The Call of The World
by rkOujirou

Author's note: This is an alternate universe Ranma 1/2 story that takes place in The World R:2 sometime after the events of .hack/Roots, the original .hack/G.U. trilogy, and the Returner anime episode.

Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 is not my idea, nor is .hack/G.U. and I don't own them or any of the characters.

Chapter 2: Defeat


His HP replenished by Gaspard's healing, Ranma took aim at a red, lion-like creature that was in the process of charging a magic spell. "Oh no you don't!"

The inexperienced Tribal Grappler managed to unload a three-punch combo on the monster before it could cast its spell, sending it reeling into a nearby rock ledge. With its HP gone, the creature collapsed to the ground and disintegrated, leaving Ranma the victor of another battle.

"Way to go, Ranma!" Gaspard cheered him on.

"You really seem to be getting the hang of things," Silabus complimented him.

"Yeah, I'm starting to get used to it," Ranma said, doing some stretches to further get a feel for his character. "You guys can help out, y'know. Isn't it boring just watching me fight?"

Silabus and Gaspard shared a brief, knowing look.

"We' quite a higher level than you right now since we've been playing longer. Us hitting monsters like these even once would probably be enough to take them out." Silabus laughed. "Besides, helping beginners is what our guild is all about. Once you get the hang of the controls and raise your level a bit, then we'll go somewhere with stronger monsters where we can all get involved."

Ranma shrugged his shoulders, reluctantly accepting Silabus' answer. "I guess it's fine, so long as you guys don't mind. Speaking of your guild though, I've been meaning to ask you something."

"About Canard?" Gaspard inquired. "What is it?"

"Well, I looked around the BBS a little yesterday," Ranma told him. "You said the leader of Canard was some guy named Haseo, right?"

"That's right," Silabus replied, wondering where his guildmate was going with this.

"He's a pretty popular guy, isn't he?" Ranma asked them.

Gaspard got a good chuckle out of the assessment. "Yup, he sure is! He made a name for himself by doing lots of different things."

"Okay then," Ranma said, scratching his head as he looked over at them. "So, why is it that you two were the only active members of a guild with such a popular guy as its leader? As much respect as the guy gets on the BBS, I'd think he'd have tons of people wanting to join his guild."

The novice's words drew a collective wince from Silabus and Gaspard. The issue was something they tried to avoid bringing up because of the sheer embarrassment it caused them.

"That's...well..." Gaspard paled.

"Haseo...he never actually got around to recruiting people into the guild," Silabus explained. "By the time things calmed down in The World after an incident we had, everything that happened had drained he and Atoli to the point that they just needed a break. We're always open to inviting new members, of course, but...well, we don't have anywhere near the charisma that Haseo has, so it's sort of tough for us to get people to join."

"'re boring?" Ranma asked.

Silabus and Gaspard slumped over further at the straightforward assessment.

"Basically," Gaspard replied, sounding depressed.

"H-hey, I'm not complaining! I just wondered is all," Ranma quickly added, trying to keep their spirits from sinking any lower. The conversation came to sudden standstill, however, as he heard a peculiar noise coming from behind him. "What the…?"

Looking back over his shoulder, Ranma spotted a small, horse-like creature strutting around a short distance away. "What's that thing supposed to be?"

"Oh, that's a Lucky Animal. A Sleipnir, to be exact," Silabus pointed out. "Every map has a Lucky Animal, and there's different types of them that each do different things. Some give you experience points, money, or items, and others will help you out in battle. But to get them to use their abilities, you have to kick them first."

Ranma promptly turned his attention back to the creature. "So all I gotta do is kick this thing?"

"Exactly!" Gaspard replied.

A devilish grin crossing his face, Ranma dashed over to the Lucky Animal with every intention of booting it into oblivion. "I can do that!"

The Sleipnir raised its head, spotting the aggressive player coming its way with just enough time to move before Ranma's foot could make contact with it.

"What?!" Ranma exclaimed. Missing his target completely, he lost his balance and fell to his back.

"Oiii, he missed it." Gaspard slapped a palm over his face.

Thoroughly embarrassed, Ranma sat up and smacked his fists against the ground. "What the heck was that?!"

"I forgot to mention it, but they will try to run away if you come after them," Silabus explained, trying extremely hard to keep from laughing. "Why don't you go after it? It should help you get the hang of the controls some more."

"Oh, I plan to!" Ranma snarled as he got back to his feet. "Come here, you little runt!"

The newest member of Canard took off after the speedy Sleipnir, leaving Silabus and Gaspard with an opportunity to sit down and take a break.

"Phew." Silabus exhaled loudly. "I've seen the kind of sparring Ranma and his father do, and he definitely carries that energy into the game as well."

"Does he ever," Gaspard replied, wiping his brow. "Still, it sure is fun to be helping someone out again. It actually reminds me of when we first met Haseo."

Silabus couldn't agree more.

The town of Lumina Cloth, with its darkened sky and well-lit architecture, always had an energetic atmosphere surrounding it. It was home to the Arena, where players came to challenge other players in combat, and at the edge of the town stood the home for the guild known as Icolo, whose members were solely made up of the Arena's Emperors. Apart from a room reserved for the guild's leader, the Icolo home was merely one circular space lined with red carpet and banners, with steps leading downward to a flat area in the middle.

In the center of that flat ground stood the current Emperor of the Arena's Demon Palace, Tatewaki Kuno. His eyes were closed, both hands resting on the hilt of his drawn katana. The incident with the object of his affections, Alkaid, and the pigtailed character named Ranma had left him in need of some mental relaxation. Try as he might to meditate, though, he simply couldn't overcome the anger he felt.

His concentration broken once more, the pompous Kuno's eyes shot open and he slashed his sword through the air in frustration.

"Curse that man!" he shouted. "I cannot forgive him for what he has taken from me! I...I must find out more about this Ranma!"

"Hello~!" a female voice sang out.

Aggravated by the interruption, Kuno spun and pointed his sword towards the guild home's entrance. "Who goes there?!"

With an amused giggle, a girl used her fingertip to lift the brim of her pointed hat—crimson in color with golden runes scrawled up the length of it. The action helped to reveal not only her brown hair, but a mischievous smile as well.

"Why, it's only moi."

"Nabiki," Kuno groaned, letting his sword fall to his side. "That Kestrel stench of yours defiles the sanctity of this place."

"Says the man who gave me a key to his guild home," she retorted.

Nabiki strutted closer to the Emperor, her legs exposed by slits on both sides of her crimson skirt. Her top, which tied around the back of her neck, cut off just below her chest, leaving her midriff bare.

Kuno merely snorted in response to the girl as he put his sword away. "What have you come here for?"

"Business. What else?" Nabiki answered. "You see, I heard that someone embarrassed you not too long ago."

A scowl formed on the face of Tatewaki Kuno, yet he remained still as Nabiki walked up behind him and spoke into his ear.

"Your precious Alkaid, being held by another man in front of all those players," she whispered. "And all the while telling you to get lost. For a man like you with so much pride, I can't imagine how humiliating that must have been."

Trembling with anger, Kuno turned and glared into girl's eyes. "You! How do you know about that?!"

"Word gets around, Kuno baby," she replied, calm as could be. "Speaking of which, that character that was with Alkaid in the dome...Ranma, right? I just so happen to know a little bit about him."

Nabiki didn't need any more than the attentive look on Kuno's face to know she had his attention.

"In fact," she continued, a wicked smile playing on her lips, "I happen to know what area he's in at this very moment."

"What?!" Kuno exclaimed. "Tell me this instant!"

Nabiki raised a finger in front of her, waving it back and forth before the Emperor. "You know how it is. Information...comes at a price."

Once her business was complete, Nabiki took leave of the Icolo guild home, brushing her hair back as she strolled along Lumina Cloth's illuminated road towards the Chaos Gate in the middle of town.

"That was even easier than I thought," she said, unable to contain a chuckle.

"Nabiki! There you are!"

Peeking to her side, Nabiki noticed a familiar Harvest Cleric heading in her direction. "Hey there, Akane. What's up?"

"I've been looking all over for you!" Akane complained. "Where have you been?"

"Just making some easy cash," Nabiki replied, sounding plenty satisfied with herself. "You need something, Sis?"

"Well…I was just kind of bored and thought maybe we could go party somewhere," the Cleric replied, looking upon her sister with hopeful eyes.

"Again?" Nabiki sighed. "Friendly reminder that I'm a Shadow Warlock. Also friendly reminder that it's a pain when there's no physical attacker to draw a monster's attention away from us. Why don't you ever look for other people to party with?"

Akane shot her older sister a vexed look. "You know exactly why I don't like doing that."

"Oh, right. The boys. Well, I have some free time, so why not? Just let me take care of one little thing first."

"Hmm? What is it?"

"I need to give a quick report to the old goat. It shouldn't take too long. I'll meet you here in a few."

Making her way to the Chaos Gate, Nabiki stopped momentarily, glancing back at her younger sister again. "Oh, Akane, did you happen to meet a Tribal Grappler with a pigtail recently?"

"A…Grappler with a pigtail?" Akane rubbed her chin as she gave it some thought. "Ohh, you mean that newbie I met the other day? Hey, wait! How do you know about that?!"

"Lucky guess," Nabiki replied with a wink. "A little sisterly advice, Akane: stay away from that player. Otherwise, you're going to get caught up in something messy."

Before the other girl could question her, Nabiki warped out of town to complete her errand.

Batting her eyes, Akane silently mulled over her sister's warning. Get caught up in something messy? What's that supposed to mean?

Within the guild home of Raven, things were quiet as Yata carefully eyed a pair of enlarged screens he'd brought up at the Serpent of Lore. Until recently, the guild had relatively little of interest to look into since the destruction of Cubia. The emergence of a new player and his abnormal data, however, had the guildmaster's interest piqued.

Pi took notice of the screens as soon as she entered the room, immediately recognizing the characters displayed on both.

"Master Yata," the woman spoke as she approached. "You're watching over both of them?"

"The chances of anything unusual happening are low, but the fact that a second case has come up bothers me," Yata explained. "Both are online, but the only one active at the moment is Ranma."

Pi focused her attention on the rightmost screen, only to see Ranma fall on his face after the horse-like creature he was after changed directions on him.

"Do players normally have that much trouble with Lucky Animals?" Pi wondered aloud.

"Nothing is easy when you're doing it for the first time." Yata chuckled. "Did you find out anything new?"

Pi had to force herself to turn away from the almost comedic showing Ranma was putting on. "Y-yes, actually. With regards to Ranma...he was apparently seen with Ovan in Mac Anu recently."

The mention of that name was enough to draw Yata's eyes to his assistant. "Ovan? Have you confirmed this?"

"Not with complete certainty, but they were definitely both in Mac Anu at the same time," Pi replied, adjusting her glasses.

"I see," Yata said, turning back to the screens before him. "Pi, I want you to prioritize this data altering incident above everything else."

"Master Yata...?"

"Ovan would not involve himself unless this were something of an immense magnitude. What I want to know is whether he's just curious...or if he knows something that we don't."

Sensing the severity in the administrator's tone, Pi bowed her head lightly. "As you wish."

With that, she turned to leave.

"One last thing," Yata spoke, delaying the woman's exit. "Has there been any news regarding Gabi's player?"

"Gabi? No, nothing, I'm afraid," Pi replied. "Do you still feel strangely about that?"

Momentarily lost in thought, Yata closed his eyes. "It isn't like him."

"I gotcha!"

The chase continued on the low-level field, where Ranma readied another kick and took a mighty swing at the Sleipnir. The tiny creature swerved to its right to avoid the attack, however, and kept on running.

Ranma didn't spend all this time chasing the Lucky Animal without improving, though. Once his foot was planted again, he swiftly pivoted to his right and resumed pursuit of his target.

"Not gonna be that easy! I'm getting better at this!"

After its long run, the Sleipnir slowed its pace and looked to see how far back Ranma was. What it found instead was a boot heading straight for its face. Barely scooting out of the way in time, it frantically rushed off again. Ranma closed in quickly, forcing it to make another erratic move to avoid the next kick.

"Just…give…it…up!" Ranma shouted, making several more attempts without any success.

After dodging the last kick, the Sleipnir suddenly slammed into the edge of the map. It quickly turned to look for another direction to run in, only to find itself staring straight up at its aggressor.

Ranma smirked with satisfaction over his small victory. "I might not be perfect with these controls yet, but that doesn't mean I'm not good enough to corner ya. The jig's up, horsie."

Behind him, Ranma heard the sound of footsteps, but chose to keep his eyes on the creature at his feet. "Sorry, guys. Took me a while, but I finally got this thing trapped."

"I believe you are mistaken, Ranma."

Ranma recognized that voice, and it didn't belong to either Silabus or Gaspard. Peeking over his shoulder with curiosity, he met the vengeful eyes of a man wielding a katana.

"As you should know, I am no friend of yours," the Arena's Demon Palace Emperor, Tatewaki Kuno, told him. "You were fortunate that we first met in town, where player killing is not possible. Otherwise I would have put you to shame right there in front of my love."

"'re, wait..." Ranma fumbled over his words, trying to remember the character.

Already losing patience with the pigtailed boy, Kuno's eye twitched.

Ranma pinched the bridge of his nose, struggling to recall the swordsman's name. "Uhh...hang on, I know this…"

"Tatewaki Kuno! I am Tatewaki Kuno, you twit!" Kuno roared. "Not only do you steal the affections of my lovely Alkaid, but now you insult me like this?! I shall have none of it! The time has come to restore my honor, Ranma!"

"Whoa, whoa! Hold on a sec!" Ranma pleaded, holding up one of his palms. "Just let me take care of this horse thing first. I'll deal with you after, all right?"

The Grappler whirled back around to deliver his long-awaited kick to the Sleipnir, but, much to his dismay, it was no longer there. "Wha-?! No! Where'd it go?!"

He looked around frantically, hoping to catch sight of the Lucky Animal. Nothing. No sign of it anywhere. The creature had taken advantage of Kuno's distraction to escape.

A rage swelling up inside of him, Ranma stomped his foot into the ground and glared at the Arena Emperor. "You got any idea how long I've been chasing that thing?"

"I would not be concerned with such things if I were you!" Kuno told him. "Duel me this instant, Ranma!"

Ranma clenched his fists, gritting his teeth as he stared the man down. "Fine! You want a fight? Bring it on, buddy!"

A look of ecstasy came over Kuno, who readied himself without hesitation, holding his sword out to one side.

"Sword Flash!"

The Blade Brandier lunged forward with lightning-quick speed, much faster than Ranma was expecting.

Ranma quickly raised his fists and attacked, managing to get a punch in on the face of the agile Kuno, but a simultaneous strike to Ranma's abdomen from the Emperor's blade left him stunned and his HP gone entirely. Downed with a single blow, the colors on Ranma's character body became shades of gray as he slumped motionless to the ground.

The one-sided battle at an end, Tatewaki Kuno stood tall and proud, looking down at his incapacitated opponent with condescension. He put his sword away, cackling arrogantly at Ranma's body.

"The vengeance of Heaven has been carried out," Kuno boasted, turning his back on his fallen foe. "Let that be a lesson to you, fiend! You are not worthy of Alkaid's love. Never show your face before her again!"

The victor took his leave, and Ranma was left to ponder the reality of what just happened.

"I…I lost…?"

He wasn't used to losing, especially to people like Kuno. In the real world, he would have won for sure, he thought. But this wasn't the real world. It was a virtual world. The World. In here, both character level and mastery of the game's mechanics were vastly in Kuno's favor, and it showed.

It almost certainly wasn't a fight he could have won at this point, but being defeated like this left Ranma with a feeling of shame regardless.

"How?! How could I…how could I lose to someone like that?!"

The Kestrel guild, known by many as the guild of choice for player killers, had a sense of freedom instilled in them like no other group in The World. Their guild home, loaned out to them by CC Corp. due to their large number of members, was a map that appeared as though it were engraved into a canyon. Stone walls and broken pillars adorned the area while a throne carved out of rock overlooked everything.

The longtime leader of the Kestrel guild was known as Gabi, a beast race character with the face of a lion that towered over his subordinates with an intimidating presence and demanded loyalty. Gabi, however, mysteriously vanished from The World some time ago, leaving another to take control of the guild while he was away.

Sitting in his throne, the current Kestrel leader looked over the map as his subordinates interacted with one another. Short and imp-like in appearance, he didn't fill out the throne nearly as well as Gabi did. A suit of black armor covered his dark green skin while a pair of goat horns jutted out from his forehead, each near a small patch of white hair on the sides.

His name...was Happosai.

"I'm back, Boss."

Off to his side, Happosai spotted the tip of a pointed hat coming up the stairs. "Nabiki! How was it? Did he do it?"

"He took off for the area as soon as I told him," Nabiki informed him.

Happosai grinned excitedly at the news. "Good. He must have PKed that Ranma for sure."

"Probably," Nabiki replied, offering an indifferent shrug. "You know, wouldn't it have been easier to just send one of our own players after him?"

"And give the system admins even more reason to watch over us? Forget it," the old man told her. "Now that he's been PKed, maybe he'll think twice about playing this game. Good work, Nabiki. I knew I could count on you."

"Mhmm. If that's all, I'll be going," Nabiki said, starting her trek back to the Chaos Gate. "I guess I just don't understand, though...why the leader of a powerful guild like Kestrel is so interested in some newbie."

Once Nabiki was gone, Happosai settled back into his throne, allowing himself to relax.

"That newbie is more trouble than she realizes..."

End of Chapter 2