He heard a knock coming from the front door. As he got up, he heard Kasumi’s sweet voice drifting out of the kitchen. “Ranma, could you get that?”
“Sure thing, Kasumi.” Doing anything Kasumi asked him always brought a smile to his face. Before he even reached the door he knew it would be Suteko.
“Hiya, Suteko!” He swung open the door and started to greet his sister when he stopped. Suteko was standing there but so was a woman that at first he mistook for his mother. He stood in shock for a moment.
Suteko took pity on him right away. “Hello, Ranma. Can we come in?”
“Yeah, sure.” Ranma stepped to the side and waved them in. He was glad to see that there was only Suteko and the woman who looked so much like his mom. Her fears about her grandfather must have been just because she was so tired yesterday. After they passed he closed the door, but not before a cold wind blew through.
“Ranma, I’d like to introduce you to my mother, Atsuko Fukushuu.” Turning, she gestured to the woman. “Mother, this is Ranma Satome, Genma’s son.”
“Yes, I know. His son by Nokoda.” The woman was beautiful but very cold. Ranma could easily see why Suteko was uncomfortable around here. Turning he led the two through to the Tendo family Dojo. Kasumi and Nabiki met them by the door and greeted the two women politely.
With the graceful ease she had in doing everything, Kasumi pulled Suteko’s mother into a quiet conversation about nothing, letting the siblings talk privately. “Boy, she really looks like my mother. No wonder we look alike.”
“I guess so.” Suteko was quiet and nervous.
Ranma took pity on her and placed a hand on her arm. “Are you sure your ready for this?”
Suteko looked up at her new found family. “Of course.” She smiled but it faded fast. “It’s not the fight that has me worried, Ranma. I don’t know where great-grandfather is,” she whispered.
“Well, he didn’t come with you. Are you sure he’d be interested in this?”
“Oh, yeah. Definitely. Anything that touches on the family interests that old spider.”
After a few minutes, Akane came into the room with Ukyo a step behind. She smiled and came over to say hello. Suteko looked down at her watch. “Ranma, shouldn’t you get Genma, now? We should get the show on the road.”
“Sure thing, Suteko. I’m sure he hasn’t snuck out this time. I had Mr. Tendo keep an eye on him.” Ranma turned and went back into the house.
“Suteko, I love your gi. What is that you have embroidered on the front panels?” asked Akane.
“Yeah, I don’t recognize that type of serpent,” added Ukyo.
Suteko looked down at her front. She was wearing a black silk gi with American diamond-back rattlers twining down the front. “They are the American Diamond-back Rattler. They were the symbol Uncle Tanto picked for the Dojo. He felt they were a noble animal and they are endangered now in the US. They warn an approaching enemy to back away and only strike if you get to close. Kinda’ like our art.” She smiled as she spoke. It was obvious to both girls that Suteko loved the man she spoke of.
“Are snakes a symbol of the Fukushuu clan?” Asked Ukyo.
“No, they are not!” Answered Atsuko from where she and Kasumi sat. “I don’t understand why you demanded to wear that thing, daughter. I brought a perfectly proper gi with the clan totem on it.”
“You know why, Mother,” Suteko answered in a subdued voice. Atsuko just turned back to Kasumi with a disdainful sniff. She ignored Suteko’s look of pleading and continued to speak to Kasumi about nonsense.
Genma nodded. “Do you think if I just apologize I won’t have to go through this farce?”
Ranma punched his father on the arm. “This isn’t a farce, Pop! Suteko’s been searching for you for a year. She had to give up a lot, and I don’t think that she’d be happy with just an apology. Besides, I’m sure that her mom wants to see you take some damage.” He remembered the woman’s cold face. “She looks like she’ll only be happy once you’re face down on the mat.”
“Atsuko’s here!?” Genma started to shake, looking around desperately for a source of cold water.
“Yes, she is, Satome. Now let’s stop this and get down stairs. You have to do this. It is an honor battle. The girl gave you twentyfour hours to prepare. More than enough. Now act like a man and not a panda, for once.”
“Tendo! I thought you’d support me.”
“I have.” Soun answered dryly. “For months now.”
Genma just looked sheepish and started down the stairs, like a man condemned.
Suteko breathed deeply as she centered herself for the coming battle. She pushed the uncomfortable thoughts of her family from her mind. She hadn’t seen her Great-grandfather yet this morning, but she knew that she could easily miss the man. He was a master at the family’s secret technique of stepping sideways, out of sight. She knew just how hard it would be for anyone to spot him if he decided to use the technique at his full ability. She hoped that he decided that this wasn’t the right time to introduce Ranma to the family.
The two fighters stepped away from the onlookers and took battle stances. Suteko pulled her staff out of space and came up on the balls of her feet. She waited a moment and then moved forward. The battle had begun. Unlike the pleasant bout with Ukyo yesterday, she didn’t pull any of her punches. Genma had relied on his power to quickly end this battle, but found that his daughter’s agility evened out the battle. He could land only a few blows but they did stagger the much smaller girl.
Atsuko walked over to stand near Ranma and his two fiancees as the battle began. She could be heard to mumble under her breath each time Suteko missed a block. Each time the girl landed a solid blow to Genma she let out a small, excited cry. Ranma tore his eyes from his sister and father to look over at the woman. She was truly enjoying this fight. As he turned back he felt a cold wind along his back, causing him to shiver. There was something, but he wasn’t sure what.
After ten minutes, Suteko vaulted over Genma’s latest punch and swung her staff around to land the telling blow to Genma’s head. Knocking him flat on his back. She neatly jumped up and landed on his stomach. Placing her staff against his throat she spoke in a low and even voice, “Yield!”
Genma, panting, with his eyes closed, nodded. Suteko bounced off to the side and looked over at her mother. Atsuko stared back, coldly. She thrust her chin downward in a curt nod. Suteko sighed and turned to Genma. She spoke just loud enough to be heard by the watchers. “Now, kneel.” Genma struggled up, unaided and turned to face the observers. Suteko straightened and spoke clearly. “Now, Genma, it is time to admit your crime and make amends.”
Genma looked up at Suteko, “Wasn’t this enough?” he whined.
Suteko looked down at her father. She felt no accomplishment in what she had done and must now do, but she continued. “No, you know what you must do,” she answered trying to be stern.
Genma’s shoulders drooped and he nodded. “Okay,” he whispered to her. Looking up at his family and those friends he considered family, he turned toward the woman he wronged seventeen years ago. “I, Genma Satome, admit that I led Atsuko Fukushuu to believe that I would marry her and then used her trust to ..,” he swallowed and then continued. “To sleep with her, and then broke off the engagement to marry someone else.”
Atsuko, nodded at each word he said, glad. It was what she had waited for but she wanted more. “And...”
Genma looked confused. He added, “and I’m sorry?”
Atsuko folded her arms. “That’s not enough! You shall make amends!”
Suteko, concerned, stepped toward Atsuko. “Mother, what else do you want? You told me, when this started, that having him on his knees, apologizing was enough.”
Atsuko threw back her head and laughed. “This, enough! Really, child, how can you be so naive!?” She turned and gestured. “Grandfather!”
Behind Ranma, a large, muscular old man formed. His face held a look at once amused, cruel and aquizative. “You are correct, granddaughter. In payment for your crime, Genma Satome, we will take your son.” With that his hands flashed out and tapped Ranma three times on the skull. Ranma spun about as the man’s hands flashed. He crumpled into the man’s arms and they disappeared.
“Ranma!” Akane called out.
“Ran-chan!” Ukyo called as she raced to the spot he had been in a moment before.
Genma leapt up, holding out a hand toward his son. Atsuko laughed again.
Suteko stepped toward her mother, her staff swirling and eyes flashing. “Mother, what have you done?” she cried out in a pained voice.
Atsuko turned to her daughter and smiled. A cruel, slow smile. “Gotten my revenge!”
“Ranma had nothing to do with this!” Suteko stopped with her staff under her mother’s chin. “Tell Grandfather to bring him back!”
In a cold, quiet voice Atsuko calmly told her “No.”
“Mother, Ranma is innocent. You tell Grandfather to bring him back or I’ll...”
“You’ll what, child? Attack the Fukushuu? Storm the Family mansion?” Her voice was cutting, holding no concern for her daughter or those around her. “Stop this nonsense, Suteko and come with me. Grandfather Ito will make you and Ranma the greatest martial artists who ever lived. You will be the heirs to the great Fukushuu name.” Her eyes glowed with the pleasure of winning her dreams. She paid no attention to the looks of disbelief and horror on the faces around her.
“Mother, Ranma is the heir of the Satome School and I am Uncle Tanto’s Heir. We don’t need the Fukushuu clan.” She pleaded with her mother, hoping to find some sense to what was going on.
Atsuko’s gaze focused back on her daughter, “That is too bad, daughter. If you don’t want to be part of the future, fine; but Ranma will be Fukushuu. Grandfather will insure that.”
“How?” cried Akane.
“No one can make Ran-chan do anything he doesn’t want,” added Ukyo.
“What he wants doesn’t matter. By now, he has forgotten all about you and his father. By tomorrow, he will belong to the Fukushuu, heart and soul.” She laughed again as she faded from sight.
Suteko snarled, “No, you don’t, Mother,” and started to fade also when a blazing white staff came out of nowhere and smashed into her face, knocking her to her knees. An evil laugh echoed, once again, through the dojo and then faded into silence.
“Suteko!” Ukyo and Akane cried out together as they rushed to her side. The blow had opened a two inch long gash on her left cheek, just below her eye. She shook her head to clear it, sending blood droplets spraying out. She rested on one knee, using her staff for support. Touching her cheek, she hissed with pain. In the background, Soun could be heard crying. Nabiki could also be heard trying to calm him down. Kasumi left the dojo and returned with her first aid kit.
Genma was stunned for a moment but he shook his head and quickly moved to his daughter’s side. He stood to the side as Ukyo and Akane helped her to her feet.
“Are you all right?” asked Akane.
“Where’d they take Ranma?” asked Ukyo at the same time.
Suteko looked up, blood dripping off her chin. “I’m fine.” She took a step toward Genma and, looking down at the floor, spoke. “I’m sorry. I had no idea what Mother and Great-grandfather had planned. If I had, I would have told Ranma not to be here toady.” She turned to include Akane and Ukyo. “I’m very sorry. This was supposed to end with the apology.” She started to cry, “It’s all my fault.”
Ukyo and Akane exchanged a look. “That doesn’t matter now, sugar. What’s important is getting Ranma back.” Ukyo stepped away from Suteko and pulled out her battle spatula. “Where’d they take him?”
Akane looked puzzled. She too wanted to go find Ranma, but something Atsuko had said before she faded from view nagged at her mind. “Suteko, what did she mean, ‘Ranma will be ours heart and soul.’?” She looked down at Suteko with a worried expression.
Suteko closed her eyes. When she saw her great-grandfather tap Ranma’s skull, she had known they were in trouble. “There is a special pressure point technique that only the head of the Fukushuu clan knows. It is used to insure loyalty to the clan.”
Kasumi returned and had Suteko sit so that she could bandage her face. “Oh, my. Suteko, this is going to need stitches.” She turned toward Nabiki. “Nabiki, could you go call Doctor Tofu for me, please?”
“Sure thing, sis.” Nabiki went out, counting up how much this was going to cost.
Suteko started again. “Many years ago, Great-grandfather was having trouble keeping his heirs. They disagreed with his ways and many left, taking their retainers with them. He went on a long voyage, looking for a lost, secret technique which would insure the loyalty of all who remained. He found one called the three blind mice. It involves touching the skull at three points. If done correctly, it renders the victim unconscious for eight hours. When the victim awakens, for the next sixteen hours they are put into a trance-like state that makes them very susceptible to suggestion. Anything they are told will become the basis of all their beliefs. Grandfather used this technique to make those he wished into younger copies of himself. With the same desires and morals.”
“Is there a cure?” asked Genma worriedly.
She looked over at her father and answered slowly, “Uncle Tanto knew of it, but...”
Akane answered for her. “But he died last year, right Suteko.”
“Yes, and I don’t know who else might know the cure.”
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