There were times Anko really wondered if it were fair for the responsibilities that came with running the village to be dumped on the Sandaime. Sure, he was a badass old man, but he was still just that: an old man. Most of the time you wouldn't know it to look at him, well, leaving aside the canyon-sized wrinkles he had on his face, but then there were times when he really did look his age and this was one of them. It was almost enough to make Anko concerned.
"Ah, Hiro," he said quietly. "Another mistake, another wasted life. I hope that his end was at least quick."
Anko shrugged. "Few seconds maybe," she said. "Looked like Ranma crushed his heart and punched his spinal cord out to me. You don't last long or feel much of anything after something like that, I reckon."
"I would think not," said the Sandaime before he blew out a ring of smoke. "No, it would be quick."
"Why do you even care? He was just another scumbag traitor. World's better off without him."
"People aren't born evil, Anko. Even Orochimaru was a simple child with the world at his fingertips once upon a time. You'd do well to remember that."
"Traitor's a traitor. I doubt his family would be so forgiving."
"Probably not," agreed the Sandaime. "But this is rather off the point, I think. You're not here to listen to an old man's regrets and I have no great desire to dwell upon them. Please, continue your report."
Anko nodded. "Right, well, I've really got no idea how he did it," she said. "I've never seen anyone sneak up on a Hyuuga like that before. It'd be one thing to catch a rookie genin napping but this guy was a pro and his brat didn't see it coming either or she'd have tried to do something. It's like he was invisible to them but I don't understand how that's possible."
"And he didn't give any hints about his technique?"
"Said it was a family school," replied Anko with a shrug. "And you know what clans are like about keeping that stuff quiet. Best I get is that it has something to do with becoming an empty vessel."
The Sandaime sighed. "An empty vessel, hmm?" asked the Sandaime, staring off into the distance for a moment. "Fascinating. And the assassination technique?"
"He got right quiet when I asked about that," said Anko. "Which would normally be both novel and a relief but quite irritating when I wanted him to cough up the information. Apparently it's a forbidden technique or something."
The Sandaime frowned. "Forbidden?" he asked. "A simple assassination technique? How . . . strange."
"Strange is normal with these weirdos. I still haven't figured out what glasses-boy was babbling about in his intro."
"Hmm. And how is your student now?"
"Eh, he's fine. Ranma couldn't brood if his life depended on it. Five minutes tops before some shiny thing distracts him."
"Yes, I know a few people like that."
"The Kyuubi brat?"
"Yes, that's exactly who I was thinking of, Anko. Of course."
"Anyway, the other two seem about the same as normal," said Anko. "Mousse doesn't seem bothered and I don't think I'd be able to tell the difference between a Ryoga filled with teenage angst over killing and his normal self anyway."
"It's not normal but at their age it's possible they've already been blooded," replied the Sandaime. "I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were in your shoes."
"Worry? Wasn't planning on it anyway."
"Of course not, of course not."
"So what are you going to do then?" asked Anko. "It's not every day a genin knocks off an A-class traitor. Big news."
The Sandaime leaned back in his chair and took a breath from his pipe before replying. "His stealth technique is clearly S-class," he said finally. "That is not the sort of thing we place in public files. I will make a note on the forbidden scroll and that will be the end of that. Word of it shall not spread beyond us, Anko."
Anko would never, ever admit to anyone just how relieved that made her feel. Ranma really didn't need the Hyuuga starting up with the deniable attempts to knock him off to protect their ever so precious bloodline's superiority. "Yeah, yeah," she said. "Good to hear but what about the berserker thing?"
"For that, I will have to speak to Ranma myself, " he said. "I must hear about this from the horse's mouth. Till then, I can say nothing."
"Doesn't exactly fill me with confidence."
"If he is dangerous then he must be contained till the danger can be defused," said the Sandaime. "It would be my duty. But I rather doubt it will come to that. Ranma is a strong young man and has shown no signs of being a danger to the village as of yet."
Anko didn't have much to say to that. She just hoped Ranma didn't run off at the mouth too badly and screw things up. Brat was irritating but he was still one of hers.
"As for the mission," continued the Sandaime. "A standard C-class ticket for the mission itself, obviously, and . . . yes, an A-class ticket for dealing with Hiro. Quite the impressive notation for a genin's file to have, a successful A-class mission. I suspect it will make the competition in the chuunin exams quite wary of them."
"Ah, yeah, about that . . . there's still one more thing I may have missed out in my report so far."
"Well, we kinda took a prisoner," said Anko. "Uh, it's Hiro's daughter. And, um, yeah. She's locked up in one of the caravans. Not a happy girl but then Ranma did kinda kill her father and I might, possibly, though I'm admitting nothing, have beaten the hell out of her a time or two to shut her up."
"Is she dangerous?"
Anko shrugged. "She's a missing-nin's brat," she said. "Course she's dangerous. I wasn't exactly planning on bringing her back, you know, but Ranma's all kinds of soft-hearted, the stupid kid. He thinks she deserves a chance to rise above her father's actions or something like that."
"The Hyuuga will not accept her."
"I kinda thought you'd pull some strings, grease some palms, scare some girly-men - all the good stuff."
"You know as well as I do that it is not the done thing for the Hokage to interfere in the internal affairs of a clan," he replied with a frown. "The law would be on my side but tradition is against me in this."
"There's gotta be something. Ranma's going to cause trouble if the pricks decide to off the girl he saved. Admittedly, I wouldn't mind seeing him knock a few Hyuuga around, but I reckon you wouldn't be too happy about it."
A few moment of silence followed with the Sandaime puffing away on his pipe with a thoughtful expression on his face. "Ranma has leverage," he said finally. "They owe him a debt and the Hyuuga take that sort of thing seriously. The money they pay him, an S-class bounty, I believe, will not be regarded as sufficient. It may be enough."
"Politics. I hate politics, especially clan politics."
"Tedious as it is, this game is the only path that leads to success."
"Found any more girls to run away from screaming like . . . well, a little girl yet, Ranma?" taunted Ryoga.
"Shut up, Ryoga," snapped Ranma. "She was a demon. Couldn't you see it in her eyes? Oh, wait, you're a moron. Of course you couldn't."
"Looked like a normal enough girl to me," weighed in Mousse. "Maybe you're just going insane, Saotome. More insane."
"Morons," said Ranma. "Didn't you see her eyes? Those were demon eyes, dammit. Demon eyes! The girl was spawned from the deepest pits of hell."
I'm telling you, she was a demon. A real-life bit of hellspawn."
"Demons tend to be a bit uglier than that," said Mousse. "Or don't you remember the thing that got us sent here in the first place, Saotome? It certainly didn't look like that Yugito girl."
"You're only saying that because you thought she was Shampoo, you blind fool."
"Boys, boys, boys," said Anko, dropping in from the roof they'd been arguing below. "You're supposed to be team-mates. Quit the bitchy fighting, will you? It gives me a headache anyway."
"So what'd the old man say then?" asked Ranma, attention immediately diverted. "We got an in for Hitomi?"
"I told you it wasn't going to be that easy, brat," said Anko. "She's a Hyuuga and those guys are total arseholes."
"So what? We break some heads and move on. Easy."
"Did I mention that they're the most powerful clan in the village as well as having the largest stick up their collect arse? Don't pick a fight here, Ranma. It wouldn't end well."
"Well, I gotta do something. I'm not just going leave her to rot. A second chance is no good if everyone's working 'gainst you from day one."
"The Hokage's going to try and help you," said Anko. "But don't get your hopes up. The Hyuuga are bound to fuck things up. Anyway, I got your mission tickets here, kiddies. One for getting the caravans to Kumo and back in one piece and another for knocking off the bastard. Maybe now you can get yourself a place bigger than the average tatami."
They looked down at the notes they'd been handed. They looked back up at Anko's expectant face. "I . . . have no idea how much this is," grumbled Ryoga. "Is it a lot?"
"Idiots. It's enough to live off for a few months," she said. "An A-class bounty brings in a lot of booze and dango."
"Great," said Ranma. "If I ever want to wind up stinking in a gutter somewhere, I'll take your advice right to heart. What's next?"
"You're going to have a little chat with the Hokage. Go on, run along. Be a good little ninja boy and answer the summons quickly now."
Sarutobi watched closely as Ranma bounded into his office. It was hard to see the boy as dangerous even knowing that he'd assassinated an A-class missing-nin with approximately the same amount of difficulty that a cat would have dealing with a mouse. He just seemed so harmless. Childish even. So full of energy, so utterly devoid of any apparent guile, so straight-forward. He'd seen many things in his years but it was hard to imagine this child slamming his arm through someone's chest.
But then he'd thought the same way about Jiraiya once upon a time.
"So what's up, old man?" asked Ranma. "Psycho-sensei said you wanted to talk to me. It about Hitomi?"
"Hitomi . . . ah, the Hyuuga girl," said Sarutobi. "No. Not entirely, Ranma. We'll get to that soon enough but for now I want to have a little talk with you about how you defeated the Yubari triplets."
If he hadn't already know that something was off, Ranma's body language would have given it away in an instant. The boy truly had little talent for deceit. An unfortunate trait for a ninja, to be sure. "What ya talking about, old man?" he asked. "They weren't anything special. Was easy."
"Really?" asked Sarutobi. "Hmm, I was rather under the impression that you'd had to resort to some sort of berserker mode to defeat them. What was it . . . ah, yes, the cat-fist."
Ranma shifted from foot to foot. "Where'd ya hear about that from?" he asked.
"Mission reports are like that," replied Sarutobi with a smile. "They tend to tell me what actually happened."
"Tell me about this cat-fist, Ranma. I'm curious."
"I don't exactly like talking about it."
"I must insist," said Sarutobi, putting some steel behind his words. "Much rests on this."
"Look it isn't anything special," said Ranma, scratching at the base of his pigtail in as obvious a sign of discomfort as Sarutobi had ever seen. "Just a crazy martial arts training technique that doesn't really work all that well. No cats, no problem. Easy."
"It really ain't anything you probably haven't heard of a million times before," said Ranma. "Ultimate technique, yadda yadda yadda, doesn't actually work, drives the trainee insane nine times out of ten. All that good stuff. Doesn't mean anything unless there are c-c-felines around. I really don't like those. Really, really, really don't like."
"The sight of cats places you in a berserker mode then."
"No, no, no . . . well . . . sort of. I don't just flip. It takes a whole lot of cats . . . or really big cats. Anyway, I can control it normally. It's not that big a deal."
"I believe that the Yubaris would beg to differ."
"Yeah, well, don't attack me when I'm like that and I won't attack you. It's real simple. You wouldn't prod a lion with a stick so you don't mess with someone in the cat-fist."
Sarutobi looked at the boy intently and weighed it up in his mind. Ranma clearly couldn't lie to save his life, unless he was going to be truly paranoid about things when he had no reason to be, so there was little reason to doubt the boy's word. And he'd done little to warrant suspicion and a fair amount to give him some small amount of trust as a loyal shinobi of the leaf. It would be incredibly harsh to hold this technique against him, and it would be hard to justify it too. The boy was an asset to the village, potentially a great one, and not something to be discarded lightly.
"Very well," said Sarutobi finally. "I will take you at your word, Ranma."
"So, what about Hitomi?"
"The Hyuuga respect strength," said Sarutobi. "You have that in spades and apparently the girl is not without talent in her own right. I would advise playing upon that and being prepared to make concessions if her fate truly matters to you. Her life may not come cheaply for you."
"I don't go back on my word."
"An admirable trait," said Sarutobi. "But one that people will try to take advantage of. Be careful. Now, Ranma, I'd like to see a demonstration of these techniques you used in your last mission. I believe they were called the Umisenken and Yamasenken, yes? For my files, you understand."
"These are family techniques, old man. I don't want them getting out, you know?"
"Of course, of course. But there's paperwork to be filed for such powerful techniques. Not how to perform them, not for family techniques, but what they do. Things like that. We have a system in place for this sort of thing. It's quite useful if you haven't looked at it. Secure, too. We keep a close eye on the most powerful of the village's techniques."
"I dunno. I don't like showing these things off . . . they're kinda dangerous. Even my fat old panda of a pop didn't mess around with these techniques if he could help it."
"We have established systems in place for these things," said Sarutobi with a smile. "I assure you, it is quite safe."
"Well, if you're sure," said Ranma, looking somewhat dubious.
"Oh, I am. I wouldn't ask if I wasn't."
"That's it?" asked Ranma. "Doesn't look like it'll make for much of a demonstration to me, old man."
It really didn't. What he saw looked like one of those dummies you see in clothes shops but with a layer of padding around it. Not exactly something that'd make for much of a show with the Yamasenken, really. There were a few of them, all neatly set up in a row, but Ranma had a hard time imagining that they'd stand up all that well.
"Oh, they're quite sturdy," said Sarutobi. "They may not look it but they are reinforced with a truly stupendous amount of chakra. Demonstration dummies would hardly be of much use if they fell apart easily, would they?"
"I suppose so," said Ranma before shrugging his shoulders and moving on. "Okay, I'm not all that good at the Yamasenken. It's all about overwhelming force and that's more Ryoga's gig than mine. Don't get me wrong, I can use moves from the school, but they're not as powerful as they could be."
"Oh, yeah, didn't you know? The Yamasenken and Umisenken are schools of techniques based around an idea. The Yamasenken is overwhelming force and the Umisenken is overwhelming guile."
Not exactly true but Ranma wasn't exactly going to admit they were about thieving. That was just embarrassing as all hell, no matter how effective the damned techniques really were.
"Interesting. So I presume that the Yamasenken techniques would all be regarded as assassination moves."
"Don't know about that," said Ranma. "I've survived a few hits from someone using them who really got his jollies from overwhelming force. Hurt worse than the time Akane kicked me in the nuts but I lived."
"You must be quite durable."
"Yeah, but you should see what it's like trying to put Ryoga down. It's easier to knock a demon out."
The old man paused for a moment with his eyebrows raised before he spoke again. "Well, that's interesting," he said. "I don't suppose you can demonstrate an entire school of techniques so just give me the high points, the important moves, the general idea of what the schools can do."
"Okay, old man."
Ranma eyed the first of the dummies. Well, fine. Wasn't like he minded showing off how great he was.
"Dokuja Tanketsu Sho!"
Ranma's hand smashed through the dummy with the same ease it had smashed through Hiro's body and for a moment Ranma had to close his eyes and concentrate to fend off those images before he pulled his arm free and moved on to the next dummy ready for the next attack.
"Moko Kaimon Ha!"
The powerful kick smashed the dummy off its pole with ease and sent it careening away with great force. He moved on to the next dummy.
"Kijin Raishu Dan!"
The vacuum blade sliced through the dummy with the greatest of ease before moving on to cut through a couple of trees behind it as well before finally running out of steam and stopping at a rock it ran into and cut a small gouge out of.
"Well, that's about it," said Ranma. "There are a couple of higher level attacks but they're just that last one with more blades and more destruction. Dunno if it'd be a good idea to pull those out here."
Sarutobi was more than mildly impressed. The melee attacks were powerful enough in their own right, obviously killing or incapacitating blows, without any signs of great chakra drain or noise, but the ranged attack, well, that was something else. He'd seen Suna ninja use something similar in the past but they required a prop, a weapon to generate the attack, and Konoha had few wind masters who could use such attacks in the first place other than his son and himself.
"Very well," he said. "I think it's safe to say that your Yamasenken would warrant an S-class rating."
"That's good, right?"
"Cool," said Ranma. He paused for a moment. "The Umisenken is better."
"Really?" asked Sarutobi. "I know it's a supreme stealth technique, allowing you to approach a Hyuuga undetected, but does it have the combat power of the Yamasenken?"
"If a master of the Umisenken fights a master of the Yamasenken, the master of the Umisenken will win," said Ranma. "Assuming their skills are equivalent."
"And a master of both?"
"Kicks arse," said Ranma. "Watch."
Ranma slipped into a strange stance, his hands held in a sloppy, loose way that would have had Gai screaming at him, and for a moment Sarutobi wondered what he was doing before something happened. It was as if Ranma was there in front of him but not there at the same time. It took him only a moment to realise that the boy had erased his presence from the world around him. His chakra was gone. Completely gone. Unbelievable.
And then he moved. Sarutobi couldn't track it and if he didn't know better he'd think that Ranma had gone invisible, perhaps he had, but he could see the strikes landing against the dummy leaving behind scorch marks with every impact. For a moment he wondered if there was a fire element to the techniques before he came to the realisation that they were scorch marks. Ranma was striking with such speed that he was leaving scorch marks on the dummy.
There were ways to counter such a technique, sensing the vibrations in the air or the ground as Ranma moved into striking position for example, but unless you were prepared with foreknowledge of the technique . . . yes, S-class. Easily.
"Impressive, Ranma," said Sarutobi when the boy was done with pulping the practice dummy. "Very impressive, though I have to wonder why these techniques would be forbidden."
"Oh, that? Pop had an attack of conscience after he taught the techniques to some moron who went off and killed himself by punching out the support columns of his dojo."
Sarutobi just couldn't make sense of that. He understood the words and the sentence structure made sense but the facts just didn't compute. Stupidity on that level . . . how did such a person last into adulthood? Ranma certainly had some interesting stories in him.
Hiashi Hyuuga set Ranma's fiancee alarm off the moment he set eyes upon the man. He just looked way too much like Mr. Tendo for comfort - give him a moustache and normal eyes and they could have been long lost twins - and he even had a couple of daughters with him to use in some insane marriage contract, which really didn't help Ranma's comfort levels one bit. And he really wouldn't put it past his pop to have found a way to marry him off to people in another world.
But then a closer look . . . well, Mr. Tendo could never in a million years have looked as stern as this Hyuuga guy. He'd pretty much been good for shogi, pulling off a demon head, and crying when things didn't go his way; anything beyond that was entirely beyond his powers. This guy looked like he still kept himself in fighting trim and his facial expression and body language gave the definite impression that he'd be quite happy to put his skills to use.
The daughters were too young for marriage weirdness, though. Thankfully. One looked to be about eleven or twelve and the other a few years younger than that. Too young to be married off to him. The older one was wearing a hitai-ate, which was more than slightly disturbing. Wasn't she a little young to be a ninja?
"Ranma Saotome," said Hiashi, with a slight nod of his head. "These are my daughters, Hinata and Hanabi. I am told that you have something important for me to see.
Anko handed Ranma the bag in silence, which Ranma than ever so gently pulled open to reveal Hiro's head. He didn't much like it, especially in front of a couple of little kids, but this was what Anko told him was the expected course of action and had to be done. To their credit, neither of the kids gave any blatant reaction. The older one looked a little greener around the gills than she had previously and the younger one had a glassy sort of look in her eyes but there was no vomit or tears or exclamations of horror.
Hiashi remained expressionless as he took the bag from Ranma. He took a moment to inspect the head before looking back at Ranma. "And the body?" he asked.
"Burned at the scene," replied Ranma. "As per standard hunter-nin procedures."
"And with this, the honour of the Hyuuga is cleansed," said Hiashi. "The clan owes you a debt, Ranma Saotome."
Ranma didn't get time to say anything stupid. Another Hyuuga appeared from the shadows and handed him a piece of paper with an awful lot of zeroes on it. He might, possibly, have gawped a little. He had no idea of local money, but when you had to count the zeroes it was always a lot.
"I believe this brings an end to our meeting."
"There's one more thing, Mr. Hyuuga," said Ranma quickly. "The guy had a teenage daughter."
Hiashi went very still. The oldest of the two daughters was looking at anything but the people speaking as she pushed her fingers together. "Has she been dealt with?" asked Hiashi finally. "I see no head."
"She's innocent," said Ranma. "The betrayal was her father's."
"Her father's blood is diseased and rotten. The entire branch must be pruned to save the tree."
Ranma was somewhat taken aback. Wasn't that just a little harsh? "She's talented," he said. "That talent could be an asset to the clan."
"So was her father," replied Hiashi. "I have no intention of taking another Hiro into the clan."
"She aint' her pop," said Ranma. "She just needs a chance to be something that ain't what he wanted her to be."
Hiashi's implacable gaze did not soften one bit. "I can see no reason to give her this chance," he said. "The girl is born of the traitor's blood and has learned at the traitor's knee. Can there be any greater reason not to allow her the chance to become a danger?"
"She's not a bad person, not really. Please, I'm asking you, as a favour to me, to give her a chance."
"That's quite the request."
"There would be conditions and I would ask for a favour in return," warned Hiashi. "This is not something that can be granted without a price."
"I'm willing to pay it."
Anko did not look happy.
"The conditions are simple: she will be sealed, as are all branch family members, and will be expected to comport herself in a manner befitting a Hyuuga," said Hiashi. "Any signs of treasonous thought will result in her immediate execution."
"As long as she's dealt with fairly."
Hiashi inclined his head ever so slightly in a brief nod. "The favour is simple," he said. "I find myself lacking in time and my daughters require extensive training if they are to ever reach the standards expected of a main family Hyuuga. What I would ask of you is simple: train my daughters in your taijutsu. Your skills in the field have already attracted considerably attention, Ranma Saotome, and I would have you pass on your knowledge to my children."
"I can't teach them Jyuuken," said Ranma as Hinata's eyes went very, very wide. "My eyes aren't good enough for that."
"No matter. There are many Hyuuga who could teach them Jyuuken. I want you to teach them what you know, not what we know. Anything else would defeat the point of the exercise."
Ranma pondered it for a moment. Anything Goes was supposed to be a family school but then it wasn't like he had to teach them everything there was to it, no way was he teaching them his pop's forbidden techniques, and it wasn't like non-family hadn't been taught before. "Okay," he said. "I'll do it."
"Excellent!" said Hiashi, with an actual facial expression for the first time in the meeting: a smile. "Now, where is the girl?"
Anko leapt away and returned a few minutes later with Ryoga, who had Hitomi slung across his shoulder in a most undignified sort of way. Judging by the words Ranma could make out from her screeching as they hopped from roof to roof she was pretty unhappy about it. Seriously, who'd taught her to talk like that? Even his pop would have washed his mouth out with soap if he'd started talking like that.
She went quiet right quick when they dropped her in front of Hiashi though. Quiet and pale, even by her normal standards.
"Come along, girl," said Hiashi. "The boy has saved your life. The least you can do is accept it gracefully."
That seemed to be the trigger. "No, no, no," she whispered, shaking her head frantically. "You can't do this to me!"
Ranma grabbed her by her elbow and pulled her in close so that he could whisper into her ear without anyone overhearing. "It's this or they kill you," he said. "You know how valuable those eyes of yours are. I can't do any better than this, Hitomi."
Hitomi's reaction would baffle Ranma for years to come. She turned to face him with fire in her eyes, fear long gone, and yanked herself free of his grasp. "I don't help from the likes of you," she sneered. And then she marched off without a hint of her previous fear in her body language.
Ranma would never, ever understand girls even with the curse.