The rain was hammering down mercilessly onto the roofs of Nerima. Lampposts lining the streets stood like beacons against the darkened sky. A lone figure was walking the streets, carrying a huge umbrella to protect itself from wind and water. The figure passing under a streetlight revealed a young man with a pigtail wearing travel stained chinese clothes and a large backpack.
He was crossing back and forth from one side of the street to the other, stopping at houses to check name and address. His steps were sluggish with fatique. Cold seeped through his thin clothes and made him shiver. He tried to push his thoughts away from the gnawing Hole that was his stomach. How long was it since he had eaten something? Two days? Maybe more? On the road days seemed to blend together from time to time. Unrelenting he drove himself forward. He was a man and a martial artist! He wouldn't back down from something like this. This was nothing!
That's what he would have liked to say, but his legs chose that moment to give out from under him and only his lightning fast reflexes and the butt of his umbrella kept him from falling right into a puddle of rainwater.
Drained he leaned onto the wooden staff of his rain shield and heaved a heavy sigh.
"Damn it, old man! Where have you run off to?"
Akane Tendo was in her family's dojo doing her exercises with a look of fiery determination on her face. The stakkato of raindrops against the roof of the training hall played the rhythm to her dance of flowing forms, punches and kicks.
Beads of sweat glistened on her pale skin. Her short blackish blue hair was tousled from the speed of her spins and turns. She still regret cutting it short again but it had been necessary. Long hair got into the way in her fights. And fighting she did a lot since all those high power martial artists showed up in Nerima.
She may be on friendly terms with Ukyo and even Ryoga, despite him being a boy and acting kind of weird around her, but their skill was on a completely different level and it irked her to no end. The Hentai-Horde getting more desperate by the day didn't really help matters. She still couldn't believe that slimeball Kuno was holding back on her all this time!
The thought fuelled her anger and her movements grew in intensity and power. She had to get stronger! She had to! She couldn't lose against those perverted boys. God knows what would happen to her if one of them managed to defeat her. The prospect made her shiver on the inside, like thousands of ants crawling underneath her skin.
Her enthusiasm for the art had been growing more and more in those last few months. It became the focus of her daily life, overshadowing the lesser details like her homework, her friends or her hidden infatuation with Dr. Tofu. He was in love with Kasumi anyways!
Quickly she quelled the uprising feelings of loneliness and concentrated on her workout, her way to escape all the pain of this world.
The sound of thunder shook her out of her routine. It was silly, really. She was a martial artist, but she was still afraid of thunderstorms.
A brief look at the clock on the wall showed that she had been training almost half an hour longer than usual. She had completely forgotten about the time! She needed to hurry and wash up before dinner was ready.
Another crash of thunder made her cringe. She silently pitied the poor souls who were still out there or on their way back home. Well, nobody was stupid enough to stay outside in this weather for long.
Cursing his fate he decided to abandon the search for today and look for shelter. Running around with a cold wouldn't do him any good.
Just then he passed a huge old fashioned property with a high wall and a wooden gate. "Oh well, one more house won't do any harm." He thought.
He stopped before the entrance and scrunched his eyes to read the big wooden sign with the dim glow the streetlights provided.
A flash of lightning revealed Ranma Saotome frozen to the spot, his eyes wide. Tendo Dojo. Tendo Dojo! He had found countless Tendo families in Tokyo and the surrounding area but never one with a dojo. This could be it! This could be the home of his father's old training partner he always used to mention. His mind was spinning, but he forced his euphoria down to the hard ground of reality and tried to rationalize.
Even if it was his father's old training partner he couldn't be sure to find any clues to his old man's whereabouts.
"Just don't get your hopes up too high." He reminded himself.
He wished he had a way to tell the time. The thunderstorm had been raging for quite a while and he couldn't estimate how far into the evening it was with all this darkness. He just hoped it wasn't too late to intrude. Didn't want to be impolite, didn't want to remain near anyone longer than necessary. Too dangerous.
Precariously he entered the grounds and walked to the front entrance. There was light still burning inside, so he rang the doorbell. After a short while a girl in her late teens opened the door. She was wearing an apron and was offering him a warm, polite smile.
"Oh my! A guest! You must be frozen. Would you care to come inside?"
Dumbstruck by the girl's polite demeanor and open hospitality he let himself be led into the house. He usually didn't receive that kind of reaction. More often it was disdain or even hostility a ronin like him experienced.
"Erm…is this the Tendo Family?" he asked timidly.
The girl just smiled and nodded. "Yes. I'm Kasumi Tendo. Pleased to make your acquaintance." She introduced herself with a small bow.
"Is a Soun Tendo staying here?" He tried not to let the hope show in his voice too much.
"Why yes. Father is in the living room. And whom should I announce?" She still was all smiles.
"Oh, I'm sorry. The name is Ranma. Ranma Saotome." He replied sheepishly.
"Then please follow me." She led him into a spacious room with two more occupants of the house. A young girl with short blue hair was watching television while a middle aged man in a brown gi sat at the table engrossed in a newspaper.
"Father, there is a guest for you." Kasumi announced him.
Soun Tendo looked up from his paper. His face was still youthfull, his hair and mustache impeccably kept. His eyes were keen although they were a little lifeless and seemed to have lost a certain sparkle.
"I am Soun Tendo. Welcome to my home." His voice was a pleasant baritone. "Surely you are a traveller in seek of shelter from this horrid storm, am I right?"
"Well actually…erm, my name is Ranma Saotome." His words caught the attention of the middle aged man.
"Saotome?" Soun whispered astonished.
"Yes. I was wondering if you knew my father Genma." Ranma was now positively excited if a little anxious. That girl with the short blur hair was fixating him with a measuring glare as if he was an especially repulsive spot of dirt.
"Of course I know Genma! We were training partnes back when. It has been ten long years! How is Genma?. About three months ago I received a card foretelling the end of the training trip and your arrival, but the two of you never showed up." Soun seemed positively delighted.
"Well, you see…I was hoping you knew where to find him. We got kinda…separated." He tried not to sound too dejected. It was still hard saying the truth out loud. That his father abandoned him. "Stupid pops! Stupid coward!"
"Seperated? Oh well, he's bound to show up here sooner or later. So you will surely meet him again, haha." Soun Tendo seemed a little nervous.
"I will?" Ranma was clueless.
"Yes of course! You see, the truth is, before you were born your Father and I made a pact…"
"Daddy…" the blue haired girl growled. It sounded dangerously like a last warning.
At that moment another girl with short brown hair in a page boy cut choose to enter the room. "Hey daddy! If the storm goes on like this we'll have to call someone to take a look at the roof tomorrow. Or what's left of it."
Then she spotted Ranma. "A guest? Daddy, what did I tell you about picking up freeloaders?"
Ranma decided he didn't like the girl.
"Nabiki! Good, you're here too. All of you need to be present for this." Soun seemed very rushed now. "Ramna, my boy! These are my daughters. Kasumi, 19 years old, Nabiki, 17 years old and Akane, 16 years old. Pick one. She will be your fiancée."
"Oh no, you don't!" Akane.
"What's the meaning of this!" Nabiki.
"Oh my!" Kasumi.
Ranma was shock out of words.
"Now, now. Ranma's father and I have made a promise to unite the schools before any of you were born. This is a matter of family honor. We had this discussion before." Strong words uttered by a meek voice. The head of the house seemed to shrink into his seat under the gazes of his three daughters.
"This is not the middle ages, daddy! You can't just tell us who to marry without us having a say in it!"
"Oh well. At least he's cute." Nabiki stated matter of factly.
"Actually I'm not interested in younger men…" Kasumi added.
"What about me?" Ranma asked agitated. "Nobody told me anything about this engagement business!"
"Oh, come off it! Don't pretend to be shocked. As if a boy would complain when he can choose himself a girl." Akane's voice was full of contempt.
"I'm not like that! I didn't ask for any of this!" Ranma's voice became more heated.
"Like anyone would believe that! All boys are perverts! And besides, Daddy, do you think someone like him could carry on the dojo?" Akane pointed at Ramna's ragged form.
"What's that supposed to mean!" This girl was really getting on his nerves.
"That means that I could beat you up in no time and prove that this whole engagement thing is nothing but a fluke!"
"Is that a challenge!"
"You bet it is!"
"Erm…that would be a problem." Ranma was all of a sudden rather nervous.
"Why? Are you chickening out already?" Akane didn't lower her voice at all.
"NO! It's not like that! I just…I don't hit girls." he finished rather lamely.
Ranma's statement brought Akane's temper to the boiling point. "You jerk! You won't even touch me! If you should manage to, you win. If I win, this engagement stuff is history!"
"Fine! Bring it on!" Ranma knew that losing would solve this mess his father had ridden him into but he could not let his pride suffer like this.
Two fuming martial artists, a concerned Kasumi, an indifferent but slightly curious Nabiki and a Soun Tendo at the verge of tears marched off to the dojo.
The two combatants faced off in the dojo. Akane in an aggressive offense stance and Ranma in a loose, almost relaxed stance.
"Ready? Here I go!" Akane launched a series of complex attacks and combos at Ranma, but he sidestepped every move seemingly without effort. Every punch aimed at his face hit only air, every kick rushed by him without impacting. He ducked and jumped and leaned out of the way, dancing around the deadly forms Akane was throwing at him.
"What's wrong with you! Fight back!" Akane was getting nervous. It was as if he was reading her mind.
Ranma was beginning to think that this was a bad idea from the start. His sight just wouldn't focus properly and it was all he could do to keep his knees from wobbling. The girl was good. Very good. He could take her if he was in good shape, no doubt about that, but right now he desperately fought to keep from keeling over. He had ignored his fatigued state too much. Bad mistake.
Akane's mind was reeling. She couldn't lose. Not against a boy! She needed to end this with one blow. Her enemy was standing near the wall. He was cornered and he seemed to be pretty much out of breath. Good! Now was the chance. She gathered herself and rushed him with an almighty battle cry. Her fist sped forward. But instead of hitting Ramna she struck the wall which shattered under the force of her blow.
"He disappeared! Where is he?" Akane was frantic now.
Suddenly she froze as she felt a finger tapping her on the back of her head. Looking like a deer caught in the headlights she whipped around and stared at Ranma. A smirk was beginning to form on his face, but it was fast turning into a grimace.
Akane mind went into overdrive. Her arduously attained self confidence crumbled like dry leaves. She lost. Against a boy! Against a boy who now could choose to pick one of her sister like a piece of meat on the market. Oh god! He could choose her! She wouldn't be able to defend herself against a fighter of his skill. He could do whatever he wants and she would be helpless.
While Akane was fighting to keep her fears from taking over she completely missed Ranma collapsing in front of her from exhaustion.