Today was shaping up to be one of the worst times in all of Genma Saotome's life. His time under the Master was one, the aftermath of the Neko-ken being another, and the current moment, the moment in which the Shinmei-Ryu decided that he would not be allowed to take back his son, beat out the both of them. All because he'd had the bright idea that the boy's new curse would, at the very least, let him see precisely why female-only schools were pointless. The Shinmei-Ryu had been the obvious choice. A school of women who waved around metal sticks? Please. The only thing that would more obviously advertise a glorified brothel was a sign and a neon arrow.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the girls had a few tricks up their sleeves and he was unable to even get to Ranma's dormitory. A brute force attempt due to his not knowing exactly where the boy was being held had proved to be similar to the Master's old raids. The only differences were that he was looking for the boy instead of panties and that these women had managed to knick him a few times already with some ki techniques that girls had no business knowing given their inherent weakness as females. Now small patches of blood surrounded even smaller cuts in his already battered gi here and there. Outsmarting the swordswomen into revealing the location and then rushing there would have worked better if they'd actually fallen for his tricks, and even his outstanding charisma had its limits apparently.
"Look," he drawled, addressing the ring of hakama clad maidens about him in the base's courtyard, "This is all a huge misunderstanding. See, that girl Ranma is actually a boy under a permanent magical curse! Yep, he fell into some random spring in China last month and then got splashed by a magic spoon if you can believe it. You're all about girls and stuff, right? Why would you need some worthless male when you've got all those great girls around? Surely any one of them could take his place!" The words burnt like acid in his mouth to say but as he was wont to say, 'The path of a martial artist is fraught with peril.' This was definitely one of those times.
It was the girl directly opposite him who answered. She was wearing the same as all of the other practitioners in the ring: a white hakama shirt and red hakama trousers but how she held herself made it easy to tell that she was a master of her blade, an immaculate katana that sat in her hands like a bird in a tree. Remembering the damages that the less trained women in the area had caused, Genma didn't really want to see what would happen if that bird took flight. The way the others all stood just a bit further away than she did made it clear to Genma that she was the leader. Given their love for tradition, what with the compound's rice paper and wood buildings and the women's attire, it was amazing that there wasn't a man in charge of the whole organisation. Although, to get any words other than 'Stop!,' 'Thief!,' or 'Pervert!' was a nice change. He had expected her to sheathe her sword and start profusely apologising, maybe with the promise of food to make up for the rings they'd made him have to jump through, but what she ground out made him give a momentary snarl.
"The Kansai Magic Association will look into this 'curse' you claim our pupil suffers from. Until it has been verified and Ranma chooses to leave us, even her own father will not take her. However, given the obvious physical and mental trauma you've put her through before she has even reached age 10, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that you'd stolen her as a baby and spun a story to make her believe your tales."
So they knew about magic. That was a problem. Plan D had been to unseal the Umi-Sen-Ken and make his way through the dorm building systematically after they believed he'd left but if they knew about magic, an organisation this big would certainly know how to detect a person's magical core. He would be found within minutes of even activating the cloaking technique. Magic made up everything and everyone, after all, and hiding under the cloak would also conceal his magic. A lack of magic in an area would be just as noticeable as the magic that would take up his normal space, if not more so given his 'stoutness' as he liked to call it. The only use he would be able to get out of the Umi would be a quick getaway. They'd also managed to box him in about his knowledge of magic. If he played it off as not knowing of its existence, they could take it as proof that his story was false. If he admitted to knowing, they'd know it was safe to utilise their own magical attacks. Both outcomes made getting Ranma out all the more difficult. In the end, Genma decided to do what he did best. He avoided the issue until it went away.
"Look, I don't want to have to fight a bunch of weak girls," he scoffed, remembering rule one of Anything Goes, an angry opponent is a sloppy opponent. A sloppy opponent will lose. "This'll all be over just as soon as you tell me where the boy is. We'll both be out of your hair just as soon as we were in it. Along with the twig you've got just above your left ear." He fell into a much more casual stance, designed to make the enemy believe you were unguarded and motioned to an area above his own ear. The woman didn't fall for it, being an experienced warrior and knowing about these sorts of tricks, but the girl two places to her left looked over for a split second.
He took that chance.
Milliseconds later, he was in her face, knocking both her sword away and the girl herself out with a swift yet intricate series of actions involving a chop to her neck and a rough grab at the katana's hilt, being careful to avoid being stabbed in the wrist.
The other girls came at him just as quickly as he had the girl now laying at his feet, but his danger sense alerted him to their attack before they'd even taken their first steps.
A textbook slice came at the back of his knee. Had it hit, it would have put him out of the fight indefinitely but, being a world-class martial artist, it didn't. Instead, it was redirected with the sole of his foot to block another sword headed straight for his other foot's Achilles tendon. It came to no surprise that these girls were uncoordinated as a group, being a female only school and all, they wouldn't have trained for fighting against one person as a group as well as one on one combat. It also didn't help that they all would have been just as easily outclassed by Genma if they were facing him by themselves.
Only musing on their shortcomings kept the portly martial artist from getting bored as he easily handled the ten or so fighters clamouring for an opportunity to try to stick him with their swords. He threw one of them into another, with enough force to carry both into a wall and into the land of sweet dreams. Then he stomped down hard on another girl's foot, eliciting a short cry of pain that was soon silenced by the press of a pressure point in her neck, knocking her out too. Calmly, he caught the blade of a katana headed for his shoulder and twisted, pulling the hilt out of the dumbstruck swordswoman's hands just before it was reunited with her head, sending her out of the fight.
The ground by Genma's feet was getting cluttered by enemy bodies as he effortlessly dispatched the goons around him, just as he liked it. While he wasn't moving too much and his injuries from his first attempt into the compound slowed him down slightly, the swordswomen were having too much trouble not stepping on their comrades as they tried to get in close for another try at the balding man to even think about capitalising on their minor advantage. During the brawl, Genma idly noted that the lead woman was missing from both his attackers and those he had already knocked out. Instead, she stood a few hundred feet away from the scrap, observing her students but making no effort to face the unarmed man herself.
"Don't you want to get in on this too?" Genma called while he smashed two girls' head together in a routine he'd seen on TV once, "It'll be a lot quicker than if you wait for your girls to go down!"
"I will face you once you have proven your worth. Your daughter faced this trial, and so shall you." the woman stated, making no effort to even move from her pose.
"He's my son!" he yelled. To have her so easily refer to the boy as a girl was outrageous. He'd have to get the idea through her skull just as soon as he finished with her underlings.
"We shall see."
Genma snarled again and threaded his fist between two incoming swords to hit one more girl in the face. As much as it pained him, he couldn't afford to use this opportunity for training anymore. The boy was just too important to his future. A haymaker launched the last girl backward, followed up by a spinning aerial kick to send her down for the count.
"You really need to step up your training," stated a smirking Genma and the woman hummed in agreement.
"I shall make a note to add a course on many on one combat tomorrow. My name is Mai Murakami, I am second only to our grandmaster Eishun Konoe. I presume you are Genma Saotome?"
"You know I'm the boy's father. What do you think? Or is that just because you're too dumb to figure it out yourself? Maybe you are, considering that Eishun is a man's name. The great Shinmei-Ryu swordswomen, headed by a man. Figure you'd need someone who actually had some idea how to fight if you were trying to run a school?"
If his comments had any effect on Mai, she didn't allow it to show.
"Perhaps your daughter will be willing to help my students study as a group once this is all over. She would need a place to stay if her father died, now wouldn't she? Seeing as she is already here, it would only make sense that we continue to train her in your stead and Grandmaster Konoe would be more than willing to take her in. It appears that she and his own daughter get on very well."
"You're threatening to kill me then? What would Ranma think of that? His father, murdered by the girl who wants to train him."
"If you attack me, I shall be forced to defend myself. It would be...difficult to explain to your daughter the situation, but then it wouldn't be so hard to believe that her worthless father ran off after he first dropped her off, never to return."
Genma rolled his eyes. This woman's confidence that she could kill him was grossly misplaced. It was clear now that he wouldn't be able to distract her enough to get her to leave an opening. Still, he was sure that he was just as far ahead of her as he was the other girls. The idea that she could even come close to half his skill level was laughable.
Mai seemed to have a talent for reading people, it appeared, considering that it was during this mental chortle that she decided to attack, stepping in with the speed of a bullet to jab at Genma's midsection. Frantically stepping back to avoid the steel, the unarmed master brought his hand up to cover the cut that the woman had inflicted. He narrowed his eyes. She wasn't even using ki outside of speed and durability enhancement. It seemed she'd decided to forego finding out whether he knew about magic and attack at full power. To move like that and not trigger his danger sense? There was no other explanation. At least she'd played her hand early, his surprise at her use of magic despite her uncertainty about his knowledge had allowed her to draw first blood. He wouldn't let her get anything further.
He launched himself away from her and into the air. If he could escape for a moment, he would be able to collect his bearings and formulate a plan. Fate had other ideas, as it turned out when Mai brought out four small slips of somewhat human shaped paper with her name written on them, quickly threw them into the air, and called for them to activate.
Immediately, Genma was outnumbered again. Though the shikigami were only a tenth of their creator's size, there was nothing new in the way that the paper dolls had been summoned and experience had taught him that magic users usually had some sort of gimmick that let them get an advantage in some way. Maybe there was something in the sudden speed the woman had gained earlier? As poor his own magical potential was, he still knew how to see a person's magic. He'd had to learn to fight the other magical opponents he'd run across in his travels. Learning a mage's gimmick was akin to learning their whole style, making it useless against such an adaptable combat style as his.
Snapping back to the fight in front of him, Genma was unsurprised to see that all of the shikigami had managed to close the distance to cover Mai as she launched smaller ki blasts in his direction from her hand. Each of the smaller Mais held a smaller katana in their hands, though their enemy knew better than to underestimate their sharpness. Magicians were tricksy and, if she were one of them, even the girliest girl in the world could become extremely dangerous. If magic was enhancing the dolls' blades, and it more than likely was, then Genma would have to be extra careful not to get caught by any of them unless he wanted to be cursed with whatever Mai had enchanted her dolls with.
The dolls rushed in as one, the dysfunction that the girls from before held was absent as the martial artist continued to dodge both blade and energy ball alike. Clearly, his opponent had practised this manoeuvre as, while he managed to get his own knocks in on the dolls, any follow-up was cut off. Her sister would pressure a different place, drawing his attention long enough for the original mini-Mai to recover or for a few well-placed balls of ki to hit the hand he tried to sneak away to put the one he'd knocked away out of the fight for good. He didn't even have enough room to switch up his style and considering that was one of the core tenets of the Anything Goes school, Genma was having difficulty seeing just how he could win this one.
"Just let me have my son!" Genma roared, getting tired of staying on defence. The last time he'd had to work this hard against in a fight was against the Master. How was this girl managing to rival Him in both skill and strategy?! If he'd been told just yesterday that he'd have this much trouble recovering the boy, then he'd have laughed. He'd have laughed until he fell off of his bar stool and then he'd have laughed some more. Now he was just getting pissed.
"Your daughter will not leave us until she wishes to," Mai explained calmly, still firing her barrages of ki, "She will learn from us. She will be safe. I cannot say the same for you." With that, the woman decided that she too had had enough and closed in for the killing blow.
Now, Genma wasn't a smart man by any measure but even he, when confronted by a katana that crackled with enough electricity to power Tokyo for a month, knew that it was time to get the hell away. He kicked off of the ground, launching himself straight up and out of the path of the sword.
Not a moment later, the katana passed through the space that he had just occupied, random flashes of lightning artfully dodged by each doll.
At this point, Genma was panicking slightly. If he lost the boy then Nodoka would have his head and, worse, he'd be unable to take Ranma's future earnings to pay for his own retirement. He'd have to buy his own sake! He didn't have enough money to buy it now, let alone in the future! He'd been selling the boy's hand in marriage instead of paying for things since before his son could walk, if he lost his meal ticket then where would he be?!
It was with that thought that Genma unsealed his ultimate techniques. The Yama-Sen-Ken would probably have been enough, but the safety of his future was at stake here. He wasn't about to take any risks.
Hanging in the air longer than he should have if one went by conventional physics, he quickly threw out a few small vacuum blades that were just as fast as Mai's approach had been and, not expecting it, each hit their target. Slivers of paper fluttered gently to the ground as the number of combatants on the field was reduced back down to two.
Kicking off of the air, Genma threw himself back down towards the swordswoman and fired off another vacuum blade. Predictably, Mai raised her sword to block the incoming blow and suddenly, she found it suddenly shorter than it should have been as the vacuum blade cut it off just past the hilt, turning it more into a knife than a sword.
Surprised by the destruction of her favoured tool, Mai was distracted long enough that the straight punch Genma threw hit her in the jaw and threw her to the ground at the man's feet.
"Now what are you going to do?" sneered the man, looking down on Mai, "Your sword's gone. You're no match for me now. Just tell me where my son is and I'll be gone. It's that simple."
Despite her broken sword, Mai glared at the man above her. He'd broken her sword. When she'd had her sword, it had been to protect the man's daughter from her father, but now it was personal.
Genma sighed but prepared himself for what he had to do. However, he didn't expect for Mai to roll away and right herself as he threw down his foot in an attempt to break her neck
"The Shinmei-Ryu is more than just a school of sword fighters. You may have broken my sword, but I still have my magic. I might not even have to kill you. All I have to do is send you somewhere that you'll never be able to return from. I think the magical realm will be sufficiently far away. It's not like anybody there would help someone like you anyway."
"So you saw that you couldn't kill someone of my skill level and decided that the next best thing was to send me away?" replied Genma, "That's just cheap. I was right about you and your school, not only are you weak, you're too stubborn for your own good. Typical woman."
Both fighters scowled at each other. This wasn't going how they'd expected. Genma had thought that this would be a quick ten minutes operation that would get the boy out and him back on the road, away from the rather large tab he'd managed to rack up at the local pub while Mai had expected to scare the intruder off of their property and continue her nightly training.
A light breeze carried the smell of the nearby forest to the two. It was a moment of calm that both knew would not be available for quite some time.
And on a signal only the two fighters recognised, they charged.
"Ranma, wake up."
The heir to the Saotome school of Anything goes Martial arts rolled over, content to stay in dreamland for a while longer.
"Five more minutes, Sensei."
"Ranma, this is important, you need to get up."
She sighed, dragged her eyes apart and pushed her red hair away. The eight-year-old turned towards the voice of her teacher and what she saw shocked her. Mai Murakami sat beside her futon just as she did every morning when she woke the child. What was different from most mornings, however, was her condition. Her usual sleek black hair was tangled and dirty with mud and sticks caught in it, her hakama was so ripped and cut up that it barely covered any of her body at this point but considering that her body was primarily one big bruise, Ranma was more concerned with her wellbeing to be embarrassed at her state of undress.
"Sensei, you're hurt!"
"Well discerned," chuckled Mai, allowing herself to lose her edge for a moment before she returned to seriousness. "It's about your father."
Ranma brightened just as quickly as he'd been concerned.
"Oh, ok! Is he here to get me?"
Mai sighed, she hated being the bearer of bad news.
"Ranma, there's no easy way to say this but...your father's not coming back."
At that moment, Ranma's world shattered.
"What do you mean? He's got to be coming back right? He's got to be!"
Mai smiled ruefully at the girl's denial.
"He came here last night to get you, but a demon attacked us. Why do you think I'm bruised like this? He sacrificed himself to save me. He told me to look after you before he died, though."
A tender smile made its way onto Mai's face as she opened her arms to her new ward.
"If you want to cry, that's fine. I won't judge you. It's natural to mourn."
Ranma didn't react. She was staring at nothing, trying to make sense of it all. Her father was the strongest fighter she had ever known apart from maybe Murakami-sensei. For him to have died was unthinkable for the redhead. There must have been some mistake. Was it possible that he'd been thrown away from the fight and they just hadn't found him yet? Perhaps he'd just fought to the point that he'd passed out and the Shinmei-Ryu doctors had mistaken his coma for death. It just wasn't possible for him to have died.
Ranma felt tears well up in her eyes for the first time in her life, but she didn't care enough to wipe them away or stop them from falling. Any moment now her father would burst through the paper doors and berate her for crying. 'Men don't cry!' he'd say, 'Just because you've got this curse, that's no excuse to slack off, come on, we've got to train!'
A quiet passed and neither of the room's occupants said a word. When Ranma made no effort to move into her arms, Mai wrapped her arms around the redhead and started petting her hair.
Time was irrelevant while the older woman held the young girl in her arms. Mai knew that it would be difficult for the boy-turned-girl to come to terms with her father's absence.
They both sat and thought about the future.
Eight years later, Ranma Murakami, heir to the Saotome school of Martial Arts, Master of the Shinmei-Ryu school and student at Mahora Academy, watched disinterestedly as Negi Springfield walked over the boundary of the 2-A classroom and into her life.
Little did she know that there was nothing uninteresting about the boy who had just introduced himself as her new homeroom teacher. Nor could she have imagined the effects that he would have on her life from then on.