They managed to make it the rest of the way to their first stop, a moderately small village around a hundred miles away from Konoha, without further incident. Well, no more attacks anyway. Ranma didn't really think he could be blamed because Mousse threw a hissy fit at him, complete with the usual swarms of various bladed weapons, when he found out that what Ranma had said when the attack started. Stupid blind obsessive Amazon twit.
Still, they managed to get to the village without anyone else getting their throat slit and he got to pound on Mousse a bit till he was quietened, so it wasn't all bad. There was nothing quite like beating the tar out of one of the idiot brigade to work off some steam, really. It was soothing. Some people drank sake to relax, some meditated, some perved on pretty girls, he beat up his rivals. It relaxed him and it was practice. Ideal.
"Okay, brats," said Anko as the caravans filled the village centre. "If we're going to be going against missing-nin, it's time for a little supplementary training."
"Going to teach us how to spit fireballs?"
"Pshaw. Genin don't get to learn techniques that cool," she fired back. "Anyway, go earn your pay. Help them tie the horses up or something. Do whatever it is that good little flunkies do on these caravans."
And then their demented sensei bounded off, probably headed for the nearest bar if Ranma knew her at all.
"You know, I'm really starting to dislike that woman," grumbled Mousse.
"She's almost as bad as my pop," said Ranma. "Oh, look, work to be done, time to run off and leave my students to deal with it. Yeah, some things never change."
"Whinge, whinge, whinge, is that all you two ever do?" asked Ryoga. "It was your stupid idea to join up with these weirdos, Ranma. Your fault."
"You three, less yapping, more work!"
Ranma sighed. This really wasn't what he'd signed up for. He'd expected big battles and stuff like when he'd fought Herb not being used as cheap labour. It kinda sucked.
A tug at Ranma's trousers interrupted him as he tossed a few crates of something or other in with all the others. When he looked down, he saw Aya staring up at him with a very serious expression on her rounded features.
"I want to be a ninja," she said.
Ranma blinked. "Uh, what?" he asked. "I thought you were scared off all that after the attack?"
She shook her head. "No!" she almost shouted before she calmed down. "I was scared. Now I'm not. I want to be a ninja."
Ranma just stared at her. "Why?" he asked. "Why would anyone want to be a ninja? It's not exactly a job you can be proud of."
"Because they're strong!" she said. "Ninja are important. They don't have to run away from fights like normal people. They don't get pushed around all the time."
"Ninja run away all the time, kid. It's part of the job."
"Who's the ninja here, again? I don't see a hitai-ate on your forehead."
Aya huffed and stamped her heel before shooting Ranma a glare that was positively vicious for such a little kid. How did he get into these situations? "You're wrong!"
"Wouldn't you rather be a martial artist? It's the same sort of thing except without the bad parts. Way better, I promise you."
"What? Martial artist!"
Ranma was about to shout back again before he realised what he was doing and quickly looked around to make sure no-one was there to see him getting into an argument with a five year old about whether martial artists were better than ninja. And what the hell did some girl wanting to be a ninja have to do with him anyway? "Whatever," he said. "Look, I've got work to do. Go bug your pop or something, will ya?"
Ranma could almost feel the girl's pout as he turned away from her and headed for the warehouse door. He'd almost made it a whole half-dozen steps when the girl's voice caught him short. "Show me a super-cool technique!" she said. Then came the whine that only a small child can manage. "Please."
"They're not exactly toys."
Oh God, she was breaking out the big, watery puppy—dog eyes. "Please."
Ranma closed his eyes and thought about it for a moment. Well, it wasn't like he was against showing off how awesome he was, really. Quite for it, even. Fine, he'd show her a little trick. He opened his eyes. "Okay," he said. "I'll show you something, But you've got to promise to keep it yo yourself, yeah? Ninja secret."
Aya nodded enthusiastically in reply, her eyes bright with enthusiasm.
Ranma took a deep breath and then scooped just a little off the top of the wellspring of power at his core and then projected it to his right hand as if he was about to throw a very, very weak single-handed ki attack before holding it in place. It took a surprising amount of concentration on his part. He just wasn't used to summoning up his ki like that without promptly hurling it at someone.
"Wow," she said. For once she was quiet. "What is that? What does it do?"
"This? It, uh, blows things up," said Ranma. Not entirely accurate but it'd do. "Walls and stuff. Hurts like hell if someone hits you with one."
"It blows up walls?"
"Well, yeah. Not this one, because it's a weedy little thing, but the proper attack, yeah."
"And you can take them?"
Ranma blinked. "Of course!" he said. "What sort of wimp goes down after being smashed through a wall? That's amateur stuff."
"You are so cool!"
"Aya! Stop pestering the ninja!"
"But daddy . . . "
"No buts," said Hikaru, wagging his finger at his daughter as he spoke. Then he turned to Ranma "Sorry, kid," he said. "She's just got a thing for ninja. I've told her to leave you alone but you know what kids this age are like."
Ranma scratched the back of his head. "Not really," he said. "But she ain't so bad, really. I don't mind."
"Huh. Well, anyway, she should leave you alone when you've got work to do," he said. "Business before pleasure. Come on, Aya."
"See ya later, kid."
It was really hard to not dislike Anko at times. First she dumped them so she could swan off to a bar and guzzle sake while they slaved away doing something so boring that it went beyond and became utterly mind-numbing and then the moment they stumbled into the titchy little room they'd been allowed in the local inn she dragged them off to the nearest hot springs for 'training'. Ranma was getting to be seriously tempted to deliver a display of his combat skills in a very painful manner to his beloved sensei.
"Aww, look at you three," said Anko. "All grown up and wanting to murder your sensei. It'd bring a tear to a glass eye."
"I ain't seeing any tears."
"I said glass eye, not Anko's eye," said Anko. "Anyway, brats, we're here for training. Time for me to pass on some of my terrific techniques to my unappreciative students, despite my better judgement."
"This better not be as lame as the tree thing."
"Saotome's right, that was a decided waste of time," said Mousse.
"Oh, good for you. You can do something that the average eleven year old is expected to be able to manage. Congratulations. Let's break out the party hats and pretend it's all over and done with and you're not a pack of idiots with more strength than brains. Oh wait, the enemy might just rip your fucking hearts out if you don't learn."
"I'd really like to see them try that," said Ryoga. "I've got an umbrella here that'd teach them a lesson or two."
"If you think that being able to smash things with a stupidly heavy umbrella would help you against an S-class ninja, you're an even bigger fool than I realised. Ah, fuck this."
Then Anko stepped off the paved ground and onto the water next to it. And she didn't sink. Not even a centimetre. Ranma stared at her feet. There was definitely a trick to that, and he had to have it. Just imagine the look on the ghoul's face the next time she took the battle onto the water to use the shark fist if he could simply walk all over it! It made him all warm inside to think of that look of shock on her face before he proceeded to beat her like a drum. Ha! That'd teach her to underestimate Ranma Saotome!
He still wanted to learn how to spit fireballs out of his mouth though. That'd be an awesome way to make his pop quit it with tossing him in the pond at the crack of dawn to start sparring sessions.
"Okay, you can quit it with the maniacal laughter now, brat," said Anko. "Only one crazy person per team allowed and it isn't you."
"And moving swiftly on," said Anko. "The secret to the technique is releasing chakra through your feet. You already know the tree-walking trick so this shouldn't take you too long to learn. Trick is that you need to vary the amount of chakra you release depending on the water conditions. Shit, you think you're so good? That's all you'll need. Go practice."
Ranma was about to join Ryoga and Mousse in heading into the springs proper when what felt like a bucket of ice cold water was poured over his head. "No . . . "
"Come on, brat," said Anko. "Think of it as . . . motivation."
He was being dragged towards the female side of the springs with the strength thet women always seemed to gain when it was time for Ranma to get into trouble.. "They'll kill me!"
"Ah, ah, only if you fall in and give yourself away. Think of it as an exercise in control. Yeah. Control."
"I almost feel sorry for him," he heard Ryoga say as he was dragged through the door to the baths and the idiot duo fell out of sight.
"You are joking, yes?" came the reply.
"Well . . . yeah. Did you even have to ask?"
Ranma shuddered as she looked down at the piping hot water she was stood atop. One slip and she would be almost as doomed as he would be if was she caught being framed for yet another one of Happosai's raids. So close and yet so far. Just one slip in his control of this new technique and he'd be a naked guy in the middle of the female springs: it never ended well.
"Not bad, brat," said Anko. "Don't need to look as if the hounds of hell are nipping at your heels though. Relax . . . enjoy the water. I am."
Evil, evil witch. He was definitely going to get back at her for this 'training'. He didn't let Happosai walk all over him and he wasn't going to let her get away with it.
"Now, brat, the Hyuuga," she said. "You got away with it last time, but try and avoid getting up close with her again."
Ranma twisted around to face Anko and for a horrifying moment she felt her control slip before stabilised herself. And then she had to do it again when she realised she was staring at a nude Anko. "What are you talking about?" asked Ranma finally. "I kicked her arse. She sucked. Weaker than you."
"Kid, their style's lethal in hand to hand," said Anko. "I don't know how much of it she knows, didn't even know there was a female Hyuuga playing the big, bad missing-nin, but it only takes one tap with it to fuck your day up. You see, it isn't about smashing people around like you brats do; it attacks the internals. Nothing you can do about it. Can't train the organs."
Ranma had stars in her eyes. What a style! She had to learn it!
"Don't get any ideas, Ranma. You'd need the bloodline to use it. You see, the Hyuuga are freaks. Real freaks. They have these eyes that can see all around them and deep into your body. Without that the style doesn't work; you wouldn't be able to see the chakra flows to use it."
"So just stay clear. Use your techniques to take her out from range. I bet you have some stuff that'd work for that. If you don't, get one of the other idiots to do it. I'll be talking to them later but they'd probably be better at dealing with this one than you."
That'd be the day. Ryoga and Mousse better than her for a fight? Never would it be! She wouldn't allow it!
"Oh, and a natural redhead? Very nice."
Ranma fell in.
Ranma winced as he walked down the village street. Why was it that even the most normal women in the world turned into raging monsters when they thought a pervert was around? He'd had lighter hits from Ryoga, dammit, and that lunatic of a sensei hadn't helped one bit; hell, she'd thought it was funny. Damned woman. He'd have revenge. Oh yes he would! He'd teach her not to mess with Ranma Saotome! Good thing Akane hadn't been there, though. She'd have absolutely murdered him for being caught in the womans' springs.
Ah, hell, why did he have to think of her? Thinking of Akane made him think of home and how he wasn't ever getting back even worse than normal. Way to kill a mood that was was already pretty crap anyway.
"Why the long face?"
Ranma jerked around to face the force. It was a girl. A girl wearing sunglasses. Pretty, too. Looked to be a little older than he was with long, dark hair. Build wasn't as good as his female form, though, of course. "Wha?" he asked.
"You're a ninja, right?" she asked. "I didn't think ninja were supposed to show their emotions so obviously."
"Eh, who cares?" said Ranma. "Not like I've got anything to worry about."
"You must be quite the ninja to be so confident."
"I'm the best!" proclaimed Ranma. "Well, the crazy woman keeps saying there are loads of crazy guys who could tear me apart but I reckon she's just getting spun up because I beat her so easily."
The girl raised an eyebrow. "You defeated a jounin?" she asked. "I'm impressed."
"Ah, it's nothing. Most ninja are just soft. Bounce a boulder off them and they won't get back up. Wusses."
"A . . . boulder?"
"Yeah," said Ranma. "What, haven't you ever met a real martial artist before? That's baby stuff."
She just stared at him. Least he thought she was staring. It could be hard to tell with someone who was covering their eyes up.
"Uh, you still there?"
The girl nodded hastily. "So, what's your name?" she asked. "I'm Hitomi."
"Ranma Saotome. Uh, why are you talking to me? Not that I mind or anything but people don't normally just come up to me in the street and start talking to me unless they want something. Got a spirit or a demon that needs vanquishing or something?"
"Not at the moment," she said. "But if anything comes up I'll be sure to let you know. Right now, I'm just bored. You looked interesting."
Ranma nodded as if it made perfect sense. "Yeah," he said. "I can understand that."
"So how did you become a ninja then?" she asked. "It's not exactly the sort of thing most people just fall into."
"Well, there was this demon. We did the whole epic battle thing and, don't really know how, ended up in Konoha. Got recruited. Guess they know a good fighter when they see one."
And so it went. The girl was pleasant enough and talkative and seemed interested in Ranma's life. He wasn't exactly going to give away his deepest, darkest secrets but he didn't see a problem with talking about some of the fights he'd had over the years. It was a better way to pass the time than having his mad sensei trying to get him killed, that was for sure.