Fools Rush in… By JSB and Weebee.
Disclaimer: We don't own nuffin. Besides, Disclaimers don't even mean anything and if the great VIZ or ATLUS overlords wanted to sue us, they probably could. Not that it'd be worth any money. At this point it's just a formality.
Warning - This fic will contain spoilers for the plot of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 5. If you plan on playing it and care about spoilers, we suggest you avoid reading. Thank you, and happy reading.
Chapter 1: Ryuji's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…# 1.
It was beeping again. Ranma frowned, ensuring that he was clear of the crosswalk of the busy Tokyo intersection and digging around in the pocket of the uncomfortable jeans he was wearing. He fished out the thin, flat-screened device inside, and with more than a little trepidation, he tapped the screen and squinted at the icons that popped up. "Fine, so what's wrong now?"
He noted that one icon, some sort of creepy looking eye thing, was pulsing red. As soon as he pressed it everything stopped. The pedestrians around him, the sound of traffic, even the wind. "...You need it, Ranma-kun, we have to be able to contact you. Nothing will go wrong," he mockingly growled, warily eyeing his surroundings. Then some… thing… seemed to appear in mid-air in the center of the square, a human like form solidifying out of blue light. "If I gotta smash this thing to fix the world, do I still owe 'em the deposit?"
The humanoid figure seemed to bulge outward at the sides, the blue light coalescing into tiny points that formed into wings on either side, red light growing in its center into what looked like two demonic looking eyes. The pigtailed martial artist took a couple of cautious steps backwards, before the image faded from the center out.
"Wait, is that me?" It sure looked like him, save the flat, yellow eyes and wide smirk. As though the question had been a signal, the indistinct figure before him vanished, welcoming back the sounds and motion of the world. While he stood, almost slack jawed at the experience a Salaryman bumped into his shoulder from behind. He staggered forward as if he'd been shoved full-force, almost falling down the station stairs before he grabbed a railing and stabilized himself. Throwing an irritated glare back at the man, who was too busy adjusting his tie to notice what he'd done, the martial artist jammed the phone back into his pocket and headed down the stairs.
"Whatever just happened, I don't like it." He said, coming to a stop and reluctantly pulling the phone back out of his pocket to look at. "How do I remove this thing" He prodded the screen with his finger in hopes of making something happen, with no result.
"Screw it, I give up." He sighed, once again, shoving the phone back in his pocket. He'd been saying that far too much lately.
Spotting a map of the local train system, he checked his current location against a scribbled note from another pocket, adjusting a small duffle bag on his shoulder and heading for another stairwell.
At least this place was fairly far from Nerima, so he'd probably only have to deal with his current complications, rather than his former ones.
Unless Ryoga showed up, that is. He smacked himself in the side of the head. It was probably a bad idea to tempt fate like that.
Ranma let the door to the small coffee shop close as he stepped in, moving up against one of the booths on the left side of the room to let two leaving customers past. "So, you Sakura-san?"
"Hmm?" The bearded man in a server's apron who was leaning against the counter in the middle of the room asked, looking up at him. "Oh, you're here." Ranma got the feeling that the guy thought that was a bad thing. Sighing, he straightened. "Yeah, I'm Sojiro Sakura. I'll be taking care of you for the next year."
He looked Ranma over, taking note of the beaten up second-hand jeans and T-shirt. "I was wondering what kind of kid they'd send me. So you're it, huh?"
A sharp response bubbled up in Ranma's throat, but he choked it down. "Yeah, I guess," he said instead.
Sojiro just kept looking at him for another few seconds before waving him forward, turning and heading for the stairs on the other side of the shop from the door. Ranma followed him in silence until they reached the second floor, a large, single room with a bed shoved into one corner, seemingly every other surface occupied with dusty junk or cloth sheets. "This is where you'll be staying," the older man said, gesturing in a half circle with his right hand. "So, what do you think?"
"It's fine," Ranma said, eyeing the large boxes in the middle of the floor irritably. Truthfully, it was. He'd slept in much worse places, at least there was a roof, but… "Don't suppose I could get some help movin' stuff out?"
"Nope," Sojiro replied. "I've got some sheets for the bed, but other than that cleaning up here's your responsibility. That won't be a problem, will it?" The look in his eye suggested that it had better not be.
"No," Ranma sighed. "Not a problem." So much for getting some space to practice.
"Good," Sojiro nodded. "I'll be locking up soon. You'll be alone here at night, but that's no reason to be stupid, got it? You're already on probation, so don't push your luck."
"Look, buddy, I…" Ranma started before he could stop himself.
Sojiro barked out a short laugh. "So, you can say more than three words. Yeah, I know what happened, and I'm pretty sure you're not going to steal from me or anything, or I wouldn't be letting you stay here at all. Honestly, though, what you did do's almost as bad. I'm sure you thought you were being a big hero, but all you actually were was a pain in the ass, and this place doesn't need the attention."
"...Yeah, right." Ranma just nodded. There was no point in yelling about it again. "I got ya."
Sojiro grunted. "We'll be heading for Shujin tomorrow to get you registered." Turning, he headed back down the stairs.
"Yeah, great," Ranma said again. "I sound like a broken record." Grabbing ahold of one of the bags from the pile in the corner, he tried to jerk it into the air as hard as he could, and nothing happened. "Damned old freak…" He muttered, starting to get to work on the stuff he could clean up.
"Hmmahem!" Ranma sighed, turning around to face the clearing throat.
"Yeah?" He asked, staring at Sojiro levelly, eyes briefly flicking to the glass of water in the older man's hand.
"Could you…" Sojiro made a half-circle gesture, his expression trying to twitch out of neutrality into something else.
Ranma frowned, but flexed his arm, pushing himself into the air and out of the hand stand he'd been in.
"Gymnastics?" Sojiro asked.
"Martial arts," Ranma glanced nervously at the glass again, then back at Sojiro, seeing the man's failing attempts at a straight face. "You wanna see the curse."
"It is kind of…. Improbable."
Ranma didn't say anything, just reaching out for the glass, which Sojiro handed over and splashing it over his face and head in one smooth motion.
"...but apparently possible," Sojiro continued his previous thought, his expression having completely lost the fight and clearly showing amazement and curiosity. "So… are you half-irish?" He blurted.
"Am I.. what?" Ranma asked. She'd never heard that one before. "I turn into a girl and lose half a foot of height, and that's your question?"
"The red hair is really distracting...Nevermind!." Sojiro said, turning around on his heel. "Make sure you go to sleep. I'm not gonna be responsible if you make yourself sick from staying up too late." The man then headed down the stairs, without another word.
Ranma awoke to the sound of dripping water, and cold steel pressing into his back. Groaning, he sat up, hearing the rattling of chains from his hands as he stretched them forward. By that point, he wasn't really surprised to see the bars of a cell in front of him. "So, they just decided to throw me in here anyhow, huh?" He muttered to himself, swinging his feet over the edge of the bed. When he caught sight of the giant iron ball on the floor next to the bed, one eyebrow raised. "Seriously?" The damned thing looked even bigger than the ones his old man had chained to his feet for training.
The bars of his cell rang out as something struck them, a small girl wearing a blue uniform and an eyepatch stared at him from the other side. In her hands was a black baton, which she slapped threateningly against her open palm, again and again.
"Wake up Inmate!"
"Y'know, you could've woke me up before tossin' me in here," Ranma grumbled, standing and staggering towards the bars. Looking beyond his cell, he noticed that his was one of many, circling around the room. Each one had a metal number nailed into the wall above. At the center of the room was a simple desk with a lamp. Also, he noted that the room was very blue.
"Don't question us!" The girl barked, slamming the baton against the bars and producing the ringing noise again.
"Girls, girls," A man's voice came from the room outside, deep and somehow unsettling. Ranma squinted against the bright light, resolving features of a silhouette sitting behind a desk. Pointed ears, a long, tapering nose and bulging eyes, sunken cheeks and a couple tufts of hair poking out from the sides of his head.
"Great," Ranma mumbled, "I've been locked up by the old freak's lankier cousin." He paused slightly. "With a large tumor on his face."
"Inmate! You will show our master respect!" The girl barked.
"Maybe if you woke me up before bringing me here. Going back on the deal when I haven't even done anythin' to deserve it is a great way to get my respect." Ranma countered, already fed up.
"No, no, you misunderstand," The man said, clasping and unclasping his hands in front of his face. "This place has nothing… well, very little… to do with your dealings with the police. This is the Velvet Room"
"Sounds expensive," Ranma interjected dryly.
Without missing a beat, the man continued, "A place between dream and reality, mind and matter. Only those bound by a contract may enter."
Ranma sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, the chains clanking and rattling as he moved his hands, "Look, if my old man cut a deal with you, I don't have time to deal with that right now."
The man chuckled. "Hmm, so you're acting the rebel already? I thought all that had been beaten out of you. Perhaps your rehabilitation will be easier than I thought?"
"Rehabilitation?" Ranma asked, leaning against the bars and trying to look as casual as he could manage with his hands chained together. "Isn't that kinda the opposite of rebelling?"
"Not if you're being rehabilitated towards freedom," the man said, unclasping his arms and gesturing.
Ranma raised his index finger to make a comment, and then lowered it, not finding a counter.
"It's important that this rehabilitation be successful, for the fate of the world," The man said, ignoring Ranma's attempted interjection. "We are here to assist you with that. I am Igor, and the two before you are Caroline, to your right, and Justine, to your left."
Ranma's head whipped around and he almost jumped a little. He hadn't even noticed the other eye-patched kid on his left side, the loudmouth had kind of grabbed his attention.
"Can I ask one question?" Ranma asked, looking back at The Nose.
"Why do you have children running a jail?" Ranma eyed both girls as he asked, waiting for the angry one to explode at him.
"We're fully capable of our jobs!" Caroline yelled, not disappointing. "If you don't believe me, just try to escape!"
The other gave a sharp sideways glance. "I assure you, we will do our jobs as your wardens perfectly well, both in disciplining and assisting."
"...right… assisting," Ranma was about to make further commentary, when a loud ringing sound tore through the room.
"It seems it's time for you to go," The Nose said. "You will be back later, but for now, simply live your life."
"Yeah… I'll do that," Ranma said slowly as the world seemed to fade around him.
"...ow." Ranma mumbled to himself, untangling from the mass of blanket he found himself in on the floor and glaring up at the couch he'd been sleeping on. He kind of missed his futon.
Looking around and blinking at the light streaming in from the window, he sighed. It'd been a dream, which was probably good since it meant he hadn't just been tossed into jail with a crazy man, though it also meant he was back where he'd started.
Standing, he stretched and staggered over to his duffle bag, shuffling through it for a change of clothes.
"So, you're awake." Ranma looked over to see Sojiro standing at the top of the stairs. "We'll be heading over to your school today. It's over in Aoyama, The train ride'll cost a bit and the transfers are a pain, but today, I'll drive you in."
"Uh, thanks," Ranma winced. He barely had any money in his wallet at the moment.
"Yeah, be grateful," Sojiro continued. "I normally don't let a guy into my passenger seat."
"I could get some cold water and fix that pretty easily, y'know," Ranma deadpanned.
"Cold wa- Oh… uh…" Sojiro twitched. "Kid, it was a joke, okay?"
"Yeah, I know."
Sojiro twitched again, and then frowned. "Come on." He turned, heading down stairs.
"To reiterate, just so we're clear…" Ranma desperately tried to keep his face straight as yet another person told him how much he had to keep out of trouble. This had been the third time he'd heard this… today… and twice had been from the bald, overweight man who was slouching over the desk the new student was standing in front of. "...only school in the city which would accept you, including your old school. That madhouse, Furinkan."
"Yes sir, I understand," he said, one hand clenched into a fist, hidden between his and Sojiro's bodies.
"I mean, really, Furinkan denied you? That school doesn't really have the scores to pick and choose their students." The female teacher standing next to the principal commented, her arms crossed over the front of her bright yellow, striped shirt.
"Me and the principal didn't exactly see eye to eye, and he probably thought what happened was a good excuse to kick me out." Ranma tried to explain, flicking his pigtail with a finger.
"...Ah… that makes sense," The overweight man leaned forward over his desk. "I hope you realize, however, that the kind of behavior that Furinkan takes as normal will not be tolerated here."
"Yeah," Ranma nodded.
"Excuse me?" The man's eyes narrowed.
"Yes sir," Ranma corrected, his fist clenching again.
"Now, there's something else here," The man brandished the sheaf of papers he'd been waving a few times previously in the long rant thinly disguised as a conversation. "Something about… trans-sexuality, or an intersexed condition, or…"
"It's… not exactly that," Ranma sighed, picking up a pitcher of water the principal kept at the side of his desk and sloshing some of it over his hand and arm.
"What are you-" The objection caught in the bald man's throat as Ranma's form changed. Everyone just stared in shock for a few seconds, before Ranma put a stop to it.
"I've been told the hair is really distracting."
"Well it is," Sojiro muttered.
"Compared to the rest of the changes?" The teacher asked hysterically.
"That's what I said," Ranma agreed.
"Aham!" The principal obnoxiously interrupted, trying to look composed. "Well, I… I suppose we can't hold this against you… though perhaps it's for the best that we preemptively arranged to exempt you from the gym classes due to your… condition." He turned to the teacher. "Now, this is Ms. Kawakami, she will be your homeroom teacher. In the future, please bring any concerns to her."
The frizzy brown haired woman threw a panicked look to her superior, before taking a deep breath. "I'm Sadayo Kawakami. Here's your student ID." Her voice was very flat. Ranma frowned, worried that she was going to faint or something. "Please read the school rules, any violation will send you directly to the guidance office."
'And that's four,' Ranma thought to herself, tuning out at least three more dire warnings about what would happen if she stepped a toe out of line, before Ms. Kawakami spoke again.
"Come to the faculty office when you arrive at school tomorrow. I'll show you to your classroom."
"Yeah, thanks," Ranma muttered as she and Sojiro turned to leave.
"That kid has some attitude problems." The Principal stated after the two visitors left.
"So," Sojiro started, sitting at the wheel of his car. "I take it that I don't need to lecture you anymore, yeah?"
"It'd be a real big favor if you didn't," Ranma said, glaring out the window.
"Yeah, just don't punch me alright?" Sojiro started his car, shifting gears immediately into reverse to pull out.
"Wouldn't hurt even if I tried," Ranma shrugged. At an inquisitive grunt, her glare out the window got worse. "Old pervert used some ancient moxibustion trick to seal my strength. Couldn't hurt a baby, literally."
"You… punched a baby?" Sojiro asked flatly.
"It was an accident, okay?"
"And you expect me to believe all this?" Sojiro's voice was still flat.
Sojiro twitched. "Stop that."
"Hey, at least I'm allowed to sit in the seat now, right?" Ranma cracked a smile. She was gaining an advantage, however small it might have been.
"...Not saying a word." With that, the bearded man quickly flipped on the radio, searching for a good station to listen to while ignoring his passenger. After a few minutes of listening to smooth jazz, the radio station was interrupted, bringing an important message.
"Again, a subway has derailed at Shibuya Station, greatly affecting the timetable all across-"
"What do you mean another?" Ranma asked, not having heard of the first.
"They've been all over the news in the last few months," Sojiro explained. "I… guess you haven't really been in a position to watch it, huh?"
"Yeah, I've been busy."
"Well, that probably means there's gonna be a lot of traffic. Going to be a long drive." The bearded man sighed, fixing his hat.
"Why're cars a good thing again?" Ranma asked, turning to glare out the window once more.
Ranma woke to the dim light of early morning streaming through the window, and the loud noises of clinking glasses and shuffling from the floor below. Blinking bleary eyes up at the ceiling, he wondered if Sojiro had forgotten he was up here, or was doing it deliberately. ...Probably the latter, he decided, rolling slightly sideways right off the edge of the couch. With a loud slam, he hit the wooden floor, barely missing one of the covered objects that littered the attic. Grunting in irritation, he hauled himself to his feet.
"That better not keep happening." He muttered to himself, quickly straightening the blankets on the couch and getting dressed. Heading downstairs, he muttered "Mornin'," to Sojiro, standing behind the counter.
The older man looked him over and frowned. "Are you going to school?"
Ranma blinked. The previous night, Sojiro had told him that he had free rein to do what he wanted within the law, but… "Didn't know that was a choice."
"It isn't," Sojiro scowled. "Where's your uniform?"
"...right," The pigtailed martial artist winced, "that." Turning, he headed back upstairs, pulling the thing from where he'd stuffed it into his duffle bag and squinting at it. It was far fancier than Furinkan's standard blue jacket and pants, even having a school symbol over one side of the jacket, though the strangest parts, to him, were the plaid pants and suspenders. The thing was not going to be fun in a fight, but he guessed the school rules probably made it mandatory. Changing clothes quickly, he tugged the thing so that it fell sort of straight, and headed back down.
Sojiro gave the wrinkled jacket a disgusted look, but apparently decided not to comment, instead putting a plate on the counter and ladling steaming rice, then curry, onto it. "Here, be sure to eat it quick, before the customers start arriving."
"Got it," Ranma nodded, stepping over to the counter and picking up the spoon that sat next to the plate. Twenty seconds later, he put the spoon down, the plate cleaned. "Thanks."
"Wh… What the hell was that?!" Sojiro was glaring at him. Previously he'd been snappish or rude, but this was the first time Ranma had seen him genuinely angry.
"Ya told me to eat it fast," He replied, shrugging.
"I didn't mean… You've got to savour the taste, you can't do… -THAT- to a good plate of curry!" Sojiro objected, picking up the empty plate grumpily.
"Make up your mind, eat fast or slow," Ranma complained, spinning around and getting off the stool.
"Just… get out of here," Sojiro seemed calmer, though he still waved the martial artist away. Just as Ranma was reaching for the door, he called, "Oh, and can you flip the sign back to open while you're out there?"
"Yeah, I got it," Ranma waved back, stepping through the door.
"Okay, so… down here," Ranma mumbled, glancing down the street outside of the station. Getting through the transfers themselves had been kind of daunting, but at this point he thought he was probably on the right track. All he had to do now was… He stopped, feeling a drop of water land on top of his head. Looking up, he winced at the cloud covered sky and bolted for a nearby store with a wide awning, making it just before the rain really got started.
A couple of seconds later, a figure in a hooded coat ran past him, turning in to lean against the store next to him.
Glancing over, he saw her fold back the hood, letting out a sigh of relief. He was about to say something, probably about how much a pain in the ass the rain was, when the phone in his uniform pocket beeped… again.
Reaching for it, he squinted at the screen, where that red application icon was blinking again. He considered just ignoring it, but then, he wasn't sure what it'd do if he didn't acknowledge it. Tapping the icon, it expanded to fill most of the screen, revealing an interface he couldn't make heads or tails of. Deciding to cut his losses, he tapped the home button at the bottom of the screen, and nothing happened. "Great…" he muttered, jamming the device into his pocket to deal with later as the sound of a car pulling to a stop in front of him impinged on his awareness.
The window rolled down, and an older man leaned out. "Good morning, Do you want me to give you a ride to school? You're gunna be late."
"Um, sure. Thank you," the girl beside him said, stepping forward onto the curb and climbing into the passenger seat..
"You need a lift too?" The man asked, looking Ranma up and down.
Ranma glanced up at the sky, then shook his head. "I'm good." He almost immediately regretted the decision, as the girl's expression immediately fell when the window started rolling up.
"That's not a good sign." Ranma noted. His suspicions were deepened as a blond boy ran past stumbling to a halt in front of him and glaring after the car.
"Damnit! Screw that pervert teacher!"
"Pervert Teacher?" Ranma asked, frowning.
"Huh?" The boy turned, stepping up into Ranma's personal space and glaring at him. The guy was obviously trying to look tough, from his dyed, spiked hair to the yellow shirt with a star symbol and some english gibberish on it under his jacket. "What do you want?"
Ranma just shrugged, this making the blond boy even more irritated.
"You plannin' on rattin' me out to Kamoshida?"
"So the Pervert Teacher's Kamoshida?" Ranma asked, a sinking feeling starting in his stomach.
"Yeah," The other boy nodded. "That guy in the car just now. Does whatever the hell he wants! Who does he think he is, the king of the castle?"
"...He don't run down the halls stealin' panties or something, does he?" Ranma asked, crossing the fingers on one hand.
The blond's expression abruptly changed to a wide grin, and he laughed. "It honestly wouldn't surprise me. Probably goes along with that stupid mask tied under his nose and everything!"
"That's just great. Escape one for another." The Pig-tailed boy muttered to himself. "And this one's got a castle."
"The castle bit's just an expression," the other boy waved that off, looking Ranma over critically. "But hey, so you don't know Kamoshida? Gotta be new to the school, right?"
"Yeah, that's right," Ranma replied, a little surprised by the boy's forthrightness.
"Then no wonder you don't know him," the other boy muttered under his breath, before abruptly changing the subject and looking a bit friendlier. "This rain ain't too bad, we'd better hurry up or we'll be late."
"Yeah, ain't too bad," Ranma winced, glaring up at the clouds.
"C'mon, new guy, I'll show you the…" The blond boy cut himself off, staggering slightly. Ranma abruptly experienced a sense of vertigo himself, but didn't stumble as he was standing still. "Ah, my head hurts… Damnit, I wanna go home..." the other boy complained.
Shaking that off, he stepped forward a few feet, turning back when he realized that Ranma wasn't following. "Well, c'mon, I'll show you where the school is!" He called, waving his hand forward.
Ranma took another quick glare up at the sky, before holding his bag over his head and starting after the blond as quickly as he could. "Dude," the other boy laughed. "It's just rain, you ain't gunna melt."
"Easy for you to say," Ranma complained, He was not going to show up for the first day at his new school as a girl. "Let's just hurry up, alright?"
"Yeah, whatever," the other boy waved him off, ducking down a side alley, Ranma following.
"Whaaa…." The boy yelped as he got to the end of the alley, stumbling to a halt. Jogging up next to him, Ranma blinked, surveying the massive medieval castle before them. Not quite believing what he was seeing, he rubbed his eyes with his free hand to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. He wasn't. It was still a castle.
"I thought the castle bit was just an expression?"
"It was!" The blond boy yelled back, looking around rapidly. "This is the right place, though… isn't it? ...Yeah."
"Better than Furinkan, huh?" Ranma questioned, rolling his eyes. "Well, we may as well get in out of the rain."
"What is with you and the rain?" The blond boy asked, "There's a castle where the school should be!"
Ranma didn't respond, stepping forward towards the building. With a grunt of frustration, the other boy followed him.
As the two crossed the threshold into the castle, their surroundings seemed to fade for a moment, revealing the entry hall of the school, but then quickly shifted back to the way they had been.
"W-was that the school?" The blond boy stammered, his eyes looking a little wild.
"How should I know? I've only been here once." Ranma answered, shaking the water off of his bag and looking around the entry hall. The place was heavily decorated, with red curtains hanging from the ceiling, a couple of very expensive looking chandeliers, and more than a few candelabras. Also at the very end of the entryway was a large painting of that teacher with the car depicted in knightly armor. For a moment, he caught himself estimating the candlesticks for value…for reasons.
The other boy didn't respond, instead pulling his phone out of his pocket, tapping its screen. "Damn, no reception, where are we?"
Ranma jolted. "Hey, that's right." He pulled out his own phone. "That… program thing showed up again, maybe it did this?"
"Are you serious?" The other boy snorted. "How can a phone app…" He trailed off as he got a look at the screen, which showed an unusual red and white interface, the words "Kamoshida's Castle" resting in its center.
"Holy shit, it is-" The blond boy was cut off as the sound of metallic footfalls resounded through the room, two heavily armored figures carrying swords and shields stepping through the doors on either side.
"Knights in armor. Huh," Ranma tilted his head. "Hey, Ms. Kawakami, that you in one o' those things?"
"I... don't think Kawakami could pull that off," the other boy said, backing slowly away from the two hulking knights. They stepped forward as he moved, one lifting and brandishing its sword. "These guys mean business, we gotta run!"
The two boys turned, bolting towards the door, when two more armored figures appeared through it. Ranma knew that he could slide between them fairly easily, but doubted that the blond had such ability. Sliding to a stop, they glanced around for another way out, but weren't given a chance as one of the knights approaching from behind slammed his shield into the other boy, sending him stumbling to the floor.
"What the hell?!" He barked, obviously in pain. "You could've broke something! What's with you…" he was interrupted by another knight bringing the side of his blade down on the back of his head.
Ranma responded without thinking, letting a punch fly at the nearest knight's faceplate. Unfortunately, his fist simply stopped when it connected. He growled under his breath, leaping clear of the circle of enemies before the retaliatory shield bash could catch him.
He was about to make a run for it when he saw one knight quite deliberately raise his blade up over the blond boy's body, point down. Courses of action flashed through his mind, but all of them were pretty much crap. He could still run, assuming that these guys were bluffing, but even if he did he wasn't sure where he was or what he could do about anything. Attacking wasn't an option, either, obviously. Slumping his shoulders, he glared at the closest knight as he walked back to them. "Fine, I get it." His only response was a sword to the back of his own head, which slammed him to the floor, but didn't actually knock him out.
Faking unconsciousness, he took careful note of the turns the guards made after hoisting him over one's shoulder like a sack of potatoes, hearing the sounds of several rusty doors opening, and at least one chain bridge. When the final door opened, he was dumped unceremoniously onto a floor. Which was, of course, covered with a shallow layer of water. After the other boy had also been dumped, the two armored figures stepped away and a metal gate slammed closed.
Opening her eyes, Ranma quickly got up, glancing around the small, dingy stone cell the two had been dumped in. It seemed to be extremely simple, without windows, simply a room cut into the rock with bars for a wall. Stepping up to said bars, she glanced around, noting that the guards hadn't stayed to watch the prisoners. These guys were running a fairly shoddy operation.
The lock on the door looked simple, too. Unfortunately, she was fairly sure she didn't have anything on her that she could pick it with. "Great…" she muttered, walking back and slumping down on the small bunk in the corner of the room. "This ain't how I figured my first day here would go down… but I'm not sure why I'm surprised. Wonder if this guy pretends his haircuts are beheadings or somethin'?"
"I told ya I'm not fixin' my hair!" The blond boy yelled, bolting upright. "Wait, wha…" His expression quickly faded from irritation to confusion. "Where the hell am I? And why am I wet?"
"In a jail cell. In the school?" Ranma shrugged.
"This don't look like any jail I've seen before," the blond objected, slowly sitting up and looking around. "Hey, wait a minute…. Who the eff are you?!"
Ranma raised an eyebrow, "The eff?..."
"Yeah, who are you? Why are we in here?" The boy demanded. ""Is someone gunna let us out, or what?"
"That's kinda hard to-" Ranma was cut off by the sound of a blood curdling scream from down the hall. "Ah yes. Just what I signed up for, medieval torture."
The blond gulped and looked over at a set of rusty chains hanging from the side wall of the cell. "Crap, I came here with another guy… I think, what if that was him?"
"It wasn't," Ranma retorted, moving over to the door. "You got a piece of metal? Long and thin?"
"Not on me, but maybe in my bag," The boy answered, searching his pockets anyway just to be sure. "You still haven't told me who you are."
The redhead rubbed her forehead. "Believe it or not, I'm the guy you came into school with."
"Umm…. bull," The boy said flatly, as he rummaged through his schoolbag.
Ranma growled under her breath. "Ancient chinese curse. I was hopin' I could keep it secret and keep school fairly low key, but…" She gestured around. "So much for that plan."
"Right," The blond boy said, "Still think you're nuts, but…. Do you hear that?"
Ranma frowned. She definitely did. The sound of armored boots hitting stone, and the creaking of an iron gate. "Someone's coming."
A moment later, one of the castle's armored guards stomped up to the cell, glaring in at them from under his helmet. "Your punishment has been decided upon," he intoned. "The charge is unlawful entry. Thus, you will be sentenced to death."
"Say what?" The boy demanded, angrily.
The guards didn't respond, instead stepping slightly sideways to allow for the passage of…. Someone so strange looking that even Ranma found herself blinking. The crown and red, heart-embroidered cape, in and of themselves, weren't too strange, given the location. The fact that his feet were clad in flip flops, he had glowing yellow eyes, and there was a disconcerting amount of skin visible under the thing when he moved, on the other hand. "No one is allowed to do as they pl-"
"Are you just wearin' underwear under that thing?"
"Did you just interrupt -ME-? The King?!" The robed man demanded, angrily.
"Yeah?" Ranma tilted her head.
"As I was saying!" The man looked away from her, as if trying to ignore her, "You can't just do as you please in my castle, and that includes disrespecting the king!"
The boy leaned in closer to the bars. "Well I didn't vote for you…. Hey wait, Kamashida?"
"That isn't how monarchy works," The robed man said, his voice practically dripping with condescension. "But then I shouldn't be surprised, Ryuji Sakamoto. First you don't pay attention in any of your classes, and now you're sneaking around as a petty thief."
"Hey, we didn't steal anything!" Ranma objected.
"Ah, and your little friend," Kamashida took a moment to glare over at her. "Because you don't even have the guts to do this by yourself."
"Say that again without these bars in the way!" Ryuji growled.
The robed manh stepped back, gesturing at the cell door. "All right, I think I will, as I watch your execution!"
The guards behind him stepped forward, one sliding the door open. Ryuji immediately shot forward, slamming his shoulder into the armored figure's side and knocking it back. "C'mon, we gotta get outta-" he was cut off as a second of the knights smashed the dull edge of his blade against his side, forcing him to the ground.
Ranma, for her part, had prepared to run and actually made it out of the cell, but froze when the boy went down. "Go, get outta here!" He yelled, just before Kamoshida kicked him hard in the side.
The redhead took a half step forward, before freezing again. Her eyes flicked around, looking for anything she could do, but there was nothing. Without her strength, she was in the exact same situation as in the main hall.
"Heh, looks like bringing your friend wasn't much use after all," Kamoshida laughed, kicking Ryuji again. "Look at her, she's so scared that she can't even decide if she should run or stay!"
"Get out of- Gah, goddamnit!" Ryuji groaned as another kick landed in his side.
"Stop it, you're nuts!" Ranma yelled. Without thinking, she leapt forward, covering ground too quickly for the armored knights to react in time. One perfectly executed punch flew into the side of the robed king's head and stopped dead.
"Was that supposed to do anything?" He asked, as armored gauntlets closed around both of her shoulders and she found herself shoved back into a wall. The man began to chuckle, before it burst into a full laugh. "-THAT- was the best you could do? I would be angry at you daring to assault one such as I, the king, if it weren't so pathetic. Don't worry, though… you did something. You bought this equally pathetic worm a few more seconds of life."
As Kamoshida stepped back and one of the knights raised his blade over Ryuji's head, He raised one arm weakly. "Look, you got me, Okay? Good joke, but it's gone far enough…" His voice was shaking slightly now. "Just… stop, okay?"
"I don't hear anyone laughing," Kamoshida said, making a sharp downward gesture.
Ranma's focus narrowed to the distance between the blade and the boy under it, her struggles redoubling despite the fact that they were useless, until… Everything stopped. The world around her seemed to freeze, most of the color draining out of it as a glowing butterfly flew past her left ear.
"This is truly an unjust game… Your chances of winning are almost none." A soft, feminine voice seemed to whisper in her ear. "But if my voice is reaching you, there may yet be a possibility open to you."
Another voice spoke out to her, still seemingly a woman's, but different from the last. "So, are you just going to sit and watch? Wait for your chance and run? Wouldn't be hard." the voice was deeper, almost mocking where the first had been compassionate and warm. "You can just forget about him, right? Just like you forgot about everyone else."
"I… I didn't," She tried to say, but the memory silenced her. The quiet, shameful walk out of Nerima, the tiny pack with the only belongings he could carry over his shoulder. Akane had offered to go with him, to join him on his search for a cure, but he'd refused. He'd been afraid everyone would chase him if they knew where he was going.
"You can just move on again. You're used to that. I wouldn't blame you, I've done it before." He hadn't even made it out of the Tokyo area, Happosai's stupid cackling had barely faded… when he'd screwed up, again.
"Are you just going to give up, again? Accept defeat after defeat?" She still remembered how the woman had looked at him. When she told the police that this random kid had jumped and attacked her employer. He couldn't have hurt a fly, but no one was going to take his word over hers and that of an important politician.
"Or, will you try to win, despite the odds. Savor the sweet taste of victory once more?" The blade still gleamed, frozen in time over Ryuji's neck. "After all, Ranma Saotome never loses, right?"
"Never when it counts." And for the first time in months, Ranma grinned.
As if the words were a signal, the world began moving again, a wave of force knocking the two guards away from Ranma, who leaned forward slightly, an ornately carved silvery mask appearing over her eyes. "I am thou, and thou art I." The words rang in her head, and she knew, almost instinctively, what to do.
"What?" The robed king demanded, as the knight who had been about to stab Ryuji stopped in place. "Well, if you wanted to die first that badly..."
Ranma ignored this, reaching up to grasp both sides of the mask and pulled with all of her might. She felt like she was pulling her skull apart. By rights she shouldn't have the strength. Even so, she continued. She screamed, almost falling to her knees as the pain nearly overwhelmed her. When the mask came free with a wet tearing noise, small rivulets of blood flowing down the side of her face, she looked up at the king with her now yellow, defiant eyes.
"...the hell?" Ryuji breathed, shuffling backwards away from the knights as quickly as he could.
"Come, Chevalier d'Éon!" The redhead yelled, blue light exploding from her eyes, moving to engulf the rest of her body, brightening until she was difficult to look at. Once it had become pure white, it burst apart into hundreds of tiny shapes, flower petals which wrapped Ranma's body. The petals then swirled around it, leaving darkness in their wake, reforming behind her into a looming figure. What emerged from the darkness was Ranma, now decked out in a black gi, wrapped hands and feet, a hood and facemask. Behind her floated...
"Is… is that a fairy?"
"I am Chevalier d'Éon," the figure behind Ranma announced. "I am the rebel's soul that resides within you. I will grant you my sword to fend off this crisis, if you so chose."
"Yeah," Ranma clenched one covered fist. "Let's do it."
"As you wish. Now show them what we can do!" Ranma launched herself forward again, as Kamoshida turned and bolted down the hall. One of the knights moved to meet her, his armor seeming to melt off. Ranma was expecting a lot of things when the creature reformed in a red and black swirl. What she wasn't expecting was a pumpkin, wearing a pointy hat, a robe, and carrying a lantern.
She blinked, and looked over at the blond boy taking cover behind a nearby crate. The boy looked back with a bewildered expression and shrugged. That was almost her last mistake as the thing swung its lantern, sending a ball of fire barrelling at her position. Leaping over it, she focused on the slitted eyes cut out of the thing. If there was a vulnerable part, that would probably be- She was interrupted from her pondering as an épée stabbed past her ear and into the opening, causing the creature to dissolve into a dark cloud.
"So, that was cool." Ranma noted, turning to face the other two knights. "So who's next?"
They turned to each other, and then one morphed into another pumpkin wizard, while the other sprinted away from the cell. Ranma shrugged, moving in on the pumpkin but was forced back by another fireball.
She reached backwards, grabbing a small knife that was nestled at the small of her back before frowning. She couldn't throw it with enough force to really do anything, so closing in was her only option, even though the thing looked like it was ready to keep throwing those fireballs and she didn't want any to go wide and hit Ryuji's crate. Finding her hand stretching forward anyways, she heard herself yell "Eiha," and a bolt of dark energy flew past her head, slamming into the wizard and tossing it several feet back before it vanished in a puff of smoke.
"Holy Shit dude, the eff was that?" Ryuji yelled, springing out of his hiding place.
"I've…Got no idea," Ranma admitted, the dark gi and hood she was wearing fading away to reveal the school uniform. "We should probably get outta here, though. Those guys who ran off probably sounded the alarm."
The blond boy looked at her incredulously. "How can you be so calm about this?! You just summoned a fairy to stab a pumpkin wizard!"
"Y'know, when you say it like that…It's pretty weird," Ranma admitted. "Still gotta get outta here, though."
"Wait, we've got to find the guy I was brought in here with first," Ryuji objected.
Ranma sighed. "Like I said before, that was me. It's an ancient curse triggered by water temperature. It's why I was tryin' to avoid the rain so much."
"Oh," The boy said, flatly. "Given what else I've seen today…I'll take that. Let's get outta here."
"I… dunno if we're gettin' anywhere, other than more lost," Ryuji mumbled, as he followed Ranma through a small tunnel that lead between two of the massive, cell-filled rooms that seemed to make up a large part of the castle.
"Yeah, well, unfortunately we're not gettin' you across that drawbridge back there," Ranma shrugged. "So we've gotta hope there's another way…"
"Maybe a way to get those guys out of those cages over the river back there, too," Ryuji shuddered. "The eff's Kamoshida doing here?"
"Hey, you two! Over here!" Both students looked around cautiously, having expected a few guards to come back this way by now. "No, down here!" The high pitched voice came again.
"Is that… a talking plush cat?" Ryuji asked, pointing at one of the nearby cells.
"Oh good. Only a plush." Ranma said, sighing with a hint of relief.
"...what's that supposed to mean?" Ryuji asked, as the two made their way over to it, a black and white stuffed animal who seemed to be trying to shake the bars to its cell.
"You're not soldiers from the castle right? Get me out of here!" the thing demanded, its large eyes somehow blinking. "The key's hanging right next to the door, come on!"
"I dunno, Ryuji said, picking up the indicated keyring. "This guy looks way more like one of those things that attacked us than a prisoner."
"If I were, would I be locked in here?" The cat demanded, huffing and crossing his arms over his chest.
"You know, the plushie makes a good point." Ranma noted, scratching her chin in thought.
"Are you listening to yourself?" The blond demanded, irritably. "We don't have time for this, the guards could be here any second!"
The cat nodded. "Right, so you should let me out! You can't just leave me here."
"Jeeze," Ryuji muttered, though his complaint was interrupted by the sound of booted feet running by from somewhere deeper in the building. "We gotta get out of here, if we can figure out how… Where's the GPS when ya need it?"
"If you let me out, I can show you where the exit is!" The cat plush said, quickly.
"Well, he probably knows what's goin' on here better than we do," Ranma offered.
"Or he's all talk and just going to attack us when we open the door," Ryuji countered.
The small creature seemed to swell up indignantly. "Hey! I never go back on my word! But if you want to try and get out of here without me, be my guests."
"Whadda we do?" Ryuji asked, looking around nervously as more footfalls could be heard nearby.
"Better than having the blind lead the blind, I guess." Ranma shrugged.
"Then hurry up, they're coming," the plushie hissed.
"Yeah, yeah, workin' on it," Ryuji grumbled, opening the lock quickly. As the creature stepped out, he continued, "Now hurry up and tell us where the exit is, monster cat!"
"I'm not a cat!" The plushie yelled.
"Y-yeah, it's not really much of a cat," Ranma agreed, an odd catch in her voice.
"My name is Morgana," the creature continued, glaring at Ryuji.
"Right, Morgana, whatever, can we-" Ryuji was interrupted by the sound of a door nearby crashing open, several guards bursting through it and yelling.
"Halt! Criminal Scum!"
"Aw man, now you've done it, they found us!" Morgana grumbled. "We'll have to fight."
"Fight!" Ryuji demanded. "How are you gunna…"
"Come, Zorro!" A pillar of blue light formed around Morgana, something taking form above and behind him.
"Wait, is that a…" Ryuji started, gaping up at the giant cat-headed swashbuckler, complete with mustache and a belt with a "Z" inscribed on the large buckle. Ryuji could only shake his head. "No… I'm just done…. Done for today…."
As the final guard vanished in the now expected cloud of smoke, Morgana slapped his paws together as though dusting them off. "Didn't even stand a chance!"
"R-right," Ryuji said, making his way out from the wall where he'd taken cover. "Okay, I've gotta ask, what is that? You just go Fwooof! And you've got a cat swordsman, or a fairy, or…."
"Yeah, I kinda wanna know too," Ranma chipped in, looking down at the black outfit that had once more replaced her uniform before it vanished in a blaze of blue light.
"Your Persona is fairly powerful, but I guess you don't have much control, yet." Morgana gestured at the redhead's reappeared uniform. "We don't really have time for the full explanation right now, but they're sort of like… masks that you wear, like the one you take off when you summon yours."
Ranma scratched the back of her neck. "That…. doesn't really make much sense,"
"It's fairly complicated," the cat plush shrugged. "For now, just believe me. It's part of you, and being able to summon it is a good thing. Now let's go!"
"Riiiight," Ryuji said, slowly, "that was clear as mud."
Ranma turned to follow the cat down the dark, stone corridor that the guards had come from. "I think maybe we should just get outta here and figure that out later,"
"Yeah, I guess," Ryuji agreed, moving after her. As the group walked, he looked around. "So this place is really just… sitting where the school is, somehow?" He asked. "This whole prison's gotta be bigger than the first floor. I wonder… hey, wait! Look over there!"
"Huh?" Ranma looked back, "What's… oh," The two humans sprinted over to one of the cells that were sunk into the nearby wall, where a boy in a red and white tracksuit was laying on the ground.
"Is he… doing pushups?" Ranma blinked. "Hey buddy, you okay?"
The boy didn't respond, continuing to haul himself up and down, the trembling in his arms and sweat covering most of his exposed skin indicating that he'd been at it for quite a while. "Hey, can you hear me?" Ryuji asked, sticking a hand into the cell to tap the guy's shoulder.
"Just leave him, we've got to get out of here!" Morgana interrupted.
"No way, we've gotta get this guy outta here," Ryuji objected.
"No we don't, we don't have the time," Morgana retorted. "Besides, he's not even real!"
"He's… what?" Ranma asked, confused.
"He's just… a manifestation created by the owner of this Palace, He's probably been in there doing that for days, at least, and he won't respond to us!"
Ryuji was about to respond to that when Ranma plucked a pebble from the ground nearby and flicked it at the exercising boy's head. It bounced off, and the boy kept right on going.
"That's just…effed up."
"So can we go now?" The cat plush asked, sounding long-suffering.
"Yeah, let's get outta here," Ranma nodded, and the three continued on. It only took a couple more minutes of sneaking through random, dank passages, and crossing drawbridges to get to a stairwell that lead up into the main hall that they'd first arrived in. There were now two guards stationed there, though they seemed content to stand at the door, looking out.
"Well, exiting the way we got in isn't an option," Ranma grumbled.
"Just follow me," Morgana ran out into the hall. Ranma shrugged dubiously, but followed, Ryuji reluctantly trailing her. Fortunately, the guards just kept staring out the front door.
When they made it across to the other side, Ryuji let out a sigh of relief. "So we can get out from here?" He asked, looking around. Spotting a nearby door, he grabbed the handle and tugged. "Hey, it's not opening, stupid cat!"
The plush rolled his comically large eyes. "Over here," he pointed the opposite direction. The two humans surveyed the area, a small reading area with three shelves along the wall, and…
"A vent, huh?" Ranma asked, gesturing to the cross-shaped opening over the shelves.
"It'll lead straight outside," Morgana nodded.
"Okay, so all we've gotta do is get the cover off!" Ryuji exclaimed, excitedly.
"Yeah… that could be-" Ranma started, but was interrupted as the blond boy charged up to the bookshelves, scaling them surprisingly quickly, grabbing onto the wire mesh and yanking as hard as he could. It actually came free fairly easily… which left the boy falling backwards, swinging the cover around in one hand.
Ranma winced as she stepped back, leaving Ryuji to fall to the ground in front of her with a soft thud and a massive clang.
"Well there's no way they didn't hear that, great going blondie," Morgana snarked.
"Gah…." Ryuji stood, rubbing his back. "I don't need commentary from you, cat. And don't call me blondie! Now c'mon, let's get outta here!"
"You two go, I've got something I need to do," the plush said, waving his paw at the vent.
"You sure about that?" Ranma asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine, now go before you get caught!"
"Same to you, I guess," Ranma returned, before following Ryuji into the vent. A moment later she found herself and Ryuji standing on a street in front of the school, pedestrians walking leisurely on the sidewalk around them. She glanced around quickly, taking in her surroundings, but had very little idea how they'd gotten there.
A feminine voice from the pocket where she'd stuck her phone announced "You have returned to the real world, Welcome back."
After a few seconds of glancing around himself, Ryuji slumped forward with his hands resting on his knees, breathing heavily.
"Are… you okay?" She asked, noting that his face looked a little pale.
"Am I okay?" He asked, incredulously. "We just got out of some castle with a King Kamoshida, talking cats and pumpkin wizards!"
"So… that's a no?" The redhead asked, uncertain.
"Hey, what's with that yelling?" A harsh, irritated sounding voice asked. "Are you Shujin students?" a police officer quickly moved down the street towards them. Looking them up and down, he stopped on Ranma for a moment and blinked. "The male uniform? I don't know what you two are doing, but you shouldn't be skipping school."
"Huh? Whadda you mean by that?" Ryuji asked, "We… were just trying to get to school, and then there was this weird castle, and…"
The officer began to look more dubious as the boy talked, and Ranma winced. There was no way anyone outside of Nerima was going to buy something like that, and she really didn't need to be in trouble with the cops again this soon, even if it was for something as minor as skipping class. Gulping, she moved.
"Oh Ryu-kun, Don't try and cover for us, it isn't going to work," She said, quickly moving over and grabbing the blond boy's arm.
"The eff?!" The boy yelled, a look of horror coming across his face as he slowly turned his head to stare at the girl. When it was clear she wasn't going to let go he began shaking his arm hard enough that Ranma had trouble holding on. "What are you doing?!"
"There's no point in lying to the nice officer," She said, turning to the older man with her brightest, sparkliest eyes. "My clothes got soaked in the rain this morning, and I didn't have any spares, so Ryu-kun lent me one of his. We were only trying to go out so I could get some dry ones, really," She said, hurriedly. "We'll go back to school right away, we don't want to cause any trouble."
The officer glared at her for several moments before sighing. "Get back to class, and don't try anything like this again, understand?"
"Yes sir, thank you sir," Ranma said, bowing. "C'mon Ryu-kun."
"Uh…. yeah…. Sure," Ryuji said, following the redhead down the street towards the school building.
As they got closer to the school, Ryuji tried shaking her off his arm again, this time with more success. "Unless everything that happened just now was a dream, I'm like, 90% sure you said you were a guy."
"And I'm 90% sure you were about to tell a cop about a 'magical castle' that replaced the school," Ranma shot back. "And that's pretty high on the stupid meter," she pointed ahead of them. "Especially since the school's right there."
Ryuji's mouth opened and closed silently several times before he managed to sputter "B… but this is the same way we went before, I'm not goin' nuts, right? We did see the castle?"
"Yeah," Ranma nodded, starting up the steps to the school's entrance, "But blabbing it to everyone when we've got no idea what's goin' on is probably a bad idea."
The blond nodded reluctantly. "Yeah, I guess. Yikes, it's already lunch… I'm gunna get into so much crap over this…"
"Tell me about it," Ranma responded as the two entered the building, "Late on the first day, bet Sakura-san's gunna go nuts."
"Sakamoto!" The two froze as a familiar voice rang from down the hall, Ranma finding herself taking a loose stance in preparation for a fight. Standing to the side of the entrance was a tall, square chinned man wearing the most smug grin. "You seem so carefree, coming in three hours late with your girlfriend. Quite a difference from when you did morning practice for the track team."
"Oh Shuddup! It's your fault-" Before Ryuji could get any farther with his exclamation, Ranma pulled his sleeve to get his attention. "What?!"
"Point me to where the faculty office is?" Ranma asked.
"The fac… what?" Ryuji asked, the wind having been taken out of his sails. "Right, the faculty office. Left around that corner, up the stairs, and to the right."
"Who was that?" The teacher asked as the redhead left.
"New student, I think…" Ryuji tilted his head. "Huh, never did get a name."
Kamoshida blinked. "I… thought the new student was male?"
The boy snickered. "Can't even tell the difference, huh? Must be losin' your touch."
A/N: So yeah, Ranma's Persona… We spent way more time arguing over this than is strictly healthy, then JSB suggested Chevalier d'Éon. Weebee laughed it off, then JSB went and dug up some historical research that suggested they actually fit surprisingly well.