A Ranma ½ fan fiction story
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
Book I: The Mantis Saga
Chapter Nine: First Step
The sun did not set over Tokyo; it simply died. There was no radiant flow of oranges and reds lighting the sky as the golden orb sank slowly into the ocean. No scarlet reflection across the waves or long, lazy shadows cast over the town. Japan was enclosed by the icy grip of winter, and the sun, which had only offered a weak glow all day, was now enveloped behind the black clouds, that had conquered the sky from horizon to horizon. Shrouded by the hazy cloak, the sun faded away, the spark ebbing away slowly, drawing away the wan light and letting darkness sink over the land. The silver light of the moon was denied the city too, making the blackness total.
Yet humanity declared its rebellion against nature with its arrogant ingenuity as first one, then millions of little lights blossomed in the night, appearing like tiny, orange stars twinkling across the earth for as far as the eye could see. And soon the pure black of the sky was tainted by the dull red luminescence of ambient light.
A stiff gust of wind blew through the silent dojo, ruffling Ranma Saotome's raven-dark hair and rattling the shogi doors. The chill slithered along his skin, causing the prickle of goosebumps. He did not notice as he sat on the varnished wooden floor with crossed legs and hands resting limp on his knees.
The flames within the paper lanterns that stood in the four corners of the dojo began to flicker rabidly, as the wax that sustained their lives dribbled and pooled across their bases. And soon, like the sun, they too winked out, nothing but a thin trail of grey smoke and a puddle of hardened wax to testify of their existence.
Ranma's pupils dilated within their blue-grey irises. The pitch-black gloom slowly receded to reveal shapeless blurs which eventually resolved into shadowed objects. Not that Ranma was looking. His attention was directed firmly inwards, his brain flicking and filtering through the barrage of thoughts that rioted in his mind.
Any observer may have thought that he was meditating, something that most people expected of a martial artist like him. Kasumi had thought so when she had entered the training hall to inform him that lunch was ready. And then when he had not come to eat, to bring him a small tray laden with the leftovers she could rescue from a gluttonous panda. And again later to remove the plate after it had been untouched and the young man had not moved, only to repeat the entire process again five hours later for supper.
This, however, was not meditation; it was contemplation. True, his senses were turned inwards, seeking within himself. But instead of clearing his mind of the hailstorm of wild thoughts, as one who sought Nirvana would do, he sifted through them, looking for an answer. The answer was to be something unique to him, something personal and from the depths of his heart. No Buddha of divine alignment with the natural order would find such an answer. It was his, and his alone!
And now with a blazing flash of spiritual thunder, he had found his answer.
My duty to the Art is first and foremost,the silent mantra chimed in his head.
He shot upwards to his feet, not even unfolding his legs or pushing himself up. He simply stood. The muscles in his back and legs protested as the blood at being forced so suddenly into action after the hours of stillness. Yet with trained discipline and physique, the aches were ignored and quickly vanished. Spinning on his heel, he marched determinedly from the dojo.
He had an announcement to make.
The Tendo family and its Saotome extension were all in the lounge. Kasumi poured green tea into a cup daintily held in his mother's slender fingers, as they chattered about cooking and exchanged neighbourhood gossip on the couch. Akane sat on the floor, leaning against the sofa's leg with her legs folded beneath her. The two family patriarchs sat on plush futon staring intently at the tiles laid across the shogi board. Genma adjusted his glasses while analysing the game, while Soun ran a finger irritably through his moustache. There was someone missing, however.
"Where's Nabiki?" he asked.
"Ah, Ranma," Kasumi said in her usual lilting voice. "Did you enjoy your meditation?"
"What have you been doing?" Akane asked with a suspicious glare.
Ranma ignored her as he watched his mother, meeting the probing gaze in her cerulean eyes with a blank, unrevealing stare. Nodoka tightened her lids with intensity as she searched her son's eyes for some hint of his thoughts. Ranma maintained his poker face, while all the time praying for her approval of his decision.
"Would you like me to fix you something to eat since you missed dinner, Ranma?" The elder Tendo daughter asked with a warm smile.
The pigtailed boy's stomach growled, woken from its slumber by the mention of food. He quashed the hunger ruthlessly. His belly would have to wait. Some things were more important.
"No thanks. So where is Nabiki?"
Akane looked up from the TV to answer snappishly. She was obviously angry with him but as usual he had no idea why.
"She is out with two of her friends," was the reply.
Probably extorting money from some poor sap! he thought sourly. But at least it was not him, this time. He briefly considered waiting for her return since his news involved the whole family, but discarded the thought. If his stomach could wait, so could Nabiki. Besides, she would probably find out soon enough from one of her "connections". Inhaling deeply and steeling himself, he turned to his father.
"Old man, could you stop playing that stupid game for a moment and come here? You too, Mr. Tendo. I have an announcement to make," he declared.
"Oh, joyous day! You have decided to proclaim your love for my Akane," Soun cried, a fresh storm of happy tears gushing from his eyes.
"I'll call the priest, Tendo," Genma said, bouncing from his futon and running towards the hall.
Akane snorted, a sound heavy of scorn and disgust, deliberately making the sound loud enough to be sure Ranma heard it, yet her wide blue eyes never left the dark-haired boy. She studied the form of his profile intently. She did not seem to notice it.
Ranma ignored her, lunging after the white-gi-clad man who was sprinting towards to phone. He seized his father by the scruff of his neck and yanked him back forcefully.
"I haven't even said what it is yet," he yelled. Then the hair on the back of his neck tingled as they stiffened.
Leaping aside, he barely avoided the wave of ice-cold water that streamed from the bucket clasped in a pair of gnarled, wiry hands. His father was not so lucky, and he quickly morphed into a large, soggy panda. Ranma twisted to grab the dwarfish martial arts master by his faded black clothes and held him aloft.
"What the hell are you doing?" he screamed into Happosai's withered face.
"I was just testing your reflexes and reactions, Ranma my boy," the old lecher replied in a sugary-sweet voice. "Had to make sure you had recovered your health."
"Can the bull," Ranma spat. "But it's good you're here. Now I can do this properly." He threw the pervert to the floor, and not gently. But the resilient gnome bounced upright almost immediately.
"Now, Ranma, I swear I had no idea that Loaf was the Mantis Master until you fought him. If he I had known, I would never have pressed you into that duel."
Ranma's fists clenched. Warrior or not, his loss to Loaf was still a tender wound and one that broke open too easily.
"It's not about that," he barked. "And it isn't about some stupid wedding, so you can stop writing those damn invitations, you idiots." He glared at the two fathers, who were scribbling names upon patterned cream pieces of paper that had materialised from nowhere. Turning back to Happosai he continued. "This is about you for once acting like my my " Ranma's mouth worked soundlessly, his hands opened and closed repeatedly at his sides as he tried to force the bitter word out.
"My Master," he managed, through gritted teeth.
"Huh?" Happosai muttered dumbly.
Kasumi gasped, her hand flying to her mouth in shock. Genma's jaw dropped and hung open as he gawped through his beady panda eyes. Soun swayed and swooned, looking as if he were about to faint, and Akane's eyes looked ready to fall from their sockets. His mother just watched him, regarding him with the look of cool curiosity.
Ranma lowered himself slowly. Nodoka's earlier words about honour and respect revolving in his head as he forced himself woodenly onto his right knee, before coming onto his left and settling into a full kneel.
"Grandmaster Happosai," he said, his voice forged into tempered steel. "I Ranma Saotome, student and heir of the Anything-Goes School of Martial Arts, humbly ask for permission to represent the Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu around the world." Hands placed flat on the floor before him, he bowed low.
Silence. It resonated in the air, hanging thick in the room, clinging to everything. The molecules in the air seemed to vibrate and pulse in the tense, almost tangible quiet. No one said a word, they just watched him, staring slack-jawed at the boy as if they had never seen him before. Rising from his bow, Ranma waited.
"Across the world," Akane said in a hesitant, breathless whisper. "That means that that " She stopped, her throat tightening as her voice refused to form the words and say the words that stabbed at her heart.
"He's leaving," Nodoka said coldly, her voice reminded him of the sound her katana made when she drew it from its scabbard.
Silence reigned once more. Then everything exploded.
"HOW DARE YOU RUN OFF ON US AFTER ALL WE'VE GIVEN YOU? YOU CANNOT LEAVE, DAMN YOU. YOU WILL MARRY MY DAUGHTER," Soun fumed, tears threatening to boil on his red, livid cheeks.
"GO AHEAD AND LEAVE, YOU JERK. I NEVER LIKED YOU ANYWAY," Akane screamed, the tears welling in her eyes betraying the lie in those words. "GO AND RUN AWAY WITH ONE OF YOUR SLUTS!"
"I WILL NOT ALLOW IT, BOY. I TAUGHT MY SON BETTER THAN TO RUN AWAY FROM HIS RESPONSIBILITIES." Ranma barely restrained the urge to laugh at the tea that dripped over his now human father's head or his hypocritical, angry words. The urge was swiftly killed by his mother's cold voice.
"You disappoint me again, Ranma," she said in an icy, quiet voice; which spoke much louder than the other's frenzied shrieking. Her accusation cut though Ranma's soul and seared it with pain, but he said nothing. He just kept on staring at the ancient man who sat before him, lighting his long, wooden pipe.
"Master Happosai?" he prompted.
The old teacher glanced up from the steel bowl where a spark caught and ignited a small pile of ground black tobacco. His gnarled faced creased even more than it already was as he frowned.
"Of course you can't leave," the old man snapped. "I can't lose my favourite bosom I mean student."
Ranma sighed wearily. "I expected as much. And it doesn't matter. I'm leaving with or without your permission," he declared. "I just wanted to do things the honourable way."
"What would you know about honour?" his father asked venomously.
"What would you?" the boy retorted with equal poison and a scathing glare. "I know what is required of a warrior. Someone taught me this very morning."
"But it seems you did not learn the lesson." His mother scorned him in that icy, blade-like tone.
"I learnt the lesson, all right. The true path of a warrior, the essence of honour, lies within duty. My duty to the art is first and foremost. I am merely fulfilling that obligation."
"And how is running away required by the art?" Nodoka asked scathingly.
"I am not running away. I am just leaving this town as any fish would leave when he had outgrown his stagnant pond."
"Arrogant, ungrateful brat!" Genma snapped.
"Fine, then," Akane whispered in a broken voice. "Leave this pond. Leave me." She bolted to her feet and strode away with hurried steps that fell just short of running. He thought he saw tears on her cheeks.
"Akane, wait," he called after her desperately.
Kasumi stood and followed after her sister. "You should stay here, Ranma." The words were polite, but said with a fierce heat. He had made Akane cry and angered Kasumi. He hung his head, momentarily enfeebled with guilt.
"Your vanity once again proves your lack of honour, Ranma," his mother warned. "I cannot condone this decision."
"I am not being vain, merely stating what is true," Ranma protested through grit teeth. "And the decision is not yours to condone, mother."
"How dare you," she spat. "I am your mother. Although right now I am shamed to the bone by that fact."
"That makes no difference," he growled. "This is not about family; this is about the school and my place as its heir."
"And that is why you must marry my daughter," Soun bellowed.
"Quiet, Tendo, you fool," Happosai roared, the authority in the Grandmaster's voice unmanning the longhaired man and silencing his protest but for a muted squeak. Crossing his legs, the withered martial artist returned to contemplatively puffing on his pipe.
"Tell me, my heir," the last word was a dry, mocking taunt as he watched the young fighter who knelt before him with a keen eye, "why must you leave?"
Ranma inhaled deeply and strove to fight off the butterflies that flogged his stomach. He had been given a chance to explain, and he had better make it good. My duty to the art is first and foremost. Wielding those words like a hammer, he forged his will into a sword, a honed blade of diamond-hard steel.
"Master Happosai. My father acknowledged me as the heir of the Saotome-Ryu when I was born. I never really thought about that; the word ‘heir' was just another term, meaningless. To me it just meant that one day I would teach the art, but that seemed years away. You, too, named me as your own heir, but that also mattered little to me.
"It was not until today, when my mother explained the importance of duty as the lifeblood of honour that I finally realised the full weight of the mountainous burden you have rested on my shoulders."
"And what burden is that?" his mother asked with acid and impatient dry tones.
Ranma ignored the obvious venom in Nodoka's voice and kept his eyes locked within the glimmering, storm-grey eyes of the old sensei.
"As Happosai's named heir, I am the next grandmaster of the Anything-Goes School of Martial Arts."
"What has that to do with you running away, boy?" Genma snorted.
"How old is the present grandmaster?" The boy asked his father. The question addled the elder Saotome's mind, diffusing his anger into bewilderment.
"He's He's " The bald man spluttered.
"Three hundred and twenty-six in April," the old pervert supplied helpfully from around the pipe in his mouth.
Still glaring at his father, Ranma smirked mockingly, as the white-clad fool tried to recover from his flustered state and regain his anger.
"Now, I suppose that he founded the Anything-Goes School and all its techniques when he sat coddled in his cradle," he inquired dryly.
"Of course not," Soun said, blustering through his moustache, as he came to his friend's defence. "That's absurd."
"Then where did it come from?" He turned back to Happosai, still wearing his cocky, sardonic grin. "Care to answer that one, geezer?" It was a genuine question; Ranma knew very little about the history of his style beyond the name of its creator.
"Well, my boy, I first started learning martial arts in my homeland of Okinawa when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. I believe I was only seven years old, but I can't be sure. It was a long time ago, and memories all fade away eventually. The style would be called karate these days, but back then it was known as Naga-Te Kempo Jutsu.
"When I turned seventeen, I was declared a full master of the style, having learned all that my Master could teach and having surpassed him in skill. So I left Okinawa and travelled to Japan. The Tokugawa shoguns had reigned for twenty years by then, and had already brought peace to Japan under their iron rule. It was then that the unarmed combat techniques for the battlefield began taking a more civil orientation, and several schools of Jujitsu blossomed.
"I was a lot like you are now, Ranma, strong, keen, and eager to learn. I was always getting involved in duels and making rivals. I did not win every duel, but most of them, and I always regained what I had lost. One of the losses was to Jubei Yabushima, a Jujitsu master of the now extinct Yanagi-Ryu style. After my loss, I begged him to teach me his skills, and after two months of grovelling, he agreed. In time, I learnt all there was for him to teach, and so I left.
"I travelled all over Asia, leaning from the Hwoarang monks in Korea, studying the arts of Bando in Burma, and the deadly Silat of Malaysia. I still don't know why I continue to live, but I expect it has something to do with the ki-sensitive styles I learnt in China. I moved from place to place, learning what I could and from whom I could. I never stayed anywhere for long, I either studied until I had leant what I wanted, or I leant the techniques from people I fought. The fights and the duels never stopped.
"It was not until the nineteenth century, when some western scientist brought his theory of evolution to the orient, that the Anything Goes School was born. The principle of survival of the fittest was the key, adapting to one's surroundings and overcoming weakness with strength and knowledge. It was what I had been doing in my duels for decades, but declared simply. It was on this philosophy that I founded that school, and have only ever brought four students into the fold. Soun, Genma, and two others, dead of old age several generations ago."
Ranma nodded as the tale concluded. "Two hundred years," he said thoughtfully. His brows furrowed with thought beneath his dark bangs. The old man grinned around his pipe and nodded, knowing what the boy was thinking about.
"An interesting tale, Master Happosai," Nodoka said, then sniffed in disdain. "But I fail to see the reason for it."
"So do I; get to the point, boy."
"You should already know the point, Pops," Ranma said tightly, now becoming irritated by his parents' stubbornness. "How did you develop the Umisenken and Yamasenken techniques? Or did you learn those too from a tiger that was falling off a cliff?"
Genma fell silent, bowing his head and closing his eyes with thought. He folded his arms and sighed, after failing to find any sort of argument to counter that question and the issue it raised. He still vividly recalled his solo training mission across Japan .His son had won.
"That is why I must leave. Two previous masters of the school have travelled the lands, seeking knowledge and testing their skills. Using their experience, they added and modified the style, improving the school and preserving its creed of adaptation. As the future grandmaster, can I do any less? I have already begun my work: with techniques such as the Meteor Kick, the Mokou Takabisha and the Hiryuu Shouten Ha, I have not only become a better martial artist, but I have also made the School stronger." He turned to his mother and gazed at her softly, his eyes begging for her approval. "You see, Mother, I know my duty. This is for the art."
"Ah, but is that your only reason for going?" Happosai asked, giving him a sidelong glare and knowing smile.
"No," He admitted in a heaving sigh, hanging his head sheepishly at the confession.
"Then why else?" Soun asked.
Ranma licked his lips. Eyes flickering about to glance nervously at the adults and master gathered around him, a judge and his jury. After a contemplative and cautious pause he spoke.
"WHAT?" his mother bellowed, "You wish to go and brawl in far off lands like some common thug?"
"No!" he screamed in retort. "That's not it. I just want a challenge."
"You want more rivals? Are Kuno and that Hibiki boy not enough? You need more people to beat to a pulp?"
Ranma's teeth gritted at the mention of Ryoga. He still had a reckoning with the lost boy. But also he seethed with frustration. How could he make his mother see that this was the right thing to do? He had lived too long without her in his life to lose her now, over this.
"You don't understand, Mother," he cried. "You may be the wife of a martial artist, but you are not one yourself. You cannot understand how important the fight is to us. The challenge, the test, to pit one's own skill against another's to see whose is greater. The rush of adrenalin when I clash with my opponent hands to hand, the flurry of blows. Experiencing thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, both such intense and pure emotions. Seeing the grace and fluidity of a battle with another master, poetry in motion. The love of the fight is what drives a warrior on; without it, the art is just movement and a duel is just a crude punch-up. Why can't you understand that?"
"What I understand is that my son wants to shirk his responsibilities and gallivant around the world to satisfy some selfish love of thrill-seeking," Nodoka argued, but her words were quiet and sullen, losing most of their earlier passion and intensity.
"Nodoka, if you don't know what you are talking about, don't talk," Happosai snapped at the woman, making her start as if slapped. The auburn-haired woman then pouted, like a child who had been scolded by her mother. She was not the only one who was surprised. Ranma stared at the old man with awed eyes, as if seeing him for the first time. Happosai sat with his stunted, little legs crossed beneath him, his wrinkled face set into a tight grimace around the pipe that surrounded him with a thin haze. All traces of the mischievous and perverted old letch had vanished as if evaporated into the pipe smoke that swirled in the air. And now sat Grandmaster Happosai, founder of the Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu. Visibly, there was no difference, but Ranma could sense it in his aura that carried a glow of authority and was layered with hidden depths of power.
"There is no dishonour in the boy's feelings, Nodoka. The fire he feels is as important to a martial artist as the air that he breathes; without it, he is nothing. It is good that Ranma has it so strong, and it proves him worthy of being my heir."
"What would you know of honour? You are as foul as they come," Nodoka hissed at the Master in a voice of hateful, burning acid.
"So they say," Happosai murmured, sucking again on his pipe. "And it may be true. But nonetheless, I am the grandmaster; in matters of the School, my word is highest. And Ranma comes before us as a student of Anything-Goes, not as your son." He blew the sweet-smelling smoke out of his lungs, and Ranma thought that he saw the cloud waft directly into his mother's face. "Besides, you know the boy is right. As the future grandmaster, he too must test his skills in the outside world, and learn the ways of the art by trial of fire."
Nodoka nodded in brooding reluctance.
"Then that means ?" Ranma asked in a breathless whisper, still in shocked disbelief in the change in the old man and at how he faced down his mother.
"Yes, Ranma. I give my permission for you to represent the Anything-Goes School of Martial Arts. I name you as my successor, and charge you to build a legacy in the art for the future masters, and to let the world know that the Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu is the greatest martial art ever devised by God or man." The Grandmaster smiled benignly at his heir.
"Thank you, Master," Ranma said as he once again bowed low. Happosai returned the gesture and leered at the boy.
"If you really want to thank me, you could model some lingerie for me."
Ranma pounded his knuckles into the renewed pervert's bald head. It had been good while it lasted.
He then grinned widely. He could leave. Now he could travel the world, learning all there was to know about the martial arts and testing his skills against the world's best. More than a training journey, this was a pilgrimage, a quest.
"Don't worry, Mother, Mr Tendo. I'm not just going to vanish. I'll be back from time to time to check up on things. And I'll send postcards." His beaming face fell into a happy, nostalgic smile. "This is the first place in my life that truly felt like home. I've made a lot of ties in Nerima over the last two years. I cannot bear to break those now."
"That's good to know, Ranma," Soun said. "I'm still not happy about this journey, but I can see that you believe in it. I was once a young martial artist too."
Ranma smiled his gratitude at the older man's approval and nodded respectfully at the Tendo. He rose from his knees. He had to talk to Akane.
Ranma stared at the nameplate. His eyes tracked over every curve of the carved duck silhouette, scanning the grooves that etched out each letter. He was irritatingly aware of his heart pulsing in his chest, pounding against his ribcage like a deep bass drum. His fist hovered from the painted surface of the door in front of him, tremblingly slightly. With courage summoning tension he forced the hand to obey him, making it rap lightly against the wood. The sound it made thundered in his mind.
"GO AWAY, RANMA!" Akane's hoarse voice screamed from the other side.
"Akane, let me in," he yelled back.
Muffled sounds of slow, steady movement were barely audible trough the wooden barrier. He stood back and watched the handle turn. When the door was slowly, slid open the face that glared at him was not Akane's, but Kasumi's.
"I think you should leave Akane alone for a while, Ranma," the elder sister advised, a surly tone tainting her usual warmth.
"I need to talk to her. Please, Kasumi," he pleaded. "I need to explain."
The brown-haired girl stared at him. Regarding him probingly through the crack in the door that she stood in. Her eyes scanned his face, considering every facet of his features. Then she nodded to herself, and slipped into the hall, and out of his way.
"I'll leave you two alone, then," she said as she walked past. "Be careful of what you say, Ranma, and of your temper. She's upset already, and angry. Don't make things worse," Kasumi added, before gliding from the hall like a ghost.
He considering her words as he inhaled deeply, setting himself for the emotional battle ahead. Slowly, gently, he pushed the door open as he entered her room, his head poking into the room warily as he moved.
He glanced around his surroundings. The white walls, decorated with yellow patterned diamonds, seemed unbearably closed, making the room seem small, confining. Shelves lined the walls and were stacked in cases on the floor, each covered with the typically disordered belongings of the teenage girl; books, magazines, CDs and DVDs. A tall, white panelled wardrobe stood in the corner, several sleeves protruding from the doors. Beside sat a matching chest of drawers, topped with a menagerie of stuffed animals, mostly black piglets Ranma bitterly noticed. There was also a desk covered in disarray with schoolbooks and random pieces of paper. A full-length mirror hung on the wall, beside which was a small shelf of various makeup and beauty items, and at the foot stood a pair of dumbbells. The plush pink carpet and matching lace curtains seemed remarkably feminine for the person he had called a tomboy for over a year now, as did the frilly design of the bedclothes upon which a midnight-haired girl lay curled up, sullenly facing the wall opposing where the braided boy stood. The fine strands of her dark hair hung over her face obscuring her visage from view. Her skirt pooled across the bed around her fine legs, and her slender arms were wrapped about herself, as if hugging.
"Akane?" he asked in a whisper. Despite the fact that he could not see her face, there was such beauty in her form as to render all other speech impossible.
"Go away," she said, not turning to face him.
"Akane, we need to talk. I need to explain."
"What's there to explain, you jerk?" she spat back. "Its not as if I care that you're leaving."
"Akane, please. Listen," he begged.
"What for? So you can call me an uncute bint and brag about the virtues of whatever slut you have decided to run away from this ‘stagnant pond' with?"
Ranma felt his anger rise, churning in his belly like the flames of a furnace. But he remembered Kasumi's words, and fought the impulse to shout down to a mute buzz.
"Akane, I'm not running off with anyone," he said slowly. The shorthaired girl displayed her low opinion of that statement with a derisive snort. "Stop it, Akane. I don't want to fight with you. The memory of you that I'll keep on my journey should not be of us arguing. And I don't want you to remember me the same way."
She rolled over to look at him then. Her azure eyes gazing at the lines of his face, looking for prove of any insincerity. The irises were wide and glimmering, and her lids were red and slightly puffy. Ranma did not know why. She had obviously decided he was telling the truth as her shoulder slumped as she sat up, the anger draining from her.
"No," she sighed "I don't want to think of you that way either."
Silence crept in and hung over the two of them, thick in the air and clinging to them like jelly. It pulled and strained under the tension in the air and Ranma gazed idly at the ceiling and Akane stared intently at a patch of the carpet, eyes occasionally flicking up in nervous glances at each other, before shooting away less the other see them looking.
"Ranma, why are you leaving?" Akane asked finally, in a small voice. "Aren't you happy here with us?" The word us seemed rather forced.
Ranma seemed to deflate as he let his breath out in one dejected sigh. Akane inched up on her bed. Glancing at the space she had freed indicating that Ranma should sit. He did, both of them shuffling a few nervous centimetres to maintain the hands span of distance between them.
"I am happy here, Akane," he answered. "More so than I've been for years."
"Then why not stay?"
"Because it can't last. I'm happy now, but I won't stay that way."
"Why not?" Akane's voice was becoming tense and strained.
Ranma told her what he had told his parents, this explanation being much briefer. More an explanation of his thoughts, how he felt about leaving and what he considered to be his duty as the future grandmaster. Not at all like the trial that had taken place downstairs, pleading his case before his mother and Happosai, convincing them to accept his decision and his right to make it. This was a simple stating of his intentions, no holding back, speaking with complete honesty. Akane had to know why he was leaving, and had to know it all.
For her part the Tendo girl listened, without question, without argument or spark of anger. Ranma could not recall a pervious instant in their relationship where she had done so. Before, it had always been "pervert-mallet-pain". But now she just watched him, absorbing his words as she gazed at him with those big, shimmering blue eyes. He was uncomfortably aware of his tongue moving as it shaped his words, seeming thick and cumbersome.
"I may be happy now, Akane, but I can't live in quiet. I'm not that kind of guy, and my place as the Anything-Goes School heir will not let me. In the last year, Nerima has been a sort of crucible, new fighters and threats testing my skills. But it can't last; even now things are settling into routine. That's not the way I want to live. I need to live life in the fast lane. If Loaf's visit taught me anything, it's that there is a whole world out there to experience. I can't ignore that. Both my duty and my soul scream at me to leave. If I don't do it now, I may never do it, and I just know I'll regret that forever."
"I see," was all she said. The words were barely more then a whisper.
She's upset. Quick, make her see a good side,Ranma's mind screamed at him as he watched the girl slump. She seemed suddenly fragile, vulnerable as if a touch could break her.
"And besides," he said with his most friendly, charming grin. "If I stayed, our fathers would just make us get married, heh-heh-heh." He forced himself to chuckle lightly.
Akane seemed to sink further, as if a deep crack had broke into her brittle, glasslike demeanour. Her eyes dropped from his, glancing at the hands in her lap as she wrung her fingers against each other. She blinked as if her eyes stung.
"So you're leaving so that you don't have to marry me," she whispered, her voice small and broken.
Ranma near leaped from his skin. "No. Nononono," he babbled mindlessly as guilt coiled and writhed in his gut. He had said the wrong thing, again. And had made her even more upset. Thing this time was, that he had no idea what he had said wrong. She's upset because you made it seem like you don't want to marry her, you foot-in-the-mouth fool, one part of his mind answered scathingly. That has a tendency to insult a girl. With this newfound answer, he forced his mouth to form coherent sentences and tried to repair his mistake.
"That's not it," he said first, and then he continued slowly, considering each word so as not to slip up and make the situation worse. "Its just we're seventeen years old. It's too early for me to settle down into marriage, and I'm sure you feel the same."
The words sunk into Akane mind, and she released a small giggle and a sigh. "You're right, for once. We are a bit young. I wish that our fathers understood that."
Ranma smiled and nodded in agreement, happy at her change in mood. Score one for Saotome, that part of his mind congratulated in satisfaction.
"How long will you be gone, Ranma?" Akane asked tentatively.
"I don't know. This is not like the other times I left. This time I'm not seeking anything definite. I have no objective other than to learn and to test myself."
"So it could be years," she summarised, her posture slumping and the momentary smile falling for her face as if it weighed a tonne.
"Yeah," he agreed sadly. He could not lie to her. Not now. "But I'll be back, to visit and make sure that you behave your tomboy self."
Akane brightened at that suggestion, rising up to fix him firmly in the gaze of her wide, cerulean eyes. "You promise, Ranma?" she demanded, grabbing him hard with the glimmering highlights in her irises.
"Of course. Too much of importance to me is here to abandon."
She smiled. The gesture lit her face. He could his heart thump in his gesture, his mouth suddenly dry and his throat tightening as the beauty of that smile literally swept his breath away. His mind shut down, thoughts scattering like shards of broken glass as his eyes drank her in. Then as soon as it came, the smile was gone, leaving a void in his chest.
"So when are you going?" she inquired quietly.
"Day after tomorrow. I have some things to take care of first."
"The fiancées," he agreed. "I can't leave them without any explanation or goodbye."
"You always have before," she grunted in accusation.
"But not this time. I owe them both that much at least."
"Both?" Akane questioned.
"You think I'm going anywhere near that fruitcake Kodachi?"
"There's nothing I can say that would make you change your mind?"
Ranma considered the question. But he knew the answer, and stared guiltily at the carpet. He could not give voice to his rejection, but Akane read it in his eyes. She sighed.
"I thought not. I'm no fighter like Ryoga; I can't understand your need."
Ranma blinked in confusion. "Ryoga?" he murmured bemused, wondering what the lost boy had to do with anything at this point in time.
"Well, he's a martial artist, and he trains as much as you do. I wished he were here right now. He would know what to say. Like when he came last week; I asked him to talk to you, cause he would understand you more than I could."
The dark-haired youth remembered that visit well. Lying in bed while the bandana-clad boy sneered at his weakness and spoke his insults to the injured warrior as he had curled up like a child. That was supposed to be help?
He remembered the last time Ryoga had thought him weak. The moxibustion point had sapped his strength by Happosai's cruel design. He had been rescued by Cologne and the Hiryuu Shouten Ha, but the training required a strong enemy, one who would not hold back against him. But until the sight of Akane in torn clothes had sent him into a love-driven rage, Ryoga did not have it in him to fight a weakened opponent. Hell, the lost boy had even defended him in his vulnerable state from Kuno and Mousse. Now that he thought about the previous week's encounter, the scene seemed wrong. Why would Ryoga's attitude to a defeated Ranma have changed so much, unless he had been aiming to enrage Ranma from his depressed, bedridden lethargy?
But the guy is too stupid to use reverse psychology
Yet there was no other explanation, and if Ryoga had chosen to help his rival, his pride would only allow him to do so through a veil of aggression. Ranma felt the anger and resentment he had harboured towards the lost martial artist evaporate. The respect and friendship he had once offered as comrades blossomed again.
"That gives me an idea."
"Huh?" The girl quirked at his sudden statement.
"Nothing," he mumbled.
Another long silence shrouded the room. The two occupants glancing at each other as they racked their brains for something to say. But there was nothing else to be said or the consequences of the words were too strong that fear refused to let them out into voice.
"Well, I'll see you later, Akane. I won't leave without saying goodbye."
Then like a ghost he left the room, and the girl whose hollow heart left a stinging void in her soul.
His room was not empty when he entered it. His mother sat on his futon, waiting for him. The dull light from a small table lamp cast harsh shadows across the side of her face and made the auburn of her hair glow like the dying embers of a fire. Yet in the gloom, her eyes shone brightly as they met the blue-grey orbs of her son.
"Don't try and talk me out of it, Mom," he said before she could raise the expected protest.
"I won't," she replied calmly, with a small smile. "I can see that you are determined to go through with this. And I can understand your reasons, despite my own wishes."
Ranma smiled gratefully, the tension flooding out of him. He had her approval. Now there was nothing to hold him back.
"However," Nodoka said, steel returning to her voice. That one word made Ranma's hopes sink, and his muscles bunched in tight suspense.
"I cannot allow you to shirk all of your responsibilities, Ranma," she continued, glaring at the boy in the gloom, as if challenging him to refute. "If you are to leave, you must marry Akane. I cannot in good faith allow you to go without cementing that bond."
Body jerking as if struck, he stepped back, staring at his mother with wide eyes. Then his lids narrowed, his hands balling into white knuckled fists. His jaw tightened as his teeth ground together. Anger was a fire within his breast. He should have expected this!
"Pops put you up to this, didn't he? Him and Mr Tendo," he accused.
"It was my suggestion, although the two of them wholeheartedly agreed. If you truly are concerned with your duty to the art, you must obey this,"
Mouth working, he fought down his shock at her admission. Taking in a deep, and mastering his will into steel, he gave his reply.
"I beg your pardon?"
"No," he repeated. "I will not marry Akane not yet."
Her eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed as she grimaced, the glare shining from her cerulean eyes cutting through him like a knife. "Ranma!" she snapped furiously. "I am not asking for a discussion. You will marry Akane."
His anger still rolled and gnawed at his belly. He seized onto it, clinging tenaciously to the rage like it was his lifeline, giving him the power to face down the woman who had birthed him. The temptation to give in, to accept so that he could see the smile he loved and had missed so dearly was amassing. But holding onto his pride, he fought it down, knowing that he could not allow his parents to abuse honour and make his decisions for him.
"I am not discussing anything. I said no!"
"Damn you, Ranma," she spat, shocking him with the curse as it sprung from her prim tongue. "I had hoped I had taught you something. But it seems I was wrong. You cannot be saved if you cannot see what is needed."
"I can see everything, crystal clear," he retorted dryly. "It is you who seems to be blind."
"Ranma, how dare you!" she shrieked. "I am your mother. You will do as I say."
Ranma grunted, the sound was a mixed hybrid of disdainful snort and bitter laugh. "I am doing as you said," he shot back. "Honour, you said, is a personal thing; that you could only show me the path, and that I had to walk it. Well, how the hell do you expect me to walk it if you insist that I blindly do whatever you say?"
Nodoka stiffened, her whole body surging straight as her son flung her own words back in her face. Her mouth twisted as she stared daggers at the dark-haired youth before her. "Then I wonder if you have not lost your way and fallen from the path. Surely you must have plummeted into madness, or stupidity, not to see that this is your duty. The art requires that the schools be united."
"The schools are united, if they were ever broken to begin with." Seeing his mother's confused and irritated frown he explained. "The School does not need unifying, as it has already been made whole through me. Happosai, Grandmaster of Anything-Goes has already named me his designated heir. As head of the School, his word supersedes that of Pop or Mr. Tendo. I am the successor to the Anything-Goes School as a whole; the Saotome and Tendo Ryu being subsidiaries become assimilated upon my ascension to grandmaster when the old pervert croaks."
Nodoka opened her mouth, preparing her protest. Ranma kept on talking, throwing the words out and raising his voice to override any retort.
"That is, if the Tendo Ryu can be called a school. Soun never made any alterations nor brought any new techniques to the syllabus. Nor did Akane. He just taught it as he had learnt it, but without being chased by hordes of enraged girls or sneaky tactics. Akane, although talented, is no master, nor does she have anything that she could teach me. This engagement is not about schools or techniques, it is about the dojo somewhere that the old man can rest his lazy butt and mooch from the Tendos while I teach the classes."
"Do not show such disrespect to your father, Ranma. He knows what is best for the school," his mother chastised sternly.
"Can the bull, Mom. You know it's true."
His mother grimaced but remained silent.
"Besides," he said quietly. His voice softened to a reflective whisper. "I can't do that to the others."
Nodoka seized upon that like vultures at carrion. "So you would rather sacrifice your honour so that you can lead on three other women. You are bound by oath to marry a Tendo. Despite your low opinion of the Tendo School, the inheritance of the dojo still offers the most towards the future of the art, which is your primary concern."
"DAMN IT! I AM NOT A POSSESSION TO BE SOLD TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER!" Ranma roared, his face flushing red with anger. Bitterness had welled within him, and now he unleashed the torrent upon his mother, who met his rage with equal fervour.
"DO NOT TAKE THAT TONE WITH ME, YOUNG MAN. YOU MUST DO WHAT HONOUR DEMANDS."
"But it's not just my honour involved, is it?" Ranma asked in a voice that dripped with acid. "Shampoo cannot return home without obeying the law to marry, which as an Amazon she is oath-bound to uphold. Her honour as well as her life is forfeit if she breaks that law, and so her honour is entwined with mine. And it was Pops himself who had arranged the engagement with the Kuonjis. The honour of both our families becomes junk if I break that commitment."
His mother flinched at the mention of her husband's involvement in his relationship with Ukyo. Hands once again balling at the fabric of her kimono, she fixed her son with cold eyes. "Then you must do as duty dictates and enter the union that is most advantageous for the school."
Ranma quirked an eyebrow and allowed a wry smirk to curl his lips. "And that would be to marry Akane." His tone was full of cocky superiority.
"Of course it is," she snapped, infuriated further by his sudden arrogance. "The art must have a place in which it is taught. Akane at least offers that. Ramen or okonomiyaki is not of much help in that case." She matched his smirk with a satisfied smile. Ranma's expression never wavered.
"Bricks and mortar, Mom," he said simply. "That's what a dojo is when you get down to it. Training halls can be built and can be destroyed. The art is larger than that; it exists in the spirit and the minds of its practitioners; walls cannot hold it. Dad did not need a dojo to teach me, nor do will I need one to teach my students. The art is alive within me."
Nodoka gawped, her mouth opened and closed but only a faint squeak could be heard. The barrage of precise logic, on a scale never expected by anyone who new Ranma Saotome, had left her floundering like a fish plucked from the water.
"Ranma, please," was all she could manage, her voice soft and ragged.
"Mother," he soothed, his reaching across to place his hand over hers. "You said it yourself; my duty do the art is first and foremost." He shook his head, slowly and inwardly. "I sat there for hours with those words spinning in my mind, asking myself; what was my duty to the art? The answer was to master it, to become the best warrior there is. To make the Anything-Goes Style legendary across the globe as the greatest martial art ever devised. It was that revelation that told me to leave on this journey so that I could test and perfect my skills. And it is that what leads me to this problem.
"You said that I must enter the union that is best for the art. But that is not as easy as it sounds, for they all offer much. Akane is a talented martial artist and a member of the Anything-Goes School herself, and there still is the matter of the dojo. But Ucchan and Shampoo are both superior martial artists. Ucchan is a Master of her own Okonomiyaki-style of martial arts, which offers talented use of weapons as well as an additional means of earning a living. Shampoo is a warrior to the core, and her skills far surpass Akane and Ucchan's. Other than Ryoga and me, she is probably the best martial artist in town." He sighed, his body sinking and suddenly seeming very weary. "But none of that matters. It may be shameful and selfish, but I cannot marry someone who I don't love."
"That's not good enough, Ranma," his mother said sternly. "You must choose one of them."
"Hey, back off," he snapped back in furious irritation. "It ain't as easy as that. I'm not choosing what I want for dinner, or what movie I want to watch. This is the person I'm to spend the rest of my life with. I'm not like Pop; I don't intend to run out on my wife for a decade or two." His mother quivered and recoiled as if struck, the sudden widening of her eyes revealed a world of hurt in those blue irises.
Ranma stomped down on his guilt as his twanged as his gut, and continued in a soft, reasoning voice, "Mom, I'm only seventeen years old. Too young to marry; too young to even know what love is. And so is Akane. She has too much going for her, and should get to decide her own path in life, rather than be forced in to an early jaunt down the aisle and a life of housekeeping and dojo running. She wants more than that, and I want more for her. Besides, I am leaving in two days. I cannot just get married, and leave whoever I wed behind."
"Then take her with you," Nodoka protested sharply.
Ranma shook his head. "I can't. This is something I must do myself. I pledged to you that I would become a man, and this journey will make me into one. I will not marry until that has happened, nor until I know for certain that I've found the one I will love all of my life."
Nodoka lips pursed into a tight line and her eyes narrowed. "I can understand that, Ranma, but I cannot accept it. You have been promised to Akane; end of discussion."
Ranma rose to the challenge, as he always did. "You may not accept it, Mother, and I wish that you could. But you cannot stop it either."
"That is true," she conceded, her voice was soft yet razor sharp. She rose to her feet and passed by her son as she slipped from the room. When she reached the door, she glanced over her shoulder and sent Ranma a piercing glare out of the corner of her eye.
"You said that this journey should make a man of you," she said imperiously. "We shall see just what kind of man." And with that, she glided away.
Ranma sighed. Pangs were shooting through his chest as he leaned on the windowsill and gazed outward at the stars. He had hated that conversation, as he had the one in the living room. Arguing with his mother was like twisting a knife in the wound that had been left by ten years without her. Seeing the blatant disappointment in her eyes had been torture, making him feel low, with a deep, hollow sinking in his heart. But it had to be done. For once, Ranma Saotome refused to be wishy-washy. He had made up his mind and was sticking to it. And staring up at the night sky, he challenged the stars themselves to stop him.
To be continued.
Author's notes: So now we get to the point that I've been building up to for the past 9 chapters. Yes, Ranma is leaving Nerima, and you all probably find it about as unexpected as the plot of Sailor Moon, i.e. not at all. How many times can you expect a new fighter to wander through Nerima?
And about Happosai, and the whole honour thing. Should I get ready to dodge rotten fruit and broken glass? Yes, I know Happosai is OOC, but I think that he's not as evil as he seems, just perverted. I also think that he does care about the future of the School; after all, he did found it. Also I hope no one lynches me for the heir stuff, but Happosai did say that he would teach Ranma to carry on his school, and I think a Grandmaster's heir is superior to the heir of a man like Genma. And I've never actually seen Soun acknowledge Akane as his heir, just as a brood-mare.
I've gotten mixed opinions about the honour theme; I hope this chapter reassures people that honour does not mean a loss of will. Honour is an important theme in martial arts and Ranma ½, and one that I think merits exploration. What you are reading is my own way of seeking the place of honour in the modern world, if there is one. But if some people are still not happy about it, tough. I can't please everyone, and you can't read a fic called "Honour and Pride", and not expect to read about honour.
Fiancées. Why haven't I chosen one and got some romance started? I'm getting there. This is going to be a long fic, and I have three years to work on this, so be patient. I haven't chosen one yet because I want to keep you guessing which one Ranma will get with, if any. But you are all right that this story is getting a bit dark. When did I last write something funny? Hopefully it won't last it's just the flow of the story. But I admit to being a born pessimist, so I may not be able to write "happy".
On a happy note, Honour and Pride has a home on the net. Thanks to Larry F for giving me a space at the Lost Library of Florestica. And "hi" to all the new readers there! (I live off of reviews.) I'm kind of nervous because the site has a lot of great authors featured, like D.B Sommer, so I wonder if my humble tale will match up. The site will feature all the chapters (grammatically correct and with the cast f**k-up cured). And if I can ever get hold of a scanner I may add some illustrations of the scenes in the fic, and would like to see what anyone has pictured in their mind.
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