Chapter 8: Fiery Endings
Ranma finally got to the Palace slightly worse for wear. At the gate, he was challenged by the guard. “State your name and business,” an obviously bored guard droned.
“I am Ranma Saotome of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts. I’m here to see Grayson about meeting with the Royal Summoner.”
“Ranma... Ranma... Ranma. Hmm...how do you spell that?” the guard asked, obviously not finding the name under his scheduled appointments.
“Oh well, it’s... uh... I guess I don’t know how to spell it in your language,” ended a puzzled Ranma.
“Ooookay, let’s try Grayson. Don’t see anything for him either. Oh wait a minute, here he is. Well, we got a slight problem here. You were supposed to be here an hour ago. Sorry, I can’t let you in. You’re going to have to get a new appointment.” With a sound of finality, he snapped the book shut and went over to talk to the next person in line.
“But… but…” sputtered a frustrated Ranma. After being ignored he gave up and walked away. He didn’t go far, slipping around the Palace wall he jumped twenty feet into the air to the top of the wall and down to the other side. Or that was the plan.
At the apex of his leap, just as he was landing, a series of squiggles engraved on the wall glowed at his approach. An earsplitting shriek filled the air filled the air with a sound that could be compared to the cry of the damned. Immediately thereafter another flash filled the air and the top of the wall was engulfed in a blazing inferno. Ranma gave a startled squawk but was too close to avoid the flames and had no time to adjust his aura. He landed squarely in the middle of the glowing mass. Giving a sharp cry of agony he immediately leaped forward, attempting to minimize the excruciating contact. He landed on the other side, weak from the pain and staggered over to lean on a tree for support.
Due to the Phoenix Pill, he actually was uninjured from the heat, unfortunately, the effects of the Cat Tongue pressure point made contact with heat just as painful as if he were affected. And by the way that little encounter hurt he guessed a normal man would be ashes at this moment. Taking control of his still screaming nerves, he adjusted his cloak again and stumbled further from the wall. That shriek was an alarm, which meant the area would soon be filled with guards.
After a few minutes, he had recovered sufficiently that the people he passed were no longer giving the ‘drunk’ disgusted looks. His sense of hearing was muted, an aftereffect of the loud piercing siren he had just encountered. Guards were running around but since they didn’t seem to be noticing him, he ignored them. He had to find that Royal Summoner guy.
He was about to ask one of the people he was passing in the Courtyard for directions when he saw the girl. She was faced away from him, berating one of her bodyguards. This would be good, he could make sure the girl was okay after the earlier close call and ask about the Summoner at the same time. He patted himself on the back for being such an efficient person and went to speak with her.
“Excuse me miss,” he started. He didn’t get far, the girl turned around, saw him and jumped towards him, wrapping her arms around him. Ranma responded with his usual eloquence.
“Uh... well... er... ah... hi?” he said with his arms waving randomly around.
“I am so grateful! You saved my life! You must meet my father, so he can reward you!” she squealed. The guards behind her glowered but made no move to interfere.
“I’d love to... really... yeah, to meet your father. But I have an appointment right now and I really can’t be late. Gotta go... bye,” he stuttered as he fruitlessly tried to disentangle his limbs. The girl had a look in her eyes that was oddly familiar. He didn’t know what it was, but every other time he’d seen it, the next thing he knew he was engaged to someone.
“Oh an errand, how cute. I’ll come with you and afterward, you can see my father.”
“That would be... fine... I suppose. Er... you’re not lookin’ to get engaged or something are you,” Ranma asked with trepidation.
“Oooee, this is so romantic, my savior asking for my hand in marriage! Well I’ll have to ask father, but I’m sure he’ll give us his blessing,” the girl said with a vacant smile on her face, already making plans for the upcoming wedding.
“No! That’s not what I meant… I mean I already got a fiancée. Can’t we just be friends,” Ranma babbled, grasping at straws.
“Don’t you like me?” she asked with tears in her eyes and a quivering lip.
“I don’t even know your name. I’m sure you’re a very nice girl, but we just met,” he cried out in desperation.
“Oh, that’s okay, now that we’re engaged you can take me on dates. We’ll have so much fun! By the way, my name is Cindra. What’s yours?”
“Ranma Saotome. Pleased to meet yeah,” Ranma responded with a shell-shocked whisper. I am so dead when the others find out about, Ranma thought with dread. The amount of pain he was in for would truly be legendary. It was a good thing he had completed his Breaking Point training, he might even survive. Maybe.
“So where are you going,” Cindra asked.
“The Royal Summoner,” Ranma replied his mind still disengaged from his mouth.
“Ugh. What a creep! Well, I guess I can’t go with you. Daddy told me never to go near him. As if he had to say anything. I’ll take you to the base of the tower and wait outside. Then we can go and make our engagement official”
“I can’t wait,” Ranma deadpanned.
Cindra and her guards led him around the sides of the palace to the back where a large tower sat. It seemed to sit a good distance away from the main grounds. The rocks that it was constructed from gave it a reddish hue, and the way the sun reflected off portions of the surface gave it a wet bloody texture.
“I will be waiting,” Cindra stated, blowing him a kiss.
“Be right back,” Ranma said practically running into the ominous structure. Given a choice between battling demons and confronting fiancées Ranma would always go for the demon. At least in a physical conflict, there was a chance he might win.
Opening the oversized front door he rushed inside. Seeing no women in sight he slowed down and took a look around. The first floor seemed to empty except for a stairway going up. Shrugging he started his trek. It was after about five minutes of rapid ascension before Ranma noticed that something wasn’t quite right. At the rate he was climbing he should have been at the top already. The next time he passed a window he looked out. About twenty feet beneath him was Cindra starring up toward him. When she saw him she waved enthusiastically at him. After weakly waving back he continued. The next time he passes a window he again looked out. Cindra again waved at him from twenty feet off.
Nodding to himself he ducked back inside. He expanded his aura and continued upward, this time concentrating on the area around him. Sure enough about a minute later he felt a tingling sensation he had associated with active magic coming from a ten-foot section of the stair in front of him. Lightly leaping over the area he continued onward. The stairs were still unnaturally long, but this time he didn’t find a window with Cindra outside. After quite a few spirals he found a placard on the wall with writing neatly stenciled onto it. Ranma was about to ignore it when the unintelligible words seemed to flex and suddenly became comprehensible to him. ‘Beware of Elemental, turn back now’ written in smaller lettering beneath were, ‘If you wish to continue, please write your next of kin in the space provided. Thank you.’ A long stylish quill pen seemed to rise out of the placard waiting for use.
Ranma grunted in disgust and continued on. This was the whole point of his Breaking Point training. No more running from rock monsters for him. Any Rock Monsters, Elementals, or other statuary that attacked him was going to get a short but unpleasant surprise. Ranma cracked his knuckles in anticipation.
He was running up the stairs a grin on his face when he stopped in shock. “Uh oh,” was all he managed to get out before he had to dodge madly around the narrow stairwell in an attempt to avoid a humanoid-shaped ball of fire. After a few minutes of this Ranma had had enough. That thing hurt! Jumping over it he raced upward, keeping barely ahead of it.
While running he altered his aura making it as cold as he could. Not only was it essential for his plan, but it allowed him to mostly ignore the heat of the thing close at his back. Ranma hadn’t been sure his spur of the moment plan would work. He was pretty sure the technique had not been designed with a spiral staircase in mind, but hey, a spiral is a spiral is a spiral. He had almost given up hope of it succeeding when he felt a change in the airflow that told him the technique had not only succeeded but it was time for the final trigger. Bracing himself for the pain, he stopped suddenly, leaped backward through the flaming entity and lashed out with an icy fist.
The change in pressure was instantaneous, a howling wind tore through the corridors rapidly picking up force. The air seemed to be glowing as he noticed the chi charged vortex seeming to feed off his opponent’s energy. As with the Earth Elemental he had used the technique on before it seemed to be feeding off a source other than the opponent’s battle aura. It almost seemed to grasp the enemy’s inner magical nature and turn it against itself. Perhaps whoever had designed the technique had more than mundane enemies in mind when he created it, was a fleeting thought before other things occupied his attention.
Before when he’d used this indoors he had been firmly ‘attached’ to the floor. Unfortunately, although he was not the focus of the vortex he was being drawn up in its wake. Ranma was plucked helplessly off his feet and thrown up the stairwell. In this way he got a fair view of the damage being done to the Fire Elemental as he was bounced off various surfaces on the way up.
After a few minutes of this, he heard a crashing sound as the creature broke through the doorway at the top, triggering some sort of explosive defensive magic as it flew through the opening. Ranma, following immediately through the air behind the creature, didn’t feel anything at the door and assumed that the monster had triggered all the defenses. Good monster, he thought as he was thrown to the ground just past the door.
Ranma slowly picked himself off the ground. He felt remarkably sound. “At least I got something out of that Breaking Point training. Fire Elemental! Bah!” he said disgustedly. It had never even occurred to him that he could be facing something other than an Earth Elemental. Brushing himself off, he looked up.
There was no sign of the fire creature. That didn’t surprise him, what surprised him was the older looking man, with thinning grey hair standing in front of him, looking at him in an irritated manner. It worried him that he hadn’t sensed him. Taking stock of himself for a moment he noticed that although he didn’t feel physically weak his battle aura was about half the size it should be. That was probably why he didn’t sense the fellow, he was far enough away that his reduced chi senses couldn’t detect him, and his hearing was still recovering.
“By now you may have noticed that no magic is usable except mine. I hope you have an excellent reason for breaking in here. If you don’t, I doubt that anyone will miss just one more thief,” the old man said with a smirk.
Ranma wasn’t too worried, sure with chi capabilities were damped a bit but they were far from the crippled state the man obviously expected. “I have a friend waiting for me outside. I’m sure Cindra’ll have someone look for me if I take too long. Besides, I think you’re expecting me. Grayson set an appointment up for me to meet the Royal Summoner. Er... you are the Royal Summoner right?” Ranma asked, suddenly unsure.
“Ah, the sweet Cindra. Such a sweet young flower. How tragic that her father disapproves of our relationship. The things I could teach such an innocent. Still, there are many others almost as sweet who may yet be educated.” The old man almost seemed in a trance, a small bit of drool started to dribble out of his mouth.
Ah, great, Ranma thought. I must be like a perverted freak magnet. I just can't seem to avoid them. At least this one’s not grabbing my chest, he shuddered.
“Hello? Hello! Excuse me! Grayson made an appointment for me?” he almost shouted trying to grab the old man’s attention away from his fantasies.
“Grayson... well I do recall something of that nature. Too bad you’re late. Maybe next year, I have a lot of demons to summon and only a very limited amount of time to do it in. Sorry. Go away,” he said dismissing Ranma with a wave of his hand.
“But... but Grayson said you could help me!” exclaimed Ranma desperately.
“I’m sure I could. Grayson went into some detail about your problem. I do know a way to find your home plane, but I don’t care to. You have nothing I want, and what you ask is no insignificant thing. Again, go away,” the old man stated coldly.
“What if... what if I got you a date,” Ranma cringed inwardly. He really, really didn’t want to do this. Where were the demons when you needed them?
The old man’s entire demeanor underwent an incredible metamorphosis. Instantly he was warm and chatty. “Come in my dear man. Call me Balthazar... no make that ‘Zar for short. Let’s talk business.” With his arm draped companionably over Ranma’s shoulders he led them away from the splintered doorway toward a cozy little den. There was tea on the table and two overstuffed chairs opposite the hearth.
Ranma sat in the chair but something on the edge of his senses kept him from relaxing. His battle aura was muted and his chi senses dimmed but there was something very dangerous in the room with him. Craning his neck he searched for the source of his discontent. His eyes settling on one of the room’s darkened corners.
‘Zar noted his stare and smiled. “I see you sense my pet. You are a very capable mage. Very impressive. I’ll introduce you. Come out Phebe!” called the Summoner. A huge demonic wolf melted into visibility while stepping out of the shadows. Five feet at the shoulders, smoke poured out of the nostrils when the creature breathed and a baleful crimson light glinted in its eyes. It looked hungrily at Ranma and acidic drool dripped from six-inch canines.
Oddly enough now that he could fully sense the entity he relaxed once more. He hadn’t been kidding when he stated he would rather deal with demons than fiancées. Keeping aware of the position of the demon, but otherwise ignoring it, he turned his attention to ‘Zar.
Zar nodded in approval of his attitude. "Now about this ‘date’, tell me about her,” he commanded.
“Fine. I happen to have a picture of my sister. She’ll go out with you in return for the way home,” Ranma stated with a grimace of distaste as he took out one of Nabiki’s pictures of his girl-type from subspace. “No funny stuff, just a nice normal date, and then the way home. Okay?”
“Sister, aye? She's a real beauty. A redhead too. Well, a date sounds fair. It will be the Palace Ball. They prefer me to stay on the grounds anyway. Makes them nervous when they don't know where I am. Heh, heh. Have her here by sunset, we shall go to the Ball. Come here at noon tomorrow and I'll see what can be done regarding your problem," his face took on a dreamy cast as he started thinking about later that night.
Ranma took this as his cue to leave and got up. Looking around he spotted a window and headed towards it. Peering out, he saw a grim landscape, with rivers of dimly glowing lava. Thick choking smoke hung over the ground and the very air seemed to have a dim red glow. Quickly pulling his head back, he looked around for another window. He didn't want to meet Cindra on the way out, but didn't want to have to go through Hell to do it.
He saw another window closer to the still shattered door and went over to it. It seemed to be the Palace grounds. He didn't see Cindra or her guards so hopefully they were on the other side. Cindra might call the Palace guards if her 'fiancée' didn't eventually show up, but right then he didn't really care. He had a bad taste in his mouth and had the feeling the day was going to get worse before it got better. If it got better. Stepping out the window he dropped two hundred feet to the ground, wincing slightly as his feet made contact. He had some things to do before sunset.