M A Davis / Miko
It was on a Tuesday that they first met. Keitaro remembered it quite clearly. One minute he was flying through the air, trying vainly to figure out exactly what his offense had been this time - the next moment, he was crashing head-first into another boy.
He'd never actually considered the possibility of flying into another person before. But in a way, it stood to reason that, if he could be launched into the stratosphere by one girl's punch, then there were probably other boys elsewhere who could be similarly launched by other girls.
And so, on a bright Tuesday afternoon, high over the city, Keitaro Urashima met Ranma Saotome with a bone-jarring thud.
The two crashed down in a nearby field. That was another thing Keitaro had never thought to question - how did he avoid landing on a busy freeway, or the roof of a skyscraper, or a thousand other unpleasant, and possibly deadly, landing spots? Somehow it was always an abandoned field, or maybe a trash heap. He was just happy to walk away, and live to be launched another day.
"Sorry," the other boy said. He was younger than Keitaro, probably still in High School. But he was superbly muscled - clearly an athlete of some sort. He had black hair, tied back into a braided pig tail, and wore a Chinese-style silk red shirt and loose black silk pants.
"No, it's my fault," Keitaro said.
"Don't be stupid," the boy replied. "I should have seen you coming. My reflexes are normally much better." He sighed, rubbing his head. "Damn that Akane!" he muttered.
"Girl troubles?" Keitaro said, getting to his feet.
"Me too. And the sad thing is, I'm not even sure what set Naru off. Something I said, but don't ask me what it was."
"Oh man, I hear ya! There's no telling what is going to piss her off." The boy paused, then held out his hand. "I'm Ranma Saotome," he said. "Nice to meet ya."
"Keitaro Urashima," Keitaro said, shaking the boy's hand. "I, um, hope we don't actually meet again like this, if you know what I mean."
The boy laughed, and then jumped over a nearby house in a single leap. Keitaro stared after him, blinking. Had he really just seen that?
On later reflection, the whole encounter seemed like an odd dream.
On Thursday, Keitaro met Ranma in the skies again. This time, he saw the boy coming. "INCOMING!" Keitaro shouted, but the other boy had already seen him. Ranma corkscrewed about in midair, demonstrating some amazing agility, and cleanly avoided Keitaro.
"Hey Urashima!" he called out.
"Hey, Saotome!" Keitaro yelled back. And then they were sailing apart, to their respective random destinations.
And that was how it went, for the next several weeks. Keitaro managed to encounter Ranma at least once every week, high over the city, and sometimes several times a week. They never had time to say much to each other, but between the two dissimilar boys a bond had been formed. They were each at the mercy of extremely cute, extremely violent girls. In a way, they were two members of an exclusive fraternity. A very odd fraternity.
Or so Keitaro imagined. But one day, as he sailed high into the sky on yet another unintended flight, he encountered not Ranma, but a very cute girl.
"Hey, Urashima!" the girl called out.
"Um... do I know you?" Keitaro asked, as he sailed past.
The girl glanced down at herself, then back up. "Oh - it's me, Ranma!" she exclaimed. "Long story! I'll tell you sometime! Bye!"
And the strange girl sailed out of sight.
Keitaro replayed that conversation in his head over the next week and a half, but it continued to make no sense. Clearly, the girl recognized him, but the girl was just as clearly not Ranma. No disguise could be that complete - she was smaller, for one thing, and very clearly female.
He had no idea who she really was, but he wished to meet her again. Thinking that made him flinch and silently beg forgiveness from Naru, but the thought continued to pop up in his mind.
A week and a half after first meeting her, Keitaro got his wish. He was sitting on a park bench, idly sketching a picture of the local scenery, when something fell out of the sky and crashed into a nearby garbage can.
He glanced over, and froze. He saw the same cute red-haired girl that he'd met mid-air earlier.
"Ooof!" the girl exclaimed.
"Ranma?" Keitaro asked. That was what she'd called herself, and he didn't know what else to call her. He stood and helped the pigtailed girl out of the garbage can.
"Hey, Urashima," she said, brushing away the garbage that clung to her. "Damn that Kuno! Why can't he just leave me alone?"
"He's just this guy," Ranma said. "A brainless kendoist. He can't figure out that my guy half and my girl half are the same person."
"Guy half? Girl half?" The world seemed to spin about; Keitaro felt woozy. "Then you really are Ranma Saotome?"
"Yeah," the girl said. "Got any hot water?"
"Just my tea," Keitaro replied. He dug into his backpack and produced a thermos. "It's still pretty warm."
Ranma tested it. "Good enough!" she exclaimed, and proceeded to dump the contents over her head.
Keitaro wasn't really prepared for the transformation. The cute girl was suddenly a familiar well-muscled guy. "Y-you... you really are Ranma Saotome!" he exclaimed.
"I thought we covered that already?" Ranma replied. He sat down on the bench. "Well, I admit it's a little weird. If you got a few minutes, I'll tell you all about it."
Keitaro sat, and Ranma told him a very strange story, filled with amazing martial artists and strange cursed training grounds, a ten-year training trip, and a father who liked to arrange engagements for his son left and right. It was a hard story to swallow, but after what he'd already witnessed, he was prepared to accept the rest on faith.
Afterwards, Ranma flipped through Keitaro's sketchbook. "Man, you're pretty good," Ranma said. "Wish I could draw like this." He paused at a picture of a young girl.
"Is this the one?" Ranma asked.
"The one who hits you," Ranma said. "I think you called her Naru."
"Oh," Keitaro replied. "Um, no, that's not Naru, that's Motoko. She's... um... another one."
"Another one?" Ranma gave a low whistle. "How many are there?"
"Man, your problems are more like mine than I thought." Ranma looked him up and down. "No offense, but you look kind of like a geek. I would never have guessed. Exactly how many fiancees do you have?"
"Fiancees?" Keitaro squeaked. "None! I mean... I'm not engaged to anyone."
"Really? Ah, sorry then, I must have misunderstood." Ranma laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back. "Hmmm, must be nice, not having girls chase you all of the time." There was something in Ranma's voice that told Keitaro that it wasn't all that bad having girls chase after you, at least not all the time. Or perhaps he just imagined it, because, to be honest, that was how Keitaro felt himself.
"Well..." Keitaro said. "None of them are fiancees, but as for girls chasing me... I mean, Shinobu likes me, Mitsume seems to like me, Kitsune... well, I'm not sure about her, I think she mostly likes to embarrass me... I don't know if I should count Kaolla or Sarah, since they're so young..." Keitaro was counting up the girls on his fingers.
"Akane, Ukyo, Shampoo, Kodachi," Ranma said, then gave a shudder. "Those are the main ones, but there are a few others..."
"And then there's Narusagawa," Keitaro said. "She's the one that I really like, but I don't know if she likes me. Sometimes it seems like she does, but then she pounds me into the stratosphere..."
"Geez," Ranma said, "that sounds exactly like Akane."
"Is she the one you really like?" Keitaro asked.
Ranma's face flushed red. He stared down at his hands. "I... um... it's not that I like her or nuthin'. She's just a clumsy, uncute tomboy. Can't cook for anything. But... well, I guess sometimes she's not so uncute, you know? When she's not jumping to conclusions and beating me up, that is."
Keitaro laughed. "I know what you mean, Ranma," he said. "Boy, do I ever..."
After that, Ranma and Keitaro's odd friendship grew. The two were dissimilar in age and activities, but their shared romantic entanglements, centered around girls with wicked uppercuts, bound them together. As they learned more about each other, Keitaro came to realize that Ranma really didn't have any other friends that he could talk to who understood him on any level.
Come to think of it, Keitaro really didn't, either.
They met in midair rarely. More often, Ranma would just come skipping over the rooftops on a sunny afternoon. He'd learned where the Hinata Lodge was, and apparently liked to wander the city looking for food and a little peace of mind, and would stop by to say hello to Keitaro at least once a week. The Hinata girls learned to recognize Ranma, although they didn't really know him... especially the part about his curse.
The next surprise for Keitaro was the day he met someone entirely new high over the city. He was flying North on a short but very high arc, incurred through no fault of his own (could he help it if Naru wore such a short skirt on such a windy day?) when he collided with a strange boy sailing in an Easterly direction. The two fell into a river, and scrambled for the shore.
As he tried to wring the water from his shirt, Keitaro examined the stranger he'd encountered at 2,000 feet. He was a tall boy, standing erect and with a noble, somewhat haughty look. He wore a black hakama with a blue keikogi, and carried a bokken.
Ah, thought Keitaro. A kendoist, like Motoko. This did not bode well.
The strange boy fell suddenly to one kneel, his face in his hands. "Oh, fairest Akane!" he cried out. "Why do you torture me so? Nay, it is not rejection, that I know well, but the shyness of a gentle maid afraid to reveal the truth hidden in her heart. Yet again I bravely endure the concessive blows of your fist, that you may soon discover within you the courage to confess your love! As it is said, 'The course of true love never did run smooth.""
The strange boy stood and laughed to the heavens. Then suddenly serious, he spun about and held out his arms in supplication, crying out, "Oh! But what of the pig-tailed girl?"
"Are you speaking of Akane Tendo?" Keitaro guessed.
The strange boy fixed him with an icy stare. "Do I know you?" he asked in a low voice.
"I don't think we've met," Keitaro replied. "I just..."
"Then do not speak the name of Akane Tendo so familiarly! I will not allow it!"
The kendoist was pointing his bokken at Keitaro now, but strangely, Keitaro felt no fear. After all, this was only a wooden sword - Motoko attacked him with the real thing on a daily basis.
"Um... you're Kuno, aren't you?" Keitaro asked.
"What? How do you know my name, cur? Speak, knave!"
"Well, Ranma's mentioned you..."
"Ranma! Art thou friends with that vile sorcerer, Saotome?"
"Um," Keitaro said. Their whole conversation was going dreadfully wrong - not that he'd really expected anything else. "Ranma's not a sorcerer that I know of, but yes, he's my friend."
"Consorter with demons!" Kuno roared. Keitaro recognized the look in Kuno's eyes, and the battle aura that flared up around him. Oh, great, he thought. Here we go again...
"Foul fiend! I, Tatewaki Kuno, the Blue Thunder of Furinkhan High, will strike you down!"
Kuno came at him with a furious series of strikes. Keitaro dodged them with all the skill that came from being a boy oft accused of hentai acts by girls with a variety of impressive attacks. Daily training was daily training, even if you didn't consider yourself a martial artist.
Motoko was relaxing on the front steps of Hinata Lodge when Keitaro came running up. She scowled, more out of habit than anything.
"Motoko!" Keitaro exclaimed. "Save me, Motoko!"
"Urashima," the kendoist said as she stood. "What trouble have you created now? Molesting another innocent girl, I suppose...?"
Her voice trailed off as she saw a stranger in a blue and black kendo outfit rushing up the stairs brandishing a bokken. "Foul knave! You dare to hide behind a girl? I will teach you to challenge Tatewaki Kuno!"
"I didn't challenge you!" Keitaro wailed.
Dodging around Motoko, Kuno launched another ferocious attack. "Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike!"
Motoko frowned. If it had been a girl attacking Keitaro, she might have felt different, but under the circumstances she felt oddly compelled to defend him. Urashima was an untrustworthy lech, true, but he was Hinata's untrustworthy lech.
Motoko slipped between the two, blocking Kuno's sword with her own. Kuno blinked at her in surprise. He looked her up and down.
"Fair maiden," he said, "it seems you have no small talent with the blade."
Motoko inclined her head slightly. "Aoyama Motoko, of the of Shinmei Ryu."
Kuno's eyes grew wider. "Indeed? I have heard of it." He stepped back and bowed. "Tatewaki Kuno, rising star of the kendo world, known as the Blue Thunder of Furinkhan High, age 17."
Motoko was unimpressed. "I have not heard of you," she said.
For a moment, Kuno registered shock. "What?" he exclaimed. Then his glare returned. "It matters not. Step aside, fair Motoko, for I have no desire to fight one so beautiful as you this fine morning..."
Kuno's eyes narrowed. "My quarrel is with this false knave who consorts with that demon Saotome, and not with you."
"You will not touch Keitaro this day," Motoko said flatly.
"What is this boy to you?"
"Keitaro is my fr..." Motoko paused. "He lives wi... um, he's someone I happen to know. And I will not allow you to kill him this day."
"No doubt he has charmed you with his magic and his guile," Kuno replied. "So be it! If I must defeat you before dealing with him, then defeat you I shall! And, should I lose, I will allow you to date with me!"
"Date with you?" Anger flared in Motoko's eyes. "You would dare?"
The fight was short. Kuno was a skilled kendoist... but not in Motoko's class. In ten seconds he lay on the grass in front of Hinata, unconscious.
"Thank you, Motoko," Keitaro exclaimed.
The kendoist glared at the apartment manager. "Do not think I did this for your sake, Urashima. It is merely the duty of a martial artist to defend the weak. Moreover, it would seem this boy is a pervert like yourself, rather than a true martial artist."
"Right on both counts," someone else said. Motoko and Keitaro glanced up to see a boy in a red Chinese silk top and black silk pants balancing on the edge of the Hinata roof. He grinned and dropped to the pavement below. "Hey there, Keitaro, Motoko," he said.
"Ranma!" Keitaro exclaimed. "Good afternoon!"
"Greetings, Saotome-san," Motoko said. She knew just enough about Ranma to realize he was a very formidable martial artist - one that she hoped to one day spar against.
"Kuno giving you trouble?" Ranma asked. He eyed the unconscious body of his frequent rival.
"Nothing that I can not handle," Motoko said.
"He attacked me for no reason!" Keitaro said. "He said something about foul magic and sorcery..."
"He's always raving about that stuff," Ranma said. "I guess he can't accept defeat, so he blames it on black magic or sumthin'."
Ranma paused, staring into the summer sky. The other two followed his gaze. In the distance was a black speck. It grew larger as they watched.
"Incoming," Ranma said.
A few seconds later a young boy plowed into the hillside. His momentum carried him up the hill, where he rolled to a stop only a few feet away from the other three.
"Ataru!" Ranma exclaimed. He jumped forward and helped the newcomer up. "You okay?"
"Ranma?" The boy got up and dusted himself off. "Thank you, I'm okay. But where am I?"
"Hinata Lodge," Ranma said.
"Oh? This isn't Nerima, is it? What are you doing here?"
"Just visiting," Ranma said. He turned to Keitaro and Motoko. "This is Ataru Moroboshi. He's a guy that I've crossed paths with a few times now."
"Midair?" Keitaro asked.
"Hai, midair," Ranma replied. He turned back to Ataru. "What's her name? The one that launches you? Lum, wasn't it?"
"No, no, no," Ataru said. "Lum-chan is the one who fries me with her electrical shocks. Shinobu-chan or Sakura-chan are normally the ones who punch me into the stratosphere... although there are many others..."
"And these two people are Keitaro Urashima, who I also met high over the city, and Motoko, who has been known to launch Keitaro..."
Ataru's eyes went wide. "THE Keitaro Urashima? The one who lives in a dorm room with seven beautiful girls?"
"Ah..." Keitaro began. "Uh... it's not really seven, is it?"
Instantly Ataru was at Keitaro's side. He grasped Keitaro's hands and fell to one knee. "Sensei! Urashima-sensei! Teach me! Please!"
"Ah... huh?" Keitaro stammered.
"You must reveal your secrets to me!" Ataru exclaimed. "It has long been my dream to amass a harem such as yours..."
"Harem?" Keitaro tried to extricate his hands from Ataru's. "What are you talking about?"
"Your talent for attracting beautiful women!" Ataru exclaimed. "What I wouldn't give to have such powers! I mean, sure, I've got the occasional alien princess pining after me - one in particular who can be quite annoying - but most girls run away when they see me! But you! An ordinary boy, surrounded by extraordinarily beautiful girls who are all in love with you! When Saotome told me of this, I knew only you could help me fulfill my dreams!"
Still trying to pull himself free, Keitaro said, "What makes you think I know anything? I'm just a ronin who can't even get into Tokyo University! Ranma has lots of girls after him, why don't you ask him?"
Ataru stood and crossed his arms. "Ranma? Ranma Saotome? Feh! He has nothing to teach me. I'm not interested in martial arts, ten-year training trips, or multiple engagements arranged by weird parents. Why, Ranma's no better than that Masaki guy I met last Fall. Grandson of an alien Prince, trained for years in his family's special sword style, heir to alien powers... how can I compete with that? I'm just a normal guy who wants his own harem! Is that so wrong?" He paused, then added, "Don't you see? You are my shining example that even an ordinary guy can achieve the impossible dream! There is hope for me yet! But you must teach me how it's done!"
"Urashima," Motoko growled, "what is this about me being part of your harem? Does your perversion know no bounds?"
"I never said that!" Keitaro wailed.
"Motoko-chan!" Ataru called out. In a flash he was standing by her side, a small black book and pen in his hands. It was as if he'd teleported there. "If you don't mind, could I get your phone number and your three measurements?" he asked.
"Kiyaaa!" Motoko exclaimed, leaping back. She lashed out with her sword, but the strange boy easily dodged her attack.
"Please, Motoko-chan! It would mean so much to me!"
Another figure dropped from the sky onto the landing at the top of the steps. It was a diminutive old man in a brown gi, with a large bag slung over his shoulder. He set the bag down. "Ranma, my boy! So this is where you've gotten off to!" the old man cried out.
"Gah! It's the freak!" Ranma exclaimed.
The diminutive master spotted Motoko. "Hotcha! What a sweet, innocent martial artists babe! You've been holding out on your Master, Ranma! Come to Happy, my little kendoist!"
Motoko suddenly found a strange little man attached to her chest. The creature - she had a hard time thinking of it as human - stared up at her with large, watery eyes.
"No bra?" he said. "Strapping your precious darlings down... how could you?"
"GAAAAAH!" Motoko screamed. She flung the offending creature away. He landed lightly on the grass, then dug beneath his gi. In seconds he whipped out a brassiere of white silk and lace. "Here!" he exclaimed. "A present from your uncle Happy!"
"Please, Motoko-chan! Your phone number!" Ataru cried out.
Motoko found herself under attack from two sides. Two perverts assailed her, one young, the other old. Try as she might, she couldn't land a blow on either opponent.
In the middle of all of this, Tatewaki Kuno sat up. Ignored by everyone else, he sat there a moment, mumbling to himself.
"She is skilled," he said. "More skilled that Akane Tendo. Perhaps even more skilled than the Pig-Tailed girl! A student of kendo as well, with beauty that could make the heavens themselves weep!"
He saw Motoko under assault from an unfamiliar boy and a very familiar old man. He leapt forward, bokken raised. "Unhand her, you curs!" he cried out. "Motoko Aoyama! I would date with you!"
"Urashima!" Motoko yelled. "This is all your fault!"
Another girl stepped out of Hinata Lodge. She took in the growing chaos on the front steps. "Keitaro? What's going on here?"
"Save me, Naru!" Keitaro exclaimed. He stumbled towards her, falling. His arms flailed out. His hand snagged her skirt, pulling it down as he fell at her feet.
"Keitaro, you perverted idiot!"
The blow was fast and accurate. Keitaro sailed up into the summer sky. At the same moment, with a cry of "Air Cutting Pervert Launching Strike!" Motoko swung her sword in an upward-cutting motion. There was a bright flash and a sound like a thunder-clap, and all three assailants went flying.
Ranma glanced from Motoko to Naru. He raised an eyebrow.
"Nice panties," he said.
"PERVERT!" Naru exclaimed. "WHY DON'T YOU GO JOIN THEM!" And with a mighty uppercut, Naru made it so.
Four boys and a much older main sailed out over the city, together.
"This happens to you, too?" Ataru asked. Keitaro nodded.
"You get used to it," Ranma said.
"Verily, it does not mean that she does not love me," Kuno said. "For strong passions such as love and anger often go hand in hand."
"Wise words indeed," Happosai added. "Wise words indeed." As the air continued to whistle by, he pulled out a pipe and lit it.
"Nice view you get from way up here," he said. The other four nodded in unison.