Chapter: 15

 

"Pop?" Ranma hissed quietly into the darkness of the
love hotel's basement. "Pop, are you in here?" He just hoped
Genma hadn't gotten drunk, after arranging to meet him.

"Pop! If you've gotten stinkin' again I'm gonna----" A
heavy hand came down on his shoulder from out of nowhere
and he jumped in shock.

"DAMMIT ya old fart! Don't DO that."

"You're getting sloppy boy." Genma chuckled, breath
only slightly perfumed with beer.

"Yeah?" Ranma's hands flashed out, snatched a bottle
from each of Genma's pockets and rapped him on the head
with them. "Now, you wanna play games? Or you wanna
talk."

"Show some respect, boy," Genma retrieved his bottles
and popped the cap off one with his thumb. "What was so
important you needed to see me?"

"What do ya know about a monk, dressed sorta like a
Yama-bushi. Fights dirty. Blade concealed in his staff, breaths
fire and knows some kinda trick ta strangle ya with his voice."

"His voice?" Genma perked up on hearing that. "What
did he do?"

"Ummm . . .some kinda chant while he danced in a
circle. Then somethin' grabbed me around the throat; felt like
that guy in Turkmenistan with the piano-wire ." Ranma
rubbed his neck in memory.

"Kotadama," Genma pontificated. "Power of Words."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"This man is obviously a powerful adept of the
Shugendo order."

"Which means, what _exactly_?"

"Depending on his level of attainment, he can see into
the spirit realm, kill at a distance with the power of his voice,
walk through walls, fly----"

"Ok, I getcha." Ranma thought for a minute. "But
what's he got against me?"

"It is very simple, boy. Your years of sloth, gluttony
and filial impiety have obviously angered the kami who have
sent this man to punish----owwww!"

"Dammit, old man." Ranma shook out his stinging
fist. "Don't give me that bull. You'd a' been a charcoal
briquette by now if the kami gave a shit about that stuff.
Besides, this guy don't exactly want to buy you beer and
sushi, neither. He's got a serious mad-on for the whole
Saotome clan. Which is me and _you_! What did you do to
piss this guy off so bad?"

"I have always been on excellent terms with the
clergy," Genma replied piously.

"What about that temple in Bali? Or the mosque in
Khartoum. And there was that . . ."

"A misunderstanding," Genma was sweating, despite
the coolness of the cellar. "A few trivial disagreements of a
purely philosophical nature."

"Yeah?" Ranma's tone held a note of that un-filial
attitude that Genma found so irritating. "Well, why dontcha
see if you can remember which one wants you _trivially_
dead." Ranma headed for the stairs. "An' try to think of if
b'fore this guy kills someone." He paused, one foot on the
bottom stair. "Because if this guy hurts one o' Akane's sisters
or her ol' man 'cause he's pissed at you, she's liable to pull
your spine out through your ear an' strangle you with it."

"What if he get's to Akane first?" Genma remarked
snidely. He still hadn't forgiven her for having pretensions of
being a martial artist and claiming ownership of _his_ doujou.

"That ain't gonna happen pop," Genma shivered as the
temperature seemed to drop suddenly. "That just ain't gonna
happen."

*****

"Oh, hello Ranko-san." Kasumi smiled tiredly at the
petite girl peeking around the corner of her kitchen. "It's nice
to see you're feeling better."

"Feeling-----Oh, oh yes. I'm feeling much better now."
Onna-Ranma mentally kicked himself for losing track of his
character. That would have earned him twelve across the
shoulders with a knotted rope from Genma. He hadn't made
such an elementary mistake since he was seven.

"Ummm, you're looking a little tired. Are you feeling
ok?"

"I am tired," Kasumi admitted. "I've been having a
little trouble----


*Foy porter, honneur garder* The liquid voice
pierced the morning quiet, like a knife through the heart.

"----sleeping." Kasumi looked as if she were about to
weep.

*Et pais querir, oubeir*

Good projection, onna-Ranma noted with interest,
pinpointing the sound as originating in the garden. Having
perfect pitch he was especially sensitive to singers who were
'off' in the slightest, but this was a really nice mezzo-soprano.

"What the hel . . .heck is _that_?" Ranko's head
swiveled , as if searching for the source of the music.

"Kodachi." Kasumi said tiredly. "She's serenading
me."

*Doubter, servir, et honnourer*

"What's she saying?"

"I have no idea. I think it's French."

*Foy porter, honneur garder* "I want to stay faithful,
guard your honor," Kodachi popped through the door that lead
into the garden, still singing as she entered the kitchen.

*Et pais querir, oubeir, doubter, servir, et honnourer*
"Seek peace, obey, fear, serve and honor you." With a
flourish, Kodachi produced a single, perfect silver-rose and
presented it to Kasumi on bended knee as she translated.

*Vous vueil jusques au morir Dame sans per.* "Until
death, Peerless Lady!"

"That's very nice, Kodachi." Kasumi took the rose and
placed it in a crystal vase, where it joined a score of it's
fellows. "But you should go home now. I'm sure you must
have homework----"

"Leave!" Kodachi looked horrified. "Nay, gentle lady.
Kunou Kodachi shall _not_ leave you alone when there is
such villainy abroad as would affright all of Christendom. I
shall guard thee from harm, e'en at the cost of my life's
blood."


"That's wonderful, Ko-chan," Nabiki came down the
stairs, knuckling sleep from her eyes. But it's our Saturday
off. Why don't you try giving your life's blood _quietly_." A
thought came to her as she shambled across the floor to the
coffee pot. "I think it would be romantic if you slept across her
threshold, just like a faithful and courageous guard-dog."

"You have the right of it." Kodachi's face lit with the
thought of serving her heart's delight _and_ being incredibly
uncomfortable, all at the same time. And when the snows
came she could prove her dedication by standing all night in
the cold . . .perhaps she'd catch pneumonia and die a tragic,
yet romantically elegant, death.

Occupied with composing a funereal poem that would
make the very stones weep at the loss to the world of Kodachi
Kuno, The Silver Sword of Saint Hebereke's Academy for
Young Ladies of Refinement, she ignored Kasumi's indignant
squawk as she scooped the older girl into her arms and carried
her up to her room.

"If you're lookin' for Akane, she's out in the doujou,
finishing up her workout before we go."

"Go?"

Kasumi's got exams coming up, so we're going
shopping and then to a movie, so she can get some work
done." Nabiki poured a mug of coffee and added a generous
portion of cream and sugar. "Where's Ranma? Haven't seen
him since that nut case blew the hell out of a pine tree."

"He . . .uhhh . . .he thought it might be better to stay
away for a while. At least as long as that crazy monk is
running lose. He was afraid he might come here looking for
him." Ranko bit her lip, then went on. "Could . . . could I stay
here again? Father is out of town and I don't want to stay by
myself."

"Sure, why not?" Nabiki put her mug on the counter
and started rummaging through the refrigerator "Everyone
else in Japan seems to be staying here. We'll just add some
more water to the miso." Noticing Ranko's hurt look she
relented slightly. "Don't mind me. I'm a little cranky because
Kodachi was singing outside of Kasumi's window all night.
Why don't you come with us?" Satisfied at the girls shy nod,
she grabbed some rice-balls and salmon and put them on the
counter next to her coffee.

"You want something? Juice maybe?"

"Oh, errr, juice would be fine." She took a glass of
orange juice and sat next to Nabiki.

"So," Nabiki sipped her coffee while Ranko drank her
juice and nibbled on a roll Nabiki had given her. "Are you and
my sister lovers yet?"

Juice sprayed across the kitchen and Nabiki pounded
on Ranko's back to help clear her airway.

"WHAT! Are you crazy?"

"I take it that's a no?" Nabiki sighed. "It would do her
a world of good to get laid. Maybe she wouldn't be so intense
all the time. You're kind of cute," she eyed Ranko up and
down, until the smaller girl blushed. "And she wouldn't have
to worry about getting pregnant."

"Gaaaak!" Ranko started another coughing fit, which
Nabiki ignored, munching on a cold rice-ball. "Oh well, I
guess I'll wait until Ranma get's back and see if he's got the
right stuff."

Ranko fell off her stool.

*Nothing like a good workout to start the day*, Nabiki
thought, heading upstairs with her coffee, nibbling on a piece
of salmon. *But all too easy*.

*****

"Father? Can you get the door?" Kasumi looked up
from her books as the knock came again. "Father?" Then she
remembered. He had a council meeting this afternoon. Ranko,
Akane and Nabiki had all gone to a movie and Kodachi . . .
Kasumi felt a little guilty for sending her to Kyoutou for a
special tea blend. But _only_ a little. The girl was driving her
mad and she had to study for her exams. The knock came
again and, with a sigh, Kasumi headed down the stairs.

"May I help you?" Kasumi smiled politely at the
young girl standing in the doorway.

Immaculate in a green and cream uniform, she bowed
and held out a clipboard. "Please sign here."

"What is this for?" Kasumi accepted a pen as the girl
pointed to a line with Tendo/Saotome beside it.

"Delivery for Saotome Genma, care of Tendo Soun."

Kasumi's lips tightened slightly as the sound of _his_
name. If it had been for Ranma . . .with only a slight hesitation
she signed and accepted the small but surprisingly heavy
parcel. The delivery girl saluted smartly before turning away
to her motor-scooter parked outside the gate.

Frowning, Kasumi walked back upstairs to her room.
Frankly, the less she had to do with 'Uncle' Genma, the better
she liked it and she certainly didn't want to have to be
responsible for his mail until and if he returned. A sudden
thought cheered her. She'd just give it to Ranma, the next time
she saw him. It might be something for him, anyway. Satisfied
that she'd solved that problem she tossed the package into her
book-bag and went back to the mysteries of multivariant
analysis.

*****

"Isn't there _anything_ leaving today?" Kuonji Ukyo
frowned down at the ticket agent. "It doesn't have to be fancy.
A fishing boat, freighter. Anything at all?"

"I'm sorry, there's nothing until the ferry leaves
tomorrow." The clerk looked up from her schedule book. " I
can check the airline schedules for you." She offered.

A plane ticket would practically exhaust all his cash.
_If_ Ranma or Genma were back in Japan, it would be worth
it. But if they _weren't_ . . .

Shaking his head he handed the clerk money for a
ticket. "No, tomorrow will be fine." Better to loose the couple
of days it would take him to get to Shanghai and then to
Osaka on the International Ferry, than lose a month or more if
he were mistaken and had to find work and rebuild his
finances. Turning his collar against the rain Ukyo walked out
into the night toward the 'Guest House' where he was staying.
At HK$72.00 per night it was three times more expensive than
a dormitory room, but it afforded some privacy and Ukyo
had decided to treat himself.

Waving off a taxi, he threaded his way through the
crowded, twisting streets of Kowloon. It was even worse than
he remembered from when he'd passed through on the way to
Qinhai, only a few months ago. The vendors hawking fake
watches were more aggressive, the topless bars were a little
sadder and it was altogether a depressing place. The rain
didn't wash it clean, but only made it smell like a wet dog. A
dog that had been rolling in diesel fuel and urine.

Arriving at the tiny clapboard Guest House he nodded
to the night clerk and plodded upstairs to his room.
Undressing, he gathered his bath things and walked the few
steps to the shared bathing facilities, locking the door behind
him. Staring at the deep tub and the chrome plated taps he
fantasized about a hot bath. Acres and oceans of hot water;
soaking for hours in a furo, like he used to do at home----
savagely he cut off that train of thought.

He had no home. No family, not even a name. He had
no right to Kuonji, after the clan had disowned them. But one
day . . .one day he would reclaim his birthright. Ignoring the
sunken tub he turned the cold-tap full on and dropped his robe
to the floor. Steeling himself he stepped beneath the freezing
shower spray.

Discipline. Strength. A hot soak was for weaklings and
women. He was strong. A shudder wracked his body and he
turned his face to the stinging spray, welcoming the physical
pain as the bitterly cold water washed his face like tears. He
was a man.

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