Rumiko Takahashi, quite rightly, owns the rights to Ranmo
Notes: Hm, this is not an AU…whew! It's a what-if continuation fic. I was stuck on Tokens…well not really. I just wanted to try a different flavor today! ^_^
I should ask for some leeway, as I've never tried writing anyone in first person before.
over," Ranma said in a dead voice. "Goodbye, Akane."
I watched as Ranma Saotome turned and walked out of my life.
At last everything will go back to normal, I thought. I'd really been worrying about my studies for a while now. All that fighting and all those women-hunting princes could really take their toll on a girl.
I sighed. What a relief.
A lone maple leaf drifted down to land near my ankle. I stared down at it. And then I broke into tears.
* * *
Eight Years Later ~
I exhaled as the maple leaves swirled down around me like a shower of blessings. I wanted to shut out the sight, but, though it sounds odd, I never closed my eyes if I could help it anymore. I always flashed back to that scene when the maple leaves fell. That was one reason I preferred to be out of the United States during the fall. It was a bittersweet season for me.
It was eight years ago, I reminded myself. Get over it. New life, new memories. He's probably some isolated hermit teaching some mountain kid the tenshin amaguriken in those mountains of his, where he and Mr. Saotome loved to train.
I shifted my grip on my J&B leather briefcase. I was comfortable with it, but it was only part of the act. It matched my navy blue silk business suit, my slim gold watch and the elegant Italian pumps. The ensemble belonged to a woman walking on Fifth Ave in New York, as I was doing right then. It helped me fit in.
I didn't even have to check the address as I turned into the entrance of a tall building and allowed the smilingly appreciative doorman to usher me through the huge glass and chrome doors into the marble foyer.
The flight back from Thailand had been late. I'd have to check on Shampoo when I got back to my apartment. The vain little cat I'd named after my one- time nemesis was sure to have missed me.
The elevator doors opened smoothly and I stepped in. It took me up to the 78th floor, in a smooth glide, the subtle speed making my ears ring. I stepped out and a pretty young receptionist behind a huge cherry wood desk smiled at me inquiringly.
I flashed my card. "Akane Tendo."
"Right this way, miss."
I was led into a plush, gleaming office. The man behind the polished desk was tall and silver-haired. Behind him, a large window gave out onto the harbor front. He rose as I came into the room and offered me his hand to shake.
"At last we meet, Ms. Tendo." His sharp grey eyes didn't dip below my chin, yet I could have sworn he had sized me up. I could appreciate a guy who didn't look me up and down.
I had to tilt my head to look up at him, but I'm not a tall woman by any means and I'm used to it.
I came forward, shook hands smilingly. "A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bartlett." Politeness is free, after all.
"The pleasure is certainly mine, Ms. Tendo," he said, motioning me to sit. "Your employer certainly impressed on me that you were capable, but he made no mention that you are beautiful as well."
"You flatter me, sir. My employer likes his fun." I gave him a quick, wry smile.
"That may be. You have a package for me?" He motioned to my briefcase.
I snapped the locks open and raising the cover, took out a small velvet- covered box and placed it on the table.
"Ahhh...here we go." Bartlett got a happy shine in his eyes as he picked up the box and opening it, examined the contents. He pressed a button on his desk. "That ensures that payment will be made to the specified bank account, Ms. Tendo. Thank you for delivering this."
I inclined my head. It was my job. I made a living by transporting things on an international level, tricky little things that you wouldn't exactly want to send through DHL Express.
"Now, what do you know of diamonds, Ms. Tendo?" he said. I gave him a long, slow blink at the sudden change of subject. It gave me time to think. I'd learned it from Nabiki.
"I hear they're a girl's best friends."
Bartlett burst into laughter. "Yes, indeed, Ms. Tendo! Have you heard of the Great Mogul diamond?"
I paused. "It's an Indian diamond isn't it? The third largest diamond in the world. I think it weighs about 300 carats or so. It used to belong to the King who built the Taj Mahal. But it's been missing for a long time."
"Well, it's not missing any longer. How would you feel about delivering it?"
I sucked in air sharply. I'd feel a little apprehensive. Well, make that a lot. I'd seen pictures of the Great Mogul, and it was a honking big diamond. Ugly, too. Not the easiest thing in the world to hide.
"Do you really have it?" I said.
"I do. It's not mine. In fact, I am acting as an agent between two private businessmen. I need you to deliver this diamond to an English gentleman. He's my contact for the buyer. The problem is…" Bartlett folded his arms. "The problem is that I don't quite know where he is."
"The last I heard, he was in Shanghai. There are a lot of people who would like to get their hands on the stone, Ms. Tendo. It's an infamous jewel. Sir Blaine was forced to disappear. I want you to find him and turn the stone over to him."
Sir Blaine? Why was an English knight acting as a contact for someone else?
"Who's the buyer?"
Bartlett opened his desk and took out a large rose-colored diamond. He gave it to me and I was immediately distracted. Holy Christmas. The diamond lay like a condensed star in my palm, winking and gleaming and refracting a million rays of light. But honestly, it looked like an egg.
I forced my eyes away from it. Not Bartlett. He looked like he could drink up the sight forever.
"And the buyer is...?"
"Some one I don't know," he glanced up. There was an odd look in his eyes. "A friend of Blaine's, but unable to get the stone himself for some reason."
"It must be delivered to Sir Phillip Blaine within two weeks. His employer is expecting the stone in a month. That's it. That's all. It's up to you to find Sir Blaine. Not a soul in the world knows where he is, not even his secretary. He's an adventurer, you see. Sometimes he goes off on expeditions. And now he's hidden himself somewhere. I can only give you the vaguest idea. Last week, he was known to be in Shanghai. But he's left the province, we believe."
"I see," I stood. "Then I'll get to it with haste, sir."
Bartlett gave a short cough.
I looked around. "Yes?"
He looked uncomfortable for the first time since I'd come into the office.
"Ms. Tendo..." he cleared his throat. "I'm not one to believe in esoteric practices, beliefs...I'm certainly not superstitious. I don't believe in curses and all that."
I did my slow blink again. He'd managed to surprise me twice now. But if he thought I'd laugh at his talking of curses, he was talking to the wrong girl. Or the right one.
"Is there some curse you're aware of, Mr. Bartlett?" Polite, neutral, neither believing nor disbelieving.
"They say that the diamond is cursed."
Bartlett wiped his brow with a silk handkerchief.
"When it was stolen from the Taj Mahal, a curse accompanied it, that's all I'm aware of. And it's said to have strange powers, as well."
"I see. I'll keep it in mind." I turned to go.
"Just a minute, Ms. Tendo. It's very important to me that Sir Blaine gets this package. You are the carrier of the package. I am making an investment in you."
I stared at him.
"I believe in protecting my investments, Ms. Tendo."
I understood what he meant. He wanted me to take on hired muscle. I started to shake my head. "Believe me, Mr. Bartlett, you'd just be slowing me down."
"There are a lot of people after this package, Ms. Tendo. I think they will slow you down even more," the old man said dryly. He leaned forward. "I will send you one bodyguard. Just one. I've picked the best. I know you prefer to work alone, but in this case, that would be inadvisable."
I sighed. "All right." The customer was always right, after all. And it would be fairly easy to slip by this guard if I really needed to.
"Thank you, Ms. Tendo. The man had an earlier appointment but he's waiting for you at the Capital."
Notes: Okay, was it edible? Sickening? Y'all like/hate Akane in first person? Click the button! Let me know!