"Nice dojo," said Ranma with a nod.
And it was: spacious and well kitted out with everything made from the finest materials money was likely to be able to buy them in the backwater world he'd ended up being sent to. Not that it was all that surprising. The Hyuuga were seriously loaded, had to be to own a compound as large as they did, so they were hardly going to skimp on the training facilities, not when they were supposed to be some big, bad ninja clan that was all about strength and fighting skill.
Not that Ranma had seen much of that from Hiro. He hadn't been bad, really, but for someone who was supposed to take their martial arts as seriously as an Anything Goes student he was kinda underwhelming. The guy'd had a neat speed attack and his hits were pretty damaging even with almost no power behind them, but would he have even been able to land a hit if he hadn't been given a gilt-edged opening? Ranma didn't think so.
Anyway, as places went to train, it wasn't too shabby. It wasn't ideal, ideal was out on the road learning as you went from whatever masters you ran across while you got your core skills from someone like his pop, but it was good enough, he supposed. Wasn't like he was going to be taking the brats out on the road for a training trip anytime soon anyway, not unless their pop suddenly decided he didn't actually want his kids around all that much, and even his pop wouldn't do that.
"So you two are my students, huh?" asked Ranma, eyeing the two girls. "You don't look like much."
The older one was looking everywhere but at him, which was more than slightly irritating, as she pushed her fingers together. The younger one was trying to match her father's normal expressionless expression but it was never going to work for a kid that young. There was just no way a little kid was going to be able to managed it and she just looked kinda silly trying to look so serious.
"I'll have you know that I'm the most talented of my age group," said the little one. What was her name again? Himeko? Hisana? Hasumi? Ah, it wasn't important.
"Must be a real small pond then," said Ranma, "because you ain't all that big."
The girl gaped. The other made a sort of umming sound that might have been an attempt to speak but Ranma wasn't all that sure.
"I don't suppose either of you know anything other than that tippy-tappy style your family uses?" asked Ranma. Both shook their heads. "Ah, I suppose it would be too much to ask to have students that didn't suck. One style? Ah, man."
"And how many did you know when you were my age?"
"Well, uh," said Ranma before he started to count them off on his fingers. "Kempo, Jujitsu, Shotokan, some Muay Thai, Taekwondo, couple variants of Kung Fu, bit of Tai Chi when pop palmed me off on some old dude in Hokkaido, and, of course, Anything Goes."
The little kid resumed gaping.
"And I was only a couple years into my real training by then," continued Ranma. "So only knowing one style at your age really, really doesn't impress me. Feh, you'd better be real good at the style you do know or this is gonna be some real dull training. For me anyway."
"Ah, ah, my sister really is quite skilled," said the older one.
"Could you say that with any less confidence?" asked Ranma. "I hope you put a bit more spirit into your fights 'n that."
"I . . .uh . . . "
Ranma shook his head. Whatever. "I won't be teaching you Jyuuken," he said. "That's your pop's job or whoever else he ropes in from your clan. I'm going to teach you Anything Goes, if you can handle it. You're probably going to hate me for the crap I put you through but it'll make you strong, and that's what counts."
The little one was glaring at him as if she was daring him to follow through on his words. Ha, she'd regret that.
"I need to see what you can do before we start," he said. "I need to see your level before I can decide what sort of training to hit you with. You, older one, prepare yourself. Runty one, go sit at the side or something and don't get in the way."
The little one's sniff of indignation as she trotted off out of the way really did make it all worthwhile. He was going to have to jab at her ego more often if she was going to react in such an amusing way to it. The older one, well, not so amusing. She averted her eyes for a moment and then slid into the same bent-kneed stance that all Jyuuken fighters seemed to use. Way too lacking in confidence, that one. He almost felt bad about fighting her, even if he wasn't going to hurt the girl, but eh. She was a student of Anything Goes; he couldn't go easy on her.
Ranma slid his hands into his back pockets and grinned at her. "Well, come on then," he said. "Let's see it."
After a moment's dithering, she came at him directly with finger strikes aimed at the sides of his lungs. Neither strike came even close to hitting home. Ranma simply leaned to the right and then, in the milliseconds before the next strike, back to the left in a flash of motion that allowed him to twist between the two without even moving his feet. He then stepped forwards inside the girl's range and tapped her on the nose with his left thumb.
"That'd be a broken nose," said Ranma. "Watch the counter."
Before the girl could react to that he hopped backwards a couple of feet to allow her a moment to regain her composure and the space to launch anything else she had up her sleeves at him. Man, he hoped it would be better than that first go. He'd had more difficulty with Akane when they sparred and she had all the grace and speed of a donkey. A donkey with arthritis. Arthritis and a dislocated hip. A dislocated hip and a pair of concrete boots on her feet.
And for some reason Akane had never appreciated it when he pointed this out to her. Sheesh. Women.
It took a few moments for the girl to attack again but when she did she came in a little quicker and little more precise than she had before. It still wasn't enough for Ranma to have to do more than twist his body to and fro to let the strikes whistle on past but it was a little better.
"You know, restricting yourself like this doesn't help," he said, as he twisted sideways to avoid a strike aimed at his gut. "If you don't use any kicks, it eliminates a whole lot of ways you could attack me. Makes it real easy to dodge."
She stepped back and took a deep breath. "Jyuuken strikes c-can't be performed with k-kicks, sensei," she said. "It's im-impossible to focus chakra that precisely through your feet."
"So don't use Jyuuken then. Didn't you learn anything useful at ninja school?"
The idea of that still blew his mind, to be honest. A school for ninja. What the hell? He supposed he shouldn't have been too surprised by it in a place where the ninja were a military force that operated out in the open but it still came as a bit of a shock to hear that ninja learned how to be a ninja at an actual school. Ranma wasn't sure whether to be horrified by the idea that even the martial arts had been turned into a school class or intrigued by a school that sounded way more like his idea of a good time than Furinkan.
She did at least try to throw a kick or two in when she came at him again, Ranma doubted that she had it in her to ignore a sensei with what he'd seen of her, but it didn't change anything. Ranma was beginning to get slightly irritated by it. He could live with her being crap but he could see the hesitation in her movements, that desperately needed split-second extra in speed she wasn't using because . . . hell, if he knew. In the end, he caught her by the wrist and tossed her across the dojo.
"You know, holding back ain't going to help you any," said Ranma. "If you're worried about hurting me or something stupid like that then don't. Whatever you can hand out, I can take."
The girl's reaction, he really had to try and remember her name, was baffling. She looked as if he'd punched her between the eyes. She stepped back, she stammered, she blushed, and he was damned if he could get an sort of sense out of it all. He'd said it before and he'd say it again, he'd never understand girls.
Eventually she collected herself and managed to mount another attack but it was even more pathetic than before. What little grace she had been possessed of previously certainly wasn't evident in the jerky, self-conscious movements that made up her attempts to land a hit on Ranma. It was almost embarrassingly simple for him to slide around her and tap her on the top of her head.
"That'd be a killing blow," he said. "Shape up or this is just going to be embarrassing. I wouldn't be able to look my pop in the eye with a student who fought like this to my credit."
Her next attempts were even worse, if that were possible. Grace? It wasn't even in the same building. She made Akane look like Bruce Lee. Hell, she made Akane look like the Old Ghoul. It was pitiful. Ranma put even less effort into dodging the attacks than he put into his school work and she still didn't come even remotely close to landing anything remotely resembling a hit on him. Eventually he just tired of it and jumped backwards away from her.
"That's enough," he said. "You've got the fighting spirit of a cardboard box. I don't need to see any more of that."
The girl hung her head and muttered apologies as she stepped backwards to stand by her sister, who was giving Ranma the evil eye. And that evil eye was somewhat more impressive than the usual for her age evil eye what with her having super-eyes. Still a hundred years too young to bother him, though. He'd been given the evil eye by people who were way scarier. And uglier.
"That's the problem," said Ranma. "You started off bad and just got worse when I started doing stuff to knock your confidence. If you don't keep your head up, you've got no chance. What, you think enemies won't talk trash at you? Trading insults is half the fun of it."
"I . . . sorry."
Ranma sighed. "What are you apologising for?" he asked. "Not being a great fighter? That ain't something you say sorry for. It's something you fix. We'll deal with that."
The runty one was still glaring at him.
"What, runt?" asked Ranma with a cocky grin. "You think you can do better? You're welcome to try."
She didn't need any further encouragement. The runt came at him with speed that almost impressive for someone that young, he'd been faster, of course, and she was swinging with some serious intent. Ranma couldn't resist temptation though. He simply planted his hand on her forehead and let her flail away uselessly well outside the range of her stubby little kiddy arms.
"Yeah, you'd best keep working on that," he said. "Still a hundred years too young to beat me."
The scowl that appeared on the girl's features at that was truly epic and he had to react sharply to catch the strike that she aimed at the elbow of the arm he was using to hold her at bay. "Trying to break my elbow, Hanabi?" he asked. "Tsk, tsk. What would your father say?"
Yes, that was it! Hanabi and Hinata. He knew he'd remember their names eventually.
"He'd encourage me to prove my strength!"
Ranma flipped her away to land on her back with a thud next to her sister. "Like I said, you're a hundred years too young to beat me," he said. "But we'll work on that."
"Yo, Mr. Hyuuga," said Ranma. "I'm done with 'em for the day. Got to go meet my team."
"So I see," he replied, looking up from the scroll he was writing on and turning to face Ranma. "You were quite harsh with them"
"How did you . . . oh yeah, the whole super eyes thing."
"Anyway, you don't learn martial arts by being mollycoddled," replied Ranma. "Just doesn't work that way. It takes hardship to breed strength."
"Indeed," said Hiashi with an approving nod. "You are entirely correct on this. Few are the people your age who appreciate the necessity and I am glad to see that someone employed as my daughters' instructor understands."
"Right," said Ranma. "They ain't much right now, to be honest. Hinata's not entirely without skill but has the fighting spirit of a paper bag and even less in the way of confidence. Her head goes down too easy."
"I have noticed similar in the past. And what of Hanabi?"
"She's better," said Ranma. "Real easy to toy with, though, but that's just because she's so little. Give her a few years to grow up and get some decent-length arms, a dose of skill, and some more speed and she'll be decent enough. She's got the right mindset at least and she isn't entirely awful for an eight year old."
"High praise indeed," said Hiashi, his voice and expression neutral.
"Well, not everyone can be as good as me," said Ranma. "So how's it going with Hitomi? She hasn't ran off or anything has she?"
"She is, as you would expect, not entirely pleased with the situation. There is much that happens within the Hyuuga that we do not speak of to outsiders and she has taken it poorly. Only time will tell if she can adapt."
Ranma frowned. "She's going to be okay, right?" he asked.
"Only time will tell," repeated Hiashi. "She is not entirely without skill in battle and you have bought her entry into the clan register. We will not dispose of her lightly, I assure you."
Ranma didn't much like the way Hiashi was talking but it didn't sound like he was going to be chucking Hitomi off a roof or anything any time soon so it wasn't like it was time to break out the epic duel and daring escape routine. Damn but it was easier to deal with things when it was some super-powered villain type causing trouble.
Hiashi turned back to his scroll with a sigh of irritation as the boy left. He was absolutely insufferable in his arrogance and had the manners of an untamed monkey, but he was certainly a capable warrior and that made him useful. Hinata was weak and he rather doubted that any sort of training would ever fix that, but Hanabi . . . Hanabi had potential, and if she could take the boy's skills and use that knowledge to strengthen Jyuuken, well, it would make putting up with a thousand irritating, full of themselves children more than worth the trouble.
Now if only he wasn't so tempted to wipe that arrogant smirk off the brat's face.
Mousse turned away from the tree he was busily turning into a pin-cushion with his store of weaponry to face Ranma. He had to admit that he was surprised: he'd been half-expecting Ranma to piss off the Hyuuga and have to fight his way to freedom, so it was a surprise to see him come bounding in none the worse for wear. Disappointing too. It would have been entertaining to see Ranma being pursued by an entire clan of pissed off ninja who could take him out with one hit.
"Where's Anko?" asked Ranma. "She was supposed to be meeting us here, right?"
Ryoga looked up from the scroll he was reading underneath the shade of his lead umbrella. "Shut up, Ranma," he said. "Do you think we're waiting here for the good of our health?"
"You've done stupider things, P-chan."
"Now, now, kiddies," said Anko, appearing out of thin air. "No need to squabble. Your superb sensei is here."
Ranma eyed her askance. "You didn't look too superb when that Hyuuga guy did a snatch and grab on you," he said.
Mousse was never going to understand why Ranma was such an easy target for angry women or why he continually pissed them off, but he wasn't going to complain either. Seeing Ranma getting the crap kicked out of him always brightened his day.
"Now," said Anko, brushing her hands together in satisfaction as Ranma mumbled something that was probably insulting (Mousse came to this conclusion as she promptly stood on his head). "We need to talk about what's next in your newly-born ninja career."
"More missions?" asked Mousse. "Hopefully ones with a bit less massed slaughter."
"Ah, no, no," said Anko with a grin. "No more missions for a while. We've got something extra special lined up now: the chuunin exams."
"Is that supposed be exciting?" asked Ranma
Mousse was somewhat disappointed when Ranma dodged the kick that Anko aimed at his head.
"Listen up," said Anko. "I know you guys don't have the same interest in making it to chuunin or jounin that people who grew up here do, but you want to learn fancy new techniques, right? Well, you get more access to that sort of thing as you move up the ranks."
Ranma popped up. " Well, let's get started then!" he said. A moment's silence. "Uh, so what do we have to do?"
"Brat, you're so stupid it hurts at times." said Anko. "And you don't have to do anything yet. The exams don't start for a month. Friendly hint: you don't need to polish your ability to win fights, you're already way beyond genin in that; you need to work on other ninja skills, like tracking."
"You're not going to be training us?" asked Mousse with a frown. He wasn't entirely sure how he was supposed to bring himself up to par in subjects he had no knowledge of if she didn't train them.
"Eh, no. I'm one of the examiners so that'd probably be frowned upon by the other villages. So no training from me, but your ever so thoughtful sensei has arranged, just for you, my cute little genin, a substitute."
A tall male ninja with very tan skin dropped down from the trees. "Yo," he said with a sheepish wave. "Just as a friendly hint, never let this woman get you drunk."
"You weren't complaining at the time."
"I didn't realise you were going to blackmail me into teaching a bunch of brats how to not trample through the forest like a pack of elephants at the time."
"Whine, whine, whine, that's all I hear."
"So who're you to teach us?" asked Ryoga, quite rudely in Mousse's opinion. "How do we know he's worth listening to?"
"Fudo here is the best tracker in the village," said Anko. "And he does a mean line in pyrotechnics too. They don't hand out jounin promotions in cereal packets, you know."
"Wouldn't know it from how some of you guys fight."
Yes, it was most satisfying to watch Saotome shove his foot in his mouth and then get his leg forced down after it by an irritated female. It was one of his more endearing habits, as far as Mousse was concerned.