The Soul Of A Samurai
M A Davis / Miko
This story is based on the characters and concepts created by Rumiko Takahashi. I do not claim any ownership of them. This is a work of fan fiction.
Tatewaki Kuno knew.
He stood beneath the tree in front of Furinkhan High and waited, as he did every morning, for Akane and the pig-tailed girl to show. In one hand he held his ever-present bokken; in the other, two bouquets of roses.
They would be refused, of course. He knew. They were always refused, and yet, he had to try...
"Good grief," Nabiki Tendo said, staring out the school window. "Look at him. Absolutely every single morning he's out there, waiting for Ranma and my sister."
Nabiki's friend Midori frowned. "When will he ever learn?" she asked of no one in particular.
"It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it," a third girl, Kyoko, added.
"I suppose it should comfort me to know that there are constants in the universe, but... it pains me to think anyone can be this dense."
"At least he's got money," Midori said.
"There is that," Kyoko added, "and you know what they say about a fool and his money..."
"Yes," Nabiki said, tapping the window sill. "Yes," she said again. "But it's been six months. This time, I think it's gone far enough."
Midori raised an eyebrow. "Meaning?" she asked.
"Meaning," Nabiki replied, "I can only let this charade go on for so long. It upsets my sister, and it bothers Ranma more than he would ever admit. There's obviously nothing they can do to halt it, so the task falls to me."
Midori stared at her through half-lidded eyes. "You can't be serious," she said.
"Never more so," Nabiki replied levelly.
"And why should you care?" Kyoko asked. "The way things are now, you make good money. We all do."
Nabiki shrugged. "Never-the-less," she said, "It has to end sometime, and I've decided that sometime is now.
"Perhaps that means I'm not as cold-hearted as people would like to think," she continued, then fixed the two with her best cruel-and-vindictive glare. "But I wouldn't want to hear any rumors to that effect, capiche?"
Kyoko's eyes went wide. "Rumors, about Nabiki Tendo? Who would so foolish?"
They were late again, as usual. Kuno frowned, as the wind ruffled his dark bangs and the edge of his blue sleeves. Akane Tendo had never been late, before the arrival of Ranma Saotome and the pig-tailed girl. Now, whether it was Akane and the redhead who arrived together, or Akane and the hated Saotome, they always arrived late.
He clenched his bokken tighter. How long? How long could he let it all go on?
He saw them in the distance now, and his heart leapt with joy. It was his beloved redheaded, pig-tailed girl that ran beside the beautiful Akane. The sorcerer Saotome was nowhere to be seen -- although he was, Kuno knew, always about anyway.
"Akane!" he exclaimed, stepping away from the shelter of the tree. "Pig-Tailed Girl!" He held out his two offerings of flowers...
"Ah, man, I ain't got time for this!" the redhead exclaimed. Kuno saw her foot -- and yes, Akane's foot as well -- coming straight for his face...
And then he saw stars, and blackness.
"Kuno, how can you be so pathetic?"
Tatewaki Kuno lay on the high school lawn and looked up at Nabiki Tendo with half-lidded eyes, which were framed by two foot-shaped bruises.
"Nabiki Tendo," he said, "did you come here to insult me, or do you have an ulterior motive?"
The middle Tendo girl gazed down on him with a look of complete disgust. "It pains me to watch you humiliate yourself, day after day," she said. "You used to be a formidable swordsman. I know. I handicapped your fights. But these days, it's like you're not even trying."
Slowly, Kuno sat up. He assessed his aches and bruises, and decided that he'd fared well this morning. By tomorrow, he ought to feel and look as good as new.
"Would you have me hurt your sister, or the pig-tailed girl?" he asked. "That I cannot do. Their actions are not their own, for they are under his spell."
"That foul sorcerer, Saotome."
"Ah," Nabiki said, "I'd forgotten." She rubbed her temples, as if a migraine were coming on. "Kuno, I'm not sure how to say this. Isn't there a time when you finally grow up and solve this riddle once and for all?"
"A final confrontation?" he asked. "Indeed, I have considered such. However..."
"No," Nabiki said. "No, Kuno, no. What I mean is, why don't you just give up? Get over it. I mean, even you should be intelligent enough to see that you've been getting the same results, day after day, for half a year. Why can't you get a clue, and just quit?"
There was a long pause before Kuno replied. The wind rustled the leaves of the tree overhead, and Kuno slowly, painfully stood.
"I would not expect you to understand," Kuno replied, "and yet, you are as intelligent and strong-willed as anyone else I could name. Surely you can see the truth? If not for me, who will champion these two innocent flowers against the vile sorcerer who has them enslaved? Who else will set these two girls free?"
Nabiki Tendo rolled her eyes with a huge sigh.
"For your information," she said, "my sister does not want to be 'set free'. And as for your precious pig-tailed girl, she doesn't even exist..."
"Except when Ranma is splashed with cold water, correct?"
Nabiki's eyes went wide. "Then you know...?"
"Know? I know more than you can imagine, Nabiki Tendo. I am not the simpleton that everyone believes. Yes, I know all about the lie which the sorcerer Saotome would pass off as the truth..."
"This again?" Nabiki growled. "Kuno, get this through your head: Ranma is not some evil sorcerer. He's just a high school boy who happens to be a great martial artist, and who's engaged to my sister. He has a weird curse, but that's where it ends. Got it?" It was Kuno's turn to sigh. He looked away.
"Somehow, Nabiki," he said, "I always thought that you were smart enough and willful enough to eventually see the truth. I'm sorry I was wrong."
"Kuno, you need professional help," Nabiki said.
"Perhaps you are right," the kendoist said. "But I am not the one who believes that a glass of water can alter one's gender..."
"Some might call you obsessive," Kodachi Kuno said.
Tatewaki Kuno started at his evening meal dubiously. It looked good enough to photograph for one of those home cooking magazines, but with his younger sister, looks were always deceiving. What might she have poisoned this time? It was rarely something truly dangerous, but even sleep potions and paralysis powders were better off avoided. He picked through the food with his chopsticks carefully, weighing his options.
The Kuno household was quiet. It was always quiet, given that it was a large mansion, and the two of them lived alone, with no servants save a maid who left in the evening. It was possible, of course, that their father occasionally visited, but if so, he did so in secret.
"You, my dear sister, are one to talk," Kuno said, taking a cautious bite. "Any obsessions I might have are fully equaled by your pursuit of the hated Ranma Saotome."
Kodachi's eyes flashed angrily. "I will not have you speak of my darling Ranma in such tones! Apologize immediately!"
"I shall not," Kuno replied. "He is a liar and a cheat, and a practitioner of the blackest of magics. Honestly, it baffles me what you see in the man, although, I suppose, evil attracts evil."
His sister glared at him, as only she could. Over the years, he'd become impervious to her threats.
"Anyway," Kuno said, staring out the window, "many do call me obsessive, and worse. They do not even have the decency to do it behind my back."
"Really, brother, you are so pathetic sometimes. I never allow such things to be said of me."
"Yes," Kuno said, "but unlike you, I take the high road. I do not stoop to petty vengeance. I do not seek to impose my will on those around me."
Peals of laughter rang through the room, tinged with Kodachi's particular brand of psychosis.
"Is that why you pursue two women who have done nothing but reject you?" she asked. "Really, brother dear, sometimes you are too much!"
Kuno leapt to his feet. "I do not seek to impose my will on them!" he exclaimed. "I merely seek to free them from the enchantments of that foul sorcerer..."
"I don't need to sit here and listen to this," Kodachi said. "If you need me, I will be out feeding Mr. Turtle."
Amid a tornado of black rose petals and more peals of psychotic laughter, his sister left the room. After a moment's contemplation, Kuno decided that he, too, was done with his meal. He walked down the hallway to the dojo, where he sat on the floor, cross-legged, and contemplated the two large photos on the wall.
One was of Akane Tendo, and the other was of the mysterious Pig-Tailed Girl.
Obsessive? Kuno frowned. He knew what others thought of him at school. He tried to tell himself that what others thought didn't matter, but Tatewaki Kuno had never been very good at self-delusion. That was why he was in this predicament in the first place.
Imagine being the only man in the world who saw the truth. Would it comfort you, knowing that you alone saw the world as it really was? If the entire world thought you delusional, then you might as well be, in truth.
Perhaps, Kuno thought, it would be better to embrace the lie...
He shook his head. That was the path of the coward. There was more at stake here than just his petty pride.
Kuno stared at the images on his wall. He'd asked himself that question so many, many times. How long could this torture continue, before his two loves were ruined, or his soul spent?
Nabiki had told him that it had to end. Of course, she had not understood the true meaning of her words, but never the less, there was a hard truth buried within them. It had to end. Now.
Kuno stood, and walked to the far end of the dojo. He slid back the door that revealed the family swords. He stared at them.
Kuno did not pretend to be a samurai -- he was a samurai. He was descended from a long line of noble warriors, and, even at the tender age of 17 years, all of that duty and honor fell on his shoulders, and bound him to the path he walked.
He'd hoped it wouldn't come to this. Kuno did not like contemplating the death of another. But the choices were no longer his to make. Destiny had chosen the path for Kuno, and he had to walk it, until he reached its end.
It was nearly noon on the next school day when the commotion began. Nabiki heard the names Kuno and Ranma mentioned, and then the word fight. She pushed her way through the crowd of students and out into the hallway, to the center of the disturbance.
What she saw was very familiar, and yet far different from anything she'd seen in the last six months. Ranma faced off against Kuno. Ranma wore his typical Chinese outfit, with the red silk top and the black pants, while Kuno wore his typical samurai garb, with black pants and a blue, long-sleeved gi.
The difference was what Kuno held in his hands: a sharp, polished steel katana. A thin line of blood dripped from the tip. Nabiki's gaze flashed over Ranma, and noted the wound in his left forearm. It didn't look serious, but blood was quickly soaking the sleeve of his shirt.
"Hey, come on, man!" Ranma exclaimed, "That thing's sharp! Watch where you're swinging that!"
Tatewaki Kuno sneered.
"What fear you cold steel, vile sorcerer? Surely your black arts are proof against any weapon! And yet, know that I wield the weapon of my forefathers. It is a samurai's sword, Saotome. Do you know what that means? It is the heart of the samurai that you see before you. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is enough to strike to your black heart of a foul magician though you be!"
Akane appeared at Nabiki's right hand. "Kuno?" she asked. "What are you doing?"
"What I should have done long ago," Kuno replied. "It is all that I can do, if you and the pig-tailed girl are to be freed..."
"Kuno, are you crazy?" Nabiki yelled. "You can't go about attacking people with swords! You've really lost it this time, haven't you?"
"Nay, Nabiki Tendo," Kuno replied. "I see more clearly now than ever I did before. You asked me to end our six-month charade, and you were right. It ends, here. Now."
Kuno lunged again, amid cries of "Tsa! Tsa! Tsa! (Strike! Strike! Strike!)". Ranma's eyes bulged as he moved backwards, dodging the multiple sword thrusts. The crowd behind him fell back, screaming. For once, Ranma didn't seem able to find an opening for a counter-strike, and Kuno refused to break off his attack.
Principal Kuno appeared in the crowd. "Dere be no fighting in de halls!" he called out, but his son Tatewaki clearly wasn't listening.
Nabiki cursed, then ran down the hall. She reappeared moments later with a bucket of water, which she threw at Ranma.
Instantly, where Ranma had stood, now stood a short, redheaded girl.
Kuno broke off his attack. "Pig-tailed girl!" he exclaimed. "Geez, Kuno, what are you trying to do? Kill me?" the girl said.
"Kill you?" Kuno replied. "No. Never you, fair one, never you!" Kuno looked wildly about the hallway. "Not this time, Saotome!" he yelled out. "You will not deceive me yet again! I know you are here, watching and listening! Come out! Reveal thyself, and face me like a man!"
"Has anyone called the cops?" Nabiki asked.
"I see," Kuno said, still talking to the air about him. "A coward to the end. Very well; I shall have to put my trust in my sword, and in the nobility of my cause. May my ancestors guide me now."
"What's he babbling about?" Midori asked.
Nabiki shrugged. "How should I know? He's really out of it, if you ask me."
Kuno held his sword before him, eyes closed. He remained in that position, and for several moments, all was quiet.
"Hey, Kuno?" Ranma said. "Put down the sword, okay?" Her voice grew more childlike, and more suggestive, as she said, "I'd be ever so grateful, Kuno-baby, if you'd just lay the sword down..."
There was the soft sound of something wet dripping onto the tiled floor. Kuno's eyes flew open. It might have been water, dripping from the wet redhead, but...
Nabiki saw it at the same time as Kuno, but didn't realize its significance. Three feet to the left of Ranma, there was a splotch of red on the floor.
It suddenly occurred to Nabiki that Ranma's arm was not bleeding. In fact, it didn't even seem to be injured.
Then, as Nabiki watched, another drop of blood materialized in the air and fell to the white tiles. Her eyes grew big. What the hell...?
Kuno lunged forward with his sword, and there was a spray of blood. Everyone jumped back, but for a moment, it wasn't clear whom he'd struck.
Then, still bleeding, Ranma -- the male Ranma -- faded into view.
Nabiki's eyes went from the female Ranma to the male one and back again. She was thoroughly confused, now.
"Ranma?" she asked. But he ignored her.
There was a low, rumbling laugh that sounded nothing like the Ranma Saotome Nabiki knew. The hallway seemed to grow dark, and Ranma's eyes glowed like two bright embers. Energy flowed over his body like a St. Elmo's Fire, and he stepped forward, still laughing.
"Very good indeed," he said.
"So!" Kuno growled, "you reveal yourself at last!"
The male Ranma sighed.
"In all my years," he said, his voice a booming base, "I have never met a mortal who so stubbornly refused to see things as they should."
"As they aren't, you mean," Kuno replied. "Your magics blinded everyone else, but I have always seen the truth."
"True enough," Ranma said, "true enough."
He paused to glance over at his female counterpart, and at Akane Tendo. With a wave of his hand, dark magical energy rolled off of his fingertips and embraced the two, who collapsed into a deep sleep. Tendrils of black magic flowed past the two to brush against the other students. In moments they had all succumbed, and only Kuno, Ranma, Nabiki, and the Principal were left standing.
"I prefer an intimate audience," Ranma said with a smirk. "Too many people gives me stage fright."
Nabiki shrunk back against the wall. "Oh my god! Oh my god! This can't be happening! This isn't real! There is no such thing as magic..."
Ranma's glowing eyes turned on her for a brief moment, and he smirked.
"You believe in a water-based curse," he said, "but you do not believe in magic? Don't worry, Nabiki, when I'm done here you will forget about it completely. Everyone will forget..."
Nabiki's eyes shot to Kuno. "Kuno! Do something! You have to kill him!"
Tatewaki Kuno smiled wanly, then it turned into a grimace.
"So, I am not 'completely out of it' after all, am I?" he asked.
"Don't play word games with me, Kuno!" Nabiki growled. "Obviously I was wrong! We all were! Now, kill him, before he takes over my mind again..."
Kuno sighed, then gripped his sword tighter.
"I can never defeat him," he said. "Surely you know that by now. I've fought him often enough to know the truth. It's hopeless, and yet I would be a coward not to try."
"De pigtail," Principal Kuno said. "Go for de pigtail."
"Father," Kuno replied, "I've no time for your games..."
"This is being no game, kiki," the elder Kuno replied. "Every magician have de weakness. His power is in de pigtail..."
"Very good, old man," Ranma replied with a smirk. "Give the Principal a gold star. I've kept you around because you were never a real threat -- you always knew that you wanted to cut my pigtail, but you could never remember the real reason why..."
"You only got de one chance," Principal Kuno said. "Make it count, Tachi."
Kuno nodded, and gripped his sword.
Ranma smiled. His eyes glowed brighter, and the energy crackled in the air around him.
"I'm waiting," he said. "Give me your best shot."
Tatewaki Kuno gritted his teeth, and lunged.
The priest lit incense and set it before the tombstone. The only sounds were the rustle of leaves in the trees, the chanting of the priest, and the quiet sobs of Kodachi Kuno.
It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon. It seemed an odd time to be holding a funeral, and yet, a handful had gathered, to bid farewell to a boy that few of them had understood.
Kodachi wore black, which suited her far better than her sad, somber mood. Her father, Principal Kuno, seemed even more ill suited, wearing a suit that had not a hint of a floral pattern. Akane studied the two, feeling sorry for their loss, but also not entirely sure she belonged here. She'd never really liked Kuno, but she supposed they were classmates and acquaintances, at least. That must count for something. Anyway, Ranma had wanted to come, and so here they were.
It was kind of sad, Akane thought, that Kuno had never known the truth about Ranma and herself. What must it be like, she wondered, to live in a world that only exists in your own mind? To see only the illusions, and never the reality? It would be like watching a play, and never knowing that they were just actors, with costumes and props.
The spiced musk of the incense drifted on the breeze. Akane's eyes unfocused as she stared across at Ranma, and for a brief moment she thought she saw someone standing next to him. The figure was shadowy and indistinct, but it looked like a young girl about the same height and build as Ranma's female alter ego.
She glanced up -- directly into Ranma's eyes. His gaze entrapped hers in a way that she couldn't explain, and she felt as if she were falling, endlessly falling, into that gaze. There was something at the back of that gaze, something that flashed deep within his eyes, that seemed ancient, and, somehow, evil...
"Akane?" Ranma asked, "are you ready to go?"
"Y-Yeah, I guess so," she said. "It's funny, I was just thinking about something, and now I can't remember what it was..."
"That happens to me too," Ranma said. "If it's important, you'll remember it again."
Akane nodded, and with one more sad glance at the tombstone, followed Ranma away from the grave.