Disclaimer: I don't own any of this.
The Lady of the Mountain
Chapter 1: The Lady of the Mountain
Ranma pretended not to see the man as he finished climbing the ridge that elevated her little farmstead from the valley where the river that irrigated it ran. Instead, she continued to plant her rice, calf-deep in the cool water that irrigated one of the three paddies that would sustain her through the year. The man was tall, for a Japanese fellow, but not unusually so, with close-cropped brown hair and chocolate eyes. He was dressed as a martial artist; that is to say, grubbily, with an enormous camping pack slung easily over his shoulder. She guessed his age at somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty, as he came close enough to her paddy for her to see the wrinkles that were just starting to form around his eyes and mouth—just about her age. He waited for her to notice him. Ranma kept working.
"Are you her?" he finally asked. "The lady of the mountain?" Ranma didn't answer. "Akane?" Ranma hid her wince.
"That's not my real name," she said, straightening. "They just call me that 'cuz of my hair." She flicked her red pigtail over her shoulder.
"Why don't they know your real name?" he asked.
"'Cuz I don't tell people my name."
"Oh." He blushed a bit, and looked up at the peak of Maru-san, behind her. It wasn't a particularly large mountain, especially compared to its far greater brothers to the northwest, but it was plenty high enough that it would probably still be snow-capped come August. Even now, in early April, it was cool enough that Ranma had chosen to wear long pants and a long-sleeved red cotton shirt, rolled up just enough that they wouldn't get wet in the frigid waters of the rice paddy.
"Well, I'm Taizo. Hashimoto Taizo I saw you at the tournament last week, and...," he paused, as Ranma sighed and shook her head. "...And I'd be honored if you'd teach me," he finished halfheartedly.
"What's your story?" Ranma asked. Taizo looked startled for a moment, then opened his mouth to respond. Ranma cut him off. "Let me guess. Your old man ran a dojo somewhere, and he taught you everything he knew... black belt, definitely, maybe even a dan ranking. You went off to college, got a business degree, and went to work, forgetting all about dear old dad. I'm betting he croaked a year or two ago, and now you suddenly have to inherit the school, but you're not a master." Ranma paused, and scratched her neck. "That about right?"
"Well, no," Taizo replied. "At least, I hope not. I talked to Dad about a month ago, and he's doing fine. Says the dojo's never been busier. Anyway, I got my mastery when I was seventeen." He grinned a bit. "Get people coming up here often asking you to teach 'em?" Ranma grinned a bit, and started to slosh her way to the edge of the rice paddy.
"Mostly just after the tournament every year. I swear, we hide it behind a damn mountain so we don't scare the locals when we bust out the fun moves, but someone always blunders in on us," she said. "I didn't see you there this year. You didn't fight?"
"Got there late. Besides, I'd heard that the Sapporo tournament was pretty small," Taizo said, and he unshouldered his pack. It thudded into the soft turf heavily enough to send ripples across the water of the rice paddy, and Ranma arched an eyebrow at the weight. He stretched, arching his back.
"Not a lot of us that can toss ki around anymore," Ranma said, and climbed onto dry land. She sat down on a white stone crag, and started to dry her feet on a towel she'd left there, next to her soft-soled kung fu shoes. "Hokkaido's not exactly known for its martial arts either." Taizo shrugged.
"I don't train to fight, anyway," he said. "Haven't had to outside of training in about four years. Would be six, but some bikers tried to jump me outside of Nagano."
"You sound like you've been on the road a while," Ranma said, slipping her shoes on. Taizo nodded.
"Nine years or so," he said. Ranma whistled.
"I bet there's a story there," she said.
"I'll tell it to you if you're willing to train me," he said, and grinned.
"Can't blame a guy for trying." Ranma chuckled.
"No, I guess I can't." She looked up at him from her perch on the rock. "I guess I could give you the same deal I give the guys at the tournament. Get a point on me and I'll give you a lesson. Get a fall in on me and it'll be a technique."
"You ever had to make good on that?" Taizo asked.
"Not once in ten years," Ranma grinned ferally. He chuckled and shook his head.
"That's not really what I'm here for," Taizo admitted. Ranma arched an eyebrow and waited for him to continue. "My focus is in hard forms—kempo and karate based—but that kind of fighting has weaknesses."
"No more than the soft forms do," Ranma countered.
"True, but I need to know the soft forms enough to be smart when I have to deal with them," he said, and Ranma nodded slowly in understanding. "I haven't found anyone yet that's good enough to really break me of my bad habits. I saw you at the tournament, though. It was like you were made of air." Ranma didn't say anything for a while.
"I don't really teach. Not seriously," she said. Taizo's shoulders slumped.
"But-" he began. Ranma held up a hand to silence him.
"Think for a minute," she explained. " I live alone on the side of a mountain, about two klicks from the nearest road, much less the nearest town. I'd be willing to bet money that I'm one of the better martial artists you've ever seen, but I only ever compete in one tournament a year, and a small, you've-gotta-know-a-guy-to-know-about-it kind of tournament where the only prize is free beers at the bar afterwards at that." She snorted. "It's not even a nice bar, either."
"I saw. There was barely enough room for the twelve of you in there," Taizo nodded, and sat down next to her on the rock. Ranma scooted a few centimeters away, even though he hadn't sat down particularly near her.
"Anyway, the short version is I want to be left alone, and alone means no pestering students," she finished.
"I bet there's a story there," Taizo shot back at her, and Ranma winced visibly.
"To say the least," she said. They were silent for a while. The wind picked up for a few moments, and caused a few little waves on the surface of the rice paddies.
"What was his name?" Taizo asked eventually. Ranma looked over at him, out of the corner of her eye.
"Her name," she said slowly, then grinned sheepishly. "You don't see many lesbian martial artists at our level, eh?"
"Her name, then," Taizo amended.
"None of your damn business," Ranma said sharply, then met his gaze directly. "How about you, Taizo? I don't care how much you love the Art, nobody leaves home for nine years unless they're runnin' from something." Taizo didn't answer right away.
"Was it a pretty girl? Break your heart?" Ranma pressed. Taizo shook his head and sighed a bit.
"A very handsome boy," Taizo admitted, then shrugged. "Guess we've got a little more in common than you might have guessed." Ranma didn't say anything, so he continued. "It was just... magic, then... poof. Gone. I never even got a chance to tell him I loved him."
"What happened?" Ranma asked. Taizo turned away.
"Can we talk about something else?" he asked, and Ranma could hear the huskiness of tears not quite spilled in his voice. She patted his shoulder.
"Nine year training trip," she said. "He must've meant a lot to you."
"The world," he whispered. Taizo rubbed his face with his left arm, then took a deep breath. "Sorry 'bout that," he said, facing her again, a wan grin set firmly in place. Ranma took the hint this time.
"Well, I've gotta admit that you're not the normal type of jackass that comes around here to bug me," she said, grinning back. "Here's the deal. You help me finish planting. If you can't get the third paddy planted before I finish the first and second ones, you're not worth my time anyway. After that, you've got until sundown to impress me with what you know of the Art."
"You're serious?" Taizo asked. Ranma nodded.
"You're looking for peace in the Art, and you haven't found it after nine years. I've gotta admit that I did the same damn thing myself, and if I hadn't had anyone to help me, I'd've been in a pretty bad spot. It's time I paid that debt," Ranma said.
"So, there is peace?" Taizo asked. "In the Art, I mean. You know." He paused. "It'll get better?"
"Do you want the 'sensei' answer, or the 'lady-of-the-mountain' answer? Ranma asked, standing and shucking her shoes.
"Both?" Taizo said, standing as well. His curiosity showed clearly in his arched eyebrows.
"Well, sensei says that inner peace is always just a careful thought away," Ranma answered. "In the Art, there is focus, control, and routine. It centers you, puts you in tune with yourself and the sprint of the world around you. In many ways, the Art is peace." Taizo nodded.
"And the lady of the mountain's answer?" he asked.
"I live alone on a mountain kilometers away from the nearest other person. What do you think?" Ranma said, and shrugged. "Anyway, get to work. I'm faster than you are, and I've done this before."
Ranma slung a basket of sprouts over her shoulder and waded back into the first rice paddy. Taizo took another basket and walked toward the far one, nearest the edge of the little terrace that Ranma's farm sat on. The water from Ranma's irrigation could drain out there, if she wanted it to, into the little unnamed creek that ran down in the canyon below. Ranma watched Taizo carefully as he stepped into the water of the far paddy, and Ranma nodded to herself in satisfaction when nothing happened, then set to work.
- - - - -
Ranma and Taizo faced each other across a mostly-flat terrace of marbled white and glossy black volcanic stone About twenty meters behind Ranma, a big boulder of black obsidian rested near a small pool, the spring that fed the creek in the valley far below. Here and there, scattered at random around the field, boulders of varying size had been tossed ages ago by the ferocious power of Maru-san, but none like the obsidian crag. The sun hung low in the sky, but they were on the western slope of the mountain. Taizo felt sure that he had at least an hour before it finally dipped below the horizon.
"Ready?" Ranma quipped, slipping into a loose ready stance. Taizo looked a little startled for a moment, for some reason that Ranma couldn't discern, then closed his eyes and took a breath.
"Ready," Taizo said, and closed the distance between them in three swift steps. Two quick, probing jabs struck nothing but air as Ranma faded around them. A pause, followed by three more jabs, and a light foot hook, none of which had any greater success than the first two. Ranma danced back a few paces.
"C'mon. You're gonna have to do a lot better than that," Ranma taunted. Taizo expelled another breath and nodded.
"Right," he said, and his eyes hardened. The rush this time was many times faster than his first rush, and the jabs had real force now. Ranma melted around them again, but Taizo didn't stop. An elbow jab followed, then a leg sweep as Taizo's rotation continued. Ranma leapt upwards, then hopped off of Taizo's braced elbow as he crouched for the leg sweep.
Taizo sprang into the air from his crouch, still spinning. Ranma caught his outstretched leg, slipped underneath it, and flung him down. Taizo landed and grinned as Ranma's own descending kick came. It struck home in the middle of his chest, just where Ranma had aimed, but Taizo's hands closed around her ankle, and twisted, hard. Ranma crashed into the ground, the momentum giving Taizo a chance to rise into a crouch. He wrenched upwards, sending Ranma skywards again. She took the opportunity to kick him in the face, hard. He took the blow and tried to slam Ranma into the ground again, but suddenly her leg seemed to slip right through his hands, like mist. Overbalanced, he had no chance of stopping Ranma's own grapple and throw, which threw him a good twenty meters.
"You're not too bad," Ranma grinned, hopping from foot to foot as Taizo rose. Taizo grinned back, and there was a light in his eyes this time. "Not for a tough guy with no speed, at least."
"I'll show you speed," Taizo growled. Ranma leapt as she saw him tense for the charge—the skullcrushing roundhouse that Taizo had planned missed her by centimeters.
"Missed me again," she taunted, hopping backwards off of his shoulder. He surged again, the roundhouse kick aiming high this time. Ranma rolled underneath it, ceding ground.
"Houou Habatatta!" Taizo shouted, his rotation continuing. A jet of orange flame roared out from his mouth, arcing towards the ground in a crackling semicircle. Ranma pushed off, again taking to the air. Rather than follow her, Taizo tracked after her with his ki-powered flamethrower. Ranma knew that her upward momentum would stop before she made it out of the flamethrower's range, which she guessed at about ten meters.
"Mouko Takabisha!" Ranma countered, blasting a shot of blue ki toward her stationary opponent. As she'd hoped, Taizo abandoned the flamethrower, but he did not dodge.
"Kitei Toosenbou," he said, and the rock of the terrace cracked, then clamped around his feet and lower legs. Ranma's moukou takabisha crashed into him full-on, and Ranma nodded to herself, satisfied
"Waratteoni Endan!" Taizo cried from the still-smoking crater that Ranma's mouko takabisha had left; the stone clamps had kept him in place, and he aimed from memory alone, knowing that Ranma was now falling, and wouldn't be able to dodge effectively until she landed. A ball of roaring red ki, almost as big as Ranma's had been, fired back. As the smoke cleared, though, Taizo saw that his aim had been off; somehow, Ranma had floated just over the outer edge of his shot, her back arched like a high jumper around the curvature of the blast.
Ranma landed and darted towards Taizo, who immediately recognized the peril of his immobility and shook off his stone anchors. She was suddenly much faster than he was, much faster than anyone he had ever seen, and circled him rapidly. He tried to escape her circle, but a vicious jab to his kidney, which felt almost like several blows, sent him staggering back.
"Houou Habatatta," he tried again, desperation mounting. His flamethrower arced out again, trying to catch Ranma by sheer luck. There was suddenly an intense chill at his back, he had no chance to turn to face it.
"Hiryuu Shoten Ha!" Ranma shouted, and Taizo was lifted into blackness.
- - - - -
"Well, at least you're good enough to give me a workout," Ranma chucked as Taizo muzzily opened his eyes. The sky was the dark cobalt of not-quite-night, and Ranma crouched next to him, her red shirt seeming the color of dried blood in the twilight. "C'mon, up you go." Ranma pulled at Taizo's hand, and he pulled himself to a crouch, paused, then stood the rest of the way up unsteadily.
'Whoa," he said, then blinked a couple of times.
"That's pretty normal after a hiryuu shoten ha," Ranma said, her small, strong hands supporting Taizo as they began to walk back toward her farm. "It's powered by hot and cold ki. That flamethrower thing was just about the worst thing you coulda done."
"Now you tell me," Taizo groaned. The two picked their way down the narrow trail that connected Ranma's farm to the terrace they'd fought on. Taizo slowly became more stable, and by the time they left the tail, he was walking without Ranma's help, if still unsteadily.
"How'd you get out of my hold?" he asked finally. "I had you good, with both hands. You shouldn't have been able to break it." He stopped for a moment and cocked his head. "At least, not that easily."
"Lesson one: sensei knows more than you do. That's why she's sensei and you're not," Ranma said. "And if you're very good, I might even show you how I did that someday."
"You'll teach me, then?" Taizo asked, his eyes brightening. Ranma nodded.
"You're still rough, but you're way better than anyone I've fought in years," She answered. "Besides, I've been alone up here for a long time. Company might be nice for once." Taizo bowed deeply, nearly toppling over in his instability.
"Tank you, sensei. I promise, you won't regret it," He said, perhaps a bit stiffly.
"Enough of that. Stand up before you fall over," Ranma said. She motioned toward her house, then started walking toward it. "C'mon, and I'll show you my secret." Taizo followed.
Ranma's house was small, but it had been built with care. The walls were thick, and well-insulated, to keep out the winter's chill, but the windows were big, to let in summer breezes. Inside, there were only three rooms. Ranma's bedroom was largely empty, except for the futon that lay unmade on the floor. There was a little closet in the side of the wall, which had room for her clothes and bedding.
The main room was by far the largest, taking up about half of the total square footage of the building. In one corner was a sink, built into some western-style counters. A blue propane double-burner stove occupied one corner of the countertop, the white tank that fueled it sitting nearby on the floor. Next to the kitchen area was a big larder, filled with shelves upon shelves of glass-jarred foods, rice, and other necessities. In the remaining corner, a small table squatted. The only decoration in the room, or indeed the whole house, was a well-worn picture frame, which contained the photograph of a pretty young girl, her lavender hair short and her eyes brown.
The final room of Ranma's house, Taizo discovered, was the most special one, however. Though the room was no larger than Ranma's bedroom, she had painstakingly tiled it, floor, walls, and ceiling. Occupying about half of the room was a natural hot spring, so hot that it steamed. A big vent near the top of the room was open, and the infernal heat of the room spilled out of it, though this vent could be closed in the winter to heat the house.
"Wow," Taizo said, and Ranma smiled back at him.
"Yep," Ranma said, unbuttoning her shirt. "It's the same system that makes the hot springs for that onsen at the foot of the mountain. I found it up here and knew that this was my place." She tossed her shirt into a little bamboo basket, and started to strip her pants off. Taizo blushed, and looked away.
"Just holler when you're done," he mumbled, and reached for the door.
"Bah," Ranma exclaimed. "Strip. It's a small damn house, and it's not like you're not gonna see me around. In case you hadn't noticed, I aint exactly a fainting lily." Naked, she started to scrub herself off.
"But-" Taizo started.
"No buts. Get in or the deal's off," Ranma said abruptly, her eyes narrowing. Taizo bit his lip and began to disrobe. Ranma rinsed herself off and walked over to the basin, then slipped into the steaming waters with a hiss.
"Damn, it's hot today," she muttered, slowly sinking in up to her neck. She glanced over at Taizo, who was scrubbing himself, a towel tied around his waist. He finished, rinsed, then scooted over to the tub. Ranma's eyebrow arched, but Taizo slid into the water without either standing or removing the towel.
"Whats' the deal with the towel?" She asked when he didn't offer an explanation. "It's not like you've got anything I'm interested in." Taizo blushed.
"Well... we'll say it's not for your benefit," he said sheepishly.
"I thought you liked guys.'
"I do," Taizo said, his blush deepening either from the hot water or embarrassment, or both. "Just... not only guys."
"Oh," Ranma said, and shrugged. Then she thought for a bit more, and realized that Taizo, despite his best efforts, was still eyeing her breasts out of the corner of his eye. "Oh," she said again, and covered herself with her arms. "Sorry 'bout that. Taizo sighed.
"I wish I was like you," he said. "Just one way or the other. I don't even care which way anymore."
"I always heard it was a good thing," Ranma said, a little curious. "You know, whoever Mr. or Miss right is, you're fine."
"Yeah, that's nice in theory and all, but can you imagine being attracted to everyone you meet?" Taizo asked, and shook his head. "It drives you nuts, even when you're careful. If' you're not careful..." Taizo trailed off. Ranma let the silence stretch as he collected his thoughts. "If you're not careful, you wake up in bed between your best friend and her boyfriend, not a month after..." He winced. "And then you just keep going—boy, girl, anything with legs, really, 'cuz you've got this gaping hole inside of you that you're trying to fill. No pun intended," Taizo amended after a moment, with a snort.
"You don't hafta tell me all this, you know," Ranma said softly.
"I told you I would if you agreed to train me," Taizo said. He tilted his head back, and stared up at the blue-tiled ceiling. "Besides, it's like you said. Small house. You would've found out sooner or later. It's not the whole story, anyway." Ranma stood up, grabbed a towel, and wrapped it around herself modestly.
"I'll go make dinner. Sit in here and soak for a while, so you don't get sore. I'll shout when it's time," she said, and padded towards the bathroom door.
"Hey," Taizo called from the basin. "Saw a picture of a cute girl in the living room. Was she the girl?" Ranma paused, then looked back over her shoulder.
"Maybe I'll tell you sometime," she answered after a bit. Taizo tried to conceal dis disappointment, but Ranma was paying attention this time. She sighed.
"My name's Ranma," she said. "It's only fair, after everything you told me."
"Ranma," Taizo repeated, trying the name out. His brow furrowed. "Wait, the Ranma? Ranma Saotome?"
"The one and only," Ranma grinned.
"Kami, you're a legend!" He paused. "I thought you were a guy."
"Well, if you were some macho martial artist, how would you feel about a little gaijin-looking redhead with D-cups beating the stuffing outta you?" Ranma asked.
"Fair point," Taizo conceded. "You know that people are looking for you, don't you? People with big money."
"I didn't know, but I'd guessed. Any idea who?" Ranma asked.
"Well, I only know of a couple," Taizo said. "One's some businesswoman in Tokyo. Owns a restaurant chain. She says there's some kinda honor debt ."
"Long story," Ranma said. "She's probably right, though."
"Well, the second one I heard of is from... well, I guess, your father," Taizo shrugged. "Old guy, goes by the name Genma. Shows up at martial arts tournaments and offers to teach some secret techniques to anyone who can bring his kid back. I think I actually saw him at a tournament once, but we didn't talk." Ranma nodded.
"The last one..." Taizo trailed off. "It's kind of weird. Word's been running around for about a year now that some guy in China's willing to pay anyone their weight in solid gold if they can get you to the Bayankala region. Nobody knows who he is, or where he's from, though." Ranma's brow furrowed, and she looked at the floor for a bit as he did a bit of mental arithmetic.
"Fifteen years," she mumbled. "Guess it's about time Saffron grew back up." More loudly, she continued, "Thanks for that last one. He could be serious trouble." After a moment's thought, she added, "I'd really appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone I live up here, once we're done."
"Not a soul, unless you tell me otherwise," Taizo promised. "Guess I know why you don't tell strangers your name now." Ranma nodded, padded out of the bathroom, and slid the door shut behind her.
Taizo sat in the hot spring quietly for a few minutes, until he heard the sounds of cooking from the main room and could be sure that Ranma wasn't eavesdropping. With a visible shudder, Taizo started to cry, sobs of relief shaking his body even as he did his best to keep them quiet.
"Finally," he whispered after he cried himself out. "Nine years on the road, and I've finally found him." He scooped some water from the spring and splashed it over his face, the hot water turning his whole face as red as his cheeks had been, then rose from the waters and grabbed a towel.
- - - - -
It was well past midnight, the dim starlight, bright as it is only are in true country, cast everything in a dim palette of bluish grays. Ranma was woken by the sound of a creaking floorboard, and glanced to her left to see that Taizo's sleeping bag was empty and the door to her room open. For a moment, she was tempted to simply go back to sleep, but after a little more thought, she slipped into the umisenken, crept to the door, and peered out into the darkness.
Taizo stood across the room, his back to her, in front of the little picture of the lavender-haired girl. He rose a hand, clenched his index finger and thumb together, then flicked the thumb up, making a sound like faint sandpaper. A little flame appeared over his thumb, like a candle, and he held it near the framed photograph. He raised his other hand and made a fist, like he was about to attack the picture. Ranma tensed to spring, but after a moment, Taizo simply let the hand fall to his side.
"I can't really do anything to you through a picture, can I?" he asked softly; Ranma had to strain to hear him. After another moment, the little flame went out, and Ranma crept back to bed. She pretended to be asleep when Taizo snuck back into the room and eventually went to sleep himself. After about twenty minutes, she rolled over, and stared at her student.
"Who are you?" she whispered to herself. Taizo, snoring softly, didn't answer, and no other immediate answer presented itself. Ranma rolled onto her back and, after a while, fell asleep again.
Well, I wasn't exactly expecting to be writing 'fics again, much less so soon after reposting Genin. Truth be told, I've been needing a low-brain outlet for the stress of my college work, and the idea for this fic just got lodged in my head and wouldn't go away. I'll be continuing it as time and need allows.
I know Ranmafics are a bit old hat these days (I'm realizing, to my "horror," that there may be readers that weren't alive when the series concluded), but this has always been my favorite fandom, both for the source material itself, and because the quality of the work that's typical for the fandom is much higher than is commonly seen elsewhere.
The general idea for this fic is pretty simple: the 'Ranma leaves the Nerima madness for some reason or another' trope is pretty well established and plumbed in fiction thusfar, as well as is another that's fueling this fic that you won't find out about for a while, but relatively few fics deal with more than the immediate aftermath of those decisions. Since it's about the fifteenth anniversary of the ending of the manga, I figured that I'd take that number as a jumping-off point and work my way to the story of what caused the mess I've chosen to create.
Reviews appreciated, but certainly not necessary.
Waratteoni Endan- Laughing Demon Bullet
Houou Habatatta- The Phoenix Flaps His Wings
Kitei Toosenbou- Stand Your Ground
Akane- Scarlet (But you already knew that, since you're good Ranma ½ fans)