Obligations-Start                                                   Obligations-Ch02

 

Obligations: Chapter 1

 

"Geez, where does Dr. Tofu get these things?" Ranma walked along the rooftop, balancing a sealed glass terrarium that had a plant with wide green leaves and yellow flowers in it.

"Nii-hao, Ranma!" Shampoo's voice didn't give Ranma enough warning to avoid the bicycle and he bounced on the roof, fighting desperately to grab the bowl. As he reached for the falling bowl, his fingers brushed its edge and knocked it spinning over the edge of the rooftop.

Ranma lay flat, "Damn!"

Raising a hand to her mouth, Shampoo exclaimed, "Oh, so sorry! Didn't see bowl. Was present for Akane?"

"No," Ranma snapped, standing up, "It was a present for Kasumi from Dr. Tofu. And even if it was a present for Akane – which it wasn't – since I don't get her presents – anyhow even if it was, you shouldn't go around knocking things down!"

Shampoo's eyes widened, Ranma's mad? "Sorry, truly. Didn't see it – only you. Can buy another?"

"No." Sighing, Ranma hopped off the roof to the street below, "It was shipped from the Amazon…" His voice faltered and went silent as he stared at the young girl standing before him. She was about Akane's height and probably a year younger, with long black-green hair pulled back in a top pony-tail. A light blue headband with small purple vine designs kept her bangs out of her eyes and nicely accented their light blue-green color. She wore a loose-flowing crinkly-green collared shirt open to the chest, tied around the middle with a white sash. A leather necklace with a small medallion encircled her neck closely. The bottoms of her black pants were stuffed into practical short hiking boots. Both the boots and the durable backpack she wore indicated a long travel. The girl regarded Ranma solemnly, one hand resting on the tall staff next to her side. The other hand was extended towards Ranma, holding the terrarium bowl – completely intact.

Ranma blinked, looking between it and her. Shampoo jumped down from the roof beside him and saw it also, "Oh! Plant okay?"

The girl smiled and nodded, still holding it out. Finally, Ranma woke up and accepted it. "Thank you." The expression seemed inadequate for the depth of Ranma's worry a minute ago and he bowed formally to her.

Biting her lip to hold back a grin, the girl switched hands on her staff, then dipped down in a half-curtsey in the European manner. Straightening up, she tilted her head to one side, managing to indicate that it had been no bother and she was happy to help. Then she waved a hand at them, including Shampoo in the gesture, and walked away, turning the corner around the street. Ranma and Shampoo stared after her.

"Huh," Ranma shook his head, "That was odd." He shrugged and turned to walk down the sidewalk the opposite way. Shampoo continued to watch the empty street, a smile on her lips, "That be nice girl."

"Ahhh!" Ranma bounced back, dragging Shampoo off to one side as a car whipped down the street, weaving back and forth so violently it was running up on the sidewalks. It passed them by and turned the corner with a squeal of tires.

"Damn drunk drivers," Ranma let go of Shampoo and held up the terrarium to examine it. Shampoo grabbed his hand and pulled him down the street after the car. "What? … Oh!" Ranma pulled even with Shampoo and passed her as they turned the corner after the car and the girl. Forgotten, the bowl fell to the ground.

Around the corner, the car was nowhere in sight, but the young girl was laying in a small heap against one of the walls. Even as they got to her, she sat up, glaring down the street, "Jack'kk'ass." Then she looked around at Ranma and Shampoo and blushed, raising a hand to her lips. Ranma and Shampoo glanced at each other, then burst out laughing, mostly in relief that she was okay. The girl also laughed, then stood up in one smooth motion that used her legs and balance only, her hands free. She started to dust herself off, then let out a small exclamation of pain and glared at her right shoulder, seeming more annoyed than upset.

"Does it hurt?"

She switched the glare to Ranma, lifting an eyebrow that adequately said, 'of course, you idiot.' Stretching the arm out to one side, the girl tried to rotate it around, but gave up after barely moving it, her mouth twisting in a grimace.

"Come-on – Dr. Tofu's place is right around the corner, and he's really good." Ranma gestured ahead of them. The girl smiled at him, then looked around until she spotted her staff, which had rolled off to the gutter. Shampoo bent down and picked it up, her face momentarily startled as she hefted it. She twirled it to a horizontal level, then whirled it in a quick pinwheel. Finishing the brief trial, Shampoo nodded at the girl, "Good staff."

The girl nodded, accepting the praise. Suddenly she glanced between Ranma and Shampoo, looking for something, and her brow snapped down in a frown as she didn't find it. She strode in quick rapid steps around the corner where they had come from.

"Wait a sec'! Dr. Tofu's is… Oh." Ranma turned the corner behind her and saw the broken terrarium as she knelt beside it. "Damn." Next to him, Shampoo shrugged philosophically, "Better plant than person."

Wiggling out of her backpack, the girl pulled out, with her left hand, a medium-sized sealed ceramic pot. Opening the top, she poured out the liquid contents on the street, then piled some loose soil in the bottom. Gently, she picked glass off of the plant and lifted it up, trying to keep the roots intact in their pile of soil. Shampoo knelt next to her and helped her. The girl gave a grateful grin, but concentrated on her task, placing the plant gently into the pot where it just fit. She breathed into the top a few times, then put the lid back on, sealing it tightly.

Shampoo dipped a curious finger in the puddle of liquid, raising her hand to her face to smell, then taste. Her eyes widened in surprise. Watching her, the girl grinned slightly, then stood up in her smooth motion, left hand holding tightly to the pot. Ranma knelt down and swept up the remnants of the terrarium, tossing them in a nearby garbage can. Then he hefted her backpack and turned, "This way." 

 

"Oh hi, Ranma! Back so soon?" Dr. Tofu brushed aside the curtain as he stepped into the waiting room.

"Uh, Dr. Tofu, I dropped the terrarium." Ranma figured he better get the worst news over right away. He winced as Dr. Tofu's face fell.

His hands twirling aimlessly around each other, Dr. Tofu spoke brokenly, "Oh. Well. I guess I can… Oh. No, I can't. Well…"

The young girl made a noise in her throat and held out the pot slightly, "It's o'okkkay. The phil'l'lll… plant jus—t needs to be repott't't'd. No d'd'ddd… hurt to the stalk or'r the roots. Jus—t needs a litt't't… some ten'der care." She grinned, "Bett't't'r present t'this way."

"Better?" Dr. Tofu blinked at her, then he also grinned, "But of course! Give Kasumi something to nurse back to health. Something she can take care of. A present that actually needs her instead of a curiosity in a box. Oh yes, you're right! Kasumi won't mind at all!" He tried to hustle them out of the room; "You need to take it to her right away!"

Ranma coughed, "Dr. Tofu --…" he glanced at the girl, realizing that he didn't know her name. He resorted to generic; "she hurt her arm."

"Oh!" Dr. Tofu stopped instantly, "Sorry." He took the pot gently from her and put it on a table, then he herded her into the other room. Ranma and Shampoo waited for a few moments, then Shampoo jumped up, her hand to her mouth, "Oh! Shampoo have delivery to make!! Bye!" She tossed the staff to Ranma, then ran out the door.

Ranma automatically caught the staff and his own eyebrows raised at the instant feel of balance and heft in the slim stick. He started to twirl it, then stopped just before it hit one of the wall screens. "Oops." He grinned to himself, and examined the staff without moving it. Towards the middle, he found a depression in the wood and fiddled with it until something clicked and a foot of sharp steel emerged from one of the ends. "Urk," Ranma gulped, and tried to put it back in. He was still trying when a soft musical sound made him look up. The girl was standing in the doorway, laughing at him, a white bandage holding her right arm to her chest. She strode over and reached out her hand. Guiltily, Ranma handed her the staff. The girl took one quick look to measure the height of the ceiling, then twirled the staff upright, placing the blade against her boot and twisting slightly in the middle. The blade snapped back into the staff and she rested it against the floor. She grinned at him; "I'm Miyuk'kk'kki." Rolling her eyes, she added, "On—ly one syllable on t'the 'ki'."

Ranma stood up and bowed again, "Ranma Saotome. Pleased to meet you."

Miyuki nodded, still grinning. Placing her staff against the wall, she slipped the backpack loops over her left shoulder, shrugging until it settled comfortably. She reached for the staff, but Ranma's hand blocked her, "Please – would you like to come home and have lunch with us?" He glanced to the pot; "I'd feel much better if somebody else could help with the plant-thing. But that's not – I mean Kasumi loves having company over! Please?"

The blue-green eyes regarded him steadily, then a gleam in them said that she acceded. She slipped the backpack off and held it out. Ranma accepted it gladly, grinning at his new friend. They left together, the pot once again held by Miyuki.

 

The family took to Miyuki's presence easily, enfolding her in the circle of acceptance that they seemed to extend to all that showed up at their home. Kasumi took an instant and obvious liking to her, and they spent the half-hour before lunch in the kitchen together. With Miyuki's gestures and mobile and expressive face, she generally needed few words to carry on a full conversation. But when she needed words and concepts, she spoke easily enough, working through her stutter with a matter-of-fact attitude that helped them all to almost ignore it. Lunch was the usual boisterous and noisy affair it always was in that household, and Miyuki held her own, making them laugh at her description of things that happened while she was hiking from her village to Tokyo.

When lunch was over, the family tried to get her to stay, but she shook her head as she held her backpack and indicated the shadows lengthening on the ground.

"Well, can we help you, then?"

Akane glanced at Ranma and hid her grin -- he sounded so pathetically desperate. "What he means, can we help you get to where you were going?" At Miyuki's startled look she added, "You did have a destination in mind, didn't you?"

Miyuki laughed her soft tones. Listening to it, Ranma had the thought that all the beauty and joy that she could not express in words were pent up just waiting for the laugh to reveal themselves. She put down the backpack and pulled a folded map of the district out of the corner pocket. Placing it between Ranma and Akane, with Nabiki and Kasumi leaning over to look, Miyuki pointed at an address written in the corner. Nabiki straighten up with a startled expression, and Ranma and Akane traded frowns. Miyuki raised an eyebrow and waited.

"Why on earth would you want to go there?" Akane grimaced.

Ranma scratched his head, "Yeah. I mean, not that you shouldn't or anything, but I can't imagine just wanting to casually stroll over there."

"Oh, and like the time you broke in doesn't count!"

"I was only after the damn urn! If he'd just given it to me…"

Nabiki shook her head; "Just as well you stopped by here first. Kuno is out of town, and you really don't want to talk to his sister, Kodachi. And without Kuno-chan there, Sasuki won't even give you the time of day. He's more likely to set off one of those stupid traps – they don't get many visitors at the Kuno Estate nowadays."

"Kuno's out of town?" Akane tilted her head, "Now that you mention it -- he hasn't been at school for the last couple of days, has he?"

Ranma blinked, "I never noticed."

"I'm in the same class he is," Nabiki pointed out. She turned to Miyuki, "Why did you want to see him?"

Miyuki had been following the rapid-fire conversation with her eyes. At Nabiki's direct question, she asked one of her own, "No others?"

"Others?" Nabiki blinked, "Oh. No. Tatawaki Kuno and his sister are the last of the House of Kuno. Tatawaki is the eldest, and the Head of the House."

"What about his dad?" Though obviously they don't live together… I never really thought about it. Ranma scratched his head in puzzlement.

Shrugging, Nabiki explained, "His dad isn't a Kuno. The inheritance was through their mom, and now that she's dead, their dad doesn't have any right to the Kuno Estate anymore. Grandpa kicked him out after she died. Actually, he kicked him out after… Never mind."

"Grandpa?"

"Kuno's grandfather. He died less than a year after his daughter."

"Nabiki -- how do you know all this?" All Akane remembered about Kuno was his obsession in trying to win her ever since she entered Junior High.

"Um…" The look on Nabiki's face was interesting, and Akane would have liked to have been able to figure it out, but her dad distracted them, answering the question.

"The Kuno's used to be good friends of ours. Your mother used to go over once a week and take Mrs. Kuno some of her tea." Mr. Tendo laid a stone down on the board. Mr. Saotome's eyes bugged out, "Do over!" Mr. Tendo looked at him, then shrugged, "All right." Mr. Saotome, Ranma, Akane, and Nabiki all stared at him. But Mr. Tendo just looked out to the cherry tree in the yard and never noticed their expressions.

Miyuki made a soft sound of affection and sympathy. Beside her, Kasumi laid a hand on her shoulder and asked, "Nabiki-chan -- when is Kuno-san going to be back?"

Nabiki shrugged again, "That depends on how long it'll take him to finish up." Counting on her fingers, "Three days to get there and same back again. A minimum of two days for all the bowing and scraping. If the bandits are more troublesome than usual, another couple of days… He took off Thursday morning…" She looked up, "He'll be at least another four days, possibly up to ten."

Wrinkling her nose, Miyuki let out an annoyed grunt.

Ranma and Akane looked between each other. "Bandits?" Ranma asked. "Bowing and scraping?" Akane asked.

Kasumi sighed, "Oh my. I had better get to the dishes." She wandered off to the kitchen. Nabiki looked after her, "Thanks, Kasumi," she spoke in a dry tone. Then she sighed, and motioned the others to follow her out to the patio where she sat down on the edge, dangling her feet over the ground. "Okay. Kuno Family History. When the feudal system was abolished in 1867 with the Meiji restoration, many tenants, retainers and noble families were reluctant to disassemble a system that had worked well for some of them. In the House of Kuno, many of the more remote landowners in particular were not about to give up their protection rights. They were not on the most valuable lands and were afraid the government wouldn't give them the same consideration that the closer in, richer landowners would have. Being the noble family they were," Nabiki's voice went sarcastic, "the Kuno's more-or-less continued the same feudal relationship: They provide protection and patronage, and the landowners tithe portions of the crops to the House. Over the last century or so, most of the dealings have become more business-like and the relationship is now only a matter of form, but there are still some of the smaller areas that keep the old ways. Hikitachyu is one of those towns, and they've been having trouble with bandits, so they sent for help. Since Tatawaki is the only son left of the House of Kuno, he went."

"How come he didn't send Sasuki?"

"Please, Akane."

"Oh, yeah."

"How come he went by himself?" Ranma leaned forward, "Akane and I could handle bandits easy! Good practice, too!"

Nabiki gave him a pitying look, "Oh, please, Ranma. Kuno-chan has been doing this sort of thing since he was seven years old. He can deal with a few bandits perfectly well on his own."

With a startled expression, Ranma sat back to think about that.

Akane remarked, "You seem to know their History rather well."

Nabiki gave her a pitying look, "It's how they make their money, Akane-chan."

"Oh." Akane rolled her eyes, "I should have guessed."

"Now that that's explained," Nabiki turned to Miyuki, "Why are you looking for a Kuno?" The implication in her tone was 'any old Kuno will do'.

Miyuki's eyes wandered out across the pond. Then they snapped around to inspect the house. She got up and started inside. The other three looked at each other, then followed her. Once inside the building, they heard Kasumi's contrite voice.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Mr. Saotome! I should be more careful when turning the corner."

A familiar grunt followed this statement. Nabiki sighed, "Well, it had to happen sooner or later." Ranma glowered at his dad, "Pop! You promised you wouldn't do that in front of guests!" Akane tried to reassure Miyuki, who was staring with wide eyes at the very large panda.

Miyuki walked up to the panda and took the bucket off of its ear. She handed the bucket to Kasumi and grinned, "Isiit his natural ffform?"

Kasumi broke into laughter, then covered her mouth in embarrassment. "Oh my. I'm so sorry, Mr. Saotome. I'll just go get another bucket of water for the table – would you like some hot water?"

The panda held up a sign, "No need to bother." It stomped back to the game and sat down opposite Mr. Tendo.

Miyuki turned to the remaining three and quirked her mouth in an amused question.

"Oh, it's… well… Hell with it." Ranma walked outside and Miyuki followed him. Jumping in the pond, Ranma stepped out of it in his girl-form, "It's a curse that Pop and I fell into while we were training in China."

Breaking off her interested study of Ranma's body, Miyuki exclaimed, "C'cchina! I've always wannn'ted to g'g'go there. What's it like?"

"I don't have many fond memories of it."

Miyuki laughed. Walking over to where her pack was sitting, she rummaged around in it until she brought out a hefty tome. "What's the n'name?"

"Of the curse?" Nabiki looked over her shoulder, "Jusenkyo." She read the title off the book's cover, "'Cursed Locales and Magic Spots in Southern Asia and Japan: A Quick Overview'. Where on earth did you find that, Miyuki?"

"An int't'eresting coincidence. A litt't' – small village on the way h'here. L'long story." She stopped turning the pages, "Aahh'h."

"Allow me," Nabiki waited for her nod, then read, "The Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo. One-hundred and fifty-three springs exist in this small valley. Each one has a tragic legend of a drowning, and a curse of form-shaping associated with it. For further information, see: 'o' Jusenkyo', and 'A Mouse's Life: My Encounter with Jusenkyo'." Nabiki turned the pages, then shut the book. "That's all."

"That's all?" Ranma and the panda practically snatched the book away from Nabiki, "It can't be all! What about a cure?" They started to fight over possession of the book.

Miyuki shrugged, "Hey. It's onnnly an overview. What do you expppect from something that hasss to list every ssss… place."

Nabiki scribbled down the names of the other two books on a notepad. "I've never heard of these, but I'll check." She grimaced, "I guess this means another trip to Kuno's library. He really needs to organize it one of these days."

Waiting for a point in the fight when they came by her, Akane threw a pot of hot water over Ranma and he changed back to guy form. "What'd you do that for?!" Ranma sputtered as he tried to duck by her and go after his dad.

"Mr. Saotome. Give that back to Miyuki this instant!" Akane glared at Ranma. The panda stopped its victory dance mid-step, wobbled for a moment, then shuffled back to the porch, ears drooping in shame.

A blush spread across Ranma's face as he turned to Miyuki, "I'm sorry about that. I kindof forgot."

"Kindof! Ranma—" Akane was cut off at Miyuki's laugh. The young girl sat down on the porch and grinned at them all. They all got the impression of, 'I like you all, and I think you're all nifty.' It effectively cut off Akane's scold, but not Ranma's embarrassment.

Miyuki stretched out her legs and looked to Nabiki, "I'm her're to give someth'hing to the Kuno-sama."

Ranma and Akane quickly settled down to listen.

"Three generations aggg back, a Kuno-sama came to the village llll' searching for a talisman. Others followed. In the bat'ttle, Kuno-sama protected and saved the people and the village. The Sama was the only one who felt our lives were of cons's'id'd'," she grimaced in annoyance and changed words, "value. The talisman was not found at that t'time, but recently was unear'r'r" she closed her eyes and concentrated, "unearthed. The elders det't'ter' decided that for the debt we owe, it should be given to th'he current Kuno-sama.."

"Talisman?"

Miyuki looked steadily at Ranma, but made no verbal reply.

Akane cleared her throat, "Didn't anybody else come with you?"

A shrug was her answer at first, then Miyuki elaborated, "I'm a H'healer. This also is part of my t't'training." Her hand touched the medallion at her throat.

"A Healer?" Ranma blinked in surprise.

She nodded, then grinned lightly at him, "Not that you'll ever need one…"

This time it was Nabiki who blinked. She frowned, "As opposed to us? Why wouldn't Ranma need a Healer?"

Miyuki started to gesture, then pulled her hand back, obviously thinking about her reply. "Healing is embedded in'n his au'u'ra. Obv'v'viously, his training also dev'v'eloped Healing as an int—integral part of his self. His Sensei was sk'killed, to work'k it in s's'so."

Ranma opened his mouth and closed it again. She's got to be kidding – Pop? He looked at her again. She's not kidding.

"This means you'll stay, then, right?" Akane sounded almost as anxious as Ranma had earlier. Miyuki gave her a puzzled look. "Since Kuno's not here – you can stay with us until he gets back." She grinned, "You can stay in my room – it'll be so much fun!"

Nobody could have resisted such enthusiasm, and Miyuki was no exception. She laughed. And nodded.

 


 

Obligations-Start                                                   Obligations-Ch02