Towers and Titans
By this time, Ranma really should have known better.
But to know what I'm talking about, you must first know who I am talking about, yes? And for those who already know, I ask that you allow your minds to wander for a moment while I explain to those that do not.
Ranma Saotome, for however short a time, was a regular boy born to eccentric parents. That short, sweet time of normality was not to last. His father was a martial artist of more than mediocre yet less than examplary skill, and desired that his son exceed him eventually. His mother wished only for her little boy to grow up to be what she considered a man amongst men... or what others would consider a perverted, philandering casanova with no control whatsoever over his own impulses. In the end a contract was signed, allowing his father to take Ranma upon a long term training trip, so long as when he and his son returned, the boy would be that nebulously defined 'Man among Men'. Should they fail, both would have to commit ritual suicide.
Is it any surprise, with such parents, that things swiftly began to go wrong for the poor boy? At first, the trip was normal enough, yes... but Genma, the father, had a bad habit of not being able to keep his hands to himself and, through the course of the trip, stole many things that a wiser thief would have left untouched. That he sold them later, for far less than their true value, mattered not. He was the one who stole them, so the curses and bad karma accumulated upon him... and his son. Then came the Neko-ken, the first in a truly long string of very bad ideas.
The years passed in much a similar manner as they always had, bad karma and curses accumulating upon the pair. They didn't really notice... after all, magic wasn't real, was it? So all of this bad luck and stupidity... it was all coincidence. Then came Jusenkyo, the valley of cursed springs where they, in their arrogance and foolishness, dared to train. The magic of Jusenkyo selected suitable curses for them. For Genma, who had slightly plump since the beginning of this trip, and was now grossly overweight, had bad eyesight, had gone prematurely bald, and gotten progressively stupider and greedier, he was cursed by Jusenkyo to turn into a large, fat panda with the touch of cold water. For the boy, who had grown up rather well in spite of the pileup of malevolent curses and karmic backload, it also chose a fitting curse, one that would hopefully break one of his most foolish beliefs... that women could not become strong, and were only fit to be protected by the male martial artists. With the curse of Nyanniichuan, turning him into a young girl. The curses were reversible with hot water, but only until the next time they came into contact with cold water.
From there, all of the karmic buildup that they'd been able to mostly avoid by keeping on the move began to take its toll, as they returned to Japan, to a friend of Genma's, named Soun. Now I can see that some of you are growing bored, but bear with me for just a few moments longer. Genma and Soun had arranged a marriage between their children, long before they were born, and the two elder daughters were swift to push the responsibility on to the youngest. And that would have been that, were it not for the other suitors. You see, Genma had gotten into the habit of using his son somewhat like a credit card. If he wanted something but couldn't afford it, and either couldn't, or was caught attempting to steal it, he would offer his son in exchange, usually as bride to the owners daughter. For food, money, bar tabs, emergency medical aid... at the very least, if there was only one such incident for every town and city they'd visited on the training trip, there would be no place in Japan that Ranma could go, and not run into one of his estranged fiancees.
That's not to say Soun was guiltless either, as he also had sold a marriage with one of his daughters at least once, but he can be excused in that he had the foresight to have more than one child. For Ranma, all the responsibilities were quickly shoved onto him.
Add several backwater villages of warriors, the Amazons, Musk, and Phoenix tribe, more rivals for the heart of either suitor, an ancient and lecherous master of the martial arts, ghosts, minor demons, other supernatural entities, and bucketloads of cheap, flawed magic to the mix, and stir well. And this does not even cover the madness currently in Nerima.
Ah... and now we come to a point where things come to a crux. If I may have the attention of those who have allowed it to wander, now? Take a moment to clean out your ears, and listen well.
Now, the fathers of the reluctant bride and groom managed, after one of Ranma's more difficult battles, to set up a rushed wedding through a combination of knockout drops in food, blackmail, and bribery, in the sad hopes that once their children were married all the problems would just... go away. Naturally, it was a complete and spectacular failure. Giving up... for the moment... Soun and Genma decided that the wedding would have to be postponed until 'Ranma deals with his excess baggage'. That's not to say that they would stop pressuring their children to get married at the next available opportunity, but that they would also be pressuring Ranma to get rid of all his other suitors, completely overlooking the fact that most of them were Genma's fault in the first place. The only one that wasn't completely Genma's doing was the suitor from the Amazon village, and that was partially his fault as well... nobody had forced either of them to eat her prize.
But really, since the wedding, things had gotten worse and worse. Akane had grown more violent, for whatever reason, and demanded at every turn that he 'get rid of those other tramps'. The other 'Fiancees' had also stepped up their pursuit of him, apparently deciding that the wedding had been partially indicative of his chooosing Akane. Which he hadn't.
Ah, and now we return to where we began. You see, it was someone's birthday. Not a fiancee's, and not his own... he'd actually forgotten exactly when his birthday was... but it was Kasumi's birthday. One of the few people that left Ranma unable to brush such a date off. And so he was looking for something that would make a nice gift.
But you see, after all the trouble he'd went through with flawed magic and cursed items, he really should have known better than to go looking for a birthday gift in one of 'those' sort of stores.
Ranma sneezed as he entered the musty little corner shop. The place didn't look like much, but it wasn't like he had that much money to spend. And for some reason, his danger sense was buzzing... he brushed it off. These days it was rare that he went five minutes without a little buzz from the danger sense, what with Kodachi, Ucchan, and Shampoo's constant attempts to 'win' him away from Akane, Akane's flaring temper tantrums, and Ryoga, Mousse, and Kuno's constant attacks. Switching to using a real blade against him didn't do much, but it did make Kuno slightly more dangerous.
"Welcome to my shop, Ranma Saotome."
Ranma blinked and turned to the aged and greying shopkeeper.
"How'd you know-"
"Your name? My boy, do you honestly think there's a single person in Nerima who doesn't know your name and description, if only for the sake of avoiding you and the problems trailing in your wake?"
"It's not like it's my fault..."
"No, no, of course not. I know full well that most of your problems are caused, directly or indirectly, by your father. Ah, but enough small talk. Tell me, what can I interest you in? I carry a large range of interesting knicknacks, but those are more for the tourists. Perhaps your looking for jewelry? Or an old movie maybe? Perhaps one of my wide selection of board games?"
"Well... Y'see, it's not for me..."
"Ah! A gift, then? But you don't know what to select... well tell me boy, what is this person like."
Ranma shrugged and detailed Kasumi as much as he could... you know, now that he thought about it, he didn't know much about her. She was just in the background most of the time. Just kinda... there.
"I see... I think I understand. And I know just the thing. You say that she's just the stay at home type? And yet she watches you and your friends keep going out on your little adventures... that must be difficult. And yet, if she actually came along, she'd be in no small amount of danger. Yes... yes, just give me a moment to take this down... yes, here it is. Phwoo!"
As the shopkeeper blew at the dust covering the box, it rose in a cloud and drifted slowly to the floor.
"I think she'd very much enjoy this... Towers and Titans. It's a multiplayer board game, you see, but it's special. It immerses you in a much more realistic experience than other games. In this, she could play as a monk, something like a martial artist, matching your own skill, or a wizard, or any of a number of things."
"Hey... this is great! Thanks! How much?"
"Well... normally, I wouldn't let it go for so little, but I've heard very nice things about miss Kasumi from the other merchants here. I think... yes, I think about one thousand yen should do it nicely. Do keep in mind that my shop has a no refund policy."
One thousand yen... huh. Well that was lucky. He'd brought everything he'd managed to secrete away from Nabiki, and that was just slightly over eleven hundred yen. Close. He thanked the shopkeeper, paid, and left to go wrap the present.
The shopkeeper grinned, and faded away, as did the shop and everything in it. Leaving behind a dusty, empty room with broken, boarded over windows and a locked door.
The birthday celebration was small. Just the Tendos and the Saotomes. Akane had suggested that she cook for Kasumi as a birthday present.
Kasumi paled, but very politely declined, pointing out that she enjoyed cooking. Really enjoyed it. Much more than puking out her lungs anyway, she carefully didn't say. Somehow, with practice, Akane's cooking had gotten even worse. Now she couldn't even make curry, and would routinely burn water... somehow. Akane had been dissappointed, but the rest of the household were happy to have dodged the bullet.
Genma and Soun had both chipped in to buy a gift. A new cookbook! And they mentioned 'subtly' that several of the recipes inside looked very interesting. Perhaps she could try them out? Of course, they would be more than happy to taste test the final result.
Nabiki's idea of a good gift had been some sort of Manga. Ranma hadn't gotten a very good look at it because the second Kasumi had unwrapped it, she'd blushed and stuffed it into her apron.
Then had come Ranma's gift... and her eyes had sparkled when she'd opened it.
"Ara! Ranma-kun... how did you know that I like board games?"
"I... uh... didn't."
"RANMA YOU PERVERT! How dare you stalk my sister!"
By this point, Ranma was almost used to the mallet out of nowhere. It was odd though, that the thing never set off his danger sense. Everything else, he could tell was coming a second or two in advance, and at least attempt to dodge, but that thing caught him off guard every single time.
Still, it only took a few seconds to pry his face out of the floorboards.
"Ara! You shouldn't hit your fiancee you know, Akane-chan."
"But he was being a Pervert!"
"I've gotta admit it Saotome, this is a decent gift. But how did you know what to get?"
"I didn't! I told you! I just told the guy in the shop that I was looking for a gift for Kasumi, an' he suggested this!"
"Ara, ara! I can't wait to play this!"
"H-hey... Kasumi... the food!"
After a few minutes, everything settled down and they ate, although Akane would still send suspicious glares Ranma's way.
Then Kasumi cleared off the table and set up the game.
Given that it was such a big box, the playing board took up an understandable amound of space. In the end, it had to be taken out to the dojo and set up on the floor there. It was a fantasy/wilderness scene, with several spots set to place the toy 'towers'.
"Ara, Ara... we need a team of six people to play. Would you?"
Ranma grunted in affirmation. Why not? After all, he'd bought it, so he might as well play it once or twice, even if it was Kasumi's. Akane and Nabiki grudgingly agreed... hey this was Kasumi that was asking! And even Genma and Soun decided that it might be fun. Not as fun as Anything goes Shogi or Go of course, but still amusing, and they'd have to play a couple of time before they learned how to cheat... that is, could come up with an 'Anything goes' variation.
"Ara, is everyone playing then? Okay, now we make characters. Oh my... there are so many things to choose from."
Indeed there were. There were at least three dozen seperate races, and almost twenty different classes. Then there was a long sheet of paper to fill out to determine the specifics of the character.
"You know this is more like an RPG game than just a normal board game." Nabiki noted.
"I wouldn't know... I never played either before."
"Oh my! Will you be needing help, then, Ranma?"
"I... yeah, thanks Kasumi. This thing is really confusing."
Nabiki smirked even as Akane seethed. In the background the fathers quietly mumbled, wondering if maybe it would be best to transfer the engagement. After all, Akane had been making it clear that she didn't want to... nah.
It was nearly a half hour later that everyone had finished their characters.
Genma was a Human Monk. Not very imaginative, as he'd just based the character vaguely off of himself. Soun's was similar, a samurai, except that he'd chosen a different species. A forest elf.
Nabiki had also gone the easy road and made a rogue. It pretty much fit... and as a Drow, she would have no trouble with that route.
Then there was Akane, the half-orc barbarian, armed with a warhammer. Once again, pretty much just photocopying who she was into the game.
Ranma, however, had had the whole thing explained to him by Kasumi. Games like this were for playing as something you weren't. So it wasn't like he had to be a martial artist in the game. And Kasumi had explained the whole system to him, so he understood it much better than the rest did, who had just stayed with stock equipment, except for Soun, who had switched his Katana out for a Naginata.
So now his character was a Dire Were-rat. Three forms... a Humanoid form, which could easily be mistaken for Human at a glance. A three foot long, monster rat form. And a monstrous Hybrid form. He'd chosen this because the entire species of Were-rats and Dire Were-rats had a racial fear of cats. It was like something had slapped him and said 'Duh! How can you be anything else?'. His class had been an afterthought... a Red Mage. Apparently they could not only use both healing and damaging magic, but were perfectly capable with weapons as well and could use all kinds of armor. Kind of a 'Jack of all Trades' class.
And then he'd sacrificed his armor to create an accessory. A pendant that would block that weakness. It wasn't like he would ever find something like that in real life, but nice to dream, right?
"Are you sure you wanna make a character like that, Kasumi?"
"Ara... Yes. It's just a game, Ranma-kun... no need to worry about me."
Kasumi had decided to play one of the 'Evil' races. Something called a Tiefling... half demon. And her class? She was a Priestess. Of Kryptani.
In short, she was a necromancer. Sure, she could heal your character... necromancy and healing magic were apparently suprisingly closely related in this game... but if you died, she couldn't bring you back to life. Just turn you into a shambling zombie. Oh well, just have to make sure that their characters didn't die. That shouldn't be a problem.
"Alright, everyone put their token on the board... everyone ready? Alright, now... Ara... are we playing seperately, or as a team?"
"What's the point of this game, actually, Kasumi-chan?" Soun asked.
"Ara... one of the towers has an object we have to find. Find it, and we win. It seems rather simple, but I haven't read the full way through the rulebook yet..."
"So if we played in two teams, it would be a race to see who finds this item first? In that case, maybe we should play it all together the first time, and seperate up the second?"
"Excellent idea, Nabiki-chan! That's exactly what we'll do!"
"Ara... so we all play together then? Alright, then lets play!"
Kasumi released the dice in her hand... and the second they hit the board, all six players vanished. The tokens on the board, on the other hand, swelled upwards and morphed into very familiar bodies.
A lavender cat's eyes widened as she fell off the outside windowsill where she'd been watching from, wondering if she should ask to join in and play with her Airen. Great-grandmother had to be told about this.
Eh, pretty short, but it's the first chapter. What can you do? And I didn't really plan anything out before-hand, just took a concept and ran with it. In those terms, I think this turned out pretty good, even with the long, Dumbledoresque bit at the beginning.
And I know somebody is going to ask 'why a wererat? Why not a werecat?' Frankly, that plot twist never made sense to me. I mean, come on... the guy's terrified of cats! If he turns into one, then nothing good will come of it. Even if you have an experienced aura mage (coughTheocough) then just fixing the Neko-ken after the fact to deal with the problem never made much sense either. Second point is that he's a DIRE were-rat.
For example, compare a wolf, with a Dire wolf. In some of the games I've played, the dire wolves get to five feet tall and seven or eight feet long... huge bastards. Now take that and consider what implications there are to putting the word 'Dire' in front of were-rat. Oh, yeah. There will be a cross with Gold Digger. He will meet Gothwrain. Gothwrain will be impressed. Aside from that... 'always in motion is the future'. I haven't decided yet.
But first they've got to get out of the magic boardgame. That... might take a while.