne heir chased him down. One hit. Two. Three. The fact that Ranma was a seven year old no longer mattered to the man as he began to land solid blows, though the fact that the child was still doing the same was disconcerting. Those strikes didn't have his power, but they were targeting nerve clusters and each counterattack not only hurt, but began to numb appendages. Bruce feinted left, then pulled his punch as Ranma committed to the block.
It was time to end this game.
A solid, open-handed blow to the boy's chest dropped him, emptying his lungs of air. Bruce was on the child in an instant, finally managing enough of a hand hold on his right arm to twist it behind the boy's body in order to painfully lock the joint in place. Ranma winced, but continued to struggle.
"Yield." His older opponent demanded and tightened the lock.
Bruce glanced back at his master on the sidelines. The man seemed to have no intention of stopping the match, which left him with the dilemma of what to actually do with the boy. Fortunately, there was always the house rules to abide by—Matches were won either by yielding or unconsciousness. Wayne maneuvered his free arm around the child's neck.
"Don't say I didn't warn—"
The sound was instantly recognizable; that of a socket failing its joint. He had endured it and the lasting pain that went with such a maneuver before, and had even employed it against others during his training within the dojo. Here, however, Bruce Wayne hadn't initiated such a maneuver.
The child had done it to himself.
Ranma's grunt of pain was lost to Bruce as he twisted out of his grip with the new found mobility, leaping backward along the now defunct arm's axis to knee the surprised man squarely in the face, then chopping at his throat just below the larynx to diminish his ability to take in oxygen. The free arm jabbed at his ribcage another two times, magnifying the pain already present to distracting levels.
The Caucasian man stumbled back, barely falling into a controlled kneel when Ranma's reverse spin kick met the other side of his face. Bruce tumbled across mat in an uncontrolled roll even as the black haired boy landed, his right arm hanging uselessly off his side. Bruce flopped around without coordination and the child waited, glancing curiously over to Ra's al Ghul for his decision. The old master held up his hand in turn.
The tension dissolved out of the boy's frame as the match was called; all parties watching as Bruce reassembled his wits. The man clutched at his head, shaking out the cobwebs of the impact even as Ranma's original instructor stepped to his student's side to grasp his arm. With a nod, the joint was shoved back into place expertly, if not without the grimace of pain.
"You underestimated your opponent." Ra's began as Bruce finally managed to return to a standing position, coughing. A gash of blood trickled down his face and new bruises now accompanied the old. "Today, the young one had the will to act; the will to sacrifice his own arm in order to deliver a decisive blow. The time it took you to recover would have been more than enough to eliminate you from the field of battle."
"Yes, sensei." The Wayne acknowledged humbly, still staring at the boy as he rotated his shoulder as if to work it back into place.
"That was fun." Ranma grinned, then cocked his head as he realized another injury. He touched his busted lip, taking the blood on his fingertips in stride. "Maybe not that part, though."
"I expect to see more ninjitsu in your form next time." Ra's al Ghul requested patiently of the child, who nodded respectfully in turn.
"Walk with me, Bruce." The older man ordered as he took his leave of the child and his instructor. The younger man fell in step behind him as Ra's sympathized aloud. "You would not be the first in these halls to fall to the boy, nor the last. He is a prodigy in his own right."
The Wayne heir remained silent as they finally found the dojo's outlet. A guard swathed in black armor similar to Ra's own slid the door open for the old man. The leader of the League paused, favoring his protégée a measured look. "That being said, he was exactly what he believed himself to be—The best. Even if you were to beat him, I doubt that outlook would change. Perhaps if you had opted for the knockout instead of the hold initially you may have beaten him, but your heart is weak. He did what was necessary to achieve absolute victory. You did not."
The Caucasian man stood silently by for a moment as his thoughts on the matter churned against a mixture of wounded ego and and contemplation as his master continued. Ra's al Ghul waited for the concept to sink in before driving it home. "And that, more than anything, is why you are not as ready as you think you are."
With that, Bruce Wayne watched as the door slid shut behind the leader of the League of Assassins.
Author's Notes- Well, yeah. I guess this is a thing. Like Starwars, every once in a while I get the urge to write a hero fic and the most obvious franchises to facilitate that are Marvel and DC. I know marvel is spamming cinema right now, but I couldn't help it. First, i love the plot hook and second, I think DC fits him a tad better, not that you can't make a case either way. My Hero Academia was briefly considered on Fan Fiction Federation, but by the time i even considered it, this fic was much further along and there are certain problems getting Ranma into that fandom, mainly it smells a lot like foxcat. Since I mentioned the F-word, yes, it's alive. So is Hild. But my muse is unpaid and goes where it likes, so nyeh.
Continuity- First, can we agree that it's a mess? DC has tried to take a stab at cleaning it up, but it's still all over the place between old, new and animations. I hope you won't hate me for picking an choosing.
F3- Thanks to people at FanfictionFederation and too many people there to list. They watch with varying degrees of patience as a vacillate back and forth over plot devices, costumes (I'm very visual in my mind when I write) and other annoying minutia. I think i've annoyed Weebee enough on IM with this fic and if I say 'bewbs' three times, DCG will come running to help or disparage an idea.
Editing- By me. You get what you pay for :p
Jusenkyo Reactor- I'm trying the ffnet forum thing again. If you want to post, chat, edit, whatever, you can either hit me up on ozzallos at gmail or try your hand at forum/Jusenkyo-Reactor/204450/ where I'll post snippets of upcoming fics, seek advice, and generally annoy you with my delays and ADHD writing schedule. Expectations, yo. You might even find those lemons you've been searching for.
Patience- Thank you for your patience. My schedule goes through varying degrees of freedom in terms of writing and I'm on vacation at the moment. More time for me means more time for you... Unless that means unemployment. Last I checked, that's a bad thing. Rest assured I am alive and I know i haven't worked on _. Speaking of, I have somebody willing to pay for lemons, so...
Thanks again. You're all completely awesome. Even you Ranma-chan haters.