Ranma was perched upon the roof of the house like a gargoyle, meditating. He tried searching within him for that other force. His ki flowed like water through him, but that other power, the one he could not name, felt like a silvery fire about and through him.
He held his hands before him, watching both the silvery fire and the ki flow about his hands. Something seemed to be ticking on the edge of his awareness, but that could come later. There was a distinct profundity about the two powers he was looking at, and he did not want to lose his grip upon it before he had to.
A light tap was heard on the roof as a ladder was carefully set against the edge. A head poked out from the edge as Nabiki pulled herself onto the roof. She was about to call out to Ranma but paused as she noticed the martial artist suffused with a soft glow which silenced her call. Intrigued, she finished her ascent and walked toward him, looking at the glow.
The fire continued to glow about his hands, when he noticed another flame nearby. He looked toward the figure, seeing a soft glow of flame about it, which was barely an ember compared to the blaze about his own hands, but it drew his attention. He gazed at it for a moment, before a voice spoke…
“Hey Ranma. Any longer and I’m charging you,” the figure joked, as Nabiki walked toward him, a slight grin crossing her lips.
Ranma blinked, and looked back at his hands. With a slightly crestfallen sound escaping him, he stood. “Oy, Nabiki… What’re you doing up here?” He said, stretching his hands out a bit.
Nabiki shrugged. “Well, you’ve got class this morning,” she said.
Ranma blinked. “Class? You mean as in school?” He shook his head. “Nabiki, I haven’t been in a school for almost 2 years. Not to mention how is everyone going to react?”
Nabiki shrugged. “You’re not the only one in school who’s changed. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Besides, I’m sure I can find you a tutor.”
The martial artist nodded as he stood. “Alright.” He stretched, then looked at Nabiki. “Why?” He asked softly. “Why did you choose to be my fiancée?”
Nabiki shrugged. “Well, we’ve both changed, and there’s something about you that I find fascinating. Come on, we’ve got class in an hour.”
Ranma nodded and leapt off of the roof, landing smoothly as he slipped into the building. Nabiki looked at him and shook her head. Down, girl, she thought to herself, before climbing down.
Nabiki left early, so Ranma was forced to go along with Akane, who steadfastly ignored him. That was fine with Ranma, as he was glad to have time to think to himself. As he leapt onto a fence, Akane glared at him. “What’re you doing?”
Ranma shrugged. “Just balance practice.”
Akane sneered. “Show-off,” she sniped, shaking her head at his outlandish-seeming ‘practice’.
As they approached the school, Ranma felt something a little disturbing and looked on ahead, seeing a crowd of students. “What is this?” he asked Akane, but there was no response from the girl as she had already sped ahead, throwing herself into the brawl.
A whistle could be heard as someone waved from the fourth floor of the building. Ranma looked toward the figure, and could see it was Nabiki. He gestured to the chaos, confused. Nabiki shook his head and mouthed, ‘don’t get involved, I’ll explain later’. Troubled, he nodded and headed for the school.
As he leapt from windowsill to windowsill, unnoticed by the crowd but definitely by the observers, he caught himself on the edge and asked, “What was that all about?”
Nabiki stared, and took a second to pull herself together. “Uh, oh. Some idiot made some stupid threat that if someone wanted to date Akane, they had to defeat her.”
Ranma would have facefaulted if he wasn’t in such a seemingly precarious position. “Uh… ok. Um, so where should I check in at?”
Nabiki groaned and shook her head. “First, get in here, then follow me, I’ll take you to the office.”
Ranma nodded as he swung in, not noticing the girls about him almost drooling. “Ok, Nabiki, lead on,” he said, following the girl to the office. The paperwork was tedious, but took no longer than fifteen minutes, though seemed like fifteen hours. Afterwards, he was led toward his class, before Nabiki walked onward to her own room.
“Ahh, class, we have a new student today. If you would introduce yourself?” the teacher asked after Ranma entered the room and gave the requisite paperwork to him.
nodded. “I’m Saotome Ranma.
I just came back from training in
The day was mostly quiet, with Ranma losing himself within his meditation, while everyone else was either studying, listening to the sensei, or passing notes, the majority about the new student.
When school let out, Ranma slipped out of the room quickly, looking to get away from the impending croud, quickly looking for a place of concealment until he could locate Nabiki. Once he found her, he slipped to her side and asked, “What’s with all the people? I’m looking to stay out of fights for once.”
Nabiki shook her head, chuckling softly. “They weren’t looking to fight you. Looks like you’re actually becoming rather popular.” Ranma’s groan of consternation only intensified her laughter. “I’m sorry, Ranma, it’s just funny to see someone who doesn’t want to become popular.”
Ranma shook his head. “It could be worse I su…”
He was interrupted by the sound of Fate laughing. Actually, he was interrupted by a loud buffoon, but one had to know Fate was just snickering up her sleeve at Ranma’s words. “Ahh, another one of the impure fiends!” a voice called angrily. “You have no business at this fair school!”
Ranma looked at the source of the voice, then back to Nabiki. “Who is that moron and what is he talking about?”
“That,” Nabiki answered, “is Kunou Tatewaki, the self-proclaimed Swift Sword, or whatever he’s calling himself today. As for what he’s talking about,” her voice dropped as she whispered, “he’s a bigoted asshole. He’s talking about you.”
Ranma frowned. “Let me guess, the ears, right?” he muttered back to Nabiki, receiving a nod. “Ok, buddy what is your fraggin’ problem?”
scowled, “My problem, eta, is with you. Your impurity
offends me.” He drew a bokken from his belt,
gesturing toward Ranma. “Unclean trash
like you are an affront to
Ranma shook his head. “Gah. Assholes like you…” He shrugged, then gave him the bird. “You wanna play, fine. You wanna play with that stick though, and prepare to get it crammed up your hoop sideways.”
Kunou charged at Ranma quickly, his bokken lashing out. Ranma sidestepped it a few times, the world seeming to slow to a crawl before him as his ki and the unknown power tinged his sight. Time itself did not slow, but Ranma’s perception of it did, as he slid between every swing of the stick, assessing his opponent. “You know, Kumo”, he said mockingly, “if you’re the best this town has got, I’m going to be really damn bored.”
The swordsman wannabe roared, “My name is Kunou! The Blue Thunder will vanquish you!” His movements continued erratically, before stopping completely as a hand lashed forward. The intent was to knock the ‘weapon’ aside. But something happened… The brilliant luminescence of that unknown power suffused Ranma’s hand, and instead of beating the weapon aside, the wood detonated in a hail of slivers, peppering Tatewaki and sending him stumbling backwards.
Gasps of shock were heard as Ranma pulled his hand back, looking at the glow suffusing his hand as it flickered and extinguished. He looked back to Kunou and shook his head. “See ya around, Kunou,” he said as he walked away.
/ICCE Queen: So, Wize, what do you have?
/WizeASS: Well, from what I’ve scanned, Jusenkyou’s really damn bad news. Some of those in the know in mystical circles say that Jusenkyou’s been practically a magic dumping ground since even before magic started to come out in the open.
The two Avatars floated around the Boneyard, AKA The former US Library of Congress Database. It was still being supported, but since the establishment of the UCAS, it mostly acted as a mirror of the UCAS Library.
/ICCE Queen: Ok, anything else?
/WizeASS: Well, from what I’ve seen, there’re a few corporations that are interested in doing research there. Problem is, none of the indications are good. I can toss you what data I have.
/ICCE Queen: Anything on transformations?
/WizeASS: Funny you should mention that. One of the more confusion reports I’ve gotten was of someone who was being experimented on. Supposedly one of the nastier spells there was an involuntarily transformation.
/ICCE Queen: That’s what I’m looking for.
/WizeASS: Fraggin’ hell… you’re telling me you know someone who’s been experimented on?
/ICCE Queen: No, he found this Jusenkyou place on his own and somehow stumbled into this involuntary transformation spell.
There was a long pause, as WizeASS paced for a few moments, looking very disturbed.
/WizeASS: Ok… This is some next level crap, so I say we crash this room and find someplace more secure.
/ICCE Queen: Alright, Meet me at the Quilting Bee?
The Quilting Bee was the mocking term for a very convoluted bulletin board system in NY, one of the oldest.
WizeASS nodded, and as soon as ICCE Queen disappeared, he set off a program which crashed that particular area of the library, who’s only damage was to about the last 72 hours of logs.
The two re-joined at the ‘Bee, and ICCE Queen looked at WizeASS as the latter created an encryption field. The conversation continued when the two were assured that the room was relatively secure.
/ICCE Queen: Alright, Wize. We don’t want the Corps or anyone big listening in on. I like the guy and I don’t wanna see him be some guinea pig.
/WizeASS: I wouldn’t want anyone to go through that. Here’s what I have. So far, there hasn’t been anything good in it. This whole situation stinks.
/ICCE Queen: Just fraggin’ wonderful. I think I should go, see if it helps any.
/WizeASS: Not a problem. L8R.
As WizeASS logged off, ICCE Queen stashed the data before heading back toward Yahoo.
/ICCE Queen: Rights? Rights you here?
The priestly avatar of ‘Last Rights’ appeared in a golden shimmer of light, looking toward ICCE Queen.
/Last Rights: Ahh, my daughter, it is nice to see you again.
/ICCE Queen: I have to speak to you. Something’s getting really weird. This Jusenkyou thing’s hotter than I thought. It doesn’t help that my friend’s talking about something really odd.
/Last Rights: How do you mean odd?
/ICCE Queen: Well, he’s a great martial artist… he’s even able to use ki. But what makes it even stranger is he’s talking about something else besides ki.
/Last Rights: Curious. Could he be a mage?
/ICCE Queen: …I didn’t read you right. I could have sworn you said mage.
/Last Rights: I did. Haven’t you heard about the Great Ghost Dance?
/ICCE Queen: I just… did not want to think about it. So you think this guy is a wizard or something?
/Last Rights: I prefer the term mage, but maybe. There’s also a possibility that he can just tap into magic like he uses ki.
/ICCE Queen: Ok, Mage, whatever. I guess it makes sense with what else he’s going through.
/Last Rights: What do you mean?
/ICCE Queen: That Jusenkyou thing? It’s magic to the gills. He transforms.
/Last Rights: Then that may just answer your question.
/ICCE Queen: Wonderful. My life has just kicked up from strange to complicated as all get out.
/Last Rights: I would say so. I have to go. Take care my child.
/ICCE Queen: Gotcha, Father.
ICCE Queen flew back toward
“Does this guy ever give up?” Ranma asked Nabiki, shaking his head.
Nabiki shook her head, rapping a knuckle against the unconscious Kunou’s forehead. “Hear that? That’s the sound of titanium over a vacuum.”
Ranma looked at her and shook his head. “Wonderful. That’s all I need. An idiot with a love of pain.”
Nabiki stood and put an arm in Ranma’s, surprising the latter and shocking the hell out of the people about them. “Come on, Ranma, we’ve gotta talk.” The middle Tendou led Ranma toward a small café. “Have a seat,” she said as she sat down.
Ranma slipped into the seat as Nabiki ordered two glasses of water. “So, what’ve we come here to talk about?” he asked.
Nabiki smirked a little. “To the point. I like that. Alright. Well, I’ve some information on Jusenkyou that we can talk about. I’ve got a few people’s theories on that second power you spoke of. And we should also talk about this ‘engagement’.”
Ranma blanched a bit at all three, nodding. “I suppose we should. I guess we could go in order?” he asked.
Nabiki nodded. “Alright. For the first, I haven’t really had much time to look at it, but evidently a lot of people are interested in using this Jusenkyou stuff for some nasty purposes.”
Ranma shivered and shook his head. “That doesn’t sound good at all. What possible use could someone have for it?”
Nabiki shook her head. “Ranma, you need an imagination transplant. Yours seems defective.” Before Ranma could protest, Nabiki continued. “Think about it. Hiding bodies after an assassination? A spy hiding as someone else?”
Ranma blinked. “Sheesh… where are you coming up with this stuff?”
“I figure start with the worst case scenarios, though I’m sure someone could come up with worse,” Nabiki said soberly.
Ranma shuddered. “Anything about a cure?”
Nabiki sighed. “So far, zilch, but I haven’t had a chance to go through it yet.”
Ranma sighed and nodded. “Alright… then the other power?”
Nabiki sat back, shaking her head softly. “This is going to sound a bit out there, but considering what Jusenkyou did to you, it migh make a little sense. Someone suggested that it’s actually magical power you’re using.”
A laugh escaped Ranma. “Me? A wizard?”
“Nevermind,” Nabiki said with a groan. “Seriously, he suggested that you’re using magic like you use ki. Sort of like those hybrid cars around the turn of the century that ran off both gas and electricity. You just have an alternate energy source.”
The martial artist nodded hesitantly. “Lovely…” Ranma sat back in his seat, bracing himself. “Ok, Nabiki… what do we do about the last part?” He said the last with more than a bit of nervousness.
“Honestly I’m not sure, Ranma. I kinda like you, for as much as I’ve known you anyway, but marrying you right off the bat when we barely even know each other’s just a bit silly.”
Ranma looked relieved by far. “That’s good to know. I mean I kinda like you too. But I don’t even really know what all this could mean, and I’d like time to figure it all out first,” he said softly.
Nabiki nodded softly. “I like that answer myself,” she admits. “You’re a nice guy, but I’ve known you for about three days, and I do not like making snap decisions if I don’t have to.”
“Well, that’s a little bit of good. But how are we going to put off our fathers?” Ranma asked.
“Yes, dumb and dumber,” Nabiki muttered, eliciting a chuckle from Ranma. “Perhaps we should get you a job.”
Ranma blinked, “Where did that come from?”
Nabiki shrugged. “Well, one, we need the extra money. Two: It’ll keep everyone off your back for now. The less you see of the two, the better. I can keep an ear on them to make sure they’re not coming up with a hairbrained scheme or something.”
Ranma nodded slowly, “But isn’t there a law or something against me working?”
Nabiki shook her head. “Nothing that can’t be circumvented. Don’t worry, I’ve a few ideas.” A waitress stopped by, from which Ranma merely asked for a glass of water. Nabiki asked for a cup of coffee. “So, Ranma, what all can you do?”
Ranma blinked a little. “What do you mean?”
“Any job skills besides martial arts?” Nabiki inquired.
Ranma sank, and shook his head. “Not really…”
Nabiki looked around and whipered, “Even stuff you’re not willing to say aloud?”
Ranma looked offended, but hurt as well. “Well, my pop ended up teaching me a lot about stealing and breaking into places… I don’t wanna do that kind of thing.”
Nabiki looked at him and hrms. “Even if it’s for a good cause?”
Ranma blinked. “How could breaking into someone’s house or a store be for a good cause?”
“Who said you’d be doing that? I’m just saying there’s probably a good use for your skills.” Ranma looked confused as Nabiki continued. “Well, I’m sure I’ll find something we can do.”
Ranma nodded hesitantly, “I hope it doesn’t get people hurt.”
Nabiki looked at Ranma with visible respect. “How? How did you end up so noble with that moron running your life for the last ten years?” she asked, causing Ranma to blush.
Ranma shrugged. “I’ve done a lot of things I ain’t proud of. But I’ve always wanted to be better than my father. Not a high bar I guess.”
Nabiki shook her head, trying not to laugh. “No, it isn’t,” she replied. “Alright. I’ll try to find something that isn’t too against your sensibilities.”
Ranma nodded in relief as the two finished their drinks and headed back toward home.
Nabiki knocked on the door as Ranma was trying, and failing, to fumble through the homework he was assigned, which might as well have been written in Sanscrit. “Ranma, I need to talk to you…” she said quietly, sealing off the door. “I have a job we can do, but it’s up to you.”
Ranma looked up, grateful to abandon the unintelligible garbage for now. ”What is this job?”
Nabiki nodded softly and sat down. “Ok, some downtown stores have been robbed recently. We need to track down the guys doing this and let the owners know where.”
Ranma blinked. “Isn’t this a job for the cops?”
Nabiki shook her head. “The cops just got bought out by some company and now aren’t helping any area that isn’t paying for their services.”
Ranma frowned softly, shaking her head. “That sounds like yakuza tactics if you ask me…”
Nabiki nodded, sighing. “Yeah, I know what you mean. So it’s pretty much meaning we’re on our own.”
Ranma nodded slowly. “Alright. So what are we going to have to do?”
Nabiki sat back. “Alright. We’re going to have to track these guys back to their digs and then report back.”
Ranma shrugged a bit. “That doesn’t sound too bad. When do we leave?”
Nabiki shook her head. “Eager… can head out now if you want.”
Ranma shook his head. “Not yet. First thing’s first.” He moved toward his pack, pulling out two black bodysuits. “This should fit you…”
Nabiki blinked and shook her head. “You have the soul of a spy,” she joked and took up the suit, as Ranma quickly changed, not even aware that Nabiki had her eyes on him the whole time, sizing him up.
“..biki? Nabiki, are you ok?” Ranma asked, confused at the slightly glazed look in Nabiki’s eyes.
“Oh, sorry,” Nabiki said, trying not to blush, “Just was trying to do some last minute thinking, that’s all.” She stepped into the closet, changing and muttering to herself silently.
A moment later, the two slipped off into the night, with Nabiki on Ranma’s back as Ranma leapt toward their destination.
A few members of the self-proclaimed Kuro Tora Gumi, or Black Tiger Gang, walked into the shop, full of their own arrogance and empty of any rational thought. As the tallest, a tattooed ork, stepped into the door, the shop owner, a middle-aged woman, quailed, knowing this was not going to be her night. She was only partially right.
“Look, lady, we don’t have all day,” he grumbled. “Give us the money and we don’t hurt you much.”
A silvery light illuminated the darkness, as a voice said, “How about you leave and I don’t hurt you a lot?” The gangers turned toward the light and voice, a figure in black except for a silvery glow about his hands.
Nabiki, hiding near the back, shook her head. He had to go play hero, didn’t he? She thought to herself as she watched Ranma go into action. It was all rather anticlimactic, to be honest. Ranma pummeled all but one of them into submission, but before he knocked the last one out, Nabiki held up a hand. “Let him go. Or did you forget?”
Ranma gave her a confused glance before nodding, letting the thug fall. The man ran as soon as he could get to his feet. “Are you ok, ma’am?” he asked, only to receive a weak nod and a grateful smile.
“Come on, we’ve got work to do,” Nabiki called, and the two began to pursue the fleeing criminal. They hunted the man like a pair of spectres in the night, tracing him to a dilapidated apartment building almost twenty minutes later. “Looks like we’ve got them.” She looked up at Ranma. “Don’t you get any ideas. We need to get back. We can take them down later.”
Ranma frowned, and then looked down. “I hope so…”
“Besides, I need to go get something on the way home. Come on.” Nabiki led Ranma into the distance, stopping at a small drug store.
“Uh, so what are we doing here? Someone you have to speak to?” Ranma asked, looking around, and trying to ignore the stares he was receiving from a few people.
Nabiki paused, and with a slight blush, pulled down a box of brown hair dye. “I needed to pick this up,” she replied.
Ranma seemed confused. “Hair dye? What’s that fo… you mean that isn’t your normal hair color?” he said quietly.
Nabiki looked at him and rolled her eyes. “Don’t expect to know that for quite a long while.” She then went to the counter, leaving Ranma to decipher the cryptic explanation as Nabiki drew out a credstick to pay for the box.
Nabiki stepped into the room, watching Ranma stare at his glowing hands. “What do you see?” she asked quietly, not enough to disrupt the martial artist’s meditations. “What do you see when you lose yourself to those flames?”
“What do you see, Nabiki,” Ranma whispered back, not looking away from the flames, “when you go into that Matrix you speak of? Perhaps there’s not as much difference as someone’d think? Or perhaps wild opposites?”
The flames sputtered and died as Ranma looked up at Nabiki. “You’re a fascinating person, Saotome. Not nearly as dumb as you appear to be sometimes.”
Ranma shook his head. “Don’t know whether that’s a compliment or not.”
Nabiki chuckled and shrugged. “If it helps, I don’t either. Get some sleep, Saotome. We’ve got class tomorrow.”