Chapter 15: In the Cathouse
One moment Ranma was preparing himself for a battle he had a difficult time trying to convince himself he could win, the next he found himself somewhere grass-like plants reached up to his chest. Still on edge from his previous battles, he looked around warily, searching for enemies.
For as far as he could see lay grassland. Knowing his view was limited by the plants surrounding him, he leaped straight up thirty feet to get a clearer idea of his environment. Far off in the distance herds of some sort could be seen placidly grazing. He couldn't tell what sort of animal it was but it seemed large. The tops of the grass barely reached the creature's knees.
"Alright, I give up. Where the heck am I this time," he muttered in exasperation.
"Well, assuming it hasn't been moved elsewhere, during my... absence, we should be in the Realm of my Abdul-Ra," a woman's voice answered behind him.
The voice startled Ranma for an instant. It wasn't that he had forgotten Rhada was next to him. She was a beautiful twelve-foot tall woman. It was simply that his mind had labeled her a non-hazard, and had continued scanning for more relevant dangers. Due to this, he was as surprised as if a piece of furniture had spoken. Considering how often he ran into Tsubasa, it wasn't actually an unfamiliar sensation.
"You can stop hopping around now. We should be safe here. I can't imagine a Demon Lord going through the trouble of freeing me only to trap me again." A faraway look came into her eyes, "I can only hope this means he feels as I do," she whispered to herself. Shaking herself from her reverie she continued, "I am sure he is aware of our presence and will soon send his minions to greet us. You may as well relax and wait."
It was at this moment Ranma noticed that Rhada herself had taken her advice to heart and was seated on the only support in sight.
"Are you, uh, going to be able to restore him? It's not like I care or anything, but we fought together so I probably should get him fixed up" Ranma asked, pointing to the female's chair.
"Oh don't worry. He is my minion, he fell trying to protect me. As soon as I have the resources he will be restored," she calmly assured while lazily swinging her legs from her perch.
Something clicked with Ranma's thinking, "Did you say this is Abdul-Ra's home?" he asked.
"Yes," Rhada languidly stated, staring up at the sky and admiring the view.
"He's a Demon Lord, right?" Ranma continued with growing trepidation.
"Yes, he is," she purred, obviously thinking pleasant thoughts about said Demon Lord.
"So we're like in Hell?" Ranma casually asked.
"No, of course not," Ranma relaxed. "We're in Hades." Ranma became tense again. "But I must admit this is a very nice corner of it. So nice to finally be out and stretch my legs," she sighed in relief.
"Umm, who's he the Lord of?" he asked, scanning the area with his senses.
"The Raksasha of course."
"Hmm, that doesn't sound familiar. I could have sworn I read the whole book," Ranma grabbed the Demonic Compendium Anhur had given him from subspace and began leafing through it. "It should be here. Hey! There are a few pages missing!"
"Don't worry, I feel them approaching. It's been a very long time. I wonder if his fur still gleams in that delicious way it used to, " Rhada mused to herself.
"They're here? Fur? Well fine, I can handle monsters. No problems," Ranma cracked his knuckles to enunciate his point. He too felt several presences closing in around them. Unlike Rhada, he was slightly concerned about the unknown threats. Without the book as a reference, he had no idea the power level of these new demons.
"On behalf of my Lord Abdul-Ra, I greet you…" a deep voice purred. Looking around he saw one of the creatures he had sensed closed enough to see through the vegetation. It was worse than he had thought, much worse.
Padding regally towards them was a ridiculously large tiger. Orange and black stripes ran across a very healthy looking pelt. Ranma had other things on his mind. Like teeth. Teeth and claws. It was the largest tiger he had ever seen. Even his nightmares hadn't had such hideous creatures in it.
Grasping for the meditative state Master Arien had taught he desperately concentrated on ignoring the horrible thing in front of him. Muttering his mantra loudly to himself he slowly backed away, while clutching spasmodically at the Phobia amulet in subspace. Each time his hand closed on a cleaning tool his mantra became louder. By the time he had backed into something solid enough not to give way behind him, he was shouting his calming chant, being distracted by the various brushes beating him about the head and shoulders.
"Looks like the little human you brought is a bit nervous. Mind if we play?" the distracted tiger thing gave a growling chuckle.
Rhada had finally brought her attention fully on the events around her and she was puzzled. Her rescuer was acting terrified. She knew Raksasha were greater demons but this reaction was all out of proportion to the level of threat. Especially considering this human had minutes before been prepared to face Mephisto himself. "I think it would be wise to..." was as far as she got.
The cat creature in front of Ranma slowly approached, looking in amused contempt at the obviously terrified human. The look on the human's face when he turned to face what he had backed into and saw an equally large lion monster was priceless. Finally seeing that he was surrounded on all sides by huge feline horrors, Ranma's legs gave way. The creatures laughed uproariously, seeing the human collapse in terror.
The humor gave way to puzzlement when the human "Meowed". Puzzlement soon gave way in turn to terror and pain.
A limping, somewhat mangled, tiger slowly led the Lady Rhada into the presence of his Lord. Abdul-Ra sat in a large wicker lounge chair in the middle of a wide clearing of merely ankle-deep grass. In a circular pattern around him hung several glowing portals. Abdul-Ra himself shared many physical traits Anhur himself did. He wore a humanoid shape with a large sleek panther-like head, and black glistening fur. Instead of the impression of restrained violence given by Anhur, Abdul-Ra radiated grace, intelligence, and ruthlessness.
To one side of him was a round table of wrought gold, with a glass top and an unfurled silk canopy to give shade. Upon seeing Rhada he slowly got to his feet. Walking towards her he drank in her beauty. He wasn't sure what he felt but he was enjoying whatever it was.
"Greetings, my Lady. It has been too long. I apologize it couldn't be sooner," his deep voice growled.
"Yes, it has. I assume by my presence here that you feel the same way," she asked uncertainly.
"I... I don't know. I feel something between us. I don't know if it's this 'Love' you declared to me three centuries ago, but I need to find out. I think 'we' need to find out. If you'll stay by my side until we work this out between us, I would be most appreciative." The demon lord stated, almost as if saying a speech he had practiced for. Only a hint of confusion and worry in his eyes showed the depth of his feelings.
"Of course I will. I will stay as long as needed to work this out to its end. I hope it will be a long time. I have looked forward to being here," her voice trailed off as she moved closer to the Demon Lord.
A disgruntled 'meow' brought her from the mellow daze she had been falling into. Looking down she noticed a slightly peeved Ranma-neko being squashed between the two powerful entities. Rhada and Abdul-Ra stepped back, each somewhat surprised that they had been so close to the other.
"Why are you holding a human?" Abdul-Ra questioned, finally noticing the odd sight.
"He is a minion of Ammit's who aided in my rescue. He is a ferocious fighter but seems to suffer from a severe phobia of cats. It's very odd, when confronted by your minions in their feline form he showed extreme fear, then suddenly took on the mental state of a cat himself. He was mangling quite a few of them before they managed to subdue him with psionics. He seems to have taken a liking to me. Do you think Ammit would mind if I kept him as a pet," Rhada said as she stroked Ranma's head. Ranma himself lay pleasantly curled in the twelve-foot tall woman's arms and purred contently.
"Hmm. I think I've heard something about that type of phobia. Can't remember what it was though. I think Ammit may want him back. Good help is hard to find. Aye Random?" he called off to the side. An armored human stepped out of one of the portals in the clearing.
"I would hope I haven’t given you cause to think you had found such help, Master," the muscular man grunted in reply.
"Rhada, this is my human servant Random. Could you bring us some refreshments? Oh and some food for my Lady's pet, as well."
"Yes, my Lord," stepping through one of the dimly glowing portals he vanished again.
"We may as well sit and talk until my human arrives. It shouldn't take long, he's very efficient and dedicated. As humans go, I don't think he's quite sane, but I must say he fits in well around here." He turned his attention towards Ranma once more. "Your pet seems to have fallen asleep. I'll change my form to a more human one. I wouldn't want to startle him." With that, his feline features and fur seemed to blur and retreat taking on a human cast.
"You look handsome in any form," Rhada stated, and the two fell into an almost dream state, staring into one another's eyes.
Ranma woke to a familiar sensation. It was comfortable until he remembered why it was familiar. Leaping from his perch he started to babble.
"It's not what you think, Akane. I can explain..." he protests trailed off when he noticed it wasn't Akane's lap he had been crouched in. This combined with the fact that the two large human appearing creatures sitting across the table from one another were ignoring him, quickly silenced him. To be more specific, they seemed to be ignoring everything around them in the interest of looking into one another's eyes. Ranma hated being ignored but decided against taking any steps to remedy the situation. For now.
Looking around he observed he was in a clearing surrounded by glowing circles. He was about to explore a bit more when a bulky man in armor stepped out of one carrying a large tray.
"Well, if sleeping beauty isn't up and around," the man sneered. "You're not going to last long around here if you're frightened of a few cats. I look forward to throwing your dead body to the demons, my boy," he continued with hateful glee.
As he stepped past Ranma he swung his arm in a roundhouse swing which would have laid any normal man flat on the ground unconscious. Ranma had noticed the intense hostility radiating from man and was not surprised by the maneuver. He deftly sidestepped the blow, and while the man was recovering, kicked him back through the portal he had come through. He was careful to catch the tray before it fell though, something smelled good, and he was starving.
Humming in anticipation he walked over to the table and dropped the tray off onto it. When he slid the cover off it was obvious whose meal belonged to whom. There were two large gallon sized mugs, holding lemon-aid and ice, and one smaller glass with tepid water. There were also three plates, one large dish with a feline motif around the edge, a second of equal size with dogs or wolves on the outer edges, and a third plain dish. The actual meal looked mouth-watering, a delicious-looking fried fish with some unknown vegetable on the side. The plain dish lacked the garnish, the vegetables and the fish was half the size as the other two. Ranma gave a surly look at the portal he'd kicked the annoying man through.
His feeling quickly changed when he started the meal. It was delicious, truly a masterpiece. Every bite was a work of art rivaling the best Kasumi had made. There was something odd about it though. It reminded him off the food Akane made for him. As he ate, he pondered this dichotomy.
He was just finishing up his small plate when it came to him. Arsenic! It tasted just like arsenic with a touch of hemlock. It actually added rather nicely to the flavoring. He remembered it being one of Akane's better meals. He still had ended the night getting his stomach pumped, but at least he was able to keep it down until then. That was all Akane seemed to care about, that uncute tomboy. Boy, this meal really brought back the memories.
Smiling he moved on to what he guessed was Rhada's meal. She and the big guy (he guessed it was Abdul-Ra) were so engrossed with each other he doubted they'd mind. Scarfing down Rhada's plate he noticed her meal had the same lethal spices and something he didn't know the name of but tasted like one of Kodachi's hallucinogens. It sure tasted great. As he was eating the last dish he noted that it at least seemed not to be poisoned. Apparently that clumsy oaf was only out to get him and Rhada.
When he was done with the dishes he casually threw them through the portal where he had kicked the man. Listening carefully he was rewarded with several sharp cries of pain. Nodding in satisfaction he leisurely sipped his water, after borrowing a few ice cubes from his companions. Rhada's seemed to have a trace of nightshade in it, actually adding some nice flavoring to the water. While waiting for his companions to notice him he sat in the shade and relaxed. It had, after all, been a long day, and the neko-ken always exhausted him.
He was about to drift off into sleep when he noticed a slight rustling in the grass next to him. Cracking his eye, he surreptitiously scanned the area around him for danger. Not seeing anything he was about to chalk it up to the wind when he noticed a set of impressions in the ground that looked disturbingly like footprints. Then one disappeared and reappeared closer, then the other impression did the same thing. Ranma wasn't a genius, but he didn't need a diagram for this one.
Closing his eyes spread out his senses. He was unsurprised to find a chi presence where those footprints were slowly approaching him. He was slightly more impressed that it seemed to be wielding a minor magic sword. It was time to take off the kid gloves. As he sensed the enchanted blade swing down at him, he rolled out of the way, while kicking his foe's feet from under his.
Still, with his eyes closed, he sprang to his feet, walked over to the still prone figure and plucked the weapon from the stunned man's hand. Giving a grunt of disgust he again booted the invisible oaf through what he assumed to be the kitchen portal.
"Impressive. You handled my valet with ease," Abdul-Ra's voice drifted too him, laced with approval.
"Hah! Your valet is a pathetic psycho. Good cook though, if you don't mind an upset stomach."
"The poison didn't bother you? I'll have to talk to Random regarding poisoning guests. He must know I would simply resurrect you if you died here. I suppose he's just spiteful."
"Nah the poison's alright. If I can survive Akane's cooking it'll take more than a few spices to hurt me. By the way, can everyone around here turn invisible or something?"
"No, not everyone. Although many of my minions can, it is not unknown to purchase or acquire a magic item. Random, my valet, for instance, has a ring of invisibility. It's actually fairly harmless as all demons and most supernatural entities see the invisible." He paused for a moment. "Well enough of my valet, since you have done me a great favor, what may I do for you?"
"I don't really need anything except a way home. Can you get me there?"
"I don't see a problem. Rhada, why don't you wait here, while your human and I take care of this. I'll be right back and we can continue our discussion." Rhada gave a demure smile and blushed. Ranma supposed it was possible that there may have been more happening than what he had seen, they sure were acting funny.
Abdul-Ra walked through the portal to his right and Ranma followed closely after.
"Come back and visit any time," Rhada told him as he left. It was so nice to have pets once in a while, she thought wistfully.
When Abdul-Ra came back a few minutes later Rhada asked, "Did things go well?"
"Oh yes, everything went fine. It's too bad I couldn't do anything more. As it was I insisted he accept a Raksasha ring in token of my gratitude."
"It's a ring that allows you to take the shape of any feline."
"Doesn't he have a severe phobia of cats?"
A long pause, "I suppose that wasn't the best way to thank him. I'll contact Ammit sometime next month and warn him about it. It shouldn't be a problem, it's not as if you can accidentally activate it."
"So he is home now?"
"Yes. I sent him back to Ammit. Next time I see him I'll ask if you can borrow him. Or if you want we can stop by the Splugorth slave market and get you another pet."
Ranma looked around. The sky looked overcast, and he seemed to be on the bank of a great river surrounded by reeds and other water-dwelling plants. Out in the water, logs could be seen floating placidly by. He ignored them until one of the logs opened an eye and looked at him. Hungrily.
Taking a longer look at the logs, Ranma noticed that they all looked like overgrown versions of Mr. Turtle.
"This doesn't look like Nerima, unless Kodachi's pond flooded," Ranma muttered to himself.