Heaven and Earth
The postman was a bit early today. Sure enough, the mail he delivered had the regular bills and spam, but there was something else as well. A thick envelope marked on the lower left corner with the sign of the matriarch's clan. This was strange as mail from the village was usually delivered by birds specially bred for the purpose or if the message was secret or urgent, by messenger. Even stranger was the fact that the mail had been posted from a village on the coast in Japan. Experience on numerous battlefields told the matriarch that strange and unexpected equaled trouble with a capital T.
So it was with trepidation that Cologne, matriarch of the Joketsu Amazons tore open the envelope. She recognized the handwriting of the sender as that of Soap, the second ranking member of the clan after the matriarch herself and sure enough, the tidings it bore were of disaster for the clan lurking just around the corner. The letter read:
Hope this letter finds you in good health and cheer. Sadly, the clan is not doing so well these days. Your prolonged absence from the village has been remarked upon quite often of late and there are whispered rumors as to why young Shampoo has failed to return with her groom so far. The rumors are of course being spread by Masu's camp, but more and more, our own supporters look at me for askance.
Masu's hold over the other clans increases daily. Recently, after yet another border scrape with the PLA where we were unlucky for once and lost three dead and four grievously wounded, she called upon the Han province Party leader for talks. To the surprise of all, she managed to reach a compromise with the man that was palatable to most of the clans. Her diplomatic showing has vastly increased her political clout and where before she was satisfied with a few table scraps before, she wants the whole spread now.
It would interest you to know that Masu's people now control one-half of the governing council and our clan's representatives on the council has been reduced to one-third of the seats. Elders Go-yong and Deng lost their seats in the last vote and Masu's camp took theirs. Since then, our people in various positions of responsibility in the running of our nation have been systematically stripped of all responsibility even as Masu awarded the posts to her sycophants. This is but one area where her people are ousting ours from power. There are many other.
I do wish for your sage words of wisdom, because our clan's powerbase is eroding right before my eyes. Or at least bring us news of a great doing that would improve our clan morale and give me something to comfort our supporters with. It was too bad that Shampoo did not visit the village with her groom in tow soon after his joust with the phoenix king. I suspect it would have blunted much of Masu's newfound power and influence, but she did not and now, our position grows direr by the day. I fear that Masu will raise a formal complaint in council about your continued absence before the end of the year and I needn't tell you what the consequences of a ruling against you will mean for the clan and our future. She has observers watching our clan members even now and the courier service was one of the first her people infiltrated, which is why I'm smuggling this letter to you through other means. It hasn't spilled into outright violence so far, but I'm afraid that such a state of affairs won't last. The danger here is very real for all of us.
Cologne carefully folded the paper and locked it away in her safe. Soap was correct in her assertion that the danger was real for all of them. She was reminded of an old western saw by the conduct of power struggles among Amazons. 'For Romans in Rome's quarrel spared neither land nor gold, nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life, in the brave days of old,' the saw went and so it was with her people. If Masu wrested the title of the matriarch and deposed of Cologne, things would go badly not only for the incumbent and the designated heir, but for the clan as a whole.
In hindsight, it was clear that she had made a bad judgment call when she left the Joketsu nation to help Shampoo in Nippon. But she hadn't expected to find such natural talent in Ranma and she'd been drawn towards training and guiding that potential like a moth to flame. She considered the insanity around the boy a plus for it brought wanted excitement in her waning years. Looking back, she could see how Masu could use the techniques she'd taught the young Saotome as proof of her treason in the halls of the council. With Masu's star on the rise and without Ranma by Shampoo's side, Colonge could see how badly such a session would go for herself and the clan.
The problem was Ranma. His stubbornness was as great as his skill and talent – which with proper application and guidance could grow to eclipse Cologne's own and she was a prodigy among the Joketsu – and the boy was very much in love with Tendo Akane deny it though he did. He was a willful, selfish, immature little boy on the brink of manhood with the sense of immortality and invincibility that went with that age, and indecisive outside of battle.
Given a few years, Cologne was certain that he and his wife – and Ranma would marry Akane, she had no doubts on that front after the Saffron affair – could be brought around to seeing things her way. This was the major reason why she'd stayed in Japan for so long. Shampoo with the drive for action so strong in the young did not have the patience to wait that long. She needed Cologne's guidance so that Ranma and Akane would agree to have Ranma father a child with Shampoo or even take her as a mistress. But she needed time for that and it seemed time had run out.
Thrown into the air by Genma's kick, Ranma twisted midair and extending his hands, did a cartwheel on the edge of the koi pond, narrowly avoiding the icy cold waters within. He pirouetted to landon his feet and with ease, regained his center of gravity. Then with a powerful push of his leg muscles aided considerably by ki, he shot forward at an impressive speed to close with his father and continue their morning spar.
Genma's attention wasn't on his son, however and Ranma veered off at the last second, narrowly avoiding giving the older Saotome a set of broken ribs.
"What the matter, old man? You losing your mind in old age?" Ranma asked, his lands casually by his side.
Genma took his eyes of the smoke and scorched marks where Ranma's hands had met the moss covered granite stone and turned to face his son. Flames still licked around the boy's hands and consumed his trousers and vest while he remained blissfully unaware of it. Genma opened his mouth and closed it as words failed him. This was a thing straight out of legend. Discounting those short lived rumors of two flame masters a couple of years back that Genma had never gotten around to investigate, there hadn't been a flame master in centuries.
"Ranma!" Akane shouted, rushing out of the house carrying a pail of water to quench the flames.
Naturally, Ranma's trousers chose that moment to fail.
Later, as Ranma nursed the fresh imprint of his fiance's hand on his cheeks, the Saotome and Tendo families sat gathered around the table.
"You know what this means, Tendo?" Genma asked his friend.
Soun nodded. He hadn't seen the flame himself, but he'd seen the charred stone ton which Ranma had done a handstand. He'd also heard Akane's angry narration of how she came to stand staring at her fiance's waist with his dropped pants gathered around his ankles.
"That Ranma's a flame master?" the Tendo patriarch asked, tentatively. His mind had gone for a toss with the morning's revelation. The Tendo and Saotome families had always known they were related to the long vanished Hokage ninja clan. But they'd believed both their families were retainers rather than the main house. Apparently, they were wrong in the case of the Saotomes.
Genma nodded enthusiastically.
"It's a miracle, is what I'd say it is," he said.
"Undoubtedly, Saotome," Soun agreed, "But I always thought the gift emerged when you were a baby or it did not emerge at all."
"Yes, Tendo, but it seems the old legends are mistaken in that regard, because I can tell you Ranma's never demonstrated it before."
"Argh! Could you two let us in on the big news as well?" Ranma shouted. "I'd like to know what's going on as whatever this is, it's happening to me."
"Yes, Uncle Saotome. What's going on? Do tell," quipped Nabiki, sardonically. She'd already texted to her regular customers a new Saotome special on sale for just 5000 yen.
"Fine, I'll tell the story," Soun said and took a deep breath.
Everyone but Genma leaned forward.
"Hundreds of years ago, during the time of the Warring States, there lived a clan of ninja called the Hokage. This clan was unique in the annals of ninja history because where others perfected the physical arts, the Hokage perfected the supernatural arts. They created weapons and lore that can't be recreated even with today's technology. This wasn't the only thing that made them unique, however. The leaders of the Hokage were men and women who could wield flames."
"Wield flames as in like what Ranma was doing today?" Akane asked.
"So you're saying Ranma's descended from that clan?" Akane asked.
"Not just Ranma. The Saotome clan trace their lineage back to the Hokage as does ours."
"And here I always thought that we're all descended from samurai families."
"There's no doubt that samurai blood flowing through our veins, but that is true of practically all families in Japan. The Warring States period was such that most families took up the sword at some point or the other. But we're also descended from the Hokage," Soun explained.
"And both our families have always been proud of our Hokage heritage, though we'd always thought we were retainers of the eponymous family and not the sons of the main family itself," Genma appended.
"Ah," Kasumi nodded, pushing a cup of tea to Ranma. Strangeness followed Ranma so much that nowadays, she wasn't even surprised by the next impossible thing to show up on her doorstep.
"So what does it mean to be a flame wielder?" Ranma asked.
"The correct term is Flame Master, Ranma and we don't know. The text is all lost. But one thing is certain. You have to learn to control the flame and that means training."
Ranma pumped his right arm into the air.
"I don't know how to train you to control the flame, however. You know what that means, don't you?" Genma asked.
"Pain?" Ranma hazarded a guess.
"Yes, the path of a martial artist is fraught with peril."
"Uncle Saotome, what happened to the Hokage?" Nabiki asked.
"Oda Nobunaga happened," Soun replied with feeling. "Legend has it he was afraid of the Hokage clan's power and so he gathered allies and put an end to them. Frankly, so far as we know, our two families are the only survivors of the massacre."
"How did that happen?" the middle Tendo asked, sardonically. "I mean, if Nobunaga was as thorough as you portray, how did he spare our two families?"
"Our ancestors dishonorably ran and hid while the others fought and died. Or perhaps, our ancestors were truer to nindo than the rest of the clan," Soun explained with a wan smile.
Genma looked around the table and slapped his thighs.
"It's settled then. Ranma and I will leave for a training tomorrow morning."
Unknown to the Tendo's and the Saotomes, Shampoo who'd been listening in on the discussion by the window silently slipped away. She had to inform her great grandmother and get ready to follow Ranma on his training mission. There she'd make him see the worth of a Joketsu wife.
Sadly, that wasn't how things were to turn out.
"Yes, Great Grandmother. I overheard with very clearly. Ranma is descended from a ninja clan called the Hokage and he can wield flames with his hands," Shampoo explained happily. Oh, she was lucky. Not only was her husband talented in the martial arts, but he was also a mythological warrior who could control fire. Their children were going to be the talk of the village.
"This changes things," Cologne said. She remembered the Hokage from her clan's lore. They were sworn enemies of the Joketsu and god forbid if Masu learned Shampoo was consorting with their clan leader. "I'll need proof of son-in-law's gift, girl. Can you get that charred stone you spoke of?"
Shampoo nodded enthusiastically.
"Good, go and get it. I've got a call to make."
"Okay, Great Grandmother."
Cologne watched the girl skip out of the house and sighed. It was sad because the young girl was very much in love with Ranma. But this affair had grown larger than affairs of the heart. The survival of Cologne's clan stood in the balance, but Shampoo may just have supplied her with a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Too bad for the Tendos and the Saotomes, though. The Joketsu had a long memory and they neither forgave nor forgot.
Is that ending foreboding enough? Keep reading!