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Chapter 5: A Deluge of Samurai

The first hints of civilization were the partly flooded fields of rice. This was a comforting sight to Ranma-chan who had seen similar things on his travels through Japan and China. Fields meant people and people meant something besides scavenged plants and fish to eat. She may be capable of living in the wilderness for long periods of time, but that didn't mean the quality of life was anything to write home about. She could go for the type of meals Kasumi made on a regular basis, even some fried rice or Akane's curry would be a welcome change. With this in mind she stopped at the first field that had people working in it, crossing the ground while scattering seeds in their wake.

"Ahem. Excuse me do you know a place in town where we can get some food. A restaurant or inn?"

"Restaurant? Our village is a bit small for city stores, but Narumi-san has been known to give a bit of hospitality to a stranger. Her hut is that little building off in the distance. No, the one next to that one." Giving a bow in thanks, Ranma-chan headed in that direction. The meal Ranma-chan received was simple but satisfying.  Komar didn't eat much but Ranma-chan more than made up for it. A small gold coin seemed to satisfy the villager. When Ranma-chan asked for directions to the Emperor in Kyoto, she received directions and a warning.

"I'd be careful in the next province," Narumi stated in a cautioning voice. "The Overlord in our province and most of the provinces in the New Empire are hospitable and fairly run. The quickest way to Kyoto, the directions I told you about, go through the province of Lord Ito, he died recently leaving his sons to dispute his title among themselves. It's a pretty unpleasant and dangerous place to be right now, especially for foreigners. I have no doubt the Emperor will straighten things out at the next Imperial Council, but that's not for a few months. Are you sure you don't want to go around it?" she asked, giving Ranma-chan a questioning look.

"What makes you think I'm a foreigner?" Ranma-chan asked curiously. She was acting as a foreign diplomat but she was curious why this woman believed she wasn't a native. As far as she could tell their accent was almost identical to her own.

"Well, it's kind of obvious. You have the language down perfectly, young lady, but the hair is very obvious. There just aren't any red-headed Japanese people in our country unless you count the poor misguided fools in the Japanese Republic and the other New Cities who dye their hair."

"Hair? What's hair color got to do with being Japanese?" Ranma-chan asked while self-consciously fingering her pigtail.

"Well, I guess you haven't been around people that much. Native Japanese people have black hair. It the natural color of our people. Unless you have the poor taste to dye." Narumi informed her in a condescending voice.

Ranma-chan nodded blankly. It didn't make sense to her. Sure most Japanese people she knew had black hair. Her original male form had black hair too. To say that all Japanese people had black hair was going a bit far. She knew lots of people who had blue, pink, purple, brown, or blond hair. Some of them would get violent if you questioned their ancestral purity. Obviously some sort of mutation had occurred during the catastrophe several hundred years ago and these misguided people didn't realize what their original ancestors had looked like. Ironic, considering how traditional the rest of the New Empire seemed to be.

"Well, I better head out to Kyoto. I'll be careful when I pass through Ito's province," Ranma-chan said in parting, not wanting to worry the kindly woman.

As Ranma-chan neared the more populated areas of the Empire the fields became closer together and huts turned into real houses. Mostly of modest size but no longer one or two rooms. The more affluent people lived in the traditional peaked, shingled homes with the decorative cornices. Nerima was populated with similar, though slightly more modern versions of the same houses. The city they were presently in even had a sufficient population to support several houses that seemed to specialize in services or goods. By asking some discrete questions Ranma-chan was able to find his way to the central area which seemed to be a merchant's square.

Ranma-chan felt the itching sensation that signaled the presence of magical devices. She noticed several people wore robes, pouches or other items that had the telltale sign of enchantment on it. Most of the carts were of the mundane sort, with horses or mules drawing the wooden frame behind them, but a few were of a more interesting design. There were several intricately designed platforms that practically made Ranma-chan's pigtail stand on end. These stood floating several feet above the ground and passively followed the barked directions of the merchant or 'driver' in charge of it. Komar didn't give them a second glance, indicating that these were common devices, not merely the toys of the rich.

Ranma-chan found one stall selling trinkets and jewelry willing to exchange a few of her smaller gems for the local currency. Feeling a little more comfortable fitting in with the odd mixture of traditional and alien they moved toward a stand selling several kinds of simple prepared foods, along with samples of the local agriculture. Some fruit didn't seem native to Japan leading to the ironic thought that some non-traditional items were kept even after the cataclysm. Ranma-chan nodded to herself in approval. A culture had to have some priorities, she thought while chewing a rather expensive apple with no small amount of satisfaction.

A commotion by one of the further stands caught her attention and she casually wandered over to where the noise was. Standing menacingly over one of the female merchants was one of the guards dressed and armored in the ancient samurai style. This warrior seemed to be demanding something from the woman. It wasn't until Ranma-chan approached the scene that she was able to hear the merchant's reply.

"My apologies, Honored Warrior, the Samurai of Lord Toshio have already taken the money for this month. I have nothing to give you," the woman declared in a begging tone, obviously bewildered regarding the proper response to the situation.

"Lord Noboru is your proper liege Lord. The fact that you gave your earnings to an outlaw is not Lord Noboru's problem. That you cannot give him his proper due will be yours. Do you still insist that you cannot pay?"

"I couldn't tell them no! They would have killed me! Please have mercy!" the woman cried out, collapsing into a heap at the feet of the man.

"Never the less, since you will not obey Lord Noboru's laws, you must be punished," the armored man stated, placing his hand on the hilt of his katana.

Ranma-chan had heard all she needed to, she stepped forward between the two people. "Leave the poor woman you cheap samurai wannabe! Those two idiots you guys work for should deal with their own problems before taking out their stupidity on their own people." Ranma-chan angrily exclaimed. Few things could infuriate her more than people picking on those weaker than they were. Picking on helpless women was one of those things.

The samurai stood still in shock for a moment before yelling in rage. Almost before a man could react he had drawn his sword and aimed a lethal strike at the red-haired bitch in front of him. Ranma-chan could almost admire the man. He was almost as fast as Kuno. This was impressive, Kuno may have been a raving loon, but his skill with the sword was not something to be ignored. Unfortunately for the man, the time that Ranma-chan could be hit with a sword had ended when she was fourteen.

Knowing that dodging would endanger too many people in the tightly packed market place, she decided to take a risk. It was dangerous to use this maneuver with such a skilled foe but it was probably safest for those around her. As the sword came towards her she reached out, creating a small clap of thunder as her hand breached the sound barrier, and clasped the blade between her fingers. The sword was brought to a sudden halt several centimeters before it would have reached Ranma-chan, who winced slightly at the painful burning sensation she was experiencing from contact with the enchanted weapon. Weapons were bad enough, magic weapons were really starting to irk her.

"Say goodnight you armor-clad bozo," Ranma-chan smiled sweetly as she used a carefully aimed Chestnut Fist to shatter the magic enameled armor of the samurai. The warrior actually managed to block several of the hundreds of blows aimed at him. This raised him significantly in Ranma-chan's estimate but did little else except make Ranma-chan's blows tear through the arm protection, and ensure that she accidentally broke his arms too. With his arms dangling limply at his side and Ranma-chan still holding the sword motionless between her pinched fingers, she sent the warrior into unconsciousness by gently slamming the sword's hilt into the man's forehead. She had to be careful, unenhanced humans seemed far too fragile in this world. A new tingling arose from the fallen man, as an amulet around his neck gained a soft blue glow and to emit a shrill, high pitched whine.

Looking at the crumpled heap before her she dropped the katana next to the man. She had a brief thought of shattering the sword as a gesture of contempt, but entertained it only briefly. The warrior may have been a pathetic excuse for a human, however, he had earned the bare beginnings of respect for his martial skill. It wasn't easy to block even the fraction of the Chestnut Fist. It also helped that the damn sword was enchanted and Ranma-chan hadn't the faintest idea how to break it. Her hand still ached slightly from just touching the blade.

She started looking around for the woman she had rescued only to find her rapidly crawling away. "Hey! There's no need to run! He won't be bothering anyone for a while," Ranma-chan attempted to reassure her.

"Forgive me, mistress, but his fellow samurai will be here very soon. It would be foolish to be here when they arrive," the woman stated, now picking up a few things from her stall, peering nervously around. "I thank you for rescuing me, but if I wish to live I must leave. More will arrive soon. You should leave too. Quickly," she stated in a low urgent whisper. Looking around she noticed most of the other people in the market square were closing their shops, their haste expressing their near panic.

"How tough can they be? This fellow was better than the Oni I've met on the road, but wasn't that tough," Ranma-chan boasted.

"He was one of the younger guards. His fellow guards will be here soon," the woman was now talking over her shoulder as she rapidly walked away.

"Er... how many?" Ranma-chan asked, a tinge of uncertainty entering her voice.

"Lord Noboru's warriors number about twenty..." the woman began.

"Ha! Twenty's nothing, I can deal with twenty," Ranma-chan said exuding confidence. Sure that was a lot of warriors, given the skill shown by the one at her feet, but with Cologne's and Happossai's training she felt confident in her abilities.

"...but since you are an outsider Lord Toshio will no doubt make a temporary peace with his brother and bring his own twenty or so samurai against you," she finished as she ducked out an archway leading out of the square.

"Forty? I guess... I can... forty?" Ranma-chan started to get worried. At that moment there was a thunderous sound of horses and ten mounted men rode into the square through the archway opposite that which the woman had exited. The faint sound of more people behind them could be heard. An all-out brawl with Komar in the middle seemed unwise at the moment.

"Saotome Combined Special Final Attack: Now You See Me, Now You Don't!" grabbing Komar up and carrying her beneath her arm Ranma-chan used Happossai's Dimensional Cloak technique. Drawing forth her chi, she drew it like a cloak around her. Then twisting it in a directional she had only recently learned to perceive, she drew the two of them out of phase with the rest of the world. As she did, she dimly sensed objects she guessed were arrows passing through her now invisible and immaterial form. As if from a distance, she heard the horsemen shout questions at each other. Before one of them could find a way to pinpoint Ranma-chan's position she ran out of the market, passing completely through the previously solid objects in her path.

Ranma-chan had to hand it to Happossai, the little pervert seemed to have the perfect escape technique, better even than the Way of the Silent Thief. Too bad it was so energy-intensive. She found it hard to believe the old man was able to use the stealth method long enough to do anything else, let alone spy on the women's bathhouse. Besides being exhausting, all her senses except her chi sense were muffled. Useless in combat, but combined with the Saotome Special Attack, it had its place.

 

 

Ryouga landed on his feet and was slightly irritated to be ankle-deep in crushed rock. His feet had that stinging sensation associated with landing flatfooted after an ill-conceived jump. Unlike a certain pigtailed martial artist, he had far less practice falling at terminal velocity. He had already been working up a full head of steam against Ranma, so it took very little to redirect his anger. Someone was going to be in a world of pain.

Cracking his knuckles he looked around, seeing some old guy in a crimson robe who seemed to be in the middle of a speech that either was supposed to be threatening or devoted to patting himself on the back. He couldn't really tell. Around him standing in a semi-circle were about a dozen stone creatures standing at rest. If it weren't for the stories he had heard from Ranma he might have believed that they were merely inanimate statues.

"...knew you would arrive eventually, the trap set for your companion demon contained a device that would resonate with your essence when he came in contact with you. You may have resisted my call for a few months, but I knew you would eventually weaken and when you did this twin amulet would draw you into my control." The old man held up a familiar-looking chain and medallion.

"Hey, that looks like the thing Jess gave Ranma when he got back to our world! I knew it was his fault! It always is!" Ryouga stated with dark satisfaction. There was a grim comfort to be found in having the foundation of your beliefs constantly reinforced.

"What are you talking about? It was I who organized your capture. I who will spill your blood for my Emperor and my Empire. Your death will herald a new age for the Western Empire. It is foretold that the death of the Lost One will ensure our triumph." The old man was in a world of his own, obviously dreaming about great things to come.

"How about I herald your broken limbs?" Ryouga snarled. No one made fun of his sense of direction. Stepping forward he found himself slamming face-first into an invisible wall. Looking down he realized that he stood at the edge of a great, glowing circle. The circumference of the circle coincided with the unseen barrier.

The old man cackled in glee, "Did you think I didn't learn anything from my failure to hold the first demon? Ha! You'll find this circle devised specifically to hold you. There is no escaping your fate. I was too lenient... too soft with your companion. I won't make that mistake again."

"No, I guess you'll make others! First I'll deal with you, then I'll handle Ranma!" So saying Ryouga brought the flat of his hand slapping down to strike the ground before him. "Breaking Wave Tsunami!" he shouted. Immediately a ripple spread out from his hand, passing through the barrier without any signs of diminishing. More and more quickly similar and increasingly large ripples flowed outward until those around Ryouga seemed to be trying to stand amid the waves of a wildly raging sea. Only the center point where Ryouga knelt held any sign of stability in the moving landscape. The walls around the courtyard and the palatial residence beyond withstood this assault for mere seconds before explosively crumbling into rubble. The very ground, unable to maintain integrity within this turmoil, broke apart setting off chains of explosions similar to a series of breaking points that followed the leading edge of each ripple.

When the havoc had settled down a much calmer Ryouga stood up and looked around with some satisfaction. Ranma had surprised him with an inferior version of this attack. The next time they had fought Ryouga had shown Ranma what a real master of the ‘Breaking Point’ was capable of. It was fortunate that the battle had occurred far from the city. Ranma was correct in saying that their attacks were getting far too damaging to be used indiscriminately. It's too bad this attack hadn't taken Ranma out, but he had come pretty close to winning... okay maybe not winning... fighting his rival to a standstill... before Ranma had pulled out a surprise trick he had learned from Cologne.

Stepping over the now broken circle he walked through the ruins of the mansion. He didn't notice the pained groan coming from the area the mage had been buried, but he did pause long enough to grind the medallion that had brought him there to dust beneath his feet.

The golems didn't even slow him, shattering into pieces after the deft application of several ‘Breaking Points’ to each with the end of his umbrella. Madmen and idiots who attacked Ryouga with creatures of stone and rock deserved a swift end. It was almost as satisfying as beating Ranma... well not really, but probably as close as he'd get for a while. A real stress reliever.

Out in the street, several townspeople either hurried away or hurried towards the almost level ground that had once held the home of the Emperor's High Summoner. They took little notice of the boy wearing a bandana, who strolled out of the ruins lightly swinging his umbrella and whistling a merry tune. If they had, they would have seen him turn around a corner and slowly fade from their dimension.

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