a Ranma ½ story
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ was created by Takahashi Rumiko, and is licensed to Shogakukan Inc., Kitty, Fuji TV, and Viz Communications Inc. The Duelist idea is mine.
Inspired by various works of a certain Blue-Eyes Black Dragon; thanks, Dro'gan. Actually, this is more an idea which came to me a looooong time ago, but I've been hesitant as to the form to put it down in until I saw some of Dro'gan's work. A lot is taken from all the "Bet" style fan fiction too, as far as the initial concept is concerned.
The man was a tall and athletic one, clad in a well-cut black suit and wearing round spectacles. Whether they were actually needed, or just a part of the man's overall image, was left unsaid. His face was angular, with a strong jawline, and hair as black as night fanned out loosely behind his head. Coldly analytical eyes cast glances around the area a strange area for someone like him to be in.
Ridiculous as it seemed, someone had hired a professional Duelist like himself for something as trivial as a dispute about, of all things, a girl. A teenaged one at that. But it did pay well, and wasn't promising to be much of a risky endeavor.
The client was an idiot, surely, and had blown a significant amount of his monetary assets on employing him. Stupidity was sometimes a godsend, even if the Code was strict about fighting non-Duelists. The Code did say, however, that a challenged Duelist could accept that challenge regardless of the challenger, without a stain on their reputation. After all, if someone challenges a Duelist, they should damn well know what they're getting into. It was they who were hired or even kept on retainer to decide in a bout on matters that had severe importance. Satisfaction of a highly-regarded family, status for companies, sometimes going as far as fights to decide the owner of a patch of land claimed by many. It was a savage system, in the eyes of some, but worked better than open conflicts and wars. That way, the only ones who could be hurt or killed were the two fighters themselves.
As it was, he'd been hired by the nitwit against some sort of "great fighter" who was, supposedly, keeping the moron's would-be girlfriend under a spell. Nuts. He'd heard of magic, and knew there were no mages in the area with certainty. He'd had to fight his fair share at one time, and could damn well tell when one of the magically inclined was close.
'The kid's bonkers, but it's easy money.' The large man shrugged his shoulders.
And he was sure of that. After all, the Duelists were the most feared and respected fighters in the world, be it with their hands and feet or weapons of all sorts. Pistols, knives, hell, even greatswords, axes and submachineguns were handled by each and every one of them expertly but he hadn't come here intent on killing someone. From what he'd heard, his nutjob of an employer had misled his enemy into thinking they were to fight each other. How he'd done so with that miniscule shrivel he had for a brain would remain a mystery for all eternity. He'd try to put the poor kid down easily 'or not. Naah.'
There was a bit of a bonus for the "humiliation" factor involved, and Erich was in it for the money. Besides, he had only lost a decisive battle once, and that had been against Shinigami, or "Devil Child", as some called that Duelist — a legend in his own right. The fight had been intense, and had left him with an ugly scar on one cheek. It had been the only encounter in his career that had genuinely scared him.
'Oh well, no time to reminiscence now.'
"Get out of the way, Nabiki," he said softly, cocking his head to the side at the sight of the brown-haired girl leaning against the doorway, blocking his path. She looked rather agitated.
"Be reasonable, Ranma," she said. He would have blinked at the manner of address, but didn't out of sheer desire to avoid the cliché. She'd always referred to him as Saotome before, and in a none-too-pleasant tone.
"I am being reasonable about this Tendou-san," he said, deliberately stressing the honorific. This time it was she who blinked, and flushed slightly, realizing how she'd referred to him before.
Three months ago, Ranma had walked into her life or rather, her classroom in Furinkan High. The family name of "Demetrios" was as obviously false as a three dollar bill to her, and she'd started looking for information on the new student. Nothing. No former records, no back story, and an infuriating grin every time she'd tried to confront him about it. He was about the most annoying thing she'd known since her freshman year and he was a challenge, one she enjoyed. He wasn't a straight-out jock, as had been her suspicion, although from what she'd seen he was in a physical shape befitting an Olympic Athlete or better. Although he'd had a lot of offers, he didn't date, and she noticed that he kept back as far from social life as he could. He'd been witty about it all, dropping little snippets here and there that she knew made some sort of sense, but that she couldn't for the life of her put together.
She'd found out he'd skipped a grade somewhere along the way, and was even more impressed. And even more infuriated.
Then a friend of her father had visited their house, and she and her sisters found out they had been engaged since birth to marry his son. Surprising, yes, and her little sister had thrown a hissy-fit at that information. It seemed to be not much of an issue though, since the son, it seemed, was missing.
His name had been Ranma Saotome.
Nabiki was oddly numb when the fat lazy ass by the name of Genma Saotome had seen Ranma and called out "Son!".
That Ranma had kneed the man in the groin and then laid him down with a haymaker that looked like it could have stopped a truck was duly noted. That Akane had gone over the edge with anger, started sprouting speeches about perverts, and tried to slug him was also noted. It was even understandable, since that lamebrain, Kuno, had been keeping up his declaration that anyone who could defeat Akane could date her. This was something Nabiki had been torn about, emotionally. On one side, the money she made from the betting was really needed, especially since that fat lazy bastard of a panda had come to their home — that bit about a shape-changing curse was still rattling her, although not as much as other things.
That Ranma had, upon being attacked, grabbed the fist and gut-punched her little sister without even flinching was noted as well. By the entire school population including Kuno.
The situation was dire enough, but then came the crux of it all, when her own father stated that Akane and Ranma should be engaged to ensure the legacy of the family's Martial Arts School.
Monday thereafter, the events having taken place over the course of the weekend plus Friday, had been as tension-filled a day as any she could remember.
This was where she got the second big surprise. To nobody's great amazement, the whole male student body with few exceptions had decided to "surprise" Ranma with a bit of the old roughing up. After Akane's usual mornings, they had endurance, that was certain. While the pigtailed young man had proven himself to be competent when it came to defense against a blubbering idiot — although, as her subconscious had tried to tell her, he was an accomplished martial artist — and a rage-driven teenager, the sheer numbers were stacked against him.
Nobody was quite sure what had happened, but a few minutes after he'd come through the gates, he was standing alone in the middle of the yard, which had become a good imitation of a battlefield with the wounded moaning in pain.
And then there was Kuno himself, confronting the young man before he could get into the building. And again, they cringed. And Ranma had, from somewhere, pulled a slender forearm-length wooden rod, smashed Kuno's bokken with it, and clonked the kendoist over the head with said implement. Nabiki figured it was lead-weighted from how the kendoist collapsed thereafter The implement, not the head, although sometimes she had doubts about the latter.
"So, what's the deal with the name, Saotome?" she asked him. It was a calculated wager. She'd seen how he'd reacted to his father. She'd seen him flinch at the name being spoken. Putting that eternal wiseass a little out of whack was something she had wanted to do ever since he'd started attending Furinkan.
"You couldn't pay me enough to tell you," he answered, his face blank and emotionless. Then he grinned. "Believe me on that one Biki-chan."
Needless to say, she wasn't really used to terms of endearment from people other than Kasumi and her father, and even those came less and less seldom. And here was a total stranger ! She blinked, realizing he'd thrown her own strategy back at her.
Over the course of the next month, she'd tried to find out as much about Ranma Saotome as she could. Where he lived, what schools he'd attended. She came up with as big a blank as she had back when checking on "Demetrios".
And he'd kept it up, being as cheerfully annoying as he could, fencing with her verbally where he'd done the same with others on a physical level. She hated every minute of it or so she told herself.
She'd once trailed him herself, instead of letting a lackey do it as usual, and followed him into a medium-class restaurant in the center of town. Where he sat down for ice-cream, of all things. She'd managed to slither into a seat at a table just behind a sliding divider from his, and tried to listen in as a man sat opposite him. It was light chatter, mostly, banter and talk about movies.
A waiter had come with a root beer float and a steaming cup of tea, set them on her table, and said that it was compliments of the gentleman with the pigtail, effectively dispelled the thought that she hadn't been spotted. At least she'd gotten a little something out of it. The ice-cream was to die for.
And so the pattern continued, with her following him on Fridays. He was alone more often then not, rarely meeting anyone. And she had no doubt that he knew she was there every time. The ice-cream seemed to get better and better.
She usually just ate the icy treat and left. Somehow, it made her feel different afterwards.
"Nabiki! You're going out? I thought you weren't feeling well," Kasumi said, worried.
"I'm feeling better, sis. Really. I've got to go check on something " The middle Tendou daughter had been feeling a bit under the weather for the past days, and had to stay home for a day or two to prevent the budding cold. She was confident that her business associates could handle the usual shuffle of betting pools just fine without her for a few days or so.
"Well all right," her sister said, sighing. And then, just as she was about to go out wrapped in a moderately heavy jacket, she heard Kasumi say something that made her freeze like a deer in the headlights of a freight train.
"Have fun with your boyfriend, Nabiki-chan."
It was odd. As much as Nabiki scoffed at the concept on her way to the restaurant, she could tell that it was uncomfortably close to home. She had spent the most of the last two and a half months either researching or plain simply trying to annoy Ranma. That he took it with that infuriating good-naturedness of his, and that she genuinely enjoyed their verbal sparring, was something that had come so far out of left field
And when Ranma wasn't at the restaurant, she genuinely felt her mood sink. She hadn't even been aware of it rising as she made her way over. Sniffing into the sleeve of her jacket because of the partially cured cold — at least that was what she told herself — she turned around to leave.
"Ma'am, your usual table is ready. Your friend said he'd be in late, and to start without him." The waiter's words made her feel like the deer in the headlights again. She took her customary seat. Five weeks? Had it really been so long since her first visit here, following Ranma? A steaming cup of tea was set before her, the honeyed, lemony scent soothing. She took a sip, and some of the background headache she'd had for the past few days abated.
"I thought you'd stay home today, Biki-chan." She looked up to see Ranma, in his usual red and black loosely cut Chinese clothes, seated opposite her. "Even a simple cold isn't something to be casual about."
"Says the poster boy for health magazines," she jibed, though without the usual sharpness.
"I'll let you keep that little delusion and not tell you about my diet, then." The young man smiled and shook his head.
Over the course of the evening, the conversation had ranged from the usual verbal assault to a few shared sentiments about the usual madness at Furinkan, although Nabiki had pointed out that it had skyrocketed over the last few weeks. To which Ranma had replied, "And for the life of me, I can't imagine why," so innocently that she'd nearly believed the quip.
And when she got back home, Nabiki realized that it had been the most fun she'd had in ages and that she wanted to do it again. Her younger sister was raving about "perverts" when Nabiki got back home, but she was ignored, and the middle Tendou daughter went to bed.
Over the course of the next week, she and Ranma had become friends. It felt weird to Nabiki, at least. She'd had acquaintances, sure, but friends ? She hadn't had a real friend for a long time, but for some reason she felt that Ranma really was a friend: someone she could talk to without any worries. Someone who'd joke with her, jibe her, but ultimately, someone she could count on.
That week, from Monday to Friday, nearly the entire school was on its toes. When Nabiki Tendou looked like she was skipping along instead of walking, and was actually smiling instead of smirking it was just plain wrong!
And then Kuno had issued a challenge for his "beloved Akane". That the two fathers were still trying to force the issue of the engagement was not really a wonder, even though most of the pressure was on her little sister since Ranma would either scram whenever Genma was nearby, or kick the panda into the stratosphere.
Ranma had accepted the challenge hell, he'd signed an agreement the fine print of which had stated that the challenge could be met with champions for each side Fine print Ranma had seemed to ignore.
And Kuno had hired a Duelist.
Ranma pulled the binding on his fists tighter. Not that he needed it, but bruised knuckles weren't something he liked, regardless of any lectures about "toughening up". He glanced at the anxious-looking girl in front of him and sighed.
He shrugged. "Don't worry, it ain't a big deal." Reverting to the "jock" accent was something that came instinctively at times, and this appeared to be one of them. It was also more convenient. He'd rather not have to go through with this, but sadly, it was a necessity.
"That's a Duelist out there! Are you out of your mind? You may be good, but that good?" Nabiki said, nearly frantic at least that was what he could read from her eyes. The rest of her was almost perfectly composed.
"Trust me. And bet!"
Erich was surprised. His opponent was dressed in a pair of loose black pants and an equally loose black Chinese-cut tunic, high collar and all.
"Give up and spare yourself the pain, kid," he said, sneering. He could see the kid had some experience, but not all that much compared to his thirty years of professional work.
"Ha. Ha," the raven-haired young man said, distinctively. "And Oh yeah. Ha."
Any further chatter was interrupted by an elderly gentleman in a finely-cut suit stepping into the middle of the impromptu ring.
"You know and realize the dangers inherent in this?" the man asked Erich's opponent. The young man nodded. No further affirmation was needed. "The usual rules apply."
This drew a roar from the students, and even some of the police officers setting up a perimeter around the duel site. The "usual" rules meant a fight to the death, KO, or submission — whichever came first. The rules of engagement were there were no rules. All weapons were allowed, though firearms had been banned for this particular engagement since there were a lot of bystanders. And there would be, according to the Duelist charter, no repercussions from the death of one of the two fighters. These rules, though harsh, were draconically enforced. The Duelists and their fights were not to be treated lightly By anyone.
Erich laughed briefly. He wouldn't even break a sweat here. He'd just rough the kid up a little, no problem. 'One or two hits and it'll be over.'
Most looked on in abject horror as the tall gaijin charged, almost too quickly to be seen, and threw a punch straight at Ranma's head.
The young man's hand came up, catching Erich's knuckles in its palm, and pulling. The punch was a feint, though, and a leg lashed out at the same time, intent on catching the target off-guard.
Ranma shifted, taking the blow on the thigh and heaving as he turned, throwing the bigger man into the air.
Erich boggled. That had been fast! He twisted, landing on his feet, and charged again. This time he was met with a countercharge. Blows were exchanged.
Something was terribly wrong here. Erich was aware of that. His blows were fast, precise, well-aimed and executed perfectly. His experience told him he should have hit with a punch, when that punch had been sidestepped and a counter had been thrown at him already.
A spin kick was sent, barreling at the big man's head, and he ducked underneath, coming in low and lashing out with an open-palmed blow to the chin.
It was met with a resistance, and Erich blinked as he looked up to see his opponent, hands crossed at the point it connected with them, blocking the impact.
'Enough playing around!' he chided himself, and went vertical nearly instantly, his knee hitting the younger man in the chest and knocking him back.
The youth stumbled back, tensed, and sprung in a neat backwards somersault to land with his knees bent, low to the ground.
Erich lashed out again, feinting a jab to the head, following up with another feint — a snap-kick to the younger man's middle. Ranma slipped past them, ignoring them and intercepting the real blow, a stiff fingered knife hand to the throat, with a forearm.
He head-butted the larger man savagely, and both hopped back to get some room.
"My god," Nabiki managed. That had been impossible, nearly. She'd heard of that sort of speed, but the way those two moved they'd been like liquid silver, like mercury, features blurred and only blows echoing in the sudden silence. The open mouths of most of the spectators were a testimony to this.
Nabiki had seen Ranma fight before, against the Horde, against Akane, against Kuno and a few other local nuts, but he'd never been even remotely that good. She wasn't a martial srtist herself, but knew enough of it to know how to judge skill very well.
"Yay! Kick his butt, Shi-chan!" a perky female voice came from beside her, and she turned to see a voluptuous young woman, somewhat older than herself, clad in a pair of skintight jeans and a loose blue denim shirt. Beside her, she could see an older woman with reddish-black hair and dressed in a kimono appraising the fight.
"Nice one, kiddo," Erich said, wincing at the bruise he'd have on his forehead soon. The kid was fast and tough! A natural!
"Let's make this interesting, though," the older man said, shrugging. The gleaming length of a steel tonfa slipped from his sleeve, grip unfolding into his hand instantly.
Not giving the boy a chance to assess his situation, Erich attacked immediately, the metal weapon making an audible *whoosh* as it lashed out at the youth.
Ranma's right hand was a blur, and a *thunk* sounded as a wood met steel and held. Where he'd gotten the Jo from, Erich couldn't tell, but it was there and suddenly it was heading for his head. He brought up the tonfa in a well-practiced parry, fell to one knee, and swept Ranma's legs out from underneath him.
Instead of falling though, the youth twisted impossibly and pushed off with his empty left hand, sending himself into the air and flipping back upright again.
Wood met steel again, as the two weapons clashed when Ranma came down almost on top of the Duelist. He kicked out underneath the weapon lock, oblivious to the fact that he was balancing on top of a tonfa surface with a piece of wood slightly longer than his forearm and only two inches thick.
Erich blocked, the kick impacting on his forearm. Ranma used it to rebound into the air, knocking the larger man back several steps.
This time it was the young man who charged, his Jo flashing in a faint from the right, followed by a spin-kick that neatly turned him around, even though it was ducked. He hopped as soon as his legs came down, over the well timed leg-sweep and lashing out with his foot, catching his opponents jaw and laying him out on the ground.
Again, people stared. There had been movement, like freeze-frames in a film, with some moments cut out for the heck of it and the small gales that stirred up the dust, as soon as one of the fighters moved.
"Fuck!" the taller man cursed, teeth displayed in a wicked snarl. "I've had enough of you, you little shit!"
There was no noise from any of the audience as Erich sprung back to his feet, the tonfa replaced by a pair of twelve-inch knives.
"The feeling's mutual, I assure you," Ranma answered. "Same old, same old. I assume you want a matched set."
"The fuck're you talkin' 'bout?!"
Ranma leapt, arcing upwards, and then down towards his opponent. Erich grinned. He had him on a silver platter. And then the kid did something, and Erich ducked, his left hand coming up and to the side instantly, shearing through something a length of wood, somewhat shorter than a forearm.
With speed born of desperation, the man brought up his other hand, and the knife therein intercepted the overhead blow steel sounded on steel, the knife on the wood-hilted kodachi Ranma held in his hand. The two separated, and began to circle.
"Who I know you, don't I?" Erich said, frowning. There was something familiar about that stance, the way the blade lay
Ranma gave him no time to finish the line of thought, coming in from one side, blade arcing out in a short, lightning quick slash to the head. A knife knocked it aside, and Erich's other hand dove towards the young man's abdomen. Ranma's knee came up and knocked the attack aside, the blade of the other man's knife slicing past and through his shirt, but not touching flesh.
He straightened the leg, his foot shooting upwards and outwards to meet with the Duelist’s chin, making teeth clatter. The left arm lashed out to the side and up, open palm against wrist, smashing bones and making the limb let go of the knife it had wielded. His right hand came back, blade now reversed, and he spun
"There, now you're symmetrical. Just as I promised you'd be."
Erich's eyes widened as he felt cold steel on his face, on his cheek, slicing through skin and flesh. He saw the man turn from him and heard his words heard the sense behind the words.
But this was impossible! He wasn't supposed to be here! He doesn't even look anything like he but there was no doubt about it. The cut was a mirror of one that had been made years prior.
Erich could see it as if it had been yesterday. Himself, the conqueror, the undefeated. Pompous, full of himself, and rightfully so.
And then he saw the boy, no older than ten, standing in the stone ring opposite him. The tanto in the boy's right hand was held surely a child. They were sending a child against him for this!
And he remembered the disbelief, the crystal blue eyes that looked at him and seemed to look right through him as well.
The trickle of blood on his cheek, a straight cut he'd held back on it, Erich knew. He could have killed him without trouble
Erich's hand wandered up, to his cheek, knife falling from it and sticking in the ground, unnoticed. He felt the cut, opposite his scar, and knew.
"I I submit " the Duelist said, and most of the shocked spectators were thrown even deeper into their stupor. A Duelist. Saotome had taken on a Duelist, someone who made his life a constant fight, and won.
The next words caused Akane to blanch and look like she just realized she'd been playing with a toy-set that had suddenly turned out to be a sub-nuke, and Kuno's jaw make weird chewing motions while totally slack, eyes bulging.
" I submit Shinigami."
Nabiki just stared, and then she stared some more.
"He's still as good as he used to be!" the girl beside her sounded entirely too enthusiastic.
"Is that is he Ranma is ?" Nabiki's mouth started working again, but her brain was obviously re-routing some crucial commands.
"Yes. He is Shinigami," the kimono-clad woman answered, with a hint of pride in her voice.
The God of Death.
A merciless fighter who always, always won, no matter the cost. The most expensive hire in the Duelist market, the only person in that profession who could freely choose to accept or decline a fight.
Nabiki idly noted that Ranma had just said something to Kuno, who'd passed out upon hearing whatever it was.
"So," the pigtailed youth said, stepping up to her. Nabiki held her breath, not really knowing why. Then again, you try to deal with that sort of bombshell being dropped on you and keep the ability of coherent speech.
"Er yeah?" she finally managed, slightly unsure of herself. She also had the uncomfortable feeling of someone beside her giving her one of her own patented "size-up" stares. It was downright creepy.
"The restaurant's gonna be closin' soon, but we can still make it if we hurry," he continued.
A moment passed in silence, both looking at each other, though Ranma was looking progressively more saddened. He didn't let it show on his face or in his body language, but
"If you don't want to, that's okay " He started to turn away.
"Okay, Saotome. Lead the way," Nabiki said, grinning. Sure, she was still uncertain about a lot of things, but she felt she could figure them out as she went along.
As said before, the place had ice-cream to die for.
At least, that was what she tried to convince herself when it came to the reason she was doing this.
The two women, one in a denim shirt and jeans, young and very pretty, the other older, more refined, dressed in a formal kimono, gave the two an amused glance as they walked off.
"He'd better watch it, or I'll get jealous," the younger one said, unsuccessfully trying to sound stern.
"My son is so manly!" the older one sighed, with a wide smile on her face.
"Well, whatever happens from now, we can be sure of one thing," the younger one went on.
"Oh, what's that? You'll stop trying to sneak into his bed now that he’s got a girlfriend?"
"Er Nope!" The denim-clad girl grinned sheepishly.
The older woman's slight grin was all the opinion she'd give on the matter.
"They shall have fun eating ice cream! Wai!" her younger companion shouted with glee.
Author's notes: When I heard Iron Maiden's "Duelist" song for the first time, it wasn't much more than a nice tune to listen to. That was a year and a half ago. A year ago I got into heavy-duty reading of Ranmafics, and this alternate universe idea got firmly lodged in my head. At the time, I'd ripped the twelve Iron Maiden albums in Mp3 format from a friend, and had them playing in an almost continuous loop, with some additions by various miscellaneous metal bands and guitar rock bands included. I had Iron Maiden on the brain the day this fic idea was conceived, which was sometime last summer during routine yardwork (yuck). I'd scribbled something of a beginning up: how Ranma was rescued from the Neko-ken training by a Duelist, etcetera, and had drawn up some basic concepts for the alternate universe this was all happening in. I created some characters, not the least important of which were Giaur, Ranma's mentor and "father figure", and Kay, who is referred to as the "denim-clad girl" in this fic. She's a friend and confidant to Ranma/Shinigami (although she hopes for a bit more out of their relationship). But I couldn't get the story rolling.
I let it lie for a year, simmering in the back of my mind, and I'll be frank, if it weren't for Dro'gan, his fics, and our e-mail exchange, I'd not have taken this idea up again and decided to make it a short story that could be submitted for consideration. In what I had planned for the former fic concept, this part of the story would have been somewhere along the middle of it all, after Ranma had been reunited with his mother, thanks to Kay (She was the only one aside from Giaur who knew that his name was Ranma and what he'd been through as a child. When she became retained as a Duelist by the Saotome family — Nodoka specifically — and she had accompanied her employer to one of Shinigami's matches Well, it all spiraled downwards from there, in a somewhat positive way).
The tale related here isn't meant to be more than a one-shot. I don't know if I'll delve deeper into the "Duelist" world, nor can I tell whether others would be willing to do so. If the latter is, indeed, true, contact me. We'll work something out, rest assured although *smirk* I'll have to see a bit of your writing before I give a go-ahead to use this idea. My address is, as always, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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