There will be: language, nudity, sex, violence, death, and rather detailed descriptions of such. I'm an adult, and a writer. I revel in the coincidence that I'm also an adult writer.
I only own what someone else does not.
The story behind the story, as it is, for Lux is something I'll openly admit was inspired by another author. Some of the setting and ideas put forward in another work, "Ranma's White Wings", and "Mahoranma" caught my attention, and for the most part I enjoyed those works. I wanted to play in that sandbox, and this came out. Credit to those two works for inspiration and snippets, though I'm trying to spin them my way. Go read. They are fun.
I wanted to do a similar project, working off some of the world described, but in a different fashion, which brings us here. I won't be de-aging Ranma, or locking him despite the way things sound. This will however be primarily a Ranma-chan fic, if that's the sort of thing you want to know ahead of time. Instead of working with or parallel to the usual Negima story like one would expect, Ranma here will quickly begin a different sort of journey, but it will intersect often with the usual cast of Negima. As for Nerima... it'll come up in time, and in snippets.
The setting, initially, occurs at the beginning of class A's 3rd year, hence "3-A". Up till now, Negima is canon compatible. Ranma has just defeated Saffron, but the failed wedding did not occur for reasons that will be covered later. I have not decided on or considered a pairing, but there will be some... interactions.
It was a good example of how messed up Ranma found his life, that a drink of water could bring everything tumbling down. Currently male, if scalded badly, the cursed martial artist sat across from one of the last people he expected to be speaking with civilly. "I'm not locked, but it keeps getting worse. I... I don't know what to do, and it all started here, so..."
"So you came to us," Kiima finished for him, nodding with a pensive expression. She herself had been surprised at the young man's audacity, not that her people bore him any ill will. Quite the contrary. The battle with Saffron had given the Phoenix new hope for a peaceful future under a Lord that wasn't a tyrant, and with the return of their own spring within Mt. Phoenix, much could be done to repair the damage wrought by the last war with the Musk. Returning her attention to the young man before her and his request, Kiima sighed, rubbing at her temple. "I'm not sure what to say. The taps are, at their best, strange and capricious."
Confused, Ranma tilted his head, "What? You mean those statues you guys used for faucets?"
Laughing quietly, Kiima shook her head, white hair flaring about her shoulders slightly as her wings ruffled slightly. "No, no. You are Japanese, so I expect you are at least a little familiar with the idea of place-spirits?"
Nodding, Ranma began to get a bad feeling about his errand. "You mean like Kami."
"More or less," the Captain of the Phoenix Guard replied. "Imagine this, if you will – the water of the taps originates in the house of a Kami, and lingers there till it is pushed up by pressure. Once it escapes into the taps, its suddenly at a loss for that presence. Being so close to such a potent spirit can only do strange things, after all.
"Now, this water, already charged with power, has no way to express it. For a long time, it flowed around and contained a Kami, we'll say for simplicity's sake," she explained, setting a small plate of meats and cheeses from a nearby tray between them. Despite the food before him, Ranma remained focused, listening to his host's story. "Let us assume that this water, so charged, feels a lack for the presence of that Kami. Now, free of the taps, it bubbles up from the ground as springs, in nearby Jusenkyo. What you think of as a curse, in this case, may simply be the water's attempt to find a Kami to satisfy its lack."
Mulling that over, Ranma shook his head hard. "That's nice and all, and it kinda makes sense, but what's this got to do with me needing more and more boiling water to change now?"
Kiima nodded, expecting the question. "Think about it. You were submersed in the pure cold waters of Jusendo. The same water that later becomes the cursed pools of Jusenkyo. Bathing in it, drinking it, you may well have, for lack of a better phrase way to say it, strengthened your curse."
"In that case, what about the hot water? Won't that fix it?"
Shaking her head, the Phoenix Captain rested her taloned hands on Ranma's shoulders, "We use the hot water to accelerate the change in our Lords. What can you imagine would happen to a human, bearing a curse?"
"Would it age me?"
Kiima shrugged. "Possibly. We simply don't know. It would be dangerous to try, however, without knowing what could happen."
Ranma favored the phoenix woman with a somewhat lost smile. "Hey, it's not like I got much to loose, right?"
Sighing, Kiima stared into the young man's eyes, looking for some trace of hesitation. Finding none but instead a vast well of loss and sadness, she marveled at his determination. Quietly, she tried once more to dissuade him, "You may die, Ranma. Is the risk worth it?"
Recalling his last conversation in Nerima, Ranma waved the woman's concerns aside. "Like I said, got nothing to loose. When can we do this?"
The hills below were becoming fewer and fewer, and with them, any cover she would likely find to mask her travel. Without the mountains, she would be too visible, too exposed to the few hunters stupid or brave enough to still track her. Ranma had to hand it to the Joketsuzoku, once they set their sights on a goal, nothing else would do.
Too bad she had other plans for her life, the redhead mused as she touched down on only mountain in the area to show hints of human habitation. She'd learn quickly that temples with walls and long staircases tended to enjoy those things being respected and observed, not bypassed, as a strange pattern erupted under her feet, literally.
Screaming as she was sent airborne completely against her will and from the pain of a frankly unbelievable amount of energy discharging into her, Ranma lost her focus. Instead of taking back to the air, which would have saved her another contact against the strange protections the temple had, she impacted the ground again, causing another eruption. By the third, instinct had taken over, and a very scorched, mostly naked, and brightly glowing female Ranma hovered above the temple, as a stooped and balding figure stepped from a doorway. "Oh? So the stupid tengu are back..." he began, only to pause and whip his head up at the figure above him, eyes widening in shock. "...impossible."
'Impossible' regarded him with liquid silver churning through her irises, as the aura about her condensed for a moment into a single hand, before lashing out where the man had been faster than the eye could see. The pillar of discharged ki from the impact couldn't dissipate fast enough to be absorbed by the earth, and so shot heavenward, as stone and air screamed at the sudden connection.
The old monk, his staff dully jingling at his side, regarded the figure bearing down on him in a falcon's stoop, her wings back in a vicious dive and considered his options. His rolling dodge had cost him the initiative, and so for now he had to play a defensive battle against an unknown foe, with the advantage of infinite upper ground. Seeing the winged girl's next move, he cursed, "Oh this is going to leave a mark," he muttered, before snapping three fingers into an odd twisting pattern. "Tō. Zen. Rin. The stone remembers its origins."
It was a simple onmyōdō mantra, made popular when the esoteric temples had to defend themselves ironically enough from tengu and other flying demon pests. Normally, it would cause a stone to shoot from the ground into the air with some force, and in the hands of a skilled practitioner, the projectiles could rival bullets in force and damage.
He wasn't going for subtle or fatal wounds, but the figure before him seemed to have gotten lost in her own ki, reacting from his seals and wards, and had no such compunctions. It was rather obvious that she didn't intend him any harm initially – but then again, his protections weren't very smart. "Zap people who fly and land without passing the gate" seemed like such a good idea at the time... Lost in her rage, she'd need to be either knocked out or sealed to likely come around.
Which is when when he incanted the mantra he did, a stone the mass of a small car rocketed up into the stooping figure's path.
He did not anticipate her simply punching it into gravel. "Oh for the love of good alcohol," he swore, planting his staff in the ground with a disgruntled huff. "Fine! Lets get physical, you overgrown pigeon."
Later, he would rue living to regret those words. The good news was, at least the redhead contritely trying to tend his wounds was cute. If a violent maniac. The wings seemed familiar however...
Never let it be said that Goemon the Seal Master was fast on the uptake. Intelligent – yes. Bearing a strong degree of common sense and self preservation – not so much. It would take another week of bedridden recuperation before he considered the merits of teaching the irritable winged girl who didn't much like his innuendo sealing and ki focusing as also good for his own health.
You can occasionally teach an old dog new tricks. If you have a big enough stick, anyway.
"Next stop, Mahora Academy Central," the train attendant's voice chimed over the train's speakers, causing the young man's brow to furrow. Checking the card with directions in his hand once more, he sighed. Realizing his somewhat depressed behavior not only resembled something Ryoga would do, but also happened to be gaining him unwanted attention, Ranma straightened, clearing his features. Pointedly ignoring the girls around him that seemed to be outnumbering the men ten-to-one, the martial artist ran through his tentative plans once more.
As Kiima had expected, water from the Jusendo hot tap hadn't had the effect he'd expected. In fact, due to the shift in the curse from the battle with Saffron, it seemed to qualify as cold enough to trigger his transformation... which of course lead to no end of annoyance and complication. Realizing he was getting upset pointlessly, the young man unconsciously sighed again, drawing more curious glances from the young students around him. As had become quick habit, Ranma shifted his left hand, running the beads that wrapped around it between finger and thumb, taking small comfort in their calming influence.
As the train slowed for the station, Ranma's thoughts drifted back to his own travels. For all his luck recently seemed to be bad, that small side-trip that the Phoenix Captain had suggested had really paid off. What were the odds of finding a Master of Sealing Arts on the way back to Japan? Ranma didn't question it. He figured having some control over his transformation was better than none, after all. The Master had passed along a tidbit of advice, something Ranma had a desperate need for, with no other leads to follow now. Apparently, one of the old Master's colleagues was a chief in some mage association, based out of Kantō. He had suggested, after much... coercion, that the cursed martial artist should seek the man out. Being the proverbial spider in the middle of a web of contacts that were also mages, he figured someone would have a clue where Ranma should look next, if not be able to outright offer a solution to his problem.
Ranma shook off his musings as the train shuddered into the station, brakes squalling noisily. Once the train stopped and the initial press and rush had passed, Ranma stepped from the train as well. As he stepped into the sun from the small station, left hand shielding his eyes, the card in his hand disintegrated into a fine powder, drifting through his fingers and into the slight breeze that followed him from the train station. "Suppose this is the place," the pigtailed teen remarked, a frown clear on his features. He knew the card had magic in it of a sort, but it still bothered him to be so exposed to it. Magic, after all, had done nothing good for him in his life. Sadly, it took magic to counter magic, and unless someone could discover the link between ki, magic, and what had changed after his latest trip to Juesndo, he needed an expert to get anything done.
That of course, brought another question to mind, "But why the hell is someone like the chief of the Kantō Magic Association Dean of a girl's Academy? Hope he's not some pervert like the old letch." Shrugging to himself, the pig-tailed teen idly played with the beads wrapped around his left wrist and hand, picking up a brisk walk that would get him to his location quickly. In his distraction, Ranma missed the pointed look his muttering had garnered from a pair of students, and one diminutive teacher.
Konoka Konoe, Asuna Kagurazaka, and Negi Springfield blinked after the passing man, only remembering they had a schedule to keep after he was out of sight. "That was odd," Asuna hazarded with a laugh as they walked along, trying to gloss over the fact the young man had just been talking about magic and her best friend's grandfather in the same sentence. "And here I thought we were full-up on crazies, right?" She quipped nervously. It was hard enough to keep Negi's weirdness secret, but if Konoka started asking around...
Was Konoka's grandfather involved? Something tickled at the back of Asuna's mind, but she discarded the idea out of hand. Mahora was weird, sure, but the Dean? A mage? Her lips curled into a grin. What a silly idea. Taking Konoka's hand, the girl with the light auburn hair set in twin ponytails adorned with little bells started her usual morning jog. At her side, the more subdued girl with long hair and skates seemed pensive and thoughtful.
Ignoring her friend's idle chatter, Konoka Konoe blinked after the young man, who looked to be a year, perhaps two older than her. Much to her friend's peace of mind, Konoka seemed to have missed the mage part of the young man's muttering. "Did... did he just call my grandfather a pervert?"
At Asuna's side Negi Springfield, the diminutive ten year-old teacher of English at Mahora Academy, worried what it meant that someone with such an obvious exposure to magic that he could feel it from some distance away would be at the school. Though he knew that his own old headmaster had been in contact with Dean Konoe, Negi too had missed the fact the old man was a mage. If that was the case... how many others were at Mahora? Especially if Konoe was the chief of the Kantō region as that young man had claimed. Did that mean that Konoka had potential as a mage, too?
More importantly however, he was wondering why they were running. "Why did you drag me along again? Term doesn't start till tomorrow," he whined pointlessly. All his attempts to dislodge his hand from Asuna's were met with failure. The girl really did have more strength than she appeared to.
"Because Takahata-sensei is giving a lecture today, and since someone took his job, I have to attend these when I can!"
"B-B-But why are you dragging me along too?"
"How else can I keep you out of trouble, brat?"
Once Mahora came into view, Ranma had to admit, the school was a few orders of magnitude above Furinkan, in a number of ways. The first was sheer size, of course. Whistling lowly, he spun in place outside in the main courtyard, at the foot of the three-tiered steps that lead up to the Academy proper. The main building he could see was built in a style that reminded Ranma of pictures he'd seen of old European architecture, rather than the usual designs he'd encountered from other Japanese schools. He had heard a clock-tower chiming the time on the walk up, after getting passed by some younger students and what looked like someone's little brother, but wasn't in a hurry himself. Frankly, he'd rather wait out the rush of what students there seemed to be present, than deal with them looking around. Aside from the main building before him, he could see the massive tree that a few of the tourist brochures spoke of, and admittedly, it was rather huge. "World Tree," he mused, seeing the crown of the massive thing peeking above the buildings between it and himself.
Inside the Academy, he was reminded of his initial impression, as the furnishings and décor seemed to mirror the style he'd observed. Despite the age he assumed the Academy to be, the building was in amazing shape – the floors were clean and unscuffed, the walls lacked dents and marks, and the wood seemed wholly intact. Ranma doubted Furinkan looked this good on the day it opened its doors, to be honest.
Walking through the halls of Mahora Academy and thinking on Furinkan, Ranma was once again reminded that his latest attempt at school had been less than positive. It was little consolation to him that he could recall the period where he and Ryoga schooled together in the past being something to be proud of, scoring in the top twenty-percent of his class, when his record at Furinkan placed him solidly in the bottom. It wasn't as if he could help that, however, with challenges, the tension at the Tendo home, and the curse all picking at his mind constantly. Seeing the numbers above the rooms, Ranma mused that this would have been his third year – though, for him it would have been his last year at high school, rather than what he had to assume was the equivalent for junior high, here.
"Though, large as the campus is, there's likely a high school around here somewhere," he mused, passing a pretty blonde-haired woman who eyed him curiously. "Excuse me," he offered in passing without pausing in his search, or sparing her more than a cursory glance.
"Ah," the woman – Shizuna Minamoto – herself paused, calling after the youth to get his attention. "Are you looking for something, sir?"
Ranma turned, recalling that he was somewhat turned around. Obviously an adult would either know where the offices were, or would work here, he figured. "Yeah, looking for Dean Konoe, if you know where I can find him."
Confusion reigned over the woman's face, briefly. "This... you are aware Mahora is a girl's school? The boys campus-"
"Not here to enroll or anything, miss," Ranma interrupted, before the woman could get into her argument or explanation. "Sorry, but like I said, got business with the Dean. Doesn't have anything to do with the school."
Somewhat nonplussed, the woman nodded. "Ah, very well then. I can lead you to his secretary, at least. You should have an escort in Mahora regardless, considering the nature of the school."
Ranma shrugged. It was progress, and he didn't mind someone cutting down on his time wandering around as lost as Ryoga. "Sure. Though, figured it wouldn't be a big deal, before term and all. You have classes all year long here?"
"Oh, there's always something going on at Mahora," the woman offered with a slight smile. Though the comment – aimed at seeming mysterious and perhaps a little playful, to gauge the young man – had a different effect than expected. The mask of neutrality broke slightly, as a scowl marred his features.
"Well, seems I'm in the right place then, at least."
Confused, curious, and a little put-off by the young man, Shizuna indicated a corridor. "I'll see to it you get there, Mister...?"
"Ranma," the pig-tailed teen offered briefly, a clicking sound drifting up from his left hand.
The school counselor followed the sound, noting what looked like a long string of intricate beads, wound around the young man's hand numerous times beginning at the wrist. From her angle, she could see that they crossed his palm and the back of his hand once, before leaving a small portion to settle in a final loop that ended in a strange charm, that the young man apparently liked to worry between thumb and forefinger. Shizuna wondered if he grew uncomfortable, having them wound between his fingers like that. "I'm not familiar with the practice," she demurred, indicating his hand. Noting his surprise and sudden wariness, she schooled the curiosity from her face. "Catholic? Or Buddhist?"
Ranma winced slightly, recalling that the man he was meeting was supposedly a mage. Would he have others, on the payroll? "Hell," he wondered morosely to himself, "is this a magical girl training school?" That would just make his day. Outwardly, he was merely shaking his head. "Nah. Just something I picked up in China," he hedged, albeit truthfully.
"I see," Shizuna replied in a neutral voice. Though not involved with the various odd occurrences around the school herself, she had grown sensitive enough to feel a particularly strong something from those beads. Initially, she'd been worried it was the young man himself, which could have presented a problem. Having narrowed it down, she made a note to inform the Dean's secretary. "Ah, also, for when we reach the secretary, your family name...?"
"Just Ranma, for now," he replied, eyes fixed forward as a somewhat rueful and sad grin spread across his features. "Family's a sticking point at the moment. Though, if you have to know, it's Saotome. Just don't use it freely, I guess."
"He really isn't painting himself in a positive light," Minamoto noted to herself with a little concern. Still, she'd known stranger people, who were still quite nice. What tripped across her sensibilities wasn't his somewhat rough manner, his odd clothing, the arguably 'mundane' beads, or his dubious family situation, but his demeanor. The young man walked and behaved like he belonged here, or had every right to be walking the halls of a private girl's academy unescorted or announced. That kind of brazen self-assurance wasn't something she expected out of a teenager.
"I'll keep that in mind," she offered finally, as they neared the office wing of the school. "I'll inform the Dean's secretary so she can make an appointment, or see if there's an opening for you."
"Nah, no need for that," Ranma replied to the woman, nodding briefly to the secretary nearby as he passed her by without pause. Shizuna noted it was much the same reaction he'd had with her. "I'll just head on in."
Not many people knew that the doors to the Dean's office of Mahora Academy were reinforced with magic. Fewer among those that did know, knew that the chief mage of the Kantō region locked those doors with that same magic, except when his secretary buzzed him to let him know he had a visitor or appointment, or he was expecting someone. After all, it was a modicum of the respect he was due for his position, to have a little privacy in his supposed sanctum within the school.
It was no surprise then that the young man walked up to the doors to turn the knob and find them locked. "Huh, must be stuck..." he muttered.
The secretary had stood by that point, and was trying to get his attention.
"Eh, just a little bit, then," Shizuna heard Ranma mutter, his eyes focused on the doors, as something seemed to press outward from the young man, before a screeching clang and splintering rip caused the two women present to shield their ears.
Not quite understanding why she had ducked and closed her eyes, Shizuna blinked as she peered up, then paled dramatically. There, in what was left of the Dean's doorway, stood Ranma with half of one of the massive oak doors dangling from his hand, apparently ripped free of the rest of its bulk by sheer force alone. She refused to think about the implications when it came to the locking and reinforcing spells – really, it wasn't even the first day of term yet!
Letting the mangled panel of wood clatter to the floor, Ranma reached back and scratched at the base of his braid in embarrassment, as the aged man from within the office came into view at the now-renovated doorway to his office. "Ah, heh. Ranma Saotome. Here to speak with a Dean Konoe. Sorry about this."
"So, you are the young one my associate in China spoke of," the old – if not the oldest he'd ever seen – man before Ranma said, folding his hands before himself with a slight smile. "I admit, I was more than a little skeptical of his assessment, but seeing is believing, as they say."
Ranma blinked, before coughing into his hand. "Ah, assessment? He just told me to look up the Dean of Mahora. I didn't know he'd send word ahead of me." Though he'd expected someone like the old Sealing Master he'd been referred by, Ranma was a little intimidated by the man before him. True, both were old and gray, as far as hair went, but he'd not been prepared for the feeling of suppressed power the man gave off. It wasn't the same as the old man in China, who specialized in ki much to his good fortune, but something else that was nearly as familiar, if vastly unwelcome.
True, considering what Ranma was there for, it made sense, but in his history, he'd never run across someone who had that much of an aura of the stuff about them. A long time ago, he'd thought Cologne was something to be intimidated by in that regard. Now, however, he understood that the old ghoul was just using parlor tricks and a few trinkets to dazzle him.
Konoemon Konoe was the real deal.
And he'd just recently ripped apart the door to the man's office.
"Not the best first impression," he thought to himself, while outwardly trying to seem attentive and as nonthreatening as possible, despite the burning, incandescent anger that the presence of magic sparked in him. Caused, of course, by the complications such things had put on him in the past. Oh, he'd come to terms with his curse, for the most part, but it was magic itself that started drawing the young man's ire since then. Every time his life seemed to take a more peaceful, reasonable path, magic would show up and throw everything back in to chaos.
Frankly, he was sick to death of it, and the presence of so much of it around him was beginning to fray at his self control. That same control was being held firmly in hand, however, and he desperately needed it at that moment. That of course was due to the other mages who had flocked to the Dean's side, by some unknown signal that was probably magic as well. Two were women with swords, that unlike that idiot Kuno, looked to actually know how to use them, a gray-haired man with glasses that had the feel of a decent fighter about him, a European man who looked somewhat out of place in his expensive suit and crystal-studded rod, a guy that reminded him of Tofu Ono oddly with his square glasses and slight smile, and finally the blonde woman from earlier.
Dean Konoe smiled, turning his head to indicate a rather impressive looking bird of prey that was perched nearby. "Goemon's friend here was quite prompt arriving with your letter of introduction," the old man stated, his motion causing the rings in his elongated earlobes to rattle slightly against each other. This caught the bird's attention, and it called softly. "Indeed. Yes, I'll have a return letter for you soon, Ibuki.
"He mentioned you may find you way here, though I wasn't expecting you quite so quickly." Nodding to himself, the old man reached up to smooth down his grayed mustache. "Goemon's letter mentioned that you were quite the ki adept, though recent events have caused some disruption in your natural flows...?"
Looking to the others present, then back to the Dean, Ranma realized that the man's question wasn't so much a request for clarification, as a demonstration. Seeing as none of those present would be leaving, Ranma resigned himself to being somewhat of a spectacle. That did not mean, however, he was going to do so on their terms, regardless of who these mages thought they were.
"I'm not so much a ki-adept as he was, but more of a martial artist," the young man corrected. "However, there are some... problems with me going all out. First off being I just don't want to," he explained, earning some frowns from the surrounding mages, which at the moment he simply didn't worry about. "Second, I'd have to remove my own seal, and that's another issue which I'm just not going to deal with. Last, well... no offense, but I don't think any of you would be much of a match if I did."
There were the usual mutters and indignant noises at that, mainly from the two sword-wielding women. Surprisingly, it was the slightly-smiling gray haired man in the suit with the glasses that spoke up. "So, you'd be willing to spar with someone, to demonstrate for us? I wouldn't ask, but we do need to properly assess your potential, so we know how to help."
Ranma narrowed his eyes at the seemingly innocuous man, before nodding slowly. "Yeah. I'd be alright with that."
Konoemon clapped his hands once, before announcing to the room, "Excellent. We shall adjourn to the third basement, so as to not disturb those outside our activities."
The third basement, Ranma discovered, felt more like a massive underground stadium, at least two-stories tall, and apparently excavated out of the bedrock below Mahora. Whistling lowly, he took in the surroundings, trying to discern the source of the rather good lighting and air, as it was fresh and not at all stagnant and musty. His own destination was clear as there was a space already set aside it seemed in the middle of the area that looked well-used and abused by those that had similar purposes here previously.
"As I said, this testing area is deep enough and warded well against intrusion and unintentional observation," the Dean explained, gesturing to the wide, scarred arena. "As you were sent to us by a colleague, speaking to you of such things isn't a concern... However, I must request that you keep the nature of our meeting and discussion secret.
"Mahora is many things," the old man continued, as they walked out toward the middle of the stone arena. "Superficially, it is a vast campus, for those both young and old. Colleges for a narrow few areas of specialty exist, alongside entry-level schools for children. Deeper, it is the seat of the Kantō Magic Association, a Western-focused group that oversees, assists, and trains those with potential for magic. Goemon mentioned in his letter that he had told you as much, I believe."
Ranma grit his teeth slightly, mouth drawing into a fine line. "I understand what you're saying, and yeah he did. What I'm curious about, I suppose, is why Goemon sent me here, and what you can do for my curse, or the other magic affecting me."
Konoemon nodded, as the others following them stayed silent. "To assess that, we need practical data."
"Why?" Ranma challenged. "I can tell you about all of what went on. So why make me jump through hoops like this?"
It was the graying teacher who answered, "For one, as much as we'd like to claim it, there aren't many services that are ever truly free." Striding forward so he counted himself with Ranma and the Dean, the man introduced himself. "I'm Takamichi Takahata, a teacher at this school. The information we received stated that you were a ki-adept, but you countered that claiming to be a martial artist instead. So, naturally, we have reservations on taking anything reported at face value."
"So you think I'm lying?"
"Not at all," the teacher replied, taking a moment to press his glasses back into place firmly. "We simply don't like unknowns, or a lack of data. Which is why we are here. For the services we'd be willing to assist you with, we'll need payment of a sort. This is where we'll gauge how you can do so."
Ranma snorted in annoyance. "Yeah, sure. And how do I know you can even help me? I mean, I can feel tell you and the two kenshi have some talent with ki," Ranma indicated, jerking a thumb back toward the two women bearing katanas. "And the old man's got enough magic about him for even me to notice, but you've not really given me much to work with, here." Turning and stopping in his walk, Ranma scanned his gaze across those who had accompanied he and the Dean. "Goemon sent me here to get a mage's view of the the things he could sense about me. What does testing me have to do with your ability to help?"
"He has a point," Konoemon rumbled, his words silencing the irritated mumbling that had sprung up at the young man's words. Nodding, the Dean reached up to smooth his mustache. "Forgive us if we seem abrupt and less than forthcoming. Most often, those bearing the touch of magic are wary and unwilling to discuss the details. They consider it a private matter."
"Yeah, well," the pigtailed martial artist replied somewhat blandly, "no one else I've run into has made much of letting private things stay that way."
"Indeed," the Dean mused. "But, as my colleague Takahata-san said, very few services are free, or without their own cost in either time or effort. Goemon's assessment of you was rather favorable, and on it alone I wouldn't hesitate to act on your behalf, trusting your honor to be sufficient in assuring compensation for our services."
Grudgingly, Ranma conceded the point. "But, since I'm not a ki-adept – a onmyōji as Goemon called himself – you have no way to know how I'll repay a debt." Reaching up, he rubbed at the base of his braid idly. "Alright. I don't really loose anything by doing this."
Sparing the young man a smile, Konoemon gestured to a bench, near where the other supposed mages were moving to sit. "Goemon briefed us on what he could, without compromising you. If you would please, tell us about the magic you have come in contact with."
Frowning, the young man chose to stand rather than sit like the rest, or like Takahata, to lean on a nearby wall. After a moment's thought, he began to speak, "...I suppose the first time was at Jusenkyo, hidden in the Bayankala mountain range somewhat south of Mount Kensei, in the Qinghai Province of China. It was nearing the end of our decade-long training trip-"
"Decade? Surely not. You're so young," the suited man with the gemmed cane interrupted, in a clearly disbelieving tone.
"Gandolfini," the Dean mumbled, gaining the man's attention. "If you would, let the boy speak before asking your questions...?" Frowning, the man in question waved a hand, falling silent.
Sparing him a sour look, Ranma went on, though there was significantly less patience in his voice. "Right. Jusenkyo. Pools of Sorrow and all that. Fall in a pool, get a curse," he tersely explained. "Cold water changes your form."
Konoemon hummed in thought as considered Ranma's words. "Hmm, yes. That is a known hotspot for powerful death and transformation magic. You say then that you bear a Jusenkyo curse?"
Frowning, Ranma nodded an affirmative. "Spring of Drowned Girl. I change genders."
Two of those gathered nodded faintly, the Dean being one, while the other was the man that vaguely reminded Ranma of Dr. Tofu Ono. "Would you care to demonstrate the curse?" The lookalike asked.
"Later," Ranma stalled, shaking his head. "I'll have to anyway, but there's no need to rush and do it now.
"After that..." he trailed off, thinking for a moment on what he should and shouldn't say. In a way, very few of the things that had happened to him had been good. Most were either mistakes, done in the hopes of harming him, or consequences of fights or challenges he'd had. The problem was, Ranma admitted, how much should he tell them in the hopes of getting the taint of magic cleaned from him? How much did he want to risk of himself to these people? And... what if Goemon had been right?
"After that," Ranma began again, his voice steady, "there was the Phoenix Pill. I was... stuck in my female form due to a Joketsuzoku plot. The Pill was the only way I could tolerate water hot enough to trigger my change."
"How long were you stuck?" The blonde woman from earlier asked hesitantly. After clearing her throat, she went on, "I mean... I can imagine being born male, you hadn't spent much time as a female before that, correct?"
Seeing where the woman was going with her question, Ranma rubbed at the bridge of his nose as he paced. "Yes. I have been locked for more than the needed month, if that's what you mean."
Looking sheepish, Shizuna glanced away, "Ah..."
"Don't worry about it," Ranma waved the woman's concern away. "Everyone wonders. That's one of the least embarrassing questions, to be honest." Sweeping the rest of the group around him with a sharp glare, he continued, "and also the most embarrassing one I'll answer, if I'm clear.
"Anyway. The Phoenix Pill's magic makes one nearly immune to flames, the obvious side-effect being a massive tolerance to heat. That got me around the pressure point, but also added another layer to magic I'd been exposed to."
The European man – the one in the suit with the silly cane – chimed in at that, "And it was permanent?"
Ranma nodded. "Both are – Jusenkyo and the Pill."
"Messy," the man replied with a snort of disgust. "Very messy."
"My friend among the Phoenix people – I'll get to them in a minute – explained that I was lucky that hot water even worked after that, considering much of what makes magic function is perception, and since my tolerance and reaction to heat effectively went completely from one extreme to the other..."
The suited man nodded, "Yes, that would be tricky."
"A few other minor things occurred between then and the biggest complication," Ranma continued, picking up his tale again. "I can list them in detail some time, but Kiima and I believe the biggest change came with Jusendo, and the source of Jusenkyo's waters."
Heaving a weary sigh, Ranma stopped his pacing, steeling himself for what was to come. "You have to understand, that even before Jusenkyo, the Pill, and all the craziness that was home, I'd been refining ki for use in my body for years. I can jump insane heights, lift things weighing many times my weight, run fast enough that most people can only see a blur... all from pushing myself, and being pushed, to my limits almost daily since that trip began. Even coming back to Japan did little to end that, as Pops used a number of agreements to set up what was basically a daily challenge situation for me, so that even once we settled, I was still training," Ranma explained wearily. Checking his left hand and the sealing beads there, the young man nodded to himself, focusing his ki with his right hand.
Those watching blinked in surprise as a red-gold sphere of visible ki winked into existence in the young man's hand. "I can project and manipulate ki outside my body." Releasing his focus, the wisp of light dissipated. "At Jusendo, I was pushed to my limit. I had to fight an newly-ascended greater Phoenix, to protect someone I cared about." He ignored the incredulous looks from some of those listening, as he really didn't need their belief to know what he did. He had proof. "During the battle, I was doused in and ended up drinking some of the original water that eventually makes its way to Jusenkyo. Kiima and I think that caused my transformation – curse of you prefer – to intensify over time, combined with one of my emotional coping mechanisms and the Phoenix Pill."
The Dean raised a brow. "Coping mechanism?"
Almost immediately, the temperature in the area nearest to Ranma dropped a solid ten degrees Celsius, bringing it to the point it was uncomfortable in the cooler underground air. More than one of those present twitched or began to react, before the Dean held up his hand. "I see... you learned quite a few Joketsuzoku techniques as well, didn't you Ranma-san?"
In a voice devoid of emotion or inflection, the young man replied, "More than I wish I had. The cost was never worth it, in the end." Releasing the technique, the air warmed considerably, while Ranma seemed to shiver slightly as warmth and emotion returned to his eyes and expression. "That was the Soul of Ice, or rather, a ki-enhanced version of it that I used to counter the flames of the Phoenix I had to fight. With this," Ranma held up his left hand, displaying the beads wrapped around it, "I'm limited in how powerful I can make it. That was my limit, for purpose of demonstration, and a little less powerful than what I used against him."
"Then, I can definitely see how such things would compound, considering ki is essentially the energy of your spirit," Dean Konoe noted. "Any magic currently active on your person would react to such things, if those effects were made to be permanent."
"And I was using the Soul of Ice a lot, once we returned to Japan. It was either that, or end up losing what little self control I had with how things ended up. Looking back, I can see I was just making things worse, but I didn't know how things would react then. By the time I admitted I needed help, the transformation was shifted to the point that I needed fully boiling water in large quantities to activate it, and anything below that would reverse the change back to my female form. Suffice to say, I began spending a lot of time as a girl."
Nodding, the Dean leaned back with a thoughtful look on his face. "And the Pill's effects didn't negate the heat of the water, making it tolerable?"
Ranma smiled ruefully. "Taking a bath in boiling water gets to even someone like me," the teen admitted, earning sympathetic winces from the other males as they envisioned such a thing. The few women that made the connection that Ranma was a woman when doing so, also looked uncomfortable. "Kiima and I tried to reverse the effect using the hot water tap from Jusendo – there are two taps there, one hot, one cold – which the Phoenix use to help their Lords ascend. It... didn't go as we'd hoped."
"Why would they help you?" Takahata asked, having been silent for some small while. "The Phoenix people are very isolated, and it's in most party's self-interest not to bother them. It doesn't make much sense."
Irritated at another interruption, Ranma explained with an edge to his voice, "I'd already made contact with Saffron over his actions toward my family and friends. He was a maniac, who didn't give a damn about his people, only his own power. He was indoctrinated by a hide-bound old bastard that had delusions of grandeur over tales and histories of war and conquest that the Phoenix had written about, thousands of years earlier. He took advantage of the reborn Lord in the hopes of remaking their Empire, in the same way the Huns did."
Pinning the skeptic with a terse look, the young man continued, "I admit, we weren't exactly working on good information, considering our source at the time was Ku Lon, one of the Joketsuzoku Elders I had to put up with. Turns out their people and the Phoenix are something like contesting groups, over the valleys where Jusenkyo sits and some other territory. After I forced Saffron into a rebirth cycle," Ranma paused as the room erupted into muttering and whispers, pacing with a sigh as the Dean tried to still the chatter. Eventually, Ranma got tired of waiting, and began again in a loud voice, quieting them. "As I was saying! After Saffron was beaten, the Joketsuzoku annexed some of the valley that the Phoenix had claim to. Part of my... payment, for the help I got – not that it was what I wanted, but I had a debt, like you mentioned – was 'evicting' them, and keeping the Musk incursions at bay until Saffron was strong enough to revitalize them.
"Aside from that, the Phoenix didn't want a tyrant as a leader. The battle at Jusendo opened up the pure spring at their mountain home, and gave them a chance at a Lord who wasn't a jerk. All in all, the only loser in the whole thing was me in the end. They were pretty happy to help me out, all things considered."
Holding up his hands, the gray-haired teacher smiled apologetically. "We didn't know the details, but we'd heard that Saffron was beaten, from contacts in China. Things that severe tend to get around. Obviously, we didn't know it was you – and even if we had heard such a thing, it's not something you can just accept on word-of-mouth. I mean," shrugging Takahata gestured to the seated teen. "You're what? Seventeen? And, admittedly, you're sealed at the moment, but your ki doesn't really strike one as all that powerful."
At the man's frank and dismissive assessment, Ranma snorted in amusement. "I could take you with no ki, and with both hands behind my back. Don't judge a book by its cover."
"I may take you up on that challenge," Takahata replied quickly with a wry smile. "We are, after all, here to see what you can do."
"Anytime, old man."
Dean Konoe cleared his throat, an openly amused expression on his face. "Youthful bluster aside, I believe such a thing would be best handled after we finish hearing Ranma-san's tale. This is where things begin to get complicated, correct? At Jusendo?"
Wrinkling his nose in a decidedly feminine expression of annoyance, as if proving his curse, Ranma nodded. "Pretty much. The hot tap is used only by the Phoenix, to force their Lords into their ascended state. For lack of a better way to explain it... it did the same to me."
Gandolfini asked during a silence, "And I assume that those problems are something Goemon thought we could assist with? I understand he helped you to a degree already with his specialty in sealing and onmyōdō. You must have some complex issues if above and beyond Goemon's ability, you need more assistance."
Ranma grunted in an annoyed fashion. "That's what he claimed. He said that Jusendo's effect on me wasn't limited to ki, or something that just onmyōdō could solve."
"But that's not all, is it, Ranma-san?"
The martial artist shot the Dean a pointed look. "No," he admitted grudgingly. "I'm not, as he explained, magical by nature. I had no ability in it originally," Ranma pointed out. "But, constant exposure from dealing with my curse, the Pill, Jusendo... it all compounded." Ranma muttered with a scowl. "Now he claims that I've developed some potential for... it."
The Dean smiled wryly. "It? I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Magic," Ranma nearly spat, looking as if he'd tasted something foul. "Goemon said that the nature of it seems to have been affected by the curse and my use of the Soul of Ice as well. Apparently, I now have an affinity for ice and transformation magics. His suggestion was that I come here and find someone to instruct me... or seal that potential away. I would honestly prefer it to be sealed," he concluded. Ranma again ignored the mages' muttering at that. Maybe these people couldn't imagine sealing off their own magic, but he'd gained nothing positive from such things. There really was no question at his preference. "Since Goemon is an onmyōji and lacked any kind of ability in magic, he couldn't help with the that side of things. The reason I came here was because of his suggestion that his colleagues here may know of a way to... how did he put it... ah, regress me from what Jusendo did to me."
"Which brings us to the crux of the matter," Konoe noted with a small smile. "And yes, it does help explain much. I assume, since you had such well-developed ki already, that the Jusendo waters played havoc with you?"
Ranma snorted out a laugh. "You could say that. Oh, I have no problems using it... controlling it all's the problem when unsealed."
Nodding slightly, the old man raised a brow. "Goemon passed on his estimate of your ki potential. I have to admit... I'm a bit skeptical."
"My ki is a result of my martial arts... or it was, before Jusendo. I understood it – it made sense. As I got better at the Art, my ki would follow as my skills required," Ranma explained. "Now," Shaking his head, the troubled martial artist sighed. "It's like... a car. Like a small car, with a big engine. It wants to get away from me every time I tap into it. Sealing myself is the only way to control it, but if that seal slips or fails... Those things I showed you before were easy even before Jusendo, but without the seal now I don't trust myself not to hurt myself or someone else.
"Goemon did teach me me the orders of magnitude, how onmyōji measure such things, but that never seemed very important," Ranma commented in an offhand manner. "Ki without martial discipline behind never sat right with me, but I leaned a few things, out of necessity from him."
Konoemon cleared his throat drawing the attention of those nearby. "Well then, I think it time we began."