Disclaimer: 

The characters in this story aren't mine.  They are the property of Takahashi Rumiko, the creator of Ranma ½.  This is a totally non-profit bit of prose also known as a fanfic.  I am writing this for the enjoyment of other Ranma ½ fans and myself.  If the great Takahashi Rumiko says she doesn't want her characters used in this way it will be deleted immediately.  Any who... onward into the story.

The Days After: Ryouga's Journey

By:  Eric Evans

Chapter 7: Curses and Cures

Ryouga was surrounded by darkness.  Where the heck am I?  I can't see anything at all….  There's no sound.   There's not even a breeze, or anything in my way as I walk….  That was when Ryouga first realized he was walking.  Where am I going?  He sighed as he continued to walk.  Oh well, why shouldn't I be walking….  It's seems like that's all I ever really do… that and hurt the people I care about….  A light peaked though in the distance invading the dark fog that had seemed to be his entire world.  Ryouga turned his attention to the point of light.  Finally an end to this damned darkness.  Ryouga headed for the light and the end of the dark fog that muffled his senses threatening to smother him if he stayed in it for to long.

As Ryouga trudged towards the light he felt the over whelming need to get out of the horrible darkness as fast as he could.  Ryouga began to run as he realized he could finally leave the void, the utter nothingness that had encompassed him for far to long.

For a while it seemed he was nearing the light, but he grew frantic as he continued to run, unnerved that the light that had seemed so close but no longer seem to be getting closer.

Suddenly the light was gone.  As if it had never existed it vanished.  Ryouga slowed his pace to a walk and looked around at the houses lining the street he was on.  The panicked feeling had left him as soon as the light was gone.  He continued to walk down the street unsure why he had been so worried.  After all it's a beautiful day out, and what's more I think I recognize these houses.  I should be near Furinkan High School.  He adjusted the extra large weight on his back.  That means I can be with Akane soon…. 

Ryouga began to pass students that were headed to school as he continued to walk.  He over heard several of them talking about Ranma and decided to listen closer.  All he could really make out was something thing about a new fiancée, and Akane being the one that they felt sorry for, but that was enough.  The enraged Ryouga picked up his pace sprinting in the direction the many students where headed.

As Ryouga continued to run he over heard more and more people talking about Ranma and his new fiancée.  Finally as Ryouga neared the high school he saw Akane yelling at Ranma and trying to hit him with her handbag.  He pulled his umbrella loose from its bindings and shifted the weight of the oversized souvenir on his back.

As Ranma easily avoided the attacks from Akane, an enraged Ryouga leapt into the air, and shifted the giant tenuki he had been carrying and brought it down on a very surprised Ranma's face.

Students quickly began to gather around.  "Uh… Ryouga…" Akane managed to sputter out.

His eyes lowered and his expression dark Ryouga turned to Akane, "Akane… I heard the rumors."

Akane looked a little uneasy, "Rumors?  You mean about the other fiancée…?"  Akane smiled embarrassedly at Ryouga, "It's okay.  I don't care who Ranma goes out with."

Ranma finally began to recover and stood up with the large statue still perched upon his head, "What she said."

Ryouga began to grow even angrier, "I will not have it!!!"  He turned to face Ranma dropping his pack, "Even if the other fiancée looked like… like a… a cow… or a monkey, or even some old statue….  I will not see Akane insulted by a two-timing lout!"  He slipped the strap he had made for his umbrella over his shoulder, slung his umbrella onto is back and charged at Ranma with a fierce kick and a punch.

An angry Ranma dodged the blows.  "That's it!  Nobody gets away with saying that I…" Ranma countered with a powerful kick, which connected and sent Ryouga flying back wards, "…would get engaged to some ancient clay statue!"

Ryouga landed and prepared to lunge back towards Ranma, but was forced to jump as several small objects darted into the ground where he had stood. "Yow!"

Ryouga heard some one talking above the murmur of the large crowd that had gathered to watch the fight, but didn't pay attention until a strange boy leapt out at him from behind swinging a large weapon forcing Ryouga to flip forward out of the way.  "Take it back!" the new combatant yelled.

Ryouga spun around as he landed and pulled his umbrella from his back.  He faced the rather weak looking boy that was standing with his weapon at the ready, "So.  Ranma has an ally, eh?  I don't know who you are… but to choose Ranma is to choose death!"  Ryouga charged the scrawny guy that had attacked him mid-fight.

Akane's voice cut through the noise of the crowd, "Ryouga!  Stop!  Would you hit a girl!?"

"Wha…?" Ryouga skidded to a halt.  "A girl…!?" he examined the person standing in front of him taken aback.  Finally he stood up straight pulling his umbrella onto his shoulder, "Feh."

Ryouga lunged with his umbrella attacking viciously, "As if I don't know a man when I see one!"

The surprised looking young man could hardly avoid Ryouga's powerful blows, "What?!  Who are you…" he regained his balance, "calling a man?!"  The rather feminine man pulled out a large object an threw it at Ryouga, "Flour bomb!"

Ryouga reeled back as a cloud engulfed him obscuring his vision.  The smaller boy immediately swung full force with his odd weapon thinking it was impossible for his opponent to escape him.  As he swung he didn't feel the weapon connect, and he just stood there astonished as an extremely heavy umbrella slammed down just in front of where he was standing cutting though his shirt and bandoleer.

Ryouga prepared to punch with his full strength as he sped down from above his startled opponent, "It's over!"  In the split second before his punch was to connect many things happened.  He saw his opponent cringe in fear with tears forming in his startled eyes as he clutch at his torn shirt protectively.  He saw Ranma leap behind his opponent and pull his arms back into a painful lock.  He saw an evil grin play across Ranma's features.  He heard Akane scream, "Ryouga, don't!"  He heard the gasps of the crowd.  Why is Ranma help me?  He didn't understand, but there was no more time.  His fist connected.  The newcomer was crushed into the ground by the devastatingly powerful punch.

Ryouga stood up pulling his bloody fist away from his opponent's limp form.  He stared down at the motionless body in front of him, and felt like he was forgetting something, and then he knew. 

The person in front of him was indeed a female.  He realized he knew the person he had just pummeled.  He almost gagged, "U-Ukyou…?" he finally choked out. 

Blood poured out of her nose and ears staining the ground red.  Her eyes where half open, but glazed and unfocused, and tears streaked down her face.  Ryouga collapse, kneeling down beside her, tears pouring down his cheeks.  Ranma started to laugh, then Akane and then every one else.  Everything else faded back into the dark fog.  Everyone circled around pointing and laughing, but Ryouga didn't care.  He lowered himself to near Ukyou's limp bloodied form sobbing as anguish over took him,  "U-Ukyou…I-I'm s-sorry…."

He clenched his eyes shut unable to bear what he had done, but his eyes wouldn't stay shut.  He couldn't even turn away.  As his eyes reopened he looked down upon Ukyou wearing the dress they had bought for her on their first date, but now it was soaked in blood.  Quivering Ryouga reached down and lifted Ukyou to his lap and pressed his cheek against hers.  "I-I'm… s-so sorry…." He whispered between sobs.  Shaking violently, and sobbing uncontrollably Ryouga looked up at the others who where still dancing around them laughing and pointing.

Ryouga's ki flared to life.  A cold all consuming darkness emitted from his soul. The darkness he felt overwhelmed even the dark fog.  He pulled Ukyou up against himself and raised his eyes to the heavens.  They will pay….  The heavens will pay for what  happened to Ukyou!!!  Ryouga half-screamed half-roared  and his ki exploded forth.  Everything shattered.  Akane, Ranma, the dark fog and even the heavens themselves were gone in a bright flash.

Ukyou awoke from an uneasy night's sleep well after the sun had risen.  She felt terrible.  She had spent most of the night thinking about what had happened between her and Ryouga the night before.  Once she had finally decided she had to get to sleep she realized that it wasn't going to be easy.  She hadn't realized it before, but Ryouga made her feel safe.  Being all alone in the dark woods left her feeling very vulnerable, and she started to imagine large forest creatures attacking her in her sleep.  Soon every noise she heard had her wondering if something was trying to get her.  Eventually, however, she had fallen asleep and spent the night submerged in half-remembered dreams.  Many of which had been unpleasant enough to wake her up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.

Happy to have finally gotten up Ukyou was not ready to spend another night in the woods alone.  She quickly packed her gear after a rushed breakfast.  She glanced in the direction Ryouga had ran off the night before one last time and shook her head before she started back toward the town she knew shouldn't be to far away.

An old man dressed in white robes, a black belt that bound it at the waist and another red robe that hung open over the other walked down a dimly lantern lit stone hall followed by a similarly dressed young man with orange under-robes, brown outer-robes and a blue belt. 

"So he is finally stirring, eh?" the old man stated more than asked.

"Yes, Sensei.  He was starting to thrash around in the bed, and mutter unintelligibly when I left him," the young man confirmed respectfully.

The old man nodded solemnly, "Nightmares most likely.  He seems to have had some rough times, I am most anxious to talk with him once he awakens."

"Rough times indeed, it is quite unsettling how we found him.  We should be cautious of his awakening."

The old man sighed, "Yes, yes, I suppose, but you worry to much."

"I am sorry, Sensei.  However, I don't think that it was a coincidence that one of the stone entrance-pillars was destroyed near where we found him."

"Nor do I, but still I am not worried.  It appears he has traveled for a long time, and I imagine he will be quite grateful for the bed and food," the old man paused as he reached the heavy wooden door they had been heading to, and turned to his young companion.  "However, I had best be there when he awakens.  He will have many questions, no doubt, as do we."

The young man bowed slightly and opened the door for the older man, "I will be in the garden if you need anything, Sensei."

The old man nodded as he entered the room and closed the door behind him.  He approached the bed they had placed their guest in and sat down on a small wooden stool set beside it.  He noticed the still sleeping young man had knocked most of his covers to the floor.  He must have had quite a bad dream.  He noted that although the young boy in the bed had mostly calmed down, he still moaned occasionally.  He probably still is….  He looked at the young mans clothing.  Very oddly he is dressed.  The bindings on his legs are similar to those used by Shaolin Monks among others.  His shirt is also in the color often used for disciples of the Shaolin, while the cuffs, side-of-the-chest closure, and frog buttons are also of a Chinese style the shirt itself and his pant are more Japanese in appearance, and he is certainly Japanese….  He looked down at the very large backpack set at the foot of the bed, and remembered how it had taken two men to even drag it.  A most mysterious young man.  He noted that the young man had once again started to thrash about in his bed, and he placed a hand on his shoulder, "Such bad dreams for one so young…."

The bandana clad young man began to mumble loader as he squirmed about in his bed.  The old man could almost begin to under stand some of what he was saying, "It's over…." He thought he could hear.  Most curious….  His thoughts were interrupted as he noticed the young sleeping man had stopped struggling suddenly, and he once again tried to listen.  "Ukyou," the young mans body went rigid, and the old man watched intently, "…sorry…."  As he watched the old man felt uneasy.  What is this odd feeling…?  It's almost like…  He notice the young man in front of him seemed to almost glow in the dark room.  Depression…?

The young man half screamed, half roared as he suddenly sat straight up in the bed, his eye wide open in shock, and fear.  He gasped for air as if he had been drowning, and looked around wildly unsure of reality.  He had no idea where he was.  He had never seen the room before, and he wasn't too sure it was even real.  As his mind started to clear he noticed that he was in a bed, and realized he must have been dreaming.  In fact, looking back it had obviously been a dream, but it had been all to real only seconds before.  Relief flowed over him, and as he continued to survey the odd room he found himself sleeping in.  He noticed an old man pulling himself off of the floor eyes wide open staring at him, "Uhhh… hello."

The old man composed himself and smiled at the wide-awake young man, "Hello to you young man.  You gave me quite a shock the way you woke."

The young man lowered his eyes, "Sorry about that, I… I guess I was having a bad dream."

The old man nodded, "Yes, it would seem you had quite a nightmare, but no mater.  Come now and eat, your troubles will seem most distant.  I am Misaki Yosho, the head of this temple.  You may just call me Yosho."

The youth bowed, "I am Hibiki Ryouga.  Thank you for your hospitality, but I was wondering…."

Yosho interrupted him, "You have many questions I am sure, as do we, but first let us find you some food."

Ryouga stood and followed the old man who was already stepping out the door, "Thank you."

After eating his fill of what he considered very good food, Ryouga sighed contently.  He hadn't been so full in a very long time.  He looked over at his gracious host.  Well, time to find out what's going on.  "Thank you for the food," he bowed slightly.  "I was wondering if you wouldn't mind explaining a few things now, though."

The old man nodded, "Yes, I believe it is time for us to talk.  Go ahead."

"Well… where am I, and how did I get here?"

The old man thought for a second, "This is Kakure temple.  You where brought here when we found you laying in the forest unconscious, next to one of our entrance pillars which had been shattered.  Do you have any idea how that happened?"

Ryouga's face was covered with joy, and he had started to laugh uncontrollably ignoring most of what the old man had said.  This is it!  I've finally found it!!!

The old man stared confused at the ecstatic young man, "Ummm… excuse me… are you okay?"

Ryouga began to return to rational thought knowing that even though he had found the temple didn't mean he had found a cure.  "D-did you say… Kakure temple…?"

The old man looked at him oddly, "Well… yes, I did.  Why do you ask?"

"This is the place I have been looking for…." He said more to himself than to the old man.  Ryouga took a deep breath, "Do you have something known as 'the cure for curses'?!?"

 The old man rubbed his chin, "Well, know… I haven't heard that name in a very long time… but yes… I believe we do."

Ryouga tried to remain calm as he continued his questioning, "Y-you do?  C-could I… use it?"

The old man stared into Ryouga's eyes, "Hmmm….  So, you are cursed?

Ryouga lowered his gaze, "Yes."

"Well… I think you should tell me more about yourself, first.  Then we will see what can be done," the old man stood.  "Come with me.  We shall talk in my study."

Ryouga stood and followed the old man hoping that for once in his life something could actually go his way.

The two made their way to a quaint room lit by a fireplace that sat in one of the walls with comfortable chairs on each side which they sat down in.  Ryouga looked around the room briefly.  It was furnished with two chairs, a well-organized desk and a small table with freshly cut flowers set upon it.  As he continued to study the room he noticed that the walls weren't stone as they had been in the rest of the rooms he had seen, instead the entire room was lined with bookshelves filled with books.

The old man allowed Ryouga to take in the room for a while before he began, "So, Ryouga, tell me about your curse."

Ryouga started at the question, "Uhhh… well, I was cursed nearly two years ago…."  He turned his eyes to the fire, "Two years ago I followed someone to China….  While I was in China I ended up at Mount Quanjing, Bayankala Range, Qinghai Province near a place called… Jusenkyo…."  Ryouga's expression grew dark, "It's the legendary 'Training Ground of Accursed Springs'….  Anyone who falls into a spring of Jusenkyo is cursed with the body of what ever drowned there last whenever they are splashed with cold water, and change back when splashed with warm water….  There are over one hundred springs there, and each one a different curse.  My curse… is the curse of the Hein Nii Chuan, the 'Spring of the Drowned Piglet'….  I change… into a small black piglet…."  Ryouga lowered his head as he finished his story.

The old man stared at him a little shocked, "That is quite a tale….  When you first told me you where cursed I had assumed you where just exaggerating your problems, but you do indeed have a magical curse…."  The old man rubbed his chin, "So tell me… why did you follow someone to China?"

Ryouga looked up at the old man, "It was… a matter of honor…."

"How so?"

"He had run out on our duel."

"You are a martial artist then?"

"Yeah… martial arts are my life… or at least they have been for the last couple years."

The old man listened intently, "I see.  Why where you two engaged in a duel?"

"He…" Ryouga scratched the back of his neck, "…stole something from me…."

"Oh?  What had he stolen?"

Ryouga sighed, "Bread…."

"Hmmm?"

"Well… not just once, but nearly everyday….  We went to the same all boys junior high school, and everyday in the cafeteria food was tossed into the crowd of hungry boys waiting for food.  If you wanted to eat you had to fight for your food and everyday… he beat me…."

The old man was once again shocked by Ryouga's stories, "Was food so scarce?"

"No, not really….  Sometimes though I had to go several days between meals."

The old man cleared his throat hoping it would do the same for his mind, "So, he went to China before you could finish your duel?"

Ryouga nodded.

"Did you find him while you where in China"

Ryouga's face became grim, "Yes… he was the one who knocked me into the spring…."

The old man eyes widened, "Oh.  So he defeated you?"

Ryouga grimaced, "No, he… we didn't recognize each other."

"And still he pushed you into the spring?"

"Well… it was sorta an accident… he didn't even notice me…."

The old man look thoughtful, "Well, that is quite a story.  Tell me, have you seen this person since that accident?"

Ryouga nodded.

"And?  What happened then?"

Ryouga started to stare at his hands, "I didn't see him again until a few months later… when I returned to Japan.  Though his father tried to eat me just after I first changed."  He paused for a second, "Once I finally found him, again I challenged him to a fight.  He didn't even remember me, and that made it even worse.  About a week later we finally fought.  The fight ended up a draw after I found out about his curse, and… someone else… got hurt…."  Ryouga looked up at the old man and found him staring in astonishment.

"So your duel was never settled?"

"Actually, we've fought a lot since then…."

"And, still your score is not settled?"

"Well… it wasn't just about the bread or the curse anymore…."

"Hmmm….  Go on."

"Well… I… I kinda fell in love with this girl… and… uhhh…."

"I see.  So you were fighting over a girls love?"

"Well sort of, she was betrothed to him at a young age…."

"Hmmm… that makes things a bit more complicated I would say."

"Yeah… but all they did was argue and fight.  I didn't think they would ever be happy together, and she disserved better than him."

"And you were better?"

"Well… not really….  That was the problem… she disserved better than me too…."

Yosho watched the downtrodden young man, and considered his next question, but Ryouga continued, "It doesn't matter anymore though.  They love each other now."  Ryouga features distorted slightly in grief.

"And so you have stopped fighting?"

Ryouga nodded and said what he had told himself so many times before, "Yes, all I want is for her to be happy…"

Yosho nodded approvingly, "My boy it seems you are mature beyond your years."

Ryouga blushed slightly, "I wouldn't say that… I've done plenty of stupid things…."

The old man couldn't help but smile at the guilty expression on the young mans face, "So what are you doing with your life Ryouga?"

Ryouga looked confused by the change of topic for a minute, but answered after a bit of thought, "Well, right now I'm just wandering… but I hope to get a high school equivalency degree someday…."

"Why aren't you in high school?"

"Well…" Ryouga looked uneasy.  He hated telling people about his bad sense of direction, but it couldn't be helped, "I kinda have a hard time getting places."

"What do you mean?"

"My family has a… bad sense of direction.  It makes it hard to get anywhere on a regular basis…."

"I don't think I understand."

"Well… think of it this way.  You wouldn't be surprised if I couldn't find my way back to the room where I was sleeping earlier since I have never been here before, but it wouldn't matter if I had lived here all my life, I still couldn't find my way back…."

Yosho stared at him suspiciously, "I find that a bit hard to believe, after all you did find you way to the temple."

"Yeah, but I had been looking for months and I only got close because I found someone to help," Ryouga's expression darkened as he thought of Ukyou, "and still it was only luck that you found me and brought me in here."

Yosho thought about this, and decided to accept what he was saying as the truth, "So what are you doing to work towards your goal?"

Ryouga began to rub the back of his head, "Well, I carry around school books in my pack… I have ever since I started school, but I hardly ever actually study anymore…."

"Why not?"

Ryouga sighed, "To many distractions I guess….  I spend most of my time traveling alone, so it's not that I haven't had plenty of time, but other things just seemed more important…."

"So you have spent most of your life traveling alone?"

Ryouga nodded, "Ever since I was about six…."

"It must have been rough, especially at such a young age," the old man remarked growing evermore astonished at the young man sitting before him.

Ryouga sighed slightly, but didn't respond.

The old man compassionately stared at the young man before him as he thought.  After several minutes of silence he began, "Well, Ryouga thank you.  I suppose now I should tell you why I asked you all of those questions.  The truth is that we do have an artifact known as the Hiryuume no Houseki, or the Dragon's Eye Jewel.  It is said to have the power to cure magical curses."

Ryouga's eyes grew wide as the old man spoke, but remained silent.

"This is, I believe, what you have been searching for.  However, we cannot give out such things to just any one.  Should they fall into the wrong hands it could be quite dangerous," the old man paused.

Ryouga's every muscle was tense as he waited for the old man to continue.

"The truth is, I can not allow anyone to use the relics we guard that is not a disciple or priest of this temple.  However…."

Ryouga slumped forward in his chair.  He felt he had been so close, but now….

"Hear me out Ryouga.  There is a reason I wanted to find out more about you.  I believe that you are fit to become my disciple, and if you were to do so then you would be allowed access to the Dragon's Eye."

Ryouga who had begun to glow with a dark aura looked up with hope in his eyes, "D-do you mean it…?"

The old man nodded at the young man in front of him whose eyes where beginning to fill with tears of joy.

Ryouga stood up suddenly, "I will do what ever it takes.  I will make you proud of me!"

The old man laughed, "Yes, yes, I'm sure you will, but come now I would like to see my new students skills at the martial arts."

Ryouga nodded burning with determination, and followed his new master out the door.

Ukyou was walking along the path back to the city.  It had only been a day since she last been there, and yet so much had changed.  The leaves of the trees still danced about in the wind bidding farewell to the warm days of summer and beckoning the cold of winter when they would flutter to the ground.  The cool breeze still caressed her cheeks giving testament to the cold days yet to come, and the clouds still covered the sky holding back the sun.  Some how, though, it was all different.  It all seemed lifeless and gray.  Before it had all been so colorful and lively.  Every little thing had filled her with a since of wonder, but that time had past.  As she walked along she saw many things, but nothing caught her interest.  Her mind was occupied with thoughts of Ryouga. 

I just can't believe he did that to me… errr… to Akane….  She sighed.  I can't believe he just left me here like that.  She shook her head.  That's not right either….  I can't believe that… that….  I can't believe I let him leave like that….

She looked up blankly, and saw that she was near the city.  Well…  guess I had better find that bus station.  She sighed again and continued to walk on.

 Ryouga carried his pack on one shoulder as the old man lead him into an enormous courtyard.  Ryouga looked about in wonder at the beautiful place.  He noticed that the temple itself was built into the mountainside like a cave.  The area enclosed by the stonewall fence of the temple contained an orchard at one end a garden at the other and a few animals.  There was a path leading directly to the gate and from that path several other paths split off.  The path that led to the garden passed over a bridge.  The bridge spanned a small stream that seemed to flow from a small cave in the mountainside.

Yosho lead Ryouga to the bridge and stopped.  They waited as a young man in the garden noticed them and began to walk over.

"Ryouga, I would like you to meet my son."

The younger man bowed, "Nice to meet you.  I am Misaki Tenchi."

"Tenchi, this is my new apprentice Hibiki Ryouga."  Ryouga bowed.

Tenchi looked at Ryouga skeptically, "I see…."

"Now, Tenchi, I would like to see Ryouga's skills.  How would you feel about a little match?"

Tenchi bowed to his father, "I'm ready."

The old man turned to Ryouga, "How about you, Ryouga?  Do you feel up to a sparring match?"

Ryouga's pack shook the ground as he dropped it.  His jaw set he nodded and faced his opponent.  Ryouga bowed to Tenchi and dropped into a ready stance as Tenchi did the same, "Good luck."

Tenchi smiled slightly, "You too."  He was going to enjoy fighting the newcomer.  His father was being to trusting accepting this man they knew nothing about into their home and offering to train him.  Tenchi didn't trust him, and putting him in his place would make Tenchi feel better. 

Ryouga began to circle his opponent as he thought about his strategy.  I have no idea how good this guy is….  I have to be careful.  If I go to hard I could hurt him, and if I don't go hard enough I'll make my new sensei think I don't have any skill.  Better test him with something easy to start with… a couple of bandanas maybe….

Before Ryouga could make up his mind Tenchi closed in and swept at his legs.  Ryouga easily jumped over the obviously weak attack realizing that Tenchi must have been thinking the same thing as him.  Okay then, I'll let him test me for a while, that should show me pretty much what he can do, anyway.  Ryouga smiled slightly to himself pleased with his plan, and assumed a rather relaxed fighting stance.

Tenchi observed his opponent closely.  His first attack had been a test, and Ryouga had easily avoided it as Tenchi had expected him to.  He avoided my attack very well, but his new stance….  He must not understand that I was holding back.  Tenchi evaluated his opponent as skilled but inexperienced and overconfident.  Tenchi smiled slightly.  This will be easy.

Tenchi leapt at Ryouga with a kick to the head.  Ryouga merely leaned back to avoid it.  Tenchi continued his assault with a combination of quick punches and kicks aimed at Ryouga's mid section.  Ryouga slid effortlessly out of the reach of each blow as they came.  Tenchi redoubled his efforts seeing all of his attacks easily avoided.  Ryouga sidestepped a couple more punches before lightly jumping over Tenchi to avoid a kick.

Tenchi spun around astonished at the young man standing in front of him with his arms crossed.  Tenchi realized that he had been the one who was overconfident.  This match was going to be much harder than he had expected, and he was no longer sure that he could win.  Pushing that thought aside Tenchi once more closed in on Ryouga, this time cautiously.  He double-kicked at Ryouga's chest and followed up with a punch and swung around with an elbow and a back-fist.  Though none of his attacks had connected he continued undaunted.  He swept at Ryouga's legs and sprung forward with a fist extended hoping to hit Ryouga before he could land and change direction again.

Ryouga realized that for the first time he couldn't dodge and uncrossed his arms.  Ryouga parried the thrust as he landed leaving his hand on Tenchi's wrist he side-stepped Tenchi's momentum leaving Ryouga a clear shot at Tenchi's exposed side and back, but he instead pulled Tenchi's wrist causing him to over extend even more and swept his legs causing Tenchi to fall roughly to the ground knocking the wind out of him as Ryouga pulled his arm into a lock.

Yosho watched the exchange astonished.  Though he had assumed Ryouga had some skill he hadn't expected this.  Tenchi, his best student, couldn't even touch Ryouga.  In fact he knew very few martial arts masters who could match his speed, let alone the strength it took him to carry that backpack of his around effortlessly with one hand.

Ryouga quickly released the pressure from Tenchi's arm and pulled him to his feet.  "Sorry, is your arm okay?"

Tenchi nodded as he rubbed his arm, "Y-yeah…."  Tenchi brushed himself off then dropped once again into a fighting stance.

Ryouga once again stood with his arms crossed staring at his opponent.  Tenchi stepped forward to once again try to hit Ryouga, but Yosho stopped him.  "Wait.  That is quite enough.  Tenchi I don't think you are skilled enough at hand to hand fighting to challenge our new guest."  He turned to Ryouga, "If you don't mind, Ryouga, Tenchi is more adept in using a staff."

Ryouga nodded and Tenchi jogged over to a near-by rack of various martial art weapons and retrieved two staves.  Snapping one to his shoulder he tossed the other to Ryouga.  Ryouga caught the staff then turned to Yosho, "If you don't mind," he pulled his umbrella from its binding on top of his pack, "I would prefer to use this."

Yosho looked at him thoughtfully, "I have no problem with that as long as it does not conceal a blade or spikes or the like."

"No it's just my umbrella."

"Very well."

Tossing the staff aside Ryouga snapped his umbrella to his shoulder then pointed it at Tenchi and dropped into a fighting stance, "I'm ready when you are."

Tenchi pulled the staff from his shoulder and spun it in one hand at his side, "Right, come on!"

The two combatants leapt at each other.  Tenchi made a powerful overhead swing.  Ryouga blocked the blow and swept his umbrella around at Tenchi's side, but only connected with one end of Tenchi's staff.  The other end of the staff shot towards Ryouga's other side and Ryouga ducked swinging at Tenchi's legs.  Tenchi jabbed his staff into the ground blocking the tremendous power of Ryouga's swing and vaulted himself over Ryouga.  As he landed he spun around blocking a blow to his side.  Seeing Tenchi off balance Ryouga pressed his advantage kicking at the same side.  Tenchi blocked easily but was knocked back by the force and nearly fell down.  Ryouga clipped one of Tenchi's feet with his umbrella and Tenchi began to fall but caught himself with his staff.

Ryouga smiled.  This is a bit more interesting.  He began pulling bandanas from his forehead and spinning them as Tenchi watched curiously but cautious.  Ryouga tossed the bandana-shurikens at Tenchi and Tenchi blocked each one with his slightly shortened staff, but as he deflected the last one he realized Ryouga had opened his umbrella and it was spinning towards him through the air.  He dove out of the way and watched as it floated back to Ryouga's hand.  Startled but unwilling to give up Tenchi once again closed in on Ryouga.  This time he spun his staff quickly moving it from side to side.

Ryouga began to gather his heavy ki, but stopped.  The Shishi Houkoudan and the Bakusai Tenketsu are both too powerful for Tenchi….  Ryouga sighed and raised his umbrella once again and jabbed it straight at Tenchi causing him to fumble his attack when it connected unexpectedly.  Tenchi quickly regained control and began to flow through movements striking at Ryouga rapidly from all angles.  Ryouga hurriedly blocked or parried each one before jumping backwards away from Tenchi.  Tenchi saw this as his chance and pressed the attack, but as soon as Ryouga's feet touched the ground he sprang forward with his umbrella leveled to impale Tenchi.  Tenchi was unprepared to defend himself in his rush to attack and the umbrella was aimed straight at his solar plexus.  Ryouga turned his umbrella and hit Tenchi with an uppercut to the chest with the broadside of his umbrella that lifted Tenchi off of the ground and threw him across the courtyard.  Tenchi landed against the wall surrounding the temple barely conscience.

Concern over came the old man as he watched the match conclude, but Ryouga was the first to react.  "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!!!  Tenchi!!!  Are you all right, Tenchi?!?" Ryouga shouted in one long word as he ran over to Tenchi. 

As he slid to a stop next to Tenchi, the prone young man next to him smiled as he tried to gasp in some air, "Y-yeah….  I… have to admit… you're pretty good…."  He began to cough as Yosho arrived next to them.

Yosho quickly looked Tenchi over and nodded, "Don't worry the injuries will heal quickly."  He turned to Ryouga, "Ryouga, help me take Tenchi inside."

Later that night after Tenchi's injuries had been tended to and they had all cleaned up and eaten Tenchi went to bed early leaving Ryouga and Yosho to talk.

"Tell me, Ryouga, how did you learn to fight?" the old man asked leaning back in his chair and lighting a pipe.

Ryouga thought for a moment, "Well, my father taught me the basics when I was young.  It's a tradition in my family, the Hibiki School of Martial Arts.  All Hibikis are taught the style….  It's not easy living most of your life alone… lost on the road….  I've had several other senseis since then, but most where for little more than a week… if that.  Aside from that I have done a lot of practicing in the mountains of Japan and traveling in China."

The old man rubbed his chin as he sucked on his pipe, "So would you say you have had very little guidance in the ways of Martial Arts?"

Ryouga leaned back in his chair, comfortable discussing martial arts, "I suppose….  My father was a great teacher, but he was lost a lot of the time… and I learned the Shishi Houkoudan from a scroll that a miner gave me, although Cologne did teach me the Bakusai Tenketsu…."

Yosho noted the techniques Ryouga mentioned.  I'll have to find out what those are sometime.  A smoke ring floated from the old mans mouth and up to the ceiling and stared he at it thoughtfully for a minute, "Where did you learn the technique you used on your bandanas?"

"I learned it from my father."

"Would you mind telling me everything you know about the technique?"

Ryouga considered for a moment, "Well… it's a cloth manipulation technique performed by channeling ki into the cloth."

Yosho nodded, "How many uses can you think of for it?  Try to think of things you've never done before as well."

Ryouga lowered his gaze to the floor and rubbed his head, "Well, I can use it on my bandanas and use them as throwing weapons… I can use it on my belt and use it like a sword… and… uhhh…."

They sat in silence as Ryouga thought until the old man decided to help out, "Tell me, have you ever thought of using it defensively?"  After getting a blank stare from Ryouga he continued,  "Could you also channel your ki into your shirt and use it as armor?"  Ryouga blinked amazed at what the old man had just come up with.  Yosho continued, "Of course you would have to be careful not to immobilize yourself with it, however, that too would be useful if you could do it to your opponent."

Ryouga's eyes where wide as he stared at the old man unable to think of anything to say.  He had never even though about it.  Ryouga listened to Yosho with great interest and respect and stared expectantly when he paused waiting for him to continue. 

Yosho blew another smoke ring, which rose to join the first, "To tell you the truth, Ryouga, you are a fine martial artist."  Ryouga, unused to such compliments, began to smile broadly in spite of himself.  "Your endurance is amazing, your speed is incredible, and your strength is… well… impossible.  Also you are obviously a very skilled and experienced fighter.  However… you lack flexibility and creativity within your fighting style, an obvious sign of you lack of guidance.  What you need more than anything else is guidance in evaluating yourself and your opponents.  You must consider your own techniques and understand them better so that you can use them more diversely and effectively, enabling you to better control yourself and thus your opponent."

Yosho blew yet another smoke ring, which rose to join the others and formed an overlapping pattern.  "Also, it is important to go over your previous fights in your mind and consider what you did wrong and what your opponents did really well or was most effective against you.  Today's fight with Tenchi is a bad example, because you were far too skilled for him, but by what you told me earlier you have had plenty of experience with extremely skilled fighters.  Those who challenge you the most are the best training partners whether you can beat them or not."

The old man lowered the pipe from his mouth, "Those that can beat you can teach you even more.  Learn your opponents moves and find ways to counter them or if they suit you learn to use them."

Ryouga nodded absently his mind already going back over his many fights.  They sat in silence for a while before Yosho rose from his chair yawning.  "Well, I think it is time for us to get some rest."

Ryouga didn't respond, lost in his own thoughts.

"Uhhh…" Yosho poked Ryouga in the shoulder, "Hey…."

Ryouga jumped his eyes wide, "Huh?"

"You.  Bed.  Go." The old man said playfully barely containing his laughter.

Ryouga rubbed the back of his head embarrassed and walked out the door.

The old man shook his head no longer able to stop himself from laughing, "That's the closet, Ryouga."

Through the door Ryouga could be heard, "Oh…."

After waiting for a while Yosho walked over to the door, "Ryouga, why are you still in there?"

"…."

"What?"

"I can't find the exit…."