May 15, 1993 – Nishitama, Tokyo
The mountains surrounding the town of Okutama, in the westernmost end of Tokyo prefecture, were Saotome Nodoka's preferred place to take a training trip. Over the years, she had claimed several points in the area as 'hers', leaving a small cleared area and shattered stones around as markers.
It was at just such a place that she and her son had set up for the weekend. They had arrived last night, as it was just starting to get dark, so they wouldn't have to waste the next morning traveling there.
Currently, The Saotomes were in a small clearing by a cliff, Nodoka standing, while Ranma sat to the side. The woman was demonstrating the proper technique for using some of the Shinmei esoteric abilities, as her son looked on, carefully analyzing everything she did.
Nodoka fell into hassō stance, making sure Ranma was watching. She stood there for a moment, charging her Nodachi with ki, before tilting the blade to a horizontal position, the blade facing out. Then, she cried out "Zankuusen!", carrying the blade through a straight slash across her torso. The air slashed by the blade blurred, and the trunk of a tree on the other side of the field shattered.
Turning back to Ranma, she began her lecture. "Zankuusen is one of the Shinmei basic esoteric techniques." The woman explained. "It uses a ki-charged slash to send a forward air-pressure wave at the target."
The boy nodded. "What's tha' range of it?" He asked.
"The effective range is twenty-five to thirty meters, although it can still affect targets as far as fifty meters away." She replied.
Again, a nod. "How do ya' aim it?"
His mother brought her sword back into the first step, and began repeating the move in slow motion. "You start by charging the blade with ki in hassō. This is to properly align the ki with the proper element." She shifted to the second step. "Then, you bring the blade to the side, to prepare the slash." Nodoka pointed at the base of the blade itself. "At this point, most of the ki should be focused just above the tsuba."
She began a slow slash. "As you bring the sword across your body, spread the charge across the blade, while moving the focus closer to the tip." The blade stopped moving about fifteen degrees short of being perpendicular to her chest. "By the time the sword is in this position, the tip of the blade should be the focus. Once it is, you flare the ki-charge until you reach the center of the torso. This is what causes the air-pressure wave."
Nodoka brought herself out of the demonstration. "You can increase the width of the pressure wave by bringing the focus, and the flare, to an earlier point, but it you will need a larger charge on the blade, or the wave will be weakened."
"Now, you try." Ranma stood up, and grabbed his bokken.
"Damn you, Ranma!" Ryoga cursed as he made his way through the underbrush. Last night, his camp had been attacked by a wild boar. He had managed to fight the beast off, but in the ensuing carnage, his tent, sleeping bag, and the bulk of his rations had been ruined. As a result, he had gotten no sleep as he sought a town to replace his gear.
It was bad enough that Ranma had run off from their man-to-man fight, but to send his porcine minion after him? That was inexcusable. What kind of man sends a beast to fight in his place?
But Saotome Ranma was no man. He might as well be a scared little girl for all that he had done. Ryoga smirked. Ranma wasn't going to be able to hide forever. One day, soon, he would be found, and Ryoga would crush him.
The path he took came to an abrupt end at a steep cliff. The fanged boy was only just attentive to avoid a fall. He skirted the cliff, still contemplating his hated foe, when he heard a loud crack and voices.
Ryoga, being a curious lad, decided to see what the noise was all about. He peered through the underbrush, and saw two people. One was a middle-aged woman with her raven-black hair in a bun behind her head. She wore a cerulean and white kendogi, and was holding a long-bladed sword.
He other was a boy, appearance similar to the woman. He wore a crimson and black kendogi, with his black hair tied back in a pigtail. Ryoga couldn't shake the feeling that he should recognize those facial features from somewhere.
"RANMA!" The boy snarled viciously. He pushed against the ground, trying to launch himself at his hated foe, but forgot that he has squatting on the edge of a particularly unstable cliff. Instead of providing forward momentum as he had hoped, the ground gave way, leaving the boy suddenly at the whim of gravity.
The Saotomes burst through the underbrush just a few seconds later, swords held in guard position, ready for a fight. Nothing was waiting for them but a cliff.
Confused, Ranma began poking the underbrush with his bokken. Nodoka, on the other hand, inspected the cliff. There was a section of the cliff face that had recently given way, the exposed dirt still fresh. Down below was a river, raging indifferently to anything that might have fallen into it.
"That's weird." Ranma commented. "I don't see anyone around."
Nodoka indicated to the disturbed cliff face. "You need to learn to pay more attention to your surroundings, son. It looks like your challenger-to-be fell off the cliff."
A look of concern flashed across his face. "Should we go down and help him?"
His mother shook her head. "No, Ranma. There is no need. The river is rapid, but shallow. If we can't see an injured man from here, then he was well enough to carry himself out of the riverbed and out of view in the time it took us to get here."
The boy nodded. "Can we get back ta' trainin', then? I don't wanna waste the time we have."
Nodoka smiled at him. "Of course, my son. After all, I expect you to have this and the other techniques mastered by the time we leave tomorrow. Unless you don't feel up to it?" Ranma smirked at the challenge. Oh yes, he was going to learn the techniques, even if it killed him.
Seventy meters below them, a small black piglet wearing a bandanna fought to pull its heavy bag out of the raging river. Just because the river was shallow for a human, didn't mean it was shallow for a tiny pig. It grunted, looking around for a place to set up a small heating element.
Monday, May 17 – Minato, Tokyo.
Ranma was walking to school on his own. After his first few days at Juuban junior high, Auntie Ikuko had stopped waking Usagi up early. Without the prompting, the blond girl no longer walked to school with him on a regular basis.
That was ok with him. After the weekend training, he was in no mood or condition to be listening to his cousin prattle on. If he wasn't so elated about learning not one, but three Shinmei techniques over the weekend, we would probably be groaning about the mass of bruises that was his body.
How was he supposed to know that tree would fall his direction?
"Ranma-kun!" A girl yelled from behind him.
He turned around, and saw Naru and Mayumi running towards him. "Mornin'." He greeted them. In the short amount of time he had been here, Ranma had come to be good friends with Usagi's circle.
The short, plump girl took a look at him. "Ranma-kun, no offense, but you look like you've been dragged through a meat tenderizer. What happened?"
Naru concurred. "Yeah, you said your mom was taking you on a training trip. Surely she didn't beat you up during it, did she?"
The boy chuckled. "Nah, that was pops way of doin' things." The girls shared a look. "Most'a these bruises are from tha' beech tree that took offence ta' me usin' it at a target dummy."
Mayumi looked horrified. "You got hit by a tree?"
He shook his head. "Nah, not hit. It just landed on me when I hit the trunk too hard." He massaged his bruised shoulders for a moment. "S'okay, though. I learned all the stuff mom wanted me ta', and that's whats important, right?"
As with many of their conversations, silence was all that followed. They walked about a block further before Mayumi spoke up again.
"Oh, that's right, I almost forgot! Last night, when I was helping my mom with groceries, we found the cutest black piglet freezing itself to death in the street!"
Naru's eyes lit up, while Ranma just looked bored. "Really?" The redhead responded with enthusiasm.
The other girl nodded. "Uh huh. The poor thing was all alone in the street. It had a nasty bump on its head, but we almost didn't notice with the bandanna it had on."
"Can I come over and see it after school?" Naru asked.
"Come over and see what?" Asked Yumiko as she and Kuri joined them outside of the school gates.
Ranma sighed as the girls began discussing plans to see Mayumi's new porcine companion after school. Umino, who had just joined them as they reached the shoe lockers, gave him a pitying look. "They do this all the time." He commiserated. "At least it's not just me and the girls anymore."
"Ranma! I don't understand how you can't be excited to see the little piggy!" Usagi squealed as the group approached Mayumi's home. When the other girls had told her about their afterschool plans, she had not only jumped to see the little pig, but managed to convince Ranma to come along, too.
The boy shook his head. "'Sagi, this just isn't the kinda thing a guy goes outta his way to see, ya' know." He stuck his hands behind his head, and was immediately splashed from behind. "Hey!"
Yumiko giggled as she put her water bottle away. "Well, a piglet is just the sort of thing a girl will go out of her way to see, so you should be just fine now." The others in the group joined in on her giggling as the irate Saotome girl grumbled.
Soon enough, they arrived at an apartment complex near the Juuban shopping center. Mayumi lived a few floors up in one of the family apartments. The girls chatted happily as they took their shoes off. Ranma just sighed. How exactly had Usagi convinced her to come along?
"He's in here." Mayumi said as she led the group into her room. On her desk was a small wire cage with a black piglet inside. It was staring intently at the latch of the cage, and turned to see who had entered. The small porcine carefully looked over each and every person, making them feel distinctly uncomfortable.
Kuri took an involuntary step back. "Uwah… Mayumi-chan, your pig is creeping me out." She kept her eyes locked on the animal.
The pig, on the other hand, was looking at Ranma. The currently-female martial artist shuddered involuntarily. She felt a strong killing intent coming from the miniature pig. "Mayumi-chan" Usagi spoke up. "Can I go get Ranma some hot water?" She was getting unsettled by the pig as well.
She nodded. "Sure, Usagi-chan. There should be water in the kettle." The pig, having heard the blond girl, narrowed its eyes at Ranma. The pigtailed girl found herself inclined to turn away from the cage.
Mayumi took the pig out of the cage, in an attempt to calm it down. The only response she got from it was a fight as the smaller creature struggled in her grasp. "Hey, calm down, little guy!" She said in a calming voice. "We're not going to hurt you."
Her odangoed friend chose this moment to return with the kettle. She handed it to Ranma, who absently poured part of it over his head. The pig's eyes widened at the sight, and it began struggling against Mayumi with a vengeance. Before she could protest, the porky menace escaped her grasp and leapt at the now-male Saotome.
"Hey! Watch it!" He said, avoiding the porcine projectile. Some of the water from the kettle spilled out, splashing the seething swine.
The girls gasped in horror as it's form shifted, rapidly becoming a boy their age, sans clothing. There was a dull thud as Yumiko collapsed, blood flowing freely from her nose. The boy turned to face them, with a look the revealed nothing, but a body that showed everything.
Ryoga, now human and standing in the buff, snarled at his eternal nemesis. "Ranma! Hiding from me as a woman? Ha! I knew you weren't a man!"
"Who tha' hell are you!?" Ranma barked back at him. "And where d'ya get off sayin' I'm not a man, pig-boy?"
The other boys face contorted in rage. "You don't remember me, you honorless coward?"
Still angry, he managed a shrug. "Nope. Not ringin' any bells."
"You ran out on our man-to-man fight last year! You know, the one behind my house?"
He shook is head again. "Still nothin'."
"You kept stealing my bread, you bastard!"
Ranma slammed his fist into his palm. "Oh! You're Ryoga! I remember now." His features darkened again. "Where d'ya get off saying I'm honorless? You're tha' one who never showed up to tha' fight, pork-brain."
His rival snarled again at the comment. "I came there on the fourth day after our fight, and you had already run away to China with your dad." He crushed his fists into balls. "That day, I vowed to follow you to the ends of the earth!"
"And ya' got a Jusenkyo curse for the trouble." Ranma filled in. The bare boy glowered at him even more.
He continued his rant. "I've seen hell because of you!"
The pigtailed boy snickered. "Well, we're seein' somethin' worse because of you, now."
A sudden breeze through an open window told Ryoga exactly what his hated foe meant. His face fluctuated between red and purple for a moment, the realization that he was standing bare before a group of girls his age hitting home.
"RANMA! This is all your fault! Die!" The enraged streaker launched into a full-frontal assault against the pigtailed boy.
The girls screamed in horror as he charged. "It's a pervert! They shouted as they promptly evacuated the room, dragging the still unconscious Yumiko behind them. Ranma helpfully redirected him into the attached bathroom before chasing after the girls. Cramped quarters like these were bad enough for a style like Anything Goes, but adding in a group of girls made the apartment an extremely unfavorable battleground. Ryoga gave chase. "Get back here!" The hunt was afoot.
"Wait up!" Ranma shouted as he chased the girls down the hallway. They turned a corner, headed for the elevators, but the wall in front of them exploded.
A nude figure could be made out in the cloud. Ranma picked up a shard of broken concrete, and threw it at the shape. The girls took this opportunity to reverse course. They ran down the hallway until they hit a dead end. All that they could see were a number of doors to smaller apartments.
Usagi turned around, to see Ranma running up behind them. "Hey, have ya' found an open space for me ta' fight him? She shook her head.
"RANMA!" Came a booming shout. The building shook from an impact down the hall, and one of the doors was jostled open. The group rushed in, and closed it behind them.
They found themselves in a small, two-room apartment. There was a door leading out to a balcony on the far side of the room they were on. The girls wasted no time running for it as Ranma took a defensive stance. Usagi was first onto the balcony, looking over the guardrails at the ground.
Which was only a few feet below them. Not quite close enough to be easily climbable, but would be more that sufficient to escape, if they had something to climb on.
Like the radiator sticking from the wall of the building, making a convenient step to the ground. She sighed. Really, was it that easy?
Outside of the room, Ranma could hear the sound of someone smashing open one of the other doors. 'Good,' he thought, 'looks like idiot's managed to get himself lost again.'
Usagi poked her head back through the door. "Ranma! Come on! We found your open space!" The boy didn't need to be told twice. He was out the door and over the rail within seconds. The sound of a wall giving way in the room they had just left told that Ryoga had also heard her.
The pigtailed boy hurried to the far side of the parking lot he had just landed in, while the girls dragged Yumiko into the street beyond. Ryoga burst through the balcony door in a shower of glass, leaping down to face his prey.
"No more running, Ranma." The boy growled, taking an aggressive stance. His blue-eyed counterpart calmly pulled his bokken from its case. This would be the perfect time to try some of those new techniques for real.
As the boys tensed, waiting for the moment to launch into an attack, a group of screams were heard. Ranma jerked his head to the side, to see a large group of girls wearing a variety of school uniforms pointing at Ryoga.
The brawler in the buff once again became very aware of his lack of clothing. Mortified, he dropped his stance to cover his vulnerable parts. Sadly for him, this was not enough for the girls, who began to pick up what small, throwable objects littered the street.
With cries of "Pervert!", They launched their volley at the boy. He shielded himself with one hand, sharp bouts of shame, if not pain, registering with each impact. After but a few seconds, he decided it was best to, ah, 'withdraw', rather than face the enraged girls.
"Damn you Ranma, this is all your fault!" He yelled as he ran away from the scene, a few of the girls giving chase in righteous indignation.
Naru poked her head around the column. "Wow." She said. "Was he… crying?"
Next to her, Mayumi nodded. "Probably tears of shame. There were girls from every school in the area in that group. By tomorrow, everyone will probably have heard of the "Perverted stripper in the bandanna."
The rest of the girls nodded sagely. On the ground, Yumiko began to stir. She rubbed her eyes out as the girls crowded around her. "I had the most wonderful dream…" Her words were followed by the sound of multiple people facefaulting.
For once, Ryoga knew happiness. He was finally home, and not getting lost. His parents were here, as well; his mother was in the kitchen cooking up a feast, while he and his father were sparring in the rolling fields that surrounded the house.
It was just Ryoga, his parents, and his dog Shirokuro, surrounded by miles of wilderness. There were no classmates to pick on him for his lack of directional abilities, no nights spent alone under the cold skies, no cowardly jerks running away from fights. It was perfect.
The lost boy rolled over in his sleeping bag, oblivious to the torrential downpour outside of his tent. It had been a while since the last time he had experienced such a beautiful dream, and his subconscious would not let this chance be ruined.
At his home, Ranma was explaining the day's events to his mother. Usagi, who had accompanied him, added in details she though were important. This being Usagi, meant they usually ended up being trivial at best.
Nodoka was silent for a moment, before setting her tea down. "Ranma, dear," she began to ask, hesitantly, "What exactly was it that you did to the poor boy to set him off like that."
Her son sighed. "I probably wasn't tha' kindest to him, back in school." He launched into a quick recap of the school bread-theft of the year before, although he did add in that he always made sure to at least lead Ryoga to and from school.
"…And so, looks like tha' idiot followed me and pops ta' China, and got cursed at Jusenkyo." Ranma concluded.
The older woman just shook her head. "I can't even begin to imagine how someone could be so… petty!" She said while mentally amending, 'I hope that I wasn't that bad before.'
Ranma snickered. "You have no idea, mom. Ya' should'a seen him at school sometimes. Every time somethin' bad happened ta' him, from stubbin' his toe, to breakin' a window, he'd point at some nearby kid an' say it was his fault." Nodoka gave him a disbelieving look, before heading to the kitchen.
She returned a moment later, carrying a folded letter. "I suppose you won't be needing this, then," She said, handing it to him, "but this arrived with the mail today." Ranma looked at the front, which read 'Letter of Challenge', before opening it and scanning the contents.
Usagi peeked over his shoulder as he read. "Hey," She said, pointing at the date listed. "Isn't that yesterday?"
Her cousin nodded. "Yup. Ryoga can't find his way outta a closet with one door. I bet he'll show up sometime 'round Thursday or Friday."
The blonde girl accepted the answer. She looked at the letter again, before being struck by the most random thought. "Ranma?" She asked. "Why did he want to 'meet you afterschool' on a Sunday, anyways?"
"Ya' know, I'm not sure. Maybe he's got a bad sense of time, too?"
Nodoka sat back and watched them. She decided that to keep a close eye on the school for a while. After all, she didn't want to miss her son's first duel after returning home.
The next few days flew by quickly, as Ranma waited for Ryoga to show up. He knew that the lost boy was still in the area; he had been spotted around town by various classmates, asking for directions to the school. Word of Ryoga's… 'exposure' to the local girls had spread quite quickly as well, partially the reason he had yet to arrive at the school; nobody wanted to associate with the now-infamous 'pervert bandanna streaker.'
Some of the girls in his class had formed an impromptu 'pervert patrol', marking down the locations of Ryoga sightings on a fold-up pamphlet map. The fact that some of the reports came from people who encountered him just after he had returned to human form only reinforced the girl's allegations against him.
As such, it came as little of a surprise that Ranma was not the first person to spot the lost boy when he arrived halfway through Thursday's last class.
In fact, Ranma wasn't even aware that Ryoga had appeared until the sound of feminine indignation began filtering into the room. The class was quickly disrupted as students went to find out what was happening. The pigtailed boy gathered with the others at the window overlooking the front gate.
Outside, Ryoga was backed up to the water fountain, his umbrella out and shielding his head from the rain of small-to-medium sized projectiles being thrown at him by the girls. Ranma shook his head and turned to the teacher. "I'm gonna step out, if ya' don't mind." The boy indicated out the window. "Pork-brains there is waitin' for me."
The teacher sighed. There were only five minutes left in class, and it wasn't like he was going to be getting their attention back anytime soon. "Fine, Saotome-kun. Class dismissed."
Ranma quickly gathered up his belongings, and leapt out the second-story window, landing at the about halfway between the school and Ryoga's holdout. His rival, despite having to defend himself from the rain of objects, noticed the other boy approaching him. "Ranma, so you've decided to show up after all."
He simply smiled, and turned back towards the building. "Hey, could ya' let up on that?" He addressed to the girls. "It's gonna be hard ta' kick his ass if ya' keep on throwin' stuff like that." The girls quickly stopped their barrage, content in that fact that the new kid was taking a more direct approach against the pervert in their stead.
With a slight inclination of the head, Ranma calmly walked over to the sports fields. His opponent eyed him warily, before he too followed at a slow pace.
They came to a stop in the soccer field. Students from other classes were now beginning to funnel out of the building, and gather around to watch. Some of the more savvy spectators had even begun to take bets. An entire side of the field was taken up by the 'pervert patrol', which had temporarily become a cheer squad for Ranma.
Usagi and her friends sat on the incline of the field. "This is getting out of hand." Yumiko commented on the gathering spectacle. "Seriously, are the teachers going to just stand there, or are they going to do something about this?"
Naru pointed at the cheering section, where a few of the female teachers had joined in. "Does that answer your question?" She replied. Yumiko sighed in defeat.
Mayumi looked up at the sky. The day's cloud cover had begun to darken as soon as the crowds ushered themselves out of the building, taunting to rain on the cursed martial artists. "That doesn't look good," she commented.
On the field, Ranma smirked his opponent. "Well, Porky, looks like your reputation proceeds ya'." He said, trying his best to get a rise out of his opponent.
It worked. Ryoga pulled him umbrella off of his back as he tossed the cumbersome bag it was attached to off to the side. "Shut up, coward! Take this!" He launched forward, jabbing with his unusual weapon.
Ranma skated back a few paces, before veering off to the side. "Is that all ya' got?" He taunted. Ryoga's attack was pretty quick, and probably would have given him trouble a few weeks ago, before the ki-training with his mother. The boy decided to keep his bokken strapped to his back for now; the other boy wasn't enough of a challenge to require it.
Unfortunately, Ranma wasn't the only person to notice. Ryoga was fuming at how easily his foe had managed to escape his fastest opening attack. 'He's faster than I though. I need a way to keep him close.' He came to a mental consensus, and threw his umbrella.
The umbrella snapped open, and spun like a buzzsaw as it closed on the pigtailed fighter. He ducked as it flew overhead, curving into the sky. Ryoga took the chance to dash forward, tearing a bandanna off of his head. "Keep talking! Let's see how far you can run with this on you, coward!"
Ranma slid to the side, and back as Ryoga attempted to latch the fabric onto his wrist. "Ha! Like you'll ever get it on me." He continued his taunting. The fanged boy overextended himself in one of his tries, a slip-up that Ranma was more than happy to capitalize on. He snap-kicked the other boy in the gut, causing him to double over.
He wasn't completely incapacitated, however. Before Ranma could draw his leg back, Ryoga wrapped the bandanna around his ankle, and rolled back. His opponent was pulled off his feet by the momentum. He came out of the roll and to his feet, pulling the arm with the bandanna up. As Ranma came flying at him, Ryoga pulled his arm back to strike at the other boy's vulnerable spine.
Or at least, what he thought was a vulnerable spine. Ranma wrapped one of his legs around the boy's striking arm, and used the force to spin his entire body over the limb. Ryoga's other arm, still attached to Ranma's ankle, went along with him, removing the lost boy's defenses. Ranma took advantage of this to expend the last of the momentum from his spin into Ryoga's chin, via a kick.
As the lost boy went careening back, Ranma retracted his bound leg with a snap. The bandanna, no longer being reinforced by his opponent's ki, tore under the strain.
Both fighters took a moment to collect themselves and assess the situation. Ranma slowly removed the remains of the bandanna, while adding in more taunts. "Ya' know, I was kinda lookin' forward to this all week. Didn't ya' train at all when you were chasin' me?"
"Don't take me lightly!" Ryoga cried back, catching his umbrella as it came around from its wide pass. 'Damn it!' He groused mentally. 'The jerk's much better than a year ago. How did he get so fast?'
Ranma was much more calm in his assessments. 'Ryoga's got some durability going for him, and his strength seems about the same as mine, but he's probably not even reinforcing himself as much as I used to, before mom started training me.' The boy shuddered. 'If he ever found even a half-decent ki trainer, he'd be a monster.'
His opponent saw the boy shudder, and took it as a sign of weakness. He launched forward again, jabbing with his umbrella. Ranma shook his head as he prepared for the assault.
"Give it up, pork-brains." He said, redirecting the weapon. "How many times do I hafta beat you…" He punched the boy in the chin. "…Until you understand!" With a mighty kick to the torso, the other boy flew over the spectator crowd and towards the building. Ranma picked up the umbrella and threw it at his descending opponent.
Ryoga took a hard landing against the water fountain, cracking the empty basin. He began to shake his head clear, when his umbrella imbedded itself in the concrete a few centimeters from his left ear. He turned back to the field, to see Ranma approaching rapidly with a flying kick.
He began to remove the umbrella. As it shifted out, a small spigot of high-pressure water shot out from the side of it. Ryoga paused for a moment, before smirking in realization. He had a new weapon.
On the sidelines, Naru and Usagi gaped at the newest development. They knew exactly how much the blonde's cousin didn't want his secret exposed. "Come on, Usagi!" Naru said, pulling the other girl's shirt. "We have to do something!"
Ranma blanched in recognition, and began desperately redirecting his flight. By the time he had managed to land, Ryoga had already worked out how to manipulate the streaming water to his advantage.
"What's wrong, Ranma?" He asked with a sneer. "Afraid of a little water?" He moved his umbrella into the stream, sending a jet of liquid towards his foe. Ranma backpedaled away from the rapid flow, only to have Ryoga shoot yet another burst towards him.
In the back of his mind, he knew that Ryoga was trying to corral him, but there wasn't anything he could do if he wanted his curse to remain a secret. 'I shouldn't have played around at the beginning.' He griped to himself.
He dodged yet another stream of water, and suddenly found himself up against the wall of the school. His opponent struck the fountain again, producing another high-pressure jet of water. He adjusted the positioning of the umbrella a bit, until he was satisfied; Ranma was now penned in under a rain shelter.
Back in the crowd, people were starting to get suspicious. "What's Saotome doing?" "I don't know? Is he afraid of water?" "Hey! Stop fooling around and kick the pervert's butt already!"
Ranma tensed, falling into a basic defensive stance. 'This is bad…'
The other boy responded by removing a number of his bandannas. He flicked the cloth implements taunt with a quick infusion of ki, and let them fly. Ranma dodged some of them, but was quickly loosing ground to the whirling cloth disks. If something didn't change soon, he was going to be in major trouble.
"What's the matter, coward? Afraid to get wet?" Ryoga was enjoying this immensely. After all this time, he finally had Ranma at his mercy. "All it will take is one wrong move, and you'll show the school just how little of a man you actually are." Ranma ducked as one of the bandannas made another pass.
He was getting sick of this. At least he could get rid of the damn bandannas. The boy pulled his bokken loose from its carrying case, and pumped his ki into it. Another bandanna flew by, nicking his cheek, but that was it's last action. Ranma swept the wooden blade in a wide arc, starting at the offending cloth article, and knocked half of them out of the air.
Without contact with Ryoga, the bandannas couldn't sustain their shape under undue force, and fluttered to the ground. Another sweep took care of all that remained. Ranma swept the blade to the side, and looked Ryoga in the eyes. He still didn't have much room to fight, much less to get off any of his special attacks, but he wasn't going to that shake his confidence. Besides, the water was a two-way wall as far as pork-butt there was concerned.
"So, it looks like we've come ta' a stalemate." He said. It was true, in a manner of speaking. Both combatants were out of ways to reach each other without getting wet. In such a situation, if they couldn't fight with their bodies, they would fight with their words.
Ryoga snorted. "Have we? You can't hit me, and all I need to do to ruin you is move my umbrella. Face it, Ranma, this is my victory."
The crowd collectively scoffed. "Really? Your victory is to make him wet?" "I guess the new kid really is afraid of water." "And? The pervert looks like he's just as afraid of it." "Can't we just go and kick his ass instead?" "No way man! Did you see what he was doing with those bandannas?"
Ranma looked around for a possible venue of escape. He had water flowing on two sides, a wall behind him, and a concrete awning above him. Unless he could either burrow through the ground, or move forward without getting wet, his secret was good as blown. Ryoga grabbed the handle of his umbrella, a sinister grin on his face.
Ranma couldn't suppress a cringe as Ryoga pulled the umbrella away, as the water…
… sputtered out and died.
Usagi pulled her head back inside of the maintenance shed, and turned to look at Naru and Umino. The geeky boy still had his hands gripped on the water control valve.
"You did it, Umino! The water shut off just in time!" She said, hugging Naru.
The boy looked down at his feet. "I'm the one who did all of the work. Why aren't you hugging me, Usagi-san?"
Ryoga turned to look back at the fountain, cursing the inconsistent water flow. Ranma, not wanting to waste a perfectly good opening, charged at his umbrella-wielding foe. The lost boy realized his mistake as soon as he heard Ranma charging, and brought his umbrella to bear.
The sound of reinforced wood striking reinforced metal reverberated across the yard as they clashed. Despite the short time in which Ryoga had to mount his defense, he was doing an exceptional job holding up in the pushing match the fight had become. While Ranma's reinforced muscles may put him on top strength-wise, he couldn't overcome his foe, who was braced against the remains of the fountain.
Instead, he pulled back. Ryoga, who had still been pushing against Ranma's bokken, stumbled forward at the sudden loss of his target. The fledgling shinmei punched him in the face, hard.
Ryoga reeled back, his umbrella flying from his hands. He hit the ground a few meters away from the fountain, and hurried to his feet. There wasn't time for him to grab his umbrella up again; Ranma was nearly upon him. The other boy's bokken cleaved the air above his head as he managed a last minute duck. He made another attempt to grab the umbrella, but Ranma put himself in the way.
Isolated from his main weapon, Ryoga pulled his belt out, hardened it with ki, and slashed at his opponent in a single motion. Ranma brought his bokken back to meet it with time to spare, and began to push the lost boy back. The lost boy strained with all of his might to hold his ground, but he couldn't keep up.
"Damn you, Ranma!" Ryoga said through gritted teeth. 'There's no way I'm going to loose to the coward!' he though. His situation was looking pretty grim, though. His messy ki-reinforcement of the belt was failing rapidly, and he was running out of tricks; he only had three bandannas left.
Showing a rare amount of tactical sense, the lost boy copied his opponent's earlier move, and ducked to the side. Unlike himself, Ranma didn't stumble forward, and turned to face him. It still gave Ryoga enough time to throw two of his remaining bandannas at the other boy. The Saotome boy ducked as the two well aimed projectiles flew at him. The lost boy cursed. That had been a last-ditch effort to hit him. Ranma slashed at the bandanna-wearing boy, unperturbed by the failed attack. He brought the blade to slash again, when he heard the girls behind him scream.
He turned around, and saw that the 'pervert patrol'/cheer section had dropped to the ground, the loose bandannas strafing over their heads. The boy cursed. He had forgotten about the crowd when he evaded Ryoga's attack.
"An opening!" Ryoga shouted in glee, as he struck his distracted foe in the face. The pigtailed by stumbled back a few steps, and retook a stance.
"Ryoga, you idiot!" He shouted, pointing behind himself. "What were ya' thinkin' with those bandannas!?"
The lost boy glanced over his foe as he attacked again. The bandannas were now on their return flight, having already tormented the girls. They were lined up to hit Ranma's back in just a few short moments. He smirked. "I was thinking they're about to pay off quite nicely."
Behind the lost boy, Usagi and her group turned the corner of the building, just in time to see the projectiles returning. "Ranma! Behind you!" Usagi shouted in warning.
Ranma ducked and rolled at the warning, coming to a stop a few meters away. He looked up, and saw to his horror that the bandannas had flown past Ryoga, and were headed directly for his cousin's group.
On the roof of the School, Saotome Nodoka was watching the fight. Earlier in the week, she had contacted one of her friends, an Art teacher, and asked her to give a call if Ryoga showed up. The moment the call had come in, she had grabbed her satchel and roof-hopped over.
She arrived just as the students were finishing forming a circle around the boys. Not wanting to miss even a single moment of her baby's first fight, Nodoka took it upon herself to record every moment in film.
And oh, how her manly son fought! From the beginning, he controlled the fight, using his command of Anything Goes, combined with her Ki training, to run circles around Ryoga. He hadn't even needed his bokken to fight off the weapon-using opponent.
She was, however, much less pleased when water had gotten involved in the fight. The elder Saotome had frowned in disapproval when her son had let himself be boxed in by such a simple ploy, although she could understand his hesitance to reveal his curse. Fortunately, Usagi and her friends had come through for him. She'd have to tell Ikuko about the role her daughter played in the fight; she'd be glad to know her child was willingly putting herself out for her cousin.
Now, though, she saw the course the bandannas were headed, and cursed and jumped off the roof, leaving the camera behind. First fight of her son, or not, there was no way in hell she was going to let her niece get hurt because of another martial artist's carelessness.
The blonde girl could see the lethal bandannas headed right towards her, but she couldn't do anything about it. They were coming so quickly! She didn't have any reflexes to act on for something like this, like to duck, or dodge out of the way!
Behind her, Umino and Naru were calling her name. Umino had pulled the redhead to the ground when he saw the projectile headed for them, but had been too far away to pull Usagi down, as well. As the bandannas approached, Usagi shielded her face with her hands and screamed, although she expected no help. After all, what could save her now?
Chiba Mamoru bolted upright in his seat. The rest of the class stared at him, although he didn't notice. His eyes were unfocused, and his forehead burned. What was this feeling, like someone was calling for help?
"Chiba-san?" The teacher asked, getting his attention. "Is something wrong?"
He blinked back into reality, and was suddenly aware of the stares from his classmates. Face flushed, he sat down again. "I'm sorry, sensei. I just though I heard someone calling me."
After a few seconds with no feeling of pain, the blonde girl opened her eyes. Wasn't it supposed to hurt when you got hit by something sharp? Those bandannas sure looked sharp, the way they had cut up the wall when that meanie had thrown them at Ranma. The girl looked at her arms. They didn't look very cut up, like she had imagined. In fact, they didn't look any different than they had a moment ago.
"Usagi-chan!" She looked up, to see Nodoka rushing over to her. The woman enveloped her in a hug the moment she was in range. The action was enough to shake the girl out of her shock. She immediately started wailing.
"I thought I was gonna die!" She babbled, clinging to Nodoka.
Standing next to them, Umino looked at the tree behind Usagi, which now sported two limp bandannas hanging out of the trunk. He had been in shock as they had barred down on the blonde, but either by good fortune, or some semblance of dodging reflex, the cloth projectiles had passed just a few centimeters high of the girl's head.
The lost boy scowled at the entire scenario. Because Ranma didn't have the decency to get hit by his attack, that cute girl over there was almost hurt! What kind of man does that? He was about to give the coward a piece of his mind, when he felt an incredibly strong killing intent behind him. Ryoga turned around, and found himself face-to-face with an enraged Ranma, followed directly the girls that had been cheering the pigtailed boy on before. Strange, how some of the girls' clothes were cut up. How could that have happened?
Ryoga decided this was the perfect chance to put in some good words for himself. "Ranma!" He said, raising his voice. "Look what you almost did!"
This, of course, had exactly the opposite effect to what he had intended. If the girls behind his foe had been angry before, they were downright furious now. The enraged horde pulled out blunt objects, and quickly surrounded Ryoga. "Wrong comment, porky." Ranma spit out, before nodding to the girls. The lost boy had just enough sense to whimper, before his world went pain.
From the sidelines, Usagi, Naru, Umino, and Nodoka watched Ranma and the girls pound Ryoga into a fine paste. Umino adjusted his glasses, and said, "I wouldn't have thought Ranma-kun would let the girls join in like this."
Naru winced. "Are his knees supposed to make sounds like that?"
"Seriously, are the teachers just going to let this happen?" Yumiko asked once again.
"I think I saw Haruna-sensei and Kugimiya-sensei join in a moment ago." Umino replied.
Nodoka shook her head. "Blaming other people for your mistakes isn't very manly."
The rest of the group looked at her. She blinked, realizing what she had said, and coughed into her hand. "I think we've let them go on long enough." She said, trying to divert attention away from her slipup.
She hurried over to the crowd, clapping her hands. "Alright girls! That's enough already!" Reluctantly, the mob backed away from the remains of the lost boy, their gazes continued to bore into his ruined form. Soon, only the two Saotomes stood beside him.
Ryoga groaned weakly. One of his eyes flickered open for a moment, before he tried vainly to flip himself over and crawl away from his observers. Somewhere, in a functioning section of his mind, he was cursing. If he could just drag himself around the corner, that coward and the woman next to him would get lost, like always.
The Saotomes would have none of it, though. Nodoka struck her foot down on the tattered remains of this pants, anchoring him in place, while Ranma walked in front of him. "Goin' somewhere, bacon-breath?" He asked. The lost boy slumped his head, mumbling something about cowards and blame.
Before either Ranma or his mother could take another move, a loud crack of thunder and a bright flash of lightning directly above them cheerily announced the imminent rain. As the first drops of rain hit the ground, the pigtailed boy darted for cover, soliciting more speculation from the on looking crowd that the boy was hydrophobic.
Distracted by the sudden downpour, Nodoka turned her attention away from the boy at her feet, who quickly melted into a tiny black piglet under the rain. The elder Saotome noticed the cloth under her foot go slack, but it was too late; Ryoga managed to muster all of his remaining strength, and dashed into the underbrush.
Hours later, the lost pig collapsed against a tree. Since he had made his escape, he had alternated between running, dragging, and collapsing his way as far from Ranma's school as possible. Under normal circumstances, not even an obstinate Hibiki could have made as much progress in as little time while so heavily injured as the pig had, but Ryoga was too lost in his thoughts to notice his wounds.
'How was he so good?' The pig thought, trying to come to his feet. 'Last time we fought, I had an obvious strength advantage, and I've been further training it constantly on my search. There's no way Ranma could have beaten my super-strength training in a year! He must have been cheating!'
The half dazed porcine stumbled on, barely avoiding trip holds scattered around the forest floor. Not that it really mattered to him. While his conscious mind was baffling over how he had lost to Ranma, his subconscious was sliding into a spiral of depression. He had spent so much time in pursuit of the pigtailed boy, he had suffered some many injuries, misfortunes, and slights on his quest, and all for what? To be repeatedly embarrassed and beaten. He had tried so hard, but had failed. A sickly green glow began to encompass him as these thoughts slid to the forefront of his mind.
Before he could fall into a crushing cycle of despair, however, he heard a loud bark and the sound of running feet. The pig turned his head towards the sound, and was greeted by a canine face; half back, half white, and covered by a wide doggie grin. "Shirokuro…" He tried to say, although it was actually rendered as a string of soft oinks.
Shirokuro tilted her head to the side, confused. She smelled her master nearby, although all she could see was a tiny piglet. The dog moved her muzzle up to the pig, and sniffed it. It was her master! He was finally home! Shirokuro licked Ryoga's face, and with a happy bark, picked the boy turned pig up by the bandanna. She trotted home, carrying her tiny master along with her.
The lost pig smiled wearily. Shirokuro never wandered more than a few blocks from home, and always lead him back when she found him nearby. It seems that even as a pig, his faithful companion was there to support him in his time of need. 'Good old Shirokuro' he though, as sleep began to gnaw on the edges of consciousness. 'At least you'll never abandon me. Not like everyone else.'
Ranma and the girls ran down the hallway until they hit a dead end. All that they could see were a number of doors to smaller apartments. None of the doors looked particularly promising.
"Which one should we take?" Naru asked, panicky over being chased by the nude boy.
"I don't know!" Mayumi responded.
"RANMA!" A voice screamed behind them. The girls covered their eyes as the naked Hibiki turned the corner.
The pigtailed boy shook his head. "Oh, for the love of… this one!" He opened the closest door, and pushed the girls through. Ryoga glared at the door as it slammed shut behind his nemesis.
With an angry yell, Ryoga pulled the door open, and gave chase. No sooner had the door closed, did another farther down the hall open, and Ranma's group rushed out and across the hall, through the door on the other side. Ryoga followed just a few moments later.
Ranma, Kuri, and Naru burst through the door two down, and on the other side of the hallway before Ryoga had completely shut the door. They ran one door down diagonally, before disappearing again. No sooner had they shut it, than Usagi and Mayumi rushed out of the door next to it, dragging Yumiko behind them. Ryoga suddenly popped out of the door they had all originally entered, stopping to scratch his head, when Ranma appeared from the door on the far end of the hall, carrying Yumiko. He spotted the lost boy, and immediately returned through the door.
Not missing the chance, the lost boy gave chase once again. One of the doors in the middle opened, and a group of Americans with a dog ran directly across, being chased by a monster. The door the exited through opened again several seconds later, as Usagi and Ryoga ran out. They looked at each other, before the blonde made like her frightened namesake, and darted through another door.
This continued for another minute or so, before the children managed to find their way to the parking lot. On the balcony of an adjacent building, an old lady slapped her husband. "Stop playing that damn saxophone already, they've stopped."
A/N: Huh, I guess transitioning from writing on a laptop to a desktop is a bit more disruptive than I'd thought. Well, there's a bit more to the long break than that, but it's as good an excuse as any. Honestly, the chapter's been mostly finished since mid-august, I've just had trouble with the last half of the fight. Oh well, at least it's up now, and the next one shouldn't take quite as long.
Regardless, about the chapter;
- One of the biggest conclusions that can be drawn from the manga is that, while Ranma is always rather quick to pick up on new techniques, he only picks them up at ridiculous speeds when he goes on training trips specifically to learn them, while getting half-killed in the process. Although it's not exactly correct, I've translated this over to mean that the speed that he picks up abilities is related to how much damage he sustains in learning it.
- Ryoga in this version of events is currently a little weaker than Ranma. While this may seem over-empowering to Ranma, as in canon, Ryoga was stronger, while Ranma was faster, it's actually rather terrifying, considering that Ranma is using a high-efficency ki-reinforcement technique to boost his strength, while Ryoga is using almost vanilla muscle and hard work. Should Ryoga learn the same ki-reinforcement, bad things would happen, particularly to anyone too slow to avoid his fists.
- In addition, while Ryoga might seem a bit more vicious than most of canon, I actually took his personality from his first few appearances in the manga (Before the Rhythmic Gymnastics arc), where he pulls stunts such attacking Ranma without challenge, throwing potentally-leathal weapons into crowds, attempting to make a killing-blow on Ranma in his sleep, and more. Like the canon version, he'll mellow out once he has a reason to interact with Ranma beyond vengeance.
- One of the earlier versions of the chapter, when Usagi was about to get hit by the bandanna, she sported a golden crescent on her forehead, a la Chibiusa in Sailor Moon R during her tantrums. I later figured that this didn't fit the pacing, and cut it.
Speaking of foreheads, though, why was Mamoru's burning when Usagi was in trouble?
- Despite years of deprograming from Saeko and Ikuko, Nodoka is still far from completely cured of her manliness fixation. While she's been doing a good job covering up, as both she and Ranma are still treading lightly around each other, trying to give their best impressions, she's beginning to slip. Only time will tell if this continues as they become more comfortable with their current situation.
Next chapter: Ranma in Nerima? Everyone's least-favorite chinese warrioress arrives! (Now featuring Sailor V and the Dark Kingdom).