I Was Right All Along
I'd screamed the words over and over before, but I'd never really meant them before now. My umbrella led the way as my technique tripled both my strength and speed. Ranma was forced to dodge, but his follow up sweep struck what must have felt like immovable iron to him, my leg not moving an inch as I drove my knee directly into his jaw with more force than I'd ever struck anything before.
He skidded back across the concrete. Rather than yelling another useless battle cry, I instead opted to throw a few bandannas to keep him moving as I concentrated on what would happen if Ranma won. Akane would be trapped in a relationship she'd never be happy in, never know that Ranma was deliberately stringing her and the other fiancées along. Ranma would continue his sick little game, slowly leeching the happiness out of everyone around him, all for his own entertainment.
"Shi Shi Hokodan!" Momentarily drained, I idly noted that the last time I'd produced a blast like that had been while saving Ukyou on Toma's island. The immense green blast rocketed directly into Ranma, throwing him back to hit the side of Furinkan High with a sharp crunch which caused a spiderweb of cracks to spiral out from where he now lay in the wall.
He sat up, coughing up blood. That smile. That DAMNED smile!
"Good shot, Ryouga!" Ranma complimented, wiping the blood from his jaw. He hopped out of the seat his flying body had made in the wall, landing easily on the ground as he cast an appraising look at me. He squinted. "That's some technique, too! I felt you coming for the last couple of minutes, but that first strike with the umbrella nearly got me anyway! Very impressive!"
He cracked his knuckles and popped his neck, falling into a ready stance and beckoning me on with one hand.
I charged. At the last possible second, I once again forced myself to use the technique, trading my impressive staying power for a momentary burst of speed. Rather than rely on a surprise this time, I drove my hand directly into the ground in front of Ranma, ripping a large chunk of concrete out of the ground and tapping the breaking point as I held it in my hand. The effect was rather like a fragmentation grenade blowing up at point blank range, forcing Ranma's arms to blur to catch the chi-infused shrapnel.
His hand moved almost automatically to block my fist as I followed up with a punch. My enhanced strength caused his arm to snap back, driving the back of his hand directly into his nose, rocketing him away from me to bounce along the soccer field.
I ran after him, coughing up blood of my own. I could only use that technique a couple more times before I started to do serious damage to my body. I had to finish this quickly.
"Very impressive!" Ranma cheered, coughing up more blood as he sat up from where he lay. He was still smilling! He flipped up to his feet. "I'm going to have to go all out on you!"
With that, he blurred from my senses. Concentrating, I could still sort of make out where he was, but it was difficult. Legs wrapped around me and I felt strikes hammering into my back, locking my muscles in position, paralyzing me. He followed up with two Moko Takabisha's which blasted me into the ground, furrowing a trench behind me as I carved through the grass chin-first. I flipped myself upright, scarcely having time to guard as hundreds of punches rained down on me within seconds. Ranma followed up with a move which forced open my guard, raining a devastating kick into my sternum which robbed me of my breath. He then faded from my senses again.
I focused my chi to my hand, then struck the nearest Breaking Point on the ground, releasing my chi as the ground exploded. My chi, focused into the stone, billowed out with the cloud, soaking the area around me in a saturated field of my own energy. A blur of nothing moved through that field, and I lashed my foot out to catch Ranma in the chest, feeling a rib crack under my feet as I watched his surprised face.
"You figured out a counter to the Umisenken," Ranma commented, getting up from where he'd fallen and grinning. "Now I'm really impressed! I was saving this for the next guy stupid enough to mess with Akane, but I guess you've gotten good enough that you deserve it!"
His chi surged, not unlike the way my strength and speed increased with my new technique. I dropped into a defensive stance, watching the man I'd come to kill warily. What the hell was this!?
"Moko Takabisha, revised!" Ranma yelled, forcing a large yellow ball of energy in front of him. Rather than rocket towards me like a normal technique, it hovered. Ranma grinned, his arms blurring as he began to slap the ball at Amaguriken speeds. Each slap produced a smaller orb of chi which struck with less force than any individual chi blast Ranma had ever produced.
The volume of them more than made up for the lack of power in each strike, however. I was forced to twist and flip my way through the barrage, two things I'm not especially good at, before making a slight mistake. Against any other foe, it would have gone unnoticed, wouldn't have been a mistake at all.
Against Ranma Saotome, it was exploited harshly.
Dozens of small spheres of chi struck me, blasting into me with overwhelming force. They continued to hammer at me as I flew limply through the air, grasping consciousness as a drowning man grasps a life preserver. I fought against the blackness as I dimly felt myself land, squinting for a moment before I realized I was looking at the clock on the face of Furinkan High.
A hand gently grasped my shoulder, laying me smoothly on my back. The shadow resolved itself into Ranma after a moment.
"Good try, man," Ranma admitted, checking me for injuries as he smiled. That damned smile! I wanted to strangle him, but lacked the energy and the concentration to lift a hand. He finished his inspection of me. "Well, looks like you're gonna be fine in a couple days. Try to limit how much that technique boosts you, it'll harm your body a lot less. It'll probably let you use it a lot more."
"Why are you helping me?" I demanded, wanting to rant and scream at my own impotence. A foe I wanted to kill was giving me pointers on how to do just that. Ranma merely smiled down at me, wresting his hands on his crossed-legged feat.
"Ryouga, like I said... None of my other foes have been able to match me for power over and over again," Ranma explained, gesturing to me. His head turned, looking at the crowd which had gathered to watch our fight. "No matter how far I've come, you're always there to match me. Sometimes, you even manage to beat me. It's a comfort to know you're here, buddy. No matter how strong I get, you're always going to be a challenge for me."
"A comfort?" I asked, bewildered. He was comforted by my skill in the Art?
"You're always around for a challenge, and at the rate I'm going I'm gonna run out of people good enough to keep up with me," Ranma admitted, finally standing to walk away. He smiled again. "With you around, I've always got that challenge."
My thoughts churned as I considered that. I watched Ranma as he walked away, considering how I could beat him. He always seemed to have a counter, have a last minute trump card to play which snatched victory from me. I wanted to, had to beat him!
I smiled at Akari as she stood in the doorway of her farmhouse, and she was grinning as she watched me work. The farm, as always, needed a few chores done which required more strength and complexity than her pig could handle. I continued to feed the heavy bales of plant life into the grinder, then circled around to check the meal that it was producing.
Good enough. It's not like pigs are picky eaters.
I turned off the heavy machine as the last bale was processed, then turned my attention to the cracked support beam in the barn. I ran my hand down the length of the crack, pushing gently and feeling it give just a bit.
As I'd expected it would have to be replaced; otherwise the barn would collapse in a couple of weeks. I walked over to the thick cut of lumber, using my tools to finish squaring off the beam. Wood peeled off in ever smaller layers as I approached the end of the work, and I stood the beam up, shoving the new support right in under the old one.
Then I wrenched the old beam out, allowing the weight of that portion of the roof to rest on the new beam. With light taps of one finger, I edged the new support beam into the old beam's place. After that, it was a simple matter of rebolting the beam to the rest of the barn's framing.
I was just putting my tools away, when I heard a voice yelling my name from the farm's front gate. I exited the barn and saw Ranma walking up the lane way to the house, again calling for me. That smile was still there, but it was strained.
"Ryouga, good to see you, man!" Ranma called out jovially, waving with one hand as if he'd traveled a couple of days just to say hello. I wasn't buying it.
"What are you doing here, Ranma?" I demanded, crossing my arms as I glared at him."Why are you looking for me?"
"I just figured you'd lost track of time," Ranma said, shrugging with both hands in his pockets. The position put him at a disadvantage and I knew he'd be off balance if I were to strike... almost as if he was inviting it. "You're usually around once every couple of weeks or so, but nobody in Nerima's seen you for the last two months. I was getting worried."
"Well, I'm fine," I growled tersely, gesturing to the farmland around me. Lively crops grew in the dark soil, almost groaning under the weight of the late-summer harvest yet to be collected. "Akari needs help for the farm, so I've been doing my part around here."
"So I see," Ranma nodded, his eyes not moving from me for an instant... and I realized: He was here for a fight. He'd come looking for me for a fight. That was why his stance was so open, so easily attacked. He wanted me to try to strike him down, to continue our never-ending battle.
I knew how to beat him. It was so clear to me, now.
"So, is that it?" I asked, half-turning towards the barn, almost but not quite ending the conversation. I gestured again to the crops. "Work on a farm's never really done, Ranma. I've got to get back to work if I want to be ready for the harvest."
"You don't want to have a spar?" Ranma asked, desperation tinging his voice. He reached out a hand towards me, turning the pleading half-grasp to a casual wave of his hand as if trying to hide it. "I mean, I'm already here and it's been a couple months since we last fought. You've probably got that technique mastered now, right?"
"No Ranma, I don't..." I grunted, shaking my head and gazing out over the sea of green in front of me. I nodded towards it. "That's been my fight for the last two months. I haven't really had a chance to keep up with the Art for the last little while. I can't even muster up the depression for a Shi Shi Hokodan. You'd win."
"That's crazy talk," Ranma pleaded, taking a half step towards me before halting himself. "You, you don't give up! You're my rival, you're the guy who always keeps up, always keeps coming back! No way you'd lose to me, right?"
"I've lost," I said firmly, not meeting his desperate eyes. I shrugged, again gesturing out to the crops all around me. "This place, it's so serene. It takes so much work I don't have time to practice, but it's like it doesn't matter. It doesn't bother me that I'm not learning a new technique or refining an old one because this farm is my work, my Art now."
"Oh," Ranma said quietly, his shoulders dropping as he gazed out over the crops, searching. I knew he didn't see the peace I did. I knew that all he saw was a bunch of stupid plants. He sighed, turning away from me. "Well take care, man."
His walk was slow, almost meandering as he left the farm. To be truthful, I of course still found the time to practice. In fact, I'd perfected that technique enough that it was almost no strain on my body at all. I'd developed a version of the Bakusai Tenketsu which could travel a distance and blow up the ground beneath a foe's feet. I'd even developed a new chi project technique which worked off of my own quiet pride instead of that black depression which used to follow me wherever I went.
I knew that if I'd fought him, he'd have kept coming back. I knew he'd develop a counter to my techniques and become even stronger, even faster. I knew that if I kept fighting him, he'd keep coming back for more and more until we were bitter old men.
I knew that the only way I could find peace was if I admitted defeat. Admitted that Ranma Saotome was better than me.
I knew that in admitting that defeat, I'd finally won.
This is your fault, Archaon. Totally your fault. I was originally going to do that piece with Akane, but then that last bit developed. However, you were the one who inspired me to get my ass moving on everything here. The second half was originally going to be that confrontation with Akane, but I decided to go with Ryouga and Akari at the farm instead.
I'd like to clarify something: I do believe that Saffron qualifies as a god, but I typically ascribe the sort of traits you get with Norse, Roman, and Greek gods with the Ranmaverse Japanese and Chinese gods. Essentially they're really powerful mortals who won't get old, but can be killed by a being of similar power... Not all-powerful like the Christian or Muslim versions.