Ryoga's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Really Bad Day
Things were going well for Saotomes Ranma and Akane. They'd begun their senior year at school. Principal Kuno was in Hawaii, and the vice-principal was in charge. Tatewaki, Kasumi, and Nabiki were all students at Todai. Ranma, Akane and Shampoo were helping the Senshi keep down Tokyo's daimohn infestation, and Soun was busily teaching martial arts to the Senshi (except for Ami and Usagi, who were Cologne's waitress/students at the Cat Café). Even better, it had jump-started Soun's stalled teaching career, and the dojo was thriving.
And wonder of wonders, the panda had a job.
Akane had gone home to prepare for her shift at the café, so Ranma dropped by Ucchan's to see how the cats were doing. Artemis was the only cat there. "Luna thinks she has a lead on where the daimohn are coming from, and she's checking it out with Rhett Butler," he said with a sour look.
"You can't go on that one, Artemis. White cats aren't as inconspicuous as black cats," Konatsu said. "Luna's already a pretty good spy, but I think you'd do better as an infiltrator. That's harder."
"Oh?" Ranma said as she cocked her eyebrow.
"Well, an infiltrator has to get comfortable with hypocrisy. You have to suck up to somebody you don't like, without making it noticeable. That's difficult. And then you need to learn how to get messages out, and all kinds of things."
"I don't want to be a hypocrite!" Artemis wailed. "Luna's always giving me grief for talking too straight, but that's the way I am!"
Konatsu shook her head. "See what I've got to work with?"
Ranma picked up Artemis, and set him on her shoulder. "Let me have a talk with him, okay?" She gave Konatsu a quick one-armed hug, went downstairs, exchanged smiles with Ucchan as she was cooking for a fresh wave of customers, and headed out into the street. She and Artemis shifted positions so she was hugging him – just a girl walking down the street, talking to her cat, right?
"You really don't want to learn that part of ninjutsu, do you?" she said sympathetically. Artemis shuddered. "I don't blame you. Maybe we can think of something else." They strolled down the street towards the park. A squirrel chattered angrily at them as they went under its tree.
"Do disguise pens work on cats?" Ranma said as she looked at the squirrel.
Artemis followed her gaze. "I think I see what you mean," he said. "I could sit in their tree, looking like a squirrel, and cuss them out whenever they come near. Be a sentinel. Pass the word when they go out. I like it. Now all we have to do is find out where they live."
"That's the ninjutsu Sasuke told me about – not being invisible, not being unnoticed, but being discounted as harmless and irrelevant." The girl and the cat smiled at one another; Konatsu and Sasuke were obviously from different traditions of ninjutsu.
As they walked, a high-pitched "bweeeeeeeee!" grew rapidly louder. Its pitch went down just as a black speck shot overhead, heading away from the Tendo dojo.
"Wow," Artemis said. "That squeal must have dropped an octave. Whatever it was, it's really travelling."
"That's a guy cursed to turn into a piglet."
"So pigs really can fly?"
"If they make the wrong move. See, that guy would turn into a pig, and sleep in Akane's bed. And I couldn't warn her, because of a promise I made. But Akane and I are married now; 'one soul, one flesh'. And I didn't promise not to talk to myself."
"Ah," said Artemis with a look of understanding. "The mallet."
"Looks like he got up to his old tricks. I'll have to check with Akane when she gets back from the Cat Café."
The two sat down to begin their study of squirrels.
A week later, Ranma and the cats (including Shampoo-neko) were in the park enjoying the last of the cherry blossoms. The cats were on a stone wall in the sun, while Ranma was leaning on the wall next to them. But there was business too; they were discussing the Tomoe mansion.
Witches, it seems, like shopping: Luna had recognized one walking down the street with her arms full of purchases, and followed her home. Then she and Rhett Butler had staked the place out. Artemis was preparing to take up residence in their tree, as soon as he learned how to make a squirrel nest to hide the communicator.
"There's this young girl with purple eyes," Luna said. "Sometimes I feel terribly sorry for her, and sometimes she's so scary I just have to slink away. And so does Rhett Butler."
Rhett Butler looked a bit shamefaced, sat on his hindquarters, and spread his forepaws.
"It's almost like there are two of her," Luna added.
"Maybe two souls – like my human and my cat?" Ranma asked.
"That might be …" Luna started, but was interrupted by a growl.
"Ranma, you filthy redhead," Ryoga said as he stomped up to them, "Because of you, I've seen Hell."
"What's your problem with redheads?"
"You know perfectly well about the redheaded girl at the shrine, and the Hell she put me through!"
"And then there's Akane. You told her about P-chan, didn't you?"
Ranma smiled. "That I did. She's my wife, you know. I'm not gonna let you sleep with her."
"DIE!" Ryoga shouted, and "Bakusai Tenketsu!" as he punched at the stone wall next to Ranma. Ranma flickered into the neko-ken, made a lightning-fast swipe.
Instead of exploding, the wall shook with the impact. Ryoga bellowed in pain, and clutched his hand. Blood was seeping between his fingers.
"I warned you about endangering bystanders," Ranma said. She gestured to the cats, who were sitting there with wide-open eyes and fur standing up. "That's Shampoo, Luna, and Artemis. The explosion would have hurt them, maybe killed them. So I stopped you."
She held out her hand to Ryoga. "Here's your index finger. If you get to a hospital fast enough, they might be able to reattach it."
Beside Ranma, beside the other cats, Rhett Butler was rising to his feet. He kept right on rising.
"But maybe you won't have time to go to a hospital. Meet Rhett Butler." Ranma inclined her head at the youma. "He's awfully protective of Luna."
Rhett Butler opened his mouth, filled with sharp, sharp teeth, and roared.
"Take it somewhere else, could you, Rhett? I don't want to be anywhere near this fight."
Rhett Butler nodded, and stalked towards Ryoga. Ryoga grabbed his umbrella. Ranma flipped through the air to land behind the stone wall, gathering up Shampoo, Luna, and Artemis as she went; then keeping bent down, she scuttled some way to the side. Terrible crashes, creaks, shouts, and roars came from the far side of the wall. It shook and bulged where they had been. Cautiously she looked over it.
Several trees were down already – some sliced, some snapped. Rhett Butler threw a boulder at Ryoga, who tried to Bakusai it, forgetting he no longer had his index finger. It crashed into him. Ryoga reached down, grabbed a tree, and slammed it into Rhett, then used the momentary distance to fire off a shi shi hokodan.
It piled into Rhett Butler, who smiled, rubbed his stomach, and belched. Youmas eat ki, after all. He dived back at Ryoga, claws spread.
This was no duel. This was a battle. Ryoga paled as he realized that this time, the other side of the battle was intent on killing, too. Killing him. He re-evaluated the course of his life, and began to dodge and evade. Slashes, crashes, thuds, bellows, and screams faded into the distance.
Slowly, Ranma stood. The cats hopped onto the wall beside her. They looked wide-eyed at the devastation.
"I don't think I've ever seen Rhett Butler this angry," Luna said.
In the valley of Thingvellir, in Iceland, a battered Rhett Butler panted among shattered rocks. Where on Earth am I now? he thought.
Then he looked down at Ryoga's body. Oh well. At least there's liver.
The next day, Ryoga woke up dead. It was the strangest thing: he had no wounds, he felt fine, but he knew perfectly well he was dead.
The sun was bright, the air was crystal, and he was lying on the softest of grass. There were mountains behind him, and a valley before. The valley was filled with warriors, clashing with sword and spear, axe and polearm. There was the rattle of sword on shield and the fierce cries of the combatants. Ravens swirled overhead. The fight was as fine as any he'd ever seen. Occasionally a blow would strike home, and one of the warriors would fall.
"Where am I now?" he murmured. "I've seen Hell. This isn't Hell. But I'm dead."
A man with a blond beard and a harp, sitting next to him on a rock, chuckled. "No, it's not Hel. She lives off that way, to the North, in Niflheim." He pointed to a pass in the mountains. "It's about eight day's ride. You don't want to go there."
The man reached over, grasped Ryoga's forearm. "I'm Egil, and this is Valhalla."
Ryoga grasped back. "Hibiki Ryoga. What am I doing here? I've never even heard of Valhalla."
"Odin is our Lord, and he's preparing for Ragnarok, the war at the end of all things. He sends his Valkyries out, the Choosers of the Slain, to collect him the souls of all the great heroes and berserks who die in glorious battle. I was watching your fight with the demon cat. I sing the deeds of heroes, so he lets me stand by his high-seat and watch the fights with him. That way, I can sing truly."
Ryoga lifted an eyebrow. "Why am I taking this so calmly?"
Egil smiled, teeth flashing within his beard. "Because Odin wills it. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow, you join the battle below. And then you can be a berserk again."
Ryoga looked critically down the slope. "At least half of the warriors are dead, and others are wounded. It doesn't seem the best way to spend my afterlife."
"Ah, but at the end of the day all will be alive again, and healed. Then we'll spend the night feasting, drinking, singing, gaming, and sporting with the Valkyries. It's not bad at all – we wouldn't be here if we didn't like fighting – and each day the warriors learn and improve. At Ragnarok, the Giants will get a surprise they won't enjoy."
Egil rose, and stretched out a hand to Ryoga. "Come," he said. "I'm here to greet you, and take you before the Allfather."
Ryoga grasped Egil's hand, and rose. The two walked towards a magnificent stave-built hall. It was covered in brightly-painted carvings of intertwined beasts gripping one another. Over all was a carving of a great ash tree, with an eagle picked out in gold-leaf in its branches. The massive trunk came down, and the doorway into the hall opened out between two of its roots. A carved serpent gnawed on the third root.
They entered into Odin's mead-hall. It was filled with a ruddy flickering light from torches, and from a great fire in its center. Benches and tables went 'round the walls, which were covered with shields and weapons and trophies. Banners hung from the darkness high above. The hall smelled like a dojo; it smelled like the finest of feasts; it smelled of wild Northern forests. Cooks worked around a cauldron hung over the central firepit.
At the far end of the hall, raised above the level of the floor, was a great seat with majestic pillars. A figure sat there, a drinking horn in his hand. As they approached, Ryoga saw a raven on each of his shoulders, and two wolves at his feet. He wore a travelers' hat, and one eye gleamed from the shadow of its brim.
Egil stopped before the seat, and raised a fist in salute. "Allfather, I bring you Hibiki Ryoga." Then he faded back into the dimness.
"Welcome to my hall, Hibiki Ryoga," the figure said, in a voice that rang with the sound of distant battles but somehow was also intimate and friendly.
"Odin-sama? I am honored, but confused." Ryoga bowed deeply.
Odin chuckled. "Of course you're confused. This isn't the afterlife you were expecting. But your final battle was in Iceland, and I am ruler of the lands of the Northmen. Kami-sama and Lord Emma saw the justness of my claim." One of Odin's eyes flashed, and Ryoga saw the other was covered by an eyepatch.
Ryoga stood silent. He had a million questions – but dare he ask them of such a mighty Lord?
Odin leaned forward, held out his drinking-horn. "Ragnarok is coming, and my warriors must be ready. You have weaknesses, Hibiki Ryoga. Your speech is not nimble, though a warrior should speak well. Drink of my mead."
Ryoga didn't approve of alcohol, but when God tells you to drink – you drink. He put the horn to his mouth, tilted it back, and swallowed deeply. Suddenly his mind was swirling, and among the dizziness he found words.
Odin All-Lord, You have given
Mead of words, And will to speak.
My mind is full With words to say
And my tongue is Wagging well.
But I mind me Of a Kuno
Speaking wildly At great length.
People laughing At his manner.
So I say ye, Lord of Song –
Though I hear he's Gotten better
Speaking his way Still is wrong.
Will you let me Drop this burden?
Let me speak, but Not in verse.
For I find the Mead you gave me
Snarls my speech And makes it worse.
Odin laughed hugely. "Done!" He said. "You'll no longer be tongue-tied, but that's all."
Then Odin leaned forward, put His hand on Ryoga's shoulder. "There's the matter of a small black pig. The Fates gave you that curse, and even I cannot remove it. But the pig can grow up." Odin's eye shone upon Ryoga, and a pulse of warmth and power went through him. "When next you encounter cold water, it'll take a brave man indeed to cook you. Now you shall be called Ryoga Battle-boar, until you make your own name."
Then came the blare of lur-horns, and warriors began crowding into the hall. "Go," Odin said. "Meet your new comrades." And Ryoga went forth into the room.
"Ho!" smiled a man with a doubly-braided red beard and bristling eyebrows. "I'd heard we had a new companion! I'm Ragnar Forkbeard." He took Ryoga's hand, and squeezed.
Oh, thought Ryoga. We'll see about THAT. He squeezed back. "Ryoga Battle-boar," he said. Both men had their teeth bared by now, and their arm muscles were rock-hard and quivering. Ryoga realized he could do more with Ragnar's hand than just squeeze; he turned his grip into a throw. Ragnar flew through the air. He crashed into a bench, knocked it over, then jumped to his feet. By then, Ryoga was surrounded by warriors clapping his shoulders and congratulating him. Apparently Ragnar had a reputation.
The men broke into little knots. Some were dicing with knucklebones, some wrestling, and as women came into the hall bearing horns and tankards, some took to drinking and others began to romance the women. Ryoga was arm-wrestling three brothers, one after another.
The crash of a spear-butt stamped against the floor came loudly, three times, silencing the din. "Now," said Odin, "Egil will tell of Ryoga Battle-boar, our newest companion." He raised his horn and drank. "To Ryoga!" Somebody handed Ryoga a drinking-horn, and he drained it.
Egil stood forth, stroked his harp. "Now I will sing to you of Ryoga of the Nine Fingers and the Cat of Doom." And his voice raised in the story of Ryoga's final battle.
His head spinning with mead and praise and companionship, Ryoga sat on a bench and leaned back against the table. This was an afterlife he could appreciate.
By the firepit, strong men were heaping platters high with food. Could the day get any better? Ryoga turned to a Hunnish king named Atli, seated next to him. "What's for dinner?"
Atli licked his lips, and smiled. "Boiled pork."