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Monday, 04 May 2020 09:07

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Sunday, 03 May 2020 22:13

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Chapter 4: Enter the Oni 

Once through the portal Ranma fell a few feet to the ground. The first sensation he noted in this new world was the power. His internal chi, usually firmly under his control, surged and bubbled. This caused a feeling much akin to that of severe heartburn, a hot, painful feeling in the pit of his stomach which seemed to pulse and occasionally engulf the rest of his body. A much more dispassionate observer would have noted the young man standing stock still as a crimson aura seemed to rage around him. The only sign the figure gave that he was alive within this light show were grimaces of pain that flickered across his face, before being replaced with a blank façade of someone concentrating on something the rest of the world couldn't perceive.

Ranma slowly regained his balance. Working with his chi, he slowly brought the flood back under his control. He breathed a slow sigh, as he was able to relax, somewhat confident his internal reservoirs wouldn't burst through their new restraints. He knew he would have to leash his power carefully until he grew used to the sheer magnitude this world lent his abilities. No longer glowing and crackling he turned his attention to the world around him.

He found himself in a clearing of what was a large expanse of forest. The trees were tall and few were saplings. He was no forester but he knew well-entrenched woodland when he saw it. Thoth had refused to inform him where he was sending him, saying his ignorance would be more convincing if it were authentic. Ranma knew he lied very poorly, but failed to see that it would matter if people believed him truly lost.

He was about to set out towards the rising sun when he heard something crashing through the bushes quickly approaching his position. Adapting one of his inoffensive appearing ready stances he prepared to meet whatever creature was making the loud noises. Prepared as he was to meet a large wild animal, or perhaps one of the demon or oni that he had heard roamed the land, he was surprised to see a young girl, looking around twelve, burst through the last bit of concealing foliage and run towards him.

Putting on his friendliest smile he asked her, "Excuse me Miss. I seem to be lost. Could you..." This was as far as he got before it registered that the girl had dashed past him and was entering the woods on the opposite side. He was still pondering her strange behavior when a powerful chi signature practically spun him around. Out of the area the girl had entered now arrived a much stranger appearing creature. The creature was a misshapen caricature of a man. It stood six feet tall, a low forehead giving it a rather Neanderthal appearance. Long stringy white hair hung from the sides of its head, leaving the top empty of covering. The features that first grabbed his attention were the arms. It had five of them. Two on one side of its body, three on the other. The weapons the creature wielded were the next thing that caught his attention. This was a bit more immediate as two sets of swords, an axe, a whip, and a pistol all seemed to be heading towards him.

Leaping under the blades, he grabbed the whip end as he leaped by. Holding one end, he leaped and rolled around what he thought was his first Oni encounter in this world. The creature's feet were tangled, giving him an advantage while he dealt with the threat with uncharacteristic caution. His caution seemed justified when the thing started shooting its weapon at him. Ranma's first impulse was to use his technique to catch the missiles, the strange glow coming from the barrel changed his decision and he smoothly dived out of the way of the barrel's path. This was fortunate, as the gun spit a burst of energy rather than the projectiles he had at first expected. Ranma ignored the subsequent explosions he heard behind him coming from the near-miss.

Knowing that this battle could possibly go on for quite a while unless he went on the offensive, he gathered his chi and leaped at the Oni. The world seemed to stand still as his foot hit the creature with the force usually reserved for his Meteor Kick. The thing flew back as if at the end of a bungee cord, shattering several trees in its path. Upon landing the creature lay still for a moment before struggling to sit up, somewhat stunned by the force of the blow.

Ranma for his part was stunned for a different reason. The kick he had delivered had a lot more force than he had intended. Thoth was serious when he said his normal blows would be amplified beyond all reasonable expectations. Looking behind him, his attention was caught by the devastation the missed energy blast had caused to the trees behind him. Four thick tree trunks were obliterated, leaving the upper part of the tree to have fallen in a random fashion around the blast site. He was thanking his good sense to have avoided the energy blast when he heard a discharge from behind him, followed by several bee sting sensations on his back and legs.

"Ow!" a now irritated Ranma turned back to the Oni who was no longer sitting on the ground. The demon, which had a huge grin pasted on its twisted face, paused in shock. Humans who didn't wear armor weren't supposed to shrug off laser pistol shots. True the pistol was a pathetically puny weapon when used on even the common armor available in the area, but against a practically naked human it should have been more than sufficient.

Ranma was angry with himself. He couldn't believe he had ignored a still active foe like that. He hadn't been this sloppy in ages. He gave himself some latitude for the havoc the ambient magic levels were doing to his senses and concentration, but it still rankled. Growling he sent a small chi burst toward the Oni who seemed shocked by Ranma's continued existence. "Good thing Thoth was right about my increased durability or I would have joined the trees in the land of kindling," he muttered with ill humor.

His mood was not improved when the chi he summoned swelled uncontrollably in his hands before bursting forth at the Oni. Ranma was blown off his feet by the backlash and thrown down onto the now scorched earth. "Great! I'm my own worst enemy," he grumbled as he bounced to his feet again, simultaneously fighting to control the suddenly unruly energies surging within. When he could spare the concentration again, he looked up to see the now unconscious Oni lying in a twenty-foot wide crater. Taking inventory of his own wounds he noted that the sting from the pistol was already fading. Other than the embarrassment in his total incompetence in wielding his standard techniques, he was unhurt.

Walking over to the Oni he saw with a certain relief that it was still alive. Examining his fallen adversary, he attempted to use pressure point healing on the thing. After a few minutes, he shook his head in resignation, stymied by its alien nature. The chi flows in a normal human were lacking, only a chaotic mess of energy flowed through the Oni. Ranma guessed that this was normal for its race, rather than a symptom of some disease. Either way, he had no idea how to manipulate the chi flows for this race for anything but random effects. Still, it was probably merely unconscious.

His theory was proven correct when one of the hands reached out to claw his face. With a smoothness belaying the complexity of the maneuver Ranma caught the appendage and twisted it into a submission hold.

"Ah. Good, you're awake," Ranma greeted him in a congenial fashion, ignoring the hostile glare being leveled at him by his erstwhile opponent.

"Arg, damn human scum," the creature grunted and soon descended into an intense string of curses. His ranting was only ended when Ranma tightened his hold.

"Where are we?" Ranma asked, unwilling to spend more time than he had to in the monster's presence.

"We're in the freakin' woods, you imbecile. Ow! Ow! Stop it! I'll tell you what you want to know!" the creature howled.

"Good. Now the name of this place is..." Ranma prompted.

"I don't know what the humans named the damned forest. It's on the border of our territory."

"What's the name of the human territory? I'm losing patience." The martial artist stated brusquely.

"It's the New Empire. What kind of idiot are you?" the demon couldn't resist prodding.

"The kind that can break you in little evil pieces. Hmm, the Empire. Oh well, I guess it's time to change. Oh, and you. Go away, if I find you in human territory again I won't be as kind." Ranma gathered up the weapons, making a point to crush the pistol. This was probably not a wise idea as the little weapon exploded in his hands as he destroyed the energy source. The departing Oni snickered at this attempted display of might, while Ranma glared at him absently rubbing his stinging hands.

He was in a foul humor when he heard a familiar crashing in the woods. Acting quickly he removed his bracers for a moment before splashing himself with water from his canteen. Moments later as she replaced her bracers she again witnessed the young girl race out of the bushes. This time instead of rushing by, she grabbed Ranma-chan's hand to pull her along.

"Hurry! We have to leave! There's Oni all over the place." A despairing look came over the girl's face. "They killed Mama and Papa! Run!" The girl cried out desperately.

Ranma-chan was regretting letting the Oni leave alive, but if the girl needed help she was going to provide it. "Don't worry. I ran off the fellow chasing you," she tentatively patted the girl on the shoulder and was shocked when the girl leaped at her and hugged her with desperate strength. "Er... there, there," Ranma-chan babbled awkwardly, not sure what to do with the girl clinging to her.

"Do you have relatives you can go to?" she asked, trying to keep her mind of the immediate situation.

"Not around here. Papa used to talk about a cousin in the Emperor's court, but I never met him." The girl mumbled into Ranma-chan's chest.

"Well, I happen to be going to see the Emperor. I'm sure someone knows who your cousin is," Ranma-chan said distractedly.

"Wow, you know the Emperor?" the girls squealed, temporarily distracted from her grief and fear.

"Not really. But I'm an envoy from Laslow... er, Lazlo, and I hope he'll make some time to see me. Yup, sure would be a pity if I couldn't see him. Then I couldn't do my envoy thing." Frankly, Ranma-chan had only the vaguest idea what an envoy did. She was rather hoping she wouldn't be allowed to meet the Emperor. She had no idea what she'd say if they did meet.

"Hey did you see some guy around here. I think I ran past him a little while ago."

"Guy? Oh, the guy! He ran after some Oni. No doubt he's heroically defending the helpless right now," Ranma-chan took the opportunity to pat herself on the back in a vicarious fashion.

"Are you sure? He didn't look very heroic. He just slouched there, and looked stupid, while I ran from the Oni," she stated with some doubt evident in her voice.

"I did not... I mean, I’m sure he was just so good he didn't need to seem scary. Why he took on the five armed Oni all by himself!" she boasted.

"So, is it dead?"

"Er... no. It got away. But it was running scared." More like walking away sneering, Ranma-chan thought guiltily to herself. Next time I'll be more thorough. I had no idea the things were so deadly to the populace. Admittedly, it had an impressive aura, but it went down so easily. Probably easier than any of the demons she had fought would have gone down had they been in this world. Probably any supernatural creature here had an impressive aura. It would take some practice to properly judge an opponent’s power level again. "So which way is the Emperor?"

"I think he lives south-west somewhere," the girl said in a subdued tone.

"Well, all right let's head that way." After waiting a moment she continued. "We can't really go anywhere with you hugging me like that."

"Sorry," the girl mumbled from the depths of Ranma-chan's chest but gave no sign of letting go.

Ranma-chan finally had to settle for carrying the smaller girl on her shoulders. With the almost limitless energy and endurance that this world granted the supernatural, she had little difficulty with the added weight. Several times they ran across lesser Oni, usually smaller creatures with the heads of foxes, pigs, or other woodland creatures. It really creeped Ranma-chan out. It was like watching a parade of examples of Jusenkyu gone wrong.

The first time the little girl, Komar, screamed in Ranma-chan's ear in terror. The fearful child's wailing was replaced by amazement as Ranma-chan quickly set her on the ground and leaped towards the Oni. It only took a few blows to lay the little menace out on the forest floor. Ranma-chan was reluctant to kill the weak creature while it lay helpless. If it had happened to die during the battle she was sure she would not have felt any regret, but to slay a harmless foe, even if only temporarily so, was an almost impossible step for her to take.

Deliberating for a moment, she gritted her teeth and broke each bone in the creature's arm. Feeling somewhat disgusted at herself her gathered up the girl and began walking again. Komar's only question was to ask why he had allowed the Oni to live. Ranma-chan spent the rest of the afternoon in a vain attempt to describe her behavior and code of honor. She got the impression the child admired her strength but was baffled by her 'soft' ethics. She had entered a vicious world, she hoped it wouldn't rub off too much. Once killing came easily it was a hard habit to break. Her old man may have been a petty thief and con artist but he had warned Ranma of these moral pitfalls. She was even fairly confident that they were an area where he had actually practiced what he preached.

The next couple days passed in a similar manner. The largest band of Oni he encountered was a group of nine. The most difficult part was keeping Komar safe during the altercations. She had an almost uncanny ability to be where the Oni were. This encounter occurred within hours of picking up the girl, but rapidly became rarer as they neared the more civilized part of the Empire. At least Ranma-chan assumed that was the reason for the decreasing number of monsters. The last few encounters had ended with the Oni fleeing at the sight of them. It was possible the creatures in the area had spread the word regarding the unnatural and vicious redhead.

She had yet to see any other humans aside from herself and the girl. Still, civilization must be near. They were traveling on a dirt road clearly meant for humans rather than trails made by forest animals. Ranma-chan wondered aloud at the sanity of Komar's parents to bring her out to such a dangerous place. Komar vehemently disagreed when she brought the subject up.

"My parents weren't crazy! The Oni only started getting this aggressive recently. Before last week we hardly ever saw one. Papa used to drive away the ones we saw with a magic bow a wizard made for him. It was really neat. He used to pull back an invisible string an' a flaming arrow would appear. I miss Papa and Mama," she ended her defense of her parents with a sniffle.

Ranma-chan quietly apologized and hugged the girl for comfort. At first, she had been at a loss to deal with the frequent outbreaks of grief and emotions that the little girl was prone to. Desperation had forced her to experiment, finding hugs and kind words would stop the tears quicker than anything else. She found that it wasn't too awkward to show some affection toward the smaller girl. After all, there was no chance of it being mistaken for other than an innocent gesture. Well, she supposed Akane would think the worst, but... well that was just how Akane was.

Ranma-chan also entertained Komar with small colored spheres of chi she would summon and juggle. The first night she only did this as an exercise in control, finding more challenge than she liked in keeping the energy stable. When she saw an enchanted Komar staring at the display she got a little fancier, added a few more spheres and flashier moves. Komar especially enjoyed the part where they exploded in her face. She laughed and laughed, making even the bruised Ranma-chan smile in the shared humor. She wasn't sure but she thought Komar had believed it was part of the show. Ranma-chan didn't enlighten her, she just summoned more balls and started again.

It was on the second day, while she was murmuring soft words to the distressed girl that they finally reached the first small village.

 

 

Ryouga looked around. Ever since Ranma had come back from his travels Ryouga had felt as if he was being watched. He had been able to ignore it while Ranma was around, the almost constant sparring and havoc centered around Ranma was excellent in distracting him from other problems. Now that Ranma had run off on another mission for some god or another it was becoming harder to ignore. The sensation was still there despite Ranma's renewed absence. Without Ranma to act as the focus of the general Nerima insanity, events were mundane, even slightly boring. Ryouga had few distractions to prevent him from noticing it. It had to be Ranma's fault.

After a few days of idleness, the oppressive feeling became greater and greater. Ryouga began to look around him with uncharacteristic nervousness, sure there must be a cause for his sudden paranoia. A conviction slowly began to overtake him. Since this had started when Ranma had returned, Ranma must have some way of stopping it. After a few hours mulling over these thoughts, he came to a decision. With great deliberation he began to unfasten the ankle restraints given to him by Anhur.

"Ranma, when I find you I'll have my answers if I have to beat them out of..." the last part of his statement was interrupted by a column of light which engulfed him as the last band of metal was removed. A moment later Ryouga was gone.

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