Disclaimer: The playground is by Rumiko Takahashi, I'm only swinging on
the monkey bars. Remember to leave the grounds cleaner than you found
them and please don't feed the Trolls.

*Summer Lightning* is copyrighted by Garnet Rogers and *Lock Keeper* is
copyright by Stan Rogers (RIP). The mangling they have been subjected
to is my fault. If you haven't encountered them before go out and buy
their CDs, they sings lots better than I write, and Stan's estate could
use the cash.

This story is archived at http://www.kawaiikunee.com/slp/

Release 1.2 (Nov. 25, 2000)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

[BGM : http://www.kawaiikunee.com/slp/mp3/Farewells.mp3]

Begin at the beginning, continue through the end, then stop.

[Images shift and flow on a darkened field. Nabiki wears a
leather jacket and fedora, there is a small automatic pistol
tucked into her waistband as she stares keenly into the
distance. A small scar cuts across her lower jaw as she
rotates before a field of emerald green, dissolving into mist
that fades away ....]

Everyone knows _that_.

[Kasumi wears archaic full-plate armor of an alien and
slightly disturbing mode. It is lacquered black with purple
highlights, set off well by the deep purple background. She
carries a long, curved sword in her left hand, resting its
tip on the ground as she gestures with her right. In the
shadows of the open-faced helm, her face is weary, and
perhaps a little afraid. She turns to the side as the mist
closes in and dissolves ....]

That's because the beginning is where things ... begin, and the end is
where things, er, end. So to speak. The beginning happens first and the
end follows in due time. The past becomes the future, through the
medium of the present.

[Gally, of Gunmm, turns around before a blue background,
dressed in an incongruous chef's outfit ....]

Right?

[Kodachi, dressed in an expensive business suit, leans
forward at a desk, looking down with an alert, focused
expression at a large scroll, covered with Chinese characters
....]

I mean, it's obvious. The Arrow of Time, cause and effect ... things
like that. Causality, is what I mean here. The idea that the past
_causes_ the present, and the present _causes_ the future. And if you
tell the part of the story where things happen before you tell the part
where you explain _why_ they happen that way, people get ...confused.
Everybody agrees that's the way it goes.

[A short girl dressed in jeans, boots and a long leather
duster stands facing directly away from the viewer. Her face
cannot be seen, because it is pressed firmly into the neck of
a very serious looking Ryouga, who is dressed in his normal
outfit and backpack and is hugging her around the shoulders
as he looks directly out of the frame ....]

Sometimes, it even works out that way.

[Against a white background, Akane turns to the left to face
the viewer. She is wearing a white silk shirt, a black
leather vest and black velvet pants. And mirror-shades. She
is carrying an enormous spiked mace horizontally in her hands
and her features are split in a grin that can only be
described as manic. Her long black hair streams behind her as
she continues turning, and the last thing that can be seen as
the mist closes in are the silver butterfly hair clips
halfway down the long dark mane ....]

Sometimes, it doesn't.

[Onna-Ranma turns to the right toward the viewer before a
background that is totally black. She is wearing armor of
leather and metal, without a helmet, and apparently from a
number of periods and styles. It's difficult to say
precisely, because many of the details are blotted out by the
blood which has splashed every part and surface. As she turns
she holds a long, straight sword crossways across her body,
extending out to her left with both hands on the hilt. As she
completes her turn and faces the viewer head on, it can be
seen that blood is splashed wetly up her left cheek, but her
face is serene and calm. She stands face on to the viewer for
a brief moment, and then brings the sword around in a
horizontal cut across the field of view, leaving a line of
blood red in its path. She then brings the sword over her
head into a two-handed posture, and brings it down, leaving
another blood red line ....]

Because that's only one way to look at it. And so often, in this world,
what _is_ depends on ... well ... what you're looking at.

[The color spreads out from the two lines to cover the whole
field of view, then slowly begins dripping down the screen,
leaving an unrelieved black behind it. As the red tide
retreats, it leaves behind it one shape that retains it
carmine hue: a rearing horse in silhouette ....]

For instance, if you look at things in the right manner, it's obvious
that the future _must_ have existed first. That is, before there was
_anything_ , there had to have been the potential for things. The
future, in other words.

[The roan stallion shifts from rearing to a trot, chased off
the black field by a swirling gust of barely visible white
wind from the left. As it leaves the dark background it gains
definition, now looking like a real horse as it runs through
verdant fields of high grass, startling gold and black
butterflies, and chased by the wind ....]

Then, the first moment happened, and that was the first time that there
ever was a _present_.

[As the horse trots on, it passes by an immense mountain in
the background. Real and present, yet seeming as though
created in the style of Chinese landscape portraiture ....]

And then the first moment was over. In, so to speak, the past. And the
second moment was in the present ... and so on.

[Zooming in on the mountain, it can be seen to be clothed in
forest on its foot-hills, but bare from two-thirds up until
the very top, which is barren rock ....]

So the future _causes_ the present, and drags the past along behind.

[Growing from the barren rock at the top of the mountain, its
roots winding down the mountain's face, to disappear into
forested valleys, is an enormous ash tree ....]

Right?

[Pulling back from the mountain, the roan horse can be seen
running down a hill, towards a small stream. As he leaps
across the stream, the wind blows a shroud of fog across the
whole scene ....]

Don't think about it too hard, it's Zen, and you'll get a headache.

[As the horse canters out of the mist he passes a cherry
tree, gnarled and twisted by age and winds, but in full
bloom. As the horse shifts into a gallop, the view locks on
the tree, allowing the horse to gallop off scene, stage
right. As the wind chases the horse off stage, it passes the
tree, and the view is again blotted out, not by fog, but by
floating cherry blossoms ....]

Sometimes, the past _pushes_. And sometimes, the future _pulls_.

[Traversing away from the flying blossoms, the view pans down
to a clear pool of water, dark and still. Looking down into
it as the background light dims, reflections of the moon and
stars can be dimly seen for a moment. Then they are obscured
by falling cherry blossoms, which quickly fill the pool from
edge to edge ....]

But the place where we _live_ is the present. The _now_ between the
past and the future, between the beginning and the end, that is all we
ever really get.

[Again the white-tinged wind swirls, blowing the sakura away.
The viewpoint sinks into the depths, until a single bright
point of light, shining from the depths of the pool as the
ripples fade, is the only thing to be seen ....]

Once, there was a person who wanted to be a Hero. And have Adventures,
and find True Love, and Make a Difference, and other nice things like
that.

[The single light expands, forming a perfect circle, hanging
in mid-air. A curving line snakes across the center of the
circle, forming a yin-yang symbol. Where the central line
intersects the edges of the circle small circular icons form.
On the left Akane's face flashes briefly; on the right,
Ranma's. Then they vanish and the circle glows brighter for a
moment, expanding about thirty percent in size, as the
central line mutates into a triangle, point upwards ....]

And a Hero's job, of course, is to _act_. To make decisions and take
actions in the Now. And to pay the price that the Now demands.

[New icons form at the intersections of triangle and circle.
From the top and clockwise these are block capital letters: a
Tau, a Mu and an Alpha. These mutate into hourglasses: The
first with all the sand in the top, the second with the sand
half-fallen, and the third with the sand all below. These
again vanish, and the circle glows and expands again, as the
triangle changes into a pentagon, point again upwards ....]

Is it "be careful of getting what you wish for", or "be careful of
wishing for what you get"?

[New icons form, as before: the Chinese ideographs chun(2),
huo(1), chen(2), shui(2), and jin(1); followed by the kanji
for kokuuzou, hi, chi, mizu and kaze; followed by the Western
astrological symbols for the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury and
Venus. These hold a moment and vanish, as the circle glows
and expands again, and the pentagon becomes an octagon, again
on its points ....]

But when your past pushes, and your future pulls, sometimes your
present can become a bit ... complex.

[This time the icons are: the Western symbols for the planets
except for Pluto, in order, with the Moon taking Earth's
place. Followed by the faces of the Senshi, again except for
Pluto. Followed by more faces: Ranma, Akane, Ukyou, Shampoo,
Kasumi, Nabiki, Kodachi, and Sayuri. Followed by more faces
yet: Gally, OVA Ifurita, Iczer 2, Iczer 1, Ryouko, Belldandi,
Urd and Skuld ....]

And thereby hangs a tale.

[The faces halt for a moment in time, as all the previous
final symbols and lines glow for a brief moment. Then they
change one final time, into Chinese ideographs. The other
lines and figures vanish, leaving only the ideographs glowing
against the blackness, slowly moving across the scene to fall
into place in a single line. From left to right: chi(4),
ma(3), bai(2), feng(1), tian(1), shan(1), sheng(4) and
shu(4). These are then replaced by a Romanji title, like so:

Chima Baifeng Tianshan Chun

The viewpoint pulls back, and it can be seen that this is a
reflection in the pool previously seen. The whitish wind
swirls again, driving more Sakura petals to cover the pool
and obscure the glowing writing. The petals drift for a
moment and then the wind swirls again, shifting their
arrangement and bringing new petals of a deeper, more reddish
hue. These land so as to form new Romanji by their shapes.
These letters say:

Book One

The wind swirls again, again rearranging the fallen petals.
Now they read:

Ranma and Akane: A Love Story

The wind swirls one last time, blowing away the petals, and
leaving the pool serene and still, and entirely dark.]

[Fade to black. End BGM.]

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

Rain. Postcard. Kitchen. Bed. Dojo. Bricks. "FIANCE'?!" Girl. Panda.
Fight. CLONG! GROWF! Knock. Ranma.

Seen it before, yes? In your sleep, behind your back, with your eyes
closed, in the rain, right?

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

This story doesn't start like that.

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

_This_ story starts in darkness, late on a warm summer night without an
artificial light for miles. _This_ story starts in a forest clearing
lit by several billion stars and the thin sliver of a gibbous moon.

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

_This_ story starts with a male figure stripped to the waist, using a
bamboo handled shovel to (*Shnnnck*) loosen and turn earth that will be
(*ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*) removed and tossed to the side.

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

Figure about a half cubic foot of earth loosened and dug up per
sequence.

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

Figure a hole six feet long, by three feet wide, by five feet deep.

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

Times eight.

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

For those who have not been following along on their abaci, that's 1440
*shnnnck*s and 4320 *ssshhpt*s.

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

In just less than eight hours. Including wrapping the bodies, and
filling in the graves.

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

For what were, self-admittedly, bandits and highwaymen. Desperate
criminals who, caught by the authorities, would assuredly have been
hung, and the bodies left to rot.

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

For men who, knowing this, and knowing the digger for a ronin, and
hence both dangerous and broke, had nonetheless attempted to rob him.
For men without honor or martial skill, who had fallen like weeds
before the scythe. For outlaws who, had they somehow triumphed, would
have spent not an iota of such effort for the traveler.

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

Because honor and respect are paid _by_ the digger, and not _to_ the
dug for? Because even scum and bandits are human, and are owed some
kind of marker?

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

Because the duty owed by a slayer to his own soul demands a remembrance
of the slain, lest they die twice? Or simply because it was necessary
that the service be performed and no one else is around to do it?

*Shnnnck*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*, *ssshhpt*.

The digger jumps out of the last grave, places the final body in its
final resting place and says a final abbreviated prayer. Filling the
grave takes little time, building the cairn of stones to mark the
burial takes a little longer, preparing to move again longer still.

And then the figure pauses, and looks down the road by the forest
clearing, and looks behind at the road already traveled, and looks up
to a sky just beginning to lighten in the east, and becomes briefly
still.

It had been less than three days between incidents. Both faces were
becoming targets of local toughs and fast swords. He had been forced to
kill more than 45 times in the past month.

Or had he? His skill was great after all. He was fast and strong and
capable of techniques that your average thug, or even ronin, wouldn't
dare dream of attempting. Had it simply become easier to kill than not
to? And what did that say of *his* soul, in the end?

Perhaps it was time to try somewhere else? After all there _was_ less
than a year to go. It really was time to get back where he belonged.
Time to go somewhere you could defeat someone _without_ killing them.

Time to go back to what was, theoretically, home.

And the traveler reached into his shirt, and pulled out an amulet of
silver, and clay, and glass, and raised it high.

And the rising sun shone down on a clearing in a forest by a road, on
which was now to be seen no traveler, nor footprints, nor anything else
at all.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

And this is a bar in China where a man is sitting by himself in a
corner, getting stinking drunk. 'Oh Buddha, I'm doomed. How did I let
this happen? Nodoka's going to _kill_ me. Where _did_ that ungrateful
boy get to? Why did I have to try that _stupid_ training technique?
Susano-o protect me, Nodoka's going to _kill_ me. Who knows what
silliness he'll have picked up without me? I'll never have enough time
to train him out of his bad habits now! Compassionate Amida, Nodoka's
going to _kill_ me.'

'Now now, Genma, get a hold of yourself; you trained him for seven
years and he's surely a man-among-men, and hardship toughens you up,
and he's certainly alive even if you can't find hide nor hair of him,
and he promised on his honor, and he never breaks a promise, and you'll
get to Jhusenkyou first and get a good look at the ground so you'll
have an advantage in the fight, and he won't be as good as you anyway
cause he didn't have you to keep an eye on him, and you'll have _weeks_
to fix his bad habits, and... Oh Ameratasu aid me, Nodoka's going to
_kill_ me.'

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

And this is Fukuoka, a port city on Kyushu where a person who is
apparently a somewhat bishonen lad packing a _huge_ spatula is
bargaining for a boat ride to China. She'd tracked Genma to China at
last and this time her family's honor _would_ be cleared, one way or
another.

And this is a small village in Qing-Hai where the local champion is
preparing to defend her title. And wondering where a warrior husband
strong enough for her to marry was going to come from anyway.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

And this is a bedroom in a dojo in a suburb of Tokyo, where a certain
girl is preparing for bed; after all, there's school in the morning.
School. And boys. Yay.

She'd tried, she really had. She'd tried to find one she could stand to
date. She'd tried to get the usual pack of fools to _stop_ their
foolishness, peacefully and otherwise. It just hadn't worked.

'Every school day, _every_ school day. For more than a year. I'm a
Junior now, I'm supposed to be past hazing aren't I? They're supposed
to be at least a little mature aren't they? Or at least tired of
getting beaten up all the time?'

Every day, for more than a year. And she hadn't lost, and she hadn't
given up... but neither had they. And she was tired, so tired.

And Tendo Akane went to bed, hoping for something to break her out of a
losing rut. And went to sleep, although she didn't want to. After all,
there was school in the morning.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

And this is a small apartment, likewise in Nerima. And in it a man last
seen in a forest clearing is performing a slow kata. A very old kata,
were anyone else in Japan today capable of recognizing it. A kata not
of attack, or evasion, or defense ... but rather of remembrance. Of a
Bargain that was made, and a Prize that could be gained, and a Price
that must be paid. A very old bargain, that has something to do with
Iron.

And he too is hoping, and waiting for the morning. He hadn't had to
kill anyone yet, but in every other way the last several months had
been a disaster. Oh well, perhaps he simply wasn't _meant_ for romance?
After all, father had probably provided for a marriage long ago, and
while he didn't like it, he had accepted it for the sake of family
honor. Actually falling in love with someone was probably tempting
fate.

Which brought up an issue, actually; what face was he going to wear?
Flip a coin? Tails. Female. So be it. 'Now get to bed Ranma, you've got
school in the morning.'

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Shadow Lurker Productions
Is very proud to present
An Eric Hallstrom Production
Of a Takahashi Rumiko Film

Chima Baifeng Tianshan Chun

Book I

Ranma and Akane, A Love Story

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Chapter 1: The first day
Part A: Arrival; Here's Ranma.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

This is the story of a boy who was a girl, and a girl, and a boy, and a
girl, and a boy, and a girl, and a girl who acts like a boy, and a boy
who acts like a girl, and a woman, and a man, and another couple girls,
and a cast of thousands. And a Panda, though not until much later. And
butterflies, lots and lots of butterflies.

It's the story of a school, and another school, and another school; of
a city and a village and all the roads in between. It's a story of
desperate battle and deadly opponents, and when, later, it attempts to
be a story of monsters and villains who attack these schools and so on,
it will instead become the story of monsters and villains who turn
around and run away -- at least, those of them who get the chance.

It will have true love, and desperate peril, and romantic intervals and
high adventure and more martial arts action sequences than you can
shake a bokken at. And just a touch of citrus, for flavor. But before
it will be those stories, it will be the story of a Fight.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Some schools are known for academics and some are known for sports.
Furinkan High, in the Nerima ward of Tokyo, was known for the Fight.

Every school day for more than a year, the boys of the student body had
either lain in wait to "win the right to date the fair and beauteous
tiger Tendo Akane" (i.e. beat her up) or, if they had done that
recently, had attempted to heal up for the Fight tomorrow.

The girls all thought the whole thing was a ploy by Akane to keep the
attention of the entire male student populace and had no sympathy for
either side.

The populace of the neighborhood thought it was High Theater (not much
else happened in Nerima).

Tendo Nabiki thought it had gone much too far, but could think of no
viable way to stop something that no longer had a real reason except
tradition.

And Tendo Akane vanquished her opponents, and ignored the whispers, and
grew ever grimmer as the days went by.

And today will be no different, after all it never is at Furinkan. All
the normal players are in place: here is the assembled might of
Furinkan's male student body, prepared to do battle in heroic silliness
for a prize they no longer remember; here are the observers waiting for
a sight they've seen before, and grown bored of; and here is Akane
herself grimly preparing to fight for a point of honor she can no
longer care about; all just as it was yesterday and the day before. And
now Akane has broken into a run at her tormentors, and now the battle
is about to be joined. But now, now something ... different ... has
happened.

Now a voice has called out, not even very loudly. A smokey contralto
with a slight edge of roughness, and power enough to crack the world. A
voice that merely by its presence has controlled the situation. A voice
that belongs to a shortish, athletic girl standing in the gateway to
the school.

She wears loose black velvet pants, three-inch black leather moccasins,
a loose blue silk shirt and a brown leather airman's jacket. Her
flaming scarlet hair flows down her back in a pigtail tied with an
ivory ring in which gems gleam brightly in the sun. Her neck is wrapped
by a flowing white silk scarf, her hands are in her jacket pockets, her
head is slightly tilted to one side and she has just said "Would
someone like to tell me what the _Hell_ they think they're doing?"

And nothing will ever be the same again.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Takuichi Daikun was not a happy kendoist. He had striven and won in
honorable combat for the privilege of leading today's charge so that
the entire school could see his honorable struggle with the fair Tendo
Akane. (He's the first to get beaten up today.) It was a great honor to
be first, and he had looked forward to it. But now his moment in the
sun had been _ruined_, upstaged by some ... barbarian _girl_ ... and
his honor had been shadowed. And so it was that he did a _very_ foolish
thing: he got her attention.

"This is an affair of Honor _girl_, who are you to..."

Somehow she had moved across the dozen yards separating them without
his seeing it. Up close he noted that her eyes were an incredible blue
as deep as all the worlds' oceans, that several slight lines of old
scars crossed the sides of her face, that her gaze was literally
_impossible_ to look away from, and that she had just tapped him on the
nose.

"My _name_ is Ranma. I asked you a question."

From far away he heard his voice stammering some sort of explanation
for the morning's action. Now that he thought about it, it did seem
sort of silly.

"Ah. I see. and what was your place in this ... 'honorable combat'." An
even, calm voice, nigh unto serenity.

"I have won the right to first contact today. It is a very great
honor." He hadn't really said that had he? He hadn't meant to.

"Ah. Well I certainly wouldn't wish to deprive you of your... 'honor'."

The hands that broke his shoulder blades and dislocated his arms were
certainly gentle he thought, though unstoppable in their power. The
snap kicks that flattened his testicles and broke both of his lower
legs skillfully applied and blinding in their speed. The twin open hand
push that flung him a dozen yards backwards was so fast and yet so
graceful as to be beyond belief. And was that an energy discharge from
the point of contact? 'Why, it doesn't even hurt' he thought as he flew
backwards through the air. Until five feet before hitting the wall,
whereupon it hurt a _lot_. The loss of consciousness that followed
after hitting the wall was probably a mercy.

Ranma turned to the remaining assembled male students and bestowed upon
them the calm, angelic smile of someone who is wondering how far your
arm can be pulled from its socket before the flesh and ligaments
separate, and whether beating you to death with it will require one
subsequent blow or two.

Above, Nabiki stared down in shock. Well _that_ was different.

"Now I was sitting in a tavern in a country far away a couple months
back," she remarked conversationally, "trying to get something to eat.
And the door opened and in walked the nastiest trio of villains you
ever did lay eyes on. They were dragging along a youngish girl who
really didn't seem to want to be there, (what with the torn clothing
and the bruises and all) and in ... speaking ... to them it developed
that yeah they had kidnapped her, and yeah they had done what you think
they'd done, and oh yeah just cause they could, cause no-one could stop
em."

She shook her head in dismay. "So I ripped the big one's heart out, and
broke the second's neck and used a chair to crush the skull of the one
who was running away. Because it was the right thing to do."

Nabiki registered further shock. Well, that _was_ different.

"Now I'm not saying that this case is exactly similar, mind you, but
you do know how badly you've been insulting the other girls in the
school, right?"

Students.Furinkan.male.assembled quivered in terror and huddled
together.

"And while I _myself_ am the most gentle and reasonable of people, I
understand that _other_ people aren't and if _they_," she waved her
hand at the watchers above, "should decide to hold a _grudge_, well
.... Things could become ... dire."

The word "dire" seemed to resonate with especial doom.

"Continued for a whole _year_? Why I doubt if _any_ amount of flowers
would help. You'd have to escalate straight to chocolate or even
jewelry even to get a chance to plead your case."

Ranma shook her head sadly at the fate that no doubt awaited them. "And
you still standing there."

Students.Furinkan.male.assembled blanched further and scrambled en
masse for the door to the fire within that seemed nonetheless much to
be preferred to the merciless gaze without, only to be recalled to
heel.

"Oh and by the way gentlemen... if it _should_ happen that intense
currying of favor _does_ grant you the no-doubt-undeserved opportunity
to plead for your miserable lives... my advice to you would be to
grovel, and to grovel quite abjectly."

Nabiki wondered if you could overload on shock. That had been
_different_. And then looked about her, and heard the all but audible
grinding of the gears in the heads of the other female onlookers, and
saw the slowly growing grins, and then sprinted for the door. A phone,
she had to get to a phone.

Ranma crossed her arms in front of her chest and shook her head sadly
at the mass of boyish silliness frantically cramming itself through
Furinkan's front doors, and turned to Akane, who was still standing
where she had been about to knock Daikun into next week and whose mouth
was still open in shock.

"Aheh," she sheepishly tugged on her braid, "sorry about that.
Sometimes I get carried away."

Akane shook herself and closed her mouth. "No, not at all. You were
_wonderful_! I'm Tendo Akane, wanna be friends?"

"Sure!" Ranma's eyes lit. Akane was staggered again by their power. "If
you've been going through that every day for a _year_ you _need_ a
friend and it's always nice to make one the first day. I'm Bushiko
Ranma." She extended her hand, pinky outstretched and Akane linked hers
likewise.

Talking quietly they walked in the door and up the stairs.

"Tendo Akane, huh? 'Scarlet Road to Heaven', how lovely."

Akane felt her cheeks heat. "Um, thanks! Um, Bushiko?"

"It's a nom de guerre," Ranma explained sunnily, "long story, I'll tell
you later."

"The heck with _that_ story; _how_ did you do that _push_? That was
_great_!"

"You think so? It's not that hard: you just..."

And walked happily to class, and smiled merrily upon the cringing boys
therein, and did _not_ gloat. At least, not on the outside.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Ranma & Akane: A Love Story
Chapter 1: The First Day
Part B: Encampment; Kuno Strikes Out.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

It was odd, Akane reflected; she had never met a person to whom she had
so instantly taken. Ranma was almost paralyzing in the sheer force of
her presence, and yet that presence seemed to drive everyone around her
to exceed themselves.

The morning had been ... interesting. She had devoted much of it to the
(admittedly somewhat arcane) study of the Japanese Red-headed Martial
Artist. Nor was this an unpopular area of scholarly effort that day.

Ranma was, on the whole, a mystery wrapped around an enigma, bundled in
a wrapping of urbanely refined nastiness. She had cheerfully admitted
to having "A Gentleman's education: art, tactics and poetry," and her
performance had seemed to bear her out.

She was barely adequate in math, for example, and had no concept of
Algebra; yet her grasp of Japanese history was excellent, punctuated by
many anecdotes and asides. Her English was much better than anyone else
in class, including the teacher, and she could quote a wide range of
poetry and poesy from memory, yet she seemed to have a very eccentric
(to say the least) view of the physical sciences and her approach to
the social sciences verged on outright anarchy.

Class 2-F was scheduled to take up physical education and music after
lunch: Akane was looking forward to seeing Ranma in action in Phys-ed,
and, considering her incredible voice, in Music too.

But both of these would wait until after lunch and Akane was looking
forward to that as well. Lunch would, after all, allow her to question
Ranma more closely about several matters: murder, for one, and what she
meant by 'nom de guerre', and what her history had been; many such
questions were bubbling in her head, looking for answers.

Fortunately for Akane's fragile patience, lunch was not long delayed.
The temporarily released students scattered over the Furinkan grounds,
Ranma and Akane claiming a shaded spot next to the Furinkan wall. No
one seemed inclined to join them, which was just as well, Akane felt,
as it afforded privacy.

"Okay," Akane said brightly, "tell me about Bushiko, and why it's a nom
de guerre. And what you're doing under a nom de guerre anyway."

"Well... Um. Basically it started when I was five or so. That was when
my Dad decided that I wouldn't get adequate training in the Art at
home, so he took me on a permanent training trip."

"We traveled a lot," Ranma continued, "and didn't settle in one place
for more than four months or so for the next six years. Then Dad found
this _stupid_ Martial Arts training manual that was supposed to show
how to train for an 'invincible technique'."

"Feh," Ranma brooded for a minute, then resumed. "Anyway, _after_ the
training he discovered that the reason nobody uses that technique is
that, _even if it works_, it makes you psychotic."

Akane gasped, and Ranma nodded.

"After that, Dad tried to keep 'training' me, but I nearly killed him
three times in the next week. I knew it wasn't going to get any better
either, so I beat him up instead, and then left him behind. I told him
that he'd trained me for six years and now I was going to go away and
train myself for six years, and at the end of that time I'd fight him
for mastery of the school. If he beat me I'd stay in training under him
for as long as he wanted, but if I beat him he'd go back to work to
raise money until the school got back on its feet, and then retire."

"That was more than five years ago," Ranma continued, "and I've got
about six months to go."

Akane leaned closer concernedly. "How terrible! It must have been very
hard on you!"

"Less so than you'd think," Ranma replied. "I admit it wasn't easy, but
I'd been doing most of the domestic stuff anyway: Dad's hopeless at
anything that means he'd have to work. So, the only real problem was
fixing the damage he'd done. It took six months, but I found a temple
on Honshu and locked the technique away and the craziness with it."

"But you're fine now?" Akane said, still concerned.

"Mostly, though I'm still afraid of cats."

"Cats? Why cats?"

"Because ..."

Alas for the state of Akane's curiosity, the conversation was to be
interrupted. And by none other than the usual suspect for interruptions
at Furinkan, that paragon of honor, that champion of sport, that noble
traveler in hakama, the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High, Kuno Tatewaki.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Tatewaki himself was experiencing a state of mind that was highly
unusual to him: doubt. He had been angered (once he had taken a moment
to consider it) by the fire-haired barbarian's accusation that any
action he had ever undertaken was less than perfectly honorable, much
less... that word. It couldn't be... that word... could it?

After all he had always allowed his Beauteous Tiger to win, had he not?
(He knew, of course, that no girl, Beauteous Tiger or no, could resist
his masculine might.) So he had allowed her to work through her
shyness, trusting in the day when she would see the purity of his
affections, cast off her maidenlike reluctance, and allow him to date
her.

Now, however, the purity of his motives had been called into question.
Looked at in a certain light it could almost be said that his honor had
been sullied. If he did not redress the situation, and soon, his fair
flower might well (horrors) _believe_ the libelous, malicious _lies_
proposed by that... that...

Well, of course, it was not fair to expect too much from the flame-
haired Amazon. She was obviously some variety of barbarian and new to
Furinkan besides: she couldn't be _expected_ to see the true nobility
of his motives.

But that at least was easily remedied. If he simply displayed the
excellence of his martial skills by defeating her, she would quickly
come to understand the rightness of his cause. No doubt her savage
heart would be won over to its rightful place as well, and then, well,
the possibilities were unbounded. He might even end up with _two_
maidens to be beaten up by.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

At this time the narrator of this story would like to interject an
explanation for the lack of thought quotes in the preceding passages.
The reason can be stated simply: both the Author and the Narrator
posses the greatest of respect for the noble scion of Kuno, and would
never dream of accusing him of thought.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Unfortunately for Tatewaki, however, more than one worry wrinkled his
noble brow as he stood before his locker some five minutes before Ranma
and Akane's conversation was interrupted. The other worry was simply
stated: should he take along his sword?

There were arguments for and against, of course. Against such an action
must stand the fact that the red-headed barbarian had not, till now,
deserved of him such a drastic response; likewise that bared steel was
after all both excessive and inappropriate for instruction or for
courting a shy maiden's hand. On the 'for' scale, alternately, lay the
undeniable fact that she had boasted of recently killing no fewer than
three opponents. Gross and disgusting men, no doubt, lacking in honor
and skill, and certainly deserving of their fates, but....

Fortunately, the noble Kuno mind was more than equal to the challenge
even of so momentous a decision, quickly supplying an answer both
sagacious and honorable: he would take the sword (in case of need), but
keep it concealed (to avoid unnecessary maidenly fright).

And so it was that the noble and glorious Kuno Tatewaki, fortified with
blade and bokken, and prepared for every contingency, stood near his
beloved and her companion some five minutes later. Prepared to issue a
challenge both martial and kindly, such as to make clear not only the
rightness of his cause, but also his essential magnificence.

In what should come as no real surprise to anyone who has read this
far, he got it wrong.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Ranma looked up at the annoying fool who was attempting to overawe her
and then tilted her head at Akane, "And this is who?"

"I, fair maiden, am Kuno Tatewaki, the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High.
You may address me as 'upperclassman Kuno' when you ask my pardon for
your deplorable sin. For, by my sword's honor the worth of the Blue
Thunder is as great as his wrath, nor ever has he stooped to other than
honorable action, nor..."

"Lad ... _Lad_," Ranma interrupted, "before you go challenging me to a
sword fight, it _might_ be a good idea to find yourself a sword."

"A sword I possess," Tatewaki replied frostily, "its name is Asatsuyu
('Morning Dew') and its lineage is ..."

"Ah," Ranma deadpanned, rising smoothly to her feet, "mine is named
Tenchuu no yasashigena ('The Gentle Kiss of Heaven', 'Heaven's Kiss').
Akane, will you call the dance?"

"But of course, Ranma," Akane replied. She, too, rose to her feet and
took position just outside of a virtual twenty-foot circle that seemed
to have magically appeared around the two sword bearers. "_Assume_!"

Tatewaki slowly drew his Katana and assumed chudan, reaching as his
training indicated for the dominance, the mental struggle that begins a
match. "I am Kuno Tatewaki, of the Spinning Shears School of Kendo,
champion of Furinkan High." His voice attempted firmness, yet his
thoughts were in turmoil, 'I did not wish a duel with _steel_,
something is wrong, her eyes, they are so ... blue ...'.

Ranma pulled a sheathed blade of the tachi pattern from beneath her
jacket and held it loosely at her side. "I am Bushiko Ranma, who may
claim no school," her voice was again pleasant and conversational, "a
humble pilgrim on the road."

In contrast to the shaken kendoist her thoughts revolved around one
theme only: 'Remember, _don't kill him_;' and her calm, passionless
regard was a stone on which Tatewaki's concentration splashed like sea
wrack before a storm.

Some seven seconds a stillness passed between the two, while Akane held
her hand on high. And then she let it fall, "Kumite!"

And then the storm began.

Ranma seemed to blur to most watching eyes, yet to Tatewaki she was
clear as day, though he himself seemed mired in mud. She crossed the
twenty feet between them in a single gliding step while her sword came
to hasso-no-kame just above her shoulder and its sheath spun about
fifteen feet up in the air like a black-lacquered frisbee. Then she was
past him, and his katana belled as she struck through his defense and
he gasped in surprise as his racing perceptions _saw_ the point turn
aside from his heart and tear through about two inches of flesh on his
upper arm.

He turned half about with the force of the blow and felt the beginnings
of pain before she spun in a perfect hi-low slash, both of which evaded
his fumbling blade to spray blood from two slashes over his cheeks, and
to cut through his hakama to score both thighs. She took another step
forward and began a pattern of lightning fast light blows, none of
which even came close to being blocked, and all of which drew blood.

Tatewaki was driven, stumbling, back until he was almost against the
outer wall of the schoolyard. Briefly, he rallied enough to return his
sword to something approximating a guard position, before Ranma blurred
even to his racing perceptions, seeming to appear on both sides of him
at once. Pain exploded through his body as more than 50 minor cuts
struck all over his torso, arms and legs at once. Then, as he stumbled
back, Ranma set herself and snapped forward once more.

The first strike cut across the top of both hands, knocking the sword
from his grip in a gleaming mid-air circle. The second, reversed,
strike snapped the flying blade in half before his eyes, driving him
all the way back to the wall. The final, two handed, decapitation
strike blazed in unstoppably, flickering blurrily to kiss the skin on
his neck ... and then _stop_, motionless.

Trembling, Tatewaki looked up into emotionless blue eyes and the
passionless, restrained violence of a tornado. And suddenly, in what
may have been the only genuinely inspired moment of his life to that
point, received a vision. A vision of Ranma, clad in armor, and
wielding the sword pressed against his throat, slaughtering her way
through what seemed to him to be an entire army. A vision that showed
him, in no uncertain terms, the difference between fencing on the Dojo
floor, and life and death by the sword. Of the difference between a
person who could swing a sword, and one who could kill with it; and,
more importantly, in this moment choose _not_ to kill with it.

And for the first time in his life, Kuno Tatewaki looked his own Art in
the face, and was ashamed. And buried his head in his hands, pushing
down the blade at his neck, and wept.

And Ranma lowered her blade and said "Aye, now. You've learned that
lesson. And you'll have scars to remind you of it, as scars tend to
do."

And she quirked a smile, highlighting the scars prominent around her
own mouth. And Tatewaki, looking up, essayed a tentative smile of his
own.

She walked over to her scabbard, picked it up, and put Tenchuu away.
Then she picked up the two halves of Tatewaki's katana, and returning
to stand in front of him, held them out to him to take.

"It's said that the soul of a samurai is his sword, Kuno Tatewaki.
Yours would appear to be broken. Perhaps, before you call yourself a
samurai again, you should spend some time mending it."

And then she returned to her seat by the wall, and Akane sat by her.
And Kuno Tatewaki turned away, holding the remnants of his blade, and
stumbled off to the infirmary, to patch his wounds.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

"It is my firm conviction," Ranma said, "that it is a gentleman's
highest duty to smoke out silliness like that, and step on it."

"But, Ranma, you're not a gentleman."

"And why not?"

"Because, use the masculine forms how you may, it's obvious you're
_not_ a boy."

"Feh," Ranma waved a dismissing hand, "Details. Mere details."

Akane leaned close, "Ranma, you've _got_ to teach me how to do some of
that."

"Er, but, don't you have a sensei already?" Ranma nervously asked.

"Only my Dad, and he hasn't trained me seriously in years."

"Er ... *sigh*, OK, we'll go to your place later and see what you need
to work on."

And they shook hands on the deal as the bell rang to bring lunch to a
close. Which was perhaps unfortunate, as it meant that the _other_
important question she had meant to ask slipped her mind completely,
until much later.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Physical Education, for Ranma, at least, was curtailed due to the
sensei's conviction that, before a place in the class structure might
be assigned to her, her overall level of accomplishment must be
measured. Since the limited resources of the main gym proved incapable
even of causing Ranma sufficient exertion to change into gym uniform,
much less break a sweat, the sensei excused her of further toil that
day. Then the sensei excused _herself_ to sulk, and to plot further,
more strenuous tests for the morrow.

In the last period of the day, Music for class 2-F brought the usual
sounds of tortured musical instruments resounding through the room.
Akane, Ranma grumbled, had not had an opportunity to demonstrate her
skill. Most of the other students had, but unfortunately 'qualified'
was a rare description of ability indeed as far as they were concerned.

Then it was Ranma's turn, and she drew her guitar from the same place
she stowed her sword and ran through basic scales, and chords, and
parts of tunes to the music teacher's instructions. She was, it was
noted to few people's surprise, easily better than anyone else in the
class, save perhaps for Akane.

As the end of the class drew close the teacher asked Ranma if she was
any good at song.

Ranma hefted her guitar and grinned, "What song would you like."

"You pick," came the response.

Ranma grinned again, and poised her hand above the strings. "Alright,
here's a love song then."

And then Akane heard, for the first time, the song she would, in later
times, come to regard as the song closest to her understanding of
Ranma's true heart.

I was riding west, through Ontake Mountains.
The hills were heavy with new-fallen snow,
And the sun-bright hills were dappled like a pony,
I was riding hard, I had miles to go.

And a magpie flew, 'cross the mountain highway,
It flashed and tumbled, through the golden trees,
And I thought of you, and my heart was lifted,
And floated with that magpie, on the morning breeze.

We are brief Summer lightning,
We are swift as swallows' flight.
We are sparks that spiral upwards,
In the darkness of the night.
We are frost upon the window,
We won't pass this way again,
In the end only love remains.

Tonight the Harvest Moon hangs over the valley,
I see the hills shine, in its silvery light.
It's the same old Moon, that shines down upon me,
And'll light my way, till I'm by your side.

For where I go, You go with me,
Though the miles keep us apart.
Your kisses on my lips, and your arms around me,
And your gentle hands, always on my heart.

We are brief Summer lightning,
We are swift as swallows' flight.
We are sparks that spiral upwards,
In the darkness of the night.
We are frost upon the window,
We won't pass this way again,
In the end only love remains.

Well who scattered these diamonds,
Through the vault of Heaven?
Who drew the curve of the magpie's wing?
Who shaped your face, and what made you love me?
Where is the heart of every living thing?

Well, I guess I don't know, and I don't care either.
I know you love me, how could it not be?
And I am yours, now and forever,
'Til my lips fall silent, and my eyes can't see.

We are brief Summer lightning,
We are swift as swallows' flight.
We are sparks that spiral upwards,
In the darkness of the night.
We are frost upon the window,
We won't pass this way again,
In the end Dear, only love remains.

And as Ranma finished the song and lowered her head, the school day of
Furinkan came to its end.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Ranma & Akane: A Love Story
Chapter 1: The First Day
Part C: Circumvallation; Shopping for Street-gangs.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Ranma lowered her head; and the song, and Furinkan's school day, came
to an end. Rising to her feet, she bowed to the rest of the class, who
bowed back. An unbiased observer would have seen that several of them
were suspiciously misty-eyed, but, fortunately, unbiased observers were
thin on the ground at Furinkan that day. So this enormous breach of
etiquette went unnoticed.

Akane rose too, and behind her the rest of the class. Flowing out of
their classroom, at the very back end of Furinkan's main building, and
down the stairs, they noticed that they were about to resolve a mystery
that had been plaguing some of them all day. First there would be a
noise as of someone shouting from afar. Then there would be a rumble,
as of many feet rumbling one way and then another. Finally a distant
murmur as of many voices, one to another, in the manner of a school
building when rumor has broken from its pen, or news runs flashing
through the halls.

Annoyingly, though, the disturbance had never approached class 2-F
closely enough for the inhabitants thereof to make out what was
happening. Nor had rumor spread, if rumor it had been, to the class'
distant door. Nor had any class member obtained an explanation at lunch
(unless, perhaps, it might have been in distant, unobserved corners,
under strict and bloodthirsty oaths of secrecy).

So, to some of the class, the whole matter was still mysterious, and
Akane was frankly ignorant. What Ranma might have thought of the matter
she did not say, though, perhaps, she may have guessed.

Thus, when, as they approached the front of Furinkan building, the
noises from outside became clearer, it was Akane who pushed ahead.
Ranma, instead, pulled a Samurai's fan from her jacket sleeve, flipped
it open, and, gently fanning herself, walked forward to join Akane on
the Furinkan front steps, grinning.

As she reached the top of the steps, and looked out on the yard, that
grin became a full fledged chuckle. Spread out around the Furinkan yard
("Roses, getcher bunch Roses heaahh!") were a number of mobile vendors
("Caannndy, Bon-Bons, onna stick!") selling, or rather, _outrageously
gouging_, the various implements of girlfriend pacification ("Joolry,
getcher Joolry now-ow, best prices inna city, Guv'na").

On the way down the steps she passed Nabiki, standing slightly apart,
grinning in glee and using a walkie-talkie to direct ("Short-term
loaanns, only thirty percent interest over one month, just for you
Guv'na, and I'm cuttin' me own throat") the efforts of her minions.
Reaching over as she passed, she tapped Nabiki on the shoulder and
said, "You're welcome," and then followed Akane through the schoolyard
to the street, still fanning herself gently, and still chuckling.

As they neared the gate, she drew level with Akane, who glanced aside
at the fan still waving gently in her hand.

"A little old fashioned, isn't that?" Akane asked.

"Oh no, It's entirely practical. Personal protection, you know."

Another sideways glance. "It's a war fan? Razor edges and such?"

"Oh no, not at all. The virtue of the warrior, after all, exists in the
warrior's soul. The weapon ..." passing next to the gate-post she swung
the fan through it, apparently without effect, "is merely the
expression of it." Behind them, as she walked on still gently fanning,
the gate-post divided itself at chest height, fell to the ground, and
shattered into dust.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Some blocks away, while passing through a park on the way to the
Akane's house, Ranma finally broke the companionable silence they had
fallen into.

"Would have been nice if some of that apologizing the guys were doing
back there had fallen on the primary offendee."

"Mmm. I don't know" Akane replied, "they might have been worried that
I'd get mad at them for trying."

"Would you have?"

"Don't know, depends on how they did it, I suppose. I think I've been
given more than enough insincere flowers over the past year, anyway."

Ranma, was just then passing by a hedge of wild roses in the park,
which filled the air with a slightly bitter perfume. Her fan flashed
momentarily in the sun and sliced an eight inch length of vine from the
hedge, which she quickly wove into a slightly prickly wreath.

"How about sincere flowers?" she mused, turning the roses over in her
hands, and offering them to Akane.

Akane paused and turned to face her, her eyes huge and dark in her
face. "Ranma-san?!?"

Ranma shrugged, and grinned lopsidedly, "I just don't think that, when
_all_ the girls are getting flowers, that any _particular_ girl should
be neglected. People might get to thinking that she wasn't good enough
to get flowers or something. It _might_ even hurt her feelings.
Avoiding hurt feelings is one of the most important tasks a gentleman
can perform, after all. And I _am_ a gentleman."

"Of course you are" Akane smiled cutely at Ranma, "but I can't wear
flowers unless you wear them too."

"Then crowned with flowers we both shall be!" laughing, Ranma bowed
flamboyantly. Her fan flashed again, and, crowned with flowers, as she
had said, the two friends walked on, towards Akane's home.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Ranma looked at the sign hung on the building's outside wall. "The
Tendo Dojo, hmm? You hadn't said that your family owned your own Dojo,
Akane-san."

"Dad hasn't done much teaching the past several years," Akane replied
absently as she entered the house, "Hello, I'm home!"

Ranma followed her inside and clapped once as she toed off her
slippers. "Excuse me for disturbing you!" she called.

"Oh, my!" came a sweet voice from the kitchen, "We have a guest!"

Hard on the heels of the voice came the speaker, a tall, sweet-faced,
girl, apparently a few years older than Akane. Ranma bowed to her
politely, and raised an eyebrow at Akane.

"Ranma-san, this is my older sister Kasumi," Akane said, "Kasumi-
oneechan, this is my new friend from school, Bushiko Ranma."

"Welcome to our home, Bushiko-san," Kasumi chirped, "will you be
staying for dinner?"

"Oh, I couldn't impose, Tendo-san, I'm only here to see about helping
Akane-san to train in the Art."

"In that case I insist you have dinner with us," Kasumi said firmly, "I
couldn't have you training with Akane without something to eat
afterwards. I know how martial artists are."

"Well, if you insist... I accept, and with thanks," Ranma bowed again
and waved grandly to Akane, "So let's see your Dojo proper, hmm?"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Akane happily led the way to the Dojo, pausing only to change into her
gi, not noticing Ranma's raised eyebrow. "Here we are!"

Ranma bowed to the spirit of the Dojo and leaned against the wall.
"Alright, start out with your kata; I'll just watch, for now."

Akane centered herself, took a cleansing breath, and began. For five
minutes, and then ten, she performed her kata to the best of her
ability, not noticing, as she continued, Ranma's increasingly serious
and concerned expression.

Finishing with the hardest and most complex kata she knew, she returned
to the outside world and noticed Ranma's distracted expression. Quickly
becoming depressed, she sank into seiza and looked down at her hands,
"Not good enough, huh?", she said quietly.

Returning to herself with a start, Ranma considered momentarily, then
replied. "No, the problem is that you're _too_ good."

She looked down at her hands and briefly chewed her lip, "I mean to
say, yeah, there's some things you could improve in, like speed, and
maybe you're a little clumsy yet, but... the thing is, most of the
stuff I know, that you don't is serious power stuff, and that's not
what you need right now."

"What do you mean, Ranma-san?", Akane frowned.

Ranma looked down, briefly, then raised her head and captured Akane's
gaze with her own, blue eyes serious and intense under flaming hair.
"Look, Akane, there are two types of martial artists, okay? There's
warriors, like me, and there's people with sticks like that Kuno lad I
thwacked earlier today.

"And the difference, the _important_ difference between them is:
warriors are in the business of killing people, and people with sticks
are not. The Art of a guy with a stick ... well, it might be about art,
or philosophy, or it might be a sport, or an exercise, or basically it
might be a lot of stuff, but _my_ Art, a warrior's Art, is about
killing people, or, sometimes, _not_ killing people."

"Ranma, I _know_ what...," Akane began.

"NO", Ranma held up a firm hand. "You haven't thought it through! Take
a day, take a month, Hell, take the rest of your life if that's what
you need; once you start down that road you can't go back. You don't
want to go unless you have to."

Ranma stepped forward and put her hand on Akane's shoulder. "I'm
serious about this Akane-chan, take the time to _be sure_. I wasn't, I
didn't have a clue when I started, cause my Dad's an idiot, and it
_hurt_. It _always_ hurts, Akane-chan, or else, if it doesn't, it means
_you're_ dead too", she moved her other hand to Akane's other shoulder,
"and I don't want my friend to be hurt like that unless there's no
other, better, choice."

Akane collapsed into Ranma's embrace and sobbed. "Y ... y ... d-do you
think I should just ... not ... then?", she mumbled into the other
girl's shoulder.

Ranma stroked the back of her neck and *shhhed*, "No, Akane, I don't
know what your honor needs. I _do_ know that when you _have_ the power
you _have_ to worry about it, not using power is a use, too."

Back to arms length, "Take this morning, that Takuichi kid, he's in the
hospital now; and you can say he deserved it, and you can say it could
have been worse, and you can say he was stupid. But when it's totaled
up, what it comes down to is that I maimed him, maybe permanently, and
I didn't have to."

"Mind you", she continued, "six months ago I'd have killed them all and
laughed, but that was in a different place, under different rules.
_Here_, reacting that ... extremely ... was wrong."

"Do you think he _will_ be maimed?", Akane said, worriedly.

"I don't know Akane-chan, Japanese medicine is lots better than I'm
used to, and I've got some tricks of my own to use if it gets bad, but
... I don't know. And it was a mistake, and you know that at some point
I'm going to have to pay for it too. It's a weight, Akane-chan, that
you can't ever put down. Don't pick it up unless you've got no choice."

"Okay, Ranma-chan, I ... I'll think about it first," Akane smiled,
weakly.

"Thank you." Ranma hugged her briefly, hard, and then let go. "And it's
not all _that_ bad anyway, even if you decide to stay sane. There's a
lot we can do to help your Art on general principles, and just
polishing you up should make a lot of difference. 'Kay?"

"Uh-huh," Akane sniffed, she smiled kawaiily, "Thanks. What should we
do first?"

Ranma shrugged, "Change your wardrobe."

"Huh!?"

"You're wearing a gi."

"Yeah ... so?"

"Earlier today, did you feel comfortable fighting in your school
uniform?"

"No-ooo, I mean I had to, er, _if_ I'd had to I could, but..."

"Exactly! When it's your art, it's got to be a part of your whole life.
When Basho was wandering around, d'you think he only did poetry under
special circumstances? Only when he had an audience, and a mat, and a
formal ink stone, and a three foot brush, and a dozen perfect sheets,
and so on? When Hokusai made his prints, do you think he was only doing
art on the formal, final print, and not the rest of the time?

"Hell, no," Ranma continued, "Hokusai was doing art even when he was
partying, (and believe me, Hokusai knew how to party, too). Basho did
poetry all the time; even if they weren't doing the formal,
get-it-down-right part, they were sketching, or taking notes, or just
taking what was going on around them and putting it into context in
their terms.

"They were doing their art all the time. And any art that's _real_ has
to be like that. All the time. And you won't do your art all the time
if you're not in a situation that you're comfortable doing your art
_in_ all the time. Which, for Martial Arts, includes the clothes you're
wearing. So let's go see your closet."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Somewhat dazedly, Akane led the way to her room, where Ranma was soon
standing in front of her closet, sorting through her clothes, and
muttering.

"Uniform ... uniform ... bleah ... dress ... dress ..." Ranma posed
briefly with a sun dress, "mmm, looks good, but _I_ wouldn't want to
try to high kick in it..."

Akane mega-blushed. "Me neither."

"Mmm ..., well, I don't see anything in here really suitable for
combat, do you?"

Akane shook her head, shyly, no.

"Well, there's only one thing to do then," said Ranma, "go shopping!"

Akane grabbed her arm urgently, "Ranma, I won't have the money for a
shopping trip for..."

Ranma patted Akane's hand gently. "Don't worry about it Akane-chan, for
a good cause, you can always find _some_ kind of donor."

Akane blushed again, "Ranma-chan, I can't ask you to buy me..."

Ranma winked at her, "Who said anything about me? Come on!"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Ranma and Akane walked side by side deep into the Nerima Ginza. Deeply
engrossed in conversation with Ranma, Akane failed to notice her
steering their perambulations towards the less savory part of town.

She regained notice of her surroundings with the realization that
several Bad Elements were attempting to loom menacingly in the
background. Ranma winked at her sudden start, and put a finger
shushingly to her lips. "Donors," she whispered, and continued to
chatter.

"Heyhey, chickies, whatchoo doin out tonite, hah? Yew wanna _real_ man,
hah? Haw, haw, looka this Junichi, a _redhead_, think I'll see if she's
a _natural_ redhead, haw!"

"Take the trailers," Ranma stage whispered. Her mouth smiled at the
forerunners of the ten thugs surrounding them, but her eyes were cold.
"Now, gentlemen, you wouldn't risk your reputations by harassing a pair
of unescorted girls, would you?"

"Hawhaw, and what's gonna stop us chickie, huh?" the first thug
extended a tattooed hand.

"Well, for one thing," Ranma's tone was conversational, "the element of
surprise."

Her foot snapped up in a repeated high kick that landed fifteen blows
to the thug's chin in a fifth of a second, then pivoted around the
raised foot in a ki charged arc that smashed the two forward flankers
into their respective walls. (Akane spun and launched a straight power
kick into the gut of the thug directly behind her. As he folded, her
hand rose and fell in a well-timed strike to the back of his neck.)

Ranma shifted position in midair, flashing to her left in a jump kick
into a fourth thug that carried him into the fifth, her hand blurred
briefly as they landed to the blurry *thud* of many blows to exposed
heads and torsos, then launched herself backward. (Akane continued her
motion to the side, launching herself at the thug there and blasting
through his defenses with a flurry of punches that soon sent him into
unconsciousness.)

Ranma flipped through the air towards the remaining two thugs on her
side, altering course at the last instant to pass between them, her
hands blurring as she passed. She landed lightly on her feet, preparing
to move towards Akane as her last opponents slumped heavily to the
ground. Akane however, had already bounced off the wall in a long jump
kick that took her fleeing final foe in mid back, smashing him limply
into the other wall of the alley.

"Well," Ranma beamed, "not bad at all."

"What the heck did you get us into that for?" Akane all but shrieked,
"What were you think... What are you _DOING_?"

"Mmm? Looting the bodies, Akane-chan, what does it look like?"

"You _killed_ them!!??!"

"No, no, no. If I'd _killed_ them, I'd have said I was looting the
_corpses_."

"But ... but ..." Akane could only watch in stupefaction as Ranma, in
less than a minute, stripped the mindless bodies down to their
underwear, stacked their jackets, shoes, shirts, pants, and
paraphernalia in the middle of the alley, and rifled their wallets,
throwing their cards and photos to the ground and counting their cash.

"Nearly half a million cash!" Ranma gloated, "and better than 250
thousand in loot too! As I said, not bad at all!"

"Ranma, what...?" Akane stood openmouthed in shock, "How can you
just...?"

"Well, after all, Akane-chan, they did try to accost us. If we don't
apply _some_ kind of penalty, they'll surely slip further and further
into Crime and Degradation, ne? And we do deserve some sort of
compensation for our efforts, right? Besides: to the victor go the
spoils."

"Now, here, take this pile of pants and shirts and come on, we've got
to go fence this stuff, and then go shopping."

"Shopping?" Akane queried weakly.

"We need to get you a new wardrobe, remember?"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Later, Ranma turned from Akane's closet and pronounced herself
satisfied. "Hah! Hah! Still got that haggling touch! Hah!"

Akane turned from the mirror, and tried to see how her long hair looked
against the back of her new leather vest. "Do you _really_ think this
looks good, Ranma-chan?"

Ranma looked at Akane's black velvet pants / white silk shirt / black
leather vest combo and raised an OK sign. "Trust me, Akane-chan, you
look great. And there's nearly thirty thousand yen left for other stuff
you might need too!"

"Are you _sure_ you won't take any of this money, Ranma-chan? You did
do most of the work."

"Nah!" Ranma waved her hand, "don't need it at the moment. Besides,
we're friends right? One day you'll do something like that for me. Now
let's get going, your sister just called us to dinner!"

Returning to the dining room, Nabiki frankly stared at Akane's new
look. Introductions to Nabiki and Soun were made, and one of Kasumi's
typically excellent meals was consumed.

Mealtime conversation was mostly superficial, enlivened only by Ranma's
presentation of a guesting gift (Wrapped bottles of Sake and a box of
exotic spices for Kasumi) at the beginning of the meal.

Nabiki had been looking at Ranma with what seemed to be a certain
amount of unease throughout the meal, and after Soun excused himself
she appeared to come to a decision.

"Um, Ranma-san, I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity you
provided me this morning. And, um,
Ithinkyoushouldtaketenpercentofthemoneyinthanks," Nabiki blushed as
though she could not believe what she had just said.

Ranma winked at her "Ten percent, Nabiki-san? That's what? fifty
thousand? There's no need for that; I'm not hurting for cash."

"But I can't just ... _hey_ how'd _you_ know how much it should be? I
haven't said how much I made yet!"

"You've segregated it in your money belt, Nabiki-san," Ranma replied,
"I checked it earlier."

"You picked my pocket!?", Nabiki gasped.

"Well, only for informational purposes, Nabiki-san. I put everything
back, did I not?"

Nabiki stood it for eleven seconds before frantically checking her
belt.

"Nabiki!" Akane glowered.

Ranma chuckled, and rose from the table, "It's time I went home, I
think; I'll see you tomorrow before school, Akane? And don't worry
about it Nabiki-san: I'd have checked too."

Akane nodded brightly, but Nabiki hmmphed, "You be careful, Ranma-san,
I'll get you back for that."

"I'll be looking forward to the contest," Ranma smiled, "I'm sure it
will be interesting."

"Do you have to go so soon?" Akane wondered.

"I'm afraid so. If you look at the time, it's actually quite late. You
have school in the morning, after all: you need your rest."

So saying, Ranma turned out the door of the Dojo, and, whistling,
walked down the street to her apartment, under the moon and the stars.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Walking down the street alone, Ranma thought to herself, 'Wow,
friendship, I wonder if...'

'NO!' herself replied, 'she's straight, she's a girl, and she thinks
_you're_ a girl. This is the best friendship you've had since Kitsune
or Usagi, _don't mess it up_! Besides, you've got some kind of
arrangement coming from Dad, right? No More Romance, and that's
_final_."

So thinking, Ranma walked on down the darkened street. It is the
privilege of a Martial Artist to ignore the little voice inside that
says 'Sure' after all. Presently she began, somewhat unconsciously, to
sing. A song she had learned from a Gaijin ship crewman and translated
to Japanese:

You say 'Well met again, Lock keeper.
You see me laden even deeper than the time before.
Occidental oils and teas brought down from Singapore.'
As we wait for my lock to cycle, I say,
'My wife has just given me a son!'
'A son', you cry, 'is that all that you've done?'

'Then come with me!', you say,
'To where the Southern Cross rides high
upon your shoulder.
'Oh, come with me', you cry,
'Each day you tend this lock you're one day older,
and your blood
grows
colder.'
But that anchor chain's a fetter
And with it you are tethered to the foam,
And I wouldn't trade your life
For one hour of home.

She wears Bougainvillea blossoms,
You pluck 'em from her hair and toss them in the tide,
Sweep her in your arms, and carry her inside.
And her arms rest on your shoulder,
And her moonlit eyes grow bold and wiser
through the tears,
And I say, 'How could you stand to leave
this for the years?'

But 'Come with me!', you say,
'To where the Southern Cross rides high
upon your shoulder.
'Oh, come with me', you cry,
'Each day you tend this lock you're one day older,
and your blood
grows
colder.'
But that anchor chain's a fetter
And with it you are tethered to the foam,
And I wouldn't trade your life
For one hour of home.

Sure, I'm stuck here on the Seaway,
While you compensate for leeway through the Trades;
And you shoot the stars to see the miles you've made;
And you laugh at hearts you've riven,
But which of these has given us more love and life?
You, your tropic maids, or me, my wife?

And 'Come with me!', you say,
'To where the Southern Cross rides high
upon your shoulder.
'Oh, come with me', you cry,
'Each day you tend this lock you're one day older,
and your blood
grows
colder.'
But that anchor chain's a fetter
And with it you are tethered to the foam,
And I wouldn't trade your whole life
For one hour of home.

And I wouldn't trade your whole life
For one hour of home.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Later yet, Akane stood in her bedroom, looking out the window at
nothing in particular. She was thinking about a Decision, thinking
about honor, and duty, and leather vests. Seeing, in her mind, a
kendoist flying backwards to a wall, and a katana, snapped in two,
hanging momentarily in mid-air. Weighing her honor against pain, and
tumbled thugs, and a crown of roses.

And then she smiled, and returned to her bed, and fell deeply asleep. A
response which is noted as common, in cases where a great Decision has
been made.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

And across Nerima, silence fell, and quiet reigned. And if, in some
darkened corner, people felt themselves abused, and whispered, and
plotted revenge, Ranma and Akane, at least, took no notice. And slept
the sleep of the just, till morning came.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Next:
Chapter 2: The Second Day.
Part A: Duel of Engines; A Dream of Blood and Wolves.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Author's Notes: Or, Just what the Fsck is going on here anyway?

At the beginning of September, 1998, our two family dogs, aged 13 and
11, died within 10 days of each other. The second, largely, of grief.
We buried them in the back yard, late at night, when it was cool. And
now you know where the inspiration for the prologue scene came from.

This is a fic whose ending, 6 fic months away, I have known for more
than 8 real world months. If it seems polished, it's because I've worn
most of the rough edges away in my head, before ever setting fingers to
keyboard.

This is also a fic which was produced because of a deep and terrible
annoyance at Alternafics of the form "This changes, nothing else
changes, and we will now retell the origin story with everything the
same, except for what's different."

Finally, this is a fic written by the unabashed romantic in me. You
have been warned.

Questions:
1.) What's the deal with Ranma, huh, why's he so good?

He's been training with competent people, even harder than in canon,
for more than, on his time line, 10 years. He's good!

2.) But a little bloodthirsty, huh?

He thinks he's gotten the Neko-ken under control, but he hasn't
entirely, also there are some philosophical issues which may show up
later.

3.) Okay, the Neko-ken, what's up with that?

This alternate diverges at the Neko-ken training, which Genma, for
reasons unknown, conducts a year later than in canon. Everything up to
that point is the same, after is very different.

4.) Yeah, and...?

The training, instead of the canon insanity, made him more than
slightly psychopathic. Unfortunately^HFortunately Genma avoided a
well-deserved culling^Htragedy, but only because Ranma beat him up, and
then left.

Genma made Ranma promise to return to challenge for mastery of the
Saotome Ryu in 6 years (6 months are left at the start of chapter 1)
and specified that this would take place at this wonderful training
ground he'd heard of. Ranma spent the first 6 months in a temple on
Honshu, getting the Neko-ken under control. Then he traveled to
Jhusenkyou to spy out the lay of the land. So he's had the curse for 5
(real-world) years now and has gone through puberty in both forms (due
to his means of transport, he has actually experienced around ten years
in that time). He thinks of himself as male, but of variable gender. If
that seems confusing, it's because you can't change like that yourself.

5.) Okay, so about the sword?

Without Genma's interference, and with the longer time-span, Ranma has
traveled much farther and trained in many more skills, weapons and
special moves than in canon. (Remember that, in the Manga, Ranma
learned _all_ his 'super-normal' tricks in less than two years. RAALS
starts a real-world year after the Manga does, and gives Ranma _five_
years of training on his time-line beyond that ....)

6.) A list of special moves?

Largely irrelevant, assume he can do most anything one way or another.

His raw power level, at the start of the series, is somewhat above his
maximum power level at the end of the Manga, i.e. he can blow up
smallish mountains. His breadth of knowledge would probably stun
Cologne.

On the gripping hand, it's all just special effects anyway, y'know? Sit
back, relax, enjoy the show. It'll knock your socks off; or, at least,
pull at 'em real hard.

7.) Irrelevant? Huh? Whaddaya mean, 'special effects'?

Sigh. This is going to get _heavily_ into theory, which I have
forgotten the technical terms for. If not interested, skip down now.

It is important to remember that a story is not an RPG scenario, and
vice-versa. Ranma does not have a Strength Score, nor is he blessed
with dots in Celerity. He's just strong and fast.

_How_ strong and _how_ fast depends on how strong and fast the author
writes him to be. That is, he's strong enough to do _some_ things and
fast enough to do _some_ things, but not strong or fast enough to do
others. Which? Doesn't really matter. Whichever the author wants.

See, the essence of a story, _any_ story, is in the _characters_.
Specifically, in the _decisions_ that the characters make. The choices
they take, the ones they _don't_, the reasons _why_, and the results
that the characters get.

Wile E. Coyote is a villain, and a comic villain at that. His decisions
are _always_ wrong. The Roadrunner is a comic hero, and his decisions
are _always_ right. It doesn't really matter how or why they get that
way, they just are. And that's just fine, for comedy.

For drama, you have to engender tension in the reader. That is, either
you must make the reader unsure that the character will make the right
decision, or you must make the reader unsure of just what the right
decision _is_.

Heraklese is the mightiest of mortals, but even his great strength is
no match for the instant regeneration of the Hydra. Will Heraklese see
the solution, or will the Hydra eat him? Lancelot du Lac is the
mightiest and most chivalrous knight on life, but will his honor stand
the test of his forbidden love for Guenhavere? (Lancelot, by the way,
comes out of Mallory as a Failed Hero. That is, he makes the _wrong_
decision, thus leading to catastrophe.)

Ranma Nibunnoichi is, in common with most Anime-Manga, a story of
internal conflict. Ranma has many solutions to his problems, but is
caught between many conflicting imperatives that prevent him from using
any of them. These conflicts between imperatives are the engine that
drives the drama of the series (and not Ranma's conflicts alone, of
course).

Observe, for example, in the story arc that introduces us to the Kachuu
Tenshin Amaguriken, that the primary source of conflict is internal to
Ranma himself.

Ranma's motivation for seeking the Phoenix Pill is entirely internal to
himself. Cologne (his 'opponent' in the arc) informs him of the
technique and teaches him how to train for it.

No-one important is pushing him from behind, no-one is in any danger if
he fails to stick his (her?) burned hands in the piranha tank, Nodoka
hasn't even made a token appearance yet, and, in the end, the Chestnut
Fist isn't even the means by which Cologne relents. For all we are
actually _told_ in the Manga, _any_ sufficient display of 'fighting
spirit' would have done as well. Ranma doesn't even (specifically)
_use_ the technique very often thereafter.

The point is not the technique. The point is the internal strength
which Ranma displays during the training, and that it proves Ranma's
heroic position. This also explains, incidentally, why Ryouga's Bakusai
Tenketsu training sequence is given less play: Ryouga serves the story
purpose of _failure_ to complement Ranma's success, so Takahashi don't
need to spend nearly as much time proving an essential heroism that she
already knows he will fall short of.

This last point also serves to illustrate another factor, which is that
the actions a character takes also depend, to an extent, upon their
place in the story and on what is happening (story-wise) at hat point
in time. Ranma, when Akane's life is on the line, can pull enormous
power-ups out of his butt, yet still be beaten like a drum by Ryouga or
Taro when less-critical matters are at stake. Ryouga or Taro, by
contrast, could not even dream of matching blows with Saffron,
regardless of the stakes. Ranma is the hero, Ryouga and Taro are not.

The author, of course, gets to decide who the heros are, which is a
part of the fun of fan-ficing to begin with. Many fan-fics have changed
character roles, which is fine.

In RAALS specifically, the reason the Ranma's special effects are not
important is simple: as of the beginning of the fic, Ranma is not the
hero. Ranma serves the initial role of mentor, Roy Fokker to Our Hero's
Max and Rick. (No, she is not going to take shrapnel, ignore it and
bleed to death in the middle of the fic. Please.) So, like Cologne in
the Manga, she is as powerful as she needs to be.

Eventually, of course, Ranma will regain her hero's stature. But then,
eventually, a lot of things will happen. In the mean time, sit back,
relax, and enjoy the show. And don't sweat the small stuff. I'm keeping
track, and I do know what I'm doing. I promise.

8.) Usagi? Kitsune?

From Stan Sakai's _Usagi Yojimbo_, which incidentally, you should
immediately run out and buy all twelve books of. Right now. Go on. I'll
wait. ... Oh. *Sigh*.

9.) Isn't that going a little far afield?

No. The glass part of the amulet Ranma holds up in the Prologue is a
cracked mirror, if that helps. Crossovers can be expected to be
present, in great numbers and to weird effect. And I'm not gonna
apologize for 'em, either. Nyah.

10.) The kata Ranma's doing in his apartment? Bargain, Prize, Price?

Ask Granny Weatherwax. Or Jason Ogg, for that matter.

11.) Further questions?

Direct them to hallcon@mindspring.com, I'll try to answer as fast as
possible. (Which may not be as fast as either of us would like,
but....)

12.) One last thing.

Yes ....

12.a.) Why butterflies?

Well, I _like_ butterflies, you see.

'Til next chapter,

Eric Hallstrom, 01/16/2001