Jumanji One Half
aka Jared Ornstead
The dice showed a pair of twos, totaling four, and after Ukyo's playing piece had moved the center disk swam with hazy green words.
"Every month at the quarter moon
There'll be a monsoon in your lagoon."
Thunder cracked and rain began to fall heavily seconds after the words appeared.
"Aaaaurggghh!! Ucchan! Why'd ya start another game!?!?" The black-haired boy almost pulled his hair out as he bounded back over the hill as the storm broke, drenching them with rain and whipping that whole area with winds that nearly blew their surprised fathers away.
Chibi-Ukyo answered. "Ranchan, think a minute. Your curse is cured! You don't turn into a girl anymore! That dragon-whisker thingy wasn't using up your hair! You don't have any of those problems!"
Those thoughts sobered chibi-Ranma somewhat, and he dropped his hands. "Yah, but..." He gestured helplessly at the game. "I don't WANT 'em again!"
Chibi-Ukyo rolled her eyes and sighed, resisting the urge to hit him with a giant spatula she couldn't carry as a kid anyway. "So think for a minute! Ranchan, you've got ten more years of training than your dad thinks you do. You could go home and see your mom. You could do anything!"
"But why..?" All chibi-Ranma could do was point in confusion at the game again, a trail of water flowing from his finger almost lost in the rain, before the rivulet of droplets got blown away by the wind.
Ukyo deliciously shrugged, setting her much-shorter hair bouncing. "Oh, well, it occurred to me that your dad's given you so many problems in your life that another chance to sort them out without it being permanent or anything could be useful. Don't you think? I mean, you and I could go train for another ten years and come right back to this moment!"
"Why would we want to?" Chibi-Ranma scratched his head through sopping wet hair.
"What if you pick up another curse again?" She asked him. "What if your dad sells you, or you run afoul of the yakuza, or Nabiki gets you in an honor agreement to do some horrible thing for her? Think about it, Ranchan. Now you know better than to ever go near Jusenkyo. What other problems out there are we going to learn how to avoid?"
She saw the light bulb go off above her fiance's head in spite of a downpour of rain so bad it almost came in a solid sheet, plastering their hair to their heads.
"And the game has tons of monsters to fight." She added as frosting on the cake. She took out Shampoo's piece, a lion, and threw it back on the game board, where it automatically slid toward the Start position. "We'll even let Shampoo play, only since she's not here I'll just have to roll the dice for her. Oh dear, so many more monsters to fight." The cute chibi-chef grinned roguishly, the wind still whipping droplets from her sopping wet hair.
Instantly she had a convert.
But the first time chibi-Ranma picked up the dice again, before anything else happened, green words swam to the surface of the crystal before he'd even rolled. Curious, both kids bent over to see a phrase.
"Doubles on win, reward is doubled
State your wish and be not troubled.
Prizes you get from winning a game
stay in effect and forever remain."
Chibi-Ranma scratched his head. "Gosh, I dunno what I want. I ain't cursed, an I can go see my mom whenever I want. Can you think of somethin, Ucchan?"
"Sure, Ranchan. I'd like to learn martial arts and physical things as easily as you do, but that's for me, that's not..." The chibi-chef trailed off as she looked at new words forming in the disk.
"A wish to have an agile mind
is among the best to find.
Using the wish to help a friend
will always result in a happier end.
A doubled reward, two friends were aided
Partners forever and never abated."
The two blinked down at the crystal disk as the words faded and the wind whipped a tree past their position. It was already starting to flood in the lower areas.
"Who else do you think got it, Ranchan?"
"Dunno, but I'm sure we'll find out." He picked up the dice again, but got restrained by her hand.
"Hang on, Ranchan. I got doubles for my first roll. I'd hate to see you get struck by lightning again for going out of turn."
"Ukyo!" "Ranma!" Two fathers were heard calling out through the rain.
Gulping, Ranma closed the board game and shoved it into his sleeve.
Later, as the storm subsided, they joined each other up in the lofty top branches of a tree, where Genma couldn't climb near to get them or overhear their conversation as his great weight would break off any supports. The game sat balanced on a branch between them.
"I think we should take this with us. And don't forget me this time!" Ukyo announced, hands pressed on little hips.
Ranma-chibi was shaking his little head.
Tears welled up in little Ukyo's eyes. "You... don't want me, Ranchan?"
The little boy was startled, then hastily explained. "Nah, it ain't that. I just don wanna go with my dad. He's gunna start trainin me in the Cat Fist in jus a couple a days after we leave here an..." the boy shuddered. "I still don like cats. An I don wanna think how much worst it'll be if he gets me in that pit again."
"Wow." Chibi-Ukyo blinked girlishly, which was fine, she was a girl. "I guess I hadn't thought about that. He makes a lousy parent."
"Wild animals coulda raised me better." Chibi-Ranma agreed.
"So how are we going to learn your Art?"
"Don't need him. I know everything the old bastard can teach, just about." Little boy Ranma boasted, confidently crossing his arms.
"I don't." The little girl objected in a small voice.
Ranma blinked owlishly at her for a moment, new ideas having to take a moment to penetrate. She wanted to learn his style? He guessed it sorta made sense after all her dad wanted her ta travel with him and such. A minute later he said. "Yah, but I can teach yah! Better'n him anyway."
Chibi-Ukyo gave him a firm yet petite nod. "Okay, and I can show you what I did to learn my weapons better. AND we'll need you to be a good cook."
"Do I gotta?"
"Running a cart is alot less work with two, Ranchan. How else were you planning to eat?"
Steal. Or that was how his father had always done it. But somehow that option didn't appeal as much anymore. Come to think of it, that bit about weapons being a weakness was Genma's idea, too. He'd have to think about that later, it was probably garbage too.
Right now he said. "Okay, I'll cook. It'll be embarrassing ta do it as a boy, though."
"Ranchan, my dad cooks. He's a guy. No one laughs at him."
Chibi-Ranma's moment of silent contemplation as he processed that thought was broken by a jarring cry of "BOY!!" shouted by his dad below, who shook the tree to get them down, tumbling both off their precarious perch. With a start Ukyo recognized that their fathers had made the engagement earlier, that meant today was the day Genma Saotome wanted to skip off and separate her from Ranma! After the agreement had been made he hadn't stuck around an extra minute he didn't have to, for fear of someone making him live up to his commitment. In fact, the Saotomes were already overdue for departure, at least as far as when they'd chosen to leave last time.
Praying for a distraction, Chibi-Ukyo made a grab for the dice and rolled, even as they fell from the height of the tree. Amazingly, the bone cubes clattered into the box, coming to a stop in the box despite their falling, although she couldn't see the numbers.
Just as they hit, bouncing off the grass and absorbing the shock as practiced martial artists, a feathered spear hit the trunk just above Genma's head. He looked, startled to find a group of African natives in war dress and paint standing in a ring around them with bones through their noses and spears raised to kill. More tribesmen lurked deeper in the forest.
Ukyo glanced down at the words in the crystal.
"They really love their kindreds' taste.
Better run, no time to waste."
The little girl grabbed up the game, urged her boyfriend to follow, and the pair of them took off running as fast as their little legs could carry them. Ukyo tossed the game box on top of her dad's cart and the three of them, Chibi-Ranma, Chibi-Ukyo, and her dad, rushed off pushing the cart while behind them Genma frantically fought off a tribe of cannibals.
When they were about an hour away, the trio stopped. Panting, Chibi-Ukyo asked. "Think he'll be alright?"
Chibi-Ranma nodded. "Yah, no tribe of Africans is gunna do him in. Africa ain't got no martial arts ta speak of."
Ukyo's father chose that moment to have the heart attack he'd been dreading, and the master of Kuonji School of Martial Arts Okanomiyaki perished. The two kids buried him, Chibi-Ukyo weeping. Standing by the newly dug grave, Chibi-Ranma tried to comfort her. "Hey, Ucchan! It's alright! All we gotta do is finish the game an he'll be alright!"
"No, Ranchan." Chibi-Ukyo wiped repeatedly at her unceasing tears. "He's had this heart problem all my life. Going back won't make him better. I'll just lose him again."
"Couldn't a doctor or somethin..." Chibi-Ranma felt helpless.
"Couldn't afford one." Red-eyed Ukyo mumbled through her tears.
Chibi-Ranma spent a moment in thought, wanting to comfort his friend. "I'll bet Cologne coulda done sumpthin."
"But she isn't here. No way to get her here, Ranchan." Little Ukyo continued bawling.
A bright little light bulb went off over little Ranma's head. "Maybe not." He admitted. "But we could learn how to be doctors! Then, when we came back, we could help your dad!"
Chibi-Ukyo looked up, caught by the excitement in her fiance's voice, and stopping her trail of tears somewhat. "It'll take a long time, Ranchan. We'd have to grow up before we could even attend medical school."
"Nah!" Her young friend boasted proudly, posing with hands on hips. "I'll bet we could do it faster than that! We just learn a medical martial art!"
"Like Doctor Tofu's" She asked, puzzled somewhat by this approach.
"Maybe. The Old Ghoul's was better. She knew a branch of Amazon healing they hadn't taught Shampoo yet. But I don wanna go back there yet. I ain't ready to." Actually what he feared was another marriage contest that he didn't know how to avoid.
"Got it!" Chibi-Ranma yelled, slapping his fist into his palm. "My ol' man's master got in that amazons' village an out again with everything he wanted. I bet if we got those techniques of his we could get those scrolls Cologne learned her stuff from!"
"But... isn't he locked in a cave right now?" Chibi-Ukyo asked, tears slowly forgotten. "Do you know what that cave is?"
Ranma sagged, six-year-old shoulders drooping. "Nah, I don't... never told me where." He groaned, then he became erect and excited again. "But I know where his friend is!"
"What friend?" Ukyo asked, feeling much better now they had a course of action.
"Master whatshisname. The guy Soun and my pops were runnin off ta train with, thinkin he could help them beat ol Happy." Chibi-Ranma boasted, remembering. "He's some kind a Chinese ninja. Only he thought the dads were worthless so he didn't teach 'em any real bits a his art, only tricks. But we're better martial artists than Soun an my pops! He'd teach us! And if he's like ol' Happy with his perversion (and he is), then he's gotta be like him for his appetite, too! We'll bribe him with food ta teach us!"
Chibi-Ukyo wiped the last tear from her eye, forgetting her grief in this plan. "I guess it could work."
"C'mon!" Chibi-Ranma grabbed one half of the handles, hauling the okanomiyaki cart away alongside his buddy. In his haste he pulled too fast and the game box slid off of the top of their cart, falling down on its side and opening. Seeing it tumbling toward a storm drain still rushing with flood waters, the diminutive martial artist dropped the handles on the cart and made a lightning dash, picking up the game board in mid roll and snatching up the dice inches before they got claimed by floodwaters, leaping back away again to somersault in mid air and land on his feet back beside the cart.
"Ha! No sweat." Chibi-Ranma gave a cocky grin and tossed the dice back into the game box before slamming the lid.
Chibi-Ukyo returned his grin before they both heard the roll of African drums. They set down the wooden game again just in time to see Ranma's elephant finish its move. The dice read two ones, snake eyes, and green words again swam to the surface of the crystal in the center of the board.
"Shanghaied by the Foreign Legion
Say goodbye, you've left the region."
The pair of kids looked around to find that their previous surroundings were gone, replaced by the belly of an old steamer ship filled with racks of cots and equipment lockers. Their clothes were gone and they'd been replaced by tan uniforms and funky hats, with belts all over holding pouches and canteens. The compartment was filled with grizzled men wearing that same uniform, most of them in their thirties and forties, lots of them polishing guns. Even though they had too little education to know it, everything had a very 19th century look and feel to it, especially the gear and equipment.
"Aiyah! This being too, too strange day!"
The pair of tots looked around to find Shampoo sitting on the bunk beside them, dressed in the same uniform as they were, appearing confused. They met glances at the same time. "Airen!" The purple haired bundle of joy launched herself across the mattress to glomp onto her beloved. "How come you small again, like Shampoo?"
"It's the game, sugar. Remember, we showed it to your great grandmother? She read the rules right there in front of us. Once the game is done everything goes right back to the way it was when we started. It looks like since you had a piece in play with us you got brought back with Ranchan and I. This is eleven years ago to what happened this morning."
"So storm in village and bad men's attack was all game?" Shampoo blinked from where she was smothering Ranma against her washboard flat, little kid chest. "You and Airen start another? Why involve Shampoo?"
"We put your piece back on the board again, sure." Ukyo admitted, checking out the rest of the compartment so she didn't have to meet the amazon's gaze. "Sorry."
"Is no problem! Shampoo love to spend time with husband, get away from annoying Mousse. Who is having next turn?"
She asked the question and panicking, the other two youths began looking around, searching for a game board that was no longer there!
But all three jumped when an officer's swagger stick slammed down on the sheets of the bunk beside them.
The kids looked up to see an old, grizzled officer leering down on them. "New recruits! Cocky ones, from the look of it. Well, you won't be getting out of service that easily. Oh, no! Not until yer term of enlistment is over! Ye'll get yer game back only once we've finished up our little tour through Africa!"
The nasty seeming veteran turned on his heel and disappeared off into the crowd of men. The tiny tots gave one another a dismal look.
"All troops, fall in for inspec-SHUN!!" One of the sergeants roared above the noise of the crowd.
As six year olds, the trio stared at the comparatively ogre-sized men around them, some of them with knives and everyone with guns, as the troops began to ooze peer pressure to fall in line with the rest of them. There wasn't room to evade these guys in the tight quarters of the ship, and Ranma had bad memories of trying to struggle to resist adults when he'd last been stuck in a five-year old body - And it didn't work too well.
Swallowing hard, all three children looked at each other, and did.
And thus began their life in the legion.
Several times Ranma, often in schemes collaborated with his two fiancees, tried to get the game back, searching the camp high and low. For a time they felt the officer had locked it up with the brigade's pay chests, and the security guards were these big, mute Africans who constantly played with deadly knives and had a maniacal gleam to their eyes when they fought. The hulking brutes knew how to fight with those knives, too. Well enough that every time Ranma or his friends went to try and reclaim their game they not only got beaten and covered in cuts, but turned over to the sergeants for extra punishment duties.
Being six had not done wonders for the trio's fighting skills, their bodies were too weak compared to what they'd been used to, and by the time they'd grow the guards would be much wiser to their specific tricks.
Then Shampoo devised a drug to slip into the meals of the pay guards, and the trio searched those chests, dumping out every bit. But nowhere among them did they find that old wooden game board.
Stumped, having searched the whole ship by then, searched it thoroughly, and found not a hint of that game anywhere, they began to realize that maybe they did have to serve a tour of duty before this was over.
That thought pleased none of them, but they'd run out of ideas by then.
The steamship dropped off the Legion in a port in North Africa, disembarking troops and equipment and (to Ukyo's surprise) horses. The pretty little okanomiyaki seller had known more about modern combat than the other two, having watched some TV, and knew that it had been a long time since regular military units used horse mounted cavalry.
The other two hadn't known, but shrugged when she explained that.
During the disembarking the troops got conscripted to help offload their equipment, men stripped to the waist to avoid passing out from the combination of exertion and heat as the ship's holds disgorged cannon and pallet after pallet of ammunition on cranes while long lines of men shifted a copious quantity of boxes and bags.
Then, fully spent in their labors, the men were drawn up into their units and marched to the outskirts of town where they were to make camp. Guards were posted, and the legionnaires all fell into an exhausted slumber.
Seeing as how they were so young, the tiny tots got spared combat duty, but that left them everything else, and being the fetch and carry support for an entire brigade was more work than fighting.
During the off loading of the brigade's baggage (over half of which seemed to be comforts and other luxuries to make the officers' terms of military service more pleasant) the kids got drafter as water carriers, darting about bringing buckets of water and drinking ladles to the men (who'd often waste much of it by dunking the buckets over their heads to cool off, and necessitating more trips for the tots).
Carrying two or three buckets of water per arm and one balanced on his head while dashing about at high speed, Ranma probably did more work that day than any three of the grown men had. Once he got to using Hidden Weapons to carry water, he was practically a hose.
However, there were positives in being the runts who did everything. A day after they'd left port Ukyo let slip that they were all cooks, so they got to help out in the mess, and after a short period all three of them learned that style of cooking and in doing so proved their worth to graduate to the officer's mess, where they served for most of a week before it got dissolved as the unit reached their permanent assignment and set up in a town, which had fancy restaurants, and the commander simply gave his commissioned officers leave to patronize those on the Legion's expense, leaving no need for an officer's mess.
You couldn't sent officer quality cooks to prepare food for the common enlisted men, so the trio of tykes got assigned to the artillery section because the captain there needed a few good hands to help in mixing gunpowder. Ukyo proved to already be expert at this, and so taught her two friends in record time, and the three graduated to general explosives and demolitions work, as well as aiming and firing the portable field guns in practice, standing in for a group of artillerists that were perpetually drunk and unable to do so themselves. s
In a short time they became masters of loading and sighting cannon, often getting off two or three shots in the space of time it took other crews to get one, and they were just getting started at perfecting how to do this. Their energy and active little martial artist bodies just gave them so much physical speed the tasks flew by.
After a few months the proud artillery captain made the mistake of bragging to the brigade commander that his trio of six year olds were the best gunners, fastest reloaders, and most accurate marksmen in the artillery section, and the horrified commander had them instantly reassigned to non combat duty, in the support section. The officers mess was still closed, and the enlisted men's mess couldn't take them (as that might give the men thoughts above their station), so they wound up doing fetch and carry, hauling coal and pumping bellows for the brigade's blacksmiths who saw to it that all of the Legion's gear was functioning, fixing breaks in everything from wagon wheels, belt buckles and hinges to shoeing horses, making nails, repairing field equipment, casting cannon and building artillery carriages.
Being strong for their size and uncommonly alert, all three tiny martial artists were soon not just pumping bellows but holding metal, judging temperatures, and soon actively assisting with the work. In less than two month's time learning everything they could not just from those military blacksmiths but from visiting every smith in town, those three had become the best in the entire region, even rebuilding the brigade commander's car when it got stuck by a stray cannon ball during practice. Once they got done it even ran better than before.
By this time is was so plain as to be undeniable that both Shampoo and Ukyo had gotten Ranma's almost flat learning curve. There was nothing that you couldn't teach them, and the two girls kept Ranma interested in some academic stuff long enough to overcome that block Genma had been working into him, to care only about physical stuff.
They'd proved this initially by Shampoo teaching Ukyo enough Chinese so they shared all of their secrets (like when to break for meals, and how to hide things from Ranchan) in that language. This proved enough motivation to the boy that he was soon racing Ukyo for fluency, a competition that quickly switched over into French, then English, by the girls trying the same means of motivation, namely learning enough of the language to share secrets and try to keep things from their Ranchan, even progressing into more complex verbiage and challenging forms of language with technical terms and advanced grammar, trying to stay one step ahead of the martial arts genius who was always close behind them.
All this time the three were continually practicing in shared martial arts training. They actually got out of punishment duty one time when a lieutenant caught them doing Breaking Point training and felt that was worse than anything he could have punished them with, particularly for the minor infraction they'd been caught doing earlier that day.
As none of the three kids were all that respectful of officers, they got handed punishments fairly often. Ukyo, who was the most respectful, caught the least of it, while Ranma, who verged on actively disrespectful at all times, obviously caught the worst. But for the most part they just adapted whatever punishments they were given into training, as Ranma taught both girls the Anything Goes school of martial arts.
Which, even with an insane learning curve, was so complex a style using so many forms and adaptations, that it was going to take them some years to get it right. And they didn't have the luxury of revisiting all of Japan's and China's training grounds while they were still stuck in northern Africa.
So they kept building their own, passing more months as they all devised interesting new ways to challenge each other.
Being accomplished blacksmiths by now, they forged lots of knives to use as training aids. Sharp, pointy things poked out from virtually every crevice of their private training camps, as an incentive to help learn dodges and mid-air maneuvering.
A junior officer once tried to get his men to run one of those 'obstacle courses' that the trio of kids had constructed and ran regularly, and this attempt led to so many injuries among the troops that the officer reportedly fell off his horse, three times, on his head, and the training exercise had to be canceled for lack of his continued leadership.
That was just before they got word they'd be moving out shortly, to suppress an uprising out in the desert countries. So the unit reformed the officer's mess, dragging our trio away from their forge and self-constructed training grounds, putting them back into chef's whites.
So they took those training grounds with them, carrying their disassembled parts in their sleeves.
Then their deployment got put off by two months, the youngsters spent all of their regular duty time as cooks in the many French restaurants in town, picking up secrets, techniques, recipes and everything else until when the troops at last deployed they could out cook the best master chefs of the whole Foreign Legion, and most of France.
Well, that was suicide for their jobs as cooks. One does not out-perform so jealous a man as a French master chef and survive to have a career that outshines his. After a few side dishes got praise to shame the main meal, then desserts to shame it all, the kids got stuck for a few days pushing brooms and hauling firewood until the first regular soldiers started to get punishment duty in the kitchens and took over those chores.
Not having places to go to in the kitchens, forbidden from returning to artillery, no place for blacksmiths to set up shop while the brigade was on the move, the youngest legionnaires got reassigned as horse messengers because the man in charge of dispatches had heard they knew something of horses from shoeing them, and they were so small they were very light, and thus able to ride those mounts farther or carry more packages than a larger man mounted on the same steed could've.
So Ukyo, Ranma and Shampoo learned to ride, and became masters of that in record time.
As they started their march, the troops were complaining and grousing, as it was only three days to the next quarter moon, and, for the past year or so ever since they'd started this last game, there came a dreadful monsoon every month at the quarter moon.
It was no trouble finding water, the desert was almost soggy by that point, but no one wanted to go out marching with that kind of weather so close.
All of the now seven year old children from time to time considered just riding off to freedom and away from the legion, but the doubts about how to get home kept them nearby, as their last information was that when they'd completed their tour with the legion they'd be released, and leaving it behind meant they could never return to their ordinary lives and the people they knew in them. They agreed that wherever they were, it wasn't on their world during the time period they all hailed from. Shampoo thought they were probably all inside of the game in some way. Ukyo wasn't so sure, but had no better alternative to offer. So they stayed, and they learned more and more every day as it became something of a bet among the old soldiers that no one could show these kids anything and they not be experts at it in a week, or sometimes less.
Money changed hands first among the scouts and dispatch riders as they showed the trio how to ride well, then ride very well, then get their mounts to do tricks, then train horses and donkeys and even camels. Once they'd exhausted the betting possibilities of riding and spotting or counting enemies at a distance, fast charge over uncertain terrain, or the other bits of cavalry lore the riders could recall, the regular troops had heard of this ongoing wager and got in on it, showing those children what they had to offer.
The trio of Legion Brats got taught how to load and fire several types of pre-World War One rifle, some dating back to the American Revolution, and then use pistols and grenades. They were already excellent cannoneers, and became sharpshooting rapid loaders on the old equipment, which they could strip and reassemble, doing all of those tasks better than any man there. They learned what those men knew of sword, knife and bayonet, and when they did the big mutes guarding the paychests started to carry loaded pistols at all times. The trio even learned to make the guns from raw metal and wood, becoming gunsmiths as well as blacksmiths, and from there branching out to a limited extent in carpentry, fixing rifle stocks and wagon wheels, or other tasks they could perform in a brigade on the move.
As the brigade came near to the unsettled areas and combat began to occur, threatening both scouts and dispatch riders, they once again got reassigned, this time to the wagon train where they got pressured heavily to learn in a short while how to drive a team of oxen, or horses, dragging all sorts of carts or wagons, even the doctor's carriage and the artillery guns they were no longer allowed to fire.
Then they hit combat and soon there weren't enough hands to deal with all of the wounded. Their brigade was ambushed, cut off and pinned by natives who had some European support and a supply of rifles and other guns, as well as plenty of ammunition.
Ever since joining the legion (against their wills), the trio had been training and practicing their martial arts together in spare moments so they did not lose form or skills. So the three of them were able to use the Breaking Point to create some caves at the base of the cliffs around which they'd been trapped. Soldiers hauled the broken stone about to make walls and ramparts with firing positions, fortifying themselves against a massive, overwhelming force of armed natives, while the brigade HQ, supplies and surgery all got relocated to the security of those caves and the trio all got collared again, this time as nurses.
The doctor was a rough sort, and his knowledge outdated on most things, but he had nearly thirty years of experience in sewing wounds shut, stopping bleeding, and saving lives. On that narrow topic he could give stunningly informative lectures to most modern physicians, he didn't know a thing about modern drugs, but show him a wound and he could tell you how to sew it up, and once he found his trio of tiny nurses had begun anticipating him he did what most men in a crunch would do and began instructing them as he worked, knowing that his own two hands were far too few to handle all of the responsibility now resting on them as wounded began to pile up looking for aid. More and more tasks got relegated to the tiny legionnaires as they proved time after time they could handle them, and when the doctor sat down to rest himself and avoid having hands shaking from fatigue suturing cuts he saw his newest assistants were still going strong and began to supervise them from his chair, offering years worth of advice in tersely worded suggestions.
As the days of battle wore on during that siege the old doctor found himself doing less as his strength waned, and consequently supervising more, offering more instruction than he did stitches to aid the fallen soldiers.
Every type of injury came by and required every type of treatment, from knife wounds to bullet holes, shrapnel, scrapes, bruises and broken bones the trio had to treat it as the aged man of medicine suffered more and more fatigue in those grueling conditions and his other aids gradually wore down under the strain.
Ranma, Ukyo and Shampoo had the energy of youth and the impossible constitutions of martial artists to haul them through, and still they began flagging as food stores ran low and wounded piled high. Soon those injured but able to walk got rearmed and sent to the rough walls and battlements they had improvised days ago. Without those, and the caves, the brigade would already have fallen under the terrible onslaught of thousands of Arab slavers.
It was on the thirteenth day the brigade was overrun. Short on ammunition, morale, and all sorts of supplies, with every other man bearing a wound, the Arabs and their servants made their charge and broke past their defenses at last, leading to a slaughter as scimitar met bayonet in a gruesome work of death that lasted less than an hour.
Taking a day to celebrate and loot the bodies, the Arabs at last rode off once again into the harsh deserts. When they did, a rock face blew open and exposed the supply cave that Ranma, Shampoo, and Ukyo had been sleeping in, catching a few precious hours rest in between surgeries when the final attack had begun. Too tired to fight, once the outermost defenses had fallen and the inner ones broken, Shampoo had wisely chosen to collapse the mouth of their cave to keep the tide of invaders out.
Sleeping in that cave with them had been a few dozen soldiers, the brigade commander, and of course the big African brutes who's only job was to protect the pay chests. That, and a few officers and exhausted nurses, plus one ailing doctor who had fallen ill because of the burden of overwork, and the horses stabled in those caves were all that survived of the unit. Legionnaires had made stands in the other two caves, but without the ability to seal them they had been overrun by Arabs and slaughtered to the last man.
Hitching up the horses to all of their wagons, surprisingly intact, the youngest legionnaires loaded their battered group into vehicles and, hooking up those artillery pieces still intact so as to deny them to the natives if they ever chose to come back, they headed back to that coastal town where the African detachment of the Legion had their headquarters.
Thanks to some expert scouting, one or two minor ambushes defeated by now increasingly rested martial artists, and a few sniper shots taking down native scouts at long range, the pitiful remnants of their brigade managed to limp back to Legion headquarters with most of their baggage train and field guns, where the wounded brigade commander got a medal for getting his men out alive, and the young kids got sent back to the kitchens.
The remains of that brigade got dissolved soon after arrival, the survivors who were worth anything parceled out to other units. The doctor stayed at headquarters ill and in bed, and due to his request the youngsters were kept together to nurse him by his bedside, where he taught them all he could before dying.
Shampoo almost went out to kill their commander for having gotten into that mess that killed the kind but rough doctor and virtually his whole brigade, but the other two managed to, reluctantly, stop her, as that was the only guy who was able to get them out of the game.
After that the trio stayed on at Legion headquarters doing odd jobs and lurking about waiting for their old commander to make a mistake and reveal where the game might be hidden. That old colonel had been reassigned to a spot on the staff of the African detachment's commander, and his African guards still protected him and those chests with long knives and now several loaded guns.
Not being willing to fight through the heart of the Legion to search through their belongings, as bullets ringing out could bring everyone, the young kids discarded plans to use bombs or rifles to get at those chests again to search them once more for their game. The guards wouldn't trust them bringing meals, and they didn't want to risk one of them getting shot if they tried to fight their way through those burly Africans using their fists again.
That was when the brigade commander recalled that these young 'blacksmith's assistants' were still hanging around, and decided to attach them to a party of Germans who had come to that town to build a dye factory for an enterprising Frenchman. The Germans had brought blacksmiths of their own, but had requested a little local help as once on site the task had proven to be much larger than expected. Having recalled the repair work they'd done on his car, the general gave the Germans his youngest legionnaires as assistants, whereupon the kids learned a whole new level of blacksmithy, making machines and valves and tubing and so on for a massive chemical plant that was to be largely self sufficient.
They spent a year learning everything they could while assisting in the construction, and the chemists, who they had to work closely with, soon found themselves explaining all sorts of things not related to the job at hand to those eager young pupils. Almost against Ranma's wishes, the trio became qualified, then extraordinarily skilled, chemists from people who led that century in the field. Also, the German smiths were among the best of the world, and the intricate mechanical toys they taught the youngsters to make, over and above all that they had to learn for their job creating the factory, left them able to match or surpass most smiths - in a world that still relied upon blacksmithy for practically everything. Machines producing goods were still quite rare, and machines that built more machines almost unheard of.
Given nothing but a source of ore any one of that trio could then create tools, and from there go on to handcrafting virtually anything from clocks to cars to chemical factories if they had enough time - and since Ranma had passed on the Chestnut Fist to his two friends and adapted that speed to blacksmithy, they did not require much time to build things. They deliberately kept things slow so they could learn all they could from the Germans before having to go back to legion duties, which by now they all found quite boring.
But all good things must come to an end and soon enough the factory got completed, even though Ranma and his two girlfriends had dragged their feet in not using any of their fantastic speed to finish things. However, they did manage to arrange that on the day the Germans left they had an important anniversary.
"Colonel, our two years are up." Ranma, at the head of his friends, formed up before the man who had drafted them into the Legion. "Give us back our game and we'll go now."
The officer looked down his long, thin nose at the trio of youngest legionnaires, the most valuable troops in the brigade who had virtually nothing they couldn't do, and sneered. "Two years? Why, my pets, you all signed up for twenty! Do you honestly think I'd let you go when our country needs such as you? Suit up! The Legion is getting recalled to the Continent to help fight in the Crimean War, and you three are going to the front of it!" He leered at them nastily. "I've persuaded the General to consider you three as forward observers directing artillery. With your small size you ought to be able to slip beyond enemy lines better than anybody. Of course this is the most dangerous slot in the Legion. I'm sure you'll be decorated, after your demise."
Ranma had to spend a week in the stockade after breaking all of that man's teeth out and shoving them down his throat. It would have been longer, but they really were moving out, and it didn't really matter anyway as between his various martial arts powers they couldn't keep him anywhere he didn't want to be for long, and with invisibility and sympathy of the guards the officers didn't even really know if they had him locked up or not.
"Okay, girls, the kid gloves have come off. No way am I working another eighteen years under a sadist who wants to get us all killed." Ranma told his friends as the three of them watched the Legion board onto the ships leaving North Africa for the Crimean Peninsula.
"But what we do?" Shampoo asked.
"It's easy. Once we start to come ashore, one of us sneaks over to the boat carrying all the Legion's baggage and uses the Breaking Point to blow a hole in the bottom of it. It'll sink like a stone, and those guards can either stay with it and drown, or they won't and I'll be able to dive for the box." Ranma answered with a smirk.
"Why wait for our arrival?" Ukyo tossed her hair and asked, eyes shining brightly. "They've got most of that baggage loaded now, and I saw those pay chests go on with the guards. None of us want to go anywhere near a battlefield under this commander, so..." She tempted them to make their own conclusions.
Not many minutes later, harbor boats were swarming about a sunken cargo ship with a hole blown neatly into its belly, while a trio of eight year old riders wearing native desert costume were riding out of town by one of the less used roads, followed by a train of pack horses loaded down with an assortment of heavy pay chests they hadn't had time to open and look through.
Half an hour after that, with all of those heavy pay chests stuffed into their sleeves, those same kids in entirely different costumes were racing along a major highway in another direction, toward British properties in Egypt.
They had not gotten far before their distance from the Legion triggered the release effect - for, having been shanghaied in the first place, there was no actual obligation or contract and all they'd had to do from the start to get away from it was sneak off a fair distance from the Legion that had taken ahold of them. With a little distance and the intent of escaping from it, they'd be free.
Nothing had bound them to the Legion save for their proximity and willingness to obey it. Once that was gone, those kids got returned, two to a field in Japan, and one to a village in China, where they found that time had been passing in their absence.
Well, that was more or less setup for future chapters. I can't say I didn't enjoy the ride, however, as I always approve of character growth.
But ask yourself this question: what would you do with that game if you were an uber-powerful martial artist?