A Ranma ½ x Destiny Crossover
A Frozen Light
The Last City
"Ghost Registry-0190281 Kiko to Tower Control. I am inbound with a new guardian. Requesting permission to land," Ranma's Ghost called through the ship's radio.
Ranma stirred from her sleep, one eye cracking with a small grumble of discomfort as the ship rocked. They were flying through clouds. The kettle-class transport cutting through a patch of dark storm clouds.
"Permission granted, please make for landing pad four," the woman's voice on the other end replied after a prolonged silence.
"Understood, Tower Control. We're inbound on approach. No more than fifteen minutes out," Kiko replied, "If you can please inform Vanguard Ikora that her presence at the landing pad would be welcome. We have important information for her."
'Vanguard?' Ranma questioned sleepily as she listened.
"I'll pass the message along. How important would you say this is?" the controller asked.
Kiko glanced Ranma's way and bobbed in acknowledgement when she noticed Ranma watching her. "Fairly. It involves the circumstances of my meeting with my new Guardian," she said.
There was a faint static for a minute. "Understood Ghost-Kiko. The message has been passed along. Expect Vanguard Ikora to be waiting," the controller finally said.
"Thank you, Tower Control. Kiko out," Ranma's ghost said. She half-turned to Ranma. "Finally awake. I thought for sure you'd sleep through our landing." Ranma's stomach chose that moment to grumble. Kiko sent her as deadpan a look as it was possible for a ghost to send. "Or maybe your stomach figured we were close.
"I haven't eaten in a thousand years," Ranma grumbled, "give me a break."
"Well, either way, we're almost there. Keep an eye out," Kiko said as she turned back to the front, "We should break through the clouds in three… two… one."
The kettle-class jumpship passed through the last layer of clouds and emerged into the morning light. Ranma winced at the brightness for a brief moment before her eyes adjusted. Her eyes widened. Spread out before her was an immense city. Easily the size of the Golden Age ruins of Tokyo, larger possibly, it was encircled by a wall as tall as the surrounding mountains. All of it glittered in the morning light, but that wasn't what drew the eye.
Floating above everything, so large it broke the atmosphere, was a white orb. It blazed as it was silhouetted by the sun, creating an artificial eclipse that burned itself into her retina. The white surface was broken up by black scrapes and tears in the surface. Pot marks dotted it from top to bottom. And speaking of the bottom, the base of the orb was broken. Black metal and who knew what else poked out from the bottom where the gleaming white surface has been ripped asunder.
"Oh. Oh, that's the traveller?" she said, her eyes drinking in the sight as the light she could feel within her stirred. It pulsed in time with some unheard beat, a low thrum that was pleasant and relaxing.
"Yup. That's the big mirror ball in the sky," Kiko said cheerfully as she steered the ship towards a tall tower in the perimeter wall. "Tower straight ahead. Look alive girl, we're almost home."
Ranma twitched at being called a girl. She hadn't yet had the chance to explain her curse. She hadn't even had the chance to test to see if she still had it. She had died after all. Jusenkyo cursed victims didn't turn back after they died. That was part of why it was a curse. Its effects lingered with death even as the ability to change departed the deceased. Cologne had explained that little detail with far too much joy back when she had first worked at the Cat Cafe.
She held her tongue for the moment. She didn't need her own ghost questioning her sanity yet. Once she had a chance to test and see if she was still able to be a guy, then she would explain it.
Her eyes drifted down from the traveller to the much smaller in comparison wall. On the side facing them was a tall town built into the outer wall. It stood head and shoulders above the rest of the wall. A large T-shaped structure stood atop the tower while two tall triangular monuments silhouetted it from behind.
"That's the tower? We're going there?" she asked.
"Yep. We'll be there in… right now," Kiko said cheerfully as the kettle class ship slowed and smoothly entered the hangar on one side of the tower. The ship flared in the tight confines of the hangar and landed smoothly on the open pad. The vessel shook with a thud as it set down.
"There we go. We're here, the Tower. Home sweet home to all the guardians who protect the Last City," her ghost said. She didn't pay too much attention as she stood up on legs that were stiff after spending the last while in a small ball.
Ranma walked over to the front window and looked out at the bustling room beyond. Technicians and frames were everywhere working on ships of every description. Fighters, gunships, transports, there seemed to be no end to the different styles on display.
"I've never been in a military base before," she said, watching as an engine was slowly winched out of the frame of a jumpship.
"The Tower is the heart of the city and its defenses," Kiko said.
"The heart?" Ranma looked away from the sight beyond the ship. The Tower was right on the outer wall. It seemed a rather silly place to put something so important. "Has no one here ever heard of not leading a punch with your head?"
Kiko's shell spun. "Uh, what?" she asked, her tone confused.
"They put something as important as the Tower on the wall. The Outer, wall," Ranma said, "The one thing that gets attacked first."
"Oh, ooooh, yeah, about that," Kiko said, "We used to have twelve towers like this one. All spaced out neatly around the wall. We lost them one at a time to Fallen attacks over the years. They've had us under siege for about a century now. We just haven't had the time and resources to commit to rebuilding the others so it's just the Tower now."
She frowned and looked out at the hangar. Clearly, the city had been hit hard over the years. To last a century while under siege was impressive. Her stomach growled, interrupting further introspection.
"Let's go get something to eat, I guess," she sighed, heading for the door. Entering the passenger's cabin behind the cockpit, they found the back door and ramp open. A pair of frames, undoubtedly triggered by Durendal, already working on unloading the ship as they stepped off.
"Quite the haul you have here," a woman's voice shouted in heavily accented English as Ranma stepped off the ramp. She glanced up and spotted the source, a blonde woman sitting atop of a mostly disassembled jumpship in the bay nearby. "I don't recognize you, or that ship of yours. You're new, right?" she asked as she tapped a heavy wrench against her leg.
"Yeah?" Ranma replied with a shrug.
"Oh, heya Amanda!" Kiko called, leaving Ranma's side to zip over to the woman, "It's me, Kiko, and guess what! I found a Guardian! She's so amazing and skilled and just plain awesome and-"
"Yeah, yeah, heard it all before," Amanda sighed as she waved off the little drone with her wrench, "Every ghost that comes through with a new guardian says the same thing. They'll be the next great thing. Amazing future. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I'll give you one thing though, you picked a young one." She frowned down at Ranma who scowled back up at her. "Do you know how old you are kid? Ah, who am I kidding. Course you won't. You'll need a medical-"
"Seventeen, nearly eighteen. Give or take a thousand years," Ranma interjected, walking over to the other bay. A light hop took her from the floor to the wing. "Depends on whether you want to count the time I spent as an ice cube." An ice cube that had been worshipped by her stalker's descendants. If she somehow ran into Kuno again she was going to kill him.
With luck, it might even stick.
Amanda looked her up and down. "Better jumper than most new Guardians. How long have you been-"
"We're looking at about sixteen, seventeen hours now," Kiko said. That got a disbelieving stare from the older woman.
"Who are you?" Ranma asked finally, looking the technician over. The blonde-haired, green-eyed, woman grinned.
"Amanda Holliday, Chief Shipwright here in the tower. It's my job to keep this fleet of birds in the air," she said, shaking her head, "Sixteen hours?"
"Give or take," Kiko replied.
"Huh. well, I'll stop prying for now, 'bout that anyway. Where'd you get the ship?" she asked, gesturing down at the kettle-class. Several cases had been unloaded.
"Secret bunker with a whole bunch of old Golden Age tech in it," Kiko said before Ranma could reply, "Like, a lot, of Golden Age tech."
"Apparently," Amanda leaned towards the edge as she examined the large ship. "A kettle-class. In damned good condition as well. Jeez, you hit the jackpot. Not the most suited for a Guardian, mind you. A bit too slow to protect itself, but you can get a good price-"
"It isn't for sale," Ranma said, getting a raised eyebrow from Amanda, "Personal reasons." It was easier to say than 'the AI we got it from would be annoyed'.
"Fair enough. Everyone's got their reasons," Amanda said, "Still, Golden Age and untouched until now? I'm guessing if you aren't planning on getting rid of it you'd like me to fix her up?"
"If you don't mind," Kiko said.
"You're in luck. Not really. Since you're a new Guardian the first repair is free, so are any you need while completing your FDG Certs. After that, it depends on whether you're working for the Vanguard or just part of the general Guardian population," Amanda said, tapping her thigh thoughtfully with her wrench, "Oh, and we don't replace NLS drives. Damned things are rare as hell even though we make our own these days. Never enough to go around. Unless you reach the status of an Elite Agent of the Vanguard there's no way you'll get one regardless of how many request forms you fill out."
"Well damn it," Kiko grumbled, "It had an NLS, but it was giving error messages on the way over."
"I'll take a look when I give it the standard inspection," the blonde woman said, "But no promises."
Ranma waved a hand, "Uh, FDG Certs?" she asked, "What's that?"
"Hm, oh. Flight. Driving. Guns," Amanda said absently as she stood up and started walking over to the ladder down, "Unofficial name for the basic certifications you'll need to pass before they'll let you out of the tower again."
"Let me?" Ranma squawked, as she followed the older woman.
"It's a dangerous world out there. Vanguard policy requires that you be tested and then if you pass you can go," the shipwright said as she stepped onto the ladder. She paused on the top step. "Look, if you've already got the skills its basically just a quick few tests. Takes a couple of days at most. If you haven't, then they teach you how to fly and how to drive and how to shoot a gun. Takes, ooh, as long as it takes really. Longest I've ever heard was six years, but most managed in about three weeks if they come in completely blank."
Amanda looked her up and down again. "Hate to say it kid, but you don't know how to fly or drive, do you?" she asked.
"Spaceships weren't exactly common back in my day," Ranma said.
"Back in your day?" Holliday snorted and started climbing down the ladder, "I take it you found a bunch of files on yourself? Most Guardians don't even remember their name, let alone a last name."
"Well, you see," Kiko flitted side to side as she hesitated. She glanced in Ranma's direction like she was waiting for a cue.
"'Cause it'll be fun Ikora," a loud voice said over the rumble of machinery. The three of them all glanced over to see two figures striding through the thin crowd in the hangar as it parted around them. Technicians hurried to get out of the way or quickly stepped aside as a black woman in a purple set of high collared robes and a blue robot with a horn, cape, and hood made their way on a beeline for their landing pad.
"Ikora and Cayde. What the hell did you two do to get their attention?" Amanda asked sharply.
"I asked for Ikora. No idea what Cayde is doing here," Kiko said.
"Uuuh, who are they?" Ranma asked. Kiko had asked for an Ikora when talking to the tower. Was that the woman down there?
Amanda spared a glance her way then looked towards Kiko. "You didn't tell her?" she asked.
"She slept during the flight and it's been a rough day. Really rough," Kiko said as she turned to watch the two come closer. Their voices had disappeared under the volume of the room as someone started up a metal grinder. "Basically, Ranma, Ikora Rey and Cayde-6 are the Warlock and Hunter Vanguards. Two of the big three in charge of all military operations out of the Tower."
"Warlock?" Ranma repeated dubiously. That wasn't exactly a term that had positive connotations to it in her experience.
"They study the light and history and, really, anything that needs study," Kiko said, "Ikora could probably give you a better definition since I haven't exactly been the most attentive to the goings on in the city."
"Most Guardian-less ghosts aren't," Amanda sighed as she stepped off the ladder, "Right, enjoy your talk or whatever with them. I'm going to go and start inspecting your ride. OI! JAROLD! GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE AND HELP ME!" She shouted, pointing to a man cleaning off some tools in the next bay over.
Ranma sighed and sat down. "Well that went well," she said sarcastically.
"It was awkward," Kiko admitted, "But come on, first introduction and all. How're you doing?" She asked.
"Tired. Hungry. Sore," she sighed.
"I would have thought the sleep would have helped," her ghost said.
"Maybe if I'd had something to eat," Ranma said.
"'Cides We're already here," the same voice from earlier said as the blue robot walked up the handful of short steps separating their landing pad front the rest of the bay. "No point turning around now. Hey, hey, you're the new ones, aren't you?" He called up to them. Ranma blinked. His voice was surprisingly lacking in any hints of him being a robot.
"That's us," Kiko shouted back, "Give us a second and-" Ranma slid off the jumpship and landed lightly on her feet ten feet down. "Or she could just do that. Right."
Ranma walked across the landing pad to the two important figures in this new City feeling rather self-conscious. She was quite aware of the way the qipao she was wearing swished around her legs and how dirty she probably looked after fighting, and killing, so many Fallen. Her hair was probably a greasy mess. It was a miracle it was still in her usual pigtail after spending a thousand years on ice followed by a literal battlefield. She could feel her hair tugging with every turn of her head so even that probably needed to be undone and combed out properly before being rebraided.
Overall, she really wasn't in any state to be meeting anyone important.
The woman, Ikora she assumed, raised an eyebrow as she looked Ranma over. "By the Traveller, they keep getting younger," she sighed as Ranma reached them. "Welcome to the Tower, young one. Congratulations on making it this far," she said with a half-bow that Ranma returned.
"Thanks, it's… safer than the last place I was at anyway. Less fallen so far," She said.
"Yeah, Fallen have a way of making things less fun," Cayde said, "I'm Cayde-6. This is Ikora and I think one of you asked for us."
"I asked for her," Kiko said exasperatedly as she hovered by Ranma's side, "Because there are a few weird things surrounding my Guardian's resurrection."
"And that warrants calling for a vanguard?" Ikora asked with a sceptical tone, "While I'm always happy to meet and help new Guardians, leaving my post in the command centre is not something to be done lightly." She had crossed her arms and was looking pointedly at Ranma's Ghost.
"She remembers," Kiko said.
"Remembers?" Ikora repeated. Her tone suggested she didn't get it. "Remembers what, Kiko?"
"Everything." Judging by the expression on Ikora's face the full truth hadn't clicked inside her mind when Cayde spoke up.
"Everything, everything?" he asked, getting a look of sharp curiosity from Ikora.
Kiko bobbed. "Yes. Everything, everything. Or, as much everything as one person can have, I guess?" she said, pausing having clearly managed to confuse herself for a moment.
"Cayde?" Ikora asked.
"My name is Ranma Saotome," Ranma interjected, cutting off the robot before he could reply, "I was born on November third of nineteen seventy-three to Genma and Nodoka Saotome. I spent most of my life on the road with my pops learning martial arts before we settled in Nerima for several years just before I turned sixteen." The look of comprehension appeared on Ikora's face as she continued. "I was placed in cryostasis in nineteen-ninety-one after someone stabbed me in the back with a poisoned knife. I was released from that this morning, sixteen hours ago. I died almost immediately and five seconds later this little flashlight."
"Resurrected me," Ranma finished as she ignored the irritated spitting her ghost was doing. "I can offer more detail if you want?"
Ikora breathed out heavily. "This… Oh boy. This month," she sighed before stepping over and placing a hand on Ranma's shoulder. "I can't imagine how all of this feels. Be welcome to the Last City, Young Guardian. The Tower's doors are open for you as long as you need them."
Ranma smiled hesitantly at the older woman. "Thanks, it's…" Her stomach growled loudly enough to interrupt her. She blushed. "Um… Food?" She asked sheepishly.
Cayde clapped his hands together making a vaguely metallic crash. "Well, at least we know she had her priorities sorted, eh Ikora?" he chuckled and stepped forward to throw an arm over her shoulder. "Tell you what, why don't you interrogate her ghost while I go make and get her settled? Deal? Deal. great. Let's go kid," he said, pulling Ranma along before anyone could gainsay him.
"Cayde!" Ikora shouted after them, though to Ranma's ear she sounded less angry and more exasperated. "Damn it."
"So, tell me," Cayde said conversationally as he guided her across the hangar, "What's your favourite food? After a thousand years I know I'd want to have something familiar on my first day back among the living."
"Um, Yakitori. Do you even have that here?" she asked. It seemed unlikely given the distance from Japan and the cataclysm that had struck.
"Uh…" Cayde-6 tapped his chin as he thought. "That's one of those chicken skewer places, right?" he asked.
"That's right," she confirmed, "I'll take Okonomiyaki or-"
"Ah ah," he chided, "I said your favourite, and you'll get it. We'll take these elevators." He waved to the bank of elevators on the wall they were approaching. He punched the call button with a gloved finger. "We're currently in a sublevel of the hangars so these elevators only connect to the rest of the hangars."
Ranma nodded as she glanced back over her shoulder. Visible over the crowd were Kiko and Ikora. Another ghost, probably Ikora's if she had to guess, was there as well. All three seemed to be having an animated discussion. She felt oddly nervously walking away from Kiko like this, but her stomach was practically eating itself, so she followed Cayde into the elevator when it arrived.
"So, you said nineteen-ninety-two?" the Robot asked.
"Ninety-one," she corrected as she leaned back against the wall of the elevator.
"Right, ninety-one. Now, my maths not the greatest," she raised an eyebrow at that statement coming from a robot, "But that's twenty-odd years before twenty-fourteen. You never saw the traveller when it first appeared, did you?"
She shook her head. "I never saw it until today," she confirmed, thinking back to the sensations it had stirred in her light. There was a connection of some kind there and it made her nervous. Everything was making her nervous if she was being honest, but this was as unnerving as it was comforting.
Cayde sighed and nodded. "We're going to pass through the courtyard of the tower," he said, changing the topic, "The big floating lightbulb will be on the left if you want to spend a bit more time ogling it, but you'll have plenty of time to do that later if you want. We'll take the elevators on the far side of the plaza down to the city."
The elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. "Hey, Sundance," he said as they exited into a hallway with high ceilings and metal walls. A ghost, his ghost, materialized above one hand in a spray of light motes. "There's a yakitori place right across from the Ramen shop, right?"
It bobbed once. "Yep," she said in a dixie accent, "Only, that's the one that the Ramen guy gets really angry about when you visit. Like that time Ikora dragged you there for a change of pace."
"Yeah, yeah. I'll handle it. The kid wants Yakitori for her first meal back from the dead, then she can have it," he said with a shrug.
"Your loss," Sundance shrugged then disappeared again.
"Anyway, this way through the scanners. Oi, Sundance, make sure they know not to go nuts with her. She's new," he continued as they walked through a pair of metal gates. The sensors along the doorways flashed briefly as they passed through. No alarms went off.
The hallway turned a little further on and emptied out onto the courtyard Cayde had mentioned. There was some grass and a few trees in carefully maintained spots, but most of the area was tiled. Closest to the doorway was a small tent stall where a man in robes was speaking with a pair of heavily armoured men. Beyond them a trio of pillars with consoles built into their bases stood in the plaza. Further on was a small tile-roofed concrete booth. Like one of those beachside food shacks. A staircase in the center of everything led down into the Tower and above it was a large pair of staircases that led up to a single large doorway.
"The blue guy at the booth is Master Rahool," Cayde said, walking down the steps as she stopped to gawk.
"Blue-" She stopped as 'Master Rahool' turned around. His skin was a bluish-grey and had a faint shimmer to it. She stared for a moment before Cayde coughed into a hand politely. She followed quickly.
"Pillars here are linked to your vault. Every Guardian gets one provided by the Vanguard. Ikora will probably set that up for you," he said as they walked past a Guardian whose helmet had a purple mohawk.
"You see the guy up the stairs over there in the corner?" Cayde gestured into the nearest upper-level corner of the plaza. Ranma followed his gestures. A gun shop of some kind had been set up in the corner beneath a large yellow awning. "That's Banshee-44's shop. Don't bother visiting it, you don't have your weapon certs. His memory's going, but he knows the rules. Cute kid or not, no cert, no weapons."
"Not all that interested in guns," she said as she followed him across the courtyard and past both the staircase down and the concrete shack. "What're these two?" she asked, gesturing at them.
"Staircase leads down into the Vanguard's offices and war room," Cayde replied, as he paused on the steps leading up to one of the few green areas in the courtyard, "You can find me there most of the time. You can talk to Shaxx at his desk once you're settled in. He runs the crucible and takes care of the weapon, driving, and flight certifications."
"Crucible? And what about that place?" she asked again, gesturing at the hut.
"Post office and the Eververse," Cayde said with a shrug. "Everyone has an account. Again, Ikora's probably dealing with that right now. Now, come on. Let's go find that Yakitori place." Her stomach cut off any further questions with a very loud growl that prompted most of the courtyard to turn in her direction.
"Food's good," she agreed, hurriedly following the chuckling robot as a blush formed.
The streets of the Last City oddly reminded her of downtown Tokyo, Akihabara, or other densely populated areas of Japan. It might have had something to do with the style of the buildings and the proliferation of neon and TV displays, but there was something distinctly Japanese in the feel of the streets. Even if they were bustling humans, blue-green people, and more robots. Though, only a handful of the last.
Still, the small hole in the wall Yakitori Bar by the name of 'Yaotsuki's Yakitori' two blocks from the Tower was a surprise. It felt like one of those dingy side streets she and her pops would wind up wandering down. The ones that usually ended up with them leaving behind a few beaten up thugs who would wake up to find themselves lighter by a few thousand yen. Most of the time her pops had never bothered lifting a finger, instead treating it as an exercise for her to complete.
It was thoughts and comparisons like that which left her feeling oddly wistful as she joined the odd robot called Cayde-6 at the bar. Behind the bar was a middle-aged caucasian woman and a teenage boy who looked similar enough to be her son. "Cayde, been a while since you darkened my doors," the middle-aged woman said as she glanced up from preparing food. The small restaurant was empty except for one older man in the corner who was reading the newspaper as he made his way through a stack of skewers.
"I'd have been by sooner, but you know how it is," Cayde said with a shrug.
"I do. That shouting match extended across the entire neighbourhood," she snorted before looking Ranma over. "Who's the young lady? A pretty girl like you should find better company than this scoundrel."
"Oi, I'm perfectly fine company, thank you very much," Cayde huffed, "Ranma Saotome, meet Nina Nakamori. Nina, Ranma Saotome, the Tower's newest Guardian."
Both of Nina's eyebrows raised skeptically as she looked Ranma over. "Guardian? Really?" she asked.
"Hey!" Ranma scowled, crossing her arms.
"No offense, but Cayde, how old is she?" Nina asked.
"Hey, hey, don't take it out on me. Ghosts pick who they pick," Cayde replied, throwing up his hands defensively, "We just make sure they're ready."
"Seventeen… Going on a thousand apparently," Ranma said irritably.
"Seventeen… I won't say anything. The Traveler picks who it picks," Nina sighed before giving Ranma another look over. "Hmm, no offence dear, but you look absolutely exhausted. Cayde did you really-" Ranma stomach growled, interrupting the woman with the rattle of plates and loose dishes as everything shook. Ranma blushed again as the man in the corner lowered his paper to stare at her for a good five seconds.
"I'm just here to fill her stomach, Nina. Then she's going back to the Tower. I offered her her favourite and she said it was Yakitori so…" Cayde trailed off expectantly. Nina snorted.
"So feed her. You're paying," she said pointedly to him.
"Do I look like a cheapskate?"
"Do you want me to answer that?"
"... Why don't we agree to move on instead, huh?" Cayde said with a smile.
"Sounds good to me. The menu is up there," Nina pointed above her at the chalkboard menu above her, "Tell me what you want."
To Ranma's surprise, while it was written in English, the names hadn't changed in the last thousand years. At least, not enough to confuse her. "Uh… As much Momo and Sasami Yakitori as you can make? I'm really hungry," she said, giving the woman her best hopeful look. All she got in reply was a snort of amusement.
"Maybe you're in the right company after all. Don't worry dear, you don't need to charm me. The idiot here is picking up your tab," Nina said as she set to work.
"I'd be hurt, but then I remember I don't come here often," Cayde said. He clapped his hands together. "So, while we wait for your food, tell me a story."
Ranma blinked. "Story?" she asked.
"Yeah, a story. You said you remember a bunch from before the collapse, right?" the robot said. She nodded, shooting Nina a sideways glance. The chef remained focused on her work as she prepped the skewers. "C'mooon, I'll share a few once your food is ready," he offered.
She nodded slowly, but winced internally. Where did she start? Even compared to aliens and…
She spared a glance up at the Traveller that was just visible between the highrises. Okay, so maybe it wasn't that crazy, then again crazy was subjective. She looked over at Cayde-6 who was waiting quietly while twiddling his thumbs. He paused expectantly.
"I haven't even told Kiko anything about my life yet," she said. He nodded.
" I suppose I shouldn't try and jump the que then?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No, I'm… My life was weird. Like, really strange. Somehow I kept getting into the dumbest, stupidest situations that anyone could concoct. And it's a bit hard to explain any of them without really getting into why I'm sitting here wearing a qipao…" she sighed.
The Robot's head cocked to the side. "I'd assume you were wearing that when you died," he said, "Right?"
Ranma snorted and looked him in the eyes. "I wasn't born a girl."
"Bullshit," Cayde said an hour later, "Animals don't grow that big."
Ranma snorted and shrugged as she finished off a Yakitori skewer. "There was something in the water," she said. At the disbelieving look she snickered. "I'm serious. There was this moss that grew on the Yamata no Orochi that was doing it." She paused. "I wonder if it's still there." If there was anything on Earth that had probably outlasted the Golden Age it was probably Ryugenzawa…
And it would be just her luck that there would be no one left to keep a handle on that giant snake.
Her mood plummeted sharply at that thought and she flicked the skewer onto the empty plate with a sigh. She was doing that a lot.
"Ya know, I thought this place got crazy after The Darkness got involved," Cayde said conversationally, "I suppose we really should know better given all the crazy stuff we dig up. I guess they might not all be Golden Age experiments." He mused before waving to Nina, "Can I get something to drink. I'm parched after all this talking."
Nina glanced up from her work and reluctantly pulled off the disposable gloves. A moment later a bottle of some unidentifiable green liquid was placed on the bar along with a single glass.
"Thanks." The bottle was cracked open and the oddly coloured contents poured into the glass. "You know," he said swirling the liquid in the glass, "they make this about a block from here. Makes me think of home when I drink." He drained the glass as Ranma stared.
Wordless, she wondered what it was and where it went.
"Aah," he exhaled as he set the glass down and poured more out, "Well, I said tell me a story and you've had one hell of a story. A few stories." He swirled the alcohol for a moment before swallowing most of it. "But, I have to admit it's all a bit… Fantastical." He raised both hands defensively as she glared at him.
"Says the robot who comes back from the dead with superpowers," she grumbled before politely accepting the next tray of skewers.
"Hey, Exo, not robot," Cayde protested, "I'm not a frame, kid. I'm too handsome for one."
She rolled her eyes. She couldn't tell if he was joking or if his ego really was that big. "What's the difference?" she asked.
Cayde leaned against the bar and sipped his drink. "Well, it's all a bit complicated, but the short form? I used to be human. All Exos used to be human. Physically anyway. We're human where it counts," he said, tapping the side of his head, "Human minds uploaded into machine bodies. The details beyond that are all a bit… Complicated. Hell, we don't know much these days."
He sipped his drink. "Exos were created by Clovis Bray, the company not the man. Or at least we don't think it was the man," he said his face doing the closest approximation to a frown it could manage. "It gets a bit hard to tell when you can barely remember anything and the complexes are either hidden or razed to the ground."
Ranma nodded and chewed thoughtfully on a skewer. There was that company again. 'Clovis Bray'. The same company that made Durendal. It figured they were involved in more AI research.
"So, do you want some hot water? Watching you switch would prove a lot of your story," Cayde said before glancing down, "Though ah, given your current dress I'd get it if you didn't want to."
Ranma glanced down at the qipao she was wearing. It was dirty with small stains dirt and that white blood that had come from the fallen. She needed to get something else to wear. It certainly wouldn't survive her turning into a guy. Assuming she could turn into a guy. "I'll hold off," she said after a moment before blandly adding, "Not exactly attached to my funeral dress, but it's all I have right now."
Cayde snorted. "Fair enough, fair enough… Still, no offence if I'm reading too far into this, but you feel like you're waiting for a real big shoe to drop outta the sky. Why's that?" he asked.
That took Ranma off guard. "No idea what you're talking about," she said, her tone unconvincing even to herself.
"Uh Huh. Sure," Cayde said, "Pull the other one, I put bells on it." He wiggled the fingers of his left hand at here, revealing a pair of silver bells hanging from them. They rang sharply before disappearing into light.
She couldn't help the snort of amusement at that. "I'm just worried about something the Old Ghoul told me about," she finally said. Her left hand absently rolled a skewer between her fingers.
"Old Ghoul?" Cayde gave her a sideways look.
"Really old hag who taught me a few tricks. Her tribe lived near Jusenkyo," Ranma explained, leaving out most of her relationship with the old Amazon. Like the fact that she was, by their laws, at least engaged to Shampoo.
"Knew a lot about that place, then I take it?" he asked. She nodded. "So what's got you so worked up?"
Ranma stopped spinning the skewer and started tapping the point against the bar counter. "I… I died. For like five seconds before Kiko brought me back, but I was dead. When you die in your cursed form, you stay in your cursed form. The magic that lets you change goes away. The Old Ghoul was a bit vague, but she said that even if you're brought back from the dead the magic doesn't always return." She paused her tapping. "And then there's the question of whether Jusenkyo even exists still. The last time I saw it I'd just turned it from a valley full of springs into a really big lake."
Cayde paused with his drink an inch from his mouth. He lowered it slowly. "Well, that's a bit of a kicker, isn't it…" he sighed, "Where was this place anyway?"
"Jusendo Valley. In the Bayankala Mountains in China," she said.
"China?" Cayde finished his bottle. "China… hey, question would the Bayankala Mountains be in central China?"
"North and a bit west actually," Ranma replied. Cayde reached into a pocket and pulled out a small plastic pad with a transparent screen.
"Give me a second and… huh," Cayde sighed, "Yeah, that figures. That's right in the middle of the East Asian Dead Zone. No one goes in there anymore."
Ranma winced. "Figures," she sighed.
"Look, for now don't worry about it. I'll keep from spreading around your story for the moment," Cayde said as he pocketed his datapad. "I'm sure Ikora will have questions regardless, but-"
"Regardless of?" Ranma turned her head as Ikora entered the bar. Kiko floated in beside her.
"Here you two are! Honestly, running off like that!" Kiko flew over to Ranma.
"Sorry?" Ranma shrugged, not particularly feeling apologetic. She had been hungry and that was that. Her ghost huffed before disappearing inside of her. The warmth of presence was soothing on nerves that Ranma hadn't even realized were fraying.
"Let's stick together from now on, okay?" Kiko said, her voice crackling slightly in Ranma's head. She nodded in reply.
"So Cayde," Ikora said, raising an eyebrow at the other Vanguard, "Regardless of what?"
"I- Uuh, Right, thing is… Not my place to tell, nothing to worry about," Cayde said before turning to Nina, "Bill please."
"You realize this only warrants more questions, not less," Ikora pointed out.
"Ask her. Not my place," the Exo replied, pointing at Ranma. Ikora looked at Ranma briefly before sighing.
"Questions can come later. For now I'm willing to bet you'd love to get some sleep," she observed. Ranma nodded, a yawn coming from nowhere. "Hmm, well then. Shall I show you to the quarters your Ghost and I arranged so that you can get some rest?"
Ranma smiled and stood up. "I'd like that." After everything she just wanted a shower and a bed. Her smile twitched and fell. She'd get her answer with the shower as well.
The Tower was, as Ikora explained, the heart of all Vanguard associated operations in the city. It housed the command and control center for the city's defences; hangars for Guardian and Forces of the City aircraft; numerous services centered around the needs of the Guardians; the residence and office of the Speaker, the head of the City Government; offices for members of the Vanguard and their forces; and standardized housing for all other Guardians on record.
Through a large wood and metal gate on the north side of the tower, right across from the Speaker's Tower, atop the Tower, were the residences of the Guardians. Three and four story apartment buildings that extended down into the superstructure of the tower.
Ranma followed Ikora through the large gate on the north side of the tower onto the street beyond. "All Guardians," Ikora was saying as she led Ranma past the market stalls set up under the overhanging apartments, "are given an apartment. This way." She walked past a stall where a middle-aged man was advertising a courier service and up to a door set into the painted sandstone wall. She waved her hand over the pad next to the door and it slid open to reveal a staircase. The internal walls were grey painted metal.
"Cheery," Ranma mumbled as she gave the walls a glance.
"The entrance ways are left undecorated, but the apartment above is yours to do whatever you wish too," Ikora said, leading the way up the stairs, "How much use you will find this apartment depends entirely upon you. I know some Guardians who live out of their fighters and others who are rarely seen outside of their homes, so caught up in their studies the world turns on without them caring."
Ikora paused at the first landing which had only a single metal door with a keypad, what was probably a hand scanner, and several other items that Ranma couldn't identify set into the wall beside it. "This is your workshop. Every apartment includes one. We expect Guardians to be able to do basic maintenance on their own equipment. Guns, armour, sparrows. Whatever you happen to use, this is the space that is set aside for your use. It is currently locked until you pass your certifications. And even if you were to get in it is currently empty. Once you have passed your certifications basic equipment will be provided, but anything specialized will have to come out of your own pocket." The older woman paused and glanced over at her. "Though if it is specialized enough you may be better off asking Banshee-44 to handle the job. While his memory is going, he is still by far the best gunsmith in the tower. Amanda is almost more than willing to handle any Sparrow work that you need… For a price."
"Sparrow?" Ranma asked. Somehow she didn't think Ikora was talking about birds.
"Racing bikes that many guardian's use for common transportation. They're hovercraft which makes them quite useful in rough terrain," the Warlock explained. Ranma nodded. She had to wonder if they were fast enough to be worth getting. She could cover distances quite a bit quicker than most cars.
"And now, your actual apartment," Ikora said as she led the way up the steps.
Ranma gave one last look at the plain metal door before following. She wasn't sure how much she would use a workshop, and at that moment she was finding it hard to really care that she even had one. What was she even going to use it for?
The stairs up onto a landing with two doors. The one directly in front was a steel door with a simple lock. On the left was a proper front door with a one way window in the top of the frame. It didn't have as many strange doodads built into the wall next to it as the workshop did, but it still had more security features than Ranma was used to seeing.
Ikora turned to her and gestured at the door, "Your apartment. The secondary locks are currently disabled. Your ghost can set them up for you later. For now you can use these." She pulled a key ring from somewhere and handed it to Ranma.
The redhead took it with mild surprise. "Actual keys?," she said as she examined the two gold and silver keys on the ring.
"The classics are fine for an empty apartment," Ikora replied before gesturing to the door again, "After you."
Ranma unlocked the door and stepped into what had to be the main room of the apartment. On the left was a small sitting room with a large TV on the wall, a coffee table, two armchairs, and a couch. Several small side tables sat in corners, bereft of decoration. On the right was the kitchen, a little smaller than the Tendo's, with a wrap around countertop; and the dining area was just beyond it. A single table with four chairs sat beneath a window that let light into the room. A balcony with sliding doors was on the left hand side to the right of the TV. A short hallway with a pair of doors was across the room directly opposite the front door.
What stood out the most to Ranma was how barren everything was. There were no decorations on the plain white walls. The floor was a mixture of carpet, tile, and hardwood with whites and browns that only made the empty walls look blander.
"It is a bit barren at the moment," Ikora said, seemingly reading Ranma's mind as she entered behind her, "But you are free to paint the walls or otherwise decorate the space however you wish for as long as you call the City home. Of course, should you decide to move out we expect it to be returned to this state on your dime."
"Of course," Ranma sighed, "And this costs?"
"Nothing." Ranma turned to the smiling black woman, "You are a Guardian, Ranma. The tower is here for you. This place was meant to be occupied by Guardians, not rented out for profit."
Ranma's mouth moved soundlessly for a moment before she closed it and nodded. Ikora reached out and patted her on the shoulder. "Welcome to the Tower, Ranma Saotome," she said with a smile.
"Thanks," she replied quietly.
Ikora let go and walked past her as Kiko emerged from her hiding place. "This looks really nice," Kiko said looking around, "And it's ours?"
"Yes, as I said," the warlock replied, "Due to your situation I've taken the liberty of providing two sets of clothes alongside the normally provided toiletries and bedsheets. They should be enough to tide you over until you can acquire more for yourselves."
"Is the water working?" Ranma asked.
"It should be," the older woman replied, "service outages for water and electricity are very rare inside the tower. I imagine you're looking forward to a shower." The redhead nodded. "I won't keep you too long then." What appeared to be a very large PDA appeared in her left hand in a shimmer. She held it out to Ranma. "Inside is the manual for all of the apartment's features. I would advise reading it sooner rather than later."
Ranma took the odd PDA from her and turned it over in her hands. "What is this?" she asked. One side seemed to be a screen of some kind. It had a power button on the right, she recognized the symbol, but it seemed to lack any of the buttons used to navigate the menus. Or a stylus.
"Ah. I hadn't realized electronics like this were after your time," Ikora said, taking it back from her. She tapped the 'screen' and the device lit up.
"It looks like a giant PDA," Ranma said as she watched an orange V appear followed by a second V. The second slid it behind the first leaving only the right arm visible. The logo flashed and the center of the V was filled in with white. The completed logo spun while the english words 'Tap to Continue' appeared beneath.
"I can't say I've ever heard of a PDA," Ikora mused as she tapped the screen.
"Personal data assistant," Ranma said, watching with mild curiosity, "I never owned one, but business people used them to keep track of stuff."
"'Stuff'. Hmm, well, this is a tablet or data pad depending on which company you ask these days," the older woman replied, "It uses a touch screen. It can take some getting used to, but navigating is intended to use natural motions. Tapping, swiping, etcetera." Ikora demonstrated by flicking through a few 'pages'. "Tap the power button to put it to sleep. You can set it down on the pad by the fridge to charge it." She pointed to a black pad that made up the corner of the counter. "I've loaded it with the manual for this apartment along with some basic education materials. I assume you know how to read English?"
Ranma blushed. "A bit? English wasn't my best class," she admitted. Though it hadn't been for lack of trying or lack of help.
"Well we can work on that. For now, I think it would be best if you got some rest. You look like you need it," Ikora said sympathetically. She tapped the power button then set the 'tablet' down on the counter.
"I feel like I do," she admitted.
"By the way. The Tablet is yours to keep. Use it however you feel, but should you break it much like the clothes a replacement will be your responsibility to pick up," Ikora said, drawing a nod from Ranma. She had expected worse, honestly.
"I'll try not to break it then," Ranma said.
"Well, I'll leave you two to get acquainted with your new home. If you have any questions you can find me in the Vanguard's war room most of the time," Ikora said.
"Thank you," Ranma replied, bowing politely. Ikora bowed her head in reply, then turned to leave.
Ranma waited until she had left before sighing heavily. "I'm going to check and see if they left some soap for me, then I'm having a shower," she said, turning on her heel.
Kiko floated over to her from where the ghost had been examining a computer screen that was hanging from a bracket above the bar counter. "Oh, Durendal's frames are bringing over the crates with the things he gave us. They shouldn't be much longer."
"You can let them in," she called back as she entered the bedroom.
It was a plain room. A closet by the single person bed. A writing desk under the window with a built in computer terminal and beside it in the corner the plain metal dresser. The walls were bare like the rest of the apartment. She would have to find something to decorate it with. Eventually.
She spotted the clothes Ikora mentioned folded atop the dresser. They looked like uniforms, not surprising since they had probably come from the Tower's supplies. They'd do until she could get something else or at least until she could clean the Qipao she was wearing. Some little lightshow that Kiko had done back in Tokyo had fixed the holes, but it was still stained from dirt and what was probably blood.
The bathroom across the hall was larger than she had expected. About two thirds the size of the bedroom, it had a spacious shower, a tub, and a fairly large counter with a single sink.
She set the uniform down on the counter and checked under the sink. Two bottles of shampoo, labelled in english, several bars of soap, and two bales of toilet paper were sitting there in the nearly barren cabinet. Another thing for her to pick up.
That just left towels… somewhere.
A few minutes of searching later turned up the towels along with spare sheets for the bed in the back storage room. Which meant it was time.
She didn't bother locking the bathroom door as she shucked off the ancient qipao and looked at herself in the mirror as she undid the tie holding her pigtail together. She didn't look any different than before. Same red hair. Same eyes. Just a nervous worry that she rarely felt safe enough to express back home. It was hard to believe it had been possibly a thousand years since she had looked in a mirror.
Setting the hair tie down next to the spare set of clothes she walked over to the shower. She hesitated at the door for a moment. A little worm of worry and fear of… Something. Fear of being stuck? A little. Maybe a lot. It was less a fear of being a girl and more just…
She pushed the door open hesitantly. She had gotten used to having a choice. After Jusendo and her spat with Saffron, and later the failed wedding, she had simply moved on. So she couldn't get rid of it, fine. It hadn't truly bothered her since the fight with Herb. It had its advantages and disadvantages, and was almost a change of clothes more than a curse by the end.
Her hand found the tap and turned it on. Cold water pattered down on her head and cascaded off her body as the water surged from the shower head. It warmed quickly. She shut her eyes and waited. And waited. And waited.
The familiar shift of balance never came.
She couldn't tell if it was water or tears that were in her eyes as her knees wobbled and she slid down the glass wall of the shower. "So that's it huh," she mumbled. She had died, or maybe something had happened to Jusenkyo, or… or… She didn't know.
"What now?" She sat there sniffling, thought whirling through her mind as she tried to figure out what next. She was… Her original body was gone. This wasn't something she could fix by just challenging a chinese prince or answering the riddle on an ancient urn from some long gone age. Everyone was dead. Dead, gone, buried, rotted, and turned to dust probably from how long everything had been gone.
Hell, the humanity had had an entire golden age in the time it took her to wake the fuck up.
She punched the back wall in frustration. Tiles cracked under the light strike.
"Ranma?" She looked up at Kiko's voice. She could barely see the ghost through the wall of her wet hair and water. Or were those tears? She couldn't tell, but she could see the soft light from her ghost as it entered the shower stall. "Are you- No, no not going to ask if you're alright. I'm not blind. I-" The blur that was her ghost dithered floating in front of her. "I- What do… Oh dear, Ranma I- Oh…"
She reached out an unsteady hand and pulled Kiko to her chest. She hugged the small drone as she huddled in the steaming water of the shower. "Water isn't an issue, is it?" she asked, sniffling. She wiped at her left eye, only to wince at the stinging as she accidentally rubbed a bit of grease or dirt or something into it.
"I'm fine. You're the one I'm worried about, Ranma," Kiko said softly, not struggling against Ranma's grip. "Can I do something to help? Please tell me. Please?"
"... What do I do?" she asked her ghost. The small drone's outer shell flexed in confusion.
"I- I don't know? I'm sorry, but… Is… is this about your family?" Kiko asked. Ranma nodded, her both of her eyes stinging as her vision blurred further.
"... They don't mention things like this. I don't know where to start," her ghost said softly. They sat there under the steady stream of water. Ranma, feeling mentally exhausted, slowly slid further down the wall.
"Maybe," Kiko began, grabbing her attention as the ghost pulled herself loose of her grip, "Maybe you could tell me about them? We're supposed to be partners for the rest of our lives. I- I'm curious. What sort of life did you live? What kind of people were around you? And… maybe it will help if you talk about them. Y'know?"
"Maybe." Ranma pushed herself up into a sitting position. She had divulged a bunch of stuff to Cayde earlier, but that Exo had made things… easy. Easier at least. "Sure. Sure, I'll… where to start…"
"After you have a shower. No offense, but you stink a bit," Kiko said.
She gave the ghost a weak glare before sighing and standing up. She felt like shit, but getting properly clean would probably help a lot with that. One hand reached into the soap tray and found nothing. She groped around in the tray for a moment before turning to look at it. It was empty. A quick inspection of the rest of the shower stall revealed the real issue.
"I forgot to put the soap in the shower," she groaned, resting her forehead against the glass wall. "Shut up," she told a snickering Kiko with a sigh. Turning off the water she went to get the shampoo and soap so she could actually take a shower.
Forty minutes later, Ranma flopped onto the couch in the living room wearing a towel. She felt cleaner, which did help, but she was struggling to find the energy to do so much as get changed.
"So," Kiko said as she hovered by Ranma's head, "What to talk a bit?"
Ranma opened one of her closed eyes and just stared at her ghost before slowly nodding. "I guess. I mean, if I told Cayde a bunch I probably owe you an explanation," she said.
"You told Cayde?" Kiko said flatly, "Really? You told Cayde before your own ghost?"
Ranma buried her head in the pillow. "M'be?" she mumbled into the fuzzy throw pillow. In hindsight it probably hadn't been the smartest move, but…
"Hmm… Well then I guess you do owe me," Kiko said pointedly, prodding her in the cheek with one point. A blue eye stared at the pushy ghost. "Come on. Talk. Thy ghost demands an explanation."
She snorted and rolled over onto her side. She pulled the second pillow over and hugged it as she stared at the TV. "I guess… Well… You remember the murals in the shrine?" Her ghost nodded. "All of that happened. Not exactly as depicted, but it still happened. It was… I guess starting at the beginning of the weirdness probably works best. I just… I was born a guy."
Kiko stared at her for a moment before flashing a scan across her. "I'm not crazy," Ranma deadpanned.
"... Are you sure about that?"
They stared at each other for a quiet few minutes before Ranma sighed. "It started in a valley known as Jusenkyo."
If you asked anyone in the Last Safe City whether they believed that the blessing of the Traveler would grant the ability to look the sun in the eyes, they would say yes. They would say that it would make any intensity of bright shining light as easy to endure as an overcast day. They would say many things about its supposed gifts.
They would be wrong.
As Ranma quickly discovered upon opening her eyes. She was hardly looking directly at the sun, but the reflection shining off the glass of a large solar panel on the roof of the building across the street made an excellent replacement.
"Ack," she held a hand up to block out the light as she tried to orient herself. She flailed about for a moment before her foot hit the wrong thing and she tumbled off the couch she had fallen asleep on.
"Ow," she mumbled, her pride hurt more than anything as she lay face down on the carpet. Up close, and fully awake, she realized it wasn't exactly white. It was more of an off-white with dark black speckles.
"Oh, you're awake." Ranma groaned as she recognized the voice. So she hadn't just been having a really long and trippy dream. She attempted to roll over, bumped into the table, and just turned her head instead to stare up at Kiko who was hovering curiously over the top of the couch's back. She opened her mouth to say hello when the towel Ranma had flopped onto the couch in the night before fell open.
She let her head fall back to the floor with a sigh. "Hey Kiko," she said resignedly.
"I was starting to wonder if you were dead again," her ghost said, without waiting for a reply she continued, "Come on, get up. There's a bunch of stuff we need to deal with today."
Ranma just wanted to lay on the couch for a while longer. She was still feeling that depressing malaise from the day before. "Like?" she asked as she slowly pulled herself back up into a sitting position between the coffee table and the couch. She leaned against the cold glass top of the coffee table.
A small 'bing' somewhere behind her drew her attention and she looked over her bare shoulder at the table. The glass topped table had lit up with a small display indicating the date, in city years; the time; and the temperature and weather forecast. It was supposed to be sunny all day apparently.
Just another sign of how much stuff she needed to get used to in this strange city. Though there was a part of her that found it cool. The future was now apparently.
"Like shopping for some more clothes. Getting registered for testing and classes. Maybe we can go shopping for some food, cause we're going to need to eat in the cafeteria today. Oh, get you synced with your Tower Vault account and a few other things I'm probably forgetting. Maybe. Can I forget stuff?" Kiko spun slowly in as she seemed to contemplate the question. Ranma didn't know quite what to say to that last bit.
Her stomach grumbled. Food sounded good. It sounded really good.
She rubbed her shoulder where she had smacked into the floor. "Food sounds good," She said, standing up. Her ghost stared for a moment. "What?"
"... I'd like to hope you've got clothes on your priority list before food?" Kiko asked, "Because I think being naked is illegal. Even for a guardian."
Ranma rolled her eyes and walked out of the room. "Gimme a few minutes," she said, yawning. She wandered into the bathroom. She had left one of the uniforms Ikora gave her on the counter the night before. She kicked the door of the bathroom shut behind her and leaned against it.
A glance into the mirror told her enough. She was cleaner than the night before but her hair had become an absolute mess. She hadn't bothered to brush or comb it after the shower. Stepping properly up to the mirror she pulled a tangled clump of her hair free from the mess and held it up to the mirror.
"Ugh," she groaned, leaning against the counter on her elbows as she massaged her face. She was a mess. There was no other way to put it. Akane would probably have a comment to make about her situation. Or maybe Nabiki. The middle Tendo was always terribly sarcastic with a tongue that could strip paint from a spaceship.
She spent ten minutes slowly untangling the mass of knots in her hair with her fingers before pulling out a heavy picked steel comb and setting to work. She leaned against the counter as she worked out the tangles and knots. It was slow and painful as she worked, but after a few minutes she started humming mindlessly a tune she couldn't quite remember the source of. It made things easier as she worked. Eventually she paused to examine the state of her hair. Better, but it still needed more work. She slipped the comb behind her ear and pulled out a brush.
She paused with it half-raised to her head.
One hand touched her ear where the comb had disappeared. "... I pulled that out of my pocket?" she muttered. It had only been a few months ago when she finally figured out how to hold a ki pocket like Mousse did. She didn't keep much in it but…
She examined the brush. It wasn't crumbling or fragile. It was pristine and practically perfect. Well, as far as cheap brushes went. With a gesture she produced the steel comb again. There were no signs of age. It hadn't even occurred to her to check her pocket, until she'd just done so out of habit. What did she even still have in there?
Ignoring the uniform on the counter she started pulling things out of the ki-powered space. She wasn't Mousse. She didn't keep everything including a literal kitchen sink in her pockets, but she did have a few items.
Knives, two bo staffs, and a crate of confiscated gunpowder bombs she had stolen from Happousai were stacked in the corner. Meanwhile, beauty products including lipstick, eyeliner, deodorant, and several brands of blush; all important items in on the spot disguises; were set down on the counter. Several sets of underwear, mostly boxers, followed before she pulled out a neatly folded set of her favourite clothes.
She ran a hand over the silk shirt and pants. They weren't even dusty. Setting them down on the counter she pulled out two more sets and three other outfits. There was more in her pocket, but the counter was running out of room. She smiled, she had clothes.
"Guess I won't need these then," she said, glancing at the uniform piled to the side. She had clothes. Something that was her.
Fifteen minutes later Ranma locked the door on her apartment as she hurried out. Kiko hovered over her shoulder. "Where did you even get that?" Her ghost asked as they walked. 'That' being her usual red and black outfit.
"Ki-pocket," she replied, disappearing her keys into said pocket with a flick of her wrist. "Which way is the cafeteria again?" She brushed a lock of red hair behind her right ear. She hadn't had the motivation to go through the long process of braiding her hair again on top of untangling it. It was hanging loose and rustling in the breeze.
"... Why is it that every time you explain something, all you do is create more questions?" Kiko asked with a plaintive tone, "And we'll need to take the elevators in the main plaza."
"Through the gate here?" Ranma said, pointing to the large gate at the end of the block.
The duo passed through the gate and stepped out onto the small north tower plaza right before the Speaker's tower. Ranma paused to look up at the traveler. The bright white orb was visible over the open tower. Now that she was more conscious and less worn down she could appreciate the sheer scale of the alien object with a more objective eye.
After a few moments of scrutiny she lowered her gaze to the small tower across the way from her. She wandered across the small terrace to the bridge and looked into the room across with a frown. There was an elaborate structure of rings and brackets that was spinning around a blue see-through hologram of what had to be the Traveler.
Her head tipped to the side as she watched it. "Kiko, what is that?" she asked.
"What is- Oh, that," she could hear Kiko's tone drop. "I've been asking that same question since they installed it fifty years ago. I have no idea."
"It is modern art." The two turned around to find a man dressed in a white robe with a white mask over his face. "I jest, of course," he said, walking up beside her. He gestured to the display. "It is a visual demonstration of the layers of our security systems and the scans we are constantly performing. A showpiece, if you will. Useful as a visualization, but little more. Unfortunately there are those who require such grand spectacles to understand the scope of our operations. It can perform a few other functions, but those are rarely utilized." He turned to her.
"I am the Speaker, the one who speaks for the Traveler for as long as it is unable to speak for itself," he said, bowing slightly. She returned the gesture. "Tell me, what brings our latest Guardian to my door this morning?" This was the Speaker? He didn't feel like a Guardian, though he dressed like he could be one.
"Heading down to the cafeteria for breakfast," she said.
"Ah, yes. You won't have had a chance to properly settle in yet, will you?" He nodded to himself, crossing his arms, "Perhaps you wouldn't mind joining me? I have heard rumours that you are… unlike, most other Guardians."
She could feel his gaze as he looked down at her. "They say you remember the age before the Traveler. Is that true?" he asked.
She nodded hesitantly. "Yeah, it is."
"Interesting. Would you mind talking with me about it for a bit, over lunch?" he asked, gesturing to the room with the spinning doodad in the center.
Day one and the leader of the city was apparently asking to have lunch with her. Good job keeping a low profile… She buried that bundle of nerves and grinned. "Sure, why not," she said.
"Excellent, this way. I'll send someone to bring us food," he said, leading her into the room and up a set of stairs on the left where a small office loft overlooked the main floor of the tower. A small table for two was covered in books by the curved bookcases. The Speaker removed the books. "Please, sit."
Somewhat apprehensive due to the official attention, Ranma took her seat. She scanned the shelves. She could recognize many of the languages on the bindings, even if not all of them. Russian, English, and Chinese were the three most common. She could even read part of the English and Chinese titles. Not all, but then her Mandarin was incredibly rusty and at least a third of the Chinese books were using an odd dialect she didn't recognize.
"Tea?" She looked up to find the Speaker holding up a teapot.
"We have tea?" she asked reflexively. The Speaker chuckled and filled a teacup that he set before her.
"Flora survived the collapse quite well, even if the Fauna were hit nearly as hard as we were," he said as he placed the teacup before her. She watched the steam swirl off the top for a minute before taking a sip. It was Jasmine.
"It's good," she said quietly, setting the cup back down.
"That is good to hear," he said, "Please, wait a moment while I arrange for food." He walked back down the stairs leaving her to sip tea quietly and observe the slowly spinning orb of 'modern art'.
A minute later the Speaker walked back up the stairs and went to pour himself a cup of tea. "Food should be up in a little while. While we wait, I imagine you have questions?" He sat down in the other chair across from her with what she could only feel was an expectant look. It was hard to tell through the facemask.
"I haven't really thought about it," she said. There hadn't been time to think about it between… Everything.
"I suppose I should have expected that. I've found that those Guardians who remember nothing tend to handle the situation better. Less attachments to let go," he mused before sighing, "And Cayde claims you remember everything, more or less. I can only imagine what you are feeling right now, young lady… Actually, were you young before you came back? It has been a question asked by many scholars about whether Guardians are restored as they were, or come back in better shape. The former has been the favoured theory for quite some time."
"She had a body, Speaker," Kiko said, "She looked just as she does now when I let her out of that cryopod." Ranma nodded.
"I see," he said, pulling a notebook over to him and making a notation. "A known occurrence it seems… Alas. Well, I seem to have asked a question, perhaps you have thought of something in the meantime?"
"I-" Ranma looked down at her cup in thought before glancing up and over the balcony of the loft. There was a large hole in the wall of the tower that looked out over the city and the Traveler. "How did we get here?" she asked.
The Speaker regarded her for a moment, pausing to raise the edge of his mask to take a sip of his tea. She didn't have an angle to see his skin. "I assume you are referring to how humanity went from your time to this City?" She nodded. "That is a very long story. Perhaps more than we have time for in its fullness. Though, I would be lying if I claimed that anyone lives who remembers the full story in this City. Perhaps outside of the City one of the Warminds might know the full truth, but we have only the remains of stories left to us and the records we have recovered over the centuries."
"Do you know how it all started?" she asked.
"The year was two-thousand and fourteen when the entity we would come to call the Traveler arrived on Mars," the Speaker began, launching into what Ranma would later come to understand was his usual introduction to the city for Guardians.
He was winding down thirty minutes later when a thunk from the bottom of the steps drew her attention. She looked over her shoulder at the stairs. "Ah," the Speaker set down his cup and stood up, "That would appear to be our food." As he said that a pair of large hovering trolley floated into view being pulled by a uniformed server and, of all people, Cayde-6.
"Yo, how's it going Ranma?" the Exo said as he brought the trolley to a halt.
"Fine I guess?" She said as she looked over the varied selection of foods on display. "Uh, why are you here?"
"Oh, well," he glanced over his shoulder at the heavily breathing server who was leaning against the wall. "Saw this guy trying to arrange a couple of small meals for you two and went 'ya know, he hasn't a clue what he's getting into' so I figured I'd save him a few extra trips and filled him in on how much you eat." He looked at her and his head tipped to the side. "Nice hair style, setting a fashion state?"
She blinked and absently touched her loosely hanging hair. Fashion statement? "I just didn't feel like braiding it today," she said.
"Sure but, have you seen the other Guardians? No one has hair that long these days," he shrugged, "Looks good on you. French toast?" Ranma blink as a plate stacked high with said confection was held out by the smirking Exo.
"Thanks," she said, taking the plate.
"Are you certain this much was needed?" The Speaker asked.
"I didn't mention how much glimmer she cost me yesterday, did I? Four hundred twenty-six glimmer. That's about as much as it costs me to host a party for eight fire teams," Cayde said blandly, "She eats a lot. Enough that I'm going to have to take a few bounties off the board after the afternoon Vanguard meeting."
Ranma's stomach chose that moment to grumble as she had a fork of French Toast half-way to her mouth. Glasses trembled as all eyes turned to her. Shamelessly she met Cayde's eye and ate the French Toast. It was delicious.
"... Your foresight is as welcome as it is surprising, Cayde-6," the Speaker said mildly.
"Hey, I try. See you both later. Enjoy the lunch kid," Cayde waved and walked back down the stairs.
"Your meal, Speaker," the server said, removing a single tray from the madness. He placed it in the Speaker's place.
"Thank you Johnathon," the Speaker said, sitting down. "Now, while we eat. Would you mind answering a few of my questions about the past?"
Ranma swallowed her mouthful. "Sure."
"Excellent. Let's start with something… broad. What were the dominant political entities of your time?" he asked as he carefully cut in half a very impressive sandwich of pork, tomato, some kind of sprout, and copious amounts of lettuce.
Ranma paused at the question. This was going to be a bit more complicated than she had expected.
It was an hour later that Ranma finally parted ways with the elderly Speaker and his relentless questions about 'old earth' as he called it. "Finally," Kiko exclaimed as they walked across the bridge from the Speaker's Tower, "I was going nuts. Do you know how boring it can be when you have to listen to two people talk about things you can't even contribute to?"
"Sorry," Ranma said, not actually meaning it. The Speaker had shared as much as he asked and she knew a lot more now than she had before. She turned to stare up at the Traveler. It was one thing to see it so broken, another to know why it was so heavily injured. "Where to next?"
"Uh… We need to get you properly synched up to your vault. We can do that at one of the Kiosks in the central plaza, then either registration or shopping, your choice," Kiko said looking at her expectantly.
"Show me," Ranma sighed. What she really wanted to do was just go and curl up with a blanket and whatever passed for cartoons this far into the future, but she needed to deal with this stuff, so she let Kiko shuffle her through the entrance to the Central Plaza. On the North Tower side of the short walkway was a small group of seats with a red and white logo painted on the side of the wall above. The few people gathered there seemed to have the same shades of red and white on their clothes.
In the central plaza the vaults were accessible via three sets of three touch screen interfaces built into decorative pillars. "So what happens when it rains?" Ranma asked as Kiko logged into their account.
"What do you mean?" Kiko asked as the screen flicked through options.
"Well there isn't exactly a roof here. Are they expecting us to just stand out here when it's raining?" she asked as she looked up at the sky. Sporadic clouds drifted lazily across the clear sky.
"Most people around here are usually in armour and have a hood or a helmet or something," Kiko said absently.
She gave the floating drone a flat stare. "So they do expect us to stand out in the rain," she said blandly.
"There are other ones downstairs. This is just the convenience access right in front of the hangers," her ghost replied, "And set up. I just need your hand." Ranma stopped examining her surroundings and placed her palm on the indicated outline on the touch screen. There was a beep and the screen flashed the word 'Approved' before turning back to the main menu.
"Great. You do know how to work this, right?" The roll of Ranma's eyes communicated everything the ghost needed to know. "Right. Well, quick run through then. You've got enough storage space for roughly five hundred engrams assuming standard dimensions and compression rates."
"Engrams?" Ranma asked. Kiko swiveled to face her, then swung back to the screen.
"Riiiight. Okay," she sighed, "No way you'd know what an engram is. Engrams are what is known as encrypted matter. They're about the size of a basketball and can store basically anything from a rifle to a fighter craft. There are rumours of larger objects being stored within, but I've never seen an example of anything bigger than a typical guardian aircraft."
"Huh…" Ranma tipped her head to the side. She had to wonder how it would interact with her ki-pocket. It would probably be best if she used an empty pocket and something expendable like a gun rather than a spaceship. You know, just in case something had a negative reaction. Visions of being slammed through a wall by a suddenly expanded starfighter flitted through her mind.
"We'll probably see one soon. The City uses them for storage," Kiko continued, "Anyway, standardized Golden Age sizes give each Guardian roughly enough room for five hundred. Of course not all engrams are exactly the same size so the space is variable just a little. Other than that, you see this number here?" Her little beam of light lit up the top right of the account interface.
"That's your glimmer. Well, your Glimmer Credit. You know those glowing cubes in the crates?"
"Durendal mentioned Glimmer," Ranma noted, looking at the small icon of a glowing cube.
"Right, well the City uses Glimmer as a backer for currency. Each Guardian gets paid a bounty in City Credits when they bring in Glimmer for the city. You've got a limit on the account since you're a Guardian and the authorities don't want immortal warriors hoarding resources. The limit is two hundred and fifty thousand at present," Kiko said she glanced Ranma's way, "That doesn't stop guardians from hoarding physical glimmer in caches both inside and outside the city. It also doesn't stop them from hoarding other forms of resources."
"... That's a bit short sighted," she deadpanned. Kiko gave an approximation of a shrug.
"It is what it is," she sighed, "I told the frames to only submit a full stock and the rest should be in crates in our living room. So we've got two-hundred and fifty thousand to play with. Waaaay more than enough for what we need."
"Not like we're starting with much of anything right now," Ranma sighed, leaning against the pillar. It was just her though, so it was probably fine.
"Not like we're buying furniture. Unless you're planning on moving us out already?" Kiko asked.
"You'll be the first to know if I even start thinking about it," Ranma assured her. Her ghost bobbed and turned off the console.
"Right, I can access the information whenever we need it and authorize purchases when you need me to, so don't worry about getting rained on all the time. We'll be fine," Kiko said, "I guess that leaves Crucible registration. Ready to go talk to Shaxx?"
"Who's Shaxx?" Ranma asked.
Shaxx, as it turned out, was a very tall Guardian in full armour. Her first glance of the behemoth of a man with his white and orange divided helmet with it's single curved horn on the right side was of him scolding two very heavily armoured Guardians who were standing ramrod straight as he laid into them at his desk beneath several bright red banners and what appeared to be a dragons skull.
"I don't know whether to be amazed or just disappointed at the reckless stupidity you both displayed today," he was telling them both, "What I do know is that was the worst showing I've seen in… A very, very long time. Because of your actions both of you are banned from taking the general Crucible certification exam for a month."
"Lord Shaxx-" The Guardian with large shoulder pads on the left began to protest before a glance from the large man shut him up.
"My decision is final. You do not fire anywhere near a friendly ghost. Am I clear? Clark?" Shoulderpads nodded frantically. "Iruka?" The second man with a fancy cloak sighed and nodded.
"Yes sir," he said resignedly.
"Good. Now get out of here. I have other people to deal with," he waved them away and turned to her as she approached without waiting for them. "A new face with a ghost usually means a new Guardian. Red hair, short. 'Gifted' like Cayde put it," she scowled at him, not missing the euphemism, earning a deep chuckle.
"Rude!" Kiko huffed.
Shaxx waved her off. "Not my words. I am Lord Shaxx, keeper of the crucible. You are Ranma Saotome I assume?"
"That's me," she said, glancing up at the dragon skull. "Is that a dragon skull, or a dinosaur?"
Shaxx glanced up. "Aah, that would be the skull of an Ahamkara I killed during the great hunt. It was quite the battle," he said.
She stared at it for a while, the horns of the beast gave it an almost demonic feel. Actually, the longer she looked at it the more wrong it felt. Like the ki around it was warped and twisted. She ripped her gaze back to Shaxx. She had no idea how he could stand that thing. Trophy or not.
"I'm here about certifications?" she said, glancing to Kiko who bobbled.
"She's already amazing, but if you could teach her to fly, that'd be great," Kiko said. Shaxx snorted.
"I'll do more than that," he said, looking her over, "Cayde mentioned you remember some training. Martial Arts he said. That'll help, but there's more to Guardian than Martial Arts."
"I did fine in the bunker when I woke up," she said, frowning as she remembered the swarming hordes of Fallen.
"Nothing but a sword verse hordes of Fallen," Kiko crowed, doing a loop-de-loop out of excitement.
"Hmm, an impressive feat, but like I said," Shaxx replied, "There's more to being a Guardian than throwing a punch." Ranma's eyes narrowed at the jab as the older Guardian lifted a tablet from his desk.
"Sounds to me like you don't know what Martial Arts used to be," she said, frowning at him. He looked up.
"I was one of the first Risen to become a Warlord during the Dark Ages. I found in countless battles with nothing but my fists and whatever weapon I had on hand," he said, his voice deep with warning and pride. It was like insulting an old prideful master, but unlike them he didn't give her the same feeling of danger. There was no overwhelming ki backing his words.
"And how many times did you die?" she asked pointedly.
"Many times. We are Guardian, death comes and goes just as easily as breathing for me and you," he said bluntly. She tilted her head.
Memories of the void she had slept away the centuries in bubbled up in the back of her mind. "Funny that. I've only died once so far, and I have no plans to do it again," she said, trying to bury the unwelcome memories. "Have you ever broken a mountain with your martial arts? Dueled an immortal who could scorch mountains down to the bedrock?"
Shaxx stared at her as glared at him. "Hmmph, I find it hard to believe you did all of that in the last two days," he said, shaking his head. He tapped something onto the tablet. "Your lessons-"
"I did that before I got stuffed in a cryo-pod for more than a thousand years," she interrupted, "You might know how to be Guardian, but between us, I've forgotten more about Martial Arts than you ever knew." She crossed her arms.
"Uuh, Ranma," Kiko floated down to her ear, "Are you sure you want to antagonize Lord Shaxx? I mean…" She flicked her gaze back to the Titan who had set his tablet down.
"A cryo-pod you say? Cayde left that detail out," he mused, his head tilting down as he looked her over again, "Curious. I find it hard to believe that such things plagued our world before the Darkness arrived, but I have been wrong in the past. Still, I have been alive for many centuries. What makes you think you know more about the arts of fighting than I do?"
Ranma shrugged. "Guns? Flying? Driving? No idea. I never needed them. I spent my entire life learning the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts and every other school of martial arts I encountered. I'm the best there is."
He lifted his tablet again and tapped something on it. It let out a beep. "Since you have just arrived, I assume you have no plans for the rest of the day?" he asked.
Ranma glanced to Kiko who shrugged. "Nothing I'm aware of?" She said.
"Good." Shaxx loomed over her, "It's rare anyone dares to speak to me like that, let alone claim they know more than I do. Not even Zavala dares. Hmmph. I'll give you a chance to prove it girl. I've reserved training arena five on floor fifteen. For a purely martial challenge it should be sufficient. Meet me there in thirty minutes," he said brushing passed her on his way out of the room.
They watched him go. Beside her Kiko slowly sagged as she watched the Titan leave. "What have you done? Did you just challenge Shaxx to a duel!" She hissed, spinning to face her.
"He's the one who insulted me first," Ranma scoffed, staring after where the Titan had disappeared.
"Oh god, oh god, we're so getting humiliated," Kiko muttered. Ranma rolled her eyes at her ghost. Clearly Shaxx had a reputation, which she probably should have expected, but she wasn't going to back down on a challenge to her skill.
Ranma looked up at the Ahamkara skulled. The twisted ki felt… smug. She narrowed her eyes at it before spinning on her heel. Her loose hair swirled in the air behind her as she marched out of the room. "Let's go find this place and get this over with," Ranma said to Kiko.
Behind her the handful of other people in the room broke into furious whispering the moment she left.
"All I'm saying is there's something different about her. Something, ah… how to put it…" Ikora rolled her eyes as she listened to Cayde ramble on. The Hunter Vanguard was leaning against the main table in the war council. The exo snapped his fingers a moment later and pointed them at her. "Indescribable."
Ikora snorted. "Really Cayde? That's the best you can come up with?" she asked, shaking her head.
Her teammate spread his hands helplessly. "What can I say, the girl left an impression," he said flipping a knife in his hand, "If she's half as good as she claims, she'll be quite a help. Wonder which route she's going to take. Doesn't feel much like one of your Warlocks, Ikora."
"It's hard to say at the moment. She's only just arrived and with such a heavy burden of memories…" Ikora shook her head as she recalled Ranma Saotome. "Seeing her, I have to feel that my own lack of memories from before might be a true blessing." She pulled up another report on her tablet as she walked between the manned stations, taking a moment to double check the running of the tower. Satellite feeds looked good and the weather was clear. There weren't even any Fallen close enough to the City to worry about.
Cayde said nothing as he flipped his knife a few more times. "Hey," he said, catching the blade by the point. "I'm not the only one to realize this is the second redhead in as many years to not follow convention, right?" He pointed the hilt of his blade at the last member of the Vanguard. The Awoken Titan Zavala was leaning over the end of the table examining multiple reports and several holographic maps. "Hey, Zavala, you notice it as well?"
"I have more pressing worries than contemplating a new Guardian who hasn't even completed certifications Cayde," Zavala said, looking up from his work, "But I agree, it is a bit strange. Ikora?"
"Probably nothing more than a coincidence," Ikora sighed, "They do happen." And it was two years. They'd had more than two dozen Guardians with red hair join in the last six months let alone the last two years.
"Still weird," Cayde said after a moment before returning to flipping his knife up and down. "You know, she reminds me of someone. It's the face I just… I can't place it for some reason," he continued. Ikora rolled her eyes and tuned him out as she forwarded an approved request to the appropriate parties.
As Cayde continued to ramble on about the new Guardian one of her agents who typically operated in the room outside of the war council where Shaxx kept his office, slipped into the room. Ikora looked up with a raised eyebrow as the woman walked over to her. "Yes, Millie?" she asked.
"There's been… Ma'am, Shaxx just booked arena five on floor fifteen for an immediate duel," she said, her voice travelling far enough the quiet council chambers for Zavala and Cayde to both turn to them.
"Shaxx booked a duel? Since when does he book duels?" Cayde asked.
"Not for quite a while," Zavala said, standing straight, "Who is he duelling?"
Her agent looked to her for permission and she nodded once. "The new Guardian. One Ranma Saotome," she said. Cayde fumbled his knife and it clattered off the tiled floor. Ikora rubbed her forehead already feeling a headache starting to form.
"You're joking. She is joking, right?" Cayde asked as he pointedly ignored his knife.
"Please tell me this is a bad joke," Ikora asked. She sighed as Millie shook her head.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but no it isn't. They got to talking, but I was busy with my work. One moment they were fine, the next Shaxx booked a duel," her agent said with a helpless shrug.
"Interesting," Zavala said, rubbing his chin, "For an immediate duel? How long ago was this booked?"
"Less than five minutes."
"By the Traveler, what led to this?" Ikora sighed. How did the quiet girl from yesterday wind up in a duel with Shaxx of all people not even twenty-four hours later? And right after a meeting with the Speaker no less.
"Well, why don't we head down and find out then," Zavala said, stretching. He rolled one shoulder and gathered his tablet.
"You're suggesting we go and watch? Sure, I'm in," Cayde said, retrieving his knife before looking up at Ikora. "You comin'?"
She sighed. "I'm coming." If only to find out exactly how this had gotten started.
A/N: Wooo~ Chapter Two~
My editor is the driving force behind me finally writing a second chapter. So everyone please, thank Gekkou_Yoko for her help~ *bowing kitsune*
Gekkou_Yoko here!~ Ello!~ *waves*
The next story getting an update will be The Taste of Peaches and then it should be Age of the Sky. For quite a while. I'll be writing AotS until the end of Act 1 which should be at least another four chapters, assuming 10k words a chapter.
Discord and links in the usual places. Please, feel free to check out my other stories in my signature.