Forward: Somewhere along the way in ch4 I screwed up by using the term "wa" in reference to the physical side of Chakra. This was a mistake. The correct term I meant to use in keeping with the ch2 notes was "Rei"; ala Reiki. Not sure what happened, but rei is the term I'll be using from this point on, not wa. I'll probably got back and edit 4 at some point as well. That said, thanks for sticking with this work. you all rock :D
Tales of the Foxcat
-Role credits to: Bon Jovi I Want to be Loved-
"My report on the Saotome boy, Hokage-sama."
Sarutobi looked up from his table and the scroll he had been painting to find Kurenai proffering him a notebook. Aged hands took the offering and thumbed open the non descript cover, noting the red eyed woman's carefully crafted neutral mask with curiosity. Like many of the village' other gifted ninjas, Yuhi Kurenai had literally grown up under his tutelage and he knew her mannerisms as if she were his very own daughter. While serene neutrality was the norm for her, the uncertain sparkle dancing in her eyes was not, prompting him to all but ignore the book in favor of her own first hand account. "So what do you think of his… her potential?"
Kurenai held her silence for a moment before collecting her thoughts with a deep breath. "Ranma's potential is…" she paused, shaking her head. "Ranma destroyed practice range six, Hokage-sama."
"That sounds promising."
The kunoichi shook her head again. "You don't understand. He destroyed the practice range. Literally. We had to take it out of commission the damage was so extensive."
The Hokage considered the woman's words, dissecting them carefully as they bordered on the edge of disbelief. Kurenai certainly wasn't one prone to exaggeration and Ranma was undoubtedly skilled, but to take an entire practice range- a place designed to take abuse by definition –out of commission indicated a level of ability magnitudes higher than even he suspected. He motioned to the chair opposite his position. "While I'm sure your notes are detailed, I would prefer a first hand account."
The kunoichi pulled the chair out from the table and sat, folding her hands while maintaining that carefully crafted neutrality. "Of course, though I'm not sure where to begin."
"Just how extensive is the damage to the practice range?" Sarutobi forwarded, watching Kurenai's neutrality fade into a frown.
"Three quarters of the range will require resurfacing. Every practice target will need to be decommissioned and replaced…" The kunoichi paused, her frown deepening. "At least, what's left of them. Most of the blast walls took heavy damage. Heat damage, wind damage, ice damage, impact damage, weapons damage as well as some damage I can't even classify at the moment." The Hokage's pipe dropped from it's inclination as the woman continued her abbreviated report. "In fact, the level of damage he caused is on level with an ANBU member twice his age. He may not know a thing about chakra, but what he can do with that ki of his is lethal enough not to matter."
"Lethal?" The Third raised an eyebrow skeptically. "It was my understanding that the child is adverse to using lethal force."
"That's not something I can really comment on." Kurenai shook her head. "What I can comment on is that regardless of his good natured disposition, his techniques are by and large devastating in nature and he is very proficient in their use. "
The Third took a puff of his pipe and considered the smoldering cloud he had exhaled for a second, then returned his attention to the ninja before him. "Perhaps it's best we start at the beginning then. How did you manage to incite him to destroy a practice range?"
The slightest edge of smile materialized upon the black haired woman's face, accompanied by an equally slight chuckle. "Simple. I told him to do his worst."
"Though I really don't see why I have to go showin' off again." The thirteen year old pigtailed boy commented as he was escorted by a black haired woman clad in a red and white obi that complimented her crimson eyes. "I mean, wasn't that bit with Cyclops good enough?"
Kurenai Yuhi smiled slightly with the cyclops comment, but shook her head. "If you are to be a functioning member of this village, the Hokage needs to know the length and breadth of your abilities. While it's quite obvious you're skilled, we need to know exactly how skilled. Unless you plan on spending your time in Konoha as a farmer?"
"Heh, you're screwed if it comes down to that." Ranma chuckled as the pair made their away down a winding path, passing a sign labeled 'practice range six'. "Plants hate me."
"Lacking a green thumb, young one?"
"You could say that." The pigtailed boy shook his head, not feeling the need to detail the various carnivorous plants that had at one time or another tried to subject him to bodily harm. "Guess I should count myself lucky I happened to wind up in a place that needs something I'm good at."
The odd comment caused the accompanying kunoichi a slight mental pause, and she looked down at the child walking next to her. "Which would seem to imply the place you come from… doesn't?"
"Not really, the weirdness of my life aside." Ranma returned matter-of-factly. "Most people go to work, school or whatever without worrying about ninja popping out of the shadows."
"But then how did your land secure its boarders without a contingent of ninja?" Kurenai's emotionless mask had dropped completely as she boggled at such an foreign concept. A land without the protection of its ninjas was… insane.
"They got armies and crap." Ranma explained absently, clearly communicating the topic was of little interest to him through his tone. "Tanks, planes and guns, but no ninjas." Tanks? Planes? Guns? The woman rolled the strange words silently on her tongue, trying to find meaning in them but failing. The boy laughed. "Hell, if Furinkan had a class on how to be a ninja, my old man probably wouldn't have had to cart me off on a ten year training mission."
Kurenai stared. It would be so easy to dismiss his experience given the body he was currently inhabiting. The idea of a small child undergoing serious training was ridiculous and prompted her next question. "How old were you when you started?"
"Three, I think. Old man was throwing me out of trees and into pits by five." The boy remarked, causing the woman to nearly stumble. The age was far younger than when konoha started training its children. Sure, they were always being steered in that direction, but serious combat training for most of the prospective candidates didn't come until years later.
The pair stepped out off the forest path and out into an open field that represented practice range six. Straw targets depicting humanoid forms sprouted like flowers from the green field while more durable wooden ones were interspersed between them. Ranma noted a dozen or so odd shaped mounds beyond. Dummies would probably pop up from those, the boy reasoned, and smiled. No doubt a few of them even fired back.
"I've already set the range up." The red eyed kunoichii explained, motioning out toward the field. "This exercise is accurately gauge your genjitutsu and taijitsu, so take the targets out any way you see fit."
"Any way?" Ranma asked with an arched eyebrow. Kurenai simply nodded.
"Preferably in a way that displays your fullest abilities in both forms." The woman smiled kindly down at the child. "Simply put, do your worst."
A smile crept across the boy's face, one whose feral edge caused uncertainty to bubble up within the kunoichi. Ranma stepped off their wooden platform and onto the practice range grass, tossing a cocky look back at her. "Just remember, you asked for it."
Kurenai Yuhi was prepared to expect a great many things from the boy before her. Every report she had seen thus far indicated above average taijitsu abilities and at least a rudimentary grasp of ninjutsu. His professed intimacy in unarmed combat was furthered by the fact that he had declined to carry any sort of weapon out on the field, a fact that only served to heighten her expectations…
"Kijin Raishū Dan!"
…Expectations that did not include intangible blades of high pressure air blasting forth from the boy, immediately reducing a group of straw and wooden targets to matchsticks. Even as her jaw dropped, Ranma was gone behind the distorted wave of destruction in a blur, quickly unleashing his own devastation upon whatever targets were still standing. One snapped after another and soon the boy was deep into the field, annihilating anything that stood above waist high. Three more dummies fell, finally producing enough vibrations to trip the automatic pop up targets. Four targets sprang up from their mounds, each with five holes running up their torso. The kunoichi knew what was coming next. Twenty ink tipped wooden kunai were ejected at high speed from their launchers in an effort to take Ranma out through surprise and saturation. She already knew it wasn't going to be nearly enough.
The pigtailed boy snapped the neck of another target and effortlessly weaved through the inbound kunai, twisting and sliding across the turf as if it were ice, before sighting the offending mounds with his hand.
Kurenai stumbled back as that portion of the field was bathed in a brilliant blue light, then smoldering ruin as Ranma's ball of energy detonated atop the popup targets. This… This BOY! The techniques! It was all she could do to remain upright as Ranma continued the systematic destruction of the practice field. He wasn't using chakra. He wasn't forming seals. What he was doing was dispensing wholesale destruction on a scale that put him in class far outside his age bracket. And at such range! Her brain all but screamed as the explosion tripped more of the pop ups. This time a group of ten shot skyward and disgorged their ordinance into open air. The black haired boy slowed only long enough to produce what looked like a canteen from God only knew where and empty the contents over his head. From that point on, all the ninja saw was a red blur weaving in and out of a maelstrom of no less than fifty kunai. Her thought process finally caught up to the fact that she was seeing his female aspect in action for the first time and it was a show that did not disappoint. Sure, she had seen such ability before, but the techniques were exotic and the child so young…
Ranma cleared the staggered crossfire and advanced into popup ranks, suddenly wavering, then disappearing completely from sight. The nin simply stared. She was gone. Literally. Masked entirely from—A fiery mane of red hair wavered back into existence just long enough to take one of the dummies out from behind in a blurring strike before returning to her cloak of invisibility. The target crumpled seconds later. Two more fell to the ground in the same manner before the girl settled for dropping the cloak entirely.
The kunoichi could no longer emit shock as a horizontal tornado cleared out the remaining seven popup targets. They simply ceased to exist, as did the blastwall directly behind them. no, Kurenai was well beyond the ability to be surprised at this point. She could only watch as what amounted to a thirteen year old girl dismantled the village practice range piece by piece.
"A…tornado?" The Hokage blinked, his smoking pipe sitting all but forgotten on the edge of his desk.
"He… she," Kurenai stressed the gender, "Is a wind elementalist without a doubt. The blades she produced were dense wave fronts of pressure and the tornado punched clear through the concrete barrier behind her primary targets."
"And this ball of chakra?"
The woman shook her head. "Definitely not chakra. She insists on labeling it ki. Either way, her ability to inflict ranged damage with the ninjutsu available to her… him is astounding. We have analogs here and there, but the arsenal she can bring to bear is simply unparalleled by any one nin in the entire village."
"With taijutsu to match." Sarutobi scratched the white tuft of hair on his chin. It was less a question than a statement, but the red eyed kunoichi addressed the point regardless.
"With taijutsu to match." Kurenai confirmed. "She says she doesn't hit as hard as a girl, but it matters little from what I've seen. Her technique is the envy of any jonin, so much so that I suspect Gai will more than likely sell his soul to take her on as a student."
"Which she's not."
Kurenai produced the barest of nods in deference to her aura of neutrality. "I would under no circumstances group him as a fellow student with any of this year's current teams. If it weren't for mitigating circumstances, she… he would be out in the field."
Or being groomed for the ANBU, The Hokage added silently, his hand finally returning to the long neglected pipe. The Elder toook a long drag and exhaled, letting a lazy cloud of smoke to waft through the air. The nin before him paid it no mind. What and who exactly had been dropped in their laps? A taijutsu and ninjutsu genius in every sense of the word harboring several curses, spirit possession and a positive knack for turning everything they knew about chakra on its ear. The Hokage closed his eyes as the kunoichi waited patiently. She was right. They couldn't put him in a class. If Ranma was everything her report was indicating, he would eclipse any student's skill by magnitudes, regardless of how little he knew about chakra.
"What to do…"
Kurenai Yuhi took her cue and leaned forward, breaking her carefully crafted character for the first time. It was a very un Kurenai-like expression the woman rarely exhibited… eagerness?
"I think I may have an answer to that."
Enough of this, the kunoichi's cheek began to twitch again as 20 foot trench was forcibly carved into the earth by the girl's last attack. There was no doubt that she could hold her own in terms of ninjutsu and taijutsu. Kurenai couldn't quite chuckle at how understated that last thought was. 'Hold her own,' didn't even begin to cover what she was witnessing. Regardless, it was time to see how Ranma handled something other than a frontal assault.
The woman's fingers came together and began to twist through several patterns. Red eyes glowed briefly and a whisper drifted from her lips. "Resu Genkaku: Kurushimi."
Ranma Saotome grinned as another couple of targets were incinerated by a high intensity blast of ki, then slowed a bit to wipe the sweat from her brow. Red Eyes had better be appreciating the show, she thought….and oriented on her next target… what few remained standing. She'd been putting her all into this dog and pony show and was starting to feel it. Time to wrap this—
"Shit!" The pigtailed girl twisted around at a nearly impossible angle, avoiding a salvo of glinting silver spikes. "What the hell!?"
Ranma flipped out of the crossfire with considerable dismay. Those were actual blades! she realized and sighted down their original vectors to find a trio of popup dummies. The redhead frowned. I was pretty sure I had accounted for—
Her eyes widened once again as warning screamed through her brain and she was off again in a wild evasion even as a new salvo opened up into her back. The aerial leap avoided most of the kunai that bore in from the girl's blind spot, but not everything. Ranma winced as she hit the ground with two new cuts for her trouble; one on her left calve and the other across the left shoulder. They were shallow and far from life threatening, but the
fact that she had missed another position of pop-ups was by far the more worrisome. I mean, it's possible that they're just buried that deep…
Any introspection she was engaged in was immediately cut short as five more pop-up targets sprang up directly before her, twenty meters down range. The Saotome snarled and sighted her arm on them.
"Not this time."
The targets fired predictably, but Ranma had already had all the time in the world to line up her shot. Her Moko Takabisha would vaporize the inbound blades and take out the launchers all in one…
The faintest whistling of wind.
Not from the kunai.
"Son of a bitch!" The split second it took to process the information nearly cost the pigtailed martial artist her life as she threw herself right in a wild roll while silver steel streaked by and around her body, cleaving the dirt as she worked her split second reaction into a dancing evasion. With more warning she could have easily evaded the salvo of thirty intent perforating her body from behind. As it was she avoid nearly all of them, but took another three glancing blows in the process. these were much deep cuts and blood began to seep from the wounds as Ranma flipped through the last of dance. The girl landed in a low crouch now completely on alert. A look back to the observation stand found it empty. Me and that woman are gonna have a little talk once I get through—
A glint of silver out of the corner of her eye and Ranma was on the move again.
Kurenai Yuhi frowned as she watched the girl twist and leap through the air in an attempt to defeat an enemy that didn't exist. After such a display of Taijitsu and Jujistusu, the fact that she was still trapped in one of her lower level illusions was disappointing. At this rate, the girl would soon be mentally and physically exhausted, undoubtedly believing that she was suffering from multiple injuries. I could dispatch her with ease, the kunoichi shook her head with dismay. It was a fact that did not bode well for the girl's future. If she's this susceptible to low level genjutsu—
"You can turn it off now."
Red eyes widened, and the woman spun around to find the redhead perched on the wall behind her. Blue eyes bored into her, sparkling with annoyance, also reflected by the frown on her face. Sweat was pouring off the girl's forehead and her clothes were soaked. Kurenai took a quick glance back to the field and found the other Ranma still dancing to an unseen foe. A copy. "You defeated my genjutsu."
"If that's what you're callin' that, yeah." Ranma nodded, hoping off the wall. Everything about her stance screamed high alert. "Took me a bit and hurt like hell. Wasn't very nice of ya."
"I apologize, but it was a necessary part of the test." Kurenai bowed slightly. "Illusionary techniques are common place her and in the world. A ninja may have all the skills and techniques available, but if he or she can be fooled into simply laying down to die, they are worthless."
Ranma's stance relaxed slightly and she took the opportunity wipe her brow. "Fair enough, but did ya have to make it so painful?"
The kunoichi smiled slightly as the girl plopped down onto a bench. Clearly the exercise had pressed her to her limits. "My higher level genjutsus can kill the unaware. I would not have subjected you to the Kurushimi without good cause."
"Kill?" Any fatigue that Ranma may have been experiencing was quickly pushed aside with the revelation.
"Yes." The woman confirmed, taking a seat beside the girl. "Either by fooling the mind that it has taken extreme damage or by drawing the opponent into an exhausted state through illusion."
Ranma frowned. "The mind sees what it expects to see."
"And feel." Kurenai confirmed. "Genjutsu merely creates the conditions. The victims mind does the rest." She paused, considering the sweat soaked girl who was clearly chewing on the new information. "And how did you escape my technique?"
"Uncertainty." Ranma replied, rubbing at one of the deeper illusionary cuts she had incurred. It still felt like it stung. "Your technique works as long as the victim is uncertain of the situation he's in. It was okay at first. I could have missed a few launchers. Not seen some of the kunai. But I'm the best." Ranma flashed a roguish grin, causing the woman beside her to chuckle ever so slightly. "I don't miss that much detail."
"And from there, you substituted a clone and removed yourself from the situation." The nin confirmed. "My focus left the real you, freeing you from the illusion. Very good."
The roguish grin grew. "The best."
"But more than enough time to dispatch you if one were determined enough." The grin evaporated as quickly as it surfaced. "And mark my words, young one, the world is full of determined killers."
"So you people keep tellin' me." Ranma groused. Regardless the point was crystal clear and the woman was absolutely right. She has spent way too much time dodging ghost daggers and shooting nonexistent popup targets. Against somebody serious like Herb, Saffron or even Ryoga… "So you gonna teach me how to counter it?"
"In time." Kurenai returned. "But first, what style of taijutsu you practice?"
"Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu. Family art." Ranma detailed lazily as the fatigue began to wear on her. The targets had only required low powered versions of her attacks, but that last part with had pushed to her limits. Duh, she snorted with the thought. It was my own mind pushing me that hard.
"With an intensive focus on aerial combinations." The woman observed while handing Ranma a full canteen of water. The young martial artist sucked down the cool liquid greedily before continuing.
"Yeah, combines over twenty styles into a single art." The redhead continued, wiping her mouth dry with the sleeve of her red tunic. "Idea is to create a single, supremely flexible combat style."
"I see." The ninja nodded thoughtfully. "So your family art is actually an amalgam of every other art you happen across. And likewise with the techniques?"
Something about her comment bothered Ranma, something she filed away for when she was a bit less mentally and physically exhausted. For now… "Yeah, them too. Mainly some high level Amazon stuff and my old man's techniques. Most of the other stuff is situational."
Kurenai cocked her head curiously. "Other stuff?"
"Well yeah." Ranma shrugged while attempting to coax the last droplets of water out of the canteen. The girl set the container aside and began to tick off fingers. "There's Anything goes cloth fighting, anything goes noodle ryu, anything goes combat dining, anything goes chopstick fu, anything goes tailoring, anything goes…"
Ranma Saotome failed to notice Kurenai Yuhi red eyes begin to glaze over as she continued down the list of all the weird and obscure fighting styles she had been forced to learn since the day she could walk.
"Martial arts… take out?"
Kurenai nodded, watching her graying leader lapse into rapid blinking. "Apparently consisting of free for all combat in which opponents must transverse and obstacle course with a box of food. Anybody's food that is not intact upon crossing the finish line loses. Needless to say, mutual combat increases ones odds of finishing without competition."
"Naturally." The Hokage deadpanned, fixing his gaze upon his own distorted image from within the crystal ball before him. "The child is a genius in taijutsu, strong in his own ninjutsu but barely holding his own in genjutsu. Obviously we can't field him… or her without the latter. His level of skill would alienate the other teams if we would attach him to this year's graduates…" The Third sighed and turned his eyes back up to Kurenai. "Which leaves your suggestion."
"One way or another, it will strengthen the village by several magnitudes." the red eyed ninja stated. "The number of suitable kunoichi is the lowest I've since I've taken on mentoring graduates; only four this year."
The Hokage held her with a critical eye. Unfortunately, he knew exactly what the woman meant. Thirteen years ago, they could afford the specialized instruction. Thirteen years ago, Konoha's population was triple that of today. Thirteen years ago…
"And you're saying Ranma could…?"
Kurenai nodded maintaining her calm in spite of being on the precipice of success. "One way or the other and given his training, I'm certain of it. At very least, it would give him an anchor of stability. Looking at it from a purely humanistic point of view, it's something he desperately needs."
"I concur." The village elder inverted his pipe, tapping the ashes into a small tray decorated with swirls. If anything that was the decisive factor in his judgment. He had seen the boy's very psyche. It was scarred. Heavily so. But it was also obvious that Ranma was a good soul. More so, life had honed the child's honor to a knife edge. Once given, the boy would never, ever go back on his word. Sarutobi shook his head, staring at the ashes as they dimmed and expired. Still… He took another deep breath and returned his attention fully back onto the kunoichi across from him.
"Alright then. I want a roster on my desk tomorrow morning. Weekly status reports on not only the team's progress, but his individual progress as well." The Hokage waited for Kurenai's nod before continuing. "You are to personally oversee his development in genjutsu. It's his weakest area besides chakra in general, but Iruka is already addressing that. From there he can pick up ninjutsu as he goes."
"Of course, Hokage-sama."
"If it looks like either he…she or the team can't handle it, I expect you to pull the plug." The elder tapped the table with a bony, wrinkled finger for emphasis. "No point in making a bad decision worse."
He watched as the woman stood up, producing a sharp nod. Her face was painfully neutral, but her eyes, her eyes were positively sparkling. "As you say, Hokage-sama. If there is nothing further, I have preparations to make."
Sarutobi nodded his assent and the pale woman was gone from his office. He shook his head. This could very well be the worst idea he had ever agreed too since apprenticing Orochimaru. His eyes found the distorted reflection within the crystal ball in front him and prayed to Kami the opposite was true.
Blue eyes watched as light began to cascade over the giant monument that dwarfed the small village known as Konoha, refracting through atmosphere and clouds to create fiery streamers of yellow and orange; a prelude to the day that was about to begin anew. Ranma Saotome stood atop the highest point of the dorm he had been assigned, taking it all in from his rooftop vantage point. The cool morning breeze was his only companion at the moment as the village below lay dormant, its occupants still slumbering for the most part. He could pick out the occasional cart setting up on the twisting streets below, but those enterprising few were the exception. The streets were empty and silent, save the occasional twitter of birds welcoming in the new day.
This was his time.
It wasn't just a training regiment drilled into him since the day he could walk that brought him to the dorm's rooftop, though that certainly helped. No, this was traditionally the only time during his day where he would have time to think, as opposed to reacting to one crisis after another through the course of the day. Fiancée crises. Rival crises. Kidnapper crises, though the latter could easily fall under the fiancée crisis header. Today would likely be free of those particular thorns in his side, if only because he was a full reality removed from them. At least he thought he was. God only knew exactly how the pig boy got him here, but one thing was for certain: 'Here' wasn't on any map he had ever seen.
In a way, it wasn't so bad, if only because his life had been one non-stop training mission after another, moving him from one location to the next. Three years growing up with mom, another five on the road, a small break for schooling, off to China, then back to Japan. All things considered, two years Nerima was barely a blip on the radar, save the general weirdness that conspired against him there. Waking up in a strange village in a strange land full of ninja? No sweat. That's life. Well, his life at least.
Idly, the martial artist wondered if Akane would have still been kidnapped so many times if he hadn't shown up. The count was what? Three? Four, now?
Ranma shrugged at the idle missive and check the straps on his wrist that bound the weights to him. Normally his time worn bracers would be in their place, but for the fact that they were now too large for his thirteen year old wrists. Maybe he would be able to don them in a year or so, but right now his mushroom stunted body had yet to hit its growth spurt and the things would all but slide off his wrists. In any case, the new body needed conditioning and practice. So did the other body, for that matter. Using ki to supplement his innate strength was fine, assuming he was in good physical condition to begin with, and the thought made him frown. Fact was, he was barely making par, let alone ready to go into serious combat. Even full power ki techniques would wipe him out. He had the reservoirs, but the body just couldn't handle anything even close to full capacity.
The pigtailed boy took a step and began his dance across the roof's spine. No, being trapped in Konoha wasn't so bad. Certainly no worse than hiking the wilds of China for the better part of a year. Better even. No fiancées, no rivals, and you couldn't walk anywhere in the village without tripping over a new martial arts technique. It was like his visit to the Amazon's village, but without the "Die, Ranma!" component mixed in.
Well, that was another 'yet".
Only a matter of time, the more cynical portion of his psyche mused and he sped up the pace of his kata. Another reason to get his body in shape. It was only a matter of time before the crazies began popping out of the woodwork and when that happened, he'd best be prepared for them.
Ranma's brain latched onto the concept greedily. The concept of not just using spiritual energy to fuel techniques but physical life energy as well! That idea alone would make this side trip to Konoha worth whatever fall out he'd receive upon getting back to the real world. The boy stepped it up a notch, incorporating airborne combinations into his kata while rays of sun began to clear the Hokage monument in earnest. By the time he got back to Nerima the ghoul would be begging him to learn the new stuff, and ole pervert?
Grandmaster, my ass.
It was something that had always irked him about the old master, something aggravated by the red-eyed sensei's words yesterday. Exactly what was Happosai a master of anyway? What was his art really? Stealing techniques? Did the old fool really have anything that truly his own? Pressure point maps… Secret techniques… Magic trinkets… Potion receipts… Ranma snorted with contempt as he clawed through the air, hands and feet thrashing out to meet an unseen foe. To his knowledge, none of it was his. The memory of Kurenai's words flashed back at him…
"So your family art is actually an amalgam of every other art you happen across. And the likewise the techniques?"
Ranma Saotome slit to a halt on the narrowest edge of the rooftop, considering the statement with dismay. That was the school he was to inherit. Could he really consider an art made up of everybody else's art his own? One whose very core often dishonestly hijacked other arts to bolster its own technique by way of the perverted grand master? Not that her own father wasn't just as bad, but at least went on to create two wholly unique arts of his own: The Umi Sen Ken and Yama Sen Ken. Still…
Ranma Saotome considered the village below once more, as if its narrow, winding streets held the answer he was looking for. His only reply to the dilemma that was his inheritance was the low whistle of a bird.
The martial artist shook his head and reached into a fold of ki, pulling out a canteen. besides the pocket change now residing on the small desk of his room, it was the only thing that had made the trip from Japan to Konoha, if only because habit had seen to it that a source of water was on his person at all times. There was no need to flash the container with cold ki as the water contained therein was already well below room temperature. The cap was unscrewed and a moment later, a damp redhead stood in place of the pigtailed boy, frowning. The girl flexed her left arm, staring at the wrist weights she had strapped onto it. Heavy as hell. As a boy, the weights were heavy, but not unexpectedly so. As a girl, they were a definite presence, which led her to yet more questions about the seal and its interaction with her curse.
Ranma threw an experimental punch and stepped into a new kata slowly. Sluggish. On a normal day her male and female aspects shared some form of parity. Her female form was slightly faster and nimble, but not overly so. Likewise, her male form was stronger and more durable, but there were few instances where the difference would make or break a fight. Now the difference was noticeable. Very noticeable. The martial artists pushed forward with the kata, speeding it up. She was definitely faster in this form now. Her practice runs on the range and against the Sas kid had highlight that particular difference, but now… Now she knew for a fact that it didn't hit as hard. The effort it took to throw the weights around told her that.
Probably not as durable, either, she surmised, taking the energy from a high kick and transforming into an aerial ballet. Even as she twisted around, landed and launched into another set, her brain was already analyzing the tactical dilemma the change would introduce.
Girl type for weapon users like Mousse and Kuno…Easy to dodge and a serious blow would probably put me down anyway, regardless of the body… Guy type for the hand to hand. Need to be able to take the punishment if they're good enough not to need weapons. Sunlight continued to pour out around her and the village as she broke down potential encounters and specific responses to them before slowing, finally halting along the very edge of the roof. Gonna be a pain in the ass keepin' water handy, though…
That thought opened the other can of worms that had somehow visited itself upon her person. The curse was acting up… Shifting her as if it had a mind of its own. Ranma flexed her arm as it burned from the strain she ad put it through. The water still worked, but something new had been added with the seal. Magic screwing with magic, the red head frowned. It was shifting on its own and had done something to both bodies, further highlighting the difference between boy and girl. It was something he had thought about every once in a while when she first acquired the curse, but had never held any real significance until now. Which version of the curse was more natural? The one with only the vaguest separation in physical abilities or the new, more obvious—
"Who the hell is tap dancing up on the roof so damn—" The girl's head swiveled around at the outburst to find a scraggly crop of spiky blonde hair staring at her with wide blue eyes. "Ranma?!"
The redhead considered the boy curiously before simply shrugging. "Yeah, what's up 'Ruto?"
The question went unanswered for the next minute as Naruto simply stared at the girl before shaking his surprise off. "Uh, hey… What are you doing, um, on the roof…? It's early, you know?"
"Heh. Always up this early." Ranma admitted, forcing down the unsettling feeling his scrutiny was creating. She flicked her trespassing pigtail back over her shoulder. "Gotta practice, ya know?"
"Right above my room?"
"Eh, heh heh heh…" She chuckled self consciously, then frowned at the reaction. "Rooftop was the place to get away from it all back home."
The blond seemed to weight the answer with uncharacteristic scrutiny before hopping fully onto the roof itself with the girl. "Then I'll join you!"
Ranma blinked, then shrugged. "Sure, why not?"
The streets of Konoha were now bustling with activity, Ranma noted as he accompanied his blond counterpart as he sought to meet up with the rest of his team. That particular aspect of their trip was of little concern to Ranma, as he neither thought the Pink was as cute as Naruto professed she was or had the desire to associate with his brooding arch nemesis. Ranma chuckled at the thought as they cut through an alley. The fact that his friend even considered the Sas-kid a rival was amusing.
Gotta start somewhere, I guess, Ranma snorted mentally. Regardless, the martial arts heir did have a perfectly valid reason for accompanying Naruto, and that was breakfast, even if it was with Sas and Pink. The pigtailed boy's stomach grumbled as if to underscore the fact. The morning workout had done a good job in burning calories and his body was letting him know it was time to consume more, preferably in mass quantities.
…And that was when he spied a vendor opening up for the day, three blocks down. The aroma of crab cakes and octopus balls waft across his nostrils, sealing the old man's fate in that very instant.
"Hold up, 'Ruto." Ranma snagged the boy's orange jacket, pulling him back into the ally from which they had just stepped out of. Naruto blinked curiously as his friend reached into a pocket on his tangs and pulled out… a canteen?
Naruto Uzumaki gawked. No seals, no scrolls, no nothing. "How'd you do that?!"
"Ki folding." Ranma commented absently, uncapping the container and splashing himself with it. The canteen disappeared as quickly as it was obtained, leaving Naruto to stare in wonder. The fact that he was now a she was a minor footnote against the technique he had just witnessed. "Okay, do that Minako jutsu for me."
"You, know, that blonde girl you can conjure?" The pigtailed boy clarified. "We're gonna have a little fun."
"Oh, yeah! Sure!" Naruto nodded excitedly, if only for the fact that somebody actually wanted to see the technique instead of yell at him for it. His face lapsed into a mask of concentration and cloud of smoke exploded around him violently "Sexy-no-jutsu!"
The smoke cleared and Ranma's cheek began twitching as she silently thanked God they were still in the ally. "With clothes, dummy."
Naruto Uzumaki blinked, then nodded. The slightly smaller puff of smoke that followed endowed the female Naruto with an outfit similar to his normal wear, but with a slightly tighter fit. Ranma gave the blonde haired, blue eyed girl clad in orange a scrutinizing eye before passing judgment. "Good enough. Follow my lead."
The slightly taller blonde followed her redheaded friend out of the ally and back onto the street, where their senses were once again assaulted by the delicious aroma of baked goods. Ranma made her way down the street with Naruto in tow, pretending not to notice the vendor until the last minute. She sniffed the air in a rather obvious manner. "Oh! What's that smell?"
Naruto took her cue, disguising her voice with admirable skill. "Smells like delicious octopus balls!"
"And fish balls and crab cakes!" The aging vendor unknowingly took his cue, springing the trap from which he was not to escape. "Minumoto has the best street eats in all of Konoha!" He leaned over the cart, clearly enamored by the two girls. "Would either of you cuties like a stickie or two?"
"Oh yes! How about you, Na-chan?" Ranma clapped, gushing cuteness. Naruto stood, staring cluelessly at the vendor and his cart until her partner elbowed her. "How about YOU, Na-CHAN?"
Naruto picked up the not so subtle clue and nodded furiously. "Oh yes! Definitely!"
The vendor looked from one girl to the other, his gaze settling on the blonde in orange. He studied her for a moment, cocking his head. "Do I know you?"
"Um, uh.. eh…"
Fortunately, Ranma had more than enough experience from being in situations exactly like the one presented to Naruto and picked up the fumble with practiced ease. "Oh, she's my cousin! Just visiting for the weekend! You've probably seen her around with me."
"Yep! Just visiting! That's me!" Naruto chirped, flashing the old man a grin and a peace sign. The vendor studied the girl for a bit longer before simply shrugging, his good nature smile returning.
"Then what can I get you charming girls?"
"Oh! I'll take two octopus stickies, a bag of crab cakes, some fishballs for Na-chan, some of those scrumptious…"
Naruto listened to the redhead continue cheerfully, her eyes wide. How the heck did Ranma expect to pay for all that anyway?! It wasn't as if he had any money, and he was sure her friend didn't have much either. Maybe she's rich or something, the blond mused, only to have his thoughts interrupted once more by a cry of dismay.
Two sets of eyes focused on the pigtailed girl, who was now frantically digging through her pockets. "Oh, I know it was just here!"
Naruto couldn't help but to arch a skeptical eyebrow now. The pockets that had held an entire canteen were now apparently empty. Fortunately, the old vendor didn't notice. "What's wrong, Red?"
"I could have sworn my money was here!" Ranma exclaimed pitifully, and even Naruto began to feel sorry for her until the redhead focused on her. "How about you, Na-chan? Do you have any??"
"Oh, neither of us do!" Ranma inserted, her eyes shiny and sad. "Now you'll never get to taste the best octopus balls in Konoha!"
Naruto blinked, staring at the girl incredulously. "That's, um… sad?"
"Now, now! We can't have that!" The man's chest puffed out. Naruto watched with amazement as he began to wrap up the requested treats. "I think I can afford to part with a few, especially for two of the cutest girls in Konoha!"
Naruto watched as Ranma practically glowed. "Oh no! I couldn't do that for such a nice man…"
"Think nothing of it, dear." He commented, packing an extra stickie into the bag for good measure. "Just promise you and your cousin will stop by again."
"Oh, most definitely!" The redhead piped as the goods changed hands. Naruto couldn't help but to note the unholy light shining in her eyes as she gathered the foodstuffs. Ranma bowed deeply and giggled before taking Uzumaki's hand. "Come on, Na-chan! We'll be late!"
With that proclamation, She was dragging Ranma off down the road, away from the vendor and around a corner where she stopped abruptly. "Dibs on the crab cakes."
The blond girl stared at his friend with incredulity. "You…! I…! How…!?"
"He didn't stand a chance." Ranma stated as she pushed a couple stickies toward Naruto. "We need to work on your technique, though. Maybe change your clothes in girl form, too."
Naruto blinked. Repeatedly. It was all she could do. "We got food. For free?"
Nobody ever gave her anything for free.
"Kinda fun, huh?" Ranma smiled between crab cakes. "Even more fun now that I got somebody to score free eats with. Never could get Kawaii-kun to tag along."
Even if she were so inclined, there was little Naruto could do to object as she stuffed her face full of seafood products. As it was, she wasn't inclined to and had to admit, Ranma was indeed correct. It was fun. The blonde girl tossed an empty skewer aside, rapidly depleting her share of the loot. "What now?"
Ranma looked at her friend with an impish smile. "Now, how many vendors are there between here and your friends?"
Sakura was happy. First, she was alone with Sasuke. That fact alone was more than enough to make her quite content, causing her to flash him a shy smile. Her teammate responded with a dark, brooding look that sent shivers down the pink haired girl's spine.
God, he's so hot!
Second, their instructor was late. That, however, was a known quantity. Kakashi-sensei could more than likely be late for his own death and not break character. But the third thing was even better… Naruto was late as well. Lacking the most bothersome aspect of their team meant she could spend the entire breakfast alone with Sasuke in wonderful, romantic silence. Her. Not some school girl. Not even Ino. Her. Alone.
"HE'S MINE!" Inner Sakura roared, pumping her fist in monochromatic victory.
Unfortunately, she spoke too soon.
"Sasuke, I… I know this is kind of sudden…" The girl began timidly, staring down from the bench they both sat upon. "But I think we really share a common…"
Her voice trailed off as she noticed his stoic demeanor focused elsewhere. She followed his gaze down the block and found two girls laughing riotously. Why would Sasuke care about two—Sakura's eyes widened. That… that girl! Boy! Whatever! She's walking towards us! Her irritation stalled as she noted the redhead's companion. This one was clad in an orange jacket and pants, while blonde streamers floated off to either side of her head. Sakura frowned as she watched the two draw closer, chatting happily. That one looked vaguely familiar…
As if reading her thoughts, Sasuke voiced his own thoughts aloud.
"Naru…" The name fell off her lips incomplete as realization hit her. The girl was… She looked like… The only time she had actually seen it was as a prank and never fully clothed. Here, he was just walking down the street like he wore the illusion every God damn day! What the hell!? Sakura's patience snapped abruptly. What the hell is he trying to do?! Embarrass us?!
"YOU IDIOT!" Both girls stopped abruptly as Sakura stomped over. "Are you TRYING to be a pervert or something?!"
Her fist bounced off Naruto's forehead with a comical bonk, dispelling the illusion. Ranma's eyes narrowed on her as she fixed the boy with a glare that caused him to wince. She held it for a moment before turning her wrath on the redhead. "And you! You wouldn't have won the other day if not for that stupid trick!"
"Stupid trick?" Ranma blinked, her irritation with the girl momentarily sidetracked by curiosity.
"The one you're using now!" She growled. "Don't play games with me!"
It took Ranma a couple of seconds to realize the thrust of her complaint, and when she did, couldn't help but to smile. Instead of addressing the girl's protest directly, Ranma looked over Sakura's shoulder. "How about you, Sas? Got any excuses?"
Sasuke's ominous stare darkened with the insult, but he managed to restrain himself. After a few more moments of intense study, the Uchiha spoke. "You're a girl."
Ranma snorted lightly to herself, adopting a rogish grin. "Maybe you're not a lost cause after all." She turned back toward Sakura. "Now Naruto's girl friend, on the other hand…"
"WHAT DID YOU SAY?!"
"Anyway, I gotta go, 'Ruto." Ranma turned away from the fuming, pink haired girl. "Remember your promise. If ya ain't on the roof by five thirty, I'm wakin' your ass up."
With that, the pigtailed girl leapt up onto the nearest roof and was gone, leaving Naruto Uzumaki to answer some very pointed questions.
Hiashi stared at the boy sitting before him, piercing the unseen with a technique that defined his ancestry. The Byakugan reduced Ranma Saotome's physical form to mere shadows as the bloodline highlighted the various energies that flowed though his body. It only took Hiashi Hyuuga a few moments to come to the most likely conclusion available.
"Are you sure he's not crippled?"
Ranma frowned at the theory while Iruka simply chuckled at the missive. He turned back to his student. "Ranma, are you crippled?"
The boy produced a lopsided grin and stood up from his chair. Seconds later, a fierce blue glow enveloped his person. "Not last I checked."
Hiashi took a step back on reflex, reactivating the Byakugan. The veins around his eye strained outward as chakra flowed wholesale into his pupiless eyes. The sight before him shocked the Hyuga head. Much of what he saw was similar to his previous attempt, in that the boy's chakra system was stunted. Nearly half of it was virtually inactive while the other half was glowing faintly with life force. In anybody else, he would have assumed Iruka's student had suffered a stroke or some other malady.
Now the child was glowing brightly, not only illuminating the room, but his internal flows as well. There was still no chakra being generated, but the life force flowing along those same paths was now polarized and radiating power. Hiashi stared for another minute before deactivating the Byakugan. The lines of power disappeared and the boy's physical form returned to his sight, still glowing. Only one question came to mind.
Iruka nodded at Ranma, who let his battle aura drop off into invisibility. "Ranma and I are still working on that one. Our current theory is that chakra can be deconstructed into two elements of life force, ki and rei."
"Not so unusual," Hiashi commented, taking his own seat. "But it hardly explains that."
Ranma shrugged at the gesture Hiashi sent his way and Iruka continued, "True, but actually utilizing its component parts is."
Hiashi blinked. "Then that was…"
"Ki." Ranma added. "Spirit energy in terms of what you all know. It's all we got back home."
"And why your participation has been requested by the Hokage himself." Iruka reminded the patriarch subtly. "Our goal is to help Ranma develop his rei so that he can effectively mold chakra."
Hiashi was now officially in a state of semi-shock. Chakra was the basis of power within the realm of the ninja. To realize that it could be divided up and used effectively was nearly earth shattering, especially when he considered the implications for his own art... In some ways, it was almost the direct counter to his school—a technique that allowed an opponent to continue functioning even after the chakra had been sealed…
"I see you understand the need for discretion in this matter." Iruka commented, interpreting Hiashi's silence. The man nodded gravely. Ranma looked from his instructor to the stranger curiously and back. "The Hyuga's bloodline allows them to not only see through and around most objects, but also the flows of chakra within any living thing…"
"His school revolves around that, doesn't it?" The tactical portion of Ranma's brain assimilated the implications of such an ability and came up with reasoning at a terrifying speed. "Probably can see when somebody is gonna use chakra, maybe even disrupt it if you're good enough… Would be a pain in the ass to counter if somebody could fall back on the ki and rei… I'd be a little worried too, probably."
"Right." Hiashi returned stiffly, pressing past the disturbing new development. "And we're to help him develop chakra?"
"Exactly." Iruka confirmed, missing the emphasis entirely. "Between the two of us, we've got plenty of theories, but little in the way to confirm them. Your bloodline and it's ability to see ki, rei, and chakra as a whole will be integral to our success."
Hiashi frowned, entirely dissatisfied with the direction the meeting had taken. Not only was his bloodline- a technique older than Konoha itself –being used for parlor tricks, but it was being used to help a child that held the potential to destroy the Byakugan as they knew it.
Hiashi was far from pleased.
Ranma Saotome shook his head as he walked down the halls and past the various students milling around in the school hallway. Ninja school, the martial artist chuckled to himself as he pushed a door open and stepped out into sunlight. Furikan had nothing on this place.
Overall, the meeting with Iruka and Hiashi had gone well. Meditation had never been his strong suit, but he'd done a lot worse than that to learn a new technique; sitting still in a silent attempt to build up his rei was a small sacrifice toward that goal. Still, the Hiashi-guy didn't appear to be a happy camper. Ranma smiled mentally as he cleared the school grounds and stepped out onto the streets of lower Konoha. Of course, I'd be grumpy too if my art were rendered obsolete inside the space of five minutes. Either way, it wasn't his fault that the guy's art was so one sided.
Still, his entire attitude all but assured Ranma that they'd be bumping heads sooner or later. Ranma mentally shrugged the dilemma away. That was for later. Now it was time to drop by practice range five and learn how to create a kick ass illusion or two. The pigtailed martial artist stopped abruptly, his face breaking out into a wide smile.
"God, I love this place."
A couple pedestrians gave him a queer look, but Ranma didn't mind. For the first time in his life, he was in a place that spoke his language… all without the baggage of fiancées or his dopey father arranging yet another marriage. His mind briefly paused on the point of Akane, sending a pang of guilt through his psyche. Not that he could do much about that anyhow… Not only was he stuck in Konoha for the near future, but he was thirteen with no conceivable way to return to his real age. Ranma's mood darkened as he contemplated the implications. In fact, the pig boy was probably feeding the Tendos some crap about getting lost during training or something. Not much else would suffice, as the fiancées would more than likely go looking for a body on any story more concrete than that. Still, part of him wished he was there when Ryoga told his story… The look on the old ghoul's face would be priceless, as would her pumping the pig boy for details. The Tendos might give him a pass. Even his old man might get fooled. But the Amazons? Cologne may have been an old ghoul, but she was a damn smart one. A slight grin cracked Ranma's face. Whatever it was, Ryoga's excuse had better be damn good to keep her from asking questions.
A pleasant walk and ten minutes later found the pig tailed martial artist approaching practice range five, where a pale woman with midnight hair and red eyes awaited. She smiled slightly as Ranma came into view, something Ranma was more than willing to return given the circumstances.
"So what are we gonna learn today, Yuhi-sensei?"
Kurenai Yuhi pursed her lips. How best to handle this… "For today, we have a more pressing matters to deal with."
"Er… Sure. What's up?" Ranma put his hands in his pockets, falling the obi clad kunoichi down the path, further into the range itself.
"I have an unusual request to make of you, Ranma Saotome," Kurenai started softly as they walked. "A request only made possible because you are an unusual person, if I may be so blunt."
That was blunt? Ranma blinked. Calling him 'unusual' was damn near a compliment considering the bluntness he received in Nerima on a regular basis. The red eyed nin continued.
"By now, I'm sure you've heard of the incident concerning the nine-tails?" She paused, and Ranma nodded.
"Yeah. Big ol' fox attacked the village or something." Ranma confirmed his sparse knowledge of the incident. "So nasty that you all had to seal it in 'Ruto for some reason."
"Indeed." The red eyed woman adopted her trademark neutrality. "That is secret knowledge in and of itself, but since you already know… Konoha suffered a terrible blow that day. The demon managed to gain a foothold within the village and was able to slay thousands of innocent people before being neutralized and sealed."
Ranma nodded silently as they turned down the path and stepped into the observation box. Two ninja were already on the field practicing their kunai throwing. Bad stuff, but why is she tellin' me this…?
"The loss of life was staggering." Kurenai continued softly and Ranma could all but see the ghosts of memories dance in her eyes. "For a small village such as Konoha, the event very nearly signified the end of the Hidden Leaf. Once the Forth passed on in his attempt to seal the nine tails, Sarutobi returned to power and saw that drastic changes would be required if Konoha was to survive the coming hardships." The kunoichi noted she had the boy's complete attention and pressed forward. "One of those changes was in how our future generations were trained. Much of our survival depends on how our strength is perceived by other villages and their host nations. As such, it was necessary to press most of our most experience ninja out into the field to maintain the perception of strength…"
A concept Ranma was well familiar with.
"…But such posturing was not without a price." Kurenai sighed. "While entirely necessary, it also represented a double edged sword. Sending our most experience out on missions meant fewer ninja to educate the next generation. As such, we began to embark on a condensed curriculum, cutting all but the most vital training in order to keep from short changing our future."
"Fewer trainers, less people to teach." Ranma condensed the explanation, earning another nod from Kurenai.
"But not just less people to teach. Less specialized instruction as well." She explained. "While we have recovered quite a bit in the following decade since the demon's attack, our training and education system still lacks the manpower to return to the individualized education…"
The pale woman took a deep breath. Time to drop the other shoe… "…specifically in training our kunoichi."
Ranma stared at the woman, waiting for the story to continue. Yeah, I can see that'd it suck for training, he thought silently. I mean, lot of the ninjas around here look to be guys. Training probably revolves more around them than the chicks. Can't train em the same as guys either, I oughta know… I'd just about die if I had to go through half the crap I put up with from my old man as a girl…
Kurenai watched the wheels of thought churn behind the young man's eyes. Waaaait for it…
Ranma blinked. Then blinked again. His expression abruptly soured. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me."
"I… we… Konoha wouldn't entertain such a drastic course of action of the need were not so dire." The woman explained, attempting to defuse the martial artists irritation. "Our education of newly graduated nins has gotten us by over the last thirteen years… barely. The various clans have helped bolster that training, but even so, the current curriculum is a mere shadow of what it once was. You," She motioned to Ranma, "Present us with a unique opportunity."
The pigtailed boy looked thoroughly put out now, crossing his arms. "And just how is that?"
"I asked you yesterday what you would do in Konoha if not for your skills as a martial artist." Kurenai managed to keep her even demeanor despite her quickening pulse. If she could only convince the boy… "We simply seek to utilize those skills to their fullest."
"By gettin' me to play kunoichi." Ranma stated dryly, prompting her nod.
"There is simply no way to deny your ability in the field." She inserted the counterpoint. "Combat tailoring. Cooking. Dining. Ballroom Dancing. Tea Cere—"
"And disguises, and calligraphy and yadda yadda yadda…." Ranma sighed, hanging his head. "God, me and my big mouth."
"And of course, the unspoken fact…"
"…That I change into a girl." Ranma grumbled. "I mean, couldn't ya send me out on a mission or somethin'?"
"Were we able, we would." Kurenai admitted. "As skilled as you are, it's obvious that you harbor critical deficiencies that would allow you to compete outside this village…"
"…At a rank befitting of your ability." She finished hastily, mollifying the martial artist somewhat. "As an instructor- specifically to kunoichi –you have intimate knowledge of the skills and abilities required. Likewise, your mastery of Taijitsu."
"So I know a few things. So what." Ranma continued to grumble and the nin prepared to push her point home.
"Tell me, how much experience do you have the poisons?"
Ranma's gaze narrowed on the woman.
"Charms, magical and otherwise?"
Ranma glowered, but remained silent.
His cheeks reddened to a fine pinkish hue.
Better not push too hard, the kunoichi decided. "The fact is that you are not only imminently qualified for the position, but the only person we can even consider sparing for such specialized instruction… Specialized instruction that Konoha needs to return to desperately. You are the first step on that path."
Ranma settled into glaring fiercely at the woman, but internally… Internally, Ranma was hating himself. She was right. His female aspect could twist men around her pinkie. He had intimate knowledge of poisons, given his interaction with Kodachi and Shampoo, the latter habitually using magical charms on a regular basis. He could spot both a mile away anymore and even recreate his fair share after such repeated exposure. He could turn a intricate tea ceremony into a lethal art. With Happosai's unwitting help, his calligraphy was a potentially deadly weapon. He knew pressure points both mundane and exotic. All combined with the Musabetsu Kakutō Ryū…
"And I was really startin' to like this place, too."
Kurenai studied the disgruntled boy carefully, watching as a torrent of emotion flowed across his face. After a full minute, he settled for a labored sigh and returned her gaze silently. Another moment of silence passed and the nin decided to indulge in her curiosity. "Is it really so bad?"
"Hmmf." Ranma snorted in a derisive manner, shaking his head. "A year ago, I was kickin' people's ass for implying what you're suggestin'. Gotta remember… was born a guy, been one for fifteen years. Me and Ranko have only known each other for about two and a half years."
"Ranko?" Kurenai stopped with the unknown name.
"Eh, yeah. A little… joke about my girl-type." He brushed past the cryptic reference. "Anyway… It took a good bit of those two and a half years to come to terms with the curse. I was raised to be a man among men, the best of the best. It don't take much to imagine what I was feelin' back then."
"You felt emasculated."
"Damn right." Ranma returned decisively. "I was jumpin' at cures left and right to get rid of it. Half the time they were fakes and the other half would cost me more than I was willin' to pay. You can only do that so many times before you go insane or make yer peace."
The woman simply listened, enraptured by the child spouting wisdom beyond his years. "You made your peace."
Ranma held his silence for another moment, continuing to stare at the person that was to be yet another mentor in his life. The pigtailed boy took a deep breath. "Let's just say we're still working on the terms."
"I see." Kurenai's acknowledged the explanation neutrally. The boy's life definitely had more issues and depth than his nonchalant personality indicated. She had assumed he had adjusted well to his condition... In fact, he had, considering all he'd been through. And now that I know what I'm up against… "Konoha would owe you an enormous debt for this service, Ranma. As it is, I've already been able to secure the assistance of the Hyuga clan in order to help with—"
Ranma blinked, jolted out of his introspective. "You mean that stuffy Hiashi guy?"
"The same." The woman's lips turned up in a slight smile. "His assistance will enable you to develop your chakra faster. Likewise, the Hokage has assured me that you will be paid a wage befitting of you position as instructor, plus a standard equipment and supplies allowance. Additionally, we will make Konoha's complete Taijutsu, Genjutsu and ninjustu archives available to you for your study, should you undertake this task…"
Ranma's eyes continued to widen as she detailed the job's benefits. "Just for trainin' a bunch of girls in how to be kunoichi?"
"Three girls to be exact." The nin corrected. "They will be your charges for two hours a day when they aren't attached to their regular teams. You are to evaluate and train them in advanced combat arts, subversion, interaction in formal settings, seducti—"
"I ain't teaching them how ta kiss."
"Of course not." Kurenai shook her head. "Just the finer points in how to use their feminine charms."
"Oh, that's easy." Ranma shrugged, ready to move on to the next topic.
The kunoichi raised a skeptical eyebrow. Evidentially some of the 'terms' are coming along better than others. "Of course, you will detail their status to me or the Hokage direct—"
"Nobody interferes with the training." Kurenai stopped again as Ranma interrupted again.
"I'm gonna train 'em, and train 'em hard." Ranma leaned forward from his position, eyes glinting. "I only got 'em for two hours a day, so I'm damn well gonna make the most of it."
Ranma's aggressiveness succeeded in throwing Kurenai off her traditionally neutral balance. "Of…Of course… If their progress exceeds expectations, then we may consider them for more active roles." The boy hung on every word. "Do we have an agreement?"
Ranma paused for a moment, as if considering a last minute withdraw from their negotiations. Whatever the internal dialogue, he nodded a second later. "Deal."
Kurenai Yuhi allowed herself a rare, genuine smile. "Then let's go meet your new team."
Thanks for staying with me. I know release times can be hit or miss at times, so I tried to put as much in this chapter as I dared while keeping the plot even. Most Excellent thanks to Metroidvania for helping shorten my editing time by a large margin. Anything left after his run is my responsibility.
Resu Genkaku: Kurushimi – Lesser Illusion: Pain; I wasn't able to dig up very much concerning Kurenai's abilities, a fact exuberated by her minimal face time in the series. The one major technique I was able to nail down was entirely inappropriate to use in a training scenario, but the woman is reputed to genjitsu specialist. Lesser illusion: pain was created to fill this gap and be used on Ranma—An illusion where the mind is placed in a situation to expect pain to varying degrees as determined by the caster.
Of Foxcats and Fiancées – I can't tell you how many issues I've had in trying to determine the optimal match for Ranma in this series, all the way up to posting polls in order to help me overcome my own indecisiveness. I would tell you who I've decided on, but Lord knows that might very well change between now and the time it becomes a major plot point.