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The Pegasus Cycle.

Book 1 : - Breath of the World.

Ranma 1/2 an all it's characters are property of Rumiko Takahashi.

The Concept for this story is my own, with some influences by other authors.

The Wheel of Time and all it's characters are property of Robert Jordan and Orbit Publications.

C&C Welcome, but please try and be constructive. strider_richards@hotmail.com

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Prologue: Heart's Rending.

"RANMA! I HATE YOU! D'YOU HEAR ME!? I *HATE* YOU!!!!" The girl screeched angrily.

Ranma froze, every drop of blood in his body feeling like tiny chips of ice at the proclamation. Slowly, infinitely slowly, he licked his lips and swallowed the lump in his throat. Having done that, he turned to the next task at hand, his mind still attempting to recover from the devastating sentence. Carefully he searched her face for any signs of remorse at the words and, finding nothing but rage and hatred, felt his fragile heart shatter into a thousand tiny pieces.

The muscles of his jaw clenching painfully, he nodded once.

"So be it." He said flatly, hiding the heartache that threatened to devour him from the inside. Swiftly, to hide the tears that threatened to fall, he turned about and dashed off, therefore missing her confused expression.

"Ranma?" Akane whispered softly in confusion. She turned as she felt a presence beside her.

"You've really done it this time Sis." Nabiki murmured as she gazed in the direction the pig-tailed youth had run off in. Akane blinked.

"What are you talking about Nabiki?" She demanded with an annoyed frown. She completely missed the deafening silence that lay about the schoolfield, as well as the hundred or so eyes upon her. Most of them bearing angry looks or expressions of disbelief. Nabiki however, did not, and decided she had to teach her younger sister a few things. Namely humility.

"You must have been blind." She hissed angrily. "Didn't you see his eyes? You *hurt him* Akane. I may act heartless, but I can assure you, I'm not. It's been what, a week after the wedding attempt? How many times has he insulted you? Huh? Tell me that? How many times has he gone to see Shampoo or Ukyo? None! NONE! And the *FIRST* *TIME* they pop up and jump on him, it's *HIS* fault??? *HE* is running around on *YOU*!?!?" Her voice had been steadily climbing in pitch and volume until she was screeching loudly at the youngest Tendo. At this point the spectators, all of whom actually agreed with the middle Tendo for once, had risen in number and were levelling angry glares Akane's way. "Listen to me Akane! You were *finally* getting along! Things were quiet! There are no repairs to be done on the dojo! And do you know what that means Akane!? Do you?"

Akane blinked and thought for a moment.

"Of course I do! That baka hasn't been gallivanting around with his harem this past week! And he's started again already!" She shouted back, anger once again clouding her judgement. Nabiki's jaw muscles tightened slightly as she smoothed her clothes and expression. Once done, she coolly looked her sister in the eye.

"No Akane. It doesn't. It means he was trying his best to please you. And you just threw it back in his face." Nabiki had learned her lesson from the wedding fiasco, and was now doing her best to help the couple, but it seemed her sibling would rather lash out like a five-year-old rather than try to understand. It wasn't Ranma's fault that Shampoo and Ukyo had glomped onto him, yet Akane had malleted him anyway, before he could even open his mouth and put his foot in it this time. After regarding her sister for another moment, Nabiki turned around and walked away in the direction that Ranma had taken off in.

With the spectacle over, everyone began to disperse, shooting last-minute disgusted looks Akane's way before leaving.

Akane merely stood there with a surprised look on her face for another few moments before she spoke a few words.

"What have I done?" She whispered sadly.

************

Ranma ran. He didn't know where he was going, but he ran anyway, leaping over fences, buildings people and cars in his race to get away from the dreadful pain that ate at his heart like a canker.

Why? Why does she hate me?? What did I do? Why can't she ever see it's not my fault!? What can I do to get away from all of this!?

He thought morosely as he sped along. He was disturbed from his reverie by a very unwelcome voice.

"Whatta haul! Whatta haul!! And it's going to be even bigger this time!!! It's perfect!" Came the voice from a few feet to the right. Ranma slowed and looked over the fence, to see the perverted Grand-master of Anything-Goes Happosai grinning gleefully at something in his hands.

Ranma immediately recognised it. The Nanban Mirror.

Perfect!!

With a single bound, Ranma leapt over the fence, swiped the mirror and ran for it, ignoring the enraged howls behind him as he vaulted up and over a nearby house.

Dimly he heard the pervert threaten him unless he got it back, but it never registered in his grief-fogged mind, only one thing rebounding around in Ranma's head.

Somewhere to use it.

Unknown to him, his run had attracted a lot of attention, not least from the miniature troll chasing after him, screaming bloody murder and numerous death threats. Fairly soon Shampoo, Ukyo, Ryoga, Kuno, Kodachi, Mousse, Konatsu, Tsubasa, Genma & Soun (who had both been out drinking) and Cologne were all in pursuit in an attempt to find out what had Happosai so enraged. After 20 minutes Ranma finally landed in an empty lot and turned to face his pursuers. Everyone stopped and looked at his tear-streaked face in surprise. Only Happosai noticed that one was about to fall upon the mirror.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!" He screeched as he leapt forward, just as the tear made contact.

"Take me to a place no-one will ever find me!!" Ranma yelled, and was engulfed in a brilliant flash of white light.

A moment later, a puffing Nabiki ran up and looked at the shocked faces of everyone present.

"I'm too late." She stated sadly, a lone tear sliding down her face. "Good luck Ranma. Wherever you are. And if it helps.....I'm sorry." She whispered. Soon celebrations and lamentations were under-way, as well as a young girl silently sobbing herself to sleep.

"Ranma....I'm so sorry!! Please...come back to me..." Akane sobbed into her pillow. Her tears continued well into the night.

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Steepened in the darkness,

Lives a being of the Light.

And when the Dragon rears his head,

The Winged Horse shall Fight

Upon the rocky mountain-tops,

To Gaze across the sea.

Awaiting for the Dragon,

The Winged Horse runs Free.

Wild and Free he lives to fight,

With Chaos in his mane.

In the Dragon's darkest hour,

The Stone-Heart shall he tame.

- Prophecy of the Pegasus,

Lost page of the Karaetheon Cycle.

Chapter 1: To Kill.

Darkness....

No wait....

I have my eyes shut....

....Idiot....

With a grunt Ranma opened his eyes. And promptly snapped them shut again, accompanied by a groan.

"Urrgh...." He muttered as he carefully peeked through slitted eyelids and sat up. "Feel like I got hit by a mak-truck...." He muttered as he clambered to his feet. He paused as he detected a tinkling sound by his ankles and looked down. The Nanban mirror. "Shattered into silver dust..." He muttered softly. "Well.... no going back now is there." Suddenly a strong odour caught his attention. taking a sniff, the pig-tailed boy wrinkled his nose in disgust at the sickly-sweet smell of decay. He looked about.

"Oh gross..." He muttered darkly. Extending his senses slightly, he probed at the decay for a moment, then jerked in revulsion as he detected only vile decay.

This should be interesting...

He thought for a moment, when a rustling and a squelch brought his attention back to the surrounding area. He turned around to face the noise and watched in a mixture of surprise, disgust and horror as a.... thing, emerged from the diseased tree-line. It gurgled at him for a moment, seemingly as surprised as himself, then gave a roaring gurgle and charged. Ranma rolled his eyes.

"Figures..." He said. Dodging it's first swipe, he cracked his knuckles and gave it a humourless smirk.

"I needed something to pound on anyway..." So saying, he leapt forward to the attack. The thing paused, which was enough time for Ranma to land at least 20 or so before he hopped away again. Sickly black ichor ran from the wounds and coated Ranma's hands. He grimaced as he wiped his hands on the sickly yellow grass and circled it again.

"No way am I gonna do that again. Moko Takabisha!!" He yelled and launched a golden nimbus of energy at the creature. It collided dead on, vaporising several tentacle-like protrusions as it slammed into the thing's 'chest,' creating a cloud of smoke from the scorched flesh. It shrieked, producing a smirk from Ranma, which quickly died as he saw it charge him again, much faster this time, as if seemingly enraged. Dodging several attempts to remove his head from his shoulder Ranma scowled at the creature.

"OK fine, you want to play, then that's fine by me. Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken!!" A blue glow enveloped the teen's hands as they streaked towards the approximate area where the creature's head could have been. 350 blows in 4 seconds later and the creature attacked again, this time attempting to squash the fleet-footed martial artist with its entire body. Ranma gave a disgusted look and leapt away.

"Not today fat-ass. MOKO TAKABISHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" He roared, pouring all the confidence he could muster into the blast. With a few moments of agonised screeching and the revolting smell of burning diseased flesh later, and one sickening splurch for good measure, the creature exploded backwards towards the treeline, leaving a trail of entrails and black ichor behind it. Ranma studied the corpse for a few moments before he turned around and vomited his lunch up. Grimacing at the bitter taste, Ranma wiped his mouth off with the back of his red sleeve and groggily stood up.

"Oh that felt great." He muttered sarcastically to himself, then sighed. "Time to get out of this disgusting place." Sending out his senses again, and suppressing the retching from his stomach, he located the weakest area in the sickness. Looking up he nodded.

"South it is." And made his way into the trees, careful not to touch anything that looked too gross, on his journey to the south.

******************

<Five days later.>

Ranma lurched forward again in a fit of dry heaves as his stomach attempted to get rid of something that wasn't even there and moaned.

"What's wrong with me?" He whispered as he staggered to his feet again and trudged through the snow on his way southward. He had emerged from the sickness about five hours ago, but the queasy feelings and cold sweats had started the day-before-yesterday, and had steadily got worse, much to his obvious distress. Blindly stumbling forward whilst attempting to prevent another agonising retching session, Ranma almost missed the wall that stood in his path. As it was, he didn't. He walked into it instead. And in his weakened condition could not prevent himself lapsing into the blissful land of unconsciousness. A moment later, the sentry posted above him decided to report the anomaly to his commanding officer and fetch the lad in. He had been most surprised to see the youth stagger towards the village from the direction of the blight, not to mention the sheer number of times he counted the lad pitching forward to heave dryly in the snow for a good 15 minutes or more before continuing on again.

"Lad's got guts." He muttered to himself as he hefted the pig-tailed youth over his shoulder, then cracked a grin. "If he hasn't puked them all out by now at least!" He chuckled at his little joke and brought him inside the main gate.

<Two hours later.>

The healer stood up and eyed the several armed men in the room with annoyance. The eldest grinned weakly at her and shrugged.

"Captain's orders. He does anything suspicious and we're supposed to kill 'im. That's all I know." He explained. The elderly woman scowled even deeper and sniffed.

"Be that as it may Lieutenant, I highly disapprove of moving half a battalion into my treatment room!!!" She snapped as she placed a moist towel onto the young boy's forehead. The Lieutenant in question grinned again and settled down to wait for the pig-tailed youth to wake up. He didn't have to wait very long, much to the healer's surprise.

"I'd expected him to be out for at least another day!" She exclaimed softly as the boy groaned and his eyelids fluttered open.

"Oooohh....my head..... Sheesh...feels worse than the last time I ate Akane's cooking!" The boy muttered as he struggled to raise himself up from the bed, only to find himself pressed down into the bed firmly by the matronly healer.

"Just rest now, you are in no condition to get up yet." She clucked as she re-tucked in the bewildered boy.

"Huh? Who are you? Where am I?" He asked, peeking behind her. Upon seeing the armed soldiers he gave a yelp and leapt out of the bed, coming down into an unsteady combat stance. "Whatever it is, I didn't do it OK? I'm sure it's all pop's fault anyhow!" He muttered something under his breath darkly, making the soldiers, who had half-risen from their seats, raise their eyebrows at some of the rather violent suggestions he gave out.

The lieutenant signalled a runner to alert the commander that the boy was awake and turned back to the youth.

"Don't worry lad, we're here to make sure you're okay. All right? So jus' settle down now, we won't hurt you if we don't have to. Okay? Why don't you sit down, you look like you've been run over by a horde of trollocs!" The boy blinked at the unfamiliar word, but gave a grateful sigh as he sat down on the bed after catching one look from the grey-haired healer. He gave a weak grin and nodded thanks as a bowl of stew was handed to him, and proceeded to inhale the soup faster than any of the room's occupants had ever seen before.

"He must have an iron stomach." One corporal whispered to another. "After all, Megan's soup usually gets 'em out of here faster than any actual healing ever does!!" The other nodded sagely. Ranma grinned to himself as he listened to the by-play and looked at them.

"I've had worse." He said with complete sincerity. The soldiers looked at him with frank disbelief. The healer, named by the soldier as Megan, looked as if she did not know whether to smile of frown at the youth sitting on the bed. The lieutenant, who had been taken aside by the returning messenger, cleared his throat.

"Yes well, it seems that the Commander would like to see you young man about how you came from the direction of the Blight." Ranma blinked for a moment in bewilderment before his mind slowly made the connections.

"Ya mean that place with all the gross stuff and bad smell?" He asked inquisitively, his pallid expression quickly being replaced by a look of healthy vigour before the surprised healer's eyes.

"I told you my soup would work wonders if you lot would just drink it!!" She crowed as Ranma's remarkable healing ability kicked in. The soldiers let loose a collective groan. Ranma blinked and eyed her askance. The lieutenant rubbed the bridge of his nose in a display of weariness before looking up at Ranma.

"Yes, the blight is that place to the north. Two hours ago you stumbled into the outer wall of the town and were brought in by Sander here." He gestured to a heavyset man to his left with dark brown hair liberally shot with grey and a thick beard. The man grinned at the martial artist, which grew wider at Ranma's nod of thanks.

"So lad, what be your name then?" He asked. Ranma smiled at the rough speech of the soldier.

"Ranma. Ranma Saotome, Heir to the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts." There was a collective blink among the soldiers before the lieutenant cleared his throat again.

"Well Ranma, I'm Lt. Jared Murloch of the 48th Lancers. And this place is Shol Guinnar in Arafel. Now, shall we go? The Commander wished to see you as soon as possible." The Healer Megan opened her mouth to protest, but Ranma cut her off.

"Sure. Hey Megan, thanks." He said as he wobbled on slightly unsteady legs. After a few moments to regain his balance he accompanied the soldiers outside.

Outside, Ranma gazed with interest at the cobbled streets covered with a light layer of snow and the, to his eyes, rather primitive simple brick houses lining the streets. He was startled out of his inspection when a familiar voice cried out.

"Ho Blacksmith!!!" Sander cried, a broad smile on his face.

"Ho Guardsman!" An older man replied, his iron grey hair blowing in the wind wildly. He wore a heavy leather apron and carried a heavy-looking war-hammer at his side, as well as some more useful looking forge hammers, all of which dangled from a studded leather belt. "Where you off to then, eh Sander?" The Blacksmith asked. The guardsman grinned and jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the pig-tailed boy.

"Bringin' this young 'un to the Commander. Walked down from the blight he did, straight into the outer wall!!!" He guffawed with laughter, making Ranma's face flush with embarrassment.

Ugh....Not one of my finer moments. Ranma thought darkly. His stomach announced its desire to re-empty itself by choosing that moment to attempt to vomit. Ranma turned a sickly green colour as he struggled to hold down the first meal he had had in five days.

Thankfully, he managed to assuage the retching by pinching himself hard on the arm, making himself wince from the pain and avoid further embarrassment by throwing up all over his escorts. The Blacksmith noticed though and looked at him with concern.

"Lad looks a mite poorly don't he? You sure it's a good idea to take him to the Commander so soon after his arrival?" Sander shrugged helplessly.

"Orders I'm afraid. Nothing we can do 'bout that." Sander said. The blacksmith scratched his chin for a moment.

"Where's he bordin' then?" He asked, eyeing Ranma's muscular frame critically. Sander gave a crooked grin.

"With Megan, where else!?" He replied with a chortle. The older man stared at the pig-tailed martial artist in surprise.

"Light!! If he stays there she'll kill him with that soup of hers!" He exclaimed. Ranma sniggered softly.

"I've had worse." The looks on everyone's faces told him plain as day that they did not believe him, but the older man shook his head.

"Be that as it may lad, come on over to my forge after you've been t'see the Commander and I'll rustle up something that'll put strength back into that there body of yours. What do you say?" He waited expectantly and folded his barrel-sized arms across his large chest patiently. Ranma raked his fingers through his hair as he thought about the proposal when he felt a soft nudge in his kidney.

"Ranma lad, that's our blacksmith Torlan, there is no finer man around than he, plus he cooks the best wild boar you are ever likely to taste! If I were in your position I'd 've said yes as soon as he stopped speaking. I would do it lad, you'll be away from Megan faster that way, plus you won't have to suffer her toxic cooking!" Lt. Jared whispered softly into his ear. The prospect of good food brightened Ranma's mood straight away.

"Sure thing Mr......ah..." Ranma faltered, unsure of how to address the burly man. These men all seemed to treat him with great respect, and his usual brash manner would more than likely get him kicked out of the town. He had a feeling that insulting someone's honour around here would be a very bad thing.

The older man beamed a good-natured smile at the raven-haired youth and rested his right hand on the head of his warhammer.

"Call me Torlan lad, it's plain to see you don't know much of how things work here. Right?" He queried.

Boy you can say that again....

Ranma gave a nervous chuckle and scratched the back of his head in embarrassment.

"Err....no, not really Mr. Torlan....er..sir." Ranma had the distinct feeling he was making an idiot of himself. Taking a quick glance around and seeing the grinning faces of the soldiers was all the confirmation he needed.

I'm an idiot.... He thought sourly. Torlan grinned at him.

"Just Torlan lad, no need for such formalities. Now, be off with you, you'd best get to the Commander before he sends the other half of the platoon out after you!" Giving a cocky smile, Ranma sketched a quick bow, and followed the Lieutenant who had already moved on down the road. His good mood only ruined as his stomach made a repeat attempt to vomit his lunch onto the cobblestones.

Kami-sama I feel awful!!!

Five minutes and another 8 attempts by his stomach to rebel later, Ranma was stood, looking slightly green around the gills, outside of the Commander of Shol Guinnar's office. Calming his stomach, Ranma nodded to the Lieutenant, who knocked once and entered swiftly. Ranma followed at a slightly more sedate (if also a trifle unsteady) pace and looked around the room. All over the walls were various pennants, and more importantly maps. None Ranma could recognise, and he had been fairly good at Geography too! Well.....He thought so. Apparently no-one else shared the same opinion.

"Sir, Lt. Jared Murloch reporting with the young lad that came from the Blight sir!" The Lieutenant saluted smartly, then stood to attention.

"At ease Lieutenant." Jared did so, and smiled at Ranma, who looked distinctly uncomfortable. He never was good in any situation that required tact or respect. The Commander was a middle aged man, well into his forties, with grey streaks at the temples of his well-groomed black hair and grey flecks in his neatly-trimmed beard. He wore a comfortable leather jerkin with several stripes on his chest to denominate his rank. His eyes were a warm brown that spoke of a cunning intelligence yet compassionate nature. Both were now turned to focus on the chinese-shirted youth. "So, this is the boy?" He asked simply. Jared nodded, and indicated Ranma to introduce himself. Licking his lips slightly, Ranma proceeded to give the most respectful bow that he could. He had no intention of putting his foot in it this time.

"Ranma Saotome, Heir to the Anything-Goes School of Martial Arts....uh...at your service." He paused, wondering if he forgot anything. "Uh..sir." He gave a weak grin and scratched his head nervously under the Commander's scrutiny. After a moment, the Commander waved to his aide to bring in two chairs, which were placed behind the pair, and relaxed into the back of his own chair.

"My name is Commander Murloch Ranma. It is good to meet you." Ranma blinked at the name and looked to the Lieutenant to his side, who gave a lopsided smile in reply. The commander chuckled. "And I see you have met my son." The commander looked at Ranma intently for a moment, then spoke. "So young man, tell me how you came to wander out of the blight with only a mild sickness and a few scratches." Ranma licked his lips nervously.

Hooo boy....He thought glumly.

"Well....ah...where I come from there's this magic artefact called the Nanban mirror right? And it works by you shedding a tear onto the glass and telling it where you want to go. So, well...." Ranma closed his eyes as a familiar ache gripped his heart, forcing it down, he took a breath and continued on. "I said something and there was a flash of light, then the next thing I know I'm in this really gross place, the Blight I think you called it, and then this....er....thing comes out of the trees, stares at me for a second, then tries to squash me flat. So I kicked it's butt. I got my hands all messed up though from it, so I had to fry it with a Ki blast or two before it died. I kinda threw up then, it smelled somethin' awful. After that I just headed south for a couple a days, got into a tussle with some real weird things, then started gettin' sick day before yesterday. I can't remember much past that point. I woke up in a bed in town 'bout an hour ago, had some food an' then came here." Seeing the horrified expression on Murloch's face he felt worried. "What's wrong?" He asked.

"You ate Megan's cooking? And you aren't feeling worse than when you woke up!?" He looked to his son. "Are you sure about this?" He asked. Jared grinned and gave a nod.

"Yeah. He ate the whole bowl in about five seconds." The admiring tone in his voice made Ranma feel uncomfortable. He had a feeling that Megan's cooking was the native equivalent of Akane's. He guessed the only reason he was okay was because he was used to much worse. Murloch gave him an admiring look for a moment, then nodded.

"So...Ranma. An unusual name. Where is this...Nanban mirror?" He asked. Ranma looked uncomfortable.

"Well....it shattered is my guess. It was already broken see, and had just been stuck together, so I guess when I came here it was too much for it and it broke even worse." Murloch gave him a sceptical look for a moment, then nodded.

"All right then. Can you tell me about this...Martial Arts? What is it? And what is your Anything-Goes?" Ranma smiled.

All right, about time there was something I'm good at. He thought happily.

"Martial arts is unarmed combat, y'know, kicks and punches, stuff like that, but much more refined. It uses pressure points, holds, throws. All that kinda stuff. The Saotome School of Anything-Goes is my family's style of martial arts, it specialises in mid-air combat. The other school is the Tendo school, but it's virtually non-existent now." His expression drooped at the thought of the only practitioner of the Tendo school, which again brought the familiar ache. Seeing his expression, Murloch decided that he had enough information for now.

"Well, thank you for your co-operation Ranma. I look forward to speaking with you again." He looked at his son, "dismissed. And Jared?"

"Yes Father?"

"Keep an eye on the boy."

"Yes father. Until later."

"Yes."

************************

"So ah....where're we goin'?" Ranma asked as he trudged along beside Jared. The young man favoured him with a small smile.

"Do you forget Torlan? He invited you to stay with him." Ranma nodded.

"Oh yeah. Big guy, kinda old. Looks pretty strong?" Ranma asked. Jared frowned slightly.

"He is a master of his craft, not to mention he was one of the honour guard at one time. He has spent a lifetime gathering such knowledge, why do you refer to him with such disrespect?" Ranma blinked.

"Uhm....sorry I guess." He muttered. Jared looked at him for a moment before shrugging it off and stopping in front of a stout building. He walked down the side-path until he entered a small courtyard, where the smithy of Torlan stood proudly, sounds of metal pounding on superheated metal resounding loudly from within.

"Ho Torlan!! I bring you a guest!" Jared hollered loudly. Ranma blinked and worked a finger in his ear.

Yow...that guy can yell. He thought, a small amount of admiration creeping into his thoughts. Immediately the sound of metal Vs. metal stopped and a moment later the blacksmith of Shol Guinnar emerged, a bright smile plastered on his friendly face.

"Well now! That didn't take long did it? Come inside! Come!" He cried and bustled into the kitchen of his squat house. Ranma shrugged and started forward, but was held beck by a hand on his shoulder.

"I must go now, I am on duty. I shall see you later Ranma Saotome." Jared said. Spinning on his heel, he walked away, buckling his armour carefully as he went. Ranma blinked for a moment before shrugging and walking inside to join the jovial blacksmith.

"Hey, thanks f’ lettin’ me stay an’ all." He said as he slid into place at a large oaken table adorning the center of the kitchen floor. The blacksmith merely smiled at him and continued on with the task he had begun, namely cooking a delicious mutton stew.

"So lad, tell me about yerself then." Torlan said amiably as he continued to attend the food. Ranma nodded and thought about where to begin. After a moment he shrugged and decided to go for broke and start at the beginning. At that point he remembered that his curse had not been activated in nearly 5 days.

Maybe I’m cured? Knowing my luck that’s way too much to ask for. He thought glumly. Taking a deep breath, he decided to start.

Half an hour later he was interrupted in his narrative of his life by Torlan placing a hot steaming bowl of stew down in front of him. Forgetting his current situation, Ranma gave Torlan a close-up view of the Anything-Goes style of eating. The bowl was empty in under a minute. Torlan blinked for a few moments, but shook his head as he continued to listen to the pig-tailed youth’s story with increasing incredulity.

"You can’t be serious lad! What kind of a father would throw their child to a bunch of starving cats!?!?" He exclaimed upon Ranma’s retelling of the cat-fist training. Ranma gave him a flat stare.

"Mine." He said with utter seriousness. Torlan frowned internally as his misgivings about the boy’s life before coming to Shol Guinnar began to mount.

Stealing, lying…is there anything this lad’s father wouldn’t do to feed himself? He thought angrily, before turning back to listen to Ranma’s story.

Half an hour later Torlan interrupted again.

"Hold up lad, hold up. So this place…Jusyenko, you’re saying that anything that falls into these puddles of water changes into what drowned in it? You can hardly expect me to believe that lad." He said, giving the pig-tailed boy a wary glance. Ranma grunted.

"It’s true! I kicked pops into the ‘spring of drowned panda,’ nearly a year ago now." Torlan frowned slightly.

"Did you fall into a spring lad?" He asked. Ranma grimaced in conformation.

"Yeah. And the stupid curse has given me nothin’ but trouble since then." He replied angrily. Torlan blinked.

"So lad, what do you turn into then?" He asked jokingly, deciding to humour the young martial-artist. Ranma glared at him sullenly and picked up a mug from nearby, tipping the cold contents onto his head. Torlan nearly fell off of his chair from the surprise of seeing the young, well-muscled young man morph into a rather buxom young red-head.

"See? I told ya." Ranma groused sourly as she squeezed the ale out of her hair.

Note to self: always check what is in a mug before tipping it upon your personage. He thought with annoyance. Seeing Torlan reach forward with a hand, Ranma glared at him.

"Don’t even think about it. I had enough problems with it back home. I don’t need someone else runnin’ around gropin’ my breasts like some pervert. And can I have some hot water to change back?" As he went to fetch the water, Torlan’s visage grew grim.


"Lad, there’re some people who’d think that you were an agent of the Dark One if they knew about this." He said sternly as he handed the heated water over. Ranma blinked in confusion after he emptied the water over himself.

"Who?" He asked. Torlan blinked in disbelief.

"What do you mean ‘who?’ The Dark One! Imprisoned in Shayol Ghul! Father of Lies!" Seeing the blank look on the young man’s face, he tried a different tact. "Lad, how much do you know about this world?" He asked carefully, realising he couldn’t take for granted any kind of knowledge. Ranma shrugged.

"It’s here, I’m here, lots of food, people, real ugly patch a few miles north. Uhh…that’s it. Why?" He replied, ticking each point off on his fingers. Torlan shook his head sadly.

This could take a while. He thought to himself as he scrubbed his face. He opened his mouth to give a brief explanation of the world’s history when he saw Ranma stiffen suddenly, his face contorting into a grimace.

"What’s wrong lad?" He asked quickly. Ranma’s grimace twisted into a painful snarl.

"Wood……small……bite on….hurry!" He ground out as his body started to shake. Nodding his assent, Torlan grabbed a small log from the stack by the hearth and smashed it with the small hand-axe nearby. Handing the miniature bit of log to the trembling martial-artist he watched in surprise as Ranma shoved it between his teeth and clamped down on it hard. A muffled scream of pain tore loose from the improvised gag as Ranma toppled to the floor and convulsed, his limbs spasming violently. After a few moments, just as Torlan was about to rush out of the door to get Megan, the spasms subsided and Ranma gave a weak call to the larger man. "Torlan…ugh. Help me up. It’s stopped." He muttered weakly. Frowning slightly, Torlan did so, propping him up against the table.

Ranma passed a had over his face and scrubbed for a moment.

"What was that lad?" He murmured softly. Ranma glanced at him and gave a small nod.

"That, Torlan, was an unknown someone sticking their hands in my head and shoving a library’s worth of knowledge into my brain. Let me tell you…it hurts like hell. I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck."

"A truck? What in the Light is that?" the blacksmith queried. Ranma groaned.

"Nevermind, let’s just say it’s a cart without the horses that can move ‘kay?" the blacksmith nodded and returned to his forgotten meal, now cold but definitely no less delicious.

"So, what was that? If you pardon my asking again lad." He asked. Ranma nodded and scrubbed his face again.

"Well, y’know how I knew pretty much nothing at all about this world an’ stuff?" the blacksmith nodded. "Let me say that whoever stuck their hand in my head gave me enough to go on. I know about…" He frowned, mouthing the unfamiliar word. "…Aes Sedai, a couple a legends about the ‘Dragon’ and this channelling stuff. And ah…I dunno how to tell you this but… I can do something similar." Torlan blinked.

"What…you mean…you can channel the power? Do you know what that means?" He asked, a queasy feeling settling in his stomach. Ranma nodded.

"I know what it means, but no…I can’t do it. Not exactly…I think." He replied. Torlan frowned.

"You think? What do you mean ‘you think’? Do you have any idea how serious it is if you can?" He asked, Ranma gave another affirmative nod.

"I know that guys who can do this ‘channelling’ thing you talk about eventually go mad ‘cause of something this ‘Dark One’ did to whatever they use. But no, I can’t use what they use. At least I think not. I use something called my ki." He explained.

"Ki? What’s that?" Torlan asked. Ranma frowned as he thought of how to explain.

"Well…it’s like this…ki is what everything has, be it plant, animal of human. Everything has ki, it’s like the essence of life, so using it won’t make you go crazy. It takes a lot of training to be able to access ki, but I’ve been training since I was five, so I’ve got what it takes to be able to manipulate it fairly easily."

"So I have this…ki as well?" Torlan asked, feeling slightly less uncertain. Ranma scowled in confusion.

"No…nothing does! I don’t understand it! There should be ki signatures everywhere, but nothing, not even plants or animals have it! There’s something there, but it’s different from ki, I can sense it, but nothing more than that. I can’t see it and I can’t touch it. But as far as I can tell from what whoever stuck their hand in my head and turned it into a library gave to me, it’s got something to do with the one power. I have a feeling that if that’s the case then I might be able to channel after all." At this Torlan grew worried.

"Lad, do you know of the Red Ajah?" He asked softly. Ranma shook his head in response. Torlan sighed.

"The Red Ajah have made it their soul purpose to seek out men who can channel and gentle them. Do you know what that means?" Ranma looked uncertain, but shook his head anyway. "Gentling is the removal of the ability to channel lad. Those men who have been gentled usually loose the will to live and die. Let me tell you something, eight years ago my son accidentally made a cart of hay catch fire. He did it with the power. People shunned him and grew fearful of him, making him increasingly unhappy. Then three months later, a group of women showed up and took him away, right under my nose. They were from the Red Ajah. Three days later they brought him back, looking like he hadn’t slept the entire time. Four days later he took his own life by hanging himself from the rafters in the barn. That’s what gentling can do to you lad. You’d best make sure you know whether you can or not, or else you could be in real danger." He allowed Ranma to soak up what he had just said before continuing. "What’s more lad, you can’t try anything like practising it, if you can do it that is, around here. If people find out, you’re as good as dead. Understand?" Ranma nodded in the affirmative, signalling his understanding. "Good. Now lad, show me this ki you’re talkin’ about. If I know about it then I might be able to help you with some things around here."

After a moment of contemplation, Ranma nodded and held out his right hand, palm-side up, and concentrated. After a moment, a small bluish sphere appeared and bobbed gently up and down. An expression of surprise washed across the teenager’s face.

"What is it lad?" Torlan asked, having a hunch exactly what it was, as well as the fact a tinge of awe traced his voice as he gazed upon the small sphere.

"There’s…there’s something else there. Not ki, but almost like it. No…wait…two things. Off to the side, like spectators in a fight or somethin’. One feels like…like a flame or something like it, and the other is like…water. Calm like the other’s hot. Y’know?" the pig-tailed martial artist asked, looking up at the older man with curiosity shining in his deep-blue eyes. Torlan sighed and nodded.

"That boy…is the one power. But…I used to know an old Aes Sedai who lived in my birth-village, and she told me a bit about the power when I asked her what it was like. She told me it was like a smooth stream flowing downhill, tranquil and calm. Is that what it’s like?" Ranma nodded, and Torlan scratched his head. "Well…that’s supposed to be the female half of the power supposedly, so how come you can sense it?" Ranma gave him an ‘are you stupid?’ look and opened his mouth.

"Well duh, it’s obviously got somthin’ t’do with my curse ain’t it? I mean, I’m a girl with cold water for Kami-sama’s sake!" He groused with annoyance as he leaned back into the chair he was sitting in. Torlan gave him an appraising look for a minute before bursting out into laughter.

"You really do be a foul-mouthed little lad don’t you!" He said between gales of laughter. Ranma’s face grew red with embarrassment and he scratched his head nervously. When his laughter subsided, Torlan gave a friendly grin and patted the pig-tailed youth on the back. "Don’t worry lad, this place has too much formalities for my taste anyways. Don’t worry about it all right?" Ranma gave yet another nod, idly wondering if his head would fall off from all the action it seemed to be getting. "Good! Now lad, your name, Ranma…it’s common where you come from?" he asked, eating a spoonful of stew after he finished. Ranma barked a short laugh.

"My name? No way! No-one but me has the name Ranma." He stated proudly as he puffed out his chest. Torlan grinned around his spoon.

"Ah…so what does it mean then? Or does it just sound good?" He asked. Ranma’s left eyebrow twitched slightly, betraying his irritation.

"In my tongue, ‘Ma’ means horse and ‘Ran’ means either wild, free or untamed. So my name literally means ‘Wild Horse.’" At this Torlan chuckled.

"I think it suits you to a ‘t’ lad. Suits you just fine. So that little ball was what you call ‘ki’ eh? Well now, I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to do that where anyone can see that do you?" Ranma grimaced, but nodded.

"Yeah. They’d probably try to lynch me as soon as they saw it, and not stop to question at all." Torlan nodded at the frank appraisal.

"Right. So I think we should take a little trip into the hills to the south for a few weeks, see if you can use the power? And see if we can do anything to stop you going mad too. It’s never been done as far as I recall in the thousands of years since the breaking of the world, but then again, when has there been a boy who could touch both male and female halves!!!"

"Don’t forget my ki." Ranma added as he snatched a chunk of bread from Torlan’s plate. The blacksmith stared at where his crust had been.

"Huh?" Ranma grinned at him as he popped the morsel into his mouth.

"Too slow!" He crowed after he swallowed. After a moment of staring in surprise, Torlan erupted into guffaws, Ranma joining him not too soon afterwards.

Later on, Ranma continued on with his story, finally finishing later that evening in time for food. After a hearty meal, once again cooked up by Torlan, Ranma was shown the small room that he could call his own for the time being.

"A training trip." He murmured to himself, before breaking out into a smile. "And for once none of the craziness is gonna bother me." He peered out of the small windows up at the starry sky above. "Thank you Kami-sama, or Creator or whatever you are called. Thank you for giving me a hand." With that said, he flopped down into the comfy-looking pallet and fell into a deep sleep.

************************

Ranma’s eyes snapped open as the cry of ‘Breakfast!!’ reached his ears. Leaping to his feet, he shot down the hall and nearly bowled over his host in his haste to get the much-needed sustenance into his stomach. He looked outside and was pleased to note that it was only an hour after dawn. Quickly giving his thanks, he rushed outside and began to practice his kata, knowing that without practice his skills would grow rusty.

"Say lad, what’s that you’re doing?" Came a voice from nearby. Not stopping in his motions, Ranma called out over his shoulder.

"Saotome school of Anything-Goes school of Martial arts."

"An ‘Art of War’?" Torlan mused to himself. "Tell me lad, have you any knowledge of the Aiel?" Ranma paused for a fraction of a second, then continued on.

"Sorry, can’t say that I have." He answered.

"Ah. Well, it’s said that they use an unarmed fighting style like you do." The blacksmith supplied. Ranma finished the kata and turned to his host.

"Cool. Maybe they’ll let me have a match sometime!" He said jovially. Torlan shook his head, a grin on his face.

"I doubt that lad, but you never know. In any case, I sent a message to the Commander this morning asking if I could accompany you on a little trip into the hills." Ranma looked at him expectantly. When no answer was forthcoming, he grew impatient.

"And? What did he say?" He asked. Torlan grinned and gave him a thumbs-up.

"No problems! We leave in an hour all right? I have a few things to do." Ranma nodded and returned to practising his kata to pass the time. Time blurred with the motions, and he soon found Torlan calling his name to go.

Walking over to the blacksmith he grinned and picked up one of the heavier bags.

"Got any more? I can take at least two more." He said easily. Torlan smiled slightly.

"Of course! Here." So saying, he handed the large bag slung over his shoulder. Ranma grunted slightly when he felt the weight but slung it over his shoulder anyway, in front of the surprised face of Torlan. He grinned.

"Gotta love ki, doncha!" He joked and finished adjusting the straps of the bags. Torlan rolled his eyes and gave off a short, sharp whistle. From inside the barn emerged a large dun horse, to which Torlan affixed several of the packs.

"Don’t forget lad, stuff like that will draw people’s attention, and we don’t want that now do we? That’s what Muriel here’s for." He patted the large horse affectionately. "O’ course, she’s also the only horse large enough to carry either me or the supplies, so there’s that too!" Ranma grinned at the comment.

Sounds like something I’d usually say. He thought to himself. When did I change? I haven’t stuck my foot in my mouth since I got here. Guess it must take something this major to change me. He thought sadly. Akane…

"Hey there lad, don’t look so down, it’s only a few weeks. I’m not that bad am I?" Ranma snorted in derision.

"Naw Torlan, you ain’t bad at all. I’m just wonderin’ what I’m gonna do now." He explained. Torlan smiled at him as he took the larger packs from the teenage martial-artist and finished tying them to Muriel.

"Well lad, the first thing we have to do is get you some other clothes. You stick out like a sore thumb! We’ll never be able to catch anything with you strutting about like a bantam rooster!" Ranma gave a scowl, but reluctantly nodded as he saw the wisdom of the older man’s words.

"Yeah, OK. Just nothin’ too boring OK?" Torlan laughed.

"Sure thing lad, sure thing! I have just the thing for you!" He said as he bustled quickly into the forge. He came out a few moments later with a pile of what looked like leather in his hands. "Here lad, put this on over the top of your clothes. I modified it this morning before you woke up. It should fit and not restrict you too much. After you told me about your hand-to-hand style I thought you would need something a little stylish, so here’s what I came up with." Ranma took the leather and pulled it on over the top of his Chinese shirt, finding it fit snugly, but not too tight. Then he took a good look at what he wore.

"Awesome!" He crowed. The blacksmith had taken into account his Chinese clothing and at the same time his curse, as well as making the design look extremely well made. The black leather of the main jerkin had been stylised with a distinctly oriental pattern around the collar area and on the shoulder pads which, although larger than he would have chosen, he had to admit looked cool. The red bands around his stomach completed the look, and he also noticed a branded rearing horse over his left breast. Ranma looked over at the blacksmith, who nodded in satisfaction.

"Thanks Torlan." He murmured. The man merely beamed a grin in response.

"Well lad, shall we go?" He queried. At Ranma’s nod, the two set off for the southern gate, Torlan nodding to the guards as he passed, all of whom gave a respectful nod of the head in reply. They continued on in silence, trudging through the snow-covered road easily until the walled town was out of sight.

"We have to be careful now lad, trollocs roam the countryside, especially at night, so keep your eyes peeled and be ready for a blood-bath should anything happen." Ranma grimaced at the terms used, but said nothing even though he had his own misgivings. When he had found out that trollocs were actually hybrid humans twisted by evil, he was reluctant to even think of killing one, until Torlan had given him a graphic description of what a small group of 10 trollocs had done to a small village he had the misfortune to find one time…

… "There were bodies everywhere lad, men and women, all slaughtered like helpless lambs. But it was the children that got me boy…they skinned them alive and watched them die before they cooked them to eat…that’s what trollocs do boy. So what do you say to killing them now?"

"I’ll kill ‘em. Doesn’t mean I have to like doing it though."

"Who said anything about liking it lad? I never have, and I’ve been doing it for nearly 20 years…"

"So where are we going?" Ranma asked as he trudged along beside the great horse. To the other side, Torlan looked at him and grinned.

"It’s a secret!" He said winked, then cackled gleefully.

No way… Ranma thought as he looked at his older friend. That’s scary…

It took them nearly three days to reach the spot Torlan had picked, but Ranma was glad of the journey for he had missed the road, and the travel allowed him to reacquaint himself with the feeling, even if it were not the place of his origin. The camp was quickly set up in a small-secluded valley, which allowed those inside to spot any attack. Ranma thought it was great insight. Torlan called it sightseeing.

For the next fourteen days Ranma underwent what had to be the most frustrating training in his entire life, mainly because he was trying to teach himself how to do something he had no knowledge of, nor any inclination of where to start…

<1st day…>

"So what am I supposed to do?" Ranma asked as he sat down after stretching. Torlan looked at him.

"How should I know? All I know I’ve told you already lad. It’s up to you now. The only reason I’m here is to have some company and that there is strength in numbers! I’m just a senile old man. What would I know?" Ranma looked at him in disbelief.

Senile? HA! Scratching his head in confusion, Ranma sat and meditated in the hopes of coming up with an answer.

He was still sitting there 5 hours later.

<4th day…>

"AARRGH!!!! What am I supposed to do!!!" Ranma yelled in frustration. He wanted to tear his hair out it was so frustrating!

"Don’t look at me lad, I’m just here for company." Torlan said amiably, in an attempt to cover his amusement. He failed. Ranma’s patience dipped another five points.

OK…it’s got to be something like focusing ki…so that means I need a focus. With ki it’s my emotions, but I tried that already and it didn’t work…so now what? He continued to ponder the question quietly to himself when he noticed Torlan standing across the clearing with a bow and arrow nocked. Unlike his usual smiling face, he was completely calm and his face held no expression. Ranma watched with interest as he calmly let the arrow fly to land dead center in the middle of the small round target he had placed on the tree 40 yards away.

"What’re ya doin’ Torlan?" Ranma asked. The older man looked at him and broke into a smile.

"Oh, just practicing lad. Can’t eat nothing but vegetables now can we? Have to catch us some meat. Or were did you think those rabbits came from yesterday?" Ranma grinned.

"Yeah yeah, but I meant your face. It was all…y’know, relaxed an’ stuff."

"Oh that! That was just a concentration technique I learned from an old friend." Ranma pondered this for a moment, then smiled.

I think I know how to do it! He thought happily, returning to his attempts to reach the power that lay just beyond his reach…

<6th day…>

"WHADDYA MEAN THERE’S NO HOT WATER!!!" Ranma-chan yelled at the blacksmith. He shrugged.

"We just ran out of water, the fire is out and the nearest stream is about a mile that way." Torlan pointed behind Ranma-chan’s shoulder. She scowled, but sat back down on the rock she had been using for her meditations and began to concentrate again.

Soul of ice…Soul of ice…Soul of !!!!! Ranma-chan’s eyes widened as a chord of power winked into existence inside of her mind. Licking her lips, Ranma mentally reached out to the chord, but stopped when she noticed another next to it, hardly noticeable unless you were trained to look for subtle shifts in power. As Ranma-chan was, she had no problem seeing the pseudo-chord that hung next to the other. On a whim, she decided to try for the harder-to-reach one, and began to grasp clumsily. After 10 minutes of the chord slipping away, Ranma-chan growled softly and forced herself back to calmness. Much to her surprise both chords, the first of which had been fading due to her loss of concentration, popped into existence side-by-side. Keeping her eyes carefully closed Ranma-chan inspected the lines. One felt cool, like the ki she normally gave off when attempting the Hiryu-Shoten-Ha, and tranquil. He assumed it was ‘saidar’ the supposedly ‘female’ half of the source. The other was hot and pulsed with frenzy. He guessed that had to be ‘saidin,’ the male half. Giving a careful mental look, Ranma-chan noticed that the chord appeared to be covered in a slick substance, like oil or tar.

The taint. Ranma-chan thought grimly. Oh gross…look at it! It covers it all over! There’s no way I can use that! Unless…Ranma was reminded of something she had seen on TV once, when an oil tanker had broken open and spilled lots of oil all over the water. They had put floats on the water to stop its advance. Seeing as the taint covered all of saidin, that would not work, but if he could cut his way through somehow then maybe, just maybe it would work.

Licking her lips again, Ranma-chan decided to attempt to use saidar to cut through.

After all…they are opposites right? So shouldn’t it work? She hoped so. Wondering how the hell she was going to do it, Ranma-chan decided to use imagery. In her mind’s eye she saw a glowing, red-hot knife descending on the veil of the Taint and piercing through. She got more than she bargained for. With a screech, Ranma-chan doubled over and vomited loudly as the taint washed over her. Liquid fire warred with the cool sweetness that was saidar in her veins, and the taint threaded its way through the entire chaotic mess. Her concentration broken, Ranma-chan let go of both sources and struggled to her knees.

"You all right lad?" Came a soft voice from the side. Ranma-chan nodded weakly.

"Ugh…grossness…I can touch both, but when I tried to cut through the taint it let me pass, then washed over me like a wave." She shivered for a moment. "I’ve never felt anything so disgusting, not even in the Blight was it as filthy!" I can’t use saidar to cut through, so I’m gonna try my ki instead. Let’s hope it works. Could ya give me a hand instead of ogling my breasts?" Ranma-chan demanded as she struggled to get to her feet. Torlan tore his eyes away from her juggling breasts and gave a weak chuckle.

"Sorry about that lad…here." He helped the red-haired martial artist over to the rock again, carefully avoiding the vomit, and sat her down. Ranma-chan nodded her thanks and returned to finding her center.

Okay…let’s try again. Soul of Ice… She strained for a few moments, then the two chords popped into existence again. Gotcha… she thought happily and moved over to the fire that was saidin. Once more using the mental imagery, this time the picture of a glowing blue blade appeared and descended to strike the taint. Like a hissing snake, Ranma-chan watched gleefully as the taint recoiled violently from the blade. Unknown to her, she had started glowing with a faint blue light, which drew the attention of the nearby blacksmith. He noticed her smile and grinned to himself.

Light!! I think he may have done it!! He crowed mentally. His grin settling into a smile, he stood up and walked over to the glowing martial artist.

"Ranma-lad, I’m going to the stream to get us some more water all right?"

"Sure thing Torlan, hurry back." She murmured softly, lost in the giddy delights of her success.

"One thing Ranma, I heard that if you start to feel pain when you’re using the power, you have to stop taking it in. You got that lad?" Ranma-chan stopped glowing and opened her eyes. looking up, she beamed a smile and nodded.


"Thanks again Torlan, you’re a real pal, y’know that?" she said softly. Torlan smiled and went to get the water bags…

<9th day…>

"You want me to what?" Torlan asked in disbelief.

"While I have hold of the power in my cursed form I want you to pour hot water over me and trigger the change. If it happens in battle I’ll need to continue concentrating right? So this is how I’ll practice it. And when I do my katas today I’m going to start using the power then too. So I want you to throw small rocks at me to distract me. And when you throw them, throw them *hard* Torlan. That way I can get used to distractions, pain and improve my co-ordination all at the same time!!" Ranma explained. Torlan scratched his head.

"You know what lad, that sounds like it could work!! Sure thing! I’ll put some water on to boil, and while it’s going, I’ll get some stones for later OK?"

"Sure!"

<11th day…>

Ranma somersaulted through the air and lashed out with a fist, catching the stone aimed at his head with speed beyond most humans. Landing easily he rebounded upwards and focused. Three rapidly thrown stones arched towards him, only to explode on an invisible barrier three feet from his body. He landed without a sound and bent backwards, catching the arrow with the toes of his right foot. Flipping backwards and righting himself his hand flashed out.

"Kaminari kagami!" He roared and a fraction of a second later, a barrier of electricity caught the second arrow like an elastic sheet and sent it back the way it came.

"WHOA!" Yelled Torlan as he dove for cover, the arrow whizzing past his ear. Ranma grinned sheepishly.

"Sorry ‘bout that." He apologized. Torlan merely muttered a few choice curses under his breath. With his Power-enhanced hearing Ranma easily made them out. He snickered and filed them away for later use.

<13th day…>

"Seijyaku ha!" the sliver of darkness shot across the valley and struck a gigantic boulder dead center. For a moment nothing happened, then the boulder crumbled to dust. Ranma grinned and looked over at Torlan, who was staring with shock.

"Cool ne?" Ranma smirked. Torlan nodded.

"Aye lad, it is. What else can you do?" the blacksmith asked. Ranma shrugged.

"Dunno, I’ve only developed a couple of moves and reinforced most of my ki attacks with the one power. I can perform a Hiryu-Shoten-Ha without having to use hot ki from my enemies now." Torlan nodded.

"Aye lad, it’s best to start off small and work your way up." He agreed. "Now lad, let’s go back to camp and get to packing up. We go back tomorrow."

"Sure." Together they trudged back to the small campsite and began to prepare for their departure.

<Final day…>

Ranma stretched and let loose a long, satisfied sigh before collapsing against his meditation rock, a contented smile on his face.

"That hit the spot all right. Thanks Torlan."

"Thank you lad, I always like receiving compliments!" Ranma chuckled at the older man’s immodesty before heaving himself to his feet.

"Well, I guess we should get going ne?" He asked. Torlan nodded, his face becoming slightly more serious as he began fixing their considerably lighter bags to Muriel, to which the horse seemed much pleased.

"Aye lad, but don’t forget to keep a sharp lookout. Even though nothing happened while we were here lad, doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Never forget that." Ranma smiled softly at the older man, noting his concern with a warm feeling settling across his body.

"Sure thing Torlan, I won’t forget."

"Good, then let’s go then shall we?" Together the pair and their horse began to make the three-day journey northward to the town.

************************

When they arrived at the southern gates, Ranma tensed imperceptibly. Torlan, who had spent weeks with the young martial-artist, did likewise as he saw his younger charge become uneasy. The reason was evident in the several extra sentries that adorned the walls and towers. The pair looked at each other and hurried inside, silently agreeing that a fast entrance was needed. Threading their way through the streets they finally came to the house and forge, where both proceeded to dump their belongings in the courtyard and stable Muriel comfortably before sitting comfortably in the kitchen.

"What’s going on Torlan? Did you see all the extra guards? Does that mean that something happened when we were away?" Ranma asked as he looked at the older man. Torlan nodded as he scratched his beard.

"Probably lad, probably. If that’s the case then there’s something I want to get done before something happens. Come with me lad." So saying he stood up and crossed the small courtyard to the forge, Ranma following at his heels inquisitively. Once inside, the older man began to load up the furnace and set it to heat. "Ranma-lad, that armor you’re wearing is good for everyday wear and tear, but get in a real battle and even a little arrow would put a hole through you if you didn’t manage to catch it in time. So lad, what I’m saying is that I’m going to make you some armor, and I want you to help." Ranma blinked in surprise.

"Huh? How can I help? I don’t know anything about forging!" he protested, earning a chuckle from the large blacksmith.

"No lad, you don’t. But you do have something that could help. The One Power lad. I’ve heard tell that there are weapons around that were made with the one power, that they are indestructible and they never need sharpening. Imagine what you could do lad! You could make your own weapons and armor to how you want it! Give them something no one else has! Make them harder than diamond! Make them *of* diamond if you wish! What do you say lad?" Ranma paused and made a display of thinking it over.

"Hell yeah!!" He crowed exultantly. Torlan beamed a grin and began to gather materials to get ready.

<Three hours later…>

"Well lad, the fire’s hot, the steel’s ready, the water’s all there and I’ve got my hammers. Are you ready?" Ranma licked his lips and nodded uncertainly.

I have no idea what I’m doing…he thought to himself. I hope that the image idea works with this as well…

"Ready lad? Here we go!" Torlan cried as he began to work like a man possessed. Ranma embraced the source, quickly cutting through the taint on the male half while the cool sweetness of saidar flowed through him. All the while the steady beating of saidin raged through him, his own ki forming the bond that tied the two opposing powers together. He stared at the mental being pounded by the blacksmith, searching for something, when he saw the tiny imperfections with his power-enhanced vision. With a grin, he set about removing them while the blacksmith worked, continually removing and eliminating the tiny cracks and brittle areas as the older man worked and reworked the metal. After all the imperfections were gone, he began to think about other things he could add to the metal that was being formed.

"What’s this going to be Torlan?" He asked. Torlan paused and looked up.

"This’ll be the breast-plate lad, once I get it all straightened out anyway." Ranma nodded and thought about it.

‘Make them harder than diamond…’ he mused thoughtfully. Great idea! But…how the hell do I do that? Scratching his head in puzzlement he came upon an idea. What if I put some ki into it! Using it by myself it helps to reduce impacts and damage, and if it’s in my armor I can even boost it when I wear it! Yeah! But I have to anchor it somehow…I know! I’ll use saidin, that seems to be stronger in earth and fire elements from what I can tell…here goes! He began to feed his ki into the metal picturing in his mind the power of saidin anchoring it into the metal so hard that nothing would get rid of it. Unconsciously weaving earth into the metal around his ki, he found himself wondering if he could make it as light as his silken shirt.

It would certainly make life easier…so how? He mulled over the problem for a moment, still continuously feeding ki and saidin into the metal as it was hammered into shape by the blacksmith. Oh I know! Just like saidin is better at earth and fire, I think saidar must be better at water and air! So naturally it has to be air to make it lighter! Right…sticking his tongue out in concentration, Ranma pictured the armor as light as his silken shirt in his mind, and began to see the flows of saidar join saidin and his ki as they flowed into the rapidly forming shape.

They continued in this manner for a number of hours, until finally Torlan slumped backwards sweat cascading down from his forehead.

"Phew! Well, that took it out of me… what about you lad?" he queried, looking at an equally hot and sweaty Ranma, who grunted as he swayed lightly on his feet. Torlan grinned and shambled over to the entrance to the forge, peering out and upwards to find the hour.

"Light! It’s late lad we should sleep. Here…" the blacksmith grunted as he pulled out a pair of pallets, gesturing o one of them. "I usually sleep in the forge when I’m working on a project, why don’t you do the same?" Ranma nodded his head dumbly and collapsed into the straw bed, snoring gently before he even finished moving. Torlan chuckled and draped a blanket over the pig-tailed martial artist before throwing a number of logs into the fire to keep it burning over night. With that done, he heaved a tired sigh and sank into his own much-abused pallet and fell into an exhausted slumber.

************************

Ranma awoke to the now familiar smells of Torlan’s cooking and smiled slightly.

This is the life. I could be happy here. Hardly any worries but the trollocs from the north…nothing like my old life…with a sigh of regret, Ranma sat up and forced his mind away from the painful recollection of his past as he made his way out of the forge and into the kitchen. He sat down at the table and waited patiently until Torlan placed a large plate of food before him. Ranma grinned at the blacksmith and began to wolf down the food with gusto. Torlan grinned with amusement and a certain amount of pride at seeing his food so appreciated.

"So lad, now that the armor’s done, how about we make you a weapon eh? Oh yes, mustn’t forget, I wanted to put a mark on both lad, so that you can easily identify it as yours."

"What like?" Ranma asked around a mouthful of bread. Suppressing a chuckle, Torlan scratched his head.

"I don’t know lad, any ideas?" He replied honestly. Ranma looked thoughtful as he munched on a piece of fresh bread before his face broke into a broad grin.

"How about a Pegasus?" He suggested.

"What’s that lad?" Torlan asked as he took a bite from his own meal. Ranma swallowed and smirked.

"It’s a legendary animal where I come from. It’s a winged horse. Suits me doncha think?" He said. Torlan thought about it for a moment and nodded.

"Indeed it does lad, indeed it does. We’ll do it right away on your armor. By the way Ranma-lad, did you notice anything strange abut your armor last night?" Ranma thought for a moment.

"Aside from the fact I was using the One power on it? No, I don’t think so. Why?" He responded. Torlan looked thoughtful.

"Well lad, I checked it this morning to see if it turned out all right and I found something interesting."

"What?" Ranma asked, pausing mid-bite.

"It’s blue lad. Your armor is now as blue as the night sky. What do you think of that?" He asked. Ranma blinked and lowered his breakfast.

"Cool!" He said honestly. Torlan rolled his eyes.

Why am I not surprised at that? The lad cannot be shocked at all! It’s not surprising though, with the kind of life that he’s had. Poor lad…he thought sadly. Quickly they finished their meal, eager to continue working on their pet project, and re-entered the forge. Donning their protective clothing to protect from the heat, Torlan brought over the armor they had forged the night before.

"Here lad, this is it. What do you think? It’s lighter than a feather too! Which I guess must be your doing." Ranma looked at the midnight-blue armor held by the two shoulder guards and smiled. It looked vaguely Chinese in style, with golden scrollwork around the edges of the neck guard, breastplate and shoulder guards, which had been the last thing that Torlan had worked on. The design was simple, but in its simplicity lay an elegant beauty.

"Perfect." He murmured softly. Torlan smiled, and spoke again.

"One thing lad, I tried using a chisel a few moments ago to see if I could do anything, it didn’t even scratch!! Whatever you did lad, you did it mightily well." He commented. Ranma grinned and held his hands out.

"I think I know what to do. With all the practice I got yesterday making this I have some pretty good control. Here, I think I can do the marker. We can do it on the blade during the forging process." Licking his lips he concentrated and found the two halves of the source. He was finding that almost second nature now, much to his pleasure. Reaching out, he decided to grasp both and began to concentrate. Closing his eyes, he envisioned an image he had seen once, when he went to the movies, of a Pegasus leaping over a triangle. He heard a gasp and smiled as he continued to concentrate. He suddenly felt the gap he had created in the previous night’s weave and re-threaded it together, knowing only that he did it, and not having the slightest idea how. After a moment, he opened his eyes and surveyed his handiwork. Over the left breast, in purest white, was the simple image he had envisioned. His smile grew broader as he looked over to the blacksmith.

"Now *that* was cool." He commented to the older man, who nodded as a smile broke out over his face.

"Well now lad, let’s get to work shall we?" He said and seeing Ranma’s nod picked up the superheated piece of metal from the forge fire. "Here we go!" With the resounding cry of metal ringing against metal, they began again, the armor laying at Ranma’s feet and gleaming in the angry orange glow from the fire.

To begin with, Ranma started out as he had the night before, removing all imperfections in the metal as the blacksmith hammered away. When that was done, he thought about what he could do this time. Quickly he spoke up.

"Torlan, do you know what a katana is?" He asked. Torlan paused and shook his head. Ranma frowned and licked his lips to moisten them from the heat. "Okay…let’s see how to do this…" After a moments concentration, he mentally pictured a katana floating in the air before them, and after a momentary shimmer, the ghostly likeness hovered between them. The pig-tailed youth pointed at it. "That is a katana. Can you make it like that? Not quite so plain of course, I want it like the armor so they match. Can you do it?" he queried. Torlan looked outraged.

"Remember who you speak to lad! I am Torlan! Master blacksmith of Shol Guinnar! I can do anything!" He crowed loudly. Ranma grinned and chuckled softly. The blacksmith returned his grin and began to work again. Ranma quickly dispelled the image and looked at the misshapen lump of metal that was slowly being formed into the basic shape of a katana. He smiled and began to think again.

Okay…I’ll make it super hard again, so that it won’t blunt, and…he thought some more for a few moments before coming up with an idea. What if I concentrated my ki into the edge of the blade so that it cuts better than normal? He smiled at the idea and began his work, just as Torlan continued with his own. Ranma repeated his actions from the night before, anchoring the ki into the blade’s edge with earth and making the metal lighter with air. What else can I do? I don’t want it just the same as my armor…I know! He grinned evilly as he remembered Kuno’s posturing and the crash of thunder whenever he mentioned his name. Gotcha…he thought, and began to picture crackling electricity stored in the blade.

"YOW! Careful lad!!" Torlan cried as he felt himself zapped by a mini lighting bolt. Ranma grinned sheepishly.

"Sorry…I’ll do that near the end." He apologized. Torlan grinned and returned to forging the blade. After another half-hour, he announced it was good enough for Ranma to instill what he wished into it. Nodding his thanks, Ranma thought once more about electricity and infused the blade with the combined aspects of fire and air. The glowing blade sparked a bit before the eyes of the blacksmith before settling down. Ranma smiled.

"No more shocks for you!" He announced. "I made it so that the ki in the blade had to be active for the electricity to work." He explained. Torlan eyed the blade suspiciously, but picked it up and finished the work before setting it to cool after its dunk into the buckets beside the anvil.

"Now lad, we’ll do the hilt and grip next." He said as he produced another, smaller, piece of steel from the fire. Ranma smiled and conjured up a quick illusion, similar to the one of the katana he had done before.

"Can ya do it like that?" He asked. Torlan scrutinized the image for a moment, then nodded.

"Sure can. I’ll get to it right away. It should be done by lunch so we can eat!" at this Ranma broke into a broad grin.

"We’d best get started then!" He exclaimed. They began their work, Ranma for the third time removing all imperfections and making the hilt super-endurant by pouring his ki and the two halves of the power into the metal. Finally he finished and scratched his head as Torlan continued to shape the guard.

Hmm…what can I do now? Lessee… if I loose the blade or get disarmed then maybe someone else will pick it up!! No way am I having that happen! So I gotta make it mine…what can I use…oh yeah! My ki! No one else has ki here, at least as far as I can tell, so that should work…OK, so I’ll make it like a piece of shattered pottery and make my ki the glue that makes the entire thing whole! Yeah! So saying, the young martial artist pictured his incomplete ki signature and imprinted it unconsciously using spirit, woven from both saidin and saidar, into the hilt of the semi-formed sword. When he was done, he smiled proudly at his achievement.

Oh man! I can’t believe I can do this so easily! It’s like I already knew half of it and just had to work out how to get to the source! It’s great! Oh wait…maybe I already did know…I use a similar process to access my ki, and the first time I consciously accessed my ki outside of a fight I sensed the sources of saidin and saidar. So I already was halfway there! Seems like I’m finally getting a break here! During his private monologue Torlan had been placing the final touches on the simplistic but effective hilt design.

"Here lad, time to do your bit and put that Pegasus on the hilt." He said, holding the glowing metal up. Coming out of his reverie, Ranma nodded and fixed the image in his head as he embraced saidin. He watched in surprise as he saw the weaves of earth and fire form the simple design he liked so much. Torlan smiled and flipped the hilt over so the process could be repeated again on the opposite side.

Once Ranma was finished, Torlan dunked the glowing hilt into two of the three buckets and set it out to dry, admiring the dark-blue metal and its snow-white winged horse.

"You did a fine job lad, a fine job. Now all we have to do is wait for it to cool and it’ll all be ready for assembly! Here now, why don’t you put your armor on and see how it fits?" Ranma nodded and picked up the lightweight body armor, slipping it over his head easily. Much to his surprise, the metal contracted slightly and molded to his form.

"Huh!?" He exclaimed in surprise. "What’d I do?" He twisted slightly and was pleased to note it actually felt like… his eyes widened in surprise as he remembered precisely how he made it so light. "Torlan, I know what I did! I wanted it to be as light as silk, so I pictured my silk shirt in my head! That means that this thing must change size when I put it on! How cool is that!" he grinned happily and did a few experimental kicks and punches, pleased to note that there was no restriction in movement. Torlan smiled at the younger boy’s antics then checked the hilt and blade to see if they were cool enough. Seeing that they were, he picked them up and placed them together, pleased to see that they fit almost perfectly together.

"So is that it? Where’s the handle?" came an inquisitive voice from his shoulder. He turned around and stared as he found Ranma clinging to the low ceiling of the forge.

"Ah…yes lad, it needs a handle and it’ll be done, we just need to fix the blade in place using the handle, that’s all." Ranma grinned.

"No need for that, I can join it myself! See?" He said and scrunched his face up. Torlan felt the hilt and base of the blade grow warm for a moment and then cool just as suddenly. Ranma smirked at him triumphantly. "Go ahead, try and pull it apart! I joined the two together. It’s really easy once you work out how to get everything to work. It just takes practice. You remember when my Kaminari-kagami could barely do anything? All it took was practice and I can fling chunks of boulders with it now! It’ll get stronger too the more I use it. It’s like using a muscle, you have to flex it to make it stronger, just like ki! I practice with all three now, and I’m getting stronger and stronger. I haven’t thought of any more new moves yet, but all my ki attacks are triple strength!" He finished proudly. Torlan gave an involuntary shiver. That was a lot of power, but he knew Ranma wouldn’t abuse it, he was too honorable.

"Well lad, now that we’re done with this, let’s put a handle on it eh? Come on, I’ll show you how in case anything ever happens to yours." The blacksmith said as he walked over to the other side of the forge. Taking out the tools he needed he quickly showed Ranma how to re-do a handle for himself.

"Thanks Torlan, I’ll remember that." Ranma said. Smiling, he brandished his new weapon and thought about how he was going to incorporate it into his fighting style of Anything-Goes. It would certainly be interesting. Perhaps he could invent a whole new set of techniques to use with the blade, like his father did with the Yama-san-ken and the Umi-san-ken.

"Light! I forgot all about it!" Torlan exclaimed suddenly. Ranma looked at him quizzically. "Where are you going to put it? You can’t walk around holding it all the time it needs a scabbard!" Ranma nodded at this.

"Yeah, I guess I would need one a them. I’m gonna go practice out in the yard all right?" He asked. Seeing Torlan’s nod of approval, he dashed off outside to practice with his new equipment. Torlan smiled slightly as he gathered the equipment he would need to make the scabbard for such a fine blade.

Hmm…yeas…black leather and silver adornments should do nicely. And I remember that Pegasus too! So I’ll make that a main feature. I hope he likes it. I haven’t made anything for fun in a long time. Only weapons and armor for the soldiers…lots in his self-reflection, Torlan didn’t notice the work at his hands until he was finished. He stared at it in surprise, for he had never completed such a fine piece of craftsmanship in all his years. The black, slightly curved scabbard was adorned at the tip with a cap of finely wrought silver, crafted carefully to look like currents of the wind and was mirrored by a smaller band just beneath the rim of the entrance. Both had small protrusions so that a strap could be attached, and the top band could also be used to strap onto a belt if the user preferred it that way.

"Kami-sama…it’s beautiful Torlan!" Came a soft, and most definitely female, voice from the side. Torlan turned and saw Ranma-chan resplendent in her armor, which hugged her form in a very tempting way, gazing at the scabbard he had crafted. He held it out to her and smiled.

"Here lad. It’s for you, a token of my thanks and friendship." He said softly. Ranma-chan carefully took it from him and for a moment glowed with a faint blue aura.

"There…now it will never break, just like everything else." She murmured softly. She looked up at the taller man, her eyes shimmering from unshed tears. "Thanks man…I won’t forget the things you’ve done for me. I’ve never really had a friend before, as you know from what I told you about my life. But I’ll be glad to accept this from you, on the condition that one day I *will* pay you back for your kindness. Seem fair?" She asked, her red hair waving slightly in the breeze as she cocked her head in question. Torlan grinned and nodded, giving the diminutive redhead a slap on the back that made her stagger slightly.

"Sure thing lad. Sure thing. Why don’t you put it on? I want to see how my finest creation looks!" Ranma-chan nodded her agreement and quickly affixed the leather strap that had been made to accompany the scabbard, complete with silver clasps at either end, and slung the whole arrangement over her back, allowing the top of the scabbard to peek over her right shoulder. Twirling the blue blade once, she reached back and slammed it into the scabbard. She heard a ‘click’ and smiled as she realized that the blade could not accidentally fall out in mid-air, for which she was thankful.

"Thanks again Torlan. I’m gonna go get some hot water OK? Then we can eat! I’m starving!" once finished, she dashed off in the direction of the house to find some water to heat up. Torlan grinned and followed her into the kitchen to prepare the lunch.

Over the meal, they began to discuss Aes Sedai.

"So, the reds go for male channellers and the browns do research?" Ranma asked around a chunk of bread. Torlan nodded around his own and swallowed carefully.

"Aye. The yellows are the healers, the greens I have no idea about to be honest. The whites have something to do with logic, the greys I don’t know either. I think they’re politics."

"What about the blue?" Ranma asked after he gulped down a bowl of soup. Torlan scratched his chin.

"Ah…the blues. They like to meddle. Right meddlers they are, they always manipulate you into doing what you want, or so I hear." Ranma frowned slightly at this.

"Sounds like some people Nabiki would just love." He muttered darkly. Torlan raised an eyebrow, but said nothing as he knew Ranma disliked talking too much about the people he had once known.

If I remember correctly, Nabiki was the one who liked money so much. He mused silently.

"Oh yes…I nearly forgot. It’s said Aes Sedai can sense any girl who can channel lad. It’s only the female half of the source probably, but seeing as you use it you may want to try and come up with a way to try and hide it from them. You don’t want to explain why a male can channel the female half of the source now do you?" Ranma shook his head fervently.

"No way. Maybe I can mask it with my ki somehow…I’ll look into it I guess." Torlan nodded and lunch continued on with idle chatter until Ranma yawned loudly.

"Man…all that using the power really tired me out. I’m gonna get some rest OK Torlan?" the blacksmith nodded as he finished tidying up and watched the youth jog to his room to get some sleep.

"Ranma!" He called. The pig-tailed youth stopped and turned around, a questioning look on his face. "Take a bath lad! You stink like a day-old fish left in the sun!" he grinned to show he was teasing. Ranma grinned back, then pulled down his eyelid and blew a raspberry. Laughing happily he ran off in the direction of the small private bath that Torlan had stashed away in the back of the house.

Wish I were that young again… Torlan mused to himself as he popped a few stiff joints and settled down to wait for Ranma to be finished in the bath. Once I’ve done that, I think I’ll get some rest too. I’ll probably have a large order from the Commander to produce before the next full moon. He groused to himself. All in a day’s work! He thought to himself cheerily as Ranma exited the room, tying his belt easily.

"Oh Ranma-lad…I think you should get some good boots. Those err…things aren’t all that suitable for this country you know." Ranma grunted and scrunched up his face in distaste as he took in his battered slippers. After a moment he sighed and nodded.

"Yeah…I know. Can I get some black ones?" He asked. Torlan grinned and handed him a few silver coins. "Go out and buy some lad. I’m sure you can find something you like." Ranma looked at the coins and then nodded, quickly heading out of the house so that he could return early and get more sleep. Torlan chuckled under his breath and entered the warm room.

An hour later, Torlan emerged from the bathroom pleasantly refreshed but still tired.

Ahh…nothing like a long soak in the hot water. He thought to himself as he meandered down the hall lazily. He stopped outside Ranma’s room and peeked inside. After a moment of looking around the sparse room, he spotted Ranma’s new boots. He gave a low whistle as he noticed their quality and wandered how Ranma had enough to buy them. Finally admitting he didn’t know, Torlan sighed and went to his own room for a much-deserved rest.

His last thought before the bliss of sleep claimed him was, I wish I had boots like those…

************************

Ranma’s dreams were restless. When he had gone into town he had noticed that everyone seemed furtive and nervous when he walked along, and none had been happy when he had asked for directions to the cobblers. Most had told him ‘I can’t remember’ or something along those lines. Some even blatantly told him to go away. After a quarter of an hour of searching, he found it alone without the help of anyone else.

I wonder what those markings are on some of those people’s doors…he had thought to himself. When he finally found the cobblers and noted that another one of the markings was scratched on the door, he had gone from mildly curious to fairly worried, as people seemed to treat those houses as diseased.

Looks like an upside-down teardrop. He mused to himself. He knocked loudly on the door, to find it open on the third, making him nearly lose his balance.

"Come in! Come in! What do you want?" the rangy-looking man dressed somewhat hurriedly in a cobbler’s clothes asked. Ranma put on his best smile.

"I wanted some good quality boots. Preferably black. With soft leather. Got any?" He asked. At this point he noticed that the man seemed especially furtive, glancing from side-to-side as if he expected to see something there.

"Yes! Yes of course! I have just the ones, the best in the store! Only 2 silvers! A bargain don’t you agree?" the man rattled off his words faster than almost anyone Ranma had heard of, and it made him nervous.

"Yeah, sure…here." He handed the man two silver coins and took the pair of soft black leather boots from the man’s scrawny hand.

Looks like he hasn’t eaten in a week! Ranma had thought in surprise. He shrugged and quickly put the boots on, seeing if they fit. Feeling delighted that they were he left after thanking the man, who slammed the door shut just after he had stepped through it. He frowned slightly, but paid it no mind as he quickly wove his ki and earth into the boots. They were light enough already, so he felt he didn’t need to make them lighter. Satisfied that they would last a long time, Ranma grinned and jogged home, trying to ignore the suspicious vibes that seemed to have permeated the town.

When he had returned back to Torlan’s home he had quickly discarded the boots and flopped onto the pallet, forgetting that he was even wearing his armor, and falling asleep within moments, leading to his current predicament.

Ranma’s eyes snapped open as his danger sense screamed at him to move. In a flash he rolled sideways, hearing the sound of metal rending cloth and bounded to his feet. It was obviously night-time, but he could see in the darkness a large shape shambling forward. It grunted something in a guttural tongue and instinctively Ranma embraced all three powers, his battle aura lighting up the room enough to see by. When the creature was revealed to his eyes he snarled at it.

Trolloc! He thought. Even never having seen one, Torlan’s descriptions of them were enough to identify one easily. At that his thoughts turned to his older friend.

"What have you done with Torlan!?" he shouted angrily. The beast gave a vile approximation of a grin.

"We kill old one. Now me kill you!" It said and lunged forward with the curved scimitar in its hands. Ranma didn’t notice, as the only thought reverberating in his head was that Torlan was dead.

With a scream of rage he grabbed the trolloc by its sword-wrist and squeezed violently. With an audible crack the wrist shattered and the trolloc screamed in pain, shortly cut off when Ranma’s ki powered fist caved in its skull. Moving almost too fast to see Ranma sped down the hall and entered the blacksmith’s room through the shattered doorway with a heavy heart. His fears were confirmed when he spotted Torlan laying propped up against the wall, two trolloc corpses laying at his feet and bleeding profusely from a large stomach wound.

"TORLAN!" Ranma cried as he leapt forward. The older man raised his head weakly.

"Ranma…listen…I’m dying, there’s nothing that…you can do." He coughed violently, a trickle of blood flowing from one corner of his mouth. "Promise me…you will help people…with your gift. Promise me!" He cried, his face twisting in pain. Ranma, with tears running down his cheeks clenched his jaw to force down the sobs that threatened to burst forth, and nodded.

"I promise Torlan. Rest now…I have to see if there are more OK? I’ll be back soon." He moved to stand up, but noticed the glazed look in Torlan’s eyes. Screwing up his courage he reached out and felt for a pulse. And found none. A choked sob tore loose from his throat and he hugged the corpse of his first real friend to his body as he rocked back and forth. "Damn you…damn you all to HELL!!!!" He screamed. Gently laying Torlan back down, Ranma tore off the sleeves of his Chinese shirt and pillowed them under his friend’s head. Wiping his eyes furiously, Ranma rose and went to his room, stepping over the trolloc and fixed his bracers onto his forearms. After a moment, he glowed slightly and watched with grim satisfaction as the metal changed from a bronze colour to the metallic-midnight-blue that went with his armor. He pulled on his boots quickly and slung his sword and it’s scabbard over his shoulder. Glancing at the scabbard, he whispered softly. "I won’t forget you Torlan. And I won’t forget my promise either. This I, Ranma Saotome, do hereby swear on my honor." That said he rose to his full height and leapt out of the window, not caring that he smashed it, and landed easily on his feet. The sight before him made him gasp. The entire town was in flames. Swallowing bitter bile as he noticed the bodies of three children butchered nearby, Ranma leaped as high as he could to survey the damage. What he saw nearly made him weep. People were being dragged from their homes and butchered in the streets. Men, women and children alike. He saw the last one fall, beheaded by the sword of a trolloc, a little girl of no more than eight years old. Ranma felt his rage grow. It grew from fiery rage past the point of no return and into the coldness of a ruthless killer.

They would pay. He would let these people have their revenge, even in death. His lips curled up in a snarl as he spread his arms wide, not even caring that he was hovering over 100ft above the ground in plain sight. Slowly the trollocs roaming the streets began to notice the miniature star that glowed with eerie blue light above their heads. Several Myrdraal looked up as well in stunned silence. A silence which quickly enveloped the entire town aside from the roaring of the flames. Unconsciously accessing the power, now second nature to the cursed martial artist, he amplified his voice to reach every ear in and around the town for over 100 meters. In the barest whisper he spoke three words.

"Hiryu-Shoten-Ha."

Suddenly the wind began to pick up, whipping the flames with increasing ferocity. The trollocs milled about uncertainly as the wind continued to increase picking up roof tiles and debris in larger and larger quantities. Above everything, hovering dead center above the town, Ranma roared a battle cry and pumped the ki-induced tornado with the One Power. The wind increased to tornado speeds, beginning to pick up the corpses of the dead and making the houses shudder dangerously. Suddenly trails of fire began to burn through the air, summoned by the power of fire, and every living thing they touched burst into flame. Screams of agony began to fill the air as the winds howled for vengeance. Tornado speed became a hurricane, tearing houses apart and flinging corpses, trollocs and myrdraal into the air to be burned with fire or smashed with flying chunks of mortar and stone. Bodies began to be torn apart from speed alone as buildings were razed to the ground and scoured clean from the wind.

Ranma took a deep breath.

"VENGEANCE!!!" He screamed, and a pillar of fire shot up to the heavens, lightning dancing its twisted path around it like a coiling snake and incinerating everything inside. A few moments later and the wind ceased its infernal howling and simply vanished as if it had never been there. The fire pillar vanished, leaving behind the kneeling figure of a 17-year old boy, resplendent in his dark-blue armor, sobbing quietly in the shallow crater made of glass where Shol Guinnar once stood.

<The White Tower in Tar Valon.>

Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin seat of the White Tower snapped her head up from her desk and turned her gaze northward as she felt an enormous discharge of saidar.

"Leane! Did you feel that?" She called out. A moment later, the woman called entered.

"I assume you are talking about the enormous discharge of saidar to the north?" She asked. Siuan nodded.

"Yes. Send an investigatory party at once. I want to know what that was." She ordered. Leane nodded.

"As you command mother." She said and left without further word. Returning her eyes to the north, Siuan chewed her lip thoughtfully.

What could it be? She wondered silently.

Further south and to the west, in a city called Baerlon, Moiraine Sedai looked up sharply from her conversation with the Wisdom of Emond’s Field and gazed northward.

"Such power…" She murmured softly. After a moment, she returned her attention to the furious wisdom, promising to investigate further when she had the time.

<Three days later, the Plain of Lances, Kandor. >

"CHARGE!" the colonel roared as he urged his horse forward against the fist of trollocs they had encountered. He steered his mount toward the fade, intending to run it through with his lance. He never got the opportunity. A dark-blue blur flashed between the two armies and the front line of trollocs screamed as they were simultaneously disemboweled. The colonel watched in awe as the blur returned again and proceeded to resolve itself into the figure of a red-haired girl clad in very fetching armor. She pointed the sword at the fade as it sat upon its horse.

"Time do die asshole." She said simply, then charged. The soldiers stared in surprise as the girl displayed swordsmanship above and beyond anything they could match, and literally diced the fade where it sat. The butchered body fell limply off the horse, twitching madly. In the silence that followed, she looked at the remaining 70 or more trollocs.

"Goodnight." She said flatly and made a sweeping motion with her arm. "Seijyaku-ha!" A curved sickle of darkness formed and the trollocs dropped their weapons and ran screaming in panic. The girl frowned and made a shooing gesture with the same arm as before. The darkness shot forwards and scythed through the entire gathering of trollocs, and they froze in their tracks. Then, as one, they screamed in pain and exploded, their entrails and blood splashing in a circular pattern. Miraculously, the girl remained untouched by the gore, and turned to the assembled men. She sheathed her slightly curved blade in the ornate scabbard on her back and gave a short bow before turning around to leave.

"Wait! Who are you?" the colonel called out. The girl paused and looked over her shoulder in his direction.

"You can call me Pegasus." She said simply, then turned back and blurred again, vanishing in a few seconds. The assembled men looked at each other and mouthed the unfamiliar word. The colonel meanwhile was thinking of how to tell his superiors of a warrior woman with flame red hair who could wield the power and destroy nearly a hundred trollocs in one fell swoop.

"Well Pegasus, I have a feeling that more will be seen of you around here." He murmured to himself. Those nearby who caught his words nodded silently in agreement.

The Pegasus had arrived.

************************

(Preview of next chapter) Ranma Goes to Caemlyn & meets Rand and co. How will Moiraine react to this new person who is both man and woman?

How will Ranma deal with Elaida?

More to come soon…

 

Send C & C to strider_richards@hotmail.com

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