Disclaimer: I guess I should disclaim right? Ranma 1/2, Tattoon Master and any other character mentioned in this story belong to other people, so stop bothering me about them okay?
< >: Thoughts
That's Not Ranma...
A hospital in Hiroshima...
"So what is the status of our latest patient?" The doctor asked as his nurse handed him a set of reports.
The young woman shook her head. "The injuries he had sustained to his body are recoverable, but... I'm afraid that the damage to Kuno-san's hands cannot be... fully repaired."
The physician's eyes widened as he read the reports. "Severe tissue burns and trauma to several major tendons and ligaments... more than a dozen crushed bones in each hand... nerve receptors either severed or badly damaged almost to the point of non-conduction... Kami-sama, it might be better for the patient if we amputated both hands."
The nurse sighed. "I'm afraid that Kuno-san was quite adamant against such a procedure. He stated clearly that he must have use of both of his hands and money is no object. Apparently, he practices kendo and he then went raving on about bringing his 'sword of justice' down upon some person named..."
"Impossible." The physician stated as he cut her off. "Even if his hands were to undergo full re-constructive surgery, they would never again have the same strength as they did. We could only expect a fifteen to twenty-percent recovery of his former gripping power, and that's nowhere near enough to wield a sword, wooden or otherwise. He might be able to use chopsticks or better yet, a knife and fork, but his kendo days are over."
"I have a feeling that our patient will not like hearing this news."
"It's the only news that we can give him. He should be grateful that he'll have some use of his hands at all."
"Don't think you went a little too far this time, Eric?" Balla asked as she and her beloved ate dinner in the dining area.
The former Saotome snorted as he continued to eat. "I'd say that I didn't go FAR enough. I told you before that I hated God-dammed hypocrites who use honor as an excuse, than as a rule. That bastard got what was coming to him when he attacked and spouting that 'samurai' shit."
"Still nothing! If I hadn't put a stop to his 'samurai fantasies,' then he would have kept on attacking me. I realized at that point, that I've been handling Kuno all wrong. It was that blasted delusion of his being a great warrior and my holding back, that was the problem. So I took away the one thing that he fixated on. He can't keep on pretending anymore..."
"At last! The Heavens smile upon this humble samurai, for I have my greatest enemy, the Foul Sorceror Saotome, within the reach of my noble blade!"
Eric growled as he and Balla were just exiting the schoolyard, when this pompous asshole suddenly showed up. Things were about to get messy...
"Eric..." Balla said with some concern. She was hoping that her beloved wouldn't lose control again.
"Stand clear." Was the only reply her husband gave her.
Eric growled again as he slowly turned around to face the ultimate idiot. His battle aura was already appearing and building up with the heat of his rage. Those who were standing nearby knew that look on his face and began high-tailing it out of there. Whoever this lunatic was, he had just signed his death warrant by challenging Kobayashi. Soon, there was no one present save for Kuno, Eric and Balla. The former son of Genma Saotome felt nothing but disgust as he gazed upon one of his more persistent pains in the ass. This time however, the kid gloves had long been discarded.
Kuno of course, had no idea whatsoever of the potentially explosive situation he was in. Then again, the insane kendoist was not known for his ability to realize when he was in WAY OVER his head. That flawed logic of seeming invincibility over all, plus his delusion of being one of the ancient samurai overrode every one of his other mental processes, including common sense, and unfortunately in this case, the self-preservation instinct.
As Eric glared at this fool, he finally realized why Kuno kept on attacking him. It was the same reason why Ranma had so much trouble back in Nerima. It was because of overwhelming pride. Back in Nerima, Ranma would always humiliate the so-called Blue Thunder with every encounter. And because of Kuno's lack of reality sense and delusions, normal beatings and tactics were ineffectual. He was so wrapped up in his own little world, that he didn't even acknowledge when he was defeated without question. He would just latch onto any excuse, even one that was made up and didn't make any sense whatsoever, in order to save face. His pride wouldn't allow for ANY slight to his image of being a great Samurai. And as one the great samurai, he was entitled to just about everything, including any girl he chose and was undefeatable against any opponent. And should he lose a fight, then it was due to black magic or trickery by his foe. Should a girl reject him outright, he simply assumed that she is just playing hard to get or that she was under some spell.
Well, Eric wasn't going to stand for this nonsense anymore, and he decided that the only way to get through to this pompous braggart was to give him something that he COULDN'T ignore. With that in mind, his gaze when down to the hilt of Kuno's bokken, specifically his hands.
Tatewaki mistook Eric's gaze as a sign that his great skills were being acknowledged. "Hah! I see that the mere sight of my noble blade frightens you! As you should be, foul sorcerer, for thy end is at hand!"
Eric snorted. "Why the HELL would I be afraid of some wannabe with a stick? Is that supposed to impress me? If you want to convince anyone that you're some great samurai warrior, (which you're definitely not), then you have to try a LOT harder, loser."
"You will pay for your insolence, peasant! The Heavens themselves will bring down upon your vile head as I, Tatewaki Kuno, the Great Blue Thunder shall..."
"Ah SHADDUP!" Eric snarled as he took a stance. "If there's one thing that really ticks me off, it's having to listen to somebody who doesn't have the faintest idea as to what he's talking about!"
"You may THINK you're some noble and heroic type, but that's just you blowing hot air out your mouth and ass!"
"How dare you...?!"
"I said shut up!" Eric shot back as he tensed up. "Here you are spouting off speeches on how you're going to defeat somebody and how great you are, when you don't have ANYTHING to back those claims. You're always going on and on about what you claim to be, instead of what you really are, and that's NOTHING!"
Kuno felt his anger rising at Eric's words, which held the sting of truth in them. His usual denial to the facts came to the surface. "You shall..."
Eric snorted again. "You hear me, Kuno? Your words have no meaning to them! I don't acknowledge your so-called skills, because they are nothing! I don't acknowledge your so-called honor, because you have NONE! I don't acknowledge your so-called nobility because you aren't deserving of it. I don't even acknowledge your rights as a human being, because you are so pathetic that Kami-sama is STILL wondering why you were even PUT on this Earth! Your claims are NOTHING! You have NOTHING! You're NOTHING period! You always WERE nothing, you ARE nothing now, and you will ALWAYS BE NOTHING! DO YOU HEAR ME KUNO? YOU... ARE... NOTHING!"
That last quip sent Kuno over the edge as he charged at his opponent with the intent of cutting him in two. "AARRRRGGGGGHHHH!"
That was when the carnage began.
Motioning for Balla to step aside, Eric easily sidestepped the slash and sent a rabbit punch to Kuno's throat. This made him gasp for air and stagger backward. Eric followed through by sending a downward chop with his right hand to Kuno's wrists, causing him to release his grip on his bokken. Like magic, the weapon was in Koboyashi's hands and he whipped it about into the kendoist's face.
This made Kuno even angrier as he backpedaled and then glare at his foe with rage. On his face was a large bruise forming across the bridge of his nose and on his cheeks.
"How dare you mar the noble visage of the Great Tatewaki..."
THUMP! THWAP! WHOMP!
Eric knocked Kuno off his feet by first driving the bokken into his belly, then smacking his left shin before sweeping his legs with the wooden blade. Kuno hit hard on his back and was about to scramble back up to his feet, when he suddenly felt something pressing up against his Adam's Apple. Looking up, he saw that Eric had his own weapon now poised above him.
"Pathetic." Balla's husband growled. "Not even worth the time it would take to put you out of MY misery." Then he backed off to let Kuno rise to his feet again.
The maddened Blue Blunder reached into his robes to pull out another bokken. But before he got it halfway drawn, his wrists were struck again by two quick hits by Eric's bokken, causing him to drop his.
Eric then kicked Kuno hard in the stomach, causing him to skid some thirty feet on the pavement on his back. He causally broke the sword in his hands and tossed the pieces over his shoulders as he approached his stress-relief punching bag.
"Same old, same old. Hasn't gotten better. STILL got the same weaknesses. Get rid of the stick and the wannabe SAMURAI becomes JUST a WANNABE."
"How dare you... OOF!"
Just as he got up, Kuno received a blow to the gut that nearly caused his stomach to burst out of his back. He then received two hits to the face before being slammed into the pavement again. He rolled away as Eric decided to finish this fight/slaughter.
Tatewaki felt something hard beside him and grinned as he saw the bokken he dropped earlier. Quickly gripping its hilt, he stood up and held out the blade proudly, confident that he would now vanquish the hated Saotome with all of his skills as a TRUE SAMURAI WARRIOR!
"YEEEEEEEAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGH! DIE SAOTOME!"
This time, Eric didn't bother to dodge as he simply stood his ground and let his battle aura flare up. When the bokken came down... it broke in two in a shower of splinters. Kuno howled as the force of the blow went up his arms. Then he howled again, as something else was broken...
Namely his right wrist as Eric grabbed hold of it and mangled it.
Eric took on a deadly expression as he glared into Kuno's eyes. As the kendoist stared into those gray-blue depths, he finally began to experience the emotion of fear.
"You could've hurt somebody with that, Stick Boy."
Eric squeezed even tighter, causing Kuno to howl in pain again. Then he delivered a blow to his ribs, breaking four of them.
"Then again, it never mattered who was in the way, since you've always had to show that you were this 'great warrior.' You make me sick!"
Blow to the head.
"You think you're this 'mighty' samurai, Kuno?"
"Well here's a news flash! You're not! You're nowhere NEAR what the samurai were. In fact, you EMBARRASS their legend!"
"The samurai wouldn't have ANYTHING to do with you if they were still alive!"
"The samurai knew what honor was! To them, honor was a rule! You only saw it as an excuse! Just like everyone else in Nerima! And that's what I hate most about you and everyone else. It's the fact that you all claim to be something that you're not!"
"I fight... on!" Kuno gasped, though he was in no condition to do so.
"Good, because I'm not finished!" Koboyashi let loose with another series of punches then kneed Kuno in the abdomen, before hauling him up by the front of his robes. "I still have THIS to say! I've HAD it with your posturing; your CLAIMS at being a samurai and always acting like you're some kind of hero. Well, I'm not taking that bullshit anymore, and the pretending is OVER! Here's a reality check, Kuno! You're not what you think you are, and I'm going to make certain that you'll remember that fact for the rest of your life!"
At that moment, Kuno knew real pain...
End of Flashback...
"So I gave him a reminder of what he wasn't." Eric said simply as he finished with his dinner. "He'll never hold a sword again. Without that, he can't pretend any more."
"Balla." Eric said firmly as he gazed into her eyes with an expression that brooked no argument. "Kuno brought this upon himself. I could have killed him, but I didn't. However, I wasn't going to stand for any more of his stupidity. I realized over last few months that I had gone easy on some people, in which I shouldn't have. That only gave them the excuse to keep on pestering me. I also realized that in order to get the message through that I wasn't going to stand for any more of their crap, then I would have to go to some... extremes. That may be the only way they can finally understand that Ranma Saotome is gone."
He let off a tired sigh and his expression softened. "Yeah, I know that you're worried that I might lose control again, right?"
The Tattoon Priestess nodded in agreement. "I'm very afraid that you will push yourself like you did before and..."
Eric quieted his significant other by placing his index finger on her lips. Then he leaned forward to give her a quick kiss. He was still amazed that he was getting more comfortable with showing his affection toward a girl, but Balla was different. Aside from Soun Tendo's eldest daughter and perhaps Ucchan, the Tattoon girl was the only female who gave him the benefit of the doubt and tried to understand him, rather than control or own him. She wasn't perfect and her eagerness to consummate their 'marriage' did make him uneasy at times, but at least she was honest with her feelings and gave him space when he needed it. Though he suspected that she wanted to take their relationship to the next level and Eric wasn't ready for that... yet. Besides, there were still a few more headaches to deal with. And he had a felling that who would be next in line.
If the Blue Thunder had come, would the Black Rose be far behind?
At the hospital, Kodachi couldn't help but gloat over her insane brother's misfortune. Though they were siblings, the Black Rose had always considered herself as superior to the Blue Blunder. She was more refined and graceful as compared to the brutish and uncouth ways of her stick-wielding brother. Oh, he may quote the likes of Shakespeare and Descartes, but he was still considered barbaric and lacking any subtlety whatsoever. His latest attempt to defeat her beloved Ranma-sama was poof of that.
This time however, the consequences had been more severe. Kuno couldn't pretend to be a great samurai warrior anymore, not that he was much of one in the first place. He always was an idiot and he always will be an idiot. Her beloved Ranma had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt who was the real man and who was the pretender. And only a real man was worthy of the love of the Black Rose! However, there were some minor obstacles to bypass before she could claim him forever.
According to Sasuke, (whom she had sent to check out the area and report back to her), that lowborn chef/hussy Ukyo Kuonji was also in Hiroshima, looking for Ranma. She was considered to be no real competition, and neither was Akane Tendo. From what her manservant had told her, the Tendo family and their houseguests was already in very dire legal problems and two members of the Tendo clan would most likely be seeing some prison time. The Chinese Amazon had left for China, never to be seen again and Kodachi couldn't be happier. As for the pig-tailed girl which her brother had obsessed over, no one had seen her since Ranma left Nerima and there had been no sightings of her in Hiroshima, so Kodachi could tick her off the hit list.
And she could also count off those who wanted to hurt her beloved Ranma-sama. Her idiot brother could no longer wield a sword. No amount of money could ever restore his hands to what they were. That near-blind Mousse was being held on several counts of reckless endangerment of innocents, attempted murder and possession of firearms and other illegal weapons, which would mean permanent deportation if not a long sentence in prison. Happosai was also going to be spending a long stint in prison. As for Ryoga, no one had seen him since his release from the hospital and all indications point to one conclusion, he wasn't coming back. Whatever the reason, Kodachi knew that her dearest Ranma will never be bothered by him ever again.
To the Black Rose, the path to Ranma's heart was being cleared for her. Now all she need to do was to overcome one new obstacle. There was only one person that concerned her at the moment. Sasuke had been collecting data on the whereabouts of Ranma and whom he was acquainting with since his departure from Nerima. The little ninja had reported to her that he had been frequently been sighted in the company of some blonde gaijin girl, and was sometimes associating with some bespectacled girl who carried a longbow. The one known as Lisa was not much of concern, but it was the one called Balla that Kodachi was focused on eliminating... permanently. According to Sasuke, the golden-haired slattern was rumored to have mystical powers and had even defeated Shampoo and her great-grandmother, by using some kind of spell.
Kodachi snorted. <Well, it's obvious that Ranma-darling has been ensorcelled by the foreign witch! How could he even think to be in the presence of another girl when he has me? Do not worry Ranma sweetums! I shall free you from this harridan's clutches, so that you may shower your affection upon your one true love!>
She let off her usual, irritating and nerve-wracking laugh as she headed toward the exit with a plan already forming in her mind. By tomorrow morning, Ranma will belong to her!
"Darling? Is something wrong?" Balla asked as Eric began putting away the dishes.
Eric trembled a bit as he felt a shiver down his spine. If there was one thing he had learned since his time in Nerima, it was that when he suddenly got the willies, it meant that something was going to happen, something bad. However, he didn't want Balla to worry about it. Taking a small breath to clam down, he gave her a smile and shook his head. "Nah, it was nothing."
However, the Tattoon High Priestess didn't buy it. She made the mark on her forehead appear for a brief moment to remind him of their bond. "You don't have to lie to make me feel better, Eric. Whatever is making you so worried, we will face it TOGETHER. Remember that we are one."
Eric let off a small chuckle while shaking his head. His Primary Mark gave off a brief flare of light to affirm their bond. Taking a long, slow breath, walked up to her and placed his hands on her slender shoulders. Without a word, he gathered her up in his arms and just held her.
The blonde smiled a bit as she returned the embrace and stood in silence with him. She leaned her head against his chest and listened to his heartbeat. To her, it was the most wonderful sound she had ever heard. It beat in a steady rhythm that seemed to be synchronized with her own. With their empathic bond, she wouldn't have been surprised if their hearts were in matched in pulses. Day by day, their connection was growing and though there were going to be more hard days ahead, she was certain that they would be able to weather the storm.
Eric however, was not convinced that everything would be okay, and was certain that Balla was in real danger. It was one thing to have a Spirit Curse to use against a vengeful Amazon, but it was quite another to face off against a lunatic Kodachi, whom had homicidal tendencies and was not above using every dirty and lethal trick in the book. During his time in Nerima, he had noticed that Kuno's sister had been getting more and more desperate to claim him as her own and several times she had come close to nearly ending her rivals' existence.
He could only guess at what she had planned if she knew about Balla. However, he silently vowed that he would do whatever it took to keep her safe. She had become the most important person in his life and if anyone threatened her, then all bets were off.
Later that night, at a posh hotel...
<Perfect!> Kodachi thought as she finished her preparations to claim Ranma. Whoever that blonde gaijin was, she would soon learn that Ranma belonged to the Black Rose alone. All she had to do was to get close enough to her and she would cease to be an obstacle.
At her command, the diminutive ninja servant of the Kuno family appeared and knelt down before her. Though he was primarily Tatewaki's lackey, with his master out of commission, he was now under the command of the Black Rose.
"The time has finally come and I expect to have my beloved Ranma-sama returning with me to Tokyo by tomorrow night. Are you ready to EXECUTE your part of the plan?" She emphasized on the word execute as she was eager to see her final obstacle to her happiness with Ranma being removed.
The little ninja gulped before replying. "Yes, Mistress. However, might I speak freely?"
To Kodachi, this came as a bit of a surprise. Sasuke had never questioned the orders of her brother, nor those of her demented father, the Principal of Furinken High. Why should her orders be any different?
Sasuke gathered up his courage. In addition to gathering intelligence on Ranma Saotome's activities in Hiroshima, he had also found out a few things that Kuno and sister were unaware of. "Mistress, I have... some serious misgivings about this plan. It is my opinion that Ranma may not wish to return to Tokyo and perhaps it would be wiser to... leave him as he is and return home?" He said the last part in a barely audible squeak.
"WHAT... DID... YOU... SAY?" Kodachi's rage started a slow boil as she brought out her ribbon, and began gripping the handle as if she was holding a bullwhip. "Are you saying that my Ranma-sama would prefer that blonde SLUT to the beautiful flower of St. Heberke?!"
Sasuke frantically waved his hands and shook his head. "Oh no, Mistress! Your beauty is unparalleled and there is no woman who could come to within one-thousandth of your magnificence!" When the compliment calmed her down a bit, he continued. "It's just that after what happened to Master Kuno and the others..."
"Hmpf! It was my own brother's fault for challenging Ranma-sama and he got what he deserved. As for the others, I care not about the fate of peasants! Ranma will be MINE, once I take care of this last detail. Once she is gone, then he will be free of her spell and he and I shall be together forever!"
"But Mistress... have you not considered how different Saotome has acted of late? He has done things that he had never done before in Nerima and I fear that if we were to harm this girl Balla, then he might not react... favorably to your attentions."
"Hmph! It just goes to show how little you know of matters of the heart!" Kuno's sister scoffed, then put on a daydream-like expression. "He'll be SO grateful to his Kodachi-chan for freeing him from the misery of that gaijin's company. I'll wager that he'll propose to me on the spot!"
"I shall brook no further arguments, Sasuke!" Kodachi stated firmly. "The plan shall proceed tomorrow at 4 PM! I shall be expecting you to carry out your part, and if you so much as THINK of disobeying me, then you shall suffer a fate FAR worse that what befell my foolish brother! Is that UNDERSTOOD?"
The little ninja could only sigh and nod. "Understood, Mistress Kodachi."
"Good. Until tomorrow."
With those words, the Black Rose went to her bedroom. As she locked the door behind her, Sasuke was left alone with his thoughts.
Though Sasuke was not the sharpest tool in the shed, he did have his moments of common sense and insight, and this was one of those times. He had always followed the orders of the Kuno siblings to the letter and never questioned them, but in this case, he knew that their current path would only lead them to their final destruction.
After seeing what had happened to Master Kuno and all those who tried to force Ranma to their will, Sasuke had realized that this was NOT the same person that had left Nerima six months ago. Ranma, or Eric he was now going by, didn't seem to know the meaning of the word mercy. The injuries he had inflicted on Kuno's hands were proof of that. And he had also read the reports on Ryoga and Mousse's injuries. Brutality had never part of Ranma's style before, but it seemed that he was more than willing to inflict such violence on those who crossed him.
Then there were the reports of Nabiki Tendo and her father in jail, and the fact that Ranma had turned them in. What could have driven him to such measures? Surely they couldn't have something so terrible, to have forced him to take such drastic action, could they? Or was it because they had finally caused Ranma to exceed his ridiculously high levels of tolerance?
Finally, there was this new girl, Balla. From his observations and information gathering, it appeared that she was some kind of pressure valve to Ranma's new rage. Sasuke was certain that without her, Ranma would have long been pushed past the limit and killed his foes, without any regret whatsoever. Kuno's crippled hands were proof of that. Why go through the trouble of permanently disabling his means to wield a sword, when it would have been so much easier to end his life? And then there were Ryoga, Happosai and Mousse. Ranma would have been well within his rights to kill them in self-defense when they attacked him, and judging by their injury reports, he could have easily done so. No, the ninja suspected that this Balla girl had stopped him from ending their lives. As a result, the Hidden Weapons Master, the Perverted Master and the Lost Boy had been dealt with by using other means.
The servant of the Kuno Family found himself in a difficult situation. Should he just obey Kodachi's orders and risk almost certain retaliation from Ranma? Or should he disobey Kodachi and risk punishment from her?
Ukyo Kuonji was quite nervous as she bedded down for the night. After a long time of searching and asking around in Hiroshima, she had finally learned of Ranma's whereabouts. However, what she had learned had only made her more concerned.
When she had learned that he was attending a local high school, she was all set to go to him for what she thought would be a joyous reunion. However, that was when she also learned about the changes he had undergone... and that he was married.
At first, she felt a sudden rage within her when she had been told by a few of his classmates, that Ranma had married a beautiful blonde gaijin. How dare he?! She was his cute fiancée and they had been promised since they were six! Genma had taken and spent her dowry and therefore, Ranma was all but married to her! Then Ukyo had learned that only the girl claimed that she was married to him, due to some weird law of her tribe. Naturally, the okonomiyaki chef thought of this as similar to Shampoo's claim to her Ranma-honey. It didn't count.
Then she had heard about the beatings.
Ryoga had received the worst of them and Happosai had come in a close second. She had always suspected that Ran-chan had been holding back with his previous fights against them, and he had NEVER incurred any injuries that were life threatening... until now. What would have driven him to cross the line?
She had also heard about what had happened to Mousse, Nabiki, Soun and Genma. They were all in jail and Ukyo could scarcely believe it. Before sending the law against them, Ranma had also given three out of four of them a pounding that went beyond his usual style. As for Nabiki, from what the spatula-wielding girl had heard, the Middle Tendo daughter was facing at least a decade of prison time for her illegal activities. Not that she didn't have it coming to her, but still, how did Ranma outsmart her?
Where was the Ranma that she knew? Where was the slow-witted, wisecracking, cocky and clueless martial artist that could take every bad thing and just brush it off as unimportant? Where was that insane amount of tolerance? He was supposed to be rough and crude, but still easy-going, not brutal and so... distant.
What happened to her childhood friend? Did Ranma Saotome even exist anymore? This new person who seemed to have taken his place, frightened her.
The next day...
Lisa Fujimatsu sighed as she saw Eric and Balla walk together toward the school's main gates. When he shyly took her hand and clasped it tightly, the bow-wielding class president knew that she had lost. Any girl who could make that misogynist, actually display the slightest gesture of affection toward her... deserved him.
Lisa resisted the urge to cry. She had waited too long and she didn't have anyone else to blame but herself for her hesitancy. She had thought she had a chance to win his heart, during that time he had taken to fix her bicycle. However, she had never taken the chance to try and understand him. However, Balla had the advantage of being there when he needed support and had always been honest with her feelings. As for Lisa, she had always kept to herself and it appears that she had missed her chance. Now, it was apparent to her that Eric had made his choice and all she could do... was be happy for him. Balla may be flighty and somewhat over-cheerful at times, but she did truly love that dope. At the very least, Lisa could still be a friend to them, right? That thought cheered her up a bit as she allowed a small smile to appear on her face.
As she looked up at the skyline in thought, she caught sight of a glint of light, which was the setting sun's rays being reflected off something metallic. It was coming from a nearby rooftop and it almost looked like...
Sasuke truly did not want to do this as he took careful aim with his crossbow. The bolt was tipped with one of Kodachi's most lethal potions and he had Balla in the crosshairs. It would only take one squeeze of the trigger, and the Tattoon High Priestess would be dead. The Black Rose had made certain that the poison would kill her rival in the most agonizing way possible.
However, her little manservant was very reluctant to do the deed. It was one thing to kill in defense of his masters, but it was quite another to slay an innocent person who did nothing more than fall in love with someone. Unfortunately that someone happened to be the point of obsession for his Mistress.
Tatewaki or Kadachi did not consider Sasuke as someone with any considerable amount of intelligence. They only thought of him as their personal yes-man. He followed their orders, never complained and was always there to pound on if they needed to release their frustrations. He was the perfect little slave... until now.
Despite his obligation to the Kuno Clan, Sasuke decided that he could not do this. Ranma, or rather Eric seemed so content with his significant other. He was certain that slaying her would NOT make Ranma happy once Kodachi appeared. After what had befallen Master Kuno, the ninja decided that he must keep the rest of the Kunos from suffering any further. Their fixation on Ranma Saotome and all that was related to him was destroying the great dynasty that he was sworn to protect. However, he could not convince his Mistress to abandon her quest for his heart, nor could he bring himself to kill the one who had it. And so, he decided that the only way for the Black Rose to see reason, was to have a heartbreaking, but necessary experience. Ranma's total rejection of her should be enough to snap her out of her delusions... he hoped.
With that in mind, he aimed high, and fired...
A few seconds before...
Kodachi smiled as she hid in a tree nearby and waited for Sasuke to fire. As soon as the Tattoon girl was slain, she would immediately use the paralysis powder bomb she had made to claim her beloved and whisk him away. The plan was perfect and nothing could go wrong.
"ERIC! BALLA! LOOK OUT!"
With one smooth motion, Lisa immediately nocked an arrow to her longbow and fired. At the same time, Eric's danger sense went off as he moved Balla back to protect her.
What would later be considered as an incredible chain of events, the following occurred...
Not knowing that Sasuke's bolt had been purposely aimed to miss Balla's head, Lisa's arrow shot up and deflected the crossbow projectile to the right. The downward angle caused by the deflection made the bolt bounce off a lamppost toward Eric! The Tattoon Priestess immediately defended her beloved by putting up a mystic barrier, which reflected the bolt toward the branches of a certain tree. Then a scream was heard.
Before the shocked eyes of all those present, a figure in a leotard fell from the branches and hit the pavement with a dull thud. The paralysis powder exploded in her arms, making her body limp as a wet noodle, though that was the least of Kodachi's worries. The crossbow bolt that had been meant for Balla protruded from the Black Rose's left side.
"NO! MISTRESS KODACHI!"
Eric was very surprised to see Sasuke suddenly appear from out of nowhere and rush toward Kuno's sibling. His surprise began to turn to rage as he saw a discarded crossbow on the sidewalk and knew that it had been meant for Balla. He had no doubt that Kodachi had planned to kill the one girl he had truly loved and didn't deserve any mercy. In spite of this, he felt a calming presence beside him as Balla gently shook her head to him while powering up her Tattoon energies. A life was about to be snuffed out and she had to act quickly to save it.
"Please Eric, let it go. I have to help her now." She briefly put a hand on his shoulder and let a feeling of serenity wash over him.
Once again, the berserk fury that had gripped him before slipped away like a receding mist. Eric found himself in a state of utter amazement at the way she could always make the anger go away. What was it about Balla that made her seem like a angel sent down from the heavens? It was if Kami-sama had finally taken pity on him, and had sent her to him to pay back for the lifetime of misery Eric had endured.
The Tattoon High Priestess nodded as she hurried to tend to her would-be murderer's wounds. However, it was just not to heal Kodachi's body that she was intending, but also of the soul. She quickly walked up to the prone form of Kodachi and knelt down beside the seemingly lifeless body. Blood continued to pool on the pavement in a crimson puddle as Sasuke desperately tried to shake his master's sister awake, but her body remained unresponsive and started to grow cold. The ninja feared that her poison had worked all too well and now, it was too late... or so he thought.
When Balla began to glow with an eerie glow and reached out to Kodachi's body, Sasuke immediately tried to keep her away from his mistress' person.
"No! You will not touch... erk!"
However, he was suddenly hauled up by the scruff of his neck and was facing the firm expression of the one who had been formally Ranma Saotome.
"Listen up, you little toad. I ought to FEED you that crossbow for what you tried to do to Balla. But since she might get mad at me if I turned you inside out, I'm MAY decide to go easy on you, and you MIGHT just come out of this intact. Now shut up and let my girl SAVE that nut-job!"
This made Sasuke stop struggling. "What? She can save Mistress Kodachi? But the poison in that bolt is absolutely lethal and there's no antidote!"
Eric said nothing as he watched the tattoos appear on Balla's body, specifically the ones on her face and arms. The blonde girl seemed to go into some kind of trance as she worked her healing magic upon the deranged gymnast. Kodachi's form was enveloped by a thin, white aura as the priestess reached for the crossbow bolt. Grasping it firmly, she applied a small but concentrated amount of her energies and caused the projectile to disintegrate into nothingness. Amazingly, the blood that was on the concrete began to recede back into the wound. It was like watching a film in in reverse. With another application of Tattoon magic, the jagged hole the bolt had caused sealed itself up.
With the structural damage dealt with, Balla then focused on the second part of her task, which was to repair the damage to Kodachi's psyche. Balla had felt a great disturbance within the inner recesses of Kodachi's subconscious and apparently, it had been festering for years. Unlike Kuno's mind, which was based mostly on pride and arrogance, Kodachi's madness seemed to be founded on some great loss from long ago. The Tattoon girl decided that it was high time to finally ease that tortured mind and untangle the mess it had become.
She started to probe into Kodachi's spiritual realms, peeling away each of the layers that had been set up to keep her innermost being locked away. At first, there was much resistance as Kodachi's mental defenses tried to repel Balla's intrusion, but the priestess persevered and eventually, they gave way to allow her access. She continued deeper into the complex and often nonsensical regions of the Black Rose's consciousness. The parts that were illogical and irrelevant were disregarded as unimportant in her quest to find the true Kodachi Kuno. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, she found her... as a frightened and quiet little girl of five. She was dressed in a yellow sundress and was weeping nonstop, while kneeling over the form of someone else.
The little figure which represented Kodachi in her barest, most fundamental aspect, saw Balla tried to run from her presence, but Tattoon Girl simply called to her in a soft, yet persuasive manner.
<Please, don't go.>
The little girl stopped and looked at the Tattoon Priestess, whose astral form was dressed in her usual tribal garments. Eric's girl nodded to her while giving her the friendliest smile she could summon up. This caused Young Kodachi to smile back at her, despite the fact that her eyes were still streaming tears. As Balla reached out with one hand toward her, the waif felt a sensation of warmth, as if she was in her mother's arms again. Then, the girl took one step toward Balla, then another, and then another. Before she realized it, she was hugging the legs of the blonde with her head bowed down. Balla brought the child closer while patting the top of her head.
As Young Kodachi continued to weep, Balla traced a small pattern on the girl's forehead with a fingertip. A Tattoon symbol appeared on Young Kodachi as the priestess learned of her past though the mark. Nodding in understanding of what Kuno's sister had endured, due to her accidentally witnessing her mother commit suicide, the daughter of the Tattoon chief began assuring the child that she was not at fault for her mother's tragic end.
At this point, Balla began to understand how Kodachi had become the twisted and deranged person that she was now. Her mother's death had left the girl with a trauma that she had never fully recovered from. As a result, her innocent outlook on the outside world had become skewed and she began denying the fact of some things that went beyond her control. Eventually, that denial became an obsession to control things.. and people. Her pampered upbringing only further made her believe that she had the power to manipulate others and ultimately became a fixation on the one person who seemed to be able to defy her order... Ranma Saotome. And his continued defiance towards her only made her more determined. The fixation on him became entangled with feelings of love, which was a distant desire for her to be loved again after her mother died. And from there...
Balla knew what she had to do as she began aid Kodachi in rebuilding the foundation to her soul...
A moment later in the real world...
Balla came out of her trance and stood up as Kodachi began to regain consciousness. The Tattoon girl gave Eric a reassuring smile as she stood beside her beloved, taking hold of one arm and brought him close. Though Eric was apprehensive and was expecting the Black Rose to attack again, he trusted Balla's judgment and waited. He brought himself even closer to her.
Kodachi's eyes opened up as a brief flash of light appeared on her forehead. She then looked over to where Ranma... no, Eric was and did the unexpected. She sat up, kneeled before the him and bowed her head down in shame.
"Please, I humbly beg that you forgive my most despicable attempt to kill your wife, Kobayashi-san. I have shamed the Kuno family name."
"Huh?" This took Eric by surprise. Wasn't she supposed to say something like, 'I shall free you from this witch's vile evil' or something like that? And did she just call him Kobayashi?
Kodachi's head remained bowed as she continued to humble herself. "I had mistaken you for someone that I thought I had loved, but I now realize that I was fooling myself and that you truly are NOT Ranma Saotome, but someone far more wonderful. Balla is most fortunate to have a husband such as yourself."
"Uh... thank you." Eric was stupefied. Kodachi was giving him up, just like that? This couldn't be happening. He had been expecting another beat-down and lots of violence, not an unconditional surrender.
He wasn't the only one to be confused by this sudden turn of events. He was so stunned by Kodachi's miraculous change of behavior, that he did not notice that there was another familiar person in the crowds that were gathered behind them. A brown-haired okonomiyaki chef was also dumbfounded as she had witnessed the entire thing from around the corner of a building.
Though his appearance was drastically different from what she remembered him, the Kuonji girl had immediately recognized him. Ukyo was near to breaking down in tears as she gazed at her Ran-chan holding onto that strange blonde girl with magical powers. She had never seen him so happy to being so close to a girl, not even with her, his best buddy from childhood. It was so unfair!
Her first impulse when she saw Ranma was to run up to him and declare her love for him in a passionate embrace. However, when she saw him walking hand-in-hand with that Balla girl, her emotions switched from joy to intense jealousy as she prepared to scream out 'Ranma, you jackass' and attack that floozy. However, her imminent attack had been aborted when Sasuke had fired and Kodachi had gotten hit by her own servant's weapon and seemingly had been killed. She didn't know how Balla had done it, but she had brought Kodachi back from the dead and now, Kodachi was abandoning her pursuit and wishing the couple well? And Ranma wasn't even protesting the fact that Kodachi had addressed him as Balla's husband? That was unbelievable all by itself!
Ukyo couldn't believe it. Ranma was glad to be with a girl and Kuno's loony sister had suddenly become sane? Just what was going on? Ever since she had come to Hiroshima, everything she had thought she knew about him had been totally obliterated and now, she was seeing someone that LOOKED like Ranma, but acted in ways that were totally opposite to what she was used to. How could he have changed so much? Could that Balla girl really have that kind of effect on him? When she looked at Ranma's expression again and how he regarded the girl beside him, she knew the answer.
Deep within her heart, Ukyo knew that the race was over and she had lost. The only consolation was that Akane, Shampoo and Kodachi were also out of the running for the trophy of Ranma's heart. She choked back the tears and wondered just what she was going to do now. One thing for certain, she no longer had a reason to stay in Hiroshima any more. However, before she could leave, she had to know a few things. With that in mind, she disappeared into the throngs of people.
Unknown to her, a certain Tattoon priestess sensed her presence and her connection to her husband...
As Eric and Balla were eating dinner, they discussed about the day's events and how things had turned out. Kodachi had given her word that she would never trouble them again and had returned to her hotel to prepare to go home to Tokyo. She assured the couple that her brother would never bother Eric either. As she had left, Eric noticed something different about the Black rose's presence. It was as if the aura of madness and illogic had been erased and she emulated a kind of quiet serenity. When he asked the Tattoon Priestess if she had cast some kind of brainwashing spell on her, Balla denied doing such a thing, and said that she had merely removed a few aspects from her mind, which had prevented Kodachi from seeing the truth.
Eric was still somewhat uncertain about it all, but decided to let the matter drop as the result was still what he wanted in the first place. Kodachi was going to leave him alone and that's all that counted. It felt as if another hefty weight had been removed from his shoulders and he was more than ready to move on.
At that point, Balla told him that she had to go out and take care of a certain errand. When Eric became concerned and offered to join her, she shook her head and assured him that everything would be all right and that there was nothing to worry about. She would only be gone for an hour or two. She reminded him by stroking his Primary Mark, that if she were to encounter any danger to her person, then he would know as well. With a quick peck on his cheek, she then left the apartment and headed out toward the city park.
Balla sat on the park bench and watched the evening blanket of stars begin cover the skies above her. She kept her senses open to the surrounding area, just in case things got... violent. Finally, after a long while... she appeared.
Ukyo had come.
The Tattoon girl showed no fear and was actually smiling warmly at the okonomiyaki chef, as if she were greeting an old friend, rather than a potential rival for Eric’s affections. However, she didn't need to be afraid for she already had what Ukyo and all the girls wanted from Eric, but never received entirely. She could see some anger in Ukyo’s eyes, but not quite as much as one would’ve expected from someone who had fought so fiercely to gain another’s devotion. Balla could tell from her stance and expression that Ukyo wasn’t here to fight, but wanted to get some answers. The blonde girl’s expression turned a little serious but remained light and still friendly, as she nodded to Ranma’s former fiancée.
“Ukyo Kuonji I presume? I have been expecting you.” When Ukyo opened her mouth in confusion, Balla held up her hand and replied to her unspoken questions. “Eric has told me much about his friend Ucchan. He spoke very highly of you.”
Ukyo felt a bit of irritation when she heard her nickname from the girl who had won her Ran-chan’s heart. Though a part of her wanted to slam her huge Battle Spatula on top of that blonde’s head, or skewer Balla with the throwing spatulas, the more sensible part of the brown-haired girl knew better. Causing any harm to the Tattoon priestess would most likely make Ranma angry, and perhaps even make him hate his childhood friend.
Winning his love was out of her reach now. She could see that in Balla’s eyes. However, losing her friendship with Ran-chan or at least his respect was something that Ukyo could not bear. Taking a deep breath, she banished all thoughts of vengeance and frustrations and spoke.
“So, Ran-chan... I mean, Ranma told you all about me, huh?”
“Yes, Eric told me all about how you and he were... engaged when you were very young and how his worthless father had stolen your dowry and left you on the side of the road. A most despicable man.”
“Eric huh? So that’s what he calls himself?”
Balla shook her head. “Eric Kobayashi is who he IS. The person whom you once knew of as Ranma Saotome has been gone for a long time now. I’m afraid that you have been searching in vain for someone who no longer exists.”
“What do you mean? I saw him today! I saw him almost tear Sasuke apart when he tried to kill you. If that wasn't Ranma Saotome, then who was it?”
Balla gave her a small smile, then allowed the mark on her forehead to appear. “That was my husband Eric Kobayashi that you saw. Ranma Saotome is no longer.” With those words, she let her Tattoon energies reach out toward the Kuonji girl.
Ukyo’s fighting instincts came to the fore as she reached behind for her Battle Spatula. However, that was when the light enveloped her as everything became white.
“I helped Kodachi to see the truth about my Eric.” Balla said softly. “Now it is time that you also understand him.”
In her mind’s eye, Ukyo saw a myriad of images flash before her. In each of them, she saw a side of Ranma that she had been unaware of during his time in Nerima. She had never truly realized how much he was hurting inside whenever she, Shampoo or Akane were fighting over him. She had never realized how lonely he had been as well. A lifetime of solitude with only his training and an idiotic father to keep him company. And just when he thought he had gotten some friends, he ended up with fiancées and bitter rivals instead. And from there the situation just went steadily downhill into chaos. Oh there were the OCCASIONAL cease-fires and truces, but they never lasted and no matter what he did, he would always be in the middle of the mayhem and no one ever cared how he felt or wanted his opinion. And Ukyo hadn’t helped matters with her obsession and constantly reminding him of their childhood friendship and the spent dowry as a basis for her claim on him.
As more images flashed by, the okonomiyaki girl began to comprehend why Ranma had been so angry and had left even his old buddy Ucchan. For him, it was if he had been mentally and emotionally pulled apart in every direction and he had to leave before he was torn asunder. And it also hurt those close to him, including Ucchan. If the pain would only stop if Ranma Saotome no longer existed then so be it. So, he destroyed himself and was reborn as Eric Kobayashi. Finally, she saw how much he had changed and how much more he had to endure to get rid of the last vestiges of his old life. And through his trials and tribulations, one stood by him the entire time, giving him the support he needed and the friend that he always wanted. No wonder he fell in love with Balla.
When the images faded away and the light disappeared, Ukyo once again found herself standing in the park with Balla. The mark on the Tattoon girl’s forehead disappeared and all became silent. Ukyo nearly collapsed to her knees after experiencing such an intense in-depth look into Eric’s soul. However, the message had gotten through to her and she now understood that Ranma Saotome was gone and might as well be declared dead. Eric Kobayashi was who he was now and Ukyo had to respect him for that. He had come to terms with what aspect of his past and had moved on.
And so, it was time for Ukyo to move on as well. Ranma Saotome was no more, so the engagement to him was null and void, thereby saving her family's honor. Genma was going to prison, so retribution had been satisfied at least partially. It didn't totally make up for ten years of suffering, but at least it was some measure. In the end, Ranma... no, Eric was finally at peace with himself and had someone who would look after him and keep him happy.
Sniffling a bit and holding back her tears, Ukyo bid her farewell. “I... understand now. Take care of Ran... Eric for me, okay? Take care of him, or I’m going to be really mad, got that?”
Balla smiled as she nodded. “Eric means the world to me.”
Ukyo saw the promise in Balla’s eyes and was satisfied that she would keep him happy. With that, she turned around and walked away.
Balla came home later that evening and saw that Eric had been waiting up for her. He was sitting at on a chair in the main room of their tiny apartment, facing the door.
“So everything went all right with Ucchan?” Eric casually asked.
This caught Balla off-guard. “How did you...?!”
Eric smirked as he tapped his Primary Mark. “How else would I know?”
The Tattoon Priestess nodded as she sat down beside him and began telling him about that night’s encounter.
To be concluded...
Let’s see... I got Ryoga beat up. I had Mousse set up on charges of illegal weapons possession, attempted murder, and possibly get him deported or thrown in prison, (after he got beat up). I sent Nabiki to jail for all her illegal activities. I had given Kasumi one heck of a blow-up. I bashed, crashed and smashed Happosai, then have him sent to prison. Ditto with Genma and Soun. Kuno’s been crippled. The Amazons are cursed and will never return. Kodachi has been turned sane. Ukyo just leaves... am I forgetting anybody? (Heh-heh).
Next time will be part one of the final chapter of Tattoon Ranma as a couple of itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy, be-they-ever-so-crucial, little tiny details are dealt with. See you there!