Loss, Hope & Redemption: Recension
Two weeks after the failed wedding I was still shaking my head at the pandemonium that was my life. Who else had to worry about their best friend bringing explosives to disrupt the ceremony? Or a stalker showing up in a wedding dress? Or an accidentally-acquired wife showing up to stake her claim on his hide?
Not to mention cursed water flying above all the girls I car-knew, while still more people, all of them either angry with the bitter reactions of those estrogen-fueld first problems or just pissed at me, did their part to feed the chaotic onslaught.
The whole thing was a fiasco with a capital F. Possibly bolded and written on a five-foot wallscroll, if the fallout continued as it had. Mom was overjoyed with my manliness, but she'd after she began a lecture, something about "keeping his mistresses in their place," I'd continued to nod while I tuned her out. The old man was little better, telling me to sort out my problems so they no longer interfered with my duty... Never mind the fact that most of my problems can be pinned on the balding jerk himself. My pop's drinking buddy was hardly better, moaning about the spineless wastrel engaged his daughter.
His tirade cut off when he noticed the low growl in my throat as I fought my anger. That rare surfacing of my fight to control my anger, coupled with the my total refusal to talk about Jusendo, about my battle for his daughter's life, cowed even the mighty Demon Head technique.
Yet all these were issues that were... Maybe not resolved, but at least they were stable. Cologne and the Amazons knew to keep their distance, realizing that they'd probably pushed me one time too many. I'd talked to Ucchan a bit and she even apologized for her part in the chaos, though she was now avoiding me as much as she could. Even Kodachi was showing some brains and keeping away.
None of the jerks who made my life so interesting were after my blood at the moment, most of them still basking in my failed nuptuals.
No, all the problems I had right now were not what kept me from sleeping. Something bad was about to happen. I could feel it like an unscratchable itch right below my pigtail, throbbing every time I tried to put it from my mind. Every time something really bad came stomping into my life, I got that itch.
I'd learned to trust it.
The last time I got this feeling was when I saw Plum running from those bird people and this feeling of mine had been right. That trouble meant I'd been forced to fight a God! Well, I'm pretty sure he was a god. Half-god, maybe.
Normal people don't burn up and turn back into babies when they get ripped to shreds by a chi attack powerful enough to reshape mountains. The True Blunder, Mousse, or even Ryouga would have dead.
Then again our fights never got that serious. We all might go at each other tooth and nail, with not a hair of our strength held back, but we never escalated things to the final, irrevocable point of kill or be killed. For all their cries about wanting my skull for a soup dish, none of 'em followed through when Fate conspired against me to give 'em the chance. Despite how much they'd aggravated my situation and complicated my life, I never added that extra bit of strength to my last blow to kill instead of disable.
Then again, none of them were ever stupid enough to threaten Akane. Even Mousse, dense as he was, knew not to do that again.
The problem was that this time was that the feeling came outta nowhere. The itch had casually appeared right after school, becoming more and more noticable as the evening wore on, without any sudden attacks or strange people showing up on our doorstep. The only thing I'd done aside from relax was reheat some leftover rice from dinner, and I doubted that that was going to cause some titanic struggle for my soul.
Pausing for a moment at the thought, I examined the bowl of rice. Yeah, it was just rice with a few pieces of tempura shrimp on top. Walking out of the kitchen, I crossed the living room and sat on the edge of the porch so that I could stare at the sliver of a moon peeking out from behind dark clouds. The whisper of the wind as it blew through the trees was the only sound, aside from the far-off buzz of downtown Tokyo traffic.
Everything seemed perfectly normal, as if the world had decided to finally give Saotome Ranma a break. Yeah. Like that would ever happen. At dinner, Nabiki had noticed and called me paranoid. She didn't understand that when nearly everyone was out to get you, it was not paranoia: It was simply pattern recognition.
I'd rather be keyed up for no reason the one time it wasn't called for than get caught napping the ninety nine times it was.
Rice in one hand and chopsticks in the other, I walked out from under the roof of the porch and casually hopped onto the roof of the Dojo. Munching on the re-heated tempura shrimp and wishing I'd dashed on some teriyaki sauce, I scanned the surrounding rooftops.
My attention became wrapped up in enhancing my awareness with a chi technique I picked up from Cologne. Despite the strands of chi stretched out to embrace the area around me there was nothing at all, for nearly a mile. The chi under my control embraced every speck of life within that radius, and still I felt nothing.
Maybe I was getting paranoid. You don't get as good as I do without learning to trust your instincts, and my instincts were telling me to run and hide. Something bad was coming, something that I should run from. Not that I would, but those instincts did make a pretty damned good warning sign. Most of the time.
Maybe I was wrong. I hoped I was. If I could pick, I'd rather be rattled by my failed wedding any day than find out what was making my pigtail twitch.
I pricked my ears up as I heard a faint flapping sound. The itch started to fade. This was it. This was the start of something I really didn't want to deal with. But Saotome Ranma doesn't back down or give up without a fight.
As the sound drew closer, I realized it was too heavy for any normal sized bird. That'd probably make it one of Saffron's people, or Shinnosuke'd finally forgotten his duties at Ryuugenzawa. Finally seeing the source of the sound proved that Shinnosuke was still alive, clueless, and beating large helpless animals into paste.
The winged person flying in my direction, by contrast, didn't look quite alive. She was pressing her hands against her side and an empty scabbard at her hip told me she was either useless with her weapon or had seen the losing end of a fight recently. With the blood covering her from head to toe, I knew only a stubborn resolve was keeping her on this side of mortality.
I carefully put my empty rice bowl on the roof and began a sprint across the rooftops. As I got closer, I recognized the bird woman: Kiima. Her face was pale, even for her complexion. Her hazel eyes were glassy, only noticing me when her meandering flight brought her within a few feet. Those eyes took me in as she bounced on tile in an awkward landing, an otherworldly mix of desperation and hope tinged by despair.
For the first time, I noticed the purple flecks buried in the hazel. Time seemed to slow in that moment, right before her eyes fluttered shut.
As her knees went slack and she began to fall, I hesitated for a brief moment. This woman had nearly killed Akane. She'd stolen my fiancee's face for the sole purpose of tricking me and my friends. The insensitive jerk in me wanted nothing to do with her problems. My duty as a martial artist smothered that momentary thought and I gently caught her willowy form before she got halfway to the ground.
She wasn't an enemy here, now. She was just an injured woman who need protection. And she had to be very desperate if I was a better alternative than whatever chased her.
"Hey, you alright?" As I gently lay her on the rooftop, I took a closer look at her injuries. Her breathing was laboured and numerous small patches of dried blood were nearly obscured by the few large injuries she had. Blood was welling up through the rips in her tunic, maybe not an immediate threat, but bad enough. I was pretty sure she'd live if I bandaged her wounds and got her to a warm bed.
I wanted nothing more than to rush her to Tofu's clinic but the place had been deserted for months. Cologne was almost as good as the Doc at fixing people up, but I didn't want to put her sworn enemy in her care. That left taking her back to the dojo and doing what I could. I gathered her in my arms, curiousity burning as I considered her wounds.
I had to assume that whoever was chasing her had toyed with her for a while, first. Dozens of half-healed wounds which did little more than cause pain and sap endurance marked her body. Some were nearly-healed while others were no more than three or four days old. From what I remembered, her endurance was good enough that the smaller wounds wouldn't have significantly hampered her fighting ability. That meant her enemies hadn't gotten bored of half-dead prey.
They'd figured out where she was going and tried to stop her. That meant they knew who I was. I couldn't imagine her coming all the way to Japan for anyone else, given her last trip here'd been her first. Someone who knew who I was and didn't want me to know about whatever trouble had fallen into my lap, all wrapped up in a strangely light woman.
I was distracted by Kiima's wounds, I guess. Or maybe I was still a little stunned about having a bird woman just drop in my lap without a word. Whatever the reason, I wasn't paying attention as I bounded back to the Tendo's.
That was why when someone jumped up to attack me between rooftops, I wasn't prepared. A flash of grey at the edge of my vision, too close to avoid, was my only warning.
Instinctively pulling Kiima closer to my chest, I grunted and bit back a yell as a clawed hand raked across my lower body and sent me twisting into the night, ground and sky warring in my vision as I spun. Knowing that the uncontrolled tumble would mean Kiima's end if I didn't land under my own power, I threw all of my concentration into the Saotome mastery of mid-air to kill my rotation and orient the sky and ground above and below. I rotated my hips and kicked my legs to plant one foot on the side of a low apartment building, spinning as I folded my leg to bleed off the inertia as smoothly as possible.
I knew if I didn't move before gravity robbed me of my footing I was going to be an irresistable target. I uncoiled my leg to propel myself towards the ground and landed, barely kicking up the ghost of a whisper. My eyes darted from one shadow to the next, my awareness heightened by the andrenaline and anger beating angrily at my temples.
"Come out and fight me, you dirty coward!" I yelled. Who didn't even announce themselves before they attacked? Granted, I'm the best there is, but that's no excuse! I allowed my battle aura to surge, manifesting as a flowing blue glow that lit the area around me in a shifting light. I saw my assailant, crouching in the shadows of a house two doors down. Either he was wearing an animal's fur or he was actually part animal, because the few details I could pick out were greyish fur and wolf-like ears. "There's no use hiding! I see you! Come out and fight me!"
Part of me wanted to close the distance, despite the responsibility in my arms. I wanted to pound the bastard into the dirt, my rage growing as I felt the blood trickling my left leg. Not much, little more than a scratch. It'd be closed within an hour, and healed by morning. The problem was that it was still enough to be a distraction I didn't need, especially carrying an injured person... even if that person was pretty much an enemy.
Still, he didn't move. He stayed crouched there, watching me. Waiting. I couldn't go back to the dojo, not with this guy out here. This fight was going to happen sooner or later, and a large part of me wanted it to happen right now. There was no use running. Either he was weaker than me and I could kick the crap outta him before I dealt with Kiima, or he was better than me, toying with me, and we were already dead.
I couldn't lead him back to the Tendo Dojo, to wait until my guard was down.
"I said, come and fight me you-" I cut off and jumped straight up as I heard a scuff to my left. A large shape rushed in below me, then stumbled as his punch passed just below my toes. As I reached the apex of my own leap I briefly let go of my burden. Cupping now free hands and aiming them at my second attacker I screamed "Mouko Takabisha!"
Brilliant yellow energy briefly flashed at in my hands before flying directly at the larger of my two opponents, washing over and consuming him. The energy burst on contact, bright light filling the neighborhood and illuminating my opponent before he ploughed a trench into the street with his face... an ugly face, framed by two tiger-striped shoulder guards. Lime. Which would make the other one-
"Mint." I growled as I gently caught Kiima, an instant before we landed. She hadn't even noticed. The Musk youth weighed me as I glanced at Lime, slowly shaking off the rough treatment his failed attack visited on him. The wolf-boy stepped out of the shadows, feral eyes shining. "What the heck do you think you're doing?"
"This doesn't involve you, Ranma." Mint returned, walking over to his downed friend. He rocked back and forward on his heels as he considered me. Eager. Eager but wary, now. Over two months earlier I'd fought Herb to a standstill, with me at a disadvantage. He knew that even if I was wounded, I was male and pissed off. Still, he pressed on: "Just let us have the bird woman and we'll leave."
"You two losers think you can beat me?" I chuckled, taking them in. Who did they think they were dealing with? Lime still looked half out of the fight and on top of that... I'd only gotten stronger since fighting these two. Clearly they hadn't, not by any measurable degree. Kiima shifted in my arms, a whimper of pain silencing my chuckle. I knew this had to be finished quickly. "Y'know, I was able to beat Herb pretty easy. Think you two clowns will do any better?"
"We're stronger now, Ranma." Mint snarled and blurred out of sight. I flared my aura, not bothering to move. Coming back into view, Mint tumbled down the street as he was knocked off balance, the pressure of my aura alone defeating his charge. He finally regained his footing and slid to a stop forty feet away. I took a step towards him, and he backed off.
"You've won this one, but this isn't the end, Saotome!" Mint blurred again, and he was gone. Lime had disappeared while I was concentrating on his partner. Shifting Kiima in my arms, I made my way back to the dojo.
"Why should we protect her?" The question hung in the air, and only ice-cold eyes boring into me proved it had actually been asked. Nabiki had always been a bit mercenary... But this was beyond that. My father, Tendou, and Kasumi stood to the side, watching. I knew I'd get no support from them.
Didn't they realise that the past didn't matter, the present did? At present, Kiima clearly needed my help. The fact they were even questioning it was beginning to make me angry.
"Nabiki... How many of my friends now were enemies before?" I questioned, my attention focused on tending Kiima's numerous wounds. As my hands rubbed a salve into her numerous cuts, my eyes met hers. I pleaded, "Ryouga, Mousse, even Shampoo... They've all tried to kill me. All of 'em were enemies just as much as this chick. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't they all at our Christmas party? Aren't they friends now? How is Kiima any different?"
"She put my sister in danger, Ranma. I heard the story." If Nabiki was cold before, bow she's pure ice. She's in the sort of mood I can see her in while demanding money of Hiroshi or Daisuke on payday, taking most of their hard-earned money in interest. That same cold anger had cowed me before, but not this time. The heat of my anger was more than a match for the frigid mood she was in.
"Ryouga's the reason Akane's hair is shorter. Shampoo caused Akane to forget me entirely. Even Mousse nearly cursed Akane with a Jusenkyo curse... How are they any different?" My ire was up. I wasn't all too happy with Nabiki at that moment. Yeah, she was angry with me. It was my decision not to leave Kiima to those two idiots trying to kill her... But she wasn't a bad person, I didn't think. We'd fought, but she'd left us alone when we'd left the lands of the Pheonix people. I started wrapping another bandage around her shoulder. "Why, because she was the one who I fought last month?"
A glass of cold water washed over Kiima's form and I was suddenly staring directly into the pained face of Akane, whimpering as wounds reopened and blood seeped through bandages. I hadn't even notice the glass in Nabiki's hand. Kiima twisted as her wounds continued to reopen with the shifting of her body's shape. Fresh blood stained her tunic, and some of the bandages I'd tied were torn apart as her form expanded.
"Nabiki, what the hell is your problem! You coulda hurt her!" I yelled, slamming my fist into the floor. I'd rarely ever given in to the pressure to hit a girl, but the middle Tendo sister was starting to make all of Akane's rants about equality sound very appealing. I forcefully ripped apart more sheets, then began removing the old, split bandages from Kiima's body.
More blood, maybe more than she could afford to lose at this point. Some of the wounds had been deeper than I'd thought, it seemed. I shot a glare at the brunette as I raced to redo the work she'd ruined. "She's hurt enough as is! Don't go triggering her curse!"
"Ranma, what is your problem?" Nabiki growled, leaning in close. Her eyes were wild with emotion I'd rarely seen in her before. "This bitch nearly killed Akane! Why are you helping her?"
I took a deep breath, eventually meeting Nabiki's gaze. I don't know if she saw something in them that she'd just never noticed before or if I'd finally come to some decision about my life and decided to change things. I don't think I'll ever be able to seperate the difference, really. All I know is that I surprised her with the look in my eyes, undercutting the rage she was gripping.
"Doesn't matter who she is. She's in trouble. It's my duty to help out." I was calm about this statement. It felt right, like nothing I'd ever said before. I'd said the words but in the past they'd been convenient. I'd help those who needed help but choosing the other path would have been personally harder, not easier. Before, refusing to help Akane, or Ryouga, or anyone would have pissed everyone off. Now the principals everyone demanded of me was pitting me against them.
Despite what people might think about my intelligence, the irony of the situation wasn't lost on me.
"Boy, are you turning your back on your fiance?" Of course my old man would put things that way. In his mind, things were always in black and white: His decisions being right and anything else being wrong. Seeing the look on old man Tendou's face, I knew my father was stricking a cord. Nabiki grinned with something akin to triumph though in the back of mind, behind the rising anger, I think she realised I'd been pushed far enough to push back. Her grin froze at the look in my eyes.
"How dare you idiots make this a choice? If it comes down to Kiima's life or this engagement, I choose Kiima's life!" I finished, glaring at my father. In my own head, I'd done more for Akane than anyone could ask. A pheonix rose up against me and in Akane's name and Akane's name alone, I'd utterly vanquished him. That fight had not been about my pride, either in my own infallibility or in my skill in martial arts. That fight had been about Akane's life and in that battle I'd been victorious against a foe almost anyone would have balked at fighting.
Instead, I'd torn his damned head off of his shoulders. All in Akane's name. In my own head, I couldn't understand how I had anything to prove to these people. I had nothing to prove to myself. I loved Akane, plain and simple. I could admit it, to myself. I would not let anyone else die in her name, even if it meant pissing off these fools. In my head, I was sure Akane wouldn't want Kiima's death staining anyone's hands, especially in the name of her pride.
In your head, everything seems clear. More clear than the most perfectly shaped crystal. Clearer than the purest water in the brightest sunlight.
"You're abandoning my daughter?" Soun growled, and I knew things were about to spiral out of control. It was a traincar careening wildly back and forth, out of my control. I knew this was not an issue I could back down on, not with a person's life on the line. Gently picking up Kiima's prone form, her head nestled against my neck, I glared at the man. Daring him to continue.
I found my voice before he could.
"One more word Tendou, and I'm gone for good. I ain't gonna stand for another word about abandoning her in the street. She stays or I go." I made this statement full of bravado. Full of the boundless confidence which ruled my every action. In my mind this statement had only one solution: Kiima would stay and her wounds would be tended properly. She would get the bedrest she needed tonight and then in the morning she'd tell me who's ass I'd have to kick to make things alright.
Then I'd go do it, and a week later everything would be back to the way it was.
In retrospect, it's hard to blame Akane's reaction to the scene. Half-asleep, she came into the living room to see her doppleganger cradled in my arms, my steely eyes meeting the anger of her sisters and her father, the people she trusted the most.
"Ranma, what's going on here?" Akane demanded. This was my chance to vindicate myself of everything and get her to agree with me. Surely she'd see the reason for tending to Kiima's wounds. The woman was hurt. She was being chased by forces that were, compared to her skills, undefeatable. Already she'd lost her weapon and her will to fight. Half-unconscious and grasping at straws, at hope, she'd come to the home of her enemies.
"Ranma doesn't care about you, Akane! He's chosen Kiima over you! He's broken the engagement already!" Soun growled, before I could speak. Before I could make things right. And in that moment I knew her father's words doomed any chance of my fiance siding with me. Anger danced in Akane's eyes now and I knew that nothing I could say at the moment could change anything. She furiously glared at me, her gaze demanding an answer and apology all in one even before the first word of denial escaped my lips.
Kiima whimpered in my arms.
My choice was clear.
"Akane..." I tried in the softest voice I could muster. Her demeanor didn't change one bit. I guess that at the time her mind was set. Either I set down Kiima and went to her or I've chosen Kiima over her. Black and white, just the way my old man liked things. Just like her father said. He stood in the back, not commenting any further. His concept of the situation was plainly evident in the glare on his face, growing with every instant I held the injured woman in my arms.
I looked at Akane. In her eyes, I saw no questions, no forgiveness. Only anger. Kiima's weight didn't strain my muscles, but I could feel every pound of her burden on my soul. No more choices.
Keep it simple, stupid. Nabiki's advice, long ago. Less than a year, but an eternity. My face calmed and I took one last look at the place which had been my home for over a year and a half. Longer than I'd had a home for over a decade and this was how it ended. At least I'd be leaving an impression. My eyes turned back to my fiance...
"I'm sorry." Maybe it was just the words, words she'd seldom heard from my lips before. Maybe it was the calm look in my eyes as things rapidly spinned out of control and I maintained the course which I'd plotted despite the maelstrom battering me. Whatever it was, it broke her anger and turned it to sadness. She fled back up the stairs, leaving only a sparkling trail of tears. I watched it, steeling my heart against this reaction. I wanted to go to her, to explain.
With her family and my father here, now... It was an impossible wish, a momentary fantasy. Wordlessly I gathered my pack and left. I didn't bother to listen to the last few words the household tried to offer.
I'd already set up camp on of the outskirts of Nerima when Kiima awoke. By this point I'd gathered myself sufficiently to present a cheerful mask to her, despite the fact that her questioning eyes wore Akane's face.
"How did it happen?" I asked. I allowed a slow grin to come to my face. The grin was empty, but in the back of my mind I hoped she didn't notice. "Who's ass do I gotta kick to make things better again?"
I hoped I could.
This is a rewrite. Bear that in mind if the following seems to make no sense.
Okay, where to start? The title, I guess. Recension is another word for rewrite. I didn't want to just title this Loss, Hope & Redemption: The Rewrite. Well, I did, but I used a prettier word to do it.
...stop judging me.
Moving on: Those interesting in such things there's an insufferably cute picture of Ranma and Kiima in my profile, under the June update.
As regards the plot... I liked Ranma's ejection from the Tendo household too much to get rid of it. With a few words tweaked I think it's grown from feeling forced, to feeling more like a tense situation which lead to words being spoken everyone present knew they wanted to take back, but couldn't. That was always my intent but I feel I've made it a lot clearer this time.
Aside from that, this was just a beefing-up what was already there and clarifying poor prose. It's frightening to look at a story I first began nearly three years ago. Half of the poorly phrased passages had me scratching my head and wondering what I was drinking to possibly leave things as they were.
Then I remember I wrote the first chapter on Christmas Eve. Eggnog.