RUNE SOLDIER RANMA

Disclaimer: What? You were expecting something? Okay. Rune Soldier Louie and Ranma 1/2 don't belong to me. There, I said it.

< >: Thoughts

Chapter 2

Ohfun... Oh Fun!

To any passerby, Ranma appeared to be nothing more than a wandering eight-year-old street urchin. His clothes consisted of a ragged variation of his old training gi, with torn sleeves for better movement. On his feet were a pair of sandals, which he had fashioned from some old leather he had found at a tanner's shop. They weren't much to look at, but they were durable and easy to repair. His raven hair was tied back in a simple, utilitarian ponytail. Slung over his right shoulder was his wooden staff. Tied to one end was a bundle, in which his spare clothes and most of his other belongings were carried. Though he had eventually figured out Mousse's Hidden Weapon techniques, he preferred to keep only his essentials out of sight, such as his money, knife and various survival tools.

It had taken the boy five days to reach the city of Ohfun. When he got to the gates, he was immediately refused entry by the guards as they thought of him as nothing but a homeless vagrant, (which he was). Though the young martial artist could have put up a fight, he had learned that blindly solving problems with his fists usually resulted in consequences, and Ranma was not going to fall into the same pitfalls as he had done during his previous life. The guards were bigger, stronger and were armed with spears. As much as he wanted to test his skills against grownups, he decided that discretion was warranted. So he went on another route.

As soon as he was out of sight of the guards, Ranma went around to an unguarded area of the city wall. Looking up and gauging the height from the ground to the top, he nodded and crouched down. With some effort, (since he was weighted down with some luggage), he jumped to the top of the fifty-foot barricade, then back down on the other side. Once inside the city, he blended into the crowds.

As he walked down the main street of the city, which led to the Royal Palace, he thought about what kind of added provisions he could get and how to obtain more money. Stealing from a few villages was one thing, but in a city such as this, it was harder with the authorities nearby. Furthermore, his conscience wouldn't allow for more thievery unless it was absolutely necessary. The last thing he wanted was to grow up the same way as he had the first time, and end up like his old man. The mere thought of Genma made the boy shiver with disgust. Becoming a fat, lazy, greedy Panda Man was something to be avoided at all costs.

<Well, I could TRY getting a job. Now let's see, what could I do and...?>

"Aaaaaaahhhhh!"

The sudden scream broke Ranma's train of thought as he looked toward the source of the disturbance, which came from a nearby alley. He saw a pair of unsavory characters enter with malicious grins on their faces. The boy got the distinct feeling that they were after someone and that someone was going to need help. Looking about, he spied an adjacent alleyway and headed toward it. Once out of sight of any passersby, he leapt high and used a triangle jump to get to the roof of a building, some sixty-five feet above the ground. He then began racing from one rooftop to another as he ran a parallel course with the bandits running in the alley below. Looking ahead, he spotted their intended prey and picked up speed. They were after a little red-haired girl, who was dressed in a pretty blue dress and was wearing oversized glasses.

----------

Ila ran as fast as her little legs could carry her, but her pursuers were gaining on her. The six-year-old girl cried as she frantically looked about for any escape routes. However, her efforts were futile as the alley suddenly stopped in a dead end. Trembling with terror, she turned about and faced her tormentors as they closed in on her. The bandits chuckled evilly as they each brandished a small dagger. They were unwashed and smelled. One grinned, showing yellow, rotten teeth. The other snorted as he scratched his behind.

"S-S-Stay away from me!" Ila warned as she prepared to defend herself. She held up her hands and began concentrating.

The two bandits however, didn't take her seriously as they continued to slowly advance.

"Heh, don't worry little lady, we're not going to hurt you." One of the thugs said.

"Yeah, we just want to have a little fun, that's all." The other chortled as he looked her over. Judging by the fine clothes she wore and the jeweled necklace around her neck, he figured that she was the daughter of some wealthy merchant who had gotten lost. The jewelry would fetch a handsome price and the little girl would provide for some amusement before ransoming her. It had been a long time...

Ila gulped as she wished that her father or Master Carwess was with her. She had just been enrolled in the Guild of Magic a few days ago. Both she and her father had been shopping for magic supplies and had gotten separated in the bustling crowds. She had been searching for her parent when these two had decided to accost her. As she found herself backed against the wall, she began to softly speak the incantations for the only spell she knew at the time.

"Eh? What's this?" The first mugger wondered as he and his partner noticed that the girl's hands were glowing. Then suddenly, a bright flare of light appeared, causing them both to scream out as they found themselves blinded.

Ila ran past them, the instant after she had released her Mystic Flare Spell. Unfortunately, she tripped over a small rock and fell face first onto the ground. Before she had time to recover, a large hand grabbed the back of her dress and hauled her up.

"Well, it looks like we've got ourselves a magic user here." The first bandit said with glee.

"Heh. This may be even more fun." The second one agreed as he held out his knife before Ila's terrified face.

Tears began to stream down the girl's face as she knew that there was no one who could help her. Just then, something dropped down from above and...

WHAP!

The man who was holding her, suddenly screamed out in pain as something struck his wrist, causing the hand to reflexively open. Ila dropped to the ground and began scrambling away. Her glasses fell off her face. The near-sighted girl probed with her hands while on her knees, searching for her spectacles. Before the bandit could reach out and grab her again, his breath was suddenly forced out of him. Something had rammed into his gut, causing him to stagger backward.

The other bandit was just as surprised to see his cohort go down, when something hit his right shin, causing him to yelp in pain. His knife fell out of his hand as he clutched at his injured right leg while hopping on his left. A second later, he fell down on his back as one end of a wooden staff knocked him off balance with a blow to the left temple. Both men scrambled to get back to their feet.

At this point, Ila found her glasses and put them on. Her eyes widened as she focused on what, or rather who had just saved her. Standing between her and her attackers was a young boy with a wooden staff. He looked to be about a year or two older than her, and had dark hair tied in a small ponytail. He was in a kind of wide-legged stance, and was facing off against two men, who each outweighed him by quadruple, and were armed with knives. Just what is he thinking? There was just no way a small boy could defeat...

Ila's mouth dropped open. The boy hopped over the heads of his opponents, then delivered a fancy, reverse spin-kick to the face of one, while slamming down one end of his staff on top of the head of the other. This caused the two bandits to stagger backward. As soon as he landed, the youth swung his weapon at his adversaries' ankles, knocking them off their feet. Both landed hard on their backs. The two gasped for breath as he slammed his staff into their guts, then followed through with another series of hits to their faces. With a lazy backflip, he got some distance from them and once again stood in front of Ila to defend her.

The thugs snarled in rage as they got to their feet and glared at the impudent child who dared to make fools of them. They became a little intimidated when Ranma began swinging his staff about in a complex kata with grace and speed. After displaying a few intricate thrusts and parries, he finished with by twirling his bo about like a baton, then slammed it to the ground in front of him. With a finger, he beckoned them to attack, then pulled down one eyelid while sticking out his tongue.

This angered the bandits even more.

"You little brat! I'm going to enjoy cutting you up!"

"You are so dead!"

They both charged at Ranma with the intent of exposing his vital organs to daylight, but the young martial artist had other ideas. Swerving to evade their thrusts, he jumped high, causing both men and Ila to gasp in shock as he reached a height of twenty-five feet and seemed to hover for a few seconds.

"Huh? He can fly?!"

Ranma smirked as he came back down and introduced both feet to one man's face, then slammed the other with his staff. The two men went sprawling again as the boy backed away to get some distance, then decided to give them one final warning. Noting that the ground was covered in cobblestones and other kinds of paving material, he dropped his staff, crouched down, held up a fist with index finger extended, then poked the ground in front of him.

BUH-WHOOM!

The bandits became startled as the ground exploded around the boy, enveloping him a cloud of dust and sending debris flying upwards. When the dust settled, their faces turned pale as they saw Ranma now crouching in a deep depression. Small pebbles of stone pelted the ground like raindrops and large cracks from the hole branched out toward the two muggers.

Ranma raised his finger and said, "Now if I could do that to rock, think of what I could do to you."

Dust clouds were raised again, this time marking the exits of the two would-be robbers, as they raced out of the alley as fast as their legs could carry them. Taking on a boy with strange fighting moves had been painful, but going against a magic user that could make them explode into a thousand pieces was something they were not willing to risk their lives for.

The young again Saotome took a deep breath and stood up. Looking down at his shirt, he began dusting off the powdered remains of rock and dirt from the front and shoulders. Though he could have beaten those two thugs without resorting to the Breaking Point, he was glad that they had fallen for his bluff. The technique only worked on rock and had no effect on the human body.

At that moment, some new people came running into the alley. In the lead was a portly, middle-aged man with a bit of a paunch. The little girl came out of her frightened and shocked state as she began running toward him.

"Ila! Ila!"

"Father!"

Both parent and child came together in a warm embrace. Behind him, a tall man with a neatly trimmed beard came up to Ila's rescuer. He was wearing the elaborate robes of a sorcerer and in his hand was his magic wand, which was crafted from enchanted elven wood. His hair was brown with some streaks of gray running through it, indicating that he was nearing middle-age. Following close behind him were two guards.

Carwes, the Head of the Magic Guild of Ohfun looked down at the eight-year-old and saw a boy with considerable raw talent. He took note of the hole he had created in the pavement and sensed a lingering disturbance in the ground's natural forces. He wasn't certain of the spell Ranma had used to cause such a disruption and became intrigued.

----------

At a nearby restaurant...

Carwes, Ila and her father watched in disbelief as Ranma continued to wolf down food at an accelerated rate. They weren't certain if he was taking the time to chew. It appeared to them that he was inhaling his meal, and he was devouring enough to feed several people. Just where was that boy putting all of it?

SMACK! GOBBLE! MUNCH! CRUNCH! GULP!

Unknown to them, Ranma was actually eating only half of the food that was being served to him, and using his Chestnut Fist and Hidden Weapon skills to hide the rest. Who knows when he was going to eat this well again?

As he watched the boy continue to chow down, Carwess became even more intrigued. He had begun to sense nearly indistinct applications of power emanating from the lad, but he couldn't identify the source, and they didn't match any spell known to him. He had heard no incantations, nor was Ranma using a magical item such as a wand to focus his power. However, Carwess knew he was using something besides his mouth to make that food disappear.

After a while, Ranma decided that he was full and polished off the last of the dishes of food. He let off a sigh of contentment as he pushed the last empty plate away and used the back of his hand to wipe his mouth. Realizing that he was in polite company, he mentally chided himself and used a napkin while addressing Ila's father.

"Mmmm, that was good. Thanks for the food."

The older man smiled and nodded. "You're quite welcome, Ranma. It's the least I could do to repay you for saving my daughter, Ila."

The girl nodded to her newfound friend with a bit of hero worship in her eyes. "Yeah, that was really neat the way you beat up those bandits and how you used that rock spell to scare them off!"

"Rock spell?" Carwess asked with interest.

Ila nodded as she began making gestures with her hands. "It was incredible the way he used his staff. POW! WHAM! Those bad men didn't know what hit them! Then he used some kind of levitation spell to fly over them. Then he broke up the ground with a magic spell by poking his finger into ground. BOOM!" She spread out her arms to describe what she had seen.

At this point, Carwess knew that he had just found another disciple for his Magic School. For a boy to actually know of a spell that he had never heard of, and a powerful one of that, meant that Ranma had the potential to be a great wizard. Furthermore, despite his appearance, Ranma seemed somewhat mentally older for his age. His speech implied some prior experience and he carried himself like a teenager, rather than an eight-year-old street urchin. He couldn't let such promise go unrealized as he addressed the boy. "I must say, that I am impressed."

"Ah, thanks..." Ranma replied with a bit of blush, though he decided to be honest with these people. "But what I did wasn't magic. I don't know any real magic."

"Oh? That's not what I think." Carwess interjected. "Anyone who can take on two armed bandits, is able to levitate and cause to ground to break apart with a finger, definitely has the potential to be a great sorcerer. I sense vast promise within you, Ranma and I would like to invite you to become a member of the Magic Guild."

Both Ila and her father let off a gasp of surprise. To be personally invited to become one of Carwess ' disciples was one of the greatest honors one could receive. What was even more unbelievable was Ranma's answer.

"Well, I'm really honored but, I'm going to have to say no."

"What?" All three said at the same time.

The youth gave a shrug of his shoulders as he explained. "It's not like I don't want to know some magic. I mean, it would be great. But..."

"But what?" Ila asked of her hero.

"But it's not for me. I've had some really... bad experiences with magic before. And every time I tried to use it to solve my problems, it just caused more trouble for me. The last time I had a run-in with magic, it cost me just about everything I had and... well, I'd rather not mess with it anymore."

"But... those spells you used to save me..." Ila started.

"I told you. That wasn't magic."

"Then what were they?" Carwess inquired.

Ranma shrugged again. "They're just... some stuff I learned. I can say that they weren't magic." He wasn't certain of how to explain his ki abilities and it would only raise more questions that he wasn't ready to answer at the time. He still had a lot of things to learn and martial arts were his calling. He had been put through enough with Jusenkyo and all the other times he had encountered the mystic forces. Now that he had been given a second chance at life, he wasn't going to tempt Fate again by meddling with sorcery. Besides, he still had wanderlust within him and wasn't interested in being cooped in a school, even if it was a magic school.

Nodding to the Head of the Magic Guild, Ila and her father, Ranma stood up, swept up his staff and belongings and bid his farewells. "I thank you for the food and perhaps we'll see each other again. I'd better get going."

Carwess however, was not going to give up so easily as he reached out and placed a firm hand on Ranma's left shoulder. "Wait. Please hear me out. It's not very often that I would ask someone to become an apprentice, but I sense great potential within you. It would be a shame to see such promise go to waste. Won't you reconsider my offer? Perhaps if I were to speak with your family?"

Ranma felt a pang of sadness as he brushed off Carwes' hand. "I... don't have any family... not anymore."

"Are you an orphan?"

"No. I'm not. It's just that... well, my Pop is alive, but I don't care to ever see him again, and I don't even know if my Mom is alive or not. There were a few people that were really close to me like a family, but I'll never see them again either."

"So you're all alone? Did you run away from home?"

"No, but there were times that I wanted to get away from it all. Look, it's really complicated and I'd rather not talk about it. You're really nice and all, but I can't stay and I happen to like my freedom. Back where I came from, I was never allowed to do what I wanted and people were always trying to force me into things that I didn't like. They never listened to me, nor did they care about my feelings. There were some people who were kind to me, but most of the others considered me as a target to dump all their problems on. So thanks for the offer, but I've got to get going. Bye."

Before anyone could react, Ranma made a lazy backflip over his chair and dashed out of the restaurant. Carwess got up a few seconds later and tried to follow him, but as soon as he came out of the establishment, he saw no trace of the boy amid the crowds of people on the street. Ranma had effectively vanished from sight.

----------

For the next few weeks, Carwess went searching for the strange and talented boy, but he failed each time. There were the occasional rumors of an extraordinary lad helping out people though...

----------

Flashback one...

"You say a little boy with a staff saved your life?" The mage asked a portly man.

The man nodded. "Yes, you see I had been choking on a piece of lamb in a restaurant and I would have died if it were not for a brave lad. He saved my life and got that piece of food out before it was too late."

"What did he do? Did he use some kind of healing spell?"

"I'm... not certain. As soon as I started choking, this strange boy came up behind me, made me stand, and tried to wrap his arms around my midsection. When he couldn't get around my body with his small arms, he then put his staff across my stomach about here." The man indicated the placement of the staff, which was below his sternum, near the navel and diaphragm. "Then he pulled in and up on the staff while using his feet to push against my back. He broke his staff, but he also forced the food out of my throat. It was amazing, simply amazing!"

"Very interesting." Carwess said as he thought about the ramifications of Ranma's act. Previously, there hadn't been any non-magical method to save a person from choking to death, other than physically extracting the food particle by means of a sharp knife, which was considered too dangerous.

The man nodded in agreement. "I wanted to reward the boy, but he said it wasn't necessary, even though it looked like he needed the money. He did however, wished he had a new staff, so I had one specially made for him. After he had picked it up a few days later, I never saw him again. I'll never forget him though."

----------

Flashback two...

"He was a gift from Mylee himself." A woman declared as she held her seven-year-old daughter close to her. "If it weren't for him, I would have lost my little Cinda."

"What happened?" Carwess asked.

"My daughter had been playing about at the bridge near the river when she fell in. The current was too strong and it carried her downstream. At that moment, a young boy with dark hair and a staff slung across his shoulder, had been walking along the bank when he saw what happened. He immediately dove in after my daughter, just as she went under. She couldn't swim and I feared that I had lost my little darling. I ran alongside the bank, and I found the boy a few hundred yards downstream, just as he was pulling my girl out of the water. She was so pale and cold, I thought for certain that she was dead. Then, that wonderful boy did the most amazing thing and breathed life into her again."

"What?"

"I swear by the War God Mylee, that the boy had brought my little Cinda back from the dead. He laid her onto her back and began breathing into her mouth. I didn't understand what he was doing, but then he started pressing against Cinda's chest several times, then breathed into her mouth again. When I thought that he had gone mad, Cinda began coughing up water and breathing again. Then the boy did something with his hands to bring warmth to my daughter. It was a miracle. I can't explain it any other way."

"Most intriguing. And do you know where this boy is now?"

The woman shook her head. "No. He didn't stay very long after saving my daughter. I tried to repay him, but he didn't seem to be interested in money. So I settled with giving him some food and supplies and I haven't seen him since."

----------

End of flashbacks...

There were other stories about a youth with strange abilities, which made Carwess more convinced that Ranma had the potential to becoming a powerful sorcerer. He hadn't heard about a healing spell that could breathe life into the dead nor a way to cure a choking victim. And he had no doubt that Ranma had other hidden surprises. Now the trick was to convince him that the Guild of Magic was his destiny. That is, convincing him and the problem of finding him again. Whenever Carwess heard of a new rumor, he would quickly go to the place where Ranma was last seen, in hopes of catching him or least find some clues to his whereabouts. However, he would always arrive too late and the boy would be long gone.

<Hmmm... I wonder what he's doing now?>

----------

The forests near Ohfun...

Ranma smiled as he swung his new staff about in a complex kata. The weapon was better balanced than his old one and was made of finely crafted, hardened oak, painted with a smooth, black coating. It was longer than his former staff, at about four feet in length, but his recent growth spurt allowed him to handle it with ease. As he spun, thrust and parried the staff at imagined enemies, his thoughts went back to an old friend... Dr. Ono Tofu.

Back in Nerima, during his previous life, he had spent a lot of time at the clinic, mostly due to injuries suffered at the hands of his rivals and fiancées. The good doctor, along with Kasumi, was one of the few people who had ever treated him fairly as a person, rather than as an object for revenge or a trophy to be won. During his visits and periods of recovery, Ranma would often read the books in Tofu's study. That was where he had learned the fundamentals of administering First Aid and Acupuncture, which included the Heimlach Maneuver, CPR, some herbal remedies and various pressure points. He found those to be useful and had committed several texts to memory. His knowledge had shown dividends as he had saved the lives of a few people and had gotten rewarded. He now had enough food and supplies to last him for a good two months or so. Plus the act of helping others had felt good.

However, there were a few things that still irked him. Foremost among them was the fact that he was still in the body of a young boy. Though technically speaking, he was nineteen, his appearance still caused others to treat him like a child. At times it was extremely annoying, especially when people refused to take him seriously when he went out to buy supplies. They would say things like, 'where's your parents,' or 'a boy like you shouldn't be out alone.' Several times, a few people had offered to adopt him or take him to the orphanage. Some places wouldn't allow him admittance, as they thought he was underage. And those people who addressed him in that 'baby-talk' tone always gave him the willies.

Of course, there were some advantages to being young again. Ranma was as cute as he had been during his first childhood, and by using that factor, he was able to get a few breaks without even asking. All he had to do was look longingly at a bakery or candy shop's display and more often than not; someone would go and buy him a pastry or treat. This allowed him to indulge in his sweet tooth, something that he had rarely been able to enjoy during his first training journey, (mostly because Genma usually hogged all the good stuff). He could also use his boyish charm to attain lower prices and freebies. If there was one thing Ranma had learned from Nabiki, it was to capitalize on whatever advantages he had, for as long as they lasted. He knew he wasn't going to stay adorable forever, so he might as well enjoy his second childhood until he grew up... again.

----------

Five months later...

Ila sighed as she and her group traveled through the countryside outside of the city. Though she had enjoyed her first semester in the prestigious Mystic Academy of Ohfun, she had often thought of her savior and wondered how he was doing. She shook herself out of her daydreams and began listening to her teacher as he explained the basics of magic and how they were related to the forces of nature. After a lengthy but detailed lecture, the magician then instructed his students to begin collecting the herbs and roots that they would need to mix in their potions.

Ila and a classmate named Miki decided to explore a grove of trees, which they were certain that they would find the special roots for their healing elixirs. Miki was a cute girl that was the same age as Ila and had her long brown hair tied up in two braids. The girls had become fast friends and did almost everything together. They had partnered up for this field trip and were confident that they would find what they needed in that grove. However, they would also find something else as well. That something weighed more than nine hundred pounds, with black fur, claws and teeth.

Luckily for them, someone else was also hiding in that grove.

----------

"Come on Miki. I'm sure we can find some spotted toadstools over there." Ila said as she led her friend toward the grove.

The other girl nervously followed her companion. Like Ila, Miki was a conservative student, who preferred the safe confines of the school, rather than the outside open spaces. Like most of the other students, she wasn't into adventuring. However, since this project required them to seek out their own potion ingredients, they would have to face the wilds. Ila was the braver of the two and usually led on all of their excursions. As they neared the grove, Miki became even more edgy.

"Are you sure it's safe in there?"

Ila gave her friend a reassuring smile. "There's nothing to worry about. Remember those defensive spells we learned last week? They should be able to protect us if there's any danger. Besides, Master Aridon is close by if we need any help. Now come on. We've got to get at least two pounds of toadstools or won't be able to finish our project on time."

"Okay."

As the two girls entered the grove, a lone figure watched them from a branch in one of the tallest trees. He smiled as he recognized the red-haired girl with glasses. It had been nearly half a year since he had last seen her. Then he noticed with a frown that they were heading straight toward a very dangerous area. After making a staff appear from out of nowhere, he leapt from one tree to another, displaying great agility and balance. He hurried to get to those girls before they...

"GRAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!"

Too late.

----------

Both Ila and Miki screamed as they were suddenly confronted by a large and very nasty-looking grizzly bear. As they had been looking about some hedges, the two magic students had inadvertently disturbed the beast, while it had been slumbering in the bushes. Now the bear was angered and ravenous, a deadly combination. Miki tried to run for it, but tripped over the hem of her dress and fell down. She bumped into her companion, causing Ila to also loose her footing. However, unlike Mika, Ila kept a cool head and began focusing her energies while chanting. Her hands glowed with a reddish-orange light as the bear advanced on them. Just as Miki let off another scream, Ila cast her spell and released a small fireball. Unfortunately, her aim was off and the projectile zoomed past the bear's head, impacting against a tree and caused its trunk to explode into flames.

Ila gritted her teeth as the bear loomed over them. She had no time to re-cast the spell and braced herself for the end.

<I wish Ranma was here!>

At that moment, a battle cry was heard as someone dropped down from above.

THWACK!

Ranma's staff smacked hard on top of the bear's head, causing it to shake its head in surprise and pain. It turned about and let off a snarl as it faced off against the young-again-martial artist.

Genma's son backed off a bit as he attempted to distract the bear away from the two girls. Remembering back to an old gaijin anime he had once seen, he called out to the animal. "Hey Yogi Bear! You ain't gonna find any picnic baskets here! Why don't you go back to Jellystone?"

Though the bear didn't get the pun, the distraction worked as it started to advance on its new opponent.

<Yogi what? Jelly where?> Ila wondered as she helped Miki to her feet. Though she was glad to see her savior again, she made a note to ask him just what he was talking about. As she began pulling her friend further away, she watched in fascination as Ranma took on eight hundred pounds of bestial fury.

The bear was big, heavy and powerful. However, it was slow. And even though he had the body of an eight-year-old, Ranma still had the advantage in speed. His small frame easily evaded the swipes of the bear's massive paws. He danced about the animal, swerving and feinting to keep his foe guessing. With each pass, Ranma swung and thrust with his weapon. The added reach of his staff allowed him to stay out of range of those claws, as he continued to land quick blows and jabs to the beast's head and midsection. This made the bear even angrier as it continued to try and catch its elusive target.

"Ila! What are you doing? Get out of here now! Both of you!" The boy shouted as he noted that the girls had stopped in their escape to watch him battle the grizzly. However, this proved to be a near-fatal mistake as Ranma's attention was momentarily distracted. That slight pause was all the bear needed as it swung with a paw and slammed the youth down. Its claws ripped the front of his shirt; drawing blood as three gash marks appeared on his chest.

"Ranma!" Ila cried out as she held out her hands and began chanting. However, with the bear looming over her friend, she couldn't get a clear shot. Miki was on the verge of fainting as she saw the blood on Ranma's chest.

Flat on his back, the boy mentally cursed himself while biting back the pain. <Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! I let my guard down!> As the bear lunged at him, adrenaline began pumping like mad as the boy thrust up with his staff, jabbing into the bear's unprotected throat. This caused the grizzly to rear back in pain as Ranma scrambled back to his feet. It was then that he noticed that things were getting hot. When he saw that the tree that Ila had hit with her fireball was ablaze and the flames were spreading, he became desperate. He had never tried this technique on a wild beast before, but it was the only way to get out of this mess.

"GET OUT OF HERE NOW!" Ranma cried out as he tried to calm down his aura and began circling the bear in a spiral.

"But what about...?" Ila began.

"I SAID, GET OUT OF HERE!" With those words, Ranma swung his staff at another tree trunk, focusing his ki into the weapon. Using Kuno's technique, he sliced through the thick trunk and caused it to topple over, cutting himself off from the two girls and forcing them to abandon him.

As the fire began to rage about him, Ranma kept calm and nodded. All the extra heat would help as he continued to provoke the bear by prodding and smacking it with his staff. If this worked, he could contain the fire and defeat the bear once and for all. If not, well...

<Come on, you walking living room rug! I need you really MAD!>

The bear roared as several strikes hit home. Oblivious to the flames, it charged right at him with the intent of tearing him to shreds.

<Perfect!> Ranma thought as he completed the spiral.

----------

"Ila! Miki!" Master Aridon called out as he and the rest of the students came running toward them, just as they were exiting the grove. However, before anyone could say or do anything else, a shout was heard from within the burning group of trees.

"HIRYU SHOTEN HA!"

Just about everyone present were knocked off his or her feet as a sudden cyclone of wind rocketed upward from the center of the grove. The flames were instantly snuffed out like candles as the trees were uprooted and blown away like matchsticks. The students and their instructor had to dive for cover as chunks of debris and clouds of dirt were thrown everywhere. A beastly roar was heard as a large, brown mass was sent skyward. For ten seconds, the tornado continued to whip up gusts that threatened to blow everything away. Finally, the wind currents slowed as the last of the Rising Dragon Ascension Wave died down.

When Ila finally looked up from the ground, she immediately got up and began running toward the center of where the grove of trees had stood. In the middle of the now devastated area, lay one injured and exhausted martial artist. She knelt down beside his battered form and began checking his wounds.

Ranma groaned as he tried to get up, but he was in too much pain. The Hiryu Shoten Ha technique had taken almost everything that he had, and the results had been more than he had expected. The bear had been blown away and the fires had been extinguished, but the feedback had been almost too much for his younger body to handle. He hadn't felt so weak since that time Happosai had used that Moxibustion technique on him. At the moment he was suffering from major blood loss from his injuries and was losing consciousness. The last image he saw was that of Ila's concerned face as she looked over him. Then darkness fell.

----------

About two miles away...

A middle-aged peasant sat on a large rock and wondered just what he was going to bring home to feed his starving family. The crops had yielded a poor harvest this year and hunting was scarce. Their food stores were almost exhausted and with winter coming soon, things were looking bleak. The main problem was getting enough meat to last them through the cold months. With a wife and six children to feed, the man began to suspect he would have to kill a grizzly bear...

WHA-BOOM!

The man fell off his perch as a huge, grizzly bear came crashing down near the rock he had been sitting on. The peasant's first impulse was to run for his life, but when he saw that the creature was not moving, he gathered up his courage and approached it. His eyes widened as he saw that the animal's neck was bent at an extreme angle, indicating that it must have died from the impact when it landed headfirst. As a result, it was nothing more than a dead carcass.

<A dead MEATY carcass!> The man thought as he realized the boon he had just been granted. He then ran home to fetch his plow mule to drag his family's winter meat home. Not only would it provide his family with sustenance, but also its hide would make a fine rug. As he headed toward his cabin, he made a silent prayer of thanks to the gods for the unexpected bounty.

----------

Some time later...

Ranma groaned as he started to regain consciousness. As he opened his eyes, his vision was slightly blurry and he had to squint for a few minutes before it cleared up. When he focused on his surroundings, he found that he was in a bed in some kind of elaborately decorated room. Looking down at himself, he found that he was shirtless and that his chest was a tightly wrapped in white bandage. He carefully sat up and saw that his staff was leaning up against a chair at a nearby desk. It was at that moment that the door to the room opened up and several people quietly entered, one of whom he recognized immediately.

"Ila?"

The young girl smiled happily as she came up to his bedside and took hold of his hands. "Ranma! I'm so glad you're all right!"

Ranma returned the smile, and then looked up to his other visitors. He recognized Carwess, who had a few more gray hairs than he remembered the last time they had met. He was dressed in the same sorcerer's robes and his magic wand hung on the cloth belt around his waist. The Head of the Magic Guild nodded to the boy as he and his female companion joined Ila at the side of the bed.

The woman was tall and had long, dark auburn hair. On top of her head she wore a hat that looked like something a bishop would wear. On the front of the headpiece was a cross-shaped emblem. Like Carwess, she too was dressed in elaborate robes, but they were fashioned in a more holy manner, as if she were a member of the Christian Church or Shaolin Order. She gave Ranma a warm smile, which seemed almost motherly and made the youth feel more at ease.

"Well Ranma. It's been a while." Carwess greeted. "If I had known that we would meet like this, then I wouldn't have wasted so much time searching for you."

"You've been looking for me?" The boy asked.

Carwess nodded. "Of course. Did you really think I would give up so easily on such a promising student, especially with your kind of potential? Ila told me what had happened. I am most impressed. You are the youngest person ever to be able to conjure up such a powerful wind spell. Even the most proficient of magic users must spend years of study to be able to manipulate air currents on the level that you had done."

The eight-year-old shook his head as he made Ila release his hands. "I told you before, that I don't know any magic. The technique I used is just like all the others that I know. I just trained my body to..."

"Yes?" Carwess pressed.

"It's... kinda hard to explain, but it ain't magic and I don't want to mess with it."

"Why not?" The woman asked as she spoke for the first time. "If Master Carwess believes that you have promise, then shouldn't you try to explore that potential?"

"Who are you?"

The woman smiled. "Forgive me for not introducing myself. I am Jenny and I happen to be the Head Priestess of the Temple of Mylee, the War God. I am a close friend of Master Carwess. He tells me that you happen to be someone of exceptional talent. So why do you not want to learn magic?"

 Ranma gazed upon the strange woman with some confusion, then shook his head. "No. Itís not that I donít want to learn magic, but Iíve had some really bad experiences with magic spells, potions and items. Heck, I got over a curse that stuck with me for a year and that was the cause of most of my problems at home."

"A curse? What kind of curse was it?" Carwess asked.

"Iíd rather not talk about it and besides, itís long gone now, so it doesnít matter. Look, Iím glad I was able to help and all, but I donít think that magic is for me. Thanks for the offer, but I think Iíll be going and... ow!"

The youth winced as he tried to get out of bed, but a sharp pain stabbed in his chest. Carwess shook his head and used a hand to gently pushed him back down.

"Iím afraid that you wonít be going anywhere for a while, Ranma. Youíve still havenít recovered enough. It took a very strong healing spell to give you strength, and several herbal elixirs to cleanse your wounds."

"Healing spell? Herbal elixirs?"

"Yes. You were gravely wounded when we brought you to this Academy of Magic, and if it were not for the Mystic Healers, you would have died. You are alive, thanks to magic. Still think thereĎs nothing we can teach you?"

Ranma became silent as the information sunk in.

Carwess nodded as he continued. "Ranma, Iím not going to force you to become a member of the Magic Guild. When you are recovered, you will be allowed to leave if that is what you truly wish. However, I only ask that you let us show you the advantages of knowing the mystic arts. You may find some things about magic that are not as distasteful as you believe. And if you choose to stay, then I will gladly take you on as my ward. You did say before that you have no family to speak of, correct?"

"Well... no, I donít."

"Won't you stay for a while, Ranma? Please?" Ila said as she put on her most adorable, Ďsad puppy dog eyesí face.

The son of Genma considered the offer for the longest time. It would beat camping out all the time and he would be promised a roof over his head and three meals a day. Since magic was apart of life in this world, it wouldnít hurt to know some things about it. And it wasnít as if Carwess was saying that he had to give up his martial arts training.

After weighing all of his options, Ranma shrugged and said, "I guess a few days wonít hurt."

To be continued?