is the beginning of a story rewrite I've been working on. Ranma returns to Jusenkyo to be cured, but as with all things
, things don't go according to plan. The following is an excerpt from the first chapter.
In the years since the Jusenkyō Guide had first taken up his post, many a lost traveler had come knocking on his shack's rickety door, and every one of them brought a unique flavor of trouble. From time to time, ignorant tourists sought out the spring ground, expecting that they could train atop bamboo poles over the dozens of cursed pools below. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this idea—that was their thinking, at least. Ranma was one such person, but the Guide excused him for it, since he'd been led into trying by his reckless father. The Amazons liked to train there, too, but only with disgraced warriors who, in the Tribe's judgment, deserved the punishment if they fell into a spring. Ambitious martial artists weren't the only ones to come by the small shack on the edge of the spring ground. The last visitors to drop in had been vicious bird-men, and they hadn't bothered to knock. It was all the Guide could do to get his daughter Plum to town and out of their reach, and the ensuing conflict had almost dried up the springs completely.
After that debacle, the Guide dug out the old books his predecessor had left behind on the tribal peoples of Qinghai—just in case more natives stopped by—and wondered to himself if he should've stayed in Beijing to drive horse-drawn carriages. The money wasn't nearly as good in the city, though, and with the remoteness of Jusenkyō, there was a certain appeal to being immersed in nature. Indeed, the Guide had never had problems with the animals. Only when people arrived did bad things tend to happen.
Then again, when the Guide had received a call from Tōkyō earlier that week, he knew mayhem and chaos were well on their way. He just didn't expect them to come pounding on his door—rap, rap, rap—quite so soon.
"Who's that, Daddy?" His daughter Plum looked up from a doodling pad, puzzled. "Is that Honored Guest from Japan here so soon?"
"I doubt it," said the Guide. "If it were, he'd be days earlier than he said he would be. Hide yourself for a moment. Let's not have a repeat of what happened last time."
Sighing, Plum crouched behind an icebox, taking her drawing pad with her. "You're worrying too much, Daddy."
Rap-rap-rap! The door rattled on its hinges again, and the Guide went to the knob. He collected himself for a moment, making sure Plum couldn't be seen, and called through the door. "Yes, hello? Who's there?"
"We understand you are a guide to this place, that you direct visitors around this spring ground."
It was a girl's voice, cold and serious. The Guide didn't recognize it. "That's right," he replied. "Who are you?"
The Guide inched the door open cautiously, and with the first slivers of light from outside, he studied the strangers. There were four of them, all relatively young—around age twenty or so he guessed. Their clothes were solid black—short-sleeved shirts and long pants for each one. Three men and a girl stood before the Guide's door. The Guide guessed the girl was the leader, and despite her stern expression, he thought her fairly pretty, with her straight reddish-brown hair extending halfway down her back.
And lastly, each of the four carried a stick—thin, slender, and nearly as tall as its wielder. These weapons were capped with blunt, cast iron tips.
"So," said the Guide, eying one of these dangerous staves, "you would like to visit the spring ground?"
"We have questions for you," said the leader, the girl with the reddish-brown hair. "What happened here twenty-two days ago?"
"Twenty-two days?" The Guide laughed. "Are you sure you don't want to ask about twenty-one days ago—or twenty-three? Saying exactly twenty-two seems a bit precise, don't you think?"
The leader blinked, but her stony expression didn't waver.
"Ah, you must be talking about the interruption to the springs' water supply," the Guide concluded. "If it's that you're asking about, I can assure you, nothing of the sort will happen again on my watch. The culprit has already been dealt with."
"Who?" asked the leader.
"Who is that—the culprit you speak of, who is he?"
The Guide hesitated. A sweat broke out on his brow. To find strangers on his doorstep asking extremely specific questions was unsettling, even more so considering just what and who they were so curious about. If only he'd had the presence of mind to read that book on the natives of Qinghai Province a little sooner, he might've known what they were really after!
As it was, the Guide decided to be cautious. "I'm afraid I don't quite know," he said. "Some wandering martial artist took care of the problem; I really had absolutely nothing to do with it, I promise you."
The leader narrowed her eyes. "This wandering martial artist—where do we find him?"
"I really couldn't say. He left in a big, big hurry. So sorry!"
And with that, the Guide slammed the door on his visitors, breathing a sigh of relief.
"Daddy, I hope you're more convincing than that when you tell the army men no one came by the springs," said Plum, who scribbled away at her notepad nonchalantly.
"What do you mean? I don't think they suspect a thing!"
"Then why are you trying to block the door?"
The Guide jammed a chair under the doorknob, hoping to stall the door before it could move inward more than an inch. Truly, there was no hiding anything from a perceptive child, so the Guide didn't bother arguing with her. Instead, he cleared his dinner table of scattered bowls and plates, and from the back wall of the shack, he retrieved a set of scrolls, books, and parchments. He flipped through pages and notes frantically. Men with fighting staves—that was pretty unique. There had to be something in all those papers about them. Though he heard nothing from the visitors outside, the Guide searched for even a fragment of information about their kind, just in case they returned. Sure enough, in a dusty hardback from the 1960s, he found a crude drawing of warriors like the ones at his door. Their metal-tipped staves were distinctive, but what caught the Guide's eye most were the jagged, colorful bolts of lightning that emanated from the warriors' hands.
"You found something about those people?" asked Plum, coming out from her hiding place. "What does it say?"
"Hm?" He stepped back from the book, his brow furrowing with confusion. "It says they use magic."
Ka-PAM! The door splintered in two; the chair holding it there bent and shattered. A wave of air pressure pushed into the shack, and it shoved the Guide forward with all the gentleness of a sledgehammer. His body catapulted through the table. The texts ripped, spreading papers over the floor, and the Guide lay sprawled atop the shredded texts with stars in his eyes. He worked his jaw repeatedly, trying in vain to get his ears to pop.
The visitors entered through the broken door, the leader in front with her staff in one hand. She watched as two of her comrades took the Guide by his arms. They turned him on his back and pulled down his shirt by the neck.
Shink. The last visitor plunged a hollow bamboo needle into the exposed skin by the Guide's shoulder blade. The Guide went woozy and glassy-eyed. He slipped from the visitors' grasp, keeling over face-down on the floor, and the visitors took him by the arms once more to carry him away.
"Hey!" cried Plum. "Where are you taking my father?"
The leader of the visitors thrust an open hand toward the girl, and from the stranger's fingers, ripples of golden energy emanated. Plum shied away from the stranger, half-hiding behind the icebox once more, and the visitors ignored her. They left without a word, and indeed, the shack was eerily quiet.
Until a black rotary phone on the Guide's desk rang.
The Guide's feet dragged on the ground as they carried him out, and Plum didn't dare give chase.
The phone continued to ring.
Two of the strangers took the Guide on their backs between them, and with him firmly in their grasp, the Guide's feet left the ground. His captors levitated and flew, and Plum stepped through the broken doorway, staring in awe.
The phone stopped ringing, and a bulky piece of machinery spun into motion, playing a magnetic tape. "Hello, Honored Guest! You've reached the phone line of the Guide to the mystical training ground Jusenkyō! Please leave your message after the beep, and if I haven't drowned and turned into a cat or some other voiceless animal, I'll be sure to get back to you. Pleasant journey!"
The visitors soared skyward, taking Plum's father with them and becoming small dots in front of a blue backdrop. Only their leader remained, listening intently as the call came in.
"Hey, Guide, it's me," said the voice on the answering machine. "I was just calling to see if the weather's good at Jusenkyō. I should be there in a couple days, so if it starts to rain, maybe you could prepare another cask? Yeah, I know I didn't explain what happened to the first one or why I'm back so soon. It's a long story."
Plum blinked, turning around. Her eyes focused on the black rotary phone in the shack, which sat neatly on the Guide's desk, but the leader of the strangers saw it, too. The girl gripped her weapon tightly, and even from outside the shack, one swing of her battle staff launched a shockwave, piercing the walls and shattering the telephone and the desk it sat on. Satisfied, the leader followed her men, flying past the trees.
And with her only link to the outside world irrevocably cut, Plum could only watch the strangers go. On the horizon, wispy clouds began to roll in—the first portents of a coming storm.