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Prologue


Akane stretched her hands towards the ceiling as she finished putting on her dress. She paused a moment to examine herself in a mirror. Not the best she had ever looked, but not bad either. Satisfied with the results, she exited her bedroom and headed downstairs to see if Kasumi had finished making breakfast already. She was humming a little tune to herself, and had just reached the bottom step, when loud noises coming from the direction of the Saotomes' bedroom caught her attention. Unable to tell what the source of the disturbance was, she braced herself for the worst and made a detour towards the room. Just as she turned the corner, she saw that both Nabiki and Kasumi were already standing next to the open doorway. Kasumi seemed concerned while Nabiki appeared apathetic about something that was going on inside the room.

As Akane approached the doorway, she heard the sounds of Ranma complaining, "Knock it off, Pop! I don't wanna get up."

Genma's retort of, "Foolish boy. Be a man about this," was easily heard from Akane's position next to the door.

Poking her head around the corner, Akane looked into the room. Ranma, still dressed in boxers and a red T-shirt, was clinging desperately to the floor. His blankets were wrapped around his midsection and his pillow clenched in his teeth. Genma had his son by the ankles and was apparently trying to force him to release the death grip he had secured on the flooring.

"What's going on?" Akane asked.

The interruption made Genma pause in his efforts. "Ranma here says he doesn't want to wake up and greet the day." He returned his attention to his son. "The boy needs to get up and face the day's challenges like a man."

"No way!" Ranma insisted as the pillow dropped from his teeth. "I knew as soon as I woke up it was going to be one of 'those' days. A really bad one, and I don't wanna have to deal with it. It's Saturday. I want the day off."

Akane sighed. It was up to her to resolve the situation. She entered the room and snatched Ranma's ankles away Genma. "Quit being childish, Ranma. You can't see the future and you can't stay in bed all day. Now come on. Let's go eat breakfast."

Akane began pulling on Ranma's legs, having much more success than Genma. Using brute strength alone, she forced Ranma to move, the boy leaving behind grooves in the flooring that were molded in the shape of his fingers as he desperately tried to stay where he was. It was to no avail as he found himself slowly dragged from the room.

"A cute fiancée wouldn't make me do this," Ranma protested as Nabiki moved her leg calmly away from his attempt to grasp it.

"It's a good thing I'm an uncute fiancée then. You're getting up and going to breakfast," Akane growled in agitation as dragged the reluctant Ranma to the breakfast table.

Ranma looked at the people left behind in the hall. "Remember, no matter what happens today, it's not my fault! I didn't want to get up!" Those were his last words as he was dragged around the corner and out of sight.

"The boy's just being lazy," Genma said with more than a hint of doubt in his voice.

"Do you think we should prepare for the worst?" Kasumi asked. She wondered if she should make some extra food, since trouble frequently meant someone would be dropping by the house for a visit.

"I know I'll be," Nabiki said. "That's why I'm going to be sleeping over at a friend's house. I'll be leaving as soon as I'm packed, which should be in about five minutes."

Genma wondered if he should hide… er, sleep over at a friend's house as well before remembering that was essentially what he was already doing. Well, there was always the possibility of getting some cold water and hiding out in the panda pens at the zoo for a couple of days. It was a sound plan, and they had all the bamboo one could eat. Sometimes the visiting children would even toss marshmallows at him. Not a bad deal, really.

As the trio considered their options, Ranma's cries of, "No one's sticking me with this one!" echoed throughout the house.


Mindless Tripe Productions proudly presents:
Those Who Hunt Ninjas

A Ranma ½ story
by D.B. Sommer

Not a fusion or crossover with Those Who Hunt Elves. Any similarities between the two names is purely coincidental.

Really.

Any and all C+C appreciated. You can contact me at: sommer@3rdm.net

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.


The stone walls of the corridors of the ancient keep were mottled green with a fungus that gave off a revolting aroma that made Mai's nose cringe. The smell vaguely reminded her of rotting fish mixed with sulfur, or what the bathroom was like the day after Tai had eaten Mexican food and downed a keg of beer. The smells of Maiís own burning flesh would have been preferable to putting up with either one's noxious odors.

And thinking of burning flesh, she ducked as burning arrows shot out from murder holes in the walls that were cleverly concealed by the growth of fungus. That explained the run down state of this section of the keep; the better to catch one off-guard with.

Mai tucked and rolled too fast for the hidden archers to track her. As she came out of her somersaults, having made it well past the murder holes, she leaped up into the air. She was almost high enough to touch the ceiling of the passageway; a necessary thing when one wanted to avoid the section of flooring that gave way to reveal a pit with a numerous set of deadly, sharpened wooden stakes lining the bottom.

Mai yawned in mid-air.

As Mai landed deftly upon the other side, the teenage girl took an inventory of her uniform. The standard night-black ninja outfit hadn't even suffered a snag. That was for the best, since she unequivocally detested sewing repairs to any of her garments.

She continued to advance up the corridor, now running in a sprint. Upon turning the corner, she found herself confronted by a huge Bengal tiger. A large stream of saliva dripped from its jaws as it roared in hunger in her direction.

A tiger, how utterly original. Not. As she continued running, Mai reached into her outfit and came out with a huge piece of raw meat. She tossed it to the tiger, who caught it in mid-air and ravenously began to devour it. Mai gave the large feline a soft pat as she raced past.

The corridor seemed to be getting noticeably warmer. Mai was trying to figure out what that might forebode when three ninjas, all much larger than her, seemed to flow out of the very stones ahead of her. The ninjas were spaced evenly at ten feet apart from one other. The first had a large katana drawn, the second had a sickle with a long, weighted chain attached to the handle, and the third held a variety of throwing stars between the fingers of both his hands.

Without breaking stride, Mai ducked under a swing from the first man and lashed out with a palm thrust to his throat, downing him in one blow. The second had already begun spinning the weighted chain around and hurled it at her, intending to tangle up her legs. Instead, Mai snatched the chain and kept running forward, again without breaking stride. The second ninja drew back in shock at the display of coordination and agility. That proved to be his undoing, as in a blur Mai whirled the chain in her hand and released it, wrapping up the ninja's legs in his own weapon. She ran past and jerked, causing the man to fall face forward. His jaw cracked loudly with the impact it made on the cold gray floor.

The third ninja released over a dozen throwing stars in Mai's direction. Every one of them headed right on target, directly for the teenage girl. Effortlessly, she snatched each one of the weapons out of mid-air and made a pile of them in her hands. She then lightly tossed them in a heap next to the third ninja's feet as she ran past.

"No need to thank me," Mai shouted as she looked over her shoulder towards the motionless man. "I know those things are expensive to replace."

The sounds of a string of colorful curses about her ancestry and which barnyard animals were mixed in with it grew fainter as she continued running at top speed through the complex.

The corridor continued to grow warmer until Mai found herself sweating under her outfit. At last, she could see the corridor widen up ahead, a bright red glow emanating from that direction. She was almost to her goal.

As Mai entered the huge room in the center of the keep, she noted that it was the size of a large cavern. Instead of a floor that she could walk across, she found herself standing at the edge of a precipice, with the corridor behind her the only way off the protrusion. Looking over the edge of the precipice to the bottom thirty feet below, she saw the entire chamber was covered in a pool of molten lava: the source of the increasing heat. A series of small, narrow rocks dotting the chamber 'floor' rose a foot or so above the surface of the lava. From each rock was a thirty-foot bamboo pole sticking upward, one pole to a rock.

Across the room, at the far side directly opposite Mai, was another ledge with a ninja standing upon it. His arms were crossed as if in expectation of something. From where Mai stood, she could just make out a white line four feet in front of him and only two feet from the edge. Even with nearly a hundred feet between them, she could feel the smirk that lay underneath his facemask. She was going relish the opportunity to wipe it off him. Just so long as he remained exactly where he was.

"Oh, this is sooo cliché," Mai wailed as she mentally plotted the course necessary to leap across the bamboo poles and to the far side. It took her ninja-like mind less than two seconds to choose the most direct course. She leaped, aiming for the nearest pole and mentally tallied the seconds until she would reach the far side and confront the final ninja, face-to-face.

As Mai reached the apex of her leap, right on target with the first bamboo stalk, a six inch spike of metal shot up from the top of the bamboo.

From across the chamber, the male ninja bellowed with a deep, sonorous laugh. "Ha, ha, ha, you're finished now!"

In response, Mai twisted in mid-air, making her plunge face first towards the pole instead of feet first. Just as she was poised directly above the spike, her face no more than six inches away, she lashed out with her hands and grabbed onto the portion of the bamboo below the sharpened piece of metal. It took a great deal of muscle, but she managed to arrest her decent. By the time she had stopped her falling motion, her face was no more than three inches away from the point of the spike.

Mai looked up and recalculated the distance to the next pole. Using arm muscle alone, she bent her elbows ever so slightly and pushed off, executing a high leap and repeating what she had done with the previous bamboo stalk. Ten such movements later, she had covered the distance to the ledge across the room, landing with feline grace on her feet and balling into a crouch a foot across the white line.

Slowly, Mai came out of her crouch and confronted the man before her. She could feel the flow of anger, directed at her, emanating from him. It was a palpable sensation. The man remained motionless as Mai placed her hand slowly into her outfit, her eyes never leaving the figure for a second. From within the confines of her ninja uniform, she pulled out a small item. She looked at it for only a moment, and then her hand was a blur as she thrust the silver object directly at his face.

"Four minutes and twenty three seconds. That beats the best time for completing the course by more than thirty seconds. What do you have to say to that?"

"ARGHHH!"

"Oh, that's right. That was your record, Granduncle," Mai said in all sincerity, then placed the stopwatch back in her outfit. She began laughing and giggling, just like a five-year-old that had been told she'd been given a lifetime supply of A.M. Phetamine's 'Hyper Concentrated Pure Sugar Sticks'. Bouncing up and down and clapping her hand, she began chanting, "I get to be a ninja. I get to be a ninja. I get—"

"You idiot!" the man shouted. "Don't stop on the finish line!"

"What are you talking abOWW!" Mai shouted in pain as two other figures landed on her back, causing all three to end up in a tangle of twisted limbs. Little mews and feminine cries of pain began to emanate from all three of the figures.

For several moments, the ninja grandmaster, Takeo Yurisoka, considered kicking all three of his grandnieces into the lava. After all, would anyone really miss them? And it would do so much to lower the increasingly high amounts of stress he had been suffering from since the girls had become students under his tutelage. His physician had been telling him to do something about his high blood pressure, and that single act alone would cut it at least in half.

But no, they were flesh of his flesh, blood of his blood. It would be wrong. Besides, their mother, his niece, Kanuka, was more than capable of carving him into briquettes with that rather sharp katana she had a tendency to carry around wherever she went. And for some odd reason, she was quite attached to the annoying little rug rats. No. He supposed deliberately killing his grandnieces in a non-ninja related activity was out of the question.

The three teenage girls detached themselves from the pile and saluted him as though he were a drill sergeant. Takeo trembled in rage. "You don't salute! You bow, you idiots!"

All three girls bowed, their arms still raised to their brows the entire time. Not trying to kick them in the lava was becoming more difficult by the second.

Shuddering, Takeo turned around so that he was no longer facing the girls and took a moment to regain control of his emotions. He carefully considered each of his young students. Mai, Tai, and *shudder* Bobbie Joe (oh, how he loathed his idiot niece for giving the girl that stupid gaijin name.) At least everyone just called her B.J., but even then, that led to some pretty vulgar jokes for which she would continually beat people up. They were triplets, but fraternal rather than identical. It was a nearly unheard of thing, but infinitely better than if they had been physical carbon copies of one another.

And now, after several months of training, they had completed the final obstacle course they needed to graduate, or so they thought. But there were other plans in store for them. With a small smile forming on his face, he spun on his heel and turned back to the girls. He could just feel the concern over his lack of congratulations pour off them in waves.

"Yawn. That whole obstacle course was like something out of a low budget Indiana Jones flick."

"Ewww. The heat from the lava made my mascara run."

"I think I need more sequins on my outfit. I'm not glittery enough."

"WOULD YOU IDIOTS AT LEAST PRETEND THAT THE OBSTACLE COURSE WAS TOUGH?! IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!" Takeo shouted as his battle aura partially melted some of the stone he was standing on.

The Ninja grandmaster forced himself to choke back the rest of the verbal assault he wanted to unleash upon the girls. It wouldn't do to lose control before them, like he usually did. As a method of controlling his anger, he chose to examine the girls closely. He had lacked the courage to see them off, hoping against hope his absence would somehow discourage them and help prevent them from completing the course, but it had been to no avail. All three stood triumphantly before him.

Takeo looked over the student that had crossed the finish line first. Of the trio, Mai, the de facto leader of the sisters (due to her being oldest), was at least normally dressed, electing to wear a standard full-body ninja outfit colored in black. Her stance was proud and ready for fight or flight at a moment's notice. Her outward countenance was that of a true ninja, even if her inward was not. There was only one tiny problem with Mai's appearance that made her stand out, namely her breast size. She was so flat-chested that she was sometimes mistaken for a male ninja instead of a kunoichi, an understandable mistake even to Takeo's own experienced eyes. Physically she was probably as attractive as her sisters, save for the fact it was in such as way that one could confuse her with being male. Bishonen; that was the term for it. She had very bishonen features, which caused certain… problems for the girl.

Takeo's skills as a teacher of twenty years made him force a compliment through gritted teeth. "Congratulations on beating the best time for the course."

Mai shrugged. "I could have done it half-drunk and blindfolded. Want me to try?"

"No!" Takeo winced inwardly at the bold proclamation. Not only because it was so outrageous, but because she was probably correct and his pride would not allow him to take the risk of her beating his time under those conditions. Oh, how he loathed his grandniece's ability to trample a person's feelings without even realizing it.

Rather than dealing further with Mai, he turned his attention to the girl next to her — the middle sister, and taller then her older sister by at least five centimeters — Tai. At first glance, one would never have known the two were related, Tai being virtually the exact physical opposite of Mai. Where Mai was flat-chested and subdued, Tai was voluptuous, with long legs and enormous breasts that she insisted on showing off as much and as often as she could. To that end she tended to wear very risqué clothing. Today she was wearing a bright pink outfit that consisted of only a couple of strips of cloth that reached up from the waist of her outfit, over her breasts (covering only about half of them at that) and attached to a collar she wore around her neck. Her back was completely bare, and she wore only a tiny skirt that barely made it to the bottom of her rear end. Virtually all of her clothing was the same way. That, combined with her tendency to use high leap-kicks while wearing only lacy thong underwear, had resulted in her being able to string together a record of twenty-five knockouts on Takeo's male ninja students, an unsurpassed string of victories.

Trying to take his mind off her body, Takeo asked, "Where's your mask?"

Tai appeared offended at the very nature of the question. "What? Cover up this beautiful face? I don't think so."

"A true ninja wears a mask," Takeo insisted.

Tai smirked. "Even if I wore a mask, it wouldn't make any difference. It's not like guys would be looking at my face when they check me out." Tai thrust her chest forward and jiggled to prove her point. Takeo was forced to remind himself once again that this girl was family, and young enough to be his granddaughter to boot. Still, a cold shower afterwards might not be a bad idea.

"Fine," he grumbled, conceding her the little victory.

With Tai's assessment out of the way, Takeo turned to the last girl, B.J. He gave a sigh as looked the girl over. "And just what is that thing you're wearing today supposed to be?"

B.J. modeled her outfit proudly. "This is the cutting edge of what every stylish ninja is wearing nowadays. My pea green and light purple mask was designed by Billabong, the white gloves are by Airheart, and my sequined yellow top is by Quicksilver. They might have cost me a good bit of money, but appearance is everything to a ninja, right?" The thousands of sequins caught the lighting in the room just right to allow B.J. to glow like a shining star. Just what every ninja needed to sneak around inconspicuously.

Takeo noted that at least the other two girls were also shuddering at what B.J.'s twisted little mind considered a fashionable style. Even after all these months, she still wore anything that was supposed to be fashionable among ninja clans, or at least what advertisers promoted as 'what every young, hot teenage ninja should be wearing'. As with most advertisers, what they claimed was trendy and what really was were two different things. B.J.'s current outfit was proof of that.

"You show an amazing lack of judgment in what is suitable ninjawear," Takeo said dryly.

"I could always change," B.J. offered. From somewhere within the folds of her clothing she pulled out a black outfit. A whirl of the black cloth hid her entire form for a moment. When the whirl was finished, Takeo found standing before him what appeared to be a male ninja in his forties, a tuft of black hair peaking out from the top of the mask, broad in the shoulder, athletic in form, and holding himself with an air of command that could only be gained through years of teaching.

"How's this?" the figure asked in a voice that Takeo could instantly identify: his own.

"Don't do that! It's disturbing!" Takeo shouted. The sight before him was unbelievable. Truly B.J. was the greatest mistress of disguise he had ever seen. If he hadn't known any better, Takeo would have sworn it was in fact himself standing right across from him. She was able to mimic the tone and accent in his voice to a degree that astounded even her granduncle. Quite possibly the only thing outwardly odd about her was her choice of primary weapon, which was currently strapped to her back. For some odd reason her particular choice of her favorite weapon was something that simply confounded Takeo's sensibilities. Still, in spite of what one would assume from such a small girl, she was able to use it supremely well. It was just so… unseemly for a ninja to use such an inappropriate weapon.

B.J. switched back to her 'proper' uniform, putting her granduncle at ease. Looking over all three of them, Takeo had to admit they made quite a set. Months ago he had accepted his niece's wish to train the girls in ninjitsu, the art the family had been immersed in since the founding of the school centuries ago. Takeo was regarded by many to be the best ninja of his and the previous generations, which he had proven time and again by succeeding in every task that was set before him, and then in all of the goals he set for himself. In time, growing bored with a lack of challenges and getting on in years, he had founded his ninja school and proceeded to teach ninjitsu to a wide variety of candidates from all over the globe. Not all of them were great, but all of them were at the least highly skilled ninjas. Each and every graduate he had been proud to call his own. So when his niece had approached him with the idea of training the girls in the art, Takeo had accepted without hesitation.

It had proven to be the worst mistake of his life.

In less than four weeks, Takeo became firmly convinced that all three were probably the worst trio of potential ninjas he had ever seen. They drove him crazy with their combined antics. If they had not been blood relations, and had he not promised he would teach them to the best of his abilities, he would have expelled them a year ago. But he had persevered, growing increasingly frustrated with their behavior and desperately wanting to get rid of them, while at the same time fearful of how they would disgrace the Yurisoka clan (and Takeo personally) if they graduated and it was discovered they had trained under him. So he went about trying his best to break them of their spirits and get them to quit, or fail, on their own. It should have been simple, but it wasn't.

There was one slight problem with his plan. In spite of their obvious, horrible character flaws, their actual skills were unsurpassed. Easily they were the best his school had ever produced. Combat, stealth, circumvention of traps, weapons training, in every technical field they excelled far beyond anyone's expectations. They were better than he was at their age. Hell, they were almost as good as him now; the obstacle course they had just completed effortlessly was proof of that. The problem wasn't in their inherent ability to do any job; it was in their inherent ability to mess up any job, in spite of their skills. Common sense was still a skill none of them had mastered.

And now, in spite of what the grandmaster had hoped and prayed for, they had all just completed their final course, improving on his best time, beating it easily. If they were allowed out in the world now, they would disgrace his name within a year. No, probably six months. It was enough to make Takeo weep.

But there was one last hope. Something special he had added just to their curriculum, which, if they failed, would set them back at least a couple of months. And then maybe he could come up with something, some technique that would get them to start using their heads.

Or maybe they would die. Either way it meant he would come out a winner.

The girls, unaware of how far they had pushed their granduncle, looked up at him with only mild concern. Mai spoke first, a small smile breaking out across her face. "So what do we do now?"

Takeo grinned under his mask and cleared his throat. Here is where he dropped the bomb on them. "I know it's common for a student, upon completing the final obstacle course, to graduate and become an official ninja with a diploma and everything, but because you're such special students, I've decided to assign you a special final project." At last he had them. He couldn't wait to see the crestfallen look on their faces as he was able to shatter their dreams, even as they had shattered his.

"Gee, would it have anything to do with us going to the Nerima Museum of History to steal the Sacred Urn of CaoPatty?" Tai asked as she filed her nails.

Takeo's eyebrow twitched so violently the movement could clearly be seen under his mask. "Haugh dad wu nough?" was all he could get out.

"How did we know?" B.J. translated. "Simple, we broke into your private chamber and ran through your notes. It was in the notebook in the bottom drawer, right under the paper targets that look suspiciously like the three of us. You know, the ones with all of the knife cuts in them. You tend to throw slightly to the left, by the way."

"How did you get in?" Takeo got out intelligibly this time. Everything in his chamber, even his desk, was warded by a plethora of the most exotic, expensive, and difficult anti-ninja and magical traps he could find, all of them fatal. Even Takeo on the best day of his life couldn't break into his study.

"It was easy," Mai shrugged. "There were just a few dozen simple anti-ninja and magical traps. Completely predictable. It took us about three minutes to get past all of them."

"GAK!" Takeo swore he felt a brain embolism coming on.

"Well, I didn't think it was all that simple," Tai said. "There was one trap in particular that was nasty and very well concealed."

"There was?" Takeo gasped, feeling some shred of his dignity return.

"Yep. I chipped a nail on the edge of the desk. Very tricky, making the edge of your desk extra long so that people will chip their nails on it. I had to get a fake nail to take its place and everything. Very inconvenient."

Takeo could barely keep from openly crying. He settled for sniffling slightly.

Mai continued. "Anyway, we already scouted the place out. We broke into where the blueprints to the museum were stored, stole and then copied them, and then broke back in to replace them so no one knew they were ever gone. We also stole the personnel logs and duty rosters and did the same thing. We know where all of the hundreds of alarms are, the exact placement and number of the guards, where the urn is located and everything."

Takeo's shoulders slumped in defeat. They had managed to outwit him. Maybe it was time to kill himself. If those three could make him look like a novice, there was nothing left to live for. "It sounds like you have everything planned out. There shouldn't be any problems."

"I sure can't see any," B.J. chimed in happily. "We even made sure to send the challenge letter by express mail three days ago."

Takeo's head jerked slightly. "Challenge letter?"

"Yes. That way we left plenty of time for the opposition to know we're coming."

Takeo's eyebrow began to twitch violently again. "You do understand that you're ninjas? Masters of stealth, assassination, and thanks to the recession, thieves as well?"

All three of the girls looked at him, bewildered. Mai slowly said, "Uh, yeah."

"Then why would you tell the museum that you were coming to steal their urn when the whole point of the exercise is to sneak in and grab it without alerting anyone?"

The girls thought about that. As one they said, "Oops."

Takeo began bashing his head into the ground and didn't stop until he was unconscious.

 

To be continued.

 Chapter 1
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