Chapter 01: White Rose Blooms
Disclaimer: Rifts, its contents and constituent materials along with any other parts of the Palladium Megaverse are the property of Palladium Books. While my OC's were created by me they were created with the Occupational and Racial Character Classes from Palladium and as such I give them their due. Similarly I own nothing related to Ranma ½ either. I have no money but if they think this is good enough to make a book of it I would be very thankful for the opportunity.
"Damned worthless boy" thought Genma Saotome for the twentieth time as he chased after his son. 'Oh why was he cursed with such a weak child that he couldn't have just learned the Neko-Ken like a real man and have been done with it?' he thought. Thankfully, he had realized early on that all the noise that the cats would make. Therefore, he relocated the pit outside of town, to avoid drawing the attention of the public, who, as Genma had learned from his time under the Master (shudder), did not always appreciate the rigorous training that a true martial artist must endure and would doubtlessly try to interfere. So at least they were running through a forest and not a populated city. Genma lost sight of his son as he went into a cave on the hill they had run up. He found his son in the cave crouched on all fours hissing with his back arched. 'Pathetic boy' thought Genma as he approached his insane son.
Then it happened.
This cave used to serve as an ancient dimensional transportation device and the planets had just come into alignment. This caused a massive surge of power that activated the transporter pad.
Genma watched in shock as his only son and meal ticket vanished from this Earth in a column of blue-white light. As the shock cleared form what passes for Genma's brain he summed up this bizarre event in two words.
Then he remembered his wife, Nodoka. He especially remembered her katana. He also remembered that it was a very sharp katana. Oh and that little seppuku pledge he had made to placate her when he stole away her only child who she loved very much and would wreck horrific violence upon his body if she found out that something like this had happened to her son. Suddenly Genma was gripped with a powerful desire to learn more about lands far away from his wife and her katana, like China or India, maybe even Mexico.
And so with no further hesitation Genma began his flight from Japan.
Rifts Earth, 93 Post-Apocalyptic (P.A.)
With a flash of light a frightened Neko-Ranma landed upon the grass of a forest. After a quick inspection the crazed and hungry boy ran off in search of food.
Twelve Years Later, 105 P.A.
Within their hidden lair the bandits of the Red Wolves the sounds of revelry and celebration sounded throughout the ancient building. The bandit gang had just scored several successful raids against trade caravans out of Lazlo and stolen a fortune. The building, a warehouse from the Pre-Rifts era that had survived mostly intact, had been found and converted into a hideout by the bandits six years back and had allowed them to remain hidden within the borders of Free Quebec while still being able to raid areas near Lazlo. Because of the hostility Free Quebec had with countries that use magic or tolerate D-Bees they would be disinclined to seriously act against bandits who only targeted their enemies without very convincing evidence. Makeshift lights hung from the ceiling, providing illumination for the bandit's secret domain. On the floor below in the dilapidated building, situated around a dozen tables of different make and model, some stolen and others makeshift, the members of the gang sat drinking, feasting and smoking while barmaids moved about to serve their masters.
Seated upon a high-backed wooden chair, surveying the human and D-Bee's before him, was the leader of this bandit gang, Luis Fantane smirked as he took in the fruits of his life's work. It had been a stroke of luck that he had uncovered the ruins of a Pre-Rifts town in the Eastern Wilderness that would provide a secure hideaway for a gang while still close enough to Old Bones to resupply yet hidden from the Coalition. While creating his own bandit kingdom had been challenging he had been able to hire or kidnap enough support personnel to serve his men and secure supplies for his lair. 'Life is good,' he thought to himself as he enjoyed the feel of the two drugged-out women he had made his sex-slaves.
The celebration was suddenly brought to an end as the building's lights died, plunging the room into a darkness broken only by the moonlight filtering through broken windows. As his minions were thrown into confusion Luis, no longer interested in the oblivious women writhing in his lap, sent a mental command to his multi-optic left eye, shifting to passive nightvision. Seeing no eminent threat Luis turned his head towards a pair of his subordinates and said, "You two go check the generator. The rest of you secure the slaves."
Now with direction and orders to follow the bandits hurried to secure their slaves as the boss ordered, leaving Luis with a half-dozen of his most loyal men as he thought about what could have happened. Ideally this was nothing more than a repairable power failure, but what if it wasn't? As two of his men finished Luis don his armor the door to the warehouse flew open.
Immediately all the bandits turned their guns on the newcomer. The man was clad in red and black knightly armor with spikes on the shoulder-plates, a spiked and armored collar. Another crest of spikes ran along the top of the faceless helmet, flanked by a set of blade-like angelic wings on the sides. If is appearance did not state his intentions the rifle in his hands did so clearly.
Looking at the stranger Luis felt slightly insulted. 'How dare some son of a bitch think they can bring ME in with ONE FUCKING GUY,' he thought as a contemptuous sneer crossed his face.
Standing in front of the bandit's lair, having tracked the bandits from their last raid back to this location, Sir Ranma Saotome took a moment to reflect on the strange path his life had taken him. When he had come too he had found himself in a strange and dangerous land. Alone and with nothing but the clothes on his back Ranma had made his way through the wilderness until he found a city but even then it was little help since he did not speak the language. Eventually he fell in with a gang of other abandoned youths trying to eke out a living in an unforgiving world. The best fighter in the group he had been recruited into a band of highwaymen and had assisted them in their raids. He probably would have become a full member and eventually their leader had fate not once more intervened to change his life. One day they were tracked down and attacked by a white knight. At the time Ranma had not known why the elven white knight had spared him much less offered him training, but Ranma had been impressed by the power and skill of the other man and had accepted the offer and never regretted his choice.
'And here I am, tracking down bandits and highwaymen,' the young knight thought ruefully. 'The circle is now complete.'
Feeling that he had given the bandits enough time to panic after having snuck in and blown their generator Sir Ranma kicked in the door and strode confidently into the room. Because his armor was not environmentally sealed Sir Ranma's nose was immediately assaulted by the smells of tobacco, marijuana and other foul odors. Before him stood his prey along with a half-dozen of his goons, all training their weapons on him. A condescending smirk traced along Sir Ranma's face as he noticed no rail guns in the mix and he assumed a posture of relaxed confidence which would either intimidate or piss off these thugs before him.
Seeing the cocky trash that had interrupted his celebration Luis sneered and said, "And just who the hell do you think you are?"
Ignoring his target's bluster Sir Saotome decided to yank his chain one last time. "Luis Fantane," Ranma said, his helmet distorting his voice, giving it a vibrato effect, "your time is up. Surrender and you won't be hurt."
That tore it; Luis had had enough of this arrogant punk. "KILL THE SHIT!" he shouted as he fired his own NE-10 plasma cartridge pistol at the intruder. His plasma bolt was joined by laser fire, ion bolts, and other plasma weapons as the six minions added their own fire to put down the intruder. To their surprise the man made no move to dodge or scramble out of the way as enough fire to destroy a SAMAS barreled straight at him.
On the other side Sir Ranma stood there as a wall of death closed in on him. Even two years after becoming a full-fledged white knight he had to remind himself that he didn't need to dodge conventional energy weapons anymore. With even the weakest modern weapon able to vaporize a human with power to spare and do massive damage to anything not molecularly bonded, magical or supernatural it was reasonable to want to avoid such things. However because of his training Sir Ranma was constantly surrounded by a protective aura against energy damage that rendered conventional energy weapons useless and reduced the effectiveness of magical energy against him. Instead of dodging Sir Ranma used the time to quietly work his magic, increasing his speed and creating a protective magical barrier over his armor. Allowing the energy to wash harmlessly over him Sir Ranma savored the looks of shock and fear from the thugs as they saw he was totally unharmed by their guns. Now that they seemed to know they could not hurt him Sir Ranma took the opportunity to show that he could hurt them and fired off a pair of lightning bolts from his TW Storm Rifle. Faced with an apparently invincible foe that could harm them at will the bandits began to panic and Ranma took advantage of this to quickly finish his mission, charging forward to knock out and capture their leader.
As Sir Ranma charged forward at superhuman speeds Luis, guided by the combat computer built into his brain, dodged the butt of his rifle and retaliated with the concealed vibro-blade in his cybernetic arm. Seeing the blade strike against the knight's barrier and causing him to disengage. Realizing what this meant Luis commanded, "Use yer blades! Kill'em."
Resigned to having to do things the hard way Sir Ranma dropped his rifle, drew and activated his TW Conduit Sword. Instantly the crystalline-energy blade formed from a magic energy bolt formed into a long sword blade. Seeing the formerly panicked bandits regaining some composure as they drew their own vibro-weapons Sir Ranma had no doubt that he would win. However his mission was to capture Luis Fantane and he would prefer to avoid a blood bath if possible. Alerted by his sixth sense to the attack from behind the young Saotome ducked the strike and opened the coward up with his blade before jumping back from a pair of claw swipes. Releasing the enchanted weight and chain wrapped around his left forearm Sir Saotome wrapped the chain around one of the attacker's vambraces. Shouting, "Get over here," as he pulled the bandit towards him he impaled the man on his blade as the remaining three bandits surrounded him.
Before they could do anything Sir Ranma gathered telekinetic energy around his legs and leapt out of the encirclement towards Luis. Luis brought up his arm and tried to block the incoming strike by the white knight. Sir Ranma quickly cleaved off his cybernetic arm just shy of the elbow and was about to punch him out when an explosion knocked the white knight off his balance. Turning to the attacker who was cocking his TX-5 pump pistol Sir Ranma shot him with a bolt of magical energy from his hand, dropping the man. Hearing his target trying to run the white knight quickly cast a spell, launching a net of magic energy which trapped the bandit leader. As he did that Sir Ranma brought up his, again, chain-wrapped arm to block a strike from a vibro-claymore before ducking a saber slash from the last remaining bandits and bringing his sword around to strike them both down.
Cognizant that someone had probably heard his fight and that reinforcement could be coming, Sir Saotome walked over to his bound and cursing captive and grabbed hold of his head. Driving his fist into the bandit leader's head Sir Ranma knocked the man unconscious, bound him and hefted Luis on his shoulder. Picking up his rifle on the way out Sir Ranma was about to make his escape when he heard a cry. Dropping the unconscious body of the bandit leader he brought his rifle up as a person came into view. The person, a woman clad in rags, running at him was unarmored and apparently unarmed, but one can never be sure. In a panicked voice she said, "Please don't leave me here, they'll kill us."
"Us?" the white knight asked. The information he had did not mention captives, though that could have been an oversight. However he would correct that problem now.
Still agitated but glad that the stranger was listening the woman began speaking, "Yeah me and a few other women they have been keeping as slaves, making us work for them, making us… us…." She then descended into uncontrolled weeping from the horrors she had endured.
Even though he was not empathic Sir Ranma had no trouble figuring out what the rest of the sentence was and his blood began to boil. Using his psychic powers he began transmitting calming feelings into the woman's brain. "It's alright, you don't have to finish," he said, trying to calm the woman down and get more information. "Where are the others?"
Recovering a semblance of composure the young woman continued, "Second floor, Room 205. What about me?"
Looking around the room Sir Ranma noticed an old locker. Helping the girl up and picking up his captive he said, "Hide in that old locker." Passing her a wooden mallet he added, "If he wakes up use this to put him back to sleep."
The woman took the mallet, seemingly pleased by the prospect of being able to beat on her tormentor a little and said, "Please be safe."
Although the helmet hid his facial expressions Sir Ranma still conveyed confidence by saying as he said, "Don't worry, they can't touch me."
As he cast an invisibility spell and walked into the gloom of the building Sir Ranma began planning how he would attack the remaining bandits. He had been hired by a merchant who had lost many employees, including his son, in one of the raids and had contacted the Order's front company, Bethesda Mercenary Enterprises, to bring the bandit's leader to justice. However with what he had just learned Ranma didn't care, the Red Wolves gang died today.
When the lights had gone out and the Boss had issued them out a couple of bandits had gone to the security station to see if they had an intruder. Guided by their flashlights in the darkened building the pair quietly made their way through the ancient building, each aware of the possibility that they could be attacked from the shadows. When they arrived they were shocked to see the guy on duty had been knocked up and bound and the security station destroyed. One of the pair, a kark who called himself JC said, "Well that's not right."
"No shit man," his human companion replied. "Do ya know how ta fix this?"
"Eh probably," JC, one of the few bandits with some knowledge of electronics, said as he got down to work on the damaged wiring. "Give me a couple minutes."
As JC worked to try and bring the monitors back up his compatriot began to pace nervously. He was called Downer by the others and had served with the Red Wolves for the last few years and so far it had been going smoothly. At first he had balked at the amount of travel the gang did when on their raids when they could just hit places in Free Quebec but the idea behind it had merit. So far no one had ever tracked them to their hideout so the attack had taken them by surprise. The question was who would have the stones for such an act? Hopefully it was just some punk looking to earn his chops but what if it wasn't? With all of their raids bounty hunters was a possibility but what if it was something else. Last time he was in Old Bones he had heard of Free Quebec's secession from the Coalition States. While Downer would never claim to be knowledgeable on politics but if nations were anything like gangs then that wouldn't slide. If so then any place that would make a good bandit hideout would also make a great place to hide a bunch of soldiers before attacking. At that thought Downer's pacing doubled in speed as he began imagining the ruins swarming with bloodthirsty commandos. His worrying was only put to an end when JC crawled out from under the consol and said, "Well that should do it. Just let me get the backup genny running and we should be sitt'n pretty."
"I got it," Downer said, turning to where the backup generator for the security system was hidden. It had been the boss' idea to set it up and was just another reason why he was the boss. With a heave the human bandit pushed aside the cabinet where it was located and gave the motor a crank. With a growl the gas-powered generator came to life and with it the screens to the surveillance system. As he checked the screens JC idly ran his hand along one of the two facial tentacles which, Downer thought, looked like a ridiculously oversized Fu-Manchu mustache. "I can't find the Boss and his guard is dead but I'm not seeing anything else out of place."
Before Downer could react the door to their room burst open to reveal nothing and before either could process what this could mean Downer went down as three lightning bolts shot out from mid air and blasted through his makeshift armor, reducing his heart to atoms. Shocked by the sudden attack by an invisible enemy JC was unable to respond when he felt a rifle butt slam forcefully into his skull, sending him down.
Still invisible Sir Ranma checked the guy he had knocked out earlier to make sure he wouldn't be waking up soon as he switched clips in his TW Storm Rifle. Slapping in the magic energy battery he used the active screens to confirm the location of his remaining prey. It seemed they were had built a cage in the room he had been told the slaves would be in and that most of them had congregated there.
"You want to protect your ill-gotten booty so bad," the white knight whispered to himself, "then allow me to oblige." Quietly Sir Ranma made his way out of the room and began stalking towards the stairs, using his psychic power to grant himself nightvision. Even if he couldn't be seen by the naked eye his invisibility did not cover sounds but with only slightly over a dozen enemies left they didn't stand a chance.
In the generator room one of the few bandits with any technical knowledge was working by lamplight and flashlight to bring power back to the facility. Along with him there were two other bandits with rifles trained on the door just in case something happened. Upon entering the room Drake, who had worked in a mechanics shop before he got fired and took a job with the gang, examined the generator, which had been made from the nuclear power plant from an old robot. Having worked on robots and power armor back in the day Drake was glad to see that there was not a breach in the containment systems. As bad as today had gotten getting a lethal dose of radiation would have royally sucked. That said the signs of tampering were obvious to him, especially since he had been the one to build the set up and made him very glad for the two guards watching the door with particle beam rifles. Turning to his erstwhile bodyguards Drake said, "Almost done guys."
The two bandits turned at this and gave a sigh of relief. With luck this would soon be over and they could get back to their relaxation. With that the door flew off the hinges as an armored warrior kicked the door down and blew the head off of one of the guards with a rifle shooting lightning. The other bandit launched bolts from his particle beam rifle to no effect. 'Magic,' Drake thought in fright. He had grown up hearing the propaganda regarding magic and its users and now, facing an apparently invincible magic-user, he could understand why they should be feared. As the other bandit was dropped Drake decided to forgo pride and raised his hands saying, "I surrender. Please don't kill me"
Hearing the final bandit's plea Sir Ranma decided to show mercy and knocked him out with the butt of his gun. Now that they wouldn't have any light it should put the raiders at a disadvantage.
Approaching the stairs to the second level Sir Ranma surveyed the way up. There were a couple of bandits at the top of the stairs though their sloppy manner showed a lack of any real training in guarding positions. 'However," the knight thought, 'I bet there is a trap waiting.'
Deciding to try out his theory and clear the way Sir Ranma shouldered the rifle so he could use his chain and TW Ice Shard pistol. Quickly he fired a pair of bursts of magical ice shards into one bandit's chest while he whipped the chain around the leg of the other and yanked hard. The bandit screamed as he suddenly flew down the stairs until an axe kick from an armored boot ended his screaming. As he took down the bandits Sir Ranma noticed the pair of mini-missiles that came streaking down the hall to slam into the far wall.
'Missiles, great,' Sir Ranma thought. Unlike conventional energy weapons, which couldn't harm him even if he was naked (though getting shot in the eyes was blinding), armor piercing or fragmentation missiles would have their normal effect on him. Even though he was invisible if they had thermo-optics he could be in big trouble. 'Screw it,' Sir Ranma thought, 'Who wants to live forever?'
With that he took the stairs in a single telekinetic leap, turning in mid-air to land on the wall. Using the energy of his leap he launched at the opposite wall and thus began a charge leaping from wall-to-wall at his enemies. Unable to see their attacker but hearing his approach the pair fired a second pair of mini-missiles from their WI-23 missile launchers. Sixth sense screaming Sir Ranma twisted around the projectiles mid-leap and continued his advance. Before they could fire again Sir Ranma fell upon them like divine retribution. Activating his TW Conduit Sword again Sir Ranma plunged the blade into one bandit's chest while the other he grabbed the face of and fired a point blank bolt of magic energy from his hand.
Alone with the two corpses the white knight extended his senses to feel for presences on the other side of the room. Sir Ranma felt almost a dozen presences in front of the door. 'Probably the last of the bandits preparing a welcoming party,' the knight deduced. Looking down an idea came to the young warrior-mystic and he removed one of the missile launchers box clips and checked the missiles inside. Looking inside he smiled as he said, "Plasma, perfect," and reloaded the launcher.
Inside room 205, where centuries ago office workers held meetings to discuss their plans, the last of the Red Wolves prepared to make a stand against their attackers. However they were a force best suited to being on the offense and the longer the period before the generator was brought back on line the more edgy the remaining Red Wolves became. Some of the bandits wanted to take the slaves hostage and flee with them as living shields, hoping that whoever was attacking them would hesitate at the risk of vaporizing innocents. However the being in charge, a greot hunter who went by the nickname Blood Messiah, was having none of that and the bloody smear on the wall that had once been the unofficial head of the dissenters silenced all opposition.
Standing to the rear of the human trash Blood Messiah was eager to crush the interloper and show once and for all that he was the one who should be in charge. And after this, once he was in charge, there would be changes. First they would stop pussy footing around with these long-distance raids and start hitting closer to home. After all why go all the way to Lazlo when they were in Free Quebec's back yard? Blood Messiah's reptilian lips pulled back in a predatory sneer as he imagined how he would lead.
Around the powerful D-Bee the other bandits were far less confident that they would live to debate this issue… again. Hearing the screams of their companions outside did little to ease their concerns, but the pulp where Blood Messiah had pulled apart the most vocal dissenter bare handed gave a clear incentive to stand and fight. Instead the waited and trained their weapons on the front door, waiting for the intruder to break in.
Without warning a large section of wall disappeared in an expanding plasma cloud. Considering the narrowness of the hallway and the blast radius the bandits were dumb-struck both that someone would attempt this but also that an apparently unharmed warrior charged through the cloud of plasma to attack them. Using their stupefaction to his advantage Sir Ranma impaled one bandit through the gut while placing his other hand on another bandit's leg before blowing it off with a magic bolt. As the pair went down the white knight leapt to the other side of the group and dropped a third with a heel kick.
Recovering from the shock from the speed and efficiency of the attack the other bandits began massing fire on the knight. Deciding to give his enemies some false hope Sir Ranma used the time to cast another spell. Completing this Sir Ranma's hands began to glow and he began to parry the energy bolts and more than parry, in a flurry of motion the hail of energy bolts reversed course and brought down another two bandits. As the fire died down Sir Ranma taunted saying, "Come on guys, this is just getting dull."
Furious with the insignificant insect that refused to die Blood Messiah lashed out with fists capable of effortlessly shredding cars only to hit nothing. Sir Ranma smirked as he danced around the massive D-Bee's fists. Early on in his career the young white knight had found a certain pleasure in showing tough thugs that beating up helpless people did not make them skilled warriors. As he dodged around the greot hunter's strikes Sir Ranma lashed out with his conduit sword, delivering deep slashes to the mighty D-Bee. Having destroyed the D-Bee's armor and landed deep strikes into his supernaturally tough flesh Sir Ranma decided to have a little fun with him, "Hey suitcase, this it or you are you finally done with the warm-up?"
"DIE WORM!" Blood Messiah shouted as he drove his fists in a mighty hammer strike shattering the worn concrete floor. As he removed his hands Blood Messiah ripped out a pipe and, swinging it like a baseball bat, nearly tagged his more agile opponent. Ready to end the fight Sir Ranma decided to bring this farce to an end and empathically transmitted rage into the brain of his already angry enemy, sending Blood Messiah over the edge.
With an inarticulate cry of fury Blood Messiah charged the knight, intent on beating Sir Ranma into goo. Smirking that he had driven his adversary to frothing wrath Sir Ranma ducked underneath his strike while driving the blade of his sword deep into Blood Messiah's gut and dragging it along, disemboweling the giant D-Bee. As his enemy followed his intestines in falling to the ground with a mighty thud and Sir Ranma completed his spin while sheathing his sword and drawing his rifle, pointing it one-handed to the final bandit how had been planning to attack the knight from behind. Looking at the last enemy Sir Ranma simply said, "Wind," and fired a blast of wind from the rifle, slamming him into the far wall. As his enemy fell unconscious to the ground Sir Ranma turned towards the cage where the slaves were kept.
They were bare foot, which explained the broken glass and shards of metal that had been strew around the building. The newness of the sturdy, molecularly bonded, steel bars stood in stark contrast to the gloom, decay and sense of age which permeated the ancient building. The women, on the other hand, seemed to better match the feel of decay. Their eyes were devoid of hope and their postures showed the fear they felt towards him. Even more painful were those women who were so strung out on narcotics that they couldn't recognize their surroundings. Those hollow eyes on blessed out faces made the knight want to go down and give Luis a taste of what he inflicted. A few were fully clothed while others had only rags or were naked, causing Ranma to cast his eyes down to reduce the indignities forced upon them. Walking up to the cage he could hear the slaves huddling to the rear. The cage was sealed with a simple pad lock with some welded plates to prevent people inside the cage from reaching the lock.
'Guess I have to give 'em credit for covering the basics of imprisonment,' Sir Ranma thought as he took the lock in hand. Focusing his magic energy Sir Ranma cast a quick spell opening the lock. Opening the door he told the captives, "You're free to go. If any of you wish to Perez with me I will protect you. Either way I will be in the storage room they used as a hall taking care of some business before I leave." With that the white knight retreated from the room to wait for the women's decision. He hoped they would accept his protection but if Free Quebecois troops discovered a mystic in their boarders they would do their best to kill him.
Upon returning to the make-shift hall Sir Ranma noticed that the escaped captive he had left there had used her time to loot the bodies of the dead bandits and that Luis was starting to come around. With a vicious kick that problem was dealt with. Turning to the woman, who had alerted him to the plight of the others Sir Ranma asked, "Didn't I tell you to watch him miss?"
Surprised by the voice of her savior the woman turned to look at him and look sheepish as she said, "Well… things were quiet and no one was coming so… I thought that it might be nice to get some clothes. Just so I'd be ready if we had to run and… well I kinda forgot. Sorry."
Sighing at that Sir Ranma decided it was best to focus on the present. "At least nothing happened so don't worry about it."
As the white knight said that the pair heard approaching footsteps, causing the young woman to duck behind her savior in case it was the bandits. Instead it was the other captives, clad in what clothes they could scavenge from their former captors and carrying their guns. The apparent leader of the group, a dark-skinned elven woman, said, "We talked it over and decided to go with you."
Smiling underneath his helmet at their response Sir Ranma said, "Alright when I infiltrated I saw some vehicles, can any of you drive an ATV?"
Getting a few confirmations the white knight picked up his prize and headed out saying, "Let's go then."
After a day's travel to quietly ex-filtrate Free Quebec and another two days to reach the city-state of Perez, also called Towerville for the worn thirty story skyscraper that survived the Great Cataclysm. He had sent a magic pigeon the day before advising his employer to meet him at the Guardpost to accept the prisoner and several captives willing to provide evidence. As he rode down the city streets on his horse, Luis Fantane draped over his saddle like a game animal, and followed behind by the people he liberated in one of the ATV's they took from the bandit's motor pool.
Standing with the right-hand man to the Head Guardsman, Daniel Perez, who had taken to handle the case Sam Hester, owner and founder of Hester's Security, a private security firm that provided mercenaries for trade caravans, was quiet pleased. After he had lost his son in a bandit attack Mr. Hester had worked to find out who was responsible and punish them. His investigations lead him to the Red Wolves and their leader Luis Fantane but when he posted the bounty no-one was taking. That was when he was contacted by a member of Bethesda Mercenary Enterprises and they agreed to bring him in. As he saw their man riding in with his son's killer draped over the beast like a trophy he felt it was money well spent. As the prisoners, a group of women who looked like they ranged from ages fourteen to twenty five, disembarked their ATV Sam was pleased. Freed slaves were good for PR and it didn't cost him any more than he was already prepared to pay.
Coming up to his employer and the representative of the local guard Sir Ranma prepared to deliver his captive. Personally Ranma would be glad to see this man hauled off in chains. Since his capture every time Luis had woken from his impromptu rests he would try to verbally or physically attack Ranma and even worse the women he used to enslave. At first there was a real risk he might succeed in getting them to do something because they still feared him, later there was a risk they would kill him and that had taken some careful talking to keep them from doing so. Still Luis continued to harass them and Sir Ranma was simply tired of the man. Dismounting and hefting the former bandit leader he addressed the men saying, "I've got a delivery for ya."
Finally getting a look at the man who had caused his business so much trouble and took his son Mr. Hester said, "You know I thought he would be taller."
Shrugging Sir Ranma replied, "False advertising I guess."
Turning to the other member Mr. Hester asked, "So is that really him?"
"He matches the descriptions we have heard and I have sensed no deceit in the knight," Daniel Perez said as he signaled for a pair of mercs to take the man and heading into the Guardpost.
"Now for your payment."
"Sir a representative of Bethesda will come by later to receive the payment," Sir Ranma said in a respectful tone.
"Very well," Mr. Hester said, understanding the situation. "Then I shall look forward to meeting with them. With their business the two men parted company as Sir Ranma prepared to wait for his teleport back to The Garden.
Two hours past the scheduled meet time and Sir Ranma was about to search out his contact and wring his neck when he saw a figure in similar knightly armor carrying a bag and jogging towards him. Like Sir Ranma he had foregone the traditional horned demon-skull helmet for a more angelic motif and was adorned with spikes and chains. Unlike Sir Ranma's full-plate armor the other knight wore a suit of half-plate armor with padding and chainmail. Strapped to his back was a large sword with a red cross-guard in the shape of a flaming bird with an inset ruby and a pommel designed like a flame and he wore a black cloak that seemed to drink in the surrounding light. He knew this knight, able to recognize him by the style of his armor. Crossing his arms he waited for his contact to get close enough before saying, "What took you?"
The gateway knight put his head behind his helmet and said, "Well you know teleporting is not an exact science."
"What's in the bag Sir Black?" Sir Ranma asked, knowing Sir Alistair Black was far more skilled at teleportation than he would admit and, most likely, had been here since yesterday.
Opening the bag Sir Black showed its contents saying, "You know I always carry a couple pounds of plastique and a heavy fusion block in case something happens."
Looking in Ranma could easily see the two blocks of NG6 plastique and fusion block but he also saw something else. "And this?" he asked.
Seeing he had been caught Sir Black said, "Okay I might have gotten sidetracked at the Imperial Pawn Shop but I found some really rare Pre-Rifts vids."
Picking up the set of vids Sir Ranma replied with a rye voice, "The Atomic Brain, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, the Crippled Masters, Day of the Warrior, Cane Toads, Nude of the Moon…." He knew that Sir Black was an amateur archeologist and Pre-Rifts collector but his taste in movies was a little… strange. "Somehow I think their rarity is not a coincidence."
"Aww come on this is some good stuff. You should try it," Sir Black said, taking the bag back. "You ready to go?"
Sir Ranma just looked at him.
"Okay, well let's get your horse and go."
When the Great Cataclysm brought the Age of Man crashing down the Earth underwent several dramatic changes. One of those was the return of Atlantis from the dimensional pocket it had been trapped in for millennia. The appearance of this landmass caused a massive displacement of water from the Atlantic Ocean, causing the seas to rise. As a result of this New York City was suddenly plunged underwater, consigning everyone there to an agonizing watery death. Later, during the Second Dark Age, an earth warlock had raised the city and made it part of the mainland for reasons unknown. Those ruins, the site of such vast and agonizing death, had become afflicted with a permanent psychic scar which would drive anyone within the city insane, a fact which caused many to shun the ruins all together and gave the city its new name, Madhaven. The only beings immune to the insanity were the savage Haven Mutants who lived in the ruins and may have originated from the survivors of the city. It was into this nightmarish hell that a band of desperate refugees from the destroyed town of Bloom and the few surviving members of the mystic knights who had rebelled against their evil brethren at Bloom, the founders of the Order of the White Rose. Between the creeping madness of the place, relentless attacks by the mutants and besieged by ghosts, monsters and the walking dead that could have been the end of the Order of the White Rose before it even really began had they not found The Garden.
Originally the New York Central Park the Garden was protected from the psychic scar that afflicted the rest of the ruins. It was here that the renegade knights and refugees built their own kingdom, a beckon of light surrounded by terror and madness. To add to the natural defenses of the ruins the knights and their allies built sturdy fortifications and shrouded the place in a powerful illusion to give the site a new name, the Crater of the Dammed.
With a flash of light two knights and a horse appeared before a massive crater, swarming with innumerable ghosts. Taking in the hellish site and the dilapidated ruins Sir Ranma Saotome took in a deep breath. The air was fresh, baring only the scents of a long abandoned city, but already the knight could feel the sensation that something was watching him. Next to him Sir Black spoke over the inhuman wailing of the dead saying, "Nice to be home eh?"
"Yeah it is nice to be back. Come on let's go before we go batty," the white knight said, taking the reins of his steed as he and the gateway knight walked into the Crater of the Dammed. Passing through the illusion set up by the Curtain the two knights approached Tecumseh Ridge, the easiest access point from Times Square, where they had teleported in. Beneath the shadow of an equestrian statue of what was apparently a mighty Pre-Rifts warrior the two checked in with a pair of white knights and squires standing guard the two entered the Order's secret base camp.
"Heading to the stables?" Sir Black asked rhetorically.
"Yeah, need to drop off my steed before heading the Met to debrief," Sir Ranma said, starting in that direction. "See ya."
After making his report at the Met Sir Ranma decided to head towards Bethesda Terrace to get in some meditation before getting some dinner. Already the sun had begun to set, casting the broken cityscape alight and lengthening the shadows of the forests in the Garden. Having returned his weapons and TW Infiltrator armor to the Arsenal Sir Ranma was clad in a short-sleeved red tunic embroidered with gold with a black leather belt wrapped around his waist and loose fitting black pants with a pair of black shoes. Part of him regretted having to keep his identity secret and wanted to take credit for the deeds he performed with those outside the Order. On the other hand he realized that as a knight of the Order of the White Rose he was part of their war against the Eternal Order of the Mystic Knights, the most powerful mercenary army in all of North America. If they could capture him he would be tortured without mercy and killed like a dog, to make an example to all who would betray the evil brotherhood. In that regard Sir Ranma understood that protecting his identity not only helped him but the Order by concealing their true numbers from the mystic knights. In the end it was something he knew going into the Order so he had no one to blame but himself.
Walking along the brick and concrete walkway overlooking the Angel of the Lake Fountain Sir Ranma spotted a place that looked good for meditation and leapt down to the spot. The handful of other knights meditating near the fountain did not react as he dropped down and assumed a meditative position where he could watch the water. Centering himself Sir Ranma focused on the internal energies that flowed through his body. Years of training and mental discipline had unleashed both intuitive magical knowledge and psionic abilities that, combined with his martial arts training, helped to make him a formidable warrior. After an hour of meditation the white knight someone attempting to sneak up on him Ranma tensed and prepared to respond.
Slowly approaching her quarry the figure approached with as much stealth as she could muster. Closing in to striking distance and focused her psychic powers for the attack the figure lashed out with her fist only to find that her quarry had disappeared. Quite aware of his tricks she lashed out with a back kick only to find her leg trapped. Gazing at him with her fierce green eyes the blond woman said, "Almost got you that time."
"Almost isn't enough against the best Arturia," Ranma said with a smirk to one of his old training partners and fellow white knight with a smirk. "Besides stealth was never your thing."
"How about you let go of my leg before we disturb some of the others eh Ranma," Lady Arturia Peterson said with a smile to her old friend. He obliged her and once she was back on both feet the two the two walked away from the fountain before Ranma asked what was on his mind.
"So what did you want to see me about?"
"Oh I just wanted to congratulate you on taking a squire," Arturia said.
Storming through the entrance to the former Metropolitan Museum of Art he headed for where the Order's administration offices were located. Someone had screwed up and he was going to get things straightened out. As he strode through the building which served as headquarters for the Order of the White Rose he thought, 'I don't need to deal with this crap.'
His progression was stopped when he ran into the man who had given him the chance to realize his potential and walk the path of a white knight, the elven mystic knight Sir Addaress. "Ranma, what's the emergency?"
"I just heard from Arturia that some wise guy decided to put me up for a squire so I need to go straighten things out," Sir Ranma told his old teacher.
"Would it really be so bad to have a squire?" Sir Addaress asked of his best apprentice.
"You know I work alone. I don't need others slowing me down," Sir Ranma replied as he looked up at his former master, whose name Ranma had taken as a part of his true name as a middle name as a show of respect. With a flash of insight his face grew suspicious and Sir Ranma said, "It was you wasn't it."
"Now what makes you think that, my student?" Sir Addaress replied with a smirk.
"Aside from you being the best forger I know you have the most knowledge of my handwriting."
"Astute observations Ranma," Sir Addaress said, "And it would take a master forger to copy the hen scratch you call writing."
"Not really hearing a denial there old man," Sir Ranma said, growing annoyed. While some knights certainly had anywhere between one and four squires working with them it was not unusual for a knight not to take on any squires. Given that Sir Ranma felt put upon by his former master. It wasn't that he disliked the squires but they were technical officers, not front-line combat troops and Sir Ranma really didn't want to have to keep an eye on someone else the whole time.
"I'm only in my nineties, still plenty young enough boy," Sir Addaress said before growing serious. "Ranma I am worried about you. Aside from Alistair and Arturia you don't associate with anyone, you just train all the time when you're not on a mission."
"Hey," Sir Ranma said, slightly offended, "I spend time with my guild."
Not deterred Sir Addaress continued, "And yet you have no real friends in the guild and always go on missions alone. Ranma if you keep going on like this you will either burn out or run into something you can't handle on your own. Please just give it a chance."
Sighing in defeat Sir Ranma replied, "I guess it couldn't hurt."
Smiling at his former student Sir Addaress said, "Excellent, I've already got a mission for you two set up and if things don't work out…. Well I'll handle it." Setting off he continued, "Now let me introduce you to him. I knew him when he was training and I taught him Japanese so you two will be able to discuss things in secret."
Following his former teacher Sir Ranma said, "Someday you will have to tell me how you know Japanese."
"No I won't."
Walking with his master lead Sir Ranma out from the Met towards where Sir Ranma's guild was stationed in Belvedere Castle. As they entered the main hall the sounds of revelry and merry-making washed over the pair. Unlike the bandit's celebrations however the good cheer was shared both by the knights and squires who were patrons of the hall and the staff who were serving them.
Sitting down at one of the tables Sir Addaress cast a spell opening a small communication rift and, after speaking quickly, closed the rift as a barmaid came to their table. "What would you like to drink my lords?" she said with a smile. Like many of the other civilians she had been one of the refugees from the town of Bloom that had survived the flight from the mystic knight's reprisals and had made a life for herself in Madhaven.
"I'll have some tea, if you please," Sir Addaress said favoring the young human woman with a killer smile that caused her face to flush. On the other side of the table Sir Ranma face-palmed at his former masters antics, while by human standards he still looked to be in his early twenties Sir Ranma had always felt a master of mysticism such as Sir Addaress should act more restrained.
"A… and you sir?" the waitress said trying to recompose herself.
"Same please," Sir Ranma said hoping to get through this embarrassing moment quickly.
"Alright please wait one moment," the waitress said winking at Sir Addaress and turning to walk away with an extra sway in her hips.
Once she was gone Sir Ranma turned to his former master and said, "Now that way just mortifying. Why must you always do that?"
"Eat drink and be merry my friend for tomorrow we die," Sir Addaress said, "You really need to loosen up Ranma. Trust me I have slept with many women over the decades and it really does wonders."
"Do we really need to have this discussion again," Sir Ranma said, burying his face in his hands out of embarrassment. The last thing he needed was for his former master to be giving him "The Talk" in the common room of HIS guild. Fortunately he was saved from any further humiliation as a mountainous figure approached the table.
"Mind if I join you?" the figure asked.
"Please take a seat, we were waiting for you." Upon hearing his former master say this Sir Ranma looked up to see their guest, silently hopeful since the voice sounded masculine that the old man had not picked up another woman, it wouldn't be the first time. In that regard Sir Ranma was pleased to see the person who had joined them was a male of the squilb species. While Sir Ranma admitted that he was short by human standards he estimated the new guy's height at around eight feet. He had golden, wrinkled skin with no hair at all, tiny, almost non-existent, ears and a pair of slits for a nose which did nothing to distort his friendly barring.
"Let me introduce you two," Sir Addaress started, "Broli this is Sir Ranma Saotome, Knight of the White Rose. Sir Ranma this is Broli, Squire of the White Rose assigned to you."
Sir Ranma, pleased to meet you sir," Broli said extending his hand.
Trying his best to be polite Sir Ranma gave it a firm shake and said, "Likewise." Turing back to the Sir Addaress Sir Ranma asked, "So what is the mission you pulled for us?"
"It's a fairly simple sounding job," the other knight started.
"Aren't they all," Broli said. Sir Ranma had to agree with the squire's assessment. At this point their waitress returned with their drinks, which the two accepted before continuing the discussion.
"Heh, indeed, but this one is fairly straight forward. An archeological team from New Lazlo has finished a dig in the Pecos Empire but one their way through Lone Star has been having troubles," Sir Addaress said with all seriousness.
"What kind of troubles?" Sir Ranma asked interested to see what they would be facing.
"Apparently the Dead Boys have got it into their heads that the group is a threat and has been hunting them ever since. They need someone to help sneak them out and if necessary to show the Dead Boys the error of their ways," Sir Addaress finished with a little smirk. Having roots in the Magic Zone meant that there was little love for the Coalition States within the Order of the White Rose.
"So we might have to go up against the Coalition?" Sir Ranma said, excited by the prospect of testing himself against the Coalition's Forces. The rumors that the CS had recently improved their military hardware only made the challenge more tempting.
Chucking at the eager look on his former student's face Sir Addaress said, "Don't think I don't recognize that look Ranma, your mission is extraction, not to refight the Great War. You too Broli."
"Alright I'll try and take it easy on the Dead Boys," Sir Ranma said disappointed.
"I suppose I can let them off the hook too," Broli added with less disappointment that Sir Ranma.
"Alright since I know neither of you are telepathic; I've got a pair of ear mics for you so you can communicate with each other," Sir Addaress said. "I'll meet you at the Stables after you two have suited up with something else so later," Sir Addaress said, handing out the mics before taking his leave.
Quickly finishing his drink Sir Ranma said to his new squire, "Damn not even a day and I'm back at work. I guess we should head out while there is daylight left."
"Price of being loved I suppose," Broli said following.
Having donned their armor and taken their weapons the pair headed to get their horses. Noticing the large, organic-looking cannon his squire was effortlessly carrying Sir Ranma asked, "That a Force Cannon?" TW Force Cannons packed a devastating punch with range comparable to a rifle but were extremely heavy, making them inaccurate for normal users.
"Yeah it's no big thing," Broli said easily, slinging the weapon over his shoulder like it weighted nothing.
'So a tough guy,' Sir Ranma thought, sizing up his squire. The man was definitely built for power and moved like he knew what he was doing but Ranma would have to see him in combat to take his true measure. As they were about to mount their horses Sir Ranma saw Sir Addaress walking up to him carrying a bundle.
"So what's in the wrap Old Man?"
"Not even a century old and I'm already getting called an old man, why did I have to take on such a disrespectful apprentice?" Sir Addaress said drawing a few applauds from the squires working as stable hands. "But seriously take this," he said tossing the bundle to Sir Ranma.
Unwrapping it Sir Ranma saw he was holding a massive claymore. The crosspiece of the blade had an inset turquoise with wires that unsheathing revealed lead into the silver blade. Stunned Sir Ranma looked at his mentor and said, "Master this is…."
"A TW Battle Fury Blade, yeah it is. While I know you like the concealability of conduit swords this can be used without channeling any energy into it, leave a bit more room for spell-casting. That and the field when it's active should make up for not being able to use your barrier shield," Sir Addaress confirmed for his former apprentice.
"Plus that silver blade is always handy down south," Broli chimed in.
"You're up on undead lore, well that'll be handy," Sir Ranma said as he strapped the sword to his back. With heartfelt gratitude he told his mentor, "Thanks for the gift, I'll make sure to take care of it." But Sir Addaress was already gone.
One thing that distinguished Lone Star from other Coalition States was the rather limited presance relative to the area they claimed. While the Coalition claimed all of the former state of Texas as part of Lone Star they only really controlled the upper quarter of the state. The rest was controlled by gangs of bandits making up what they called the Pecos Empire. While patrols contained attacks by Pecos raiders in the area they claimed most towns were just fledgling communities. The town where the pair was to meet their contact was no exception.
Riding into the town Sir Ranma was struck by how dirty and unpleasant the town was compared to the Garden, never mind great cities like Dweomer. 'Then again I guess this is all they can do with mundane means,' the white knight thought. As he passed through Sir Ranma noticed the furtive glances the all human populace was giving his companion. As they approached the stables and hitched their steeds Sir Ranma said to Broli, "I think it might be best if you stay with the horses. Don't want to get the locals riled up."
"Yeah I noticed too. Locals sure have a way of making a guy feel welcome," Broli said.
With that Sir Ranma headed out to meet their contact.
Walking into the small bar on the edge of town few of the small number of patrons took notices as another person walked in. Those that did took note of the armored knight with the large sword on his back as he strode into the bar fearlessly. Looking over the place Sir Ranma saw a few patrons were wearing armor of different styles and a few had pistols on their persons. A television in the corner was playing a broadcast of a week old juicer football match between Kingsdale's and Whykin's teams. The Whykin team was reconsidering their strategy as their quarterback was being put in a bodybag after having been beaten to death by a Kingsdale linebacker. Shrugging Sir Ranma shifted his gaze until he met his contact, a hooded figure in the back, trying so hard to look inconspicuous that he stood out. Approaching Sir Ranma took a seat across from the man saying, "Calm down, your making people suspicious."
Looking at him the nervous human said, "Good you're hear. We need to get moving."
"What exactly has happened?" Sir Ranma asked, "Where are the others?"
"Their dead," she man started, "We were returning from the ruins of Houston, stopping to resupply when all of a sudden the CS troops attacked us. We've been on the run ever since."
"Was there anything that might have set them off?" Sir Ranma asked. Random attacks were not the Coalition's usual M.O. causing the knight to grow suspicious.
"Well earlier that day we found a casket with a mock up of the party leader wrapped in the CS flag but that doesn't mean anything," the man said, producing a case. Pressing it into Sir Ranma's hand he said, "You need to take this and get it to Professor Sergil at the University of New Lazlo."
Before Sir Ranma could reply the doors burst open and a pair of soldiers in the blue-black armor of the Dead Boys took position at the door. Another pair of soldiers clad in grey and black armor with a stronger use of the death's head motif than the old Dead Boy armor entered with their rifles held low. One of the soldiers then said, "Nobody move, we are looking for a fugitive."
That is when things went to Hell.
Author's Notes: Looking back I decided I had been trying to tell the sequel to a story without telling the story so now begins the epic tale of Sir Ranma Saotome and his friends. After this fic there will be a sequel where Sir Ranma will return to his native Earth but for now the action will be on Rifts Earth, though a few more characters might get brought over.
Please Read and Review. Constructive criticism, intriguing ideas and speculation as to where things are headed are welcome. Flames are not welcome.